Category Archives: Season 12

Blockbuster Remnant

BLOCKBUSTER

VS 12 Summer Movie Blockbuster: Remnant

Author: VS12 Producers

FEEDBACK: Yes, please.

DISTRIBUTION: This story belongs to Virtual Season 12 for two weeks. After that, it will be OK for archival at Gossamer, Ephemeral, and the like.

RATING:

CATEGORY: XF, Mytharc

KEYWORDS: xf, mytharc

SPOILERS: None

DISCLAIMER: Mulder and Scully belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and the FOX network.

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The Courtyard Shoppes

Sacramento, Calif.

4:36 p.m.

Marilys Robyns swiped a bead of sweat from her recently waxed brow as she crossed the threshold from retail refrigeration into the searing California afternoon, cursing the marketing geniuses who had dictated the move from climate-controlled browsing to the boutique-littered baking stone that was the Courtyard Shoppes. She hefted the bag bearing her new Prada heels and slipped into an opening in the mid-afternoon salmon-stream of retirees, soccer moms, label-festooned teens, and leisurely ladies — Marilys’ own particularly sorority. Dr. Robyns was away at a Seattle rhinoplasty conference for the week, and Marilys was killing an hour in anticipation of cosmos and caipirinhas with the girls at the martini bar down  the street. A trail of perspiration rolled down her cheek. The enticing scent of garlic and cilantro gusted past Marilys’ exquisite Aryan nose (a souvenir of the Robyns’ courtship), and her silver-blonde head tipped toward the food court. She was contemplating the impact of a California roll, a few cheese sticks on her delicate carb equilibrium when her teal eyes locked on the diminutive man. Marilys halted, and a sea of affluent humanity oozed around her. She frowned at the strange little man, draped in raw leather, beads, feathers, and, what, bones? His swarthy features were thick, wind-worn — Indian, or more likely Latino. As a native Californian, Marilys was completely simpatico with the culture: she’d reamed her domestic Rosita only this morning for buying non-Fair Trade coffee, attempting to educate the girl about the plight of the Central American grower. Rosita had seemed unappreciative. Marilys snorted disgustedly (and silently, of course). Cheap theatricality, dressing some pathetic illegal in buckskins on a scorcher like today, hawking burritos and chimichangas. And in that ridiculous parody of “Injun” dress — that alone was enough to raise her botoxed hackles. Marilys felt the rising inclination to seek out the mall management, or, better yet, perhaps e-mail a vehement protest to the Sacramento Bee editorial page. Fueled by a PBS documentary on migrant labor reform she’d seen last night, Marilys grasped her Pradas and set her Tuscan Gold Manolo Blahniks on a direct course toward the exploited man.

A pair of security guards in more sensible shoes intercepted him before she could traverse the hot pavers. The guards, feet spread in goose-stepping authority, began to grill the small man, who blinked, wide-eyed and clearly terrified, at the buff sentries. Marilys hesitated as the teaming masses moved obliviously past the terse trio, then made up her mind. She felt like Jane Fonda — post-Barbarella, pre-Ted Turner — as she stalked toward the men. “Excuse me,” Marilys rasped, forcing a tone of cool outrage into her words. The private cops glanced briefly aside, then returned to the Small Man. “I said, excuse me.”

One of the guards stopped, puffed his cheeks at his partner, and turned. “Yes, ma’am?”

The look in his eyes made Marilys blink. She stepped forward. “Might I ask why you’re interrogating this man? You appear to have singled him out.”

“Ma’am,” the guard sighed. “Could you just please move on?”

“I don’t think so,” she said loudly, exhilarated by her newfound radicalism. “You’re…you’re profiling this man. I have considerable clout with the Northern California ACLU…”

The partner snorted.

“Go ahead, chortle,” Marilys growled, ears growing hot. “But I wonder what the media would think of you two harassing this Latino gentleman while he’s trying to do his job. It’s bad enough his being forced to sell his ethnic pride for minimum wages.”

“Hey, lady,” the cheek-puffer breathed, tapping the nameplate on his chest, which read R. Garcia. “We already checked — this guy don’t work for the mall — the Shoppes. But we do, OK? Just let us do our job, OK? Hey, what are you…?” The guard’s left hand twitched toward his holster as Marilys’ right plunged into her bag. Fright, and then indignation, flashed through her contact-tinted irises, and she held up her cell phone.

“I’m calling my attorney,” she huffed. “He does a lot of pro bono immigration law, and he knows how to deal with jack-booted thugs.”

“Knock yourselves out, lady.” R. Garcia reached for the small man’s arm. “C‘mon, dude, let‘s– Hey!!”

The arm, along with the rest of the man, was roughly 15 yards out of R. Garcia’s reach and gaining, sprinting at a blur through the crowd of late-afternoon shoppers.

Marilys gawped, speechless, as the guards gave chase. “Larry!” R. Garcia bellowed. In front of Ralph Lauren’s, a thickset custodian paused before jabbing a fast-food wrapper with a spiked stick. “Grab him, Larry!!”

Larry’s eyes widened, then darted toward the fleeing “Indian.” He grabbed the stick with both hands and swung it like an overset ninja as he lunged into the man’s path. The small man skidded to a halt, turned wildly around as a crowd of gawkers converged, and leapt at the custodian.

As the guards wove through the shoppers, the pair grappled over the litter stick. The custodian suddenly appeared to appraise the immediate risks of his situation, factoring in his sub-par weekly wages, and he released the “weapon.” Marilys gasped as the small man whipped an odd-looking, double-looped device from his belt, slid his rough fingers into the twin loops, and fit the stick into what was now obviously a sling. The guards froze as the Courtyard Shoppes’ patrons scattered, and the man planted his feet, eyes wild with fear and menace.

“Yo, dude,” R. Garcia called. “Let’s just chill, que paso? Put that shit down, dude — we get a Pepsi and some nachos and we’ll call it a day.”

“Fuck that,” the partner growled, yanking his pistol free. The Indian’s arm blurred, and the guard fired.

“Jesus, Chuck,” R. Garcia yelped as the small man spun and fell to the concrete and the custodian’s stick lodged loudly in the trunk of a palm outside the J. Crew. “You shot the dude.”

“Yeah,” the partner breathed, seemingly shocked by his own action. He gathered himself defensively and shoved his gun back into its holster as he caught sight of the white-faced Marilys, cell phone dangling limply in her hand. “What, you gonna call the ACLU?”

**

“The wound itself wasn’t that serious,” Paul Liang informed the Sacramento P.D. detective assigned to the fashion mall altercation as the pair stepped into a deserted exam room. “Hit the fleshy portion of the upper arm, near the shoulder — missed all the major vessels, thank God. Patient’s in a lot of shock, though — nearly catatonic. Very extreme reaction, given the relatively minor nature of the injury. Heartbeat, blood pressure were spiking nearly off the charts — guy was scared shitless. And there’s some kind of weird shadow on the shoulder x-ray that doesn’t look like any natural anomaly.”

The cop, a thin, tired-looking man, nodded disinterestedly. “How soon ‘til I can talk to him?”

“Jeez, I’d prefer you held off a couple more hours, at least,” Dr. Liang murmured. “‘Sides, I don’t know what you’d accomplish. We haven’t gotten a coherent comment from him so far. Nurse Contrera out there gave it a try, but he don’t habla, you know? I can tell what he’s babbling isn’t French or Italian, and he doesn’t look German or Chinese.”

“Shit,” the detective sighed. “Probably have to call the university, see if we can get somebody from Linguistics over.”

“And, oh yeah,” Liang snapped his fingers. “I got something you might want. The EMTs accidentally grabbed it when they brought our friend in. A moment, detective?”

The cop sighed, nodded, and the physician disappeared into the hall. Some poor crazy, likely, the detective theorized, given the Tonto garb and the schmuck’s willingness to take on two armed men with a wooden stick with a spike in it. At the same time, he’d seen the damage the perp had inflicted on that date palm out at the Shoppes. He was no amateur with hand weapons. Vet, martial arts kook, gang- banger cooked his brains on meth? Probably not homeless – the guy’s rawhide ensemb, cut from him by the E.R. docs, was clean, maybe freshly tanned. Stray survivalist? Nah, too ethnic.

The cop had worked his way halfway down the chart of the alimentary system next to the sharps disposal unit when Dr. Liang returned bearing a large baggie. Inside was a contraption of leather and wood – two loops attached to a tube like shaft or cradle.

“Shit,” he said. “He harpooned that tree with this, this slingshot? Like David and Goliath? Forget COPS, man. I feel like I’m in a freaking Natural Geographic’s special. You got any idea what this thing is, Doc?”

“All I took was elective anthropology, Detective.” Liang frowned as he studied the artifact. “Maybe he stole it from some exhibition or something. Look, isn’t there some sort of weapons database you guys can use?”

“Yeah, FBI,” the detective brightened.

“We can save you the trouble,” a deep voice rumbled calmly as a tall, athletic man in a black suit entered the room. A stocky but equally buff man trailed the voice’s owner. “Special Agents Roosevelt and Truman, NSA,” the taller man smiled, flashing his ID and gently relieving the detective of the “slingshot.”

“Hey,” the cop protested.

“Yes, I know,” the tall agent murmured. “But we have a warrant, and whether you believe it or not, you don’t want a piece of this case. And, Doctor, we’ll be taking your patient along, as well – we have a fully equipped ambulance with a full medical staff aboard. We’ll need his records, of course, and I’m going to ask you not to divulge any information about the patient, either one of you.”

Liang scowled. “I don’t—”

“That’s right, Doctor. You don’t.” The agent and his silent shadow vanished. The doctor and the detective exchanged looks and moved quickly into the corridor, just in time to watch a bio-suited crew wheel a gurney bearing the small, swarthy man out the sliding E.R. doors. A similarly dressed trio followed, carrying what Liang assumed to be the patient’s clothing and personal effects.

The E.R. staff and the scattering of emergency patients, distracted momentarily from their aches and pains, remained in a tableau of confusion and shock, until the detective marched to the open E.R. doors and stared at the small caravan of anonymous black vans rolling out.

“What…just happened?” Liang sputtered.

The cop shrugged, glumly eyeing the procession. “I had to guess, I’d say David just met up with Goliath. God help the poor schmuck.”

Mulder & Scully’s Residence

Georgetown

3:17 AM

They’d spent most of the day at Rock Creek Park, picnicking, horsing around and just enjoying the summer sunshine. Maggie, Tara and the kids had joined them and Mulder had spent a good part of the afternoon in what he considered to be a constructive game of catch with Matthew. The kid had a good arm and Mulder had taken it upon himself as a somewhat surrogate father to teach him the love of the game. It had been a welcome relief to step away from the madness for even a few hours; to occasionally step into the lives of the blissfully ignorant and just relax. Mulder had enjoyed it so much he now found himself back there in his dreams; the sounds of the city forgotten in the laughter of children and the music of nature. He remembered that wicked game of Frisbee Scully had engaged him in and once again found himself chasing after the high flying disc. She seemed to revel in making it as difficult as possible for him to catch the damn thing but so far he hadn’t let her down. She let loose a NSAty curve. It sailed behind him, down a small rise and as the disc faded away from him Mulder chased after it, running down the hill and leaping to his left to catch it behind his back. Turning around to find the hillside empty he was a little chagrined that she hadn’t seen his latest feat of male agility and jogged up the hill with his prize

“Hey, Scully, nice try…” When he reached the top he froze. Scully lay on the ground several yards beyond him, unmoving. Dropping the Frisbee Mulder ran and knelt by her side. His hands flitted across her lifeless body, a moment ago she’d been laughing at him. The shock knocked the breath from his lungs; his distress increasing when looking around him, he realized that the park, too, had grown deathly quiet; it was littered with the grotesque shapes of Scully’s family and other bodies. Sitting there beside Scully he listened intently for the sounds of anything. Silence, save for the sound of his own breathing, was all he could hear. Something was terribly wrong here. He moved from body to body checking for any sign of life and found nothing.

Scooping Scully into his arms he struggled to his feet and began to make his way to the entrance of the park; breaking into a trot, his breath coming in short pants as he passed more and more bodies. His trot increased to a run, his lungs ached, the fear robbing him of breath. He made it to the entrance to the park and stopped abruptly, the streets had also grown empty and silent. Looking down at Scully’s ashen face he screamed to the heavens. “Scully! Damn it…Scully—NO !”

Suddenly someone was shaking him. “Mulder…Mulder! Wake up! You’re dreaming!”

He shot up from the bed, sweaty and shaky. Scully sat up with him and reached over to touch his arm but he yanked it away. Swinging his legs over the side and dropping his head into his hands he tried to calm his breathing. He raked his face with his hands, “Shit.” What the hell had that been about?

“Mulder put your head down before you pass out.” Scully scooted across the bed and attempted to wrap the sheet across his shoulders. The drying sweat left him chilly and trembling. He shook his head to clear it and got up from the bed leaving her sitting there wrapping the sheet around nothing.

“Go back to sleep Scully, it was just a dream,” his voice sounded shaky even to his own ears. He yanked his pajama bottoms up on his hips and made it to the bedroom door before Scully spoke again.

“Mulder? Are you okay?”

Realizing he’d finally been caught at this charade he’d been carrying on for months he turned to her, swiping a hand through his damp hair and sighed. He couldn’t meet her eyes, “Yeah, I’m just going to go get some juice or something. I’m okay.”

Scully found him sometime later leaning against the kitchen door. Silhouetted by the moonlight he stood with his arms outstretched on either side of the door frame, his forehead against the glass. “Mulder?” When he didn’t answer, she made her way across the floor. “Please come back to bed.” He ignored her. As she got closer she could see gooseflesh dotting his arms, he was still shaking from the shock A quick trip to the living room for an afghan brought her back to the kitchen where he still stood looking out at the moonlight now with his palms against the glass.

Wrapping the blanket across his shoulders she hugged him lightly. “I thought you weren’t having these dreams anymore?”

He turned to look at her and smiled ruefully, pulling the afghan more tightly around himself. “I’m—they’re,” oh hell, he thought to himself. “They’re not like before.”

“No?” she tried to get him to look at her but he still wouldn’t meet her eyes. Why could they never get past this avoidance game? “Now they just leave you shocky,” it came out a little more harshly than she intended. She reached out to touch his arm.

“Come on, come sit down,” she amended, steering him into the living room and onto the couch where he practically collapsed into the cushions, his elbows on his knees and once again dropping his head into his hands. Scully pulled the afghan over his shoulders and started to rub his back. “Are you going to tell me about it?”

He didn’t say anything for several minutes. Something in his subconscious had the warning bells ringing. Something about the dream made it not what it seemed. It wasn’t just about him finding himself alone in the world, it was something more general something more all encompassing and until he understood it himself he wasn’t about to include anyone else in the frustration. “No, Scully, I’m not,” he said, dropping his hands and settling back against the back of the couch. Scully wrapped her hand around his right wrist; his pulse was still a little too rapid.

“I know you don’t want to hear this Mulder, but you’re not exactly a young man anymore. These episodes are very stressful.”

He got her subtle hint and pulled his hand away. “Don’t go into doctor mode on me Scully,” his voice cold even to her.

She didn’t know whether to be hurt or angry. “Damn it Mulder, why won’t you talk to me about this? You tell me this is not like before and yet it’s clearly upset you.”

She watched as he tilted his head back against the cushion and let out a deep sigh of frustration. “Fine, if you won’t talk to me then please just come back to bed. I’m tired too and in three hours we have to get up,” she snapped at him, making an attempt to pull him to his feet. Now he was angry, yanking himself from her grip he settled back against the cushion. “They’re just nightmares Scully, I’ve always had them. You know that as much as anyone else,” he couldn’t get the edge from his voice. “This one was just a little more intense—I’m okay,” he insisted, softening his voice to reassure himself as much as her. “I’m just wanna sit here for a while.”

She searched his eyes in the darkness of the living room. He looked exhausted. She turned then, settling against his shoulder. “Then I’ll sit here with you—for a while.”

