Category Archives: Season 11

Go mBeir an Taibhse

Title: Go mBeir an Taibhse

Author: Skinfull

Rating: PG

Spoilers: None

Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, no harm.

Summary: St Patrick’s Day, Ireland and

leprechauns…it’s gotta be an Xfile. Originally to

be submitted to IMTP for VS11 St Patrick’s Day

Special.

Feedback: skin_full@yahoo.ie Love all feedback.

Thanks in Advance!

Author’s notes: My dad is from Killarney so every

summer for two weeks we all packed into the car to

head south like a flock of ducks. With usually about

8 of us traveling in a small car with a dog it was

never much fun until we got to Torc Waterfall. My

dad told us horror stories about banshees and

leprechauns so it was always the highlight of the

trip.

*The title of this fic roughly translates “To Catch

the Ghost” It’s one of my favorite Irish poems and my

dad used to recite it as we climbed the waterfall to

scare us. Go mBeir an Taibhse. (Pronounced “Guh Mare

awn Tie-v-shuh”) Other Gaelic words in the fic are

Bodhrán (bow-rawn) which is a drum held in the hand

and hit with a wee stick, Poul an Ifrinn (Pool awn

If-reen) The Devils Bowl and Scéalta (sch-k-ale-ta)

that is Irish for Stories. Oh and of course Sláinte

but then when your holding a pint of Guinness in your

hand and you say Sláinte…I don’t need to write a

meaning do I.

**You really can climb up and behind Torc. To view

pictures of Torc Waterfall go here:

http://www.irlgov.ie/aboutireland/eng/photogallery/14

.asp

Go mBeir an Taibhse

By Skinfull

Torc Waterfall

Killarney

Ireland.

March 8th

The waterfall stood impressively in front of them

spilling a continuous flow of heavy water over its

sheer drop onto the rocks below. The rain that

dropped heavily from the sky did nothing to diminish

the view as they sauntered up the sandy path to the

bottom of the falls.

Patrick Murphy took the lead and leapt over the small

brick wall to land on a wide flat rock. The water

flowed quickly beneath the rock but would only wet

his ankles if he fell in.

“Keep close lads, it’s not too tricky until we get to

the pool that’s about half way but to climb in behind

it we’ll need to keep focused.” Patrick looked back

at the two men that followed him. When they arrived

at his tourist office three days ago he spotted their

American enthusiasm immediately and dollar signs rang

up in his mind. Then when they explained what they

were researching he knew only the personal touch

would do. He offered to take them up to the top of

the waterfall through the caves that sprawled out

behind it, and told them the tales that he’d heard

from his father about the folklore of these ancient

caves. With every tale their eyes lit up and when he

picked them up at the hotel this morning, they could

barely contain their excitement.

He had instructed them to wrap up warm and bring rain

gear. Paddy supplied the food and they had backpacks

full of equipment that he didn’t think they’d really

need.

“Is it much further Mr. Murphy?” the tall one said.

Paddy glanced back and looked between them both. One

named Charles Parsons and the other Frank Gellar but

he couldn’t tell which was which.

“Call me Paddy…and no, once we get to the pool it

will only be a little further.”

He jumped up to another flat rock and turned back to

help the others over. He’d been climbing this route

since he was a kid and knew every loose rock and

stone in the place. As he circled the wide natural

pool he told them to be careful, as it was deeper

than it seemed.

“This is the skinny dip pool you mentioned?” Frank

said smiling through his thick beard.

“Yeah and it wasn’t raining we’d probably have to

sidestep a few lovely maidens!”

“Damn this Irish rain,” Charles laughed as Frank

helped him onto the next rock.

They managed to get around the pool and climb up to a

table like rock that was big enough to hold all three

men. Paddy rubbed his hand over his face to wipe it

free of the rainwater and took a deep breath. He

pointed up to a cave opening that stood behind the

fast falling water and showed them their destination.

“Stick close lads and follow me. Stand where I stand

and yell out if you need me to slow down.”

The two men nodded and Paddy took off at a moderate

pace, climbing up the side of the waterfall to a

ledge that stood eight feet above the pool and a foot

wide. Pressing his back to the rocky wall Paddy

inched his way behind the water, ignoring the mist in

his eyes, he carefully moved past it and finally made

it to the cave entrance. He remembered it being a

lot easier when he was a kid, Paddy mused with a

smile. Shortly afterwards the tall American, Frank,

with the backpack now resting on his chest walked in

his smile wide and elated. Charles finally made it

through, his face more panicked than elated but his

smile was present.

“Right so lads. This is where it gets tricky…these

caves are like mazes. Don’t wander off. We each got

our own torches but if you want to see what you came

looking for keep them off.”

The cave was all but pitch black with little or no

light to follow their leader but they held their

torches off in their hands as instructed, the hopes

of maybe finding what they came all this way for out

weighing the need for light. Paddy’s footsteps

stopped and Frank and Charles bumped into the back of

him.

“Shhh…did you hear that?”

“No…what did you hear?”

“They are a tricky folk…they can make a man think

he’s seeing things that aren’t really there.” Paddy’s

voice was hushed and he bent low to the ground. He

flicked on a small penlight and Frank knelt next to

him.

“Where’s yer man?” Paddy said nodding his head behind

Frank to the empty space where Charles should be

standing. Frank glanced round and was surprised not

to see Charles kneeling next to him.

“Charlie? Hey Charlie?” He switched on his torch and

shone it round the empty cave way. Standing, he took

a few paces back the way they came calling his name,

but a loud scream from ahead in the cave startled

both of them.

“What the hell was that?” Frank came back to Paddy’s

side and searched the cave again with his torch.

“They’re here,” Paddy, sounded almost surprised. He

glanced back to his anxious partner and waved him on

to follow him. “C’mon this way, it came from over

here.”

“What about Charlie?”

“Hurry…”

Keeping their torches on, Paddy rushed ahead racing

around the stalactites with a surefootedness Frank

wished he possessed. They reached an opening with a

blowhole on the top letting the light from outside

stream in. They stilled in the sunrays and held

their breath for another clue, but as Paddy turned

around to speak to Frank he found he was alone.

“Hello? Mr…Eh…Parsons? Gellar?” Going back the

way he came he took slower steps, retracing his track

all the way back to the cave entrance. “Hello?”

Stepping away from the misty falls outside, he went

back into the caves slipping on the wet rocks and

falling hard onto his knees and hands. He looked up

wanting to see the two men standing over him but all

he heard was their screaming voices filling the air,

that shook him to his bones. Scrambling to his feet,

Paddy backed away from the cave and jumped over the

edge through the falling water, landing in the deep

pool below.

Gasping for air he resurfaced and swam to the rim to

climb out. He rushed down the rocks with little

care, falling several times. The path was empty as

he barreled down calling for help all the way. He ran

straight out of the park entrance and onto the road

without looking. The lorry couldn’t stop in time and

it crushed him to the fender, dragging him for three

hundred yards before it finally stopped.

The rain kept falling and the roar from the falls

disguised the screams as the driver called the police

and turned from the gruesome sight under his wheels.

***

FBI Basement Office

March 14th

7.12am

“Top of the morning to you Scully?” Dana Scully

halted in her tracks half way across the office and

spun on her heel to face her smiling partner. His

grin was suspiciously wide, spanning his whole face

even reaching his eyes making them twinkle wickedly.

“What?”

“Skinner just approved our next case.” Mulder sat

back into his chair enjoying the satisfying creak as

it moaned under his weight and propped his feet on

the desk.

“What case?” She approached his desk and placed her

case on the chair in front of it, dropping her coat

down too.

“I thought we were desk bound for the next couple of

weeks?”

“Well I submitted a few cases for Skinner to look

over and he approved one. I guess we get a pardon

this time Scully.”

“So what is the case?”

“Missing persons.”

“Missing person? Who?”

“No missing persons. A government funded team who

were researching…for purely scientific reasons…”

“What were they researching Mulder?”

“Folklore.” He sat forward and rummaged through a

pile of papers on his desk, avoiding her eyes.

“Folklore?”

“It began five years ago. In different parts of the

country and was so successful in debunking local

folklore that it has expanded worldwide. They

traveled to Scotland to-”

“No don’t tell me…The Loch Ness Monster?”

“Correct. Then to Ireland at the beginning of this

year…January 15th to…” He glanced up at her to

see if she would pre-empt his answer. She was half

smiling looking down at him shaking her head.

Finally his exploring fingers found the elusive file.

“To search for Leprechauns.”

“Leprechauns? Oh come on Mulder give me a break.” She

collected her case and went over to her desk.

“Skinner approved this investigation?”

“Well in essence we’re searching for the team not the

leprechauns.” He followed her to her desk where she

was booting up her PC. He dropped the file in front

of her and perched himself on the corner.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were submitting cases to

Skinner?” she glanced up at him with more than a

little annoyance.

“To be honest I didn’t think we’d get approval for

any of them.” She took the file he left down,

opening it. Reading through the personnel data of

the missing team, she noted they both had scientific

doctorates and published works in many magazines.

“But it seems that without this team a lot of the

research will be wasted.”

“So when do we leave?”

“This evening. Flight is direct to Shannon and

leaves Dulles at six thirty. Check in is at four.”

He stood away from the desk and straightened his tie

but leaned down closer to her, resting one hand on

the desk and the other on the back of her chair.

“Wrap up warm Scully, it’s cold over there at this

time of year.”

***

Killarney

Ireland

March 15th

10.34am

It was raining. It was raining heavily. And it was

cold. Mulder stood beside her with the keys to the

rental car jingling in his hand merrily. She glanced

up to see him smiling and pulled the collar to her

coat higher around her neck. Pulling her bag from

the boot she dropped her bag to the ground and jammed

her hands in her pockets.

“Cold Scully?”

“Freezing.”

“Well it’s just after nine so after we check in we’ll

get some food.”

“Breakfast…doesn’t feel like breakfast time.”

Mulder locked the car and caught up with her as she

went in through the large ornate hotel entrance.

Gold trimmed door handles and a marble tiled floor

pleasantly surprised her as she stepped up to the

reception desk.

The receptionist spotted them walking in and smiled

as Scully approached the desk. Her weariness was

obvious and she could tell she was just off a

transatlantic flight so she softened her smile a

little.

“Hello. Welcome to Jury’s Inn Killarney.”

“Hi. We have a reservation for two rooms.” Scully

put her bag on the ground and turned to see Mulder

join her dropping his bag too.

“Under Fox Mulder,” he said.

“Ah I see. Rooms 213 and 214.” The receptionist

busied herself for a moment setting up their card

keys as Mulder fished out his credit card and signed

the check in receipt. “There will be food served all

day in the restaurant and of course room service is

available.”

“Thank you.”

“The elevators are through those doors and your rooms

are on the second floor. If you have any questions

dial zero for reception.”

“Thanks.”

After unpacking her clothes Scully stepped into the

bathroom and turned on the shower. Looking down at

her watch she saw it was just after eight in the

evening but the room clock told her otherwise.

Resetting it to local time she left it on the bedside

locker and undressed. The hot water poured some

vitality into her weary body and she basked in it for

a moment longer than necessary. Finally stepping

out, she wrapped up in a large soft towel and

returned to her room. Mulder lay stretched out on

her bed, the case file in his hands and a frown on

his face. He had removed his tie and shirt and his

shoes were trailing from the door.

“What?” she asked sitting down on the edge of the

mattress.

“Just some of these things don’t add up.”

“Well isn’t that why we’re here?” she chided over her

shoulder making him smile.

“Partially.”

Rolling onto his side, he slipped an arm around her

waist and pulled her down next to him to kiss her.

She let him for a moment then pushed him away to sit

up.

“C’mon. The sooner we get out in that rain the

sooner we can get back in here.”

“And finish up the real work.” Laughing she walked

over to her wardrobe and pulled out some fresh

clothes.

***

Laurel’s Pub,

Main Street Killarney

March 15th

“Mister Patrick Murphy was seen speaking to them in

the lobby of Ryan’s hotel on the morning of the

22nd.”

“That’s doesn’t mean he killed them.”

Mulder glanced at Scully as she took a step forward,

drawing the attention of the bartender. He continued

to wipe the glass clean with a well-worn cloth. The

pub was small and smoky but he didn’t seem too

interested in cleaning anything but the glass in his

hand. Scully let her eyes wander briefly around the

room at the three other patrons that nursed pints

even at this early hour.

“We’re not here to accuse Mr Murphy-” she began but

the bartender shook his head with a frown as he

blessed himself.

“God rest his soul.” He put the glass down, leaning

over the bar towards the two agents as if he was

about to impart with some secret wisdom. “Something

frightened him up there. He saw something that

scared the bejeezus out of him.”

“What do you think he saw Mr Reilly?” Mulder asked

leaning on the bar too.

“Not what…who…” Reilly tapped the side of his

nose, turning away to serve a customer. Scully

turned on her heel and walked swiftly out of the bar,

not waiting to see if Mulder followed.

“Mulder…we checked out the tourist office…Patrick

Murphy’s brother and now the bartender at his

favorite watering hole,” she said when she heard his

quick footfall behind her.

“You don’t think he’s a suspect do you Scully? That’s

a bit easy. He’s dead.” Mulder was walking behind

her, yearning to turn her round to face him but he

knew better than to stop her when she was in this

mood.

“He was killed on the N71…a main road outside the

gates of a national park. The path from that park

has quite a steep incline leading to that road. If

he was coming down that hill he could have lost his

footing and raced out in front of the truck that hit

him.”

“He was running…running from something Scully…I’d

like to know what. A horseman at the park gate who

saw Murphy and two other men that have been

identified as Parsons and Gellar entering the park,

said Mr Murphy came racing down that hill, soaked to

the skin and screaming for help.”

“We’re here to look for Professor Frank Gellar and

Doctor Charles Parsons. Patrick Murphy’s death-”

“Patrick Murphy was the last man to see these two

alive.”

“He’s dead!”

“So we’ll work from there.”

“We’re going to the waterfall aren’t we?” she knew

his answer before he spoke.

“It’s supposed to be a beautiful view.”

She didn’t reply but she didn’t argue. Her pace

slowed and her eyes finally took in some of the

sights in the streets. Flags and banners were being

hung up all over the place with huge inflatable

shamrocks and leprechauns joining them on rooftops.

Bunting criss-crossed the streets, hanging from shop

to shop with green white and gold colors everywhere.

“It’s St Patrick’s day.”

“Well not till the 17th.”

“We’re in Ireland on St Patrick’s day…searching for

leprechauns…oh god Mulder!” She was laughing with

a rueful smile.

“Oh come one Scully, everyone’s looking for

leprechauns this time of year.”

“My Dad loved it this time of year. He was in

Ireland once for St Patrick’s Day when his ship

docked in Dublin and he told us about it over and

over…”

“Your family is of Irish decent isn’t it Scully?” he

asked as they ambled down the street turning towards

a trio of musicians who started up an old Irish tune

on a bench outside a crowded pub. One of the played

a guitar, one a tin whistle and the last beat on a

hand drum Mulder remember being called the bodhrán.

“Yeah. It goes way back but a few Scullys moved back

here in the 70’s.”

“Never been tempted? With your hair you’d fit right

in.”

“No not me. My dad talked about it a lot but, well,

he never did.”

They walked on in silence for a few minutes enjoying

the music and the party atmosphere in the street.

Spotting an advertisement that was bragging the best

guides to Torc Waterfall in town he took her arm,

leading her towards the tourist office. A small

jingle alerted the receptionist as they entered and

they both produced their badges as they approached

the desk with perfunctory smiles.

“Agent Mulder FBI.”

“Oh sure aren’t you the ones investigating Paddy’s

death?” the small receptionist asked as she blessed

herself.

“Well not exactly…” Scully slipped her badge back

into her pocket. “We need to get to Torc waterfall.”

She tried a different approach.

“Well you’ve come to the right place.” She switched

immediately to business mode and slid a few brochures

across the table. “We’re quite busy at this time of

year as you can understand.”

“Of course but we need a guide who would have known

where Patrick Murphy was taking the two tourists that

morning.”

“They were going into the living caves that run

beneath the Devils Punch Bowl.” The receptionist

blessed herself again at the mention of Murphy’s

name. “John will take you. No man knows those caves

better than John Byrne.”

“Great.” Mulder’s eyes lit up at the mention of the

caves and the name of the area.

“When can we leave?” he asked, reading through the

brochures with restrained enthusiasm.

“Sure he wont be ready to go until tomorrow morning.

He’s out at The Gap today,” she said with an air of

incredulity as if the guides schedule was common

knowledge.

“There’s a Gap in town?” Mulder looked up in

surprise.

“Yeah the Gap of Dunloe.” Her gaze turned to one of

amazement at Mulder’s ignorance of the land.

“It’s a mountain pass Mulder, not a clothing store.”

“So should I get him to meet you at your hotel?” The

receptionist asked pulling out a copybook to jot down

their appointment.

“Please. Jury’s Inn.” Mulder passed her his business

card and turned to Scully smiling. “Call me if there

is any problem.”

“Rightso. He’ll be calling at around nine-ish. Have

a good breakfast and wrap up warm.”

***

Jury’s Inn Lobby.

March 16th

10.21am

“Maybe he couldn’t come.” Scully sipped her coffee,

looking out the window at the pelting rain. People

rushed by with umbrellas, coats and scarves pulled

around their necks tightly protecting them against

the wind.

“They would have called, I left my card.” Shifting

uneasily on the soft leather chairs, Mulder strained

his neck to see the door as the swoosh of it opening

reached his ears.

“Maybe the little people got him!” she jibed over the

rim of her cup.

“Maybe Scully maybe!”

“Agent Mulder?” A soft-spoken voice called his name

making him turn to see a tall brown haired man

walking over from the check in desk. “My name is

Jack. Jack Byrne.”

“We were expecting a John.” Mulder stood to shake

his hand.

“Jack or John…it’s all me. I understand you want

to go up to the Devils Punch Bowl on Torc.” He

glanced at Scully as she drained her coffee and

stepped round the table to join Mulder’s side.

“We wanted to go on the route that Patrick Murphy may

have taken two American researchers.”

“Paddy took them up to the falls and then on the path

that leads behind it into the caves.”

“Well then that’s where we want to go.” Mulder

smiled and looked down to Scully who was standing

quietly by.

“Rightso. Follow me. We’ll take my truck.”

Jack turned round and walked out into the heavy rain

without a second thought. He crossed the road with a

lazy gait and started to climb into a dark blue pick

up.

“You going up to Torc today Jackie?”

They all turned to see an old man approaching the

truck; one hand swinging before him as he walked the

other one nestled in the small of his back. He wore

a tattered pair of trousers that were tucked into a

green pair of wellies and a tweed suit jacket. On

his head he rested a threadbare cap that had seen

better days but he didn’t seem to notice or care.

“Yeah Míchál I’m taking these on a trip up to Poul an

Ifrinn.”

“Well you be careful up there. I can feel it today,

the mountains are close.”

“Don’t worry Míchál. I’ll catch you later in

McClusky’s.”

“Rightso Jackie, I’ll have a pint of the black stuff

waiting for ya!”

Jack smiled and sat into the truck closing the door

behind him. Mulder climbed in beside him, while

Scully got in the back, and with a quick glance over

his shoulder at the traffic he pulled out into the

road.

“So you’re from the FBI?”

“Yeah. Agent Fox Mulder and that’s my partner Agent

Dana Scully.”

“How are you doing ma’am?” John gave her a warm smile

through the rear-view mirror and she could do nothing

but return it.

“Did you know Patrick Murphy?” Scully asked leaning

forward.

“Yes. We were good friends. Terrible shame what

happened to him.”

“What do you think he was running from?”

“The caves.” Jack said it without question as if he

thought there could be no other answer.

“What’s in the caves that made him so scared?” Scully

asked trying not to meet Mulder’s excited eyes.

“Well Torc Waterfall is a very enchanted place. It

has a lot of history.”

“Enchanted?” As if sensing her cynicism Jack glanced

round at her with a wide smile.

“This is Ireland Agent Scully…the whole place is

enchanted.” He turned back to the road and drove away

from the town. Soon they were driving through tree-

lined roads with glimpses of the lakes to their left

and mountains all around. “Torc Wood was once home

to the Pookas and Fairies, but a man named Larry

Hayes owned a farm that bordered it. He was a good

honest man but every morning when he came out to tend

to his stock, he found they’d been hocked, hipped or

even missing. Sometimes dead.”

“Sounds like a case for you Mulder.”

“Cattle Mutilation is a common phenomena in the

United States.”

“Well I don’t think Larry was afraid of aliens,” Jack

replied, surprising Scully with his perception.

The rain hadn’t eased up by the time Jack pulled in

to a space by the park entrance. He jumped out of

the car and zipped up his raincoat, pulling the hood

up over his head. The agents joined him, each

pulling up their hoods too.

“Anyone who’s not wearing a coat today doesn’t own

one!” Jack smiled at Scully as she shoved her hands

in her pockets to protect them against the cold wet

wind.

“So what happened with Larry?” Mulder asked glancing

between them both and catching the smile on Jack’s

lips as he winked at Scully.

“A long time ago…” Jack began, walking up the

incline that led to the waterfall.”

“In a galaxy far far away?” Scully suggested, her

voice dripping with sarcasm.

“No not quite…” Jack looked back at her with

laughing eyes. “Larry was wondering who would hold a

grudge against him to hurt his livestock. But he

couldn’t think of anyone.” As he spoke he walked on

the gravely sandy path away from the car park and up

towards the waterfall. The closer they got the

louder he had to speak, as the roar of the water was

tremendous. “So even though he was afraid of the

good people of the forest, he stayed up one night to

see if he could catch the culprit. He walked the

fields over and over and suddenly before him appeared

a large boar.”

“A boar?” Scully asked but both men ignored her

exclamation.

“He was afraid but he asked the boar what he was

doing in the forest. And the boar admitted it was he

who killed his animals, but promised to make it up to

him if he followed him to the caves.”

“A talking boar no less,” Scully added but again to

no reception.

“So Larry followed the boar into the forest,” Jack

continued chuckling at her reaction. “So they walked

through Torc Wood and came to a large rock. The boar

opened a door in the middle of it and walked in.

Carefully Larry followed only to find himself

standing in the finest room he had ever seen. He

turned to speak to the boar but standing in his place

was a handsome young man.”

The path became steeper and Mulder reached back to

take Scully’s hand but she batted his offer away,

passing him out instead. If Jack noticed the

altercation he didn’t comment, only continued with

his story.

“In less time than it takes to tell, he had treated

Larry to a fine meal of beef and mutton and a large

jug of whiskey punch, then from nowhere, he produced

a bag of gold and handed it to Larry. He then told

him that he could have as much gold as he liked but

he couldn’t utter one word of this place to another

soul.”

“Uh oh…here it comes.” Mulder glanced around him

and took in the beautiful sights of the forest and

the river that flowed beside them over soft rocks and

pebbles.

“Larry vowed he would never tell, hocked the bag over

his shoulder and made his way home. Soon the

neighbors not to mention his wife became curious how

he’d become so suddenly rich. But Larry never said a

word. Then one night his wife followed him into the

forest and watched him enter the rock. When he came

out she taunted him to tell her his secret and she

berated him so much he finally gave in and told her

everything.”

“Women!” Mulder joked rolling his eyes to heaven.

“Shut up Mulder.”

“Then the boar appeared on the top of the rock and

yelled out to Larry so loud that the mountain on

which they were standing rocked again and again. And

he was whipped up into a sheet of flame to Poul an

Ifrinn where no sooner had he plunged into the Devils

Punch bowl the water spilled out and became Torc

Waterfall ever since protecting the rock.”

“That’s some story,” Scully said emphasizing the word

story.

“What about Larry?” Mulder asked always wanting to

take it a little further.

“Larry is said to roam this forest protecting the

rock for eternity.” Scully let out a small laugh and

Jack turned to face her, an exaggerated frown on his

face.

“Well let’s just get up here and see what we can then

we’ll know who’s skeptical?”

As they turned a corner in the small path the

waterfall came into view. They all looked up at the

magnificent sight of the pristine water spilling over

the many rocks in its path. Jack reached the small

brick wall and rested one foot one it. His hands

slapped his knee and he pointed up to the waterfall.

“See that ledge up there jutting out from behind the

falls? It leads to the cave entrance.”

“We have to climb up there?” Scully pulled her hood

back to get a better view. The rain had eased down

but the crashing water at the bottom of the falls was

wafting a fine mist over them.

“Yeah.” Jack hoisted himself over the wall onto a

flat rock and Mulder followed. As they bounded onto

the next one Scully followed. “They are supposed to

live in these caves. But you can’t just walk in and

see them.”

“Walk in and see who? The boar?”

Both men stopped and turned to face Scully who was

jumping one rock behind them.

“Na Fír Beag,” Jack answered in his native tongue.

“Who?” Scully asked unaware of the scrutiny she was

receiving from both men as she jumped onto the next

flat rock.

“Leprechauns.” Jacks voice was so matter of fact

that she found it hard not to expect to see them.

“Agent Scully is part Irish,” Mulder offered

helpfully.

“Oh so she knows all about them then.”

Scully pursed her lips, jumping over to the rock

where Mulder was standing. He steadied her with an

arm around her waist and smiled at her ruffled hair.

“C’mon Scully we’re nearly there.”

“This pool is a lot deeper than it looks do be

careful.” Jack called out to them. “It’s also a

skinny dippers haven so try to keep your clothes on.”

“Pity it’s raining,” Mulder muttered earning him a

jab in ribs from Scully.

Jack had climbed up onto the small ledge and was

inching his way behind the powerful water. Scully

followed, and with a quick glance back to see if

Mulder was behind him, she carefully stepped behind

the water and met Jack in the cave.

What little sunlight managed to shine through the

water was refracted around the cave. Jack was

pulling a torch from his jacket pocket but he didn’t

switch it on. As Scully went to turn hers on; he put

his hand over hers to stop her. Without a word he

shook his head, putting a finger to his lips.

Mulder stepped in and looked between them both. He

resisted the urge to turn on his own torch as stepped

protectively up to Scully, placing a possessive hand

on her elbow.

“We can’t use the torches,” Jack whispered. “They

hide from the light.”

“We’re here to examine a crime scene Mr Byrne. That

can’t be done in the dark.” Scully’s voice was a

little higher than a whisper but her frown added all

the volume it needed.

“I understand that, but if you don’t keep your torch

off we wont get much time to examine it.”

“What do you mean?” Mulder asked.

“They’re here.” Jack walked on and slowly made his

way deeper into the darkness.

“I don’t like this Mulder.”

“We’re both armed Scully. And besides…I could do

with a pot of gold.”

“You’ll need more than lucky charms if something goes

wrong here.”

Chuckling Mulder looked up to find Jack. Barely able

to make out his shadow he walked on, dodging the low

cave roof in a few places. He felt Scully’s hand

gripping the back of his jacket as she followed

closely behind.

“Hey! Jack! Wait up!” Mulder called ahead not able to

see Jack’s shadow any more. When no one replied he

looked back at Scully who without hesitation flicked

on her torch and shone it ahead.

“Where did he go?”

A loud scream startled them both and Mulder reached

for his gun. Scully kept the torch steady as they

walked on, holding her gun rigidly by her side.

“Hello?” Mulder called out. “Yell if you can hear

me!”

Another scream from behind made them spin round to

see where it came from. Scully took a few steps back

and reached a hand out to the cave wall. It was wet

and cold beneath her fingers but it glistened beneath

her torch light with an unnatural sheen.

“Come here Mulder look at this?” He walked over and

she held the light up closer to give them a better

view.

“What is that?”

“I dunno…it looks like…it looks like gold.”

“It’s not in a pot though.”

Mulder stood away from the wall and spotted small

stream of water running on the floor but disappearing

behind a rock. He knelt lower to the ground and ran

his fingers along the streams trail feeling a breeze

as they brushed against the bottom of the rock.

Calling Scully over with her torch, he holstered his

gun and tried to move the rock but it wouldn’t budge.

Sitting back and leaning on his hands he ignored the

freezing cold water that soaked through his jeans and

levered his feet onto it to push it away. It moved a

little then with a grunt he pushed harder and it

moved away. Scrambling to his knees he followed the

water with his fingers again and found the hole that

it was flowing down.

“There is something down there. I can feel the air

rising.”

“The must be another entrance.”

Scully locked her torch onto the stream and followed

it in the other direction. Mulder was behind her

fumbling in his pocket for his own torch, but as he

pulled it free of his pocket it fell to the floor

with a splashing clatter. Following it to a curve in

the wall he grabbed it and was relieved to see it

switch on.

“I see the light Scully!” he mused, turning to follow

her, but as he swung his torch around the cave he saw

she was gone. “Scully?”

Her scream shook him right down to his bones and he

rushed forward to chase it. The ground was wet and

he fell to the floor scraping his palms but his

momentum kept him moving and with some difficulty he

got back on his feet and scrambled further into the

cave.

“Scully!” he called again louder this time and more

urgently, his heart ramming in his chest so hard he

was sure if she couldn’t hear his voice shouting she

would hear his heart calling out to her.

“Mulder…I’m down here!” he heard faintly. Stopping

all movement and even holding his breath he waited

for her to call out again. “Mulder.”

Running forward he noticed a slip in the ground where

a tunnel ran under the wall. It was pretty well

hidden but he figured she must have fallen in.

Getting down onto his chest, he got as close as he

dared to the tunnel noticing how it went into a sharp

decline.

“Scully…can you hear me?”

“Yeah Mulder. We’re down here…call the paramedics

and get help out here quickly.”

“We? Did you find Jack?”

“And the researchers. But get help Mulder…quick.”

Her voice sounded urgent so he jumped up and rushed

out to the cave entrance. Pulling his mobile phone

out he checked it for a signal but there was none.

He edged his way out onto the ledge but lost his

footing and fell down into the pool.

Splashing his way to the edge he raced down the

rocks, bouncing form surface to surface with an

agility that belied his stiff cold wet limbs. He

reached the path, watching his mobile until finally

the signal lit up. Mulder dialed the 911 emergency

services and stared in confusion as it dinged funny

noises at him, flashing a message of no such number.

“What the hell…” he tried again but it failed a

second time and then it dawned on him where he was.

“Shit…” He reset the phone and dialed 999 rejoicing

in the instant connection.

“Killarney Emergency how can I help?” the clear voice

answered.

“This is special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI. I

need all available emergency vehicles down at Torc

Waterfall.”

“Wait hold on a sec there boy…FBI?”

“Agent Fox Mulder…with the FBI!”

“Is this you Brian?” the voice came back laughing.

“You gotta stop calling here like this. You’ll get me

in trouble.”

“Sorry this isn’t Brian look, I’m at Torc Waterfall.

Some people are trapped in the caves…they need

help.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes!” Mulder couldn’t believe what he had to go

through to call the ambulance. “Hurry!”

“I’ll send two units straight out.”

“Thank you!”

Already running up the hill, Mulder pocketed the

phone and climbed back in to the cave. He was

freezing cold and shivering from the wet clothes but

he made his way back to the tunnel entrance and

called out to Scully.

“Can you hear me Scully?”

“Yeah Mulder.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah…a bit bumped and bruised but I’m okay.”

Scully shone the light around the small cave and held

it over Jack’s pained face. He was holding his leg

at his knee and wincing at the pain he was obviously

feeling from the bloody wound. The researchers were

unconscious but she could feel slight pulses.

Removing her coat she draped it over Parsons who

seemed to be slightly worse off then Gellar.

“You okay?” Scully asked Jack as she crawled over

towards him seemingly oblivious to the small bloody

wound over her left eye.

“My knee. I think it’s broken.”

“I’m a doctor…let me see.”

Reluctantly he released his grip on the leg and tried

not to wince too much as Scully probed his knee with

her fingers. She refrained from rolling up his

trousers and pulled the scarf from his neck. Binding

it tightly in place she rested it back on the ground

and told him help would be there soon.

“It shouldn’t be long now. I can’t believe no one

checked the caves for the researchers,” she mused as

she looked them over again checking and rechecking

their pulses.

“A lot of people are afraid of these caves.”

“Because of that story?”

“You don’t put much weight into stories like that do

you?” Jack was watching her from under hooded eyes

and she wasn’t sure if he was in pain or trying to

add an air of mystery to the cave.

“No. I’m a scientist,” she replied matter of factly.

“Maybe you shouldn’t disregard everything without

proof.”

As he spoke Jack’s eyes lifted to an area behind her,

towards the tunnel they had fallen through. Scully

whipped her head around and in a flash the ghostly

outline of a young man shabbily dressed disappeared

in a cloud of mist. She blinked a few times and

shook her head but the sight was gone, replaced only

by two boot-clad feet as the rescue worker jumped

through the tunnel and landed in the middle of the

small cave.

“What have we got here then…” The seriousness of

the situation seemed to dissolve under the soft Irish

brogue of the rescue worker who was already assessing

his options.

When the emergency team arrived they went down the

tunnel with an efficiency Mulder was afraid they

wouldn’t possess. The bodies were lifted out and

carried down the waterfall to waiting ambulances.

Scully was the last to be lifted out, having waited

for all the others to go first. Jack smiled ruefully

at him as he was winched down. The waterfall did

nothing to help their decline to the path but the

rescue team didn’t even seem to notice it was there.

Finally when Scully crawled out, he helped her out of

the cave and they made their way down the waterfall

hand in hand carefully stepping from rock to rock

until the steadiness of the gravel path was beneath

their feet. Sitting on the ambulance bed in the back

of the truck, Scully let the technician sew up her

small wound and place a light bandage over it. She

still hadn’t said a word as they took Jack’s car back

into town. Leaving the keys at reception as Jack had

asked him to do, Mulder walked beside her to the

room.

“You okay Scully? You seem very quiet.”

“I’m eh, I’m fine Mulder. Just tired.”

“Well have a rest. I’m going to go to the hospital

to find out about Gellar and Parsons.”

“Okay.” He helped her out of her wet clothes and into

the bed. She had fallen asleep almost as soon as her

head touched the pillow so with a soft kiss he left

her alone and walked out.

It was some time later when Scully woke with a start.

The room was dark but it was a fading darkness that

barely shadowed the shapes and contents of the

unfamiliar surroundings. It took a moment to realize

where she was and spied Mulder laying next to her; a

warm protective arm draped over her waist. She

smiled. Rising from the bed she slowly made her way

to the bathroom and it all came flooding back.

She cupped her hands under the running taps and let

the cold-water spill over the uneven edges of her

palms for a moment before splashing the cold liquid

over her face. The immediate shock stung her temple

and she reached up and carefully padded the small

bandage. It came off easily and she cringed at the

sight of the jagged stitches over her eyebrow.

Back in her room she fumbled in her case for the

first aid kit to replace the dressing as Mulder’s

warm arms embraced her from behind. She leaned back

against his bare chest and he kissed her head.

“How are you feeling?” he asked as he loosed his grip

and let her continue search for the kit.

“Much better. What happened at the hospital yesterday

evening?” she replied immediately taking the focus

off her and into the case.

“Parsons is still in a coma but Gellar woke up this

morning. He said that he fell down into the cave and

found Charles Parsons lying there unconscious. He

yelled out for help but nobody answered.”

“How did they survive?” Scully asked sitting in front

of the mirror to apply the thin dressing over her

stitches. He stood behind her his fingers rubbing

gentle circles into her shoulders.

“Until the day before yesterday he was okay. He was

able to keep them both alive by feeding them water

from the falls that trickled down the walls.”

“Then he passed out,” she summarized turning as she

stood into the circle of his arms.

“Yeah. If we didn’t find them when we did.” Scully

didn’t reply but her arms snaked around his waist and

she held him close. “You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“I spoke to Jack. He said you got a bit of a fright

down in the cave…did something happen?”

“Happen? No nothing happened.” Mulder didn’t believe

her but her words seemed to close off any more

questions.

“So shall we go into town an see the parade?”

“It’s St Patrick’s Day today?”

“Yeah and the parade kicks off in about an hour.”

“Sure but I’d like to go into the hospital first and

see them.”

“I thought you would. Well lets get dressed and go.”

It seemed that at least one thing in this world was

universal, Dana Scully thought as she walked swiftly

through the hospital corridors. No matter which

country she was in a hospital still smelt like a

hospital. The sound of bedpans clattering to the

floor sent a nauseating shiver up her spine and old

men didn’t know how to tie robes. Mulder knew where

the rooms were so they didn’t need to ask for

directions. He led them to the researchers room

first and they were pleased to see both men awake.

“Doctor Parsons. My name is Fox Mulder.”

“Ahhh the FBI Agent who saved us.” His voice was

raspy and soft and Mulder could barely make out what

he was saying.

“Well that accolade should probably go to my partner

Dana Scully.” Mulder waved towards Scully who was

examining the chart at the end of his bed.

“Thank you very much,” he managed to say too weak to

sit up but too grateful not to smile in her

direction.

“Do you remember anything from your time down there

Dr Parsons?” Scully asked coming around to the side

of the bed and taking a closer look at his pallor.

“Nothing at all. I remember falling and a flash…I

guess that was when I banged my head.”

“What about you Professor Gellar?” Scully turned to

face the other bed and faced the other patient. His

eyes seemed to shift between the two agents but he

said remained silent, “Nothing?” Scully persisted.

“Just worrying about being found.”

Scully stared at him for a moment and Mulder almost

called her away, but it seemed she finally accepted

his answer and walked out of the room with a brief

wave. Mulder wished them well and followed her into

the corridor.

“What was all that about Scully?”

“What?”

“The third degree…what did they see? What did you

see?” he persisted taking hold of her arm.

“Nothing Mulder. Where is Jack?”

“He’s in orthopedics. This way.” They took the

elevator to the next floor and found Jack in the

communal room sitting by the window.

“Jack?” Mulder said softly not wanting to disturb the

other patients.

“Ah Mr Mulder. You’re back.”

“Agent Scully wanted to make sure everything was

okay.”

Jack’s eyes lit up at the sight of Scully walking

towards him a careful smile on her lips.

“How are you doing Jack?”

“It’s just a twisted knee. I’m going home tomorrow.”

“That’s good.” She glanced over her shoulder at

Mulder who was keeping one eye on the TV sport’s

channel. She didn’t recognize the game but it looked

like soccer. A local sport she presumed, as she

turned back to Jack grateful for Mulder’s

distraction. She stepped closer to him and rested a

hand on the table beside him “I was wondering if you

could tell me…”

“It’s not my story to tell Dana.”

“Sorry?”

“It’s not my story.” He covered her hand with one of

his own and squeezed it gently. “We both saw the same

thing so we both have to tell our own stories.”

“What did you see?” she asked tying to keep the plea

out of her voice.

“Scéalta. Scéalta Taibhse.” At her frown he smiled

a little and turned back to the window but not before

she heard his faint whisper. “Ghost stories.”

Scully stood away from the table and touched Mulder’s

elbow to let him know they were leaving. He smiled

at Jack whose focus was on the scenery out the

window. Following Scully out to the car they drove

back to the hotel and parked the rental car back in

the garage.

“What did he say?” Mulder asked unable to take the

silence any longer.

“Ghost Stories Mulder, he was talking about Ghost

stories.”

They climbed out of the car and turned walked out

onto the street in time to see a large paper maché St

Patrick drive by on the top of a lorry. Mulder

smiled and even Scully’s reverie seemed to have

melted. Taking her hand he pulled her over to the

side of the road where they could watch the rest of

the parade go by. With an arm over her shoulder he

pointed out the various floats that caught his eye.

They ate green candy floss and watched as the teams

of Irish Dancers danced by, oblivious to the wind and

light rain in their short skirts and curly hair.

“I’d really love a pint of Guinness,” Mulder muttered

as he spied the doorway to a pub behind them,

littered with parade watchers who didn’t seem to want

to commit to the rain fully.

“Guinness Mulder?”

“When in Ireland…” he said smiling as he took her

hand and led her over to the pub. Fighting his was

to the bar he ordered two pints of Guinness and

smiled at Scully as the bartender left two half full

glasses on the bar to settle. After taking the money

from Mulder, he bent lower to the glasses as if

evaluating their status then arched them under the

tap to fill them to the brim. Grabbing what looked

like a small jam jar lid from a shelf behind them he

pressed it onto the top of the creamy pint head and

gave them to Mulder.

Mulder took them and held them high above his head as

he fought his way back onto the street again. They

managed to reclaim a spot near the curb again and

Mulder handed her a pint, grinning like a fool.

Scully took it with trepidation and realized that now

they were out in the sunlight the stout wasn’t black

as she expected, but a dark green color and had a

shamrock stamped carefully onto the head in the

cream. Her eyebrow went up in surprise as she looked

to Mulder in surprise.

“Sláinte!” Mulder said clinking his glass to the side

of hers before taking a deep breath and tasting his

drink. Scully watched him swallow a big portion and

grimace at the sour taste. “Oh that’s good

Guinness…”

“Try telling your face…” she said joking before

taking her own taste. The dark green liquid was ice

cold and the taste exploded on her tongue and buzzed

all the way down to her stomach. Once the initial

surprise dissolved she was left with a cold trail of

stout that begged to be filled. Mulder watched in

amazement as she took another swallow and another

licking her lips free of the creamy residue.

“You like it Scully?”

“Oh yes. But sure Mulder I’m practically Irish, of

course I like it.” He laughed out loud delighted to

see the dark clouds of wonder had disappeared from

her eyes replaced by the now familiar twinkle of joy

that escaped when she smiled. Especially the smile he

brought out in her when he looked at her with all

that charm and love. He clinked their glasses

together again and slipped an arm around her shoulder

to hold her close as they watched the rest of the

parade. She felt a strong urge to lick the Guinness

froth from those gorgeous lips of his, but what her

mouth didn’t say her eyes made up for. Nothing in her

gaze was lost on Mulder.

Soon they too didn’t seem to notice the misty rain

that came down from the mountains and covered the

town in a damp sheen as the festivities went on

around them.

“Happy St Patrick’s Day Scully.” He bent to kiss her

and nuzzled her lips, tasting her.

“You too Mulder.”

The End.

Skinfull.

Banshee

Title: Banshee

Author: Martin Ross

Type: Casefile; St. Patrick’s Day theme

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Mulder recalls his college days, and a case

that screamed to be solved.

Spoilers: Fire

Disclaimer: The X-Files is the property of 10-13

Productions, Chris Carter, and Fox.

Special Agent Dana Scully stared in horror at the

pile of pink, pungently aromatic flesh before her. It

was half-covered in leaves, and she gasped as she

nudged them aside and exposed the tissues.

“Mulder,” she breathed. “This is deadly. Look at the

fat deposits.”

Her partner nodded cheerfully, mouth crammed with

corn beef and cabbage. “Try ih wif da gree’ beer. I’s

Atkins-frien’ly.”

Scully turned to the tall stein of emerald-colored

brew next to her steaming plate. “When you told me

you were taking me out for a special St. Patrick’s

Day dinner, I foolishly assumed you were taking me to

O’Mara’s Publick House for the peppercorn sirloin and

maybe some black-and-tan pudding. Not a slab of

sodium, cholesterol, and gristle buried in soggy,

overcooked cabbage.”

Mulder swallowed. “It’s all you can eat, you know.

Did I tell you that?”

Scully scanned the array of cardboard shamrocks and

leprechauns stapled to the booths of Flynn’s Capitol

Mall Pub. “I mean, Mulder, is this what our cultural

awareness has come to? Look at me – a redheaded,

Irish-American cop. But no one in my family ever

traveled to Ireland, I don’t know a single word of

Gaelic, and my priest’s name is Wozjehewski. We’re

not a melting pot – we’re like a bad cheesy

casserole.”

“C’mon, Scully, what’s wrong once a year with our

getting in touch with the Irish inside us?”

“The Irish inside us.”

“You know what I mean – the joyous, gregariously

poetic, romantic part of ourselves we button up

during our humdrum, workaday lives. Besides, on a

purely personal level, the Celtic culture is a

virtual smorgasbord of preternatural petit-fours.

Leprechauns, faeries, wraiths… Perhaps no

technologically advanced western nation is so steeped

in its belief in the unknown.”

“And thereby, I assume, hangs a tale?”

“Ah, sure, and you must have psychic abilities. . .”

**

“Well, if it isn’t the pride of Oxford Yard,” Nowicki

murmured, appearing as always in the corner of my

eye. “Things’ll kill you, son.”

“Special Agent Nowicki,” I nodded, collecting my

coneful of fish and chips and turning away from the

stall. Special Agent Kenny Nowicki was pale and

flabby, and I doubted he followed any of his frequent

avuncular health tips. “Actually, I plan to secret

this into my aberrant psych prof’s meat pie while

he’s not looking, so I can take the course over.”

“Want to be careful, Fox – Prof. Winton speaks very

highly of your skills in profiling.”

“Ah,” I said. “Have to go to the chemist’s and get

some digitalis for the dear old chap.”

This was back in the mid-’80s – disco was thankfully

dead but Reaganism was alive and kicking. I was in my

final year at Oxford, a Yank among the dons in self-

exile from trickle-down sociology, the ghost and the

demons that had dogged my adolescence, and my father,

who’d seemed as relieved to ship me off as I had been

to flee.

Three years later, I was a regular at every pub

around Oxford town, frequently tucked into a corner

discussing serial killers or the latest item in the

Fortean Times with my mentor, Dr. Byrnes, my equally

twisted and scholarly mates, or the girl I’d been

seeing.

(“Phoebe.” Scully stated it matter-of-factly, laying

it out on the table with the fatty corn beef and the

wilted cabbage.)

Phoebe Green, budding criminologist, determined

someday to become the Terror of Scotland Yard.

Nowicki, some kind of Bureau recruiter who’d surfaced

a month earlier on campus, was equally as determined

to put me in a black suit and J. Edgar Hoover decoder

ring.

“Some piece of work, that thesis you did for Winton

last term on the Lecter case,” Nowicki continued,

trailing me without stepping up his pace. “You could

probably snag an assistant directorship within five

years, you quit screwing around and came aboard.”

I turned, smiling. “Agent Nowicki, I’d love to talk

wiretaps and illegal searches over a couple

Guinnesses, but my girlfriend and I are blowing town

for the weekend, and I have to pack.”

“Where to?” Nowicki asked lightly.

“Pip, pip, Agent Nowicki,” I murmured, stepping it

up. He didn’t follow me – he never did.

**

“My, you already have your own agent-cum-major domo

attached to you,” Phoebe noted as our train trundled

toward the Dublin Ferry landing.

“I think I shall name him Jeeves.”

“Ugly Americanism at its worst. Quite seriously,

though, Fox, what are your intentions? Is there a

going market for freelance behavioral

scientist/occultists in the States? Or do you intend

to make a career of chasing flying saucers?”

I’d made the mistake one amorously candid night of

baring my soul, including the raw and aching part

where Samantha had been ripped away. The evening had

ended with a pint or so too many and a sacrilegious

episode at the grave of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Just evasive future coppers,” I responded lightly.

Phoebe sighed heavily, shook her head in resignation,

and turned to the green blur of Northern England

outside her window.

“Come on,” I finally murmured, reaching for her hand.

She refused it at first, then sighed and squeezed my

fingers.

“Me, evasive,” she mused. “You’re very likely the

most unfathomable mystery I’ll never solve.”

**

“Pop, this is Fox and Phoebe,” Ryan called out as he

shut the sounds of rush-hour Dublin outside.

Garren O’Mara was a large, simultaneously soft and

hard man. Ryan had told me his dad had nearly made

the pro soccer circuit as a young man, before a blown

knee had sentenced him to life in a foundry.

Ryan’s childhood home was a sorely neglected monument

to his late mother. Dried flowers – flora left to

die, not the artfully arranged flowers you might find

in a foofy boutique – languished in dusty glass vases

in long-forgotten corners.

“Fox,” O’Mara grunted, a smirk momentarily contorting

his bleak, monolithic face. He gave Phoebe the once-

over, turned, and ambled back to a filthy, ramshackle

chartreuse armchair. In seconds, Ryan’s father was

burbling and occasionally chortling over the antics

of a gaudily dressed comedian and his scantily clad

nurse.

“Well,” Ryan grinned, as if his father had performed

an oft-repeated trick. “William,” he shouted. “Get on

out here!”

I heard a pot clang in the kitchen down the dark hall

beyond the living room, and a dissipated, broken-

nosed version of Ryan lurched into the room. He

ignored me and inspected Phoebe from head to toe, a

look of frank envy momentarily souring a reckless and

hung-over grin.

“And you’d be Ryan’s chums from the school,” William

said, wiping wet hands on his jeans. “Supper’s just

about on – just beef and potatoes, I’m sure nothing

fancy like the fare they feed you at the college.”

“Stow it,” Ryan sighed.

“Yeah, guess I better watch myself in this company,

eh?” He tossed his father’s smirk at me, nodded, and

lurched back to the kitchen.

“Ah, home,” I breathed.

“Sorry,” Ryan smiled sheepishly. “Pop’s been pretty

much into his telly since Mum died, and William,

well, he’s got a hollow leg and a chip the size of

County Kilkenny on his shoulders. Always got to drink

harder and fight harder than any of the other

blokes.”

“If only he could cook harder than any of the other

blokes,” I commented to Phoebe later, as we washed

the dishes. The boiled beef had held more water than

the Titanic, and the potatoes were soft and

flavorless. Garren O’Mara was now drowning out Benny

Hill in the living room. William had disappeared for

the pubs before the food reviews could come in.

“Used to cook up a storm with Mum, when he was a

lad,” Ryan recalled. “They were great, good friends –

he’d help her out in the garden and in the kitchen —

until the old man decided he was turning into a nancy

and devoted himself to making William into the

gallant young man you now see.”

I glanced out the kitchen window. Beyond a yard of

anemic brown grass was a bare patch of clods and

long-dead vegetation. “I take it your father doesn’t

have the same green thumb.”

Ryan darkened. “It was a sore point for him, Mum and

her flowers. That was how she coped with him, I think

– the gardening, making these beautiful dry flower

arrangements. He was constantly grousing about the

flowers and garlands about the house. Said they gave

him hay fever.”

I wondered if perhaps Mrs. O’Mara had had more than

one way of coping with her brutish husband. “When did

your mom die, Ryan?”

“Three years ago,” Ryan murmured, leaning on the

kitchen table. “In fact, that’s part of why I asked

you to come for the school holiday.”

“I was curious,” I grinned. “Considering we haven’t

exchanged more than about five sentences over the

last two years.”

Ryan shrugged his athletic shoulders and glanced at a

cheap plastic clock mounted by the pantry. “Phoebe

told me you were into, ah, rather queer crimes –

supernatural stuff and the like. Well, I wondered if

you might, well, give me an opinion on a sort of

unexplained phenomenon.” He glanced again at the

clock. “It ought to be starting any minute–”

Ryan was interrupted by what I first assumed to be a

siren keening low in the distance. Phoebe nearly

dropped a plate as the sound grew into a human, but

somehow inhuman, female wailing. Somewhere in the

anguished sobs and lamentations were words I couldn’t

quite make out.

The wailing continued for at least 10 minutes, and

then trailed off into a low moan and silence. I was

unable to determine from where the cries emanated –

it was as if they came from nowhere and everywhere at

once. Phoebe and I stood in shocked silence.

I looked to Ryan, heart pounding with mild fear – and

exhilaration. “What,” I breathed, “was that?”

“Been happening every night, round about 7:30, for

the last three years,” he explained. “I think it’s my

Mum.” His head jerked toward the living room. “I

think he killed her, and she wants us to know it.”

**

“The banshee is a centuries-old Irish legend,” I told

Phoebe later in the upstairs hallway. “A disembodied

female voice, sometimes anguished and plaintive,

sometimes vengeful and menacing. According to the

literature, the banshee is supposed to be a woman who

has been torn from her family prematurely. There are

two types: The spirit whose love for those left keeps

her earthbound, guarding and protecting them; and the

banshee seeking to torment the one who took her life

from her.”

Phoebe, at the threshold to her room, smiled

tolerantly in a style I later became accustomed to.

“And which kind do you believe this particular

banshee to be? Anguished or angry?”

“Given the dynamics of this happy home, I’d be

inclined to believe a bit of both.”

The front of her terry robe was gapping, and I was

becoming eager to end this chat. But she shook her

head sadly. “Fox, how do you expect ever to gain any

credibility in forensics or law enforcement with this

paranormal rubbish? You sound like one of the London

tabs. I shudder to think of your first interview with

the FBI.”

“You sure it’s disdainful shuddering?” I suggested,

leaning into the heat of her. “I know a cure for

banshee jitters.”

Phoebe pecked me on the lips. “Night, Love.” I

retreated just in time to avoid a faceful of

splinters.

**

“And you would be Mr. Fox Mulder?”

I looked up to see an impressive paunch with a nearly

bald block of a head and a cauliflower nose floating

above it. A short white scar framed the left side of

his graying brush mustache.

“Yes, sir,” I responded, determined to stay on his

best side.

“Detective Inspector Dobbyns,” the Dublin policeman

murmured, stepping around me to the battered chair

behind his battered desk. “They keep you gathering

dust very long here?”

“No, sir – everybody was very accommodating.” In

fact, I’d been cooling my heels for 20 minutes with

only amused stares and curious glares to keep me

company.

“The squad prides itself on impeccable service. Now,

Mr. Mulder, I understand you would be here inquiring

as to a homicide case we investigated three years

ago. Are you a relation to the late lamented, or has

guilt or spontaneous remembrance of a pertinent fact

brought you here today?”

“I’m a friend of the victim’s son – we attend Oxford

together. I’m studying criminal psychology, and Ryan

asked me to see if–”

“Danny!” D.I. Dobbyns barked suddenly to a tall cop

next to a file cabinet. “Do we have any locked room

murders at hand presently? Untraceable poisonings?”

The tall cop shook his head, glancing at me.

Dobbyns turned back to me. “Tis a shame. To have an

Oxford-trained American criminologist named Fox at my

disposable and no unfathomable riddles or nefarious

schemes for him to sniff at.”

I smiled as I rose. “May the road rise up to meet

you, sir.”

“Ah, sit down, Mr. Mulder,” the D.I. chuckled,

indicating the guest chair. “The wife’s taken me off

my whiskey and sweets, so I have to find some sport.

Besides, Marty says you’re inquiring as to the O’Mara

case. That one always bothered me a bit.”

“Why?”

Dobbyns studied me carefully. “You’re a friend of the

family, is that right?”

“Just Ryan. Just the victim’s son.”

“Ah, what the hell. Never could prove it, but I

always had a bad feeling about the husband – felt

like maybe his bein’ off with his mates at the soccer

match while his wife was dying at home was a mite

convenient for him. The poison was administered in

Mrs. O’Mara’s afternoon tea – we found residue of the

substance in her cup.”

“What substance?”

“Ah, yes – you are the forensic whiz kid, aren’t you?

Glycoside, lad – a heart drug if you got a bum

ticker, deadly poison if you don’t — and a

reasonably high concentration of it. Mrs. O’Mara

tended to prefer her tea loose – used one of those

thingies—”

“An infuser?”

“Yes, that. She was down to the last dregs of her

supply that day – kept it in one of those crockery-

type affairs — and we suspicioned someone had

slipped the poison into the jar. How well do you know

Mr. O’Mara?”

“I’ve met him,” I said, dryly. “I won’t leap from my

chair to defend his honor.”

“Indeed. Well, as I’m sure is true in the States, the

loving spouse is not infrequently the focus in many

homicide investigations. And a more tantalizing focal

point one could not wish for. Many’s the time the

boys’d drop in on the O’Maras to maintain the

neighborhood peace, and Mrs. O’Mara was no stranger

to the local dispensary. But, as an erudite Oxford

criminalist such as yourself might guess, all of our

attempts to remove the problem from, well, the

‘situation,’ were fruitless. And we didn’t let this

out, but the late lamented showed signs of brutality

— two broken fingers, according to the police

surgeon, broken after death.”

“So you liked Garren for the murder. Or you would

have liked him for it.”

Dobbyns’ mustache shifted. “I will confess, I would

have liked to have clapped the irons on old Garren.

He was all that the world hates in an Irishman –

drunk, foul temper, and as mean as an old boar off

his feed. Unfortunately, that’s no longer enough for

Her Majesty’s Bench. While I could picture Garren

O’Mara bludgeoning his dear wife or knocking her down

the front stairs, poisoning did not quite suit the

man. Not to mention that we could find no evidence of

him purchasing or otherwise securing the glycoside.”

“Any other suspects? The sons?”

“Your friend Ryan was completely in the clear – he’d

been on holiday with his chums for the previous week

in the south. The other boy, ah…”

“William?”

“Yes, that. Well, young William appeared to have a

bit of what you might call a furtive nature about

him. Sensitive lad.”

“Sensitive?” I gasped.

“You don’t think all that bluff and swagger of young

William’s isn’t just a performance for his sorry old

man? I’m sure you’ve spied that limp of his, and at

the time his poor mother was killed, he was nursing a

knot on his neck near the size of a hedge apple. And

all of the neighbors swore the boyo was devoted to

his mother, which I’m certain endeared him to old

Garren. There was some talk of him being involved

with a woman – an older woman. A neighbor lady told

us as how she’d seen him and what appeared to be some

older woman roaming the house whilst his folks were

out.”

“An older woman?”

“The neighbor lady described her as ‘dowdy,’ dressed

like a middle-aged woman. One of the fellows came up

with the rather weak theory some strumpet had got her

hooks into young William and talked him into doing

something dire to get his mother out of the picture.

But we couldn’t find any sign of such a relationship,

and what would this older woman have gotten out of

William or his dear mother? You’ve seen their

palace.”

“So the case just went unsolved.”

“Until you walked into our hallowed halls, praise the

Lord above. Now, how might you convince me to blow

the cobwebs off this woefully neglected casefile?”

I took a breath. “I assume you’ve heard of banshees…”

**

“And that, I assume, is when you found yourself on

the street, wondering why the good inspector couldn’t

simply open himself to the possibilities.”

Mulder frowned bleakly at Scully. “Hey, I was young.”

Scully sputtered. “Oh, yeah – things have really

changed.”

The band was warming up now – three reedy young men

with wispy facial hair plucked out test notes while a

fetching but strongly built redhead caressed the

mouthpiece of her lute. Mulder eyed the lute player

with interest.

“Yes, things have really changed,” Scully repeated,

more darkly.

**

I nearly dislocated my shoulder yanking on the

O’Mara’s doorknob. Ryan had told me to just come back

in when I finished sightseeing, that he’d leave the

door unlocked. I rapped on the weathered frame, and

in a second, Ryan’s ruddy face appeared beyond the

yellowed lace curtain.

“Thought you were gonna do the town,” he breathed,

with what I perceived to be a slightly plaintive

tone. That’s when I noted Ryan’s cheeks were ruddier

than usual, and he seemed winded.

I smiled. “Got hungry, and I left my money in my

jeans.”

Ryan nodded wordlessly, and jerked his head toward

the kitchen. As he turned, I could see the back of

his sweatshirt was tucked half in and half out of his

jeans. It took a second longer to realize the shirt

was on backwards. I quickly scanned the living room

and parlor for Phoebe.

Garren O’Mara was sitting up at the kitchen table,

his broad back to us. I could smell cold meat and

mustard.

“Mr. O’Mar—” I began, heading for the chair opposite

him, then stopped dead.

Ryan was raiding the fridge. “Hey, Pop, why don’t you

go easy on Will. Some day, he may just decide to give

you a good thump on the–”

“Ryan,” I advised quietly. He turned, and all blood

fled his cheeks.

“Dear Lord,” he whispered, staring wide-eyed into his

deceased father’s equally wide eyes. Garren O’Mara’s

jowly face was locked in a look of terror, his

fingers locked into a fear-mangled sandwich. Mustard

had oozed between his digits.

Ryan collapsed into a chair, his jaw slack. “It

must’ve been the row he had with William when he came

in from the pub. Don’t know what it was about, but

there was an awful commotion, and I could hear

William stomp up the stairs. I suppose it was one

tantrum two many for ‘im.”

As I examined O’Mara for any sign of foul play, I

unconsciously recorded Ryan’s strangely secondhand

report of the domestic disturbance and the fact that

Phoebe still hadn’t shown herself.

“Or maybe one too many manifestations,” I mumbled.

“Oh, come on,” Ryan snorted, irritably. “So now, you

think he was murdered by some kind of wraith or

spirit? Mum?”

“Look at his face, Ryan. That’s pure horror. Maybe

this time, she actually materialized.”

“God’s sake, Fox!”

“What are you boys –?” Phoebe halted in the kitchen

doorway. Her sleek hair, I noted, was neatly brushed.

Too neatly, as if she’d just had to. . . “My God. Is

he. . .?”

“That he is,” Ryan said quietly.

Phoebe rushed into the kitchen and threw her arms

around Ryan’s neck. “I’m so sorry.” She caught my

eye, and the look on Phoebe’s face made me glance

away, something sharp but shapeless forming in my

gut…

**

The wake for Garren O’Mara was held two days later at

the O’Mara residence. It was attended largely by

solicitous neighbors, friends of Eileen O’Mara who

periodically cast neutral eyes toward the photo of

Garren on the long-unused hearth, and Garren’s

coworkers – a morose lot drawn primarily to the table

of donated food. The parish priest dropped by for a

few moments, stumbled over an anecdote or two about

Garren’s infrequent episodes of humor and humanity,

and hastily left us with the distinct impression the

dear departed would not be chatting up his deceased

wife any time soon.

The police had come to call after Ryan summoned an

ambulance for his father. D.I. Dobbyns was not among

them.

Neither had Eileen O’Mara made an appearance since

the passing of her surviving husband.

The police surgeon cleared the air of any homicidal

suspicions a day later, when the post-mortem revealed

that a life of red meat, cheese, potatoes, and fried

pub food had laid waste to Garren O’Mara’s arterial

network. I made no mention of my own theories on the

case – Ryan preferred to believe his father had

stared horror-stricken into the face of his own

mortality, rather than that of his dead bride – and

Ryan busily attended to his father’s arrangements

while William nestled into a cocoon of silence and

Phoebe and I avoided conversation and contact where

possible.

