Category Archives: Season 11

Displacement

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TITLE: Displacement

AUTHORS: The VS11 Producers

EMAIL: vs10producers@yahoo.com

RATING: PG-13

CONTENT: Case file; mytharc; VS11 Season Finale

SPOILERS: Allusions to mytharc episodes prior to

Season 8, specifically Piper Maru, and to

Virtual Season mytharc episodes “Legacy” and

Camarilla.”

SUMMARY: When Bill Scully receives a transfer back to Washington DC, the Scully family is reunited. But reunions don’t always go as planned.

THANKS: To everyone who supports the Virtual Seasons, either by contributing their talent or their feedback, and to everyone who loves The X- files.

FEEDBACK: vs10producers@yahoo.com, thank you!

DISCLAIMER: The X-files, Fox Mulder and Dana

Scully don’t belong to us, they belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and 20th Century Fox. We’re just borrowing them for a while.

DISTRIBUTION: This story belongs exclusively to the Virtual Season 11 site for two weeks; thereafter, please contact the Producers at the above address for permission to archive.

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Displacement

By The VS11 Producers

Teaser

The letter came in a standard white number 10 envelope. It was embossed with the return address ‘Joint Chiefs of Staff’ in dark blue raised ink on the upper left hand corner. The addressee’s name was typed directly on the envelope, not typed to a label and stuck on. It was a letter of some importance. The young seaman who was responsible for the base mail that day took little note of the letter. He had several bags of mail to sort through and that was just one with a better address than most. He quickly tossed it in the slot for the executive offices and moved on to the next bundle. A machinist mate who’d been in a bar brawl and was serving out some time picked up the letter with a handful of others and walked the four blocks to the building holding the offices of the senior staff. He saluted the Ensign at the desk, who nodded and took the packet of mail from the  younger man. The envelope, in finer grade paper, caught his attention. With crisp military movements, the young Ensign got up from his desk and walked the letter into the inner office. He handed it to the officer seated in front of a window overlooking the base parade grounds.

“This just came for you, sir,” the Ensign said, saluted and returned to his desk in the outer office.

The officer pulled a long silver letter opener out of the top drawer of the desk and sliced open the letter. Carefully removing the single sheet of watermark paper inside, he unfolded the tri-fold and read the return address.

Joint Chiefs of Staff

The Pentagon

Washington, DC

April 20, 2004

Subject: Letter Orders

TO: Lieut. William Scully, Jr., USN

You will proceed at the earliest possible time by air transportation to Naval Headquarters, Washington, DC in connection with your new assignment with the Joint Chiefs. Priority AAA is assigned.

The officer looked further down the page and a smile grew on his face. It was everything he could do to keep from shouting out his excitement. Dropping the letter to the desktop, he reached for the phone and punched in a few digits. Waiting for the other party to pick up, he impatiently drummed his fingers, continuing to glance down at the letter on the desk.

Finally, someone answered.

“Baby, get all the boxes you can find down at the supermarket. We’re going home!”

Bill Scully laughed aloud at his wife’s screams of happiness. He picked up the letter again and read it to her.

Scully Residence

Baltimore, MD

April 24, 2004

“More sweet potato pie, Fox?” Maggie asked, not bothering to hear the reply as she scooped another piece onto his empty plate.

“I really can’t . . . oh, well, if you insist,” Mulder said in a lame attempt to ward off the calorie laden confection.

“Oh, right, like we aren’t taking the rest of the pie home with us, and I won’t find the empty pie pan in the sink tomorrow morning,” Scully scoffed, but her eyes were alight with affection and humor.

“Fox runs every morning, he needs those calories,” Maggie admonished.

“Listen to your mother, Scully. I need these calories,” Mulder mumbled around a fork full of pie.

“Talk to me when those calories catch up with your slowing metabolism, Mulder,” his partner returned with a quick swipe across his hair, messing it up in the process. She proceeded to load up the empty plates and serving dishes from their meal.

“That was wonderful, Mrs. — ah, Maggie,” Mulder said, remembering just in time that Margaret Scully was tired of him calling her by her formal title.

“Well, I’m glad you two got a chance to join me. It’s been so quiet in this house lately,” Maggie said, taking the last of the dishes into the kitchen. Just as she placed them on the counter the phone rang. Scully started the dishwater and Mulder followed them, retrieving a clean drying towel from one of the kitchen drawers. Secure in the knowledge that the clean up was in good hands, Maggie grabbed the phone on the third ring.

“Hello.”

Not wanting to eavesdrop, the two partners continued to wash and dry, Mulder pointing out invisible smudges of food that Scully’s washing had missed. She, in turn, tossed a handful of soap bubbles on his gray tee shirt. They both stopped short at the squeal that erupted behind them.

“When?” Maggie demanded, almost shaking with excitement. “Oh, I can’t believe this, this is wonderful! Yes, I’ll save the Sunday paper and maybe you can look on line. I’ll get you the web sites for some realtors in the area. Are you looking at Baltimore or somewhere closer to DC? Oh, this is such good news, can I share it? Well, Fox and Dana are here for supper. Oh, good, I’ll be sure to tell them. Yes, sweetheart, I can’t wait either. Give Bill, Matty and baby Clara my love!” When she turned, blue and hazel eyes exchanged a glance before the partners went unobtrusively back to their work. Maggie smiled and walked over to stand behind them. She wrapped an arm around her daughter and Mulder. “That was Tara. She had the best news.”

“What’s that, Mom?” Scully asked, handing Mulder a glass salad bowl.

“Bill finally got the transfer to the Pentagon! They’re moving back here in a couple of weeks!”

The sound of breaking glass startled all three people. They looked down as one at the now shattered salad bowl that had slipped from Mulder’s fingers as he heard the news.

“Oh, god, I’m so sorry, Maggie. I’ll buy you a new one,” Mulder sputtered, fishing pieces of broken glass out of the empty side of the double sink.

“Fox, it’s an old dime store bowl. I have plenty more just like it,” Maggie shooed him off. “Dana, get me an oven mitt so I can get the bigger pieces. Fox, honey, move aside. I’m an old pro at broken dishes.”

Scully handed the oven mitt to her mother, and quickly gathered up a discarded cereal box out of the recycle bin. “Will this work, Mom?” she asked.

Maggie smiled as she placed a handful of glass inside the box. “Just like old times, isn’t it? How many dishes did Charlie break when you two did clean up?” The older woman was so engrossed in her efforts that she didn’t notice the grimace on her daughter’s face. “You two run along. I’ll just be a minute. I want to see that movie you brought. I just love Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton is so much fun to watch.”

No more was said about Bill’s transfer for the rest of the evening. The movie ended and the two agents got their jackets. “Dinner was wonderful, as usual, Maggie. Sorry about the bowl,” Mulder said, giving the woman a peck on the cheek.

“Oh, it’s perfectly all right, Fox. Now you really are part of the family,” Maggie teased, pressing a foil covered pie pan with the remains of the sweet potato pie into his hands. “Drive safely, and call me the minute you get back to the apartment. You know how I worry.”

“I will, Mom,” Scully promised.

“Oh, and Dana, don’t forget to mention to Fox about the plans for the summer,” Maggie shouted as they made their way down the sidewalk to the car. “With Bill coming home, I think we can really make it happen.”

“Plans?” Mulder asked, fishing out his car keys. “I will, Mom. I’ll call you in a bit.” Mulder detected an exasperated tone to his partner’s voice.

“What’s this all about, Scully?” he asked again, starting the car and pulling out of the driveway.

Scully sighed and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Mom mentioned it earlier, when you were in watching the baseball highlights. She wants to  have a family vacation. Go somewhere, rent a cottage on the beach, all of us together.”

“All of us . . . as in. . .?”

“Bill, Tara, Matty and little Clara, Charlie and his family . . .”

“Scully, you can’t be serious. Besides, you don’t think Charlie would show up for it, do you? I mean, he’s made a point of avoiding all the other family gatherings of late.”

“I know, Mulder, I know. I don’t know what to tell you. Sometimes, when Mom gets on these ‘we’re all one family’ kicks I just want to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense in to her.”

“She doesn’t understand, Scully. It’s not her fault.”

“Maybe it’s our fault, or more my fault. Maybe I should just tell her.”

“Tell her what?” he asked apprehensively.

“Tell her that her son, her baby, was the man responsible for putting you near death last fall. That he’s connected to a vile network of men who are little more than monsters, who kill and maim and torture at will. That he’s not the golden boy she envisions him to be.” Anger flushed her cheeks when she finished.

Mulder was silent for a while, letting her calm down. Finally, he took his eyes off the road for just an instant to meet her gaze. “It would kill her, Scully. You know that. And we’re not entirely sure . . .”

“You’re not entirely sure? Mulder, how much proof do you need?”

“You’re taking Krycek’s word for this, you know. And he’s not the most reliable person. I can tell you that from personal experience. Me and a bunch of Siberian cockroaches.”

“Krycek didn’t need to tell me that in an airbase in New Jersey my brother shot you, held me at gunpoint and threatened to kill me because I saw that with my own eyes. Krycek, by the way, saved both our lives on that night!”

Mulder just stared at her, the silence weighing heavy between them. She could read his thought easily.

Scully blew out a breath. “I know, I can’t tell her. I can’t tell her any of this.”

“Not to mention how much joy there’d be at any summer cottage where Bill and I were forced to co-exist,” he added.

“Look, Mulder, now that Bill and Tara are going to be living near us, you’re going to have to get used to the idea that you’re going to spend time with them. I know it won’t be pleasant — at first — but I expect you to make an effort.”

“We’re all one big family?” Mulder asked, requoting her mother.

Scully nodded emphatically. “Whether we like it or not,” she said sternly.

Mulder just smiled and shook his head. “Yes ma’am!” he said, giving her an abbreviated salute.

Act I Scene 1

Bill Scully Residence

Fairland, MD

May 16, 2004

12:53 PM

Scully heaved a deep, soul-cleansing sigh. Bill and Tara’s house was gorgeous. In the limited time there’d been to house hunt; Bill had done very well for himself. He’d managed to snag a freshly renovated, three-level Colonial in Fairland, Maryland. It had four bedrooms, one and a half baths, new kitchen and fully finished basement. From the deck out back, the view was both breathtaking and serene, a sharp contrast to the tension-filled aura radiating off her older brother since she and Mulder had arrived.

For the past 3 hours Scully had watched the two men size each other up like a couple of junk yard dogs. The air was thick with testosterone and Scully had sought a few minutes respite before tackling the upstairs bathroom. God, she was tired of her brother’s same old song and dance act. Bill had treated Mulder like last week’s garbage from the moment they had walked in the door. Ignoring him whenever possible and gracing him with Neanderthal-like grunts when forced to acknowledge his presence or instruct him on the destination of a packing crate or item of furniture.

And Mulder, to give credit where it was due, had taken it all on the chin. Scully felt her jaw tighten. Bill could be such a bastard.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Scully turned at the sound of her mother’s voice and pasted a smile on her face. “I was just thinking the same thing, mom.”

Maggie moved closer to her daughter and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.

“Really? You looked more like you were expecting an audit from the IRS.”

Scully huffed a quiet snort and slowly shook her head.

“Is everything all right, Dana?”

“I was just thinking about Bill.”

“That’s the reason for the sour look on your face?”

Scully smiled and dropped her chin to her chest. “Where are Tara and the kids?”

Maggie laughed softly. “You’re changing the subject, Dana.” She pulled her arm from around her daughter’s shoulders and turned her so they were looking at each other.

“It’s Fox, isn’t it?”

Scully studied her shoes for a second then met her mother’s gaze, pausing only slightly before letting the dam break.

“No, mom. It’s not Mulder. It’s Bill. His attitude. How long do I have to wait before he accepts the fact that Mulder and I are together? I had to force Mulder to come here today because he didn’t want to cause any trouble. Mulder is a part of who I am, mom. And if Bill can’t come to terms with that, then…” Scully thrust her chin forward, defiance flashing in her eyes. “Then he is going to have to exclude me from family gatherings as well.”

Maggie stared out across the back yard. A gentle breeze tickled the treetops lining the rear chain link fence. A bird flew overhead, circled once then disappeared behind the next-door neighbor’s roof.

“Dana, when Bill was a little boy, your father drummed into him the importance of responsibility. He was the eldest and with your dad away so much of the time, Bill was expected to take care of us in his absence. He’s always taken that responsibility seriously. You know he loves you. He only wants to make sure you’re happy.”

“I *am* happy, mom. Mulder is the best thing that’s happened to me and I won’t let Bill jeopardize what we have.”

Maggie smiled, reached out and pulled her daughter into a hug. “I’ll talk to him. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try. You know how stubborn he gets.”

Scully nodded into her mother’s shoulder.

“Mom? Dana? Is something the matter?” Tara joined the two women on the decking.

“Everything’s fine, sweetheart. Dana and I were just having a little mother, daughter chat.”

“I’ve fed the kids and thought the rest of the troops might be hungry. There’s soup and sandwiches in the kitchen.”

Scully stepped back from her mother’s embrace.

Maggie pushed up her sleeves, squeezed her daughter’s shoulder and headed towards the door, “I’ll just wash up then come and help serve lunch.”

Tara hesitated, eyeing Scully warily. “Are you sure everything’s okay, Dana?”

“Everything is fine. I’ll go let the men know lunch is ready.”

Mulder hauled another box from the back of the van and headed towards the house. Bill met him in the doorway coming from the other direction. The two of them did a quick shuffle, both blocking the other, until Bill finally grabbed hold of the box and shoved Mulder to the side. “That one goes upstairs. Matty’s room.” Without another word, he stepped past Mulder and headed for the truck.

“Ja Herr, mein Kapitaen. Whatever you say.” Mulder muttered under his breath, fighting the urge to rearrange the box over Bill’s head.

He moved into the house and headed upstairs. The house was nice. Big, airy and light but as far as Mulder was concerned it had 2 flights of stairs too many. His back was killing him and he wondered briefly if it was fate that had directed him to always pick up the box for the top story or whether Bill had strategically placed them so that Mulder would grab them first. He smiled cynically to himself. Bill was definitely bringing out the worst in him today.

“Ah, there you are.”

Scully’s head appeared over the top of the box. “Where are you heading with that?”

“Matthew’s bedroom.”

Scully stepped back to let him pass, then followed him down the hallway.

Mulder dumped the box alongside all the others and slowly straightened up, hands pressing against his lower back. He felt another pair of hands join his then gently remove them and turn him around.

“Bill’s really been giving you a work out, hasn’t he?”

In more ways than one, Mulder thought to himself but refrained from voicing his thoughts when a closer inspection of Scully’s face told him she wasn’t just referring to the amount of times he’d hauled boxes up the stairs. He knew she knew how Bill had been treating him. He also knew how much it upset her. Mulder pulled Scully to him, encircled her in his arms and kissed the top of her head.

“Hey, it hasn’t been that bad. I’m still standing and he hasn’t tried to take a swing at me. In fact in Bill terms, he’s been quite amicable.”

“You’re a bad liar, Mulder. I’ve seen the way he’s been acting.”

Mulder felt Scully shudder against him and he pulled back, tipping her chin up with his index finger so she was looking at him. There were tears in her eyes but she tried to hide them behind a weak smile. “Scully, I know Bill hates me. And in a lot of ways he has every right to, but. . .”

Scully’s forefinger over his mouth silenced him. “No.” She shook her head vehemently. “He doesn’t have the right. Ignorance does not excuse bad manners. He’s never bothered to take the time to really understand what you do. What *we* do. I won’t make excuses for him, and I don’t want to hear you making them either. I’m sorry I insisted you come with me today. I’d forgotten what a total ass my brother can be.”

Mulder clasped her face between his hands, gently caressing her cheeks with his thumbs.

“Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

This time when she smiled it was genuine. “A girl can never hear that too many times, Mulder.”

“Good.” Then he leaned down and kissed her on the lips, long and deep and hard.

“Oh for god’s, sake!”

Bill’s voice pulled them apart as effectively as a bucket of cold water. Mulder turned self- consciously towards the man standing in the doorway, and placed his hands discreetly in front of his suddenly too-tight denim jeans. “It’s bad enough that you brought him to my house, Dana, and now you’re carrying on in my son’s bed room like a couple of horny teenagers? What the hell were you thinking?” With a melodramatic flap of his hands, Bill turned on his heel and stormed down the hallway.

Scully stood and stared, mouth gaping and cheeks burning as she tried to process what had just happened. A split second later, her brain started functioning again, sending a heavy dose of outrage coursing through her body. She’d only managed one step towards the bedroom door when Mulder’s hand wrapped around her arm, tugging her back. “Don’t, Scully. It’s not worth causing a scene over.”

Scully glared at the hand encasing her upper arm, then aimed twin blue lasers at Mulder. Yanking hard to pull herself free she said, “The hell it’s not!” And stalked after her brother. She caught up with him in the living room before he could make his escape downstairs. Through a red-hot haze of anger, Scully vaguely registered the presence of her mother and sister-in-law in the kitchen as she passed by. “What the hell was that all about?” Scully hissed, grabbing her brother’s wrist and turning him around to face her.

“You don’t want to go there, Dana.” Bill threatened.

“How dare you talk to me like I’m some kind of recalcitrant child– ”

“Don’t lecture me on how I should treat you. If you have no respect for yourself, then at least try and find some respect for my family. What if Mathew had come in and seen that…” He waved his hands in the air searching ineffectually for the right description. “Seen *him* all over you like a praying mantis.” Bill swiped a hand across his brow and dragged it over his face. “Why did you have to bring *him* with you today? You know how I feel…”

“Yes I do know how you feel! You’ve made it pretty damn obvious to everyone what an ignorant pig you are. Mulder and I are a couple, Bill. How many different ways do I have to explain it? Either you accept him as part of my life or you exclude both of us.”

“Jeezus, Dana.” Bill shook his head in denial then lowered his voice, spitting his words through clenched teeth. “I thought you were a smart woman. How can you let that lunatic pull the wool over your eyes like he has? He’s a fruitcake! He believes in *aliens* for Christ’s sake!”

“Bill!” Maggie Scully appeared from the kitchen wiping her hands on a towel and staring at her eldest son in disbelief. “What’s going on?”

Scully glared at her brother, her chest heaving and pulse pounding in her ears. He glared just as menacingly back at her.

“Dana? Are you going to tell me what the problem is?” Maggie stood beside her daughter.

“You know what the problem is, mom. It’s the same problem there is whenever Mulder and Bill are within shouting distance of each other.”

Scully turned to face her mother but it was the tall figure standing behind her mom that caught her attention.

Mulder looked at Scully, silently pleading with her to let it drop. When he eventually said something, it was to Maggie. “I’m sorry, Mrs….. um, Maggie, I’ve just remembered something I had to have ready for AD Skinner tomorrow.” He dug the car keys out of his pocket and turned to Scully. ” Call me when you’re done, Scully, and I’ll come pick you up.”

Scully straightened her shoulders, thrust out her chest, then looked at her mom and her brother. “That won’t be necessary, Mulder. I’m done now.” She slid past her mother and joined Mulder. “Let’s go.”

“Scully…” Mulder tried to draw her back but she kept walking, jogging down the stairs to the front door. Mulder had no choice but to follow. When they got to the car Scully stood by the passenger side, hands on hips and chewing on her bottom lip, staring along the road.

Mulder unlocked the doors and waited for Scully to say something. But it was her mother’s voice that eventually broke the silence.

“Fox, Dana, wait up.” Maggie Scully stopped beside her daughter. “Don’t go. We can fix this.”

Scully sighed. “No mom, it’s too late. Bill’s had plenty of chances to come around. He just won’t try. Somewhere, I’ve got to make a stand.”

Mulder leaned on the roof of the car, “Scully, there’s no reason for us both to go. I’m the one he doesn’t want here. You stay and I’ll come back for you later.”

Scully’s answer was to give her mom a hug.

“We’re going. Both of us. I’ll call you tonight, mom. I love you.”

Maggie pulled her daughter closer. “Love you too, honey. I’ll talk to Bill and try and make him see reason.” She let go of Dana, and then turned to Mulder. “I’m sorry, Fox. You take care. Drive safely.”

Mulder offered a half-hearted smile and climbed into the car.

They’d traveled nearly 8 miles and neither of them had uttered a word. Scully had always had more staying power than Mulder when it came to maintaining the ‘silent treatment’ and this time was no different. He’d reached the end of his endurance about 5 miles back and now he just had to say something.

“Scully. . . I . . .” But he really didn’t know what he should say. He should have felt guilty, but he didn’t. He’d had Bill Scully up to his eyeballs and it was about time someone stood up to him. In a way he was secretly pleased that Scully had let him have it. But habit dictated that he accept at least some of the blame. “I’m sorry things turned out the way they did.”

Scully didn’t answer right away. She stared out of the side window, her right elbow perched on the edge of the door where glass met upholstery and  her hand cupping her forehead. When she moved it was sudden. She twisted in her seat so she was looking Mulder.

“You know, Mulder. I’m not in the least bit sorry. Bill has to learn he can’t keep pushing me around. Or you for that matter. At least this should get the point across.”

Mulder chewed on his lip briefly, then said, “It must have been a shock when he found out.”

“Found out what?”

“About you and I living together.”

“Mulder, we are not *living* together. You needed a place to stay and I had space.”

“Scully, we *are* living together.”

“You make that sound like a bad thing.”

“No! God, no! Far from it.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

Mulder drew in a deep breath. “It’s just… maybe till things cool down with Bill, it might be best if I found my own place.”

“Bill’s an asshole, Mulder. His opinion doesn’t matter to me.”

Mulder didn’t believe that for a second. With Melissa gone, and Charlie exposing himself as one of the main players in the consortium they’d been fighting against for the past eleven years, it had to hurt to have her only sibling questioning her wisdom in choosing him as her ‘significant other’.

“Scully, all I’m saying is don’t write your family off on my account.”

“You’re part of my family, now, Mulder. And Bill needs to accept that fact.”

This argument was going around in circles. Mulder had already made up his mind. At the earliest opportunity he’d find himself another place to live. He refused to be the cause of a rift between Scully and her brother.

Act I Scene 2

May 17, 2004

The Pentagon, Washington, DC

8:30 a.m.

Bill loved seeing his family, his mother, and even his baby sister — even if she had dragged along the twisto-strango she insisted on forcing into his life. But the calm order of a military base was really home to him. Floors were polished like glass, a salute at every entryway; yes, he belonged here. He deserved to be here, and it was only a matter of time that he would not be a new transfer any longer, but a respected part of this facility. As it should be.

As he walked down the hall with the ensign to his new office, even the tap of their heels down the corridor sounded neat and clean. Nice, orderly, quiet. “Here’s your office, Commander Scully,” the ensign announced as he swung open the door for his superior. Beyond the open door, Bill could not believe his own eyes. He’d imagined a nice office, a window, big desk, plenty of room in order to go about his daily duties. The kind of office a Commander warranted. What lay before him was nothing of the sort.

It was like Ali-Baba’s cavern, piled high with objects, only not treasures, but stacks upon stacks of files, memorabilia and boxes of random outdated office supplies. It was a complete and utter mess. “Welcome to the Pentagon, Commander,” his companion leered at him. The young man could barely hold the tittering back past his lips. “Looks like Commander Keenan left a little bit of himself behind for you. I’m sure you’ll figure out where to pick up . . . eventually. Scanning room’s down on the first floor when you need it, Sir.”

Bill gaped at him in shocked amazement, then back at the storage unit of a space that was his office. Clearing his throat and tucking his cap beneath his arm, he stood up straighter than the Washington monument. “Dismissed,” he boomed a little more loudly than was necessary. A quick salute and the ensign was marching away dutifully down the hall. Bill didn’t watch him go, but instead waited until the sound of tapping heels disappeared, and he was left alone.

He stepped into the office, carefully tip-toeing around the clutter, to make his way to the small window. He pulled violently at the chord for the wide-slatted metal blinds, slicing the closeness of the office open with the bright morning sunlight. Grumbling inwardly, he threw his cap onto one of the lower stacks of folders and planted himself into the old leather desk chair. Upon landing, a spew of dust motes shot out from the cracks in the leather and danced in the air before him. He sighed heavily in exasperation and immediately sneezed in reaction to the dusty air.

Apparently, he hadn’t left all the moving and organizing at home for the weekend. He rubbed at his eyes impatiently and then began sifting through the first stack of papers.

“What a pack-rat,” he complained, finding that three quarters of the items were expendable fax interactions, newspaper clippings or scribbled illegible notes. Was he meant to decipher all of this? It was going to be a long day.

Act I scene 3

Georgetown

May 18, 2004

6:30 am

Mulder drew in a deep breath, stretching his hamstrings and bending over. It was a beautiful morning in Washington. The azaleas were in full bloom, tulips fought with  waxwing begonias in the front yards of most of the apartment buildings nearby. He finished his warm up and started out at an easy trot, heading for the track just a few of blocks down the street. His mind kept circling back to the conversation he’d had with Scully a couple of nights before. Of course, conversation was the polite way of saying it. In reality, it had more bite to it than a normal conversation. He knew the minute Scully’s mom had announced the impending arrival of William Scully, Jr. on the east coast that his relationship with Scully would end up the worse for wear. Although theirs was a bond stronger than any force in the universe, his own failed family unit had taught him that blood wasn’t always thicker than water. He couldn’t stand by and watch Scully pull away from her family. He couldn’t live with the guilt he’d bear if that were to happen.

The track was empty, as always. It was easy to pick up speed on the cinder roadbed and just let the rhythm of his feet hitting the ground, his muscles stretching and contracting take all haunting thoughts from his mind. He lost himself in the simple endurance test of drawing air into his lungs, keeping his feet moving forward. Sweat stung his eyes, but he wiped at it absently and pushed himself a little harder.

A tiny voice that could have been Scully’s chided him for punishing himself for just being in her life, but he brushed that aside, too. He was running, running from Bill Scully, running from Scully’s anguish over her brother’s inability to accept Mulder in her life, running from all the pain inflicted by caustic comments and dismissive looks.

When his legs would carry him no further, he stopped and bent over, sweat pouring off his hair. His lungs burned, his leg muscles burned, but he welcomed it. Standing erect, he shook out his arms and jogged around the track to cool his overheated limbs. Mulder didn’t need to look at his watch to tell it was time to head back. The chimes at Georgetown University told him it was 7 am and he needed to hit the showers. He wiped his face off on the tail of his Hoyas tee shirt and started down the sidewalk to Scully’s apartment. The sign took him by surprise. “For Rent” it read in front of a quaint duplex, set off from the sidewalk with a wrought iron fence. The trees along the boulevard made the house seem like an shady, welcoming oasis. He stood for a moment, just looking up at the windows.

“It’s a beauty, ain’t it?” a just past middle aged man said suddenly behind him.

Mulder turned his head to address the gentleman. “Yes, it sure is. Are you the landlord?”

“Landlord, owner, interior decorator. At least the parts my wife lets me decide,” the man said with a chuckle. “Jake Timmons, JT Real Estate,” he added, shaking Mulder’s hand.

“Fox Mulder.”

“Are you looking for a place, Mr. Mulder? Hey, you aren’t the new associate professor of history over at GU are you?”

It was Mulder’s turn to chuckle. “Not guilty.  I’m an FBI agent.”

“Oh, well, the Hoover is just four Metro stops up the way. Not even a bad walk on nice days. Want to come in and take a look?”

Mulder looked up at the house. He really should be getting back, taking his shower, getting ready for work. Something about the townhouse was calling his name. He stared off down the sidewalk toward Scully’s apartment and then over at Mr. Timmons, who was standing there patiently, an expectant grandfather look on his face.

“Sure, no harm in looking,” Mulder said with a rush.

Mr. Timmons beamed. “That’s the spirit! C’mon, won’t take a minute. I know you’re probably in a hurry to get to work.”

It was cooler inside and Mr. Timmons flicked on lights as they went. The foyer was small but functional, with a built-in coat rack and mirror off to the side. A living room with a full bow window overlooking the street was through an archway to the right. Straight ahead was the stairway going to the second floor. Next to the stair was a narrow hall that led to the dining room and kitchen at the back of the house. “It’s got two bedrooms, one and a half baths. The laundry room is off the kitchen. Basement is a crawlspace, but there’s plenty of storage room in the attic,” Mr. Timmons rambled on as they walked through the downstairs. The dining room had a wooden chair rail of dark wood and varnished woodwork around the window and doorways. The kitchen had a fairly new stove, a matching dishwasher and a side-by-side refrigerator with ice and water in the door. Two doors were at the back of the room, one leading out to the postage sized back yard and the other to the laundry room, which doubled as a pantry with a floor to ceiling shelving unit along one wall. Mr. Timmons pointed out the half bath off the dining room and then took Mulder on a tour of the upstairs. Inside the first door at the top of the stair, a large claw-foot tub with shower dominated the bathroom. Two bedrooms, one with a window seat that matched the bow window from the living room, finished off the upper story. A pull down ladder gave access to the attic, which was large enough for Mulder to stand. When they had made their way back to the first floor, Mr. Timmons smiled at Mulder. “Well, what do you think?”

“I think it’s very nice, but definitely out of my price range,” Mulder admitted.

“What are you paying now?” Mr. Timmons asked.

Without hesitation, Mulder told the man what he’d been paying for his apartment in Arlington.

The older man beamed. “Would you be willing to go an extra 100 a month?” he asked.

Mulder was caught completely by surprise. “You’re kidding!”

“No, not at all. This place was my wife’s mother’s. It’s paid for, all we pay are taxes. We’re looking for quiet, mature renters.”

Mulder thought back to his last apartment. Somehow he doubted that any of his neighbors or even Mr. Szflarski would accuse him of being quiet. Mature, that was a matter of opinion, too. But the more he looked around the duplex, the more he liked it. It was nothing like his old apartment. If he were honest with himself, it was more the kind of place Scully would pick. But then, that was the real test, if he could get Scully’s approval. It was the only way she’d accept his moving out.

“Mr. Timmons, I’d really like a friend of mine to have a look at it, if you don’t mind.”

“Don’t mind a’tall. I just put the ‘for rent’ sign in the window, last renters bought a place out in Prince Georges’ County. They had twins last month and this place was just a little too small. Say, how about you bring your friend by after work? Give me a call and I’ll meet you here,” he said, pulling a business card out of his wallet. “My office is just up the street on M.”

Mulder took the card and then realized too late he didn’t have a place to put it. Self- consciously he leaned over and tucked the card in the instep of his running shoe. “I’ll give you a call.”

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll see you this afternoon then Mr. Mulder.” Once on the sidewalk, the two men shook hands once more and Mulder trotted off down the street, glancing once more over his shoulder at the duplex. Later that afternoon Scully wandered from the living room to the dining room and completed the circuit through the kitchen. She opened the cabinets, knelt down to inspect the pipes under the sink and peered into the broiler unit of the stove. Mulder felt like hiding his face behind his hand, but Mr. Timmons seemed to take it all in stride. She tested the banister going to the second floor, turned the water on full blast in the bathtub and flushed both the upstairs and downstairs toilets — twice each. The more she did, the more Mulder cringed, but trailed behind her like a toddler after his mother at a sidewalk sale. Finally, when he was just  about to scream, she nodded and headed down the stairs.

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“Parking?” Scully inquired.

“Off street. There’s a one car garage in the back, but there’s space for two cars to park off the alley.”

“Are any utilities included?” she asked.

“Nope, that’s the responsibility of the renter,” Mr. Timmons said with a smile. “It’s got a new heat pump in the basement, great fuel efficiency.”

“Monthly heating and cooling costs?” Scully fired off.

Mr. Timmons handed her a printout from the District light company.

Scully nodded as she reviewed the figures. “Garbage pick up?”

“Once a week, from the alley on Thursdays. One can trash, one box recyclables. Standard for the city,” Mr. Timmons added.

“Security system?” At that Mulder blanched, but wisely kept his mouth shut.

“The last renters didn’t see the need, but if you want one, we could have one installed. I’d split the cost,” the older man offered.

“Mulder has friends in the business, they could probably get you a good deal,” Scully countered.

Mulder choked at that, but Scully pointedly ignored him, as did Mr. Timmons. “Couldn’t ask for more,” Mr. Timmons said affably.

Scully led the way out into the growing twilight. “It’s very nice,” she said with a forced smile. Mulder couldn’t read her expression and chewed on his lip. “I think I’d like to sleep on it, Mr. Timmons. Would it be all right to call you in the morning and give you my answer?”

Mr. Timmons smiled at Mulder fondly. “Sure, Mr. Mulder. You two go talk it over. This friend of yours seems to know a thing or two about real estate,” he said with a wink. “Just give me a call in the morning.”

“Thanks,” Mulder said, shaking the older man’s hand.

As they walked down the street, Scully twined her fingers in Mulder’s. “Want to get some dinner?” she asked.

“Not really that hungry,” he said quietly.

“How about grilled cheese?”

He nodded. She squeezed his hand and he squeezed back, finally giving her a weak smile. They were silent the rest of the way to the apartment. Scully got out the frying pan while Mulder pulled the cheese, bread and butter out of the refrigerator. In a few moments, they sat down to eat.

“So, what do you think of the duplex?” Mulder asked with notable trepidation.

Scully chewed her sandwich and swallowed a sip of iced tea before answering. “It’s nice. More room than you had on Hegal.”

“Well, I think the square footage is comparable, but the foyer on Hegal really couldn’t be used for much. The kitchen was bigger.”

She shrugged and continued eating. Mulder pushed his half eaten sandwich aside and sipped his tea.

“It’s closer to the track,” Mulder blurted out suddenly.

She raised her eyes to look at him. “Yes, but the track is only five blocks from here,” she said.

“Scully, this is what we’d agreed on after the fire. My living here . . . with you . . . it was just temporary.”

She bit her lip but nodded in agreement. “The price is definitely a point in its favor,” she said, sidestepping the elephant that had taken a place at the table — Mulder moving out.

“Look at it this way: now Bill won’t rag on you as much,” Mulder offered.

“Bill can screw himself,” Scully said with a pinched expression.

“As long as you and I can screw each other,” Mulder said with a barely restrained smirk.

She allowed a grin to skip across her lips. “Always,” she said, taking his hand.

“This changes nothing between us, Scully. Nothing can change how I feel about you, how much I need to be with you. Part of the problem of the old apartment was the commute between our places. That won’t be a problem now. I can stay over here, you can stay over there, and we’ll still have plenty of time to get ready at our own place in the morning. It’ll be like we’re living together, just not . . .”

“. . .living together,” she finished his thought.

“Yeah,” he agreed. They cleaned up the kitchen together, Mulder putting the dishes away. She wandered off to work on some files she’s brought home and take a long bath, he tuned in the Yankees game on the television. When the game ended, Scully was standing next to the sofa in her robe, her hair freshly shampooed and dried. “Coming to  bed?” she asked hopefully.

“Yeah,” he told her, clicking off the TV and turning out the lights. He locked the front door and followed her into the bedroom. “Are you OK with this, Scully?” he asked, coming up behind her as she shook out her hair and brushed it in front of her vanity.

“Sure. I mean it’s what you want, right?” she asked his reflection.

“Well, yeah. I can’t mooch off you forever,” he said in a lame attempt at a joke.

“You aren’t mooching,” she said softly. “You’ve been paying half the rent.”

“Well, this will give me a chance to build up my vast CD collection,” he said with a shrug.

“And your video collection?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I don’t need one any more,” he said, reaching around to pull the tie from her robe and sliding the terrycloth off her shoulders. He placed gentle kisses at the base of her neck. “Come to bed, Scully.”

Without a sound, she allowed him to pull her on to the mattress. Their lovemaking was gentle, reverent. As the shadows deepened, they fell asleep, holding each other as tightly as they could, as if nothing or anyone could separate them.

In the morning Mulder called Mr. Timmons and made arrangements to sign the lease and move into the little duplex down the street.

Act II Scene 1

The Pentagon

May 20, 2004

Bill was finally making some headway with the flammable flea market that had been Commander Keegan’s legacy. One more file cabinet left. Why couldn’t the old fart build himself a library like Nixon or Clinton or every other flatulent egomaniac in this town, get a crew of flunkies in jumpsuits to crate this crap instead of one of the nation’s soon-to-be military titans? “Get your own freaking curator,” Bill grunted, flipping a photo of Nixon and Keegan, signed “Kick some Commie ass, Donny!” into a wheeled plastic barrel with a file drawerful of Vietnam War memos the Washington Post would have killed for. He peered down into the empty metal drawer and booted it shut. Bill heard a dull thump, and the drawer bounced back to catch him in the shin.

He issued a string of obscenities, and kicked the drawer again. This time, it ricocheted off its track.

The office door clattered open, and an ensign’s buzzed head popped in. “Sir? Everything all right in here?”

“Yeah,” Bill snapped, rubbing his chin. “Stand down, OK? I’m fine, fine.”

The ensign fled, and Bill knelt before the now-gaping mouth of the file cabinet. He spotted a crumpled corner of manila pasteboard ripped back to reveal yellowed pages of textured Corona type. More crap — the forestry policies of the last four presidents had done less to decimate the nation’s woodlands than had the Pentagon. The regulation cabinet was deep, and Bill groaned as he ripped his sleeve on the track’s razor edge. His thumb and forefinger finally closed about the corner of the thick folder, and he banged his forehead on a drawer handle as he tugged it free. After the injury and wardrobe damage Bill had sustained in his effort to liberate the file, he felt obliged to at least leaf through its contents. Had he not been distracted by the pain in his shin and the blood soaking into his uniform blouse, he might have wondered at the lack of dust bunnies or aged track grease on the folder. His eyes nonetheless were drawn to the stamp haphazardly positioned in the corner of each page in oxidized scarlet. Classified to the max. William Scully’s heart began to race as he examined the text on the cover page, and almost stopped when two words emerged from the crisp hand-typed memorandum. Zeus Faber. To the civilian population at large — with the possible exception of a few egghead historians – – the name would have meant nothing. But to anyone above the rank of lieutenant, it was military legend — a dark footnote in the annals of the Navy and an untold epilogue in the blood- soaked saga of World War II.

The U.S. sub Zeus Faber had been carrying an A- bomb — cousin to those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — reportedly for airborne delivery to an unidentified destination in Japan. Tragically, the death-dealing technology was still in its relative infancy, and some breach of protocol or a terrible accident had resulted in the mass radiation poisoning of the Faber’s crew. Capt. Kyle Sanford gave his life with 143 of his men; only seven men survived the ordeal. Few knew the rest of the story, and few ever would. Bill had been told in a bar in Miami one night, by a retired admiral half in the bag. Wanting to hedge his bets, Harry Truman had ordered nuclear detonation not only over the two villages now known to every junior high history student who cared. The straight-talking Missourian had decided to make a stronger statement, and millions might have died in and around Tokyo had fate not intervened in the lives of the Zeus Faber’s crew. While the mass destruction of two Japanese villages was a wound that had been slow to heal, the obliteration of such a teeming metropolis likely would have fueled a cultural blood feud that would have led to the eventual deaths of tens of millions more Americans and Japanese and scorched earth on both sides of the Pacific. But that seemingly wasn’t the story Bill Scully now read. He collapsed into Commander Keegan’s well-worn desk chair, scarcely breathing as he scanned the contents of the lost file. Something about “foo fighters” — the phrase came back to him from some long-ago Thanksgiving dinner, when Mom had invited Dana’s asshole partner to supper. Some story of Mulder’s about UFO sightings during WWII, of alien spacecraft being shot down over the Pacific by U.S. fliers. William Scully placed the folder carefully on his blotter, got up, and locked the door. He then settled back into his chair. A name triggered his memory: The memo had been written by a Lt. Christopher Johansen. Johansen had lived down the street from his family when he was a kid on a base in San Diego, and had been good friends with his dad. Unlike a lot of brass, Johansen had never seemed eager to relive his Pacific Theater days, and Capt. Scully had occasionally commented on Johansen’s reticence regarding certain topics. Bill started with renewed interest into Johansen’s narrative, but was interrupted when his desk phone trilled.

“Commander Scully,” he barked. It would take a little time to get used to his new title.

“Hey, Hon — getting used to your new surroundings?” Tara asked lightly.

“The old hairbag — the commander — left it a pigsty, but I’m sloughing through. What’s up?”

“You have a clock in that new office of yours?”

Bill looked up. “Yeah, sorry — guess I got absorbed in Commander Keegan’s memorabilia. Fascinating stuff.”

“Well,” Tara teased, “drag yourself away, if you can. I’ve begun emergency measures on this pork roast, and Matthew wants to know when supper is.”

Her husband glanced reluctantly at the folder, and suppressed a sigh. “Yeah, sure, Babe. Packing it up right now. Go ahead and feed Matthew — I’ll be home soon.”

“I told him we’d wait for his daddy. Love,” Tara sang.

“Yeah.” Bill cradled the phone and eyed the open folder. Sighing loudly this time, he collected the documents and swept them into his briefcase.

Act II Scene 2

Dana Scully’s apartment

May 20, 2004

6:30 pm

The wooden spoon dragged through the thick red gravy, heavy boiling bubbles breaking the surface like lava as she stirred. Scully wanted to make their last night in her apartment together special. She was particularly good at making chicken Parmesan, and knew it was one of Mulder’s special requests when she cooked. It didn’t hurt that it took longer to prepare than other meals, and required an extensive amount of clean-up afterward, which meant Mulder would be hanging around the kitchen, keeping her company. He was in the living room presently, making his last phone calls to the Ryder pick-up station, the furniture delivery guys and the Gunmen. All his bases were covered. Garment bags lay draped over the few boxes of items Mulder had accumulated during his stay. She’d insisted he take the extra care for his suits in transit, knowing full well that he would have been happy to stuff them into black lawn bags with his grubby socks and sweats. She’d forgotten how men’s clothing seemed to wear so much faster than women’s — a fact she’d learned growing up with two brothers and her father. She felt a small pang disturb the inner reaches of her heart. All the men in her life seemed to give her some kind of heartache: Ahab gone from this world, Charlie seduced by the evil of the consortium, Bill wreaking havoc on her emotions and family status, and now Mulder, although with good intentions, leaving her alone in this apartment.

But that wasn’t true, and she knew it. Nothing was going to change between them. He still loved her completely and utterly. Only a few miles were going to be the separation between them. But she was going to miss his presence. She placed the lid off-center over the saucepan so that its contents didn’t boil over, and called Mulder in for help.

“Mulder, I need you to slice the mozzarella, and grate the parmesan.” She heard his heavy footsteps as he entered he kitchen.

“Man, you just side-stepped the oldest joke in the book. I can still keep the joke alive, though. Wanna pull my finger?” Said finger was caressing the back of her neck and making its way up to her ear as she pulled out a bunch of spaghetti from the narrow blue box.

“Not while I’m cooking, Mulder. . .” she grumbled between tight lips. This was not the first time he’d managed to distract her while tending hot food. Despite her protests, she loved it when he did this, even when they were at her mother’s house two winters ago, dangerously close to being caught, she reveled in it. She pushed herself back into him and his arms enveloped her. She tried to reach the pot of boiling water to drop the dry pasta into it to cook, but she was firmly pinned within his embrace.  “Besides, I’m enjoying the smell of garlic and basil filling the kitchen.”

“Garlic? Guess I won’t be kissing you later,” he said nuzzling his cheek against her hair.

“If we’re both eating it, it doesn’t count. Trust me, you won’t notice a thing.” She turned in his arms, holding the bunch of spaghetti tightly like a bouquet of flowers.

He bent down to kiss her, mumbling his lips against hers saying, “Is that a promise?”

She moved her lips in response to deepen the kiss, pressing herself a little harder against his body so that there was a real danger of them playing pick-up sticks with fallen pasta. They separated reluctantly, Scully longing to keep Mulder as close as possible for as long as possible. Yet, practicality winning, she wheedled herself out of his clutches and threw the spaghetti into the water. “You’d better get to work, mister. I’m not letting you slack off on the chores just because you won’t be here anymore.”

The warm pinkish glow illuminating Mulder’s cheeks suddenly disappeared, leaving his skin pallid. He valiantly tried to keep his smile in place, but it just ended up feeling rigid. It was quiet as they worked — very quiet. The only sounds were the bubbling liquids, knife tapping against the cutting board with each slice and the rhythm of hard cheese grating against metal. When they sat down to eat it was the same way. Metal fork tines clinked against Corian as they spun pasta and cut into the delectable meat and cheese. Scully was trying to keep the mood light, offering to pour more wine, passing the bread. She’d even lit candles, which usually served to loosen her mood, especially if she was shooting for certain activities in lieu of dessert. But with each bite, the cheese seem more oily, the sauce more acidic in her stomach.

‘This is not a break-up,’ she kept reminding herself. But while she chewed, warm rivulets trickled down her hot cheeks, and the meat became rubbery in her mouth. She couldn’t pry her eyes away from the plate before her for anything in the world. Maybe if she just didn’t look at Mulder, he wouldn’t notice the distress pushing so hard against her insides that it was ready to explode from her in sobs, had she not been biting her bottom lip to stave it back. She no longer heard the sounds of clinking cutlery. Mulder did notice.

The next thing she felt was his large, warm hand enveloping her tight fist beside the plate. She vaguely registered it invading her peripheral vision as she insisted on studying a particularly melty piece of cheese. “Hey, love, what is it?” he asked in such a gentle and concerned tone of voice that when Scully closed her eyes to cherish it, a new stream of tears retraced the paths that had already branded her cheeks. Scully quickly dropped her utensils and pulled her hand away from his grasp to wipe at her eyes. She blew her nose, and snuffled away the rest of the tears. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

“Don’t do that, please.”

She cleared her throat, covering her emotions even further. “Do what?”

“Scully, you’re not fine. You’re crying.” He reached over to her shoulder, squeezed it, then moved down her arm, to once again grasp her hand. “Talk to me. Please.”

She got up from the table, taking her plate with her and emptying what was left of her meal into the garbage. Mulder followed her, but left his plate to cool where it sat. She placed the dinnerware into the sink, and ran the water at top force, both hot and cold spigots thrown open to the limit. Mulder came behind her, reached around and turned them off. The silence afterward was louder than Niagara Falls in springtime.

“This is about me finding a new place, isn’t it?”

She didn’t answer.

“Scully, it’s been fun playing house for a while, and believe me, there’s no place else I’d love to be than with you. But I have to move out of here, you know that. Us being together is everything. But when we can’t have peace of mind, it’s just. . . we need to move a little slower so that everyone can get used to the idea. And. . .”

He caressed her shoulders, felt the tension within them through her sweater. He rubbed at the knots right near her shoulder blades where he knew she held all her stress. “. . .things being what they are right now, family situations, work situations. I want to know that you’re safe, and if there’s a target on my head for whatever reason, I want you to be out of harm’s way. I can’t risk some wacko burning you up with the rest of it.”

“But. . .” she trailed off.

“But what. . .?”

“I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll be five minutes away, Scully.”

“No,” she turned to enforce her statement, “I mean, I’m going to miss you being here. I feel like *you’re* safe here with me.”

“I’m a big boy, Scully,” he said, kissing her forehead. “I can take care of myself. Besides, I’ll be over here three days a week at least for food. You know what my cooking skills entail.”

He got a chuckle for that.

“Man does not live on Rice Krispies alone, Mulder. You’d better be over here.” She snuggled into his chest.

“Come on, let’s settle down for the night. I’ll take care of this mess in the morning.”

Scully glanced at the messy kitchen and fleetingly thought about the crusty sauce that would be caked onto the plates come morning, then obediently left it all behind. An extra push at the small of her back encouraged the decision further. She went to change into her favorite pajamas while Mulder sought for a good movie on TV. They watched later than usual, Scully lounging out and resting her head on his lap, Mulder stroking the hair behind her ear, making funny comments between lines they knew too well during movies they’d seen a hundred times. At around eleven, Mulder noticed that his partner had dozed off. He moved to lift her up, and carried her into the bedroom. She opened her eyes and yawned when he set her down upon the mattress. “Mmmm. . .. My prince charming.”

He laughed in the darkness, and felt for her lips to kiss her. Then he stripped down to his boxers like he always did for bed, and scooted under the covers with her. She automatically moved herself back against him, and he held her. “Mulder?”