Mulder pulled her closer, wrapping the edge of the afghan around her shoulders and rubbing her arm. She leaned into him, looking up. “Thank you for spending time with Matthew today, Mulder…”

God, Matthew, the image for his lifeless body from the dream flickered across his memory. He couldn’t tell her that. He continued to caress her shoulder, lost in thought. She looked up to let him know she would wait. When he spoke his voice was almost weary. “I haven’t lied to you Scully. I really haven’t had any more visions of past civilizations,” his voice now turning sarcastic. She waited him out. “Actually I was dreaming about the park today—but then something happened—I don’t know, maybe something’s about to happen.”

Surprised that he had opened up to her she snuggled closer, “What do you mean?”

She could feel him move, like he was shaking his head. “I don’t know. I can’t help but feel that this is all happening for a reason. That I’m supposed to learn something or that someone is trying to tell me something through all this. Something like that collective consciousness of the dead you once spoke of trying to get me to understand what this is all about but I just can’t get it”

She wrapped her arm around his middle. “Maybe you’re trying to look too hard Mulder. Maybe the answer is a much simpler one.”

“Ockham’s Razor? Scully…”

She chuckled a little, “Could be. All those episodes you had earlier this year. They all centered on some catastrophe in the past. What about tonight?”

He grew silent. Tonight had been a catastrophe of a much more personal kind.

“Mulder?”

“No, tonight was nothing like that.”

The National Thermoelectric Energy Laboratory

Alamagordo, N.M.

17 hours later

“Atlatl,” Ronnie Skorzeny announced proudly.

Col. Wilson Grey looked up from the blotter-full of paperwork that seemed to accumulate even in the darkest corners of the Black Ops community, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. The Station — the popular label for the NSA research lab which masqueraded as a Department of Energy R&D facility — normally was embroiled in far less esoteric, if no less exotic work focused on national security, global “stabilization,” and development of “contingency” weapons to be used in the event neither of the first two objectives worked.

“Ronnie,” Grey replied evenly. “I thought I told you just last week I would personally drive you out to the desert and put two in your temporal lobe, you didn’t start talking American.”

The scientist grinned, too immune to geek-baiting or simply too stupid to be afraid of this steel-eyed soldier who’d reportedly taken out around three dozen men and women in four wars and three peacetime ops. “Actually, the term is far more ‘American’ than the mongrelized amalgam we call English.”

“Ronnie.” But Col. Grey was intrigued — the bespectacled civilian was shaking like a poodle on a fresh patch of Berber.

“The weapon we took from our friend. It was an atlatl. A Native American spear thrower. You fit the spear or a stone dart into a grooved shaft, slip your fingers into the twin loops, and, with a flick of the wrist, you take down a bear or that pesky in- law.”

Grey blinked, his eyes registering menacingly bored impatience. “Fella couldn’t afford a bow-and-arrow?”

Ronnie dropped into the colonel’s chair unbidden — the man’s sheer cojones was one of the few reasons the officer tolerated him. “That’s the point. The atlatl was the intermediate step between manual spear handling and the bow. Like many simple technological advances, it was common worldwide: The Eskimos used them, the Australian bushmen, ancient Europeans used the atlatl nearly 30,000 years ago. In America, spear throwers have been dated to 10,000 years ago. Southwestern tribes replaced the atlatl with the bow-and-arrow somewhere between 500 and 750 A.D.”

“So what? You said the guy appeared to be Native American. Maybe this atla-, atla-, weapon was a hand-me-down from his tribal forefathers, or maybe he lifted it from some museum, reclaimed his heritage. Bury my heart at Wounded Knee and all that crap.”

Ronnie’s head shook vigorously, and a sprinkle of dandruff snowed onto his garish Hawaiian shirt. “No, this atlatl is the genuine article — design’s identical to one on display at the University of New Mexico. The materials are authentic, too. But this atlatl is nowhere near as old.”

“How old is it?” Grey’s words were filled with exasperation.

“Try no more than three or four months.”

The colonel’s chair squeaked back. “So, basically, you’re telling me all this time and federal manpower has been expended on some burnt-out Indian activist who chose to make his last stand at a fashion mall? Well, guess that’s where I might start. But we’re not the FBI or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, so I fail to see the relev—”

“There’s a bacterial anomaly,” Ronnie blurted. Grey crooked a brow, and the scientist sighed. “We found something that didn’t square. Riggs – in Biologics – thought we might be able to trace the subject’s geographical origin through any entomological or microbial traces on his clothing or skin. Well, he just about shit a bri–, ah, he got a little shock when he analyzed some bacteria that was feeding on the rawhide he was wearing. It didn’t match anything in our database.”

Now, Col. Grey straightened, a look of anxiety on his face. “Ronnie, you might have spilled that little tidbit a little earlier. What are we talking about here? Some kind of modified organism? A biological weapon?”

Ronnie hooked an arm over the back of his chair, seemingly pleased he’d managed to ruffle the normally unflappable military man. “Relax. It’s a harmless, fairly primitive bacillus with a very low level of resistance. We had to use a clean room to culture the damn thing, it was so delicate. That’s what got Riggs thinking. He’s got this modeling program, lets him extrapolate mutation, development, and resistance in bacteria, viruses, the whole shmear. Guys in Bioterrorism use it to track potential agents. Anyway, you know we’re growing some of the most powerful super bacteria in the world, what with all the antibacterial soaps and food pathogen controls and crap we’ve developed.”

“Ronnie.”

“Yeah. Anyway, Riggs gets to thinking about the low resistance in this strain, and he runs his modeling program backwards.”

“Backwards?”

“Instead of extrapolating where this strain might’ve come from, he factored in major environmental and health factors, normal bacterial mutation and adaptation patterns, and extrapolated what it might be today.”

“Whoa. What it might be today? What the hell are you trying to tell me, Ronnie?”

Ronnie considered a little more drama, but the look on Grey’s face forced him to reconsider. “Riggs wants to bring in a paleobacteriologist – a guy who studies prehistoric bacter—”

“Do not fucking patronize me, mister,” Grey said quietly, and in that moment, Ronnie finally comprehended the colonel’s homicidal potential. “This is some kind of prehistoric organism?”

“We don’t know for sure,” Ronnie stammered. “Bacteria reproduce and adapt so quickly, you know. But Riggs thinks we could be looking at least thousand years old.”

“This thing has lived for more than a millennium?”

“No. It’s not old. It’s just ancient.”

Grey frowned. “You’re talking in fucking riddles.”

Ronnie glanced at the ceiling tiles in an effort to carefully formulate his reply. “The bacteria we found on your subject likely would have lived centuries ago. And then we factor in the rawhide it was feeding on. On the basis of the bacterial anomaly, we analyzed the clothes – environmental toxins, air pollution, trace metals we eat and drink, they all routinely accumulate in human and animal tissues. But the subject’s hides were alarmingly clean of manmade pollutants or contaminants.”

Grey was too busy absorbing this new data to register the irony of Ronnie’s statement. “All right. Let’s cut out all the bullshit, and you just tell me what you think we’re dealing with here.”

Ronnie stared at his superior warily, then sighed. “I believe – and we have to do a ton more analysis before we can even begin to confirm this – I believe the clothing, the atlatl, perhaps even the man himself has somehow been miraculously preserved for several centuries. Cryogenically, maybe, I don’t know. The other possibility…”

“Yes?”

“The other possibility is, your man was transported.”

“Transported,” Grey whispered. He blinked. “Wait a second. You better not mean what I think you mean. You fucking suggest that possibility outside this office, and you’ll find yourself transported from this dimension into a black hole. You grasp my meaning, Ronnie?”

“Y-yeah. Yeah, I do. We’ll go back to the lab.”

Grey’s eyes drilled into Ronnie’s and then turned back to the paperwork on his desk. “You do that. Keep me apprised.”

The colonel listened to Ronnie scramble to the door and the door click shut, then leaned back, heart pounding, breathing deeply through his nose. After he composed himself, Grey picked up his phone and, finger trembling slightly, punched in a pre- programmed number.

“Yeah,” the soldier greeted wearily but resolutely. “Ronnie Skorzeny. Yeah, down in the lab. When he leaves for the weekend, make sure he gets the desert tour.”

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR WALTER SKINNER’S OFFICE

9:00 A.M. SHARP

By 9:00 A. M. there were seated in their superior’s office. Skinner looked at the two agents in front of him. While they appeared smartly dressed and attentive there was something haggard about them both. He was certain they had taken the weekend off. Second thoughts briefly passed through his head as he fingered the file in front of him.

He’d found it on his desk this morning. That alone should have been a warning to tread carefully. Mysterious files were nothing new to his office but he’d opened it anyway. He knew enough about what the agents in front of him had dealt with over the years and after reading the contents of the file he knew in an instant where Mulder would run with this. An ancient man popping up in the food court of a shopping mall; the absurdity of it made it almost believable. But what IF this was the real deal? What IF through some unknown force, some time warp or wormhole in space this man had really come forward from the past. What exactly did it mean for his agents? More importantly, he was trying to figure out how to keep Mulder out of those 5 point restraints. Without saying a word he slid the file across the desk to Mulder.

He watched silently as his agent’s eyes scanned the pages. He watched him hand the photos to Scully who only looked mildly surprised until she too scanned the files contents. Their eyes met and then he finally looked up to meet Skinner’s gaze. “We weren’t supposed to know about this were we sir?”

Mulder had never known Skinner to be nervous but that’s exactly how he appeared to be. “I don’t know where the file came from,” he said, fidgeting in his seat as if his hemorrhoids were bothering him. “I found it on my desk this morning.” Skinner could see the wheels turning, knew Mulder was already putting pieces together. “He’s in military custody Mulder, not a Bureau matter.”

“Like that’s ever stopped me,” he glanced at his partner, “Us before.”

Bait or not, Skinner knew Mulder would take it…hook, line and sinker. Worried that his agents would be caught doing extra curricular activities on the company dime he had already planned the cover-up. “I’ve had Kim make flight arrangements,” he said passing another file to Mulder who picked it up slipping the previous one inside its cover.

As they got up Mulder turned to his boss. “You’re starting to scare me, sir.”

Puzzled, Skinner replied, “Why’s that?”

“You’re beginning to think like me.”

“So—where ARE we going, Mulder?” Scully hadn’t waited long to inquire about the bogus file Skinner had slipped him.

He leaned against the back of the elevator and flipped open the file. “We’re going to,” she watched as his eyes scanned the file, “Alamogordo, New Mexico, to investigate a report by local law enforcement of some mysterious deaths in the desert.” He looked up, handing her the file. “Don’t forget the sunscreen,” he smirked at her.

When the elevator hit the basement he made a quick exit forcing Scully to almost jog to keep up with him. “Mulder, this can’t be what it seems…the man is not an Anasazi.”

“Why, because time travel is not possible Scully?” he asked without turning around.

“Someone thinks he’s the real deal or our friends at NSA wouldn’t be so quick to snatch him up.” The door flew open in front of him and he was across the office in two strides.

“Okay—okay, before we go any further here Mulder, how do you think this man from the past suddenly turned up in a shopping mall?” She dropped the files on the desk with a little more force than she intended and crossed her arms over her chest. “And please don’t tell me he’s a returned abductee.”

Mulder had already moved to the files, opening the top drawer and ransacking through it obviously in search of something. “I don’t have to, you already know.”

State Route 54, SOUTHEAST OF ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., 7:19 P.M.

Mulder let his head lull against the headrest. Being the ass that he sometimes was he’d insisted on driving. Scully had dozed off despite the frigid  temperature he’d cranked the AC up too; the scenery being as dull as his apparent company. He’d wakened her out of a sound sleep the previous night with his freakish nightmare and neither of them had gotten much sleep thereafter, maybe he owed her these few hours. He left the radio off.

The waning daylight cast shadows across the desert around him somehow making its harshness less obvious. There was beauty here if you looked hard enough for it and messages scrawled across the rocks in hidden places; left decades ago by people with a unique knowledge of earths’ past.

The history of the Anasazi remained cloaked in mystery. Ranging from Mexico to Arizona and Utah the land was still dotted with ruins of their pueblos and language; evidence of a once productive society that for some unknown reason just suddenly disappeared. But as Albert had stated—nothing disappears without a trace and while many anthropologists believed that the Anasazi people assimilated into the other cultures of the southwest, Mulder had his own ideas. He admired these people who had managed to make this land their home for decades; the Hopi, Zuni and the Navajo, native people of the earth who had learned to understand her far better than any of today’s scientists. He understood these people knew, through stories handed down through the ages, her future far better also.

The road crested a small rise, curving to the right and bringing a small valley into view on his left. Smoke caught his eye and he took his eyes off the road.

Something was there in the valley, there but not there. He glanced back to the road and then back again to the valley, scrubbing at his eyes with one hand as he slowed the car.

Just beyond the edge of the road lay an encampment. Tents of buckskin, teepees he realized, cook fires, natives in 19th century dress. “What the hell?” he mumbled to himself, glancing back at the road and then unable to prevent his gaze from drifting back to the scene. An American flag caught his eye, proudly displayed on a wooden pole. Then just as suddenly as the scene had appeared, it changed; to utter chaos.

Soldiers on horses, cavalry soldiers, thundering into the camp with their rifles ablaze aiming at anything and everything that moved and sending the terrified natives running for their lives. He watched in horror as women and children dropped from gunfire or were trampled to death under the horses. There was screaming and crying and the haunting chants of tribal elders. And then again, just as suddenly it was over and he found himself faced with that same scene he’d witnessed in the park. Bodies grotesquely displayed everywhere, and a deadly silence surrounding the burned out shells of their homes still smoldering in the pre-dusk light. He didn’t realize the car was still moving until a horn blasted and the car was filled with bright light. The grill of the big rig gapped at him like a huge mouth about to swallow them both up. He was on the wrong side of the road. “Shit!” He yanked hard on the wheel and hit the gas sending the car back onto the right side of the road and beyond, over steering it off into the desert. Scully woke with the jolt. “Mulder!” He watched from the corner of his eye as her arms flailed out to brace herself against the dash. He fought the car to a stop in a cloud of dust. “Mulder! What the hell?” she said, turning to him with an incredulous look. He didn’t wait to hear the rest, snapping the car into park, yanking off the seatbelt and climbing out faster then he thought possible. Scully however, was not far behind him. “Did you fall asleep? If you were so tired, why didn’t you wake me?” She realized how stupid that question was when she watched him plant his palms on the trunk, lean over at the waist and yack up whatever the hell he’d had to eat today.

“Jesus, Mulder, not again. What…”

He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his mouth wishing for all the world he had a bottle of water. He looked up to meet her gaze. “Don’t Scully, just— don’t.”

“Fine,” she said turning away from him to circle the car to the driver’s side. “Get back in the car, Mulder. Alamogordo can’t be too far from here.”

They drove the rest of the way in silence. He sat with his elbow on the armrest, his hand covering his mouth fighting the occasional rise of bile. He didn’t know what had upset him more, what he’d seen or that he’d almost gotten them both killed because of what he’d seen. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what that had been about.

Back at the birth of the western frontier many Native tribes had put their faith in the white man; accepting his offerings as a peaceful existence for them both. What they soon learned was that the white man didn’t want to co-exist in this new land; they wanted it all and set about a strategy to wipe the Natives off their land for good. The metaphor made Mulder shiver. He hoped they got to that damn hotel soon. All he wanted was some mouthwash, a shower and to wrap himself around Scully for the rest of the night.

Alamogordo, N.M., 11:04 p.m.