“You’d be the young American fellow?” I looked

around, and then down, at the diminutive old woman

whose face was as finely webbed as the lace shawl

about her shoulders.

“Yes, ma’am,” I smiled, transferring my whiskey glass

to my left hand and grasping her thin fingers

delicately. “Fox Mulder. I’m a friend of Ryan’s.”

“I’m Maureen Cragan – I live a door to the south. Tis

a shame, for the boys, I mean, even if he was an

awful creature.”

“Mr. O’Mara?”

“I suppose it must sound awful – I’ll have to say a

dozen Hail Marys tonight.” I then noticed her

worrying a rosary in her arthritically clawed left

hand. “I knew Eileen and her people when she was but

a child, and what she ever saw in that brutish ogre

is anyone’s guess.” Mrs. Cragan waggled a finger at

me, rattling her rosary. I leaned over, and could

smell fermented barley on her breath. “I still

believe he did ‘er in.”

“What makes you think so?”

“There was a lot odd went on in this house. The old

bastard would just whale something awful on those two

young boys, on the least little provocation. She was

the peacemaker, Eileen was, always getting between

Garren’s belt and the children, and sometimes losing.

But always cheerful on the outside, she was – always

had a kind word to say, brought me over one of her

beautiful garlands whenever I had a birthday or one

of my sisters or brothers passed on. I don’t think

she had any idea William was carrying on with that

brazen woman under her own roof until the day she

died.”

I steered her toward the couch. “I’d heard you’d seen

them together. You sure they were having a romantic

relationship.”

“Well, I never saw them locked in the throes of

passion, if that’s what you mean. But she looked as

if she was old enough to be Eileen. I suspect that’s

what they were going on about so the day she passed

on. I was having my afternoon tea and crocheting when

I heard an awful row going up next door. I’m not a

prying sort, but I caught a peek at the two of them

through the side window. They were yelling and crying

to beat the band, the both of them, then he stormed

out. I went about my business, and after a while, she

came out to tend to her flowers and shrubs.”

I perked. “That seems strange. I mean, that Mrs.

O’Mara would have a violent argument with her son,

then just start gardening.”

“That was like her – surrounded by heartache and

misery, retreating to her little patch of beauty out

back of the house. Garren hated that – that she had a

refuge from him. I noticed the day after she died –

when her body was barely cold – that the miserable

old beast had ripped everything out, every flower and

stick.”

I eyed the beads between her gnarled fingers as a

notion took hold. It was a disturbing notion, but it

made sense.

“I don’t want to seem forward, Mrs. Cragan…” I began.

“I wonder if you could answer a kind of strange

question for me, and then do me a great favor.”

A second later, I caught sight of both Ryan and

Phoebe staring curiously as I escorted Mrs. Cragan

through the front door.

**

I found William on the rear stoop, sucking

thoughtfully on a Player. As I lowered myself onto

the step beside him, he looked up, startled.

“Want one?” he stammered, proffering the pack. I

shook my head. “Had to get away for a few, you know?

Pop’s mates are as bad as those old biddies from the

block. Telling me what a fine man my old man was,

like the old bastard had a friend down at that plant

of his. They just come for the liquor and the eats.”

“Must’ve been pretty rough after both your mother and

your brother left you alone here, huh?” I asked.

William looked straight ahead, blowing a plume of

smoke. “The old man just kept getting meaner and

drunker every night, so I’d stay out with my chums

’til all hours. ‘Cept however late I’d get home, he’d

still be up drinking. And the more she screamed at

him, the more he’d drink, mostly ’til he’d pass out

in that chair of his. Guess Ryan still thinks the old

man killed her, eh?”

“I know he didn’t directly. So do you, don’t you?”

William froze, then pitched his cigarette into the

scrubby grass and jumped up. “Now you’re saying I

killed my own Mum? I ought to smash your face.”

“No one killed your mother, William,” I said calmly

but firmly. “You know that. You came home after your

argument with her the day she died, didn’t you? But

the poison had already done its work.

“See, there were three really weird things about your

mother’s death. One was the broken fingers — fingers

broken after her death, as if something were removed

from them. You accidentally broke them prying the

rosary out of her hand. As a good Catholic woman,

she knew what she was doing was a mortal sin, and was

praying for forgiveness when you found her. You

didn’t want anyone, especially your dad, to know she

had committed suicide.”

William glared down at me for a long second, and a

tear rolled down his stubbled cheek.

“Then there was the question of why after a violent

and tearful argument with her son, your mother went

out to her garden. I think the answer to that puzzle

ties in with our third mystery: Why your father would

have torn out your mother’s garden after her murder.

It’s a totally illogical act. Unless someone was

getting rid of some evidence.” I pointed toward a

bare spot in the corner of the yard. “What was back

there, William?

“I’m guessing an oleander shrub. Oleander nemeris is

one of the most toxic plants on earth – one leaf is

enough to kill you. And there were a number of

oleander leaves in the garland she gave Mrs. Cragan

for her last birthday.

“Your mother took an oleander leaf, maybe two, from

the shrub out here and ground it into her tea. When

you were young, she’d probably told you and your

brother to be careful around some of the plants back

here. You’re smarter than you want anyone around you

to know — when you realized she’d poisoned herself,

again to protect her, you tore out anything the

police might be able to trace to her death. If anyone

spotted you, they’d probably chalk it up to angry

grief.”

William was now sobbing silently, hands over his

face.

“William,” I said. “William, look at me. You need

help. This is too much to carry alone. And I don’t

just mean the knowledge of your mother’s suicide or

what blame you believe you have to shoulder in it.”

“And what do you mean?”

I looked up. Ryan was standing over me, his square

jaw tight, his arms crossed over his chest.

“What do you mean, Fox?” he asked.

I rose and turned to Ryan. “I mean that your brother

needs help. He’s been sitting on a secret for years.

He’s confused, and he’s in pain.”

Ryan’s eyes didn’t leave mine. “That true, William?”

Eyes raw, his brother nodded.

“You go on ahead in, William. Everyone’s leaving, and

we’ll talk shortly.”

William sniffed and headed past us. I patted his arm

and he made a weak gesture in return.

“All right, Fox,” Ryan said as the door closed. “You

want to tell me why you’re playing psychiatrist with

my family? You have a complaint with me, why don’t

you talk to me? It’s about Phoebe, right?”

I shook my head. “Whatever, Ryan. You’d better talk

to your brother. He’s a mess.”

“And what’s wrong with him?”

I headed past Ryan. “I think you should talk to him

yourself.”

An iron hand locked on my forearm. “What’s wrong with

my brother?”

I explained it as concisely as I could.

Ryan nodded.

And then he broke my nose.

**

“I took the train back to Oxford the next morning,

alone,” Mulder said. “Phoebe said Ryan needed

consolation. I suggested he needed something else.

And that was pretty much it. I saw the two of them

together around campus a few times over the next

month or so, and then I saw them not together. Phoebe

and I eventually talked it out, and we agreed to be

friends. Which, of course, means she agreed. We

graduated, Phoebe went to Scotland Yard, Agent

Nowicki offered me free dental and I joined the FBI.

Another beer?”

Scully nodded slowly, then frowned and shook her

head. “Wait a minute. What happened to the banshee?”

“There was no banshee,” Mulder said. “Never was.

That’s my point. The subconscious often sometimes

grabs onto superstition and cultural belief when the

truth is too much for the conscious mind to grasp.”

“Are you trying to tell me William O’Mara

manufactured the banshee?”

“Not consciously. There are reams of case studies

documenting poltergeist phenomena linked to

psychokinetic activity. I think William’s bottled-up

emotions and impulses finally spilled out in the form

of psychic energy.”

“Just what was this terrible secret he was keeping,

anyway? What did it have to do with Eileen O’Mara’s

death?” Scully snapped her fingers. “The banshee was

William’s subconscious way of punishing his father

for his role in his mother’s death. Did he kill

Garren?”

Mulder shook his head. “You mean, scare him to death?

No. I think Garren O’Mara died of a mixture of

cholesterol, booze, and mental overload. I don’t know

why William decided that day to face his father –

maybe it was Ryan’s visit, the realization of the

potential he was cheating himself out of – but in the

words of Brother Jack, old Garren just couldn’t

handle the truth.”

“Which was?” Scully breathed, impatiently.

“Let’s profile William O’Mara, Scully. A sensitive

boy, close to his mother, not too interested in

sports or manly pursuits until his father beats the

living snot out of him. Then he starts to

overcompensate, becomes a swaggering drinker.

According to his brother, a terrific cook who

purposely botches a meal to perpetuate his manly

image.”

Scully winced, fingered the cross about her neck. “No

wonder it was such a tinderbox, William and his

father boxed up in that cramped little house. A

devout, Irish Catholic family; a blue-collar,

testosterone-driven father. Of course, he’d try to

deny his homosexuality.”

Mulder leaned back as the band launched into a

melancholy ballad of love and glory. “If it had only

been that. Eileen O’Mara was the backbone of their

family – she had been for years. I don’t think the

news of William’s homosexuality would have been

enough to make her commit one of the gravest of

mortal sins in Catholicism.

“No, let’s take this a step further. I began to

suspect something was very out-of-whack about William

the first time I met him. He virtually ignored me

when we were introduced, but he practically gave

Phoebe a complete physical exam. And there was a look

on his face of pure, unadulterated envy. At the time,

I thought he envied me for having this drop-dead

gorgeous girlfriend.”

“A little horsey through the face. . .” Scully

mumbled.

“Focus, Scully. I was wrong: William’s envy had

nothing to do with what I had that he couldn’t. It

was what Phoebe had. I’m sure you’ve heard of

dysphora. An extreme form of gender confusion, apart

from homosexuality or transvestitism. William had a

far less violent but no less emotionally wrenching

form.

“At the wake, I asked Mrs. Cragan if she’d ever seen

William and this unknown lover of his – the dowdy

woman who dressed like William’s mother – together,

at precisely the same time. The answer was no. I

think the day she died, Eileen O’Mara walked in on

her son and the ‘other woman.’ She’d been keeping the

peace in her family for years, battling first to

please her implacable husband, then to keep her sons

safe from Garren. When she realized what kind of all-

out war was about to break out between Garren and

William, I think Eileen had reached the end of her

endurance.”

A raucous burst of applause marked the end of the

band’s set. Scully’s brow wrinkled as she absorbed

her partner’s comments, and she was startled when the

tall redhead from the band materialized at their

booth.

“Fox,” the woman exclaimed warmly. She locked Mulder

in a firm embrace; he smiled sheepishly. The lute

player beamed happily at Scully.

“And this would be your partner, Dana.” Scully’s hand

was encased by firm fingers. “She’s quite a lovely

little thing – I hope you don’t mind me saying so,

dear.”

“Not at all,” Scully flushed. “And you are?”

“Eileen,” the musician sang. “Your friend and I are

good chums from ‘way back.”

“Everything going well, Eileen?” Mulder inquired.

“Happier than. . .” She glanced mischievously about

the pub and its faux-Gaelic décor. “Happier than

Paddy’s pig. Look, I got to touch up my blush a bit

before the next set.”

“Live long and prosper, Eileen,” Mulder winked. The

woman kissed his cheek and moved on with the

slightest of limps.

The mug was almost to Scully’s lips before her eyes

widened. She lowered the glass and stared at Mulder.

“Eileen?”

Her partner smiled crookedly. “Ryan was pretty pissed

off when I told him about his brother, but he

realized William needed some counseling and made sure

he got it. Luckily, socialized medicine, while often

shoddy, allowed William to afford the psychotherapy

and surgery he needed to exorcise his demons.

“See, Scully, William’s subconscious mind filtered

his inner fears and torment through his own cultural

context. The banshee that haunted the O’Mara clan

wasn’t Eileen, watching over her broken family or

indicting her unpunished murderer. It was the woman

inside William, literally screaming to get out.”

end

Earthspeak

cover

TITLE: EARTHSPEAK

AUTHOR: Windsinger (AKA Sue Esty)

FEEDBACK: Windsinger@aol.com

HOMEPAGE: refer to Tamra’s Connections site at http://X-

Files.bytewright.com/Rev.html

RATING: PG for really nothing much at all.

CATEGORY: X

KEYWORDS: MSR

DISCLAIMER: 1013 and FOX may own the X-Files but we love it.

ARCHIVE: VS11 for two weeks then anywhere only please inform the

author.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: “Earthspeak” was written for the IMTP Virtual Season

11, all praise to the producers, especially Vickie, my beta reader,

the artists, and Tamra, for keeping my stuff all in one place because

I never seem to be able to get around to it.

SUMMARY: A psychic reading ashes from the X-Files office fire of so

many years ago offers the agents new information about a case of

unexplained disappearances.

clip_image002

TEASER

Near Salem, MA

March, 2004

“So, how did you like find your first week with us, Ms. Sackstone?”

asked the smiling voice.

“I have been treated very well. Illuminations is a very exciting

place to work.”

“I’m so glad that you think so. I know that we have been more than

impressed. Your analyses on the cases you have been assigned to so

far have proved more than acceptably accurate. Even more so, we are

impressed by your commitment to your job, though we are a little

concerned.” Here the CEO’s broad face became more serious.

“Concerned, Mr. Hyxodram?”

“I don’t know what they told you in Personnel, but fourteen-hour

days are not the norm here. In fact, Human Resources has studies

which indicate that the practice is detrimental to the health of

professional staff over an extended period of time. For example,

computer programmers puzzling over a bit of tangled code have been

known to work for days without sleep just to solve a problem. We

encourage a certain amount of that. Many of mankind’s greatest

breakthroughs have come about as a result of such fugues of concentrated

output. I just want to make certain that you understand that we can

condone such dedication for brief spurts, but not as a general rule.

We don’t want you to burn out before you have barely started. If you

have been trying to impress us, then you have already done so.”

Shirley Sackstone stared down into her long-fingered hands that

could almost be considered pretty if not for the bitten nails. “I

wasn’t intentionally trying to impress you. It’s just that… that I

feel something here.” Her colorless gray eyes moved up to stare at

the ceiling, then at the walls from one side of the walnut-paneled

office to the other.

“And so you have. You’ve put your finger on the problem,” the man’s

large stubby finger sought a figure on the report before him, “no

less than six times in just four weeks.”

“Yes, I know. But those were — incidentals, by products of this

larger search. There is something else here. Something strong.

Something that does not just whisper to me but cries out to me,

loudly, insistently.” The man’s large eyes widened in sudden

understanding. “Sir, I need to sleep.”

“So that is how the land lies. Such compulsions are not uncommon in

our line of work. We have many potential focuses of power here. We

just need to find out the one you’re picking up. What can we do to

help? Has your supervisor given you access to all the resources you

require?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. This is such a huge place. I don’t even

know my way around yet nor what to ask for.” Suddenly her bowed head

raised, its mass of strangled mass of dirty-blond hair flying. Eyes

glazing, she sniffed. “There it is again. Just a whiff. Smoke.”

“Smoke?” the director closed his eyes and sniffed with his prominent

nose for more than a minute. Sadly, he shook his head. “Sorry, I

can’t detect a thing. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t.

Our people are like radio receivers all tuned to a different station

and your frequency clearly fills in a gap in our net.” He paused

suddenly. “Hmmm. I have an idea. Someplace they may not have taken

you. Come with me please.”

Heaving himself up and moving around from behind his massive desk,

Mr. Hyxodram resembled a cross between Gimli the dwarf and an

employee of Gringotts. The top of his head barely came level with

the lower edge of Ms. Sackstone’s breastbone though his upper body

was the breadth and length of a normal man. His short legs, however,

moved with speed. Adjusting her long stride, employee followed

employer. He took her out of the paneled office, across the length

of the carpeted foyer that looked like a corporate office anywhere

except for its dark, stone walls, and finally down to the lowest

levels via an ancient brass-cage lift. The doors opened on more

stone and an intense dampness.

At her shiver, he explained, “The exhibit rooms themselves are

climate controlled.” They walked for some time through a maze-like

catacomb of narrow hallways lined with doors. Finally, the dwarf-man

stopped by one, entered a code into the electronic lock, and the

door swung open.

She swayed as if struck by a blow, then recovered quickly to precede

her boss into the room. The vault was only a little larger than a

closet having barely enough floor space for the two of them. On the

six-inch high shelves that reached from foot to ceiling sat row upon

row of plastic bags. The contents seemed limited to bits of heavily

charred paper yet there was no scent of smoke in the room. Eyes

closing, her hands rose on their own to hover slowly and then faster

over the shelves until her right arm reached with speed over her

boss’s grizzled, gray head to touch one packet seemingly indistinct

for all the others.

The stench and sting of smoke were suddenly all around her, in her

nose, in her mouth, in her eyes. Heat blasted her skin. Her hand

jerked back as if he had been burned. Through tearing eyes she saw

the reddened skin, the rising blisters. Then another smell,

overwhelming, but familiar. The smell of hell. She was vaguely aware

of Mr. Hyxodram speaking urgently into his cell phone but he seemed

very, very far away.

ACT I

Dana awoke cold. Outside, the wind moaned in the branches of the pine

outside her window while sleet rained against the window. Welcome to

Washington in March. Don’t like the weather? Wait and hour and it

will probably be worse. Without opening her eyes, she reached down to

pull the extra comforter up then slid across the sheets seeking her

partner’s warm back.

Her groping hand met only empty air. Useless male! Then she realized

that it was not only the sound of the wind and rain that that had

awakened her. From somewhere in the apartment came the constant

rumbling hiss of something electronic.

Groggily, she switched on her beside lamp, donned her favorite blue

robe, ugly and unflattering but warm, stuck her feet into worn

slipper clogs and shuffled into the hall. The noise was louder here.

She found them in the kitchen huddled over an array of terminals,

keyboards, oscilloscopes, and unknown blinking devices while the

overhead lights blazed. Her partner’s dark head didn’t turn from the

high definition, flat-screen monitor. Neither did the head of

tangled blond hair beside him.

“Having fun, boys?” she asked sleepily.

“Would be better if the solar flares didn’t suppress the plasma

spikes,” Langley grumbled, flipping a stray tangle out of his eyes.

“And if you owned an espresso maker.”

“Sorry, I’ll put one on next year’s Christmas list.”

“Please don’t ask for an spectral analyzer,” Mulder mumbled. “That’s

outside my budget.”

Dana frowned as the men redirected their attention to the tiny spiky

lines on one of the oscilloscopes. If she and Mulder had a normal

relationship, she would be able to wrap herself around his broad

shoulders right now, rest her cheek on top of his head, and in so

many small and not so subtle ways influence his decision to return

to their rapidly cooling bed. But they didn’t, and she couldn’t,

even if their audience was only Langley. Public demonstrations of

affection were not and never would be Mulder’s thing.

In time her glare caught Langley’s attention. Colorless eyebrow

raised, he unfolded his gawky frame from his rear-facing position on

her kitchen chair and was soon slinking towards the bathroom. “I

think I’ll take my morning shower now. Less competition than in the

morning. Women and all.”

“How would you know, Langley?” Mulder drawled, his attention never

wavering from the screen. “According to Frohike, the last date you

had was in 1997.”

The gunman’s closing remark drifted towards them from down the hall.

“Can I help it that the dwarf has a libido the size of Montana?” Now

that they were alone, Dana had no compunction about making like a

kudzu vine. Distracted lips in time found hers, a hand drifted up

her thigh under her grandmotherly robe and very ungrandmotherly silk

nightgown.

He was rising from his chair, only ten percent of his attention on

the monitor now and that percentage dropping in direct proportion to

the degree of skin-to-skin contact, when someone’s cellphone sang

away to the theme from the Twilight Zone. Dana would have let the

damn thing ring; her too distractible lover did not. Mulder had

vanished to the coat tree by the door to pick through the pockets of

his trench coat, coming up at last with a tiny model of a type he

must have gotten from the Gunmen. He answered with a simple “Hello”.

A few seconds later, his sweatshirt-clad shoulders tightened.

Catching sight of her concerned eyes he mouthed, “I’ve had the calls

from my apartment transferred,” and turned the receiver on

‘speaker’. With amazing clarity a hesitant sputtering came from the

device. The sputtering was female, however, so this was unlikely to

be simply an obscene phone call, and even telemarketers have enough

sense not to hawk their wares at two a.m.

“Can I help you?” he asked for the second time.

“I’m…” the woman’s voice replied. “I’m sorry. I was looking for a

Fox Mulder, Agent Fox Mulder?”

“This is Mulder.” His delivery was even, non-committal.

“So sorry to disturb you. This is Shirley Sackstone, I work for

Illuminations, Incorporated. I was working, well, not exactly

working, but I have some information on one of your cases.”

Mulder’s posture transformed to an eager brightness. “What kind of

information? Which case?”

“M-00134. Such interesting work,” the flustered woman wandered on.

“I saw your material this morning for the first time. I’m new at

Illuminations. We’ve had problems you know, with the damage, the

fire and all, but yours spoke as clear as crystal to me.” There was

some definite hesitation before a strained voice went on. “Too

clearly.”

Mulder’s eyes rolled slightly back into his head the way they did when

he consulted the file cards of images in his head. Dana knew when he

found the one he sought. His shoulders slumped in obvious

disappointment. “Six unexplained disappearances. The victims were

all traveling alone and all seemed to have made radical changes to

their vacation plans just before they disappeared. Their last known

locations were all within the greater Pacific Northwest area. That’s

not much to go on.”

“I think I have more,” the voice suggested.

His hazel eyes glowed with the embers of investigative fire. The

last two weeks had been a little dull — no new X-Files, no

profiling cases Behavioral Sciences couldn’t deal with, no

directives from Skinner as he was out of town, and no one had tried

to take either of them out of commission. “Where can we meet? Here

at the Bureau in D.C., or we can fly to where you are?”

The voice was hesitant again. “Actually, I’m in Washington now. I

flew into National airport and went directly to your apartment — or

what use to be your apartment until recently, it seems. The address

was with your account information.”

Dana stabbed at the Mute button. “You gave your home address to some

consulting group! You’ll be giving them mine next.”

“Not just any consulting group; these are psychics. They have all of

the last pieces from the fire in the X-Files office years ago. If

any of Illuminations people caught onto anything, they had to be

able to contact me and I didn’t want information from that kind of

source coming to the Bureau.”

“If they really are psychics, they wouldn’t need your address!”

“If you’re very eager for the information, we don’t need to arrange

a meeting place,” the woman continued. “When it was clear that your

apartment building had met with some misfortune, I took a chance and

came here.”

Dana flared. “You did give out my address!”

“Actually, he didn’t,” the woman replied apologetically. Dana stared

down at the phone. The Mute indicator light was on and had been on

through much of their three-way conversation. “I followed a

‘shimmer’ from there to here. I am a psychic, after all. The trail’s

incredibly bright, especially at night when there is so much less

extraneous noise. Clearly this is a path you had traveled repeatedly

over many years. And I wouldn’t have called until morning except

that I saw lights. When more came on. I thought that you might be

up.”

Mulder released the mute. “You’ve been sitting in your car outside

for how long?”

“Oh, uh, two hours.”

“You must be frozen.”

“Well, a little, but then I grew up in Boston. I know that it’s an

abominable hour but I don’t like crowds, or cities, or traffic.

Consequently, I work a lot at night. From the kind of cases you work

on, I take it that you work a lot at night as well. If I hadn’t seen

the lights, I wouldn’t have called.”

Mulder was learning. At least he caught his partner’s eye for her

weary agreement before inviting up yet another houseguest.

There was always the couch, Dana thought, and Mulder could certainly

testify to its comfort. If he wasn’t careful, however, he was going

to get another opportunity to test how just how comfortable it could

be.

**

Dana didn’t change out of her bathrobe. With most visitors, she would

have done everything in her power to project the image that Mulder

had just stopped by after the office and that they had been working

on a case and lost track of the time. No point with this woman with

what she already knew. Besides, maybe if she realized that she had

interrupted at least one person’s sleep she wouldn’t stay too long.

Her feelings changed when Shirley Sackstone appeared on the

threshold. Pale, with almost a bluish tint to her lips, the woman’s

long, red-chafed hands greedily grasped the warm mug of tea thrust

at her. It took five minutes for her shivering to stop.

“That’s so good,” she gushed, breathing in the warm vapors.

Mulder had perched on the arm of the sofa one long leg crossed over

his opposite knee. “So Ms. Shackstone –”

“Shirley Sackstone, but call me ‘Lee,’ please. And no Shirley

MacLaine jokes.”

“Very well, Lee. So you also uncovered my old phone number through

psychic means.”

“I didn’t need to. You left it with the office in case we came up

with anything.” Her sheepish smile greatly softened the strong, raw

bones of her face.

“I understand that you have information on one of Mulder’s old

cases,” Dana said, “but I am surprised that you came down here

directly. Mulder tells me that Illumination’s home office is in

Massachusetts. We travel a lot, we might have been out of town.”

“I did call the FBI first. Your voice mail said that you were gone

for the day and would return tomorrow so I felt pretty safe about

coming.” The woman’s hands trembled so that the contents of the mug

nearly sloshed over the rim. “I had to see you, Agent Mulder. These

images won’t leave me alone.”

Mulder turned to his partner. “The case she’s referring to, M-00134,

was actually from a file marked ‘Miscellaneous’. It didn’t have

enough of the X-File ‘odeur’ to warrant an ‘X’ rating, at least not

then. Maybe now, however. It came to me during the time when my

uncanny spookiness frightened even me. The Behavioral Science Unit

hoped that I could come up with a profile. I let them down. So tell

me what you have, Lee.”

As she paced the room in obvious agitation, she told them about her

vision in the vault under Illuminations main office. As she spoke,

Dana watched Mulder as avidly as she watched the woman. Both

partners believed that most psychics were fakes, intentional or not.

They believed just as completely that some were genuine. Mulder

clearly assumed that Shirley ‘Lee’ Sackstone was of the latter

variety, Illuminations being such a reputable firm.

By the time Lee finished, Mulder was in full Sherlockian mode,

slouched in Dana’s favorite easy chair, fingers steepled under his

chin, eyes intense. “As we both know, visions are one thing;

interpretation is another.”

“Absolutely. That was why I had to see you in person. You wrote up

the original notes, talked to the original contacts. I had to see if

my visions would clear.”

“Have they?”

“Some. What surprises me most are the impressions from the dead.”

Her pale eyes went to his. “You’ve known a lot of dead, Agent

Mulder. They certainly know you. They are ‘at home’ with you and

aren’t afraid to speak.” Mulder’s expression didn’t change but Dana

noticed his skin pale. “They demand resolution, Agent Mulder, and

they’ve chosen you to provide it. Some have loved ones who still

need to know what happened to them. For others you are the only one

who cares. They are in torment.”

Dana watched her partner with concern. He didn’t need this kind of

pressure, not again. She watched his Adam’s apple as he convulsively

swallowed, saw the dim light of the living rooms lamps pool in his

eyes. “I want to help. I’m willing now, but don’t know much more

than I did before. Let’s go through those visions of yours again,

one by one. Maybe we can find a pattern. We even have a few days we

can spend on this.”

“One thing,” Dana asked, knowing enough not to scoff. “Are all of

the missing deceased, or should we be preparing for a rescue?”

Mulder turned to the pale woman as well, the same question in his

face. “There were six in the original case.”

“Those are no longer with us,’ Sackstone answered though with a

slight hesitation.

“Those? There’s more?” Mulder inquired.

“There were more than you knew then, there are even more now and all

dead,” the woman’s bony face twisted in a kind of deep pain.

Unable to bear inactivity any longer, Mulder lurched to his feet to

pace. Dana was afraid to move from her place on the arm of the

couch. With these two pacing and now a dozen or more weeping souls,

her small apartment was feeling very crowded.

At that moment a “Jeeze!” exploded from the hallway. Dana nearly

toppled from her perch until she remembered her other houseguest.

Langley stood dripping onto the floor, a tiny towel barely covering

his skinny loins and in his haste to cover more was in serious

danger of losing that. “You could have told me you had visitors… I

just wanted to ask where I could find more towels…”

He had turned to flee, displaying an amazingly white backside, when

Lee Sackstone’s attitude abruptly changed. “Lizard?” she called

taking to step towards the hallway, incredulity in her voice. After

a moment’s pause, his wet head peaked around the doorway of the

bathroom.

“Shit,” he swore.

“Lizard Brain,” Lee breathed.

“Wizard Brain,” Langley retorted.

“I take it you know each other?” Mulder asked realizing only then

where he had seen the woman’s strong bone structure before.

“Answer the man, you skinny-assed, paranoid geek!”

Langley glowered. “It’s my damned incense-breathing, tofu-gobbling,

crystal-dazzled cousin. Embarrassed any more husbands from your

previous lives lately?”

Somewhere in Kansas, two days later

The black night road slid by nearly soundlessly under the wheels of

the cruising van. For the tenth time in as many minutes, Mulder

rolled back the sun shield to stare up at the stars. As far as they

were from civilization, the Milky Way was ablaze in all its

splendor. He raised and lowered his seat with the touch of a finger,

adjusted the side mirrors, fine-tuned the equalizer on the surround

sound system, and punched in a request for new and completely

unnecessary instructions from the in-car directional computer.

“Do you think maybe that you could quit fiddling and give some of

that attention to the road?” Scully inquired groggily from the

passenger seat. “Some of us are trying to sleep here and want to

have some confidence that we’ll wake up.”

“Sorry. This machine Langley came up with has got more bells and

whistles than an entire Gemini spacecraft.”

His partner snuggled down into the comfort of the glove-leather

seat. “Didn’t you notice the license plate — GKNOLL2. I assume that

refers to the second gunman on the grassy knoll. This opulence on

wheels belongs to Byers, who just picked it up cheap from an

impoundment lot in Fairmont, Iowa — the internet being a wonderful

thing — and he will kill Langley when he finds it gone. He will

kill us all if we damage it.” She adjusted her own captain’s chair

to a more comfortable reclining position. “At least we didn’t end up

trying to drive cross country non-stop in that moving disaster the

Gunmen usually roll around town in.”

“We would have it, only Frohike and Byers are using it in their

surveillance of the Libertarian Party headquarters.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “And they are involved in what illegal

activity?”

“Don’t ask.” His hand caressed the padded steering wheel.

Sleepily, Scully turned in her seat to stare back at the dim

outlines of the two shapes sprawled out in their own captain’s

chairs behind. “Those two finally passed out.”

“They’ve only insulted each other for the last thousand miles. They

must be worn out.”

“Between my ear plugs and headphones, I slept through the last

tirade. Did I miss anything?”

A sunflower seed cracked between his teeth. “Only Missouri and

Kansas and her tales of how Langley sabotaged both her junior and

senior proms. In other words, no. We’re almost in Colorado though

you wouldn’t know it.”

Scully stared out into the dark. “I remember my first cross-country

car trip. I was surprised to find that eastern Colorado was so flat.

You think Colorado, you think mountains.”

A chill settled into his stomach. “When was this?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I must have been about ten, I guess,” she answered as

she hunted in her travel bag to come up with a box of juice. “You

know, the kind of trips every family takes, hit all the national

parks.”

That’s what he thought she was going to say. The chill had become a

lump.

“Anything wrong?” When he didn’t answer immediately, he felt her

slender hand come to rest on his thigh. “Give. I know there’s

something.”

Shrug. “Same old thing. Me and my childhood, or lack thereof. No

amusement parks, no summer camps, no holiday celebrations, no

birthday parties.”

“And no cross-country car trips,” her quiet voice added.

“Just to the summer place and back and not even that after I was

twelve.”

After Samantha disappeared. Scully was silent now. Way too much

baggage for either of them to continue on that subject. A few miles

rolled on in silence, just that warm, reassuring hand on his leg,

not sexual in any way. A faint lightening in the sky in his rear

view mirror told him that dawn was reaching for them from the East.

“Any more of an idea of where we’re going?” Scully asked at last.

Reflected in the windshield, a series of expressions flowed over his

face. “I gather ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to that.”

“Actually, yes. I just don’t know how I feel about it. Lee had two

more visions while you were asleep. Allowing her to gather

impressions as we went along was the reason why we drove to begin

with. She finally identified the smoke she sensed. She’s convinced

that what she smelled had nothing to do with the apartment fire or

our old office fire though the recent connection might have made her

more sensitive. There was pine in the smoke, not the kind of toxins

present when buildings burn. In Kansas we added the scent of rotten

eggs, hydrogen sulfide, which she remembered when we went by a paper

mill. Langley cross referenced forest or lumber mill fires against

hot springs, fumerals and paper mills using his handy-dandy wireless

notebook.”

“Taping into the DOD’s satellite system, no doubt.”

He smiled. “Only the best for the ‘boys’. In Colorado she felt a

pull to the northwest. Add to that that this must be an area where

people traveling randomly in the area would likely to be drawn to

and we triangulated on a location, at least some place to start.” He

felt her eyes on him, questioning. “We’re headed for Yellowstone.”

In one smooth motion Scully returned her seat to its upright

position. “Sulfur, the geysers! And the fire that swept through so

much of the park twenty years ago. But that’s wonderful!”

“Is it?”

“You’ve certainly been to Yellowstone! Maybe as a child you didn’t

travel, but you’ve crossed the U.S. at least a dozen times since I’ve

known you. Seeing that Yellowstone is larger than Delaware and Rhode

Island combined, it’s rather hard to miss.”

“I have.”

She was silent for a long moment, absorbing his very definitive

denial. “Missed the Grand Canyon, too? And Yosemite, and the Grand

Tetons, and Arches, and Dinosaur National Park? Missed Carlsbad

Caverns, Glacier National Park, Crater Lake, and Mesa Verde?”

She knew him too well. No, not to any of the places where happy

families gathered. “Military installations and UFO’s hot spots tend

to like quiet, unpopulated places. So do I.”

“Ever think that these places are popular, Mulder, because they are

amazing? Yellowstone, especially.”

“You mean Old Faithful, blue-haired ladies by the tour busful and

Yogi Bear?”

She actually lifted his hand from the wheel to give it a squeeze.

“Yes, there are those things — except for Yogi Bear because bears

aren’t allowed to bother tourists any more — but there are amazing

things there, too, Mulder. You will love Yellowstone if only because

it truly is the most highly geothermic area in the world. Almost the

whole park sits inside an ancient volcanic caldera. If that isn’t a

Fox Mulder kind of place, I don’t know what is.”

‘But if we are right, Scully, people also died there,’ he thought,

not wanting to ruin her good mood. ‘They were lured there and

killed. But then I guess that also makes it my kind of place.’

ACT II

Yellowstone National Park

Much as he tried to fight it, Mulder found his partner’s enthusiasm

infectious. While she drove and the landscape changed abruptly from

plains to majestic mountains, he commandeered Langley’s notebook and

read everything that he could find on the park, its geology, and

surrounding area. There was much to read and the day slipped by

quickly with Langley and Lee playing hangman and fighting in the

backseat. When Lee spoke about her impressions, which wasn’t often,

her broad features took on a strained expression. She mentioned once

at a rest stop that she seemed able to sense then they crossed the

path that one of the victims took on their final journey. She kept a

notebook of her observations, and the closer they came to the

northwest corner of Wyoming, the more frequent came her notations.

They ate an early dinner in the tourist town of Jackson, which represented

everything Mulder hated about tourist towns, though he had to admit

that this one was cleaner and less gaudy than most. His patience was

rewarded by the sight of the Grand Tetons. The snow of their jagged,

unworldly, geologically new-born peaks glowed red at sunset. Almost

immediately, they entered Yellowstone Park through the nearly

deserted south entrance. No army of tourists in sights. Not a single

tour bus. There was not much else to see either as it was night

except that they seemed to spend a lot of their time driving up

hill. Denver had nothing over Yellowstone when it came to altitude.

There was not a point in the park that was less than a mile above

sea level and the mountains that ringed the ancient volcano and its

caldera were far higher still. In March, even though the winter had

been mild and spring early, that meant that the snow was piled high

along the main route so that it resembled a tunnel more than a road.

Giddy from the long drive, they had tumbled from the car for an

impromptu snowball fight. Just as Mulder realized that they might

just need every layer of winter clothes they had packed, an ungainly

female moose and her equally knobby-kneed calf crossed the road. As

the women cooed, Mulder and Langley shared stoic glances of male

solidarity though secretly Mulder felt a strange, warm glow of

pleasure. He came crashing to earth only a few minutes later,

however, when a glance in the rear view mirror revealed a new

haunted pain in Lee’s eyes.

Mulder didn’t remember much of their arrival. He had let Scully

handle the reservations as she seemed to have a place in mind. All

he could recall was falling into a bed around one a.m. After more

than two-and-a-half days of non-stop driving, the mattress continued

to move as if the bed rode a ship at sea.

“Scully?” he inquired softly the next morning. He got only a

straggled murmur in response as her small body burrowed into his for

added warmth. As good as the sensation was, Mulder felt an oddly

happy excitement of an entirely different nature. He had finally

made it to Yellowstone. Well, they had actually been driving in the

park for hours the night before, but now they had light and an

entire day before them. And geysers. He was going to see a geyser

that wasn’t on a video or a picture in a book. His unexpected buzz

of anticipation made him realize how short the step really was

between ages ten and forty. When he opened his eyes to focus on his

room, however, his anticipation dimmed. It looked like one of the

poorer cheap motels that he had too often stuck Scully in — double

bed, small table, one side chair, a sink in their room and toilet

and tiny shower in a freezing side alcove. He had expected the Ritz

in retaliation for his past choices.

“Sure that we are where we are suppose to be?” he asked hesitantly.

He was answered by an un-Scully-like giggle from beneath the blankets.

“These cabins look exactly the way they did when I was fifteen,”

she answered with pleasure. “Don’t worry. You don’t spend

any time here. You live in the Lodge.”

They emerged from the little clapboard cabin into spring. Mulder

vaguely remembered descending from the pass into what was called the

Central Plateau on the park map. There was snow only in the shadowed

places here, unexpectedly warm after the ten foot drifts just south

of the caldera rim. As he followed his smiling partner to the large,

dark-logged building down the road, a small family herd of long-

eared deer trotted past. “Muledeer”, Scully explained, then pointed

to a burly dark spot in the tall grass across the road.

“A buffalo?” Mulder marveled. As if on command, the creature raised

its huge head, snorted, then dropped it again to continue feeding.

“Bison. Don’t call them buffalo. The young males are forced to leave

the herd until they can find a female of his own.”

“Some things never change,” Mulder murmured with a sympathetic

glance in the bison’s direction.

As they climbed the few short steps onto the huge porch of the lodge

the mist beyond where the bison fed rose over what Mulder realized

was a huge lake surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Scully sighed

with satisfaction. “Yellowstone Lake. Hasn’t changed a bit except

that we were never here so early. More snow.” They crossed the

porch, which stretched at least forty feet to either side of the

lodge’s main entrance and was lined with rocking chairs all turned

towards the lake. The lodge itself seemed to be one huge but

surprisingly cozy room with two dozen conversation pits, brightly

burning fireplaces, bar and restaurant. Dana smiled. “And this is

Lake Lodge. It hasn’t changed either except that I hear they have a

modem line. I’ve always felt that this would be the perfect place to

hold a party for me and a hundred of my closest friends.”

“I don’t even have a hundred friends,” Mulder sulked.

They found Lee and Langley only as they were leaving the restaurant.

The two cousins were arguing, as usual, next to the van, which they

had pulled in front of the Lodge. With all the high-pitched

squabbling, it wasn’t surprising that there wasn’t a muledeer in

sight, and the bachelor bison had ambled some distance closer to the

lake.

“I should have known that even twenty years wouldn’t be long enough

for you to grow up,” Lee sneered.

“Nor long enough for you to learn to keep that long nose out of

other people’s business!”

“Hardly other people’s business. I had to sit next to you during

most of the trip!” The woman directed the partners’ attention to

Langley’s outfit that was peculiar. The gunman wore his cat burglar

pants, turtleneck and watch cap. The black was broken only by red

tennis shoes and the same torn t-shirt advertising a D.C. sushi

joint that he had worn for the previous two days in the car. “That’s

the extent of his wardrobe! Where did he think he was going,

Hawaii?”

“At least Hawaii’s warm, and it does have volcanoes!”

“So does Yellowstone. You’re standing in one, circuit-brain!”

Having had to head for the local Walmart more than once for

essentials left behind, Mulder stuffed his hands deep in the pockets

of his jeans and said nothing. Scully stared at the van. “Ninety

percent of the stuff we crow-barred into the van was yours and none of

it was clothes?”

“Equipment, Agent Scully. Computers, satellite dish, modulators,

seismographs, radiation detectors, mass spectrometers. Come

prepared. We didn’t know what we were going to need and, I don’t

know about you, but I haven’t seen a Radio Shack for a hundred

miles!”

“Clothes… ” Scully mused. “I guess it’s not like you’re going to

need a tux. Sweatshirts we can find in any gift shop, and the Lodge

has a laundry. We do have more to worry about, after all, such as

where do we start?”

“Geysers,” Mulder suggested though it wasn’t really a question. “We

do need to get the lay of the land.”

“The park’s more than geysers,” Lee said with a worried frown.

“There’s the smoke I smelled and I felt, remember? We also need to

concentrate on the areas devastated by the ’88 fire. The

disappearances all trace from immediately after that time. It is one

of the primary reasons for our coming here rather than Crater Lake

or Laissen or Mount St. Helens.”

Mulder hoped that his disappointment didn’t show. He didn’t know if

it did or not but felt his spirits rise as Scully noted that Lee had

also smelled hydrogen sulfide, so the geothermic features could not

be ignored either.

As the scowling cousins climbed into the back seat, Scully indicated

that she would drive and surreptitiously slipped her hand briefly

into Mulder’s. Looking into her eyes he caught a shrewd sort of

sparkle. So she had seen. “This is after all an unofficial

investigation. Technically we’re on vacation until we can find

something more substantial to go on than Lee’s shimmers so we might

as well enjoy it. One day visiting geysers won’t hurt.”

“Scully,” he began, “I appreciate this but we have so much to do. A

few hours –”

“I’m not just being nice. The distances between the major geyser

basins is not trivial, and you usually have to wait. Even for the

FBI, geysers don’t erupt on a schedule, except for one, of course.”

**

Their first stop was West Thumb Geyser basin on the western edge of

Yellowstone Lake which Mulder and Langley, another deprived youth who

had never taken the National Park tour either, found both

disappointing and intriguing. They were disappointed because no

geysers actually erupted during their visit but they couldn’t help

to be fascinated by the simmering geyser pools of sapphire blue too

hot for algae to grow, the slopping mudpots, and stinking fumerals.

Mostly, however, they marveled at the steam that rose off the chilly

lake and the clearly visible geyser cones on the lake bottom each

appearing like tiny dormant volcanoes. At their next stop, however,

Mulder sat on the edge of his seat like any tourist as Old Faithful

sputtered and steamed teasingly for fifteen minutes before it

finally shot off like a fireman’s hose ninety feet straight up into

the brilliant blue sky.

clip_image004

Scully let him away at the end to meet up with a Ranger talk

beginning a quarter mile up a well-paved trail at the upper geyser

basin. “Can I see it again?” he asked wistfully.

“Every ninety-six minutes, give or take twenty minutes. They don’t

call it Old Faithful for nothing,” Scully assured him with a laugh.

Their interpreter was Ranger Harris, a small, thirty-something woman

whom Mulder had to admit filled out her uniform very well indeed.

She certainly never had a more attentive or questioning audience.

The fact the Mulder and Scully had to distract the ranger from the

soil and water samples and the countless readings with obscure

instruments that Langley was taking further down the basin only added

to the intensity. She explained how geysers needed three elements to

exist: A continual source of water far below ground, heat below and

in the surrounding rock, and the correct plumbing.

“Rhyolite is a yellow volcanic rock of which so much of the park

is formed and from which it gets its name. You’ll see that most

clearly in Yellowstone Canyon near Tower Falls. Rhyolite is silicon-

based and perfect for lining the water channels of the geysers and

making them water-tight. Boiling water below becomes superheated

because it’s under pressure from cold water above which is in turn

heated by the surrounding rock. Being at such a high altitude also

lowers the boiling point. That increases the eruption rate. Greater

height is achieved if the geyser plumbing also has a constriction

point. Old Faithful has all of these elements.”

“You say that you don’t know when the other geysers around the basin

will erupt. Then why can you predict Old Faithful so accurately?”

Mulder asked.

“O.F. has it’s own water supply. Once the chamber fills and the

water reaches the right pressure and temperature, it goes off. The

others share a water supply and often have multiple chambers,

sometimes in extremely complex combinations. That’s why we can’t

predict them.” She smiled a little sadly. “But we’re working at it

even with the budget cuts.” She indicated what seemed to be a tall,

white, anthill-like cone as large as an RV. “For example, we can

predict this one, Castle Geyser, to within four hours. It’s

spectacular, so the wait is worth it though we suggest that you

bring water, lunch and a book.” She indicated further on down the

basin. Mulder noted Langley speaking earnestly to one of the other

rangers. He hoped that the Gunman wasn’t being asked to leave the

park for dropping fluorescent dyes to trace water flow. “There are

even larger geysers than Old Faithful and Castle here,” their ranger

continued. “Giantess erupted three times in 2003 and Giant once.

That doesn’t sound like much but is still exceptional.”

As they moved on, Mulder noted that Lee was scanning the hillsides.

She had gotten her fire. The slopes were covered with hundreds of

living eight-foot lodge pole pines and a new spring layer of

underbrush, but amidst the green you couldn’t miss the hundreds more

of uniform black trunks, the remains of pines burned in ’88. They

lay about helter-skelter like so many huge matchsticks. Scully

studied the psychic closely. There was much that haunted the woman

in this place, yet no panic.

They were walking along a weathered boardwalk suspended above a

white, crumbly soil. Their lecture group wasn’t large but having

become bored two boys had begun irritating each other as children

will. “Please,” Ranger Harris warned with real concern, “you don’t

want to fall off the boardwalk. Those ‘Danger’ signs are there for a

purpose. A few winters back we began to notice a terrible smell

coming from the lower basin. Eventually we found the problem. A

bison calf had wandered onto the geyser basin and broken through the

crust. It didn’t survive long after a nearby geyser erupted. Let’s

just say that cleaning up wasn’t much fun. We wouldn’t want to have

to clean up after you as well.”

Wincing, Mulder shot Scully a look of alarm. She knew that

expression. “Mulder, there are accidents everywhere,” she whispered.

But she knew he would remember and noted how he studied the notices

about boiling water and unstable ground with greater attention than

before. Damn but his mind was working on something.

Just then Ranger Harris’ voice rose as she pointed across the road,

where a plume geyser was just getting started and within seconds was

pumping energetically, maybe not as tall as Old Faithful, but still

impressive. “You’re in luck That’s Baby Daisy. It became active

again just last year after being dormant since 1959.”

Mulder stiffened slightly. “You mentioned that Giant and Giantess

Geysers had also become unusually active recently. How active is

active for this one?” Mulder asked in a tone that caused his partner

to glance in his direction.

“Nearly once an hour though there are wide variations,” Ranger

Harris reported.

“You don’t find that degree of change alarming?” Mulder inquired.

“From nothing to twenty-four/seven?”

“This ‘is’ an active geothermal area.” As if that answered all,

Harris changed the subject and began discussing the reason for the

various colored algae found in some quiescent geyser pools and not

in others. Mulder was quiet but caught up with the ranger at the end

of their lecture.

“Have other features changed lately,” he asked with an intensity

Scully knew all too well. “What do you not want to say because you

might disturb the tourists?” Langley and Lee joined them. For some

reason Langley was also on edge.

“There really is nothing to be concerned about,” Harris assured them

in a practiced voice. “There have also been several changes at

Norris Geyser Basin. That’s nothing that we are trying to hide.

We’ve reported our findings in the newsletter to the Yellowstone

Associates. The water has become hotter at Porkchop Geyser and

erupted for the first time since 1991. Pearl Geyser became a

fumarole as did Green Dragon that was once a boiling spring. A new

thermal feature began throwing acidic mud to such an extent that a

trail had to be closed. The ground itself in several parts of the

basin has become hotter.”

“And you don’t find that unusual?” Mulder asked in what Scully

recognized was sounding far too much like his interrogation voice.

Ranger Harris’ response was clearly on the defense. “We’re

monitoring, but keep in mind that in the geologic sense, our records

on the park are like a blink of an eye. These variations could mean

nothing.”

“Or could mean something,” Mulder retaliated.

“Excuse me, sir,” asked the ranger, officiously polite, “but may I

ask if you are with the media. We do have an office of public

affairs. Perhaps you should speak to them.”

Mulder pulled out his ID, which forced Scully to wearily do the same.

The ranger’s eyes opened to a prodigious degree. “FBI? May I

ask what you are investigating? I’d be happy to direct you to the

correct people.” There had been a decided emphasis on ‘happy’.

“We’re still collecting information, but thank you.”

“Mulder…” Langley had been nervously shifting his weight from foot to

foot, as if the boardwalk he stood on was already too hot. “I have a

question. I was talking to one of the other rangers. What about the

lava dome, the ‘rising’ lava dome? The one on the north end of the

lake that has raised the temperature of the lake floor? Bubbles of

steam and hydrogen sulfide have been seen on the lake surface.

Within the last fifteen years it has tilted the lake to the extent

that twenty feet of the south end shore is now permanently under

water?”

Mulder stiffened. “Lava dome?”

Ranger Harris was making all the correct calming gestures but knew

that she wasn’t succeeding well with this group. “This is an

geothermic area. That means that the Earth’s molten core comes

relatively close to the surface here and, yes, there is a magma lake

under most of the park.”

“In layman’s terms, an active volcano,” Lee corrected. “One of the

largest in the world.”

“Yes,” Harris admitted, “which hasn’t erupted in six hundred

thousand years.”

“And is due to erupt in six hundred thousand year intervals,” Mulder

recalled.

“Give or take a hundred thousand years. Not something that I think

we need to be overly concerned about. Not something that need

concern the FBI.”

And with that and a piece of amazing dexterity, Ranger Harris

slipped away.

“You badgered that poor woman, Mulder. We knew that Yellowstone sits

on top of an active volcano.”

“But there’s knowing and then there’s ‘knowing.'”

“But what does any of this have to do with the disappearances?”

He shrugged, which seemed to dispel some of the tightness in his

shoulders. “Coincidence?”

“But you don’t believe in coincidences.”

“You’re right, I don’t.”

ACT III

Scully joined Mulder on the lodge’s wide porch, where he sat in one

of the rockers, his feet on the thick bole of the tree trunk railing

in front of him. The beauty of the lake may have been before him, but

his eyes didn’t see it. He was in full analyst mode, his inner eye

in operation.

“Ranger Harris will be here in a few minutes. It’s her day off, but

her supervisor has agreed for her to act as the FBI liaison in this

case. Heaven help us if we have to prove this is sanctioned.”

She slipped into the rocking chair next to her partner and waited

for him to acknowledge her presence. Finally, he leaned down for the

glass by his side. “Ice tea?” she asked with a smile.

He managed a small return grin while taking a draw on the straw.

“Unfortunately, yes. They make some brew here you could stand a

spoon in. Moose Drool. As soon as this is over I’m having one.”

Vacation was over. There has been no more geyser watching after the

revelation at Old Faithful. “You really think you have a case?”

“I have a place to start. Where’s the two love birds?”

“I went with Langley over to the Lake Hotel down the road and rented

another car. I felt that we would need one. The front desk told me

where the Lakeside General Store was and I showed him on the way in

case he wants to pick up some more clothes. The nights get cool even

if the days are exceptionally warm for this time of year. I took the

rental and let Lee off at the records depository as you requested.

Langley took off with the van to visit the park surveyors. There are

people using a ROV submersible to map the lake bottom, yes, with

emphasis on the lava dome under there. He’ll confirm the changes we

heard about this morning and look for evidence of more and see about

timing. If he showed them some of his toys, he was confident that he

could get them to tell him anything.”

“He will. I’ll bet that they’re all card carrying members of Geeks

International.”

At that moment a park service four-wheel jeep pulled up in front of

the lodge and the agents left their comfortable rocking chairs to

join a worried Ranger Harris. “I’m told I’m at your disposal,

agents, though I don’t know how much I can tell you.”

“Just give us a tour of other areas of the park. We’ll talk on the

way. All we’ve really seen is the distance between the Old Faithful

basin and here.”

“That’s not much. We have a lot of miles to cover then.” As she

pulled away, Harris gave them the broad facts. “The park covers over

two million acres. The caldera we spoke of is thirty miles wide and

forty-five miles long but it’s only the most recent of three almost

all of which still fall within the park. Although Yellowstone became

the first national park because of its geothermal features, it’s

known as much now as a wild life sanctuary and wilderness area.”

“In what way a wilderness area?” Mulder asked. “It’s so well known.

I saw that you see two million visitors a year.”

“On only three hundred miles of paved roads out of 3,472 square

miles of park? Yes, there are a thousand miles of back packing

trails but the extent of hiking the vast majority of our visitors do

is from their air conditioned tour buses to Old Faithful. And we

have only a five month summer season. The other seven months, we see

only about a hundred and fifty thousand.”

“So a lot could go on the rangers don’t know about?”

“Absolutely. There’s only about a thousand rangers and that’s in

high summer.” Harris frowned behind the steering wheel. “Budget cuts

again.”

“That leads to one of our big questions. Are there any groups that

would like to discredit the park?”

“Ha! Get in line. The group for free public access would like to

bring in every stink pot, ear-splitting, fume-spewing snowmobile

they want and churn up the woods all winter long. The affect on the

fragile, wintering animal populations would be devastating. There’s

virgin forest here that timber conglomerates would love to get their

hands on. They argue that the fires of ’88 are a sign that clear

cutting parts of the park would actually help protect it.”

“As I recall,” Scully offered, “the current theory is to allow

natural fires, those due to lightning, to burn normally except

where they endanger human habitations or historic sites.”

“That’s pretty much it. By putting all fires out quickly, a lot of

dead wood accumulated over the years. It is healthier since the

fire. We also have one of the world’s largest petrified forest, but

we don’t advertise that considering what has happened to the others

in this country. Our relationship with our neighboring ranchers is

unstable. They like the money the park brings in, but a certain

number of our elk and bison carry brucellosis, and you can’t keep

such migratory animals totally inside the park, especially in

winter.”

“Brucellosis abortis causes abortions in cattle,” Scully informed

her partner.

“And then there are the wolves,” Harris added with a sigh.

“Wolves?” Mulder asked delighted.

“We re-introduced wolves to the park a few years ago. They are

collared and heavily studied. There are fourteen packs of about nine

individuals each in the park. They roam as well. The ranchers were

concerned about their herds but they have not been too much of a

problem. They should worry as much about the natural predators.

Mountain lions, coyotes, golden eagles, and bears take down as many

as twenty-five percent of newborn bison calves and elk fawns each

year.”

They passed few cars it being so early in the season. What met their

eyes except for the road was natural: rolling hills, fields and

forests. “I see a lot of fog rising, or is that steam?” Mulder

asked.

“Steam.”

“Out in the middle of nowhere?”

“There are ten thousand thermal features in the park of which only

three hundred are geysers and only the most notable can be found on

the actual geyser basins. Here for instance.” She pulled off the

road and they got out. “Listen.” It took the agents time to hear

anything, true silence was so unusual. The hillside sighed with a

soft and eerie whistling. “That’s water underground turned to steam

by our hot spot working it’s way to the surface.” She shrugged as if

whistling mountains were the norm. “It happens here.”

“So there could also be changes to features you don’t know anything

about? Even new features? Hot springs bubbling to the surface, new

geysers.” Hesitantly, the ranger agreed.

Back in the car Mulder slouched in silent thought for a while. When

the jeep stopped he looked up to find the vehicle surrounded by

hundreds of bison. All of them were taking their time walking along

or crossing the road. The land had totally changed as well to a

wide, flat valley dotted with dark, woolly shapes, their winter coats

falling off in carpet sized patches leaving sleek, massive bodies

behind. Mulder thought of lone bachelor Bob back near Lake

Yellowstone. “You’ve fishing in the wrong stream, my friend.”

As they waited in childlike joy for the huge beasts to mosey along,

Harris’ radio squawked. She listened, then swore. “Central Admin has

called for an ambulance. You sent an agent to Records?”

“A… consultant,” Mulder corrected, his concerned glance going to

Scully. “Was there an accident?”

“Unknown. She fainted, or may have had an epileptic episode.”

“If there’s no danger, I’d rather that they keep her where she is

until we can get there. Special Agent Scully is also a medical

doctor.”

“Who knows nothing about Lee’s ‘condition’,” Scully whispered

harshly, after Harris had squeezed out of the car with a cattle prod

in order to move enough bison so that they could turn around.

“More than likely it’s a psychic trance. She went ‘looking’ for the

names of the missing to see if we could even place them in

Yellowstone at the time of their disappearance.”

“Couldn’t a computer search bring that up?”

“Registrations weren’t computerized until seven years ago,” he

explained, “when the park out-sourced the process. Everything

charged from dinners to trail rides we can find since then but

everything before is on paper and the last twenty years of that is

kept in Central Records.”

“She was looking for the original six associated with the case?”

“That case was ten years old. Remember she hinted that there might

be more? Langley and I performed a more recent search using his

wireless wonder during the trip while you were sleeping. We found

twenty possibilities, twenty disappearances of adults, ages eighteen

to fifty, in reasonably good shape, who were traveling out West

alone and disappeared after straying from their itinerary if they

had one at all.”

**

Central Administration was housed in the northwest sector of the

Park, in an old army post. That it was also near Mammoth Hot Springs

was obvious from the odor of hydrogen sulfide that hit them as soon

as they emerged from the Harris’s jeep. A follow up call confirmed

that Ms. Sackstone had come around but was groggy and paramedics

were holding her at a small first aid station. ‘Groggy’ was

understating that glazed expression, but Lee recognized them and

after Scully showed her medical credentials, checked the woman’s

pulse, and borrowed some oxygen she let the paramedics go with the

FBI’s thanks.

“What did you find?” Mulder asked after checking that Harris was

elsewhere.

Lee took a deep breath. “Fifteen of them are here, Mulder. Fifteen

out of twenty! Seven are in the more recent database — those the

clerk found — but I ‘felt’ the other eight, just by standing up in

that room and calling up their names. And in all cases, their visits

timed roughly with the reports of their disappearance.”

Scully frowned. “So you didn’t actually see the records?”

Lee’s tired pale eyes flared in indignation. “I could if I had

wanted to. I can lead you right now to the correct box of receipts

or hotel register. Signatures have power.”

Mulder raised a hand. “We’ll have to pull them up soon to see if

there’s a pattern — if they stayed at the same lodge or shopped in

the same store — but not just this minute. You show us when you

feel up to it.”

A little unsteadily, Lee stood. “I want to get this over with.”

All became suddenly aware of an unhappy Ranger Harris standing

behind them. “I think that I deserve to know what’s going on, don’t

you?”

After a pause Mulder nodded. “As long as I can ask some more

questions.”

While Scully helped Lee and a dazed clerk, pull, copy, and document

dozens of receipts, Mulder and Ranger Harris grabbed coffee at the

canteen and took a walk outside. Mulder stood in awe as a small herd

of elk trotted by. Harris then took him to an overlook with a view

of a wide stream. Far below, small figures moved in the water.

Mulder stared.

“Are those people down there swimming? That stream has to be barely

above freezing with all this snow melt.”

The grave expression Harris had been wearing softened slightly. “Run

off from the hot spring flows in just upstream. It’s too hot in

summer but just right for this time of year. May we discuss this

case of yours now?”

Mulder talked as they watched the frolicking swimmers and drank

their cooling coffee. The ranger took the news of the disappearances

seriously but did not seem surprised. The park was a huge place. She

had no explanation for why no one had made the connection between

the park and at least some of the missing people before.

“The park service wouldn’t try to hush such a thing up, I hope,”

Mulder said. “However, I have to wonder. The park doesn’t need any

bad publicity. If your attendance goes down, I assume that so does

your funding and you have those special interest groups which you

mentioned.”

Harris’ frown deepened. He had injured her pride. “We are federal

employees, same as you, Agent Mulder, and get paid a lot less

because we love what we do. Maybe we wouldn’t publicize such a thing,

but we wouldn’t cover it up. As far as linking the names, going

through hand written records is labor intensive as you know and not

something one would do if you didn’t know what your chances are of

finding anything. As for the computerized records, clearly no one

looked or made the connection.”

“What about our missing five? Is there a way someone could get in

without putting their name down anywhere? A visit to this park is

hardly a day trip and even if you pay cash you have to sign in when

you come through the park entrance.”

“The fees are only per car. You can take the shuttle from Jackson or

hitch. Even walk in. There are ways. As far as your case goes, give

me your list of names and I’ll see if there were any inquires over

the years and what was done about it.” Harris glanced in the

direction of the building where Lee and Scully worked. “This

consultant of yours believes she can just reach out and lay her

hands on the records she needs? If we had a coherent filing system,

I could see how it might be possible but we don’t. How does she do

it?”

Mulder sipped his nearly cold coffee. “She has her ways.”

**

The Watcher sipped coffee as well as he sat on his favorite bench

and waited. Over the years he had become adept at identifying

potential candidates even if his eyesight wasn’t as good as it use

to be. He’d then follow, listen, take notes. So early in the season,

however, choices were few. He’d been watching for more than a week.

Something had better show up soon.

**

Limp with exhaustion, the three oozed into the rental car Lee had

come in and Mulder drove them back to the lodge. During the ninety-

minute trip, Lee slept and Scully sorted copied receipts and

registration pages as best as she could in the near dark. There was

far more than one receipt per victim. People charge a lot on

vacation.

The sorting continued in the nearly deserted restaurant at the lodge

after a brief dinner that few touched.

Scully suddenly leaned back. “Oh, no.” Tired eyes moved in her

direction.