“Yeah?”

There was an awkward silence before she continued. “Do you love me?”

He tensed up a little, his initial reaction to the question one of offense taken. But he relaxed easily, because the answer was not difficult to admit. “Of course I do.”

He felt her turn over. Then, her breath skim across his face when she faced him. It was true, he smelled the garlic, but it was delicious, it was wonderful. It was Scully. Then she used her fingertips to feel his cheeks, his mouth, his chin. “Really?” she whispered.

Then he realized what she was seeking. She was laying it all on the table. She had to know for sure what he felt.

“I love you, Scully,” he whispered like a secret he’d held for a long time. “I love you.” He used his own fingers to feel for her face, then pulled her close and pressed his lips against hers — wordlessly asking for more, giving her more. She pulled him to her in response, as close and as hard as she could get him.

“I love you, too,” she answered softly into his ear, her mouth muffled against his cheek as she wrapped her arms tightly about him. “Just hold me, please. I want you to hold me. Don’t let me go.”

“I have you, Scully. I’ll always have you.”

Act III Scene 1

The Pentagon

May 21, 2004

10:15 am

A week of rummaging through old documents was wearing on Bill’s nerves. He had four paper cuts the day before and was having a difficult time turning pages with both index fingers wrapped in bandages. At least he’d managed to find the flexible fabric bandages in one of the unpacked boxes in the hallway of their new home.

He was no going to come to work with a Blues Clues band-aid on his finger, come hell or high water. Most of the files were worthless and it didn’t take a second thought to toss them into the box for shredding. As he threw whole file folders into the box, the dust cloud they emitted started to cover his briefcase, sitting next to the desk. Bill hadn’t forgotten about his find the day before, he just knew he had to get the rest of the mess cleaned up before he could give it his full attention. But now he was down to the last drawer in the last filing cabinet, and his curiosity was getting to him. He knew he couldn’t put it off any longer. When the last folder was disposed of, he dusted his hands and reached for his brief case. Hefting the thick leather case on to his desk, he opened it hesitantly, as if something might jump out at him. He chuckled to himself. It was a file, nothing more. There wasn’t anything in it that could harm him. He reached in and tugged at the brittle manila folder. As he did so, his ring finger slid along the edge, the stiff cardboard slicing neatly into his flesh. Goddamn it! Another paper cut! He immediately stuck the injured digit into his mouth and winced at the taste of blood. Drawing the finger out for further inspection he saw a deep gash, deeper than the other injuries he’d endured in the newly acquired dangerous job of ‘desk jockey’.

“Shit,” he swore and with his relatively unharmed hand, dug through his top desk drawer for the cardboard box of band-aids Tara had given him just that morning. It was awkward, bandaging his right hand with his left, but he managed to staunch the flow of blood. Shaking his head, he reached more carefully into the briefcase and slowly drew out the file folder. He sighed when he saw the smear of blood across the edge of the folder. His day just kept getting better and better. Still using exaggerated care, he laid the folder out on his desk and put the briefcase on the floor. With one hand, he opened the file folder and started to read. The first few pages, he already had scanned. They contained a number of references to a submarine, the Zeus Faber. He found the name of Lt. Johansson again, and remembered the man fondly. But he needed to know more about the Zeus Faber, so he started to look further into the file. It didn’t take him long to find a transcript of a debriefing of the mission. The hand stamped ‘Top Secret’ in red letters across the top of the page didn’t serve as a deterrent at all. After all, in his current capacity with the Joint Chiefs, there wasn’t anything marked ‘top secret’ that Bill Scully couldn’t access. This gave him the confidence to keep reading. ‘Report regarding Mission 45-08-15B, 1945 August’ was printed in bold type on the top of the page. Bill read about the submarine’s original mission, to patrol the coast of California, looking for Japanese vessels that might be planning on an attack on the United States. The mission was changed when the Captain received orders to go to a specific location and search for some downed aircraft. According to the report, the squadron of aircraft each carried a weapon, an atomic bomb that was headed for Japan. The aircraft were P- 51 Mustang and the pilots had not been located by surface ships in the area. The planes had experienced engine trouble and all four of them had dropped out of the sky like rocks, according to eyewitnesses from a Naval destroyer some 3 miles from the crash. The destroyer had continued on with its mission and the Zeus Faber was tapped to do rescue. The pilots’ fates were unknown and they were all considered dead, not having time to eject from the planes before it went into the sea.

But that wasn’t the real concern of the Department of War at that time. Their primary concern was the atomic bombs aboard the aircraft, and the fear that those bombs might fall into the enemy’s hands before other similar bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in just days. The sub made good time getting to the coordinates of the crash. They were able to find the Mustangs with little difficulty. They were in the process of determining the best course of ‘rescue’ for the payload when a Japanese destroyer entered the area and they were forced into silent running. That is when the trouble began. Before the payload was even brought aboard the sub, the men started becoming ill. First is was flu like symptoms, but then burns, serious burns, started forming on their bodies. Not all the men were affected, but it was discovered that those nearest the aircraft, even through several inches of hull of the sub, were the ones to fall ill. Not long after the men started getting sick, the Captain started acting strangely. Lt. Johansson was a precise man and up until that point, the report was very thorough and very military in its presentation. Suddenly, the report took on the air of a horror movie.

As more and more of the ship’s crew became affected, Johansson begged the Captain to return to port. At first, the Captain insisted that the mission had not been completed. They still had to retrieve the payloads. But when a couple of divers went to the Mustangs, they discovered not bombs in the bays, but something strange and rock-like. They were trying to remove one of the rocks when both divers fell ill, almost as soon as they touched the object, even though they were in full diving gear. Before the men could be brought back on the sub, they were dead. It had only been a matter of minutes, no more than an hour between onset of symptoms and death.

Johansson once again pleaded with the Captain to return the boat to the closest port, which would have been Pearl Harbor. This time, the Captain claimed that they couldn’t move because of the Japanese above them, on the surface. He stayed down there, near those planes for three days.  More and more of the men were becoming ill, some were already dead. On the third day of the stand off, one of the infected men got a gun and held it on the Captain. In the process of disarming the man, the gun went off. Their silence was broken. It would only be a matter of time before the Japanese started dropping depth charges at them. Johansson again tried to convince the Captain that they needed to leave the area immediately. Bill was so amazed by the next few lines that he had to read them twice. Johansson claimed, in a military report, that the Captain’s eyes had been ‘infected’ with a black oil that shimmered across his pupils. Johansson knew that the Captain was not going to listen to reason, and would not leave the area. The young Lieutenant considered his superior to completely insane or possibly possessed. Mutiny was the only answer. Johansson locked the Captain in with the most desperately ill of the crew in a hold near the torpedo tubes. The man who’d fired the gun picked it up again and while the Captain was trying to get Johansson to open the door, he shot the Captain. From a small window in the door, Johansson watched as the same black oil he’d seen in the Captain’s eyes started to flow out of the man’s body and ‘crawled’ across the floor to escape down a drain. It hadn’t acted like any substance he’d ever seen. The oil had seemed alive. Johansson went to the bridge of the ship and set a course for the closest port. The Zeus Faber just barely made it back to friendly waters.

Bill was barely breathing when he finished reading the report. He would have closed the file folder if not for a name on the next page. He blinked when he saw the name, it was so unexpected, and at the same time, it clicked into place. The next report was an interview with surviving crew members. The interview was conducted by two men from the State Department: CGB Spender and William Mulder. Bill wanted to cry. He wanted to throw the file against the wall and forget he’d ever seen it. Somehow, it was fitting that the son of a bitch who was ruining his sister’s life was the son of a man involved in such a disaster. After talking with Spender and William Mulder, all fifteen survivors died within the next 24 hours. Bill was certain, although there was no evidence, that Spender and Mulder were responsible for those deaths. Bile rose in his throat. He could picture the men he’d served with at sea, see them in the place of those dying crew men. What would he have done if faced with the same decision as young Lt. Johansson? Bill wondered if he would have waited the three days to mutiny. He thought back to all the conversations he’d had with Fox Mulder. Fortunately, there were damned few to remember. He could picture so clearly the discussions they’d had when Dana had been dying of cancer. He could see them in the hallway outside Dana’s room, after she’d just agreed to some crazy-ass idea that put a piece of metal in her neck in the hopes of a cure. Bill was certain the treatments the doctor had begun that day were the only reason his sister was alive. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Fox Mulder had nothing to do with Dana’s remission.

But beyond all that, he tried to remember what they’d said to each other those six long years before. He’d asked Mulder if it had all been worth it, had he found what he was looking for, his little green men. Mulder had told him no. It had been a small bright spot in an otherwise black day, the idea that Fox Mulder was suffering even a tiny bit as much as Bill. Mulder’s little green men. What if . . . what if they were black? What if they were black and looked like oil? What if they were found not in a space ship, but in a squadron of wrecked P-51 Mustangs at the bottom of the Pacific? Who would believe him if he tried to tell anyone this tale? Not his Commanding Officer. Not anyone at the Pentagon.

Not his sister, he was certain of that.

Only one man would listen to him. Bill choked back the bile that kept rising in his throat. How in God’s name could he ever think to go to Fox Mulder for help? But that was exactly what he had to do. He dug through his briefcase for his planner, flipped a few pages and picked up the phone on his desk.

Act III Scene 2

The District Club

Washington, DC

May 21, 2004

12:00 pm

The club downstairs had been one of Washington’s more malodorous, if elaborately appointed, sausage factories — an abattoir of dark woods, rich leather, and fine Oriental rugs where reputations and fortunes were slaughtered, truth processed into lies, and a nation’s deepest secrets repackaged for the consumption of the mass unwashed.

Amid its alcoves and dining parlors, powerbrokers, politicians, and men whose provenance remained unclear had plotted the  deaths of two presidents and the disappearance of a popular aviatrix who’d unearthed too many federal skeletons, engineered an attack on a U.S. naval port that would engulf much of the world in war, choreographed the ultimately botched assassination of America’s most beloved first lady on a street in Dallas, and tagged the chief patsies for a break-in at a now-infamous Washington residential hotel.

Over the past few decades, the club had opened its doors to a more diverse and less Machiavellian constituency — a move deemed crucial to divert an increasingly omniscient and omnipotent media and the prying eyes of the few honorable men still left in the Beltway. But the club remained the sanctum sanctorum of America’s royalty — the men and, now, women, who made things happen efficiently and invisibly. To the men who congregated on the top floor of the club, those who supped on chateaubriand and prime rib downstairs were bugs — lower organisms that manufactured and fed on the petty carrion of human greed, misery, and weakness. These men upstairs played on a far larger field, for unimaginable stakes. At their command, any of the titans gathered three floors below could be made to vanish with their families and, if necessary, any trace of their earthly existence.

“Gentlemen, the shit’s hit the fan,” Alex Krycek announced as he crossed the threshold into the lushly appointed roomful of somber and powerful men. In any other venue, any of the handful of men here might have answered such disrespect with a bullet to the skull, delivered swiftly and unexpectedly as Krycek slept. But the handsome, smirking young man who sauntered nonchalantly into their august midst at his whim was one of the few humans they feared: Krycek owned too many secrets, and thus owned their grudging respect.

He, along with the sour, furtive man seated by the front window — a chain-smoking shadow of a human being with a sporadic death’s head grin — were among the last living survivors of a holocaust that had claimed their foolish predecessors, a similar collection of powerful men who had thought to deal blithely with the devil. Spender and Krycek obviously shared some barely subcutaneous antipathy, but everyone in this room understood such animosities paled beside the vision shared by the new Consortium.

While most in the room frowned at Krycek’s irreverent greeting, the Scarred Man smiled fondly at the young man’s brashness. The Scarred Man, ensconced in an espresso-colored Barcelona chair, sipping a sherry that would have intimidated the richest of the rabble downstairs, had been a double agent with the Resistance during Hitler’s war, and he appreciated Krycek’s ruthless disregard for class or power. “And what ‘shit,’ if I may ask, do you speak of?” he asked, calmly, unconsciously swirling his liqueur.

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“Bill Scully,” Krycek murmured, waving a thick folder in his artfully designed prosthetic hand. Spender turned from the thick drapes, an eyebrow arched.

“Commander Scully?” the Scarred Man inquired. “The brother of the FBI agent, no?”

“Apparently,” Krycek said, looking down at the old man’s disfigured face, “he’s come across some not-so-ancient history. Zeus Faber. Ring a bell?”

The Scarred Man set his sherry on the table beside his chair. “It resonates. How much does our friend know?”

Krycek shrugged. “Somebody did some sloppy housekeeping. Somehow, Scully came across an old file some feeble old Naval commander forgot to shred years ago.”

“Nonsense,” Spender spat, irritation deepening in the folds of his sallow face. He crushed his Morley into a crystal ashtray on the windowsill. “Every piece of documentation, every scrap regarding the Zeus Faber and its mission was destroyed. Commander Keegan oversaw it personally — he was firmly in our pocket.”

“Well, there must have been a ripped seam somewhere, cause the cat’s out now,” Krycek countered, not looking at the Cigarette Smoking Man. Spender’s jaundiced eyes blazed.

“This man, Scully,” the Scarred Man interrupted. “Is he a threat? Can he divine the significance of this information? Could it lead him to us?”

“William Scully’s a fool, a bull-necked Neanderthal,” Spender sneered. “Beyond a certain weasel-like cunning…”

“Even a weasel can rut around enough to do some serious damage,” Krycek said. He turned to the Scarred Man. “We can’t take a chance of him taking this to Agent Scully, to Mulder.”

“He despises Mulder, and despite his abundant shortcomings, Bill Scully is devoted to his sister,” Spender protested. “Too much so to willingly place her in danger.”

Krycek laughed mirthlessly. “You’re suddenly quite the judge of psychological character, aren’t you? Just like you’ve read Mulder all these years?”

The room went silent. The Scarred Man looked to Spender expectantly. Eyes narrow, the man at the window pulled a pack of Morley’s from his jacket, tamped out a cigarette, and placed it between his thin, bloodless lips. The corners of his lips then turned up in a ghastly approximation of a smile.

“All right,” Spender said pleasantly. “Perhaps you should keep an eye on our William, find out what he knows, see if our weasel ruts or runs.” The smile disappeared. “But no violence. Not yet. We don’t want to flush Agent Scully out of the bushes on some family vendetta.”

Krycek glanced at the Scarred Man, who nodded and retrieved his sherry. Krycek half-turned to a grim Spender and offered a two-fingered salute before heading for the elevator that served only this floor. Spender located a match, fingers trembling only slightly, set his cigarette aflame. “And so,” the Scarred Man finally uttered, contemplating his sherry. “Do you think our friend should be apprised of this quite unpleasant new development?”

Rattled by the reference to Strughold, Spender drew deeply on his Morley, blue smoke leaking through the cracks in his sour smile. “Mr. Krycek has far more faith than I in William Scully’s powers of comprehension and inclination to, let us say, rock the boat. No, gentlemen — this is merely a bump in the road. No need to disturb our friend…yet.”

Act III Scene 3

3605 N Street NW

Washington DC

Friday 2:30 pm

“To the left. No, Langly, your _other_ left! Yeah, yeah, now be careful of the woodwork. Geez, have you ever moved furniture before?”

Mulder growled as the wooden cabinet shifted in his hands and suddenly he was bearing the full weight of the object as he moved up the steps and in the front door.

“What’s this thing made of — mahogany?” the blond haired conspirator complained loudly. “Damn it, Mulder, you said you didn’t have much stuff to move!”

“I don’t,” Mulder shot back. “It’s just what I have is heavy. Quit your bitchin’, everything else is clothes.”

“What about the other stuff? Chairs, tables, a bed? You gonna sleep on the floor, man?” Langly asked sarcastically.

“I have a bed, it’s being delivered. And I found a couch at a second hand store down on M Street. I paid an extra fifty for the store to deliver. Other than that — ”

“You’re living at Scully’s,” Langly finished his sentence with a note of disgust. “Man, why are you throwing away all this dough on a place where you’re only gonna keep your fish? We’ll let the fish have our storage closet for half the price your dumping down this money pit!”

Mulder shot him a vicious glare. “It’s not any of your business, Langly,” he warned. It would be impossible to explain to any of the three Gunmen why he felt the need to keep a separate residence from his partner of 11 years. He really wasn’t sure of his reasons and he darned well wasn’t going to put in the effort to make his favorite geeks understand. His favorite bachelor geeks.

“I’m just saying, it seems like you’re spending a lot of money, money you could, say, give as a charitable contribution to the free press,” Langly continued.

“Free press? As in your rag?” Mulder asked with one raised eyebrow.

“Hey, freedom of the press comes at a high price, my friend!” Langly said haughtily.

“Yeah, not to mention all the high tech equipment that you guys keep picking up on Ebay,” Mulder sneered. “Just help me get the rest of the fish tank. I have to get it set up before the fish figure out they’re living in Scully’s punch bowl and decide to stage a revolt.”

“Ewww, not to mention what the G-woman is gonna do to you when she hears what’s been living in that same punch bowl,” Langly said, making a face. “Oh, and remind me next Christmas to avoid the eggnog.”

They placed the fish tank along the wall near the bay window. It looked totally out of place in the otherwise bare room. “You gonna buy a rug, or figure you won’t need one?” Langly asked derisively as he plopped down on the floor and leaned against the wall.

“I’ll get a rug,” Mulder replied. “In due time,” he added tersely.

That comment got Mulder a well-executed snort from his friend. “Keep this up and I’m not sharing the stash of Sam Adams Scully put in the fridge,” the agent warned.

Langly had the good grace to look worried.

Quickly, he hopped to his feet and rubbed his hands together. “So, where’s all the stuff for the fish tank. Can’t keep the little critters in that cramped punch bowl forever!”

Together, they made short work of the fish tank and soon Mulder was busy filling it with buckets of water from the kitchen and adding the de- chlorination drops. Langly looked at his watch. “Well, amigo, I have to split. I promised Byers I’d stop by the cleaners on the way home and they close at 5:00.”

Mulder refrained from making any comments about the domestic chores the guys assigned each other. “Well, take a six pack with you. You earned it,” he said nodding toward the kitchen.

“Hey, thanks, Mulder! See, you aren’t such a prick all the time,” Langly teased. He disappeared into the kitchen and then reappeared with the beer under one arm. “I was just admiring the refrigerator. Probably the last time I’ll see it looking so . . . fungus free.”

“Get out. Now,” Mulder growled, but his eyes twinkled with amusement.

“I’m leaving. Tell Scully I said this is an enormous waste of money,” he called as he reached the door.

“Now, Langly!” He heard the door slam and smiled. “Speaking of Scully, where is she?” Mulder asked the fish as he added them one by one into the tank. “She was just going out to buy toilet bowl cleanser. How long can that take?”

As the last fish dropped from the net and swam happily around the fish tank, his cell phone rang. Mulder grabbed for it in his front pocket.

“If she’s asking my opinion on what brand of toilet bowl cleanser I want, I’m not going to be held responsible for my actions,” he warned no one in particular.

“Scully, did you get lost?”

“Mr. Mulder?” asked the voice on the line.

Unconsciously, Mulder stood up straight. “Bill?” He almost didn’t recognize the man’s voice, it was tight and strained. It sounded like he was whispering.

“Mr. Mulder, I have to speak with you,” Bill said hastily.

“Bill, look if this is about me living with Scully, you don’t have to worry. That was temporary and I have a place of my own now. As a matter of fact, I was just in the process of moving in. So whatever you have to say — ”

“Mr. Mulder, please, I don’t have time for this. I need to speak with you, immediately. I’ve come across something, something I think is . . . of a highly sensitive nature.”

“Why do you want to talk to me?” Mulder asked, confused.

“Look, I found some old papers. They seem to be important. I saw a name in one of the reports. William Mulder. A submarine, the Zeus Faber — ”

Mulder was listening intently now, and heard the line cut out for just a fraction of a second. It was long enough to know that they were not on a secure line.

“Bill, hold up, OK,” he said, interrupting the man in mid-sentence. “This may not be the best way to have this conversation. Why don’t we meet somewhere tonight and talk this through.”

“I can’t be seen with these papers. I have no idea what level of security — ”

Mulder frantically searched his mind for a way to give Bill a meeting place without saying it aloud to whoever else was listening. “Don’t worry about the papers, put them somewhere safe. Look, there’s a bar not far from your sister’s apartment, she really likes the place. They serve great corned beef and cabbage. Do you know it?”

“Yeah, yeah, she took us there, Tara and me, a couple of years ago.”

“Good. It’s quiet, safe. Be there at eight tonight, all right? Till then, don’t tell anyone what you have.”

“Then you think this is important,” Bill said nervously.

“I don’t know,” Mulder admitted. “But you’ve definitely got my attention.”

“I’ll see you tonight, Mr. Mulder. At eight.”

“I’ll be there,” Mulder assured him. “Bill, can I ask — why me? Why not your sister?”

He heard the other man bark out a bitter laugh. “I wasn’t sure she’d believe me,” he said honestly. “Tonight, Mr. Mulder.”

“Yeah, tonight,” Mulder replied and closed down the phone. He wondered if there would ever come a time when his lover’s brother would refer to him as anything other than ‘Mister’. Mulder startled when the door to the duplex opened suddenly.

“You would not believe the number of people who shop at Home Depot on a Friday afternoon!” Scully said in exasperation. “I got some drain opener, too. The tub seemed to be running slow when I was cleaning it this morning — ” She looked up from her inspection of the bag she was holding when Mulder didn’t respond. “I wasn’t gone that long, Mulder. Are you angry with me?”

He drew in a breath and shook his head.

“Nothing like that, Scully.” He took her into a quick hug and led her over to the stairs so they could sit down. “I got a phone call just now.”

She frowned. “From . . .?”

“Your brother. Bill.”

Immediately, Scully’s hackles were raised.

“Mulder, if Bill said something to upset you — ”

“Oh, he upset me, all right, but not in the way you might expect. Scully, somehow Bill has come into possession of some papers, old reports, he said. My father’s name was in those reports, along with a submarine — the Zeus Faber.”

Scully’s eyes grew wide. “Oh my god! Mulder, Bill might have stumbled onto — ”

“Worse than that, Scully. I think someone might have his phone tapped.”

“No! Mulder, we have to get to him, he might not be safe. Tara, the babies, . . . my god, what are we going to do?”

“I told him to meet us at the bar down the street. I didn’t give any names or addresses, I gave him a description of the menu.”

“They only serve corned beef and cabbage,” she interjected.

“Exactly. Luckily he remembered it from a previous visit home. I know the indigestion I get there has always made it a memorable experience for me,” he said, trying to lighten his partner’s worried mood. She gave him a brief smile.

“We’ll meet him there tonight, eight o’clock.”

Scully looked at her watch. “That’s in four hours,” she stated.

“He should be safe for now,” Mulder tried to reassure her. “I really don’t think they’ll try anything in the Pentagon. Too many security cameras.”

“But we don’t know who was listening. Why would anyone be bugging Bill’s office phone? Mulder, what if it was Krycek? Or Charlie?”

“Let’s not count the rotten eggs before they hatch,” Mulder advised, pulling her into a hug. “He’s a big boy. He’ll be OK.”

“I hope so,” Scully whispered into his shoulder.

“I hope so.”

Act IV Scene 1

The District Club

Washington, DC

1:30 pm

Krycek had barely closed the club “service door” that served as the entry to the private elevator when a pair of gloved hands seized the lapels of his leather jacket and propelled him into the alleyway. Only the suddenness of the attack enabled Krycek’s assailant to drag him to a dumpster behind the steakhouse across the deserted corridor.

“The hell you think you’re doing?” Charlie Scully growled, thumping Krycek’s shoulder blades against the bricks. “You brainless ape! You trying to ruin everything?”

Krycek brought up both arms and knocked Charlie’s away. “You touch me again, and I might get a little blood and brain matter on that Tommy Hilfiger ensemble of yours. What the hell are you ranting about?”

Charlie came up nose-to-nose with his foe. “You planted that goddamned file in Bill’s office, didn’t you? Thought you’d screw with all of us, see if you could use my brother to light a few fuses.”

“That’s what you’d like the old Nazi to think, isn’t it?” Krycek said, smoothing his jacket.”What’d you do, Charlie? Send in a crack squad of Kelly Girls to clean out that office? Face it, you screwed the pooch, asshole.”

“Mother–!” Charlie bellowed, throwing a left hook.

Krycek caught his fist, twisted it backward and used it to spin his opponent around. He slammed Charlie into the side of the dumpster, and kicked him in the ribs as he struggled to regain his feet.  Charlie slipped on a rotting lettuce leaf and landed on his ass. “Your girlfriend Strughold’s losing his grip,”Krycek sneered. “He’s lost his control of the situation, as evidenced by this little show of ‘muscle.'”

“That right?” Charlie said from his seat in the mingled waste grease, garbage, and likely human detritus of the alley. “You think the Morley Man up there’s a tower of strength? He’s one pack away from a respirator and a rubber room. You think it’s any coincidence Mulder’s still walking around? Spender doesn’t have the cojones, the stomach. Look, can I get up now?”

“No. And save me the NYPD Blue lingo.”

“Look, Krycek. It all comes down to who’s on the winning team and who winds up in a cloud of radioactive dust. I like my odds right now. You oughtta look at your own odds — that old man’s had it. They know it. Join the winning team, man. We got a spot for you, a good one, varsity, if you’ll just be smart about this.”

Krycek spat on the concrete next to Charlie’s left Italian loafer. “You little pimp. You have no idea what this is all about, what we’re trying to do. To you and the old Nazi, this is all some kind of power grab. Varsity, Jesus. I like my current position, Charlie. Why don’t you think about where you’re sitting right now?”

“You bastard!”

Krycek laughed and headed for the street. “Little club soda oughtta take that crap out, Charlie.”

Act IV Scene 2

The Watergate Hotel

Washington DC South West

2:00 pm

Charles Scully hurried past the red-coated doorman and toward the bank of brass encased elevators. He was late. Not woefully so, but in a business where fortunes changed in a blink of an eye, he could ill afford the luxury of even an overactive traffic signal, much less a run-in with the likes of Alex Krycek. He tapped his foot impatiently as he waited for the polished doors to spilt open and allow his entrance. The elevator chimed and he resisted the urge to push the doors open fast. Once inside the car, he stabbed at the top floor, belatedly remembering the key on his key ring that gave him access to that most secluded of meeting places. With a mild curse, he shoved the key in the slot and hit the floor button again. This time the button glowed a pale orange and the car started its ascent. He’d received the call just an hour before. He didn’t like unscheduled meetings and to make matters worse, the assistant on the phone had denied any knowledge of the agenda. Charles Scully detested not knowing what meetings were about. He was not in a pleasant frame of mind when the elevator car finally ground to a halt and the mirrored doors slid open.

Strughold glared at Charles as he made his way around the room to the only empty chair. “Were you detained?” the old man asked in a raspy accented growl.

“Unavoidably,” Charles answered automatically. “What have I missed?”

Strughold glanced around the table, his eyes falling on the select few men sitting with an air of comfortable interest. “There has been a leak, a possibly damaging leak that has just been brought to our attention.”

Charles looked at each face around the table, trying to discern who had knowledge and who did not. For the most part, the group would have been terrors in Las Vegas. Not a single pair of eyes gave Charles any information, or sympathy.”A leak concerning what, may I ask?” Charles gut twisted at this game of ‘cat and mouse’, but the old man was running the show and there was little the younger man could do to stop his gamesmanship.

“The incident aboard the Zeus Faber,” Strughold bit off the words precisely.

Charles stomach hit rock bottom, but he fought to keep his expression blank. “Are you certain?” he asked.

Strughold seemed to take the opportunity to cough gently. The other men in the room exchanged glances, but said nothing. Charles was aware of how far out on a limb he now was. “We are quite sure.”

Sweat was pooling down Charles’ back as he furtively scrambled for possible responses. He, more so than any other individual in the room, knew what was at stake if such information was made public. Furthermore, he knew exactly how a leak of this magnitude could play out, who might facilitate it. He swallowed the burning sensation at the back of his throat. “How far has it gotten?”

“Our sources seem to think it has not reached its intended destination,” Strughold said mildly.

That gave Charles some small measure of relief, but it was short-lived. “What do you propose?”

Strughold took a drag off the expensive cigar in his hand and smiled. “It’s a simple matter, really. The leak must be plugged. As of yet, no harm has been done. But it is imperative that the matter be resolved — quietly and with due haste, before the leak becomes a deluge.”

The little spark of humanity left in Charles Scully trembled.

“I trust that you are in agreement?” Strughold asked, his eyes never leaving Charles. It was as if the old man was testing him, testing his loyalty. After all Charles had done for this man, for this group of men, to be tested so was a dagger to his confidence. But it was all for the greater good. Eventually, everyone, even his family, would be made aware of that.

“I see no other option,” Charles said flatly.

Strughold smiled briefly. “I’m happy you see it that way. I knew I could trust you, Charles.”

Act IV Scene 3

Starbucks on G Street

Washington, DC

5:00 pm

Bill’s knuckles were bloodless, wrapped tightly about the warm china mug. Had they cast a glance at the hard-looking man in Station 2, any of the latte-sucking yuppies, wired college kids or minimum wage slaves scattered about the excruciatingly hip coffee shop might have feared a sudden shower of porcelain shrapnel and hot liquid.

But William Scully had selected this Starbuck’s, a stone’s throw from Capitol Hill, specifically for the bustling anonymity it afforded. A trio of congressional aides two tables away, stripped to shirtsleeves, ties at parade rest, jackets draped lovingly across chair backs, nattered about some piece of crucial legislation or the hot new intern or some such bullshit — it was all white noise to Bill. Their opposite numbers — a knot of university kids, fashionably disheveled in distressed GAP and Banana Republic — were in animated discourse at a table along the wall, pumped up on Grandes and ranting about Bush or the rain forests or maybe just the latest grunge/rap/pop . Ordinarily, Bill would have felt the temptation to tell the spoiled punks to shove a scone in their foul little Generation Why mouths, the impulse to dump his own steaming java over the head of the most self-important of the congressional Pep Boys.

Fortunately for all, he was light-years away from their universe, encapsulated in his own fear and cunning ruminations. The white knuckles clamped about the cup were the only signs to the world outside that William Scully was dangerously close to shaking apart like a used Yugo with a bad tranny. Those superior Marine jarheads could keep their Semper Fidelis bullshit — Bill knew those who were always faithful wound up always dead, always disillusioned, or constantly clearing tables in some pussy coffee joint. Semper Stabilis — that was William Scully’s credo. Always a rock, always cool, spine straight, hands at 10 and 2. Anyone catching a glimpse of the man at Table 7 would see a spit-and-shine remnant of a once- great society, possibly reviewing his forthcoming testimony before House Appropriations or Senate Intelligence or keeping an eye out for some Arab with a bogus visa and a shoeful of plastique. 9/11 and Navy NCIS had heightened everybody’s sense of military melodrama. Pussy pretty-boy Harmon, Bill had silently sneered whenever Tara watched that piece of crap.

His discovery of the papers had been the razor- sharp boundary between the universe William Scully had known and functioned in with no small proficiency — and, when the occasion necessitated, no small cunning — and a dank, uncertain future. The man who was destined to reign with the lions of the Republic, the soon- to-be-father, the last great scion of Admiral Scully’s family, now cowered in some D.C. coffeehouse. Semper Stabilis, he repeated. He couldn’t let the insanity that had enveloped Mulder start to flirt with his mind. Bill had always hated Mulder — for the slow deterioration of Dana’s sense of rationality and reason, for the emotional and, he was increasingly certain, physical control he maintained over his little sister, and simply for the kind of undisciplined, disrespectful, intellectualized “man” Mulder was. He was everything inimical to William Scully, to men of honor and valor, to men.

But now, Bill understood, Fox Mulder at the least was no coward. For years, Mulder had lived with and been persecuted and pursued for information that shook the very foundations of the world men like Bill Scully imagined they ruled. The revelations that now had Bill scurrying for an escape hatch had merely driven Mulder on into the darkest territory inhabited by the worst monsters mankind had ever spawned. And that made Bill now hate Mulder with a previously unfathomable new passion. The very concept that Mulder drew on some reserve of inner strength, that he possessed a decency and heroism Bill likely could never attain, turned the soldier’s universe upside-down. The knowledge of the true man that lived beneath his uniform would rapidly destroy him, or at least the illusion that had sustained him.

“Semper Stabilis.”

“Sir?”

William jumped, only to find a young nose-ringed man with a rag and spray bottle standing before him.

“You need something?” the boy asked, staring at the brawny gaping man with his paws wrapped possessively about his mug.

He’d said it aloud, unconsciously. “I don’t need shit,” Bill finally growled, loudly enough to silence the congressional butt-buddies and the member of Squirrel Jam over by the wall. “Ah, no, really, I’m cool. Sorry, OK?” The busboy nodded once, a wannabe jerk of the shaved head, and fled as rapidly as his cool would allow. The aides were still staring — Bill glared them back into hasty debate. Squirrel Jam was amused, chortling and exchanging whispered barbs. Bill contemplated violence toward the kids, and the fresh infusion of caffeine-powered testosterone momentarily revitalized him. This was Mulder’s arena, he recognized reluctantly. In fact, had it not been for Mulder, this probably wouldn’t be happening now, Bill told himself. He had to give the letter to Mulder — hell, Fox would get a blue-veiner when he read its contents. Mulder could have his precious proof, get it put in the Post or maybe the Midnight Sun. He had no future, no destiny to fulfill but an appointment with madness in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

And if his sister’s partner didn’t make it into print, if the transfer of the letter put the hounds on Mulder’s spoor and he disappeared to Alpha Centauri, all the better for Dana. Bill shoved back from the table, casting one last homicidal glance at the kids on the wall. A titter of ridicule erupted as he headed for the door, but that was all right. A weight had been lifted — or would soon — and the air out on the sidewalk was fresh and clean. William Scully strode back toward his car with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence, his eyes darting only infrequently between the strangers with whom he shared the pavement.

“Hon?”

Bill remembered to exhale as he recognized Tara’s voice on the cell phone. He’d nearly jumped when the phone had trilled, almost creaming a homeless man. “Yeah.”

“Babe, Matthew’s got an ear infection — it’s driving him crazy. I called in a prescription for some amoxicillin at the Walgreen’s — the one near your office. If I’d known you weren’t there, I would’ve called you first.”

“Had some papers to deliver,” Bill grunted, then remembered he didn’t need to alibi himself with Tara. At least he hadn’t lied, not really. Semper Stabilis.

“Can you pick it up, Honey, please? Matt’s really in pain.”

“Sure thing, no problem,” he said, more cheerfully. “Tell the little guy to buck up — cavalry’s coming. Love you, Babe.”

“Love you, too. Lasagna sound good to celebrate?”

“Mm. Later.”

Bill couldn’t have given a rat’s ass if Tara were waiting for him at the door with a platter of equine diarrhea. But the normalcy of his new errand was reassuring, and his chest began to loosen as he looked for a good turnaround. The pharmacist at the Walgreen’s had been excruciatingly slow filling the script, and Bill had stalked among the greeting cards, the Russell Stovers, the insipid D.C. shot glasses and blasphemously unpatriotic T-shirts until his promised 10 minutes had elapsed. When the pencil-necked pill-pusher had launched into some droning monologue about drug interactions, Bill had snatched the antibiotic from the counter and made a beeline for the exit in mid-drone.

The street was lined with the usual cast of losers and miscreants, costumed in doo rags and clown pants and high-rent sneakers. A whiff of hot dog from a wagon down the block normally would’ve tempted Bill’s resolve, but in his current state, it raised his gorge. He studiously ignored the heckling cap-and-tie peddlers, and stepped off the curb.

“Yo, man!” Bill spun, heart leaping. A middle-aged man in a filthy Redskins cap and a stained, open tux shirt held out a wavering palm. “Yeah, my brother, you. You a soldierman, right? You wanna help a fellow Marine. I was in the Persian Gulf, caught me a case of the Agent Orange.”

Rather than correcting the derelict’s breach of branch and obvious fabrication (he was at least a decade beyond serving in the first War on Hussein), Bill turned and headed for his car across the broad avenue.

“They gave it to me!” the man called plaintively. “The space aliens gave it to me.”

Bill’s feet froze to the asphalt.

“Government, they know what they done to me! Hell, brother, you got to know, too. They gonna give you a scorching case of the Agent Mulder.”

Bill’s head ripped around. “Mulder?” he rasped.

“You be moulderin’ in the grave, all right, them space aliens get their hooks in you.”

“Who are you working for?” Bill demanded.

“Useta work with the U.S. Postal Service, but they found out I had the Agent Scully an’–”

Bill’s fingers flexed at his side as he stared at the disheveled assassin. “You leave her out of this, you mother–”

“Naw, man, wasn’t her. It was the supervisor. He says I’m crazy, I’m rippin’ off the TV Guides.” The man looked down the street. “Hey, brother, you might wanna–”

Bill’s muscular neck twisted, and his eyes bulged right before the black Caddy ripped the breath from his lungs with a sick organic thud. His battered body ricocheted off a parked Caravan, shattering what major bones the initial impact hadn’t, and William Scully’s open eyes fixed on the homeless man as his head lolled lifelessly.

The Caddy squealed onto K Street as a streetful of horrified onlookers stood affixed and shocked. The homeless man knelt next to the broken soldier. He started when William’s eyes blinked once and blood burbled from his lips.

“Zeus…” Bill rattled.

“No, man — Calvin, Calvin.”

Bill whispered something else.

“Favor? What you want, man? Ain’t got no money, but if I can, I’ll try.”

The last sparks of electricity faded from William Scully’s aortal node, and his eyes rolled back.

“Well, shit,” the man in the Redskins cap murmured.

**

Mulder folded his cell phone, glancing up at Scully with a look of concern and confusion. Her eyes widened.

“Nobody’s at the house, and Bill’s cell number’s no longer in operation,” he drawled, the phone hanging limply in his fingers.

Scully inhaled sharply. “God, Mulder. Do you think they could have found out? What would they do…?”

“Scully, calm down,” her partner murmured, grasping her shoulders and pulling her to him. “Tara and Bill probably went out to celebrate the big news, and you know how reliable the cell phone companies are. Let’s just drive out to the house and check out the situation. OK?”

Scully clung to him silently, then pulled back and nodded, her eyes filled with dread. “OK.”

The phone sounded as Mulder was slipping it into his pocket. “Muld –. Mrs. Scully? Hey, Mrs. Scully, Maggie, tell me what’s –. Oh, God. God.”

“What?” Scully cried out. “Mulder, WHAT?!”

Mulder looked anxiously at her. “Where?” he asked her mother. “We’ll be right there.” He ended the call and looked up, stricken, at Scully. Her lips moved, but no words escaped. “It’s Bill,” Mulder said tonelessly.

Scully’s legs wavered. “Oh. Oh. Please.”

Mulder stepped toward her.

“No, no, NO!” she shrieked, dropping to the carpet.

**

“It was a hit-and-run driver, they said,” Maggie Scully said, worrying the shredded Kleenex in her hands. Shocked, the red-eyed woman stared somewhere between her daughter and Mulder, toward the emergency ward monitor station. “Upscale car, probably some senator or diplomat not thinking about anything but tonight’s reception or party.”

Mulder glanced at Scully, who closed her eyes and squeezed her mother’s hand.

Maggie sighed. “Your father always said they drove like maniacs in D.C. Bill, your father, he said they had too many crucial things on their minds to worry about anybody’s safety. They’ll probably never catch him, you know.”

“Mom,” Scully begged, eyes overflowing. “Please.”

“They were the ones with their heads in the clouds, you know,” Maggie said, turning to Scully with clear eyes. “Both of them. Important men, full of important ideas and honor and courage and all that bullshit! Bullshit, bullshit!” A nurse, arms full of flowers, turned abruptly to regard the sudden burst of obscenity.

“Mom,” Scully whispered, pulling her to her small form. Maggie collapsed against her, her body racking with sobs. Mulder stood by helplessly, hands dead at his side.

Maggie suddenly stiffened, and her head rose from her daughter’s shoulder. “Oh, God.”

Mulder turned. A familiar figure approached from the end of the corridor, leaning on a doctor in blood-spotted scrubs as she numbly stumbled forward.

The physician passed Tara Scully into Maggie’s waiting arms, and the widowed mother stared ahead with dead eyes as she accepted her mother- in-law’s consolation…

Epilogue

Hopewell Cemetery

May 25, 2004

11:22 a.m.

“May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face…”

The sun was indeed shining warm. It was a gorgeous day, but the mound of lilies encircling the casket emitted a strong perfume with that warm sun, and the beautiful sunny day, along with the grief surrounding the small plot where Bill Scully, Jr. lay, made Mulder’s stomach take a sickening turn.

As the priest concluded his prayers with the Irish Blessing, the group began to break up. Mulder removed himself from the crowd, beneath a nearby tree, so that those who truly deserved to mourn Bill could embrace and speak softly to those that they loved. He peeled the trench coat from his arms, sweating with the heat of the spring day. At this remote location, he truly felt that he didn’t deserve anything Scully had given him — that he belonged in the outskirts. That family over there was a unit, and one that Bill had fought hard to preserve. The moment he’d allowed Mulder to enter into it, no matter how reluctant, it seemed to accept another crack, and he felt like the ice pick.

Maggie glanced his way, curly hair sticking to her forehead beneath a black wide-brimmed hat. Her eyes were watery with grief, but she held him in her gaze, beckoning him for support. His apprehensions instantly melted. He walked the short distance to her and was drawn into her arms.

“Fox, thank you for being here,” she shuddered out, clinging to his waist. Mulder felt the back of his throat become hot, and pursed his lips to keep the sobbing back, unwilling to allow her to feel any bit of concern for him. She was the one who needed comforting the most, not him. She pulled back and wiped her eyes with a mascara-streaked handkerchief. Tara came over to them, children in tow who were cranky, hot and unhappy. She too hugged him and tried her best to keep a brave face for her mother and kids. The strength of this family was amazing. “We’re going back to the house,” Maggie said without pretense. She squeezed his arm, pointedly looked over to the gravesite where Scully stood speaking to the priest, then walked away with her daughter-in-law. It was an open invitation, expected that he follow. Also unspoken was that she expected him to get her daughter over to the house safely, that they were all meant to share this moment together. He was a part of this unit now, and he could feel the crack of sorrow becoming a fissure. Now that he knew he was allowed to care, the real pain was that of his own heart breaking.

When Scully had finished speaking to the priest, she walked over toward the casket one last time, fingering a large lily petal, her eyes red, but dry. Cautiously, he closed the gap between them, placed his hand at the small of her back and stood with her. She leaned into him then, burying her face into his chest and finally released all the pain that had been building up all morning. His dress shirt became wet with her tears, but he refused to notice. He smoothed down her hair, holding her all that much closer, accepting the sorrow she felt as his own. Her sobbing subsided after a moment longer, and she pushed her face gently away, but settled herself closely against him so that he could still rest his arm over her shoulders. Everyone else had gone to their cars by now — only the low murmur of voices, caught from a distance over the wind, lingered.

She shifted her arm slightly, so that she could hold a stack of envelopes more securely against her chest. Mulder had noticed that she was designated to accept all the Mass cards for her mother and Tara. There must have been at least twenty of them. One, however, was at the top, and this she pulled from the stack, crinkled from the force with which she held it.

“This was the only one Mom opened. It’s from Charlie.”

Mulder took it from her, removing the card from the violently torn envelope. Inside the generic Mass card was a telegram informing Maggie and the rest of the family of Charlie’s deep regret at not being able to come to the funeral of his brother. Apparently he was ‘at sea’ and unable to acquire leave.

“Why does he even bother? What right does he have!” Scully rasped out furiously, her mourning disturbed by the harsh reality of her brother’s convenient absence. Mulder rubbed her shoulder, attempting to calm her, but felt the same rage bubbling up within himself. She bowed her head to accept the caress, breathing slowly to tamp down her anger. “Mom’s furious, of course,” she said lightly. “Practically crumpled the thing up herself, but was gracious enough for appearances’ sake to just hand it to me.”

“Wrong choice, I gather,” he said, handing back the mangled envelope.

“Yeah,” she laughed out ironically. “If I had a lighter it would have been ashes right about now.”

They stood staring at the gravesite, sun beating down, birds twittering from the trees, flies and bees investigating the newly arrived bunches of pollen. Nature vibrated all around them — life continued. At length, Mulder took it upon himself to direct Scully away. “Come on, love,” he pressed his hand gently against her back, “they’re waiting for us back at the house.”

Scully obediently followed his lead, so conscience-stricken Mulder could feel it in her hesitant gait. “He’s gone too far this time, Mulder. We can’t let Charlie get away with this.”

Mulder stopped walking. “Scully, we don’t know for sure that it was Charlie. Bill’s phone was tapped. It could just as well have been Krycek. It’s his style. Whoever it was knew that Bill was going to stop by the pharma–”

“Charlie, Krycek — I don’t care! I just don’t want to do this anymore, Mulder! I can’t do this anymore! I can’t!”

The tears were flowing again. God, he’d never seen her cry so much in their whole partnership than she had in the last few days. She wasn’t crying outright this time, but just let the tears run down unacknowledged. She stood still as one of the tombstones in the line of graves stretched out behind her. She was tired. She was distraught. She was vulnerable, and all he wanted to do was let her know that he was there for her, and would always be there for her, but words escaped him.

He reached out to wipe the moisture from her cheeks, gently scrape the matted red hair away from her temples. He drew her closer, bent down to kiss her, nearly crushed her in his arms. She pulled at his back, crushing him just as much in return. Between them both, they could find strength in a single unit, an outpouring of emotion seething through them by osmosis. They had always been each other’s strength, but weakness had finally taken a hold of them both, reached up into their souls and yanked it all out of them. There was always a time to fight back, but as they pressed lips and bodies together, exposed and vulnerable, wishing they were already home, Mulder felt it. It was time to give in. They pulled apart just enough so that they could breathe, but remained clinging to one another for support. Scully lay her head upon Mulder’s chest, listening to the heavy breaths he took, the steady heartbeat, feeling that her cheeks were wet from his own tears as well as hers.

“Scully,” he said in a thick voice. She nodded, still leaning against him. He inhaled deeply, stilling himself against what he was about to say. “Maybe it’s time to stop. This is all too much for us. We have nothing to lose by leaving, but everything to lose if we keep on going.” She pulled away to look up at him. “What are you saying?”

Mulder immediately shook his head, realizing her distress, and caressed her cheek. “We can’t keep putting Maggie and Tara and the kids in danger. My whole family is already gone. We have to protect what remains of yours. They mean too much to you, and… they mean too much to me now, too.”

Still unsure of where this conversation was going, and certainly not of any strength to begin another tirade of emotion, she waited for him to finish.

“The Bureau,” he finally blurted out to clarify, noticing that she still wasn’t getting it, and berating himself for his clumsiness. “I think we should leave the FBI. The X-files, everything. It used to be my whole life, but what’s in my life now it so much more important. We need to survive, and to protect everything else we hold dear, I think it’s what we have to do.”

Scully stood silent. A thousand thoughts ping- ponged inside her head. She exhaled an internal sigh of relief that Mulder was not breaking off their relationship in order to protect themselves. Realizing now that wasn’t at all what he was suggesting, she distressed over the idea that he was willing to give up his whole quest, his life’s work at the FBI for her. *Her* life’s work had become his, and he was asking her to give it up! But it wasn’t just for her; it was for the both of them. “What about the rest of the world? What about the consortium, Krycek, Charlie, your mother’s journal . . .”

“They’ve been there for as long as I can remember,” he spat out. Then more gently, “I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere for a while. If we stop now, it’d only be for the better. We don’t know everything. Never will. Not now, anyway. At least if we’re out of the way for a while, we’ll be safe. The world will be there tomorrow, and I’d be happier if we were both still in it.”

Scully hung her head low, studying the green grass at her feet hiding her toes. “Skinner?” she asked, still staring at the ground.

“Skinner will understand.”

She pinched her eyebrows close together, rubbed her mouth with her thumb. After a long silent moment watching the breeze tickle the blades of grass around her shoes, she nodded. She shuffled the envelopes and looked up at her partner. A conglomerate of expressions melded his face. What resulted was a mirror image of her own: uncertainty, sorrow, but most of all peace. “What do we do now?”