The klaxon of a passing Frito-Lay truck brought Ronnie Skorzeny abruptly back from limbo. The anthropologist jerked his powder-blue, sandblasted ’69 Bug back to the right side of the perforated yellow paint, and he cursed as he wiped a thread of nap drool with the shoulder of his rumpled chambray shirt. Ronnie took a slug of Dew, grabbed a handful of Corn Nuts (ranch) from the ripped bag on the passenger seat, and cranked the AC to maximum capacity. A tepid blast of air revived him slightly — the Germans may have known their gases back in the dark days, but the Volkswagen people didn’t know shit about freon. Normally, Ronnie remained fairly alert during the 45 minute ride from The Station back to his ranch rental, despite the monotonous desert scenery. An IQ in the nosebleed section, a fairly agile left brain, and a complete lack of sexual or romantic prospects had given him the ability to fully entertain himself in any setting or environment. But he’d been clocking the hours on this whacked-out Anasazi shit, and Col. Grey — who Ronnie had always viewed as an anal retentive but essentially harmless nazi — was even chillier, even more furtive than usual. Ronnie hadn’t questioned why the NSA had offered what had seemed like a small fortune to leave his undergrad purgatory. He hadn’t questioned why Big Brother had wanted an anthro-geek out in the desert. He’d spent most of his time over the last year analyzing petroglyphs, cliff drawings for some kind of meaning. When they brought the Anasazi in, Ronnie’d suddenly become some kind of celebrity. But now… Ronnie still didn’t know what his findings quite meant, or why Grey was so badly rattled by the self-admittedly ludicrous idea that the Anasazi had dropped through a temporal wormhole to terrorize suburban boutique rats. He’d tried to brainstorm it with Riggs, who’d run the bacterium taken from the Anasazi, and Pasmore in Medical, who’d hinted that he’d found some anomaly while examining the strange man. Ever since the meeting with Grey, the guys had avoided him, even in the cafeteria. As if they’d been instructed to.

The scientist blinked drowsily as he negotiated a hairpin in the road, and he cranked up the stereo. Sheryl Crow, wanting to have some fun. Yeah, I wish, thought Ronnie, whose big date for the weekend was Princess Leia, with Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and the pizza delivery guy for chaperones. A momentary flash in the rearview mirror roused Ronnie, and he glanced up to see headlights coming around the curve behind. He tapped the brake, in case it was a trooper, and scanned the berm ahead in case it was a couple of drunk kids from the area college. As he braked, the lamps loomed larger in the mirror, and a red bubble erupted above them. “Fucking marvelous,” Ronnie moaned, crunching into the gravel at the side of the moonlit road. Maybe he was after somebody else. C’mon, c’mon… The car slowed and slanted in behind Ronnie‘s. He slumped back in his seat, cutting the engine. At least he’d taken the car in for its semi-annual cleaning, or he’d have probably had to answer for the cannabis crumbs his moron brother had spilled under the passenger seat. Chill, dude, chill. Ronnie felt the bells go off when two men emerged from the car behind him, peeling off to approach from both sides. Neither was wearing his Smokey the Bear hat — weren’t those things screwed onto their heads? As the cops stepped into the red glow of Ronnie’s brake lights, he bolted up in his seat. Plainclothes troopers? “Aw, Jesus,” he breathed, heart pounding. Ronnie brushed panic momentarily aside and grabbed his cell phone from the door pocket. The scientist punched in a pre- programmed number and, lacking religious faith, silently recited the stages of Man’s technological development. The Suits appeared simultaneously at the front windows, the tall one on the driver’s side rapping on the tempered glass. Ronnie dropped the phone back into the door pocket, and cranked the window down.

“Dr. Skorzeny?” the man said, politely. “We’ll need you to step out of the car, sir.”

“It’s Grey, isn’t it?” Ronnie squeaked. “Shit, man, I signed the goddamned security waiver. I don‘t even know what the fuck‘s going on.”

“Sir?” the man repeated. Ronnie looked wildly between the two men, and reluctantly climbed from the cab. “This way, sir,” Suit No. 1 invited, gesturing toward the black desert and nodding toward Suit No. 2 before No. 2’s head disappeared in a wet spray. No. 2’s headless body dropped forward into the dirt.

“Oh, shit!” Ronnie screamed.

Suit No. 1 went for his gun, but his fingers spasmed as a meaty hole appeared in his white shirt. No. 1 mouthed something and went down.

“OH SHIT! OH SHIT!” Ronnie sobbed, dropping to his knees and then his stomach. “OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT!!”

The anthropologist finally fell silent as a pair of cross-trainers crunched to a halt before his face. He looked slowly up to see a handsome — if somewhat rat-faced — thirtysomething man smirking down at him. An absurdly large pistol was in his right hand.

“Up,” the stranger barked. “Let’s hit it.”

Ronnie remained on his belly. “Make it quick, OK, man. Please.”

“No, you make it quick, asshole. Get up fast, or I’ll make it slow.”

Ronnie scrambled to his feet, then nearly lost his footing as he glanced at the two corpses. “Shit, man, you just fucking murdered those guys.”

“You’re welcome,” the man said, shoving the pistol in the back of his jeans and crunching away toward a car some 40 feet behind Ronnie’s would-be assassins. “Haul ass.”

“Where we going? I mean, who are you?”

Ronnie’s savior stopped and turned with a sardonic grin. “You like Paul Simon, Ronald?”

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Ronnie blinked, and he gulped momentarily like a neon tetra. “Uh, yeah. Yeah. I guess.”

“Well, you can call me Al. And Ronald, when I call you, you’d better jump like a trained shitzu. C’mon.”

The Lone Gunmen editorial offices, Washington, D.C., 11:24 p.m.

As John Fitzgerald Kennedy righted himself in the back seat of the sedan, the blood vanished from Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s smart pink suit, and her contorted expression of terror was replaced by a smile of infinite beauty and joy.

“There,” Byers hissed. The studious-looking former bureaucrat leaned in toward Langly’s monitor. “The third spectator from the right.”

Langly wheeled slightly away. “Dude. You need to get it on with the Tic Tac babe, seriously. Maybe she could hook you up.”

“Sorry,” Byers said. “Frohike put something unauthorized in the chili tonight.” He started away. “I’ll Listermint and be right back…”

Langly’s bespectacled eyes rolled skyward, and he tapped the frozen Zapruder frame. “Just avert your head and tell me what’s up with this dude. The guy with the scar?”

“Hey, Langly!” Byers and Langly reluctantly tugged their eyes from the monitor. Frohike waved Langly’s cell phone. “I think one of your dweeb buddies is punking you. You know an R. Skorzeny?”

Langly wheeled around, accepted the phone, listened intently with a growing frown, and studied the display. “Skorzeny…Oh, yeah, Ronnie — we met at some Roswell con, and he helped out with that special Ancient Astronauts issue. He’s an anthropologist with some college out there. Or used to be. I haven’t heard from him for about a year now. I always figured he got laid.”

Frohike smiled momentarily at the memory, then nodded toward the phone. “When I picked up, it was like that. Dead air. Or not precisely dead. I heard two shots.”

“Shit, Frohike, bury the lead!” Langly gasped. The lead Gunman held up a hand. “Relax. I heard somebody talking to your guy. At least he called him Ronald.”

“Did you–?” Byers asked.

“What do you think I am?” Frohike huffed. “Window dressing. Certainement — soon as I heard the shots.”

Langly had tricked out his off-market, untraceable, unbranded cell phone with a few extras, including a cross-platform interface, a GPS locator, and a digital recorder. The cadaverous chiphead grabbed a homemade USB cord, jammed one end into the phone and the other into his CPU. He clicked up two programs, minimizing one and maximizing the audio player. He launched the .mp3 stored in the phone.

“OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT!” a tinny voice shrieked.

Langly nodded. “That’s Ronnie.”

The trio fell silent as they listened to the muffled conversation between Ronnie Skorzeny and the unknown man, presumably the shooter; and the sound of footfalls on gravel. Then, four last lines of dialogue.

“Where we going? I mean, who are you?”

“You like Paul Simon?”

Mumbled reply.

“Well, you can call me Al. And Ronald, when I call you, you’d better jump like a trained shitzu. C’mon.”

“Al, Al…” Byers murmured. “That voice — it’s familiar.”

“What I was thinking,” Frohike nodded.

“Al…Albert…Alan…Alex…” Langly froze, forming a third of a momentarily lifeless tableau. “James Earl Ray on a freaking pogo stick.”

Byers and Frohike looked at each other. “Call Mulder,” they ordered in unison.

Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel, 45 miles east of Alamogordo, N.M., 12:34 a.m.

Alex Krycek kicked off his boots and placed his gun carefully on the wobbly motel dresser, disregarding Ronnie in the doorway. The anthropologist had been silent for the duration of their ride, too shocked by the suddenly homicidal events of his Friday night, too baffled by this casually violent, matter-of-factly menacing “hero.” That had been fine with Alex. Ronald Skorzeny was a package — albeit a crucial one — but he was a sniveling mass that lived life based on theory and risk assessment. It was the type of life for which Alex held little tolerance, but which, on occasion, he envied.

“You know,” Ronnie drawled as Alex dropped onto the first bed. “Those guys you blew away were probably NSA.”

Alex looked up with disinterest, then closed his eyes. “Dress shitty, don’t they?”

“Are you…like, CIA, or something?”

“Or something. Look, we’ve got a long ride ahead of us. Why don’t we can the chatter and grab a few. OK, Ronald?”

Ronnie drew himself up — a minor adjustment, at most. “Look, I’m not going anywhere unless you give me some clue what’s going on.”

Alex’s eyes opened, and his head turned ominously toward the anthropologist.

“I mean, I’d like to know. After all, you saved my ass back there. I’d just like to know, you know?”

Alex sighed and pivoted into a seated position on the mattress.

“OK,” he said. “You asked for it.”

Motel Seven West, Alamogordo, N.M., 12:43 a.m.

“Mulder, at last,” Frohike breathed, exasperated. “You need to get rid of that piece of crap federal-issue cell phone. I’ve been trying to get you for the last hour.”

Mulder perched on the edge of the mattress, talking low as Scully purred beside him.

“I turned it off.”

“Why in the hell would you do that?”

“For reasons I increasingly suspect you could never understand.”

Silence. “Oh. Sorry. Hey!”

Mulder snagged his jeans from the floor and wrestled into them one-handed. “What do you want, Frohike?”

“I think an old friend of ours may have resurfaced.”

The agent crept to the door, slid the deadbolt back, and stepped out into the warm New Mexico evening. “My mind is kind of fuzzy from — never mind what it’s fuzzy from. Tell me slowly what the hell you’re talking about.”

“Krycek.”

Mulder stopped breathing, and leaned against the sill of his motel window. “Alex Krycek? Where’d you come up with this?”

“Buddy of Langly’s called a while ago. We think he’s in trouble, or maybe offed a few people.”

“Ah. So how’s the wife and kids.”

“Hey, I don’t know if he offed anybody or not. We heard two shots, then Langly’s friend talking with some guy who might’ve been kidnapping him or maybe saving him. I don’t know. But the guy sounds like Krycek, and he called himself Al. But I figured you’d know his voice instinctively. Want me to shoot you an .mp3?”

“Uh, sure,” Mulder said, shaking the webs from his half-unconscious, post-coital mind. “What’s this guy’s name? Langly’s friend.”

“Ronnie Skorzeny.”

“Skorzeny? Ronald Skorzeny the anthropologist?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve read some stuff by him — ancient astronauts, cliff drawings, crop circles. You got any idea where he was calling from?”

“GPSed it. Somewhere right outside Alamogordo, New Mexico.”

Mulder came off the sill. “What?”

“Alamogordo. Where they tested the A-bomb.”

Mulder looked off toward the desert. “And where I suspect something big may be about to blow.”

The National Thermoelectric Energy Laboratory, Alamagordo, N.M.

Dr. Behrens smiled down at the frightened man, and he appeared to relax despite the restraints Grey had mandated and what to this primitive visitor must have seemed an utterly alien environment. Weaponless, locked in the lower bowels of a maximum-security federal installation that was unknown to many of the physicists and engineers above them, no doubt terrified out of his mind — she doubted this dislocated remnant of the previous millennium could pose a threat. But it was crucial to play the good soldier, for now, anyway.

Though the cruel circumstances and brutality and the literal weight of a world had toughened Behrens well beyond her relatively tender age, she felt a pang of sympathy for this man, removed from his world, poked and prodded and scanned. She knew the feeling of violation and objectification.

A spark of excitement ignited within her chest. Riggs’ erstwhile verification of the cliff dweller’s authenticity initially had puzzled her, but on a hunch, Behrens had latched onto the geneticist Lakins and, while he was eagerly fetching the stunning blonde scientist a cup of wretched cafeteria coffee, she ran a DNA sample she herself had collected. She had not yet pinpointed the source of her hypothesis, but some after- hours analysis of Native American lore and southwest geological surveys strengthened her conviction that this man had appeared out of time, out of place, for a reason of cosmic significance. Behrens stroked the Anasazi’s temple gently, once. This time, he did not cringe. Her gesture was not a mere act of compassion or sentiment. It was essential this man trust her when hell began to break lose.

Or, she considered with a grim smile, when, with any luck, they broke out of Hell.

Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel

“The day before your little friend shows up at the shopping mall, SETI gets an e-mail from deep space,” Krycek began, easing back against his pillow. “You know SETI, right? The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute?” Ronnie nodded numbly.

“Anyway, the SETI radio dish down in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, pulls in a numerical message. Three sets of digits. Of course, NSA’s been listening in — they have been since the SETI array first went in. Soviets, too, ‘til about three years before the Wall came down. You keeping up, Ronald?”

Ronnie smiled weakly from his seat on the air conditioning unit. Alex shifted on the bed and continued. “NSA decrypted the first series of numbers pretty quickly — that’s how your coworkers knew where to retrieve our friend.”

Ronnie’s eyes narrowed, then popped. “Coordinates? That’s the scientific mind at work. The precise latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for The Courtyard Shoppes in Sacramento. No, no, wait a minute. That makes absolutely no possible sense — latitude and longitude are manmade constructs. How could an extraterrestrial intelligence–?”

“Ronald,” Alex said simply, investing the name with a chiding threat. “Think about the answer to your question, and I think it’ll come to you. Now, unfortunately, your coworkers were just a little too slow figuring out where to pick up our friend.”

“Where to pick up…?” Ronald clamped his lips shut.

“Thus the little show at the shopping mall and the siege at the Sacramento E.R. Sloppy. So, who is he, anyway?”

“He’s an Anasazi — a cliff-dwelling civilization that lived from about 1200 B.C. to A.D. 1300 in the Southwestern U.S. They were known as ‘the Ancient Ones’ or ‘the Old Ones.’ What?”

Alex had perked at the word “Anasazi.” He was now intent on every word. “Go on.”

“Well, a lot of archaeologists originally thought the Anasazi had mysteriously vanished centuries ago — they seemingly abandoned their cliff dwellings, along with a half-million-gallon reservoir in Colorado. Several Native American clans now claim they were descended from the Anasazi, who supposedly blended in with Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo communities. But even those ‘descendants’ haven’t come up with a very solid explanation of why those villages were deserted. There’re reports of a severe drought that could have driven them out — you know, to look for food. But there’s also some pretty compelling evidence that a marauding enemy might have driven them out. Who that would be, I dunno…”

Ronnie couldn’t tell for sure what Alex muttered at that point, but it sounded like “I might.”

SACRAMENTO REGIONAL AIRPORT, 8:37 A.M.

“Mulder, I don’t remember the Bureau recruiting posters promising to show me the world,” Scully blinked as they stepped outside the terminal. “What are we doing here? If this, this urban legend is true, I’m sure the NSA has covered its tracks thoroughly.”

Her partner pointed down a bright red minibus in the far lane. “There’s the rental shuttle – c’mon. Legend or not, Scully, the Alamogordo police found two dead feds and a missing scientist two nights ago…”

“On someone’s “anonymous” tip. Bet the DOE — the NSA people were irked the locals were called in first.”

Mulder dodged a departing cab, Scully nervously in tow. “The whole thing would have evaporated into the Southwest sunset otherwise. And I wanted to see what kind of cover the NSA would come up with. And in true ham-handed intelligence fashion, it was a doozie. Though what the terrorists want with an arrowhead- collecting geek, I can’t imagine. The point is, it all started here. Evidence wants to be found. Secrets want to be uncovered.”