“Ten of the fifteen charged for items in the Lakeside General store.

That’s the one Langley and I passed this morning!”

“That’s the most common factor so far?”

“So far and others may have visited and paid cash. It makes sense.

These General Stores are much more than gift shops. They carry

camping gear, backpacking food…”

Mulder nodded energetically, seeing clearly where she was leading.

“And your lone traveler, alone and lonely, who has changed their

itinerary on a whim might find themselves talking to some kindly

salesperson, or even just another shopper, when they stop to pick up

all those things they didn’t bring along –”

“Like coats and glove and boots and sweaters?” Lee asked thoroughly

alarmed. Her attention was directed toward the restaurant’s

entrance. Soon all three heads were turned in that direction. There

stood Langley looking about as out-of-place as a St. Bernard at a cat

show.

He tromped over to their table, new boot squeaking, as he pulled off

thick, sparkling clean gloves. Letting fall a well-stocked backpack

that still boasted its tags, he shrugged off a fine fleece coat, the

type of which would have made the Marlboro man proud, to better

reveal new jeans and a red sweater with a moose and ‘Yellowstone’

woven into the pattern.

“What’s wrong,” he asked at their wide eyes. “You practically

ordered me to buy clothes. I had to drop the cost of two servers and

a router for all this.”

Lee’s mouth worked first but not well. “It’s all over him,” she

whispered in terror. “Hunger, satisfaction.”

Scully’s question came out nearly in a squeak. “Where did you buy

those?”

“The store by the pond you pointed out to me this morning.” He

jerked up the expensive coat to examine it. “What’s all over me?

This is brand new! The dwarf would have been so green.”

As Scully dropped her face into her hands, Mulder swallowed.

“Friendly people help you there, Langley?”

“Have you ever met a salesperson who wasn’t? No, wait, Washington is

nearly as bad as New York in that respect. But they were very

helpful.”

“You chatted.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t tell them the real reason I was visiting. In

fact I didn’t mention even knowing any government slaves or crystal

creeps.”

“No, only that you were just unexpectedly passing by after a

business trip, which was why you didn’t have the right clothes for

the climate.”

“From a conference in Silicon Valley on thwarting computer terrorism

if you must know. Always know your competition.”

Lee sighed. “You are ‘so’ in trouble, chip brain.”

**

Ten minutes later the four were standing in front of the store. The

rustic, homey place was locked tight and as dark as the sky over

Yellowstone Lake. It was after eight p.m. after all. Though the days

were spring-like, at night snow-kissed air flowed in from the

surrounding highlands where winter still reigned. Scully and Lee

put their hands in their pockets. Langley turned down the ear flaps

on a new furry hat. “If you have it with you, can I borrow your

watch cap?” Mulder asked, shivering, to which the gunman pulled the

black stocking cap out of a pocket.

“Your perp couldn’t have been the salesperson,” Langley complained

continuing their conversation from the car. “She looked like my

mother. Certainly, she was old enough.”

“A woman of that age would be an unusual suspect for this type of

crime,” Scully observed.

Mulder frowned as he turned the cap inside out and pulled it down

over the whitening tips of his ears. “We haven’t really discussed

what kind of crime we have.”

“What kind do you think? The homicides, which homicides I assume

they are, clearly aren’t intended to damage the park’s reputation,

since they were completely unknown until we pulled them up, so the

aim wasn’t for publicity of any kind. Nor for money; no ransom

demands. What’s left is violence for violence sake, appeasing the

ego, the inner god.”

“I don’t sense violence,” came Lee’s tense voice from where she

stood huddled as far from her cousin as she could get and still be

part of the group. “I don’t sense any malice, at all. He’s very

cold. The victims are not regarded as people, per se.” She stared

down at the ground, anywhere but at the small, gray shapes fawning

about Langley that only she could see. “More like objects, like

animals.”

Langley snorted. “I think I’ve just been insulted.”

“That could be it. The act is its own end, only why here?” Mulder

mused. “Wilderness it may be but there are a lot more people per

square mile here than most of the West.”

Scully’s attention shifted from the psychic to her partner’s face

and she didn’t like what she saw. “You’ve got something. A totally

wild, unsubstantiated theory that I don’t think I’m going to like.”

He shrugged. “I admit, it’s from the far side of the moon even for

me. I wasn’t going to mention it yet.”

“Mention it.” He still wouldn’t have spoken except for the tone of

her voice.

“I don’t believe that our perp is appeasing any inner god, I think

he’s appealing ‘to’ the gods.”

Langley shivered in his fancy new coat. “I think I know where you are

going with this, and I’m with Agent Scully. I don’t like it. Let’s

head back to the lodge. I think I need to hear this one over one of

those Moose Drool beers you were telling me about.”

**

The fire was warm and Langley and Lee’s beers were as thick and

flavorful as promised. Mulder frowned at his ice tea in

disappointment.

“You’re not quite right about the moon, Mulder,” Langley agreed

licking the foam from his lips. “The moon is too close for a theory

like this. Maybe Jupiter, maybe Neptune.”

“Just because you don’t want to be sacrificed to the local volcano

god?” Mulder asked. “Have you been fantasizing that your demise

would be somehow more heroic?”

“At least it could happen in the South Seas where volcano gods are

respected. But Wyoming!”

Scully tasted her tea not seeming to mind that it was not Moose

Drool. “Peace, you two. Actually, being the vehicle for the

awakening of the volcano beneath Yellowstone would be worth a fairly

large historical note.”

“You’re taking this pretty calmly, Scully.”

“That’s because I don’t take it very seriously, Mulder.”

“If the Yellowstone volcano were to awaken with the kind of energy

of its last eruption — which remember, was six hundred thousand

years ago with a cycle of six hundred thousand years — then there

may not be much of anyone writing historical notes. The drop in

global mean temperature that would result from the ash and smoke

would result, as a minimum, in the total loss of the output from the

Great Plains, a major breadbasket for the whole world, not just

North America. I think we are talking damage to agriculture far more

widespread, however. A famine unprecedented in recorded history.

Death in catastrophic numbers, civil unrest on a global scale. Our

global culture, not just that of one country, hangs on a knife-edge

which is more and more precarious with every passing year. No, I

doubt anyone will have the leisure to write history. The question

is, what does our acolyte hope will come of his adoration?”

“But from Langley’s discussion with the survey teams today, an

eruption here of any magnitude isn’t likely to happen for

generations,” Scully said. “Maybe there is some uplifting of the

magma dome under the park but we are looking through a slit in

geologic history the width of a hair. This kind of variation may be

normal for this geology.”

“Oh, I don’t disagree with you.”

“You don’t?”

“No. The point is not what ‘is’ happening but what our perp

‘believes’ is happening. There’s just enough change in the last ten

years to make him — or her — think that their ‘work’ is being

noticed. In that case there’s no reason for him to stop.”

There was silence all around.

Worriedly, Langley asked, “When did Harris predict that Mrs.

Billingsly was likely to surface?”

“Your oh-so-helpful and motherly salesperson is currently driving to

Boston to be present at the birth of her first grandchild,” Mulder

reminded the gloomy gunman. “She may not get our message for two to

three days. Then we’re depending on her being able to remember, and

being able to describe, anyone hanging around the store while you

were there today. You’re sure that you don’t recall any serial

killers loitering about?”

Langley glowered, pausing only to remove the twist of hair he was

chewing on. “When was the last time you took a vacation, Mulder?

Everyone loiters, that’s what most people do on vacation. If I had

been casing the joint for a break in as part of a little spot of

intellectual espionage, you can bet I would have remembered the

flavor of ice cream every kid who walked in ordered, but I was

buying clothes!”

“Time out,” Scully insisted, “Under the circumstances, Mulder

wouldn’t have remembered either. You’ll just have to stay out of

sight for a while.”

“Can’t I just stay with one of you?”

“No, then you wouldn’t be alone, now would you?” Mulder said, “and

our perp targets lone travelers. Once we have a plan for drawing him

out, wander where you will.”

Lee stared from Mulder to Langley. “You’re going to use him for

bait!”

Mulder looked sadly into his glass of tea. “At least there’s one

thing to be thankful for. At least I’m not the one in the line of

fire this time.”

**

Scully pulled the blankets higher as her right side cooled. It was

still dark, and Mulder was up.

“Somethin’ wrong?” she murmured, groggily.

She felt his warm breath on her face as he bent down to kiss her.

“Can’t sleep. Got to come up with a plan. Think I’ll take a drive

and go for a swim.”

“Swim?” She almost woke for that. “We’re over a mile up, it’s March.

” Yawn. “Unless one of the inns has an indoor pool.”

The kiss brushed her forehead, all that protruded above the covers.

“Harris showed me this stream with its own hot spring. Should be

heavenly.”

“Maybe your idea of heaven. I’ll see you for breakfast. Don’t be

late.”

**

The sun was up, though not by much, when someone began a frantic

pounding on the agents’ room. Once a heavy-eyed Scully managed to

get the door open, a nearly naked man burst into the room.

Unceremoniously, he dropped an hysterical as well as wet and

lathered Lee Sackstone onto the bed. Her clothing consisted of two

tiny room towels, his of a pair of blue plaid Fruit-of-the-Looms..

“What happened?” Scully demanded from either party even as she threw

the bedspread over the woman. Langley dropped into a chair huddling

behind the room’s two bed pillows. Neither replied immediately. Lee

seemed to be weeping through some inner psychic horror while Langley

just appeared to be in shock. Suspicious, Scully stared from one to

the other. “I didn’t think that you two got along. Were you…?”

“No!” both denied together. Langley alone went on. “Our bathrooms are

back to back. I was… well, occupied in mine, Lee was in the shower

when all of a sudden I heard her start screaming. I ran around to

her door and burst it open,” he absently rubbed a shoulder, “but

when she saw me she started screaming even worse. I brought her

here. It was all I could think of.”

“You did fine. Lee,” Scully asked gently shaking the woman. “Lee,

what’s wrong?”

Wiping stray shampoo from her eyes, Lee managed to stammer, “M-

Mulder. I was in the shower. I saw him in the water.” She then

pointed a wavering finger at Langley. “Then he came in. The ghosts

were clustered around him last night. Now they’re gone! I’m afraid

that they returned –” Her eyes went to Scully’s confused face.

“By the way, where is Mulder?” Langley asked, searching the corners

of the room.

Still fuzzy from sleep, it took Scully a moment to remember when she

had seen her partner last. It came back in terrifying swiftness. “He

went for a drive some time before dawn. Said something about…

swimming. Some stream with its own hot spring.” Her fear flared out

as anger. “You thought you were safe this time, damn you! I hope you

parboil one side and get frostbite on the other!”

“No!” Lee’s groping hand fixed on Scully’s arm like a vice. “Dana,

this is serious. He went down! Into the water!” Wildly she stared

from her cousin to Scully. “But it was as if I watching through

someone else’s eyes and it was Mulder, but sometimes it was as if I

were looking at Langley.”

Behind his pillows, Langley hunched pale, bony shoulders. “Mulder

isn’t going to feel flattered about the comparison. You need glasses

if you think we look anything alike.”

Scully’s fear was escalating by the second. She began throwing on

clothes as Langley averted his eyes. “You are of a height and general

shape. Besides, where is there a rule that says that serial killers

have to have good eyesight?”

Lee suddenly sat upright, the bedspread slipping into her lap.

“That’s why they looked alike. In my vision Mulder was wearing a

black hat like the one he borrowed from Langley last night.”

Dana paused in her frantic dressing. “Langley, did Mulder return your

hat?”

The gunman shook his sleep-tousled hair in the negative. “That must

be a sight. Swimming in running shorts and a — ” Suddenly he stopped

speaking and began chewing his lip.

“What is it?” Scully asked.

“Scully… I wore that cap all the time I was shopping. ” Her gaze

turned on him horrified. “It was the only part of me that kept warm

all day. Worse… ” he added apologetically, “I saw as we were coming

in that only the rental car is outside, Mulder must have taken the

van. That was what I drove when I went shopping yesterday. We are so

screwed.”

Her face frozen, Scully snapped her weapon into the holster in the

small of her back. “No, it’s Mulder who’s screwed.”

**

The water was delightful. Jacuzzi-warm if you moved closer to the

input from the hot spring, icily chilling if you moved further

downstream. Best was somewhere in between. On the other hand, the

early morning air on wet skin would stop your heart so he planned to

keep his head above water. Determined to stay well this trip he even

wore Langley’s old cap, creepy as it felt even turned inside out.

Better than Scully’s disapproval if he caught cold. Good intentions

don’t always pay for all, however. Stepping in a hole he went under.

In the deep places, the water was …cold!

He thought he had been swimming alone, but when he came up, his eyes

streaming with water, he thought he saw other swimmers near him, a

whole football team’s worth. Once he had wiped his eyes, however,

they were gone. Before he had time to make sense of what he had seen

or not seen, something powerful plowed into his back above the left

shoulder. He was swept off his feet into the worst of the swirling

current. He went down and down, his wind knocked out from the blow.

His head went under into water several notches too warm for comfort

at the same time that the icy flow swirled about his struggling

legs. His awareness of the irony didn’t lasted long. Within seconds

neither arms nor legs answered his panicked call. After all he had

been through, and he was going to drown and he didn’t even know why!

ACT IV

There was too much noise, noise that had no beginning and no end but

only swelled from time to time to an even more terrible shriek

before rolling back to its previous head-splitting level. And then

he was sick. Sick of the numbing shaking that continually bounced

his nearly naked hipbone again the cold, unforgiving surface he lay

on. Sick to his stomach, too, from the camel sway of this terrible

ride and from what was certainly a cocktail of unpleasant drugs. He

could taste them in his mouth.

Despite his scrambled brains he had to think, had to ignore the dark

and the teasing spots of light that flickered before his aching

eyes. He flexed his fingers. It had taken a long enough to realize

that he could even do that though the knowledge did him little good.

His arms were bound to his sides at elbow and wrist. Then he

realized that his groping fingers scratched at his own bare thigh.

Naked? No, he touched the edge of a scrap of thin, damp cloth. His

aborted swim came back to him. He must have been hit by a

tranquilizer dart though by its force it must have been meant for

deer or bear.

But he hadn’t been left to drown. Someone had fished him out, most

likely his assailant, rolled him in a blanket, and wound some kind

of binding at multiple points around and around his body. Mummies

must feel like this, or if they were alive they would. For a few

minutes he struggled but he was wrapped with something that refused

to give or slip. They must have used duct tape. Damn television. His

exertions brought on a fit of coughing. With effort he managed to

rid himself of what was left of the stream water in his lungs. From

the soreness in stomach and throat he had thrown up the rest of it

before.

His dark, rumbling prison suddenly tilted and he went rolling. He

was grateful for Langley’s wet, knitted cap when he head came up

sharply against the metal wall of what had to be quite a small

enclosure. A trunk? No, he had been thrown into enough trunks in his

days not to confuse this sliding, swaying motion with a car’s

motion. It felt and sounded more like he had been stuffed into some

compartment on a boat. The engine had that high-pitched whine of an

outboard motor only there was too much up and down. His feet were

numb from being bare and not covered by the blanket. If he had to

guess, he was hearing the engine of a snowmobile and he was in some

sort of covered cargo sled. It was more likely than a boat on land-

locked and still partially frozen Yellowstone Lake. The winter snow

pack was still extensive in the upper altitudes.

But where was he being taken? He didn’t want to think about why, but

every jar of the sled drove the unpleasant possibilities into his

bones. The ensuing panic got him on his knees in spite of his drug

sluggish limbs. His plan was to force his back up against the solid

cover of the sled. He had to begin over and over again as the bed of

the sled constantly altered speed and direction. He didn’t know what

he would have done if he had managed to spring the top. Fall out, a

blanket-bound mummy onto the snow? To what end? He didn’t need to

worry about that. The cover was the same fiberglass as the sled

shell and refused to budge.

Scully, where are you? But she had been an hour’s drive away when he

was taken. How would she ever find him? When would she ever even

notice he was gone?

**

At that moment, the object of his question was sliding with reckless

abandon down a snowy slope from their rental car towards the part of

the stream below Mammoth Hot Springs that had been pointed out to

Mulder as the ‘swimming hole.’ Dana knew that she was showing a

level of emotion rare for the cool Agent Scully, but appearances be

damned! She slowed only when she saw the large area of yellow police

tape against the snow and the clusters of serious-faced rangers.

It had indeed snowed during the night, though only half an inch and

there had been none at the lodge. Not all that unusual for this time

of year.

Seeing her, Harris left her ranger group. “Anything?” Scully asked.

“Surprisingly, yes, thanks to the snow. And a good thing that we got

here as soon as we did because the sun will hit here in an hour and

that will be the end of it.” Harris pointed to clear marks in the

snow, some dyed pink. “Pink marks those made by the first ranger who

arrived after your call. Two people were here. One went into the

water directly, the other took a more suspicious route.”

“How suspicious?” Scully asked, feeling a chill in her stomach.

“From bush to bush.” The ranger drew something bagged and labeled as

evidence out of her pocket. “We found this behind a tree.”

Shock ran through her. It was clearly a tranquilizer dart but huge.

It was as long as her hand and as thick as three fingers. Her

insides churned with alarm. “You’ll send this to the local FBI field

office for analysis?”

“Of course.” Harris led her nearer to the bank and just outside the

tape where a large area of snow was disrupted. “Here’s where they

must have come out of the water. See that large square space?”

Harris asked. “It’s almost as if a six-by-six carpet had been laid

down and rolled. See also that only one set of tracks returns to the

parking lot, the suspicious one, only he’s not walking easily any

more. He slides and pauses and his prints are deeper than before.

We’re fairly sure that one man carried the other though we will drag

the river just to be sure”

Not just a chill, ice cycles in her guts. “I gather there were no

witnesses?”

“No, but that isn’t surprising for this early in the season.”

Following the tracks, the two women climbed back up to the parking

lot. “As you can see,” the ranger said, “the snow didn’t stick on

the blacktop so we don’t have any information on the other vehicle

except that we assume that there was one.”

“What about the van Mulder drove?”

Harris pointed straight up to a flattened area far above them. Dana

could just make out the edge of a building. “It’s there. In the

parking lot for the admin campus. You visited there yesterday. It’s

where I showed Mulder the stream.” Harris’ head bowed. “I’m so sorry

about that. I never thought… Anyway our assumption is that Mr.

Dartgun moved it up there. A vehicle in a busy parking lot is less

conspicuous than one unattended for hours or days on the side of a

road. By the way, we didn’t pick up any useful prints in the van at

our first go round. The ones on the door and steering wheel were

smudged so your last driver wore gloves. Still we’re keeping an eye

open because we expect him to come back to dispose of it as he must

have disposed of the others.” Harris’ tone was inquisitive. “He

thinks that he has time because, as I understand it, he expected his

victim to be traveling alone.” Her obvious question was unspoken.

“You have my word that Mulder did not intend to play the goat,”

Scully assured the ranger. At least not this time.

Harris seemed relieved but only momentarily. “I have more bad news

or perhaps I should say no news. Our shopkeeper Mrs. Billingsly

still hasn’t made her appearance at her daughter’s in Boston.”

Something in Scully’s expression convinced Harris that now was

perhaps a good time to coordinate with the other rangers. That left

the agent alone to crouch on the wet asphalt straining weary eyes

for some hint of a muddly tire tred mark or a scrape of a rare

cigarette butt.

One pair of worn and one pair of new hiking boots appeared in her

field of vision. It was Lee and Langley whom she had left to park the

rental car.. “What can we do?” Lee asked softly gently crouching

down.

Scully shrugged helplessly. “We haven’t a clue. Not one. We don’t

know who, we don’t know where.”

Lee had to look away from the naked emotion in her new friend’s

face. “I know this sounds crazy, but I think I have a direction.” Her

eyes lifted up and up to focus on the snowy gap between two of the

dozen or more ten thousand foot mountains that marked the caldara

rim.

Scully followed the other woman’s gaze but made no attempt to stand.

“I know that you’ve produced some phenomenal results these last

days,” she said wearily, “but this is different.”

“Why? Because it’s ‘too’ important?”

“I guess so. Working with Mulder all these years I’ve seen a lot and

learned to believe in much but –”

Lee stood, fists clenched. “Then don’t stop believing! He’s alive.

At this moment he’s alive!”

Without speaking, perhaps because she didn’t trust herself to,

Scully rose, brushing gravel and wet from the knees of her slacks.

Lee’s strong face flushed. “He’s thinking of you right now! THAT’s

how I know. When he thinks of you I sense this kind of… shimmer.

Remember how I found your apartment that first night? It’s like that

only fainter because this path hasn’t been laid down again and

again over the years. Right now he’s on the move, they’re climbing.”

The psychic’s pale eyes glazed. “It’s cold and I smell snow and pine

and … gasoline?”

Scully allowed herself one glance one more into that far distance

and shivered. Direction help but it was still a huge area. “What if

I agree and you’re wrong? We’ll waste time. Can you tell me what

will happen then?”

Feeling decidedly left out, Langley had been pacing, his fingers

twitching for something solid and preferably electronic that he

could hold in his hands that would help here. Now he snorted in

frustration.

“You always were a prick, Lizard,” Lee snapped. “Believe it or not,

I can sometimes see what ‘is’ that others can’t or what has been,

but I never claimed to be precognizant. That’s a different curse.

But who’s to say that I wasn’t sent by someone who does know these

things? What if I was sent not only to stop the murders of all these

lonely people but also to save Mulder. Maybe Mulder was even allowed

to be taken because I ‘could’ follow him through this ‘shimmer’

between he and Dana.” Her attention to him had become a sneer. “You

should be relieved. If it had been you, Langley, we wouldn’t have had

a chance of following because there isn’t anyone in this world that

you care about as much as Mulder cares about Dana. Now, as Dana

says, we can’t afford to waste time.” Lee stabbed again at the

distant gap between the two peaks. “Mulder is up there and is being

taken farther away even as we stand here arguing!”

And as they watched the two pinnacles emerged glistening white into

the morning sun from behind the shadow of a taller, more easternly

brother. With it a bright energy seemed flowed through Scully. Was

this hope? At least it felt better than despair. “Ranger Harris!”

she called. “I think we have a place to start but we’re going to

need a map and some alternate transportation.”

**

By the time the terrible engine stopped, Mulder was suffering not only

from the remains of the drugs in his system but was seriously motion

sick from the endless swaying of the sled. With his ears still

ringing from the mind-numbing whine, he nearly missed the sound of

the sled’s cover being raised. At best his thrust upwards from his

knees was a weak, ill-timed, and rather pitiful attempt to head butt

his captor. His upper body passed through empty air to fall back

with a painful thud against the edge of the sled. A solid whack to

the side of his skull with a stout stick stunned him so that he got

only a momentary glimpse of long, gray hair and a face as leathery

and weather-lined as Clink Eastwood’s. The man proceeded with

ridiculous ease to force some thick and foul tasting fluid down

Mulder’s throat. The old man clearly had experience medicating

recalcitrant dogs and cats as well as other higher beings. Within

seconds a cold paralysis began to radiate out from Mulder roiling

stomach.

‘Oh, Scully, after all those hours spent bent over the porcelain

god, now would be a really good time to throw up.’ But it wasn’t to

be. His mind followed his body into a gray cotton haze.

clip_image006

**

With Lee squeezing Scully’s elbow from behind to indicate whether

they should stop at any particular place or go on, Harris’ Park

Service jeep churned on through what was a gravel road in summer, a

snow-covered track in spring, and impassible in winter. They would

have to stop soon and pull out the snowmobiles that road in the

trailer they pulled behind. Harris drove expertly without feeling

the need to ask any questions, which considering the situation was

even more commendable than her driving. Langley sat unhappily in the

back seat continuing to feel useless in this largely non-

technological world. At the moment he was confused about why he had

been included. He was no woodsman and had never tracked so much as

the missing family dog through the snow but, despite her claims that

she couldn’t read the future, Lee had insisted.

For some time the psychic had given no directions and both the

women’s faces had begun to show the strain. All at once, however,

Scully straightened in the front seat as Lee squeezed down hard.

“Turn here!” What might be a road because it was a space the width

of a road and lacked trees opened on the left. The snow was a little

deeper and so easy to see the few sets of solitary tire tracks.

Harris got out for a look only to leap in again moments later. The

sun was high now and the impressions easy to read. “By the tire

tread and axle width those tracks all appear to be made by the same

vehicle.” She didn’t have to say more. They might very well be on to

something.

They came upon the pickup more quickly than anyone expected. It was

parked just far enough off the main road to be invisible.

Harris let off a low whistle. “I think know that truck.”

While Harris called in the license plate, Lee crept up to the

pickup, palms raised like radar dishes. While Scully prepared to

search the cab for evidence, Langley drifted over to inspect an

eight-by-eight metal shed painted Park Service green and brown. It

would virtually disappear in summer, but not now. A tiny satellite

receiver and a small but sophisticated weather station were its

primary attractions. By the time the gunman hurried back the women

were off-loading the two snowmobiles. Their faces were grim.

Before he could speak, Lee was at his side. “Agent Mulder’s shoes

and clothes are in the back seat of the truck,” she whispered.

“There wasn’t even any need to force the door. And I was afraid to

say but I lost the shimmer miles ago! Lost it! I only felt the truck

by chance, probably sensed his clothes like the signatures on the

sales receipts.”

“He’s not –”

“No, not dead. I would know that. But asleep maybe.”

“Or unconscious. You have no idea how many hospitals visits I’ve

made to see that man in the past ten years. You have the tracks

though. Whoever drove the truck must have left a trail.”

“We’re fairly certain that he used a snowmobile only the woods

around here are crisscrossed with dozens of tracks. No way to tell

one snowmobile from another.”

Her misery transmitted all too well. Making a sudden decision, he

called out, “Ranger Harris! Agent Scully! Here’s something you might

want to see.” He gestured towards the park service building. “It

may not have a thing to do with Mulder’s disappearance, but you have

a saboteur. A clever one.”

Harris’ eyes frowned impatiently as they followed Langley to the

shed. “That’s just an instrument shed. There’s a whole network of

these in the park. They record and transmit meteorological and

seismographic data.”

“This one’s been used for something more and something less than

that.” Langley announced swinging open the shed door. “It’s been

fixed it up as someone’s home away from home and there’s an empty

lean-to on the far side that’s just the right size for a couple of

snowmobiles. And your instruments aren’t working, at least the

seismograph isn’t, that is, it’s working but is being fed false

data. Data from another location is being captured and fed through

just enough out of cycle for the duplication not to be recognized.

Whether it’s related –”

Harris frowned at the sight of the cot, tiny propane stove and

supplies. “Oh, it’s related. It fits with what I just found out. The

truck belongs to “Pigtail” Newton, an employee of the surveyor’s

office for years. He helped set up most of the initial network and

maintained these sheds for years. There’s a note in his file. His

son was a smokejumper. He was killed in the ’88 fire. Pigtail blamed

the fire on the tourists and one did start one of blazes but not

all. He was an extremist even for our own cadre of tree-huggers,

critical of the Park Service but never really left it or the park

even after his forced retirement two years ago. His truck is a

common fixture, which is why I recognized it. Why he would want to

falsify data, however, makes no sense. The measurements have value

only to us. We measure tremors, the movement of ground water –”

“Geothermal activity?” Langley ripped a sheet off a terminal that had

finished printing just as they stepped inside. He thrust it into

Scully’s hands. “I restored the correct input, accessed the main

database and cross referenced the sectors covered by the other park

seismographs. Any one of them could pick up even a moderate-size

earthquakes over most of North America but for geothermals there’s

minimal redundancy.” He indicated a lightly shaded area on the map.

“In other words, you’ve had a hole in your coverage of the park

probably for years.” He pointed to a drum whose pins were steadily

recording multiple active lines. “Here’s the real readings from the

past week. Does it indicate what I think it does?”

Harris stared. “An unknown and extremely active thermal area just

outside the caldara rim. A hot spot, and getting hotter!”

“That’s where they’ll be!” Scully exclaimed remembering Mulder’s

not-so-crazy theory about sacrifices to the volcano gods.

The four headed for the snowmobiles at a run. Harris paused only a

second before climbing on board. “What I don’t understand is how you

were able to access anything on our system, much less as quickly as

you did. Our systems have some sophisticated security.”

“Professional secret,” Langley shrugged, as he climbed onto his own

metal snow beast and gave Lee a hand to seat herself behind him.

“Besides, ‘YOgi_Bear’ was not so hard of a password to guess. Now if

this drives anything like a motorcycle we’re with you. Just don’t

tell Frohike about my checkered past.

**

It was at times like these when the limp bodies of the offerings sat

heavily on his shoulders that “Pigtail” Newton worried about getting

old. And he was thought to be in good shape for a man his age but

didn’t feel it today. It didn’t help that it was no little distance

from where the snow stopped to the offering place, but then even in

the worst of the winters snow seldom lingered here. Too warm. He

could feel the ground heat even through the thick rawhide soles of

his boots. At the edge of the basin where the ground turned to

crunchy bisque he slipped his feet, boots and all, into the flat

wooden shoes that so much resembled snowshoes. While standing on one

foot with his burden, he felt the weight on his shoulders shift and

only barely righted it. Definitely getting too old. The gods would

have to hurry if he were going to live to see the day of their

glorious vengeance.

Twenty yards across the basin and beginning to sweat from the steamy

heat, the old man reached the altar. Its simple but elegant design

was like the others he had built over the years. It was three feet

high and as long and wide as a tall man was tall. Built of a lattice

of the trunks of lodge pole pine, the open weave of the lattice

alternated east and west and north to south. With relief and

surprising care, the old man rolled his burden off his shoulders and

onto the bier. With a sharp knife he cut the tape and then began

automatically to straighten the awkward position of the man’s limp,

bare limbs. He found himself blinking at the still face, as he tried

to focus using eyesight that he refused to correct with glasses. It

was the first time that he’d really taken the time for a close look

that day. The sight made him uncomfortable. The young man was better

looking than Pigtail remembered from the store, better looking and

with a better body than he expected. And he had been wearing the

black stocking cap, though little else. He had also driven the

correct van — GKNOLL2. Pigtail was unlikely to mistaken it for any

other after following it back to the shopper’s lodgings the evening

before. Besides, Volaria must be smiling over his choice otherwise

excited sleeplessness would never have induced him to begin his

surveillance so early. Any later and he would have missed the pre-

dawn excursion. Still, this was not like his other selections.

Someone would surely miss this one.

Almost reverently he touched the gray cheek and noted the glaze over

the slitted eyes. “Cold, Mr. G. Knoll? Not for long, I promise you,

not for long.”

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**

Mulder wondered if where he had been could be called sleeping. It

seemed odd to sleep with his life on the line, but for the first

time in what must be hours he was warm though the drugs had left him

stupid as well as lethargic. Without giving away that he was

conscious, he stretched his senses. He was completely naked now and

bound spread eagle, held down at wrists and ankles though still

covered with the blanket from the chest down. He was laid out on a

hard and exceedingly lumpy platform and from time to time choking

fumes rolled over him. He soon located the source of the warmth as

well as the smell. Moist warmth was rising up through spaces in the

thick kind of grating he lay on. A burger on a grill came to mind.

No, more like a hot dog in a steamer. Correction again, a hot dog in

a pressure cooker as he began to identify the sounds and smells

about him. Vibrations in the ground transferred up through his

pallet as underground water and steam came under more and more

pressure.

Only with effort was Mulder able to turn his head to the left in the

direction of the hissing and gurgling noises. He could just make out

a tall, gray cone from which steam rose and intermittent jets of

water shot out in great forceful sprays. From the size of the

geyser’s cone, things were just heating up. Just then as a bit of

breeze cleared the air of steam he saw several low structures close

by in various degree of disrepair. There were probably more but he

stopped counting once he made out that one still retained the

whitened remains of an earlier victim.

How he sometimes hated being right.

Something more in the mist and clouds of steam caught his attention.

Forms seemed to go in and out of focus. Did the old man have a

congregation and had they all come to watch the sacrifice? If so

Mulder realized with a shiver, it was a strangely insubstantial

congregation. If they were there at all, he could see through them.

Then he realized where he had briefly seen the gray figures before

if only briefly. They had been standing around him in the stream

when he came up from his dunking. That is what had seemed most odd,

they had been fully clothed, but then the dart had come out of

nowhere and that vision had been swept away.

His head fell back onto the logs of his own altar with a thud. Now

they were back and they all were looking at him. Expecting what

exactly? For him to rise triumphantly and smite their murderer? Fat

chance when even his head felt as heavy as lead.

A much more substantial form moved to his right. The old man. The

fact that he was still near might mean that there was time still.

“Who are you?” Mulder croaked, unable to come up with anything more

original.

The old man grunted. “I’m not important.”

“I think you’re very important just now.”

The old man didn’t reply. Instead the rumbling suddenly increased.

The old man disappeared as a wave of incredibly hot steam mingled

with a fine spray of stinging droplets sprayed across Mulder’s body.

Whoo, too hot. Geologically, things seemed to be moving along far

too quickly for any kind of subtle interrogation.

“So what’s the name of the geyser that’s going to scald me to

death?” Here was one that would be classified as ‘Other’ under

‘Cause of Death’ on the local autopsy report. “Or your name. I’ll

settle for your name.”

“Her name is Volaria Magma,” snarled the old man reluctantly from

some distance. There was no small amount of anger in the man’s voice,

as if it were somehow sacrilegious that anyone should dare to ask.

“How appropriate. She’s violent, I take it, and as unpredictable as

any woman? Her plumbing system must be pretty complicated.”

The old man was there again, frowning and walking oddly on what must

be soft and dangerous ground. His return, however, gave Mulder hope.

The courtier would know his lady’s ways.

“She’ll prepare for days and days before making an appearance.

Sometimes weeks. She took six months once.” He paced back and forth

in his weird gait studying the bubbling cone with worshiping eyes.

“That must have been hard,” Mulder replied conversationally.

“Waiting, that is.”

The old man gestured towards the platform where the bones still

glistened. “Had to listen to that one snivel and beg for two whole

months. Had to gag her finally except when she had to be fed. There

wasn’t much left by the time Volaria finally came. I could tell that

she wasn’t pleased. She didn’t come again until now.” For the first

time to Mulder’s knowledge the old man actually looked into his

victim’s face. “But I already know that she approves of you. She is

eager, I can tell. We won’t have long to wait.” At that moment

beneath them, the earth groaned like a herd of dinosaurs with full

bellies turning in their sleep. “Feel that? She wakes. I won’t have

to gag you will I? You’ll go quiet? Oh, not too quiet, I know,

because she takes her time. See I’m teaching her well. She’s finding

pleasure in the destruction of those who cause her home so much

harm.”

“One contented lady will not solve the problems of the… world,”

Mulder coughed as a particularly odious cloud rolled over him.

“No, but once she learns she will invite her father and her mother

and all her kin. And they will rise up!” The old man’s voice raised

like that of an old time tent meeting preacher. “And they will wipe

this land clean with fire and earthquake and molten stone! With

smoke and doom they will smite this land of all those who spread

like an infection over the land. At the end you will meet her with

nothing but the flesh in which you were born. Then I tell you, beg

her forgiveness,” the crazed voice softened, “so that in the midst

of your great trial you will not overlook your mighty purpose!”

‘I doubt that I’ll be able to overlook such a mighty purpose,’

Mulder thought glumly. One was unlikely to forget being splattered

to death by boiling water and scalded by steam. How long would it

take? Or was the old man talking about thousands of gallons rising

up and showering down to write across his body in fantastic patterns

of blistering flesh? In that case, he wouldn’t have time to forget

nor to be quiet even if there were some point to showing restraint.

**

The snowmobiles tore over the wet spring snow, whipping back and

forth to evade trees and rocks and slopes too dangerously steep.

Harris and Scully’s was in the lead. Harris set a frightening pace.

Dana took hope in that Harris was following the tracks of riders

here before them. All at once the ranger shouted triumphantly over

the din of the engines. Only one track stretched before them, only

one headed in the direction they needed to go and its tracks were

deep and fresh.

**

The earth continued to groan only louder and more often. The geyser

within the cone was becoming more active. It would rise a bit and

Mulder would wince as its hot spray hit his feet from which the

blanket had slipped and which was closest to the fountain. Then the

eruption would take a step back, gathering strength and Mulder would

feel the warm, not unpleasant wetness seeping through the blanket

onto the skin of his legs. He thought of another question but before

he could open his mouth the dinosaurs turned again and old man

tipped his hat and trudged away to safer ground. Mulder considered

asking the ghosts but they were an uncommunicative lot.

**

After nearly two hours on the back of a snowmobile, Scully found

that the landscape of twenty-year-old burned forest had begun to

take on a monotonous, dream-like quality. From time to time Scully

felt her head droop to rest against Harris’ shoulder. She woke

instantly, however, when the engine’s RPMs dropped. Scully could

soon hear the ranger swearing. Harris was going slower because

though the ground she searched was still white, the covering had

thinned.

She stopped and climbed off with an agility that the others could

not come close to duplicating. “Damn, lost the track. It’s too warm

today; the snow’s flattened out. We’re well within the zone Langley’s

report identified but there are still a dozen square miles –”

Lee came to a sliding stop beside Scully to point slightly towards

the left of the gap between the original peaks that they had been

heading towards all along. “That way! He’s awake! I’ve thought so

for a while but there was too much noise to concentrate. We have to

hurry!”

**

Volaria was stretching her broad shoulders. Her fountains were

coming more quickly and rising higher though as much splashed to

Mulder’s left or right as in his direction. He tensed at the roar of

each jet. His blanket was damp all over now and very wet and hot

near his feet. For the first time a hot splash sprinkled his face.

The coolness of the spring mountain air was all that had saved him

from serious damage so far but for how much longer? What would

happened when the water from the earth’s own personal water heater

began coming in buckets rather than cupfuls? He no longer wanted

the ghosts to go away. It was horrible dying alone, but they must

know that more than anyone. Maybe that was the only reason for their

being here. If so, it was enough.

**

The snowmobiles stopped dead. No more snow. Harris shook her head

puzzled over why this should be so but there was no time for

questions. The four were off and running as fast as they could over

a mushy ground cover of snowmelt mud and soggy leaves. This time

they followed Lee’s tall, raw-boned frame and the expression of

renewed terror on her face. There was no thought of trying to keep

quiet so not to disturb the acolyte at his ceremonials. Clearly,

there was no time, yet there was still hope. Whatever terrible thing

was going to happen had not happened yet.

Very soon, perhaps the length of a football field from their own

snowmobiles but hidden from the sight before, they came upon a

single abandoned snowmobile hitched to a cargo sled. Its turtle

shell cover was open. Zipping down her jacket as she ran, Harris

shouted to the others, “There must have been snow up to here just a

few hours ago. That’s a lot of melting. It’s also too warm.”

As she raced past the sled, Scully looked once, swallowed, and ran

faster. The storage compartment was easily large enough to carry a

man Mulder’s size and it was empty. The lack of snow in this

sheltered, shadowed place where snow should have lingered all summer

was of no concern of her, but the unexpected rise of temperature was

both a relief and a worry. Surrounded by snow fields, she had been

worried about Mulder’s lack of clothes. He had to be more

comfortable now but the rise in heat and Mulder’s own theory had to

point to Langley’s dangerous geothermal area being close by.

The party no longer needed maps or a psychic guide. Before them was

a well-worn path. Confusingly, it seemed to be dead-ending into the

very side of the mountain. Then suddenly within a stone’s throw of

sheer rock walls, the path dipped precipitously. As they descended, a

warm rising breeze brought them the all too familiar hell scent of

sulfur.

As the trail dropped, the space before them opened and the steps of

all the party faltered. Long ago, a huge side vent off the central

crater had exploded, rupturing the caldara rim and propelling

outwards a huge chunk of the mountain. A entire basin of a dozen

geyser cones, and countless boiling azure pools, fumaroles and

mudpots simmered menacingly within the sheltered bowl that that

explosion had left behind yet only a quarter of the entire

mysterious realm was open to the sky a thousand feet above their

heads.

Harris gasped even as she resumed running. “Small wonder that this

place was missed again and again by aerial surveys. Follow me, be

careful where you step!”

Scully followed but was nearly tripped by Lee who staggered, her

hands rising to her mouth in horror. Scully ran past, refusing to

allow herself to be distracted by either the geology or whatever

visions Lee saw. Only where to place her feet so she could keep

running? She had to find the place of execution, the place of

ceremony, and from Lee’s reaction she had to find it fast! Where was

it? Because that was where she would find Mulder.

Being in front now, Harris saw the altars first. There must have

been a dozen in bleached piles neatly arranged in two arcs around

the yellow-white cone of the largest geyser cone that she had ever

seen. Even as they watched energetic clouds of steam began boiling

out of the core. From its heart fountains shot high into the air.

Both Harris and Scully had drawn weapons by now as they searched

through the mountain’s shadow and clouds of steam. Scully’s foot

went through the crust and she felt a thick, hot sludge fill her

boot. She would have gone down but Langley grabbed her free arm.

“They say we have to hurry!” Lee screamed flying past. Scully swore.

‘Who’ says? Besides, she was hurrying! Then she saw the old man, his

long hair wet and plastered around his face from the spray. He was

standing and glaring at them, his face red with fury.

“Hands up! FBI!” Scully commanded in a voice made thunderous by her

own anger. But instead Pigtail bent, seized a yard-long stick and

ran into the billowing clouds of waist-high steam in the direction

of the awakening geyser. Scully saw his arm raise as if to beat at

an amorphous shape nearly obscured in swirling clouds.

“Stop!” she screamed. But the arm didn’t pause. Scully stopped,

stood, fired. Down in the geyser bowl, the figure jerked, dropped a

fist-size chunk of wood that was all that remained of the bludgeon,

and then sent some dark shape flying. A flag? Staggering, barely

visible, he then dashed around to the far side of the cone where the

water was rising in fountains higher and higher, eight feet, now ten

feet.

“Pigtail!” Harris called. “Give it up!”

“You people give it up!” the old man shouted back in both anger and

anguish. “Give the land back to itself!” The last Scully saw was the

old man wading, screaming, through the steaming water which

collecting in a deeper and deeper pool at the foot of the cone where

the most spectacular hell was breaking loose. He seemed to be trying

to get away around the far side of the geyser but for reason wasn’t

making much progress.

All but Lee gave no more thought to the old man. As her far-seeing

eyes counted far more than one figure gathered at the base of the

cone, Harris, Langley, and Scully ran towards the place where they had

seen the old man raise his bludgeon. As they neared with the soft,

hot ground breaking again and again under their feet, a swirl of

wind played with the steam to reveal another of the altars. Their

eyes had been drawn to a dark object, a blanket, crumpled on the

corner of the altar. This was the ‘flag’ the old man had pulled free

at the last minute, hoping to hasten the completion of the sacrifice.

Nearly, invisible against the bleached wood, a pale, naked figure

was stretched out and struggling weakly at ropes that held it down.

Within seconds Harris had pulled out a pocketknife. As the three

sheltered Mulder from the worst of a fresh spray of huge, boiling

drops, the sharp blade made quick work of the rope. It took not much

longer for the three to get themselves and Mulder onto dry and solid

ground. As Mulder, coughing weakly, collapsed bonelessly into

Scully’s waiting arms, Langley draped the recovered blanket over them

both.

A safe but still impressively close distance away, magnificent,

magnificent Volaria had finally reached her climax. Unaware and

uncaring that her promised gift had been spirited away, thousands of

gallons of boiling earth-heart waters were shooting in dozens of

glorious fountains eighty feet into the air, the blood of her self-

proclaimed consort barely a pink stain about her feet.

Epilogue

A Park Service helicopter came to lift the injured and his personal

physician away. The patient was swathed in an odd collection of

whatever the others could spare. Scully leaned over the litter as

the paramedic fastened the straps for the trip and brushed her

partner’s cheek.

“I can’t feel much,” he asked worriedly. “How bad is it this time?”

“Not too bad but be glad of the numbness from the drugs. One blow to

the head, one to the shoulder.”

“Only because I jerked away at the last moment.”

“Bumps and bruises from her sled ride, and no worse than second

degree burns from Volaria’s kisses especially on your feet. No worse

than a bad sunburn on your top half.”

“Ouch,” he winced.

She bent and kissed him. “Honestly, you got off easy this time. If

it weren’t for the drugs that need identifying, you wouldn’t even

need to stay the night.”

“Whatever he gave me, I didn’t seem to care over much about

anything.”

Her smile was brittle. “I think you would have if the situation had

gone on a few minutes longer.”

“Yeah, probably.” He looked over to where Langley and Lee stood, the

Gunman’s arm close around his equally tall cousin’s shoulders. “I

think I’ve missed something. What’s up with those two?”

“He says that they were in separate rooms last night. I think that

he got to her awfully fast.” She took her partner’s hand as the

attendants began to carry the litter the few dozen yards to where

the helicopter waited.

“Wait,” he said, “I need to talk to Lee, to ask her what she saw at

the end.”

“Harris has her statement.”

Mulder’s expression was thoughtful. “I think she might have seen

things which she’d be reluctant to report to Harris.”

Scully considered Lee’s silence since the old man’s death. “I think

you may be right about that, but later.”

.

They moved into a bit of sun and the sky above them was the bluest

of blues. “You know, Scully, I think that I would like to come

back.”

“To Yellowstone? I guess we could request a couple of days of sick

leave for you.”

“No, sometime in the summer. Sometime when there are lots of

tourists and things are not quite so warm.”

**

Two remained to watch the great, iron bird lift into the sky.

“I had a feeling you’d be good for something!” Lee said looking into

the face of her third cousin twice-removed. “I lost the trail.

Without you we never would have gotten here in time.”

“But you led us to the shed. You knew that Mulder was in trouble.”

“I guess that just means that in this world, it takes both beauty

and brawn.”

“Right brain and left brain,” he corrected. In rare agreement, she

nodded and together they began walking back towards the geyser. At

the top of the path they could see Ranger Harris as she stood

entranced by the continuing spectacle and appalled by the damage the

crazy old man had done with his altars and his constant tramping

back and forth through the delicate ecosystem. Then there was the

sickening sweet smell that wove about with the hydrogen sulfide that

only geysers that are worshiped as gods have.

“Before the next eruption they will remove the bones, new and old,

and take down the altars,” Lee observed, too tired to put any

emotion behind her words. “Then Volaria will be like the others,

only more so. She and her kind, they don’t really need us, you

know.”

“Except to protect them,” Langley murmured. When Lee kept on down the

trail towards the basin, he asked with concern, “Why go back? You

don’t sense anything down there any more, do you?”

She had to think about that. “No, not a thing. It’s very quiet. But

I want to say a prayer anyway.”

The End.

Author’s notes: I love the national park that was the location for

most of this story and no disrespect was meant in any way. Many of

the places mentioned there are real, some are not. I apologize if I

offended any group with my opinions about the use of the park in

general and of snowmobiles in particular, but as with all things,

there are uses and abuses. Preserving the land and our resources for

future generation, however, must take precedence over our own short

term pleasures. Except for the Volaria basin, which is my own

creation, the geologic changes mentioned in the story have actually

occurred and are depicted as accurately as I could make them in this

short space.

The Trade

cover

TITLE: “The Trade”

INFO: Written for The X-Files Virtual Season 11

(Episode number 16)

AUTHOR: Ten

EMAIL: kristena@ocean.com.au

RATING: PG-13

CLASSIFICATION: X-File, Angst, ST, MT,

MSR

SUMMARY: When Scully becomes seriously

ill, Mulder manages to find a potential cure. But

it is one that he will have to pay dearly for, and

not in a monetary sense.

SPOILERS: “Redux I & IIÓ.

Also there are spoilers for past Virtual Season

cases: Suzanne Bickerstaffe & dtg’s “Legacy“,

the VS 11 Producers’ “Camarilla“, Vickie

Moseley’s “Great Balls of Fire“, Caroline

McKenna’s “Demonic Perfection“, Suzanne

Bickerstaffe’s “Hollow Earth” and my “Layers“.

ARCHIVING: The X-Files Virtual Season has a

two week exclusivity to all Virtual Season 11

stories from the day each first appears on the

website. After that, please drop me a note if

you’d like to archive “The Trade”.

Virtual Season 11 can be found at:

http://www.virtualseasonx.com/

My website for all my X-Files fanfiction, thanks

to the

wonderful Skyfox, is at:

http://ten.bitter-moon.com/ten/xf/

DISCLAIMER: The X-Files, the episodes

referred to, Mulder and Scully and all other

characters from the show belong to Chris Carter

and his team of writers, Ten Thirteen

Productions and Fox Broadcasting, and are used

without permission. No copyright infringement

is intended, no profit will be gained. Characters

not recognized from the show are either mine, or

from previous VS stories.

MEDICAL NOTES: At end of story.

THANKS TO: Suzanne, Debbie, Mac, Gerry,

Vickie, Sally and Sheila for help above and

beyond the call of duty or friendship. Also

especially to Suzi for all the help and effort at

such short notice (despite being a fellow

procrastinator <G>) and in giving Corin more

depth. And a huge thanks to the VS11

production team!

FEEDBACK: Yes, please!

“The Trade”

by Ten, January and February 2004

xXx

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TEASER:

Scully’s apartment:

Mulder sat at the desk in the living room, using

his new desktop computer. He had bought it

recently to replace the one lost when his

apartment building burned down. Having this

new computer not only gave him a more

powerful machine, but it also thankfully ended

the awkward sharing of Scully’s laptop.

She was the one who suggested he set the

desktop computer up on her living room desk.

“It’s the logical thing to do. It’s easier for me to

put my laptop on the dining room table or at the

desk in my bedroom. Plus, if you want to get on

your computer at some unearthly hour, you can

do it out here and not disturb me.”

“Is that just a nice way of saying that you didn’t

want your dining room table to be taken up with

the new computer and case files and my clutter?”

“You’ve got it.”

He didn’t think she minded relegating herself to

the desk in her bedroom Ð it gave them some

time apart in a way. Their own space. They were

trying not to live in each other’s pockets twenty-

four hours a day, since they were so used to

being solitary at home. So Mulder was regularly

going out to visit the Gunmen, for example, or

Dana to one of her friends or her mother’s or to

shop. But they were also enjoying their time

together and doing their best to get around any

hurdles with affection and humor, some times

more successfully than others.

Now Mulder had gotten up even earlier than

usual, and was online, checking out apartments.

He had to, since every one he had inspected

during the last few weeks had failed the Dana

Scully Test. None got her official seal of

approval. Not even close.

“Mulder, you are NOT going to lease that

dump.”

“Scully, it’s not like you’ll actually be living

there!” he pointed out.

“On and off, I will be. I’ll definitely be sleeping

there regularly.”

“If I don’t take this apartment, that means you’ll

be stuck with me indefinitely.”

“We’re managing. We haven’t killed each other

yet. And it is handy not having one of us race to

their own apartment each morning to get ready

and go to work. It gives us time to sleep a little

more, or do other things . . . .”

And at least she wasn’t overeager to bundle him

out the door. So he must be doing something

right.

Surfing the net was also a way of keeping his

mind occupied. To try to stop it straying onto

other things, two in particular.

One was the fire that had destroyed his apartment

building. It was still hard for him to comprehend

that he had lost virtually everything, apart from a

few items he had at Scully’s, the drycleaners and

the Gunmen’s.

Fortunately one priceless item had been saved

through sheer luck and timing. Just before the

case that had led to the fire, Scully had wanted to

look through Mulder’s photo album. She ended

up wanting to scan and reprint some of the

photos to put in her own collection, and

borrowed the album. So a number of Mulder’s

childhood, family and college photos had

survived. Otherwise he would have only been left

with the photos of Samantha that he kept in the

basement office.

However, so many times he found himself

thinking: “I need that book.” Or he wanted

something in particular, and made a mental note

to get it the next time he was at home, before he

realized it was gone forever. He was slowly

getting replacements for a number of things, but

it wasn’t quite the same.

His sofa was a major loss. The fish. The goofy

shoe bookend. The lithograph of the typewriter

and his Navajo blanket.

They’d previously gone through the trauma of

having the basement destroyed by fire, but at

least he was able to painstakingly reconstruct

most of the reports, though he had lost a lot of

his paranormal collection that time. When his

apartment burned, though, there had been no

hope of any salvage at all.

Look on the bright side, he told himself. You

didn’t suffer any permanent injuries Ð the burns

have healed fine. And there are definite

advantages to living with Scully.

At that he allowed himself quite a grin.

Yes, it could have been a lot worse. He could

have died, and Scully could have been there too

when the place went up.

And that brought him to the other worry he was

trying not to dwell on.

Lately his partner was becoming progressively

more tired and drawn, despite getting lots of

sleep. In fact, she was falling asleep well before

her usual bedtime and getting in excess of eight

hours a night. It started with little things, like

running out of breath only halfway through a

joint jog or not feeling like going for a run at all.

Other activities were also suffering. A few nights

ago she initiated some bedroom fun, only to fall

asleep before things really started cooking.

“I just don’t seem to have as much energy,” she

confessed to him the next day.

And that really set a cold fear burning in Mulder

that did not let up. Hopefully it was just

something minor, some bug, or overwork, he

told himself. After all, she had a rough time

recently, nearly being crucified by a madman and

his mother. Perhaps that was catching up with

her.

Fortunately she had made an appointment to see

her doctor, which was this morning, and she was

letting Mulder accompany her. Not just to the

medical center, but in to see the doctor himself.

How far we have come, Mulder could not help

musing. Then he started worrying that Scully

actually letting him come in to her appointment

meant that she thought there was something very

serious wrong with her.

They had been able to arrange the time off with

Skinner and Ð

A noise startled Mulder out of his reverie. He

looked away from the computer screen, which he

had not really been perusing for a while. The

noise was Scully’s alarm going off. It was time

for her to get up and get ready for her

appointment.

Mulder stood and went to the doorway of her

bedroom, in time to hear his partner groan and

see her reach out and turn the alarm off. She

buried her head under the covers.

He opened the blinds, then walked up to the side

of the bed. “Good morning, Sunshine.” He

couldn’t quite catch her muttered response, but

had a fair idea it wouldn’t get a PG rating.

Then she pulled the covers down with a reluctant

sigh, blinking in the light. She certainly wasn’t

looking perky. He could feel her own worry and

frustration, despite how hard she was trying to

hide them. He was also sure that she was

mentally running through her symptoms, trying

to work out what was wrong.

When her gaze met his, Mulder mustered a smile

from somewhere. He would have offered to make

her breakfast while she was in the shower, but

she had started fasting the night before for her

tests, since the doctor was going to do her post-

cancer check up as part of the day’s appointment.

“Morning already?” she asked.

“Yep. And I haven’t found any apartments you

would approve of yet.”

“I think I can put up with you for a little longer,”

she said with a smile.

Something made him stay by the bed, chattering

on about banalities as she got up. Which was

just as well, because when she stood, she went

even paler and her knees buckled. Mulder

managed to grab her in time to stop her falling.

They stared at each other, Scully a little dazed

but still conscious, locked in Mulder’s arms.

And the fear that they had lived with during

Scully’s cancer leapt back into both of them like

it had never been gone.

xXx

ACT ONE:

After sitting down on the bed for a few minutes,

Scully had recovered from her near-faint, though

Mulder insisted that she have a bath instead of a

shower and that he be present, just in case.

She let him. And unlike during that other dark

horrible time, they held hands and gazes where

they could.

Though just like during their cancer time, they

did not say much on the way to the medical

center. Mulder was just grateful they had the first

appointment of the day.

Fainting doesn’t have to mean something doom

and gloomish, Mulder told himself. And she

hasn’t had a nosebleed, or at least not that she’s

mentioned. He didn’t dare ask. The doctor did

ask, and received a negative reply, then checked

her nails and commented on the pallor of her

skin. Doctor Ben Gavins had been Scully’s

personal physician for a long time. He was well

acquainted with her unique medical history.

Scully had some tests there and then, including a

blood sample.

“Most of the results of these particular tests will

be back within a few hours. Why don’t you come

back in two and a half hours? There are some

stores and a cafe nearby,” the doctor said.

Scully managed a smile. “I noticed there was a

great sale going on just down the block.”

The partners didn’t end up going to it, of course.

They sat in the cafe. Mulder only felt like toying

with the food and drink ordered, but because

Scully hadn’t eaten anything since the night

before, he made himself eat and saw that his

partner was doing the same: chewing and

swallowing automatically, not really tasting. It

was an effort for Mulder to stop checking the

time and also to work out what to say. They

ended up talking about mundane things to fill in

the space and beat down the fear.

But at least they were together in this, whatever

this proved to be. That was something to take

even a little comfort in.

After what seemed like eons, they returned for

the results.

Doctor Gavins told Scully, “From these tests,

I’m strongly suspecting aplastic anemia,

especially from the low levels of your red and

white cells and platelets. But a sample of your

bone marrow will need to be taken and examined

by a hematologist for confirmation.”

“What is aplastic anemia?” Mulder asked,

directing his question at both of them. The look

in Scully’s eyes was telling him that it was not

something minor.

It was his partner who told him, “It’s a rare but

extremely serious disorder that results from the

unexplained failure of the bone marrow to

produce blood cells.”

That could not be good. Mulder knew that the

bone marrow was a factory producing the cells of

the blood: red cells, white cells and platelets.

Continuous production of blood cells was

necessary to sustain a body, because each cell had

a finite life span once leaving the bone marrow

and entering the blood.

But modern medicine had made so many

advances, even in the seven years since Scully’s

cancer. So surely . . . .

“And it’s curable?” Somehow Mulder was able to

get the question out. But he was only able to

look at Gavins when asking it.

“There are treatment options which could well

work -” Gavins began, before Mulder impatiently

interrupted him.

“But if they don’t, then is it fatal?”

“Yes, eventually.”

Mulder felt like he’d been kicked. Scully was

remaining very quiet, nodding slightly at what

the doctor said. Her outward composure was

legendary.

The doctor looked back and forth between them.

“But let’s focus on the options for now, before

we go expecting the worst. All right?”

“Could this be due to the chip?” Mulder asked.

Somehow his voice remained steady.

The doctor immediately knew what Mulder

meant, but hesitated before saying, “As far as I

can tell, it seems to be, um, working the same as

it was when Dana’s cancer was cured. But I have

no idea whether this disease has anything to do

with that chip. And honestly I don’t think there

is any way for us to know for sure.”

Mulder couldn’t stop asking questions and

Scully was staying silent. She probably knew the

answers already anyway. “What’s the cause of

aplastic anemia?”

Doctor Gavins said, “There are a number of

known causes. It has been clearly linked to

radiation Д

Mulder went very still. Scully had been exposed

to radiation during her abduction and in

treatment for her cancer.

“Environmental toxins Д the doctor continued.

They’d had plenty of those . . . .

“Insecticides and drugs, in much the same

fashion as cancer has been linked to these agents.

Benzene-based compounds, airplane glue and

drugs such as chloramphenicol have been linked

to aplastic anemia too. Also, Hepatitis, Epstein

Barr, drugs like Dilantin and even some

antibiotics. In some people it is believed to be

caused by a virus. But in over half the cases the

cause is unknown or idiopathic.”

Then Gavins turned to Scully and asked if she

had any questions. He also arranged to book her

in for the bone marrow test as soon as possible,

where a needle was going to be inserted into the

large pelvic bone and a biopsy taken.

“Restrict your activities and see how much

taking it easy relieves your symptoms.”

Her voice remained calm when talking to the

doctor, but as soon as they were heading out, she

slipped her hand into Mulder’s and did not let go

until they reached the car.

He swore inwardly, raging at everything and

everyone. Why did it have to be her again?

The agents didn’t say much on the way home.

They didn’t have to. Once inside Scully’s

apartment, they held each other tightly, before

Scully gently pulled away and announced that

she was going to call her mother and Skinner.

xXx

Scully had the bone marrow test and, while they

waited a few days for the results, she

determinedly did paperwork at home and

consulted on autopsy results from other cases

that were sent to her via the internet or courier.

She also researched as much as possible about

aplastic anemia and the available treatments.

Cabin fever was inevitable, though. Mulder was

trying his hardest not to rock the boat, to find a

balance between being over-coddling and

standing too far back. Maggie was helping out

where she could while Mulder was at work.

“I hate being ‘fragile’!” his partner declared at one

point with an anger that he knew was not being

directed specifically at him. She needed to vent.

“Scully, that is one thing that no one would ever

accuse you of. Even now. You’re still the

equivalent of at least twenty of me.”

At that some of the anger went out of her sails.

“Don’t sell yourself short.”

“Ten of me then?” he asked.

“One of you does me just fine. And I only wish I

felt well enough for you to do me now!”

Her symptoms were not being relieved much by

staying at home either.

The results of Scully’s test confirmed aplastic

anemia.

Mulder sat quietly while Gavins and Scully

talked about the next steps to take. But then he

realized something and couldn’t help saying,

“You’re not going to hospitalize her?”

The doctor replied, “Agent Mulder, with all of

the superbugs and diseases around in hospitals

these days, it is best that she stay home for now

while her condition allows it. Home help is

available, and it sounds like Mrs Scully is doing

a lot, which is great. Masks can be made

available for both Dana and visitors to wear, to

ensure that she doesn’t catch anything from

anyone Ð even healthy people can potentially be a

threat to her condition. Strict hygiene is to be

followed, for example: thorough washing of

hands.” He said to Scully, “We’ll start you off

on a cycle of drug therapy and see how that

goes.” She nodded.

“Modern medicine keeps most people happy

most of the time, although I’m sure the patients

themselves might not see it quite that way,”

Gavins continued. “Theoretically, Dana should

be able to stay out of the hospital for a long time

yet, just going in for the drug therapy and

treatments like transfusions when necessary.”

During the last week, Mulder had read up on

aplastic anemia. He knew why the doctor was not

starting to test Scully’s family for bone marrow

compatibility in case of a transplant Ð that was

only as a last resort. The transplant also had far

higher risks than just letting the patient be or

trying other options, at least at this stage.