“Now,” he pulled her close again, but began walking toward their car. “Now, we’re going to Tara’s. After that, I want you to come home with me. For good.”

This time Scully stopped them in their tracks. “Mulder?” her voice wavered.

“It won’t be ‘home’ without you, Scully. Will you come live with me?”

It didn’t take her long to answer this time. “Of course.” They strode through the cut grass purposefully toward their car, hand in hand. When Mulder started it up, and slowly navigated through the twisted drives of the cemetery, he said, “So, I guess you’ll take care of all the paperwork for your apartment in a few days, follow-up with Skinner and all that?”

Scully laughed out loud at the thought of conquering a stack of paperwork all by herself. She held down her hair against the wind whipping through the car window as they picked up speed toward the exit and their new beginnings. “Some things, Mulder… they never change.”

The end . . . for now.

Join us for the Virtual Season 12 Opener: Dispensation!

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The King of Pain

Title: The King Of Pain

Author: Waddles52

Summary: Mulder suffers the consequences during

Scully’s annual spring cleaning spree.

Rating: PG 13

Classification: MSR, MT

Disclaimer: Not for profit.

Archives: Two weeks exclusive to VS 11 then

anywhere, but please contact me first.

Spring was definitely in the air. The cherry trees

were blooming and the tourists were flocking to the

capital city in droves. During a noon walk on the

mall, Scully felt that familiar itch begin and there

was only one way to scratch it. No, it wasn’t an

allergy, although Mulder might think so. It was an

annual thing with only one cure—–spring cleaning.

Scully thought about hiring a cleaning crew and just

turning it over to them, but a clean house was

important to her and that feeling of accomplishment

when everything was finished and sparkling clean just

couldn’t be replaced. She chose the first weekend in

April as her target date.

Mulder hoped for a long, complicated out-of-town

case. Since he practically lived with Scully now, he

was expected to help with the annual ritual. Why

couldn’t she have an annual softball game, or a

hiking trip? Well, staying in her good graces was

essential to him these days. His lover could be very

generous in the bedroom when she was pleased with

him, and he felt the need to receive a bit of her

generosity. Now, what had she asked him to pick up

from the store?

He took the list from his shirt pocket and unfolded

it. He could tell it was going to be a hellish

weekend. The list started with ammonia and ended

somewhere near the bottom of the page with window

cleaner. Wait, the instructions said to turn the

list over. He promptly obeyed and smiled at the next

request—-wine, red and white! There might be a pot

of gold at the end of this rainbow after all.

Mulder was awakened at the crack of dawn Saturday

morning. Scully handed him a cup of coffee. When

his eyes finally focused he noticed that she was

dressed in an old pair of sweats and a t-shirt.

“Mulder, you are seriously underdressed for this

party,” she grinned, noting that a pair of boxers was

all he had on. Put on the clothes I laid out for

you. They’re on the foot of the bed.”

“Those? I thought they were rags.” He took a swig

of the strong coffee in hopes that it would jump

start him into consciousness.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure they will be rags by the time

we get finished. Hurry up and finish your coffee.

Daylight’s burning, agent.” She gave him a swat on

the butt and busied herself by gathering cleaning

materials.

If it hadn’t been for the swat on the butt, Mulder

might have opened an X-File right then and there. It

sounded like Scully was channeling Skinner. He

yawned loudly, scratched his hind end and shuffled

back to the bedroom to change into his work clothes.

After only an hour, Mulder knew that it was going to

be the longest day of his life. He had already taken

down all of the mini-blinds to soak in a bathtub full

of acrid smelling cleaning solution, swept the

ceiling for cobwebs, dusted the top of all of the

cabinets and his next assignment was to clean the

light fixtures. He could tell that he would have a

very sore neck by the end of the day. “Scully,

where’s the step ladder?”

“I’m using it right now.” She was humming a happy

tune as she washed the walls in the bathroom. “Just

grab one of the kitchen chairs.”

“Sheesh, how can anyone sound so thrilled to be

scrubbing walls?” he grumbled as he passed by one of

the exposed windows and noted the beautiful spring

day he was missing. “Might as well start in the

kitchen.” He sighed loudly as he made his way there.

At least, the view wasn’t as nice in there. It

wouldn’t remind him so much of what he was missing.

He positioned the chair under the ceiling fan and

hopped onto the seat. As he began to remove the

light bulbs, he noted that the paddles of the fan

could use a good dusting. That was actually the

first sign of dirt that he had seen all morning. He

reached for his trusty dust rag in the back pocket of

his jeans and began to clean the fan. Dust began to

filter down directly into his eyes. “Damn it!”

He tried to swipe the annoying particles away from

his sensitive eyes but it was too late to prevent the

dust from settling in his left eye. Both eyes

clamped shut and tears began to flow due to the

irritation. He needed to get to the sink and wash

his eyes.

Disoriented due to the stinging pain, he misjudged

the boundary of the chair. He took a step back and

met thin air. He managed to utter a few expletives

before he landed on the floor—-hard!

His tears continued to flow, effectively washing out

the dust. Even more tears flowed as he fought to

control the pain in his right shoulder and ankle.

Did he hit the counter on the way down? He wasn’t

sure, but one thing was certain, Fox Mulder was

through cleaning for the day.

Scully heard the chair scoot and the sound of

Mulder’s body hitting the floor. She hastily climbed

down from her perch on the ladder and was by his side

in a flash. “Mulder, don’t try to move!”

Move? Was she serious? He managed to get his right

eye open and just stared at her unable to do anything

other than let his involuntary muscles do their job.

Pain was in charge right now and it wanted his full

attention. Good thing, because that’s all he could

handle at the moment.

After a few seconds, Pain eased off enough to let him

move his mouth. He tried to say, “Scully,” but it

sounded like a gurgle and drool ran from the right

side of his mouth. Pain didn’t like relinquishing

any part of its hold on its newest victim. It

clamped down on Mulder again, allowing him a tiny

grunt before taking over completely.

Scully was on her knees beside him trying to judge

his level of consciousness. He squeezed his right

eye shut again as the tears continued to fall. He

felt his partner gently wipe them away as he fought

with Pain for control of his voice.

“Mulder, can you hear me?”

Pain was a formidable foe, but he kicked it aside

long enough to grunt an answer. “Mmph.”

Pain charged right back and almost kept him from

hearing Scully’s next question. “Are you injured or

did you just get the wind knocked out of you?”

Did she really expect an answer? Pain laughed. It

would win this round easily. To its surprise, Mulder

blurted out, “Hurt!” causing Pain to scramble for

complete control once again. Although still strong,

Pain had lost its overwhelming edge. With one last

try, Pain realized that his victim was stronger at

the moment. It decided to linger in the background

and wait for another chance to rule the day.

“Where are you hurt?”

“Right shoulder, ankle.”

“What about your neck or back?”

“No.”

“Okay, let’s have a look.” Scully felt along his

collarbone and then his shoulder joint.

“Oh! Stop! Hurts!”

“I imagine it does, Mulder. Did you hit the counter

on your way down?”

“Not sure. Why?” He gritted his teeth as Pain tried

to surge in and take over again.

“Your shoulder is dislocated.”

“Damn!”

“Just relax. We’ll get you to the ER and they’ll put

it back in place in no time.” She smiled. “It won’t

be that bad. I promise.”

Mulder looked at her warily. Something told him it

wouldn’t be that easy.

“Now, let’s check out your ankle. It’s probably just

a slight sprain. I assume it’s your right one?”

“Uh-huh.”

Pain saw an opportunity to show its dominance once

again as the woman began to unlace the victim’s

sneaker. Yes, it would definitely be large and in

charge again by the time his sock was off.

“Son of a bitch, Scully! You trying to tear my foot

off?”

“Sorry, there’s already a lot of bruising and

swelling. I’ve got to move your foot a little bit to

check out that ankle joint. It could be fairly

painful depending on how badly your ankle is

injured,” she warned.

“Go ahead,” he gasped. “Couldn’t hurt any worse than

it does now.”

Pain nearly went into convulsions of laughter. What

an idiot! Well, Fox Mulder was just about to find

out just how much more it could hurt. Although the

woman was being as gentle as she possibly could, Pain

couldn’t be happier. The slightest movement of the

injured joint caused the victim to cry out, and in

just a few seconds his discomfort would multiply

exponentially.

“When Scully rotated his ankle, Mulder felt a little

click in the joint. The ensuing pain overloaded his

senses. Scully was shocked when his eyes rolled back

into his head and he lost consciousness. Pain

laughed loudly.

Mulder came to a few seconds later, surprising Pain

who had stepped into the background again. “What

happened?”

“You passed out on me! It was just for a few seconds

but you gave me a good scare. Don’t do that again!

How are you feeling now?”

“Not so good,” he sighed.

“I’m going to call 911. We need to get you to the

hospital.”

“No, you drive me.” Pain cheered him on. That would

be wonderful. Even getting him off the floor would

feed its need for quite some time.

“Mulder, your ankle is broken and there’s no way I

could support you. Your shoulder will make it

difficult to get in the car and I’m not 100% sure

that I could even help you to get off the floor.”

“What about your neighbor? You know, the trainer

with the Redskins? Couldn’t he help?”

“I’m sure he would if he was at home, but he’s on

vacation.”

“Damn!” Pain was sneaking back in form its hiding

place. Although it was disappointed that the woman

was going to call an ambulance, it could still get in

a few good licks until they got there. Mulder felt a

twitch in his nose signaling only one thing. He was

going to sneeze. He had to stop it! He raised his

left hand and placed it under his nose. Too late!

The sneeze caused his entire body to convulse, making

his injured shoulder jerk. The resulting pain almost

made him lose consciousness again.

Pain giggled. Yes, that would do nicely until the

paramedics came to move him.

Pain was absolutely delighted. Even though it was

resting in the background once again, it knew that it

could get in a few more good licks when they reached

the hospital. The paramedics had been very

cooperative at first. Just as the victim had started

to relax, they arrived and began their own

examination. Pain had put on a stellar performance

and the paramedics rewarded the victim with a hefty

dose of morphine. Pain just shrugged its shoulders

and grinned wickedly, realizing that it was only a

temporary setback.

At the hospital, Mulder dozed through his transfer

from the stretcher to the gurney. Pain was a bit

disappointed but realized that the morphine was

beginning to lose its effect. It would be show time

soon enough.

The doctor arrived within a few minutes. The ER

wasn’t yet busy. They were expecting an onslaught of

sports injuries later in the afternoon, but for the

time being things were pretty quiet. The MD did a

quick exam, enough to make Mulder squirm, but he was

still rather heavily sedated from the morphine. The

patient was on his way to radiology before the drug

really started to fade away. Pain began to prepare

for its re-entry. X-rays could be such fun!

The technician was nice and tried to be gentle, but

Pain made the process a living hell. Each time one

of his injured joints had to be positioned for a

different view, Mulder cried out in agony. The only

thing that kept him going was the promise of seeing

Scully and getting more pain medication once he was

back in the examining room. The technician even

called ahead to let the ER know he was coming back.

The nurse was waiting when he returned and quickly

injected additional pain relief. Pain was even ready

for a little rest. The patient torture in x-ray had

been a real hoot, but it knew it would have to return

full force very soon. It knew that it would have to

put on quite a show when the doctor tried to put the

shoulder back in place. “Yeah, hang in there, Mr.

Mulder. We both need our rest,” Pain giggled. “The

best is yet to come.”

After half an hour, Mulder was awakened from his

comfortable slumber when the orthopedic surgeon on

call came in to look at the x-rays and give Mulder

and Scully the low down. Thankfully, the ankle

fracture wasn’t serious but the doctor expressed

concern because Mulder would not be able to use

crutches. “You really need to stay off of that ankle

for about two weeks. We’ll put you in a cast before

you leave, but it will not be a walking cast. You’ll

need to secure a wheelchair.”

Mulder groaned his disappointment and Scully gave his

left hand a squeeze to show that she sympathized.

Pain was a bit disappointed. It had planned to

linger while Mulder was on crutches. Oh well. The

most intense pain was still waiting in the wings.

“Now, as you so painfully know, your shoulder is

dislocated. I’m going to add a little more medicine

to your IV so that you’ll be really relaxed. I’m

going to find one of my residents to assist me while

you’re getting relaxed and we should have that

shoulder back in place in no time. When we’re

finished we’ll have to completely immobilize your

shoulder for a couple of weeks to give those

ligaments a chance to heal. Do you have any

questions?”

“Why can’t you just knock me out?” Mulder asked.

“It’s going to hurt no matter how relaxed I am.”

“True, but I’m trying to prevent an overnight stay.

If we give you a general anesthetic we’ll have to

take you to surgery, intubate you, and keep an eye on

you for a while. I’m just trying to do what will be

easiest for you and your wallet.”

“We appreciate your concern,” Scully put in. “How

long before you can get started?”

“I’ll write the order for the meds right now and

round up some help. We should get started in less

that 30 minutes.”

Pain was delighted. Getting that shoulder back into

place was really going to be entertaining. It

couldn’t resist digging in just a bit.

“Ow!” Mulder exclaimed.

“Are you okay? Should I get the doctor back in

here?” Scully jumped up and was at his side

immediately.

“No, just had a really sharp pain in my shoulder.

It’s better now.”

“Probably a muscle spasm. The meds you’re going to

get should relax you enough so that you won’t have

any more.”

“Meds indeed!” Pain chortled. There wasn’t a

medicine on earth short of general anesthesia that

would mask the pain Mulder would feel when they tried

to put his shoulder back into place. “Oh, this is

what I’ve been waiting for these past few hours.

Bring it on, doctor! I’m more than ready to defeat

your medication.”

The additional medication sent Mulder off to

dreamland. He laid on the gurney with a contented

smile on his face. He didn’t even notice when the

two doctors entered the exam room and put a rolled up

sheet under him.

Scully had seen the procedure done several times

during her training, but had never taken part in one

because the doctors usually wanted someone pretty

strong to keep the patient in place. She moved to a

corner of the room to give the doctors plenty of room

to maneuver. She wanted to stay by Mulder’s side but

knew that she would only be in the way. She hoped

that the medication would be strong enough to keep

him fairly comfortable. She knew that the procedure

was going to be painful no matter how much medication

he had on board.

The resident pulled on the sheet as his supervisor

began to manipulate the joint. Mulder’s eyes shot

open immediately and he almost bit through his lip as

he tried to keep from screaming. Whatever the doctor

was doing was killing him! He kept waiting for the

joint to go back into place signaling the end of his

torture, but it didn’t happen.

The doctors stopped to take a break and let Mulder

catch his breath. Scully urged her partner to slow

his breathing down.

Pain was ecstatic! If they gave awards for this sort

of thing, it would have a mantle full from this

injury alone. Even so, it felt the need to push on

and do an even better job the next time the doctors

tried to manipulate the joint. That poor man was

such fun to torture. He tried so hard not to give

into to the excruciating pain. Even though Mulder

had gained the respect of his torturer, Pain decided

it would not be satisfied until he was a quivering,

defeated human, begging for mercy.

The doctors were ready to try again. “We’re going to

give it another go, Mr. Mulder. Try to relax as much

as you possibly can. Ready?”

No! He’d never be ready, but he still managed to

grunt out an, “Okay.”

Pain gave the performance of a lifetime. Mulder was

perspiring with the effort of trying to cope with the

agony in his shoulder. Finally, he decided he’d

reached his limit. “Stop! No more! Put me to

sleep! I don’t care if I have to stay overnight!

I’ll pay anything!”

Pain took a bow for the best performance yet. By the

time the doctors tried a third time, he’d have Mulder

right where he wanted him. He was so close! If they

thought he’d been begging for relief before, that was

nothing! The best was yet to come.”

Pain stopped patting itself on the back to listen in

on the doctor’s conversation with the patient. “All

right, Mr. Mulder. I agree. You’re in too much pain

to even consider going on. I’ll arrange for an OR

and an anesthesiologist and we’ll get this taken care

of.”

“I’m sorry. I tried.” Mulder was close to tears.

Somehow he felt like he’d let everyone down,

especially Scully. He was such a wimp.

“You did just fine, Mr. Mulder. Your muscles are in

spasm and we just can’t work around that. It’s not

your fault. Just hang in there for a few more

minutes and we’ll get you upstairs and make you

comfortable.”

“Thanks.”

Scully found herself back at Mulder’s side, grateful

that she wouldn’t have to see him suffer through

another attempt.

Pain was stunned. Doctors always tried three times

before giving up and going to surgery. It felt

cheated. One more try would have satisfied its need

for complete dominance. Pain looked back on

everything that had happened and decided that his

performance had been outstanding. Perfect! It

couldn’t have been any better! Then, Pain realized

that it had been too good!

Pain was so busy congratulating itself that it didn’t

notice that Mulder was moving to the OR, room 8. It

barely had time to get in one last lick when the

patient was transferred from the gurney to the table.

As the anesthesia began to enter Mulder’s body, Pain

bade him farewell. It had been a good, satisfying

couple of hours, but it needed a new victim. It was

sure that Mulder would be in its clutches once again

in the not too distant future, but it needed

something to do until then. This was a hospital

after all. A visit to post-op should begin to

satisfy its needs.

Several hours later, Mulder was lying in his hospital

bed glad that the worst was behind him. Damn! He

couldn’t remember ever being in that much pain

before! It was pretty scary when he looked back on

it. He didn’t like losing control like that, but he

would have done just about anything to rid himself of

the all-consuming agony that had set up in his right

shoulder. If it hadn’t been for Scully helping him

work through it . . .where was she anyway?

Mulder couldn’t move very well due to the shoulder

immobilizer, but he did the best he could to look

around the room. Scully chose that moment to return.

He visibly relaxed.

She made her way over to his bed and leaned over the

railing. “I’ve been making arrangements for a

wheelchair rental and talking to Mom. Since the

apartment’s pretty much a mess right now we’re going

to spend a few days at her house.”

Mulder perked up. If he was going to be forced into

a period of recuperation from these stupid injuries,

the thought of Scully’s mom and her mouth-watering

meals made it a lot easier to take.

“I’ve also decided to hire a cleaning service to

finish up the apartment. I decided I’d rather spend

every minute with you instead of worrying about that

apartment.”

“Thanks, Scully. I know how important cleanliness

and order is to you.” He thought to himself that it

was quite a big step that she had taken.

“You’re more important than that apartment any day.

By the way, I booked the cleaning crew for your

apartment too. I hope you don’t mind.”

Mulder groaned silently and considered telling her to

cancel. He wouldn’t be able to find a thing once

they finished. Suddenly he realized that he felt the

same as Scully. She was much more important than his

apartment. “Thanks, that’ll give us lots more time

together since I won’t have to worry about clearing a

path through the clutter every time you come over.

If I like their work I may get them to come

regularly.”

Scully was surprised, but thrilled that he hadn’t put

up a fuss. “How are you feeling?” she asked warily,

afraid that he was too high on pain meds to realize

what he was saying.

“I’m okay. I’m a little tired but the pain is much

better. I haven’t had to use the pump since I woke

up.”

Scully breathed a sigh of relief. Things were

looking up. This recuperation period should go

rather smoothly since her partner seemed so

cooperative right from the start.

Mulder held his left hand out to her. She took it

gently so she wouldn’t disturb the IV, then settled

into the chair by his bed. She was glad that her

part in her spring cleaning was over and was looking

forward to the next few days at her mom’s where she

could give Mulder the TLC he deserved.

Mulder felt a slight twinge in his shoulder but it

faded fast. He was thankful that his pain was so

much better. He wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

In another part of the hospital, Pain had found the

perfect place to camp out. Labor and delivery was

the greatest find! It could make lots of women

miserable for a few hours and then move to another

area if things got slow. It thought of giving its

old friend Mulder a visit but a new patient came in,

already in considerable pain and screaming her head

off. Ooh, she was going to be a great victim. She

seemed to have a very low tolerance for pain and she

still had several hours to go before she could have

an epidural.

“Thanks, Mr. Mulder. We had a great time but I think

I’ll leave you alone for a while. I’ll be back if

you ever decide to help your girlfriend with her

spring cleaning again,” Pain cackled as it approached

its newest victim.

End

Spring Recess

Spring Recess

By Mary Kleinsmith (Buc252@adelphia.net)

Written especially for VS11’s Spring special event

Category: Just about everything here. MSR, humor,

MT . .

Rating: R for some rather lascivious thoughts on the

part of our favorite female agent

Spoilers: None that I can think of.

Summary: Spring, when young men’s fancy turns to

thoughts of . . . baseball. Oh, and don’t worry

about the love – Scully’s more than willing to take

care of that. Opening day at the ballpark, and it’s

the Yankees vs. the Orioles. Do you really think

that anything could keep Mulder from attending?

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and Skinner don’t belong

to me. Only the plot is mine. No infringement is

intended – this is just for fun.

Author’s Notes: Thanks to Vickie for poking me into

it, and Mindy for poking in general.

Feedback: Yes, please please please?

Spring Recess

By Mary Kleinsmith (Buc252@adelphia.net or Buc252@aol.com)

“C’mon, Scully. Why not? It’s a beautiful spring

day!”

“Mulder,” I sighed, exasperated. “We have a backlog

of reports big enough to choke a horse, and Skinner’s

going to have our heads if we don’t make a huge dent

in them by ‘the end of the week’. And in case you

didn’t notice, Mulder, that’s today.”

“How often do the Yankees play the Orioles on opeing day?

And you didn’t notice that I finished most of them

last night, just so we <could> leave today.” I still

looked at him skeptically, but I’m not sure whether it

was more that I didn’t believe he could have finished

so many the previous night or whether he really wanted

to go that badly.

“Look, why don’t you just go, and I’ll take care of

the reports,” I offered.

“No, the point is to go together, Scully,” he almost

whined.

“Well, as usual, it’s time for compromise. “Okay,

what time does it start?”

“One o’clock.”

“Okay, how about this? We work on reports until

eleven, then close the office for the day and we

<both> have some lunch and then go to the game.”

“It’s a deal,” Mulder smiled happily, sitting down at

his desk to get to work. Sometimes, it takes so

little to make him so happy.

**

Opening day at the ballpark. What bigger example of

Americanism is there on a warm spring day? I can’t

think of any.

Mulder called ahead for will-call tickets because we

weren’t sure just how crowded it was going to be.

Fortunately, they had two in the twelfth row slightly

to the left behind home plate that we grabbed before

anybody else could snare them. I guess mostly

families come today, so two seats together weren’t so

tough to do.

Based on the parking lot, it was going to be a packed

house, despite the fact that it was during a work

day. How did this many people get away from their

jobs for something so mundane as a baseball game?

I’ve come to accept that I’ll never understand

Mulder’s fascination with sports. But then, I don’t

really need to, I just have to share in it, and enjoy

his presence. That’s not such a tough thing to do.

Once we enter the gates, Mulder is like a kid in a

candy store. His exuberance is sexy beyond belief,

and I realize that I can’t wait to get him home again

for a much different type of physical activity.

“Great seats, huh?” he asks as we settle down into

them. “From here, we can see the scoreboard and all

the action.”

That’s nothing compared to the action there’ll be

after the game, I think to myself. I always get this

way in the spring, but until now, I’ve managed to

bury it so he doesn’t know. He’s going to find out,

though.

Anyway, back to baseball. I’ve never been that

interested in the sport per se, not beyond the few

times Mulder’s gotten it into his head to give me

batting lessons. Not that I’m complaining, of course

– those were great times. It just had more to do

with spending time with Mulder than with the game

itself.

“Scully, stand up!” Mulder stage-whispers, and I

realize that, while I’ve been lost in thought, a

young woman has come onto the field to begin the

national anthem.

“Oh, sorry,” I say, scrambling to my feet.

On our first foray to a baseball game together, he

surprises me by singing along with the crowd. His

talents never cease to amaze me – he’s much better at

it than I am, that’s for sure.

“Sing, Scully,” he slips in between phrases.

Rather than argue with him about it, I join him in

moving my lips, but silently so nobody else has to

suffer. Finally, the audio torture comes to an end,

and we all take our seats for the opening pitch,

which is performed with great aplomb by the Speaker

of the House. It’s probably the biggest effort he’s

put forth in years.

“Hey, I’m going for food,” Mulder says, not taking

his eyes from the game.

“We just ate!” I can’t believe it.

“I know,” he responds, looking at me as if I’m

demented. “Food at the ballpark, Scully, is not

about being hungry. Don’t you realize that?”

“You mean you’re going to eat for the social aspects

of it?”

“You’d better believe it,” he answers me. “So, what

do you want?”

I know he’s not going to let it rest until I join him

in a traditional feast, but that doesn’t mean I have

to gorge myself. “How about a salad?”

As expected, he looks shocked. “Scully, you can’t

come to a ball park on opening day and eat a salad!

It’s just not done, and I’m not even sure you can

<find> one. Try again.”

“Okay, how about a chicken fajita with mild sauce?”

What the heck. Lettuce, tomatoes, chicken . . .

that’s nearly a salad, right? It’s just swapping the

croutons for a wrap.

“I think we can handle that,” he said with a smile.

I’m blessed with a kiss on the cheek before he leaves

our seats to go in search of unneeded sustenance.

Left on my own, sitting here is a new experience. At

least three men wink at me, and I find it interesting

that they feel the freedom to do this just as soon as

the man I came with has stepped away. If the place

wasn’t so crowded, I might be inclined to teach them

a lesson about women, but for now, I settle for

giving them a dirty look. They get the message and

turn back to the game, just as a redneck with the

biggest beer belly I’ve ever seen dares to put his

hand on my knee.

“Excuse me.”

“Yeah, honey?”

“Could you please remove that?” I say as politely as

I can, despite my furor. I didn’t come here to be

groped. Well, at least not by a stranger.

“What’s’a matter, sweet cheeks. Been too long since

you had a <real> man?”

“I know a lot of real men, and you’re not one of

them. Now remove it or . . .”

“Or what, babe? You gonna hurt me?”

“If she doesn’t – and she could – I will,” comes from

Mulder, standing at the end of the aisle. I wonder

how long he’s been there. . .

“Why don’t you just concentrate on your food and I’ll

concentrate on the lady,” the jerk says, his breath

in my face wreaking of alcohol as the hand on my knee

suddenly grips it tighter. There’ll be bruises there

tomorrow, I think.

Suddenly, his hand is moving further up my leg,

nearing forbidden territory, and I see red. Instinct

kicks in, and before I know it, I’m standing with his

arm twisted, ready to break his thumb.

“Is there a problem here, folks?” A security guard

who doesn’t look much older than my Godson is here,

ready to calm the action.

Before I can respond, Mulder’s got his badge out.

“This gentlemen has been assaulting my partner, she

gave him several warnings, but he wouldn’t let up.”

The kid looks a bit confused, unsure of what to do.

“I recommend,” Mulder says, “that you remove him from

the stadium, Officer.”

I feel my blood pressure leveling off, and when the

officer takes the offender by the arm, I have the

presence of mind to release him. We watch as the

jerk is led out.

“Sorry about that, Scully,” Mulder says as he takes

his seat beside me, juggling his purchases. “Your

fajita is the striped box.”

I take it from him and am surprised to realize that I

am hungry after all.

“I hope, given this experience, that you didn’t get

us beer,” I say around a mouthful of chicken,

lettuce, and tomato. “That guy wreaked of it.”

“Diet cola?” he says, offering me a cup.

I take it gratefully, sipping a bit through the

straw. “Thank you. What did you get?”

I swear I see a slight blush on his face, but he

squares his shoulders. “A couple hot dogs. . . some

popcorn . . . peanuts. . . the soda, of course.”

“Oh, my God, Mulder. You are going to be <so> sick.”

“Nah, I’ll be fine. Something in the fresh air makes

a person hungry. Besides,” he says with a grin. “I

think you’ll be helping me finish some of it before

long. Trust me.”

“We’ll see,,” I respond warily before the person

behind us has finally had enough of our talking over

the announcer and shushes us.

“Sorry,” I say to him, embarrassed.

Like our neighbor, I listen to the loudspeaker. They

are announcing, in between plays, some contest that’s

coming up in between the third and fourth inning. It

would be a pleasant surprise to come away with some

little prize like a weekend at the nicest hotel in

the city or some new furniture, but I realize that

the chances of them drawing mine or Mulder’s seat

number are very small. Still, a girl can dream,

right?

The game goes on, and if I find it less than

enthralling to watch, I find my partner and the crowd

around him equally entertaining. It’s not the most

popular thing to be, a Yankees fan in Orioles

stadium, and every time he cheers his team, those

around him grumble, moan, or just plain tell him to

shut up, yet he sticks to his guns. Nothing is going

to stop him from cheering, to the point that I fear

there will be a dozen Orioles fans lying in wait in

the parking lot for us upon completion of the game.

“Mulder?”

“Yes!!!!!” he exclaims, and I somehow know it’s not a

reaction to me. Then he proves it. “Did you see

that, Scully? A triple!”

“Yes, I saw it. Mulder, you know all that food you

bought?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, why don’t you stick some of it in your mouth.”

“But then I won’t be able to cheer,” he notes in

confusion.

“Exactly,” I answer. “I’d like to get out of here in

one piece, if you don’t mind.”

“We will, but we’ll have a good time, too.”

“Yeah, whatever,” I mumble, trying harder to restrain

my laugh than to really be heard.

I hear the crack of a bat, and before I can capture

the ball with my eyes, it’s in one of the fielder’s

gloves, signaling the end of an inning. While

various announcements are made and the “field” team

comes into the dugout, Mulder is explaining to me the

differences between this ball park and that of his

beloved Yankees.

“And, of course, the Yankee’s scoreboard is so much

clearer . . .”

My attention is drawn to the object of his

discussion, but his voice fades to the background as

I take in the image there. A very clear image of us!

“What the . . .”

“And the winner is,” a voice resounds over the

speaker system, “Section 3, seat 12A. Will the

person sitting in that seat please report to the

nearest courtesy desk. You are today’s ‘bat off’

winner.”

“Mulder, it’s you!” I can’t help but exclaim. “You

won!” I take a minute to gather myself. “Uh . . .

what did you win?”

He seems shocked for a moment, but those around him,

who were shouting at him not all that long ago, were

now calling out encouragements, even patting him on

the back.

Rising, he grabs me by the hand in what seems like

stunned silence, pulling me out of my seat and into

the aisle. In the relative quiet, while we try to

find the booth we need, he explains.

“They have a contest every game,” he says, unusually

nervously. “One person is chosen from the crowd to

come down and bat against the home team’s pitcher.

If you get a hit, you win a prize.”

“Well, here’s your chance, Fox Mantle,” I laugh,

squeezing his arm. “Let’s show ’em what you got.”

In a blink, I’m standing in a dugout watching my

partner, my best friend and then some, walking out

onto the field. I’ve known him for so many years,

and yet I’ve never seen him as nervous as he is right

now. I fear it’s going to affect his performance,

and say a prayer that he can at least save face and

get some kind of hit.

He looks back to me, and, on an impulse, I blow him a

kiss. The nervous look is replaced with a wide smile

and a wink. Go get ’em, I think to myself as silence

falls over the stadium. All eyes are on Mulder and

the man who climbs onto the pitcher’s mound.

On the way down to the field, the team’s public

relations person had explained that he’ll get three

strikes or four balls to get a hit, just like a real

time at bat. Three strikes sends him home with

nothing, and four balls with a respectable prize.

Mulder takes longer than I would have expected to

choose his weapon of choice before finally stepping

into the batter’s box. I wish I could be in his arms

again, like I was during our all-too-brief batting

lesson all those years ago, but this is a dream of

his, and I pray he gets to enjoy it.

The pitcher winds up, and Mulder watches carefully as

the ball approaches. Even from where I stand, I can

see it’s way out of the strike zone, and he wisely

lets it pass by him. I know he’s got to be dying to

swing at it, but he’s no fool.

A second pitch heads his way, this time better

directed. For a fraction of a second, I don’t know

what Mulder is going to do, but then the bat is in

motion, and I hear the tick of wood on leather.

Disappointingly, the ball flies off to the side, out

of bounds, and the umpire calls for his first strike.

“C’mon, Mulder!” I shout out, encouraging him. He

looks to me for a second, and then his eyes are back

on the ball.

I realize my eyes are closed and I’m wishing for

everything I’m worth that he could succeed at this.

He’s lost so much in his life, and this tiny thing

could make him so very happy.

My eyes snap open at the crack of the bat, loud

enough to assault my eardrums this close, and I

search the skies, hoping to spy the small object.

Gloriously, I’m not disappointed.

When my ears begin to work again, I hear the crowd

cheering. They’re on their feet, watching as the ball

goes up, up, and up even more until . . .

“And it’s over the left field fence!” The scream over

the loudspeaker reflects the excitement of the crowd

at Mulder’s accomplishment. A home run!

I’m not sure if he’s supposed to, but regardless, he

takes his laps, touching each base before returning

to home base. I’m out of the dugout and he sweeps me

into his arms, spinning me around like my father used

to when I was three.

A man comes out to shake Mulder’s hand, introducing

himself as the team’s owner. He presents us with an

envelope, which we open to find a pair of all-

expense-paid tickets for a two-week vacation in the

Bahamas, even including food vouchers.

I’m entranced by the tickets, the idea of Mulder in

his Speedos on a white beach distracting me, until

the owner waves a second hand to the scoreboard. On

it, a 2004 Corvette convertible is depicted,

apparently also part of this incredible prize.

I hug Mulder in front of many thousand people without

a second thought, jumping into his arms in our joy.

It’s apparent that it hasn’t fully sunk in yet, but

now that the prizes have been presented, we’re being

nudged off the field. I guess it’s time for the game

to resume, Mulder’s fifteen minutes of fame passing

quickly.

Before we’re allowed to return to our seats, the

team’s representatives make sure to get all of my

partner’s vital information and give him paperwork

that will let him pick up his new car at the

dealership. I can’t believe this is happening!

As we’re finally left alone, I can’t get over how

quiet he’s being. He hasn’t said a word since the

prizes were awarded, and nothing directly to me.

“Mulder, are you okay?”

He swallows deeply, looking shell shocked. “A bit

stunned, I guess,” he smiles. “I won a car!”

“Not just any car. And then there’s the trip, don’t

forget about that.”

His eyes sparkle. “I’m not likely to. Y’know,” he

says, suddenly shy. “It would make the perfect

honeymoon.”

Now I’m the one stunned speechless. “Mulder, I . .

.”

“Agents?”

That voice. I know that voice, I think to myself as

I turn toward it, praying I’m wrong. We’re not that

lucky.

“AD Skinner?” I say, knowing that I’m blushing to

beat the band after having gotten caught playing

hooky. Mulder doesn’t seem to mind that much, but he

is definitely more formal now.

“Imagine seeing you two here, when there are reports

due,” Skinner says. It doesn’t seem as harsh,

however, coming from a man in an Orioles t-shirt, a

baseball cap, and jeans. It’s a casual look to which

we’re not accustomed.

“They’ll be in on time, Sir,” Mulder says. “First

thing Monday morning, even if I have to work all

weekend.”

“That’s good, Mulder.” His disposition calms and he

becomes less businesslike. “You could have told me,

you know. Imagine my shock when I looked up and

<you> were on the scoreboard!”

“Sorry about that, Sir,” he responds, but I’m still

too embarrassed to speak. Did hear Mulder’s

honeymoon comment? I hope not.

“If you’ll excuse me, agents,” Skinner says finally.

“I’m going to get back to my seat.” For the first

time, I notice that his hands are full of ballpark

fare: hotdogs, peanuts, and popcorn. Great. My boss

and my partner can suffer from food poisoning

together.

“Yes, sir,” I say finally. “We should be getting to

ours, too.”

There are nods all around, but as I watch Skinner’s

receding back, I hear him add, “let me know when you

plan that honeymoon.”

I can feel my face flame – I can’t believe he . . .

“Careful, Scully. You look like you’re having a

stroke!”

“I’m not sure I’m not,” I say, feeling weak in the

knees. Despite our many years together, I’ve never

quite caught onto Mulder’s ability to flagrantly

disregard the opinions of my superiors. I’ve always

been the type of person who wanted approval.

Well, now that I think about it, Skinner’s tone

wasn’t entirely disapproving.

“C’mon, Scully. We’re going to miss the rest of the

game.” I realize that Mulder’s moved on several feet

before realizing that I was still riveted in place,

deep in thought.

“Coming,” I say, joining him. On the way to our

seats, he stops a vendor and buys a bag of peanuts.

Not usually his nut of choice – and most definitely

not mine, my libido reminds me – he, regardless,

cracks a shell, tosses it aside, and chews happily on

the insides.

We follow the steps down to our row, and, despite

their earlier animosity, the people whose seats

surround us cheer him on as if he were Babe Ruth.

And yes, he’s eating it up. He lets me into the row

first to regain my seat, but rather than sit beside

me, he’s standing in front of his seat, facing

backward, with his hands raised above his head in

victory. What a ham!

It’s true what they say about things moving in slow

motion when something momentous happens. The next

five seconds pass more like ten minutes, unraveling

before my eyes.

I hear the crack of the bat, see the ball as it

arches up, higher and higher, over the protective

fencing, and then begin to fall back to earth.

“Mulder!” I scream, but before I can move fast enough

to interfere, the ball impacts the back of my

partner’s head, sending him crashing to the ground.

Half an hour and a great deal of commotion later, I

find myself sitting in the waiting room of the

nearest hospital. Despite the velocity of the foul

ball, Mulder never lost consciousness on the way

here, but it was perilously close and I feel safe in

saying that there’s no way he could have walked.

Hence the ambulance, which he hated, but at least

believed he needed.

A doctor sticks his head out of a curtained cubicle

and, when he catches my attention, waves me in.

Mulder lies quietly, but his eyes are open.

“How is he?” I ask.

“He’s going to be fine,” I’m assured, “but he took

quite a blow to the head, and has a moderate

concussion. I’d like to keep him overnight, just to

be sure that everything is under control.”

I nod, counting myself lucky that it’ll only be one

night, but Mulder groans from the bed. “Can’t I go

home? Scully’s a doctor – she can look after me.”

“No offense to your skills, Dr. Scully,” he says with

a nod and a smile. “But I’d rather have you where a

specialist is at hand, should anything go wrong.”

A sigh from the bed tells me that Mulder realizes

that his argument never really had the chance, and I

agree that this is the best place for him for the

moment.

“I’ll call an orderly, and he’ll take you up to your

room,” he says, addressing Mulder, who closes his

eyes with a sigh.

Walking by his side as the gurney rolls from floor to

floor, I take his hand in mine, and he smiles up at

me.

“Tired?” I ask him.

“Surprisingly, no,” he answers honestly. I can see

it in his eyes. “This concussion must be nothing for

me to be feeling this awake.”

“How’s the headache?”

“Just keep talking to me – it’s the best painkiller,”

he smiles.

“Here we are, Agent Mulder,” an orderly says as he

and his partner move to lift Mulder from one bed to

another.

“I can do it,” my partner states, sitting up on the

bed and pushing them away.

“We’re really not supposed to let you . . .”

“Then just give me a hand.” Mulder reaches out, and

with an orderly on each arm, he’s escorted to the

bed. Once in, they tuck the covers around his body

and leave, taking the gurney with them.

“Finally,” I say, glad to be alone with him. “Think

you can sleep now?” I know what the answer is going

to be even before he utters it.

“I’m not tired,” he repeats, lying back nonetheless.

“If I was home, I’d be ready to run a few miles.”

“Wow, Mulder. You’ve got more energy than I

expected. A lot more.” The devil on my shoulder is

poking me again.

“Yeah, it’s really not that bad. It’s an income-tax-

sized headache, not a Skinner-chewed-my-ass sized.”

He watches as I take his phone, wallet, keys, and the

envelope with his prize certificates in it and place

them all in the bedside drawer.

“Don’t forget those when we leave tomorrow,” I remind

him, and he’s looking adorably wistful.

“I guess the honeymoon will have to wait,” he said,

looking at me with a glint in his eyes.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, throwing the latch on the

door before climbing aboard the hospital bed,

straddling his ever-so-masculine body. “The Bahamas

may have to wait, but there’s nothing to say we can’t

practice.”

Moving beneath me, he gives me a broad smile. “Well,

you know what they say, Agent Scully. Practice makes

perfect.”

And to think that, just this morning, I was

disappointed that opening day of the baseball season

was upon us. Despite Mulder’s accident, this is

going to be the most memorable day of spring.

The End

Spring Cleaning

Title: Spring-Cleaning

Author: Girlie_girl7

Email: Girlie_girl74@yahoo.com

Date: 04-20-04

Rating: PG

Category: MS, (no angst)

Spoilers: Anything up to Requiem then AU

Archive: Anywhere

Disclaimer: Fox owns ’em.

Summary: Scully decides to spring clean and

regrettably asks Mulder to help.

~ Spring Cleaning ~

The day dawns clear and bright over Dana Scully’s

apartment. It’s a fine day in May to be doing some

spring-cleaning. Only one thing stands in her way and

that’s her roommate, her partner, the love of her

life, and the biggest slob she has ever met, Fox

Mulder.

Scully started digging out rubber gloves, stepstools,

buckets and cleansers a little after 8 AM. She

decided to dress for the occasion and has on her ratty

jeans and one of Mulder’s old FBI Academy T-shirts.

She hears the front door open and the thud of two,

size twelve, running shoes being dropped to the floor.

Into the kitchen walks Mulder wiping the sweat off his

forehead with the bottom of his tank top. He had

decided not to wear his pull away running pants this

warm morning and instead chose to wear his trunks, a

sight that does not go unnoticed by Scully.

“Hey Scully, what’s with all the mess?” Mulder asks

as he looks around the room.

“This mess, as you call it, is my cleaning supplies

and we are going to do some spring-cleaning.”

“We?” Mulder weakly asks.

“Yes, and now that we co-habitate you can help me.”

“You make it sound so romantic Scully,” Mulder laughs.

“Romantic or not, I need you to help me.”

“Can I grab a shower first?” Mulder questions after

he pulls his shirt over his head.

“You can but you’re just going to get all sweaty

again.”

He grabs Scully around the waist from behind and

whispers in her ear, “But I love getting sweaty with

you.”

Scully turns in his arms and looks up into his eyes.

“Mulder I can just about guarantee that you won’t like

it this time.”

Mulder releases her and plods off toward the bathroom.

Scully swears she can hear him whine.

Scully is cleaning out her kitchen cupboards and

wiping down the shelves when Mulder comes in from his

rather extended shower. “Sure you’re all clean there,

Mulder?”

Mulder looks sheepish as he digs some soap out from

behind his ear then leaps over to where Scully is

trying to reach a china bowl on the top shelf.

“Scully, let me get that down for you, you’re gonna

kill yourself.”

Scully steps off the stepstool to allow Mulder to use

it. “Okay, just set the dishes on the counter, wipe

off the shelf with this rag and put them back. Think

you can handle that?”

“Piece o’cake,” Mulder laughs.

“Good then I’ll start working on the hall closet,”

Scully says as she turns to leave the kitchen.

The hall closet should be declared a disaster area.

Mulder has decided he will make it his own, the minute

Scully pulls it open a shower of sporting equipment

rains down upon her with her head taking a

particularly nasty serve from a tennis racquet.

While she stands there massaging the bump on her head

the sound of a loud crash and the breaking of china

can be heard coming from the kitchen.

Scully races in to find Mulder holding two pieces of a

plate. “Mulder what on earth was that?” He doesn’t

need to answer; she can see broken plates everywhere.

“Sorry Scully, I guess I shouldn’t have tried to

balance one stack on my knee while I got the other one

down.” He looks around contritely, “I hope these

weren’t expensive.”

“No, they were just some old dishes my great

grandmother gave me but the important thing is you’re

okay,” she says patting his knee while he sits on the

counter. “Why don’t you go work on the hall closet,

you seem to have taken it over anyway,” she smiles.

He hops off the counter. “Will do!”

Scully sweeps up the last of her antique china and

empties the dustpan into the trash. “Scully I don’t

seem to have enough room in this closet, would you

mind if I put my baseball gear in your linen closet?”

Scully peeks around from the kitchen. “As long as

they’re on the floor, it’s okay.”

“And what about my lacrosse equipment,” Mulder yells

back.

Scully frowns and puts her hands on her hips.

“Mulder, since when do you play lacrosse?”

“I don’t but you never know when someone might ask me

to play,” he yells from the back of the hall closet.

Scully sighs and rubs her forehead. “Yeah, your

lacrosse equipment can go there too.” She returns to

cleaning her cupboards and finally gets the last one

finished when she notices an awful lot of quiet coming

from the rest of the apartment. She walks into the

bathroom to find Mulder sitting on the stool lid

reading a magazine. “I thought you got rid of all

those,” she muses.

“What?” Mulder looks up surprised. “No, this is an

old Sports Illustrated. I was reading the MLB RBI

stats for 1989, it was a bad year for RBI’s.”

Scully looks around the room. “Mulder, you’re no

closer to having this stuff put away than you were an

hour ago. Look, let me finish this up and you go

strip the bed and I’ll bring you some clean sheets.”

“Anything for you Scully,” Mulder says giving her a

peck on the nose.

“I’m sure,” Scully mumbles as she begins to shove

various bats and balls into her linen closet. She

manages to get all of Mulder’s things crammed in and

pulls out a set of clean sheets. She walks into the

bedroom to find he has stripped the bed but he’s

nowhere to be seen. She finds him stripping the

sheets off the guest bed. Scully leans against the

doorframe and crosses her arms. “Mulder, what are you

doing?”

He wads the sheets and blankets up into a huge ball

and tosses them onto the floor. “I thought I might as

well change these sheets too while I was at it.”

Scully runs her tongue around her bottom lip then

scratches the back of her head. “I just changed this

bed two days ago.”

Mulder looks at the pile of bedding now lying in the

middle of the floor and gets a silly grin on his face.

“Then I guess I should put these back on.”

Scully moves away from the door. “Mulder, why don’t

you try putting the screens in the windows. They’re

sitting beside the wastebasket in the living room and

my tool box is under the kitchen sink.”

“Eww I love a woman who packs her own tools,” he grins

then adds, “Screens I can do!” He leaves the bedroom

in search of the toolbox. Scully drops her hands and

shakes her head.

Two freshly made beds later, Scully wanders into the

living room to find Mulder sitting on the windowsill

with his legs inside the living room as he waves at

her through the glass. She frowns and walks over to

where he is perched. “Mulder, what are you doing out

there?”

Mulder starts to duck his head to crawl inside, Scully

puts out both hands to stop him but it’s too late. A

big bang is heard as Mulder hits his head on the edge

of the window frame.

Scully grabs his hand to help him in. “Oh Mulder!

Let me see what you have done,” she sympathetically

says as she picks through his hair to reveal a small

trickle of blood coming from a gash he has received on

the left side of his head.

Mulder is squinting trying to clear the tears from his

eyes and the stars from his head. Scully pats his

hand. “It’s okay to cry, that had to hurt. I’m going

to get my medical bag and an ice pack. Can you make

it to the couch or do you need my help?”

Mulder sits on the sill for a few more moments. “No,

I’ll be okay.”

Scully leaves to gather up her supplies while Mulder

moves to the couch as he grabs a handful of tissues to

stop the flow of blood. Scully sits down on her

coffee table across from him and gently pulls his hand

away from the wound. “What were you doing out there

anyway?” She asks as she works on his head.

Mulder winces at the sting of the antiseptic. “I was

about to put up a screen.”

Scully places a small gauze pad over the wound and

puts the ice pack on top and places his hand on top of

that.

Scully lets him slump back onto the couch then looks

over at the window. “The screens go on the inside,”

she softly says.

“What!” Mulder says as he quickly sits forward on the

couch causing his head to spin.

“Easy,” Scully warns. “You sit here while I work on

the screens.”

“Scully I can help you,” he whines but stretches out

on her couch and grabs the remote.

“Why don’t you just lie here for awhile. I can have

those screens up in no time.” Mulder nods his head in

agreement.

Scully was telling the truth, sans Mulder, she is able

to put the screens up in twenty minutes. She puts her

tools away and returns with two tumblers of iced tea.