“Good,” Scully puffed as Mulder hopped aboard the shuttle. “We’ll just wait for the Laws of Inevitability to catch up with us.”

“Not inevitability, Scully. Human nature. When I called the ER doctor on duty the day the ‘Native American protestor’ was brought in, he was pretty tight-lipped, but he said the security guard who winged our alleged Anasazi was extremely paranoid about the possibility of a lawsuit. Seems some woman at the fashion mall raised a fuss, threatened to call the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Al Sharpton. This Mr. Halloran probably figured he was in the clear after the NSA detained our tribal friend as a ‘person of interest.’ But you and I know all too well that Big Brother is omnipresent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he took out some kind of insurance. You up for some cage-rattling, Scully?”

Scully collapsed into a seat next to Mulder. “Whatever.”

The Courtyard Shoppes, Sacramento, Ca, 11:12 a.m.

“Like, I’m not in some deep shit for shooting that guy, right?” Chuck Halloran asked defensively, a wet and anxious grin twitching under his brushy moustache. “I mean, I oughtta be a freakin’ hero, right, I disarm this crazy homeless guy. Right? But instead, management tells me to shut my freakin’ mouth about the whole business, and I don’t even hear shit on the 6 O’clock News, you know?”

Mulder and Scully were silent as Halloran shifted his sweaty Coke from one uniformed knee to the other, leaving a dark ring on his huge thigh. The lunch crowd was beginning to build at the plaza — business types on break, women who’d never known any business but courtship, conquest, and marital merger.

“Which is OK, don’t get me wrong, ‘cause no news means I don’t get sued by some freakin’ ACLU group or something, right? Aw, shit, you guys are here cause the guy was an Indian — a Native American, I mean. He’s federally protected, right? Aw, shit. Guys, I had no idea he was a real Indian. I thought he was hawking tacos or something. All I know, he coulda been some kinda Al Quaeda terrorist or Saddam Hussein’s cousin or some such shit. Guys, am I in some deep shit?”

Mulder was enjoying Chuck’s increasingly shrill monologue, but Scully had begun to develop a throbbing headache. “Mr. Halloran, your colleagues said you’ve been especially concerned about the possibility of legal action as a result of the shooting. But you told your partner, Mr. Garcia, you had ‘some insurance’ in the event anyone tried to sue. Could I ask what that insurance might be?”

“Goddamned Roberto,” Chuck growled, searching the concrete storefronts and palms for his comrade.

“I was told the agents erased the mall security video the morning after the shooting,” Mulder said. “Every inch of video documenting that man’s actions and your apprehension of him. So how are you going to defend yourself in court with only your and Mr. Garcia’s say-so?” Mulder glanced around until his eyes spotted one of the mall’s security cameras. When Chuck followed his line of sight, he nodded. “Bet I know how.”

Chuck’s narrow eyes narrowed more. “I didn’t do nothing wrong.”

“Your boss tells me you have a digital security system here — covers the public areas and the loading docks out back. You were scared the entire Cherokee Nation and their lawyers might come looking for your scalp. You didn’t by any chance have a copy of the video burnt off for your protection, did you?”

Chuck caught his soda before it hit the pavement. He glanced fearfully between the two feds.

“Chucky,” Mulder grinned disarmingly. “Come on. I can talk to your bowling buddy in Surveillance; maybe put the fear of George Dubya in him.”

The guard exhaled, and a button disengaged near his navel. “I just didn’t want nobody sayin’ I shot that guy cause he was a minority or somethin’. I don’t profile nobody — you ask Garcia. Look, you gonna take me in? Cause that agent guy who came around the day after the shooting, he looked like the type could make a guy like me a wet spot on the sidewalk, I crossed him.”

“We’re nice agents,” Mulder assured him. “Scully here’s not even the Bad Cop of our duo. Right, podner?”

“I’m a kitten,” she said dryly.

Capitol Gardens Apartments, Sacramento, Ca

“You can see, right?” Chuck demanded. “He was a threat to the customers. Crazy Indian — uh, Native American — coulda iced somebody with that spear thing.”

Scully turned from the screen of the guard’s PC, where the Anasazi was frozen, atlatl poised. “You got anything from the private areas, the loading docks, from just before this?”

“It’s all time-coded. I ain’t looked at it, but I figured maybe I oughtta keep it, case the guy was prowling around, making trouble. Collaborative evidence, you know?”

“Corroborative, Chuck,” Mulder corrected. “Scully, check those files marked ‘DOCK.'”

Twelve minutes and 8 video files later, she caught it. “What the hell?” Scully murmured.

Mulder leaned in to see the backside of a major bookstore and a frozen Anasazi, terror clear on his primitive face even through the grayscale digital grain. But the other man, beside the Anasazi drew Mulder’s immediate attention. Far taller than the cliff-dweller, and older, he seemed vaguely familiar. “Looks like somebody brought him to the Shoppes,” the agent suggested.

Scully looked up, eyes wide. “Possibly. But not via the expressway.” She turned and clicked the rewind button on the Media Player. The Anasazi and his host vanished, and Scully hit pause.

“They just…materialized?” Mulder asked.

“That’s the least of it, believe it or not. Look at the clock in the corner.” Scully hit play. The men appeared abruptly, and Mulder breathed sharply as he watched the digital time display.

“Again,” he mumbled. “See if we can fix the second they appear.”

Scully carefully worked the player second by second. At the precise second the pair flashed into view, the time code jumped ahead.

“No,” Scully stated as she caught the mathematical significance of the jump.

“Nine minutes,” Mulder said. Then, as if a circuit had been completed, he straightened. “Scully, can you take that up full screen?”

His partner clicked the player to full screen mode.

“His head’s turned. See if you can catch our friend’s friend head-on.”

Scully advanced the video frame-by-frame, pausing, as the man accompanying the Anasazi turned full-face to the camera. Even in pixilated black-and-white relief, the face made Mulder reel back.

“Jeremiah,” he whispered.

SACRAMENTO AIRPORT, 4:30 p.m.

“He’s a gift,” Mulder concluded as he and Scully located two seats in the crowded Southwest gate.

He’d been buried deep in thought, and she’d left him there throughout the cab ride from Chuck Halloran’s apartment. The episodes back home and on the road in New Mexico had disturbed her both as a physician and as Mulder’s partner in a myriad of senses — Scully was terrified that someday the malady periodically consuming Mulder wouldn’t subside. But no matter what safe harbor their life together provided him, he remained — and likely would remain — an island.

The revelation of Jeremiah’s involvement in this affair left her more ambivalent: The alien engendered an apocalyptic anxiety in Scully despite his apparent goodwill, but the healing abilities he’d exhibited sparked a hope within her, as well. If he could somehow take away Mulder‘s disease, his condition…

“Who’s a gift?” Sculy asked quietly, glancing at a father bouncing his daughter in his arms agitatedly as he interrogated a bored gate attendant.

“Our aboriginal friend. Jeremiah‘s working against — well, you know — and if he delivered this Anasazi…”

“Presumed Anasazi,” Scully amended. “You only have that Atlantis thing on the mall video to go on.”

“Atlatl. The precursor to the bow and arrow. If that Anasazi was the real thing, then there are two possibilities. He’s an abductee, which seems unlikely given that kooky wardrobe and spear-slinger, or E.T.’s come from a home far, far away, temporally speaking.”

“C’mon, Mulder,” Scully murmured, leaning in and lowering the volume for both of them.

“No, Scully. When Jeremiah and I broke into that hangar in South Dakota, he said the aliens’ space technology would tax Stephen Hawking’s comprehension level. If our friends can travel light years in minutes, then why couldn’t they — or Jeremiah — have adapted their technology to crossing dimensional boundaries? Maybe even the timeline.”

Scully sighed. “Let’s for a second stipulate such a thing could happen. Why this particular Indian — Native American? It’s obvious this guy wouldn’t be a real asset in a tussle with a shape-shifting extraterrestrial.”

“What do you know about the Anasazi, Scully?”

“Well, they lived in the Southwest, in cliff villages, I believe.”

“Lived is right. The Anasazi people appeared to have vanished several hundred years ago — the top archaeologists and anthropologists can’t provide a satisfactory explanation why. Jeremiah brought us something that no longer exists, just dropped it off at the mall like an eighth grader looking for a prom dress. Why, unless this displaced Anasazi represents something of supreme value. If Jeremiah is as he seems, something of value to humanity.”

“If,” Scully breathed as Mulder’s cell phone warbled.

“Mulder?” It was Frohike. “Think we might have a line on Ronnie and Krycek.”

“Had we confirmed ‘Al” is Alex, my little conspiracy gnome?” Mulder chided.

“Langly ran a voiceprint from those wiretaps you had us run on your chain-smoking amigo a few years back. It’s Krycek, all right. The guys and I got to thinking, what if Krycek and Ronnie holed up in the area, rather than taking to the road, where the law might catch up to them.”

“Funny thing is, Frohike, the local law’s been waved off. Homeland Security’s suggesting the two suits were wasted by terrorists after they’d been tipped off Skorzeny was a target.”

“Al Qaeda short on anthro majors these days? From the sound of Ronnie’s cell call, Krycek was the white knight, and the feds were the ones out to punch his ticket. Question remains, why Ronnie?”

Mulder mulled silently for a moment. “You said you might have a fix on them?”

“Langly hacked into the Amex, MasterCard, Visa, and Discover databases and traced hotel charges over the last week. Few days ago Rick Fermi checked into Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel, about 40 or so miles east of Alamogordo.”

“Fermi?” Mulder puzzled. Then he barked, and the old man seated across from him scowled briefly up from his Newsweek. “Rick Fermi? As in Enrico Fermi?”

“Our boy does have a sense of humor. I guess Oppenheimer or Einstein would have been a little too obvious for the locals.” Frohike turned somber. “Hey, Mulder, if that rat bastard’s involved, you better watch Agent Scully’s luscious backside, as well as your own. Aw, shit, you know what I mean.”

“I’ll tell her you said hi,” Mulder grinned as he rang off.

Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel

“You after one a’them meth fellas?” the septuagenarian clerk inquired, finally silencing the Cubs game that had kept him rapt even as the agent flashed his Bureau ID. “Why we quit takin’ long-term boarders after Number 14 blew up. Idiot-shit blew hisself to pieces — sister tried to sue us, you believe that?”

Mulder smiled, pocketing his wallet. “Nothing like that, sir.”

“Still findin’ glass in the telephone pole across the parkin’ lot.” The old man rose creakily from his scuffed armchair and planted his leathery palms on the registration desk. “Ain’t terrorists, is it? Them Al Qaedas? I know the feds cranked up the security after them boys flew into them towers out east. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, that‘s all I need, have some A-rab plottin’ to steel a’ A-bomb.” The hotelier worked his jaws and blinked. “You need some backup, son? I was at Normandy — got the same side-iron I wore fightin’ them huns.”

“Thanks, sir, not necessary. I’m just running down a federal witness who flew the coop a few weeks ago. He probably checked in two, maybe three days ago. His brother might be with him — they made contact, and we think he may be helping Mr. Krycek get across the border. Can I see your guest register.”

The old man appeared disappointed. He glanced longingly at the muted black-and- white ballgame. “Yeah, sure,” he grunted, shoving the log in front of Mulder.

Mulder flipped through the coffee-stained book — at least through the two pages that had been filled over the previous week. He smiled slightly as he read the third name from the bottom.

“Which unit is Fermi in?”

The crooked fingers halted two inches from the remote. The clerk sighed. “Number 6.” He peered out the side window at the long row of dust-covered windows. “Yup, car’s there — that blue Jap car. Wondered ‘bout the name — sounded like a Mafia fella. You need that backup I was–”

Mulder shook his head. “Just a key to the unit. I’d like to surprise him.”

The old man yanked a plastic-tabbed key from the wall behind the desk and tossed it to Mulder.

“You shoot it, you pay for it,” he shouted after the agent.

**

On three, Scully knocked. “Housekeeping,” she called with a tinge of an accent. Mulder contemplated the intelligence of his nemesis when, shortly thereafter, the door creaked open.

Ronnie had been standing near the doorway, examining the motel’s cable selections, and Krycek’s bellowed “NO!” was lost in the flurry as two figures barreled into the room. Mulder took Ronnie out with his shoulder, sending him flying across the room to land on his ass in the flimsy chair in front of the vanity. Ronnie heard someone yell “Freeze!” It sounded like a woman.

“OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT!” the scientist again wailed.

Krycek had sprung from the bed the moment the door had opened and at the moment was planting the butt end of his gun into the head of the guy who’d just decked him. The guy went down like a rock. He could now see that this guy’s partner was indeed a woman who at the moment was doing her best to block their exit, gun drawn.

“Aw, Christ, not you two!” Krycek hollered.

As Scully glanced down at Mulder’s sprawled form, Krycek took the opportunity to kick the gun from her and knocked her to the floor as she leaped to grab for it. She scrambled across the filthy carpet but Krycek was behind her instantly, leaning on her and trying to pull her arms back with his good arm. “Hey, hey come on—I didn’t know you liked it so rough.” He cooed into her ear from behind and then grabbed her right arm and flipped her over so he straddled her.

Scully planted her palms on his chest, “Krycek, get off me you piece of shit!” She was strong but he was bigger and he laughed at her feeble attempt to push him away. Grabbing her wrists he pulled them back over her head and leaned into her face supporting himself on his right arm. “Dana, you don’t know how long I’ve wanted to get you in a position like this.”

SNICK, the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked in his ear sent a tingle down his spine. “Get off her now or you’ll be missing more than an arm.” Mulder’s voice, cold and determined, made him turn around. The agent stood above him, his gun steadied in both hands blinking to clear his vision or his head, Krycek wasn’t sure.

As he started to rise Scully scrambled from underneath him to retrieve her gun, pinning it on Krycek as he flopped onto the saggy mattress. “You could have called first…”

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances, she tried to catch his eyes, determine his lucidity. She watched as he rubbed the back of his head. “Mulder, bend over so I can see the back of your head.”

“If I bend over, I’ll fall over, I’m okay. See if you can find his weapons,” he said as he stepped back and sat down in the chair by the window. He felt like he was going to throw up. He sighed and looked over at Alex sitting on the bed. “Who’s the guy?” motioning towards Ronnie, who still sat frozen in the chair in front of the vanity, thankfully speechless.

Sao Paolo, Brazil

1:23 p.m.

The Scarred Man watched with amusement as Charles Scully tore into the latest chunk of seared beef the sword-bearing waiter had deposited on his plate. The young man had selected the churrascaria as a “sophisticated” setting for their meeting, having once foraged at a similar Brazilian grill in Chicago.

The Scarred Man had dined at the city’s finest restaurants and clubs during his frequent visits to the continent following the war, frequently as the guest of the crude little Teutonic expatriot who’d laid waste to many of his country’s greatest treasures. He’d humored the obsequious young American in large part to annoy the third man in their party, a German who possessed all of the arrogance and cunning of the long-deceased madman and one hundred times the intelligence.

Strughold had been barely able to contain his impatience with and contempt for the young man or the proletarian trough he‘d chosen. The procession of meat-laden servers and the recently departed lunch crowd had provided the trio little privacy; even though they’d selected English as the language du jour in deference to “Charlie” (Strughold earlier had commented in guttural French on the ethnocentrism of the Americans, to which the scarred Frenchman had offered his assent in practiced German).

The old German now cast a glacial look of warning at the latest waiter, although the young Latin was armed with a saber full of sausages. The swordsman retreated. “And you believe our Mr. Krycek is behind this?”

“C’mon, two federal agents whacked on a public highway, an NSA analyst missing?”

Charlie laughed harshly, falling silent with an inorganic stare from Strughold.

“I understand,” the Scarred Man said, sipping his thick demitasse of sweet black coffee, “That this ‘analyst’ is some sort of glorified academician? An anthropologist? Why would Alex abduct this man?”