Scully had to keep her activity restricted to

reduce symptoms of anemia, avoid falls or

accidents that could provoke bleeding, and she

was to reduce contact with other people. She was

to go into the hospital as an outpatient regularly

for her treatments, for a few hours at a time.

xXx

Outside, Scully tried to put a brave face on it.

“Mulder, it’s going to be fine. There are courses

of treatment. We just have to find out which one

is the best.”

But that didn’t mean that they couldn’t be on the

lookout for other, not so well-marked courses or

paths. Or create a few of their own, Mulder

thought, but instead he said, “Of course it’s

going to be fine, Scully. Look what we’ve

already managed to beat.”

“And this will be a great opportunity to catch up

on my med and science reading,” she said, half

lightly, half seriously. “There’s always so much

published.”

He managed to smile at her spirit and

determination, but wondered how much longer

he’d be able to if things got worse.

xXx

That night:

Mulder couldn’t sleep. That was fine by him,

because he had research to do on this illness and

those other potential paths for a cure, just in

case.

He was out on the sofa bed. He and Scully had

discussed it and reluctantly agreed that it was

best if he did so Ð it would make things easier

than wearing masks to bed, which could easily

slip, and neither wanted to disturb the other if

they were restless or when Mulder had to get up

and get ready for work.

But in reality, Scully was out like a light. That

was the one ‘good’ thing about this illness. She

shouldn’t even notice that the living room lights

were on in the wee hours or hear if he

accidentally made too much noise, which was

another, unspoken, reason why Mulder had

suggested that he sleep on the sofa bed. He half-

expected that his all-encompassing panic and

worry would be loud enough to wake his partner

up. God knew it was certainly gnawing away at

him loud enough.

Okay, focus. To work with you. The phrase

‘Fight the future’ certainly applies here.

He headed to his desk and prepared for a long

session.

xXx

The next day, late afternoon:

The agents had been in phone contact a few times

during the day, and it wasn’t just Mulder

phoning Scully to check up on her. She called

him a few times just, he was sure, to check up

on him and be connected to him, to the office, in

some small way. Now he was back home and

had taken over the ‘night shift’ from Maggie.

After Scully’s mother left, his partner actually

admitted to him despondently, “I think I’m

going crazy being here at home all day. I’m

having trouble concentrating on the med

journals.”

He was surprised by her admission, despite how

much better they had become over the years at

being more open with each other. He guessed she

had kept up a cheery facade all day for her mother

and couldn’t any more.

“Scully, perhaps look at it from a different

angle,” he suggested.

She gave him the eyebrow. “Show me the

angle.”

“I know you’re frustrated, but try viewing this as

vacation leave. You don’t often get to have a

break. So instead of focusing on paperwork or

going at the journals for so long, step back, at

least for some of each day. Give yourself more

time. Some pampering. Skinner would have no

problem giving you the leave. Read books, the

fun books, the romances, the novels that you’ve

bought and stacked up and not gotten around to.

Watch all those movies you’ve missed. I

recommend comedies Ð it’s always good to

laugh. There are plenty of things you can do that

aren’t as taxing or stressful.”

From the look on her face, she was carefully

contemplating his idea. “A vacation?”

“I’ll hunt out whatever book you want in the

stores, or anything else you want. Hell, we can

go all the way and do the living room up as a

beach. I’ll even wear my Speedos.”

She laughed, then her eyes held a glint that he

was glad to see as she asked oh-so-coyly, “Is

there any rule that says we can’t make it a nudist

beach? For males, anyway.”

So they pretended that the sofa was a deck chair

at the beach on a tropical island and that Scully

was a rich visitor. Mulder was her personal

waiter.

“Want me to wear a bow tie?”

“That all depends on where . . . .”

xXx

Mulder watched his partner get worse. She was

still able to function at home, however it was

like a leak in a dam. When a trickle, no big deal,

but as the hole gets bigger, it has more and more

of an effect, but still no major problems. Finally

the hole was going to get so big that the dam

would burst.

It wasn’t about to burst just yet, but . . . .

The trips to the hospital for the treatments were

taking a lot out of Scully. Often her control and

determination were a marvel, however her temper

was getting shorter and more explosive when it

did break through, and it was a strain to monitor

everything he was about to do or say, to try to

minimize any flare ups. Having to rely so much

on others and not be able to do her job or much

else during the course of a day was hell for her,

he knew. Being extremely intolerant to any form

of exercise, after being such a fit and active

person was a constant source of irritation too.

And there was the frustration of having to be so

aware of quarantine procedures, which had really

put a damper on their holding and touching. The

masks. So they went back to the ‘old days’ of

communicating so much with their eyes, though

they also said a lot with words that they would

not have told each other in those old days. And

often after a flare up, Scully would get upset

with herself and apologize to him.

She slept a lot anyway, and he continued on with

his research. After exhausting the Gunmen’s

library, he paid a visit to Chuck Burns, who

knew about their situation.

“Mulder! Great to see you. How’s Scully doing?”

“Not good. Can I go through your stacks? You’re

bound to have magazines and articles that could

have slipped under my radar, or the Gunmen’s.”

“I pride myself on finding obscure releases. Sure,

you’re welcome to borrow whatever you want.

Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“Hopefully I’ll know when I see it.” They ended

up discussing some rather remote possibilities,

but to no end.

xXx

Scully had been on the drug therapy for two

weeks, but now was going downhill too fast for

it to remain a viable option. The doctor was

baffled and frustrated by the rapid deterioration.

She was being given blood transfusions during

her trips to the hospital, to try to correct her

anemia. Fortunately she hadn’t started bleeding

yet Ð her platelet levels had not dropped that

low. That sort of bleeding was an acute medical

emergency, with the danger of fatal hemorrhage

occurring.

Her brother Bill, mother and surviving relatives

proved to be non-compatible for a bone marrow

transplant. Seeing that Charlie Scully appeared to

have Consortium links and had tried to kill

Mulder recently, the chances of him suddenly

turning up and offering to have his blood tested

for compatibility were remote. They couldn’t get

in contact with him anyway Ð and Maggie, who

had no idea about just what her son had become,

believed he was currently unreachable because he

was on a long term undercover assignment.

The database of donors was being searched, so far

with no luck of a match with Scully.

Maggie was staying with her daughter all the

time during the day and a home help nurse came

in when required. At night, Mulder was the

caregiver, and he regularly got up and checked

how Scully was during the night.

Scully had a PICC line inserted in the crook of

her arm. It was a special IV that would not need

changing for weeks, so the line could be used for

antibiotics at home and for the drug therapy and

transfusions in the outpatient clinic, without a

new one having to be inserted each time.

She also had a liquid oxygen tank with a nasal

cannula. The tank was set up in the bedroom, but

had tubing long enough to allow Scully to move

around in other rooms of the apartment while

still getting the oxygen. She and her caregivers

just had to be careful not to trip over the tubing

or get it hooked up or accidentally put something

on it, like a chair leg.

Scully was out in the living room. At the

moment she was not receiving anything via the

PICC line, and it was heparin-locked, capped off

so they didn’t have to deal with an IV stand and

its various paraphernalia for now.

“I wonder . . . ” Scully began, then tailed off, as

if realizing she was saying a thought

inadvertently out loud.

Mulder looked at her, knowing that she hadn’t

stopped talking only because she was short of

breath. “What?” he asked, fearful of what she was

going to say, but he had to know.

“I don’t want you to take this the wrong way.

But I wonder whether the chip or my medical

past . . . might be accelerating the progress of

this illness.”

Mulder’s heart sank even more. She was going

downhill a lot faster than expected, without even

something like an infection to really gallop it

along.

“Sorry, Mulder. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“You could easily be right.”

“But without that chip . . . wouldn’t have had

seven extra years with you,” she finished

sincerely.

Without me, Mulder couldn’t help thinking, you

wouldn’t have been abducted and had the cancer

or needed another chip.

“Mulder, I know what’s running through your

head. Stop it. You know that I could well have

never joined the FBI and stayed in medicine . . .

only to get killed in a car accident coming home

from a shift one day. Life has no guarantees.”

He nodded, trying to put on a good act so as not

to further worry his partner.

It had been a bad day. Mulder knew that if this

kept up, in a few days Scully would have to be

admitted to the hospital. Since she was a doctor

and had twenty-four hour care and a home health

nurse, her doctor was still letting her try to stay

at home for as long as possible, but there were

limits and she was close to reaching them.

“Bedtime,” Mulder said softly, dreading how

tired the trip would make her. And that she

might resist and make things worse.

“Too bad the bedroom . . . wasn’t closer to the

beach,” Scully said wryly.

An idea sparked in his mind. “Well, instead of

the rich woman on the tropical beach, we could

do ‘Gone With the Wind’.”

She smiled and he knew she was pleased at his

efforts to keep their spirits up. “Sweep me off

my feet . . . and carry me up that staircase,

Rhett.”

“Staircase? Have you and your mom been

renovating while I’ve been at work?”

He was relieved that she had acquiesced, that he

had found a way to carry her without making her

feel weak and upset. Or too much so.

It wasn’t quite as easy a task as the ‘Gone With

the Wind’ scenario: there was the oxygen tubing

to factor in, but they managed. And somehow it

still felt romantic, the closest they could get at

the moment.

END ACT ONE:

xXx

ACT TWO:

Later that night:

Once again he was back at his desk, on the

computer and poring through journals and

magazines and anything he could think of which

might provide some help.

clip_image003

He was going through one of Chuck’s

paranormal magazines when he found it.

A letter in a magazine. The letter was written by

a thirty-five year old man called Corin Harper, in

which he claimed that at age eleven he had

somehow been cured of a deadly childhood

illness, but on the same night as that happened,

his mother had died. Recently he found out that

she had died of that very illness. It was cystic

fibrosis, which was incurable, so Corin should

not have survived it in the first place, and it was

impossible that his mother had suddenly

developed it in adulthood.

Corin said he had only recently recovered

memories of that time, which had made him

curious, and led him to access his own and his

mother’s medical records. He wrote: “It’s as if a

trade occurred between us,” and was enquiring if

anyone else had undergone a similar experience

or knew of anyone who did. He urged them to

contact him.

There was something about the way the letter

was written that pulled Mulder in and made him

not dismiss the writer as a crank. It was a

heartfelt enquiry for answers. There was not

much in the way of detail about what memories

the man had recovered, but it came across to

Mulder as the writer being cautious about the

sort of responses he would get. Like not telling a

psychic much about your life and seeing what

they came up with, to test how accurate their

responses were.

Mulder checked the date on the cover. This

magazine was published twice yearly and this

issue had come out nearly five months ago.

He mused over the words. Like a trade had taken

place. . . .

Mulder read back through the letter very

carefully. The man said that he had medical

records, so that would be some proof. He decided

to phone Corin Harper in the morning and talk to

him. Within the last five months other people

may have written to Corin with their theories or

stories. Mulder was interested to find out what

they had said.

He looked again at the contact details. Corin

Harper lived in Sharpsburg, Maryland. That was

about an hour and forty minutes away, or a two

hour drive with rush hour traffic. So it was

possible to visit the man fairly easily if need be,

instead of relying solely on phone contact.

Because if the phone call went well, Mulder

wanted to see this man for himself. A visit

would not be to just go over his evidence, but to

see him face to face and gauge if he was genuine.

Hopefully he had a potential way out of Scully’s

suffering.

xXx

FBI Building

X-Files Office:

Over the phone, Corin Harper promised to fax

Mulder copies of his medical reports and his

mother’s autopsy report. Corin also said he

thought that he had pieced together what

happened on the night that he became a healthy

child, thanks to responses from people who had

read his letter. “My mother took my illness into

herself. And she’s not the first or the last person

to do such a thing.”

Hope and curiosity set Mulder’s heart beating

faster at hearing this.

Before Corin could go into more detail, Mulder

could hear the sound of a doorbell. “Damn.

Sorry, can I call you back?” Corin asked.

“Please fax those medical records to me as soon

as you can. And could I come and see you

sometime today? Would that be convenient?”

“Sure. What time?”

Agreement was quickly reached. Soon the

paperwork appeared on the fax machine in the

basement and backed up what Corin claimed in

his letter. Though paperwork can be forged or

mistakes made, Mulder told himself. He sighed

and started to get ready to head to Sharpsburg.

xXx

Mulder checked the street sign and nodded to

himself. He wasn’t far from Corin Harper’s

home. And the trip had gone well.

Apart from the niggling guilt about keeping this

from Scully.

Mulder took a deep breath, again going over his

reasonings, justifying them to himself.

Time was running out. A donor match might be

found in the database, but it hadn’t happened yet

and hopes were fading. The drug therapy wasn’t

working. There had been no luck at tracking

down any of the other potential means of help,

like the healing aliens.

And Cancerman hadn’t popped up to dangle a

cure at the cost of a deal.

Mulder didn’t want to raise false hope in his

partner about Corin Harper’s discovery, in case it

turned out to be false or for some reason not

work for them.

And he wanted to find out everything he could

about this trading ability first, because if it did

work, he didn’t want Scully to be able to reverse

the process. Not if it meant her dying.

He had made sure his cell phone was fully

charged, so if Scully or anyone wanted to phone

him, they could. Just hopefully she wouldn’t ask

him where he was . . . . She thought he was at

work for the day.

I am working. This qualifies as an X-File.

And it isn’t like I’m doing something like

sneaking onto a Consortium base.

Corin Harper worked from home as a carpenter

and woodworker. As Mulder got out of his car,

he could see a workshop at the end of the

driveway, behind the house. A large and

beautifully carved wooden business sign on the

fence directed customers to the workshop. The

front door of the house opened as Mulder was

deciding which building to try. A man appeared

in work overalls, greeting him and waving him

up onto the porch.

“I’ve left a sign on the workshop door for people

to come to the front door instead,” the man

announced. “And my business phone will divert

through to the house. But hopefully we won’t

have any or many interruptions.”

“That’s fine. I appreciate you letting me visit at

such short notice.”

Corin was a cheerful man with close-cropped red

hair. The living room they went into contained

beautifully crafted and finished wooden furniture

and fittings. As Mulder settled down in a

comfortable chair, he noticed a glass cabinet held

a lot of sporting trophies and items from around

the world. The mantelpiece contained a lot of

family photos Ð Corin as a boy and a woman

who would have to be his mother. A vase of

fresh flowers was next to the main photos.

“Did you make all of these?” Mulder gestured at

the furnishings.

“Yes. It started out as a hobby in my teens and

sort of snowballed from there.”

“It all looks great.”

Thank you. Would you like some coffee or

food?”

“No thanks. Not at the moment.”

“Okay. I guess to business then? So, you work

for a branch of the FBI that investigates strange,

potentially paranormal, happenings?”

Mulder nodded. He had approached Corin in that

way, instead of mentioning that he had a sick

partner.

“Well, if you’re hoping to find out how to save

dying people by this particular method, the news

isn’t that great. Someone still has to die.” The

man’s eyes, now sad, went to one of the pictures

on the mantelpiece for a few seconds.

Mulder had another look at the photos. The ones

he could see of young, pre-teen Corin showed a

frail boy, but the few beyond that showed a

remarkable difference. Mulder decided he’d been

right not to mention the real reason why he was

here. Corin could clam up and not tell him what

he needed to know Ð he might have even been

burned by people wanting a miracle cure after the

publication of his letter. Mulder would just have

to see, and hopefully no desperation would show

through.

Corin pulled his eyes away from the photos and

mustered a smile. “Anyway, I know you want

the whole story, so where would you like me to

start?”

“According to the letter, you were eleven when

your mother died.”

“Yes, but I couldn’t remember the period around

her death until well into my adulthood. Before

that, I could just remember that I was a sick

child because of cystic fibrosis. It was and still is

an incurable and eventually fatal childhood

disease.” He paused, before continuing, “Then

suddenly my mother was dead, and I wasn’t sick

anymore, which was quite a contrast, because I’d

been living with that illness since birth. My aunt

and uncle raised me after my mother died. They

didn’t have any children of their own and were

my only living relatives. They talked about my

mother, but not about her death, just that she had

suddenly died when I was in the hospital. So I

grew up thinking she’d had a heart attack or a

stroke, and that some sort of miracle had

happened in regard to my own sickness.”

“How did you recover your memories?”

“They started coming back to me in the last five

years, in my dreams. Or rather, in my

nightmares.” Corin shifted in his armchair, one

hand absently stroking the polished arm rest. “At

first I didn’t realize what they were, because I had

a partner, and she would wake me very quickly

when she could hear that it was a bad dream. It

wasn’t until after we broke up about eighteen

months ago that the dreams lasted longer and I

was able to see that they were about my mother.

Hazy bits of images of her standing over me in

the hospital, her concentrating, and then falling.

Nurses running in. I thought it was my

unresolved grief about her death, but then I

started to wonder if these were actually memories

instead of just things from my imagination.”

“Did you try hypno regression?”

“No. I think what I can remember now is all that

I’ll be able to recall. On the night that my

mother ended up dying, I was in the hospital

because I was getting worse. I had a bad infection

and my lungs were so clogged up . . . . The

doctors didn’t expect me to live long. I either

had sedatives in my system or was asleep when

my mother came into the room, so that’s why I

can only recall hazy bits of what happened next.

Mom was standing there, concentrating, there

was a blackness between us Д

“A blackness?”

Corin nodded. “A haze. When I recalled it, I

thought it was just the drugs or the fact that my

eyes were just cracked open a little. Then my

mother clutched her chest and collapsed. Next

thing I can remember, there were medical staff

rushing my mother away, out of the room, and a

doctor checking me. I could breathe properly.”

Mulder wanted to ask more about the black haze,

but Corin kept speaking.

“Cystic fibrosis is something that no adult

should spontaneously develop. It’s something a

person is born with.”

Mulder knew that Scully would think that

Corin’s illness could have been misdiagnosed,

and was something hereditary that tests failed to

pick up about twenty-four years ago when

Corin’s mother died. Or that someone bungled

the finding that Mrs Harper died of cystic

fibrosis. Therefore, no X-File, no trade.

“As you’ve already seen, I managed to trace my

old medical records and my mother’s,” Corin

said. “They confirm what I remember. Somehow,

suddenly and inexplicably, my mother got this

disease. The autopsy report confirms it, as

impossible as it is, because she had been healthy

all of her life before then. It looks like the

sudden shock killed her, though the infection

soon would have anyway. Suddenly her lungs

weren’t working right.” He swallowed. “She

probably felt like she was drowning, unable to

take a deep breath.”

He shuddered, his eyes getting damp. “The

weirdness of it must have really freaked my aunt

and uncle out Ð that’s why they didn’t talk about

my mother’s death. I think it came as a relief to

them that my memories of that time were

blocked out. Even when I asked Aunt Isabel

about it not long ago, telling her what I could

remember, she did her best to avoid the subject.

Perhaps they were even a little afraid of me. My

mother was very much into meditation and the

new age way of thinking, while my aunt was

anything but.”

“So once you got the memories back you decided

to track down these medical records?”

“Yeah. I had those snatches of memory, and the

knowledge that I’d had cystic fibrosis as a kid

and somehow been cured. The impossibility of it

had always nagged at me, so that’s why I was so

curious and started digging once those memories

returned.”

“So how did your mother take your illness onto

herself? You said on the phone that you think

you now know.”

“I *think* I’ve found out via others how she

managed to do it,” Corin stressed. “About twelve

people have contacted me with similar

incidences. And most of those occurrences seems

to match the bits I can remember of the night she

died.”

“Most?”

“Yes. There are a few that I think are fake,

cranks. They just don’t ‘feel’ right.”

Mulder nodded, well aware of how he himself

was able to discern cases with a ‘paranormal

bouquet’. And at the moment, he was getting the

feeling that Corin was genuine, that the man did

believe in what he had written about.

Corin said, “The ones that ring true are very

interesting, and collaborative. Some people have

been able to concentrate hard enough to actually

‘lift’ the affliction out of their loved one and take

it onto themselves instead.”

“But if sheer willpower/prayer/hope/wishful

thinking, whatever, are all that is required, then

such a trade should be much more common,

especially when parents are having to watch their

children dying in hospital,” Mulder pointed out.

Heck, if that were the case, he would have been

able to do that with Scully when she was in her

coma or with the cancer.

“Yeah, I wondered about that too. I examined all

the occurrences I could find and I think I’ve

found two similarities. The main link seems to

be that the person who is able to take the

affliction onto themselves has had a near death

experience in their past, like an accident that has

brought them medically close to death or they

have needed CPR.”

That made Mulder sit up straighter. “So they

actually had to have found themselves on another

plane of existence or in a hallway moving

towards a light, until they were brought back?”

“It might be enough that the person had a close

brush with death. The people who have contacted

me haven’t all mentioned imagery like that.

Some of them don’t know for sure if the person

who sacrificed their life for them actually had

such an experience. I talked to the survivors and

some can give me an instance where, for

example, their benefactor had been in a car crash

a few years beforehand but survived against steep

odds.” Corin ran a hand through his hair,

contemplating the issue. “That person just may

not have talked about what they went through, or

remember it, or they might not have had the

tunnel and the light, etc. It might not be

necessary.”

“Do you know if anything like that happened to

your mother?”

“Yes. She told me when I was little. When she

was a child, she and some friends tried to make a

snow cave. It collapsed and my mother was

caught in it. She couldn’t breathe, and a feeling

of incredible peace came over her. Then suddenly

it was gone Ð her friends had dug around and

managed to uncover her face, just in time. She

said that after that, she didn’t fear dying. I guess

knowing she felt that way is some comfort. And

it made me feel better when I was little that death

wouldn’t be so scary. But until people got in

contact with me about my letter in the magazine,

I hadn’t considered that experience of my

mother’s as a factor in regard to what she ended

up doing for me.” Corin looked over at the

photographs. “A miracle that could do so much

for sick people, but at quite a price.”

The carpenter blinked, then looked back at

Mulder. “Perhaps a person who has a brush with

death then possesses some sort of talent or

power. Hopefully more people will write to me Ð

I could do a follow-up letter in the next edition

of the magazine, an article even, and publish in

some others too. Then we can see if the same

pattern keeps emerging. But I’m in two minds

about doing that.” The carpenter did not elaborate

though. “I haven’t got long to decide before

submissions close for the next edition.”

Mulder made a mental note to ask Corin about

that hesitation, but first he reminded the

carpenter, “You said there were two similarities.”

“Yes. I’ll tell you the other after I’ve got us

something to drink. I think we need it,” he

replied with feeling. He indicated a folder on the

coffee table. “There are the letters I’ve received,

my copies of the medical reports, and my notes,

including the ‘rules’ of this trade, as far as I can

make out.”

Then Corin went to the kitchen to make some

coffee, and Mulder started looking through the

paperwork. He also started to muse on what he

had learned.

Near death experiences and brushes with death.

He’d certainly had those.

But so had Scully.

xXx

When Corin came back and they settled in their

chairs again, he continued. “The second thing

seems to involve visualization and focus. A

person who has the necessary close brush with

death might have a child who is sick, but

wishing and praying that the illness goes or is

given to the parent instead doesn’t seem to work.

My mother was into meditation; she was very

visual. One person said that her father pictured

the illness in her body and mentally focused on

lifting it out. She said she saw a cloud of ‘black

light or mist’ rise out of her own body, and go

into her father. Just like I saw. When I read that,

I knew I was on the right track, because I hadn’t

mentioned that in my letter. Several other people

wrote about it too in their letters to me. That

seems to be how the illness appears, how it

manifests: a dark cloud. And once it is out of the

sick person’s body, they are fine. It’s like all the

damage and weakness it caused has gone too.”

Time for the million dollar question. Mulder

mentally crossed his fingers and asked it. “Due

to the rules, as you know them, if one person

manages to get the affliction out of another,

could the cured person turn around and take it

back?”

“I’m not sure. It does seem that the person who

has taken the illness onto themselves can’t then

remove it from their own body, for example to

try to transfer it to someone else. And it looks

like it has to be a fatal disease for the trade to

occur.”

“Some diseases are fatal to children but not so

much to adults . . . . Some forms of leukemia, I

think,” Mulder said.

“I haven’t had any cases where something like

that has happened. Whether that’s because for

some reason the trade can’t take place under those

circumstances or I just haven’t been contacted by

anyone like that yet, I don’t know. In the child

to adult trades that I’ve read about, and

experienced, the disease or illness was strong

enough to kill the adult.”

Corin told him more, recounting how one person

had found out from someone else how to do the

trade, so she decided to try it with her sick child.

She got the illness out of her child and then as

the dark cloud came towards the parent, she held

up one of their farmyard animals in front of her,

trying to see if the mass would go into the

animal instead, therefore sparing both her child

and herself. But it couldn’t Ð it had to be human

to human.

And the mass couldn’t be lifted out of the victim

and then mentally ‘thrown away’ by the person

doing the lifting.

The haunted look was back in Corin’s eyes,

making Mulder uncomfortable, considering what

he was planning.

Corin said, “Now that I know what my mother

did for me, I’m kind of torn. I’m grateful for her

sacrifice, but it’s hard to accept that I’m only

here because she’s dead. She may have felt guilty

because cystic fibrosis is inherited, so she could

have passed the disease to me in that way, as a

carrier. But she always tried to make things

happy and positive. When I became healthy, I

was determined to live life, to make the most of

it, and I have.” Corin gestured at the glass

cabinet, full of trophies and evidence of his

travels. “I guess now I need to keep focusing on

that. Not to waste what Mom gave me, despite

the cost.”

Mulder hoped Scully would see it that way, if he

did manage to pull off a trade. He found himself

asking, “Do you believe in fate? That this was

perhaps meant to be?”

At that, Corin paused for what seemed a long

time, before finally saying, “I honestly don’t

know. Perhaps to some degree, but a lot of free

will and luck too. Mom used her free will. This

is what she chose. I’m also torn about writing a

follow up letter or article. I mean, in a way this

is giving people a chance to save a loved one,

however it could also be seen as aiding murder or

suicide . . . .”

Soon Mulder was about to take his leave. He

indicated the folder on the coffee table. “I’d like

to take copies of what you’ve got there.”

“Of course. I’ve got a printer in my office that’s

also one of those copier, fax and scanner

combos.”

Once that was done, Mulder looked at the

collection of papers. I still have to go through

these thoroughly, but I am probably going to try

this. I’ve got nothing to lose, apart from Scully,

which is not an option.

“Thank you, you’ve been very helpful.”

He saw a look go through Corin’s eyes, and a

hesitation, and for a moment he thought that the

carpenter suspected that Mulder wanted to use

this trade himself and was about to ask. But the

moment passed and Corin instead ushered him to

the front door.

When he was leaving, Mulder almost told Corin,

‘I’ll keep you in mind for your furniture too. I

had a fire in my apartment recently and could do

with some new things.’ But then he thought that

there was also a good chance that he might be

dead of aplastic anemia soon, if the trade worked.

No! He couldn’t let himself think like that. If

this did work, there was the chance of a donor for

him, or a chance of drug therapy working. He

had to try it Ð there were no other options at the

moment. His innate stubbornness and arrogance

and ‘never give up’ mentality were assuring him

that somehow he would find a way to outwit this

trade or make it work out.

And if the trade didn’t work, there was a good

chance that Scully would die, and his life would

be over anyway. So any thoughts about buying

or ordering new furniture were definitely on the

backburner at the moment.

xXx

Mulder returned to D.C. in good time and

without Scully being aware that he had taken a

little trip. He phoned her from the basement to

check how she was, and then went home that

night at the usual time.

“My next doctor’s appointment . . . is tomorrow.

And I think he’ll want . . . to admit me,” Scully

told him quietly after Maggie had gone.

Mulder looked at his partner. She was lying in

her bed, with the nasal cannula, and he was

wearing a mask. To a degree she was already in a

hospital. He nodded, outwardly appearing to

accept the inevitable. “We’re going to be okay.”

She managed a smile. “You go have dinner.

Mom’s already . . . given me mine.”

“Okay. Do you want anything? Another audio

book or something?”

“No. I’ll have a nap . . . Then you can read to me

. . . or tell me some jokes.”

“Jokes? Now that could be interesting. Let me go

through my prolific selection, and just ring the

bell if you need anything.” A hand bell was set

up within easy reach for her.

xXx

Several hours later:

She was sound asleep. It was time.

Mulder carried one of the chairs from the dining

table set into the bedroom. He put the chair next

to the bed, its back up against a bookcase, on the

side that Scully was sleeping on.

He sat down. Hands resting on his knees, he

took a deep breath.

Please let this work, he thought, while another

part of him was internally raging, rebelling

against such a drastic step. The thought of

willingly allowing a deadly disease into himself

. . . . He did have a strong instinct for survival Ð

he’d had to, considering what he’d managed to

overcome over the years. However this was for

Scully. He would willingly take a bullet for her

in the line of duty. This was no different. He

remembered how close to the brink he had come

when he thought he would lose her to the cancer.

And there will be a way to get rid of this, he told

himself. There has to be, and I will find it. I’ve

done it before. There will be time.

But for now . . . .

More deep breaths. He concentrated on Scully,

the features he knew so well. Then he pictured

her illness as a dark cloud inside her, an invader

in her body.

For a little time, there was nothing. He

concentrated harder.

Suddenly he could feel it. Not see it, but his

mind brushed against something. The impression

of something strange, leaden, in Scully.

He concentrated more, visualizing his enemy,

and he felt himself mentally connect with it. He

‘pulled’.

You picked the wrong place to set up as a

squatter, buddy. Eviction time.

He pulled harder, his mind straining.

And to his astonishment, relief and fear, a black

cloud rose out of Scully’s sleeping form, to

hover just above her.

clip_image004

Am I imagining this? Sheer wishful thinking?

Mulder was so surprised and startled, that he

started to let go of his mental grip. The cloud

began to sink back into Scully, but he quickly

halted it.

He could be imagining it, or have fallen asleep

and be dreaming Ð things certainly felt surreal at

the moment – but he had to assume he wasn’t.

Okay, I’ve lassoed the varmint, he couldn’t help

thinking to himself. Now I have to pull it away

from her.

He could feel the cloud was trying to go back

into Scully’s body. And Corin was right: no

amount of effort on Mulder’s part could make the

mass go anywhere else but into either himself or

Scully. He felt panic, then resignation. He kept

reeling the black haze in. His body could not

move while he was doing this. Somehow it was

immobile.

Once he got the cloud over the halfway mark

between their bodies, the gravitational pull of his

own body took over, and suddenly the cloud

easily flowed into his torso with a speed that

took him by surprise.

clip_image005

Simultaneously his mind yelled both a

triumphant, hopeful ‘Yes!’ and a horrified,

helpless, ‘No!’ at what he had just done.

Mulder blinked. The cloud was gone. He could

see no trace of it, either in the air or on his own

skin. Perhaps he had imagined all this, and just

fallen asleep in the chair instead.

Scully kept sleeping. Mulder found he could

move again, and tried to work out if he felt any

different. Tired for sure, but that could be

explained away by all they’d been going through.

And he wasn’t sure how long it took for an

illness to assert itself in a new body after a trade.

Not too long at least, because Corin could

remember his mother falling . . . .

Mulder stood and gazed down at his partner. She

seemed to be sleeping more easily, breathing

more deeply.

xXx

Next morning:

Scully woke up, but didn’t open her eyes, just

drifting in contentment in the warmth of the bed.

Of course, it would be even nicer if Mulder was

there with her. She would just have to imagine

that he was Ð

Then she realized she wasn’t short of breath. In

fact, the fog of lethargy and illness that had been

weighing her down, getting worse and worse,

was gone.

She felt healthy, alert and awake. And even,

thanks to her imaginings about Mulder,

definitely in the mood for some fun.

Scully opened her eyes and looked around. She

was in her bedroom, not a hospital. She still had

the cannula and the PICC line, so her illness

could not have been a nightmare she had just

woken up from. But what was going on? She

took a few experimental deep breaths. No

problem. She stretched her legs under the covers.

No aches, no strain. In fact, she sensed that if she

got up and went to the bathroom, heck, even for

a run, her legs would oblige her.

She cautiously sat up. No dizziness or

overwhelming tiredness hit her. She gingerly

removed the nasal cannula, with no ill effects.

She looked at the bedside clock. Her alarm was

due to go off in about ten more minutes. Mulder

should be up, getting ready. He was going to

come with her to the doctor’s appointment, then,

after the verdict, phone Skinner to tell him what

was happening and whether he would then be

coming in to work.

She couldn’t hear the shower running, or any

other noise. “Mulder?” Her voice was strong and

clear. No answer. “Mulder!”

Perhaps he had gone somewhere, or for a run.

But he wouldn’t have dared leave her alone. Not

when she was this sick.

Only she didn’t seem to be sick anymore.

“Mulder!” Scully wondered if she was having a

good hour or something, as impossible as it

seemed at this stage, and that everything would

come crashing back on her any minute. She

turned off the alarm, and slid her feet out of the

blankets and onto the floor. The PICC line was

still capped off, so she didn’t have to worry

about taking the IV stand along as she headed

towards the bedroom door.

But then there was movement, a shuffling noise,

and Mulder appeared in the doorway.

“Mulder, there you are! I’m Д

She stopped and blinked. The room was still

somewhat dim, so she wasn’t getting a clear look

at Mulder’s face, but she could hear that his

breathing was heavy and see that he was holding

onto the doorframe tightly. Had he gone for a run

after all?

As she turned on the bedside lamp, she asked,

“Mulder, are you all right?” at the same time as

the same question came from him. Only his

voice sounded very weak.

She blinked in the light and then finally got a

good look at him. He looked like hell. In fact, he

not only looked like, but sounded like . . . .

Herself, just yesterday.

“Mulder, what’s wrong?”

He ignored her question, but did not move

forward from his grip on the doorframe. “Are you

all right . . . Scully?” he repeated.

“I’m fine. Honestly, I feel fine. Like I’m not sick

anymore.” She saw him close his eyes, in

exhaustion and Ð

Relief?

Then realization rooted her temporarily to the

spot. She had somehow been cured, but at a cost.

“Mulder, what did you do?”

“What makes you think . . . it was me? Your

chip probably came . . . to the fore again.” He

was getting breathless already, just saying those

few sentences.

“No. I know you’re lying. Not only that, but

you’re looking and sounding like I was.” Her

tone brooked no argument, and it also contained

traces of fear. She moved towards him, seeing

the effort it was taking for him to stay on his

feet, and then he stumbled forward. Between

them, they managed to get him to sit on the bed

without him falling along the way.

She reached for the nasal cannula, intending to

put it on him. “What have you done?” she asked.

“What I promised you I’d do.” He paused for

breath. “What you would . . . have done for me.”

“Whatever it took . . . . Mulder, you didn’t make

any deals, did you?”

“I swear to you, no deals were made . . . . I just

found a way to cure you . . . and against all

odds, it worked. I have to admit, I’m just as

surprised . . . as you are.”

She had finished positioning the cannula and he

took a few deep breaths as she was opening her

mouth to instruct him to do just that, quickly

getting some oxygen into himself. She stared at

him. “But you’ve got the illness. Somehow,

you’ve got it now.”

“Yeah. I think so . . . . Have to run tests for sure

though.”

“And that’s a cure? You having it instead of me?

Making me feel better in one way, but horrible in

another!” She was nearly yelling at him now,

even though she could see the pain and hurt in

his eyes.

Then a ghost of an ironic smile flitted across his

pale face. “You’re welcome.”

Trying to hold back her fear and questions,

Scully headed for the nearest phone.

END ACT TWO

xXx

ACT THREE:

Tests confirmed it. Scully miraculously no

longer had aplastic anemia. But Mulder was

suffering from it, severely enough to be

hospitalized.

Scully sat by her partner’s side, in protective

gear, including a mask. Her PICC line had been

removed. She was an internal mess of emotions

at the moment. Anger at him for doing this

clashed with her gratitude and love, fear that she

was going to lose him was nearly smothering

her, and a burning desire for answers and for his

cure spearheaded through them all.

She felt awful pressing her partner with questions

while he was lying sick, oxygen mask firmly in

place, but this had to be done. For him. For

them.

For what seemed to be the thousandth time, she

asked him, “How did you do it, Mulder?” When

he shook his head, she snapped, “I have the right

to know! Look, if you’ve found a way to swap

this illness from me to you, then surely there

must be a way to -”

“No. Irreversible.”

“That’s not true. Otherwise you wouldn’t be

guarding the method so fiercely,” she pointed

out.

“Maybe I want to patent it . . . and make a

fortune,” he shot back. “Scully, we still have

other options. The Gunmen are . . . looking into

them.”

“Healing aliens?”

“And hollow earth,” Mulder said, referring to a

race of highly evolved and enlightened

humanoids they had encountered twice two years

ago in a National Park in California. Those

beings, the Agarthans, lived deep underground,

and were able to easily heal Mulder’s injured leg

and a case of progressive amnesia that baffled

human doctors.

“Lathos said we wouldn’t be able to contact them

again for a while,” Scully pointed out. He was

the Agarthan who had taken them to his city.

“A while may be up. It was something . . . I was

considering when you were first diagnosed, but

at the time we thought . . . the other treatments

would work or a donor would be found. . . . .

Then by the time those things . . . didn’t pan

out, you were too sick . . . to make the trip.”

“And so are you.”

“Byers is willing to go to the campsite . . . and

see if Lathos turns up. Or you could go. Or who

knows Ð Cancerman might even . . . decide to

intervene with some of his . . . alien

technology.”

Because he thought that Mulder was his son?

“You’re taking a hell of a gamble.”

“That’s me. And you’re worth it. I just couldn’t

stand to see you . . . in a hospital again, Scully.”

“I know. But here I am, in a hospital again, and I

can’t stand it, even though I’m not the one in the

bed.” Well, her heart was.

“There are also . . . experimental treatments.

Could try . . . one,” Mulder said. Scully and her

doctor had considered several of these, but ruled

them out for her on various reasons. But now

that the aplastic anemia was in Mulder, perhaps

those reasons no longer applied.

But he was deteriorating so quickly Ð there

probably wasn’t time to try.

Mulder must have done his best to cover his

tracks to the secret of the trade, but there had to

be some traces left, some clues. And she was an

experienced investigator too, with contacts of her

own.

And even if she didn’t find out what he had

done, she might be able to find another way to

save him instead.

xXx

Several days later:

Scully stared despondently at the wall in

Mulder’s hospital room, unsuccessful thus far at

finding out the secret cure. Or ‘swap’.

The Gunmen and Chuck all swore that they had

no idea how Mulder had done it. And that they

weren’t lying to protect her.

She had considered going to see if she could

summon Lathos, but Mulder had come down

with a serious infection, and she was scared to

leave him for too long. Especially when she had

no idea how long it would take for Lathos to

appear, or one of the others, if at all. So Byers

was about to make the trip instead, fully briefed

by Scully on all they knew.

Skinner had also promised her he would do

anything he could to help.

“Mulder, there was still a chance that they would

find a donor who was compatible with me,”

Scully said to her partner.

“Well, they hadn’t . . . so far. Time was running

out . . . for you.”

“And now you’ve got an infection, a very serious

one, that there is a good chance I wouldn’t have

even gotten.”

Time was running out quicker for Mulder. There

was no donor match for him so far, but even if

they did find a match, there was the danger that

he was already too weak and unstable to have a

transplant, or that it would most likely fail. It

was a rough procedure and even patients without

infections could have a bad reaction. Trying to

control the infection was the doctors’ priority at

the moment.

Inwardly he was cursing the infection, while also

being glad that Scully had been spared it. But it

was stripping him of time he couldn’t afford to

lose and hadn’t counted on losing. As Deep

Throat had warned, he was a shark that was now

no longer swimming.

“And if you won’t tell me what you did, what

this cure is, then isn’t that preventing other

people from being able to use it too?” Scully

asked.

He didn’t answer.

xXx

Scully’s apartment:

Now Scully was the one sitting at a desk, poring

over all the things that Chuck said he had loaned

Mulder. Unless of course Mulder had removed

anything relevant Ð Chuck had such a large

collection that it was hard for him to keep up

with it.

After going through Mulder’s computer files

herself, she had given his computer to the

Gunmen with orders to see if there was any

deleted information they could retrieve that could

be of some help. Her computer. His office

computer. She was using another, borrowed,

laptop when needed.

The phone records from Mulder’s cellular,

Scully’s home phone and the office phone

yielded no clues. She even got her own cellular

records checked. The bastard had probably used a

payphone somewhere, if he had needed to contact

anyone about this. His credit card transactions

also gave no indications.

Amongst Mulder’s paperwork, there were a lot of

trails that led to dead ends, because her partner

had been chasing down so many paths in trying

to find a cure for her.

Scully believed that Mulder had kept records of

what he had done and placed them somewhere for

her to find, but not to come to light until there

was no longer any possibility of her reversing

whatever he had done. Because, like she had said

to him, otherwise he would be preventing other

people from being helped in the same way.

So she used her FBI credentials and her rights as

his Power of Attorney to do some digging. His

safety deposit boxes gave no answers, though she

did have searches ongoing just in case Mulder

had more out there she didn’t know about or

under a false name like George Hale. And she

had contacted his lawyers to see if they were

holding anything Ð she was waiting for the

Rhode Island lawyer to get back to her.

Scully sighed. She had the feeling that whatever

method Mulder had used, there had not been

much time in-between him discovering it and

then implementing it. So that meant not much

time to cover his tracks. She had hoped that in

his haste he would have forgotten something.

And it also meant that the answers were likely to

be somewhere in either their basement office or

her apartment. So far her searching had not led

anywhere Ð even in just those two places, there

was a lot of ground to cover and a lot of time

needed to do it thoroughly.

She checked her watch, intending to head back to

the hospital in another hour. Mulder’s infection

was getting worse, and his temperature was up.

Despondent, she swivelled in the desk chair,

looking around her living room, trying to work

out where to check next.

If she were Mulder, where would she have put

the answers? They would be in a place that he

knew she would eventually look, but in

something that she would be too distracted to be

using, or needing something from, at such a

hectic, frantic time.

A possible answer came to her with a jolt,

without her eyes even having to land on it first.

His photo album. He would have gambled that

scanning his baby pictures was hardly a priority

at the moment.

Scully hurried over to the shelf where the album

had been put for safekeeping. As she pulled it

out, it felt thicker than she remembered. Sure

enough, a paranormal magazine was tucked

inside the front cover, as well as various pages.

Heart thudding, Scully sat down to read their

contents.

xXx

Scully had finished reading the hidden secrets of

the album. This trading ability sounded

fantastical, but . . . it was also the only answer

that explained her recovery and Mulder’s

condition.

Potentially, it might be reversible. There were no

instances of anyone who had tried it, but that

could be because most of the cases sent to Corin

Harper involved a parent and child, with the

child unaware of what had happened until too

late. Or the disease was ‘generic’ enough for its

remission in one person and occurrence in the

other to be seen as just a horrible coincidence.

“A near death experience is the key . . . .” Scully

mused out loud. Her qualifying on that score was

not a problem. No wonder Mulder had been so

guarded about what he’d done.

She found herself wondering if she would also

get Mulder’s infection when she transferred the

aplastic anemia back. But that really didn’t

matter. She fingered one of the pages that had

been in the album: a handwritten letter from

Mulder to her, that he had expected her to read

after his death. It had brought her to tears, and to

even fiercer determination.

All of the emotions he felt for her, that made

him take this illness onto himself, she felt just

as strongly towards him. She couldn’t let him

die.

It was time to take back what was hers.

xXx

Scully entered Mulder’s hospital room. It was

very late at night Ð luckily the medical staff were

all extremely well acquainted with this particular

FBI couple.

Mulder was asleep, sedated. His fever was down,

but it was only a matter of time before it rose

again. The infection was gaining ground, despite

what they threw at it. IV antibiotic treatments

were buying some time and temporary respites,

but that was all.

Scully sat with him, waiting for the next nurse’s

check. Finally someone showed up and went

about their duties. After the nurse left, Scully

knew how long it would be until the next one,

how long she should have before she would be

disturbed.

She had to try this now. Hopefully he was

sedated enough, or at least deeply asleep enough

not to wake up and realize what she was doing.

But if this did work, what would be the affect on

the monitoring equipment? If it started going off

halfway through the trade . . . .

Scully considered whether to lock or bar the

door. But that gave rise to danger if something

went wrong and no one could get in. Perhaps she

should call one of the Gunmen to come and stay

at the door, but then she would have to wait for

another shift and there was no guarantee that he’d

be allowed into Mulder’s ICU room when there

was already one visitor.

Damn!

She decided to try the trade now and looked

around. The curtains of all the windows were

closed, including the ones in the walls that ran

along the corridor. Good.

Quietly Scully stood up. She turned and moved

the recliner chair out of the way, then came back

to stand beside Mulder’s bed. She stared at him,

concentrating not on him, but on the illness,

picturing it as a black cloud in Mulder’s body.

She felt rather self-conscious and somewhat silly,

but forced those feelings aside. If this was what

it took, then so be it. Mentally she imagined

lifting the cloud up and out.

Nothing.

She tried again. Still nothing.

Scully felt panic creeping in. Had she been led

on a wild goose chase? Or was her own

skepticism getting in the way of this working?

There were more than enough brushes with death

on her record Ð including her own bout of this

aplastic anemia Ð to make this work.

She looked at Mulder’s pale, sleeping face, or

what she could see of it around and through the

oxygen mask, and her determination tripled.

And this time when she pictured the illness, the

invader in his body, she could *feel* her mind

brush against it. The heaviness and dread of it.

She took hold of it in her mind. Heat.

Malevolence. Hunger.

She swallowed and steeled herself. Remember

me?

Scully pulled at it with all her willpower. She

felt it resist. The infection was well-settled and

spread and did not want to leave. But Scully

could be and was a most determined woman.

A dark cloud lifted out of Mulder and hovered

just above his body.

Scully sucked in a surprised breath through her

mask, and just like Mulder had, almost let go of

the cloud upon seeing it for real.

It *was* real.

But more importantly, this was working.

Scully tried to lean over, to get as close to the

cloud as possible. But it was like her body was

locked in position Ð already caught up in the

battle to prevent the cloud from going back into

her partner. So she tried to bring the cloud over

to her with her mind.

Slowly, ever so slowly, it began to move

towards her.

Fear sent her heart racing even more. The notes

had been right; she couldn’t get the cloud to

move left or right, or away from them both. It

needed a body, and it was determined to have the

nearest one.

There was not much distance between her and

Mulder, relatively speaking, but it seemed like a

chasm. Scully’s head was aching, and the cloud

was halfway to her now. A little more and the

‘gravity of her orbit’ would pull it in.

A part of her realized that she was crying. In

resignation, relief . . . .

She felt the cloud coming Ð

“No!” came a hoarse, horrified voice from the

bed.

Mulder’s eyes were open, staring at the cloud, at

her.

The black mass halted abruptly. Scully could feel

Mulder’s will come into play, as surely as if he

was grabbing hold of the cloud with a mental

hand.

“Mulder, don’t!”

“Scully!” His eyes were wide and wild, holding

off sleep and sedatives somehow. His face was

straining and his body was taut. She could tell

he was desperately trying to move, but like her,

his body was locked. Only their minds had any

sway in this battle.

And their minds were an even match. Scully

hoped that the sedatives and weakness would

have some effect on Mulder, allowing her to take

the cloud. Though now that the cloud was out of

his body, those things could well be too. The

darkness was suspended between them, straining

as they both exerted their wills on it.

A bizarre tug of war, with only one ‘winner’.

“Mulder, please!” She almost found herself about

to yell, ‘It’s mine!’ like a child in a playground.

But her desperate plea to him had just as much

emotion in it.

The cloud moved closer towards her.

“No!” Mulder concentrated, and the cloud halted,

like a dog reaching the end of its leash.

Stupid, stubborn man! And now that the illness

was out of him, he was making the most of his

renewed energy in trying to reclaim it.

She could feel him trying to pull it back.

And suddenly she realized that something was

happening to the cloud.

It was starting to churn. Flashes of electricity or

energy appeared and disappeared in it.

Her distraction allowed Mulder to move the

cloud closer towards him. Scully quickly

stopped that in its tracks.

Her head felt like it was going to split in two,

but she had to keep this up. She tried to tell

Mulder with her eyes to please let go, that she

couldn’t bear to see him go through this.

But his eyes were telling her exactly the same.

“Scully,” Mulder managed to get out, past his

straining and the oxygen mask. “See if we can

move it away. . . Both of us together . . . might

be able to . . .”

Two together might be able to do what one could

not. It was worth a try, though she was at a loss

as to how they were going to be able to get rid of

it. “Okay, to my left!” she ordered.

But although they concentrated fiercely, the

cloud would not bend to their wills in that way.

It was writhing in earnest now, little internal

lightning bolts darting across its surface and in

its murky depths.

Oh God, someone would surely notice this and

come in . . . .

“Mulder, please let me Д

She stopped her plea when she saw something

pass through Mulder’s eyes. She had seen that

look often enough Ð during the times he was

making one of those spooky leaps of logic.

“Keep it there! Keep it between us!” he cried out.

The cloud was roiling as if in a rage. The

lightning had increased.

Then suddenly there was a flash of light and a

bang. Something hit Scully with such force that

she was knocked off her feet. She found herself

lying against the wall, dazed.

Mulder. She scrambled up, having to fight

briefly with the recliner chair that was now lying

on its side. Her mask was dangling around her

neck, and the lights were blinking on and off but

so rapidly she could still see. Alarms were going

off on equipment. As soon as she stood up, she

saw Mulder.

He was still in the bed, but struggling into a

sitting position and pulling off the oxygen mask

and reaching out for her. If he wasn’t tethered by

the catheter and other tubes and leads, she knew

he would have been out of that bed like a shot.

Though a few of the leads and monitoring wires

were hanging off or askew. The protests coming

from the equipment seemed to be more from

whatever had just happened with the power and

Mulder losing some of the leads than him being

at death’s door.

She went to him. “Are you all right?” they asked

each other simultaneously. Scully didn’t even

notice the bedrails pressing against her as she

managed to embrace her partner. The lights

stopped blinking as they held each other.

Scully could hear that med staff were trying to

get in the door. The recliner chair was in the

way, jammed on an angle that was making

things difficult.

Her heart was pounding, and she could feel

Mulder’s was too. “Which one of us did it go

into?” she asked, looking up at him, more

worried about that than letting the med staff in,

for the moment. “I felt something hit me. It

must have been the cloud going back in.” She

felt sore, but that could have been from being

knocked down. And here was Mulder, holding

her tightly, with no sign of frailty or fever or the

need for oxygen.

But she didn’t feel sick either. Unless a trade

took several minutes at least to ‘settle’ into a

new body . . . .

“I felt something hit me too,” Mulder said, still

holding her. “But I think we’re okay. I’ll tell you

my theory in a minute, but first you’d better

open that door before they smash a window or

get a battering ram. Coming!” he called out,

reluctantly letting go of her.

END ACT THREE

xXx

ACT FOUR:

A few days later:

“Capable Carpentry, Corin speaking.”

“Mr Harper, this is Agent Fox Mulder.”

“Hi! You’ve got good timing. I was going to

contact you today Ð I just received another letter

and was going to send you a copy.”

“That would be great, thank you. I might be able

to collect it in person if I can come and see you

sometime soon, because I’m actually phoning to

give you some news I’m sure will interest you

very much . . . .” And so Mulder started to

explain that his work as a paranormal

investigator hadn’t been the only reason he had

gone to see Corin in the first place.

xXx

The next day, Mulder and Scully were sitting in

Corin Harper’s living room.

“Our bloodwork is clear,” Scully told Corin.

“Neither of us have aplastic anemia anymore.

And Mulder’s infection has completely gone.”

The carpenter looked happy and amazed in equal

parts. Mulder had told him over the phone, but

actually seeing for himself was another thing

entirely. “And you think it was because you were

able to keep the cloud suspended between you?”

Mulder took up the explanation. “It all came

down to physics and our tug of war over the

cloud. It had converted into a mass of energy to

exit the body, and couldn’t remain in that state

indefinitely. It either had to be in a body, or it

had to discharge. And fortunately Scully and I

were able to keep it outside of its natural

environment for long enough that it was forced

to discharge. In a ‘normal’ trade, there is only

one person battling the mass and they only have

limited control over it, but for two people it is

possible to hold the cloud in place and force its

hand.”

“Talk about a lucky metamorphosis!” Corin

commented.

“Very. Though it certainly took a lot of energy

and strain on our parts. From what we can tell, it

converted into a bit of a shockwave Ð flash of

light, a bang, a rush of air strong enough to

knock Scully back and pin me to the bed for a

moment. Fortunately no actual explosion to

speak of, no electric discharge, or not much of

one, otherwise the room probably would have

been incinerated or there could have been a nasty

reaction with the oxygen supply I was on at the

time. And even though we were both hit by the

‘wind’, the cloud was now in a different state and

harmless as was. So, no illness.”

“We beat the trade,” Scully said, still with some

disbelief amongst her relief. “We found a way.”

Yes, Mulder thought. Because we’re two people

who are so completely stubborn when it comes

to each other’s wellbeing. If this outcome hadn’t

happened, he could only imagine the two of

them continually trying to ‘steal back’ the illness

from each other, if possible, until the aplastic

anemia reached a point where it killed whichever

one of them it was in at the time. Other just as

awful scenarios also came to mind. He tried to

conceal a shudder of horror.

Corin was ecstatic. “What a loophole. I’ve got to

put this in my follow-up in the magazine! This

makes me determined to do one now, because

this is the ultimate case! Other people can be

saved.” Then his smile dimmed. “Though if only

I’d known this back when my mother saved me .

. . . She could still be alive today.”

“You were eleven years old and very sick,

Corin,” Scully pointed out gently. “You had no

way of knowing.”

He sighed and nodded, still looking regretful.

They sipped at their drinks. The agents were still

feeling sore from the bone marrow biopsies done

on them to make sure they were cured, but that

was nothing compared to what they had just been

through. And due to the bizarre nature of their

recoveries, the tests and results had been rushed

through a lot quicker than normal.

Corin had a thoughtful look on his face. “I have

a feeling that the two of you won’t be able to do

it again,” he remarked after a pause.

“I’m just glad it worked this time!” Mulder said

with feeling. “But what makes you think that? If

it was a case of ‘once swapped, no refunds’, then

Scully wouldn’t have been able to pull the cloud

back out of me.”

Corin elaborated. “Mulder, you told me a bit

about some of your near death-experiences.”

The agent nodded. When Mulder had phoned

Corin with the good news, the carpenter had

wanted more information about their own close

calls, to see if it all matched in with the ‘rules’

as he knew them so far about the trade. Corin

had provided them with so much help and

information that it was only fair they did the

same for him.

“You said that in one of your near-death

experiences, you could remember something

about being on a bridge that spanned two worlds

Ð which would be the real world and the spiritual

world. Those that have had near-death

experiences probably retain some residual access

to that bridge, that connection, even

subconsciously, to be able to do the trade. But

due to what transpired, I think you may have

sealed that connection off. For now, anyway. I

guess we’ll have to see, as it is a rather unique

case.”

“Yes, we specialize in those,” Scully said with a

grin.

Mulder laughed, then said, “Corin, please keep

us updated about any other instances you find of

this phenomenon.”

“I’ll be glad to.”

Eventually it was time to go. Mulder shook

Corin’s hand. “Thanks to your letter, you saved

us both.”

“My mother deserves the credit,” came the

wistful reply. “Now, before you go, come out the

back.”

When they entered Corin’s workshop, Mulder

was pulled away from admiring the objects and

items by Corin saying, “Agent Scully phoned

yesterday, without you knowing. She had a

request for me, one that I was happy to fulfil.

Something she wanted to get for you.”

He led them to the back of the workshop,

laughing at the quizzical look that Mulder gave

Scully. She just smiled mysteriously in

response.

“What do you think?”

Mulder stared. Corin was pointing at a beautiful

wood cabinet, one that was holding an empty

forty gallon fishtank. The tank fitted perfectly,

and the cabinet was designed with room for the

tubes and wires, plus storage space underneath

for all the necessary paraphernalia and more.

“Hand rubbed walnut,” Corin supplied with

pride.

“And hand carved,” Scully said, admiring the

intricate borders and patterns.

“You couldn’t have gotten this ready so

quickly,” Mulder said, a little stunned.

Corin answered, “I didn’t. It was one of several

I’d already made. And this one matches the type

and measurements that Agent Scully wanted.”

“Better than I ever imagined. If you want it,

Mulder, we can get it delivered to my

apartment.”

Mulder said honestly, “I love it. It makes metal

stands seem obsolete. But where are we going to

put it in your apartment while I’m looking for

another place?”

“We’ll find room. I wanted to get you some fish,

and it will be nice to have them around.

Especially in this marine Hilton!”

Mulder laughed and nodded. “Thanks, Corin.

You’ve made a sale. And when I’m looking for

other furniture, I know where to call.”

“Excellent!”

Scully insisted on buying the cabinet for Mulder

as a gift. They decided to get a tank in D.C.,

then made delivery arrangements with Corin, and

said goodbye.

As they pulled away from his house, Scully said

to her partner, “Let’s go back to D.C. and pick

out some fish and a tank with all the

trimmings.”

“After we go back to your apartment and I show

you my gratitude,” he said with a smouldering

look.

“Deal. And from now on, the only trades we’re

doing involve matters like housework or food.”

“Agreed.” He also knew that he wouldn’t be

looking up what apartments were available for

rent, not just yet anyway.

THE END.

MEDICAL NOTES: A lot of the medical

information on aplastic anemia I got from the

MEdIC Aplastic Anemia Answer book on the

internet, and from friends with medical

backgrounds. Beta opinion varied on medical

aspects like the lengths of treatment times, speed

of scheduling for tests and when results would be

available, etc, so I have gone with the times and

scenarios that best serve the plot. Any mistakes

are my own.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: The idea for this story has

been bubbling in my head for years, originally

conceived for a planned fourth season alternate

universe fic as a way that Mulder cures Scully of

her cancer. Influence probably came from a fanfic

I remember reading in around 1996, which I

think was called “Driver”, where Scully becomes

blind. With the help of a woman’s mysterious

powers, Mulder takes her blindness instead.

And the show itself has done some episodes

along similar themes, like ‘Tithonus’ and a

season eight episode, the name of which escapes

me. So it was fun to try to find another angle.

Moa A Moana

cover

Title: Moa a Moana

Author: Martin Ross

Type: Casefile

Rating: R for adult language and innuendo

Synopsis: When a genetically engineered

“supertuna” may be on a killing spree in

paradise, Mulder and Scully must net a cold-

blooded killer, human or finned

Spoilers: Host, El Mundo Giro; The Practice —

Season Seven

Disclaimer: The X-Files is the property of 10-13

Productions, Chris Carter, and Fox. Rebecca

Washington is the legal creation of David E.

Kelley

clip_image002

Lahaina, Maui

11:08 p.m.

Heart no longer racing, breath slowing to a

normal rhythm, Peter Crowther stared out over

the darkness of the Pacific, broken only by the

white froth of the breakers. Under a starless,

moonless sky like tonight’s, water and air

merged into a uniform black void that stretched

to the horizon. It was a source of calm for

Crowther.

In his years with The Company, it had been

Peter Crowther’s job to penetrate the darkness,

the veil of secrecy others had built around him,

and to create a new darkness — an impenetrable

veil to hide what the world, including his

fellow Americans, could not be permitted to see.

Within that cloak of darkness dwelt

monsters, Crowther included. The destruction of

governments and economies, the deaths of men

evil and noble alike, had been sanctioned and

executed under cover of that veil. Crowther had

trafficked with the darkest abominations the

species had produced, from diplomats with

unspeakable appetites and urges and assassins

with dead souls and depthless eyes to that

smarmy, chain-smoking horror to whom Crowther

had briefly answered, the one who hinted at some

role in the events in Dallas back in ’63, in

Memphis in ’68.

That was in the past now, thanks to a new

veil Crowther had woven of secrets and threats.

They would leave him alone here in Paradise: He

was viewed as a burnout case, an old, apathetic

man with too many secrets to risk erasing.

Crowther would live out his last two or three

decades on Maui, unmolested, just him and his

demons.

Those demons — who arrived in the night

with heart palpitations and distorted half-

memories — had spurred him to his newest,

potentially most significant “mission.” The one

that might bring him a measure of absolution, or

at least solace. Certainly, he could never leave

the world better off than it had been before he

and his colleagues had tinkered and meddled with

it. But he could mitigate some of the damage

others had done, if he could deal with this new

crew of undisciplined, emotional “civilians.”

Crowther continued to fume over his encounter

with the bush leaguer who’d left minutes

earlier.

Crowther stared again into the darkness —

a darkness with secrets no man could ever

inveigle or obfuscate. He sighed and pulled off

his robe.

The water was cool, bracing but not

forbidding. Crowther liked to think his

ritualistic nightly swim was a sort of

incremental baptism of sorts, gradually washing

away the film of sin and degradation that had

clogged his life. He’d even thought of joining a

church here, but decided ultimately that that

would be reformatory overkill.

Even strokes, rhythmic kicks — Crowther’s

regimental discipline kicked in even in such

recreational pursuits. Then, something brushed

his leg. He paused, but did not panic: The

storms had come only a few days earlier, and

debris both natural and manmade continued to

float between the islands and out to sea.

The object collided again with his

muscular thigh, and he pushed away. The

mainlanders’ superstitions and prejudices aside,

shark attacks were an infrequent occurrence here

on Maui, especially this close into shore.

Probably a large fish, maybe a sea turtle.

Crowther’s speculation was interrupted by

a nearby thrashing and the sensation of knives

rending the flesh of his calf. He’d been shot

twice, stabbed once, while with The Company, and

this wasn’t like that. This was like…

The bastards, he thought, as teeth tore

into his abdomen.

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Washington, D.C.

8:32 a.m.

Dana Scully stared into the flat,

emotionless eye of the big fish.