Mulder sits up on the couch so Scully can sit next to

him. She shoves the hair away from her sweaty

forehead and sags back into the couch taking a long

drink from her glass.

They sit in silence for a few moments then Mulder

contritely says, “I’m sorry Scully, I haven’t been

much help.”

Scully smiles. “That’s okay, you meant well,” she

says patting his arm.

Mulder takes a sip from his glass. “I never was very

good at keeping things neat and orderly.”

“Something that I have detected after all these years

in that basement warren you loosely call an office.”

Mulder smiles at her comments. “I will try harder to

not be such a slob.”

“You’re not a slob Mulder, you just don’t put the

importance on orderliness that I do. I don’t have

your memory to rely on to be able to remember where a

particular file is in all that mess. We’re just

different that way.”

“But not in all ways?” Mulder asks, his insecurity

coming out.

“No,” Scully smiles up at him, “not in the ways that

count.”

“You think I could get that in writing?” Mulder

teases.

Scully raises from the couch and straightens out her

over-sized Tee shirt. “I need to get started if I’m

going to finish this today.”

“I can still help, after all this is my home too now,

at least temporarily.”

Scully smiles up at him, “I’m glad you feel that way,

not the temporary part, but that it’s your home too.”

“It’s like they say Scully, ‘home is where the heart

is’.”

Scully smiles up at him.

“At least that’s what it said on the plaques for sale

at Cracker Barrel.”

“Mulder sometimes you should just quit while you’re

ahead.”

“So what do you want me to do next?” He asks raising

from the couch.

“Think you could clean the tub?”

“Only if we can test it out later tonight.”

“I might be able to arrange that.”

Scully brings in her tub and tile cleaner, rubber

gloves, and a stiff brush. “Here you’ll need these

but remember if you feel faint from bending over stop,

okay.”

“Got cha,” Mulder replies.

Scully leaves her partner to clean the tub while she

tackles the fridge. She soon has the shelves all out

and soaking in a sink filled with hot, soapy water.

“Scully,” Mulder yells from the bathroom.

“What?” Scully yells back.

“I can’t get the stain around the drain to come off.”

“Well put some muscle into it unless you want me to

come and do it.” Scully hears him grumble an

inaudible reply and has to smile.

She thins out the items from her fridge, tossing out

things that have expired and making a mental note of

those that are about to.

Once all the shelves are back in place she loads the

fridge and closes the door. Next she grabs a garbage

bag from a drawer when she hears Mulder coughing. She

puts all the refuge from the fridge into the bag but

still she can hear him coughing.

Growing concerned, she enters the bathroom where

Mulder is sitting on the floor, his lips are blue and

his eyes are drowsy as fumes whiff up from the tub.

Scully turns on the ceiling fan and opens the window.

She stoops down next to her partner. “For heavens

sake Mulder, what did you do?”

He coughs out; “I was trying to make the cleanser a

little stronger so I added bleach to the tub.”

Scully helps him up and out of the bathroom. “Mulder,

don’t you know that chlorine cannot be mixed with

household products?”

“Do I look like a chemist!” Mulder testily coughs.

Scully helps him back to the couch. “Stay right here

and don’t move,” she warns him as she heads back into

the kitchen.

He leans over with his elbows on his knees and

continues to free his lungs of the toxic fumes. A few

minutes later Scully appears with a glass of water.

“Here drink this, it will help clear it out of your

throat.”

Mulder takes a drink then sets the glass on the coffee

table. He looks back toward the bathroom. “Think

it’s safe now?”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll let it air out a little

more then I’ll finish it.”

Mulder purses his lips and nods his head, slightly

embarrassed by the events of the day.

Suddenly the phone rings, Scully answers it. “It’s

Frohike,” she says handing the phone to Mulder.

“Mulder,” he says as he sits back onto the couch. A

frown crosses his face as he glances up at Scully.

She picks up his glass and heads for the kitchen. A

moment later Mulder comes in.

“Um Scully, do we have much more cleaning to do?” He

questions as he worries a paint chip off her cupboard.

Scully leans back against the sink, “Not really,

besides I think you should be taking it easy. You did

inhale a lot of fumes.”

“I do feel a little dizzy,” he pouts.

“Then you should just rest.”

He looks down at the floor. “I could go see the

Gunman, the air there would be cleaner.” Just then he

coughs, to add a dramatic touch.

“That might be best,” Scully agrees, “but how can you

drive if you’re dizzy?”

Mulder is already looking for his car keys. “What?

Oh that, I feel much better, I think it was the

water.”

Scully tries to keep from laughing. She spots his

keys on the counter and holds them out.

Mulder looks up and snatches them off her extended

finger and gives her a quick peck on the cheek.

“Thanks Scully, I won’t be long.”

Scully watches him leave the apartment then moves over

to peek out the window. Once she is sure he has

driven away she picks up the phone. “Frohike, thanks,

I owe you one.”

“Promises, promises,” Scully hears coming from the

other end of the phone.

~ The End ~

Down in the Underground

cover

Title: Down in the Underground

Authors: Theresa Jahn (+ Jesse Jahn, creative

consultant)

Email: theresacarol1013@yahoo.com

Summary: Do Mole People actually exist? Mulder

and Scully go to NYC to investigate.

Disclaimer: The X-files, Mulder and Scully

belong to Chris Carter and TenThirteen

Productions. I don’t own them, I’m just using

them for this story.

Archiving: VS11 has exclusive posting rights for

two weeks. After that, archive anywhere. Just

ask me first please. Thanks!

Author’s note: I’ve done a little online

research for this story, but am no means an

expert on MTA tunnels and such. Creative license

was taken to the extreme. I don’t know if these

places actually exist, or the ones that do exist

are being used in such ways. Just go with it!

Thanks: To Jesse for supporting me in my crazy

writing excursions. To Sally for the quick beta.

Also thanks to the ladies at the VS for posting

it. Thanks for the fun!

Feedback: Please, and thank you!

theresacarol1013@yahoo.com

clip_image002

Teaser

Fun House Arcade

Brooklyn, NY

9:45 p.m.

“Attention all patrons, the Fun House will be

closing in fifteen minutes. Please redeem all

tickets at the front desk. Attention all

patrons…”

The voice over the loud speaker could barely be

heard among the beeping and blinking of arcade

video games, the shuddering of pinball machines,

and the crass jokes some teenagers were yelling

at each other so they were sure the cute chicks

by the snack bar could hear them.

In a shadowy corner of the room, near the back

entrance, Sean plunked another quarter into the

machine, hoping his dad wouldn’t come searching

for him yet. Angry words echoed inside his head,

louder than the symphonic music of the arcade,

the memory of his father’s red twisted face

forcing itself before his eyes.

Bright yellow lights began to flash, and again,

he saw the game before him. He grabbed the giant

padded mallet and held it over his head like a

mad woodsman would a hatchet. He listened for

the shifting of gears, the tiny whir that came

just before the first head would pop out of the

empty holes in a field of painted green

tabletop.

A loud buzz sounded and he was whacking. He

whacked at the poor plastic creatures, not

seeing them as moles, but as the heads of his

classmates from school. He beat them with the

mallet like he’d wanted to on the playground,

but could not. He’d been taken away by a

teacher’s aid before he could hardly do any

damage. They’d started it, after all, with their

antics. He was NOT a geek!

Then all the moles’ faces transformed into that

of his father’s. Scornful red cheeks were shiny

on the plastic heads. He hit harder.

Sean was so absorbed in his game that he didn’t

notice all the other lights were going out. One

by one, the games were being shut down, until he

was nearly left in the dimness of the emergency

lights.

“Closin’ up, kid! Wrap it up!” The manager of

the arcade called from the front of the room.

Sean threw the mallet at the game, and it

bounced off the side, dangling by its rubber

cord. He pushed his way violently through the

back door and out into the alley.

It was close to the ocean in this part of

Brooklyn. One would never know it in an alley

like this. Dark, musty wet bricks and the smell

of rotting garbage snaked its way up to Sean’s

nose, blocking out any hint of salty seashore

air. He kicked at a shallow puddle, spraying a

pile of newspapers with droplets.

He didn’t want to go home yet. Out from the

pocket of his oversized hoody sweatshirt, he

pulled out his cell phone, noticing that he

didn’t have any messages. It depressed him a

little to know that his father hadn’t even

bothered to find him after being out way past

curfew. He shoved the phone back into his shirt

and prepared to walk to the nearest subway

station.

He started in one direction, but immediately saw

that it was a dead end. Funny, he’d never

noticed that before. He doubled back to walk in

the opposite direction, toward the mouth of the

alleyway, carefully stepping around stinking

bags of garbage. As he got nearer to the street,

the smell began to increase.

“Man, gotta be some bad-ass garbage from this

place. Somebody probably puked!” He knocked his

foot against a bag accidentally, and noticed

that it was not as soft as the garbage he would

have expected — and it was vaguely shaped like

a person rolled up into the fetal position.

“…or died.”

A chill ran down his spine. The dimness of the

alley light had to be playing tricks on him.

Sean, although he’d never admit it, was also not

quite old enough to feel completely comfortable

out alone at night. His anger earlier seemed to

make him forget that. Intending now to get the

heck out of there, Sean stepped quickly, but

watched the ground more carefully for bags

leaking unsavory liquids that might contaminate

his designer sneakers.

He could see the sidewalk now, even one or two

people pass by the mouth of the alley. But as in

a dream, he felt that his destination was

getting further away as he was fighting to reach

it. His feet stopped moving. He felt dizzy. The

stench of the alley was overpowering. He heard

trickles from sludgy puddles behind him, coming

regularly, as if in footsteps. They got louder

and closer, and the smell nearly knocked him

out. Maybe *he* was the one who was going to

die.

He forced his legs to move — make himself turn

around. The streetlights from the sidewalk

wavered and blurred as he turned, as if he’d

been on one of those Wipe-Out rides over at

Coney Island.

Before he could do or say anything, a clawed

hand swiped up in front of him, and knocked him

backwards, his head hitting the pavement hard. A

small shadow sped away down towards the dead end

of the alley, the sound of rustling plastic

accompanying the sploosh of every wet step, and

disappeared like a rabbit down its hole.

Before he slipped into unconsciousness, Sean’s

last thought was, ‘I can’t believe I was killed

by a garbage bag!’

*****

Act I

April 16, 2004

Brooklyn Heights Promenade

11:23 a.m.

“If it was what you say it was, how did it get

all the way over here?”

The spoon dipped into the onions, sprinkled its

contents over the foot-long, and was followed by

the mustard, then the relish. Masterpiece

completed, the hot dog quickly found its way

into Mulder’s hungry mouth.

“E’en ‘ole puppo cake a fubbay,” her partner

said through the mouthful.

Scully rolled her eyes in disgust. “I’ll wait

until you’re finished.” Then to the hot dog

vendor, “You don’t happen to have any turkey

dogs in there, do you?”

“What do you think I am, lady? The freakin’ Tofu

Palace? I got what I got.”

“Fine. I’ll take a hot pretzel and a diet Coke.”

They walked over to the railing by the East

River, a beautiful view of Manhattan stretched

across the horizon, the choppy waters between

them and the island glistening in the bright

April morning sunshine.

Mulder swallowed the last of his hot dog. “Even

Mole People take the subway, Scully. And there’s

always the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, sewage

systems…”

“Okay, Mulder,” Scully continued as her partner

stole a sip from her can, “even if this so-

called Mole Person took the subway across to

Brooklyn, what was he doing here? Almost all the

abandoned underground stations and tunnels are

in Manhattan.”

“Maybe he’s trying to escape something? Or maybe

he’s trying to adapt? Living underground your

whole life can really put a limit on your

boundaries.”

“You want to know what I think?”

Mulder sighed, anticipating the wrath of

Scully’s logic squashing his theory out of

existence.

“Don’t look at me that way, Mulder. You know I

only want to help solve this too. A boy was

attacked — and he wasn’t the only one. I think

this is a string of random attacks by some of

New York’s poor desperate homeless. One can get

to that point where violence seems like it’s the

only answer.”

“But what about the claw marks, Scully? What

about the reports of animal-like creatures

lurking in the shadows? What about the legends

of these creatures going all the way back to

when the tunnels were first being built during

the Depression?”

Scully broke off a piece of pretzel and gnawed

on it thoughtfully. The wind off the river was

strong, and it blew her hair so that it was

almost horizontal off the back of her head. The

gusts soon subsided, and the strands of copper

settled again to rest just above her shoulders.

“Maybe he *was* desperate,” Mulder commented so

quietly Scully almost didn’t hear him. “Things

have changed a lot in New York lately.”

“What, and he decided to take it out an a kid

playing Whack-A-Mole? Be reasonable, Mulder. The

kid had a cell phone in his sweatshirt, alone in

a dark alley. He was a perfect target.”

“Hey, if someone was going around whacking

little Mulder Voo-Doo dolls, wouldn’t you be

upset?”

“No.”

Mulder stepped back a pace, looking abashed.

“I don’t believe in Voo-Doo,” Scully replied

smugly.

Mulder huffed out a chuckle. “Well, belief or

not, Voodoo still exists, and thousands of its

followers can attest to that.”

“So, these sightings confirm, without hard

evidence, mind you, that Mole People exist.

Because a few people have up-started an old

urban legend, we get to go down into the sewers

and subways of New York City… for what? Mulder

I don’t even know why we’re going on this hunt!”

“Because a boy was attacked. And we have to

prove or disprove that it was the fault of

someone. And that includes Mole People.”

“Well, then, let me grab my mining cap,” she

answered, searching her back molar for a piece

of pretzel crust, which seemed much more of an

appealing excavation.

“Really? You’ll be glad you brought it!” Mulder

exclaimed cheerfully as he dug into his pocket

for another $1.00 for a second hot dog. When she

began to protest even owning such an object, he

brushed her off with a confirming nod.

“Anyway,” he continued, walking toward the red

and blue Hebrew National umbrella, “we’ve got a

date with some experts in about half an hour. We

can catch the train a few blocks over. Just let

me grab one for the ride.”

“Fine.”

Scully followed her partner away from the brick

lined Promenade and into the streets of

Brooklyn, tossing her half-eaten pretzel into an

overflowing decorative metal garbage can. As

they crossed the street, they didn’t notice a

child-sized shape spring quickly from behind the

garbage can and into some nearby bushes, a trail

of kosher salt sprinkled in its wake from the

redhead’s wastefulness of perfectly good food.

*****

Grand Central Terminal

12:20 p.m.

They were to meet the “experts” Mulder had

spoken of down near track 11 on the upper level.

As they emerged from the subway, they were met

by the polished floors and bustling activity of

a recently remodeled Grand Central Station.

Gilded metal grating framed each ticket window,

the celestial green painted ceiling was as big

as the sky, and the Grand Central Market’s

grocery wafted delicious smells through the air,

just as the trains added the subtle smoky odor

of diesel fuel. The click of their shoes on the

shiny floor were lost in the expansive space,

muffled both by the amount of people littering

the concourse as well as the sheer size of the

terminal.

They passed the South entrance to 42nd Street

where a gigantic American flag hung from the

ceiling between the digital train schedules for

the New Haven and Harlem lines. As they neared

the other end of the station, they noticed

several men dressed in camouflage fatigues, guns

strapped to their shoulders, casually leaning

against a wall or an unused ticket window. In

true New York fashion, their presence was for

the most part ignored, but somehow completely

acknowledged by those that passed them by.

Following the numbered portals to each track,

Mulder and Scully walked the long distance to

track 11. They stood by the dark marquis below

the track number, where it would show stops a

train would be making, had it been scheduled for

a departure. No train was here at this time.

No people fitting the description of

‘underground tunnel experts’ were hanging about

either.

“Maybe they’re not meeting us out here. Let’s go

check down on the platform,” Mulder suggested.

The floor was rough concrete here, much more

utilitarian than the showpiece of the Grand

Concourse. The track was empty except for some

puddles and remnants of dusty candy wrappers.

The thundering of heavy trains lumbering into

the station echoed from their left. They were

able to see several tracks over in that

direction between the thick steel supports.

Track 11 seemed to be one of the very last

public platforms on the upper level — or the

very first depending how you looked at it. As

they made their way further down, they could a

see only a few more platforms on their right,

filled with train equipment, orange cones, and

extra newspaper recycling bins that looked more

like cages for wild animals than for paper.

As they walked even further, they began to feel

more alone. Passing the staircase to the North

passageway that exited to street level, the end

of the track became dimmer and the smell of

diesel exhaust was stronger. Not many people

walked this far down the platform.

“I don’t see anyone, Mulder,” Scully commented

impatiently.

Mulder turned in place, searching his

surroundings. He stepped close to the edge of

the platform and looked down each way, hoping to

see something. And he did.

“Look there,” he said, pointing toward the dark

end, even further down than they had come. There

was a yellow painted emergency ladder that led

down to the track-level. On the handles a light,

as if from a moving flashlight, reflected off

the yellow paint. Mulder looked at his partner

in triumph, and began walking quickly toward the

source of light, Scully following close behind,

trying to keep up with him. As they moved

closer, they could hear two male voices —

arguing.

“… can’t take them there. It’s too dangerous.”

“Don’t be such a wuss. I know these tunnels like

that back of my hand.”

“Don’t be so cliche.”

“Greenwich Village know-it-all yuppie fag!”

“Greenwich Village is hardly Up-town, you slimy,

dirty, blue-collar street urchin! Why I ever

decided to team up with such a–”

The ‘slimy street urchin’ noticed them first,

and shone his flashlight over his partner’s

shoulder — straight into Mulder’s eyes. The

other man stopped his insults abruptly and swung

around to glare at their intruders.

‘Greenwich Village yuppie’ hastily pulled out a

clip-on ID tag from behind the lapel of his

leather jacket. He also held a clipboard a

little higher up to his chest, so he was sure

the two people squinting down at him through the

glare of flashlight would see it.

“This is a restricted area,” he began

authoritatively, twitching his mustache, as he

spoke. “You should not be here.”

Mulder shielded the light with one hand, and

with the other pulled out a folded sheet of

paper.

“We’re also here on official business,

gentlemen. My name is Mulder, and this is Dana

Scully.”

“Mulder?” the yuppie exclaimed and immediately

turned to slap the flashlight from his friend’s

grip. Then apologetically, “Did you say Mulder?”

“Yes,” he replied, blinking to expel the dots

floating before his eyes, and proceeded to

unfold the paper. It was an email he had printed

out early this morning before he and Scully had

left. He fought to focus on the small printed

text. “Are you ‘mmwriter@hotmail.com?'”

“I am. Michael Massing — you can call me

Michael. And this is my associate, Joseph

Rihnald. And had you come here a little earlier,

I may have been able to help you out further,

Mr. Mulder, but as it is I have a very tight

schedule.”

“But, you’d specifically said 12:30. It’s only

now 12:45.”

“Exactly so. I must be going.”

“But…”

“I can meet you again at another location

tomorrow… perhaps some of the tunnels further

downtown. I doubt highly that any of this area

will help you in your investigation.”

Here, Scully broke in, “I think you ought to let

us decide the importance of locations for our

investigation. How can you–”

Michael climbed up the emergency ladder and

pushed his way past the two agents. “I’m truly

very sorry,” he pleaded, looking over their

shoulders nervously to the dark tunnel beyond

the edge of the platform. “I can’t help you here

today. Tomorrow, 2 p.m. at the South 4th Street

station.” And he sped off down the platform.

Mulder and Scully stood there dumbfounded,

staring after him. Then they turned to Joseph,

who still stood below on track-level, fumbling

the flashlight into his work belt.

“He’s afraid of this area, you know.”

“But he agreed to meet with us here. I don’t

understand,” Mulder commented, glancing over the

email correspondence, to make sure he hadn’t

misread.

“Yeah. Said he’d meet ya here. Didn’t realize I

was going to lead you into the tunnels.”

“But he’s a tunnel expert, isn’t he?”

Joseph puffed up his cheeks and blew the air out

slowly, weighing his thoughts carefully before

he spoke. “I’m the tunnel expert. He’s the

history buff and the map-reader. Ask him

anything on the transit system, the new, old,

and abandoned stations, how much money was spent

building the tunnels from here to Bowling Green

— but ask him to set foot in any of them

outside of a train car…”

“Chlostrophobic?” Scully offered.

“Nah. Just not a people-person, if ya get me.

Don’t like the homeless.”

“And you?”

“I get by easy enough with ’em. They know me. I

patrol these tunnels a lot. Keep the green

berets outta here, mostly. It was too bad when

they were scanning the place for terrorists two

years back. Flushed the whole town out. MTA lets

me keep track of things now, mostly. The folks

down there don’t trust me as much, though,” he

said, gesturing toward the tunnel behind him.

“The folks down there…?”

“Yeah. So, you two comin’ down here or what? We

don’t want to be hangin’ around during rush

hour. Makes it harder to move around to where we

want to be.”

Mulder, excited to be underway so quickly when

he thought he’d missed his chance with Michael’s

disappearance, stuffed the email back into his

pocket, and stepped down the ladder to meet

their guide.

“Mulder, what are you doing?” Scully reproved.

“What’s it look like, Scully? We need

information on our suspect. What better way than

to question people from the society in which he

lives?”

“I…” Scully searched the empty platform for a

confidant, anyone who would back up her better

sense of judgement. Maybe she would have been

better off racing after Michael, coward though

he was, in a nice quiet, clean library with flat

files of maps and microfiche.

“What have you gotten us into,” she grumbled as

she followed him down the ladder.

“Follow me.” Simply said, Joseph began to lead

the two agents down a boardwalk made of extra

wooden slats between two railway tracks. “You

won’t need your flashlights until we reach the

Waldorf.”

“The Waldorf? Guess the homeless are living in a

higher class style than we thought,” Scully

quipped.

In any case, she felt inside her jacket, and

sighed in relief when she found the pen-sized

metal cylinder that was her pocket-flashlight.

Thank goodness she kept it handy as a general

rule. Mulder glanced over his shoulder at her,

his eyes bright enough with enthusiasm to light

their way into even the deepest cavern. ‘Well,’

she thought, ‘it can’t be any worse than the

Flukeman.’

*****

“Tickets please. Thank You.”

Clicka-clicka. Clicka-clicka.

“Tickets? Thank you. Thank you. Thanks.”

Clicka-clicka. Clicka-clicka.

It was the rhythm of the ticket taker. At each

seat he said the same thing. Each ticket was

punched with a double hole, just to ensure that

it was destroyed enough to be invalid for

another ride. He stuck marker cards into the

little pockets at the back of each seat so he

didn’t forget his place, or charge someone twice

for a fare they’d already paid.

Fourteen years as a Metro North conductor, and

days like this just seemed to never end.

Everything was the same–

The train slowed to a crawl, then halted not

halfway up the tunnel from the platform they’d

just left at Grand Central. It could be

anything; another train that had been delayed

may be up on the track ahead. They could have

had a temporary electrical failure. Everything

normal. Nothing to worry about. They’d be back

running again in a minute or two. Even so, he

thought he’d get over on the 2-way just in case

he was needed.

He made his way to the small control closet at

the end of the car, picked up the receiver, and

hit channel 4. “Everything okay, Jim?”

The receiver beeped, and Jim answered. “Ah, you

know, Leo. ‘Signal problems.'”

Leo chuckled to himself. After all these years,

‘signal problems’ could mean anything too.

“What’s it this time?” he asked.

“Joseph.”

Oh, man. He could only hope there wasn’t some

kind of altercation happening down there. He

closed the door to the control closet so that

the passengers couldn’t hear his conversation.

“How long?”

“Looks like he’s around track 11. Going East, so

it’ll be short. I’ll make the announcement.”

“Roger.”

Leo hung up the receiver and unlatched the

window next to him. He stuck his head out and

peered into the dark tunnel, a hundred service-

lights like stars glimmering down each track. He

saw the distant glow of red signals down several

tracks to the right. Patiently he waited,

scratching the stubble on his chin, listening to

Jim’s garbled voice over the intercom, “Ladies

and gentlemen, we’re experiencing some signal

problems. We should be moving shortly. We’re

sorry for the inconvenience, and we thank you

for your patience.”

Then he saw it: The tiny flicker of a flashlight

— no wait, three flashlights. He had an

entourage with him today, eh? They weren’t

visible for very long, as the supports for the

underground caverns were denser here, like a

deep forest of metal and concrete rafters.

One last flicker of light, and they were out of

sight.

It was a moment longer before the red glow from

the tunnel signals turned to green, one after

the other, until the chain reaction reached his

track. The brakes on the train released with a

hiss and he felt the train slowly beginning to

move forward again. It was over.

Leo didn’t bother closing the window again.

There really wasn’t anything to be worried

about. He left the closet and his speculations

to return to his duties.

Clicka-clicka. Clicka-clicka.

*****

Mulder heard a succession of clicks after Joseph

threw the manual override switch back to its

normal position. The signals to each track

turned green again, their previous state having

allowed the three explorers to cross otherwise

active, and quite dangerous tracks, to reach

their destination. They ducked through little

cutouts in the high, concrete support walls,

stepped over the rails — careful not to touch

any of them, just to be safe — and finally

arrived at the service tracks on the Easternmost

end of the underground world.

“So, Joseph, when you say the ‘Waldorf,’ what do

you mean? Is that a nick-name for the area we’re

going to?” Mulder asked as they turned down a

path that was much like a narrow boardwalk,

littered with old dusty newspapers and obsolete

rusted-out gears.

“No, Mr. Mulder, that’s where we’re going. The

Waldorf Astoria Hotel.”

The two agents glanced at each other. Joseph

peeked back with a wry grin on his face,

enjoying the shock value of his statement. Then

continued.

“Back in the early part of the 20th Century, the

rich had private train cars. Michael could

probably give ya better information than I

could, ya know. But the way it went was, a whole

slew of tracks was built right under the Waldorf

Astoria, so that the rich bitches and their

husbands could go straight to their fancy hotel,

up through an elevator, so they wouldn’t have to

go through the Grand Central mess. Avoid the

‘commoners,’ if ya get me.”

“And now?”

“Those tracks ain’t used for nothin’ anymore.

Just storage. We’ll have to climb through some

of the old cars and around a lot of abandoned

equipment before the town actually starts.

That’s when we’ll really need the flashlights.

We’re almost there.”

“A shanty town?” Scully asked a little uneasily.

“Something like that, Miss Scully. You’ll see.”

The tunnels were becoming darker now, the

emergency lights were fewer and further between.

It wasn’t long before they were pulling out

their flashlights again. They followed Joseph up

and down more service ladders, through old train

cars that had the seats stripped out of them,

windows painted over with graffiti, and over

platforms that had such narrow walkways it

sometimes felt like they were scaling the side

of a mountain.

Mulder held out his hand to help Scully jump

over a small break in the platform, pulling her

close when she almost lost her balance. A few

crumbled pieces of concrete fell from the edge

and tapped their way down six feet to the bare

earth floor, disturbing some small shapes that

scurried away into the darkness. Anxious to

disregard what those small shapes might be,

Scully took the chance to quickly speak with her

partner.

“Mulder, I find it very hard to believe that a

society of homeless has flourished down here.

How could they have escaped unnoticed after 9-

11? The military is rampant throughout the

systems. You saw those men in the Grand

Concourse. They must have had to sweep through

here and get rid of all signs of human

settlement, just to appease the standards of the

War on Terror.”

“I can’t believe you’re standing this close to

me in the pitch blackness and not getting turned

on,” he grumbled into her ear, and pulled her a

little more firmly against him.

“This is NOT the time for romance. Be serious

for minute, please.”

His attempt at distracting her having failed, he

switched gears immediately. “Scully, I don’t

think it’s all that unreasonable. Most New

Yorkers can’t even conceive that something like

this would exist.” They began to move ahead

after Joseph again, so they didn’t lose sight of

his light.

“Why would they fear something they never

thought would have existed in the first place?”

he continued.

“But people like Joseph know about it. Why

wouldn’t the MTA? Why wouldn’t the military?

You’d think they would have been more thorough.”

“They had the quarantine through here about a

month after,” Joseph interrupted in a whisper,

his face lit from beneath like a troop leader

telling a ghost story to his scouts around a

campfire. “You’d never seen the Waldorf so

abandoned. Probably the way everyone thinks it

should have looked anyway. There was nothing. I

don’t even know where they all went. Some of

them still haven’t come back.” He motioned for

them to follow him again, but not before he

added, “You might want to keep your voices down

for a while. We’re here.”

They stepped carefully through another abandoned

train car, this one seemed very old. Had it not

been so rusted through, one would have thought

it was a perfect display for a museum. Small

details, as they passed through the long body,

which was big enough to be considered ample

space for a New York City studio apartment, were

touched with art deco designs. The older

architecture of machinery had always seemed to

carry just that slight bit of extra attention to

beauty, something that was a work of art, as

well as something functional.

Upon emerging, they were presented with a view

of about ten to fifteen avenues, of what were

originally private tracks, all connected by a

common walkway at the end. It looked very much

like the setup of Grand Central Station, but on

a smaller scale, and what were now utilitarian

concrete floors at the end of each track in

Grand Central, here they were of a mosaic tile.

Of course, the tiles were worn down to the point

where the colors were mere shadows of

themselves, and the decades of dust upon them

had condensed into a film of grime. But the

shapes of the tiles were still visible.

Each track was filled with a menagerie of

different cars, styles from several eras, and

all seemed to be occupied. The smell of garbage

fires was apparent, just as a cloud of smoke

filled the vaulted ceilings. Between the

rafters, from the dim glow of the ‘town’ below,

one could just make out some more tile work, but

much of it had fallen from age, leaving large

exposed patches of grout that ate away at

mosaics of checkerboard and fancy raised edge

patterns.

Everything was dirty. As they continued on

toward a particular platform that Joseph had his

sights set for, the smell was beginning to

invade their nostrils — human waste and sweat

and garbage and diesel fuel and rusting metal.

Smells that were so uncommon to the cosmopolitan

city above had remained here in this primitive

society of outcasts. Those that could not

survive against the modern demands of the city

had accepted the life of inconvenience here. To

an outsider it was disgusting, pitiful. To them,

it must have seemed like a safe haven —

something for free, that was the result of being

free: one had to accept it for what it was, and

not expect anything more than what a man or

woman with nothing could contribute to it.

Empty windows to the train car ‘apartments’

revealed piles of cans, magazines, newspapers,

found furniture with torn edges, mattresses on

the floor — some five or six to a car. Attempts

at decoration with old hubcaps and discarded

bedspreads hung from walls and ceilings. Much of

it was clutter, but all of it was theirs.

Eyes followed them the whole way, but none were

adventurous enough to move from their places.

Each sad iris gleamed with possessiveness. They

feared being removed from their homes again,

humble though they were. Nothing could have been

worse for the poor souls behind those eyes.

The last platform was cleaner than the rest.

Cleaner meaning less dust and grime, but not the

absence of it. They walked toward an archway cut

out of a curved wall, which soared as one plane

up toward the ceiling. Inside the arch was a

staircase that led up half a level, wooden and

brass railings polished decades ago were still

shiny, as if preserved from disuse. Tile floors

were complete, and when they emerged from the

stairwell, they entered into a circular lobby,

rotunda above, with an iron wagon-wheel styled

chandelier. A hundred bare bulbs shone down on

them, electricity harsh and too bright for their

eyes, as they had adjusted to the dimness of

being underground.

An elegantly styled wooden bench sat in the

direct center of the floor. Beyond that, on the

opposite end of the space, between two bricked-

up doorways that must have been elevator shafts

at one point — twin rising-sun dials above each

marked off floor numbers above them — was

another staircase leading up. It had been walled

off after the twentieth or so step. Here was a

man sitting upon them, surrounded by several

people, as if subjects to a king. He did not pay

attention to them, but stared directly at his

three new arrivals. He was waiting for them.

“Alright, you two,” Joseph addressed the two

agents. “This is Damien. I had to bring you here

first. If there’s somethin’ goin’ on in

underground NYC, he’ll know about it. If there

was anyone who could be the mayor of a place

like this, well… you talkin’ to anyone, you

talkin’ to him.”

Mulder sensed Scully going rigid beside him. He

wasn’t feeling so free and easy himself. All of

a sudden their guide seemed to have ulterior

motives, and neither she nor he was comfortable

with that. As he scanned their surroundings for

a quick escape, should they need it, Damien was

walking toward them. How much would they be able

to trust this man’s opinion if they’d been led

straight into his lair? But perhaps, Mulder

reasoned to himself, this was the best person in

which to derive such information. A leader was a

leader. Conspiratorial motives weren’t

necessarily a mandatory trait.

Damien wore a tattered wool coat, several

flannel and t-shirts beneath that, jeans and

mismatched sneakers. He could have been as

pitiful-looking as the rest of the homeless

here, but instead he held a command about him.

“You want to know about it? About all of them?”

His eyes were wide and crazy, so that all the

whites could be seen, and he bared his teeth in

a greasy smile. His greatest asset was

intimidation, and he knew how to use it well. He

took fast, long strides up to Joseph, stared him

down so hard that Mulder wouldn’t have been

surprised if he’d shrunken a few inches right

there. Without warning, Damien snapped his wild

gaze at Mulder, and ran to stand before him,

inches away from his face.

Mulder kept his composure, pulled his shoulders

back, and inhaled deeply. That was a mistake. He

eyes nearly watered with the rotten egg smell of

Damien’s breath.

“What do you know?” he asked, trying not to

choke.

The leathery skin of the homeless man’s temples

crinkled, softening the insanity of his eyes for

a split second before he whipped away and began

circling the two agents while telling his tale.

“They exist, you see! *We*,” he gestured with

his arms held dramatically wide to encompass the

expanse of the community, “are the rightful

dwellers here. *I* am the Lord of the

Underworld!”

Scully coughed lightly under her breath. At

least she could maintain her air of skepticism,

even through this.

“Some may call us ‘moles’ because we live

underground. But they are the *real* Mole

People. Oh, yes! Your Mole-boy there, yes-yes I

know all about that, he’s the enemy! Yes. Don’t

believe anything you hear from him. Not from any

of them! They are extinct! They are the ones who

should go. We are here to stay!”

“The one who attacked Sean Colby? What have you

heard? Where has he gone?”

A shooting pain in Mulder’s side was the result

of his partner jabbing him with her elbow. He

was jumping to conclusions, leading the

questions to where he wanted them to go, and she

was determined to call him out on it. But Mulder

continued, caught up in the momentum of this

crazy man, enthralled with his mystery.

“How did you find out this information?”

Damien ran back toward Mulder, and grabbed him

by the lapel of his trench coat. Scully moved

reflexively to grab her Sig, but a hand from

Mulder stilled her defense.

“He’s a bad name for us, you know,” Damien

growled in a low, menacing tone. He switched his

gaze from one of Mulder’s eyes to the other, as

if he could see something in one that he was

afraid to miss in the other. “He’s the last of

his kind, and he’s fighting back! You’ve got to

stop him. We’ve taken over here, and damned if

I’ll let one little mole cretin jeopardize my

empire!”

“What do you mean? Does he, uh… answer to

you?” Mulder asked, careful not to offend.

“Ha! If it were that easy, he’d not be running

around like a mass-murderer. He thinks he can

destroy me. Me!”

Damien let go of Mulder and paced the floor, all

the time muttering. “Should have walled up all

the passages when we’d had the chance. Never

should have requested refuge from them. Never.

Never. Never.”

“Excuse me,” Mulder interrupted. The pacing

continued. “Where is he? And how does attacking

innocent people — innocent people that are not

even homeless…”

“We have a home!” Damien shouted back, his voice

booming off the curved walls of the rotunda,

quaking with the volume of it.

“All right,” Mulder carefully brought his tone

down a few notches, “he attacked those that live

above-ground. What’s he doing out there? Who is

he? Where is he?”

“That,” Damien pointed an angry finger at

Mulder, stopping in his tracks, “is the trick,

now, isn’t it?” He laughed heartily. “He’s a

crafty little devil. They used to be everywhere,

the Mole-People. Disgusting to look at, really.

He knows the tunnels and sewage systems better

than any of us. We found a few secrets when we

had to hide, after the Towers fell. We found

*their* hideouts.”

“They still exist?”

“They were not there any longer. We found the

secret places — found them like caves the

animals had abandoned. You think the majesty of

the Waldorf is something? You haven’t seen the

network that lies beneath us even now. But don’t

ask me to go down there. If it was theirs, it is

putrid! I’m the Lord of the Underworld, not of

hell!”

Pacing back toward his visitors, Damien

scratched at his scrabbly shave, most probably

done with a very old razor. He appraised them

for a long while before continuing, first

studying the two agents, then an intense gaze at

Joseph, a silent statement Joseph knew all too

well it seemed.

“Oh, they exist all right. How much longer,

well… Your Mole-boy may be the test of that.”

He whirled around to return to his subjects at

the opposite end of the lobby. Throwing his hand

up in a gesture of dismissal, he allowed the

echo off the walls do the work of directing his

voice instead of turning around.

“I will keep Joseph informed if I hear anything

of his whereabouts. But you should know,” he

resumed his seat at the top of the walled-off

staircase, “he is a menace, and needs to be

stopped.”

At that point, Joseph placed himself between

Damien’s court and the two agents, and ushered

them out.

On their way back through the dusty tunnels,

away from the Waldorf, Mulder and Scully were

left wondering just what kind of information

they’d been given.

*****

Three pairs of feet walked past the low, rough

alcove that led back toward the main tracks to

Grand Central. From behind tinted plastic

goggles, beady eyes watched small furry shadows

scatter to avoid the larger intruders. What were

they here for? Would they really be coming after

him? He ran a long-clawed finger over the smooth

plastic shape that glowed blue in his pocket.

When the footsteps could no longer be heard, he

dashed off into the darkness, out of sight.

*****

Act 2

Comfort Inn JFK Airport

Queens

5:30 p.m.

The subway ride all the way back to Queens was

filled with silence. Silence, that is, between

Mulder and Scully. Rush hour from Grand Central

back to the hotel in which they were forced to

stay by Accounting was anything but quiet. The

travel expenses were really being scrutinized

lately, and the Bureau accounting department had

them staying closer to the airport, rather than

in the city, because Manhattan hotels were

anything but thrifty.

Scully was lucky to find a seat, and even she

had to squeeze herself between two other

passengers. Mulder was content to stand,

strategically so that he could protect Scully’s

little feet from being trampled, but also

secretly because it allowed him to look out the

window, into the dark tunnels, and imagine that

there might be passageways no one knew of, just

waiting to be explored. Somewhere out there,

their suspect was hiding.

It was this line of thinking that Scully could

decipher by the far-off look in her partner’s

eyes as he savored a bite from the turkey dinner

platter in the hotel restaurant. She’d been

determined to change their diet lately from

pizza and take-out to something a little easier

on the arteries. She’d even limited his gravy

use, which explained the reason he’d gone

through at least four glasses of water already.

“So you’re convinced that Mole-boy is your prime

suspect?”

His eyes cleared from his contemplation and

focused upon her. “Give me a little credit,

Scully. There’s a lot more going on here than a

few random assaults. There’s motive here. Just

have to figure out whose motive.”

“I don’t trust this Damien character one bit.

Gives me the creeps.”

“But there’s no reason yet that we can’t trust

him. I’m taking his statements at face value.”

“They’re not even official statements, Mulder!

We weren’t in an interrogation room. We were on

‘his’ turf, and if we’d made any kind of false

move… I don’t even know what would have

happened. We were being led around like monkeys

on a leash and expected to behave when spoken to

in ‘his majesty’s’ court. I thought we were the

ones looking for evidence, not having it force-

fed to us.”

“You’re right, Scully. But we’ve gotta play a

little Columbo on them. If we accept the bull

they’re feeding us, we’ll get more information

than they realize they’re giving.”

She considered this, sucking on an ice cube, and

shook her head warily. “I don’t know, Mulder.

I’d like to at least explore other avenues.

These people, I don’t know how they know about

you — how many emails they exchanged with you –

– but they’re playing into your fantasy. Are you

sure you’re not trying to look for something

just because you *want* it to be there?”

“Meaning?” he replied shortly.

“Meaning,” Scully continued, coating her voice

with honey, “are you sure you’re not so in love

with the romance of a Mole Society thriving

beneath the streets of New York, that you’re not

missing a more obvious, logical explanation?”

“Are you sure you’re not so unwilling to believe

in something a little fantastic that you’re not

seeing the obvious, even though it may defy

explanation?”

Scully swallowed her ice cube, and smiled at the

naked innocence in her partner’s face. “Touche.”

Mulder grinned widely back at her, and gobbled

up the rest of his meal. Between bites, he

added, “You’ll be proud of me, Scully. Our next

stop is Coney Island Hospital to visit Sean

Colby, our victim.”

“A nice reality-based field trip? And no sewer

rats? Mulder, you shouldn’t have!”

“I know what my lady likes,” he said, winking.

Then, flagged the waiter down for their check.

*****

Coney Island Hospital

6:23 p.m.

“We mainly just want to keep him here for

observation, Dr. Scully. He suffered a pretty

serious concussion and has been having

hallucinations ever since. He we go, room 310.

If you need me again, just stop by the nurse’s

station up the hall there.”

“Thank you, doctor.”

“Uh, doctor, hold on a minute,” Mulder navigated

his way around Scully to catch the doctor before

he had a chance to leave. “Exactly what kind of

hallucinations?”

“Well,” the doctor folded his arms over his

chest and lowered his voice slightly, “since he

was attacked in the dark, it’s mostly at night.

He won’t let us turn the lights off. He says he

sees dogs, or other amorphous small animals with

claws. We assume that it was an animal that had

attacked him, but as of yet, we can’t identify

exactly what it might have been. We assume a

dog, even a cat — it would be the most logical

for the area, but it just doesn’t seem to match

up.”

“Match up with what?”

“With what we extracted from the gashes in his

face.” The doctor pulled a folder from the

inside wall of Sean’s hospital room and handed

it to Scully. “You’re the investigators. I’d

appreciate it if we had some answers for this

poor boy. Then maybe we could combat the

psychological, now that the physical has nearly

healed.”

Scully began leafing through the files while

Mulder continued further into the room to see if

Sean was up for conversation. The boy was in his

early teens, but gray circles around his eyes

from lack of sleep made him look ancient. He

watched Mulder as he pulled up a chair to sit

beside the bed, following his movements one by

one.

“Hi, Sean. My name is Mulder. How you feeling

today?”

The boy shrugged.

“How’d you get those battle scars, buddy?” he

asked, pointing his chin in the general

direction of Sean’s upper left temple and down

the side of his face.

He shrugged again.

“Are you having a hard time trying to remember?”

he asked gently, wary that he might be dragging

out a memory that in all likelihood was the

cause of the boy’s dreadful hallucinations.

The boy’s eyes ceased being wearily observant,

and froze, as if he was envisioning something

terrible, just over Mulder’s right shoulder.

“They’re telling you I’m seeing things, aren’t

they? They think I’m crazy,” Sean said hollowly,

neither to Mulder, nor to Scully who now stood

on the opposite side if the bed.

“What kinds of things are you seeing, Sean?”

“Not what I *am* seeing,” he then focused his

eyes onto Mulder, “what I *did* see. They don’t

believe me. You won’t either.”

“Try me.”

When the boy saw how patiently, and intently

Mulder was willing to listen, he felt a little

more at ease.

“I saw a… creature. An animal. But it had

hands with long claws that hit me. At first I

thought the garbage had come alive, but it ran

away so fast — like a dog or a rabbit, or a…”

“Mulder, take a look at this,” Scully

interrupted, and passed the opened folder over

to him. She pointed at a photograph within the

folder, of the material that had been extracted

from Sean’s wounds. “It did have claws, but this

was no dog.”

Sean became excited and attempted to sit up

straight, but his eyes rolled back from the

dizziness, and he plopped back onto the pillow

supporting him. He took a few deep breaths and a

cup of water offered by Scully, then settled

down enough to speak again.

“You really think I’m right? You know what it

was?” Sean asked, hopeful.

Mulder turned to his partner, searching her face

for an answer.

“I can’t be sure until I make some comparisons,

Mulder. It’s difficult to tell from the photo. I

wonder if they kept a sample or turned it over

to the police?”

Sean plucked at Mulder’s sleeve to get his

attention. Then he pointed over to a small gym

bag on another guest chair. “They gave me a

souvenir,” he said, and cracked as close to a

smile as they’d seen since entering the room.

“Kinda like having my appendix out, but no jar.”

Mulder reached over to the canvas bag, and

sifted through some clean folded clothes and

comic books. There was a plain white paper bag

at the very bottom with Sean’s last name on it.

Mulder pulled it out, and removed the contents.

It was a Ziploc bag, and what was inside looked

like part of a thick yellowish fingernail — too

big to be human, but not the right shape at all

to have been from a dog.

“Sean, do you think we can borrow this?”

“You’ll give it back?”

“Absolutely. This may be your ticket out of

here.”

Sean closed his eyes and sighed deeply, a wash

of solemnity softened his face. “Cool, man. I

just want to go home.”

*****

Comfort Inn JFK Airport

9:33 p.m.

Scully tapped her fingernails on the laminate

table. She’d exhausted all resources on the Net

for information on animal anatomy, from rats to

dogs, and even disfiguring human nail diseases.

She’d been putting it off all evening, but knew

she had to check it out.

Gritting her teeth, she clicked the link for

genus Talpinae on the University of Michigan’s

Animal Diversity web site. She scrolled down the

list, clicking on the first species that

provided picture references. When she saw the

picture at the top of the page, her heart beat a

little slower. It was just her luck. She sat

back in her chair, rubbed her eyes and wondered

if the sneakers she had packed were going to

serve her well enough through another trip

underground. At least she’d be prepared this

time, not like their first experience yesterday.

She picked up the Ziploc bag, fingered the shape

inside through the plastic, and checked it

against the claws of the animal in the jpeg. It

was the closest match she’d found so far.

“You all right, Scully?” Mulder asked from where

he sat on the bed.

“Condylura Cristata.”

“You know, I can take over the research for a

while if you like. You don’t have to curse about

it.”

She swiveled away from the laptop to face him.

“Condylura Cristata. That’s the star-nosed mole,

and the closest match to this,” she explained,

holding up the Ziploc so that he could see it.

Mulder sprang from the bed, snapped his glance

toward the web page, then the specimen his

partner held.

“‘The star-nosed mole is often found in colonies

that live in damp or muddy soil in which a

network of tunnels is constructed,'” he read

aloud. He pressed the Page Down button and

scrolled down. “Look at this, Scully. Unique

appendages, tentacles around the nose, that were

believed to be used as electroreceptors to sense

electric fields of prey.”

He stood up straight, finger to his lips. Then

he pointed toward the folder on the bed, a copy

of Sean’s medical information as well as the

initial police report, which contained a printed

copy of Sean’s initial statements. He thumbed

through them quickly, then pulled out the sheet

he was looking for.

“Sean said that before he was attacked, there

was an incredibly bad smell. What if Mole-boy

and his kind have adapted to use their unique

physiology, what a normal mole like this would

use, into something as a defense mechanism?”

“But this mole uses those appendages to

*identify* prey using receptors, not send out

signals in order to incapacitate it.”

“Yeah, but it sends out signals nonetheless.

Like I said, what if it adapted, learned how to

use that talent further than its natural

capacity. I mean, this isn’t just a mole,

Scully. It’s a mole *person*. If humans have

extra sensory capabilities, why not him? And he

has an advantage over us already, being a hybrid

creature.”

“We don’t know that he has any such appendages,

Mulder. All we have is part of a claw.”

“When did we say we were meeting Michael

tomorrow?”

“2 p.m.”

“Hope you brought your sneakers, Scully. ‘Cause

we’re going in.”

*****

Act 3

South 4th Street Station

April 17, 2 p.m.

“I don’t know, Mulder. Michael seemed to be

pretty quick about suggesting this particular

station yesterday. Who’s to say he’s not going

to lead us into another Damien-trap like Joseph

did?”

“Because Michael likes to research the history

of the tunnels, not explore them. I have a

feeling, if Michael knows what he’s talking

about, that we’ll be able to call the shots

underground.”