“Skorzeny – the anthropologist – specialized in Southwest Indian lore, especially the Anasazi. The Anasazi was a tribe that mysteriously disappeared.”

Strughold and his Gallic colleague exchanged fleeting looks. “I know the Anasazi,” the German grunted. “Like the lost world of Atlantis, these Anasazi.” The Scarred Man regarded him neutrally. “Why would this man – an academic who collects spear points — be important to such a dangerous organization?”

“I Googled Skorzeny,” Charles ventured. “He left a university post nearly a year ago to join the Department of Energy’s Division of Research, which operates out of Alamagordo. He was one of several university scientists recruited by the Division of Research within about a three-month window. There were also a Middle Eastern archaeologist, a linguist, a microbiologist, a quantum physicist, and two geneticists. Maybe more – that’s what I found.”

Strughold’s eyes narrowed. “An odd assortment for the Energy Department. An even more inexplicable crew for the National Security Agency.” He regarded Charlie’s open jaw with amusement. “Of course I knew the Division of Research operated under the NSA. One of the more ill concealed subterfuges of your federal government. Still. Why hire these…these…?”

clip_image006

“Dweebs?” Charlie offered.

He nearly fell from his chair as Strughold erupted in laughter. “Yes, yes. Dweebs. Wonderful, the contemptuous resonance of the word. So American. Yes.” The laughter faded. “Please, proceed, Charles.”

Charlie was so flushed with pleasure at Strughold’s approval he nearly lost his conversational thread. “Ah, I took the liberty of scanning police and media databases and Internet blogs for the past two or three weeks in search of anything Skorzeny might have been into.” The vellum envelope had been burning a hole in his Armani jacket; now he placed it on the table. “This appeared on a website run by some college kid in Sacramento, Calif.”

The Scarred Man unfolded the contents of the envelope. It was a garishly colored website – Brittani’s Blog – that provided insight into popular music, childishly strident views on White House policy, and a daily litany of curiosities and photos of self- indulgent, rattily dressed teens capering and scowling for the photographer. The highlight of the day’s blog was a poor digital photo – taken no doubt with a cellular phone camera – of a primitively dressed, swarthy man, eyes wide with fear and menace, some sort of neopaleolithic sling poised in his hand.

“Anasazi,” Strughold murmured as he took the printout. The headline over the photo read, “Going Native at the Mall.”

“Yup,” Charlie beamed. “This was taken at a fashion mall in Sacramento, or so the site owner says. Supposedly, there was some kind of altercation, but no news reports or police reports on the incident. And get this: The same afternoon this happened, a group of official-looking goons commandeer an E.R. at a local hospital and load one of the patients into a van. This is according to a few of the patients, once again on the Internet – the staff denies it. I bet it’s our Anasazi, and he’s what Skorzeny was working on.”

Strughold leaned back in his chair, folding his surgeon’s hands across his stomach.

He nodded. “Occasionally, my boy, you astonish me.”

Charlie nearly wet himself.

“Excellent work, Charles,” the Scarred Man purred. “Now, if you could allow our friend and I to ruminate over these new developments…”

Charles Scully blinked, opened his mouth, then clamped it shut in a tight smile, and rose.

“Do you suppose it is possible?” Strughold asked as the young man disappeared into the heat of the Brazilian afternoon.

The Scarred Man sipped his coffee. “At this point, I must suppose it is far more than possible.”

Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel

Once subdued, Krycek was surprisingly talkative. “OK, Mulder. You and the Girl Wonder want to take me in for those two spooks on the highway, fine. But if you ever want to find out why they died or why they were trying to erase Dr. Skorzeny, you better put on three or four layers of Kevlar. ”

“Spooks?” Scully inquired.

Krycek smirked. “NSA. You think the Department of Energy hires a couple of Special Ops ghosts to keep tabs on the Geek Squad?”

“Present company accepted,” Mulder offered Ron before the anthropologist could defend his image. “So why’s the NSA so interested in the affairs of one little Anasazi?”

“Head of the class,” Krycek nodded appreciatively. “I assume that if you’ve come this far, you’re up on the latest developments at Arecibo?”

Mulder regarded his nemesis silently, glancing away momentarily.

“Well, son-of-a-bitch,” Krycek chuckled. He looked to Scully, perched on the dresser.

“Your boyfriend must be getting a life.”

“Shut up,” Mulder sighed. “Why don’t you just fill me in?”

“The first set of numbers was the coordinates for the Courtyard Shoppes,” Scully drawled as Krycek concluded his report of the SETI communication. “Do you have the others?”

Krycek slipped two fingers into his jeans, then froze in mock fear. “OK, Buck Rogers?” Mulder rolled his eyes. Krycek grinned and handed Scully a slip of paper. She unfolded it and began to scrutinize the cryptic figures. “Hey, Ronald, tell them about the bacteria.”

Ronnie, watching the proceedings in a sort of comatose awe, blinked. “The bact– Oh, yeah. The guys at the lab found this funky prehistoric bacteria on the Anasazi’s clothes. And the Ice Queen — uh, Dr. Behrens, the department physician — noted the guy’s lungs, blood, organs all were clean and healthy — too healthy. We’ve had, oh, about 150 or so years to adapt to our environment, respiratorily and immunologically. Behrens said it was probably a good thing we — they — brought him to The Station, ‘cause otherwise, the L.A. smog would’ve finished him off.

“And that atlatl the guy had– it was the real thing, or the best archaeological fraud I’ve ever seen. I know it’s gonna sound whacked, guys, but if I didn’t know it was impossible, I’d have to say our Anasazi was at least 700 years from the reservation.”

Ronnie scanned the faces around him for any sign of disbelief or contempt. Mulder and Krycek responded as if the scientist had discussed the Cubs’ odds in the playoffs.

Scully was absorbed in the SETI note.

“OK,” Mulder finally spoke up. “Our alien friend — or friends — instant message where they’re dropping off our Anasazi, unescorted and unequipped to handle the modern world. Kind of a major risk, don’t you think? Trigger-happy Chuck could’ve aimed a little to the left. Anasazi Boy could’ve met up with a Greyhound bus or contracted any number of minor allergies or viruses that we take for granted but that would’ve caused him to have an immunological meltdown. Plus, there was the lack of English skills — or any contemporary language skills, for that matter. He was worth as much dead as alive. So why did Jeremiah bring him here?”

“DNA,” Scully intoned.

Mulder, Krycek, and Ronnie turned as one toward Scully, who was still staring at the slip of paper.

“What?” Krycek ventured.

“Anasazi DNA,” she murmured. “I can’t be sure, but this second set of numbers could correspond to the human genome. Possibly, the location of a specific gene on a chromosomal chain. You said it, Mulder — Jeremiah brought us something that no longer exists. A gift for all of us. For all of humanity.”

“Scully, English, please,” Mulder advised.

His partner glanced at Ronnie for a moment, then appeared to reach a decision.

“Well, say the Anasazi had a unique genetic trait, perhaps a tolerance to certain organisms.”

She paused.

“The oil,” Krycek whispered.

Mulder straightened. “God. Hey, Ronnie, share a little Anasazi lore with us.

Specifically, what kind of enemies did they have? Any particular demons or god- legends? Anything associated with visitors from space, maybe.”

Ronnie smiled unconsciously, relieved finally to be in familiar territory. “Many Anasazi groups were expert observers of the sky — in some cases, they even built sort of solar observatories. Probably to predict seasonal indicators such as solstices or equinoxes.”

“Or to watch for invaders,” Krycek suggested.

Mulder waved him off. “Any other signs of technological advancement?”

“Well, like a lot of Meso-American cultures, they experimented a lot with agriculture. Even some basic genetic work with plants and crops.”

Mulder and Krycek exchanged looks. “Maybe they tried to buy their way in first,” Mulder theorized. “Win the Anasazi’s trust with a little genetic razzle-dazzle. Then, when they move in for the kill, they find out the locals are immune to their black magic. So they go on the offensive. What would you do, if you were the Anasazi?”

“Fortify. Build into the cliffs, make aerial assault or a flank attack tougher.”

“Dudes, wait a second,” Ronnie pled. “What the hell are you two talking about? Ancient astronauts or something?”

“Ronnie,” Mulder said, seriously. “What do you think happened to the Anasazi in the end? When they disappeared?”

The anthropologist shrugged. “Some say some enemy, a rival tribe or something, conquered them, wiped them out. Personally, my guess is this enemy put enough pressure on them, they finally scattered to the wind, intermarried into other tribes.”

“Intermarried,” Scully echoed. “Mulder, what if they did? You say the Anasazi had some rudimentary expertise in genetics. What if they realized they held the key to resisting the Black Oil — that it was in their blood? What if they left their villages and interbred with other tribes, as Dr. Skorzeny suggests? Except it was in an effort to genetically immunize their neighbors.”

“Except their biotech expertise was a little off,” Mulder continued, “and instead of immunizing the other tribes, they diluted their Black Oil resistance. Jeremiah brought us the pure, undistilled version. The original genetic stock.”

Scully frowned. “Except it’s probably locked in the basement of a classified federal facility by a highly dangerous covert agency. Got a way to prove your theory, Mulder?”

Krycek grinned crookedly. “Guess I gotta do everything.”

NATIONAL THERMOELECTRIC ENERGY LAB

“Gonna grab a sandwich, Okay?” Toblowski muttered, tugging his latex gloves off with a snap. The lab technician had ceased a week ago to inquire if the Ice Queen wanted anything on his frequent treks to the cafeteria — she was total permafrost under the hottie exterior. “I’ll process those epidermal samples when I get back.”

“Dr. Behrens” nodded silently, and listened for the security lock to click into place.

Her heart was beating with an intensity Marita Covarrubias hadn’t felt for years, since the last ultimately disappointing brush with salvation. Covarrubias’ tenure with the World Health Organization had given her the medical expertise and her subsequent life of subterfuge and obfuscation the wiles to land the clearance and eventually the position with the NSA’s “research lab.” Little did these spooks and scientists realize that she probably knew more than all but a handful of humans about the threat that loomed over the specie’s continued existence. The genetic research conducted here had been birthed in darkness by frightened men decades ago and was destined for a chosen few. Marita had given over her life, and was prepared to give her life, for the World. She was uncertain whom or what had delivered the man in the bay beyond, but she was increasingly certain this displaced man — this human remnant — held the solution. Extensive Internet research (on her secure home PC) had revealed the truth that appeared to lie behind the Anasazis’ lore, their gods and demons, the secret that had plagued them into extinction. The significance of the rich magnetite deposits surrounding the tribe’s cliffside communities had staggered Marita.

She dropped in front of her monitor and clicked up the chromosomal data that to her was the Holy Grail. Only a few short years ago, scientists had completed their map of the human genome — the roadmap to Homo sapiens’ every genetic trait, weakness, and strength. Forty-six chromosomes, each with anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand genes. Genes for sexual identity, genes for skin color, genes for hemophilia, and genes for potential obesity. Genes that fire the engine of human intelligence or the flames of homicidal psychopathy. Genes that lie dormant on their chromosomal chain, their functions atrophied with adaptation and dominance or, perhaps, awaiting the spark of expression.

Telepathy, telekinesis, communication with imponderable worlds beyond — Marita had come to believe these were expressions of humanity’s dormant potential. Whether by adaptation, mutation, divine intervention, she believed the Anasazi had possessed a potential beyond the rest of the species. The potential to resist dominance and extinction at the hands of the species she’d come to know as the Black Oil. That genetic potential had enabled the Anasazi to fight the future, and now, it had been placed in man’s hands. Marita nonetheless couldn’t shake the feeling that she was missing something here — some piece of the equation was missing. And then there was Alex, who hadn’t contacted her since the night he’d obviously taken out Grey’s assassins. Her lover

and co-conspirator was cocky and frequently reckless, and she was concerned he someday would underestimate Strughold, the Frenchman, even Spender, who’d professed disillusionment with the futile self-interest of the Consortium’s impotently powerful/powerfully impotent members but whose actual agenda had always been unclear.

Alex’ role was crucial, as was hers. Everything else was in place: Spender had pulled in nearly all the favors he’d accumulated in a lifetime of manipulation and murder to pull together the necessary capital and resources. The technology now existed — had existed for decades, unbeknownst to the world at large — to distill the essence of the Anasazi’s resistance and inoculate humanity with a new potential to survive.

Unfortunately, Marita recognized, that technology was in the hands of a frail and planet bound species, and its blood again would be on her hands before the night was done.

**

“The whole world’s changed irrevocably since 9/11, Agent,” Garrett Monson sighed, crossing his hands over his significant stomach, under President Bush‘s portrait. The lab’s chief administrator smiled deprecatingly at Mulder and Scully. “I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘dual use technology.’ Much of what we do here has great potential to reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum, generate clean sources of energy.

We’re also working to harness forces that, in the wrong hands, could destroy cities, make the Twin Towers look like a minor conflagration.

“It was quite an adjustment for our scientists when Homeland Security initiated new security measures. Personnel checks, invasive random security checks. The price of security, you might say. But Agents Cress and Ostrander became part of our extended family here at the lab, and they will be missed.”

Krycek had suggested re-engineering Skorzeny’s ID to gain after-hours access, but Mulder opted first to size up the lab’s security.

“Ah huh,” Mulder nodded as he crossed his leg. “And this Ronald Skorzeny. He was what, an anthropologist?”

Monson glanced out over the arid New Mexico landscape beyond his office window.

“Yes. Dr. Skorzeny headed up our analysis of biomass crops cultivated by Native American populations. We hope to identify species from which we can produce cellulosic ethanol. We, er, think outside the box here.”

“And you think this research may have been behind Dr. Skorzeny’s abduction?”

Scully inquired calmly. “We understand Agents Cress and Ostrander were notified of, what, a terrorist threat?”

Monson’s smile flickered slightly.

“I’m afraid that’s classified, Agent.” Mulder and Scully turned toward the cool voice behind them. The uniformed man in the doorway was lean, graying, with mineral eyes. The inimitable Col. Grey, Mulder surmised. “Sorry I’m running late, Dr. Monson. Col. Wilson Grey.”

The soldier’s grip was gloved iron, firm but respectful. Scully’s eyes narrowed as Mulder winced slightly.

“I apologize, Agents, but we’re not at liberty to discuss the nature of the message Cress received the day of the…incident.”

“National security?” Scully offered, glancing anxiously at her partner. Mulder had grow pale, his eyes bleary. She watched as his hand came up to caress his forehead, he stepped away from the conversation.

By the time he reached the window in Monson’s office he could hardly put one foot in front of the other. The pain arching across his head so intense it made his eyes water. The conversation and just about everything in the office had faded from his vision and he found himself looking through a black tunnel out into the desert beyond. As he stood there the blackness began to fade away and he found himself looking a yet another Native village. A proud Native man in conversation with a cavalry officer, what appeared to be a difference of opinion between Native elders, a scuffle and a shot and then the village was under siege. Cavalry and artillery cutting down men, women and children as they ran for their lives; and once again it was over and all that was left were the bodies.

Col. Grey’s lips formed a thin smile, he glanced at Mulder. “Precisely. I’ve already apprised your assistant director, Skinner, that we have this investigation firmly in hand. Dr. Monson, why don’t you offer the agents a tour of the lab, so their trip won’t have been in vain? I think you two will find it quite fascinating. Good morning.”

Monson nodded farewell at Grey’s retreating back, then shrugged cheerfully at his two visitors. Scully didn’t notice — her attention was on her haggard partner.

“Mulder?” When she touched his arm he flinched and suddenly found himself back in Mondon’s office. The nausea hit him immediately. “Excuse me,” he mumbled without looking at her and fled the room.

Through the delirium, Mulder spotted a familiar face in the atrium beyond the administrative suite. An ethereal blonde in a white lab coat, consulting with Col. Grey. The officer listened patiently for a moment, then nodded curtly and continued down a corridor to the right. The woman watched him depart, a thoughtful expression on her striking features, then turned and locked eyes with Mulder.