“Thunnus albacares,” Mulder explained,

caressing the remote for his beloved, if

antiquarian, slide projector. “AKA, the

Yellowfin Tuna. AKA, El Pollo de la Mar. The

legendary chicken of the sea, known associates

mayonnaise, a dash of dill, and a couple slices

white or rye.”

Mulder pulled the trigger, and a second

yellowfin gaped out at Special Agent Scully.

“Dolly the cloned yellowfin,” he identified.

Scully, who had been forced by Mulder’s

lackadaisical bathroom regimen to skip her

morning half-caff Grande, turned with an

unspoken sigh.

“OK, just kidding,” Mulder confessed. “But

not exactly. This is Event T-12, one of seven

genetically engineered yellowfin tuna being

studied at Pescorp’s Maui R&D facilities. As I’m

sure you must know,” — Scully crossed her arms

at Mulder’s genial sarcasm — “animal biotech

research follows strict USDA, EPA, and FDA

regulations. Well, we have reason to believe one

of our T-12s is missing, and our finned friend’s

suspected disappearance has spurred concerns

about a potential environmental release.”

“Suspected disappearance?” The brow arched

as Scully rallied.

“Six nights ago, one of Pescorp’s security

guards called in a break-in at the research

facility. The Maui County Police Department

investigated and found one of the perimeter

surveillance cameras had been expertly disabled

and the key card scanner at the yellowfin lab

tampered with. Then Pescorp quickly got the

investigation shut down, reporting nothing had

been stolen — no harm, no fish nor fowl. MCPD

checked all the T-12 tanks before the company

execs slammed the door on them, and all tuna

were accounted for.”

“Animal rightists or industrial espionage?”

Scully demanded with decaffeinated directness.

“It looks like the former, given the

physical evidence left at the scene,” Mulder

offered. “Aquacultural biotechnology has been a

sore spot for several environmental and consumer

groups, and the controversy’s been exacerbated

by initial research focusing on salmon species

that spawn in the Pacific Northwest, in the

heart of Greenpeace Acres. If you could see this

photo in full context, and you knew how big a

yellowfin tuna grows, you’d see that T-12 — The

Tunanator (Scully pointedly ignored the

Schwarzennegarian pun) — is roughly half the

size of his conventionally produced counterpart.

Pescorp hopes this new biotech fish will help

meet America’s growing demand for sushi and hip-

and-happening Asian-fusion entrees.”

“So the green guys were thwarted and the

U.S. made safe for jumbo tuna,” Scully murmured.

“Where’s the X-File? Hell, where’s the case?”

“Ah ha,” Mulder proclaimed, clicking up a

new slide. A palm-lined streambank was littered

with bloody fish corpses. The agent clicked

again, and Scully witnessed a similar scene in

what appeared to be a rocky marine cove. “Two

fishkills, reported by the U.S. Fish and

Wildlife Services four and three days ago,

respectively.”

Scully looked skeptically at her partner.

“Are you suggesting a yellowfin tuna did this?

That this biotech fish was released into the

wild, and this was the result? First of all,

Mulder, that first slide would appear to be a

freshwater stream, and a marine species like the

yellowfin wouldn’t survive for an hour in that

environment.”

“Unless,” Mulder suggested in a Holmesian

tone that never failed to annoy Scully, “Pescorp

intentionally or accidentally incorporated

genetic material that would allow this animal to

live in either environment. Imagine the

commercial advantages of being able to raise a

commercial marine species in a freshwater pond

or tank. It would cut production costs

significantly.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Mulder,” she

protested. “And even if it did, we’d be looking

at a novel genetic trait neither EPA nor FDA

would ever approve. And with the public outcry

over cloning and genetic engineering in animal

species, I’m not sure you’d get consumers to by

such a ‘new’ tuna. From a biological standpoint,

although I’m no ichthyologist, I don’t remember

the yellowfin being an aggressive predator

species.”

“Perhaps in tampering with yellowfin growth

factors, they somehow triggered some new level

of fish ‘testerone’ release. We can speculate

all day, Scully, but the investigating wildlife

biologist at the scene swears the dental marks

found on the mutilated fish are clearly

identifiable as a yellowfin’s. The regulatory

guys suspect Pescorp may be covering up an

actual T-12 theft, and just wants to avoid the

publicity. The company’s erected a solid wall of

lawyer pinstripe, and the agencies have had to

go to court to get a warrant to get into the

labs.”

“So where do we come in?” she asked, tired

of sparring. “Missing Perches?”

Mulder grinned. “See? The fun’s contagious.

No, the FBI was called in two nights ago.” He

clicked the remote, and the modified yellowfin

was replaced by a man, bloodied and mauled but

clearly older, tanned, and tall. “Meet Peter

Crowthers, Maui. A retiree who moved from the

mainland five years ago. A beachcomber, wino,

whatever, found him in the surf behind his

beachfront condo 20 miles north of Lahaina. His

jugular and femoral arteries were punctured, and

again, the local pathologist ID’ed the dental

marks as being consistent with those made by a

yellowfin.”

“This is like a bad ’50s horror film,”

Scully complained. “So we’re supposed to

investigate a serial fish killing and a man who

very likely was mauled by a shark or other

predatory species brought into the wrong cove by

some oceanic storm.”

Mulder turned the projector off and brought

up the office lights. “There’s one other thing

the director didn’t bother to tell Skinner or

us. I thought Crowther’s name was familiar, and

I asked Frohike to run it through his shadow

files. Peter Crowther’s gold watch has ‘CIA’

etched on the back of it.”

Scully was silent for a moment.

“Coincidence.”

“Even so,” Mulder began, slyly, “the

powers-that-be seem to feel our country needs

us. In Maui. Land of white beaches, potent tiki

drinks, and erotic sunsets. I don’t know about

you, but if Uncle Sam demands I leave my cozy

Washington home in the midst of the iciest

February on record to investigate a threat to

domestic security in a Hawaiian paradise, well,

I suck it up and do my duty.”

Scully’s frown relaxed, and her eyes began

to glaze. She shrugged with a suddenly sunny

smile. “I suppose you may be right, Mulder. The

bastards.”

Kahalui Airport

Kahalui, Maui

11:28 p.m.

“Agents Mulder and Scully? Aloha, and

welcome to the island.”

Scully looked up blearily as she wrestled

her carry-on into the gate area. The shoulder

strap had snapped when some overweight

Midwesterner had jerked his tote bag from the

overhead on the bumpy Washington-to-L.A. leg. A

liberated Mulder had not offered to assist her,

and the walk to the LAX terminal had been a

death march which had ended in a two-hour flight

delay.

“Aloha,” Mulder greeted, refreshed by the

near-coma into which he had fallen during his

trans-Pacific flight.

The man before them was probably 50, stocky

with thick gray hair and genial wrinkles framing

his rich brown Hawaiian eyes. “Jim Kamehana, Lt.

Jim Kamehana, Maui County CID. You folks are a

little late — hope the flight wasn’t too much

of an ordeal.”

“Milk run,” Mulder assured him. Kamehana

gently appropriated Scully’s carry-on.

“Baggage’s this way. I appreciate you two coming

out. I can use a little help on this one.”

“That’s a refreshing attitude,” Scully

said. “Sometimes, local law enforcement’s not to

thrilled when the Bureau’s called in.”

“Ah,” Kamehana shrugged. “I think you’ll

find the department pretty cooperative. It’s

that way on the island — when you’re fortunate

enough to live 2,000-some miles away from the

rat race, in the cradle of paradise, all that

competitive mainland crap seems kinda

ridiculous. Domestic disturbances, DUIs, and

cocky teenagers aside, I figure I’m already

living the dream, you know? E komo mai — c’mon,

let’s get your bags.”

“Any leads on the Crowther case?” Mulder

inquired.

“Not sure yet there is a case — not for

homicide, anyway,” Kamehana reported. “Though it

don’t make much sense, M.E.’s pretty sure it was

a yellowfin got Pete. Be pretty hard to fake

those kinda wounds.”

“Pete?” Scully asked, working her ravaged

right shoulder. “Did you know the victim?”

“Sure, we all knew Pete. He used to be some

kinda federal cop, though he always played that

one pretty close to the vest. I figured CIA or

NSA, either that or he just talked a good game.

See him at the local watering holes, he always

wanted to talk shop with the guys. Also had to

bust him a few times. Pete was a born-again

‘green.’ One of those haoles — foreigners, no

offense — who come to the island and start

thinking they were born here, that they’re gonna

save their island Eden singlehandedly. I don’t

mind ’em particularly, and I agree with a lot of

what the enviros say, but when they start

callin’ us storm-troopers and Nazis, they start

wearing out their welcome. At least Pete didn’t

preach — he’d show up at the protests, but when

the party was over, he’d put on the cuffs

peacefully and ask if we wanted to go for beers

later on.”

“Kind of a coincidence, an environmental

activist allegedly being attacked by a

genetically engineered fish,” Mulder said.

“How’d Crowther feel about Pescorp’s biotech

research?”

“Mostly, he was upset about the development

on the west side of the island, on the hillsides

where the sugar cane fields used to be, and

about the ‘biodiversity’ of the island. But you

get a few beers in him, he’d rant about

‘corporate engineering,’ us screwin’ with Mother

Nature, that sort of thing.”

“How do you feel about what Pescorp’s

doing?”

The lieutenant waggled his fist, pinky and

thumb extended, in a surfer’s gesture signaling

laid-back indifference, and steered his charges

toward the baggage carousels. “Hard times tend

to catch up to us a little slower out here, but

unemployment’s starting to creep up, and even

though the tourist trade’s important, the

average kama aina — local — doesn’t always

understand why he has to pay $6 for a cup of

Kona or a gallon of milk in town just cause to

soak some rich orthodontist from Ohio. I got a

kid at the U of H, biology major, and I don’t

buy into all this mad scientist stuff about

biotechnology. If Pescorp says it can make a few

more jobs on the island without belching black

smoke or pouring poison into the water, then far

as I’m concerned, they can grow all the three-

eyed Simpsons fish they want.”

“Did you investigate the break-in at the

Pescorp lab?” Scully asked, hobbling along on

her sensible but escalator-damaged pump.

“The big fish — pardon the pun — took the

case directly from the responding patrol team,

before the kahuna at Pescorp shut us down. What

I understand, though, smells a little like week-

old ahi — yellowfin. Kenny — the first uniform

at the scene — said the surveillance equipment

at the company had been acting up. Chuck —

Chuck Kinau, the guard on duty that night —

told him it was like some kind of TV

interference, like the signal was being jammed.

Wanted to check the lab tapes, but Pescorp

turned us down. Lucky thing Chuck didn’t get

canned — he’s got a big family and his folks to

look after.”

“You think the company’s covering

something?”

“We saw the fish — all seven of them, fat

and hau’oli, fat and happy. Ah here we are,

Hawaii Airlines.” The carousel already was laden

with suitcases, golf bags, and totes. Scully

began to reach for her garment bag, and Lt.

Kamehana reached in and swung it over a thick

shoulder.

“Thanks,” she said, nursing her shoulder.

“A’ole pilikia,” the cop responded, then

shook his head. “Sorry, I meant no problem. My

youngest’s in one of those Hawaiian immersion

classes, and I just can’t help myself.”

Peter Crowther residence

Lahaina, Maui

12:46 a.m.

“This couldn’t have waited ’til morning,

Mulder?” Scully groaned, kicking sand from her

good pump.

Mulder eyed the floodlit underbrush

surrounding the beach behind Crowther’s large

but aged cottage. When Kamehana had offered to

transport them directly to their beachfront

lodgings, Scully had been wearily grateful, but

Mulder was restless and wired. “C’mon, you’ve

said it before — the fresher the scene, the

closer the solution.”

clip_image004

“Mulder, there is no scene. The evidence —

at least, any evidence pertaining directly to

Crowther’s death — is all out there now,” she

waved into the inky waves of the Pacific. “What

do you hope to find?”

“Whatever I find.”

“Great. Lieutenant, you say there was a

witness?”

“Not an eyewitness, exactly,” Kamehana

amended, leaning on a nearby coconut palm.

“Name’s Bobby Jameson, old salt been here since

after the Big War. Lost his wife, then his house

to the booze, and these days, he sleeps his way

from park to golf course. Week or so ago, the

chamber started kickin’ about the homeless

scaring the tourists, and we had to roust Bobby

out. He probably started sacking out around the

private beaches. The locals, like Pete, knew he

was harmless.

“Anyway, we found Bobby, white as a sheet,

about a quarter-mile down the beach, oh, about

11:30 or so. He’d called in about the body

anonymously, from the Shell station up on 30,

but we recognized his voice, plus he tends to

use a lot of colorful adjectives in his speech,

you know what I mean. He thinks he may have

heard Crowther arguing with somebody, then

thrashing around out in the surf. When he came

out of the thicket over there, he saw the body

at water’s edge.”

“Patio’s pretty clean, Lieutenant,” Mulder

observed, peering inside Crowther’s house.

“Almost too clean. From the looks of the tile

inside, Crowther wasn’t the greatest housekeeper

in the world. Sand all over the place.”

“‘Ae, we spotted that,” Kamehana nodded.

“That’s what made us a little suspicious about

the death in the first place. Maybe Pete had a

visitor the night he died? But Doc’s pretty

certain about those bite marks on Pete’s body.”

“I’m a pathologist,” Scully informed the

cop. “You think I could examine the body? In the

morning?” She glared at Mulder.

“Sure. And you want me to round up Bobby,

too?”

Mulder turned, surprised. “Yeah, if you

can.”

“Oh, I can. I want you to hear his account

of things, in his words. Definitely in his

words.”

Mulder turned to an equally puzzled Scully

as Kamehana crunched back toward his car.

Ronald Gennari residence

Lahaina, Maui

12:32 a.m.

Ronald Gennari’s great-grandfather and

grandfather had been New England lobstermen, up

well ahead of the butt-crack of dawn and out on

the bay before the first hint of orange touched

the Atlantic sky. Theodore Gennari, his father,

had abandoned the sea for the perilous swells of

the business world in the 1950s, building a

taste in the Heartland first for frozen cod and

shrimp, then for fresh perch and blue crab, then

for mahi-mahi, Chilean sea bass, and other more

exotic fritti di mare. In the process, he built

a corporate empire that consistently ranked in

Fortune’s 50 and that rivaled Sara Lee, Tyson,

Philip Morris/Kraft, and the other titans of the

food industry.

But some things are bred in the bone and

etched irrevocably in the genetic code, and

Ronald Gennari (“If you knew sushi…: Pescorp’s

Neptune of the New Millennium reigns with market

savvy,” Newsweek, Dec. 18, 2002) remained prey

to the adaptive curse of his early-rising

forebears. Pescorp’s senior VP for Pacific

marketing and development survived on five

hours’ sleep a night, prowling his faux

plantation manse and consuming tireless hours of

satellite business news and sports. Gentry was

watching highlights of his hometown Celtics when

Carl Nahimi, his executive assistant, phoned in

on the line that opened exclusively into his

teak-lined home theatre.

“FBI’s on the island — cat-and-dog team,”

Carl reported. Gennari bit back on a pearl of

annoyance: Carl loved intrigue and was too fond

of crime movie jargon. “They went straight to

Crowther’s shack.”

“Son-of-a-bitch,” Gennari snapped. “I still

think that crazy bastard is behind it. Those

fucking hippies he hangs with probably fed him

to a shark.”

“He was an ex-spook, you know,” Carl noted.

“You think maybe the Company ordered some kind

of—”

“Christ, man, just get me some intelligence

on those feds, and indulge your fantasies on the

Internet, on your own fucking time.”

“Sure. How we coming with…you know, the…”

“Kee-rist! You think they’re tapping my

phone, now? We’re on schedule, as long as the

lawyers can keep those government vultures at

bay. You don’t worry about it, hear? You have

enough on your plate.”

“Yes, sir,” Carl murmured. “I’ll–”

Gennari broke the connection, turning back

to the 100-inch screen in time to see the Celts

give up a three-pointer.

“Bastard,” he grumbled, referring not to

the fumbling center on the satellite feed.

Maui County Police Department Lahaina Annex

Lahaina, Maui

9:05 p.m.

Mulder watched Bobby Jameson scarf a fourth

sausage Croissan’wich with mingled horror and

admiration.

“God anudda pepshi?” said the rail-thin old

man, who resembled nothing so much as Popeye on

a bad day. Lt. Kamehana patted him on the

shoulder and stepped out of the police interview

room.

“Mr. Jameson,” Mulder ventured as the

derelict’s Adam’s apple twitched with the last

morsel of ground pork and pastry. “You remember

the night the man died on the beach? The night

the big fish attacked him?”

“Patronizing and leading,” Scully murmured.

Mulder waved her off.

Jameson squinted up at the agent. “Yeah,

just cause I’m an old drunk don’t give you call

to talk down to me. ‘Big fish, my a–”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“Effin’ straight.” Jameson sucked at his

sparse teeth and settled back into his folding

chair. “Wellll, the fucking Nazzies told me I

couldn’t sleep downtown with the nice tourist

folks, so I was campin’ by the feller’s house. I

was grabbin’ a little shuteye after supper — Mo

down to the Barbecue Shack gived me a whole pan

of burnt rib-tips the mainlanders wouldn’t

touch. Anyhow, all of a sudden, I hear these two

fellas yellin’ at each other to beat the band.

One was the guy what lived there, and the other

sounded like an islander. Kaui this, Kaui that.

Maybe that’s where the fella was from, like I

give a flyin’…”

“Pepsi on deck,” Kamehana sang. The old man

guzzled the soda.

“So Mr. Crowther and the other man were

arguing.”

“Yeah, I thought they was gonna mix it up a

little, so I tried to get up to where’s I could

see. But that’s when I saw the menehune.”

A uniform hanging in the doorway snorted.

Scully glanced up at Kamehana, who shrugged with

a slight smile.

“Mene–?” she asked.

“—hune,” Mulder finished, leaning forward

with interest. “Little people. The menehune are

like island fairies or gnomes, supposedly

supernatural beings. You saw one, Mr. Jameson?”

“Bet your pale haole ass,” Jameson said

proudly. “Was gawkin’ at me from behind a tree

about six or seven feet away. Scared the blue

lovin’ shit outta me, and I kinda lost track of

what the fellas up to the house was sayin’. Ugly

little fucker — I heard stories about them

menehune, and I didn’t want no truck with ’em.

But then, just when I was lookin’ for a stick to

bash his little fairy brains in, he runs off.

Second or two later, the fella, one that was

fightin’ with the guy owned the house, I hear

him rev up his car and spray gravel and shit all

over the place getting’ outta there. I was

afraid maybe he’d killed that other fella, but a

couple minutes later, that fella…”

“Crowther?” Mulder prompted.

“The fella what owned the house,” Jameson

snapped, wearying of interruption. “I hear the

patio door open and him traipsin’ out hummin’

and whistlin’, all cocky, like maybe he’d won

the argument with the other guy. Then I hear him

goin’ down the beach, I guess to take a swim.

That’s when I heard him screamin’ — guess it

was him, cause I was the onliest one else there.

He was catterwhaulin’ like a little girl with

her arm caught in an outboard motor. I’m

thinkin’ shark, but that don’t make no sense.

Then I’m wonderin’ if maybe the little menehune

bastard had got him, ‘cept I never heard a’ no

menehune knowin’ how to swim. I just got my ass

outta there quick like. Then I figured maybe I

oughtta call Jim and the fellers, let ’em know

maybe they should put out a shark or menehune

alert.”

Jameson guzzled more Pepsi, a thin thread

of cola meandering through the stubble on the

old salt’s chin.

“Mr. Jameson,” Scully began tactfully,

“You’ll have to pardon me for asking, but, ah,

the night that man was attacked, did you, were

you, um…”

“Crocked?” Mulder supplied. Scully slumped

back in her chair, and the uniform fled the

scene. Jameson’s can stopped in mid-arc, and the

old man’s eyes narrowed. Then Jameson grinned,

and he crooked a finger at the agent. Mulder

looked at him quizzically, then leaned in.

Jameson whispered into his ear at length,

finally leaning back with a single cackle.

Mulder had turned a lighter shade of beige as

Jameson talked, and he nodded soberly as he

regarded his partner and the Maui detective.

“Mr. Jameson is rather firm in his

conviction that he was not inebriated the night

of Crowther’s death,” he announced. “And thanks

for the advice, Mr. Jameson, although I’m fairly

certain I lack the agility to accomplish it.”

Maui County Police Department Morgue

10:16 a.m.

Scully pulled her latex glove free with a

sharp snap and tossed it into the biowaste bin

next to the steel exam table where Peter

Crowther’s corps lie. “I’d have to concur with

Dr. Pukui — Mr. Crowther seemingly died as a

result of an encounter with a fish.”

She sighed, and avoided eye contact with

Mulder. “A big fish. I identified at least 25

individual bite marks, the fatal wounds likely

being those to Mr. Crowther’s carotid artery.

While the bite pattern is consistent with

Thunnus albacares, Dr. Pukui assures me this

sort of…piscine vehemence…is wholly atypical of

the species, and the size of the wounds is

roughly twice the size of a large yellowfin

bite.”

“Tuna, ahoy!” Mulder crowed. Kamehana

frowned.

“You saying one of Pescorp’s fish may have

done this?” the cop drawled.

Scully pulled off her scrub blouse. “I am

merely confirming that a marine fish of

prodigious size and mandibular strength was

responsible for Peter Crowther’s death.”

“The polysyllabic backpedaling and

academic profundity you hear is the sound of

Special Agent Dana Scully once again flying into

the face of the facts,” Mulder smirked. “Maybe

this’ll at least convince the court to issue

that warrant for the Pescorp lab.”

Scully frowned. “I don’t know, Mulder.

There are a number of inconsistencies here. I

don’t want to jump to the conclusion we’re

looking at a yellowfin attack — given the

abundance of comparative samples on the island,

I’ve requested a DNA test of the tissues

surrounding Crowther’s wounds. Biotech test

specimens also usually bear a special marker

gene to identify them, and that also should show

up in any DNA screen.

“Plus, there was no missing flesh, no

tearing — no sign that whatever attacked

Crowther attempted to consume him. And the USFWS

reports of the two earlier fishkills indicated a

similar pattern — a frenzied attack, but no

signs the predator fed on any of the vict–, ah,

fish.”

“Maybe it was just, well, crazed,” Mulder

protested.

Scully gave her partner what only could be

deemed the fisheye. “Attack of the Giant Crazed

Killer Tuna. Why don’t you put that on a triple

bill with Night of the Chupacabra and Revenge of

the Flukeman? I know Skinner would buy a ticket

for that.”

Colonial Maui Tropical Plantation

12:37 a.m.

“Don’t you want to stop at the gift shop,

Scully?” Mulder asked as the pair followed the

plantation tour route past a wild-looking plot

of sugar cane and a stand of pineapple trees. “I

was assuming from your demeanor this morning you

might like a good lei.”

“You keep this up, it may be the only kind

you get this trip,” Scully responded, kicking a

rock out of her shoe. “You are literally on a

fishing expedition, Mulder, and I’m not sure the

evidence bears out your wild speculations. God

knows what kind of predatory species may be out

here, forced to find a new habitat by shifts in

the oceanic food chain, pollution, maybe even

fishing activity. And why is this Makule

important?”

“According to the lieutenant, Crowther’s

been seen or arrested at several MKA

demonstrations. Vincent Makule’s the closest

thing to a Maui chapter president. I still think

that if there was an attempted break-in — or a

successful one — at Pescorp, some activist

group is behind it, and MKA’s been particularly

outspoken on biotechnology. Left at the guava?

Is this guava?”

“Macadamia,” Scully sighed, pointing to the

tour sign at Mulder’s elbow. “And it’s right at

the plumeria patch. I can hear the tour ahead,

and it sounds like they’re talking coconut.”

“To the grove, Watson,” Mulder declared.

“Yeah, fine, whatever.”

As the three-car Colonial Maui Tropical

Plantation tram trundled off toward a shack

displaying birds-of-paradise and garlands of

hibiscus, Vince Makule tossed shards of coconut

husk into a white plastic pail next to a

primitive wood bench in a clearing adjoining the

trail. Affixed to the bench was a long, broad,

fierce-looking knife.

Makule, in a sun-yellow aloha shirt and

oyster white jams, looked up, smiling, as the

agents approached. “Aloha! You two get lost?

They don’t like folks just wandering around

alone, especially they don’t have tickets.

Tram’s just up ahead; tickets are available at

the general store.”

“Vincent Makule?” Mulder asked, unsheathing

his ID. “Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana

Scully, FBI.”

“Wow, FBI,” the young man enthused. “Just

like on TV?”

“Wow, yeah,” Mulder grinned. “Just like

that break-in at Pescorp about a week ago.”

Makule smirked and resumed cleaning up the

debris of his 12:30 p.m. show. “You guys are

kinda late to the luau, aren’t you? I already

talked to the county cops and the state cops,

even some joker from Homeland Security, I think,

after the break-in. Then I went through it all

again after that dude in Lahaina got eaten.”

“He wasn’t eaten,” Scully noted, weakly.

“Tell you what I told them. Malama Ka Aina

is a peaceful organization that exercises its

lawful First Amendment rights and sometimes

practices non-violent civil disobedience when

the environment and biodiversity of the islands

are threatened.”

“Was that swarm of toads someone planted at

that new subdivision up north last April lawful

exercise or civil disobedience?” Mulder

inquired.

Makule shrugged. “You never know when new

construction might bring some of the indigenous

wildlife out of the hills. ‘Sides, I never heard

of frogs killing a couple of hundred fish or a

man before, not like that superfish of

Pescorps’.”

“You’re really up on the local news, Mr.

Makule. And didn’t you know that man, Peter

Crowther? According to the county cops, you and

Crowther shared a cell with you a few times.”

“Yeah, OK, I hung with Pete some. One of

those guilty burn-out types out to save his

soul. I’m sure you know he was a spy for Nixon,

Reagan, Dubya’s daddy — probably overthrew a

couple of Third World countries, offed a few

guys in his time. But he was loyal to the cause,

understood how to piss off the bureaucracy. And

he knew what Uncle Sam and the corporate machine

were willing to unleash on the planet for a few

bucks. Like Moby Dick out there, eating its way

through the island fish population. Ah, well,

maybe it’ll take out a few of those fat tourist

chicks, too.”

“Do you honestly believe that man was

killed by Pescorp’s yellowfin?” Scully asked.

“Lemme show you something, lady,” Makule

said, searching up a plump green coconut and

straddling the bench. He lifted the fruit above

his head and brought it down just off-center. A

large slice of husk came away. “We been growing

and selling these things more than a half-

century here, and this is just about as state-

of-the-art as coconut ‘processing’ gets. Know a

guy on the big island can strip one of these

down to the nut in three seconds flat, a lady

here on Maui can take off the husk in two

minutes. But nobody’s been able to come up with

some computerized machine that can do it. Each

coconut’s different; you can’t predict what’s

inside. Those suits down at Pescorp think they

can build a better fish than Nature can, but

they don’t know the half of what they’re messing

with, or what that supertuna sandwich is gonna

do to your grandkids.” He held up the semi-

shucked coconut. “Goin’ on break — wanna share,

FBI?”

“Wonder how long he’s rehearsed that

routine,” Scully pondered a few minutes later,

as she and Mulder ascended the hill approaching

the plantation gift shop/tour center. Her

partner paused at a small zoo near the center,

where a group of largely Hawaiian elementary

students listened to a plantation employee’s

hourly recitation.

“While there are no monkeys native to

Hawaii, the plantation support the Pacific

Primate Rescue Program, which finds new homes

for displaced, abused, or neglected monkeys like

Dakota here. Dakota’s a capuchin…”

“Probably pretends the bathroom mirror’s

Diane Sawyer,” Mulder suggested, embroiled in a

staring contest with a boldly colored parrot.

“I’m not buying Makule’s Gandhi act. There’ve

been at least a half-dozen acts of sabotage,

trespassing, and vandalism around the islands in

the last six months that’ve been linked to MKA,

but not enough evidence to bring charges. I

think somehow Makule and Crowther were in on the

break-in together, or maybe Crowther the ex-fed

was pissed off about the way Makule exercised

his civil disobedience. Maybe Crowther was

keeping the T-12 for Makule and the gang, and it

got out of control.”

“Where would he have held it, Mulder?”

Scully challenged. “There were no tanks or

enclosure nets at his house. You think he was

taking his tuna for a midnight stroll when it

turned on him?”

The parrot looked away, and Mulder turned

triumphantly. “It just seems too pat, too

deliciously ironic, that Crowther would be

killed by the creature whose existence he was

protesting. I feel like Makule is involved in

Crowther’s death, somehow.”

Scully flopped onto a huge rock next to a

tankful of geckos. “Well, I got a look at

Makule’s teeth, and if he mauled Crowther, he

must have been wearing dentures.”

Lahaina, Maui

2:37 p.m.

“Gaze upon paradise,” Phillip Lutz invited,

his leathery hand sweeping across the ocean’s

near-turquoise perfection, the seamless,

cloudless robin’s egg blue of the morning sky

abutting it, and the velvet jade of the nearby

hills towering above the bay.

Lutz had chosen pointedly not to entertain

Mulder and Scully in the confines of a cluttered

university extension office that served him

largely as an academic storage closet and an

emotional torture chamber for stupid and

indolent students. Instead, the middle-aged

molecular biologist, who more closely resembled

some surfer-gone-to-beachcomber, invited them to

a picnic lunch of smoked kalua — pork — and

macaroni salad on his catamaran, in a cove just

south of Lahaina.

A collection of mixed-vintage but largely

salt-pitted cars lined the sandy berm next to

Highway 30 above the bay, their owners

worshipping The Big Wave, several true believers

wielding the solid wood boards demanded by the

legendary surf god Huey. A hundred or so yards

offshore, a goofy foot — a surfer riding his

board right foot in front of the left —

executed as perfect a cutback as one was likely

to see outside the North Shore.

“Ironic that this Eden, this outpost of

natural wonder, may be a gateway to man’s

greatest achievements in food production and

prolonged life,” Lutz continued, once his guests

had absorbed his home paradise. “At least,

that’s the horseshit they put on the Biosciences

Department Web Page. But there’s a great deal of

truth to the defensive hyperbole we toss around

regarding genetic engineering.

“I don’t suppose you two have had the

opportunity to visit any of the big plantations

on the island? If you can get away from your

investigation for a few hours, I think you might

find it educational, perhaps even for your

investigation. It’s one of the first real

socioeconomic success stories for biotech

research and development. You know the Hawaiian

sugar industry is losing ground fast to Brazil –

– South American production costs, improved

inland transportation infrastructure, all that

good ag economics stuff? Well, we still maintain

a competitive edge in papaya production, but we

almost lost the entire crop a few years back, to

ringspot — a fungal disease. It was decimating

the plantations. Even if we’d had effective

chemical treatments for the rust, EPA’s

continuing to whittle away at the few potent

fungicides we have left, and nobody likes to

think their tropical fruit salad has been

marinated in methyl bromide. Long story short,

Agent Mulder?”

“Sorry,” Mulder grinned, coming out of a

deepening slump. “I was about ready to sacrifice

myself to the nearest passing mano.”

Lutz, accustomed to worshipful sophomores

and calculating post-grads, beamed at his

passenger’s refreshing candor. “Occupational

hazard — I frequently lapse into lecture hall

mode when I get into this subject. Why I

windsurf and immerse myself in The Simpsons on

the weekends. And very nice pronunciation,

Agent, although nothing sticks out like a sore

haole like a mainlander peppering his speech

with island lingo.”

“Mahalo.”

“You’re quite welcome.”

“The papayas?” Scully prompted tonelessly,

brushing another red lock from her sunburnt

face. Mulder waggled his fist, thumb and pinky

extended, in a surfer “chill out” gesture. She

surreptitiously started to offer an alternative

gesture, but thought better of it, and nibbled

at the sweet Hawaiian roll that enveloped her

pit-cooked pork .

“Long story short, before your partner

surrenders to the sharks” the professor

repeated. “Biotechnology comes to the rescue —

I should say molecular biology, because biotech

goes back thousands of years to when the native

Meso-Americans manipulated maize into its

current harvestable ear state. In this case, my

university colleagues were able to build

biological rust resistance into indigenous

papaya varieties without changing either the

content, the natural function, or the

environmental impact of the plant. Didn’t sit

too well with some of the organic folks, but you

can’t have an organic market without a product

to sell. GMO papayas very likely saved Hawaii’s

economy. Oops, more defensive hyperbole.

“But my point is, despite the politicized

rumblings of the European trade community and

the capitalistic fear-mongering of some ‘non-

GMO’ food companies, we have in our hands the

tools to meet the food and agricultural needs of

a global population that could grow to six

billion within the next 50 years. Imagine rice

engineered to provide a child the vitamin A

necessary to stave off blindness or disease.

Drought-resistant cassava that could survive in

the shadows of the Nigerian hunger relief camps.

We have the tropical climate, the relative

isolation from major cross-pollinating farm

crops, the international scientific support for

finding biotechnological answers. China knows

it, India knows it, sub-Saharan Africa knows it,

though it doesn’t yet have the means to fully

exploit it. It’s the mall-shopping yuppie

housewife we still have to convince.”

Scully tucked her Laura Ashley-shorn feet

under her, spitting hair. “At the same time,

Professor, hasn’t Hawaii been somewhat notorious

for biotech problems over the last few years?”

Lutz nodded, as if Scully had scored a

glancing blow in a classroom sparring match. “I

assume you’re referring to the recent federal

sanctions against Monsanto and the others for

failing to follow proper field test protocols.

Yes, I’ll admit there are certain pitfalls when

you transfer technology from the university lab

to the bottomliners at some multinational

biosciences outfit. The Prodigene incidents in

Iowa and Nebraska back in Iowa demonstrated that

— the company’s error set pharmaceutical crops

research and God knows what Third World medical

advances back at least five years.

“You can’t hire some kid who was making

gorditas at the Taco Bell last week to dispose

of GMO crop wastes or fudge a foot or two on

EPA-prescribed test plot buffers. I’m adamant

with my colleagues and students that we must

jump through all the federal hoops if we hope to

be a credible force for the world. But I can

assure you, there was no imminent threat of

environmental contamination in the cases you’re

citing.”

“What about animal biotechnology?” Mulder

challenged. “There’s a big difference between

goosing up a soybean or papaya plant and

genetically tinkering with some fish or mammal

whose natural tendency’s going to be to tango

with whatever fish or mammal strikes its fancy.”

Scully’s sunglasses slipped to the tip of

her nose as she gaped at her partner’s flippant

— not to mention simplistically anthromorphic –

– characterization of mammalian and

icthyological reproductive processes. Dr. Lutz

cackled.

“Sorry, just watched Finding Nemo last

night, and the picture of ahi or bonito

tangoing…” the biologist said. “Of course,

animal biotechnology is an entirely different,

ah, animal, than plant biotech. Not only in

purely molecular and physiological terms, but

also in a sociological context. When the Scots

successfully cloned cells from a sheep, the

public began to conjure images of genetically

engineered armies of slave monkeys produced to

perform sub-minimum wage duties for the

corporate machine.”

“Might improve the service at Burger

King,” Mulder suggested. Scully’s loud sigh was

lost in the crashing tides.

“And then 60 Minutes came out with its

‘analysis’ of biotech salmon a couple of years

ago, and anyone who’d ever seen a bad ’70s

horror film became convinced we were going to be

setting hordes of mutant coho loose in the

Columbia to swim upstream and converge on

Seattle.”

“I see Bruce Willis, lots of screaming

Starbucks drinkers.”

“Precisely. But what you really would like

to know is whether whatever is responsible for

these recent fishkills and that poor

unfortunate’s death is some genetically mutated,

homicidal yellowfin tuna that has developed an

appetite for human flesh.”

“Ask any geneticist you happen to see…”

Mulder sang.

“Sorry, Charlie,” Lutz responded dryly. “I

served on a National Institutes of Health panel

that examined Pescorp’s research protocols for

Event T-12 — the modified yellowfin. Are you

familiar with diploid and triploid development

in catfish, salmon, and other aquacultural

species, Dr. Scully?” Scully nodded in

consultation. “Agent Mul–?” Lutz smiled

indulgently, and Mulder looked at a now-smiling

Scully in indignation. “Let’s just say modified

aquatic species are, in effect, built to be

sterile. They do not have the capacity to

reproduce, by design. T-12 was modified in this

manner, so first of all, if a specimen was to be

released into the wild, it could not possibly

procreate, or tango, as you put it, Agent

Mulder.

“Secondly, as a precaution against

liability or environmental damage, all test

specimens of T-12 were engineered with a gene

conferring extreme nutrient deficiencies. The

GMO yellowfin are kept in a medium with

abnormally high levels of manganese, potassium,

and other nutrients present. If one were

introduced into an environment without this

signature cocktail of nutrients, it would die

within a day or so, if that much. I’ve seen all

the documentation — it’s a foolproof safeguard.

“And finally, the idea that the particular

growth promotant genes incorporated into T-12

could turn it into some kind of hyper-

testosterone killing machine, well, that’s a

Bruce Willis movie. If you want the full

scientific explanation, Agent Mulder, …”

Scully snorted.

“No, I’ll take your word for it — at

least for now,” Mulder nodded, ignoring her.

“You said you’ve reviewed Pescorp’s research

protocols. Did that include the company’s

security systems? How difficult would it have

been to steal one of the T-12s?”

“I’m no security specialist, but I would

think extremely difficult,” the scientist

considered. “Beyond federal regulatory

expectations, I should think Pescorp has

considerable capital invested in those tuna.

They have the resources to protect their

investment to the maximum extent possible. And I

truly can’t believe they’d attempt to cover up

the disappearance of a specimen.”

“Truly, Prof. Lutz?” Mulder posed, raising

a Scullian eyebrow. “Is nicotine truly

addictive, Doctor? You have any stock in Enron?”

Lutz chuckled. “Your somewhat paranoid

point is well taken, Agent. But, again, how

could anyone get beyond Pescorp’s security?

Unless…”

“It was an inside job,” Scully supplied.

Royal Aha’aina Luau

6:23 p.m.

“Nah, the guys at Pescorp are all as

straight as the day is long,” Kamehana assured

Mulder as he forked a pile of cold octopus onto

his plate. He’d used his law enforcement

connections to snag a couple of tickets to

purportedly Maui’s finest luau, and after an

introductory Lava Flow, even Scully’s jet-lagged

disposition had improved considerably. “I’ve

known Chuck Kinau’s family since I was a kid.

His dad and granddad were fishermen here ’til

they had a few years’ run of bad luck. Chuck

worked patrol until Pescorp offered him and a

few of the guys more money.”

“His family lived off the sea,” Mulder

noted, eyeing a dish of mahi-mahi in macadamia

cream sauce. “Could he have become sympathetic

with MKA’s cause, maybe decided to use his

access to help them?”

Kamehana shook his head curtly. “Chuck pees

red, white, and blue — he was Marines in the

Gulf, worked for the Bush side the last

election. Never had any use for the enviros or

the animal rightists. Calls ’em ‘haoles in

sheep’s clothing.'”

“Just in case, maybe you want to check his

whereabou–”

“Time-punched in at Pescorp, third shift,

when Crowther was killed. Helluva a lot more

definitive than trying to nail down Vince Makule

killing a six-pack with his buddies on the North

Shore. McGarrett’s got nothing on the Maui PD,

brother.”

Mulder took a breath, glancing over at

Scully, who was engaged in conversation with a

pasty older couple in garish aloha togs. “What

did you make of Jameson’s story?”

“Sounds like a falling-out between

comrades,” Kamehana theorized. “I’m checking out

any Kaui connections for Pete, even though he

stuck pretty much to himself.”

“Which for ex-CIA could in itself be

suspicious behavior. No, I meant the menehune

part. Tell me about the menehune.”

The lieutenant sought any sign Mulder was

kidding, and shook his shaggy head in bemusement

when he found none. “Holy crap, you’re serious.

Well, legend goes that when the Polynesians

first settled out here, they found heiaus —

temples — dams, and fish ponds. Some of the

first real aquaculture was practiced here, you

know — long before Pescorp started tinkering

with tuna. Anyway, the Polynesians thought all

of this was built by the little people, the

menehune, who lived in caves on the islands.

“A menehune’s kinda like a leprechaun,

except with bipolar. Each one has its own

personality, but a menehune can be mean and

dangerous one day and harmless the next. They

have a leprechaun’s cunning, and they say you

oughtta stay clear of them.”

“And what do they look like?” Mulder asked.

Kamehana laughed as he dished up some

kahuna pork. “Subject’s six inches to two feet

in height, naked, long straight hair. You want

me to put out an APB?”

Mulder grinned. “Just speculating. Jameson

may be one mai-tai short of a luau, but I think

he saw something relevant out there. I just have

to make a few connections. Ah, I see my

partner’s managed to shake off Ma and Pa Kettle.

Hey, Scully, over here.”

Before the redheaded agent could reply, a

stereo warbling rang through the buffet tent.

Mulder and Kamehana reached simultaneously for

their cell phones.

“Aloha,” Mulder greeted.

“Yeah,” Kamehana rapped out.

“Mekaleka heinie ho, Mulder,” Frohike

grunted. “How goes it in the land of lethal UV

rays and bootie-licious wahines?”

“Answers now, whacking later, OK?” Mulder

said. “What’d you find out about Crowther?”

“Peter Crowther, AKA Pieter Krause, AKA

Pedro Cruz, was not your usual spook.

Apparently, he was recruited out of NASA, where

he did some of early lunar rover research,

satellite robotics, and the like. My guy at the

Company says he did a lot of high-tech, black

budget project work. During the ’80s and ’90s,

Crowther moved around a lot between Central

China, Brazil, India, and, for some reason,

Oregon. His cover was he was some kind of

environmental engineering consultant.”

“Environmental engineering,” Mulder

murmured. “CIA, he’d know where the bodies — or

the toxic waste — was buried. Any word of why

he left the agency?”

“I looked into your eco-angle. My

Greenpeace guy never heard of him, and he hasn’t

been laid in years. If Crowther’s a tree-hugger,

he must just be cuckoo for coconuts.”

“You paint a dark and disturbing picture,

my diminutive friend,” Mulder moaned. “Mahalo,

Frohike.”

“De nada, Mulder,” the Gunman returned.

“Save a whale for me, and if you happen to get

any Polaroids of the pulchritudinous Agent

Scully basking on the beach, save one of those

for me, too.”

“You’re a sick little menehune,” Mulder

said affectionately, ending the call. Kamehana

was pocketing his phone, a plateful of meat and

fruit balanced in his other hand. “Got some

curious background on your victim. What do

China, India, Brazil, and the Pacific Northwest

have in common?”

“Probably all got Starbucks every other

corner by now,” Kamehana guessed. “That was my

buddy at the federal courthouse. We finally got

our warrant for the Pescorp lab. Go in tomorrow

morning, if that’s soon enough for you.”

“Gotta meet my three mai-tai limit,” Mulder

assured him, heading for the table. “Scully’s

designated driver.”

His partner had shed herself of the AARP

carders but was being assailed by a pudgy

spectacled man and his well-fed wife. Scully

smiled forcefully as Mulder set his groaning

plate on the long communal table.

“Mulder, this is Clark and Carol,” Scully

said. Clark beamed sharkishly, as if eyeing new

conversational prey.

“The little woman bending your ear?”

Mulder asked, reaching across to grasp a pink

sea cucumber of a hand.

“This is your husband, Dana?” Carol

purred.

“No,” Mulder replied, avoiding Scully’s

glare. “What’s your 20, Clark?”

“Columbus, Ohio,” their tablemate

announced. “I teach social studies at one of the

high schools. That’s part of why I’m here. We

were thinking Branson this year, but I told

Carol, ‘You know, we’re living in a global

village now. Why don’t we see how the other half

lives, expose ourselves to another culture.”

“Clark’s something of an amateur linguist,”

Scully said, rising. “Why don’t you tell him

about that while I hit the little girl’s, ah,

the lady’s room.”

“I’ll go with you, dear,” Carol volunteered

as she struggled to her feet, and Mulder shot

Scully a retaliatory smirk.

“I’m not really a professional linguist,

uh…” Clark began. “Mulder your last name or your

Christian name?”

“Call me Fox,” Mulder invited, drawing a

perplexed look.

“Yeah, Fox…I’m really fascinated by

regional dialects — the different words they

call things and why, the way how folks live

affects how they talk. Like you take the

Hawaiian language, for instance. They got three

different sets of first-person possessive

pronouns. It has to do with the relationship

between the possessor and the possessee.

Possessee?”

“I get your meaning,” Mulder smiled, mouth

going rapidly dry.

“See, if you’re talking about something

like a body part or a relative like a father or

a sister, something you can’t control having or

that’s like an extension of yourself, then you

say ‘ko’u’ — ko’u po’o would be ‘my head.'”

“My head,” Mulder agreed, rubbing his

temple.

“But if it’s something you just own, like a

cup or a plate, or your kids, who you

consciously chose to have, then you say ‘ka’u.’

But, then, if you want to avoid having to choose

between ko and ka, you can say ku. Then you get

into some of the cultural nuances — well, I

could go on forever.”

“I bet.” Jim Kamehana approached, looking

to Mulder like a knight with a meat-laden

shield. “Hey, Clark, this is Jim — he’s a cop

on the island, and something of an expert on the

language and the culture. Maybe he can tell you

more about possessive pronouns.”

Clark’s eyes lit up. “Hey, Jimmy, maybe you

could explain the differences in Hawaiian and

Tahitian consonant use…”

“Not to mention the Maoris,” Kamehana

added, launching into a lengthy and academic

discourse that had Clark initially spellbound

but ultimately dazed. When Scully returned,

Carol having peeled off to watch a pair of half-

naked luau performers carve volcano gods, Mulder

cornered her.

“OK, what do China, India, Brazil, and

Oregon have in common?” he posed.

“Except for Oregon, a tendency to over-

spice their entrees,” Scully guessed. “Mulder,

if you want to play Scattergories, we can do

that later at the hotel. I may even know an

interesting new adult variation.”

“I’m just trying to figure out what Peter

Crowther was up to during his CIA years, and

whether it may have some relevance to the case

at hand. I mean, maybe this whole tuna thing is

a red herring. Who’s better at ‘staging’ an

accident or a suicide than our friends with The

Company? Maybe Crowther knew something his ex-

coworkers wanted hushed up.”

“First of all, we have no evidence Crowther

was murdered,” Scully countered. “And if the CIA

wanted to stage a fatal accident for Crowther,

don’t you think they’d have come up with

something a little more, oh, ordinary? Like a

car crash or a drowning? A tuna mauling isn’t

exactly an inconspicuous way to kill someone.”

Mulder frowned, and played absently with

his octopus. “OK, Crowther was a gadget guy with

NASA before he signed on as a professional

spook. That tell you anything?”

“It tells me he’d probably have got on

famously with Clark,” Scully sulked. “When are

they bringing on the guys with the loin cloths?

And don’t give me that look, Mulder — not after

you asked me to model that ridiculous coconut

shell bra. If I like the talent tonight, maybe

I’ll rethink my position.”

Mulder grabbed a passing waitress. “Excuse

me. When’s the show start?”

A cell phone sounded. Mulder and Kamehana

went for their pockets, but Scully held up a

finger and reached into her handbag. “Dana

Scully. Yes. No, it’s fine. What did you come up

with?…What?…How’s that possible? There must

be some trace…No, I’m sure they did, but maybe

you could ask them to double-check…OK, thanks.”

Scully held the phone for a moment longer,

frowning, before she closed it.

“What?” Mulder asked.

She looked up. “That was the M.E. — the

DNA tests on Crowther and those fish came back.”

Scully turned to Kamehana. “Any time an animal

violently attacks a person, there are almost

always traces of saliva, blood, other remnants

of genetic material left as they maul the

victim.”

Carol’s fork dropped.

“Given the depth of the wounds particularly

in Crowther’s case, even the sea water he was in

shouldn’t have washed away all traces of DNA or

tissue. But they couldn’t find any foreign DNA

in either the fish or Crowther. Not merely

unusable or contaminated samples, but no

samples.”

“My,” Clark breathed.

Lahaina, Maui

1 a.m.

The bartender at The Kahuna Schooner

watched with a vague sense of concern as Bobby

Jameson stumbled out of the establishment. The

young guy at the bar had taken pity on the old

souse and bought him a few rounds, even listened

to Jameson’s probably fictional tales of the

merchant marines and his postwar conquest of the

local wahines. Finally, the old guy had worn

himself out and decided to set out in search of

a nesting place for the night.

Jameson made it nearly to the door before

he collided with the jukebox. He let loose with

a stream of profanity.

The young guy glanced at the bartender, who

shrugged, and sighed as he hopped off his stool.

“C’mon, ka’u makua kane, let me help you.”

The bartender shook his head at the young

samaritan, and turned to the cute not-so-young

thing at the end of the bar. The young guy

guided the old man out the door, and the sound

of crashing waves momentarily eclipsed Jimi

Hendrix from the bruised box.

“Nice night out, Pop,” the younger man

noted. “At least you got some good weather to

sleep under the stars.”

“Fuckin’ Chamber of Commies,” Jameson

burbled, grabbing his new friend’s sleeve as he

trudged through the sand beyond The Schooner.

“Public beach — gotta right to use it just as

mucha those tourist ass-haoles. ‘S a violation

of my constipational rights.”

“It’s OK, Pop,” the young man said,

steering Jameson toward the water’s edge. “You

oughtta be able to crash in the pilings under

the Seafood Shack without nobody bothering you.

Hey, look, what is that?”

“Whattya lookin’?” Jameson mumbled,

following the man’s gaze out toward the black

ocean. He squinted.

“Looks like some kinda box or something,”

the young guy drawled, pulling free of the old

man. “Maybe fell off one of the freighters or

something. Loot from the sea.”

“I don’t see nothin’…”

“Out there, right before the breakers, out

Lanai direction.”

Jameson leaned forward, then began to nod

slowly. “Yeah, yeah, I see it. You think there

may be somethin’ in there? Somethin’ worth

somethin’?”

“Dunno. Hey, where you goin’, Pop. You

better not go out there — you been tying it on

pretty good.”

Just as he’d predicted, Jameson’s combined

greed and pride drew him toward the sea, toward

the parcel the younger man firmly moored about

30 yards out before he’d begun to pour beer down

the old guy’s gullet. Jameson stumbled through

the sand, kicking off his ragged boat shoes as

he eyed the potential fortune bobbing on the

nearby waves. “Watch them shoes, boy. I’ll cut

you in.”

The young man smiled grimly as the derelict

treaded into the water, toward his treasure. He

reached into his pocket, withdrew the device

he’d been supplied, and sent the signal.

Jameson was nearly out-of-breath by the

time he swam the last ten yards to the floating

crate, but booze, a life of hard living and

survival, and avarice empowered him. He hoped

that whatever the crate might contain wouldn’t

have been damaged by the corrosive sea salt. If

it was packaged food, at least it would provide

a few days’ nourishment. If it was something

more valuable, he could maybe sell it for

something more appetizing.

Finally, he bumped into the crate, cursing.

It was large, but not unwieldy, and Jameson

figured the young fella could help him back to

shore with it. In the pale light of the moon, he

could make out stenciling on the side of the

box.

COLA? Wasn’t Bobby’s drink of choice, but…

No, it was longer. C-O-L-O-N-I-A-L. MAUI.

TROPICAL. P-L-A-N-T-A—

A pair of hands suddenly appeared at the

edge of the crate, and a face materialized. Wet

hair, angry eyes, a mouth full of sharp teeth.

“Menehune,” Jameson tried to whisper before

it struck.

Lahaina, Maui

7:05 a.m.

“Poor old Bobby,” Kamehana eulogized,

patting the corpse’s shoulder. The morning tide

had washed Jameson against a small dune, and

he’d been found by a local seeking tourist booty

with his metal detector. A trio of uniformed

officers were scouring the beach for clues, and

a cluster of tourists had gathered on the bank

above.

“At least a dozen sets of bite marks,

consistent with Crowther’s,” Scully observed,

crouching beside the dead witness. “And here’s

something else…See that scar on his face?”

“Probably when he washed ashore,” Mulder

suggested above her.

“I don’t think so,” she frowned. “I can see

traces of dried blood, and if he was dead before

the tide brought him in, as I’m assuming, he

wouldn’t have bled. Look closely — there’s two

lighter scratches alongside. Almost as if

someone had raked their fingernails across his

face.”

“Think smaller, Scully,” Mulder said.

“Those marks are too close together to be

human.”

His partner looked up, skeptically. “What

are you suggesting, Mulder? That this man was

attacked by one of those little people? Those

mene-whosis?”

“Menehune,” Kamehune corrected. He looked

warily at Mulder. “Tell me that isn’t what

you’re thinking, Mulder.”

“You might want to get that APB out,” the

agent advised.

Pescorp Commercial Marine Research and

Development Center

Kehei, Maui

11:02 a.m.

Ronald Gennari was as cordial as any man

could be surrounded by representatives of four

government agencies and looking down the barrel

of a federal warrant.

“Let’s get this the hell over with,” the

Pescorp VP rumbled, slapping the warrant into

his lead attorney’s palm. He scanned the throng

gathered about him. “This is the most ludicrous

waste of both my company’s and the taxpayers’

time I’ve ever witnessed. C’mon.”

As the EPA, USFWS, and USDA bureaucrats

sorted out the niceties with Gennari’s legal

crew, Mulder examined the tubular ceiling-to-

floor tanks that lined the Pescorp Research

lobby. A trio of yellowfin tuna glided through

the tube closest to the terse group.

“FBI, huh?” a spectacled, immaculately put-

together man ventured at Scully’s shoulder.

“Carl Nahimi, Mr. Gennari’s executive

assistant.”

“Special Agent Dana Scully,” she said

uncertainly. “Yes. We are. FBI, I mean.”

“Let me ask you,” Nahimi lowered his voice,

moving further into Scully’s personal space. “Do

you really believe one of our T-12s could’ve

killed a man? The very notion’s absurd.”

She caught Mulder’s eye. He waggled his

eyebrows, and a spark of annoyance ignited in

her gut. “Any more absurd than attempting to

engineer a jumbo colossal megatuna?”

Surprisingly, Scully hadn’t antagonized

Nahimi. “How much do you know about the

commercial fisheries industry, Agent?”

“A little…”

“The world’s annual yellowfin catch is

rapidly surpassing 300,000 metric tons per

year,” he explained with a smile. “While Pescorp

adheres strictly to best industry practices —

we’re 100 percent dolphin-safe — the commercial

industry is coming under a lot of heat from the

environmental movement. Believe me, dead

dolphins and sea turtles do not make good

advertising copy.”

Gennari set off with the feds and lawyers

in tow, and Nahimi gently took Scully’s elbow.

She heard Mulder snicker behind them. “The

yellowfin was an ideal focus for our pilot

genetic enhancement program. It’s a prolific

breeder with a relatively rapid maturation.

We’ve enhanced those traits, along with

promoting increased size and meat yield and a

greater ability to predict sex and maturity.

That should help improve managed production and

reduce the need for wild catch. And to top it

off, we’ve tweaked the T-12 to produce greater

concentrations of the essential fish oils

nutritionists have linked to improved cardiac

health.

“What we hope to accomplish with the T-12

project is not just increased productivity and a

higher profit margin for one of our fastest-

growing product lines, but a new level of

industry stewardship and community

responsibility. It’s basically the same

philosophy the crop biotech firms have adopted:

Getting more production out of fewer acres. More

captive production, less risk to innocent marine

wildlife and less overfishing of the species.

And our plan is to contract yellowfin tank

production throughout the islands, much like

Tyson and Smithfield contract poultry and hog

production on the mainland. That should create

new economic opportunities for farmers and

laborers at our planned new ahi processing

plant. It’s a win-win. Um, a win-win-win.”

“But you still have to clear FDA,” Mulder

asked, drawing an annoyed backwards glance from

Gennari’s assistant. “And it would appear you

have some strong activist opposition to the idea

of genetically engineered fish.”

“We’re trying to steer clear of that

term,” Nahimi said, somewhat peevishly. “We

prefer to say ‘genetically enhanced.’ In fact,

we plan to use that in our advertising/marketing

program: ‘Nature made it good; we’ve made it

great.'”

“How about ‘Good to the last bite?'”

Mulder suggested.

“Excuse me,” Nahimi said frostily,

releasing Scully’s arm and moving to Gennari’s

side by the card-scan console that provided

access to the yellowfin research lab.

“Great mother of Mrs. Paul’s!” Mulder

breathed as he scanned the outsized tanks

throughout the room. The three regulatory agency

reps glared at the agent; Gennari regarded him

as if he were a new species of bony, bitter-

tasting bottomfeeder, and Nahimi’s jaw hung

open. Scully created distance from Mulder.

The seven T-12s were identical in

appearance to the tuna in the lobby tanks, but

were larger than a trophy swordfish. Gennari’s

eyes flickered quickly to one of the T-12s.

“Somebody get me a harpoon and a tub of

cocktail sauce,” Mulder marveled.

“The warrant,” the EPA representative

announced, too loudly, “specifies that we’re to

draw tissue samples from each of the modified

Thunnus albacares, for purposes of genetic

verification. I’m to be present during all

phases of sampling and testing.”

“You think we pulled a switch or

something?” Gennari blustered incredulously,

glancing again at the T-12. “You think we just

pulled a jumbo tuna out of our, ah, hat?”

“We’re mandated to ensure no environmental

release of a yet-unapproved organism has

occurred,” EPA droned. “Verified reassurance no

such event has occurred is as much for your

company’s benefit as it is for the public’s. We

just want to confirm that each of these seven

specimens carries the marker gene that

identifies it as the event T-12.”

“This guy must be a real hoot at a luau,”

Mulder whispered to Scully, who swatted at him.

“Hey, you notice Mr. Big Fish keeps looking at

that tuna?”

“Yeahhh?” Scully murmured. “So what?”

“The same tuna. Like he’s anxious or

nervous. Why?”

“I don’t know,” she hissed.

“Who’s going to conduct the sampling?” EPA

asked.

“Excuse me,” Mulder said after studying

Gennari eyeing the T-12. The three wise feds,

Gennari, the lawyers, and Nahimi turned as one.

“Oh, God,” Scully sighed.

“Sorry to interrupt, but your DNA test?

Can it be used to match samples as well as

identify a marker gene?”

EPA examined the agent silently for a

moment. “What do you mean? What samples are you

suggesting we compare?”

“That fish there,” Mulder said, pointing

to the focus of Gennari’s ill-hidden attention,

“with each of the other six specimens.”

“This man’s FBI, isn’t he?” one of the

Pescorp attorneys, a short young woman with a

close-cropped Afro, protested. “By what

authority…?”

Gennari just stared at Mulder, his eyes

wide and unblinking.

“You cloned that yellowfin from one of the

others, didn’t you?” the agent challenged.

“What are you suggesting?” the lawyer

demanded.

As Scully tried to shrink into the

background, Mulder looked directly at a

dumbstruck Gennari.

“Gentlemen,” he proclaimed, “I believe one

of our tuna is missing.”

**

Why did I ever leave Boston?, Rebecca

Washington pondered as she sat beside a sweating

Ronald Gennari, amid a sea of feds. A

taxidermied tarpon — a recent catch by the

senior VP — looked accusingly down at the

conference table and his killer.

Washington had left, well, not a lucrative

but at least a meaningful practice in

Massachusetts, after her mentor and senior

partner Bobby Donnell had bailed out. A few

months of floundering on her own, accepting

personal injury and drug cases, had made the

offer from Pescorp’s home office extremely

attractive. They’d watched her impressive

performance in a few well-publicized

litigations, and read about the persuasive Mass

Supreme Court appeal that had led to the

acquittal of convicted murderer Lindsay Dole,

one of Washington’s partners.

When Pescorp offered a six-figure salary

and the post in Maui, Washington recovered from

her daze long enough to pack up her winter

wardrobe for the Salvation Army. Now, one

antitrust and two price-fixing cases later, the

attorney longed for subzero temps and ankle-deep

slush.

“A voluntary consultation process is a

voluntary consultation process,” Washington

protested, grasping for the one legal point that

wasn’t too slippery or full of sharp spines.

“The cloned progeny of this test animal is not a

product intended for any commercial release. It

is merely a basic research specimen. As such,

consultation requirements do not app—”

“Your employers manufactured this creature

just for, what, the educational value?” the FDA

man challenged dryly. “You people produce fish,

for commercial sale. Even though biotech

consultation is voluntary, there is an

expectation…”

“Let’s set that aside for a moment,” the

EPA representative said before Washington could

respond with an albeit shaky point. “Where is

the T-12, the real one? Do you know its

whereabouts?”

“Ron,” Washington warned as her employer

turned salmon red and leaned forward.

“Why aren’t you–?” the VP growled.

“Ronald,” Washington flared, as if she

were disciplining a child. “You do not talk

here. I talk for you.”

“Why are you busting my balls–?”

“Shut up!” Washington shouted, slamming

her palm on the table repeatedly. The three

bureaucrats and the redhead fed stared in

stunned silence. The odd one, the one who’d

leveled the cloning accusation, was suppressing

a giggle.

“—when you oughtta be out there looking

for those tree-hugging cocksuckers who stole our

fish?!” Gennari roared.

Washington inhaled, let it slowly go, and

planted her palms on the conference table. She

swept her notes into her briefcase and rose.

“The hell are you going?” Gennari snapped.

“Back to the arctic wasteland, Baby,”

Washington said as the hall door shushed close

behind her. The room fell silent.

“And we still haven’t been offered so much

as a cup of coffee,” Mulder observed.

Lahaina, Maui

4:46 p.m.

“And this is…?” Scully inquired, her

sunglasses sliding down her sunblocked nose.

“This is the Lava Flow,” Mulder said,

depositing the slushy, fruity concoction on the

towel next to her chaise. “Guaranteed to chase

away cloned supertunas, killer menehunes, and

deceased CIA agents.”