“Call the shots? Sounds like we’re going into

Alice’s rabbit hole without a safety rope.”

Mulder sucked in his cheeks, and tried not to

confirm her suspicions. Without uttering a

syllable, Scully already knew that they were.

Michael stood waiting for them at one end of the

platform, shuffling several sheets of paper on

his clipboard, and checking his pockets as if

looking for his keys. The time it took the two

agents to walk the length of the platform to

meet him, he’d repeated this process at least

three more times.

The nervous yuppie noticed them only as they

were five paces away, and smiled timidly,

standing up straighter to hide his excitement.

“Mr. Mulder and Miss Scully. It is good to see

you again. I uh … must apologize for running

out on you yesterday. If it were up to me…”

“Don’t worry Michael. We had quite an

experience, but we’re fine and in one piece

today.”

“So far…” Scully murmured under her breath.

“That’s good to hear.” Michael took a deep

breath and let it out slowly. When he was

finished it seemed that he was much more

relaxed. “Well, you do know that this station is

where we’ve had the most sightings. After this,

some went up as far as 54th street, but most

recent sightings have been downtown and in

Brooklyn. Can’t imagine why they’d be travelling

to Brooklyn.”

“Across a body of water. That’s quite a move

I’ll agree. Any reason you should think there

would be a migration out of the city?”

“I really couldn’t say, Mr. Mulder. But, I have

compiled a good amount of research on this area,

branching out from this station. There are

plenty of places in this general area where an

underground dweller might hide out.”

“Really? And what type of person, would you say,

is the ideal type to be an underground dweller?”

Michael’s eyes bulged ever so slightly. “You

mean… but I had thought that… Aren’t you

here because…”

“Yes, we are here to investigate them,” Mulder

replied, laying a hand onto Michael’s shoulder.

“I just wanted to be sure we were on the same

page.”

“Oh. Good.”

A local train could be heard far down the track.

It wasn’t long before it was racing into the

station, forcing a current of hot tunnel air

past them, and screeching to a halt. The doors

opened with a “bing-bong” and just as quickly,

swallowed up its passengers, and hurried on it’s

way.

The three remained on the platform, watching the

brown G symbol on the back of the subway car get

smaller and smaller until it finally disappeared

in the distance.

“Now that we have some time to ourselves,”

Michael began, “I’ll give you some history on

this station, and why I think Mole-boy may be

using it as a hub.”

He led them to the very end of the station, past

the stairs that led up to street level, the

ticket booths and even the emergency exit. They

walked all the way to the very end, where the

platform ended in a white tiled wall. Here,

Michael stopped, and pointed across the way.

“If you notice, there’s an extra platform on

either side of the station. These are generally

unused, unless there’s congestion or a broken-

down train or what have you. The two center

tracks are really what’s used daily. When the

city was still attempting to build a secondary

railway system, the IND, this station was

intended to be much bigger — a total of 6

tracks was proposed, and had begun construction.

But as you see, that never came to fruition.

Hence, the remaining four tracks. But…”

Michael faced his two companions with a leering

grin, “the other two tracks still exist. They’re

just hidden behind these walls.”

Mulder became excited. “How do we get to them?”

“Uh,” Michael shifted his feet and his face

turned a bright red. “Well, that is, you — you

can’t. They’ve been sealed off. See there?” He

pointed to the platform opposite the track

behind them. “See that railing randomly

sectioning off a section of the platform? It’s

nothing but a slab of concrete. That’s the old

stairway that was meant to go under the tracks

and come up in the center, here, to transfer

trains.”

“Sealed off like a tomb,” Mulder commented

dejectedly. He stared at it hard, wondering if

there was any other way. If Mole-boy could do

it…

“How can he use this place, then?” Mulder asked,

not to anyone in particular.

“Uck! Look at the size of that thing!” Scully

exclaimed.

Just to the left of the railing a huge sewer rat

walked, yes walked, for it was too big to scurry

anywhere like a normal sized rat, sniffing at

one spot or another on the concrete floor. When

it had no reason to explore the area any longer,

it began to make its way toward the edge, ready

to jump. Scully clung to Mulder’s elbow, fearing

that it was attempting to launch it self across

the valley that was the subway tracks. Instead,

it tested the edge with its front paw, then

gingerly, climbed down to the dusty floor below.

It was then that it happened. The rat

disappeared.

“Where did it go?” Scully asked a little too

desperately than she’d hoped.

“It went there! Do you see that seam in the

wall?”

“Mr. Mulder, it’s a rat. A rat can go any number

of places that we could not. I wouldn’t bother

with — what are you doing?!”

“You said this track was rarely used, didn’t

you?”

“Yes, but–”

Before anyone could stop him, Mulder hopped down

off the edge of the platform, and into the

valley between the two platforms. He made a bee-

line for the seam in the wall beside the tracks.

When he got close enough, so that he was

standing beneath the overhang, he looked to his

right and exclaimed, “Well, call me squeaky!”

“Mulder, what are you doing?” Scully yelled,

glancing up and down the track to be absolutely

sure no train was coming. Her ears were tuned

for any remotely train-like sound. “There’s

nothing there! What are you looking at? Muld–”

Mulder took a step forward, and disappeared.

*****

About two hundred feet further down the

platform, a shadowy figure peeked around a

thick, white-tiled pillar. Leathery skin

crinkled to slits around sharp, observant eyes.

It wouldn’t be long now. Not long at all.

*****

Can *NOT* believe I’m doing this! Cannot believe

I’m doing this. Cannot believe I’m doing this.

“I’m doing this.”

Scully jumped down to track level against the

protest of their paranoid, although quite

sensible guide at the moment. It was a little

bit of a further jump for Scully, since she

didn’t have Mulder’s height advantage. She

landed hard, but stabilized quickly. Stepping

carefully over each track, she followed in her

partner’s footsteps, close up to the opposite

platform. When she arrived at the exact same

location, she saw it immediately.

It wasn’t visible at all from where they’d stood

before, just a seam in the concrete. But

standing here, she could see perfectly that it

was an impressive trick of perspective. There

before her was a passage that ran parallel to

the tracks, right beneath the lip of the

platform above. It was only about two feet wide,

but certainly big enough for an average person

to fit through. What seemed like a seam in the

concrete support of the platform was actually

the edge of the entrance. And Michael wouldn’t

see it because it was perpendicular from where

he stood, like a pocket in the wall. Only

standing in this exact spot was it visible.

She removed the pen light from her jacket

pocket, and went in.

Mulder hadn’t gone too far ahead. He was

slightly slumped over, since they were actually

below the platform now. “Scully, there’s an exit

over on that side.”

They both shone their flashlights in the

direction he pointed. As they navigated around

support beams, Scully trained her light on the

floor for other less obvious obstacles —

intending particularly to avoid those that

moved.

They squeezed through what Mulder had identified

as their exit, a portion of the wall that looked

like it was eaten away, re-bar and bricks jagged

on the edges, and came out into a cavern. It was

long and about large enough to contain a set of

tracks, but it was clearly unfinished. Roughly

cut, the bare bedrock of Manhattan was it’s

walls, and the ground was damp and sludgy. They

kept to the edge of the space, where it was

dryer, but this was naked earth down here, and

unpredictable at least.

Their small beams of light caught glimpses of

rock, scattered pieces of metal, and small piles

of wooden beams. They found a set of footprints

going in a general northward direction. It was

an extremely regular path, one that had been

traveled quite often and had worn a groove in

the dirt. Suddenly it ended and their

flashlights lost all detail in the ground…

particularly because it wasn’t there.

“It leads down,” Mulder observed.

“Perfect.”

Carefully, they tested their footing, and found

that the floor of this new passage was solid

enough, though slightly slippery with mud. It

was however shorter, and Mulder was bent over

quite a bit before it opened up to a comfortable

height again. They traveled around corners, and

noticed more exits that branched off the path

they followed, but they decided not to stray for

fear of getting lost.

Soon, it appeared that they could distinguish

more detail in their surroundings. It was

getting brighter. Above them, they noticed a

long network of extension chords linked end to

end. There were hundreds of them. And at each

juncture between the chords, a caged service

light was attached, which made the tunnel glow

dimly with a yellowish light.

“Somebody’s been busy,” Mulder commented.

It was difficult to describe at first, but as

they progressed further, there was evidence of

habitation. The surroundings were not so

unfinished, and they didn’t completely notice

the change until they passed through a sort of

entrance hall.

At first, it looked like stucco, but upon closer

inspection it could be seen that it was

something else entirely. Advertisements

plastered the tunnel walls, but they were

painted over with some sort of whitewash. One

could still make out glimpses of what the

posters used to be, but they were nonetheless

hidden. And what was painted yet on top of the

whitewash base was something they’d never

expected to see.

Primitive drawings, a whole story it seemed,

beginning from the ceiling and cascading down

toward the floor. Shapes of human-like creatures

with long claws and abnormally lengthened noses

filled curved lines that connected like a maze.

It almost looked decorative, but they noticed

the shapes and scenes change continuously

including modern, recognizable shapes like

buildings and cars and trains.

“What do you think this is, Mulder,” Scully

prompted as she ran her fingers over the uneven

surface. “Is this history, or does this still

exist?”

“If this still exists, then we’re on a much more

complicated hunt than we thought.”

The walls ceased being painted after several

meters, and they came upon a cot, somewhat

randomly placed along one side of the tunnel.

Beside it, a box of single gloves, shoes and

hats, newspapers, a radio and any number of

other collected items. Among the folds of a

well-loved bedspread was something that made the

fabric glow a pale blue color. When Mulder

lifted the cloth away, they found that it was a

cell phone.

Picking it up, Mulder read aloud, “Sean.” The

teenager had tagged the back of his cell phone

with his name in a fancy stylized script with

paint marker. “This has got to be our man.”

Scully raised an eyebrow at that.

“You know what I mean. But what is all this?

It’s almost like this is some sort of an

outpost. If he’s the last of his kind, like

Damien suggests, what’s he protecting?”

They decided to explore the space a little more.

On the opposite wall were stacks of newspapers

and magazines that stood taller than Scully. She

picked up one that had fallen to the floor, and

noticed that any pages that contained pictures

of faces had the bottom halves removed.

“Isn’t that strange?” she commented.

“He’s removing the parts of humans that don’t

resemble himself,” Mulder’s psychoanalytical

side explained. “He’s trying to make the world

we live in something that he can be accepted in.

Those drawings on the wall, they must depict at

least his profile, if not more. Our differences

don’t have to be emphasized if he doesn’t have

to look at them.”

Mulder was about to take the magazine from

Scully for closer inspection when he heard a

scratching from somewhere close by.

“Shh. You hear that?”

They stood as still as carved marble, straining

their ears to hear it again. It was faint, but

it was there again, and this time it was

accompanied by a creaking sound. It was almost

too late before they noticed the creaking was

from the shifting weight of paper and the tall

stacks of magazines were leaning forward.

“Look out!”

Mulder was able to leap out of the way in time,

but Scully was not so lucky. At once a pile of

glossy paper tumbled down to bury her. Mulder

scrambled forward to help dig her out when a

shape jumped out at him, like it emerged from

the wall itself, sprang over the pile and sped

down the tunnel.

“Stop!” he called after it.

His partner forgotten, Mulder dashed after the

creature. With each pass beneath another service

light in the long chain of chords, he could

still see it, and follow fairly easily — but it

was fast. As he ran, he vaguely noticed that all

the walls were of intricate brickwork. Mere

animals did not live here. When the passage

curved around and he was met with a choice

between two ways, on faith he took the right.

clip_image003

Mulder jogged a good distance hoping that he was

travelling in the right direction. When he

didn’t see any sign of movement for a while, he

stopped. The air was dense here and he had to

breathe more heavily than when he went out for

his regular runs. When he’d caught his breath,

he suddenly remembered Scully beneath the pile

of magazines.

He immediately turned around and started back,

but was unexpectedly blocked by the very

creature he sought.

It was much shorter than him and wore a dark

green plastic suit that looked like it may have

been constructed with lawn bags. No wonder Sean

had thought he was attacked by garbage. Large

goggles covered its eyes, strapped too tight

because the ears were abnormally small, and its

nose — or in this case, snout — was too big to

be comfortable in the human-constructed piece of

gear.

It was pasty-white and it smelled of mildew and

garbage and something animal-like altogether.

Mulder twitched his nose at the offensive odor,

and noticed that Mole-boy mimicked his gesture.

Only when Mole-boy twitched his snout, it

disturbed some tiny nodules surrounding it, just

on the edges of his cheekbones, and below, above

the upper lip. Mulder thought of Scully’s

description of the animal on the web, and

deduced that these might be evolutionary

modifications to the human-mole hybrid

physiology.

It began to breathe heavily, with an undertone

of a low growl. It was almost like a cat’s

purring, but Mulder recognized it as more of a

defense mechanism and forewarning than any

expression of friendliness. It was a stand off.

Mulder slowly raised his hands in surrender,

trying to show the creature that he meant no

harm. The gravelly breaths slowed, and

eventually ceased altogether so that the two

adversaries stood silent. Drops of water plinked

into puddles. Gasps of air breezed through the

long passageways, whistling like specters.

Mulder was almost sure at some point he could

actually hear his watch ticking, but then the

silence was broken.

“Why have you followed me here,” Mole-boy began.

His voice was like old sandpaper, dry and

powdery from disuse.

“I’m…” Mulder was sure he was here for more

than discovering that Mole People actually

existed. Standing before him was living proof!

He lifted his shoulder in a half-shrug, and felt

the weight of an extra cell phone in his pocket.

He must have shoved it in there before the

chase.

“…I’m here because I have to help protect a

boy. Someone attacked him. I think it was you.”

Mole-boy snuffled his wrist against his snout,

careful to keep claws away from his delicate

skin. “Don’t know what you mean. Don’t know no

boy.” He emphasized ‘boy’ with a sneering tone.

“Then where did you get this?” Mulder reached

for his pocket containing Sean’s cell phone.

The creature twitched at his sudden movement,

but remained to study this stranger’s

possession.

“Found that.”

“I think differently,” Mulder accused.

Mole-boy grunted. “So? Just a thing. What is it

to the ‘boy,’ this thing?”

“You attacked him to get it.”

“Untrue!”

“What *is* the truth?”

The creature jerked his head around, looking in

all corners of the tunnel they stood in. It

seemed like he was afraid to say something, as

if others could hear him.

“Been looking for new home. Was going to meet

someone. An…” he glanced quickly around again,

“… an up-worlder. Like you. Someone above-

ground. Boy attacked me first.”

“He tripped over you,” Mulder informed.

“Never trust up-worlders! Never!” He beat the

palm of his hand against his bald forehead.

“Never.”

Mole-boy slumped to the floor, as if weary from

a long couple of days. He sat with his legs

sprawled forward, and clawed hands between them

on the floor. His head lifted, and Mulder could

see his own reflection distort in the dark

shaded goggles.

“They all must go. We don’t want to leave. Been

here longer. Our land. Our home. Why come to

underground? Why up-worlders want our home?”

Mulder’s shoulders relaxed, less defensive than

before. This creature was not out to harm him

intentionally. He was working in self-defense.

And although he wanted to find the assailant in

the crime, maybe simply leaving Mole-boy alone

would solve any further attacks.

“Look, I’ll leave quietly, and make sure nobody

ever comes down here. Will that help?”

“Why?” Mole-boy asked full of distrust.

“Well, let’s just say I’ve always wanted to meet

you.” Mulder lowered his hands, but held them

palm-up so that Mole-boy was sure he wasn’t

going to try anything as he sidled by. As

careful as he was, the creature still scurried

as close to the wall as possible, giving this

stranger ample room to pass.

As Mulder began the trek back the way he came,

satisfied that all had been solved, he heard the

scratchy voice behind him.

“Wait.”

Mulder turned to listen.

“No up-worlders here anymore? Sure?”

Mulder nodded. “Promise.”

“Even Damien?”

Mulder jerked in surprise. “What about him?” His

stomach was all of a sudden solidifying

uncomfortably.

“Damien takes all our land. This place,” he

gestured upward with his snout, “the only one

left. Please. No Damien. Don’t let him take our

home again. They all tried to hide with us.

After the ‘big boom.’ We got rid of them. They

can’t stay! Don’t want to leave home.”

So that was it. He and Scully *had* been led

into Damien’s lair for a reason. They were meant

to believe that the Mole-People were dangerous –

– a threat to all human life. Mulder was

beginning to see a clear picture now. There was

a feud going on here. He hoped he was making the

right decision.

“I’ll make sure,” he promised.

Mole-boy stood for a moment longer, unmoving.

Hesitantly, then more confidently, he nodded in

acceptance. A warm feeling came over Mulder. He

could save these creatures from extinction. The

tunnel even felt like it was getting warmer and

brighter. He turned to continue back to Scully,

but before he rounded the corner back into the

main tunnel, he stole one last quick glance at

Mole-boy for remembrance sake.

Mole-boy was surrounded by a brighter, pale

yellow glow. Behind him, several timid shadows

emerged from the exits off the tunnel. Beady

eyes shone in the darkness, watching him. Mole-

boy got up from his seated position, and

disappeared into one of the portals. Then the

lights got dimmer again, and they all

disappeared.

“Mulder?” Scully’s voice echoed from a distance.

Mulder followed the sound of his partner’s voice

to find his way back. Strangely, the way back

was much easier than he’d thought. The tunnel

was a straight-away, when he was sure he’d gone

around several corners chasing after the Mole-

boy. When he finally arrived, she’d just

finished digging herself out of the pile. He was

so glad to see her, bursting at the seams with

glee over his encounter.

“Scully! Scully, are you… did you…”

“I’m fine. No, I didn’t see it. And I don’t know

— correction,” she held up one finger, “I don’t

*want* to know.”

“Wow, I think that’s the first time I’ve heard

your stock answer to everything. I assume you

want to get the heck out of here.”

“I’d say that’s a safe assumption,” she said,

rolling her eyes and stretching the aches in her

back. He grabbed her elbow for support and led

her through the long, dark, damp way back.

*****

South 4th Street Station

3:50 p.m.

“Thank God you’re all right! No, no, there’s a

ladder down that way. Why you ever wanted to

jump down there in the first place…”

Mulder and Scully emerged from the darkness to

find Michael pacing up and down the goose-

pimpled yellow edging of the platform. He was

ecstatic to see them safe, and for the most part

unharmed though quite soiled from their

adventure. He pulled them each up to safety, and

when they’d seemed more or less ready, he

swallowed stiffly and asked, “What did you see?”

“They saw that there’s more space being taken up

by those devilish creatures! I knew it was

there! I’ve been searching for it for quite some

time now.”

The three of them whipped around. First, they

saw the tattered mismatched sneakers, then the

long wool coat, and finally those crazy eyes

shining from behind a gleefully crinkled face

emerge from behind a white tiled pillar a few

feet away.

“Preserving the rights of the Homeless again, I

suppose?” Michael spat out, surprising himself

with the forcefulness of his own voice.

“Exactly right! The extermination must continue!

We’re not safe until *they* are all gone! Tell

me, did you kill him right away, or did you hurt

him and watch the slime suffer before he died?”

Damien nearly salivated at the prospect of

seeing such a gruesome act.

“Nothing of the sort. He’s still alive,” Mulder

answered.

“WHAT! You let him — Let me in there! I’ll

destroy them all!”

Mulder moved quickly, and before anyone could

discern what was happening, he had Damien on the

floor with his arms pinned behind his back. With

the click of his handcuffs, Mulder said, “You’re

not going anywhere. And you’re not ever going to

set foot in that tunnel. How does a few nights

in custody sound to you? Should give us enough

time to have that passage walled up nice and

tight.”

“You can’t do that! We have no place else to go.

The number of my subjects is growing larger

every day. There’s no room anymore!”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Really, I am.

Homelessness is not fun. But there are ways,

Damien. We’re going to help your ‘subjects’ see

the light again. They don’t deserve to live

under your reign. And taking from others what

was never yours is wrong.

“People’s sense of recognition gets a little dim

when they’re attacked in a dark alley or subway

station, you know. I can place you at any of

those sightings or assaults, and it wouldn’t be

too far off from the truth. You’ve managed to

falsely accuse all of those underground

dwellers, driven them to the point where they

don’t trust any human anymore. Wiping out a

culture that supposedly doesn’t exist isn’t a

crime that we can lock you up for, but it’s

crime enough.”

“Who all? Culture? Mulder–”

“I’ll explain later. Grab his arm.”

With Scully’s help, Mulder hauled Damien up and

out to the turnstiles of the station, kicking

and screaming. They were met there by several

police officers, who had been called on by a

pedestrian who had witnessed the skirmish a few

minutes ago and reported it to the ticket

vendor.

“Officers,” Mulder addressed the two men in blue

uniform. They apprehended the homeless man, and

scowled at the three others until Mulder and

Scully pulled out their badges. “We found this

one among the inactive South-bound tracks. Put

up quite a fight, but he was nearly the victim

of a cave-in down there. Seems there’s a crawl

space beneath the platform. I suggest you have

Public Works wall it up before there are some

fatalities.”

“Thank you, sir. Uh, would you mind coming in

with us to make a statement?”

Damien growled at that, but hung his head low in

defeat.

Enjoying the sway of his federal status just a

little too much, Mulder smirked at Scully and

said, “Not at all, officers. Not at all.”

*****

Epilogue

MTA Archive Room

MTA Headquarters

April 18, 2004

11:05 a.m.

“Mulder, you’re just not going to find it. We’ve

been here for hours. Would you just let it go?”

“It’s got to be here, Scully. A network of

tunnels that huge could not be completely

uncharted. It’s impossible.”

Michael came over with another stack he’d

retrieved from a flat file, and laid the

blueprints on the light table.

“I’m afraid she may be correct, Mr.– I mean,

Agent Mulder. I know these maps better than

anyone here does. I’ve studied them a hundred

times. What was not charted just did not matter

to the construction of the transit system, nor

the sewage systems of New York. I am sorry.”

“It didn’t matter to them, but that doesn’t mean

they weren’t there.”

“Well, we can’t have a team of archaeologists

come in and study the area, Mulder. New York

City is too heavily constructed to attempt such

a study. And besides,” Scully moved closer to

him and rubbed his back, “do you really want

anyone going down there again?”

He fingered his upper lip in thought, then

flipped the switch to the light table, leaving

them all in semi-darkness. Michael sat across

from them, hovering above a second light table,

watching them for an answer.

“You’re right, Scully. I made a promise. I’m

going to keep it.” He took her hand and squeezed

it tightly. Then he turned to the man across

from them. “Thank you for all your help,

Michael. You’ve been an unexpected ally in all

this.”

“You’re welcome, agents. Do keep in touch. If

there’s anything else I can ever help you with.

Well, you have my e-mail.”

They shook hands firmly, chuckling in

understanding, and the two agents left Michael

among his precious maps and flat files. He

gathered up, organized, and placed all the

blueprints carefully back into their respective

drawers.

Before he turned off the rest of the lights,

Michael pulled out a dark yellow envelope from

beneath all the papers on his clip board. He

sighed heavily, studying the plain unmarked

envelope, thankful that he didn’t have to use

this to deter any further exploration of the

caverns.

He went over to the light tables and switched

one on again. He pulled out two sheets of

acetate material, smoky gray images burned into

them, and laid them out onto the lit surface.

The x-rays were old. He hadn’t really looked at

them in years.

To the left, he placed the first one, a negative

depicting the profile of a deformed skull, the

bridge of the nose protruding further than

normal, making the whole shape of it look

oblong, more animal-like. Teeth were also extra

long, and fewer than what a normal human would

have. To the right, he laid a second negative.

This one showed a normal profile of a skull, all

aspects just as one would have expected.

In the upper right corner of each x-ray, there

was a label identifying the patient to which

they belonged. On both negatives it read,

“Massing, Michael.”

THE END

Ashes to Ashes

cover

Disclaimer: This story is based on

characters created by Chris Carter and Ten-

Thirteen Productions. Characters used

without permission. No copyright

infringement intended.

TITLE: Ashes to Ashes

AUTHORS: Obfusc8er and Jenna

EMAIL: aobfuscata@hotmail.com,

jennasxffic@lycos.com

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS11;

others please ask first.

RATING: PG

CLASSIFICATION: X, MT, MSR

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully are participating

in a multi-agency public safety project when

serious threats emerge, both old and new.

AUTHORS’ NOTES: Includes the re-introduction

of Agent Grif Michelin and Carlos, Vickie

Moseley’s creations in Great Balls of Fire,

used here with her permission. You are

encouraged to read her story before this

one. Also contains quotes from Monty Python

and the Holy Grail, written by Chapmen,

Cleese, et al., property of FOX. Rousch

Pharmaceuticals is a fictional entity, also

owned by FOX.

Thank you to Sally and Jamie for the

excellent betas.

We would also like to recognize Vickie for

her indispensable suggestions,

encouragement, and guidance during the

course of the writing of this story.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Key to organization abbreviations used:

CDC – The Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention

FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation

FEMA – Federal Emergency Management Agency

NG – National Guard

SBCCOM – US Army Soldier and Biological

Chemical Command

USAMRIID – United States Army Medical

Research Institute for Infectious Diseases

WHO – World Health Organization

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

clip_image002

***TEASER***

Federal Building Plaza

Indianapolis, Indiana

Pleasant wind coaxed a rippling wave from

the grass and rows of flags adorning

Military Park, oblivious of the bodies

scattered across the plaza. They lay in the

street, on the steps of a nearby news

building, and in front of a quiet formation

of colorful standards representing dozens of

nations. As still as the bodies were, the

vestigial quiet of the scene had long since

fallen to the din of law enforcement

officers, medical personnel, firemen, and

others attempting to organize and deal with

the situation. Survivors called out for

help, some of them screaming in pain, others

babbling incoherently. Countless emergency

vehicle sirens were still converging on the

site, adding to the noise.

Special Agent Dana Scully stood right in the

middle of the chaos. She was carefully

taking note of the activities around her,

but she remained focused on her own current

goal: directing the removal of the bodies.

The two-way radio attached to her jacket

crackled to life, and the weary voice of a

city coroner’s office employee informed her

that 300 body bags were on the way.

“Thank you. When should those be arriving?”

“ETA fifteen minutes.”

“Okay. Please see if any of the outlying

hospitals have more bags to spare and have

them on standby, just in case.”

“Will do.” A click and a second of static

signaled the end of the conversation.

Scully turned to the Indiana State Police

lieutenant standing next to her, politely

waiting until he finished barking a line of

orders into his own walkie-talkie. He

noticed her attention, and looked at her

expectantly.

“Orders, Ma’am?”

“Yes. Have your men set up a perimeter

around the deceased. We want to minimize

unnecessary contact. Guide civilians to

triage, and keep all other emergency

personnel away from the bodies. If anyone

has an issue with that, have their

supervisor contact me.”

“Right away.”

The man moved off to brief a nearby circle

of officers on their new duty. Scully

sighed and rolled her head around in a

counterclockwise circle, stretching tired

neck muscles. She surveyed the mass of

people and equipment before her with

scrutinizing but tired eyes. Men and women

wearing jackets emblazoned with various

initials worked furiously to organize and

coordinate hundreds of disaster victims,

some of whom bore the bright red marks of

casualty. The FEMA representatives remained

at a temporary tent station, where they

consulted with offsite officials in

determining the overall course of action.

Agents of the CDC overlooked the early

diagnosis, quarantine, and treatment efforts

of the Red Cross and local medical

authorities.

State and local police organizations were

just now receiving reinforcements for their

own organizations’ efforts in the form of a

detail from the Indiana National Guard.

Scully’s own agency, the FBI, fought to

preserve the integrity of all available

evidence of possible terrorism at the scene

and pitched in wherever their expertise

could be of aid. The US Army’s biological

and chemical response team, SBCCOM, was also

present at the affair, helping direct and

maintain the overall chain of interagency

command, along with the National Joint

Terrorism Task Force. The thought of the

reams of imminent paperwork to be done made

Scully’s head hurt, on the verge of

bursting. Finally, her two-way radio

crackled to life again, and a deep voice

boomed out of the handset, along with those

of everyone milling around her.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our daily objectives

have been met. Stage four of TOPOFF is

complete. Please report to your field

supervisor for debriefing before departure,

and return to your assigned posts at 0730

hours tomorrow.”

A palpable sense of relief accompanied the

collective sigh heard upon the completion of

the message. The blessing of the Joint

Terrorism Task Force was upon the throng of

laborers. Equipment was already starting to

be packed up for a night’s storage when

Scully began stepping carefully around the

field of “bodies”. She stopped and looked

down, eyebrow raised, when she came to one

still form lying supine on the smooth

concrete incline next to the steps of the

news building. It was a male, covered in

crimson, with feet propped up on the low,

flat finial of the railing and hands clasped

behind its head. The face had relaxed into

an image of eternal peace.

“Mulder, get up.” No response. She leaned

closer and spoke in a louder voice.

“Mulder!”

“Wha?” He jumped, startled awake, and

nearly fell off of the concrete railing.

“It’s over for today. You don’t have to be

dead again until tomorrow morning.”

A sly smile spread across his face, white

teeth showing through the red of fake blood.

“I’m not quite dead, yet,” he protested in

his best lousy British accent. “I think

I’ll go for a walk.”

Scully grinned in spite of the weariness

pulling at her.

“So,” he inquired, sitting up with interest,

“how did the drill go today?”

“Surprisingly well, actually. Now, let’s go

get you cleaned up. You look like death

warmed over.”

*** ACT ONE ***

Holiday Inn Express

Indianapolis, Indiana

It was late when Mulder and Scully arrived

back at the motel, and both were exhausted

from their long day. Wasting no time,

Scully opened her purse, removing the motel

keycard to gain entrance into her spacious

room. She heard the thump of the adjoining

room’s door as it closed. Mulder had been

quiet during the car ride, she mused. Even

for him.

Scully began to organize her paperwork for

the night. The muffled rush of water in the

plumbing system was soon followed by rapping

on the door that separated her room from

his. It was already unlocked.

“Come in,” she called, appreciative of his

politeness, spotty as it was.

“I’m dead tired, Scully,” Mulder proclaimed

as he dragged himself into the room and flopped

face-down onto her queen sized bed. He

reached blindly for the remote control on

the nightstand and pointed it in the general

direction of the television. It blinked to

life. He lifted one arm slightly glancing at

the screen from the gap between his armpit

and the bed. An NCAA playoff game was on,

Scully noticed. Duke versus UConn. Mulder

groaned and lowered his arm. It must not

have been going the way he wanted.

“I’m worn out, too. I’ve been craving a

nice, hot shower.”

Scully rolled her neck around in slow

circles, the tension of the evening

manifesting in audible pops from her spine.

Her muscles ached from standing in high

heels on the hard concrete for most of the

day. She decided that staging a mock

disaster for a terrorism exercise was

definitely strenuous work.

“Mmmph.” Mulder’s deep, rumbling reply

dissipated into the comforter on the bed.

She knew that he must have been truly

exhausted when her mention of a shower did

not provoke some positive lavatory taxis on

his part.

Scully divested herself of her clothing on

the way to the bathroom. Turning on the

spray, she found that the deliciously warm

water sluicing over her tired and aching

muscles was more relaxing than anything that

she had encountered all day. Well, except

for taking quick peeks at her partner. She

had chosen to wear a suit that accented her

best features and caught Mulder glancing at

her on several occasions. Scully had just

smiled at him in response. She knew those

reserved reactions drove him crazy.

Despite the long and tiring conditions of

the day, she decided that she was glad she

had taken on the terrorism readiness

exercise. At first, it had angered her that

A.D. Cassidy had even suggested she and

Mulder go on the assignment. Her inbox was

already overflowing with requisitions forms,

autopsy reports, and case summaries that

needed her review and signature.

However, in reflection, Scully realized that

her no-nonsense attitude had given her the

edge the drill’s organizers were looking

for. She had excelled today, shouting

orders and dealing with demands, and had

everyone around her carrying

out her every directive.

With her shower completed, she donned a set

of pajamas. Scully carefully sat on the soft

bed and leaned against the pillows, trying

not to disturb Mulder’s obvious slumber. She

reached for the file folder on the night

stand and opened the latest notes on their

most recent case.

She smiled slightly as she fingered the

pages of the unfinished portion of Mulder’s

report, recalling how they had gotten into a

small argument about the paranormal aspects

of the case, or more accurately, the lack

thereof. Not an argument. A discussion. She

had not been quite sure what to do with

herself after the case was resolved without

the slightest hint of alien, mutant, or

boogey-man involvement. In the end, she

settled for winning a bet that Mulder’s

venture into internet smut-writing would not

last two weeks. He had taken her to a new,

cozy diner close to her apartment and

laughed over copies of the e-mails he had

received. They both agreed that the place

had a great ambiance and decided to visit

again.

Scully smiled at the memory, stood from the

bed, and quietly fished around in her

briefcase for the requisitions. Sitting at

the motel’s desk, she opened her laptop and

prepared herself for the long evening ahead.

Twenty minutes into typing her report, she

stood to stretch. Her muscles had tightened

again, still tired from the stress of the

day’s drill exercises.

Deep in thought, Scully was startled by a

clap of thunder. She sat down and resumed

her typing on the case file notes, saving

them every few minutes so that they would

not be lost. She had learned her lesson in

Bellefleur years ago. Scully worked as

quickly as possible, oblivious to the snores

arising from her partner. Finally, at about

2 AM, she put the finishing touches on the

last report, saved it, and shut the computer

off. She also unplugged the laptop to

prevent power surge damage.

Scully picked up her terrorism drill

procedure manual and slipped under the

covers of her bed, wishing she had brought a

novel to read, instead. She knew without a

doubt that the manual would lull her to

sleep in record time, though. Mulder did not

budge when she propped up her pillows and

situated herself to read, and she did not

have the heart to disturb his sleep.

She watched him for a few minutes, soaking

up the innocent, child-like expression on

his face. She even found the little puddle

of drool forming on his pillow endearing.

With a sigh, she tore her eyes away from

Mulder and tried to concentrate on the

manual. Her valiant effort to study was

doomed, however. Within a matter of minutes,

true to Midwest form, a loud blast of

thunder shook the room, and lightening

streaked across the night sky. The room was

plunged into darkness.

******

Rousch Pharmaceuticals Research Division

Indianapolis, Indiana

“What do you mean the formula isn’t ready?”

“I’m sorry sir, but we haven’t had the

proper amount of time to prepare it as you

requested.”

“Well, get it finished! We don’t have a lot

of time, and the contract ends this week.

It has to happen before then.”

The man tousled his hair in frustration at

the latest developments.

“Sir, if I may ask. What exactly are you

planning to do with this formula?” the lab

technician asked meekly.

“That is none of your business. Just do

your job as you are told!” The man stormed

out of the conference room, annoyed.

Hans Gregor walked back to his office,

flipped on the computer, and typed in the

password, gaining entry into his e-mail.

Noting there was nothing of importance, he

swiftly scanned over the messages without

opening them. Near the end of the list, a

subject stood out in red bold letters.

Apprehension settled in as small beads of

sweat quickly accumulated on his forehead.

Before opening the e-mail, he looked around

his office to make sure no one was looking.

The message popped up on his monitor with

one click of the mouse.

<Date: Fri, 3 April 2003 06:42:15 EDT)>

<From: gqm@clippe.com>

<Subject: Project>

<To: admin-hg@rouschnet.com>

<I am contacting you to inquire about our

joint venture. I trust all is going

according plan. Contact me *immediately*

if there are *any* delays in the project.

And remember, can get what want mission accomplished. We will make

direct at original safe location

after your directives have been carried

out.>

Carefully, Gregor regarded the e-mail and

pondered his next option. He didn’t know

exactly how he had gotten mixed up with

this, but he certainly knew why. He also

knew that he had to speed up the process,

even if it meant that he had to call on the

external sources he had come to despise.

Griffith Michelin made all men look like

angels, even considering himself in the

equation. He was reluctant to turn to

Michelin. Gregor was not accustomed to

dealing with dregs.

He had been impressed when Michelin managed

to wring an acquittal from what appeared to

be an open-and-shut conviction. However,

even Michelin did not escape the stigma of

the accusations, and he was drummed out of

the Bureau in short order. The whole matter

was distasteful to Gregor. Unseemly.

However, after the careful planning of

Gregor’s concept to test the formula, it was

inevitable that it would fall through

without outside help. Still, he realized he

had no choice but to throw a bone to the old

dog. Gregor gave him a position as a Public

Information Officer for Rousch

Pharmaceuticals in addition to

other…responsibilities. Picking up the

phone, he heard the dial tone, jabbed at the

buttons and waited for Michelin to answer

his cell phone.

“Michelin.”

“It’s me. We’ve got a problem.”

“Just so you know, the word problem does not

exist in my vocabulary, Hans. So what can I

help you with?” he sneered audibly.

“These idiots your guys hired have screwed

up the original samples and are starting the

process over from scratch. There is no way

we’ll be ready for this little shindig we

have planned. Any ideas on how we can speed

this up?”

“Let me think about it and I’ll get back

with you.”

“Just don’t wait…too long.” Before

Gregor could say anything further, Michelin

had disconnected the call.

Gregor slung the phone against the desk.

“Damn, we don’t have time for this!”

Drawing his hands through his thick chestnut

hair, he sighed, pushed away from his desk,

and stood to leave for the evening, unsure

of what would happen if this didn’t pan out

as expected. All he knew was that there was

an equation at work here. He was a part of

that equation, as a representative of

Rousch, as was *Agent* Mulder, and it all

added up to delayed but determined

revenge… This was one project he was

determined to see through to the end.

******

Holiday Inn Express

Indianapolis, Indiana

“Mmmmm…” Scully felt like she was in a

dream world as something soft and fuzzy

moved enticingly across her cheek and kissed

the corner of her mouth. Her eyes forced

themselves open and found Mulder propped up

next to her, eyeing her appreciatively.

“Morning.”

“Morning, sleepyhead. You ready to start

the second day of the drill? Of course, as

you can see I’m ready and ‘dying’ to go.”

He laughed at his own pun, a mischievous glint

in his eyes.

She smiled at his contagious good mood that

had started affecting her before she even

got out of bed.

“Nice way to wake up.” Scully sat up and

stretched. She leaned over and gave Mulder

a quick peck on the cheek before rising from

the bed and padding toward the bathroom.

“Give me 30 minutes and I’ll be ready.”

“Okay, but hurry. We want to eat breakfast

before we go. I heard someone say today’s

operations are going to be much longer than

yesterday’s.”

Mulder heard her groan and smiled to

himself. He walked back into his own room

to get himself ready. He had a tough time

shaking the remnants of sleep from his mind,

so he decided to start easy. Television.

Flipping through the channels, he came

across a local news station, which was

showing excerpts of the success of

yesterday’s drill. The view briefly showed

Scully shouting orders to everyone around

her, and then swept across the disaster area

to reveal bodies strewn all about, being

tended by various medical personnel. The

screen also showed the head of a local

pharmaceutical company’s terrorism

simulation team, his face obscured by a

dozen microphones. He was speaking to the

reporter about yesterday’s events.

Something struck Mulder very odd as he

looked at the man. The voice seemed vaguely

familiar, but Mulder couldn’t place him. He

listened intently as the reporter continued

to talk to the man. Suddenly, reading the

scroll on the bottom of the screen, his

worst fears had come true. The man was none

other than the former Agent Grif Michelin.

Michelin? Mulder could not believe he had

managed to stay out of prison, much less

finagle his way into a high-profile job

already. A position of authority,

nonetheless. Mulder was immediately

suspicious. Michelin could pose a serious

threat to everyone involved with the

project. Mulder cast a reflexive glance

toward the door adjoining Scully’s room. The

sound of the shower would have masked the

familiar voice coming from the television.

Mulder began weighing his options, looking

back and forth between the glowing screen

and the closed door. Scully was under a lot

of pressure, and her role in the terrorism

response team was vital. Mulder did not want

to compound any organizational problems or

be the cause of more weight on her

shoulders. He knew she would not approve of

him rushing in for covert investigation on

his own, but he had met a couple of guys

from the local CDC office who might be

willing help…

*** ACT TWO ***

Greenview Court

Carmel, Indiana

The phone rang, filling the room with its

shrill rhythm. A shaky hand shot out to

answer the call. Bleary eyes opened to see

“4:45 AM” glaring bright blue from the alarm

clock. The disoriented man choked the

receiver with a white-knuckle grip and

simultaneously bumped his half-empty tumbler

of scotch with his elbow. It teetered on

the edge of the mahogany bed stand for a

moment before plummeting to the floor.

Gregor did not appreciate the irony, knowing

that a stain was slowly expanding on his

ivory carpet.

“Hello?” he barked, an edge of irritation in

his tone.

“You really shouldn’t be drinking. Bad for

your liver,” a deep, gruff voice answered.

Gregor’s eyes widened at the cryptic remark.

A chill ran up his spine as he pushed the

covers aside and walked over to the bedroom

window. He carefully parted the curtain,

looking into the dim light of pre-dawn for a

surveillance vehicle.

“Who is this?” Gregor’s voice was much more

tentative.

“A secret admirer.”

Gregor recognized the man, the voice no

longer disguised.

“Michelin, you don’t have time to play

games. The people you contracted have

failed to adhere to the schedule we agreed

upon. Other parties are growing

dissatisfied. This had better be good

news.” Gregor paused, allowing Michelin

time to consider his statement. Their fates

were tied together. If one of them failed,

they would both fry. “Very, very good

news.”

Gregor paced back and forth next to his bed

while awaiting a reply. His right foot felt

a cold squish as it found the wasted scotch.

He stopped and closed his eyes in an attempt

to suppress his anger.

“It’s all taken care of. I found

an…alternate source.” Michelin cleared

his throat, implying that Gregor was better

off not knowing the particulars. “The

solution’s concentration is lower, but the

effectiveness will not be compromised. It

will do its job. Should be ready for you

today, about 1 PM.”

“You’d better be damned sure. And what

about our friend Carlos?”

“I’m taking care of that personally,”

Michelin purred. “I’m going to get some work

out of him first.”

Gregor could almost see the malicious grin

spread across his face.

“You have a lot of work to do. Better get

to it. I expect a report ASAP.”

“Will do, Hans. Nice pajamas, by the way.

Yellow is definitely your color.”

The line clicked before Gregor could

respond. He felt the heat rise in his ears.

He set the handset in its cradle with excess

force. Michelin was becoming a constant

source of frustration…but Gregor would

have to put up with him in order to rid

himself of a larger problem. The

tantalizing promise of revenge sparked his

mind, despite the early hour. He picked up

the tumbler and headed toward the kitchen,

practicing the events to come over and over

in his imagination. The glass was left on

the counter, the carpet stain immediately

forgotten, as Gregor’s attention was

diverted by a brown cardboard box sitting on

the bar table. Its innocuous appearance

contrasted with the fact that it had not

been sitting there the night before.

Gregor opened a cabinet drawer and grabbed a

pair of scissors automatically, never taking

his eyes off of the box. He rushed over to

it like a child hurrying to open birthday

gifts. The package bore no labels, but he

did not need any to know the contents. Tape

split cleanly between steel blades, and

Gregor unfolded the leaves of the box top.

He lifted the upper half of the high-density

Styrofoam packing and removed the

information packet, placing it on the table

for later perusal. He ripped open the

sealed plastic bag with his bare hands,

finally revealing the cargo inside. Gregor

pulled the metal canister from its housing

and cradled it in his hands, his eyes fixed

on the curved, red tongues of the warning

symbol emblazoned on the side. He ran his

thumb over the word printed in bold below

it: “BIOHAZARD”.

clip_image004

Gregor nearly quivered with anticipation,

only a few hours away from obtaining the

formula, and the canister would be the

vehicle of his justice, his success, and

unrequited love. It was almost too perfect.

The man set his prize on the table and

hurried through his morning routine,

scrubbing himself to immaculate perfection

and donning the suit he had laid out the day

before. He had planned every aspect of this

day and smiled in satisfaction. He placed

the canister in his briefcase and locked it.

Gregor had grabbed his wallet and keys and

started out the door, hand on the light

switch, when he paused. He glanced one last

time at the 4″x6″ framed photograph on the

bookshelf.

On the left side, an angelic smile and

emerald eyes shone brilliantly against ivory

skin. Crimson hair shimmered like strands

of spun lava, even in low winter sunlight,

belying the vibrancy of the woman’s

presence. His heart melted just looking at

her. It seized with anger, however, as his

eyes swept over the jagged white border of

fractured glass to the image on the right

side. Her partner. Even the word raised

his ire. The man was leaning over, saying

something to her as an aside. Something he

did not intend for anyone to hear, no doubt.

A secret.

Gregor’s mouth went dry and his breath

hitched as he looked at the way the man had

invaded her space, brushing against her as

if he owned her. They were never aware that

he was watching them, of course, but the

territoriality was apparent all of the time.

Well, if her partner could not take a hint,

it was his own fault.

Gregor stepped toward the bookshelf and

stared at her for just a moment longer. He

was surprised by the hot track of a tear

sliding down his cheek as he reached out and

touched his fingers longingly against the

glass. His achievements and hard work would

never be quite enough to get her attention.

This time, though, he was going to make his

move. There was no way she could ignore him

now. Gregor turned and left the room, turning

off the foyer light before locking the door.

******

Downtown Canal

Indianapolis, Indiana

The sun’s rays painted broad strokes of pink

and orange in apartment windows, slanting

down ever so gradually, not quite touching

the water. A breeze bent vivid green blades

of new grass in stadium waves. Ducks

floated idly in the narrow channel. Most of

them were still asleep, heads tucked firmly

under wings.

Scully watched the aquatic birds with

curiosity while finishing her breakfast.

They were content to go wherever the water

took them, secure in the knowledge that they

would not wake up somewhere in the middle of

the Atlantic Ocean if they slept too long.

Scully sighed, wishing she had been able to

sleep in, too.

Scully took another bite of her organic

high-fiber bagel, thinking as she chewed.

In some ways, she pondered, she was like one

of these sleeping ducks, only she followed

Mulder. She was content to go wherever he

took her. Well, almost. There was the time

he talked her into accompanying him to the

video store…

She stopped herself from eating more of the

bagel, and looked at it with one eyebrow

raised, wondering what exactly it contained

that had provoked her odd musings. Scully

tore the rest of the bagel into small pieces

and fed it to the group of mallards that had

gathered before her.

Scully was beginning to succumb to murky

thoughts of setting Mulder’s alarm clock to

go off at 4 AM on Sunday in retribution for

his rooster-like tendencies, but the scenery

made her change her mind. With the steep

grassy banks rising on either side of the

water to muffle sound, she could almost

forget that she was in the middle of a city.

After a little deliberation, she decided

that getting up at an obnoxious hour to

accompany Mulder to the downtown canal for

his morning run was not such a bad thing.

At that moment, he emerged from under a

bridge, running along the opposite bank.

It was almost time to leave, so Scully stood

and stretched before heading back toward the

car. The persistent quacking of hungry

mallards pursued her until she followed the

inclined brick path away from the canal.

She waited for her partner at the top of the

bank as he crossed the bridge. His

footfalls pounded across the synthetic

boards in a steady rhythm.

Scully gazed at a small boy and a frail-

looking elderly man wearing a veteran’s cap

on the path below. The boy listened to the

man’s words with wide eyes and then reached

out to press his hand against the engraved

granite face of a large memorial stone.

Below several columns of names, the

inscription across the bottom read “U.S.S.

Indianapolis”. The scene appealed to

Scully’s sense of duty, the solemn pair

reminding her of the reason why she was

there.

“All set.”

Mulder panted slightly, jogging in place and

stretching his arms and torso. He laid his

hand on her shoulder, which got her

attention. She turned to him and pressed

the remote unlock button on the rental car’s

keychain. The car beeped in reply.

“I’m dying to get started,” he said in a

flat tone.

Scully sighed at his droll humor.

“Thanks for accompanying me, though, really.

Had to run. I get restless lying still all

day.”

She raised an eyebrow, wordlessly demanding

an explanation of how playing a corpse in

the staged disaster could possibly be more

difficult than directing the body-recovery

effort. He tried to hide a sheepish look by

wiping the sweat from his face with the edge

of his tee-shirt.