Marita Covarrubias froze, eyes widening. His former U.N. informant’s fingers tightened around the folder she was holding, and she wheeled abruptly and disappeared into the stairwell.

Mulder struggled to comprehend the significance of his discovery, but his throbbing head could wrap only around the realization that Krycek did indeed appear to have matters in hand.

**

After waiting for Mulder to emerge from the Men’s Room still pale and sweaty, Monson had led them down several flights and through a security check point to the research labs themselves. Scully had tried not to make it too obvious but Mulder could tell she was watching him like a hawk. This is where her expertise would come in handy. As they passed through the door into the lab itself his hand came to rest on the small of her back. I’m okay, Scully he was trying to say to her silently. “Dr. Behrens,” Monson announced. “Perhaps you could inform our guests here about some of the research you’re involved in. Assure them that we’re only interested in providing the world with a new energy source.” Marita looked up, her eyes meeting Mulder’s instantly, willing him to play along. “If you’ll excuse me, Dr. Behrens will see you out.” The three of them stood and watched as Monson left the room.

“You two shouldn’t be in here. If we’re discovered, the whole thing will go to hell,” Marita hissed at both of them. Before her on the counter were several high tech microscopes and monitors. He and Scully both recognized the black substance frozen on the monitor to her left.

“This isn’t a new form of petroleum you’re working on here is it?”

She looked up from the slide she was viewing. “You obviously know what it is, why are you asking?”

“Is it safe?” Scully asked with concern as Mulder moved in for a closer look.

“It’s inert,” the blonde replied.

“What do you mean?” Mulder asked.

“It’s dead, no longer active.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances. “You’ve found a cure.” Scully stated.

“Follow me.” Marita led them into another room and closed the door. Inside the room were several sealed examination chambers. Stepping up to one she slid her hands into the gloves inside the chamber and motioned for Scully to use the other set. From a small container she released some of the black oil substance. Mulder froze as he watched it form into rivules looking for a host organism. “Take the ampule and drop some of the blood sample onto the oil,” Marita instructed Scully. When the blood hit the oil the rivules stopped moving and began to shrivel. “Whose blood is this?” Scully demanded as she pulled her hands from the gloves. “I got it from the Anasazi man When they returned to the lab Marita pulled several vials of blood from a container in the refrigerator. “Lucky there are a lot of us here doing “private” research. No one questions a little extracurricular activity.” Mulder looked around, sure they were being watched. “Believe it or not, there are no cameras in the labs Agent Mulder. We’ve got something very important here but as usually it’s fallen into the wrong hands,” Marita continued as she began setting up the blood samples for Scully. “I don’t know about you, but I hardly trust that the government would use this for the good of all its citizens.”

Mulder recognized the pain again immediately. Like fingers crushing his brain inside his skull. He grazed his hand across his brow and couldn’t stop the wince. Scully looked up with concern, but Mulder just motioned for her to continue, pasting a forced grin on his face. When she looked away he closed his eyes and gripped the counter behind him until his fingertips turned white. Sharp little pains arched across his head. The last time he had experienced anything like this he’d been in that fucking hangar in North Dakota admist a sea of alien technology. What the hell? He had to get out of there.

“What’s wrong with him?” Marita asked as they both watched Mulder bolt from the lab.

Scully looked back at Marita. “I don’t know. I should go after him.”

“No, wait, you have to see this.”

**

By the time he stumbled out into the daylight he was totally disoriented. He wondered how many people had watched him stumble through the halls as if he were drunk and had ignored him as such. He was going to have to cook up a good excuse for Scully when she finally finished up and came looking for him.

The pain had begun to subside and he found himself walking across the blistering parking lot. His jacket long since abandoned he loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt. God it was hot here. At the edge of the parking lot the land dropped away into a canyon that was where he now found himself squinting out over the barren land below him. Memories of that night in the hanger came back to him; Jermiah explaining about biological modifications and genetic manipulations used to insure immortality; about the concept of interstellar travel and his insistence that Mulder was some sort of key to mending the universe. He remembered the pain…. Suddenly the icy cold of that black oil working its way thought his system seized him, took his breath away as it worked its way though his mind to chill the pain. He shook with the sickening chill. Fuck, what the hell was he?

“You are troubled by these visions.”

The voice was unmistakable, speaking the wisdom of the ages. He hadn’t asked a question, simply made the statement. Mulder turned to look at the gray-haired man standing next to him on the bluff. “Great, now I see dead people.” He turned away from Hosteen and looked back out over the canyon. No sense in having the world know he was talking to himself.

“Do you want me to leave?”

Truth was at this point Mulder didn’t know what he wanted. “No, I don’t. What I want are answers.”

Hosteen followed Mulder’s gaze. “I have no answers for you, F.B.I. man. These are answers you must find for yourself.”

Anger or maybe frustration was starting to build within him. Sooner or later Scully was going to take the brunt of that—or maybe she already had. “Look, these visions, or hallucinations, or whatever you want to call them almost got me and my partner killed the other day. I don’t understand what’s happening to me!”

“You understand it. You just don’t believe it.”

Mulder snorted. “Well, that’s a first. Most of my acquaintances think there’s no limit to what I’ll believe.”

“History, Mr. Mulder, is only written by those who have lived to tell it.”

“So only the dead know the truth?”

“Yes.”

“And they think I’ll listen?”

“You have been listening, haven’t you?”

Mulder sighed, looked down at his dusty shoes, “I can’t do anything about it. I can’t change history, Albert, even you know that.”

“Our brothers in the north have a practice called the Medicine Wheel, a circle of life. It is a physical manifestation of Spiritual energy, an outward expression of your inner self. It helps us to see exactly who we are, what we need to develop in order to realize our potentials. We are all connected to each other; all a part of the “Bigger Picture” but each of us must determine what our part in it all is.”

Hosteen took the cane he had been holding and drew a circle in the dust at their feet. “The universe is the circle, with no beginning and no end.” He then drew a cross through the circle, “The cross touches the circle at four points, four directions, four virtues.” He looked up at Mulder, “Courage, strength, wisdom and generosity. It is said that each of us is born with one of these. We must endeavor to find the other 3 within ourselves. You, I suspect have been born with all of them. Perhaps this is why you have been chosen.”

Mulder remained silent, shaking his head ever so slightly at this revelation from Hosteen.

“You must learn to accept this within yourself; to dance within your own circle of life. It will help to clear your foggy view and help you to see more clearly to understand what is for the betterment of mankind and to promote the healing that must be done. Only when you believe what you see will you be able to do anything about it.” When Mulder looked up from the circle Hosteen was gone but the circle remained.

NATIONAL THERMOELECTRIC ENERGY LAB

Krycek had secured the sarin derivative from one of his underground sources — a merchant only too happy to deal with dictators, revolutionaries, and terrorists alike. The compound Marita had carried casually into the lab that morning was a variation on the nerve gas the Aum Shinrikyo sect had released on a Japanese subway in 1995.

Sarin had been classified as a weapon of mass destruction under U.N. Resolution 687, and its production and stockpiling was outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. In a previous life, Marita had viewed it and the other nightmares Man had manufactured to subdue and eradicate Man, abominations. Marita had seen the destruction, fought alongside men of humanity who had fought to stem the science of Death, and now was ready to wield that science in the interest of humanity’s survival.

Beyond her qualms about the mass poisoning she was prepared to commit, Marita held deep reservations about her new “partners.” The sight of Mulder in the atrium earlier that day had rattled her, and the encoded update Krycek had left on her home PC had done little to settle her anxiety. Marita had no doubt Mulder understood the stakes, and that Scully would follow his lead. But the agents still possessed an absolutist vein of personal humanity she had been forced to sacrifice in the interest of the race. Krycek had told Mulder and Scully the substance she’d smuggled into the federal facility was debilitating but temporary in its effects — she had not asked him whether that was merely a lie designed to assure their commitment. Marita’s devotion to Krycek and his mission was laced with the certain knowledge that life to him was a relative commodity.

Marita tried to console herself that the “legitimate” researchers and staffers and the night cleaning crew had left the building hours ago.

The second-tier “staff” came and went at all hours, and her own return to the lab at 1 a.m. had merited only a nod from the lobby security guards — regrettably, two of her few innocent would-be casualties. She had self-administered the antidote before arriving at the lab, and had inoculated her patient. Krycek, Mulder, and Scully also would be immunized against the sarin distillate. Marita walked briskly to the lab table where her Thermos full of full- strength Kona sat next to a centrifuge. Steeling herself, she upended the container and unscrewed the slotted cover in the bottom. Marita gently withdrew the ampoule from its insulated compartment — only a minute amount of the airborne poison was necessary to infuse the entire building. The lab’s blueprints, supplied by Spender, had shown the ventilation ductwork to be an effective conduit to every niche of the building. Newer covert facilities would have provided safe areas, but today, even the budget for inveiglement and obfuscation was tight.

**

“Hey, you got a cold, stay away from those chips,” Kjellen barked at Washington.

The beefy guard tugged the Doritos away from his lanky partner for punctuation.

Washington scowled and wiped his nose with his cuff. “Shit, man, you’re the worst hypochondriac little Girl Scout I ever met. I’m fine, man — must be an allergy or something.”

“Allergy?” Kjellen snorted, jerking his bull head toward the inky night beyond the lobby windows. “To what? We’re in the middle of the fucking desert. Though you mention it, my eyes are kinda bleary. Hell, you probably gave me the flu or the freakin’ ebola.”

Sniffing, Washington formulated a comeback, but stopped dead. “Shit, Arnie, you’re drooling, man. Thought that only happened when the new S.I. Swimsuit issue came in.”

“Ha, haargghhh,” Kjellen sneered before his face drained of all blood and spewed a stream of half-digested burger, Krispy Kreme, Doritos, and Coke across the marble floor. “Jesus, shi—” The brawny sentry fell to his knees and began to vomit with alarming intensity and volume.

“Shit, man. Hold on — lemme call Brookings.” Washington went for his radio. “Hey, Cap? It’s Washington. I think something’s up with Kjellin or something.” The guard was greeted by silence. “Hey, Cap? Cap?”

The radio dropped from his fingers and cracked on the marble as a hand gripped his muscular forearm. Washington’s free hand started toward his sidearm, but then he caught the bulging eyes embedded in the swollen, purple face of one of the technicians in the lab football pool. Blood streamed from the man’s nostrils, and he silently mouthed a plea for assistance. His finger’s slipped down Washington’s uniform as he collapsed, twitching and jerking on the cold, polished stone. “What the fu–.” Washington whispered, terror gripping his chest. Then he realized it wasn’t terror, and the lobby went dark.

**

“What did you do, Krycek?” Scully asked ominously as she glanced at the bodies littering the first floor hallway. The pathologist fell to a knee beside a small man in lab scrubs and began to check for a pulse.

“Jesus, c’mon!” Krycek yelled. “We’ve got 10 minutes, tops! Less, if somebody called out!”

Scully glared up. “This man is dead, Krycek. These people…”

“Goddammit, Scully,” he roared. “I don’t know what happened to him — heart condition, I don’t know, but we’ve got more important shit to worry about. Haul ass! Now!”

Scully moved on to a woman five feet away. “Mulder, help me — her Breathing’s shallow, but..”

“Mulder,” Krycek said, menacingly, gripping his Uzi pistol. The agent stared at his unlikely new partner as realization hit, then at the agent/pathologist on the floor. “C’mon, Scully.”

Scully’s face was pallid, her eyes afire. “Mulder! This is…”

“I know what it is, Scully,” Mulder sighed. “But it is what it is. We have to get that man out of here, or it may all be over.” He looked at the expression of disbelief on her face. “C’mon, Scully. Please.”

Scully rose, studying the two men. Krycek was still, knuckles tight on his weapon. Finally, Scully turned and stalked silently toward the elevators.

“My God,” Mulder whispered as the trio reached the sub-basement. Covarrubias was waiting in the corridor, a small, rough-hewn man beside her. The Anasazi stared from face to face, afraid to move until his eyes met Mulder’s. Mulder approached slowly. “This is really…?”

Covarrubias nodded somberly. “Really.”

“C’mon,” Krycek prodded. “Indulge your boyish sense of wonder on your own time, Mulder! MOVE!”

The Anasazi started at Krycek’s sharp commands. Covarrubias took his arm as Mulder turned to look into the tiny man’s eyes. They said nothing to each other but Mulder could feel a sense of understanding pass between them. They all began to move out.

RAY’S SHELL

ALAMOGORDO, NM

ONE HOUR LATER

“Two days,” Marita reminded Krycek as she slid the key into the van’s ignition. No one around town would have registered the deeply tinted windows — it was standard UV protection throughout the Southwest, and Krycek had secured a suitably sandblasted model. The quartet standing at the edge of the mini-mart lot could have been a double date concluding at the end of the evening. The fifth wheel was securely sedated in the back, and the station was in a busy neighborhood Grey’s security forces would have been reluctant to invade even at this hour.

“Watch your ass,” Krycek nonetheless told his partner. “By now, Hell’s gotta be quietly busting loose. I just hope Spender covered his tracks.”

Marita glanced at Mulder and Scully by their rental, and then into Krycek’s eyes. He nodded, then slapped the side of the van. Marita breathed deeply and turned the key. A cloud of hydrocarbons belched from the tailpipe, and she moved out. Krycek watched the vehicle disappear into the night, then strode back across the still warm tarmac. Mulder stepped around the car and blocked the passenger door.

“What?” Krycek smirked. “We’re covered — even if they work it out, too many people know you’re out here for you to just disappear, and Grey would have a lot more to explain if he had you two busted. I wasn’t shitting about that gas — dead guy just had a bad reaction. Grey’ll explain it away as one two many burritos or job stress. The others are probably sleeping it off now. So take a pill, Mulder.” He shouldered the agent aside and climbed in.

Mulder looked over the roof at Scully, who frowned worriedly, and grinned crookedly. “I lose Fonzie here, you up for a whattaburger?”

Motel Seven West

2:14 AM

The constantly annoying little clicking sounds brought her awake. Finding the other half of the bed empty she rolled over. The clicking hesitated until she’d settled and then began again. Mulder, in nothing more than his boxers, was slumped at the small table by the window with their laptop. The room was shrouded in darkness save for the eerie blue glow from the screen as it bounced off his glasses. He hardly ever wore them anymore and she’d forgotten just how good he looked in them.

Feeling somewhat voyeuristic, she lay there feigning sleep, watching him. His relentlessness still amazed her. There were theories brewing in that mind of his and even after all these years she still couldn’t keep up with them. While he was playing connect the dots she still stumbled along trying to draw a straight line. Lately she’d been a little concerned at what he’d find when he finished the picture but while others might question his sanity she knew from experience that you never took anything he said for granted, even now.

She knew he’d been in pain that afternoon in the lab. It was the same look she’d seen on him in Col. Grey’s office and it was beginning to worry her. He hadn’t said a word when he’d fled from the lab and it had been sometime later when she found him leaning against their car in the sweltering parking lot. When she confronted him about it he’d blown it off as a headache and begged her for some Excedrin as a cover. Maybe that whack Krycek gave him on the head was more serious than she thought or maybe she just wanted to believe it was just the sun and the heat and the dust. Maybe his eyes were bothering him too.

She continued to watch him through hooded eyes. He appeared to be jumping from website to website from the constant flashes on his lenses, obviously looking for something. He reached for the glass of water perched on the edge of the table and chugged its contents placing it back on the table. His gaze then fell on her and she knew then that she’d been had. “You know Scully; it’s somewhat unnerving to have you lying there in the dark watching me sit here in my underwear.”

She could ignore him, pretend she was asleep but she knew he would only get irritated with her and she really wanted to know what had driven him from their bed in these early hours of the morning. She rolled onto her back and pulled herself into a seated position against the headboard tucking the covers around her. Geez, it was freezing in here, men and their air conditioning. “Why ARE you sitting there in your underwear, Mulder?”