She glanced down into the drink. “And

perhaps loosen my inhibitions?”

“There is that.” Mulder, bedecked in a

Roswell T-shirt and cargo shorts, took the

lounge chair next to Scully’s.

“OK, let’s hear it,” she sighed, laying

back.

“What?”

“You know. The T-12 was stolen from

Pescorp, and the company was covering it up. I

was just up in the room, and it’s already made

CNN.”

“Sooo?”

“Just get it out of your system. I was

wrong, and you had a valid theory.”

“Yow, don’t humble yourself too much,”

Mulder said. “Look, Scully, it doesn’t matter

who reached the proper conclusion — we’ve found

a big piece of the puzzle. And one more

important thing: Ya-ya-ya, I nailed it!”

“Good,” Scully muttered. “Where are we

eating?”

“$12.95 lobster. Six-ish?”

“Fine. And, oh, by the way: Extensive river

infrastructure.”

“What?”

“China, India, Brazil, and Oregon. All have

major rivers — the Yangtze, the Ganges, the

Amazon, and the Columbia. Whatever that tells

you.”

Mulder stared out at the dark shape of

Lanai on the horizon. “Rivers. CIA.”

“Are we playing Catchphrase now?”

“Something’s resonating, but I can’t quite

grasp it.”

“It’ll come to you,” Scully assured him

drowsily, closing her eyes and turning her face

to the setting sun. A cool shadow fell across

her, and her eyes blinked open. Mulder was

standing before her, a digital camera in his

hands.

“What are you doing?”

Mulder lined up a shot. “I promised

Frohike.”

“The drink stays…” Scully began.

**

“YES!”

Scully jumped at Mulder’s exclamation. “Are

you starting again without me?” she mumbled as

her cardiac rate slowed and her eyes adjusted to

the darkness. Mulder came into focus, his face

and torso illuminated in the glow of his laptop

as he pecked away at the hotel room work table.

“Actually,” Mulder said, “your somewhat

over-analytical comments the first time dampened

my ardor. The good news is, you’re about to get

even in the points.”

“What do you mean?” Scully yawned, crawling

out of bed and padding over.

“Just that I think you may have been right

all along about the T-12.”

“Mulder, help me here…”

“I don’t think the missing T-12 was

responsible for the fishkills or either of the

murders,” Mulder said, jerking his head toward

the web page displayed on his Thinkpad. Scully

leaned in.

“‘CIA gadgets: Robot ‘bugs,’ pigeon camera,

jungle microphones,'” she read. “What is this, a

wire story?”

“Associated Press, from about three or four

months ago,” Mulder reported. “I thought I

remembered reading about how The Company had

been involved with building these goofy, ‘Get

Smart’-style surveillance/infiltration devices,

from robotic dragonflies they could use to plant

window bugs to mock tiger dung that can conceal

a radio transmitter in a jungle war zone.”

“This is what you woke me up for?” Scully

complained. “A bunch of covert dweebs inventing

toys to justify their black budgets?”

“Wait a minute. Scroll down — right

there.”

“‘Besides the jungle transmitter, the

exhibits include a robotic catfish, a remote-

controlled dragonfly, and a camera strapped to

the chests of pigeons and released over enemy

targets in the 1970s,'” Scully glanced at her

partner. “Robotic catfish?”

“Yup. In 2000, the CIA built a catfish

named Charlie, quote, ‘a remarkably realistic

swimming robot.’ The Agency won’t say anything

about how it was used, but some experts think it

may have been designed to collect water samples

near suspected chemical or nuclear plants.

Problem is, the catfish robot, uh, robot

catfish, was so realistic that it could be eaten

by predators while on a mission. So sorry,

Charlie. Scully, what if we’re dealing with a

robotic tuna? What if this was what Crowther was

working on all those years on the Yangtze, on

the Amazon?”

Scully plopped onto the edge of the bed,

silently meditating. “You know, as ridiculous as

it sounds, it would explain why we were unable

to find any foreign DNA in Crowther or those

dead fish. But, Mulder, the bite marks were a

precise match for a yellowfin. Realistic fins

and scales, realistic movements — those would

be essential to pass a…robot fish…off as the

real thing, at least from a reasonable distance.

But why realistic teeth?”

“Maybe this tuna was designed to kill,”

Mulder suggested. “Specifically designed to

replace the T-12 — the one that was stolen.

Crowther wouldn’t be the first sociopathic spy

to be born again: Maybe he applied his knowledge

to help Makule and his buddies make a point

about biotechnology. The giant mutant tuna

disappears from the lab, and the next thing you

know, fish are dying all over the island.

Jameson said Crowther and the other man arguing

with him kept yelling about Kaui. What if he

misheard it, in his inebriated state? What if

Crowther’s friend was yelling, ‘Ko’u ahi.’ ‘My

yellowfin.’ Granted, it ain’t Shakespeare. But

why would these two environmentalists — avowed

enemies — be claiming a genetically engineered

fish as their own? I think the two of them —

Crowther and Makule — fell into a power

struggle over their robotic tuna. Maybe Makule

wanted to make a real point, set the thing loose

on a few fat tourists. Like I think he did with

Crowther and Jameson.”

Scully exhaled as she took it in. “But,

Mulder, wouldn’t something like this bionic tuna

cost tens of thousands, maybe more, to produce?

How would Crowther or Makule come up with the

funds or resources to build this thing? And why

were you so coy with Kamehana today about the

menewhosises?”

Mulder turned, his arm drooping over the

chairback. “Menehune. I think I found the answer

to that, too.” He clicked up his bookmarks and

punched a key, looking to Scully in triumph. His

partner examined the image on the screen.

“Ah huh…” she replied.

“Yoicks,” Mulder yelped.

Scully patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll

issue a warrant for Ms. Hilton in the morning.”

Colonial Maui Tropical Plantation

9:07 a.m.

“Like so many young idealists in search of

a divine cause, Vincent Makule made his rounds

of the activist community,” Mulder explained to

Kamehana as the tall palms of the Tropical

Plantation came into view. “I Googled him last

night: He came up in a news story about

Greenpeace fighting recreational boaters they

blamed for injuring a humpback whale, an item

about a PETA demonstration at a Waikiki

boutique, and, right before he came to work

here, an outdated news release about his work

with the Pacific Primate Rescue Program. They

save monkeys, chimps, and the like from small

zoos, animal test labs, and the like, and

relocate them in the islands.”

Mulder pulled into the plantation parking

lot, where a shuttleful of seniors was

debarking. Scully and Kamehana trailed him

through the crowded welcome center and out

toward the tram loading station. “Makule’s

specialty was animal relocation. When he left

the rescue program, under what I understand were

less than amicable circumstances, Makule took

one of the monkeys with him — a capuchin. He

came to Maui and landed this job at the

plantation, but apparently his landlord had a

no-apes policy.

“I called the owner of the plantation this

morning, and he told me the monkey, AKA Dakota,

came as a package deal with Makule. Although

Dakota is prone to biting anyone but Makule and

occasionally flinging his own feces at loud or

obnoxious tourists, the management seems to feel

the monkey was the better part of the deal.”

“While I’m never averse to getting out of

the office,” Lt. Kamehana said, “can I ask how

this is relevant?”

Mulder turned to Scully. “My God, you’ve

begun to rub off on the natives. Right up there,

Lieutenant,” the agent instructed, waving toward

the plantation zoo. “See, I don’t think Bobby

Jameson’s delusions about the menehune lurking

about Peter Crowther’s house were really

delusions at all. I think Makule was the man

Crowther was arguing with the night he was

killed, and Dakota was along either for the ride

or maybe even to manage the robotic tuna,

somehow. Even some of the lower primates have an

amazing ability to learn complex series of

commands.”

“The robotic tuna?” Kamehana pondered.

“Later,” Scully urged.

“Scully sent off a new DNA sample from

that scratch we found on Jameson. If we can get

some hair or whatever from Dakota, I’ll bet we

come up with a match. We may even be able to

find some trace evidence from Crowther’s house

or yard in the monkey’s habita—”

Mulder had arrived at the capuchin’s

large, wire-enclosed frame habitat. The

enclosure was empty. The agent corralled one of

the plantation staff, who was feeding a small

rodent.

“Excuse me,” he asked, flashing his Bureau

credentials. “Where’s the monkey?”

“One of the guys — Vince — had a yelling

match with the boss yesterday,” she informed.

“It got kinda ugly, and the boss thinks he took

Dakota along with some cash and a couple cases

of bananas last night.”

“I’ll get somebody over to Makule’s

apartment,” Kamehana volunteered. “And we’ll get

a tech crew to go over this cage.”

“I’m guessing you won’t find Makule

watching Springer,” Mulder lamented. “He’s

probably gone underground.”

“Small island,” Kamehana noted calmly.

“We’ll get out word at the airports and the

docks, ‘case he tries to get out by boat. You

want to go back to town?”

Mulder scratched his neck in distracted

irritation. “Yeah, thanks. I want to check up on

something.”

“I’ll check on the results of the DNA

test,” Scully said.

Her partner stared at the empty habitat.

“Damned dirty ape,” Mulder muttered.

Hawaii State University Maui Marine Sciences

Center

Kahalui, Maui

3:21 p.m.

Dark shapes glided along the perimeter of

the tank below Philip Lutz. The geneticist

studied the impassive grace of the mako sharks,

sleek and quiet but filled with some of the most

mindlessly lethal potential in either the

vertebrate or invertebrate worlds.

Though Dr. Lutz’ world existed largely at

the cellular and molecular levels — he’d

accumulated no wife, no children, few real

friends among the focused egos of the academic

universe — he spent hours at the mako tank.

Their silent but deadly presence was a lesson —

and a model — for the researcher.

He’d grown disenchanted of late with the

frustrations and deprivations of the academic

life, and had begun swimming with sharks.

“Professor?”

Lutz turned from his sharks. “Ah, Agent

Mulder. Back for more droning revelations about

the world of biotechnology?”

“Actually,” Mulder said, “I’d like to talk

to you about robotics.”

Lutz paused before descending the metal

steps next to the mako tank. “You want the

university’s engineering department. I’m afraid

my expertise is limited to the mechanics of

chromosomal modification and adaptation.”

The agent smiled. “Don’t be modest,

Professor. I’m sure a PhD and Nobel nominee such

as yourself is a fast study. Peter Crowther may

have been the engineering mind in your little

‘project,’ but I think you provided the

zoological know-how to help him build a perfect

T-12. Plus, my guess is you provided the capital

for Crowther and Makule. I talked to your

department head at the main campus, and he told

me you’re currently managing close to $12

million in federal grants. Cutting a few corners

here and there, it wouldn’t be too tough to skim

off $50,000 or $60,000 or $100,000.”

“Agent Mulder,” Lutz sighed, “I’m afraid

I’m too disoriented by your accusations to be

outraged. But I believe you’re suggesting I have

some involvement in that man’s murder.”

“Oh, I think Vincent Makule’s the homicidal

maniac on this project. You and Crowther simply

wanted to throw a monkey wrench in Pescorp’s

biotech program, kill a few fish and create a

little public panic, right? How’d you three ever

get together? A hotheaded environmentalist, an

ex-CIA gadget guy, and a distinguished

scientist. Your whole professional life has been

devoted to unlocking the secrets of genetics.

Why suddenly throw in with the anti-biotech

faction?

“Or did you have a different agenda?”

Mulder posed. “I came across some research

abstracts on the web this morning. Genetic

Expression of Enhanced Reproductive Traits in

the Genus Thunnus. That ring a bell? Most of

your work since you came to Hawaii has been

directed at helping build disease resistance and

reproductive capacity in overfished species.

Basic, meat-and-potatoes research.”

“Basic research for the benefit of the

planet,” Lutz spat. “Not to sell tuna.”

Mulder leaned against a lab table. “You

said it yesterday. The ‘pitfalls’ that occur

‘when you transfer technology from the

university lab to the bottomliners at some

multinational biosciences outfit.’ Or when one

of your pet grad student jumps ship to sell his

soul to the corporate machine, right, Professor?

A C. Nahimi was listed next to your name on the

tuna research abstract. Did Carl barter some of

your work for a cushy research post at Pescorp?

Highly unethical, but probably difficult to

prove, especially against a deep-pocket, Fortune

500 company. When Carl dumped science altogether

to become the head honcho’s chief yes-man, that

must’ve been the last straw. Crowther and Makule

thought you’d begun to rethink your life’s work,

when really all this was about was bringing

Pescorp down. I am curious, though. How did you

manage to get the T-12 out of the Pescorp lab?”

Lutz smiled. “A man of your whimsy will

appreciate the irony. Crowther had the basic

schematics for our aquatic animatron, and, as

you pointed out, I had the creative bookkeeping

skills to help Crowther and that volatile cretin

Makule realize their ham-headed plan. Makule was

assembling a crew to break into the Pescorp lab

and ‘liberate’ the Thunnus. Some gang of

delusionary, deconstructionist thugs. But then

someone beat us to the punch.”

Mulder blinked. “What?”

“Yes. An island like this is almost like a

small town: Everyone eventually knows everyone

else’s business. The break-in at Pescorp and the

company’s attempted coverup quickly made the

island grapevine, and we simply took advantage

of it.”

Lutz was suddenly being very forthcoming —

too forthcoming. Those hoary last-act

confessions in every bad detective show

notwithstanding, Mulder had seldom been given so

much data based on so little solid evidence. His

hand slipped into his slacks pocket.

His finger had barely made contact with the

pre-programmed button when something unwieldy

made contact with the back of his skull.

Vincent Makule grinned down at the crumpled

Mulder, and up at his academic partner-in-crime.

“‘Volatile cretin,’ huh?’ the

environmentalist sneered. “Your insults weren’t

so freaking pompous, I’d take a few whacks at

you, too.”

Maui County Police Department

Lahaina, Maui

3:36 p.m.

“Definitely primate DNA,” Scully announced

as she cradled Kamehana’s phone. “They’re still

trying to fix species, but I’d say, under the

circumstances, we’ve got a hit.”

The cop swigged his Pepsi. “Now all we

gotta do is find Dakota’s daddy. Got both

airports covered and the word going out down the

coast. But you know, even with the Coast Guard’s

radar out, it won’t be too tough for Makule to

get to one of the other islands.”

Scully rubbed her temple. “Should be a

little tougher if he’s packing a robotic

yellowfin tuna the size of Shamu the Whale.”

“There’s that.”

Scully’s cell phone warbled. “Agent

Scully…Hello?” She glanced at the phone’s

readout. “Mulder? Mulder…?”

**

The impact with the water shocked Mulder

back to consciousness. The breath control

exercises he’d mastered with the Oxford swim

team instinctively kicked in, and he used his

legs to stabilize himself as he drifted toward

what appeared to be a tiled floor.

Mulder’s wrists had been cuffed behind him,

and he kicked back toward the blue sky

shimmering above him. Then he heard the muffled

sound of someone diving into the semi-cloudy

water, and turned to see a murky figure sinking

perhaps 15 feet away. The large, long object

suddenly arced, and what he now could identify

as fins began to twitch. Adrenalin pumped into

his brain and throughout his body, and Mulder

shot up toward the surface of the pool or tank

or whatever he now shared with the animatronic

T-12.

clip_image006

The “tuna” jerked to life, and Makule or

Lutz guided it at breakneck speed toward the FBI

agent. Mulder used his upper body strength in

the low-gravity environment to whirl out of the

robot’s path, and he spun as the plastic-skinned

metal shell of the “fish” collided with his hip.

The “tuna” banked, and Mulder, lungs beginning

to burn, kicked frantically toward the light.

The agent’s head broke the surface, and he

sucked in a welcome gallon of air as he quickly

scanned what he now recognized to be the

swimming pool of some abandoned hotel or

apartment house. Mulder caught a glimpse of

Makule and Lutz, some small device in Makule’s

hand, before he re-emerged to escape the rapidly

approaching robot. It was roughly five feet away

and closing, and Mulder rocketed down past it

and came around to see it circling back. Was the

thing guided in part by body heat? Had that been

the CIA’s original purpose for Charlie the

Catfish and his mechanical cousins? Aquatic

killing machines?

Mulder again lurched to the side, but this

time, the mock “T-12” seized his pants leg and

ripped away a long ribbon of fabric. The agent

paddled away, and could practically feel the

piscine missile again bearing down on him.

A second missile broke the water cloaked in

froth and bubbles, and Mulder watched the

speeding object, transfixed, as the robotic

killer shot toward him. The dead-eyed “fish” was

mere feet from Mulder’s face, jaws deployed,

when the second missile connected. The tuna

jerked and convulsed as a metal shaft sunk into

its synthetic “skin” and a barbed point ripped

through its underbelly. The “T-12” convulsed,

and Mulder could see sparks ignite in the black

void beyond its razor “teeth.” Then the fins

jerked to a stop, and the giant faux fish

drifted to “clunk” onto the pool floor.

A splash sounded behind Mulder, and he

whipped around. Did they have two robots? An

army of them, ready to converge on Honolulu, Los

Angeles, Miami? He nearly sighed in sheer,

blood-draining relief before remembering he was

underwater. The redheaded siren glided the

through the murk, clutched his arm, and dragged

him upward.

As Mulder and Scully’s heads broke the

membrane between water and oxygen, Mulder saw

Kamehana, speargun tucked under his arm,

standing above the prostrate figures of Vincent

Makule and Philip Lutz. The conspirators, their

hands cuffed behind them, wriggled ineffectually

like a pair of mackerels.

Scully tugged him to the side, and the cop

helped yank him from the dirty water.

“Good thinking with the cell phone,” his

partner puffed as she climbed out of the pool,

dripping, and — to Mulder’s amusement —

stooped to recover her good pumps. “Phone

company tracked the signal almost right to the

lobby.”

“Yeah, well, I hope Skinner will

requisition me a new one,” Mulder said as

Kamehana unlocked his cuffs. He withdrew his now

defunct Nokia, which bleed dirty water onto the

pool deck. “Hey, nice shootin’, Sheriff Ahab.”

“Normally don’t kill what I don’t eat,”

Kamehana murmured, hefting the spear gun and

glancing at the colossal dark shape at the

bottom of the pool.

Mulder kneeled beside Lutz and Makule. “You

know what, guys? The tuna here SUCKS.” He looked

to Scully with his best Jack Lord scowl. “Book

’em, Dana.”

“I should have thrown you back,” she

reflected.

Lahaina, Maui

2 p.m.

Scully absently thumped her skull against

the headboard, glumly watching the palm trees

outside the lanai window groan and the Pacific

roil under 60-mile-per-hour winds and driving,

nearly horizontal rains.

Pleased with the resolution of the

Crowther and Jameson murders and exposure of the

fraudulent yellowfin, Skinner had given his

agents an extra few days in Maui to “clean up

some details and liaise with local law

enforcement.” The island’s worst tropical storm

of the year had commenced just as Scully had

completed packing her case notes and unpacking

her sun block.

“You wanna play another game of

Scattergories?” Mulder suggested, surfing

through the channels for the tenth time that

hour. “You know, that special version?”

“Only if you make the ‘clues’ a little

harder,” Scully muttered sourly. “What do you

think happened to the T-12, the real one? I

mean, that’s why we came here, right?”

Mulder clicked off the set and flopped

back at her feet. “I dunno. None of the activist

groups ever came forward to claim the credit. I

wondered for a while if maybe one of Pescorp’s

competitors might’ve made off with the T-12

either to steal the technology or discredit the

industry’s big fish, but wouldn’t you think

they’d have covered their tracks by trying to

frame the anti-biotech people?

“Lutz said Pescorp probably encoded

safeguards into those tuna — severe nutrient

deficiencies, terminator genes to prevent

reproduction. Maybe outside its controlled

laboratory environment, the T-12 simply couldn’t

survive. Maybe our enviro-burglars got home to

discover their prize catch had turned into a few

hundred pounds of rotting sushi. Or maybe one

day, Pescorp found one of its futuristic fishies

floating at the top of the tank and flushed it

down the toilet. Maybe the only thing worse than

creating a Frankenstein is doing a botch job of

it. Whatever the case, I doubt our megatuna will

ever turn up alive or pose a threat to the

environment. The enviros wouldn’t let it loose,

and the corporate sharks wouldn’t let it go. So

let’s order up a couple mai-tais and some room

service and toast our absent friend.”

Scully peered dully at the smudged sky and

sighed audibly. “Anything but ahi.”

“That’s the Aloha spirit,” Mulder said

brightly.

Molokai, Hawaii

Ten months later

Chuck Kinau grunted as he hoisted two bags

of high-protein, floating soy pellets over his

beefy shoulder and headed down to the inlet. His

stomach full of leftover ku’lolo — taro/coconut

cream pudding — and the setting sun casting

warm orange tones on his small house and the

recently constructed fabricated steel processing

shack, he smiled unconsciously. It was something

he’d seldom done when he was punching a clock at

Pescorp.

Chuck had bailed out of Pescorp soon after

the stories about missing mutant fish and

cloning experiments hit CNN and Fox. After the

home office had announced it was moving its

Pacific division offshore to Thailand — which

was courting biotech firms with a Viagra-like

fervor — the security guard had a plausible

out. The Pescorp management, emphasizing its

gratitude in advance for Chuck’s discretion

regarding the T-12 project, offered him the most

gracious golden parachute ever extended to

anyone of his job grade.

The company’s severance check provided his

family the seed money and Pescorp’s departure

from the islands the opening it needed to

relocate to Molokai and take out a state-backed,

low-interest venture capital loan. With that

loan, the family was able to secure two almost-

new fishing boats and some processing and flash-

freezing equipment purchased at a fire sale from

a retooling Pescorp.

The consumer backlash against Pescorp,

seized upon by Greenpeace as an opportunity to

grab a Dateline segment on corporate

overfishing, proved a boon for the smaller

seafood companies. The Kinau clan’s Moana Gold

brand hit pay dirt with a somewhat vacuous

“Family-Fished” label that appealed to suburban

and metro mainlanders willing to pay for the

notion that they were simultaneously eating

healthier, sticking it to the Big Guys, and

probably saving dolphins and maybe even whales.

That thought amused Chuck, whose grand scheme

had been motivated by dreams of sticking it to

Chuck’s nephew Kyle, the HSU electronics

grad who’d helped circumvent Pescorp’s

computerized security system, had devised the

new company’s advertising and marketing strategy

and developed Moana Gold’s increasingly familiar

“Aaaaah-hi!” radio and TV campaign. Cousin

Mickey, who’d helped liberate the T-12 from its

tank and re-liberate it from Pescorp’s low-

security maintenance plant after the cops had

investigated the lab “break-in,” had proven a

master at keeping seafood shipping costs in

line. And Tina, Chuck’s girl, who had taken a

few junior genetics courses from Dr. Philip Lutz

before earning her own masters in molecular

biology, headed research and development for the

family business.

R&D focused largely on improved methods of

packaging, extending shelf-life without losing

flavor or mouth-feel, and testing flavors for a

planned line of Hawaiian-style yellowfin entrees

(Wolfgang Puck in a Los Angeles Times Sunday

interview had predicted Luau would be 2005’s

Next Big Cuisine, and Kyle had storyboarded a

national TV spot urging up-scaled consumers to

“Get Tuna-ed In”). Tina also was charged with

Moana Gold’s special “breeding” project, which

was based in the fenced inlet into which Chuck

now hauled his high-protein rations.

As general manager of production for Moana

Gold, Chuck had studied up on joint

Chinese/American Soybean Association feeding

trials for both freshwater and marine fish

species. The floating pellets he fed “Tina’s

Tuna” improved feed efficiency and individual

rate of gain and, at least to Chuck’s belief,

enhanced the taste of the ahi. He ripped climbed

onto one of the catwalks that extended across

the inlet and ripped open the bags. Pellets

rained into the turquoise water and floated on

the surface like so many tiny islands.

Chuck loved this part, and he leaned on the

catwalk railing with an anticipatory grin. Soon,

a school of huge-but-graceful creatures

converged on the islets, their distinctive,

slender pectoral fins parting the warm waters of

the gated cove. A round head the size of a

killer whale’s broke the water and gobbled a

dozen pellets with one sweep. More heads emerged

to greedily inhale the soy rations.

Chuck Kinau shook his head. The big brains

at Pescorp were so confident in their science,

in their “diploid” or dipwad or whatever

technology they’d called it, that they’d missed

a major hitch in their project. Chuck’s people

had been raised with the sea in their blood,

with the lovely stench of fresh catch in their

nostrils, and he knew just by looking at the

original T-12 that its genetically guaranteed

“sterility” was no more than a fish tale

perpetrated upon those who thought to second-

guess God and the genetic code.

“E komo mai!”

Chuck turned to see his brother Kevin

waving to him from the rock above the inlet.

“Come on!” the stocky young man repeated in

impatient English. “Mom wants us to come for

supper tonight. She got some T-bones down at the

market, or there’s still plenty of that aku Jack

caught the other day.”

“Steak, man,” Chuck shouted emphatically.

“You know I hate fish.”

Practice Makes Perfect

cover

This story is based on characters created by Chris

Carter and Ten Thirteen Productions. Characters used

without permission. No infringement intended.

TITLE: Practice Makes Perfect

AUTHOR: Jo-Ann Lassiter

EMAIL ADDRESS: Jolassi555@cs.com

DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: Two weeks exclusive on VS10.

Then post anywhere. Thanks.

RATING: PG-13

CLASSIFICATION: S, R

SUMMARY: Three years ago, Mulder’s profile was

directly responsible for the capture of a man who had

been killing the presidents of large corporations.

The man escaped and had not been heard from again —

until now. Mulder and Scully are called to a case in

Texas where they once again cross paths with Lawrence

Dexter III.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a sequel of sorts to VS8’s

Your Past is Showing.” You should be able to read

this without reading that, though, as I think I’ve

scattered enough explanation throughout to bring you

up to speed. If not… well, it’s episode 8X18.

THANKS: To Gerry, for her usual crack beta work.

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Teaser

George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport

February 15

8:03 a.m.

Larry Dexter woke as soon as the wheels touched down

on the tarmac. After three years, it was good to be

back in the good ol’ US of A. He’d take care of the

business he was there for, and at the same time

pursue a pleasure he’d put off far long.

Still clutching the folder containing the dossiers

he’d compiled on the two FBI agents, he flipped it

open; since his assignment required him to be a

little further away from the agents than he would

have liked, bringing them to him only presented yet

another puzzle to be solved.

He directed his attention to the male of the two.

After finally having made the decision to focus his

attention on Agent Mulder rather than Agent Scully,

his mind had spent the hours before he fell asleep

working out the details. He read over the agent’s

physical characteristics, smiling when he reached the

one that had won him the honor of ‘target.’

He smiled to himself. Even if it hadn’t been so easy

to pick Mulder, he suspected he would have found some

way to assure his selection. While Agent Scully had

most certainly played a part, it was Mulder’s profile

that had directly led to his capture.

As for those fools who’d recommended minimum security

over the objections of the two agents and that

assistant director — a shame that he couldn’t bring

him out as well — Larry wouldn’t even waste his time

with those incompetents. And they’d called *him*

mentally unstable. He wasn’t the one who’d placed a

trained assassin in a van with two elderly guards and

a staff psychiatrist.

It had been laughable how he’d been able to convince

everyone of his ‘illness.’ Only those three agents

from DC had been wise enough to see him for what he

really was. He wouldn’t be surprised if they’d

guessed his ‘real’ profession as well.

Being taken for a nerd had always served him well; he

supposed there was even some substance to it, what

with his love for science and ‘gadgets.’ But how many

nerds could single out a target from a crowd of

thousands — and then eliminate him, quickly,

quietly, and without having to raise a finger?

Dexter sighed. Of course, the means by which he’d

achieved that particular aspect of his profession had

also contributed to his downfall; short though his

incarceration had been, it had caused him to shelve

his plans — however temporarily — to deal with the

men whose actions had caused his beloved mother’s

death.

Of the twelve on his list, he’d only been able to

eliminate six. He hadn’t expected to get all of them

in round one, but he’d anticipated eliminating a few

more than he actually had. Damn those feds.

No matter. He was back now, and after he’d had a

little fun with Special Agent Fox Mulder, he’d put

his contingency plan into action. Mother always said

he was so good at his work — if she only knew, he

giggled — because he planned so far in advance.

Wouldn’t those mother killers be surprised when they

found out he had returned?

He dearly hoped they were all still alive so that he

would not be denied the pleasure of watching them

die.

Act I

Dodge, Texas

11:16 a.m.

February 23

Mulder removed a hand from the steering wheel,

swiping it across his wet forehead; he glanced over

at his partner, dozing in the passenger seat. That

should be him, he thought sourly.

When the rental agent had offered the keys, he’d

grabbed them and settled himself in the driver’s seat

before he’d thought about it. Scully had once called

him a chauvinist because he always wanted to drive;

at the time, he’d scoffed at the notion as absurd,

but here he’d gone and done out of habit something he

hadn’t even wanted to be doing. Christ. He *was* a

chauvinist.

If he didn’t feel so lousy, he might have laughed; as

it was, all he wanted to do was find the motel and

crawl into bed. He sighed as he left the interstate

for the road that was the last leg of their journey.

Another mile or two, and they’d be there.

Just as Mulder merged from the left onto the busy

two-lane, a wave of dizziness hit him so hard that he

knew he was about to pass out. He gave a cursory

glance in the rear view mirror, then cut across the

right lane into the breakdown lane, narrowly missing

a delivery truck. He stomped on the brake, threw the

car into park, and slumped against the steering

wheel.

He came to when Scully’s frantic voice penetrated the

fog in which he was enshrouded. “Scully…” he

moaned, not actually able to make out anything that

she was saying. He felt her hands on his head as she

gently lifted it off the steering wheel.

“What’s wrong, Mulder?” she asked, her voice breaking

up like a bad telephone connection.

“Dizzy,” he mumbled, his head still spinning. He

didn’t even consider opening his eyes.

“You nearly caused an accident,” she said, softly.

“I know. I’m sorry,” he panted, trying to keep from

fainting again.

“Did you — ”

A loud rapping on Mulder’s window startled them both

into silence. Even Mulder’s harsh breathing stopped

for a few seconds.

“It’s a sheriff’s department deputy,” Scully told

him.

“Unh hunh,” Mulder murmured, when he resumed

breathing again.

“I think he wants you to roll down your window.” She

nudged him with her elbow.

Fumbling around until he located the switch, Mulder

tabbed the button, and the window rolled down. Hot

air rushed in, and Mulder felt the world dissolve

into blackness.

**

“Mulder!” What the hell was wrong with him? That was

twice in two minutes. Scully cupped her hand around

his chin and shook his head lightly, as she addressed

the officer. “Deputy, my partner — ”

“I’ll be wantin’ your license ‘n’ registration, son,”

the man cut her off.

Mulder groaned and opened his eyes. Scully rubbed a

hand over his cheek worriedly.

“License ‘n’ registration,” the officer repeated,

more forcefully than before.

“Give us a minute here, would you?” Scully said, her

patience wearing thin.

“All right, get on out of that car,” the deputy

demanded, yanking on the door handle, pulling it

open.

“If you’d just let me explain — ”

“Get out,” he ordered, jerking with his thumb, and

directing his words to a semi-conscious Mulder,

disregarding Scully altogether.

When the man reached out a beefy hand and grabbed

Mulder’s shoulder, Scully pushed it away. “Back off,”

she growled, incensed now by the man’s refusal to

listen to reason. “Can’t you see he’s — ”

She broke off when she found the barrel of a weapon

three inches from her face. Very slowly, she brought

her eyes up to meet the officer’s. “There’s no need

for that, Deputy. If you’ll just — ”

“Get out of that car now!” The officer took a step

back. “The two of you.” Scully swallowed as she heard

the safety being released. “Right now!”

She freed herself from the safety belt and reached to

the handle on her door.

“Hold it right there,” the cop demanded. Scully

paused and looked up. “You get out on this side.” He

indicated Mulder’s open door. “Get out, boy,” he said

to Mulder.

Looking somewhat more alert, Mulder released his seat

belt and stumbled out; Scully climbed over the stick

shift and followed him.

The deputy looked them up and down, making no effort

to hide his disdain for their expensive clothing.

“If I may be allowed to explain — ” Scully tried

again.

“Ma’am, I’d appreciate it if you’d quit yer yappin’

so I can give this feller his sobriety test.” The

deputy reached into his pocket and pulled out a set

of handcuffs.

Scully bristled. If he was thinking of cuffing

Mulder… “Listen, Deputy…” She glanced at his name

tag. “…Jenkins, we seem to have gotten off on the

wrong foot here. My partner and I — ”

All capacity for speech left her as the deputy

snapped the cuff onto her left wrist and then secured

the other to the steering wheel. Scully blinked. She

was *not* standing outside her rental in the ‘hottest

February on record,’ handcuffed to a steering wheel.

She was *not* watching as some poor excuse for a law

enforcement officer dragged her sick partner away

from her.

In shocked silence, she struggled to gather her wits

about her as she tried to ascertain what the hell had

just happened.

**

Mulder was having trouble locating his nose. From

past experience, he knew it was somewhere on his

face, but trying to find it with one finger while his

eyes were closed was a lot harder than he thought it

would be. Having his eyes shut, though, was a big

plus because the light from the sun had been causing

him some serious hurt.

“All right, walk to the end of the car and then

back,” he heard barked at him.

With his eyes closed? he wondered. Pushing himself up

off the car, Mulder got to take one step before the

light-headedness hit him again.

“Hey, you! Did I tell you to stop? Get moving!” He

felt a rough shove on his back and lurched forward a

few feet, more from the push than from any power of

his own.

“Christ,” he heard, muttered under the man’s breath.

“Get your sorry ass back here, you drunkard. I’m

takin’ you in for drivin’ under the influence.”

“He is *not* drunk!” Scully’s incensed voice reached

Mulder’s ears, just as he executed an about-face that

toppled him onto the pavement. The tarmac biting into

his cheek was hot, and he knew he really ought to

move. Instead, he closed his eyes and waited for

Scully to rescue him.

**

Scully’s eyes followed Mulder’s ungraceful descent to

the highway. She didn’t know what was wrong with him,

but she did know that he definitely was not drunk.

“He’s not, huh?” the deputy’s triumphant voice

retorted.

“He’s sick,” Scully countered. “He has not been

drinking.”

“Ma’am, you assaulted an officer of the law. I’m not

inclined to believe anything you’d tell me.”

“Assaulted…” Scully sputtered. “*You* assaulted

*him.* You’re the one who grabbed him — ”

“I was assisting him out of the vehicle.” The

deputy’s tone reverted to that pompous, officious

tone that all officers of the law affected when they

talked down to a suspect. Scully vowed never to allow

herself to speak to anyone that way ever again.

“And I tried to explain to you that he was sick, and

you dragged him out anyway.” …you jerk, she added

to herself.

“Ma’am, he exited the vehicle under his own power. I

did not ‘drag’ him out.”

Scully was about ready to pop a blood vessel.

“Whatever.” She looked at Mulder, moaning softly,

struggling to rise from the hot pavement. “Look, are

you going to help him up, or what?”

The deputy shook his head. “Oh, no, Ma’am. I don’t

want to be accused of ‘assaulting’ him again. Why

don’t *you* help him up?” he asked, snottily, turning

his back on her and walking to where Mulder lay.

“Fine, Deputy. I will.” For once grateful for her

small-boned structure, Scully wriggled free of the

loose cuff. She rubbed her wrist, seriously

considering drawing her weapon on this buffoon. The

idiot hadn’t even frisked them!

The deputy nearly jumped out of his skin as she

passed him to kneel beside Mulder. “How’d…” He

looked back to the car. “How’d you do that?” His

weapon was trained on her again, and Scully sighed.

“You told me to help him, and I am.” She directed her

gaze to the gun, held in shaky hands. “Now would you

please put that away before you hurt someone?”

The deputy’s eyes narrowed. “You’re mighty cool for

someone having a gun pointed at them. Just how often

does it happen to you?”

About to lift Mulder to his feet, Scully turned her

attention back to Jenkins. She considered a smartass

reply, but thought better of it. “More than I’d

like,” she muttered. To the deputy she said,

“Actually, we’re FBI agents.”

Scully let Mulder latch onto her, and she rose

slowly, holding him when he started to topple again.

“Easy. I’ve got you,” she assured him, softly.

“Let go of him, and get back over to that car,” the

deputy said, taking aim at her chest.

“If I let go of him, he’ll fall,” Scully said, trying

to reason with the man.

“If you don’t let go of him, I’ll shoot you.” The

deputy’s voice was steady, but the hand holding the

gun wavered slightly. Scully decided she should tread

carefully.

“Can I take him to your car?”

“Let him go, ma’am. Right now.”

“I’m sorry, Mulder,” she whispered as she

relinquished her hold on him. Mulder slithered to the

ground at her feet.

“Scully…” he groaned. “What’s goin’ on?”

The deputy walked over to their car and removed the

cuff dangling from the steering wheel; he motioned

her over, then pulled her hands behind her back and

snapped the cuffs onto her wrists. “We’re being

arrested, Mulder.”

“Why?’ His tone was so innocent and so pitiful that

Scully was now sorry that she hadn’t pulled her

weapon when she’d had the chance.

She winced as Mulder was pulled roughly to his feet.

When the deputy produced another pair of handcuffs,

she couldn’t believe it. “You’re not really going to

cuff him, are you?” she asked. “He can barely stand.

He’s not any danger to you.”

The officer pulled Mulder’s arms behind him a little

more forcefully than Scully deemed necessary. She

could feel her blood beginning to boil. After the

cuffs were in place, he wedged a hand under Mulder’s

armpit and started hauling him toward the sheriff’s

department car.

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When they reached the car, the deputy pushed him

against the car. “Okay, cowboy, spread ’em.”

After a second’s confusion, Mulder grunted and

shifted until he had assumed the position. Just as

the deputy was about to frisk him, a cherry red

pickup truck came careening around the curve,

swerving to avoid the rear end of a slow-moving sedan

and narrowly missing the three of them.

“Goddammit!” Jenkins shouted. Yanking at the door

handle, he scrambled inside, getting as far as

shifting the gears before Scully caught his eye; she

was astounded that he was about to give chase,

leaving them outside, lying where they’d dove to

avoid being flattened, with their hands cuffed behind

their backs.

“Goddammit,” Jenkins swore again, throwing the car

back into park and getting out. He hauled Mulder up,

then pulled Scully to her feet. “Get in,” he ordered

her.

“Deputy, this is a mistake,” Scully spit out through

gritted teeth as she clambered into the back seat.

“You’re making a mistake.” She maneuvered her

shoulder to catch Mulder as he practically fell in;

he was barely managing to stay awake. “We *are* FBI

agents. This man is my partner, and he’s sick. I

demand that you — ”

“Just shut up! You don’t demand nuthin’!” The deputy

closed the door, walking over to their rental, where

he went through the motions of locking up.

Resigned to her fate for the moment, Scully turned

her attention back to her partner. “Mulder?” She

nudged him with her shoulder. “How are you holding

up?’

“I feel really awful, Scully,” he said, his non-

denial surprising her more than if he’d broken out in

song. He leaned back into the seat. “Sorry,” he

whispered, closing his eyes. “I wasn’t expecting it

to hit me like that. I don’t know what’s causing

this.”

“You weren’t sick before this?” she asked gently.

He shook his head. “Not like this. I felt a little

wiped at the rental place, but nowhere near this

bad.”

Scully’s attention was drawn to the deputy as he

returned to the car, pocketing their keys before he

got in; he restarted the car and pulled out into the

flow of traffic. Looking back at her partner, Scully

found him slumped against the door, eyes closed.

“Mulder?”

She didn’t really expect an answer.

**

Mulder came roughly awake when he felt himself being

manhandled out the door of the car.

“Hey! There’s no need for that!” Scully enraged voice

was music to his ears. She would protect him from

this big goon.

As Mulder stumbled along, he prayed that the big goon

didn’t let go of him, or he’d fall flat on his face;

the rude awakening had done nothing to improve his

state of well-being. Or lack thereof. All it had

served to do was speed up his heartbeat so that he

could feel the blood pounding in his head all the

harder.

“Inside,” the man growled, giving Mulder another

shove.

“And how do you propose that I do that?” Mulder was

surprised to hear Scully’s voice in front of him, and

he looked up. She was standing by a door, looking

flushed and exasperated and gorgeous.

The big goon huffed, stepping around Mulder to turn

the knob and push open the door. “There y’go,

darlin’.” Even in his less-than-stellar state, Mulder

could hear the sarcasm in the deputy’s voice.

When she speared the deputy with her venomous glare,

Mulder was thrilled that he wasn’t her target this

time. He hoped he’d be conscious when she finally got

to give the goon what for.

Able to move under his own power now, Mulder followed

Scully inside. “This way,” he heard off to his left.

A gentle prod from Scully nudged him toward the open

cell door. Reaching it, he stopped and gazed at the

deputy questioningly.

“In there,” the deputy ordered.

“My…” He had to cough to clear his dry throat. “The

cuffs are still on.”

“And they’re stayin’ on.” The man grabbed Scully’s

arm and pushed her into Mulder, nearly causing him to

fall. “You can thank your girlfriend for that.”

Ignoring Jenkins, she threw a quick glance at Mulder,

catching his nod that he was not hurt. She turned her

attention back to the law officer. “You can’t leave

us like this!”

A light push against her collarbone by the deputy

landed her just inside the cell, and he swung the

door closed. “I can’t, eh?”

“Deputy, please.” Mulder could tell that Scully was

trying very hard to calm her delivery. “We *are* FBI

agents. My partner is sick, and I need to see what’s

wrong with him.”

The deputy appeared to consider her words for a

moment, then shook his head. “Sorry. No.” His smug

expression told her that he was anything but sorry.

Scully closed her eyes, and Mulder could hear her

counting to ten, although she didn’t utter a

syllable. When she opened her eyes, Mulder shuddered

at the barely-restrained fury that radiated off her.

“Deputy?” she asked, in a sweetly dangerous voice.

“When is the sheriff expected back?”

“Sheriff’s at a scene right now. He’ll be back when

he’s back.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Scully had

had enough, and Mulder couldn’t blame her; the man

had violated more than one of their civil rights.

“Scully,” Mulder called, walking slowly to the lone

bed in the cell. “It’s not worth it. Let’s just sit

and wait for the sheriff.”

“You just listen to your boyfriend, honey,” the

deputy snarled.

Turning her back on him while he was still speaking,

Scully sat beside her partner. “Feeling any better?”

“Not really.” Mulder tried not to whine as he leaned

his head back against the wall, closing his eyes.

“Still dizzy?”

“Mm.” He shifted to the right, losing his balance and

toppling to the mattress behind Scully.

He felt her weight leave the mattress. “You all

right?”

“No,” he whispered. “If things don’t stop spinning

soon, I’m going to lose my breakfast.”

“Damn that asshole,” Scully spat. “You should be in a

hospital.” He felt Scully’s breath on his cheek for

about two seconds before he heard her voice from a

few feet away. “Hang on a sec, Mulder.” The sound of

grunting and groaning reached his ears, and then he

felt Scully’s hands on his cheek.

Taking a chance, he cracked open one eye, then the

other, relieved when her image remained stationary.

He grinned when he saw that her hands were no longer

behind her back and that she was now able to touch

him.

“Mulder? Do you think if I helped you, you could work

your hands out in front, too?”

He shook his head. “The way I’m feeling, I’d either

pass out or throw up if I tried it.” He met her eyes.

“Neither of those sounds too appealing.”

She gave him a sympathetic nod. “How about we give it

a try, and you tell me if you need to stop?”

He knew that having his hands in front, rather than

behind, him would be infinitely more comfortable, but

he was afraid of what it might cost him to accomplish

it. He drew in a deep breath, then let it out slowly,

nodding his head.

Scully gave him a smile that did wonders towards

bolstering his spirits. Giving her the best smile he

could muster, he lay back on the bed while Scully

coaxed him through the contortions necessary to

perform his Houdini act. With his knees crushed to

his chest and his cuffed hands stuck between his

ankles and his knees, Mulder felt an urgent need to

get this over with — quickly.

Scully must have caught the desperation on his face

because she gave a mighty tug on his hands that

allowed his legs to spring through. She helped him up

and brought him to the toilet where he, as predicted,

lost his breakfast.

When he was through, she handed him some water in a

paper cup and waited while he rinsed his mouth. He

tossed the cup in the direction of the trash can,

then looked up at her balefully, certain he was

wearing an ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ look on

his face.

Looping her arms over his head, her handcuffed hands

resting against his belly, she helped him to regain

his footing and held him as he tried to catch his

breath. “Okay now?” he heard softly from behind him,

after his heart had stopped racing.

“Not okay,” he croaked. “But better.” He blinked;

something was different. “The dizziness is gone, I

think.” He inhaled deeply, then blew it out. “God, I

feel *much* better.”

Scully started to pull her hands away, freeing him

from where they held him captive; he clamped his

hands over hers, holding them in place. “Must you go

so soon?”

Scully did not resist, and instead adjusted her body

more comfortably behind him. She pressed her hands

into his abdomen. “Not at all.”

He sighed deeply, filling her embrace all the more.

“We have *got* to try some variation of this when

we’re not in a jail cell.”

She gave him a nudge that affected him as anything

but playful. “You,” she said, giving him a meaningful

squeeze, “are on.”

**

Act II

Dodge County Jail

2:33 p.m.

February 23

The sound of Mulder’s stomach rumbling loudly in her

ear made Scully realize how hungry she was. Raising

her head up from where she’d fallen asleep using

Mulder’s lap as a pillow, Scully checked her watch,

pissed to find out how late it was and that they

hadn’t been fed yet. She wondered if the sheriff was

back and why the hell they were still in jail.

Careful not to wake her partner, Scully slid off the

bed; she trod quietly to the door and peered into the

office. It was eerily silent. Deputy Dawg was nowhere

to be seen.

Suddenly, the front door burst open, and a hand

pushed the deputy inside. Scully thought that this

was rather rash behavior for the sheriff to exhibit,

even if the deputy did deserve it.

The man who was holding the gun on the deputy was not

in uniform. He looked laughably geeky in his dark

blue jeans — with a crease in them, for chrissakes –

– blindingly white Reeboks, and pale blue pocket t-

shirt. The only thing that looked natural on the man

was the two-days’ growth of beard on his face.

Scully thought he looked a little familiar.

“Agent Scully! A pleasure to see you again.”

Scully squinted, trying to match the voice to the

face.

The man tipped a non-existent hat. “John Doe,” he

said, giving the stupefied deputy another shove. “I

can’t tell you how pleased I am that the FBI has seen

fit to dispatch you to investigate the calamities

that have befallen this placid little community.”

‘John Doe’ peered around the deputy’s quivering form.

“And how’s the intrepid Agent Mulder?” he asked in a

voice that indicated he already was well aware of the

state of her partner’s health.

“What do you know about what happened to him?” Scully

asked.

The man bowed slightly. “My dear Agent Scully, I am

responsible for it.” He gave her a big toothy smile

that she found repulsive. “I have Deputy Jenkins

here, though, to thank for your current

incarceration.” He poked the deputy in the back with

the barrel of the gun; the deputy shuddered, and

Scully almost felt sorry for him.

“What did you do to my partner?” Scully asked

quietly, glancing back to see if Mulder was still

asleep. She wondered if the man knew that whatever

had caused this had worn off. If not, she wasn’t

about to tell him.

“Don’t worry, Agent Scully. Agent Mulder’s reprieve

is temporary… a slight technical problem which has

now been rectified.” The man looked at her partner,

and as if on cue, Mulder moaned.

“What did you do to him?” Scully demanded, hastening

to Mulder’s side. Sweat had broken out on his face,

his eyes were screwed shut tightly, and he’d begun to

thrash his head from side to side. “Stop it!” Scully

directed to John Doe. “Whatever you’re doing to him,

please stop it!”

The man shook his head slowly. “I derive so little

enjoyment out of life. Would you deny me, Agent

Scully?”

“Stop it now!” she yelled.

“No.” His voice no longer held that jovial tone to

it, and Scully shivered at the menace she now heard.

“Agent Mulder’s intervention prevented my punishing

the individuals who killed my mother.”

As she realized who it was they were dealing with,

Scully bit her lip to keep herself from blurting that

Mulder wasn’t the only one responsible for Lawrence

Dexter’s capture. She didn’t want to add any more

targets to Dexter’s revenge list. Forgive me, Mulder,

she thought, as she watched him writhing and

groaning.

“He was only doing his job,” Scully told Dexter.

Dexter nodded. “Which is why he’s still alive.” His

eyes locked with Scully’s. “I understand duty. I

believe in it. But his profile still led to my

capture and necessitated my ‘laying low’ due to my

subsequent… uh… sudden departure.” The pleasant

tone was back in his voice. “Thank those responsible

for recommending the insanity angle, would you? It

would have been much more difficult to effect an

escape with handcuffs and tighter security.”

Scully closed her eyes momentarily. Those assholes

had really done it. With the exception of Mulder,

Skinner and her, all the other agents on the team had

advocated that Dexter be tried as criminally insane.

The judge had apparently agreed.

But Dexter never made it to his trial. He killed

three people and escaped while being transported from

the hospital to the courthouse.

“Scully…” Mulder’s thrashing had ceased, and he was

attempting to get up.

“I’m right here, Mulder.” She rubbed her hands up and

down his arms. “Try to lie still.”

“Gonna be sick,” he moaned.

Quickly hoisting him to his feet, Scully brought him

to the toilet. He grasped the rim, dropped to his

knees and began vomiting. Scully turned pleading eyes

to Dexter, who looked surprised, repulsed and

delighted, all at the same time. “Please,” she

begged. “Stop doing this to him.”

“Well!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t expect this.”

Scully was kneeling beside Mulder, rubbing his back

as he continued to be sick. “What do you mean?”

Dexter smiled and shrugged. “It was supposed to cause

dizziness and then a killer headache. Just enough to

incapacitate him for a few days, while I completed my

business here. But, well…” He gave her a sheepish

look. “I finished before you arrived, and I didn’t

want to let a perfectly good plan go to waste.” His

gaze moved to take in the man now lying on the floor,

gasping for air. Dexter gave a brilliant smile. “And

here I am.” His eyes darted to Scully and back to

Mulder. “Enjoying the show.”

Scully turned away, focusing all her attention on her

partner. Nothing she said was going to cause Dexter

to have a change of heart and stop whatever the hell

he was doing to Mulder; she would just have to do as

much as she could to help him.

“Here, Mulder,” she said, lifting him by his

shoulders. “Come lie on the bed.”

“No,” he panted, pulling away.

“Mulder, what the hell are you — ”

“Still sick,” he groaned. “I can’t… The bed…”

“Shh… It’s okay.” She brushed wet strands of hair

out of his eyes.

“Well, Agent Scully,” she heard Dexter saying, “as

entertaining as this has been, I really do have to be

going now.” He shoved the deputy into the empty cell

next to theirs and pulled the door shut with a

‘clang!’

As Dexter turned to leave, Scully pulled Mulder’s

weapon from the ankle holster on his leg. “Dexter,”

she called.

Dexter had the front door partially opened when he

stopped and looked at her. Delight was not what she

expected to see on his face. “He didn’t take your

weapons! I’m so glad I decided to have a chat with

you. I would never have witnessed this shining

example of small town ineptitude otherwise.”

“Lay down your weapon,” Scully directed, not amused.

“And turn off whatever the hell is affecting my

partner.”

Smiling charmingly, shrugging, Dexter made a move to

place his pistol on the floor, then darted through

the open door before Scully could react. “I don’t

think so,” she heard from the other side. “You have a

nice day now.”

“Dexter!” Scully yelled in frustration. “Dexter!”

She watched the closed door for a few seconds before

whipping around to glare at Jenkins.

“Who…” Jenkins swallowed, wide eyes focused on the

weapon now pointed at him. “Who in blue blazes was

that?”

Ignoring him and feeling smug about it, Scully turned

back to Mulder, hoping that whatever was happening

to Mulder would be gone now that Dexter was.

It wasn’t. Dammit, Dexter must have left some sort of

transmitter in the office, or planted it… Scully

whirled on the deputy. “Check your pockets,” she

ordered.

“What in tarnation is going on here? Who are you

people?” the deputy asked, making no move to comply.

Swinging the gun around, Scully aimed it at Jenkins.

“Check your pockets.” She took a second to glare at

him. “Now.”

Jenkins pulled his wallet, badge, keys and change out

of his pants pockets. “What’m I lookin’ for?”

“Anything you don’t recognize.” Standing with his

pockets turned inside out, Jenkins looked downright

pathetic, quite a change from the arrogant bastard of

earlier. “Damn,” Scully muttered, noting the small

pile. “Bring that over here.”

When Jenkins balked, she tapped the bars with her

weapon, and he hastily gathered all his possessions

and delivered them to her.

“Place them on the floor and slide them in here.”

Scully indicated a section of the floor, then moved

back a step. When Jenkins came closer, she noticed

the pocket on his shirt and nodded toward it. “What

about that shirt pocket?”

Shrugging, Jenkins fished around, coming up with a

small round plastic disk. “What’s this?” he asked.

Feeling her heart rate quickening, Scully glanced at

Mulder to see if the closeness of the disk had any

effect on him. His arms were held tightly to his

head, and he was beginning to whimper.

“Keep the rest of that stuff, and give me the disk,”

Scully told him. Mulder’s whimpers had turned into

cries of anguish. “Move!” she shouted.

The deputy hustled toward the bars, set the disk just

inside of Scully’s cell, and backed away.

“Scully…” Mulder sobbed. “Oh, Christ, Scully…”

Cursing as she got a look at the hard plastic casing,

Scully looked around the cell in dismay. Seeing

nothing she could use as a hammer, she ripped off her

shoe and pounded the disk with the heel until she

heard a satisfying crunch.

She ran to Mulder, soothing him as he recovered from

the torture he’d just been through. Trying to reach a

tissue in her jacket pocket, she was pulled up short

by the handcuffs. She looked over at the deputy.

“Jenkins. Do you have the keys to these?”

When the deputy hesitated yet again, Scully threw a

warning glance at the weapon laying on the floor

within her reach. She almost hoped Jenkins would

resist.

Scully watched the deputy’s gaze fall on the gun

before he indicated the key ring on the floor inside

her cell. “It’s — ”

“I know which one it is,” Scully cut him off,

retrieving the keys and taking them back to where

Mulder lay, his breathing ragged and hitching.

After removing her cuffs, Scully unlocked Mulder’s.

“Thanks,” he croaked, rubbing his wrists for a couple

of seconds before pressing the heels of his hands to

his temples.

“Still hurt?’ she asked.

He nodded. “Not like before, but, yeah.”

“What about the dizziness, the nausea?” She touched

his hands lightly, and he let her take over the head

massage.

“Not as bad.” She could see he was fading fast, and

she all but carried him to the bed. He needed no

coaxing to lie down, and was asleep before she got

his feet up off the floor.

A movement in the next cell caught her eye, and she

looked at the deputy. “Will any of these open that

door?” She indicated her cell door.

Jenkins shook his head.

“Where are they?” she asked.

Jenkins pointed to the desk with his chin. “Top

drawer of the sheriff’s desk.”

Scully moaned. “Great.” She stared at the lock, then

at the gun still on the floor. The lock was one of

those old, solid steel ones that looked damned near

impregnable. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

She picked up Mulder’s gun, then placed it back in

his ankle holster and withdrew her more powerful Sig.

“Jenkins,” she called, taking aim. “How old is this

lock?”

“Uh… About sixty, seventy years.”

Scully sighed. “What are the chances I could shoot it

open?” she asked him.

She heard him take a deep breath, then let it out

slowly. “Near impossible. That’s a Yale lock, about 3

inches thick. A bullet’d barely scratch her.”

After studying the lock for another minute, Scully

re-holstered her weapon; she didn’t want to chance a

ricochet hitting one of them. Stabbing Jenkins with a

glare, she asked, “When will the sheriff be back?”

“Um…” He glanced at the door nervously, as if he’d

just remembered something important.

“When, Jenkins?” Scully asked, impatiently.

“Oh, shit, he’s not coming back.” He looked at her,

his face full of fearful realization. “At least not

until after the storm.”

Scully suddenly got a bad feeling. “Storm?”

Jenkins looked anxiously at the front door, which was

starting to rattle from the wind. “Tornado,” he said,

his voice full of dread. “A twister is headed this

way. I just knew this blamed heat was gonna cause

trouble!” He moved his gaze to Scully. “I was coming

to take the two of you to the shelter, when that

maniac got the drop on me.”

Scully looked around nervously. “Are we safe in

here?”

The deputy licked his lips. “As safe as anyplace can

be that’s not below ground.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Jenkins shrugged. “This jail’s been through over a

hundred years’ worth of twisters, and it’s still

standing.”

The rattling of the door was nonstop now, and Scully

felt a prickling on the back of her neck when she

heard the roar outside getting louder by the second.

She recalled reading that the sound from a tornado

was likened to that of an approaching freight train.

“Oh, God,” she whispered.

“Ma’am!” Jenkins was yelling to be heard over the

din; she gazed at him dully and found him unbuckling

his belt, then rebuckling it around one of the cell

bars. “You’re gonna need to anchor yourselves to

these bars. Either that twister’s comin’ right at us,

or it’s gonna be awful close.” His gaze swept the

cell. “If you don’t want to be blown around against

the walls, you’d best fasten yourselves to the bars.”

He indicated the outer office. “There are no windows

in this building, and that’ll protect us a mite, but

if that twister hits us dead on — -and it sounds

like it might — -you’re gonna want to be connected

to something solid.”

After taking a second for the deputy’s words to sink

in, Scully rushed over to Mulder, slapping him none

too gently in her haste to wake him. “Come on,

Mulder. Wake up.”

His eyes shot open to glare at her. “Ow! Scully, what

the hell?” He caught her hand before another one

landed on his cheek. Looking at her, his expression

changed from angry to concerned. “What’s wrong?”

“Tornado!” she shouted, straining to be heard. She

gave his arm a tug. “We need to anchor ourselves to

the bars.” Scooping up the two sets of handcuffs from

where she’d dropped them on the floor, she snapped

one end over Mulder’s wrist, dragging him toward the

bars at the front of the cell. Locking it in place

around the sturdy steel, she repeated the process

with her wrist, taking care to make it tighter than

the deputy had. As an afterthought, she patted her

pocket to assure herself that the key ring was still

where she’d put it.

Hesitating only a moment, Scully locked herself into

place mere inches from her partner. Though still a

bit dazed, Mulder wrapped his arm around her and drew

her close. She wrapped her free arm around his waist

and held on for dear life.

clip_image006

**

2:48 p.m.

As a native of coastal Massachusetts and then as a

denizen of Virginia, Mulder had had little to no

experience with tornadoes. Abstractly, he wondered

how it was he’d avoided the experience until now.

Scully had burrowed herself under his armpit, and

while one portion of his brain was overjoyed that she

was accepting his protection, another part was scared

shitless. When the front door blew open, Mulder

tightened his hold, and Scully practically crawled

inside him.

The noise was deafening now, and with the door open,

anything that wasn’t anchored was sucked out the

door. Scully was snatched from his grasp, and he was

pulled into the bars; the sheer force of it jarred

his teeth, and the air was stolen from his mouth. As

he struggled to breathe in the vortex, Mulder was

frantic with worry when he couldn’t move his head to

check on Scully.

Not so naïve to believe that it couldn’t get any

worse, Mulder was nonetheless surprised when the roar

outside intensified, the wind reversed and he was

literally blown off the bars. Even though it saved

him from being batted about the cell, Mulder cursed

the handcuff as it strove to sever his wrist from his

hand. He hoped Scully’s lighter body weight reduced

the strain on her wrist.

A loud clang by his imprisoned hand brought his

attention to the bars in front of him. He looked on

in horror as anything that hadn’t made it out the

door was now being hurled at them by the frenzied

winds. He never thought he’d ever feel lucky that he

was in jail.

So far, everything that had come their way had been

large enough to be stopped by the bars, but Mulder

felt his heart leap to his throat when the desk

drawers started exploding out. Fearful of what a

sharpened pencil or a letter opener could do at 100

MPH, Mulder was relieved when suddenly everything

stopped.

The roar, the wind, the pull on his arm ceased

abruptly, and he dropped like a lead weight, crashing

into the bars before slumping to the floor. He

scrambled to get his feet under him when pain from

his shoulder made him see stars. “Ow! Jesus!” he

gasped.

Expecting some sort of response from his partner and

not receiving one made Mulder shake off the graying

of his vision. “Scully?” he croaked.

She was hanging limply by her arm, not moving. His

heart started beating faster, and he felt himself

trembling with fear; he could barely breathe in the

still air. “Oh, God. Scully?” he choked out, reaching

for her face.

Her skin was hot and dry, and Mulder didn’t know if

that meant anything. Feeling for the pulse at her

neck, he almost passed out when he found it strong

and steady. He thought she must have been knocked out

when she hit the bars. Still, he checked her for

injuries, sighing when he didn’t find any.

Now that threat of serious injury had been ruled out

for Scully, Mulder’s shoulder was screaming for

attention. A groan from the next cell distracted him

only minimally. “Deputy?” Mulder questioned, unable

to maneuver himself around to face the other man.

“Are you all right?”

The deputy grunted an affirmative. “The blamed sheets

from the bed are tryin’ to strangle me.” His voice

was slightly muffled, and Mulder laughed at the

absurdity of it. He glanced at the bed in their cell.

It was stripped clean, but the bedding was nowhere in

sight. Only the pillow, too thick to fit through the

bars, remained, snug against the next cell.

Mulder winced as he moved back to face Scully,

grateful that she hadn’t left too much space between

them when she’d cuffed them to the bars. Struggling

to recall in which pocket she’d placed the keys, he

ended up patting her down when he couldn’t remember.

Though an enjoyable task under normal circumstances,

the pull on his shoulder made it excruciating.

Sweating and shaking when he finally found the keys,

he had to rest a minute before he could free himself.