“You know, Scully, it’s hard work!” His

voice rose to mock-whine level. “People

stepping on you all day, dragging you

around, zipping you up in those bags…” He

paused and frowned. “I think I do get

bagged today.”

“Mulder,” she shot him a disapproving look,

“you’re not supposed to discuss that.”

“Sorry. It’s just really unnerving. Even

with the ventilation material and interior

zipper.” He started toward the car, talking

over his shoulder as she followed. “Not to

mention stifling.”

“I suppose it does get pretty warm in there,

but you shouldn’t be in the bag more than a

few minutes. If everything goes well, that

is.” She rolled her eyes, even though he

wasn’t looking.

“Scully, the locals call us ‘Hot Pockets’.”

He said the last two words with exaggerated

distaste as he sat in the passenger’s seat

of the rental.

“Hey, if the bag fits…”

Mulder shut the car door, interrupting her

bad analogy. Scully continued to stare in

the direction of the memorial stone, lost in

contemplation.

“Let’s go. I still have to change into my

blood-soaked clothes,” he called from the

passenger’s side. “By the way, Scully, I

won’t be at the hotel tonight. I signed up

for an overnight emergency security breech

scenario at the local CDC office. I’m going

straight there from the drill this evening.”

She raised an eyebrow at that.

“Oh, really, Mulder? Since when did you

start giving up quality sleeping time to

hang out with a bunch of ge…Nevermind.”

“Ha ha. Anyway, I’ll just head over to the

site in the morning and catch some ‘z’s on

the lawn,” Mulder stated with what he hoped

was just enough sincerity to convince her.

He was not quite sure.

“Okay,” she said dubiously.

She shook her head, clearing some meandering

thoughts, and sat in the car beside Mulder.

“Scully? Something wrong?” His voice was

tinged with concern.

“No.” She paused, reviewing the day’s plans

in her mind. “Why?”

“Oh, no reason. Just morbid curiosity.”

Scully did not have to look at Mulder to

know that there was a smile on his face. She

gave him a swat on the shoulder, started the

car, and headed toward the drill site.

******

Federal Building Plaza

Indianapolis, Indiana

Grif Michelin surveyed the earnest chemical

containment effort in progress with a

mixture of restless boredom and

anticipation. His briefcase sat atop a

chest-high portable cabinet, its handle

still gripped tightly in his left hand. The

metal canister it contained was no longer

empty, and that fact got his adrenaline

pumping.

The army’s Chemical and Biological Rapid

Response team representatives had just sent

samples from the recovered remnants of the

“weapon” to be analyzed. Preliminary in

situ tests had indicated the presence of a

strong acid, so all response personnel were

now wrapped quite warmly in poly-vinyl Level

B Hazmat suits. Everyone except for

Michelin, who sweated bullets inside his

Level A suit.

He had many hours of experience with the

restrictive protective gear and respirators,

but the situation was making him

claustrophobic. It would all be worth it,

though, he mused and smiled to himself.

Everything was going as planned. No one had

questioned his choice of Hazmat suit, even

though it was a bit overboard for the

drill’s circumstances. Certain perks came

with being the representative of a major

pharmaceutical company, and one of them was

opting for the $5,000 model over the $1500

Level B. His neon orange suit was

incredibly gaudy, but it was also a

completely sealed, self-contained

environment. No sense in taking chances, he

had reasoned.

A sudden movement against his waist startled

him. He almost jumped before he realized

that it was merely his pager. So, it was

time. He checked the numerical message

anyway, to confirm the order. The small

digital display read “7734”. Michelin said

nothing, knowing that all voice transmission

via the respirators’ com links were being

recorded. He pulled the briefcase off of the

cabinet and quickly made his way around the

perimeter of the small park, heading toward

the “casualty” preparation area.

A few volunteers and government officials

were already getting organized for the day’s

events. Michelin spotted Mulder sitting in

a makeup artist’s chair. He was having the

finishing touches put on his blood red corn

syrup and glycerine-painted face and body.

It would be the perfect cover, Michelin

mused. He wished he had thought of that

little detail himself.

In less than a minute, Mulder was nearly

unrecognizable. He vacated the chair for

the next casualty in line and headed toward

the large cold drinking water dispenser.

Michelin took three deep breaths and walked

back to the other side of the small park.

He squeezed into the narrow gap between a

mobile generator unit and the satellite

server van.

Louie’s familiar face was visible at the

other end of the van. They met in the

middle of the hidden space. Michelin handed

him the briefcase without a word. His elbow

bumped against a bright yellow cord that ran

from the van into the bundle of cords

supplying the command tent. Nothing seemed

to happen, though, so he turned and strode

back to one of the tent’s computer stations,

logged himself out for the rest of the day,

and hurried to his car. It took all of his

self-control to repress the urge to peel his

tires in the parking lot.

******

Louie shifted nervously inside the stifling

layers of his business suit. He felt too

conspicuous carrying Michelin’s briefcase in

the middle of a growing throng of federal

agents. It was far too late to back out,

though. He traced Michelin’s path across

the park to find Mulder and his other

scheduled contacts.

Mulder proved difficult to recognize. Louie

nearly bumped into him before he figured out

which man covered in fake blood was his

target. Louie put a little distance

between them, trying not to hurry too much.

He leaned against the building, avoiding the

West end of the makeup area, where dozens of

teeming Boy Scouts chattered incessantly.

Louie was becoming irritated with the delay

when he spotted the other contacts.

The two stout men with their own distorting

makeup approached Mulder. The tall one

sporting a goatee shook his hand before

conversing with the agent in a low voice.

Louie heard a few words here and there. It

was enough to discern that they were asking

for Mulder’s help moving a large box of

catering food to the drill site. He

acquiesced. The men continued to talk and

gently guided Mulder between two sandstone

buildings, careful to maintain congenial

body language. Louie was impressed by their

effective efforts.

The men led the apparently unsuspecting

agent into a partially obscured loading dock

alley while Louie stayed behind. Mulder was

preoccupied with helping the first man lift

a large, heavy cardboard box while the other

pulled the security gate shut and locked it.

He paused to nod at Louie before turning his

attention back to Mulder.

The two men at the dock struggled under

their heavy burden. Mulder staggered for a

moment and nearly dropped his end of the

load before regaining balance. He struggled

to keep his momentum, walking backwards

while the shorter man urged him to keep

moving. Mulder did not hear the goateed man

approach. He could not see the leather sap

that appeared from under a loose-fitting

jacket, and he never anticipated the

devastating blow to the base of his neck

that sent him careening to the pavement.

clip_image006

******

“Did anyone ever call Colonel O’Neill?”

“Where are my field reports? I need them on

my desk in five minutes!”

“SBCCOM is having trouble with the satellite

feed. Get one of the NG techs out there to

see what’s wrong.”

Scully rubbed the bridge of her nose with

one hand and squeezed her eyes shut, trying

to block out the cacophony of increasingly

frantic voices around her. She had expected

to supervise the body recovery team again,

but the unexpected addition of a possible

chemical weapon to the scenario set a

different procedure into action. About

halfway through the morning, only the Army’s

chemical response team and the ever-present

“casualties” were allowed in the restricted

zone.

Scully had found herself “facilitating

communications between the command

authorities and local officials”, which

meant that she had the honor of informing

the Indianapolis mayor’s office, the county

coroner, and local hospitals that she was

not sure exactly how much longer the drill

was going to take. She could feel a

migraine looming on the horizon.

“Ma’am? Ma’am?”

Scully pried her eyes open. A CDC employee

was looking at her with a concerned

expression.

“Are you okay?” the woman asked. “You look

like you’re having a tough time. Need some

help?”

Scully tried to give her a reassuring smile.

“No, but thanks, Nickie. I think I just

need to get out of this room for a few

minutes. I’ll be back in a bit.”

Scully checked to make sure she had her

pager in her jacket pocket before heading

for the outdoor break area. Once she was

close to the “Caution” tape, she reflexively

scanned the restricted zone. She observed a

fairly orderly scene of chemical containment

teams picking their way through the “dead”

to evaluate the area. Scully scanned the

ground, but she could not identify Mulder

among the scattered “bodies”.

She sighed, wondering what he was really

planning for that night. She hated to be

untrusting, but she could not shake the

feeling that he was up to no good. However

she might try, she could not convince

herself that he was merely trying to make

himself more helpful for the drill

supervisors. With that thought nagging at

her mind, she reluctantly turned and went

back to work inside the command tent.

******

Mulder winced as he drifted towards

consciousness. His head throbbed

mercilessly, obscuring all other sensations

for some time. After many deep, slow

breaths, he decided to open his eyes. A

bright light became distinguishable between

the slits of his eyelids, causing another

colorful cascade of pain.

His calming breaths turned to rapid panting

when he realized that he was inside some

sort of self-enclosed capsule. Strange

faces obscured by Hazmat hoods and masks

peered in at him through the transparent

lid.

Mulder tried to shove against it, but his

movement was halted by restraints. His

entire body twisted and contorted in an

effort to pull free, but he was held fast.

His heart sped, sending throbbing bolts of

agony through his skull.

He searched the faces above him for answers,

but they offered none. One of the men waved

at him. Very odd, Mulder thought, until he

realized that it was not meant as a

greeting. It was a good-bye. A hissing

sound accompanied an invisible jet of moist

air directed toward his face. It grazed his

skin for about 15 seconds before

terminating. The mist was soon followed by

a jab in the back of Mulder’s neck. The man

who had waved leaned closer. Mulder

recognized the familiar face of Grif

Michelin leering at him from the other side

of the lid. He slipped into darkness before

he had time to process what was happening.

***ACT THREE***

Scully and Mulder stood silently in the

middle of the empty park. A deep sound

grew, rising from the unfamiliar buildings

around them. Scully saw the source of the

noise, now very loud. A great throng of

people were gathering in the park. Many of

them were adorned in ghastly costumes.

Scully felt like she was in a bad zombie

movie. She reached out to Mulder, just to

make sure he was still there.

Soon, she was surrounded by the crowd,

pushing, wanting, demanding her attention.

Mulder was next to her, now holding her

hand. The people pressed closer until she

could no longer move. When she turned to

Mulder, he was gone, and she was left alone,

a large, empty bag now clutched in her hand.

A loud buzzing rang in Scully’s ears,

causing her to jump. She opened her eyes to

darkness, her breath quickened and her heart

racing. Her hands searched cautiously for

the source of the incessant noise. Finally,

she felt the smooth, flat surface with

raised buttons. Her fingers were numb and

stiff. She couldn’t tell which button was

“Alarm Off”, so she just smashed them all.

The buzzing in the room stopped, but the

buzzing in her head continued mercilessly.

Her hand found the switch on her bedside

lamp and turned it. The light assaulted her

eyes. She groaned, her head swimming with

pain and disorientation. She eyed the

bottle of Imitrex on her night stand with

loathing. Not only had she fought her

headache for hours before falling

asleep, but she had been haunted by

nightmarish visions throughout the night.

Most of them had vanished into the recesses

of sleep before she could commit them to

memory, but the last one still bothered her.

The more Scully thought about the dream, the

more apprehensive she became. It didn’t

take an Oxford psychology degree to

translate that message. She rolled her eyes

once for good measure and swung her legs

over the side of the bed. Her clock read

5:30 AM. It was too early to go to the

site, but she decided to get ready, anyway.

She even entertained the idea of going to

the canal while she padded off to the hotel

room’s kitchenette in search of a glass of

soy milk.

Scully passed the television on the way and

decided that it would be a good idea to see

the weather report. Sleep still blurred her

vision, so she fumbled in her first attempt

to turn it on. It glowed to life on the

second try, though. Scully wandered to the

refrigerator, stretching her arms and

yawning before pulling the door open.

As she was grabbing the carton, she heard

the drill being mentioned on a news report.

That got her attention, and she turned to

watch. It was a live ground shot. The

cameras were there too early to capture much

of the activity, but there were already

scenario design techs inspecting the site

and preparing it for the day. After

searching the few faces the camera’s view

for Mulder, she began to pay more attention

to the reporter’s voiceover.

clip_image008

<…rumors circulating regarding the reason

for the location of this operation. When

confronted with these theories, a major

pharmaceutical representative refused to go

on camera, but he released this

statement…>

The screen switched to a text page graphic.

Highlighted contents were read aloud by the

same reporter.

<“There have been no specific threats made

to the City of Indianapolis. However, it is

large enough to be a possible target and

must therefore remain alert and ready to

respond in the event of a threat to the

safety of its citizens. We don’t want to

take any chances.”

The mayor has gone on record in support of

the selection of Indianapolis, saying that

he welcomes the preparedness drill and that

safety is his top priority. However, with

the world’s largest sporting arena next

door, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with

a capacity of over 250,000 people, there is

speculation that there is more to the city’s

selection than we’re being told…>

The visual switched back to the site as the

reporter continued, with a small inset in

the upper right-hand corner. Scully read

the caption “Griffith Michelin, Rousch

Pharmaceuticals Spokesman”, and her heart

immediately sank. Mulder. She was stunned

for a moment. Her eyes flickered back and

forth, focused on nothing, as she surmised

exactly what was happening. Hot blood

rushed to her face. Her fingernails dug

into her palms.

She was being ditched.

It all made perfect sense. She had known

that Mulder’s sudden volunteerism was highly

unusual, but she had never imagined that he

would intentionally mislead her in order to

pursue Michelin.

She pursed her lips, infuriated that he

would do this to her. Not only was it

condescending of him to assume that she

wouldn’t have backed him up, but worst of

all, he had lied to her. She shook from

head to toe, temporarily stifling her anger.

There was important work to be completed,

and unlike her partner, she was actually

going to make sure that it got done.

******

Their arrival at the park was right on

schedule. To Louie’s knowledge, no one knew

Mulder had even been missing. Louie pulled

the van to a stop just out of the sight of

the day’s activities. His pal Carlos was

awake and alert, training a gun at Mulder’s

head when Louie opened the doors to the van.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“I told you, I was making sure he didn’t go

anywhere.” Carlos crouched down and jumped

out of the van. Laying Mulder on top of a

body bag, they proceeded to pull him to the

nearest corner of the grassy area, where

most of the “dead victims” were being

staged. Once they were certain no one had

spotted them, they returned to the van with

the bag. Louie waited until Carlos was back

in the driver’s seat before reaching into

his inner jacket pocket. Louie’s lopsided

grin made Carlos squirm uneasily in the

seat. Louie slowly pulled his hand from his

jacket, revealing a large envelope stuffed

with money. He handed the cash to Carlos

through the lowered widow. Louie just could

not follow Michelin’s orders. Good no-

questions-asked lackeys were getting hard to

find.

“Well done, man. Now scram…and don’t let

the boss see you around these here parts

again. Comprehendo?”

The gleam in Carlos’ eye was apparent as he

mentally counted the wad of cash Louie had

passed in his direction.

“Yeah, nice doing buz’ness with ya.”

Louie sighed in relief as Carlos got into

the van and drove out of the park.

******

Two hours into the day, Scully was already

exhausted. The combination of stress and

lack of sleep was brutal. The order that

all field agents wear their Hazmats only

compounded matters. While everyone else had

donned their “prophylactics” with

jocularity, she had been glad that her

respirator might hide the scowl on her face.

Mulder’s deception consumed her thoughts,

and when she went hunting for him at her

first opportunity. She felt a predatory

glide in her step. Other people must have

noticed it, too, because the crowd of

workers seemed to part before her. She

searched the park, finally spotting Mulder’s

long gray training shoes in one corner of

the grassy area. A small spark of relief

lit at the sight of him, but she made quick

work of it. This time, she deserved to be

angry.

Mulder lay on his back, limbs sprawled out,

face turned to one side. He looked all too

comfortable soaking up the sun, Scully

noted. The makeup artist had gone a bit

overboard with the fake blood, but she could

still see the carefree, relaxed expression

on his face.

“Mulder, I saw the news today. Is there

something you’d like to tell me?”

She made no effort to disguise the edge in

her tone, although the suit’s microphone and

speaker made her sound like she was inside a

tin can. She waited expectantly. Mulder

did not move or reply.

“Fine. You stay in character now, but if

you don’t tell me what the Hell you were up

to last night by the time today’s exercise

is over, you are dead meat.”

Still no reply. She shook her head,

suppressing the urge to scream at his

silence, and quickly walked away from him.

Scully pondered the possible motives for his

lie as she crossed the park again, but none

made the act hurt any less. She was again

thankful for the respirator. It concealed

the handful of angry tears that fell from

her eyes.

******

(Two hours later)

The tailgate slammed shut on the back of the

Coroner’s van for another trip to the Marion

county morgue. Scully sighed. Only one

more load to go. Her team had documented

and organized all of the fatalities. They

had sent 58 “casualties” off for staged

autopsies. Although her job was nearly

complete, Scully approached it with

reluctance. Mulder was still lying in the

exact same place, awaiting his turn with the

rest of the last group.

Scully considered herself to be a very

professional person. She was difficult to

fluster. Everyone knew that, even her, but

the insult of Mulder’s deceptive game was a

constant presence in her mind. It grew out

of control, feeding itself, dominating her

mind as she tried to work, and the more she

thought about it, the angrier she got.

While the rest of her team attended to an

elderly woman and a large man nearby, Scully

dragged a body bag next to Mulder. She

avoided looking at him, trying to just do

her job and block out her emotions, but she

could not.

She stared at him and demanded in a lowered

voice, “Exactly how long are you going to

play this out, Mulder? What was so

important that you had to make up a story?

I checked with the personnel director. You

did not sign in for any scenario work last

night. If you’re going to ditch me, fine,

but you could at least give me the dignity

of not lying to me about it beforehand!”

Her tone had started out calm, but she was

talking adamantly by the time she finished.

She could feel her face blush with fury.

Scully waited for Mulder to say something,

but he did not even acknowledge her

presence. She noted with contempt that he

did not move at all. In fact, he was in the

exact same position she saw him in earlier.

“Asleep on the job. Figures.”

She started to unzip the bag in preparation

for Mulder’s transport when a peculiar

feeling gave her pause. Something about

Mulder’s breathing was not quite right. It

sounded like he was congested. Scully was

not sure if the sound was due to her suit’s

communication system, but it made her take a

closer look. That was when she noticed that

a trickle of the thick red liquid covering

his face was actually flowing. Upon closer

examination, the patches of his skin that

showed through were abnormally pale.

Scully’s mind raced as she realized that

something was very, very wrong.

She placed a gloved hand on his right

shoulder and shook him, but he did not

respond. She reached out and felt for

Mulder’s carotid through the thin plastic

layers of her gloves. His pulse was slightly

rapid and weak. Carefully, Scully eased one

of his eyelids open. Only the whites of his

eyes were visible.

Suddenly, Mulder looked at her, his gaze

unfocused, and tried to pull away. Before

Scully could react, Mulder’s body was

wracked with a violent cough, and a few

small droplets of blood sprayed on her

sleeve, contrasting sharply with the bright

yellow material.

Scully was stunned for a minute, unsure of

exactly what was happening. The only thing

she could think of was that her partner

needed help immediately. She stood up and

turned toward the crowd behind her.

“We need the paramedics over here. Now!”

Turning her attention back to Mulder, she

found him nearly bouncing off of the ground

with his coughing. His eyes wandered

aimlessly; his mouth hung open. Scully

knelt beside Mulder, at a loss to help him.

She couldn’t tell how much of the red blood

covering his body was real.

Scully tugged at his shirt until his abdomen

and chest were exposed. His torso was

soaked with beads of sweat and stripes of

red fluid. To Scully’s relief, it appeared

to be flaking off in places, but it was not

rust-colored. It was the drying remnant of

the fake blood. However, when Scully tried

to palpate Mulder’s ribs, she felt feverish

heat radiating from his skin, even through

the plies of her suit. The ribs seemed

intact, but something was still hampering

his breathing. His chest heaved under her

touch as he struggled for air.

Mulder’s head turned slightly. He looked at

her with fear in his eyes and moved his

mouth. She knew he was trying to say

something. His eyes grew wide, and he shot

out a hand, grabbing the sleeve of her suit

with an iron grip. A wave of pain passed

visibly through his body, and when the

trembling subsided, his eyes drifted shut

again. The hand on her arm went limp and

fell to the grass. Scully felt cold,

uncertain of what her partner was going

through.

Paramedics still adorned in yellow Hazmat

gear arrived, immediately pulling her away

from Mulder. She tried to push her way

back, but other people got in her way. They

were the Indiana State Police officers from

her team.

“I need to get to him! He’s seriously ill.”

“Let the paramedics do their jobs, Agent

Scully. Just come over here with us…”

“No!” She had to get to him. Had to. “I’m

his doctor, and I’m going to stay with him!”

Still, they would not let her through. She

shoved one of the men out of the way and

moved to her left so she could at least get

a better view. The medics checked Mulder’s

vitals while the police moved everyone back.

The drill started to fall apart as people

dropped their scenario roles to watch. Their

chatter was restrained to a quiet buzz of

speculation. Various media

representatives tried to move close enough

to get Mulder on camera, but the crowd would

not allow it.

Scully realized that she was holding her

breath waiting for the ambulance to pull up.

It rolled onto the grass and stopped

directly beside Mulder. Scully noted that

he was stirring again. One of the medics

was trying to simultaneously ventilate him

with an Ambu bag and hold him still while a

gurney was brought to his side and lowered.

Just as two men began to lift Mulder onto

the flat mattress, he jerked to a sitting

position. The men set him back down at his

movement. His eyes were squeezed shut, and

he tore the mask from his face. The crowd

of onlookers fell silent. Mulder’s stomach

rippled and his arms quaked as he wrapped

them protectively around himself.

He tried to cough, but he only produced a

wet crackling sound. Scully could not stand

to watch from the sidelines any longer.

Just as she drew close enough to touch him,

one of the paramedics turned and stopped her

with a firm hand wrapped around her upper

arm.

“Let me go. He needs me.”

Scully was not even looking at the medic as

she spoke to him. She was noticing the

sweat collected on Mulder’s brow, the way he

rocked slowly back and forth, his grimace of

pain that was gradually worsening…

The coughing started again. This time, it

was the paramedic on his left who was doused

in bloody droplets. The attack did not stop

there, though. The entire plaza seemed to

still as Mulder’s strangled hacking began to

produce red foam. Scully added his symptoms

together: fever, nausea, difficulty

breathing, abdominal pain, bloody sputum…

There was a silent pause before one of the

medics shook his head and recognized what

had to be done.

“Quarantine protocol! No one enters or

leaves this plaza!”

The orders were relayed to the guards

surrounding the park. National Guard and

police began repositioning barriers and

enforcing the perimeter. Scully moved closer

to Mulder in spite of her shock. She

kneeled and supported his neck. One

paramedic helped her ease him back to the

ground while another continued to ventilate

him. Scully heard bullhorns directing the

drill participants to stay calm and follow

supervisors’ orders. She knew SBCCOM would

prepare for the worst and initiate a multi-

casualty incident response plan. The

problem would be convincing everyone

involved that it was not part of the drill.

Scully began to feel an unfamiliar feeling

creep up inside her. Fear. This was not a

drill, and Mulder’s illness was

terrifyingly real.

Scully’s partner was at least semi-

conscious. She could see a subtle grimace

underneath the clear plastic ventilator

mask. He opened his eyes for a second,

rolled them wildly, and took two deep

breaths. His eyelids fluttered shut again,

and he began unconsciously gasping for air.

The third paramedic immediately joined them

and grabbed his ankles.

“One, two, three.”

They efficiently lifted him onto the gurney,

strapped him down, and loaded him into the

ambulance. Two medics climbed in with the

gurney. The driver took his place at the

front before Scully realized he had moved.

The doors banged shut. Scully did not even

have time to demand to ride with Mulder

before the ambulance left her standing in a

cloud of dust and confusion.

***ACT FOUR***

Scully swallowed a mouthful of water,

downing a large tablet in the process. She

threw the empty plastic cup into a recycling

bin and immediately headed for the door. It

had taken her over an hour to dispose of her

contaminated Hazmat suit, get her

prophylactic dose of Ciprofloxacin, give her

official statement as a witness, and

convince the on-site medical director to

allow her to visit Mulder at the hospital.

A National Guard staff sergeant drove her to

the University Hospital in a Humvee. Any

other day, she would have been amused by the

way the traffic parted like the Red Sea.

However, the lack of information regarding

Mulder’s condition dominated her thoughts.

Five minutes and 26 possible diagnoses

later, she was at the Emergency Room door.

Scully approached the receptionist’s desk,

noting that the ER did not seem to be

especially active.

“I need to know the location of a patient.”

She briefly displayed her badge. “Fox

Mulder. He was brought in about an hour ago.

A containment case.”

The receptionist rattled the keys on her

computer and nodded.

“Mr. Mulder is in Level Three Isolation…”

“I need to get to him,” Scully stated. She

was not emotional. It was just a fact.

“Someone already called ahead for you.”

The receptionist leaned down and reached

into her desk. She produced a security

pass, security mask, and neoprene gloves.

She handed them to Scully, her features

conveying a touch of fear.

Scully thanked the receptionist, clipping

the pass onto her jacket and turning off her

cell phone while reading the hall signs.

Scully immediately found the Isolation

listing and hurried down the hall, her high

heels striking a war beat on the linoleum

floor. She maneuvered among three dozen

visitors, patients, and slow-moving students

before she found the “Isolation Ward” sign.

She pulled the gloves on and slung the mask

strings around her head. Her heart pounded

with anticipation as she made her way to the

isolation rooms. National Guardsmen stood

on either side of an entrance marked

“Restricted” and bustling with nurses and

technicians.

“Bingo,” Scully whispered.

One of the guards approached her

immediately, checked her pass and badge, and

instructed her to gear up with the rest of

the required protective wear inside the

anteroom. She pushed the large gray swivel

door open and grabbed a face shield, Tyvek

apron, and a pair of shoe covers, knowing

that precautionary procedures were being

followed. After donning all of the required

PPEs, Scully peered through the small

windows into Mulder’s room.

The staff was still setting up Mulder’s

room. Scully used every bit of self-

restraint she had to avoid rushing in there.

She did not want to be in the way, so she

stood outside and watched like a hawk,

seeing only the backs of several sets of

scrubs through a small anteroom.

After about ten minutes, the staff dispersed

to other tasks, discarding their

contaminated gear in the anteroom’s large

biological hazard bins, and Scully wasted no

time in taking her place beside Mulder. The

negative-pressure room sucked at her hair

when she opened the door and hurried to his

side. She studied him quietly, processing

the scant clues that lay before her

regarding his illness. He was still under

the influence of an anesthetic, unaware of

the ventilator inflating his congested

lungs.

Scully looked at his chart with trepidation.

He was listed in guarded condition with an

aggressive unidentified respiratory tract

infection, slight dehydration, and a mild

concussion. She winced in sympathy. He was

going to be in for a painful awakening.

Scully hung the chart back on its hook and

went to stand beside Mulder. She wanted to

hold him, but she was almost afraid to touch

him, even with her protective gear. He

looked pale and sunken. The beds of his

nails carried a cyan tinge, and he was

strapped to the bed to prevent him from

removing the vent. Scully felt a sadly

familiar emptiness inside, wondering how

many more times she would stand by his

bedside anxiously awaiting a prognosis from

yet another ER doctor before she heard the

one she most feared.

Her hand hovered over his cheek, but she did

not touch him. Her eyes welled up, but the

tears did not fall. Scully gazed at his

twitching eyelids and listened to his forced

breaths until muffled footsteps alerted her

to the presence of another person in the

room. She turned to see a physician making

his way toward the foot of the bed. He

began furiously scribbling on Mulder’s chart

before he acknowledged her.

“Sorry for the rush, but I’m sure you

understand. I’m Jack Lange,” he introduced

himself, dispensing of the “Doctor” title.

A nod was offered in place of a handshake.

“We are double- and triple-checking our

preliminary findings, but everything we’ve

seen so far is pointing Yersinia pestis.”

He scrawled a signature on the chart and set

it down, meeting Scully’s stunned gaze. She

had to concentrate to follow the doctor’s

words. One word was drowning out everything

else in her mind. Plague.

“Are you absolutely sure?” Scully asked in

disbelief.

“Well, it will take approximately 72 hours

to receive a confirmation. We’ve notified

the State Department of Health, and sputum

samples are already on their way to the CDC

and USAMRIID. Of course, we couldn’t wait

that long to begin treatment. I’ve

consulted with many colleagues on this most

unusual case. The presentation of

hemoptysis and cyanosis were our first

clues, in correlation with the presence of

Gram-negative, bipolar staining bacilli in

his bronchial smears. Adding to that the

results of his chest films,” Lange said as

he pulled an x-ray film from the chart, “we

are convinced that we’re dealing with

pneumonic plague.”

He slid the film into a view panel and

turned on the backlight. Scully was

astounded at what she saw. The area

spanning the ribs, which should have only

hinted at the edges of soft organs, was

dominated by two large white masses with

diffuse borders. They filled the bottom

two-thirds of Mulder’s lungs, showing the

exact positions of the beset lobar organs.

“According to various statements, including

yours, he seemed to be in perfectly good

health yesterday. This sort of fulminant

consolidation of the lungs is highly

indicative of a pneumonic plague infection.

Of course, this diagnosis has very serious

implications. We are administering

streptomycin right now and working on

cultures for further tests.”

“The good news is that Mister Mulder’s

temperature has stabilized, and his

concussion seems to be minor. As for the bad

news… Frankly, right now, it’s a battle

to keep him from drowning. He’s producing

pulmonary drainage as fast as we can clear

it. His kidneys are also cause for concern.

He was already a bit dehydrated, which is

not an uncommon early symptom of pneumonic

plague. With the nephrotoxic propensity of

the antibiotics, he’s in quite a

predicament. The effectiveness of his

treatment should be apparent in the next 24

hours.”

The doctor cast a worried glance at his

patient before looking back at Scully.

“We’re already in contact with the CDC and

WHO, comparing his symptoms and lab values

with known manifestations of natural and

manipulated strains. So far, no one else

from the project site has been reported to

have symptoms. It’s very puzzling.”

“To say the least…” Scully noted while

trying to cope with the frightening turns

her day had taken. “Thank you. Please let

me know as soon as any further details are

known,” Scully said. “I believe you already

have my cell number…”

“Yes. If you’ll excuse me, I have more work

to do.”

Scully watched as Lange exited the room.

She did not envy him. He was young,

probably relatively inexperienced, and he

had suddenly been thrust into the middle of

a situation that could have global

implications. Scully felt reassured that he

was competent, though. It was a small

comfort, but she would take what she could

get. Scully studied Mulder’s slack features

for a few more precious seconds before

heading to the anteroom to discard her

protective gear. She had some phone calls

to make.

******

The shouts of the reporters storming the

Capitol Building steps could be heard for

blocks. “Excuse me, Mr. Michelin. We’d like

to ask a few questions.” Several reporters

shoved microphones in his face as he

descended the steps. The cacophony of

voices blended together to one as each

person shouted out various questions.

“No comment,” Michelin stated, as he pushed

his way through the mob of reporters around

him.

“Sir, the public needs answers. They are

very concerned by this latest news regarding

what was supposed to be a terrorism drill.

Is that all it was?”

“Mr. Michelin, can you tell us about the

rumors of a toxin that was found at the

drill site? How it will affect those who

were participating in the exercise? What

about long-term effects to those people in

the surrounding area?”

“I said *no* comment!” The mob was

disappointed and dissipated as soon as

Michelin’s car pulled away from the curb.

The drive to his gated estate was relatively

peaceful. He made it in just a few short

minutes; however, his peace was short-lived

when he found television crews from CNN,

FOX, NBC and CBS standing at his gate. The

gates swung open and his car pulled into the

long drive and pulled up in front of the

house. Entering the foyer, he dropped his

briefcase and keys down on the table and

yanked at the tie around his neck. Deciding

a much needed drink was in order, he poured

himself a glass of scotch on the rocks, a

habit he had picked up from his new

collaborator.

The phone began its shrill, incessant ring,

and, growing tired of the sound, Michelin

picked it up. “Hello,” he snapped,

irritably.

“Mr. Michelin, this is Anita Drabee, a

reporter from CNN. We’d like to ask you

some questions. Can you tell us if…”

“Go the hell away and leave me alone!” He

slammed the phone back down into its cradle

and threw back a long swig of the scotch,

draining his glass. Michelin was concerned

with how quickly rumors of the toxin had

spread so quickly. He knew this was only the

beginning, and hoped he could withstand the

pressure of the upcoming insight committee

talks at the Capitol Building.

******

The doctor had left hours ago. The soft hum

of monitors could be heard through the

darkened room. Scully sat in the bedside

chair and held Mulder’s limp hand in her

own, absently stroking his knuckles.

Resting her head back against the soft vinyl

leather of the chair, she could feel her

anger rising with each whoosh of the

ventilator that allowed Mulder to cling

fiercely to life. Scully gradually became

oblivious to the coming and going of the

respiratory therapists and nurses caring for

Mulder. After being on a high adrenaline

rush most of the day, the sleep that had

eluded Scully the night before finally

claimed her.

She awoke at around 7:00 the next morning to

the sound of the food carts being rolled

down the hall. She stood, stretching the

stiffness from her body and looked down at

her still unconscious partner. Remembering

her revelation from the night before, she

decided that a visit to Rousch

Pharmaceuticals was in order. Scully knew

that Michelin would have either direct or

indirect access to highly restricted

microbial organisms, and she wanted to know

if anything suspicious had occurred at

Rousch recently. Immediately, a sense of

dread poured over her, and she decided to

confront Michelin. She stared down at

Mulder again and knew she needed to call for

reinforcements.

Lifting the room’s phone handset, she

punched in the number and the call was

answered promptly on the second ring. Her

gloved hand crackled across the connection.

“It’s me, Frohike. Turn off the tape

recorder.”

After a moment of rustling, a voice rang

out. “What can we do for you, Scully?”

She proceeded to explain the recent goings

on with Mulder to Frohike. “I need you guys

to fly out to Indiana and sit with Mulder.

I realize that this request is a bit

unusual, but I don’t want him to be left

alone for a moment. I have some digging to

do. Can you all get out here for a few

days? It shouldn’t take me long.”

“Sure, we’ll call you with all the flight

details, try to hop the next flight out, and

meet you at the airport. And, Scully, don’t

worry. Mulder’s a fighter. He’ll make it

through this.” Frohike’s voice pause for an

uncomfortable few seconds. “He knows you

love him too much to give up on him.”

“Thanks, Frohike, I…yeah. I’ll see you

soon.” Scully replaced the receiver in the

cradle and turned back to Mulder,

whispering, “I promise, I’m going to find

out what caused this and find a way to get

you well. I have to.” The silent tears,

which she had held in check last night,

pooled in the bottom of her lids before

splashing down on her cheeks like a

waterfall. Grasping his fingers, she laid

her hooded head against his hand and fell

asleep again, knowing how crucial the need

for rest was right now. She needed to be

able to concentrate fully. Scully had a

determined purpose ahead.

******

The phone woke Scully a couple of hours

later, and, as promised, Frohike called with

their flight itinerary. They were due to

arrive at 6 PM and would stay with Mulder as

long as Scully needed them there.

Unable to go back to sleep, she aimlessly

paced about Mulder’s hospital room for the

next 20 minutes. Dr. Lange entered the room

and was surprised to find that Scully had

spent the night in the chair by her

partner’s side.

“How’s he doing this morning?” He asked

Scully rhetorically as he placed the

stethoscope against Mulder’s chest,

listening for any wheezes and crackles in

his breathing.

“He seems to be doing a little better. The

nurses here are excellent and have cared for

him wonderfully.” She sighed and stared out

the window as Dr. Lange continued his

examination. He raised his eyebrows as he

straightened up and faced her.

“Well, the congestion does not seem to have

spread. Immunohistochemistry gave me the

results of his blood smears this morning.

They do indicate the presence of bacterial

toxin in his blood, although the level of

toxemia is not as pronounced as one might

expect, given the aggressiveness of this

strain. Hopefully, this pathogen won’t

throw us any more surprises.”

Scully nodded in somber agreement.

“Dr. Lange, I have some errands to run later

tonight, in case you would stop by to check

on my partner again. However, I have

some…colleagues who are coming to sit with

him. I have reason to believe this

infection might have been a deliberate act

against my partner. I have to check out all

of the possibilities.”

Scully smoothed down a small stubborn strand

of hair across Mulder’s forehead which

refused to lie against his forehead. In

spite of her request concerning Mulder’s

progress to Dr. Lange, it was as if she and

Mulder were the only two people in the room.

“I’ll make sure that Mister Mulder’s

visitors are directed through the process of

getting the proper security passes,” Lange

replied. “I would be happy to do that. For

the record, I’m very sorry about what has

happened to your partner. We are going to

do everything we can to help him. You just

hang in there. He needs you.”

Scully stared at Dr. Lange in surprise, and

a tiny grin escaped from his lips.

“Yes, Agent Scully. It’s very obvious how

much you care about your partner. I hope

you find out who did this, for his sake and

everyone’s.” After an awkward moment of

silence between them, he spoke again. “Now,

if you will excuse me, I have some more

patients to see this afternoon. I hope I’ll

see you again soon.” With that, the door

shut behind him and she was alone again.

A few hours later, her stomach started

growling and, she realized that she had not

eaten since yesterday morning. She looked

sadly down at Mulder. “I can’t leave this

room. There’s no one to sit with you.” She

was starting to feel irrationally guilty for

being so famished. Almost immediately, the

door opened and there stood Frohike, Langley

and Byers, all dressed in protective

equipment. Scully had to fight to suppress

laughter at Frohike’s rumpled, oversized

suit.

“The cavalry has arrived.” They each took a

spot around the bed to check out Mulder’s

injuries for themselves.

“How’s he doing?” Byers inquired. “Or maybe

the question I should be asking is how are

*you* doing? You look like you haven’t

slept in days, Dana. When was the last time

you had anything to eat?”

“I’m fine…I just need…I need to go do

some digging now. There is still time to

get where I need to go before it closes for

the day.”

“Anything we can help with, Scully? Langley

here brought the old laptop to keep himself

busy with Dungeons and Dragons.” Frohike

flexed his fingers and rolled his eyes at

Langley.

“Right now, no, but if I come up with

anything on this little visit I’m about to

make, you guys will be the first people I

call.” She gathered her purse and kissed

Mulder through her mask on the forehead.

“I’ll be back soon. I promise. I love

you.”

She nodded at the Gunmen and stepped into

the small prep room to shed her extra

protective layer of clothing. When she was

finished, she walked just around the corner,

leaned back against the wall, and sighed.

Scully regained her composure and took long

purposeful strides toward the front entrance

of the hospital. She was a woman on a

mission, and for Mulder’s sake, she had no

choice but to pursue it.

*******

Federal Building Plaza

Indianapolis, Indiana

The warm breeze drifted through the open

windows of the stale office. Sifting

through the piles of paperwork concerning

the recent “incident” that littered his

desk, Michelin sighed in disgust as he heard

a knock at the door.

“This had better be good,” he mumbled under

his breath. He opened the door and turned

away before noticing who stood before him.

“If you are a reporter, you can just go

away. I have nothing to say to you people.”

“No, I’m definitely not a reporter, but you

might be even less thrilled to see me,”

Scully said in a calm rage. Michelin froze

at the sound of her voice. “What’s the

matter, Michelin? Afraid to turn around and

face me? Have you done something you

shouldn’t have…again?”

“Ah, what a pleasure to see you again,

*Agent* Scully.” He walked back to his

desk, sat in his chair, and turned to face

her, his eyes straight ahead. His emphasis

on her title did not go unnoticed and even

proved to further infuriate her. “So to

what do I owe this visit?” he asked with a

forced smile.

“Come on, Michelin, don’t play the idiot

with me. As a liaison officer of Rousch

Pharmaceuticals, I know you are most

certainly aware of what occurred yesterday,

and as a result, Agent Mulder is currently

in the hospital. I want some damn answers,

and I want them *now*!” Scully said, first

pounding her fist on Michelin’s desk for

emphasis and then scattering his papers onto

the floor with a sweep of her hand. Her

face grew red as she continued to breathe

heavily across his desk.

The door to Michelin’s office opened and his

secretary stood in the doorway, obviously

frightened by the outburst. “Sir, do I need

to call security?”

Michelin answered her without looking in her

direction, never taking his eyes from

Scully’s. “No, Marlene. That won’t be

necessary. Agent Scully is just looking in

the wrong place for some information. I’ve

got everything under control. You can go

back to work.”

As soon as the door closed, Michelin arose

from his chair and walked around to the

front of his desk, standing in front of

Scully.

“Agent Scully, if I have happen across any

answers to yesterday’s dreadful occurrence,

I promise, you will be notified. I’m truly

sorry to hear about Mulder. He was a good

man. I trust you can show yourself out?”

With a wave of his hand, he dismissed her

and again walked behind his desk and began

signing papers. Speechless and shocked at

Michelin’s blatant brush-off, Scully traced

her previous steps back to the door and

seethed all the way to the parking lot,

where her rental car waited for her.

Suddenly, she remembered Michelin’s last

words. He had used past tense when

referring to Mulder. He obviously thought

Mulder was already dead. She pondered for a

short while what he could have possibly

meant by that comment before pulling out

onto the highway and heading toward the

hospital. However, no matter what he had

meant, Scully was absolutely certain that

Michelin had a hand in Mulder’s illness.

She also knew that, if anything happened to

Mulder, she would see Michelin pay.

******

Rousch Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Indianapolis, Indiana

Krycek paused and listened to the wind

whistling through the parking garage. His

narrowed gaze swept over the vast sea of

automobiles and onto the exit door. He

quickly crouched to the ground as he heard

voices approaching. He watched two shadows

as they continued to walk in the direction

of their vehicles, both oblivious of his

presence. Of course, it was the best

possible time to see what Michelin was up to

and to get the antidote…no one but the

inept night guard was around. It couldn’t

be easier he mused. Krycek had made quick

work of the guard at the main door.

Easing the door open and stepping through,

Krycek noticed a shaded light streaming from

the office at the end of the hall. Must be

the slime-ball working late, he thought to

himself. Krycek crouched down and peered

through the glass panels as he watched

Michelin furiously typing away at his

computer and slamming his fingers down on

the keys in apparent anger. After ten more

minutes of that treatment, Michelin stood,

ripped his suit jacket from the chair, and

shoved his arms into the sleeves before

walking toward the door. Krycek scurried

around the corner, watching as Michelin

closed his office door and entered the

waiting elevator.

Once the elevator doors were safely closed,

Krycek waited another five minutes to make

sure Michelin was really gone. He stepped

in front of Michelin’s office door, poised

to pick the lock, and twisted the handle

only to find the door unlocked. Krycek

walked around the corner of the desk and

pulled a blind slat up, watching Michelin

exit the parking garage in his automobile.

After a fruitless search through the entire

office, Krycek sat in the chair and sighed

in disgust. Rubbing his hands over his

face, he noticed a gleam beneath the front

side of the desk. He moved hand under the

shiny object. The tape ripped easily as he

fingered the key with a slight smile.

Krycek was staring thoughtfully at the key

in his hand, wondering what lock it belonged

to, when he noticed the safe in corner of

the room. “Well, let’s see here, Griffie.

What have you been hiding from the

unsuspecting public?” He turned the fit key

in the slot, opening the safe door to reveal

a stack of folded papers. Krycek unfolded

them and began trying to decipher the

scientific notations.

One of the pages contained a list of

virulence factors in one column, and

addition/deletion indictors next to each.

Another paper contained cost projections for

mass-production of an experimental vaccine.

As he shuffled through the small stack, the

next page gave Krycek pause. It contained

specifications of a genetically-engineered

strain of Y. pestis. The data table was

followed by a note indicating something

about induced suppression of lipofusion

abilities.

Even though he was not a scientist, after a

few short minutes, Krycek’s mind reeled at

the possibilities of the scope of this

project. Krycek felt sick at the

implication that Mulder’s illness had been a

product of greed. He wasn’t one to begrudge

anyone a creatively-gained profit, but

Michelin had picked the wrong test subject.

He again flipped through paper after paper

explaining in detail the exact formula

needed for this engineered biotoxin to be

unleashed and the only antidote which would

cure it. The location of the specimens was

listed on the last page. Krycek wiped his

prints from the safe door locked it. He also

wiped his prints from the bottom of the

desk.

Looking around the room to make sure no

stone had been left unturned, he pocketed

the papers, and walked down the hallway to

the other end. Just as the they had

revealed, there was a large steel door with

a number pad. Krycek shuffled through the

pages until he came to the one with the

correct code to the room. He took a latex

glove from his leather jacket pocket and put

it on his hand. He punched in the code, and

all of the indicators lit up green. A small

click could be heard, signaling that the

secure room had been unlatched.

Not bothering to suit up, Krycek felt the

coldness of the refrigerated room seep

through him as he went from one box to the

next, until he came upon one in the back of

the room labeled “7734”. He unlatched the

lid and inside, a glass tube with clear

liquid lay on a bed of velvet cloth. He

smiled as he pictured Michelin’s face when

he realized the antidote and the papers were

gone. Krycek closed the box again, picked

it up, and made his way out of the

refrigerated room…only to find himself

face to face with Michelin.

************

University Hospital

Scully awoke to a rushing sound. After a

few seconds, she figured out that it was not

just her ears ringing. It was the

respiratory therapist’s suction tube

clearing the excretions from Mulder’s lungs.

She groaned and sat up. Her arms were numb

from leaning on the bedrail.

Scully blinked slowly, watching the pink

liquid snake its way into the small

collection tank. Mulder was so pale, he

looked as if his skin had never seen the

sun. Dark circles shadowed his eyes, and

tiny flecks of blood dotted his upper lip

and nostrils. She looked down at Mulder’s

hand. His fingertips still carried a bluish

tinge. Certainly not a promising sign, she

thought. A nurse entered the room, taking

Mulder’s vitals and drawing a blood sample

while the RT packed up his equipment.

“Excuse me. What is the latest on his

condition?” Scully inquired of the nurse.

“The levels of LPS in his blood have

steadily increased in the last few hours,

and his fever has risen to 102.8, as the

antibiotics have started to work. We are

monitoring closely.”

“Thank you,” Scully said quietly. She knew

that Mulder was going the wrong direction.

The very drugs that were killing the

bacteria in his lungs were also causing them

to release even more of their toxic cell

wall components into his system. If he

didn’t start filtering the deadly

lipopolysaccharide out of his blood soon, he

would go into septic shock.

Scully felt herself go numb. It was a very

real possibility that she was not ready to

handle. As she watched, Mulder’s eyelids

fluttered briefly and his lips tightened

around the vent. The actions were barely

discernible, however. Scully had seen his

face twitch or his fingers bend slightly

from time to time, but so far, he was

largely non-responsive.

She did not like sitting idly by, watching

Mulder’s now ghostly form waste away. There

had to be something could do to help him.

She remembered a series of articles in one

of the journals she had reviewed in

preparation for the terrorism drill. It

dealt with emerging vaccines and treatments

for potential bioweapons. Perhaps one of

those articles might provide some feasible

solutions, not only for Mulder, but for

everyone involved. Scully felt a surge of

energy at the thought.

She squeezed his hand and ran her gloved

fingers through his hair.

“I’ll be right back, Mulder. I promise.”

Scully stood and hurried to the anteroom,

shedding her protective gear in record time.

She was fairly well-practiced by now. She

went first to the lobby, where she knew that

the Gunmen were waiting. Langley was the

only one she found, though. He was running

his laptop’s defragmenter program when

Scully approached him.

“What happened to the rest of the crew,

Langley?”

“Oh, they’re out trying to track down some

food.” He closed the laptop and looked up

at her with a very serious expression.

“How’s Mulder?”

Scully took a deep breath.

“He’s…still hanging in there. Look, I

left something at the hotel that I think

might be worthwhile to review. It shouldn’t

take long. Do you mind holding down the

fort here?”

“No problem.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back shortly.”

Langley smiled at her briefly. Scully could

not reciprocate. Instead, she patted him on

the shoulder as she walked by and headed

toward the parking garage.

******

“Going somewhere with that?” Michelin’s

glance at the locked antidote box did not go

unnoticed by Krycek. A loaded gun was

pointed at Krycek’s face with the hammer

cocked.