He leaned back in the chair then, resting his elbows on the arms of the chair and began to pick at his nails. “Couldn’t sleep?” It wasn’t really a question, he was just buying time. “Because I just can’t shake the feeling that something is off here. That this man, this Anasazi or whatever he is—is not what we believe him to be. I think we’re being misled.”

“Mulder,” throwing the covers back; she grabbed her robe from the foot of the bed, wrapping it around herself. “This man could be the answer to protecting the human race from infection by the black oil; for all intents and purposes, the key to saving the human race.”

There was that phrase again, ‘the key’. Scully had come to stand behind him, “What are you looking at?” On the screen was a site on Indian Wars, she looked at him puzzled when he glanced up. That hesitant grin of his began to spread across his face. He knew that she wouldn’t put the pieces together until he explained. After this she’d either believe him or have him committed. He pulled the other chair over so they could both see the laptop screen and motioned for her to sit in it. He scrubbed his face with both hands and looked at her from between his splayed fingers and sighed.

“Mulder?”

“Scully, regardless of what you believe caused my seizures last spring, something has happened to me. I—I don’t know when, I don’t even know how. I just know I’ve gotten access to something; some nexus of consciousness or some connection to a higher plane of thought.” Scully’s lips parted as if she were about to comment. He glanced up at her and put his hand up. “No, don’t, just hear me out. I’ve finally worked up the courage to tell you this. I didn’t believe it myself, or maybe I did and I just kept denying it but I don’t anymore.”

Scully looked at him now with a mixture of fear and concern and pulled her robe around herself tighter. “This has been going on since the spring?” He could hear the worry building in her voice. “You told me you were fine, Mulder. I haven’t seen evidence of seizures. You’ve been hiding this from me? Lying to me?”

He could tell she was hurt by his admission. “No, I have not been lying to you. This is not like before. I’m not a part of these events.” He reached for her hand as it clutched at her robe. He didn’t like the way she was looking at him now with something like pity. “Don’t look at me like that,” he pleaded. “I’m not sick Scully, at least not in the way you think. Please, just hear me out.” She nodded and let him take her hand in his as he rested them both on the edge of the table. “I’ve seen things, I see things, Scully and at first they didn’t make any sense but now I’m beginning to understand the connections.” He let go of her hand and scrolled through the site he had been reading, coming to a stop on an article about a massacre at Sand Creek in November of 1864. “I saw this.”

“You saw what?”

“The massacre—as it happened,” he hesitated a moment, turning the screen so she could see what he was looking at, “On the highway coming down from Albuquerque the other day.”

“When you ran our car off the road?”

He didn’t answer her. “Black Kettle and his people had been told they would be safe on reservation land. They were given an American flag and told to display it as a sign of protection. I thought it looked out of place when I saw it. But now I understand.” Some fucking protection,” he said with disgust. “Cavalry troops rode in and slaughtered over 200 men, women and children.”

“Mulder, what do you mean, you saw this?”

She was prodding him and if she kept it up he was going to get angry. “I saw this, everything, just as it states here. Calvary troops charging into a perfectly peaceful native camp; shooting at anything that moved. Then, there were just bodies, everywhere.” She watched him swallow hard at the memory.”Earlier in Monson’s office, when Col. Grey came in it happened again. You know I zoned out on you.”

“You looked like you were in pain Mulder.”

He looked her right in the eye. “I was, but that’s another story.”

What she wanted most was to get to the bottom of what was causing this. But she went along with him anyway. “You saw the same thing?”

Mulder shook his head and scrolled to another article, this one on Wounded Knee. “I think it was this,” he said pointing at the screen. “Soldiers were trying to get the Natives to surrender their weapons. There was a man, a medicine man, trying to convince them otherwise. And then there was this scuffle and a shot and the next thing I knew I was watching it all over again; soldiers, cannon, gunfire, bodies, everywhere.” He scrolled down the article until he came to the photos of bodies frozen in the snow. “That’s when I headed for the john.” Scully reached over, resting her hand on Mulder’s arm as he scrolled back up to the top of the article and let Scully read it.

The Wounded Knee Massacre

White officials became alarmed at the religious fervor and activism and in December 1890 banned the Ghost Dance on Lakota reservations. When the rites continued, officials called in troops to Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota. The military, led by veteran General Nelson Miles, geared itself for another campaign. The presence of the troops exacerbated the situation. Short Bull and Kicking Bear led their followers to the northwest corner of the Pine Ridge reservation, to a sheltered escarpment known as the Stronghold. The dancers sent word to Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapas to join them. Before he could set out from the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, however, he was arrested by Indian police. A scuffle ensued in which Sitting Bull and seven of his warriors were slain. Six of the policemen were killed.

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General Miles had also ordered the arrest of Big Foot, who had been known to live along the Cheyenne River in South Dakota. But, Big Foot and his followers had already departed south to Pine Ridge, asked there by Red Cloud and other supporters of the whites, in an effort to bring tranquility. Miles sent out the infamous Seventh Calvary led by Major Whitside to locate the renegades. They scoured the Badlands and finally found the Miniconjou dancers on Porcupine Creek, 30 miles east of Pine Ridge. The Indians offered no resistance. Big Foot, ill with pneumonia, rode in a wagon. The soldiers ordered the Indians to set up camp five miles westward, at Wounded Knee Creek. Colonel James Forsyth arrived to take command and ordered his guards to place four Hotchkiss cannons in position around the camp. The soldiers now numbered around 500; the Indians 350, all but 120 of these women and children. The following morning, December 29, 1890, the soldiers entered the camp demanding the all Indian firearms be relinquished. A medicine man named Yellow Bird advocated resistance, claiming the Ghost Shirts would protect them. One of the soldiers tried to disarm a deaf Indian named Black Coyote. A scuffle ensued and the firearm discharged. The silence of the morning was broken and soon other guns echoed in the river bed. At first, the struggle was fought at close quarters, but when the Indians ran to take cover, the Hotchkiss artillery opened up on them, cutting down men, women, children alike, the sick Big Foot among them. By the end of this brutal, unnecessary violence, which lasted less than an hour, at least 150 Indians had been killed and 50 wounded. In comparison, army casualties were 25 killed and 39 wounded. Forsyth was later charged with killing the innocents, but exonerated.

“Do you know about this Ghost Dance?” Scully asked.

“Yeah, The Ghost Dance was a phenomena that swept through the American west in the late 1800’s. It was started by a Paiute holy man from Nevada named Wovoka, son of a mystic Tavibo. He drew on his father’s teachings and began to spread his gospel among the natives. It became known as the Ghost Dance Religion. His claim was that the earth would soon perish and then come back to life in a purified state and would be inherited by the Natives, including their dead for an eternally peaceful existence. It was a pretty non-violent practice. That was until Kicking Bear, a Lakota who had made a pilgrimage to Nevada to learn this new religion decided to change the teachings and advocated instead the possible elimination of the whites; claiming the Ghost Dance Shirts would protect the warriors against the white man’s bullets. All you have to do is look at these pictures and the truth of that claim is brutally evident.”

Scully knew she had to tread very carefully here. She really didn’t believe Mulder to be delusional but she still couldn’t follow his reasoning. “I still don’t understand what this has to do with our Anasazi man. What connection are you trying to make here?”

“What do you mean you don’t see it?” It came out harsher than he’d intended and he saw her flinch at the vehemence. “You don’t think it’s relevant that basically the same thing is happening here?” He got up from the table and started to pace as he spoke. “We’ve got government agencies advocating the production of massive gene therapy by claiming it will protect the public from infection but what if it’s not protection at all Scully, what if its just the opposite?”

“We’ve done the tests. This man is immune to infection by the black oil. What more proof do you need?”

He turned to her, rolled his eyes in frustration. “I know that, but what if this genetic immunity is being presented to us just like these Ghost Shirts were. Don’t you get it? We keep thinking we’re going to be protected by this but maybe it’s just another opportunity to wipe us off the planet? That’s why I’m seeing these things, there’s something terribly wrong here.”

God, it was the middle of the night, why did he start these discussions in the middle of the night? She walked over to stand in front of him. “Mulder, I think you’re being irrational?”

“I’m being irrational!” She’s known it was coming, the inflection told her he’d had enough. She watched as he began to search the room for his clothes and began to wiggle himself into them.

“Mulder, where are you going?”

“Out.”

She tried to grab him as he scooted by her intending to head him off before he reached the door but he slipped by her, stomping into his shoes his hand already on the doorknob. She stopped, “Out where?”

“I don’t know, I just have to get out of here.”

“Damn it, Mulder, talk to me. This gene Marita has identified, it could be the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for. I thought you trusted Jeremiah? You believe him to be some sort of healer. If he somehow brought this man back for us to find it’s because he felt if would benefit the human race. What in God’s name makes you think it’s something else?”

“I have been talking to you Scully, you’re not fucking listening! And God has nothing to do with this.”

“What about Jeremiah?”

She watched as the anger faded from his face. “Jeremiah—Jeremiah is Wovoka, come back to make sure the planet is returned to its rightful owners.” She stood and watched his back disappear through the door.

**

It never ceased to amaze him how the desert could be hotter than hell in the day and become so cool at night. Speaking of Hell, what was he doing out here anyway? He hadn’t even warmed up before he’d taken off from the motel and now his muscles were protesting in earnest, his chest aching from the cold night air. A vehicle was approaching from the distance and he watched the headlights growing larger as it grew nearer. The driver laid on the horn, veering the truck off the road in his direction. Caught in it’s headlights, Mulder panicked momentarily diving out of the way just as the vehicle veered back onto the road kicking up gravel and sending it stinging at him though the dust. Loud music blared from the vehicle. “Asshole!”,Mulder yelled if only for his own gratification as he got up and brushed the dust from his own ass, watching as the trucks tail lights disappeared down the road back towards their motel. He didn’t know if Scully noticed it or not, but his runs weren’t as long as they used to be—but then his knees weren’t as good as they used to be either; time to turn around.

Used to be these runs would clear his head, put things in perspective and a case would become clear to him. Things were starting to become clear but in truth they had nothing to do with the case. This time those things had to do with trust and a truth he wasn’t sure he wanted to believe himself.

They were so close, so close to an answer here and yet his instincts kept telling him something wasn’t right. He’d seen the visions, visions of trust gone awry. Scully believed in her science, trusted what it told her. But what if this truth was beyond the realm of what earth science was able to prove. How could he convince her that what it was telling her was wrong? Would she choose to believe him or her science? The choice made his head ache turning his thoughts to the pain that had gripped him in the lab. He hadn’t experienced anything like that since Crofts dragged him out to

Strunghold Mine. It was then that things started to click into place. It hadn’t been a mine at all he thought as he recalled the images of the huge seamless hangar and the craft as it had hovered above the floor before him. The pain had been there then, driving him almost to insanity with its intensity. He remembered Jeremiah’s tales of interdimensional travel, unholy alliances and the mergence of two worlds. The same pain he’d felt in Col. Grey’s office, the same pain he’d felt in the lab; a pain he now associated with a proximity to alien technology. The connection made him sick.

The faint glow of morning was beginning to touch the eastern sky as he jogged back into the motel’s parking lot. Aside from lack of sleep he couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten and the hollowness of his stomach made him feel slightly nauseous.

He’d passed a bank of vending machines in the alley between the buildings on his way out and headed back there for something to settle his stomach. Now standing before the soda machine he picked though his pockets looking for change. A hand and a beer suddenly materialized in front of him. “Here, sorry I left you in the dust back there.”

He contemplated turning around a decking the son of a bitch but a beer for breakfast? What the hell. He took the beer and turned around, popping off the tab as he did so. “This is the first time you’ve ever had anything good to offer me, Krycek.”

“You may not think so when you hear what else I have to tell you.”

“Oh, so we’re just a couple of guys having a chat over a beer?” Mulder took a long swig of the beer.

“One guy, you I’m not so sure of.”

“Fuck you.”

Krycek smirked. “Sorry, I’m not here on a social call.”

Mulder stepped away from Krycek to lean against the wall. He took another swig of the beer. “Why are you here?”

“To bring you some news,” he said, popping the top on his own can and taking a couple of long swallows. “I think you’re already starting to put the pieces together but you don’t know the why do you?”

Mulder was tired, hell, he was exhausted. “You know what I’ve always hated about you Krycek? You never could just get to the point.”

“OK, Mulder, I’ll get to the point.”

“There is a God.”

“You’re partner, if you still call her that is beginning to think seriously about your state of mind. You’re starting to scare her with these trips off the deep end.”

Annoyed that Krycek seemed to know anything about his mental state, Mulder hissed back. “What do you know?”

“Apparently a lot more than you do my friend. You know that little unauthorized brain surgery you had a few years ago? There was some severe neurological damage going on in that head of yours. Without treatment you probably would have died or at least spent the rest of your life in that padded room.”

Mulder found he couldn’t hide the shudder that ran through him with those memories. It didn’t go unnoticed by Krycek, he smiled and continued.

“Along comes a former aquaintence of yours who convinces your father to have some of his doctors fix you up.”

“My father’s dead Krycek.”

“Yeah, well, believe what you want.” He watched as Krycek swallowed the rest of his beer and tossed the can aside. “These doctors have been working with some remarkable technology, undetectable micro-nanotechnology developed by the aliens.

They used it to repair the damage to your brain. You probably have a whole network of these little buggers running around in there.” Krycek reached over and scrubbed his hand across Mulder’s scalp like you would a little boy.

Angry that Krycek would know this information and the condescending way he’d ended his conversation Mulder reached up and caught Krycek’s arm, turning him around and pulling his arm behind him as he slammed him against the wall.

“I’m supposed to believe this Michael Crichton shit?”

Krycek was pressed so tightly to the wall his teeth scraped it as he tried to speak.

“You better believe it Mulder, the whole world might depend on it.”

Mulder spun Krycek around to face him, shoved him back against the wall again and rammed his arm under his chin.

“I know what happened in South Dakota,” Krycek blurted out. “Its happened again hasn’t it? These headaches? Your proximity to anything of alien origin triggers them doesn’t it?

Mulder let Krycek go, stepped back as the realization hit him again. “In Col. Grey’s office, when I was with Scully in the lab yesterday.” The wheels were turning now in his head. “Grey’s an alien? This gene Scully’s identified—is alien?”

“You’ve got some kind of connection, Mulder. Those damn things in your head have made you a conduit between them and us.”

Mulder didn’t like the sound of that stepping further away from Krycek. In fact just the idea scared him. The memory of the pain in his head, of the feeling of a thousand tiny fingers clawing about his brain. “I don’t—I can’t, I have no connection to them!”

“Then you have to find a way that you can.” Krycek bent over and picked up the rest of the beer, handed it to Mulder who just stood there staring at him incredulously.

“Here, you might need the rest of these.”

Mulder watched him walk from the alley and disappear around the corner. He was trembling now, with anger or fear, he wasn’t sure. He pulled another beer off and dropped the rest of the cans at his feet. Chugging the whole can until he thought he’d throw up he turned around and drove the empty can into he wall with his fist.

**

She’d lain awake after Mulder had left. Thoughts running through her head about what he had said. No, she’d seen the proof. Genetic proof in what Mulder had told her months ago; that the answer to their future would be found in the past. Why didn’t he believe it now? The morning sunlight had begun to filter through the heavy drapes, rippling across her face as she lay there. She opened her eyes and watched the dust particles dance in its ray. Thousands of tiny particles you normally didn’t see suddenly made her think about what else one might not see. As her eyes surveyed the room they came to rest on the figure once again seated in the chair by the window.

From her viewpoint Mulder looked defeated. His elbows resting on the arms of the chair, legs splayed with feet firmly planted on the ground he stared at nothing. He never moved as she got up from the bed but she could see his eyes follow her intently as she moved about. It was sort of creepy in a way and when he finally spoke it made her jump.

“I need to speak with you about something.”

She turned to look in the dresser mirror, examining her haggard condition. “I thought we tried that earlier.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I didn’t start with the right story.”

“Do you mind if I make some coffee? Maybe it will help if I’m awake.”

It took several minutes for the tiny coffee maker to purge forth the heavenly brew.