After unlocking the cuff, he used his right hand to

lower his left arm very carefully; it hurt too much

to let it hang at his side, so he tucked it into the

waistband of his pants.

Then he turned and regarded his partner with dismay.

Once he uncuffed her, he’d be unable to hold her

upright with his other arm. Stepping close to her, he

pressed his body into hers, propping her up against

the bars. He reached up with his good arm and, after

a few clumsy attempts, was able to get her free. When

she slumped on top of him, he managed to get a grip

on her waist and lower her to the floor.

He winced when he caught sight of the lump on her

forehead. Trailing a finger gently down her cheek, he

called softly, “Scully…” Very gently, he tapped her

face with the side of his finger. “Come on, partner.

Wake up.”

A long, low, drawn-out groan made him almost forget

that they both were injured. “Mulderrr…” she

moaned, and he had to remind himself that he was

hearing a moan of distress, not of pleasure.

“I’m here, Scully,” he said gently, brushing the hair

out of her face with his good hand. “Lie still a

minute. You took a pretty good conk to the head.”

“Okay,” she whispered, surprising him with her

compliance.

After a few minutes of kneeling and watching her

anxiously, her eyes popped open, and she pushed

herself to a sitting position. “Careful,” he told

her, hovering but avoiding any contact that might jar

his shoulder.

Picking up on his out-of-character behavior, she eyed

him appraisingly. “Where are you injured?”

“I think I dislocated my shoulder.” He looked down at

the hand tucked into his waistband. He endured a few

seconds of her prodding on and around his joint

before he jerked away. Surprised and a little

embarrassed by this move, he again offered the

shoulder for her inspection. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

When he looked at her face, and her eyes met his, he

saw the change from doctor to partner to friend to

lover. All in the span of one second. Her hand came

up to cup his cheek, then slid to his neck. “Help me

up, and I’ll try not to hurt you too much.”

His concern for his shoulder was forgotten. “Why

don’t you give it another couple of minutes, Scully?

You were unconscious, you know.”

Smiling, she shook her head. “I feel fine now.” When

she started pushing to her feet, Mulder had no choice

but to relent and give her a hand.

He watched her carefully, and when he saw no

indication that she was feigning her good health, he

let himself relax, wincing from the movement.

“Okay?” she asked, directing him to the naked bed

frame and pushing him onto it.

He nodded, unable to speak as she resumed her

examination. She tried, he could tell, but it was

impossible for her to touch him and not hurt him.

“Almost done,” she said gently, as skilled fingers

probed tender flesh.

Again he nodded, then sighed when she declared that

she was done.

“The best I can do is immobilize it,” she told him.

“It looks like there may be some muscle damage as

well.” She turned her attention to the man in the

other cell. “Deputy, could you hand me those sheets,

please?”

As the officer complied, his eyes darted from her to

Mulder and back to her. “Y’all are really FBI?”

He heard Scully sigh. “Yes, we are.”

The man shook his head. “I’m sure sorry, ma’am.”

“You should be,” he heard his partner mutter, as she

dumped the bedding next to Mulder.

Any comments he had on the subject of the deputy’s

apology immediately fled when he saw his partner

tearing sheets in preparation of more torture. He

managed to stay quiet while she positioned his arm,

then attached it tightly to his chest. When she

finally pronounced that she was finished, he found

himself once again sweating and shaking, and wanting

desperately to pass out.

“Does it still hurt?” Her tone was concerned, and a

little alarmed.

He shook his head. “Not now.”

“Oh, Mulder…” She wrestled the mattress back onto

the bed frame, then guided him to it. Why don’t you

lie down for awhile?”

He couldn’t have protested if he’d wanted to. Letting

her help him down, he closed his eyes and sank into

the welcome darkness.

**

Act III

10:07 p.m.

“What in tarnation are you doing in there?”

Scully practically fell out of the bed when the

exasperated words penetrated into her doze. Rolling

smoothly off the mattress, she faced the two men

squared off at the adjoining cell.

The deputy sputtered an explanation of how he came to

be incarcerated in his own jail while the sheriff

unlocked the door.

Stopping when he caught sight of her and a Mulder

getting slowly to his feet, the sheriff asked, “Who

are they?” As the man’s gaze took in their

appearance, disbelief painted his face. “Oh, lord,

tell me they aren’t the ‘mobsters’ you arrested this

morning.”

Euphoric anticipation in the scene about to play out

caused Scully — and probably Mulder, too — to

refrain from answering for the flustered deputy.

The deputy shuffled from foot to foot, still inside

the unlocked cell. His gaze remained glued to his

boots. “Well… yeah.”

Muttering under his breath, the sheriff unlocked

their cell door. “I’m Sheriff Carl Farris. Agents

Mulder and Scully?”

Scully took out her I.D. and presented it to the

sheriff. “Yes, sir.”

The sheriff’s gaze drifted to his deputy and then

back to Scully. “Why didn’t you…” He indicated

Scully’s I.D. and the deputy.

“I wasn’t given the opportunity to do so,” she

answered.

The sheriff pinned Jenkins with a glare. “Didn’t they

tell you they were federal agents?”

Jenkins cleared his throat. “Sort of.”

“What the hell does that mean?” the sheriff exploded.

“Either they did or they didn’t.”

“We told him, but he didn’t believe us,” Scully

volunteered, savoring every moment of this.

“He was drunk,” the deputy challenged, pointing a

finger at Mulder. “Couldn’t pass the sobriety test.”

The sheriff turned back to Scully for an explanation.

“My partner was sick. The madman who locked your

deputy in that cell was using a device that affected

Agent Mulder’s health. I tried to explain…” She

felt the bitterness at Mulder’s treatment by the

deputy return. “…but he slapped the cuffs on and

threw us in a cell, and he wouldn’t listen.”

Mulder picked up the tale of woe. “Our cel phones

don’t get a signal here, so we couldn’t call anyone.

Plus, it’s hard to dial with handcuffs on,” he

muttered under his breath.

Scully — and apparently the sheriff, too — heard

him anyway. “Francis,” he addressed the deputy. “Did

you put them in a cell with the cuffs on?”

Jenkins nodded miserably.

Farris shook his head, then addressed Scully and

Mulder again. “I’m sorry about that, Agents. Francis

has been warned about that, but it doesn’t appear to

be taking too well.”

Scully exchanged a look with Mulder. ‘Obviously not,’

his raised eyebrows conveyed.

Seeing her partner holding himself a little stiffly,

Scully said to the sheriff, “I’ve got to get Agent

Mulder to the hospital.” She herded him out the cell

and into the debris-strewn office. “If you’ll excuse

us, we’ll check back with you tomorrow on the case.”

Seemingly just noticing that Mulder was injured,

Farris hastily moved aside. “Oh. Of course. Mind if I

ask what happened?”

“We were stuck in here when the twister hit.” Mulder

indicated Jenkins with a tilt of his head. “At the

deputy’s suggestion, we secured ourselves to the

bars.”

“Agent Mulder came down a little too hard,” Scully

finished.

The sheriff nodded. “County Hospital is five miles

out of town, going toward Huntsville, on the 190. You

should have no trouble finding it.”

Scully nodded her thanks as she ushered her partner

to the door. “We’ll be by late morning, if that’s all

right, Sheriff.”

“That’ll be fine, Agent Scully. It’ll give me time to

make this place a mite more presentable,” he grinned.

Scully gave him a tired smile. “We’d have no

objections coming by later if you need more time.”

The sheriff thought a moment. “How about two? That’ll

give you time to rest a bit, and me time to get a

little order in here.”

“Two it is,” Mulder answered for them. “See you

then.”

Scully smiled and followed her partner. They walked

out the door, then turned around and walked back in.

“Sheriff, could we trouble you for a ride?”

**

Larson’s Motel

9:49 a.m.

February 24

“Yes, sir. I’ll keep you apprised.” Through slitted

eyes, Mulder watched as Scully placed the motel phone

back in the cradle.

Mulder groaned and opened his eyes. “Was that

Skinner?” His voice was still rough with sleep, and

he coughed to clear it.

“He sends his love.”

Mulder snorted. “Maybe to you.”

Scully smiled. “His concern then.” Her face lost its

brightness. “He’s worried that you haven’t seen the

last of Lawrence Dexter.”

Wincing as he struggled to sit up, Mulder nodded.

“It’s a valid assumption, given Dexter’s history.” He

felt a little woozy, and let himself fall back

against the headboard. The impact jarred his

shoulder, and he grunted from the pain. Although the

doctor at the hospital had been able to pop his

shoulder back in, it still hurt like a son of a

bitch.

“What’s the matter?” Scully homed in on him like a

bee to honey.

Mulder tried to shake the cobwebs out of his head.

“Must be the medication they gave me.”

“Are you dizzy again?

Now that he’d been sitting up for few seconds, he

didn’t feel so bad. “It’s going away,” he told her,

his head beginning to clear. However, when he stood

up, Scully had to grab onto him to keep him from

toppling over.

“Whoa! What were you saying about its going away?”

And after another few seconds, it did. Not entirely,

but enough so he could continue his trek. “Thanks,”

he said, breaking out of her hold.

“Mulder,” she called after him. “You shouldn’t — ”

“Just going to the bathroom, Scully. I’ll come right

back out. I promise.”

He heard her halt her pursuit of him. “All right. Be

careful, though.”

Nodding, he entered the small room and closed the

door. He had just finished washing his hands, and was

reaching for the hand towel when his knees turned to

jelly, and he found himself sitting on the bathroom

floor.

The door suddenly flew open, nearly beaning him, and

he looked up in surprise. Scully stood over him like

a mother bear protecting her cub. “What happened?”

she asked as she lifted him to his feet. “Did you get

dizzy again?”

He honestly couldn’t remember. One minute he was

standing there, the next he was on the floor staring

up at his partner. “I don’t know.”

“This is *not* from the medication,” Scully stated

firmly. “Besides, that should have worn off about

four hours ago.”

“I know,” he said, as she walked him back to the bed.

“This feels like what happened earlier.”

“Dammit,” Scully swore. “That son of a bitch is still

in the area.”

“It looks like it,” Mulder agreed, sitting down

heavily on the bed; starting to feel ill, he crawled

up to the pillows and lay down. “Or he left behind a

present.”

Scully’s alarmed eyes met his, then she stalked away

and heaved his partially-packed bag onto the other

side of the bed. He tried not to groan when the

movement upset his already queasy stomach.

“Well, that’s everything.” Scully’s declaration

startled him awake.

He blinked and looked up at her. “Done already?” His

voice was hardly more than a croak.

Scully laughed. “Mulder, you’ve been asleep for two

hours.” She gazed at him with concern and affection.

“But, yes, I’m done.”

“Find anything?” he asked, even though he could tell

by her demeanor what the answer would be.

“No,” she answered quietly. “There’s nothing here.”

Her eyes met his. “We’re going to have to look for

him.”

Dumbfounded to hear her include him in the search

without his having to fight for it, he could only

nod, his mouth parted in awe.

Sitting beside him on the bed gently, she placed her

palm on the side of his face. “It’s your health he’s

screwing with, Mulder. You have every right to be in

on the hunt for him.”

“Thank you,” he managed to choke out. Just when he

thought he was sure he knew everything about her, she

still had the ability to surprise him.

She smiled her response and took hold of his hands,

giving them a squeeze. “Do you feel up to showering?”

He shook his head slowly. “I think I might need

help.” The sad truth was that he really thought he

would.

She helped him to his feet and guided him to the

bathroom, then stripped them both.

Mulder cursed Dexter anew when he found that his

greatest desire was not to ravish his partner, but to

keep her free of injury when he inevitably fell onto

his ass.

**

Sheriff’s Office

2:27 p.m.

“So this man Dexter is responsible for *all* the

‘accidents’ this past week?” The sheriff looked up at

Scully from behind his desk. “Even the ghost in the

diner?”

Scully blew out a breath, but before she could reply,

the sheriff put up a hand to stop her.

“I know it wasn’t really a ghost, Agent Scully, but

how did he do it? I have half a dozen witnesses who

swear they saw a man walk in through one wall and

walk back out another.”

“It could have been a holographic projection of some

kind,” Mulder interjected. “He certainly has the

technological know-how to make it look real.”

Scully nodded her agreement. “And we have reason to

believe that he has access to very sophisticated

equipment.”

She exchanged a look with her partner, critiquing his

appearance at the same time. He sat slumped in the

chair, elbow propped up on the sheriff’s desk, his

hand shielding his eyes from the bright fluorescent

lights.

“So where is he now?” Farris asked.

Scully shrugged. “He left just before the tornado

struck. I don’t know where he is now.”

“That’s it, then?” the sheriff asked. “Now that he’s

gone, all these weird events will stop?”

Scully glanced at her sick partner, who now appeared

to be asleep. “Almost all.”

Farris looked up sharply. “What do you mean, ‘almost

all?'”

“Dexter either left something behind, or is still in

the area. Whatever he used earlier on Agent Mulder is

affecting him again.”

The sheriff looked closely at Mulder, and his face

softened in sympathy. “Why does it only affect him?”

Scully shook her head. “We’ve been wondering that,

too, and we think he must have found some unique

element in Mulder’s chemical makeup that allows

Dexter to somehow zero in, to focus… whatever the

hell he devised… exclusively on him.” She noticed

the sheriff’s curiosity, but to the man’s credit, he

did not ask. This factor prompted her to tell him.

“Agent Mulder is red/green colorblind. We think that

the same genetic defect that causes the

colorblindness is also the trait that Dexter has

somehow been able to home in on.”

Farris nodded gravely. “Can I do anything to help?”

God bless the man, Scully thought. This almost made

up for his having an idiot for a deputy. Suddenly

remembering their not-so-pleasant encounter with the

man, Scully looked around warily. “We would

appreciate your help, Sheriff, but you can understand

that we would prefer not to work with Deputy

Jenkins.”

Farris nodded his agreement. “You won’t have to worry

about that. I let Francis go.”

Immediately — and irrationally — Scully felt

responsible.

The sheriff waived away her concern. “Don’t feel too

sorry for him. He’s my wife’s cousin and I’ve been

looking for a good enough reason to get rid of him

for months. I’m sorry it had to come at your expense,

but I surely thank you for the excuse I needed to

finally fire his ass.”

“Uh, Sheriff, I know you’ve got your hands full with

the fallout from the tornado, so if you could just

clear it so we have free reign to search the area,

we’ll be on our way.”

Farris glanced at Mulder, then nodded. “I hope you

don’t mind my saying so, Agent Scully, but your

partner doesn’t look like he’s in any condition to go

on a manhunt.”

Scully let her gaze drift to her sleeping partner for

a moment. “Unfortunately, Mulder’s illness is the one

sure way we have of finding either Dexter or whatever

is being used to make him sick.”

Farris squinted in puzzlement.

“The closer we get, the more he’s affected.”

Farris drew in a breath and let it out slowly. “You

mean, the closer you get, the sicker he gets?”

Scully nodded solemnly. “That’s right.”

The sheriff looked appalled. “Look, I can get someone

to take over for me here, and I can help you — ”

“That won’t be necessary,” Scully cut him off. “We’re

almost positive that Dexter has left the area — if

he was able to.”

Farris looked up at that. “You think he might be

dead?”

She hoped. “Or injured. He left only a couple of

minutes before that twister struck.”

“But you said Agent Mulder wasn’t affected until this

morning. If your suspect was killed, who activated

the device?”

“We know he planted one in Jenkins’ pocket — which

didn’t start to affect Mulder for a few minutes. We

think he must have used some sort of time delay.

Mulder could have been affected last night, but he

was too groggy from the pain killers at the hospital

to notice much before he fell asleep.” She paused,

thinking. “He was fine at the hospital, so we don’t

have to look in that direction. But it’s affecting

him more here than at the hotel, so we seem to be

heading in the right direction.”

Farris sighed. “All right, Agent Scully. But if you

find that son of a bitch alive, you call me if you

need me.”

Scully smiled. “Sheriff, it will be my pleasure.”

**

Just Outside the Agents’ Rental Car

4:06 p.m.

If he didn’t know Scully was with him, Mulder would

have sworn he was in hell. Why he ever thought it

would be a good idea to use himself as a gauge to

Dexter’s whereabouts was beyond him now.

He’d lost count of the number of times they’d had to

pull over so he could throw up, and even Scully was

growing exasperated by all the stops. As he crawled

back into the car from his latest bout, she was

studying a map and acknowledged him with a glance.

“Are you through?” she asked, and the annoyance in

her tone made him want to hit her.

“Do you think I’m enjoying this?” he spat. “I’m sorry

if I’m holding things up, but I didn’t think you’d

want to drive a rental car that smells like a sewer.”

“Look, I’m sorry, but we’re never going to find him

if we keep stopping every two minutes.”

“Well, what would you suggest I do? Stick my head out

the window every time I have to puke?” Exhausted and

dizzy beyond belief, he let himself fall against the

seat; when he noticed Scully’s scrutiny, he curled

against the door, turning away from her.

Her hand on his shoulder made him jump. “I’m sorry,”

she said, and the genuine sorrow in her voice made

him swallow hard. Yet he did not turn around; he

wasn’t quite ready to forgive her.

All too soon, her warmth was gone as she put the car

in gear and continued slowly along the debris-strewn

road. After a few minutes’ driving, he began to feel

better.

“Stop,” he croaked. “We’re going the wrong way.”

Scully brought the car to a stop, then looked at him

a moment before nodding and wordlessly reversing

direction. When they came to a side road, she took

it, and immediately he felt the effects.

“This way, huh?” she asked, with a noticeably strong

sympathetic tone in her voice.

Mulder knew he wasn’t required to answer, so he

concentrated on fighting the nausea, determined not

to lose any more time at the side of the road.

After about half a minute, he knew he’d made a major

mistake; unable to voice his panic, and before he

could convey his dilemma to his partner, Mulder found

himself heaving onto the floor. Though Scully

immediately pulled over, Mulder was embarrassed at

his inability to control his own actions. The second

the car came to a stop, he pulled on the handle and

stumbled out.

Christ, he thought she’d seen him at his absolute

worst, but this was a record low, even for him.

Feeling her hands on his shoulders, he tried to shake

her off. “Go on ahead, Scully.” He tried not to let

his emotions color his words. “We’re as close as

we’re going to get.”

“Mulder…” She tried to get him to turn around, but

he used the last of his strength to finally pull out

of her grip.

“Scully, just find whatever the hell is doing this to

me. I can’t help you anymore.” He sobbed it out, and

didn’t care that he did. “I just can’t.” He felt her

watching him, but he refused to face her, looking as

bad as he knew he must look.

“Okay, Mulder, but I know why you’re doing this.” Her

hand felt warm where she laid it on his back. “We’ll

discuss it when you’re feeling better.”

He nodded frantically. “Right,” he choked out, hoping

to hold back until she was in the car and away.

Though he didn’t hear the car door open and shut

before he began puking his guts out again, he did

hear her drive away right before he passed out.

**

4:53 p.m.

Mulder was exactly where she’d left him. She winced

when she took in his appearance; he’d been sick again

and then passed out right into the mess.

Returning to the car, she retrieved a couple of the

bottles of water they had bought to keep themselves

hydrated in the hot weather.

After dragging Mulder a few feet away from where he

was lying, she poured one of the bottles over his

face and hair. Worried when dousing him with water

didn’t rouse him, she fished his handkerchief out of

his pocket and wiped off the remaining hints of

sickness from his face. She tapped on his cheek

gently.

“Mulder… Hey, partner, come on. Wake up.” She wet a

clean portion of the cloth and ran it over his

forehead and eyes.

“Unnh…” he groaned. “Scully?”

A thrill still ran through her whenever she was

reminded that she was always Mulder’s first waking

thought. “Yeah, it’s me,” she told him, lovingly,

nudging his cheekbone with the backs of her fingers.

“How are you feeling?”

She watched as he took stock, then opened his eyes

and regarded her. “Better.” Taking a breath, he

wrinkled his nose, then jerked upright. He looked at

the ground around him. “I thought I…” He trailed

off.

“I’m afraid you did,” she said sympathetically. She

indicated the spot about six feet away.

His eyes alit on the area indicated, and his face

reddened, yet he didn’t say anything.

She touched a finger to the back of his hand. “You

don’t have to hide from me, Mulder.”

He shook his head and looked down at his lap. “I

don’t want you to see me looking like that.”

“But I did.” She knelt down beside him. “And it

hasn’t changed anything.” He shrugged, and she could

tell that though he believed her, it still troubled

him.

Looking up, he met her eyes. “What happened with

Dexter? I assume you found the device since I’m able

to sit here and talk to you.” His eyebrows furrowed

in question. “So what happened?”

Trying not to recall the scene she’d come upon when

she found their suspect, Scully looked away.

“Dexter’s dead. I found the device and destroyed it.

End of story.”

“What aren’t you telling me?” he asked, softly, and

she thought how there were times when she absolutely

hated the fact that he knew her so well.

“He asked me to kill him,” she stated flatly.

Mulder displayed the tiniest bit of surprise. “And

did you?”

Crossing her arms across her chest, she sighed. “He

wasn’t as lucky as we were, stuck inside a nice box,

with bars all around us.” She stopped, picturing the

scene in her mind. “There were fence pickets laying

everywhere, sticking up out of the ground… All but

one missed him.” She took a deep breath to try to

steady her increasingly faster-beating heart. “He ‘d

lost a lot of blood, but he was still alive.” She

looked away. “He pleaded with me to shoot him.”

The compassion in Mulder’s eyes made her glad she’d

done what she was about to tell him next.

“I made him tell me about the device he was using on

you.” At the question in his eyes, she explained. “He

had it in his jeans pocket. I took it and destroyed

it.” She focused on his face. “He had hidden similar

devices all over the D.C. area three years ago.” At

Mulder’s appalled look, she nodded. “For those CEO’s

he didn’t get to finish off. You were given the honor

of being subjected to the milder version. Because you

had nothing to do with his mother’s death, and for

doing your job, and doing it well, you got off easy.”

His look of disbelief made her laugh. “I know. I

know.” She patted his shoulder. “But at least you’re

alive. The others, if he’d been able to activate

them, would have eventually killed them.”

“Do you know where they’re hidden?” he asked.

She nodded, taking a notebook out of her pocket.

“Everything is in here: where they’re hidden, how to

activate them, the intended target.” She tapped the

small brown book with her finger. “As well as all his

little ‘experiments’ out here. And his…

professional work.”

Mulder gave a low whistle. “Some legacy he left,” he

commented, then gazed at her. “So did you…” He left

it at that.

She met his eyes, not blinking. “I couldn’t do it.”

He nodded. “What happened?” he asked softly.

She drew in a deep breath, then blew it out. “I took

aim, and I was all set to pull the trigger… and I

just couldn’t.” She glanced down guiltily at him.

Although grateful for the love and support in his

gaze, she had to look away for what was coming next.

“He grabbed my gun. A dying, mortally-wounded man

took away my weapon and shot himself with it.”

When she looked back at Mulder, she was dismayed by

the shock on his face. “He could have killed you,

Scully.”

She shook her head. “He didn’t want to kill me.” Her

eyes met his. “And he didn’t really take my gun away.

I gave it to him.”

Mulder’s shocked look increased. “Jesus, Scully…”

She looked down at her shoes; she really did not want

to tell him this. “It was his price for telling me

where he’d hidden the device,” she practically

mumbled. “…That I kill him or let him kill

himself.”

“Jesus…” he whispered. “Scully — ”

“Don’t even say it, Mulder.” She met his eyes again,

her own full of conviction. “He named a price — you

— and I paid it. Don’t even *think* for a minute

that I shouldn’t have.”

“But… he could have killed you.”

She sighed in exasperation. “You didn’t see him. I

did. You didn’t examine him. You didn’t see how much

he was suffering.” She shook her head. “He had barely

enough strength to pull the trigger once. He wasn’t

about to waste that shot on me.” She looked hard into

his eyes, as if that could make him see. “I made a

judgement call, Mulder. Either you trust me on this,

or you mull over for the rest of your life the fact

that I love you enough to take chances with my life

to save yours.” She narrowed her eyes at him and

quirked an eyebrow. “Sound familiar?”

She was relieved to see him visibly relax at that.

His lips even twitched upward almost in a smile.

“Yeah. I guess I can relate.”

Scully laughed. “Understatement of the year.”

Mulder chuckled, then winced when Scully helped him

to his feet.

“Shoulder still sore?”

He nodded, then said in a sheepish voice, “But my

stomach muscles hurt more.”

Scully nodded in sympathy; all that vomiting had

taken its toll. “I’ll bet,” she said, rubbing his

back.

Mulder gazed at her lovingly, then he smirked. “How

about we get the hell out of Dodge, pardner?”

Rolling her eyes, Scully groaned. “You’ve just been

waiting for the right time to use that, haven’t you?”

Her partner smiled happily. “Yeah.” He raised an

eyebrow. “And you haven’t?”

She shook her head. “Never even occurred to me.”

When Mulder rolled his eyes at her, Scully laughed.

**

Epilogue

February 25

A.D. Skinner’s Office

6:12 p.m.

“That’s the last of them,” Skinner sighed as he hung

up the phone.

“I’m impressed,” Mulder stated. “We just turned in

that notebook this afternoon.”

Skinner smiled. “Some pretty powerful people were on

that list, Agent Mulder.”

“What about the other… information?” Scully asked.

“That’s not your concern, Agent.” Skinner seemed

surprised at his harsh tone, and his next comment

came out a little milder. “The FBI has turned it over

to another agency.”

Mulder exchanged a look with Scully. Neither had to

ask which agency.

“So…” Skinner claimed their attention once again.

“That ends that. You can go home, Agents.”

Mulder nodded and stood up, Scully right by his side.

As they started for the door, Skinner stopped them.

“Agents?”

They turned around to face him.

“That was good work,” Skinner said quietly. “I’m glad

we can finally lay this case to rest.”

“Thank you, sir,” Mulder heard Scully say, while he

could only nod dumbly. What good work had he done?

Unless Skinner counted getting sick at every step a

plus, and in that event he solved this one by

himself.

When Scully turned and continued to the door, Mulder

followed her out. He was still embarrassed that his

partner had seen him in so many unflattering

situations. He couldn’t help but recall how irritated

she’d been during their search for Dexter when she’d

had to pull over every few minutes so he could vomit.

Just the thought made him feel humiliated all over

again.

“Mulder!”

His head jerked up in surprise. “Huh?” Finding his

partner’s eyes filled with mild annoyance, he shook

off the feeling of deja vu.

“I said, do you want to get some dinner?”

“Um…” He really wasn’t all that hungry, but if he

said so, he was certain he’d be facing The

Inquisition. “Sure.”

When Scully gave him a stern look, Mulder returned a

confused one. “Not here,” she said, motioning him

into the elevator.

Not sure what he’d done to get the silent treatment,

he nonetheless accompanied her to their office, where

they packed up and left in utter silence.

He was confident enough not to worry that she didn’t

love him any longer, and from the looks she was

throwing his way, he was beginning to see what had

upset her. He sighed. It wasn’t his fault that he

felt that way. And look who was calling the kettle

black! The ‘I’m fine” queen. The original ‘never let

them see you sweat’ model — or in her instance,

‘never show any weakness, never let Mulder comfort

you, never let him take care of you or allow him to

see you at anything less than your absolute perfect

best!’

How dare she be upset at his being embarrassed! She’d

had a front row seat to what he’d never been allowed

to even *know* about when *she* was sick.

Once they were in the car and Scully turned to him,

Mulder was ready to counter any argument she gave him

about his feelings.

Her softly-uttered, “I’m sorry,” totally derailed his

thoughts.

“What?” was all he could manage.

“Because it was you, because it’s absurd to me that I

would see you in any light other than perfect, I’d

discounted how very humiliating it feels to have

someone watching while you’re feeling as far from

perfect as you can feel.” She cupped his cheek. “And

I apologize for how much worse I made you feel in the

car. In my defense, I can only say that I was so

anxious to catch Dexter and put a stop to what he was

doing to you, that I forgot about *you.*”

Mulder swallowed hard, nodding. While he appreciated

her viewpoint and could understand her impatience,

still it hurt. In time, he would push it out of his

mind, but for now the memory was too sharp to simply

brush aside. He took a deep breath, and dredged up a

smile. “It’s okay,” he said softly.

She gave him the eyebrow, and he laughed.

“It will be,” he amended. Taking her hand in his, he

brought it to his lips and gently kissed her palm.

“Because I know you love me.”

“Damned right,” she averred. After a few seconds, he

let her go so she could start the car.

As she drove in silence, his mind couldn’t help but

wander back to the previous day and what she’d gone

through alone with Dexter. He hadn’t been the only

one who’d had a tough time of it.

“You’ll be all right, too, Scully.”

Eyes never leaving the road, she smiled. “I know.”

When she didn’t say anything else, Mulder felt the

need to prompt her. “Do you know why?”

A wistful smile came to her face. “Because you know I

love you.”

Mulder shook his head slowly from side to side.

“You’re impossible,” he said good-naturedly.

Taking her eyes off the road for a moment, Scully

glanced at him. “Do you know why?

“Because I love you,” Mulder said quietly.

Scully nodded with enthusiasm.

“Damned right.”

The End

1

39

Love’s a Beach

TITLE: Love’s A Beach

AUTHOR: XSketch

SUMMARY: It’s Valentine’s Day…and Mulder’s ditched

Scully again.

CATEGORY: Vignette, casefile, MSR

RATING: PG-13

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusive to IMTP’s VS11, and

then I’d be honored for you to use it – as long as

you keep my name attached and let me know where so I

can visit!

FEEDBACK: Proudly begged for at

sketchney@ntlworld.com!

SPOILERS: Nope (I’ve been very good this time

<g>)…’cept, maybe, Vickie Moseley’s VS11 ‘Great

Balls Of Fire’

DISCLAIMER: Oh, please! Look, they’re NOT mine –

never were, never will be! I’m just giving them an

airing. Chris Carter, 1013 and co. own them, and all

complaints about where the show ended up going are

encouraged to be sent to them!

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Written for VS11’s Valentine’s Day

special. The Lithuanian and Norse myths mentioned do

exist…Wish I could claim to have come up with

those, but I can’t. 😦 I read it and just *had* to

make the M&S connection!

This is for GG7 – for being the first person to prod

me into writing!

*****************************************************

**************

LUVLITE LAKE, CONNECTICUT

FEBRUARY 13th, 2004

5:17 PM

*This* was the best time for a stroll along the

beach.

Everyone was making their way home, the business was

winding down and the sun was setting. Quiet,

tranquil, and hers for the taking whenever she wanted

it.

Yep: the best time for sure.

Of course, why they were even open for business in

February when it was freezing cold and the December

snow had barely thawed still befuddled her, but it

was her husband Olev’s decision and he owned the

place; it was best to let him just get on with it.

…If only, one day, he would make the time and get

his head out of the books long enough to share this

special walk with her… That didn’t look set to be

happening any time soon, though – not even with

Valentine’s Day just around the corner – so she

stopped at the water’s edge and let out a sigh in

appreciation of the fact that she could experience

this at all.

The moment of tranquillity quickly and unexpectedly

changed into one of confused shock, however, as the

clear blue lake turned a sickly shade of amber and

the small tide dispensed two objects shaped like

teardrops at her feet.

XxXxXxXxX

“It was her.”

Fox Mulder glanced up at the tanned, Dutch-accented

man that had just uttered the words, and then

frowned.

The call had come on his cellphone from the Tolland

County sheriff at 5:12 this morning, and he had

almost turned it down… ‘Almost’ being the operative

word, of course. Fifteen minutes later he had left

the apartment and the peacefully slumbering Scully in

favour of solving this as soon as possible.

“Who? Your wife?” he queried, glancing out at the

expanse of golden water and then back at the man.

Olev Johansen gave a scoff of laughter and shook his

head. “No!” As quickly as it had departed, the

seriousness returned to his face. “The mermaid

lady,” he whispered for dramatic effect.

Mulder could be gullible…No, not gullible – more

‘open-minded’… about things, but even he had come

far enough to be able to give the man a skeptical

glance. He was just thankful his partner wasn’t here

to see it, otherwise she’d be either checking him for

a head injury or gloating with ‘I told you this case

was a waste of time!’

“I hear the mermaid lady’s story when I small boy…

I no believe… I still don’t. But be it her or

something else, I need my water back fresh – I lose

customers all time beach closed,” Olev explained.

“I-I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable

explanation, sir,” Mulder faltered, lowering his head

to stare at the two objects in the evidence bag that

he held. “And I’m sure we’ll be able to open the

beach before too much business is lost.” A pause,

and then, “But, about this mermaid: what’s the

story?”

So, he was curious! Was that such a surprise?

“In Baltic Sea, lady fall in love with fisher-man…but

that is pissing off Perkunas because it make the

water impure.” Johansen paused as he noticed the

dawning realization on the FBI agent’s face. He

wasn’t deterred from telling his story for long

though, and after a deep breath he continued, “So

fisher-man was killed with great bolt of lightning in

the palace, and mermaid lady was chained to ruins.

But it said she cry – she cry a lot for loss of

fisher-man, and her tears colour the sea… Maybe she

freed from palace and now she cry here…at my lake.”

“Mister Johansen, you’re talking about a myth

centuries old… Believe me, given many other

scenarios I would have every reason to think that a

myth may be connected to the crime… I just don’t

think it’s the case here.” What the hell was coming

out of his mouth!? Mulder quickly shut it before he

told the man he was crazy, and then crouched down to

collect a sample of the coloured water.

“You no think? It may be old story, but I think it

true…Melba agree, and she not often do that for

things she know I learn from my papa,” the tanned man

countered, combing a shaky hand through his greasy

hair. “I think it very likely – especially today of

all days.”

Mulder capped the tube before shooting the man a

questioning glance. “Huh?”

“February 14th, of course!”

February 14th?…Febr–

Oh, crap.

Valentine’s Day…

…And he had ditched Scully…

XxXxXxXxX

GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON D.C

HALF AN HOUR EARLIER…

Dana Scully turned over and reached across the

bed…only to find the space beside her empty. Her

eyes immediately flung open and looked around the

room, but there was no sign of her partner.

Since he’d moved into her apartment three weeks ago

she had learnt a couple extra perks and quirks about

him that she never thought possible (after all,

they’d always spent so much time together whilst on a

case and in the rest of their personal time… What

made cohabiting so different?), but nine times out of

ten he was always there in the bed with her when she

awoke – always ready to prove to her again just how

much he really did love her, even though it would

make them late for work if he did.

Today they had the day off, and she was adamant on

the idea of making this Valentine’s Day work, with

neither of them ending up in hospital.

…Maybe he’d gone for a jog…

Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Scully padded into

the living room and then the kitchen.

She quickly stepped back, though, as the image of his

running shoes next to the front door registered in

her mind.

“Mulder?”

A search throughout the whole apartment and several

more sharp calls of his name turned up no Mulder.

However, another visual sweep of the living room

revealed the folded note on the coffee table.

‘Scully,

Please don’t load your gun yet! I got a

call from the sheriff in Tolland County early this

morning about some lake changing color all of a

sudden… It sounds fairly simple, and I know you need

the rest so I didn’t want to wake you. I’ll solve it

and be home ASAP, unscathed – I promise.

Yours always, M’

The paper fell to the floor as the anger inside her

rose. She was going to kill him this time, for sure.

Ditching her was one thing, but in the morning and on

today of all days… A death sentence was definitely

called for.

After an unsuccessful attempt at calling his number,

she phoned the sheriff to gain all the information

she could (wishing she could kill him as well for

calling her partner out).

“Oh, yeah,” the voice down the line apologized. “I

didn’t think he’d mind – I’ve heard that that kind of

thing is what you investigate.”

“It is, Sheriff Gusmano, but we usually take

assignments via our assistant director,” Dana

seethed, barely able to contain the murderous rage

boiling in her veins. Of course Mulder wouldn’t

mind! She, on the other hand…

“All I can do is apologize, agent. As it is I’ve

been trying to contact your partner to apologise for

wasting his time an–”

“Wasting his time?”

“Well, yeah… We found out the cause of the colour-

change in the Johansens’ lake, and it ain’t anything

paranormal, I can assure you,” Gusmano explained.

“I’ve been trying to pass the information on to your

partner, but he’s not answering his phone. I was

just about to drive out there when y–”

“No, don’t worry about doing that,” she suddenly cut

in – a plan forming in her mind. This would be the

perfect chance to punish him for ditching her!

“Where did you say he was again?” She could turn up

and then watch his face as she debunked whatever

crazy theory he had concocted with the sheriff’s

explanation.

“Luvlite Lake Beach and Boat Club.”

“Thanks. Thank you very much.”

XxXxXxXxX

As Olev Johansen made his way up the decked stairs to

look for his wife, Mulder sat down in the rental car,

booted up his laptop and then – with a couple of

clicks – opened the ‘Myths And Legends’ program

Scully had given him two Christmases ago.

“Ah, Scully, you know what I like,” he grinned (as he

had then), typing ‘Baltic Sea – Perkunus’ into the

search bar.

When the results brought back an alternate spelling

and two listed articles, he opened the first and

begun to read.

Needless to say, it was pretty much exactly what the

Dutchman had described to him.

At the bottom of the page, however, was printed the

sentence ‘Recalls myth of Freya – the Norse goddess

of Love and Fertility – who cried tears of amber into

the sea after losing her husband, Odur’. Immediately

he typed that name into the program, and was reading

the almost identical tale when the sound of

approaching footsteps caught his attention.

“Melba is okay… She speak to you now,” Johansen

awkwardly smiled, resting a hand on the top of the

open car door.

Mulder gave an appreciative nod and then followed the

man up to the clubhouse.

XxXxXxXxX

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 14th, 2004

1:57 PM

Two and a half hours, three cups of coffee and one

bathroom break later Mulder moved back out to the

beach no nearer to solving this case than he had been

when he’d first arrived. Melba Johansen had seen

nothing, the trees that surrounded the small building

showed no signs of UFO activity, and the only theory

he had to work with was the myth of a grieving

mermaid goddess.

Pretty standard X-File, then…

With a defeated sigh, he glanced down at his watch.

Two o’clock… Scully would have concocted a perfect

torture plan for him by now – heck, she’d have come

up with it five seconds after reading his note! He

couldn’t really blame her – forgetting Valentine’s

Day and ditching her aside, he had then worsened the

situation by not bothering to call her.

He reached into his jacket pocket for his phone, only

to find it not there.

“You seem to have this habit of leaving things

behind: Unlocked car, laptop, cellular

phone…partner…”

Mulder looked up to see Scully standing against the

front of his car with her arms folded across her

chest and the stern expression on her face that could

kill a thousand men on the spot in a heartbeat.

“Scully… Hey!” That’s it, Mulder, play it cool.

“When did you get here?” Approaching, he smiled –

trying to let his happiness to see her outweigh the

fear of what she was going to do to him.

Dana stood still, watching his tall frame as he

stopped directly in front of her. She was still

angry with him, but as she stared at his face and

noticed the guilt it unsuccessfully tried to hide

from her, it was a difficult internal battle to stay

that way.

“I think the words you’re looking for are ‘I’m sorry

I ditched you yet again, Scully. What can I do to

make it up to you?'” came her cold response.

He grimaced.

“Mulder, one of these days you’re gonna learn you

can’t chase after every little case that drops in

your lap, and that I don’t particularly like being

left behind – without warning – on one of our rare

days off,” Scully asserted – arms unfolding and both

hands moving to rest against her hips.

“I’m sorry, Scully. Really, I am – I did leave you a

note to let you know where I’d gone…” came his

hesitant defence. “But we could be witness to a myth

becoming reali–”

“No, we’re not, and other than coming to kick your

ass to Kingdom Come, I’m here to let you know that

your work here is done – there is no case.”

“The water suddenly turned amber! Of course there’s

a case, and I think it’s connected to an old Norse

tale…”

“Believe me, Mulder, there is no X-File here.”

Scully’s features softened and she outstretched a

hand to gently touch the end of his jacket sleeve.

Sometimes she hated having to tell him that there was

a rational explanation because of all the hard work

he put in – no matter how big a jerk he could be.

“Sheriff Gusmano got word of the real answer you’re

looking for and has been trying to pass it on to

you…but guess who left their phone on silent and in

the car?” The all-too-familiar raised eyebrow

appeared.

“You have the answer?”

She smiled triumphantly as the crestfallen expression

on his face deepened. “Ohhh yes… But you’re not

going to like it.” The hand on his arm raised to

rest on his shoulder and then turn him so he was

looking out at the water. “See that building beyond

the trees on the other side of the lake?” Her other

hand outstretched to point at the dark spot on the

horizon, and he nodded. “It’s a waste disposal

plant.”

Mulder’s shoulders abruptly slumped and his head

snapped round to stare at her.

“Yesterday there was an unexpected leak and somehow

it all overflowed into the Johansens’ beautiful lake

– contaminating the water,” Dana continued. “That’s

why the water suddenly changed colour. But the

sheriff wasn’t handed the incident report until about

the same time you were flying to Logan.”

It was the most logical thing he’d heard thus far,

but still Mulder didn’t want to believe her, so he

quickly reached into the car and pulled out the

evidence he’d collected. “Well, what are these

then?” he enquired, holding up the bag with the two

teardrop-shaped objects in.

“Uh…” Scully paused and had to break eye contact

briefly. “Mulder, what did you used to do with your

fish when they died?”

“I flushed th– They’re not, are they?”

A nod of her head and the bag sharply fell from his

grasp.

“So, this…?” He presented the plastic tube to her,

then removed the lid and lifted it to his nose to

sniff the yellow liquid. A second later disgust

washed over his face and he quickly emptied the

contents out onto the sand at his feet. “Jeez… I

really…I really screwed up this time, didn’t I?”

Scully shook her head and reached for his hand – her

anger a memory she was okay to put aside at least

until later. “When don’t you?” she smiled. “It’s

what makes you unique, though – you mess up so many

times, but you still fight for what you believe in,

survive and beat the bad guys. As annoying as you

can be, I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

“But I ruined today…I ruined your Valentine’s

Day…”

“Very true, and I will make you pay for doing that,

as well as for ditching me. But the day is still

young, there’s still plenty of time for you to buy me

something…” A pause to flash him a mischievous

grin. “…And maybe we can hunt down a decent

restaurant to go to before flying back.”

“In podunk Connecticut?” Mulder groaned.

“It’s worth a try, isn’t it?”

He nodded as she gave his hand a squeeze. “Okay.

I’ll just go tell the Johansens I’m leaving.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

He was just moving back towards the clubhouse when

her voice suddenly called out, “Besides, you forgot,

Mulder, that you need me around to help you find the

answers!”

He turned, smiled, gave a nod of his head and mouthed

the word ‘Always’ before continuing on his way.

XxXxXxXxX

TWENTY MINUTES LATER

Having had her patience stretched to breaking point,

Scully was briskly walking toward the clubhouse when

her partner suddenly re-appeared.

“Sorry about that, Scully, but I do come bearing good

news and a plan to make this day worthwhile,” he

panted.

“You’d better,” she grunted in reply.

He looked hurt at her lack of belief in him (even

though he knew at the same time that he’d given her

no reason to have otherwise), but boldly continued,

“Have you got the overnight bag in the trunk?”

“Mulder?”

“Just bear with me: obviously the Johansens have

gotta shut the place down ’til the lake’s been

completely decontaminated, and they’ve made plans to

disappear for a few days… So, I kinda asked them if

we could stop here – just for tonight – and they

happily gave me the keys to the place. Even gave me

directions to a nice dining spot a couple miles

away.” Mulder paused and smiled at the mixture of

happiness, shock, love and confusion he saw in her

eyes. “What d’ you think?”

Think? She had to *think*?! She couldn’t even

speak! Yet again his tenderness and desire to always

make sure she was happy overwhelmed her. At the back

of her mind she vaguely remembered that she should be

angry with him, but that was too distant a memory to

care about right now.

“Scully? Did I screw up again?”

“Whuh–? Mul– No! No…No, you didn’t. Are you

sure they’re okay with that? I mean, you didn’t tell

them we’re FBI partners, did you? Because if word

gets back–”

“Yes they are okay with that, and no I didn’t tell

’em you were my work partner – give me some credit,

g-woman. I told ’em I have this beautiful girl that

I’m dating but always take far too much for granted,

and that I’d forgotten it was Valentine’s Day so I

wanted to make it up to her…” He paused and a

devillish grin lit his face as he added, finally,

“And then I held them both at gunpoint and demanded

they hand over the keys or I’d shoot–”

“*Mulder!*”

“What? That’s what you wanted to hear, isn’t it?”

Dana shook her head, reached up onto tiptoe to kiss

his cheek and then wrapped her arms around him. “So,

what now?”

“I got the map here… Why don’t we go grab a meal?”

“Yes please – I haven’t eaten since last night and

I’m starved…”

“So am I, but how about we save that for after?”

A playful slap on his arm from her, a hearty laugh

from him and then together they made their way toward

his parked car.

XxXxXxXxX

LUVLITE LAKE

7:22 PM

“Come with me down to the beach.”

Mulder looked down at Scully, who had suddenly tugged

at his hand as he was about to ascend the path to the

clubhouse. Already this evening had proven to be one

he would remember always thanks to the meal they had

just shared. The prospect of walking the beach in

the moonlight with the woman he loved so much was an

added bonus he hadn’t stopped to consider.

“Come on,” she persisted with a breathy whisper.

“Scully, the water’s full of piss and shit!”

“So are you a lot of the time, but I still kiss you!”

To prove her point she reached up and pressed her

lips against his (the mixture of her desire and the

wine she’d consumed at the restaurant immediately

intoxicating his senses). “Come on,…We don’t have to

go near the water. I just…I just wanna walk along

the beach with you.”

Nothing more needed to be said, and he happily

obliged her.

XxXxXxXxX

Ten minutes later they were settled on the sand –

Scully sitting between Mulder’s spread legs and

resting back against his chest.

“I had come up with about a hundred different ways to

torture you for ditching me this morning, you know,”

she sighed as his arms encircled her.

“Mm… I’d guessed as much… What were the chief

runners?”

“Making you clean my apartment from top to bottom for

a month, singing to you, making you learn to rinse

your mouth out with water when you’ve cleaned your

teeth instead of coffee – although I’m planning on

working with you on that one anyway, so don’t get too

cocky… Uh, inviting Bill ’round for dinner and

making you stay…”

“Wow, I’m glad I got you drunk instead so that you

forgot you had to be angry with me!” he chuckled,

resting the side of his head against hers. “I don’t

think I could have survived that much punishment!”

“Hmm…”

The humour quickly faded away and a thick layer of

tense silence smothered them for a moment. Finally,

though, his hold on her increased and he whispered

against her ear, “I don’t like leaving you behind,

Scully. As you said yourself, I need you by my side

if I’m ever to find the answers professionally or

privately. But when I got the call from the sheriff

this morning I just couldn’t say no, even though it

seemed a waste of time. It killed me to have to

leave you behind, but I thought you could do with a

little rest, and I didn’t wanna pull you out to the

middle of nowhere for another pointless case… Not

that I’m saying I knew it was just gonna be two

petrified fish and a lake full of the county’s toilet

sewage–”

“I know. Let’s just forget it and enjoy what’s left

of today.” One of Dana’s hands reached up and

stroked down his cheek as he kissed her earlobe.

“Jurate,” came his deep sigh.

“What? Who?”

“I was just thinking about Jurate – the mermaid

Mister Johansen told me about – I read up about her

on that CD-ROM you gave me for Christmas. Apparently

she had originally gone to visit Kastytis – a

fisherman who was hunting in her kingdom – to stop

him fishing, but she fell deeply in love with him

instead… I was thinking about how much you remind

me of her… I mean, you were sent to debunk me, but

instead you worked *with* me and helped me. And

when, when They realised Their mistake, They tried

everything to separate us.” Mulder swallowed and his

eyes slipped shut as he remembered the day she had

walked through his office door for the very first

time. “You became my everything, though – my

world…dependable, held together and always so

caring.”

After a heartbeat or two to let his words sink in,

Dana cleared her throat and then twisted in his arms

so that she could stare at him. “You’re forgetting

something, though, Mulder,” she whispered, never

breaking eye contact.

“What?”

“Didn’t that story finish badly?”

“Yeah. A sea goddess in love with a mortal was

frowned upon, so–”

“Shhh,” she cut him off, placing her cool fingers

against his lips. A little shuffling, a few more

twists and she was kneeling in front of him – her

hands resting on his neck. “How about we create our

own myth…and give it a happy ending?”

He was beaming from ear to ear as he leaned forward

and they shared a passionate kiss. “I think I like

that idea a lot, Dr. Scully,” he breathed.

“And how about we sit here for a few more minutes and

then go inside?”

“How about we just stay out here under the safety of

the stars?”

It was Scully’s turn to grin, and she did so as she

nodded her agreement and then moved to sit down in

front of him yet again.

Not long after, they showed each other how much they

appreciated what they had together every day of the

year – not just today – under the watchful eyes of

the gods.

Even the goddesses of the sea stopped crying to

smile.

=====

THE END

=====

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

‘Don’t wake me up

If I should be dreaming

I don’t wanna miss

One minute of this dream’

-‘Oceans Away’ by G. Pitney

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To those I promised MT to: sorry! It seemed much

more fun contained

in Scully’s mind…if not just better for the story

🙂 Whether you

liked it or not, though, I’d love to read your views

at

sketchney@ntlworld.com!!! …Please?!

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

Just Me and You

This story is based on characters created by

Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen Productions.

Characters used without permission. No

infringement intended.

TITLE: Just Me and You

AUTHOR: Jo-Ann Lassiter

EMAIL ADDRESS: Jolassi555@cs.com

DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: Two weeks exclusive on

VS10. Then post anywhere. Thanks.

RATING: PG-13

CLASSIFICATION: S, R

SUMMARY: When another agent keeps hitting on

Scully, Mulder and Scully decide to take

advantage of his inability to take “No” for an

answer.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Written for VS11 Valentine’s Day

Challenge. M&S are a couple, but only Skinner is

aware of their relationship.

THANKS: To Gerry, for the super-speedy beta!

Los Angeles Field Office

Conference Room “A”

Feb 11

10:52 a.m.

“Whoa!”

The lust-filled exclamation came from the blond-

haired, blue-eyed muscle-beach type to Mulder’s

left. When he looked up to see what had so

captured the other agent’s attention, his eyes

lit up when he saw who it was. “Put your tongue

back in your mouth, move down one seat, and I

just might introduce you, Evans.”

Mulder had flown to the L.A. office two days ago

as part of a ten-day terrorism task force.

Scully had been invited, too, but a prior

obligation at Quantico had delayed her

departure.

Mulder had almost laughed when Skinner informed

them that their expertise in domestic terrorism

had qualified them for the task force. Mulder

had always referred to that period in their

careers as ‘shit patrol.’ Who knew that

investigating all those ‘piles of manure’ would

lead to their becoming ‘experts’ in the field of

domestic terrorism?

“You know her?” Evans asked, nudging Mulder with

his elbow at the exact moment Scully spotted

him. The smile she gave him had the dual

pleasure of cheering him up and making muscle

boy’s mouth drop open in astonishment.

As Scully was approaching him, she frowned at

the already-filled seats on both sides of him.

Mulder whispered to Evans, “You gonna move, or

do you want to remain in the dark about the

lovely Agent Scully?”

Evans leered at Scully while he answered Mulder.

“I think I can find out on my own, Mulder. Given

the choice between me and Agent Bulldog over

there, who do you think she’ll choose to

converse with?”

“You’d be surprised,” Mulder said under his

breath, none too pleased that he’d be denied the

opportunity to play footsie with his partner

after two whole days’ absence.

Mulder never wanted to hug Scully more than when

she reached the two of them, took in the empty

chair to Evans’s left, smiled sweetly and said

to the tanned hunk, “Would you mind sliding over

so that I can sit next to my partner?”

Grinning like a fool as Evans had no choice but

to comply, Mulder pulled out the chair for her

after a much-subdued Evans settled in the empty

chair. “Have a good flight?” he asked her.

Eyes darting to the agent still giving Scully

his full attention, she answered, “It was a

little boring, actually. Not even a crying baby

on hand to break the monotony.”

Receiving her underlying message loud and clear,

Mulder nodded in understanding. His flight out

had been lonely, and he’d missed her, too.

The clearing of a throat next to Scully

disturbed their reunion; Mulder schooled his

expression not to reflect the scowl he wanted to

wear at the other man’s interruption. “Something

I can do for you, Evans?” he asked.

“I believe you were going to introduce me?” the

agent said.

“That was if you moved when I asked you to. You

didn’t.”

Still facing Mulder, her back to the other

agent, Scully raised her eyebrows before turning

in her seat. She offered her right hand to

Evans. “I’m Dana Scully, Mulder’s partner.”

Evans took her hand and raised it to his lips.

“Paul Evans,” he said, kissing the back of her

hand. Some of the agents gathered at the long

conference table snickered, while others

groaned. Mulder wasn’t certain what to make of

it, but he knew he didn’t like it.

The female agent to Mulder’s right–Robertson,

Mulder thought her name was–elbowed him. “You

might want to warn your partner. Evans thinks

he’s Romeo, Don Juan and Casanova all rolled

into one. Not that he’s wrong about that, mind

you, but…” The agent glanced at Evans. “He’s a

little short in the scruples department–at

least where it comes to women. He’ll ask her out

even if she’s married; even if she tells him

flat out she’s not interested, he’ll keep at it

until he gets his way–and he usually does.”

Mulder was appalled. “Married women consent to

go out with him? Why?”

The agent looked at Mulder as if he was a total

blockhead. “Are you kidding? Look at him! He’s

gorgeous!”

“But that shouldn’t matter,” Mulder sputtered.

“If she loves her husband–”

“They can’t help themselves, Agent Mulder.

There’s something about him…” The agent was

lost in thought for a moment before she shook

herself out of it. Sighing, she met his eyes.

“Trust me. I know several married women who’ve

gone out with him.” She glanced at Scully and

Evans conversing in low tones. “Once Paul turns

on the charm, it’s like one switch gets turned

off, and another gets turned on.” She gazed at

him pointedly. “And I do mean ‘turned on.’

So…” She glanced at Scully again. “If she

means as much to you as I think she does, you’d

better keep her away from him.”

Though concerned that Robertson may have guessed

at his and Scully’s relationship, Mulder was

more concerned about her revelations. Surely no

one man could have that much natural persuasive

ability? Certainly not ever over his Scully. She

loved him too much to ever betray him like that.

“Hey,” he said, tapping her hand. “The meeting’s

about to start. Do you want to grab some lunch

afterward?”

“Excuse me, Paul,” Scully said to Evans, and he

broke off mid-sentence with a frown marring his

perfect features. When she turned to Mulder with

a relieved look on her face, and rolled her eyes

with no mistaking that it was intended for

Evans, Mulder’s spirits lifted considerably.

“What did you say, Mulder?”

He couldn’t prevent his smile even if he’d

wanted to. “I asked if you’d like to get some

lunch with me after the meeting.”

“Well, Paul asked me to join him…”

Mulder felt his face fall at her words.

“…but I told him about those cases you and I

needed to confer over, and we’d already planned

to do it at lunch.”

Mulder brightened again. She was a quick

thinker, she was. And then he realized that he

needed to do some quick thinking of his own.

“Oh. Right. Right. I’d forgotten we’d already

set that up.” He peered around Scully to look at

the other agent who was *still* watching Scully.

“Tough luck, Evans. We have quite a few cases to

review. Should take us several days, at least.”

Evans presented him with a dazzling smile. “Not

to worry, Mulder. I’m sure I’ll find *some* way

to steal the lovely Agent Scully away for a meal

or two.”

Looking distinctly uncomfortable, Scully turned

back around so that she was facing forward in

her seat. When the moderator indicated that they

should refer to the materials in front of them,

Mulder, too, gave his attention over to the

speaker. The matter of Evans hitting on his

woman would have to be put out of his mind.

At least for the moment.

**

12:37 p.m.

The lights dimmed, the first slide was

displayed, and Scully nearly jumped out of her

skin.

His back to her, his full attention on the

presentation, Mulder never gave her a glance.

This was a fine time for him to finally become

the model agent.

Turning to the rapidly-becoming-annoying man

behind her, Scully bestowed upon him the full

extent of her glare. “What the hell do you think

you’re doing?” she whispered.

“You looked a little tense,” his smooth-as-silk

voice cooed, as he continued skimming his

fingertips along her back and side.

“Agent Evans, unless you want to be brought up

on sexual harassment charges, I suggest you

remove your hands.” When he didn’t still his

movements, she hissed, “*Now.*”

Chuckling softly, appearing not the least

intimidated by her words or by her withering

scowl, he returned his hands to rest before him

on the table, the very picture of innocence.

Trying not to scrape her chair along the floor,

Scully moved it as close to Mulder as she could

get without sitting in his lap. When Mulder

looked back quizzically, Scully shook her head

and indicated that he should continue watching

the slide show.

Still distracted by the material being shown,

Mulder nodded and faced the screen again.

Scully spent her time divided between studiously

ignoring the irritant behind her and

concentrating on the business she was there for.

She didn’t have much luck at either.

**

Conference Room “A”

1:45 p.m.

Lunch with his partner, as it happened, had not

been an option. At precisely 1:30, trays of

sandwiches, salads, cookies, and beverages had

been delivered to the conference room. They were

given a half-hour break to gather a meal, visit

the rest room, go for a smoke, etc., before they

got back to business.

After returning from the men’s room, Mulder

decided to check out the cookie tray. He

returned to his seat to find Evans monopolizing

his partner’s attention once again. This time,

however, there was a definite lapse in Scully’s

manners as she turned away from the still-

talking Evans with not even a hint of apology.

She met the question in his eyes with an

uncertain smile.

“Something wrong?” he asked so that only she

could hear.

Lips pressed tightly together, she shook her

head. “Nothing I can’t handle.” He handed her a

bakery-style chocolate chip cookie, which she

accepted with a distracted smile.

“Thanks,” she said softly. In a hushed voice she

asked, “When do we get out of here?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. This is the first

day they’ve done anything like this.”

She leaned in a little closer, after a quick

glance at her watch. “We have a few minutes yet.

Why don’t we get some air?”

Knowing that they didn’t have enough time left

to go outside and back, he nonetheless agreed.

“Sure.”

Once they were safely away from anyone else,

Scully stopped. “When we get back in there, I

want to change seats with you.”

Mulder nodded slowly. “Hit on you again, did

he?”

She looked quickly at him, then turned away.

“That’s not what bothers me.”

“He hit on you after you told him you were

seeing someone,” Mulder said flatly.

Her head snapped up. “You knew? You knew he

would do that, and you let me–”

“Hold on; hold on, Scully. I found out only

after you were already sitting next to him.

Agent Robertson told me what he would probably

do. She, uh…” He took a breath, then let it

out. “She, uh, said if you meant as much to me

as she thought you did, I’d better keep you away

from him.”

“Humph,” she sniffed. “Well, as much as I abhor

being thought of as an object in need of

protection, in this case I waive my right to be

offended if you tell him to back the hell off.

And what do you mean she said if I meant as much

to you as she thought I did? What have you been

telling these people?”

Mulder blinked, awed that she had been able to

get all that out without pausing for so much as

a breath in between thoughts. “Uh, I, uh…

didn’t tell anybody anything!” he finished a

little irritated that she had somehow managed to

make this his fault.

Scully placed a calming hand on his arm, and it

had the desired effect. He glanced down at her

hand, then back up. “I’m sorry,” he said at the

same time she said it to him.

They shared an easy laugh, and then he directed

her into the unused office in front of which

they had been talking. After closing the door,

he leaned back against it. “I don’t know how she

guessed,” he said quietly. “It’s not like I

*try* to wear my heart on my sleeve, but…” He

shrugged. “She probably saw my reaction when I

first saw you come into the conference room.”

Her eyes met his, and he adored the dreamy

quality in them as she thought back to that

moment. She smiled. “Yes, I can see where she

might have reached that conclusion.”

Mulder returned her smile, then checked the time

on his watch. “We’d better get back.”

Scully nodded, a bit regretfully, Mulder was

happy to note. “Don’t forget to run

interference,” she reminded him as they walked

back to the meeting. “I don’t want to be held

responsible for putting an agent into the

hospital.”

His hand on the doorknob to the conference room,

Mulder laughed. “The only downside to that would

be that you’d probably get suspended.”

As she moved into the room, she glanced at

Evans, who shone his million kilowatt smile her

way.

“Might be worth it,” he heard her mutter.

**

Sheraton Universal Hotel

Scully’s Room

9:36 p.m.

Emerging from the bathroom dressed in her

pajamas, Scully yawned widely. When a knock came

on the door to her room, she continued on and

threw it open, a big smile on her face for who

would be waiting on the other side.

Somewhat taken aback to find Agent Evans and his

perfect white teeth gleaming at her, she

scrambled for her robe, pulling it on and

covering up as much as she could. Damn this

hotel for putting her and Mulder on separate

floors. She would never have opened the door

without checking if they’d been in their usual

adjoining rooms. The next time she was too tired

to think about who might be lurking behind her

door, she’d make damned sure that Mulder didn’t

go anywhere so she wouldn’t have to worry about

having to think about who was behind the damned

door!

“Agent Evans,” she said, not trying to disguise

her displeasure at his unannounced–and

unwelcome–visit. “What do you want?”

His smile faltered only slightly. “I do

apologize for the late hour.” He took a step

forward, looking deep into her eyes. “But I

couldn’t stop thinking of you. I know you said

you’re seeing someone, but I just can’t help

myself. You’ve… There’s something in you that

draws me like a magnet. I can’t put a name to

it, but I’m unable to resist the pull.”

Scully wanted to roll her eyes, then figured,

what the hell, and did. He was a damned fine

actor, she’d give him that.

Apparently not used to his advances being

rejected and especially not to their being

ridiculed, the grin coalesced into an open-

mouthed stare.