“Why don’t you just put that down on the

ground, walk out of here calmly, and we’ll

act like nothing ever happened.” Michelin

stated.

Placing the box on the ground away from his

feet, Krycek slowly straightened up and

surprised Michelin by throwing a blow to his

midsection. The gun was knocked away in the

skirmish as they wrestled with each other.

Krycek was knocked off balance, but managed

to recover and grab the gun just inches away

from Michelin’s hand. Standing on his feet,

Krycek kept the gun trained on Michelin as

he retrieved the antidote box. He began

backing out of the room slowly, but Michelin

bolted toward him. A loud vibrating bang

shook the hall as Krycek pulled the trigger,

hitting Michelin square between the eyes.

Michelin’s body slumped over and fell to the

floor, writhing for only a few seconds

before going limp.

Krycek checked Michelin’s pulse, assuring

himself that the man was dead. He pulled

Michelin’s heavy limbs up over his shoulder

and exited toward the parking garage

stairway. He dragged his victim to a van

that he’d planted the day before. Krycek

hefted Michelin’s body into the back of the

vehicle and went back into the building. He

found some bleach in the custodian’s closet

and cleaned up all evidence of the shooting,

taking care not to miss anything. Picking

up the antidote lock box, he walked toward

the van and drove out of the parking garage,

contemplating what his next actions would

be.

******

Undisclosed location

Krycek pulled the van off of the small

county at an unmarked intersection, checking

for onlookers before he followed a dirt path

into a small wood. Gravel crunched under the

tires as the van slowed to a stop, right in

front of a small lake. An empty car was

waiting there for him. Krycek got out of

the van and placed the antidote inside the

car. He then pulled a tank of acetone from

the side panel door. Krycek had been

pleased when he had thought of acetone in

place of gasoline. It would dissolve in the

water, should the van ever be found, though

he didn’t think that was likely.

Krycek set about his task and poured the

acetone in and on the van. He lit a match

and tossed it inside the vehicle. He

immediately ran for cover behind some heavy

brush as high, hot flames erupted within

milliseconds.

After sitting for over an hour, Krycek grew

tired of waiting. He was becoming fidgety

when he observed an explosion. The flames

had finally found the gasoline tank. The

fire flared then slowly burned out.

Donning a pair of heat-insulated gloves, he

reached into the van, placed it in neutral

gear, and braced against the gravel. When

it had gained enough momentum, he backed

away. The van rolled easily down the steep

bank and into deep. Air bubbled up for

several minutes. When they eventually

stopped, Krycek’s thoughts turned to

repairing the damage Michelin had caused.

******

Holiday Inn Express

Indianapolis, Indiana

Krycek left Scully’s room just in time,

slinking around the corner of the entrance,

awaiting her arrival. He smirked as he

heard her mumbling about Michelin and how

sorry he would be if she had anything to do

with it.

Scully slung her keys against the wall of

her motel room in disgust. She had been

contemplating her conversation with Michelin

on the way to the hotel. The more she

thought about it, the more suspicious his

aggressive avoidance tactics seemed.

“The gall of that man, brushing me off like

that! Well, I am damned well going to get

some answers, even if I have to bang heads

all the way up to the president of the

Rousch.” She shut the door and paced angrily

around the room, mulling over her next

course of action. The shrill ring of the

phone interrupted her.

After Krycek was sure she was going to stay

in the room, he slinked his way to the

partially curtained window and stared at her

every movement. Her voice was muffled but

still audible.

“Hello?” she huffed.

“Hi, Frohike. Sorry about that. Yeah, I’m

fine…”

Krycek watched as she picked up a folder

from the dresser.

“So, what’s the latest?” Scully inquired in

a hushed tone. She kept her eyes cast

downward.

“Yes. I was afraid of that…”

A pause.

“They told me his fever was holding steady.

Hematuria? Well, that means his kidneys are

being damaged…” Her voice cracked before

she could finish.

“Yes. I’ll be there as soon as I can.

Should he happen to wake up, I want to be

the first person he sees. Thanks, Frohike.”

The last two words were shaky. Scully hung

up the phone and stood completely still for

a minute. Krycek felt his heart pound at

witnessing this rare moment of her

vulnerability. He began to sweat, feeling

uncomfortable and incredibly lucky at the

same time.

Scully sat on the bed slowly, her absent

gaze focused on nothing. She looked down

toward her shoes, her red-rimmed eyes

pooling deep. An unusual shape caught her

attention from the edge of her field of

vision. A long, slender black object

protruded from underneath her pillow.

Intrigued, she leaned over to pick it up,

noticing a bright yellow sticker that said

“7734 ANTIDOTE” on the front. She went to

her briefcase, pulled out a pair of latex

gloves, and snapped them on.

Uncertain as to the contents of the

container, Scully lifted it carefully onto

the desk. She spotted an envelope taped to

the lid. She suddenly felt uneasy, knowing

that someone had broken into her room.

Abandoning the box, she moved to the window

and pulled the curtains back, staring out

into the fading evening sunlight. Krycek

ducked down as far as he could behind the

bushes in front of the window so she would

not see him.

Shaking her head, Scully turned back toward

the box and opened the envelope, which

contained a key to the box in front of her.

Slowly, she turned the lock and found a

typed note lying on top of a clear liquid-

filled vial which said, “For Mulder.” She

dropped the paper in surprise and picked up

the syringe, staring at it in amazement.

She only hoped she wasn’t too late. She

scrambled out the door, unknowingly striding

past Krycek on her way to her rental car.

He stayed hidden until her car was out of

site. After witnessing the effects of

Mulder’s illness on Scully, Krycek was

tempted to risk his own cover to dig further

into Michelin’s records. However, he could

not afford to. Krycek stood motionless in

the falling darkness. He knew that he had

done all he could for the time being. The

rest was now up to Mulder.

******

Rousch Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Hans Gregor shook his head in disbelief.

Michelin was more conniving than he had

given him credit for. Gregor surveyed the

neat, organized, and notably empty room. It

was suspicious when Michelin did not show up

for his nightly meeting, but now the

evidence of Michelin’s backstabbing was

right in front of him. The deserter. He

was probably in Mexico by now.

Gregor allowed himself a few minutes for

self-pity. He had been a fool to trust

Michelin, he thought. An absolute moron.

Stacks of unfinished government and media

inquiries sat atop the absent man’s desk.

Gregor had first checked on the engineered

antidote for his own peace of mind, finding

only an empty slot where the product of

years of hard work and investment had been

sitting only hours earlier.

He heard that an FBI agent had visited

Michelin earlier. Whatever she said must

have been sufficient to scare him strait

into hiding, Gregor mused, sitting in

Michelin’s vacant chair. He sighed,

reminding himself that all was not lost.

There was more of the antidote at the Kansas

City lab. The project was not

destroyed…it was merely delayed.

It was an extremely costly delay, however.

Gregor picked up Michelin’s desk phone and

punched in the number for the State Police.

The sooner he reported the theft of valuable

research material, the sooner he could

transfer all of the blame to good old

Griffith.

******

Scully rushed into Mulder’s room

breathlessly, her Tyvek apron rustling over

her clothes. The Gunmen were sitting in

three chairs on the far side of the bed, all

propped up against the wall and fast asleep.

Scully shook Byers’ shoulder with a gloved

hand. His startled jump awakened his

comrades immediately.

“Hey, guys. I have some good news! I’ve

found what appears to be the antidote for

Mulder’s infection. They’re running tests

on it right now, to ensure safety, but it

appears to be legitimate. The hospital has

been given permission to administer it.”

“Good deal,” Frohike said, his eyebrows

raised.

“The cure for the common plague,” Langley

intoned.

“Excellent news.” Byers smiled up at her.

“But where exactly did it come from?”

“That’s the big mystery. Someone broke into

my hotel room and left it there.” Scully

looked over at Mulder and back to Byers. “I

brought back the article I told you about.

It lists all of the labs currently doing

research on Class A microbes. One of the

labs, Rousch, was a participant in the

drill.”

“Interesting,” Byers stated. “The doctor

came in here and told us that the strain in

Mulder’s system matched a previously known

form in the WHO database. It was one of the

weaponized strains created by the USSR

during the Cold War. They concluded that a

very sophisticated lab has altered it,

though, made it more aggressive.”

“Well, if that antidote works, then they

also added an Achilles heel.” Scully chewed

on her lower lip, deep in thought.

The anteroom doors swung open, admitting Dr.

Lange. He held a capped syringe. Scully

walked over to Mulder, reflexively taking

his hand in her own. She immediately felt

his fevered heat through her gloves, and she

noticed that his urine collection bag held

conspicuously pink fluid.

“We’re going to give it a try.” Lange

stated. “The solution appears to be

designed to inhibit bacterial outer membrane

fusion with phagocytic endosomes, thus

rendering the bacteria vulnerable to

digestion. If this works, we should

probably see a marked improvement in the

next few hours.”

Scully nodded, noting that Lange had left

the alternative unsaid. But the injection

had to work. It was the last option.

Scully watched with anticipations as he

uncapped the syringe and sank the needle

into Mulder’s IV port. She whispered a

quick prayer as the thick liquid traveled

through the tubing into Mulder’s arm.

******

Scully continued her vigil late into the

night, through yet another shift of nurses

and technicians. She even took her turn

trying to beat Frohike’s top score on

Langley’s game. She failed miserably, but

it kept her awake, at least. She was busy

telling the Gunmen about some of the

peculiar domestic quirks of Mulder’s that

she had only discovered recently, when she

felt his hand jerk beneath hers.

That got her attention, and she turned to

see his eyes fluttering open. This time,

rather than becoming still again, he slowly

rocked his head back and forth. He was

trying to get away from the ventilator. His

fingers continued to twitch as he fought for

consciousness. Scully noted that his skin

was beading with sweat and felt cooler than

it had only a couple of hours ago. She also

glanced at his urine collection bag. The

fluid appeared a normal color, no longer

exhibiting the pink tinge of blood. Mulder’s

hand twitched again.

“Guys, I think he’s trying to come around.”

The Gunmen approached while she pushed the

call button. Mulder rolled his head from

side to side and began to pull at his

restraints. He tried to say something, but

it only came out as a clicking sound around

the ventilator.

“Shhh,” Scully tried to calm him, stroking

the side of his face with her fingertips

through the glove. “Try to relax, Mulder.

Save your strength.”

The Gunmen looked at each other in turn,

amazed at the effect her voice had on

Mulder. His struggles lessened gradually

until he lay still, his expression pinched

into a frown. He tried to cough, but he was

hampered by the vent. The gurgling in his

lungs was audible. Scully squeezed his hand

as a sign of encouragement, and Mulder

attempted to pry his eyes open again. Soon,

his gaze swept the room until he found

Scully. She saw fear there, but not panic.

His expression relaxed when she smiled at

him.

“Welcome back, Mulder,” Frohike offered with

enthusiasm.

Mulder turned his attention toward Frohike’s

voice, and his eyebrows furrowed. Scully

had to suppress a giggle at Mulder’s

confounded reaction to the Gunmen’s

presence. A nurse entered the room then,

covered head to foot with protective wear,

and gasped with pleasant surprise upon

seeing that her patient conscious.

“When did he wake up?” she asked as she

began taking Mulder’s vitals.

“Sleeping Beauty rejoined us just a minute

ago,” Frohike replied, a gleam in his eye.

Langley elbowed him, and Frohike grunted,

shooting him dirty look in retribution.

“Behave, you two,” Scully warned in a

matronly voice.

The nurse removed an aural thermometer from

Mulder’s ear and read the display.

“He’s down to 101 already. Remarkable.”

She paged the doctor on the room phone and

took Mulder’s blood pressure. Lange entered

the room before she was finished. The

Gunmen backed up, making room for the

physician.

“His BP is normal, Doctor Lange.

Temperature is finally decreasing.”

“Thank you. I’ll take it from here.” The

nurse entered her findings on Mulder’s chart

and left the room. Lange smiled upon

discovering that Mulder was watching him, a

hint of suspicion in his eyes. “Just relax,

Mr. Mulder. I’m going to listen to your

lungs.”

He adjusted the earpieces of the room’s

dedicated stethescope and slide the tympanic

piece under the wide neck of his patient’s

hospital gown. Mulder flinched upon contact

of the cold surface with his fevered skin.

Everyone waited quietly while Lange listened

to various points of Mulder’s chest. After

a few moments, he straightened up and

removed the earpieces from his ears,

directing his attention toward Scully.

“Well, it sounds like the congestion in his

lungs may have diminished slightly. It

certainly doesn’t sound any worse. Our

mystery cure seems to be working, although

it won’t remain a mystery for long. We are

working on a detailed analysis right now.”

He addressed the rest of his words to

Mulder.

“You have respiratory therapy scheduled in

just a few minutes, so I’ll be back

afterwards and see how you feel then.

Okay?”

Mulder nodded, indicating that he

understood. Lange gave him one last

reserved but triumphant grin and left the

room. As soon as the door shut behind him,

Mulder began to stare at Scully, patting his

right hand against the mattress. She looked

at him, puzzled at his behavior. Mulder

moaned and guided her gaze down to his hand,

which was now making a side-to-side

scratching motion.

“John, would you hand me that notepad and

pen off of the table? I think he wants to

write something.”

Mulder nodded. Byers retrieved the

materials and handed them to Scully. She

placed the notepad under Mulder’s hand and

carefully positioned the pen in his grip,

wrapping her hands around his to help him

hold the implement. He began to write

slowly. Scully could feel his hand tremble

with the effort. Finally, he stopped, and

she lifted the notepad. The shaky lines

scrawled on the paper were nearly

indecipherable, but once Scully recognized

the “M” at the beginning, she saw the rest

of the word.

“Michelin?” She looked at Mulder

questioningly.

He nodded, a deadly somber look on his face.

Scully immediately grabbed the room phone

and dialed an outside line. After it rang

through, she gave her name and badge number

and asked to speak to the supervising agent

of the FBI task force assigned to

investigate the events surrounding Mulder’s

illness.

“Sir? Yes. This is Agent Dana Scully. I’m

with Agent Mulder. He’s awake now, and he

has identified a party involved in infecting

him with the organism. Griffith Michelin.

He…”

Scully’s left eyebrow ascended her forehead

as she awaited another chance to speak. The

long pause made the Gunmen curious, and they

all leaned forward in hopes of listening in

on the conversation.

“I see. Yes, I understand. I will let you

as soon as any more information becomes

available. Thank you, Sir. Goodbye.”

Scully hung up the phone with a frown on her

face. She glanced down at Mulder and turned

to the Gunmen.

“Michelin was reported missing by his

supervisor at Rousch earlier today. He did

not show up for a meeting. There is no one

at his listed residence, and they said some

items were stolen from his office.”

“Are they suspecting foul play?” Byers

questioned reflexively.

“It doesn’t sound like it, although they are

checking every possibility. Apparently,

various data sheets and reports concerning

the company’s work on a new plague vaccine

were among the items taken. The only

fingerprints they found were Michelin’s.

“Think he’s trying to leave the country?”

Langley asked with disgust.

“That would be my guess. That vaccine could

be a very valuable haggling tool for him

overseas. I wouldn’t put it past him.”

“This sort of thing could create a panic…”

Byers stated absently. “I understand why

they put us under a gag order, but this all

seems too convenient to me.” He lifted

Mulder’s chart from the foot of his bed and

flipped through the pages. “Well, what’s

important is that they find Michelin. He

could still have possession of a Class A

bioweapon, for all anyone knows.”

Scully sighed, feeling overwhelmed by the

compounding circumstances. She noticed that

Mulder’s eyes had drifted shut once again.

The respiratory therapist pushed his suction

equipment through the anteroom door, so

Scully gave Mulder’s hand one last squeeze

before releasing it. She got up and headed

toward the lobby to give the technician more

room, three vinyl-clad Lone Gunmen in tow.

***EPILOGUE***

Scully was sore. Very, very sore. She

opened her eyes to find that she’d fallen

asleep on a row of the hospital lobby

chairs. Langley sat next to her, once again

absorbed in a video game on his laptop. She

could not help but notice that her three

Gunmen had dwindled down to one.

“What time is it?” she asked in a groggy

voice.

“Oh, hey!” he said by way of greeting as he

paused his game. “It’s, uh…9:30 in the

morning.”

“Why didn’t you guys wake me? I certainly

didn’t mean to fall asleep while waiting for

the doctor to come back…”

He grinned at her, causing his black-rimmed

glasses to rise on his face.

“You looked beat Scully. Uh… N-no

offense,” he stuttered when Scully shot him

the eyebrow. “Mulder was sleeping most of

the time, anyway. The nurses say he’s still

improving. The docter even said that he

might get discharged in as few as three

days, if all goes well. I guess they have

to keep him for observation for 72 hours.”

He shrugged.

“Yeah. That’s standard,” Scully stated as

she sat up and yawned, absorbing the good

news. “Any word on Michelin?”

“Nadda. He’s not even on the local news.

According to the public reports, everything

is going just swell.” Sarcasm dripped from

Langley’s voice.

Scully rolled her eyes.

“So, an anonymous person provides a miracle

cure, so no harm, no foul? They must really

not have a clue where to look.” Scully

stood and straightened her suit jacket.

“I’m going to go see Mulder. Care to join

me?”

“Sure.”

Langley turned off his computer and followed

her to the isolation ward. They both suited

up and went in Mulder’s room. Byers and

Frohike were already at Mulder’s side.

Scully took one look at the man in the bed

and turned on Langley. A broad grin lit her

face.

“Why didn’t you tell me he was taken off the

vent?”

“Well… You didn’t ask.” He tried to look

innocent in spite of his surgical mask.

“Mulder, have you those two been keeping you

in line, or is it the other way around?”

Scully leaned over, placed one gloved hand

against the side of his face, and gave him a

kiss on the cheek through her mask.

When she pulled away, some of the weariness

had melted from his features. His pallor

was slowly being replaced by a healthy pink.

“Hey, Scully,” Mulder whispered, his voice

raspy. “I’m a free man now.” He gave her a

weak smile and lifted his hands to

demonstrate. His restraints had been

removed.

“You’re an amazing man, Mulder, and if you

can behave for three more days, we might

even think about busting you out of here.”

Byers got up and stood next to Scully.

“The respiratory therapist said that he’s

doing remarkably well. The bacteria in his

lungs seem to have completely stopped

growing. In fact, they’ve already been able

to suction out the majority of it. They’re

not anticipating any significant amount of

permanent damage.”

Scully surprised Byers by turning and

hugging him. Their Tyvek aprons crinkled

between them. Byers noted Frohike shaking

his head in disapproval. Byers tried to

copy the expression of innocence that

Langley had just used. It did not work that

time, either.

“Thanks, guys,” she said after turning to

face all of them. “Your help has meant a

lot to me. If I can ever repay you…”

“Eh, don’t worry about it, Scully,” Langley

insisted. “I’m just here to make sure that

Mulder doesn’t skip out on his tab. He

still owes me two cheesesteaks for my

playoff brackets.”

Mulder laughed silently in his bed,

simultaneously wincing at the pain in his

tender diaphragm. Scully blanched and shook

her head at Langley’s statement.

“What? Autopsies don’t phase you, but

cheesesteaks *do*?” Langley teased.

“Do you know what is in those things,

Langley…?” Scully asked incredulously.

He stopped to consider his answer.

“Well, no, but…”

Byers stepped in to stop a debate in the

making.

“All this talk of food is making me hungry.

Why don’t we go grab some breakfast?” He

addressed his question to Frohike and

Langley. “Scully, what can we get you?”

“I’ll just take an apple and some coffee.

Thanks.”

“No problem. Anything for our little lady,”

Frohike called on his way out the door.

Scully stuck her tongue out at him, even

though his back was turned. Mulder shook

his bed with laughter.

“You know how to pick ’em, don’t you,

Mulder.”

He nodded in agreement and reached up with

one hand to touch her arm, urging her to sit

down. His expression became more serious.

“Thank you.” His voice was still rough from

the ventilator. “Thanks for being here.”

“Anything for my partner.”

Mulder’s eyes lit up at that statement.

“*Anything*?”

He sounded hopeful. Squeaky, but hopeful.

Scully laughed.

“One thing at a time, Mulder.”

He glanced at the newspaper lying on the

bedside table.

“Any news on Michelin?”

“No. They haven’t turned up any leads yet,”

Scully replied softly.

“He screwed up. Someone gave you that

antidote because he screwed up.” Mulder

looked up at Scully in sudden astonishment.

“Someone who actually didn’t want me dead!

That’s a switch.” He wore a rather smug

expression on his face.

“Well, that makes two of us. You got into

your part way, way too much, Mulder. Please

don’t do that again.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

The corners of his mouth tugged upwards. He

couldn’t resist the urge to do one last

impression, especially since his dry voice

would make it sound more authentic.

“I feel happy! I feel happy!”

Scully rolled her eyes.

******

Rousch Pharmaceuticals

Hans Gregor hung up the phone and leaned

back in his chair, contemplating. The

government seemed to be accepting his

explanation of Michelin’s disappearance, in

light of their lack of evidence to the

contrary. Gregor had no idea how Michelin

had managed to gather all of the information

that was stolen taken without someone

noticing.

Gregor placed his hand on the phone’s

receiver again, unsure of whether or not to

make the next call. He was not longer

particularly concerned with Michelin.

Wherever he was, the copy of the genetic

engineering notes he had was incomplete. He

had taken a preliminary trial copy, not the

blueprint for the final product. Even Agent

Mulder’s survival, although disappointing,

was not the most urgent matter. Gregor had

more pressing issues weighing on his mind.

First and foremost was the government’s

rejection of the plague vaccine, in spite of

the demonstration of the infamous disease as

a viable and real threat. Tens of millions

of dollars and several years had been poured

into its development, and Gregor could not

afford to let that go for naught. His very

livelihood depended on it. The only other

option he could see was to make a profit on

its sister project. His hand flexed and

opened repeatedly over the phone in

apprehension. Finally, he lifted the

receiver and punched in the digits on his

secure line.

“This is Gregor. With Rousch, yes. I’d

like to authorize the auction, $120 million

minimum.” He paused. “I’ll be using the

account already established.” He closed his

eyes and drew a shaky breath. “Thank you.

Just list the item as ‘7734’.”

</i>

The Y Folders

cover

Title: The Y Folders

Author: Vickie Moseley (story concept with Susan Proto)

Summary: A television producer disappears under mysterious circumstances. Must be a Y Folder.

Written for Virtual Season 11

Category: MSR, H

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. Any characters who resemble real people are purely coincidental (I saw that on Comedy Central).

Archive: Two weeks exclusive on VS 11, then anywhere.

Dedicated to my ET, who helped me come up with this crazed idea. If it didn’t work out, it sure wasn’t from the concept.

Additional note: This is a work of fiction and an attempt at humor. It is not a social commentary on any events or situations that have taken place in the last few years. Please take this episode of the Virtual Season in the spirit in which it is offered: with love and affection. And if I haven’t scared you off by now, on with the show . . .

 

clip_image002

Teaser

Emerald Bay State Park

California

April 2, 2004

The location was perfect, none better could be found. Pine trees, soaring to the clouds sixty to seventy feet in the sky looked like the spires of some green and black cathedral. The lake, so blue it looked artificially colored, reflected the sky and the snow peaked mountains on all sides. When the sunset behind those mountains, it was glorious. Of all the places he’d been to in the last three days, this was perfection. It was exactly what he wanted. His boyish good looks, dark flowing hair, dimpled chin and deep chocolate eyes took on a radiance of someone who had found his heart’s desire, all in one little plot of mountaintop.

Bill Burger prided himself on knowing what he wanted and getting it, at least most of the time. He had gone from rags to riches, a real god honest Horatio Alger story, or at least that’s what that bullshit artist at Entertainment Weekly had dubbed him. Bill had meant to ask what the asshole had meant by that statement, but he never got the time. It seemed his time just wasn’t his own anymore. Hell, even this, a location search, was a cover for what he really intended — a few hours on the slopes at nearby Tahoe, hot-dogging for all the babes in their fur and down jackets. Skiing, that had been his life until he found fame and fortune in LaLa Land. He’d go back to that passion in a heartbeat, if he could pull down 2 million bucks a year, as he was currently doing. Too bad skiing just didn’t make the big money that television provided.

It was as big a surprise to him as it was to the network jerks when the first pilot he pitched captured a consistent top twenty spot in the Nielsens after two short years on the air. It had become the networks anchor for the weekend schedule and had managed to add several dozen independent stations as affiliates just to get the feed.

All that from the simple retelling of old Native American ghost stories and UFO conspiracy tidbits he’d copped from the Fortean Times website. Not for the first time he smiled to himself over the utter gullibility of the American viewing public. Was this a great country or what?

It was a good show, but in the middle of it’s seventh year it was starting to show some strain. The lead actor started making noises about his ‘on hold’ movie career and the leading lady was whining about money all the time. Then the competition for their nearly uncontested prime Saturday night time slot heated up with some rip off of an old radio game show. It had been a lousy year and the show needed a shot in the arm desperately. Hell, he had to be honest with himself, he needed the show to have a shot in the arm. All the other pilots he’d pitched to the network’s new programming honcho had ended up in the circular file. When this show’s run was over, he was back to slopes, but not in a good way–he’d be penniless.

Burger sighed and walked off a piece of land right near the base of the pine trees. There was even enough room for the flood lights, the camera dolleys, the trailers — well, the two actors trailers, everyone else would have to make due at the inn ten miles down the road. He could set up the camera dolleys there, near the trees.

The lights, if they shot at night . . . what was he thinking, they always shot at night! Maybe it should be raining. Was there enough room for the hoses for a light mist?

He chuckled as he thought about the fuss the female lead would put up when she found out they’d be shooting another episode in the rain. Screw her, hell, screw both of them. They were getting paid enough. Too much, if the money guys from the network were to be believed. Neither one of the leads had been more than beer and toilet paper commercial actors before they’d started this series. If the series went under, Bill was pretty sure that was where they’d both end up, too. “Star power, my ass,” he muttered to the trees as he mentally did the calculations to place the hoses and the water trucks. All that equipment was going to tear the hell out of this little campsite, but who really gave a rat’s ass? The production company was paying the state of California prime rent for this property. More than enough to replant a few trees and toss some grass seed on the ground. Good thing the network and Governor ‘Arnold’ were on such good terms.

He stood near the trees and watched as the sun sank below the ridge of the mountain. Picturesque, that was it. Just like a postcard. The powder on those mountains would only be good for another couple of weeks before the run off ruined the runs. Damn spring and summer. Who needed ’em?

He was so deep in thought he didn’t hear the hum in the air. It wasn’t until the brilliant white light hit him that he looked up.

What the hell? Where the hell was that light coming from? It was huge! He blinked his eyes shut to keep his retinas from being burned to a crisp. The hum was louder now and the wind picked up. The sun was below the horizon but it was bright as day around him, no — much brighter than day. The ground seemed to be vibrating. Holy shit, what was that sound?

Something hit him in the back of his neck and he swatted at it. Suddenly, the ground was no longer just vibrating, it was moving. No, he was moving. He was sinking to the ground, falling. He tried to move his arms, but they hung lifeless at his sides. He tried to pry his eyes open, but the blinding light kept them sealed shut. He tried to open his mouth but it was as if his lips were stuck, he couldn’t even scream.

His last thought, as darkness overtook him, was to reflect on what a friggin’ wonderful visual this all would have made for the season finale.

The Y Folders

by Vickie Moseley and Susan Proto

Act I

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Scully, would I kid about this? It’s almost too good to be true! But I heard it from Henderson in Handwriting. It all came down late yesterday.”

Scully blew a breath that lifted her bangs from her forehead and neatly placed them to the side of her face, a trick that never failed to make Mulder immediately five degrees warmer. “I just . . . I mean after all the grief he caused . . .”

“I know. Who would have thought that Alvin Kersh, Pain the In Ass Extraordinaire, has been playing footsie with the mob!” Mulder crowed, and tossed a sunflower seed into the air to catch it on his tongue.

“This all came out in Michelin’s trial?” Scully asked, as she closed the file drawer and moved over to perch on the edge of Mulder’s desk. She patently ignored her partner’s keenly leering gaze and his hand on her knee. He did it just to see her reaction and she’d discovered that reacting only made him do it more, something she didn’t find acceptable in the workplace.

“Best part is the end, Scully. Alvin is officially ‘terminated’. Out on his ass, no chance of reinstatement.” He looked wistfully at her. “And here I thought they came up with that punishment just for the likes of little old me.”

“Mulder, this is like . . . it’s like winning the Pick Four on the lottery!”

“My thoughts exactly. Which is why I thought we’d sneak out a little early tonight, change into some glad rags and hit that really nice place up Rockville Pike. The one that serves fresh lobster,” he said with a grin.

She looked at him, letting him think she was about to shoot him down. But the twinkle in her eyes gave her away. “You’re on,” she said in a rush. “And what is this ‘glad rags’? You’ve been watching ‘I love the 80s’ behind my back again?”

“Hey, you’re the one who had to go shopping with your mom. Don’t blame me if I got bored and had to entertain myself,” he grinned. She rewarded his boyish enthusiasm by ruffling his hair and then combing it straight with her fingers. Before he could take their playfulness too far, she hopped off the desk and wandered over to her own. She had to suppress a smile when she heard Mulder start humming ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.’ The phone interrupted his one-man performance.

“Mulder. Yes ma’am.” He winced and glanced down at his watch. He scowled and wrinkled his nose. “Ten minutes, your office. Yes ma’am, we’ll be there.” He hung up the phone with exaggerated care, obviously trying to control some deep-seated rage within. “Scully, when is Skinner due back from that Task Force he’s on?” he asked quietly.

“I talked with him yesterday afternoon, he needed something from an old casefile. It’s a serial killer, Mulder. You know how long they could be working this case. He could be in Florida a few more weeks. Why?”

“Because I’m pretty sure that strangling an Assistant Director of the FBI with her own phone cord is a capital offense, and the threat of lethal injection is the only thing stopping me from going upstairs and offing that bitch!” he seethed. At her confused look, he elaborated. “The bitch in question is Janna Cassidy. Ring any bells?”

Scully couldn’t help but wince, too. She remembered all too well sitting in front of Janna Cassidy and her Spanish Inquisition into the X Files some 6 years before. “So, I guess that was Assistant Director Cassidy on the phone.”

“With Skinner away on the Florida Task Force and Kersh out the door, I guess that leaves us without a ‘master’.”

“Hey, does that make us ‘ronin’?” Scully teased.

“It’s not funny,” he shot back. “Ever since she was instrumental on the panel investigating the events of the Dallas bombing years ago, that bitch has had it out for us. Now, apparently, we’re to report to her until Skinner is back.”

Scully’s eyes widened in shock. “Mulder, she wouldn’t try to shut us down . . .”

“I’m pretty sure we’re on firm ground again, Scully, but I would not put anything past that dragon lady. Geez, we get rid of one pain in the ass and another pops up! So much for cutting out early,” he said with a sigh.

“Did she say what it’s about?”

“Maybe the Bureau is throwing a ‘we got rid of Kersh’ party and we’re in charge of refreshments,” he offered sarcastically.

“Or, maybe she has a case,” she countered. “We’ve been doing paperwork since Skinner left last week. Maybe something has come up for us.”

“If it’s coming from Cassidy, I’m not too sure we want it,” Mulder said, no happier at the thought of a new case than at the thought of a chewing out. “Knowing her, it will be a real winner. And it’s for damn sure we won’t be going to Hawaii, again,” he snorted as he rolled down his shirtsleeves and pulled on his jacket.

“As long as it’s not Texas during tornado season, I’m fine with it,” she told him as she followed him out the door.

“Admit it, Scully. You thought that deputy was hot,” he teased as they waited for the elevator.

“I think Dexter might have caused some brain damage, Mulder. Maybe we should stop by the hospital on the way home and run a CT scan on you,” she deadpanned back. As the doors opened and they stepped inside the car she stared straight ahead but added, “besides, I wasn’t the one to go 3 rounds with Chicken of the Sea.”

“Ouch, Scully. That hurt,” he replied in mock petulance. Cassidy’s office was just across the hall from Skinner’s. Mulder and Scully were surprised to see Kim, Skinner’s administrative assistant at the desk outside her office. “It’s just till AD Skinner is back in DC,” she assured the two agents. “I’m filling in while Marilyn’s on maternity leave. AD Cassidy is waiting for you. Go right in,” she said with a wink.

“Is this a good or a bad thing?” Mulder asked as they walked past her desk.

“If I knew that, Agent Mulder, I’d start playing the lottery numbers. I did put through a call from the Director’s office about 20 minutes ago, if that helps”

“Is this floor too high up to jump out the window and make an escape?” Mulder whispered to Scully as she reached for the knob on Cassidy’s office door.

“If it’s that bad, we can resign and work at the Starbucks down on 20th and M,” Scully whispered back.

“Think she’ll give us a good recommendation?” was Mulder’s quick reply.

“I doubt that entirely,” Scully shot back.

Cassidy’s office was set up almost exactly like Skinner’s, even down to the desk blotter. Mulder nodded to the two chairs in front of the desk and Scully took one seat, he took the other.

“Agents. Thank you for coming up on such short notice,” Janna Cassidy said, looking exactly as she had at their last encounter, six years ago.

The memory of their argument that day, over whether Scully had torpedoed Mulder’s explanation of events in Antarctica was something neither partner wanted to revisit. Scully shot Mulder a glance and he gave her the ghost of a smile before turning on his ‘professional G-Man’ persona and giving his full attention to the Assistant Director.

“Is that a case, AD Cassidy?” Mulder asked, noting that she had a file folder open on her desk and kept sweeping her gaze over it.

“This isn’t just a case, Agent Mulder. This is an opportunity,” Cassidy intoned as she pushed a file folder across the desk in Mulder’s general direction. Mulder picked it up and skimmed the contents.

“This is a missing person’s case. And not even an old one. This man disappeared only,” he glanced quickly at his watch, “a little over 36 hours ago, according to this report.”

“Time is of the essence, Agent Mulder. Did you see who the missing person is?”

“William Andrew Burger, 426 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California,” Mulder read from the file.

“That name doesn’t ring any bells?” Cassidy asked, looking first at Mulder and then hopefully at Scully. “You don’t watch television on Saturday nights?”

Scully had the good grace to blush, but Mulder stormed a little at the inference. “Ma’am, if you check the records, most Saturday nights we’re either on a case or writing up a report for a case.”

“Or at the hospital recovering from a case,” Scully muttered and Mulder shot her a glare for her efforts.

“We don’t get a lot of time to watch network television.”

“If it ain’t the Knicks, the Yankees, or the Redskins, we don’t see it,” Scully mumbled.

Mulder glared at her again, and turned back to Cassidy. “Sorry, ma’am, the name doesn’t mean anything to us. Should it?”

Cassidy frowned slightly and shook her head. “Well, it should. But it doesn’t really matter. He’s the creator and executive producer of the hit show ‘The Y Folders’ on the SPAN network.”

Scully looked up. “SPAN is the newest challenger to the four major networks, isn’t it, ma’am?”

“Yes, Scully, glad to see one of you is up to date,” Cassidy smiled broadly at her. Mulder raised an eyebrow in a ‘so what?’ expression. “SPAN is hot on the heels of CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX and is picking up new affiliates every day. Mr. Burger’s show is largely responsible for their success.”

“So why are we getting this case, ma’am?” Mulder interrupted.

“This is obviously a missing person’s case.” A horrible thought suddenly cross his mind. “It isn’t because of that awful zombie movie, is it?” he blurted out.

Cassidy looked confused at his outburst but shook her head. “No, Agent Mulder. The reason I decided to give this file to your division is because of the nature of the disappearance. Read the file. This is not your simple missing person’s case. I expect you to treat this just as seriously as you would any other X file. A representative of the studio is flying out to speak with you this evening. He’ll be coming here, to the office. Tomorrow you can fly back with him to California and look at the scene. Be sure to follow the new procedures for air travel. Kim can help you make your arrangements. I want daily reports on this case, Agent Mulder. Give it your full attention until this man is found and returned to his studio safe and sound.”

“Ma’am, you said this isn’t a case, it’s an opportunity?” Scully interjected, partly to save her partner a further ass chewing.

“Yes, Agent Scully, that is exactly what it is. This is an opportunity to foster good will between the Bureau and a major television network. Believe me, with the recent high profile court case connecting a senior special agent and an assistant director in cahoots with organized crime, the FBI can use all the friends in the media we can get. SPAN is not only rivaling the major four, but its spin off, SPANews, is giving CNN and FOXnews a run for their money. Free positive press is priceless. Now, I suggest you get started on this case.”

Scully stood, Mulder started to say something but thought better of it and instead rose to join her at the door. Without another word, they departed the assistant director’s office.

At the elevator again, Mulder turned to Scully, rubbing his forehead. “When did you say Skinner was coming back from Florida and can how I get a strange, exotic illness that will last exactly the same length of time?”

“Look at it this way, Mulder. She gave us this case. We didn’t dream it up and send it through on a 302. It’s a win-win. If we find this Burger guy, the Bureau gets the good press and maybe we earn some much needed brownie points.”

“And what if he really was abducted, Scully? What kind of points will we be getting then?” he shot back. “I’ll tell you — not the good kind!”

“It’s a case, Mulder. A famous man has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.”

“And that makes this a federal case?” Mulder squeaked.

“Well, we do handle missing persons,” Scully reasoned.

“Scully, this bozo hasn’t been missing for two whole days yet! Chances are good he’s just tied one on and is holed up with some mammary enhanced young starlet going over ‘production notes’,” Mulder huffed.

“Cassidy is taking this seriously, Mulder. I assume the front office is, too. I think we should, as well.”

“Fine, we take it seriously. But what was that crap about new procedures for air travel? Don’t we just make our reservations on the internet, like always?”

They had finally reached their office and Mulder plopped down in his chair, propping his feet on the desk, waiting for Scully to answer.

“It’s a good thing I read those email memos that come to you from the Budget Department, Mulder,” she said with a sigh. She dug through the pile of papers on his desk, found the one she was looking for and handed it to him. “No more turn arounds, they’re costing the Bureau too much money. We have to have all travel arrangements approved through Budget. Effective April 1.”

“I thought it was an April Fools joke,” he said, taking the paper and shoving it back in the pile. “This is full of crap, Scully. Our ‘Kersh is gone’ par-tay is on indefinite hold, we’re stuck here waiting for some Max Federman –”

“His name was Wayne,” Scully interjected patiently.

“OK, ‘Wayne’ Federman type to get in the way of our investigation and tomorrow we’re stuck flying to California . . .”

Scully had a decidedly ‘shit eating grin’ on her face which made him think back on what he’d just said. Suddenly, he was smiling, too, but for the life of him, he didn’t know why.

“Let me explain this to you, Mulder, just in case you got lost in your tirade. We are being told to go on an all expense paid trip to California to find out that this Bill Burger has been shacked up and banging some production assistant. And, with the new travel procedures in place, we have to stay at least three days before we can return home.”

His eyes grew as wide as teacups. He grabbed the sheet of paper out of the pile and scanned it quickly. “Hot damn. You’re absolutely right!”

“I think we can probably manage to find a decent hotel somewhere near LA with a pool, don’t you?”

“First Hawaii, now LA, before too long they’re bound to catch on, Scully.”

“What? That we’re only investigating cases in locations that include beach attire?” she asked coyly.

“Shhh, the ceiling has ears,” he said in a hushed whisper. He was about to pull her into a kiss when there was a sharp rap on the door.

“Shit,” he muttered while Scully walked over and opened the door. A thin man, under six feet with faded green cargo pants and a Jethro Tull tee-shirt stood staring at her. “Can I help you?” she asked, glancing to make sure he was wearing a visitor’s badge. She couldn’t help but notice it was on upside down.

“Bob Denver, no relation,” the man said, stretching out his hand in a friendly gesture. “I’m here about the Bill Burger abduction.”

Scully shook his hand and then stepped aside to allow him to enter the office. Mulder stood and shook Mr. Denver’s hand, then motioned for him to take a seat at the only other chair in the room. Scully chose to lean on the edge of her desk.

“So, this is the office of an FBI agent, huh?” Denver asked, looking askance at the bulletin boards covered with photos from cases and newspaper articles. His eyes landed on Mulder’s ‘I want to believe’ poster and he stood up and moved closer to take a better look.

“Two agents, actually,” Scully corrected him.

 

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“Think I could borrow this for a couple of days, just to let my art people — ”

“Mr. Denver, if I’m not mistaken, you’ve come a long way to tell us a story,” Mulder lightly scolded the man. “Could we please stick to the topic?”

Bob look a tad perplexed, but sat down in Scully’s desk chair again and propped his elbows on his knees. “I think we all know why I’m here,” he said cryptically.

Scully raised an eyebrow and cocked her head. Mulder just frowned. “No, I’m afraid we don’t all know. Why don’t you enlighten us?”

“Well, according to the Fender-man, you two are the best at this, uh, alien shit.”

Mulder bit his lip and Scully shot him a quick glance as if to say ‘don’t go there’. Mulder ignored her. “Fender-man?”

“Yeah, Wayne Fender-man, er, Federman. And well, I saw ‘The Lazarus Bowl’. Not the whole movie, of course. I saw the outtakes, but I must say the lighting on that set was primo! Great shadows, the way the beams shot off the Pope-like guy’s jewels, and the Zombies, I mean they were — ”

“Mr. Denver, I thought we were talking about Mr. Burger’s disappearance!” Mulder broke in.

“You guys are supposed to find people snatched by aliens, or am I wrong?” Denver shouted back defensively.

Scully licked her upper lip and gave Mulder a tight-lipped expression. He sat up and pulled the file folder closer to him. “Mr. Denver — ”

“Call me Bob. Hey, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this is just some stunt, but it’s not. Bill went up to that park to find a shooting location and when he didn’t show up at the lodge, er, I mean the studio that night, a couple of us went up there to look for him. What we saw made our hair turn gray! Figuratively speaking, of course.”

“Why don’t you tell us what you found?” Scully asked in a calming voice. “Please?”

Denver glared at Mulder for a moment, then looked over at Scully and visibly relaxed. “Sure. Why not?” He settled into the chair and took a deep breath. “It was just freaky, ya know?”

Mulder nodded in an encouraging manner, earning him a slight smile from Scully. The exchange went unnoticed by Denver.

“Bill decided to go check out locations for the season finale. The script is done, but the last few pages are being kept secret – he wanted to avoid any possible leaks to the press.”

“That sounds pretty paranoid,” Mulder muttered and Scully stifled a snort in his direction.

“You have no idea. I mean, we’ve been on the air seven seasons and there are 4 knock offs already, including a cartoon. If we didn’t safeguard our big shows, they’d be on some Japanese Anime a week before we had a chance to air it here!”

“Back to the disappearance,” Mulder prompted.

“Yeah, well, anyway, like I was saying, he was supposed to check out this park, we have a really good relationship with the California State Parks system. The location was near Tahoe, so I expected to get a call from him telling me he had car trouble. That’s his ‘little code’ for going skiing on company time,” Denver explained to Scully.

“But you didn’t get the call,” Mulder prodded again. He rolled his eyes to Scully.

“When it got to be afternoon, and I hadn’t gotten a call, I called his cell. It rang, but no answer. So I called the ski resort that he always sneaks off to. They hadn’t seen him. That’s when I got worried. So I called Steve — ”

“Steve?” Scully interrupted.

“Yeah, one of the other production staff. Steve Marker. Anyway, I called Steve and we decided to take a look. By that time it was already close to two. We had to jump the commuter flight to get to Sacramento and the drive took a couple of hours to the park, so it was dark when we got there. I have one of those really big flashlights in my trunk, for when you have a flat. We found Bill’s rental parked near a trailhead, so we took the flashlight and went down the trail. It opened up into a meadow and that’s when we found his cell phone. But when I flashed the light around, well, it scared the shit out of me!”

“What exactly did you see?” Scully asked, saving Mulder the trouble.

“It was just like ‘The Starting Point’!” Denver exclaimed. Mulder raised his hand. “Starting point? I’m afraid you’re losing us here, Mr. Denver.”

Denver gave him a disgusted look and then turned hopefully to Scully. When she obviously didn’t understand the reference, he threw up his hands. “What, do you people live in caves? The Starting Point, it’s the first episode of the series! It’s been on reruns about a hundred times. Surely you’ve seen it!”

Scully shook her head. Mulder gave his head a quick shake and a shrug. “Why don’t you just tell us what you saw?”

He rolled his eyes, but Denver nodded. “OK, the trees were scorched, near the tops. There was a big scorch mark on the ground, the size of an above ground pool, without the deck,” he added quickly. “And there was this fine, gray ash all over the place. Bill’s cell phone was near the pile of ash. We called and called and no one answered. That’s when we decided to go get help. It took us a while to find a park ranger and then he wanted us to go through the county Sheriff’s department, but that would have turned out the press and there was no way we could let that happen! Finally, I remembered Fender-man bragging that he had all these connections with the FBI and I called him. It took a while to get the ball rolling, but here I am.”

Mulder was biting his lip, to keep from laughing or screaming, he wasn’t sure. “So, based on your somewhat limited observations, in the dark, with a flashlight, you think — ”

“Bill was abducted by aliens,” Denver said in hushed tones. “The man who created it has lived it,” he added solemnly.

Both agents shared a look. Scully finally broke the uneasy silence.

“And you want us to . . .”

“Get him back. Call them, we’ll negotiate. Whatever they want, residuals, marketing. Hell, we’ll give them shares in the production company.”

“The aliens?” Mulder asked quietly.

“Sure! I mean, they had to know his net worth to pick him off when there were all those bodacious babes just a few miles away in Tahoe,” Denver reasoned. “But that’s OK. We just want him back.”

“I can understand that you’re worried about your boss,” Scully started.

“Who said we’re worried? Bill can be a real a-hole. No, we need him back because he’s the only one who knows where the last four pages of the final script are stashed. And we have to start rehearsals in a week.”

Act II

Scully’s apartment

Georgetown

7:15 pm

Mulder picked up the last container of rice from dinner, peering in it to determine if there was enough to save.

“Toss it, Mulder. We won’t be home for at least three days,” Scully told him as she put the last plate in the cupboard.

“Three days and it’s just getting good,” he replied, but tossed the container into the trash in a fairly good mock ‘lay up’ shot.

“Take that out, please,” she reminded him.

He nodded and grabbed the liner, tying it off and lifting it up. “You going to take a bath?” he asked hopefully.

She grinned at him and shook her head. “No, not enough time. We have to pack for tomorrow. Remember, our flight leaves at 6 am. We have to meet Denver at BWI at 4:30.”

“This is the Bureau’s big cost saving initiative? Make us get up in the middle of the night to drive forty-five minutes so we leave from Baltimore rather than spend the $25 to fly out of Reagan or Dulles at a sane hour in the morning?”

“Hey, quit your complaining. Our return flight has us getting into BWI at 5 pm. We can swing past Mom’s and she can feed us.”

She heard him mumble something unintelligible as he left to take out the trash.

She was in the bedroom when he came back up. “Do you want to take your charcoal suit or your blue one?” she asked, holding them both out for his inspection.

“The blue one, it’s lighter. Where did you put my travel kit?”

“Under the sink, behind the extra towels.” She stopped to admire the view — his behind — as he went to retrieve the kit. “So, do you think Bill Burger is really an abductee?” she asked as Mulder returned and helped pack his suitcase.

“No. I think it’s all a set up, a big publicity stunt. I’m going to email the guys once we know more, ask them to check into this Y Folders. My money says they’re in the seventh season, probably starving for ratings and this kind of tabloid headline is just what they need to bring in the viewers.”

“But involving the FBI? Mulder, if it is a stunt and they’re found out, they could be in serious trouble!”

“I’m guessing that’s why they didn’t want the Sheriff’s Department in on it. They probably figure they can lie their way out of any trouble with us. Honest mistake and all that,” Mulder mused, zipping the case shut. “Want me to take these to the car so we don’t have to bother with them tomorrow?”

She smiled at him and handed him her suitcase. “There are definite advantages to having you here, Mulder. I keep finding that out every day.”