Now that was more like it! Scully thought. She

wondered if this man had ever had an honest

emotion in his life. She may be witnessing a

first!

Finally gathering his wits about him, Evans held

out a white paper bag. “I was passing my

favorite chocolatier, and the image of your

enjoying that chocolate chip cookie appeared to

me.”

Now it was Scully’s turn to stare. Chocolatier?

And what the hell was he doing watching her eat?

“So I thought,” he continued, blithely, “‘I must

buy her one of Mademoiselle Francine’s

truffles.” With what could only be described as

a flair, he drew an exquisitely-wrapped box from

the bag, presenting it to her. “Then I thought,

no, a creature as elegant as the very lovely

Dana deserves an entire box.”

Trying not to guffaw at Evans’s syrupy-phony

delivery, Scully hid her laugh behind her hand

as a cough. “I’m sorry, Agent Evans–”

“Paul,” he interrupted, breathily. “I wish you’d

call me Paul.”

She had to look away before she laughed in his

face. Were women actually attracted to this

magnificent-looking, yet empty vessel of a man?

The anger she’d felt at his earlier attempts had

quickly downgraded to amusement. “Paul,” she

started, her voice shaky with repressed

laughter, “I really can’t–”

“But you must,” he insisted, shoving the box

toward her. “Even if nothing ever comes of…”

He paused dramatically. “…us…” She looked up

in time to see him batting his eyelashes like

Rudolph Valentino, then had to look back down

before she lost it. “…I want you to accept

these as a token of my esteem.”

Desperate now to get rid of him before she

laughed in his face, she grabbed the box. “Okay.

Thanks,” she said, giving him a push and closing

the door.

She stood at the door a moment, listening to his

unsteady footsteps moving away, then she threw

herself face down onto her bed and laughed

hysterically into her pillow.

Oh. My. God. After that smooth come-on, Mulder

had better keep a *really* close eye on her.

**

Scully’s Room

One minute later

Mulder used the key Scully’d given him to open

her door, freezing when he caught sight of her

on her bed, shoulders shaking and muffled cries

escaping her mouth.

Recovering quickly, he pushed the door closed

and hastened to her side. “What is it? What

happened? Are you all right?”

She shook her head, and Mulder felt tears

prickling his eyes. He laid his hands gently on

her shoulders. “What is it, honey?” he asked,

trying to keep the fear out of his voice,

especially when she started shaking harder.

“Mulder… Oh, God, Mulder. He…” More shaking

and wailing.

Catching sight of the candy box lying near her,

the pieces suddenly fell into place. “Where is

he?” he roared. “What did that son of a bitch do

to you?”

“He…” She couldn’t catch her breath, she was

crying so hard. Mulder felt torn between beating

Evans to a pulp and comforting the woman he

loved.

“Scully, honey, please…” Reaching down, he

hauled her up into his arms, free hand ready to

dry her tears.

And there were tears. Plenty of them.

But the woman for whom he was about to kill a

man was laughing. She was laughing so hard he

feared she might give herself an aneurysm.

Annoyed and relieved at the same time, he moved

her out to arm’s length. “Scully, what the

hell…”

When she met his gaze, something she saw in his

eyes must have affected her, because she sobered

almost immediately. “Oh, Mulder, I’m sorry. I

didn’t mean to worry you.”

He shrugged, then smiled sheepishly. “It’s my

job to worry about you.” His lips twitched

uncertainly. “And don’t I do it so well?”

Suddenly, she hurled herself into his arms.

“God, I love you,” she said, hugging him

tightly.

Hugging her back, happy but confused, he asked,

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

She laughed, then pressed her lips to his in a

brief, but passion-filled kiss. “I’m just so

glad you’re real.”

Mulder wondered what the hell she was talking

about. “Scully, did something happen here that I

should know about?” He remembered the box on the

bed. “Where did that candy come from?”

At his words, Scully dissolved into giggles.

“From him.”

He felt her tongue on his neck and almost forgot

his train of thought. “Who? Evans?”

“Mm hm,” she hummed against his carotid. “He got

them at his favorite chocolatier.”

Did he hear right? “Chocolatier?”

Scully let loose an honest-to-God guffaw.

“That’s what the man said.” She pulled out of

his embrace and looked into his eyes; he was

enthralled by the mirth dancing in hers.

“Truffles.” She indicated the elaborately-

decorated container, smiling smugly. “He was

going to buy one, but I merited a whole box.”

Rolling over, she snatched up the box, then

unceremoniously destroyed the intricate covering

as she ripped it off. “Want one?”

He frowned. She was offering him something

another man had given her. He wasn’t altogether

sure he liked that. It meant she’d accepted it.

“Scully–” he started, but her finger on his

lips put a stop to whatever he had thought about

saying.

“Mul-der,” she sang. “Truf-fulls.” Opening the

box, she waved it under his nose. “From a choc-

la-tier.” She took one out and placed it on her

tongue. “Mmmm…” she groaned, and Mulder

thought he might have to kiss Agent Evans the

next time he saw him. The man may be a nitwit,

but he had good taste in aphrodisiacs.

How unfortunate, Mulder thought, that Evans’s

evening hadn’t worked out as well as Mulder’s

was about to.

**

L.A. Field Office

February 12

9:06 a.m.

“Did you enjoy the truffles, Dana?” Evans asked.

She thought back to her evening with Mulder, and

the many variations they’d discovered for the

care and feeding of truffles. “Oh, yes. They

were marvelous.”

The agent beamed. “Then can I persuade you to

have dinner with me tonight?”

“Paul, I told you: I can’t. I’m seeing someone.”

“Aw, come on, Dana.” Evans shuffled his feet in

what Scully was sure he thought was an endearing

way. “It’s just dinner. You have to eat.”

She nodded. “I eat dinner alone or with my

partner.”

He pounced on that tidbit as she knew he would.

“If you can eat with him, it should be no

different to take a meal with me. We’re both

agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation,

after all.” He followed up with dazzling smile

#26.

“It is *not* the same, Paul.” She patted his

hand. “But it was a good try anyway.”

She left him with what she was sure was becoming

a new category of expression for him: open-

mouthed awe #2.

**

Feb 13

7:20 p.m.

“Come on, Mulder!” She banged on the door to his

bathroom until he emerged, all clean-shaven and

resplendent in his recently-purchased Knicks

jersey. “Hurry up, or we’ll miss the kick-off,

or whatever they call it in basketball.”

“Tipoff. It’s called the tipoff.” Grabbing his

jacket, he followed her out the door. “Tell me

again how you got Knicks/Lakers tickets?”

Turning around, she wore an expression of

exasperation. “I’ve told you three times

already.”

He couldn’t stop his grin. “Some things never

get old, Scully.”

She sighed, but he knew it was all a sham. She

loved telling it as much as he loved hearing it.

“I was in the break room when you were

‘persuaded’ to take a look at that case…”

This was the part of the story that gave Mulder

a sour taste in his mouth. While it was true

that Evans had been working on a case, the part

about possible extraterrestrial involvement had

been pure fabrication. Although wary, Mulder had

followed Evans’s partner, Bob Michaels, to his

third-floor office to take a look. After about

three minutes, Mulder realized that he’d been

set up. The ‘case’ wasn’t–it was a collection

of what Evans and Michaels thought a case

involving aliens should contain.

When he realized that the local boys were using

him to have a little fun, he’d closed the folder

and walked out of the room, Michaels calling

after him, asking him where he was going. No

longer concerned with courtesy, Mulder had just

ignored him. He’d felt like an idiot, and

wondered if the entire task force was in on it,

or only the two L.A. office agents.

Upon returning to the break room and seeing

Evans once again turning on the charm with his

partner, Mulder was actually relieved. That

meant it was most likely something Evans had

cooked up to get rid of him, not something

they’d come up with to make fun of him. He’d

settled himself on a sofa near the door, got

comfortable, and waited.

Scully had not disappointed. When she turned on

her heel and walked away, Evans had once again

been wearing the slack-jawed face that Mulder

was coming to know and love. She’d given Mulder

the eyebrow on her way out, and he’d followed

her like the trained puppy he was. Once they’d

returned to the hotel and he’d gotten

comfortable on her bed, she’d presented him with

her prize.

At first thrilled, he’d snatched them out of her

hands, marveling at the great seats. Then he

thought about it and wanted to know just how

she’d come about them. Were there any strings he

should know about? Was anything required on her

part? Had she agreed to anything he didn’t

really want to know about, but needed to anyway?

She’d shaken her head, while wearing the most

perfect Cheshire cat grin he’d ever seen. And

then she’d told him.

“I didn’t know how long you’d be, so I’d gotten

a cup of coffee and a cheese danish to tide me

over until we could get dinner.” She looked up

at him. “That’s when he intercepted me.” She

shook her head. “You know, I should feel guilty

about this, but I just can’t bring myself to

feel that way.” She shrugged. “Anyway, he

stepped right into my path. Right into my cup of

hot coffee.” Looking up into his eyes, she

sighed. “God, I was so looking forward to that

coffee.”

Mulder laughed.

“I think he was expecting sympathy… actually,

I think he stepped into that coffee

intentionally just so I’d feel bad for him…”

She waved her hands in front of her. “Never

mind. Anyway, there he was gasping and moaning

about hot coffee and a new shirt, and I stood

there, pissed off because he’d made me spill my

coffee…

“And then it must have occurred to him that I

wasn’t buying into the sympathy angle because he

buttoned his jacket over the stain, and gave me

that billion megawatt smile.”

This was one of the parts Mulder made her act

out. “Come on, Scully, let’s see it,” he prodded

her.

Smiling indulgently at him, she stuck out her

chin and gave an exaggerated version of Evans’s

‘look-at-me-I’m-stunningly-handsome’ full-

toothed smile.

Mulder couldn’t help it; he chortled. She was

just so damned cute when she was making fun of

someone who deserved it. “Go on. Go on. Tell me

what came next.”

Rolling her eyes, she shook her head. “Honestly,

Mulder. You know what happened next.”

He nodded emphatically. “But you tell it so

well.” He gave her the puppy dogs. “Please?”

She gave him a look that said she knew exactly

what he was doing, but she was going to give in

anyway. “Out of politeness, I asked him if he

was all right, and he said, ‘Not to worry, my

dear Dana.’ Then he asked me if I liked

basketball. I told him, ‘It’s okay,’ and

evidently that was good enough for him, because

he told me had two tickets for tonight’s game,

and asked me if I’d like to go.”

“For one brief second, I felt that twinge of

guilt, but I got over it fast enough once I

remembered what a slime he was. So I said,

“Sure, thanks,” took the tickets and walked

away.” She raised an eyebrow. “That’s when I saw

you by the door, and you know the rest.”

He applauded. “That is so classic, Scully. I

mean, I’ve seen it happen in a movie, but it’s

usually to some poor lovesick geek, and he’s

been taken by some callous way-out-of-his-league

cheerleader or something. But for you to do it

to that…” He searched for just the right

description.

“Sleazeball,” she provided helpfully.

He looked at her, surprised, then nodded.

“Sleazeball. He is, that and more, for hitting

on you, and right in front of me!”

“Mulder…”

“I know he doesn’t know, but he knows you belong

to *some*one, and it doesn’t matter to him. I

wish you’d let me beat him up. Just a little.”

She stared at him a bit incredulously. “Have you

taken a close look at him, Mulder? He’d kill

you!”

Mulder met her stare with one of his own. “Never

doubt the strength of a jealous man. Never doubt

that love is stronger than…” He sputtered

while trying to come up with the perfect word.

“…sleazeballs!” he finished, triumphantly.

She took hold of his arm with both her hands,

smiling up at him. “Your Oxford education is

showing,” she whispered. Then she pulled them to

a stop, stood on her tiptoes, and kissed him on

the cheek. “That’s for showing remarkable

restraint in the face of an untenable

situation.”

He was a little disappointed that that’s all he

was going to get, until he saw her wink, and

then he knew.

Even if his team didn’t win, their number one

fan was going to score tonight.

**

L.A. Field Office

February 14

2:23 p.m.

“You know, Dana, that wasn’t a very nice thing

to do.” Paul Evans cornered her in the break

room, not five seconds after Mulder left for the

men’s room. Sitting in Mulder’s seat, he moved

it to face her.

She narrowed her eyes in suspicion, wondering

how long he’d been watching them, waiting for

this opportunity when she was alone. “What you

do isn’t very nice, either, Agent Evans. I’ve

told you repeatedly that I’m seeing someone, and

yet you still insist on trying to get me to go

out with you.”

“Dana, Dana… You misunderstand me. I’m not

trying to take you away from anyone. I just want

to spend a little time with you. Share a dinner,

take in a ball game… where’s the harm in

that?”

“Rationalize it all you want. You’re still

trying to date someone who’s already taken.” She

fixed him with a glare. “And someone who’s not

interested. God, Evans, can’t you take a hint?”

As she rose to get up, he laid a hand on her

arm. “Wait!” Her head snapped up to greet him

with the anger she felt reflected in her eyes.

“…Please. I just want to know…” He looked

down at the table, an air of genuine defeat

about him. “Why don’t you like me?”

She sighed. “I don’t even know you, Paul. You

haven’t given me that chance. The minute you see

me, you hit on me. You don’t talk *to* me, you

talk *at* me. You cook up some scheme to get my

partner away–that was way out of line, by the

way, what you and your partner did to him. Why

on earth would I want to date someone like that?

Can you tell me?”

Expecting to see remorse on his face, she was

somewhat surprised by the smug expression he

wore instead. “Yeah, ol’ Spooky didn’t fall for

our ‘case,’ but we dangled that alien carrot in

his face long enough to get him interested. I

don’t see how someone like him ever got you for

a partner.”

“Someone like him?” she asked, icicles dripping

from every syllable.

“Yeah. You’ve gotta know what everyone thinks

about that freak.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Come on. You must hear it… The guy’s off his

rocker. Always chasing after ghosts, monsters

and aliens. And look at his family… Little

green men kidnapped his sister, his father

murdered in his own house, his mother offing

herself because he–”

Whatever else Evans was going to say, Scully

would never know, because it was at that point

that she decked him.

As she was rubbing her sore knuckles, two things

happened simultaneously: the entire room broke

out in applause, and she saw Mulder standing in

the doorway, smile sadly, and leave.

**

Corridor Outside of Break Room

2:27 p.m.

Scully caught him as he knew she must. “Mulder!”

she called, and he waited until she was beside

him. “Are you all right?”

He nodded. The thing was… he felt pretty good.

Granted, what Evans said hurt–it always did, no

matter how much he might say it didn’t–but

seeing Scully pop that blowhard in the nose was

worth it. Hearing the other agents cheering

about it was an added plus.

“Are you sure?” Her concern for him was

adorable, especially standing there sucking on

her abraded knuckles.

He took hold of her elbow, and guided her down

the corridor, into a conveniently-located

janitor’s closet, flicking on the light switch

before closing the door. “That was the single

most erotic thing I’ve ever seen,” he told her,

taking her sore hand and bringing her knuckles

to his mouth.

She looked at him a moment, shocked, and then

she started to laugh. “Here I was worried that

you were going to get all maudlin on me, and you

were turned on?”

He nodded emphatically. “Very.”

She shook her head. “Do women hitting men always

turn you on?”

He shook his head. “Only you. Only you hitting

other men while defending my honor.”

Again, she laughed, and he was more aroused by

the sound of it. “I can’t go back to that

meeting.”

Her laughter stopped, and she placed a

comforting hand on his arm. “You *are* upset.”

He looked down at the bulge in his pants. “Well,

you got the ‘up’ part right.”

She followed his gaze, and the comforting hand

gave him a light smack. “I can’t take you

anywhere.”

He shook his head happily. “Nope.” Then he

sobered. “What will we miss if we leave? What’s

left for today?”

Reaching into her jacket pocket, Scully pulled

out the agenda. “Uhmm…” She looked up quickly.

“You’re not going to believe this.”

His brows furrowed in question. “What?”

She pointed at the sheet of paper. “Evans.

Giving a presentation on manure.”

He smiled in amazement. “You’re kidding!”

Grinning, she shook her head. “For real. Look.”

She held the schedule so he could see.

He read about the last presentation of the day,

then looked up at her. “There’s no way we can

get through that with any modicum of dignity.”

Scully suddenly gasped. “I wonder if I broke his

nose. Maybe he can’t do it.”

Mulder shrugged. “He deserved it.” Tilting her

face up to him with a finger under her chin, he

kissed her lightly on the lips. “Not just for

what he said about me, but for the way he’s been

disrespecting you, the way he disrespects all

women–and their significant others. He deserved

that, and so much more.”

“I suppose,” she said, looking away, sounding

uncertain.

Now was the time, he thought, for him to give it

to her. “But your timing was a little off,” he

said.

She met his eyes again. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I was waiting for him to make us a

reservation at a really nice restaurant…”

His words had the desired effect, and she

laughed.

“One with soft music, dancing, candlelight…

all those romantic cliches.”

“Mulder, you do know how to sweet talk a girl,

don’t you?”

“Only you, Scully. Only you.” He reached into

his pocket and took out a small box.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Well, it’s not brass knuckles…”

She rubbed her sore fingers. “It’s a little too

late anyway; I really could have used them

earlier.”

“I said it’s *not* brass knuckles–”

“Oh. Right. Sorry.” She grinned. “Well, what

then? What is it?”

“It’s Valentine’s Day today.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I gathered that by all

the hearts and flowers you bestowed upon me

earlier.”

His head snapped up. “What? I didn’t–”

“It’s just too easy,” she laughed.

“Humph. Maybe I should keep this.” Turning

around, he made a show of opening the box and

peeking inside. “I’d look quite fetching in it,

you know. I’d be the envy of all the other boys

in the office.”

She tugged on his arm. “Mulder, come on. Quit

stalling and give me my present.”

Now that the moment was here, he wasn’t too sure

about what he was about to do. Perhaps he should

have followed tradition and given her chocolates

or flowers or some appropriately-themed jewelry.

Would she think he was trying to get out of

buying her a *real* present? Maybe she’d laugh

at his pathetic attempt to be romantic. He

fingered the box in his pocket, looked at the

excited anticipation in her eyes, and chickened

out.

He pulled out a half-empty box of candy

conversation hearts instead. Then he realized

that they were even cheesier than his ‘real’

gift. He tucked them back in before she could

see them.

“So you *did* get me candy, after all,” she

laughed, her words proving that the eye–at

least hers–was faster than the hand.

“Uhh… No. Not really,” he stammered, starting

to feel more than a little ridiculous for what,

at the time, had seemed not only romantic, but a

true representation of what he felt and where he

wanted their relationship to go.

“Mulder,” she said gently, apparently picking up

on his feelings of doubt. “Whatever it is, I’m

sure I’ll love it.”

He shook his head. “It’s nothing like what

you’re expecting.”

She laughed. “If there’s one thing I learned

from all my time with you, it’s that *nothing*

from you is ever what I expect. You always

manage to surprise me.”

He looked down at the floor. “Then you’ll

definitely be surprised by this.” Taking a deep

breath, he pulled out the box and thrust it at

her. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he mumbled

nervously.

Instead of taking the box, Scully closed her

hand over his. “Why don’t you keep this until

you think I’m ready to accept it?”

“Scully, it’s not… Well, not exactly.” Meeting

her eyes, he saw love and understanding. He took

another deep breath. “I want you to have it

now.”

She watched his face a moment, then nodded.

“Okay.”

After she let go, he held it out to her in his

palm. She plucked it out carefully, then looked

up at him before opening it. Swallowing

apprehensively, he nodded, and she cracked the

lid.

She stared at it for a minute, and he knew she

was wondering just what in the heck it was.

“It’s–”

“A love token,” she finished, picking up the

cup-shaped coin. After examining it for a

second, she gazed up at him. “A Lincoln penny? I

thought these were from medieval times.”

He scraped a foot along the floor. “Well, the

tradition is from medieval times. It was

customary for a man to bend a copper coin and

give it to his sweetheart as a token of his love

and…” He glanced into her eyes before looking

away again. “…intention of marriage.”

Her lips formed an ‘Oh,’ but the word was not

vocalized.

“Um… The rest of the tradition is that they

were never spent and were always carried by the

woman as a demonstration of her loyalty and as a

constant reminder to her each time she opened

her purse. Um… usually it was a coin of the

period, so I thought…” He felt his face flush.

Suddenly he found her lips attached to his.

“Mulder, that has to be the most utterly

romantic thing anyone has ever done for anyone!”

Slowly, he shook his head. “Not anyone,” he said

quietly. “As I may have mentioned before… only

you, Scully.”

Smiling, she cupped his cheek with her hand.

“And only you, Mulder.”

Then she turned out the light and gave him her

present.

The End

Feedback gratefully accepted by Jo-Ann at

Jolassi555@cs.com. Thanks!

1

20

Asurya Lokas

Title: Asurya Lokas

Author: Martin Ross

Type: Humorous casefile; Valentine’s Day theme

Rating: PG-13 for adult language and innuendo

Synopsis: Mulder and Scully investigate a strange

case of murder and animal attraction – and repulsion.

Spoilers: None

Disclaimer: The X-Files is the property of 10-13

Productions, Chris Carter, and Fox.

“The only problem with your murder theory,” Scully

suggested as she scanned the now-waxy body on the

exam table, “is that no one was murdered.”

“Not in the traditional sense, maybe,” Mulder

countered.

“If by the ‘traditional sense,’ you mean caused to

die at the hands of another, neither by accident nor

the transmission of disease, then I’d be interested

to know in what innovative and exotic manner you

believe Mr. Rhawalpindi died. I did a complete

workup, and there is no doubt whatsoever that this

man was the victim of anaphylactic shock. My post-

mortem turned up an insect sting, Mr. Rhawalpindi’s

doctor told me the victim suffered from several

severe allergies, and, most compellingly, we found a

dead North American honey bee near the body.”

“And your problem is…?” Mulder demanded as his

partner re-covered the body.

“In a general sense, or specifically referring to the

case at hand? Which isn’t a case, by the way.”

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Three days earlier

The strange and yet poignantly mundane death of Rajiv

Rhawalpindi had come to the FBI’s attention only

because he had through several tenuous relationships

and even more tenuous circumstances been deemed a

“person of interest” under the Patriot Act. In the

pre-911 world, the young software developer’s

introspective, nearly monastic lifestyle would have

drawn little notice. In the post-911 world, the quiet

Pakistani-American, whose sixth cousin had made some

rashly nationalistic remarks at a demonstration a

half-continent away, was viewed as almost too quiet.

So when Rhawalpindi, the subject of ongoing FBI

surveillance, had been found dead without a mark in

his Washington living/dining/computer room/den,

memories of anthrax and Japanese saran gas prompted a

CDC/EPA crew to covertly swoop down on his two-room

flat. Every scrap of correspondence, every book,

every pot, pan, and prospective chemical mixing

vessel was confiscated and examined with every high-

tech device the FBI, the ATF, and the CIA could

muster. With the exception of an ornate statue of the

elephant god Ganesh that adorned a corner table and

an addiction to eBay (Golden and Silver Age DC

comics), the authorities could find little to justify

the late Mr. Rhawalpindi’s status as a person of much

of any interest.

However, Assistant Director Walter Skinner, no big

fan of John Ashcroft or the Patriot Act but a man

devoted to his duty as the law prescribed, managed to

satisfy his dual sentiments by assigning both one of

his best agents and one of the Bureau’s most

aggravated wiseasses to the Rhawalpindi

investigation. Both were the same man, and Skinner

knew Mulder would appreciate the absurdities of the

case while exhaustively eliminating any possible of

terrorist malfeasance.

“Mr. Rolla–, Rawla, oh, shoot, Rajiv was a very

polite young man,” Mulder and Scully had learned from

Olive Pizer, the decedent’s possibly 130-year-old

apartment super. “Every once in a while, I’d smell

that incense stuff coming from under his door, and I

suppose he might’ve smoked a little of that reefer

weed the kids seem to like, but boys will be boys,

won’t they? I can’t believe he would have anything to

do with that horrible Mr. bin Laden. He always tied

up his garbage bags very securely, and he never

played his music loud during my CSI.”

Mulder pictured Osama sloppily applying a slip knot

to his Hefty bag, and suppressed a smile. “How long

had he been living here?”

Without soliciting it, Pizer poured Mulder and Scully

a second cup of a particularly acrid tea neither

agent originally had invited. “Oh, my. Mr. Clinton

was president…Yes, it was right after that nasty

Lewinski girl was all over the news. She was my

daughter, I’d have given her a good spanking.”

“That’d teach her. And no trouble during that time?”

“As I said, he was extremely polite. Always had his

rent to me first of the month. A nice boy, even if he

was the unluckiest young man I ever met.”

Scully perked. “Unlucky how?”

“Wellll, first of all, there was that girlfriend of

his – oh, what was her name? This was maybe three

years ago. She was one of them, too. Palestinian.”

“Pakistani.”

“Yes. They were to married – Rajiv was very happy.

Then she got hit by the No. 12.”

“Pardon?”

“Bus. The No. 12 crosstown bus. She was a student at

the college, and she was going to one of her classes

when the No. 12 swerved to avoid a boy on a bicycle.

I understand she was killed instantly. The poor boy

was heartbroken.”

“Not to mention the girl,” Mulder suggested.

“Well,” Pizer murmured non-committally. “It seems as

if poor Rajiv’s life went downhill after that. The

accident took place a few months after that girl

died.”

“Accident?”

“The oddest thing I ever heard of,” the senior

related. “He hit a deer in his car. At 11 p.m. on a

Tuesday night, downtown. It leapt in front of his

car, and he killed it.”

“Mrs. Pizer, would you know if any of his co-workers

ever–?” Scully began hastily, hoping to divert her

partner.

“A deer, you say,” Mulder said. “Was he hurt?”

“Rajiv? Oh, no. He had one of those balloons, you

know, those car balloons.”

“Airbag?”

“That’s it. Oh, no – the mauling was much worse.”

“Mauling?” Mulder leaned forward, a childlike gleam

in his eyes. Scully sat back and sipped her

industrial tea in resignation.

“Yes. A poodle. Or a Pomeranian. The one with, you

know, the eyes…”

“A poodle mauled Mr. Rhawalpindi.”

“Yes. Or a Pomeranian. A stray, I believe – there was

no collar. It was horrid. Rajiv was out front,

getting ready to go visit his parents on the west

side, when the little cur just, well, launched itself

at him. It was, well, just gnawing at his neck –

blood was all over the sidewalk. It took Mr. Wallace

in 2 and Ms. Jankowicz in 6 to get it off him. The

bitch.”

“Ah, the dog?” Mulder ventured carefully.

“Yes, it was a female. I remember now. Even when they

pried the poodle from Rajiv’s throat, it tried to

reattach itself. Mr. Wallace was forced to use a golf

club from his trunk to beat the dog to death. A No.

7, he told me at the time, although I haven’t the

slightest interest in that silly game.”

Mulder’s eyes were wide now. “Then what happened?”

“Well, I suppose all of this must have taken its toll

on Rajiv, because he attempted to hang himself one

day. This was a few months after the mauling – for a

while, he could scarcely be persuaded to leave his

apartment. But that day, he’d just gotten back from a

Pirates game, and he seemed very chipper, if I may

say. Then I discovered a piece of Rajiv’s mail had

gotten in with mine, and I went up to his apartment

to return it. I could hear his music, and so I

knocked, but he didn’t answer. I was concerned, so I

unlocked his door to check on him. Rajiv was hanging

from the light fixture, which certainly wasn’t built

to withstand that sort of weight. I called the

ambulance, and they were able to bring him around.”

“Did he say why he did such a thing?”

“When I visited the hospital, he apologized profusely

for frightening me and for abusing the light

fixture,” Pizer informed Mulder. “He said he realized

that he’d made a dreadful mistake, that his plan

wouldn’t have worked. Oh, he said…Yes, he said he’d

realized he was too good for it to work, which seemed

a little odd and uncharacteristically boastful. He

promised me he would never try it again, that suicide

was useless and he should get on with life. That was

about four months ago, and he was fine until, of

course, he died this morning. Oh, my; you don’t think

he killed himself?”

“It’s too early to determine,” Scully replied, “but

it would initially appear that he didn’t.”

Mrs. Pizer shook her silver-blue head. “Poor young

man. He was so unlucky.” She leaned toward Mulder,

and her voice took on a confidential tone. “I don’t

want to speak ill of the dead or judge another

person’s faith, but I always felt the boy worshipping

Babar the Elephant would lead to no good.”

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Three days later

“All right, let’s indulge your precariously teetering

imagination,” Scully finally piped up. She had

resisted the temptation to rise to Mulder’s thesis on

the trip back from the Quantico pathology lab, during

lunch, and throughout most of the afternoon at the

office.

Mulder turned, a triumphant grin on his face. “Why,

Scully, what if Skinner should walk in?”

His partner closed her eyes for a second. “Let us

examine this so-called ‘case’ logically. Means,

motive, and opportunity – the keystones of any

homicide. I don’t see any of the three here. Take

opportunity: For this to be a murder, the killer

would have to have known Rajiv Rhawalpindi was prone

to anaphylactic allergies and ensure he would be

stung by a bee in his apartment.”

“Absolutely. That’s essential. It’s key to this

murder.”

“And what,” Scully asked patiently, “was this

omniscient killer’s motive.”

Mulder pushed his chair back, rose, and came around

the desk. He crooked a finger under Scully’s chin and

kissed her lightly.

“Why, love, mon cheri,” he murmured Gallicly. “You

want a Diet Pepsi?”

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Two days earlier

“He didn’t get real weird until the shitzu attacked

him,” Byrin Gittes told the agent, fingering his

eyebrow ring and eyeing his Mac like a lover he’d

been forced to abandon mid-coitus.

“I thought it was a poodle,” Mulder said.

The chief programmer of 3.0 Development shrugged.

“Whatever. It like messed up Raj’s mojo or something.

He started gettin’ all religious and all. And worse,

man. I showed up at his place with a pizza one night,

and he was readin’ a biography of some old actress

broad. The one was in that chick flick. Actually,

maybe she was in a bunch of chick flicks. That was

when I knew Raj was seriously whacked. Then he

brought in the snake.”

Mulder straightened in his chair. “Snake?”

“Yeah. He almost got his ass fired over that. Raj

like insisted the thing had somehow gotten in through

the air vent, but I think he was into, you know, that

snake handling shit.”

“Snake handling’s generally a fundamentalist

Christian practice, and I understand Mr. Rhawalpindi

was a devoted Hindu.”

“Well, snake charming, then. Though I never saw any,

you know, flute or nothing.”

“What kind of snake was it?”

“What do I look like, man? An ornithologist or

something? One of the code writers freaked and beat

the shit out of it. Raj almost freaked on him, which

I why I think he brought it in, you know…”

“To charm,” Scully supplied.

“Did you know Rajiv’s fiancé, Sana?”

“Jesus,” Gittes breathed. “You mean Indira Ghastly?

Sana was a world-class bitch, dude. She had Raj’s

cojones in a firm grip at all times, and she looked

at us like we were a bunch of lowlifes or something.

Especially the babes. Sorry, ma’am – the chicks. She

had like a permanent she-hard-on for any chick even

smiled at Raj. Don’t mean to diss the dead or

nothin’.”

“Certainly,” Mulder said.

**

“Terms of Endearment?” Mulder squeaked as he sorted

through the personal effects the FBI Homeland

Security Squad had removed from the Rhawalpindi

apartment. He displayed another DVD. “Steel

Magnolias? My God, The Cemetery Club? Scully,

certainly you see the pattern here. It doesn’t take a

behavioral scientist.”

Scully repacked a stack of T-shirts emblazoned with

catchy cyberphrases. “Pattern?”

“Scully, our victim, Mr. Rhawalpindi, was a serious,

serial pussy.”

“Ah, the professionalism,” Scully sang, moving on to

Rhawalpindi’s books.

“Seriously, though, here’s this software guy who

creates cyber-warriors and loves baseball and the

NFL. How does this square?”

“Not everyone’s an aficionado of the works of Jackie

Chan and the Three Stooges, Mulder,” Scully offered

drily. She hefted a thin volume. “Looks like Mr.

Rhawalpindi was exploring his feminist side

literarily, as well.”

Mulder stepped around the boxes, and read the

binding. “The Search for Bridey Murphy. That’s not

beach reading, Scully. It’s the true story of a

woman’s paranormal experiences.”

“A man after your own heart. Mulder, we’re wasting

our time here. This poor man was no terrorist – just

lonely and unlucky.”

“Very lonely,” Mulder murmured, glancing at Shirley

MacLaine’s smiling face on the DVD cover.

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Two days later

“Love?” Scully challenged as Mulder set her soda on

the desk. “Rajiv Rhawalpindi was murdered because of

love.”

Mulder ripped the end from his Butterfinger wrapper.

“Money, love, and in-laws. Your big three. Yes, I

think love was at the root of Rhawalpindi’s death.

Dark, obsessive love, but love nonetheless.”

“And who might have loved Mr. Rhawalpindi enough to –

– what was it now — have him stung to death?”

“Don’t forget the car accident, the shitzu attack—”

“I thought it was a Pomeranian…”

“— and the snake attack.”

Scully popped her Pepsi and leaned back. “I’ve

thought about that. I don’t suppose you saw an item,

about a week ago, about a Chicago police dog

suspended for biting an African-American child only a

few minutes after allowing a white boy to pet it?”

“Racist dogs, Scully?” Mulder laughed. “Of course,

I’ve read about the phenomenon. Some say it has to do

with canine visual perception, others a lack of

canine cross-cultural exposure. Personally, I believe

sometimes shitzu just happens. That’s your theory?

That Rajiv Rhawalpindi was the successive victim of a

racist deer, a supremacist lap dog, a religiously

intolerant serpent, and a xenophobic bee?”

“Any theory I might propound,” Scully said evenly,

“would be irrelevant, because there is no murder. I

suppose next, you’re going to try to tell me

Rhawalpindi committed suicide via anaphylaxis.”

“No,” Mulder stated seriously. “He’d given up on that

idea. And that was probably about the last straw for

the killer.”

Scully’s brow arched. “The mysterious lover who

planted a deadly bee in Rhawalpindi’s apartment.”

“You’re close.”

Pittsburgh, Pa.

One day earlier

“Like something on the goddamn Fox network,” Sgt. Oz

Detterich told Mulder, swabbing a French fry. “‘When

Freakin’ Bambi Goes Bad.’ Yeah, I remember it, OK –

ain’t every night we get a deer go berserk in the

downtown area.”

Mulder unwrapped his Whopper With Cheese. “How do you

think it got that far into the city?”

The cop, mouth full of potato, shook his head. “We

always kinda figured maybe somebody brought her in as

a prank, or maybe some hunter hit her out in Bucks

County, threw her over the hood for a trophy or for

some venison sausage, and she just wasn’t quite dead

enough. Yeah, I know. But it makes about as much

sense as anything else did. Maybe the thing was sick

or something.”

“Did you do a post-mortem?”

The cop grinned. “Nah. We had a pretty good idea what

killed her.”

Mulder smiled back, sheepishly. “Sorry. Did you have

any witnesses to the accident?”

“Three or four late-night partiers who saw the doe

before it ran in front of the motorist’s car. They

said it was just standing there, still as a statue.

Couple cars came past before Mr. Rhawalpindi, and

they said the thing didn’t move. Only ran out into

the street when Rhawalpindi drove through. Almost

like she was waiting for him. Like bad karma.”

“You have no idea,” Mulder murmured.

**

“You should pardon me for saying,” Singh Rhawalpindi

told Mulder, “but Sana was perhaps the finest

argument I ever saw for the old pre-arranged

marriages of my father’s and grandfather’s times. She

was a grasping, venal, and rabidly jealous woman.”

“Rabidly jealous?” Mulder echoed, regarding the

graying orthodontist.

Rhawalpindi brushed a piece of lint from his smock.

“Agent Mulder, one of my nephews was married a few

weeks prior to Sana’s unfortunate death, and Rajiv

brought her along. Well, at the party afterward, Sana

mistook a cousinly embrace for an overture toward

Rajiv, and nearly wrestled the poor woman into the

buffet table. You should have seen the look of

murderous rage in Sana’s eyes. She was

pathologically, violently possessive. She told my son

that he was hers’ forever.”

Mulder nodded thoughtfully as his cell phone sounded.

He flipped it open. “Mulder.”

“Yeah, Agent Mulder?” a brisk voice grunted. One of

the zealous domestic security guys with whom Mulder

and Scully had been liaising. “Ran down that reading

list you wanted.”

Working on a slowly emerging hypothesis, Mulder had

used what he’d felt to be one of the more odious and

invasive provisions of the Patriot Act to his

advantage. He’d asked one of the junior Efrem

Zimbalists to dig up Rhawalpindi’s public library

record for the past three months. Mulder scrambled

for his notebook and pen. “Yeah, shoot.”

“We got nada,” the agent reported. “Nothing. Just a

bunch of religious stuff – Hindu, Muslim, some stuff

about Indians. Not Rhawalpindi’s kind, the woo-woo-

woo kind.”

“Native Americans, you mean?” Mulder suggested,

suppressing his irony.

“Yeah,” the agent grunted, missing Mulder’s

suppression. “Oh, and a couple books by some guy

named Casey.”

Jackpot, Mulder thought. “Would that be C-A-Y-C-E?”

“Roger that,” the agent affirmed.

Mulder smiled at the father of the deceased “person

of interest,” who frowned curiously. “Anything by

George Orwell on that list?” he added mischievously.

“Orwell?…Nah.”

“Peace out, then.”

J. Edgar Hoover Building

One day later

“Edgar Cayce,” Scully perked, draining her diet soda.

“The psychic.”

“And expert in reincarnation,” Mulder added.

Scully fell silent. “Mulder, I’m a little surprised

you’d leap to such a cultural stereotype. Just

because Rhawalpindi was a Hindu–”

“As a Hindu, Rhawalpindi likely was more aware of the

phenomenon of reincarnation than most Christians,

Jews, or Zoroastrians would be. And actually, Scully,

Hinduism doesn’t have any exclusive claim to the

perpetuation and migration of the soul. The Muslim

Q’uran states, ‘Every living being shall taste death,

then unto us you will be returned.’ Many American

Indian tribes maintain animals and even non-living

objects possess souls. I think that’s why Rajiv

Rhawalpindi developed his interest in chick flicks. I

think it was an offshoot of his fascination for

Shirley MacLaine and her fascination with

reincarnation and past lives.”

“Shirley,” Scully mouthed, “MacLaine.”

“What if the karma we create in this life

shapes our destiny, Scully? What if the evil we do

demotes us to a lower niche on the food chain in the

next life? Or the good we do elevates us? I think

these are the questions Rajiv Rhawalpindi began

asking himself when the pattern began to emerge.”

“And what pattern was that, Mulder?”

“Deer, dog, snake, bee. What would that

succession suggest to you?”

“Steps on the evolutionary ladder? Except is a

deer higher up the ladder than a dog, or just

larger?”

“Don’t quibble. I think Rajiv began to suspect

that his bizarre series of animal attacks was no

accident, and he started to consider the possibility

that these animals were consciously attempting to

kill him. But why would the animal kingdom be out to

kill a single human being.”

Scully propped her heels on Mulder’s desk.

“Obviously, you’ve never watched America’s Funniest

Home Videos.”

“Sarcastic isn’t sexy, Scully. Look at the

evidence. Who would know the route through downtown

Pittsburgh Rhawalpindi took when he visited his

parents? Who would be in a position to know he was

susceptible to anaphylactic shock? And who would have

a reason to want him dead?”

“Love,” Scully recalled.

“Love. After the accident with the deer and the

shi–, ah, dog and snake attacks, I think Rhawalpindi

began to wonder why Death was knocking at his

apartment door. Then his cultural orientation kicked

in, and he started to ponder the possibility that

Sana had been reincarnated, and that he was on her

hit list.

“Sana was a rabidly jealous woman, as Rajiv’s

old man noted. She told Rajiv he belonged to her

forever, and she meant it. She wanted Rajiv to join

her on the next astral plane, and tried to punch his

ticket to get him aboard. The problem is, like most

obsessive, self-directed people, Sana never

understood the nature of karma. Her transgressions as

a woman earned her a zoological demotion, and her

misplaced ‘love’ for Rajiv made her sink deeper into

fanatical obsession and her attempts on her

boyfriend’s life. With each descent in karma, Sana

got bumped down a few more species.”

“Reincarnation for Dummies,” Scully sighed.

“And I suppose Rhawalpindi’s suicide attempt was some

tragically romantic bid to join Sana in the

afterlife.”

“Now, I’m getting real tingly, Scully. I think

Rhawalpindi became convinced his one true – if deeply

flawed – love was reaching out for him from beyond

death, and he decided to join her. But dangling over

his coffee table that day Mrs. Pizer discovered him,

I think he had a dual revelation. No. 1, that killing

yourself is neither as easy or fun as one might

think. No. 2, that he and Sana were ships that were

spiritually incapable of passing in the night or at

any other time. Remember what he told Mrs. Pizer

while he was recovering in the hospital? That his

plan wouldn’t work. That he was ‘too good’ to make it

work. Rajiv Rhawalpindi was a kind, polite,

considerate man. His death likely would serve merely

to elevate him to a higher station, while Sana was

doomed to progress further and further down the

evolutionary ladder. By now, she may be a blade of

grass, a virus, a telemarketer. Rajiv Rhawalpindi

ultimately realized he was simply too good for her,

and I think perhaps he suffered the fatal sting of a

woman scorned.”

Mulder leaned back in his chair, waiting for

Scully to jeer his theory or offer a witty bon mot.

Instead, the redheaded agent rose, walked to the

door, and fished into her handbag. She returned and

slid a large pink envelope across his desk. Mulder

stared down at the valentine, then looked up

guiltily.

Scully smirked. “Men. No, Mulder; don’t say a

word. This may surprise you – it certainly surprises

me — but I’m strangely touched by your odd and

clumsy little theory. The idea of a love that

transcends death, a desire manifested in such single-

minded obsession, it shows me a romantic dimension

that, frankly, I wouldn’t have suspected of you.” She

moved around the desk and eased onto Mulder’s lap,

wrapping her arms about her partner’s neck.

“Yeah, you say you love me,” Mulder murmured,

feeling rather warm, “But would you kill me?”

“Keep talking,” Scully whispered.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Title: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Author: Vickie Moseley

Summary: Sometimes, living together is almost as hard as living

apart.

Disclaimer: They still do, I still don’t, I can’t say if they are

profiting at the moment, but I know I’m not.

Archives: Written for Virtual Season 11 Valentine’s Day Special.

Two weeks exclusive engagement. After that, yes.

To the Virtual Season producers, I love you all. Happy Valentine’s

Day!

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

by Vickie Moseley

Le Bistro

17th & M Streets

Washington, DC

Friday, February 6, 2004

12:05 pm

Scully glanced over at the door of the little restaurant and spied her

mother. She stood up and waved Maggie over to their table.

“How are the roads?” Scully asked, helping her mother shake the

snow off her coat and scarf.

“The BW wasn’t that bad. They were worse in the city, actually. I

almost got squashed by a bus crossing Rock Creek,” she said,

folding her coat over one of the two empty chairs. “Where’s Fox?”

Scully had sat down again and was busy reading the menu.

“Dana. Where is Fox?”

Scully looked over at her mother, a slightly guilty expression. “I

didn’t invite him,” she said and chewed on her lip.

Maggie’s brow furrowed with concern. “Didn’t invite him? Why

not?”

Scully licked her lips and winced. “I wanted to talk about him and

I couldn’t do that with him here. I told him we were shopping for

underwear — for you. He decided to grab a sandwich from the

cafeteria and catch up on his email.”

Maggie crossed her arms and leaned back, giving her daughter a

classic raised eyebrow. “What’s the matter?” she asked, but it

sounded more like a demand.

“Mom, it’s just . . . he’s such a male!” Scully blurted out, then

realized a few other patrons had looked her way and she lowered

her voice. “It’s insufferable. He leaves his basketball right in the

middle of the living room. He has to use three towels to take a

shower — three, Mom, three! He never remembers about the toilet

seat and last night I had to scoop sunflower seeds off the sheets

before I could get into bed,” she fumed. “I just want to strangle

him!”

Maggie had the good grace not to laugh in her daughter’s face, but

it was difficult. “Dana, you and Fox have been together for over

10 years. Surely none of this comes as a surprise.”

Scully rolled her eyes as if in silent benediction. “I know, I know.

And it’s not like we’ve never shared a residence. But when he’s

sick or injured, he’s usually too weak to be a bother. And by the

time he is well enough to get into mischief, he goes home, to his

apartment. But this time . . .”

“I thought you said he was looking for a new place,” Maggie said

as she looked up and waved to the waiter nearest their table. They

ordered and the waiter left before Scully answered.

“Yes, and so far nothing has panned out. I know he’s really

looking, but it’s so exasperating. He keeps talking about maybe

buying a condo, but that would mean selling his parents homes and

the summerhouse and I don’t think he’s ready to do that yet. I can’t

just toss him out, I love him. But I think I might have to murder

him if he doesn’t change his ways.”

“Have you talked about it?”

Scully closed her eyes. “Talked, whined, nagged, screamed. All

of the above and sometimes all at once. And he does seem to

listen, for a while. But then, a day or two later, it’s the ice cream

tub on the hearth and the DVDs scattered all over the coffee table.

He’s . . . Mom, he’s a cretin and I don’t know what to do about it.”

Maggie smiled up at the waiter who served their food and when he

was gone again, smiled over at her daughter. “Well, let’s see. I

seem to remember a few late night calls from hospitals across the

country when you would have given your right arm to have him

leaving ice cream tubs on the hearth and DVDs all over the coffee

table,” she said slowly.

It wasn’t what she expected, but Scully’s eyes clouded with tears.

“I know. I feel like a . . . a shrew! Mom, I try, I really try. I say to

myself ‘I’m not going to be that way, I’m not going to sound like a

wife’ and then I hear myself yelling at him to put down the toilet

seat. I don’t want to be that way, really. I remember all those

calls, too. I remember just last fall being scared to death that I’d

never hear his voice again when he had carbon monoxide

poisoning.” She stopped before going much further, since Maggie

was still fairly clueless as to the cause of the poisoning. “Bet this

never happened with Daddy,” she said, picking at her salad.

Maggie’s unladylike snort caused her to jerk her head up and stare.

“What?” Scully demanded.

“You’re father was one of six children, five of them male,” Maggie

recited. “I think your poor grandmother gave up trying to teach

any of them to clean up after themselves. She was thrilled if they

helped set the table for dinner! I had to ‘retrain’ your father, which

wasn’t that easy, especially when he was at sea half the time. I

thought marrying a sailor would mean he’d have a military sense of

order — but I found out the minute he was on shore leave, it was

back to the old bad habits, and I was stuck with the mess.” She

stared out into space a fond expression in her eyes.

“So what did you do? I mean, he was neat as a pin when we were

growing up.”

Maggie smiled at her daughter affectionately. “I just let it go. I

realized that the times we were together were too precious to spend

either cleaning or yelling about cleaning. We spent that time . . . in

other ways,” she said, dropping her eyes to her salad. “I’m sure

you and Fox have more important ways to spend your time,” she

added, more to the salad than to Scully.

Scully blushed and dropped her eyes, too. “I can think of a few.”

“It’s really not important, after all is said and done, Dana. You

won’t remember how clean your house looked. You’ll just

remember how it felt to be in his arms,” Maggie said with a wistful

sigh. She cleared her throat, signaling a change in subject. “So,

what are you two doing for Valentine’s day?”

Scully looked up with an expression that spoke of antlered

creatures staring down Peterbilt trucks. “Valentine’s day?

Ohmigod, it’s next week!”

“Um hum. You have reservations some place, don’t you? You

won’t find any place in town that has space open for next weekend

now. I heard as much on the radio on the way down here.”

Maggie politely ignored Scully’s muttered curse. “I guess not,” she

said primly.

“Mom, we’ve been busy lately and to be perfectly honest, I forgot

all about it!”

Maggie thought for a moment. “Dana, do you remember your

father’s old buddy Chuck?”

“Chuck Nelson, sure I remember him, Mom. He’s Bill’s godfather,

isn’t he?”

“Well, he called the other day. He’s taking a post in NATO for a

year. He’ll be moving to Europe. They pulled him out of

retirement.”

“Wow, bet he was excited.”

“Yes, he was. You know he’s been a bachelor since his wife died a

few years back.”

“Mom, are you . . . and he . . .”

Maggie blushed. “Oh, Dana, of course not! Chuck is sweet, but

definitely not my type. No, the reason I bring it up at all, well,

Chuck has a penthouse at the Watergate. Full maid service and I

believe he even has a cook.”

“I say again, Wow. But why are you telling me all this?”

“Chuck and I got to talking and I mentioned that Tara and Bill

come out from time to time. He suggested that the next time

they’re out, they could use his penthouse. It has a fantastic view of

the Potomac and the monuments, a little ‘love nest’, he called it.

Anyway, all I have to do is call the Watergate and give them my

name, it’s all arranged.”

“I still don’t get it,” Scully insisted.

“Dana, think about it. You can set up a romantic dinner, have a

beautiful apartment all to yourselves and the best part . . . you don’t

have to lift a finger to clean up in the morning,” Maggie said, slyly

sipping her coffee.

“We’re in hotels a lot, Mom,” Scully pointed out.

“I believe the words you use the most are ‘flea bag motels’,”

Maggie countered. “Dana, this is a hundred times nicer than any

motel. And it’s completely private. You’d be in a world all to

yourselves.”

“It would take a lot of planning. I mean getting the food, that sort

of thing . . .”

“You have all day Saturday to do it,” Maggie said with a smile. “If

you ask nicely, I might even be persuaded to help.”

Scully looked across the table at her mother and immediately felt

her face breaking into a grin. “OK, Mom, you’re on!”

Lone Gunmen apartment

Anacostia

Feb. 10, 7:55 pm

“More pizza, Mulder?” Byers asked as he started to take the near

empty carryout box to the counter.

Mulder shoved the chair back from the table with a groan and

rubbed his stomach. “No, thanks. Five is my limit.” He looked

around the darkened apartment. “So, where are Curly and Moe

tonight?”

Byers came back to the table with two more beers. “Rocky Horror

Film Festival,” he said with a shrug.

“And you passed on that? What’s the matter? Langly steal all the

good fishnet hose?”

Byers actually cracked a smile. “No, but Frohike was cleaning his

leather jacket this afternoon. Seems there are some women who

show up regularly to this theatre. I think they’re hoping I’m by

myself all night tonight.”

Mulder almost choked on his beer but recovered quickly enough.

“So, no prowling instincts, Byers? Why stay home when the

probability is so . . . slightly in your favor?”

Byers took another swig and then stared intently down at his bottle.

“I just can’t. Not since Suzanne. . . well, you know the story.”

“Sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Mulder said contritely.

“So why are you over here? Scully at a conference?”

Mulder snorted. “No, she’s home. At least I think she’s home.” At

his friend’s worried expression, Mulder pressed on, this time

examining his own brown bottle. “We’ve been, uh, well, hitting a

rough patch lately.”

“Familiarity breeds contempt?” Byers offered.

“Not contempt, exactly. More like a whole lot of yelling,” Mulder

admitted. “And to be honest, I can’t say I blame her. I’m just not

that good at living with another person. It’s been too long and I’m

too stuck in my ways.”

Byers sat back and regarded his companion for a full minute.

“Mulder, you are so full of shit. You and Scully are made for each

other. What’s the problem here? Are you being a slob?”

Mulder winced as Byers hit the nail on the head. “I just keep

forgetting. I mean, if I remember one thing, I forget three others. I

put the seat down, but squeeze the toothpaste from the middle. I

put the salad dressing in the refrigerator but leave the fork and

bowl on the countertop and not in the dishwasher. I can’t win for

losing!”

Byers chuckled softly.

“I’m glad you can find humor in this,” Mulder shot back in a huff.

“No, Mulder, it’s just so . . . gee, it sounds so ‘normal’! I mean, you

two are like action figures, you know. You’re always getting into

some terrible situation or another, you always seem to be larger

than life. It’s just refreshing to hear that you’re both so . . .

human!”

“Yeah, well, humans break up, request to be transferred and never

see each other again,” Mulder replied with a heavy sigh.

“Like that’s ever going to happen,” Byers said lightly. But at his

friend’s long face, he reconsidered his callousness. “Mulder, you

really can do this, you know.”

“I really can retrain myself not to be a slob at 42 years of age?”

Byers grinned. “You don’t have to undergo a brain transplant,” he

quipped. “You just need to show her you’re trying to change.

That’s all women really want — to know that we’re trying to please

them.”

“Says the man with two male roommates,” Mulder muttered.

“Not by choice,” Byers countered. “And you know that! Look,

Saturday is Valentine’s Day. What are you doing for it?”

A look of complete terror crossed Mulder’s eyes.

“You did know it was Valentine’s Day, right?” Byers asked

casually.

“Oh shit. I am in so much trouble!”

“No, no, you’re not. It is not too late! Here’s what you’re going to

do . . .”

Valentine’s Day

Penthouse Suite

Watergate Hotel

4:45 pm

Maggie smiled at her daughter and looked around the room again.

Gas logs ready in the fireplace, table by the French glass doors

with the entire city just beyond. The monuments glowed in the

early evening rays of the setting sun. It was perfect.

“Mom, you’re being awful quiet. What did I forget?” Scully asked,

her eyes filled with confusion.

“Nothing, sweetheart. I was just thinking . . . You haven’t

forgotten a thing. Well, except maybe a certain ‘someone’ you

intend to share all that champagne,” she added with a sly grin.

“Mulder!” Scully shouted, as if she just remembered a missing key

ingredient. “He’s been at the apartment all day, by himself. Oh,

crap, I bet Mrs. Douglas below me is ready to shove that basketball

right down his throat!”

“Dana, tonight is not about basketball dribbling . . . it’s about

romance. Remember?”

Scully drew in a deep breath. “How can I forget? I just laid out a

fortune on lobster tails that I have to cook myself,” she groused

mildly.

“So, how are you going to get him over here?” Maggie asked,

picking up her coat and slipping it on.

“I . . . hadn’t really thought that through, yet,” Scully admitted. “I

could lie and tell him I have reservations. Or I could just be sly

and tell him to close his eyes and trust me.”

“Well, you work that out. Call me on Monday, let me know how it

goes?”

“Of course. Thanks for helping today, Mom.”

“My pleasure. Have a wonderful night.”

Scully’s apartment

Georgetown

4:50 pm

Mulder collapsed on the sofa, exhausted. But one look around the

apartment and he had to smile. The place actually sparkled! He’d

spent the day, the whole day, cleaning. He’d even vacuumed under

the furniture. He’d dusted every knick-knack, polished the mirrors,

wiped down the kitchen cabinets, mopped the bathroom and

kitchen floors and even cleaned out the coffee carafe. He’d idly

thought about tackling the freezer, but ran out of time.

While putting away the cleaning supplies he’d found Scully’s stash

of linen tablecloths and napkins. He’d even uncovered a set of

sterling silver napkin rings from some corner of her pantry. The

few pieces of good china and crystal she had, very old from what

he could gather, had been carefully washed, dried with a soft cloth

and now rested on the table, waiting for the candles to set them

afire.

Knowing he’d never have time to clean and cook, Mulder had

ordered their dinner from an upscale restaurant on M Street. As a

special on Valentine’s Day, they were delivering meals to your

door and he’d taken advantage of the opportunity. Dinner, coq au

vin, would be served precisely at 6 — or the meal was free. ‘Just

like Dominos,’ he chuckled to himself after hanging up the phone.

Yes, he had really gone through a work out. Muscles that he

forgot he owned were burning from the strain, but he’d never felt

happier. While he’d been cleaning, he realized how much of

himself there was in the apartment. His dry cleaning was hanging

in the closet, his razor, shave cream, aftershave was littering up the

bathroom, along with a pair of boxers he found stuck behind the

laundry hamper. Even in the kitchen, his breakfast cereal, with

marshmallows, found a place next to her ‘nutrition for women’

oatmeal selection. Even pictures of the two of them took center

stage on the mantel.

Sure, he’d never picked out the sofa, but he had picked out the

floor pillows that set next to the fireplace. He kept thinking he’d

lost everything in the fire, but he was shocked, as he cleaned, to

find how much of his personal belongings he’d already replaced.

And all of them were finding a home in this apartment, just like he

was. Maybe Byers had been right. Maybe it was all about the

trying.

With that thought in mind, he drifted off into a sound sleep.

6:35 pm

Mulder awoke with a start as something warm and fragrant

touched his lips. His eyes flew open to find his partner smiling at

him, a fork full of chicken posed at his mouth.

“I was afraid I’d have to eat both servings by myself,” Scully

laughed as he sat up straighter and ran his hands over his face.

“I fell asleep,” he noted. That only made her smile bigger.

“And with good reason, Mr. Clean. This place is immaculate!

Were you working on it all day?”

He nodded groggily. Wiping sleep from his eyes, he glanced over

at the kitchen table. The candles were aflame, the meal laid out on

the china, red wine in the crystal. “I wanted to do all that,” he

pouted.

She ruffled his hair and then pulled him to his feet. “You’ve done

plenty already. C’mon, let’s eat.”

She held his hand all through dinner, which made cutting the

chicken an experience, but a fun one. He fed her from his plate but

she stopped him when he was only half finished.

“As much as this is wonderful, let’s leave it for tomorrow,” she said

coyly.

“I think I like that idea,” he smiled in return. Together, they boxed

up the leftovers and rinsed the dishes to be washed later. He

started to pull her toward the bedroom, but she pulled the other

way.

“Now, it’s my turn,” she said with what could only be called an

enigmatic grin. “Grab your jacket.” At his confused look, she

reached up and kissed him lightly. “I promise, you’ll like this.”

He shrugged and put on his coat, helping her with hers, and they

left the apartment.

As they drove toward Foggy Bottom, Mulder’s curiosity was at a

razor’s edge. “We’re going to the Kennedy Center?”

“Nope.”

He watched as she negotiated the streets and headed toward a

familiar landmark. “Scully, I agree it would be really kinky to play

‘Washington lobbyist and hooker’, but . . .

“Mulder, shut up and enjoy the drive,” she growled, but flashed

him a smile with all teeth to soften her words. He bit his lip and

looked out the window. When they pulled into the underground

parking for the Watergate, she could see him flinch, but he kept

silent.

She knew it was killing him as she locked the car, took his elbow

and guided him toward the elevators. He seemed to know where

she might be going and was making a visible effort to keep his

mouth shut, but when she pulled out a key and put it into the slot

above the elevator buttons, pressing the top floor, his eyes grew

wide and she thought he might stop breathing. She squeezed his

hand and he gulped.

“We aren’t going to the restaurant?” he squeaked.

“Nope. And what did I tell you in the car, Mulder?”

He pressed his lips together so tightly, they lost all color. She had

to turn away to keep from laughing.

When they arrived at the top floor, she led him down the hall and

used the same elevator key to unlock the apartment door. She

didn’t open the door, she grabbed him by the shoulders and pressed

his back against the wall. “I need you to stand right there, with

your eyes closed, for just five minutes.”

“Scu-lly,” he whined, but at her fierce glare, he dutifully backed

himself against the wall and closed his eyes. “I just hope no one

comes out in the hall and finds me playing ‘hide and seek’,” he said

loud enough to be heard inside the apartment.

“Keep up the racket and you’ll have plenty of company out there,”

she warned. Hurriedly she ran around the living room, lighting the

candles on the mantel and the gas fireplace, then checking the

champagne. She had to admit, the place really did look great.

‘Almost as nice as my apartment,’ she chuckled to herself.

She stepped out into the hallway and pulled on Mulder’s arm.

“Can I open my eyes?” he asked.

“Not yet. I’ll tell you when,” she promised. She brought him all

the way into the living room, turned him to face the fireplace and

reached up to kiss him lightly. “Open them.”

He blinked because he was looking right into the fire. Then he

turned and looked at the rest of the apartment. A slow smile

creased his face and he gave a low whistle. “Scully, you shouldn’t

have. All I got you was a card,” he teased.

“Well, this place is all ours, for tonight. Then it turns back into a

pumpkin,” she told him.

He walked over to the glass french doors and looked out onto the

city. “You can’t rent these penthouses, Scully. How in the world .

. .”

“A friend of my parents,” she supplied. “He’s in Europe, Mom got

me the key. There’s more food in the kitchen.”

He turned around, took the two steps to reach her and gently

lowered them both to the floor. “We might need it . . . a little

later.”

Two hours later

the floor in front of the fireplace

She giggled as butter ran down his chin. He looked around for

something to wipe it off and she obliged him with her tongue.

“You were just waiting for that,” he accused her with a grin.

“Yup,” she answered with a sly smile. They were lying in front of

the fire without a stitch of clothing on, warm in it’s glow,

surrounded by empty plates and wine glasses.

He licked his fingers of the last of the drawn butter and pulled her

down so her head was resting on his bare chest. “I’ve never dared

eat lobster in the nude.”

“Me neither.”

“It’s fun,” he decided happily and she nodded in enthusiastic

agreement. “Even more fun when it’s someone else’s carpet we

dripped butter on,” he added.

“I’ll mention it to the maid tomorrow. I’m pretty sure it will come

out,” Scully said with a shrug.

“So, we trash this place and then in the morning go home to your

apartment where it’s nice and clean?”

“That’s the plan,” she answered, kissing his chest.

“I really like that plan,” he said, leaning in for a very passionate

kiss. He pulled away and lifted her chin up so she could see his

eyes. “I’m sorry I’m such a pig to live with,” he told her seriously.

“I’m sorry I’ve been turning into a shrew,” she replied and kissed

him just a thoroughly.

When they came up for air, he hugged her tightly to him. “Happy

Valentine’s Day, Scully.”

She smiled at him. “Actions speak louder than words, Mulder.”

At that moment, he couldn’t agree more.

the end.