“Yeah, when I get back, I’ll show you a few new ones,” he said with a wiggle of his eyebrows. She slapped his backside as he made his way out the door.

United Flight 3091

landing at Los Angeles International

10:42 am

Scully nudged Mulder from where he’d fallen asleep on her shoulder. Slowly, his eyes blinked open. “We’re here already?” he asked around a yawn.

“You slept the whole way,” she said dryly.

“Sorry, Scully. You know how I get on long flights,” he said with a half-hearted apologetic shrug. “I’ll get the briefcases from the overhead. See if you can catch Mr. Hollywood out at the gate, before the paparazzi get to him,” he sneered.

“Mulder, his ticket was paid for by the production company. He can’t help it if he got to fly first class,” Scully chided.

“I can use any excuse I want to hate the man, Scully. He dragged us out of a warm bed, made us endure hours in dry, sinus infection inducing air and now we have to face another three hour flight plus an hour drive just to see their set up. So help me, when we uncover this as the media stunt it is, I’ll personally spend the rest of my life working with the nearest US District Attorney to put them all behind bars!”

“Well, as long as you have goals,” Scully said smugly.

“And why couldn’t we have flown into San Francisco or even a direct flight to Tahoe? Why add five hours to this trip from hell?”

“You’re the one who wanted to see his apartment and his office, Mulder,” she pointed out.

“Next time I come up with such good ideas, kick me to shut me up,” Mulder shot back, but at least he was grinning again.

Offices of Hot Dog Productions

Hollywood, CA

11:30 am

A harried receptionist looked up at them over the counter, and jumped up when she saw Denver. “Bob! Have you found it?”

“Him, Stacy,” Denver said uncomfortably with a glance over to the two agents. “No, we haven’t had any word from him.”

She seemed confused and disappointed at the same time. “Oh, shoot.”

“Can you give Agents Mulder and Scully here visitors badges? They need to go to Bill’s office at the back of the studio.” Denver pulled out a cell phone and started talking quietly into it.

Stacy smiled up at Mulder. “Sure. Agents, huh? What kind?”

“FBI,” Mulder said and leaned forward to allow Stacy to clip the badge onto his lapel.

“Been to LA before?” Stacy asked seductively. Scully raised her eyebrow, but was basically being ignored by Stacy and her partner.

“Once, for a premiere,” Scully butted in and took the badge intended for her out of Stacy’s hand. “The Lazarus Bowl.”

Stacy’s eyes grew wide. “Ohmigod!! You’re him! You’re Gary Shandling’s character!”

Mulder cringed. “Actually, that character was an amalgamation of several different . . . what I mean is, it was never meant to be . . .”

“Ready to go, folks? We have a cart to take us back to Bill’s office,” Denver interrupted.

“Yes, more than ready, I’d say,” Scully said with a smirk to her partner.

“You’re an evil woman, Agent Scully,” Mulder whispered close to her ear as they left Stacy admiring his back view.

“You just remember that, mister,” she whispered back.

It was a short ride in a luxury golf cart to the small bungalow looking buildings where Bill Burger had his office. Denver produced a key and opened the office door. The place was not that large, considering the occupant was an Executive Producer on a highly successful television series. Mulder pulled on some latex gloves and started to look around.

“Does any one else have access to this office, besides you?” Scully asked as she joined Mulder in examining the contents of the bookshelves and bulletin boards.

“All the production staff has access. This is where we come for story meetings. But there isn’t anything out of place. Bill was fine when he left here.”

“Has anyone looked at his computer?” Mulder nodded toward the shining new Dell computer sitting on the walnut desk that took up a large part of the room.

Denver shrugged. “We didn’t think about it. Besides, he keeps it locked with a password.”

“Aren’t you networked in any way? Shared files?” Scully asked.

“Oh, sure. But Bill kept most of his notes entirely on his PC.”

Mulder exchanged a look with Scully. “What time does the commuter flight take off?”

Denver checked his watch. “About an hour and a half from now. We should be getting to the airport.” He headed out the door.

Mulder leaned over to Scully as they made one last look around the office. “I’ll call the guys, maybe they can hack his PC.”

Scully just nodded and followed him out the door.

Emerald Bay State Park

6:30 pm

Mulder slowly unfolded himself from the front seat of the Suzuki Sidekick. “So, this is where you found the car?” he asked, standing up and wincing as every vertebra in his back cracked and popped from the strain of his stretch.

“Right there, by that tree,” Denver said, moving over to the side of the road. He pointed at a spot on the ground totally undistinguishable from the rest of the needle-covered surface. “We followed that trail,” he said, pointing off a few yards.

“Up for a nice walk in the woods, Scully?” Mulder asked with a grin.

“My gun is loaded, Mulder. I’d watch my step if I were you,”

Scully returned.

The trail wasn’t at all taxing and after a few dozen yards they found themselves on the edge of a rather large clearing. Denver ran into the grassy area, gesturing up at the trees. Sure enough, the tops, or at least very near the tops, of several of the pine trees looked scorched. He then ran over and pointed to the burnt circle on the ground near the center of the clearing. Finally, he reached down and grabbed a handful of ash from the ground and let rubbed it between his fingers. “See, it’s just like I told you. Just like the show!”

 

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Mulder looked over at Scully, who shrugged her shoulders. “I have to admit, it does look like . . .” His voice trailed off as he walked over to the trees with the charred tops. Before his partner could shout out in protest, he was scrambling up the nearest tree.

“Mulder, so help me, I am not calling for a rescue helicopter!” Scully yelled up to him.

“What the hell are you doing?” Denver asked, chewing his lip. After a few tense moments, Mulder climbed down, jumping the last six feet and landing perfectly. “Scully, what do you make of this?” He handed her a few pine needles sticky with a substance.

She took the needles and examined them closely. She brought them up to her nose and sniffed. “That’s not pine sap,” she said with a shake of her head.

“No, that’s kerosene,” Mulder supplied. “It’s all over up there.”

“Wow, you mean the aliens sprayed this place with kerosene?” Denver demanded. “That’s incredible!”

Both agents just stared at the man, then Mulder walked over to the pile of ash. Stooping, he picked up a good pinch of ash and deposited it in a plastic evidence bag. “I’m betting this is a lot more common than we think,” Mulder said, handing the bag to Scully.

“What about the burned spot on the ground?” Scully asked. She stepped over to the circle and knelt down. “Mulder, doesn’t this look like the kind of burn you’d find with a blow torch?”

“The aliens have blow torches?” Denver cried out. “Wait till I tell the guys!”

Mulder stood up from where he’d crouched next to Scully. “Mr. Denver, there are no aliens at work here. This whole area is nothing more than an elaborate hoax.”

Denver’s eyes went wide. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that someone, maybe someone in your organization, has set this up to make it appear that Bill Burger was abducted by aliens,” Mulder said through gritted teeth.

“That’s insane! Why would we do that?” Denver blurted out.

“That’s exactly what I hope to find out,” Mulder told him and headed back down the path with Scully hot on his heels.

“Mulder?”

“We can’t go back home yet, Scully, so we’re stuck here. Let’s just get find a motel room and figure this out.”

“Mulder, there’s just one little problem,” she said, pulling his sleeve to get him to stop. At his questioning look, she tilted her head.

“Where’s Bill Burger?”

“I think he’s hiding out somewhere, Scully,” Mulder growled.

“And when I find him, I’m going to take him apart!”

Days Inn LAX

12:20 am

They had just made the last commuter flight back to Los Angeles. Mulder was tense and grumbling all the way back. Scully almost felt sorry for Bob Denver, the man really did look as perplexed as he claimed he was. He dropped them off at a hotel near the airport and promised to cooperate in any way he could while Mulder conducted a one-man manhunt for the missing Bill Burger. They made arrangements for him to pick them up at 10 the next morning.

Scully took the bathroom first and was fully expecting to find her partner sound asleep when she came out. To her surprise, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, glued to the television screen.

“Mulder? Are you going to get ready for bed?” she asked, crawling under the covers.

“Look what I found on one of the cable networks? Old Y Folders episodes. Apparently they’re running a marathon.”

“You’re kidding,” she murmured as she rolled over and punched her pillow.

“I’ll be coming to bed in a few minutes, Scully. I just want to finish this episode. I think it’s the pilot Denver was talking about.”

Scully lifted her head enough to squint at the screen. “Who’s the blond guy?”

“Bertram Wilson. He’s the lead investigator.”

“I think I’ve seen him on dustjackets for romance novels,” Scully muttered as she sank back down into the pillows. “Turn it down, Mulder. And don’t stay up too long. We still have to track down Burger in the morning.”

As soon as that episode ended, a new one started. Mulder found himself drawn in to the complicated plots, the interesting use of shadows to portray the scary aliens and monsters. He even had to admit the humor in the writing was pretty sharp. The leading man was intelligent with a rapier wit. The leading lady, Penny Pennelli, was a buxom blond who could rattle off scientific terms with a smoldering look. When he looked up at the clock, he realized it was almost 4 in the morning.

He was bone tired, but knew that if he lay down, he’d only wake Scully up. One of them needed to get some sleep. He quietly moved to the adjoining room, that they’d requested but hadn’t intended on using. Once seated at the desk, he opened Scully’s laptop and powered it up. Thank heavens for free high speed internet in motel rooms. In seconds, he was chatting with Frohike, the early bird of the gunman who tended to wake up at the crack of dawn.

Gman1013: I need you to do a little checking on something for me.

Ladiesman55: Whazzup?

Gman1013: See what you can dig up online for a TV show called the Y folders.

Ladiesman55: You mean ‘The Y-Folders’, right?

Gman1013: Whatever. Just see what you can find.

Ladiesman55: You want actor filmographies, character bios, episode guides, fanfiction, hot pictures of the blond bombshell naked–what are you looking for?

Gman1013: You’ve got to be kidding! They have all that on line?

Ladiesman55: Mulder, I’m just scratching the surface. I can get you anything, man. You know that.

Gman1013: It’s a stupid television show!!

Ladiesman55: A stupid television show that consistently falls in the top twenty for the 18-35 male demographic in the Nielsens every week! Advertisers dream demo! If you didn’t have such a hot babe in the sack every night, you’d know about this show!

Gman1013: You keep forgetting that ‘hot babe’ has a gun and a sharp eye, don’t ya?

Ladiesman55: Oh, yeah, like you’re gonna show her this.

Ladiesman55: Mulder, you aren’t going to show her this, are you??

Gman1013: It’s fun to see you sweat.

Ladiesman55: So, as I was asking, what do you want to know?

Gman1013: I don’t know, everything. Ratings (which you obviously know about), problems on the set, disgruntled actors, what fans are saying.

Ladiesman55: What’s up? You know you can trust me.

Gman1013: This can go no farther–Bill Burger has disappeared.

Ladiesman55: Shit damn, you don’t say!!! Last I saw on E!, they were about to start shooting the finale!

Gman1013: It appears that when Burger disappeared, he took the whereabouts of the last four pages of the script with him.

Ladiesman55: oooooh baby!! So you’re trying to find him?

Gman1013: I think it’s a ratings stunt conjured up by Burger. But Scully thinks the production people aren’t in on it. They’re all frantically trying to find the missing script pages.

Ladiesman55: I’ll see what I can dig up.

Gman1013: just email it. Thanks, Frohike.

Ladiesman55: good luck!

7:15 am

Scully woke up with the alarm she’d set and looked over, expecting to find Mulder. He wasn’t there. She got up, took her shower and then peeked inside the connecting door to the other room. Sure enough, Mulder was seated at the desk, head resting on his arms, sound asleep. Her initial aggravation turned to affection as she walked behind him and saw that he’d drooled on his arm. Ruffling his hair, she leaned forward and kissed his ear.

 

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“If this is a dream, don’t wake me,” he said with a sleepy rasp to his voice.

“If you’re going to sleep, why don’t you crawl into bed,” she whispered.

“Coming with me?” It was a request and an offer.

She chuckled. “Not this time. I’m showered and dressed. But it’s still early, only a little after 8. Why don’t you stretch out for a few minutes and I’ll wake you up so you can get ready before Mr. Denver shows up at 9:45.”

“Hmmm,” was his groggy reply, but he did force himself out of the chair and launched himself onto the bed, not even bothering with the blankets and duvet. “There should be an email from Frohike,” he muttered before he drifted off to sleep again.

Scully smiled in his direction and then sat down at the computer, tucking one strand of hair behind her ear. “What have you been up to, Mulder?” she asked but expected no answer. She found the email from Frohike and opened it up. It was a series of links, which she clicked open in succession and started to read.

9:45 am

Bob Denver showed up at Mulder’s door at precisely 9:45. He handed Scully a drink carrier with two Starbucks Grandes and a bag with two bagels. “I thought I should bring a peace offering after last night.”

“Really not necessary, Mr. Denver,” Scully said dryly, but didn’t refuse the offered coffee.

Mulder took his cup and snagged one of the bagels out of the bag. “I should warn you, if this is supposed to be a bribe, you’re doing Federal time for under 20 bucks,” he said with an evil grin. Denver gulped but said nothing. He motioned the two agents to his waiting Land Rover and they drove in silence to the production company offices.

Once inside Denver’s personal office, Scully got right to the point. “Mr. Denver, I think you have something you really want to tell us,” she said with a barely suppressed sneer.

Denver licked his upper lip nervously. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

“This was a set up. It’s been staged. And we have reason to believe you have some knowledge of it,” Scully shot back. This time, Mulder was caught by surprise, but he covered well and leaned back in his chair, content to give Scully the lead. This was going to be fun to watch.

“The ratings for the show have been in the toilet this season, haven’t they, Mr. Denver?” Scully asked, standing to walk around the desk and lean over the trembling man. Mulder had to put his hand up to his mouth to hide his broad grin. Scully was treating the poor guy like a hardened criminal. The case did have an upside.

Mulder was getting decidedly turned on. “I . . . I . . . It’s not like that,” Denver stammered.

“Not only are the ratings bad this season, but there are other indications that the show is on the skids. It didn’t receive a single Emmy nomination this year, not even in the wide-open Best Actress in a Drama category. Not to mention, not a single Golden Globe. More importantly, you didn’t even get the cover of TV Guide for your seventh season premiere, did you, Mr. Denver?”

Denver was having trouble speaking. He sat there, mouth gaping and closing like a fish out of water.

“You need something, something spectacular, to attract an audience for the end of the season finale. If your numbers aren’t significantly improved in those all important May Sweeps, you are likely to be cancelled, aren’t you?” She leaning over him now, so close her hair was actually brushing his ear.

“Agent Scully,” Denver managed to rasp out. “Please! Stop!”

Scully stood, looking as cool as a cucumber. Mulder would have given his right arm to rush her back to their motel rooms at that moment, but he knew the show was really just starting. He directed his attention to Bob, who was white as a sheet and shaking violently.

“All right, all right already! Yes, it was a set up, at first! But I swear, he wasn’t supposed to really disappear! Someone took him! But it wasn’t me! I had nothing to do with it”

Mulder couldn’t sit idly by any longer. Besides, it was time to play ‘nice cop’. He leaned forward and gave Denver his best sympathetic smile. “Maybe you should start at the beginning, Bob. Tell us everything. Just the truth. That’s all Agent Scully’s after, isn’t it, Scully?” From her spot behind Denver, out of his eyesight, it was hard to keep a straight face, but she managed. This nut had cracked in under five minutes. A new record! “Yes, that’s all we really want.

Because if you continue to lie to us . . . does the name Martha Stewart mean anything to you, Mr. Denver?” she asked sweetly.

Mulder was afraid she’d gone over the top with that one. Denver started to pitch forward and for a moment, Mulder thought the man had a heart attack. But he was just burying his face in his hands.

“It was all so simple, really. Bill, Steve and I were working on the storyboard for the finale. Steve made a crack, wouldn’t it be perfect if we could stage a ‘real’ alien abduction? And it was late, and we were all punch-drunk and it seemed like a great idea at the time.”

“Were you always going to involve the FBI?” Scully asked sternly.

Denver dropped his hands and looked up at her, shaking his head emphatically. “No. Never. We were going to do a press release that he was ‘missing’. Then, when we told the local Sheriff where he’d disappeared and after the headlines ran in the papers, hopefully picked up by AP or Reuters, well, a couple of days would pass and Bill would show up, shaken but unharmed.”

“And claim he’d been abducted by aliens,” Mulder supplied, leaning back with his arms crossed over his chest.

“No. He’d say he couldn’t remember anything. See, that’s the beauty of the show: we don’t give answers. We only pose more questions. And this would be the biggest question of all. Was Bill really abducted? Which would lead in to the finale, where Pennelli has an abduction experience.”

Scully sat down on the edge of the desk, her face grim. “So why don’t you think that Bill is following the plan as you laid it out?”

“This,” Denver said, reaching down into his bottom desk drawer.

He withdrew a blackened piece of plastic and metal and dropped it on the desktop. “We found that near the circle burned in the grass.”

Mulder reached over and picked up the object. Years of experience told him exactly what he was holding. “It’s a cell phone.”

Denver nodded. “Bill’s cell phone. See, he would never leave that. It was the only way we could keep in contact. And it’s mangled. Why would he do that if this was just a hoax?”

Mulder turned the charred plastic over in his hands. “So someone was privy to your plans,” he said evenly. “How about this Steve you keep mentioning?”

Denver winced. “That’s the thing. Steve had to finish up episode 20, The Lost Game, so he wasn’t in on the actual planning stages. He had no idea of location or anything else.”

“Then who did know?” Scully asked.

“Just Bill . . . and me,” Denver said miserably. “Which is why I’m scared shitless! If we don’t find him, I’m . . .”

“Likely to be charged,” Scully finished for him. The poor man dropped his head to the desktop and banged it a few times.

“I’m so screwed,” he repeated over and over again.

“I think we need to talk to Steve,” Scully said, pushing off the desk. As Bob nodded and pulled out his cell phone to contact the other production assistant, Mulder caught her elbow and steered her over to a corner, out of earshot.

“That was truly impressive, Agent Scully,” he whispered.

She made a point of glancing down to just below his belt buckle.

“Yeah, I see that,” she said with a wicked grin.

Mulder ignored her. “Where did you get that stuff about the Emmys and the TV Guide cover?”

“Frohike’s email. It was big news in all the online critic websites. The online pundits think the show has run its course. They kept talking about shark jumping or something.” Mulder shook his head, as confused as she was by the reference. “Anyway, it was obvious that they needed something tremendous to save them. With what we found yesterday, it was just a matter of applying a little pressure to get him to confess. But I expected him to tell us where Burger was hiding, not this.”

“So basically, we’re back where we started,” Mulder said, pulling on his lip.

“With less evidence than we started with, yes,” Scully replied. She glanced at her watch. “Don’t forget, Cassidy is going to want a report in, oh, three hours.”

He winced and rubbed his head. “I think I’m having an aneurism,” he said flatly.

Denver was more than willing to cooperate. He gave the agents a conference room, supplied them with a steady supply of coffee and even offered sandwiches, which they politely refused. He then proceeded to parade every writer, actor, extra, make up artist, production assistant, second production assistant, best boy and gaffer who worked for Hot Dog Productions.

The writers were fairly clueless. For the most part, they were noncommittal about Bill Burger, and were just grateful to have jobs.

Since Burger was very ‘hands on’ when it came to the plotlines of the show, they were all more than a little upset that he, and the last four pages, were missing. A couple of them even offered to help search for Burger, if it would help.

The actors were another matter. Keith Stover, who played Bertram Wilson, made it quite clear that he was very hopeful that Burger would never be found.

“The asshole promised me three seasons and we’d go to movies. It’s been seven! But I’m not an idiot. As much as I’d love to see him homeless and penniless, he’s the only guy who can write this crap,” Stover had huffed. When Scully pointed out that he could have walked, just not signed the extra contracts, he gave her a tightlipped smile and shook his head.

“Not in this town, baby,” he’d said through clenched teeth.

“Besides, Burger has been dangling the promise of a movie out in front of us for years now. As soon as we finish up the series, we’re headed for the big screen.”

“And you’re willing to stay around just for that?” Scully asked, a little perplexed.

“Hell, yes! I mean, have you looked at the residuals Diaz, Barrymore and Lu got from those two movies they did? The DVD sales alone would make up for the last seven years of 16 hour days, 6 days a week.” Stover looked from one agent to the other as if struck by a sudden thought. “Hey, should I have called my lawyer?”

Mulder closed his eyes and banged his head against the wall behind him while Scully calmed the actor down, assuring him they were only interviewing everyone who might know something about Mr. Burger’s whereabouts.

“Well, that would be every script girl, make up girl, female assistant and cantina worker in LA,” Stover snickered. “Oh, and every female ski instructor in Tahoe,” he added with a malicious grin.

Heather Lanear, who played Penny Pennelli, was no more helpful. “He’s shacked up with a ski bunny. We won’t find him till spring,” she said, puffing on her cigarette. “But he better stay lost, if the network figures out that we don’t have an ending to the finale. He’s lucky if he’ll ever work in this town again,” she said with a smirk.

Act III

It took six hours to work their way through all the staff members of Hot Dog Productions. It was almost 9 pm when they made it back to the motel.

“Want some dinner?” Scully asked, as Mulder flopped face down on the king sized bed in their room.

“Arsenic,” he suggested.

“Mulder, buck up,” she told him. “We just have to look at this rationally. Who has the motive and the opportunity to kidnap Bill Burger?”

“You mean narrow the field,” he said, muffled by his arm. “That would be about 95 percent of Orange County, Scully,” he added, flipping on his back. “And we don’t have enough time to interview all of them.”

She shook her head and stood up. “Look, there’s a Wendy’s across the street. I’m getting a spinach salad and I’m going to get you a Junior bacon cheeseburger, with extra tomato, and we’ll split a Biggie Frostie. And after you wake up from lapsing into a carbohydrate coma, we’ll figure this out, OK?”

He nodded forlornly. She kissed him on the lips and headed out the door.

He lay there a few more minutes, wallowing in self pity and misery. Finally, he rolled off the bed and started for the bathroom.

Scully’s laptop sat on the table, calling out to him. He shook his head and sat down at the table, pulling up his email. He had three messages from Frohike. Licking his lips in anticipation, he opened them and read each one carefully.

Scully juggled the two sacks and tried to find her card key. Finally, in exasperation, she just kicked the door. She had to do it twice to get an answer. A muffled ‘I’m coming, keep your shirt on’ came from the other side and she gave her partner a well-deserved glare when he finally unlatched the door and let her in.

“I should give your sandwich to the homeless guy out on the curb,” she grumbled as she handed over the silver foil wrapped burger.

“Scully, you won’t believe what Frohike found,” Mulder said excitedly, laying the burger on the dresser and pulling her over to the computer. “Check this out!”

The monitor displayed a website with a large, unflattering picture of William Burger and a big red circle and slash symbol over it like on do not enter traffic signs. On the top of the page was the banner for the site: “Die.die.die.Burger.die.com?” Scully read aloud. “My god, Mulder, this is serious!”

 

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“Actually, it’s only a joke, but it has serious implications, Scully,” he told her, sitting on the corner of the bed while she took the chair and looked through the site. “From what I can tell, this started out a fan site.”

“With fans like these, who needs network executives?” Scully quipped. “This doesn’t sound like a fan site, Mulder.”

“No, really. Fans of the show created it. They’re just upset with Burger for some of the bone-headed — their words, not mine — things he’s done in the last couple of seasons.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, still clicking on pages and wincing. “This is . . . this is vitriol.”

“Oh, I’ll agree it contains some bitterly abusive sentiments, Scully, but they are more than just ‘mere’ fans. These are people who are intelligent, who have become committed to this show and feel Burger has betrayed them.”

Scully was studying the page closely. “Who’s Darina Wellman?”

Mulder nodded, a sure sign she’d hit on something. “The ‘female’ love interest of Penny Pennelli,” he said with a satisfied grin.

“As in . . . ?” Scully asked with an eyebrow buried in her hairline.

“Lesbian affair. Apparently Burger decided that Pennilli was bi. But that was after Wilson, her partner, slept with her.”

“That sounds more like daytime drama than a science fiction format show,” Scully said in disgust.

“It gets better, there’s a three-way in the works,” Mulder grinned maniacally. “Oh, and the February Nielsen sweeps week had a fantastic mud wrestling scene, from what I can gather.”

“Now that’s just soft porn!” Scully exclaimed.

“Yeah, but it’s beating the crap out of the competition for the 18 – 35 year old male demographic!” Mulder shot back with a satisfied expression.

“So this fan site was created by female fans who feel Burger is only catering to one audience — ‘a bunch of crotch grabbing young males still living with their parents and dishing out fries at McDonalds’,”

Scully read from the page and crossed her arms. “I can understand where they’d be upset.” She got up and pulled her salad out of the bag, bringing it back to the table. “But does it mean they were angry enough to take action?” she asked of no one in particular.

“I’m going to do some more digging. I already fired back some additional criteria for Frohike to search. I should know something more by morning,” Mulder replied, finally grabbing his own sandwich and swallowing it in four bites. “Where’s the Frostie you promised me?”

“Still in the bag on the dresser, melting.” She pointed toward it with her chin. “So what are you thinking? We need to find out more about these fans?”

“I think that’s the direction I’m heading in,” he said, slurping up his rapidly melting milk shake. He leaned over and offered her a spoonful, which she absently accepted. “But in the meantime, I’m going to look around at the other sites like this one — ”

“There are more?” Scully asked, incredulously.

“Oh, Scully, there’s a whole search engine dedicated to this stuff! It’s all over the net. I’ll probably be up late again. Why don’t you go to bed in the other room? I’ll be in later.”

4:30 am

“Don’t these people ever sleep?” Mulder wondered aloud as he rubbed his tired eyes. He’d been in a chatroom for two hours, trying to find out what the ‘fans’ were saying — if anyone knew of Burger’s disappearance. But so far all they were talking about were husbands, children and laundry. He doubled checked the name of the board to make sure this was a Y-F fan site. He shook his head and then looked down the forum titles. One was inconspicuously marked ‘Saved Chats’. He clicked on it. There had to be thirty different postings. With a tired sigh, he went back to reading.

7:15 am

Scully was lying on a raft, in the middle of a pool of sparkling clear azure water when suddenly, a giant brown bird swooped down and landed hard next to her, almost spilling her off the raft. It opened its big beak and cried: “Scully, wake up, I found something!” She tried to swat it away, but it suddenly came to her that the bird sounded exactly like Mulder.

“Scully, get the lead out! C’mon! I’ve got something here!”

She opened her eyes and the azure pool faded away, leaving a non- descript motel room with white walls and a mirror, which reflected the boyishly excited expression of her partner, currently bouncing up and down on her bed.

“Mulder, go ‘way!” she grumbled. She pulled the covers over her head and tried to find her way back to the raft on the pool.

“That’s not what you said the other night,” he grinned manically. “C’mon, Scully!” Without further warning, he grabbed the sheets and blankets and pulled them all the way off the bed, leaving her exposed to the cooler air of the room. “Don’t make me get the ice bucket,” he threatened.

She grabbed a pillow and was about to project it in his direction when what he’d said sunk through to her. “Wait. You said you found something? Something do to with the disappearance?” she queried.

“Oh, yeah. and it’s a doozy! You have to see this, Scully!”

As she stood, his hand went to the small of her back and he escorted her into the other room. He brought her to the small table and seated her at the computer. She glared up at him and he smacked his forehead, then ran back into the room she’d been sleeping and returned with her glasses. Giving him a sleepy grin, she donned the glasses and disabled the screen saver so she could see what he’d found. After several minutes of his pacing behind her, she turned around in the chair, an incredulous look on her face.

“Mulder, this can’t be real,” she said firmly. “This is just some joke. Like the website last night.”

He grinned broadly at her. “I knew you were going to say that, Scully. But look at the evidence,” he said, pointing to the computer screen.

“Evidence? This is the transcript to a chat room,” she replied dryly. “And it sounds like it’s a bunch of bawdy women!”

“Scully! Look at what’s in front of your face! They did everything but sign the confession,” he howled, throwing his hands up in the air.

She pulled her glasses off and looked at her partner. “Mulder, according to this, six women planned a kidnapping and just decided to leave it posted to the internet? What kind of idiot would — ”

“Ones who never thought they’d be caught, obviously,” Mulder supplied happily. “Look, Scully, it may be a long shot. But at the bare minimum, it’s more than we’ve had to go on so far. I say we pack up and head to Tahoe, check out the area there and have DC subpoena the email accounts of Pennelli56, Bertluv, YFMom, LilY, Delores, and PGY. We’ll find out where they’re located and see if there is any more incriminating evidence in their mailboxes.”

Five miles outside Tahoe

3:30 pm

Mulder sat in the driver’s seat of the rental car, chewing on a sunflower seed and staring intently at the pages he held against the steering wheel.

“Gee, I wonder why they didn’t just include one of those maps from Mapquest,” Scully said sarcastically as she glared at him.

“They gave pretty good directions up to this point,” Mulder reminded her. “I just can’t tell where they go from here.” He scanned the small state route where they were parked on the shoulder. “It would appear that there’s a service road or something near here.”

“Mulder, we just flew three hours to get here, we’ve been driving around for another hour and a half, we completely missed breakfast and lunch — ”

“I offered you some seeds, Scully,” he chimed it.

Completely ignoring him, she continued, ” — and not to mention you have failed to provide AD Cassidy with a report today — ”

“I sent her a copy of the request for a subpoena,” he interjected. “And we’re probably going to get our asses chewed out for that, too,” she said as she finally acknowledged his comments.

“And for what, Mulder? We’re on a wild goose chase!”

“As we’ve done for the past 11 years, Scully,” he said with a tender smile. “As I hope to be for 11 years and 11 more after that and on to the old agent home. So why are you so uptight about this time?”

She shook her head, knowing there was no explaining herself to him. Mulder was in his zone and he wasn’t going to listen to reason. “It we don’t find this service road soon, it will be too dark to find anything,” she pointed out.

“I promise, we won’t miss dinner,” he said, raising one hand with two fingers extended.

“Indian guide, Mulder,” she huffed, but took the papers from his hands and read over them, then looked out the windshield at the surrounding forest land. “What’s that up there on the left?”

He peered out in the direction she was pointing. “Those two trees close together?”

“Just past them. Is that gravel?” she asked.

“I think that’s the trail of the elusive wild goose, Scully,” he said with a brilliant smile. “We’ll have this all cleared up in time for a nice steak in Tahoe!”

The road might have been a service road at one time, but that time was long past. It was rutted and pockmarked, giving Scully the impression that it might have been a testing ground for land mines in the distant past. Mulder managed to twist and jerk the wheel enough to keep them from falling in the larger holes, but the smaller ones were still enough to rattle their teeth. She was just about to warn him of an enormous pothole ahead when they hit a sharp object, followed by a loud pop. Mulder fought the wheel, but to no advantage. The driver’s side tire went over the edge, almost tipping the car and they came to rest at the bottom of the rut.

“I think we have a flat,” Mulder said after assessing that both of them were unharmed.

“I think we’re about to miss dinner,” she said with a scowl.

They exited the car, Scully being careful not to fall into the pothole and twist an ankle. She gingerly stepped around the rocks and gravel to join Mulder at the back of the car. He was looking at a point toward the front end.

“Is it flat?” she asked, but didn’t expect an answer because it was obvious that was at least one of their problems. Her partner nodded and then pointed to the front tire.

“Does that look a little odd?” he asked, moving toward the front tire. When she moved around for a better look, she grimaced and then sighed. The tire was not sitting at a natural angle.

“Looks like it broke the axle,” she said with a tired shake of her head.

“Or at the very least, the ball joint,” he supplied. “Well, I don’t think we’ll be able to drive this back to town. We’re going to have to call for a tow.” He pulled out his cell phone and held it up to his ear. After a few attempts to dial, he pulled up the antenna. When he continued to fail, he calmly put the antenna down and pocketed the phone.

Scully stood there, chewing on her bottom lip. He looked over at her and held up one finger, warding off the tirade she was building.

Without a word he lowered the finger to point in a direction past the front of the car. She shrugged and he started off, she followed hot on his heels.

“Mulder, where are we going?” she asked, after they’d walked several yards.

“To find reception,” he tossed over his shoulder.

She looked at his back and shook her head. Closing her eyes for just a second, to summon enough strength of will not to murder him, she ended up running right into him when he stopped abruptly.

“Did you hear something?” he asked.

They both stood as still as possible and listened. After a minute,

Scully looked up at him. “The wind?”

“No,” he said with puzzled expression. “It sounded like — ”

Off in the distance, Scully heard a low moan. She jerked her head over to look at her partner. “Like that?”

He nodded and took off at a trot toward the sound.

“Mulder, it could be an injured animal,” she reasoned, and pulled her weapon.

“No, Scully, that sounds like a human,” he said, turning his head toward her. “Hurry!”

They had to cut through the undergrowth for several feet, but finally they broke through into a small meadow. In the middle was a ramshackle building, most likely part of an old lumber operation. It had no windows, only one door and it was sporting a brand new padlock.

“Help! Somebody, help me!!”

Mulder looked over at his partner and then around the area. They were very much alone. He unfastened the clip on his holster and withdrew his gun, motioning toward the padlock.

“Step away from the door,” he ordered and waited a few seconds for the occupant of the shed to comply. He raised his gun, took aim, and precisely shot the padlock off the door.

“Good shootin’, Tex,” Scully teased and he wrinkled his nose at her. She hurriedly opened the door. The smell was a bit overpowering, even in the cool mountain air. A man about Mulder’s height, with dark brown hair that hung in a rather unkempt pony tail, came out of the shadows, squinting at the afternoon sunlight.

“Thank God, I thought no one would ever hear me,” he exclaimed.

He took two steps and stumbled, so Mulder grabbed one arm and Scully the other. They sat him down against the shed. Scully knelt beside him and assessed his condition.

 

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“Are you hurt?” she inquired as she looked into his eyes and took his pulse.

“Wow, bringing a paramedic! Good thinking,” he said breathlessly.

“Um, she’s a doctor, and . . . never mind,” Mulder said as he saw Scully’s eyes turn icy blue over the man’s unintentional faux pas.

“You wouldn’t happen to be William Burger, would you?”

The man looked up at Mulder and nodded. “Got anything to eat?” he asked with hopeful brown eyes.

Scully stood up next to her partner. “He seems fine. He has a bump on the head, but there are no signs of concussion. He appears slightly dehydrated and he’s probably hungry.”

“Damn straight,” Burger replied. “Now, where’s the rescue wagon?”

Scully raised an eyebrow as she looked at Mulder, who found the grass of the meadow of sudden interest. “Well, you see, Mr. Burger . . .”

“You do have a rescue wagon here, right? An ambulance, maybe? I’ve been trapped in that shed for four days, I stink to high heavens, I’m starved, I’m thirsty — ”

“Our car has a flat,” Mulder said succinctly.

“And a broken axle,” Scully added.

“Son of a b — ”

“Mr. Burger, we just need to find somewhere with some reception. I can call a tow truck and emergency vehicles and we’ll have you out of here in a jiffy,” Mulder promised.

Burger didn’t look impressed. “So who the hell are you jokers?” he asked.

Mulder winced and produced his badge just as Scully was doing the same. “I’m Agent Mulder, this is Agent Scully. We’re with the FBI.”

Burger looked intently at both badges and identification cards, then at the agents in turn. “Fox. That a stage name?”

Mulder sucked on his bottom lip and shook his head. “No sir. It’s my given name.”

“If you ever come out this way, I’d change it. Unless you want to go into porn — ”

“He’s quite happy as an FBI agent,” Scully interrupted angrily.

“Mulder, I suggest we find some reception, and let’s make it snappy.”

Burger managed to get to his feet and with some minor assistance, mostly from Mulder after he put his hand on Scully’s hip one too many times, they made their way back to the service road. The car was exactly where they’d left it. Scully scanned the road in both directions. “How far was it to the main road?” she asked Mulder.

Helping Burger to sit on the edge of the back seat, Mulder looked back the way they’d come. “About five miles, maybe a little more.”

“He can’t walk that far,” she said with a sigh. “Maybe we should split up?”

He frowned and stared off in the distance the other direction. “The road goes up. Maybe there’s clearer reception that direction,” he offered.

“Mulder, we don’t know what’s up that way. Just go back the way we came. If you can’t get any reception, maybe you can flag down a passing car to get help.”

He looked over at Burger, trying to judge if the man was faking his weakened condition. With a scowl, Mulder realized the guy probably was in bad shape. Was he in bad enough shape to leave with Scully, whom he’d already made one half hearted pass at? She had her gun, he decided, winning his internal debate. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he told her. His instinct was to grab her and kiss her goodbye in front of this latter day Lothario, but in the end he settled for an exchange of glances that told him to hurry back.

“So, you ever thought of taking a screen test?” Burger asked with a barely concealed leer the minute Mulder was out of sight.

Scully fingered the grip on her weapon, dug the tip of her tongue into the ridge of a back molar and prayed Mulder wouldn’t be long.

4:45 pm

It was about an hour later when Mulder found that jogging on a rutted road in good leather shoes was not conducive to staying upright and in a forward motion. He landed hard on his right knee, releasing a livid curse as his palm came down on a sharp rock. “Son of a b — ”

He’d barely had a chance to pick himself up when a late model SUV came barreling down the service road, taking the potholes like they were ski jumps. He leaped to the side of the road to avoid become a hood ornament. The vehicle proceeded down the road a few yards and abruptly came to a dead stop. In minutes two women were out of the front seats, running back to his aid. The taller of the two, a woman with salt and pepper hair and wireframed sunglasses grabbed Mulder by the shoulders and spun him around. “Ohmigod, I didn’t expect anyone on this road! Oh, I am so sorry! Are you hurt, did you fall? I didn’t knock you down, did I? Oh geez, will I have to report this to the insurance company?”

“Delores, you didn’t hit him,” said the other woman, a short, stocky blond with a bandana holding back her hair. “He was standing up when we came up the road.”

“That darned car is just too hard to stop,” Delores said, shaking her head. “I’m just so sorry!”

Mulder was getting his bearings, and stopped the woman from brushing the mud off his pants. “Really, I’m fine. Like your friend said, I was standing up. But I am glad to see you. Our car broke down a few miles up the road and I really need some assistance.”

Delores stood up and looked over at her friend. Both women bit their lips. “Your car broke down? Why on earth would you be up here in the first place?” asked the blond.

“Tracy! He doesn’t have to tell us that,” Delores said nervously. “Tell you what. We’ll take you back to town — ”

“No, thank you,” Mulder interrupted. “I’m not alone. My partner is up there with the car. And we have a person who’s been, well, injured. He needs medical attention.” Mulder reached into his pocket for his identification. “I’m an FBI agent. I assure you, this is all on the up and up.”

“Oh sweet je-zus!” Tracy exhaled. Both she and Delores were looking at Mulder like he’d just been transformed into a king cobra.

“Did you say someone n-n-needed m-medical attention?” Delores stammered.

Mulder regarded her carefully, not sure what he was witnessing.

“Yes, a man. I’m not at liberty to say what happened.”

“Oh Mother of God!” Tracy shouted. “I told you she wasn’t kidding!”

“Tracy, please. You’re . . . scaring Agent, um, Miller here,” Delores said timidly.

“That’s Mulder, and can I ask why you two ladies were on this road?” he asked, tumbling the pieces together in his head and coming up with a definite headache.

Delores’s face crumbled into tears, Tracy put a comforting hand on the woman’s back as tears streaked down her cheeks. “We better ‘fess up, D.” She looked up at Mulder. “C’mon, Agent Miner. We’ll take you back to your car.”

Mulder didn’t even attempt to correct the woman as she missed his name a second time. He had a feeling the mystery of the missing ‘creative executive director’ was about to be revealed and he and Scully would have ringside seats.

It was a very quiet ride to the car. Delores’s shoulders were shaking and when she looked in the rearview mirror Mulder could see the tears streaming down the woman’s face. Tracy sat ramrod straight and stared out the windshield, but Mulder was pretty sure she wasn’t seeing the forest primeval around them.

Scully was pacing about ten feet away from the car when she heard the SUV coming up the road. She looked at her watch in the growing dusk and wondered how long it would be before she saw food. They still had to deal with the recently recovered Mr. Burger and it would be essential to gather as much forensic evidence as possible from his ‘shed of captivity’ before nearby wildlife decided to move in and make themselves at home.

The silver SUV pulled to a stop and Mulder got out of the car. Delores and Tracy didn’t move from the front seat. They looked through the windshield at the person sitting sideways on the back seat of the disabled rental and all blood drained from their faces. It was all the confession Mulder needed. “Ladies, would you mind stepping out of the car. And please keep your hands where I can see them.”

Scully walked over to him, shooting him a perplexed look.

“Mulder, what’s going on?”

“I need your handcuffs, Scully. Oh, ladies, this is my partner, Agent Scully. I believe you already know Mr. Burger, your captive, over there.” He said all this while snapping his cuffs on Tracy’s wrists and holding out his hand to Scully for her set to snap on Delores.

“Mulder, who are these women?”

“I believe these women were coming up here to check on Mr. Burger, Scully. And I’m willing to bet, they weren’t intending to free him.”

“We didn’t intend to hurt him, honest,” Delores said through wrenching sobs. “We just, we just . . . we just wanted to make sure he couldn’t screw it up any more . . .”

“Shut up, Delores,” snapped Tracy. She turned to the two agents.

“Are you going to charge us? Because we want to talk to our lawyer.”

Burger watched on, unfazed. “Who are the old broads?”

Rockwater Bar and Grill

South Lake Tahoe, CA

11:21 pm

The Rockwater Bar and Grill was a beautiful little chalet building tucked on Emerald Bay Road. The owner was a friend of Burger’s and greeted the two agents with a warm welcome, even though the restaurant was technically about to close. Burger insisted that dinner was on him, a thank you for his rescue as well as a personal thank you to Scully for helping him hold off the paramedics and avoid a trip to the ER to be checked out.

Mulder smiled as he cut into his perfectly prepared prime rib. Dipping his morsel delicately into the au jus, he brought it to his mouth and moaned.

Across the table, Scully was having a hard time keeping the grin from her face. Not only was her partner’s boyish enthusiasm infectious, especially where the food was concerned, they had actually solved a case without injury to either of them. It was a red-letter day all around. She dug into her ‘Winter Spinnaker’, a delectable salad of fresh spinach, red onion, fresh mushrooms and sliced egg all smothered in warm bacon dressing. Mulder had convinced her to ‘go the whole nine-yards’ and get the additional grilled chicken breast. After all, it was the first real meal she’d had all day.

“So, tell me again who nabbed me?” Bill Burger asked in between bites of his Rubicon Reuben, a sandwich fit for a recently released hostage.

“Your fans,” Mulder mumbled around a mouthful of baked potato. “Or rather, fans of the show.”

“Bet that took some planning,” Burger said thoughtfully. “It sure seemed real at the time. I thought I was gonna come face to face with E.T.”

Scully gave him a tightlipped smile. “Well, after Delores and Tracy were persuaded to cooperate — ”

“For reduced sentences,” Mulder interjected.

” — they gave up the other co-conspirators. Apparently there were seven women, six from the US and one from Australia involved in this kidnapping.”

“Australia!” Burger exclaimed. “I’m a god in Australia!”

“I guess you’re considered an expendable god,” Scully explained.

“And they were just pissed off at what I’d done to the storyline?”

Scully swallowed the bite she’d been chewing and nodded. “They weren’t very pleased when you had the female agent get involved with the other woman,” she continued.

“But the dudes all think that rocks!” Burger cried. “The show hit top 10 in the — ”

” — 18 to 35 male demographics, yes, our investigation did show that. But you see, Mr. Burger — ”

“C’mon, Dana, I told you to call me Bill. Fox does.”

Scully flashed a grin over to Mulder as he rolled his eyes. “Well, Bill,” she corrected, “you might reconsider your target audience. Delores and Tracy made some convincing arguments for the loyalty of the over 30 female. Not to mention, they tend to be employed at higher paying jobs and have more disposable income.”

“Soaps,” Bill intoned succinctly.

“I beg your pardon,” Scully said hesitantly.

“Daytime soaps. The old broads watch daytime soaps. That’s why all the tampon and feminine Rogaine commercials are found between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm.”

“But Bill, that’s pretty archaic thinking,” Scully suggested. “Most women work during those hours.”

“Two words for you, Dana: TiVo,” Bill replied.

Mulder caught her attention and gave her a barely noticeable shake of his head. “Well, at least you’re safe and you can tell your staff where the last four pages of the script for the finale are.”

“Are you kidding?” Burger said happily. “Those are on the scrap heap. I have a much better ending planned. Think Pennelli, Wilson, and Wellman in an 8 by 8 foot shack in the mountains for four days!”

Scully choked, but Mulder covered for her. He raised his water glass in a toast. “Sounds like a sure bet Emmy to me.”

Burger looked from one agent to the other and then a smile of recognition came to his face. “Hey, weren’t you those two FBI agents in that crappy Zombie Pope movie?”

Epilogue

FBI Headquarters

Washington, DC

One week later

Mulder slammed the door hard, then remembered his partner had been behind him. Sheepishly, he reopened the door, took her elbow and guided her into the office.

“Sorry. But that bitch — ”

Scully raised a finger to his lips and pressed firmly in a totally unromantic motion. Her own barely contained fury was shining brightly in her eyes. “Mulder, stop right there! If you hadn’t egged her on, AD Cassidy probably would have let us out of there with just our usual ass chewing.”

“‘Egged her on!’ Scully, all I did was try to remind her that _she_ was the one who gave us that 302 which sent us on another trip to the forest! We found the kidnap victim alive and well, made six arrests, cooperated with law enforcement in another hemisphere, and got seven confessions! What in the hell does the woman want?”

“Apparently, she wants a report that doesn’t read like E! or _Variety_,” Scully said with a deep exhale.

“Well, screw her! When does Skinner get back?” He plopped down at his desk, propped his feet on the desktop and leaned back as far as he dared, which always had her waiting for the inevitable crash when he tilted back too far.

“I saw on CNN that they have a suspect in custody, so another week or so, if we’re really lucky,” she said sadly. She sat down at her desk, booted up her computer, and tried to get back to the journal article she’d been working on when Cassidy’s call had come through. After a few minutes, she noted that her partner was no longer slamming file drawers open and shut, but was very quiet at his own computer. She left him be, but knew he was up to something no good.

After a half hour, her curiosity, and caution, got the better of her. “Mulder you know if you sign Cassidy up to all those penis enlargement sites, they’ll trace it back to your computer,” she warned.

“Wouldn’t think of it,” he replied, not looking from his keyboard or monitor.

She regarded him for a moment and then got up from her desk and walked around until she was standing right behind him, in full view of his screen. He tried to hit the minimize icon, but was a second too late.

“Mulder! What the hell are you doing? Are you writing pornography on the Bureau computer?” she accused.

He crossed his arms over the keyboard and looked back at her over his shoulder. “It’s not pornography, Scully,” he said haughtily. “It’s ‘fiction’.”

She pushed him aside for a better look at the screen. “Wilson, . . . Pennelli, . . . Mulder these people are from — ”

“It’s called ‘fan fiction’, Scully, and there’s a ton of it on the net. Anything you could want, old shows, new shows, shows that have been recently cancelled.”

“Like The Y Folders?” she interjected.

“Exactly! It’s a shame Burger decided to fold his cards after this little incident, but hey, the story lives on . . . just in another form.”

“What do the words ‘copyright infringement’ mean to you, Mulder?” she asked, turning so she could perch on the corner of his desk. After giving her an admiring once over, he smiled.

“I’m not making money off this and neither are all these other people.” He typed in a few keystrokes and up popped a long list of names.

“Ohmigod!” she exclaimed. “All those people — there must be a thousand names on that list!”

“It’s incredible, Scully. And it’s all free!” He went back to the first screen. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m at an important juncture in the story,” he told her and went back to typing, allowing her to read over his shoulder.

“Mulder, nipples don’t ‘perk’, and that position you have them in is anatomically impossible,” she told him with notable amusement.

“Oh yeah? Well, let’s do some research at home tonight and we’ll just see about that,” he replied with a very happy grin.

the end