She could feel Mulder’s eyes on her the whole time she stood and waited for it.

Pouring two cups she walked back to where he slumped in the chair. “You smell like beer, Mulder. You find an all-night bar?” She backed away and sat down on the bed across from him, sipped at the steaming cup. “Actually a mutual acquaintance of ours tried to run me over, then he bought me a beer to make up.” Scully took in his appearance. His clothes were dusty and there was a hole in his right pant leg, just below the knee. As he sat  there the sunlight glanced off his left shoulder and highlighted the left side of his face. His forty-four years were beginning to show in the silver that dotted his morning stubble. They had both crossed that middle-age barrier and she hadn’t even noticed it. “Krycek?”

“See,” he said setting the mug down on the table and finally looking at her. “We still don’t need any help with our communication skills.”

She smiled gently at the memory. “What happened?”

“I’ll get to that later. I need to start from the beginning or you’ll probably have me committed before I’m finished.”

“Actually,” she said, looking him straight in the eye. “I’m thinking about it before you even start. Mulder, what’s going on?”

He leaned on his right elbow, scratching at his beard and broke their eye contact. “I wasn’t exactly honest with you about why I wanted to come back to the Bureau. Scully.”

“Go on.” If this was true confessions, she wanted it all.

“It wasn’t just about owing it to ourselves and our families Scully; it was more about finding the truth behind it all.”

“It’s always been about that Mulder, surely you know that.”

“No, this was something more personal.” When she looked somewhat confused he continued. “Something happened in the mines. Hell, they weren’t even mines, Scully. There was no blast from trapped gases or whatever the hell story they covered it up with. I would have been blasted to kingdom come with everyone else if it hadn’t have been for Jeremiah.”

“Jeremiah, again.”

“On a recon mission as it turned out I believe. It was some kind of underground hanger, Scully, filled with military personnel, like the one in Antarctica, the one you insist you didn’t see. He was there to steal the technology.”

She got the dig he had implied. “An alien stealing technology from our military? Even you should find that unlikely, Mulder.”

“Not from us, from other aliens working with the military or posing as military, I’m not sure. Just before everything went to hell I saw something, a ship, a massive ship hovering above me and then there was just chaos. Jeremiah was there, he got me out of there but not before he’d taken what he’d come for and destroyed everything in his wake.”

“But you don’t know what this technology was?”

“No, but I keep thinking it was something that would allow him to bring this Anasazi man forward in time. Scully, something happened to me in there. A terrible pain, lancing through my skull, everything went black. I was so disoriented I could hardly walk. The pain got so intense, it brought me to my knees. I had these horrible visions of something—something catastrophic only it was—unearthly. Scully was looking at him now with tears beginning to well in her eyes. He was loosing her. It dawned on him then that she thought she was listening to the tale of a mad man.

He slid off the chair and kneeled before her. “I’m not crazy Scully,” he pleaded.

Scully put her hand on top of his where it rested on her knee. She stroked the side of his face with her other, “This pain Mulder…”

“It’s the same as what hit me in Monson’s office, in the lab. Like a thousand tiny electrical charges going off in my head. I know how this is going to sound, but I think it happens when I’m in the proximity to something alien.”

She remembered standing in a hallway with him several years ago when he’d told her almost the same thing and she’d ignored him. What had happened next had been one of her worst nightmares. “What makes you think that?”

“Because of what my beer buddy had to tell me this morning. He’s not our enemy, Scully I think even you would attest to that now.”

Both her hands now came to rest on top of his. In another life she could imagine him proposing to her like this. Maybe that’s what he was doing only it wasn’t a vow of love he was after here. It was something more.

“According to our friend, it seems Diana had a lot more to do with saving my life than just giving you the key to find me. Evidently my return to sanity can be attributed to the installation of a little alien technology in care of CBG Spender.”

Up until then, he’d almost had her believing him. She’d seen the test results from the hospital. He was clean, outside of a little scar tissue. There’d been no hemorrhaging, no nerve damage and certainly no implants. He’d been fine, she had thought, up until this year and the discovery of more of those artifacts. Could there be something in his brain that had triggered all of this?

Looking at him now, still kneeling on the floor before her she was taken back to another motel room and a young man confessing his life to her, asking her to believe. Truth was, she’d never stopped believing in him. “Mulder, there was nothing in your tests then or recently…’

“I know, I know, but what if there’s something your science couldn’t see…micro-nano technology?” She looked beyond him, to the dust still dancing in the sunlight that now streamed through the gap in the drapery, something you normally couldn’t see.

Her hand came up to cover her mouth as the possibility began to dawn on her.

“I had as much doubt as you do, Scully but I don’t anymore. I’m asking you to forget what your science is telling you and trust me. This Anasazi is not what they believe him to be,” he reached up and pulled her hand gently back into his.

“What makes you so sure, Mulder?”

“A feeling,” he said it with such certainty now she couldn’t deny him. “And because someone I trust told me to trust my feelings.”

He watched as her brows creased across her forehead. “Albert Hosteen. We had a little conversation in the parking lot outside the NTE lab.”

She’d seen the circle with the cross drawn through it in the dust at his feet, could it be? “Oh, Mulder.”

He gripped both her hands tightly, stared through her with glassy eyes. “Trust me.”

She squeezed back, and then fell into his embrace. He hugged her tightly, as if holding onto her was the only thing that kept him tethered to this life. “A feeling’s not much to go on.”

She felt him chuckle softly against her. “Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.”

Mulder, she realized as she relished his warmth against her, was VERY human.

MEHALOMART DISTRIBUTION CENTER, PROMINENCE, N.M., TWO DAYS LATER

For the fifth time that day, Spender touched the pack of Morley’s in his coveralls.

When she’d brought the Anasazi in, Covarrubias had stressed the need for a sterile lab environment, and although he suspected her loathing for him was behind the no smoking directive, he had silently complied, taking occasional nicotine breaks out back. The old retail distribution center had died a decade ago with the rest of what was left of the now-ironically named Prominence, and the sole residents were a few burnt-out hippies and diehard naturists. He glanced at the woman at the electron microscope some 20 feet away.

Covarrubias was a true believer — a species that had always amused the hardened Spender. Now, more complex emotions swirled through the bitter, aging assassin. He remained uncertain about the abrupt direction he had taken, and possibly was even unaware of the epiphany that had grown inside him after a life of duplicity and manipulation. But Spender had come to realize Strughold and the Frenchman and the rest of the Consortium were embarking on a cataclysmic path, and Charlie Scully’s role in his own brother’s death had reawakened his own recriminations about the sins he had visited on Jeffrey and Cassandra and Fox. “Are you positive this is going to work?” Spender asked, as if to exorcise his increasingly mordant musings.

“Nothing is positive,” Covarrubias murmured, “but we have little option but to follow every lead.”

“Mm,” Spender grunted, wanting a cigarette more than ever.

“American researchers are scouring the interior of China for ancient soybean germplasm to refresh rapidly stagnating crop genetics and fight plant diseases we’re woefully unequipped to address,” she continued. “We’ve anti-bacterialized and irradiated and pasteurized ourselves into a state of dangerously low physiological resistance. Man has shed his biological defenses one by one as civilization has lulled him into complacency. If the expression mechanism I’ve come up with works, this new infusion of DNA could provide a booster shot for the entire species.”

Spender laughed harshly. “I hope we have better luck persuading the world to line up for this shot than President Ford had with the swine flu.” He fell silent for a second — the swine flu scare had been one of his more dismal failures, though a few subjects had been “recruited.” With the recollection of the young soldier at Fort Dix who’d been sacrificed to spur public panic about the “epidemic,” Spender again reached for his smokes.

“I’ll be out back,” he informed Covarrubias. She did not respond, and he headed for the small, steel-reinforced door at the end of the huge warehouse. Spender tensed as a buzzer echoed through the rafters, and he pulled his Glock from the deep pocket of his coveralls. Covarrubias glanced anxiously at the front of the warehouse as he passed, pistol poised.

As soon as Spender identified his guests via a skillfully hidden eyehole in the rust- scabbed door and disengaged the triple locks, Krycek breezed by. Mulder paused in the doorway, staring at Spender as if Idi Amin himself had materialized before him.

“Fox,” he smiled, feeling a constriction in his chest. Mulder brushed past; Scully skirted Spender.

“How’s he doing?” Krycek asked Covarrubias, glancing around the warehouse.

“Light sedation,” she told him, gazing into his eyes. “Though it scarcely seemed necessary. The sheer physical exhaustion and the fading shock over his new environment have sapped most of his energy. He’s been out for hours.

“Good,” Krycek nodded. “That’ll make him easier to transport. We have to get him to a secure location; Grey and his goons are onto us.”

“Are you sure, Alexander?” Marita asked quietly, eyes on the trio near the entrance. One of the three looked up sharply. “I’ve finished synthesizing the vaccine, but I was hoping to do a few more tests.”

“Later. C’mon, let’s pack up what we need.”

“I’d like to look at him, check his vitals,” Scully suggested.

Covarrubias reached for a rack of vials. “Certainly. Alexander, you want to help her?

He’s in the old manager’s office, over there.”

“Marita, dear, do you need any help with the equipment?” Spender asked with feigned concern.

“Perhaps that.” She nodded toward a steel surgical table where a leather gym bag rested. “Agent Mulder, I’ll need your help here, please.”

The agent stepped forward. “Sure.” When he was at her side, Marita leaned over.

“Do you trust Alexander?” she asked, looking at Krycek and Scully deep in conversation 10 yards away.

“What–?” Mulder stammered before he was interrupted by the sound of metal crashing against metal. He turned abruptly as Spender’s arm froze in mid-arc. The agent backhanded the older man, and Spender’s weapon; a long, matte-finish metal cylinder from which a wickedly sharp point projected; clattered across the concrete. Mulder’s attention turned to the trio framed in the blazing afternoon sun pouring through the doorway. The figure leading the group charged toward him, and Mulder yanked his sidearm from his waistband, firing instinctively. The intruder spun and dropped to the floor as his companions dove for cover.

“Stop,” ‘Krycek’ called to Mulder. “Agent Mulder, you must realize any resistance here is futile. Surrender now, or Dr. Behrens will die slowly and in prolonged agony.” Mulder could already feel the throbbing beginning inside his skull. He knew instinctively who they were dealing with here. He only hoped he could hold on and somehow get them out. “If we’d known there was gonna be a party, we’d have baked a cake,” the second Mulder said, emerging from the shadows. “With a rocket launcher inside.”

Krycek’s cocky face morphed into the grave military soldier’s face of Col. Wilson Grey. He regarded the real Krycek, writhing on the concrete, the right leg of his jeans reddening in a widening circle, and smiled with neither amusement nor vindication. “Agent Scully, as well, please.”

As Mulder’s partner came out into the light, the Mulder with the gun and the Scully at Grey’s side morphed. Grey turned to Covarrubias. “Doctor? You know what we came for. You’re of no consequence in this matter.”

Marita’s eyes narrowed. “This way.”

“No!” Mulder began, stumbling forward. Scully reached out to support him as the huge, chiseled man with the gun raised his arm, and the agent stopped.

“All of you, come along,” Grey ordered, moving toward the glassed-in office in the corner. Mulder, Scully, and Spender, still rubbing his jaw, complied silently. Grey glanced at the pallid Krycek, bleeding on the floor. “Leave him, I’ll attend to him shortly.”

The Anasazi stirred as the group appeared in the doorway. The small, dark man curled into a ball on the cot, terror filling his eyes. He began to speak rapidly in a language few had heard spoken in centuries.

The gunman reeled suddenly against the doorjamb. Grey turned toward him warily. “You never did come down to the lab to view your acquisition, did you, “Colonel”?”

Marita inquired calmly. “If you had, you might have realized that I left some crucial data out of my reports.”

“What?” Grey asked shakily. The third alien already was breathing raggedly.

“The emergency room doctor who examined our friend noted an odd subcutaneous implant. It appeared to be a solid mass with no apparent components or function. Have you ever heard of Superman?”

Grey glared malevolently at Marita, even as his eyes grew unfocused.

“Kryptonite,” she said, simply. “When your race pursued the Anasazi, to eradicate them, they discovered you had one major weakness. That’s why it was so difficult for you to slaughter them, even with your advanced weaponry. They built their villages in a place where they knew they would be safe, at least temporarily. Our benefactor knew this, and that’s why he implanted a chip of the same magnetite found in those cliffs surrounding the Anasazi villages into this man.”

The gunman screamed, a terrible, inhuman thing, and began to convulse.

Through watery eyes Mulder saw something equally inhuman flash through its human facade just before the room was sprayed with its tissue. The second alien already was on the floor, vibrating violently. Mulder shoved Scully into the hall as it, too, shattered.

Grey glared once more into Marita’s eyes, and she saw the Arctic hatred behind them. She shielded the Anasazi as he disintegrated into shreds of alien organic matter.

A few dazed minutes later, they found Spender out in the warehouse with a Morley tucked into the corner of his mouth and a rag tied in a tourniquet around Krycek’s leg. Marita knelt beside her lover, stroking his sweat-beaded forehead. He threw an arm around her shoulder.

“It’s OK,” he insisted. The smartass grin returned momentarily to his lips. “Flesh wound.”

“How did you know?” Mulder, Scully, and Marita turned back to Spender as he drew blissfully on his cigarette. Covarrubias’ brow rose.

“You might be amused by this,” she said coolly. “Would you believe woman’s intuition? When I looked into his—its eyes, I didn’t see Alex. I’m sure you could never understand what it was I was looking for, Mr. Spender.”

The smoking man’s face went slack with pain, then recovered into a sardonic smile.

“I’m just happy you tipped me or Fox, Dana and Alexei might not be here right now.”

“And I,” Marita murmured, “Am happy you abandoned a lifetime of paranoia and failed to lock the door after inviting Col. Grey in.”

Spender stopped in mid-puff, nodded, and turned away, reluctant to reveal that seeing his son again, even under these circumstances and given Fox’s contempt for him, had rattled him.

“You might want to reserve judgment about the old guy’s sloppy work habits.” An icy finger ran down Scully’s spine as the cheerful voice echoed off the walls. Spender’s cigarette sparked as it dropped to the floor and smoldered on the concrete.

“Forget the back door on your last smoke break, Grandpa?” Charlie asked, stepping into the light, machine pistol in his well-manicured fingers.

The three of them turned to find Charles Scully flanked by a rather large party of military personnel standing in the hallway. “Charlie?” Scully stammered.

“I’m sorry, the door was open so we just came right in. I hope we’re not interrupting anything…” Charlie said sarcastically as he motioned for his colleagues to divest the party of their weapons. Two burly men pulled Alex to his feet at the protest of Marita who was ushered back into the room with Scully. Mulder was wrestled into the room after them flanked by more of Charlie’s men. The door slammed behind him leaving Alex, Spender and the rest of the party in the hallway.

“We know what you’ve discovered and we’re here to see that it falls into the right hands.” Charlie addressed them as he continued to survey the room. He eyes soon fell on the small glass enclosed room beyond. He motioned for several of his men to check it out. “There’s a Native man in here, Sir,” one of them reported.

“Excuse me,” he said all too politely. Moments later a single shot echoed around the room. Scully flinched. “Oh God”.

“Ms. Covarrubias, if you’ll continue to pack things up we’ll be on our way.” Charlie said, emerging from the glass enclosed room with his men. .

“Why don’t you get your own hands dirty for once you arrogant prick?” Mulder seethed at him. A slight nod from Charlie and Mulder felt the ass of an automatic rifle pound into his ribcage. The impact doubled him over but the two goons holding him would not let him drop, his knees buckled.

“Charlie stop this!” Scully yelled, pushing her way past Marita until one of the soldiers grabbed her. “Charlie, what’s happened to you? Think about mom, what would dad think of you? How can you do this?” she uttered in disbelief.

“Don’t you get it sis, mom doesn’t know me and I don’t give a damn what dad thinks.” Mulder watched as Scully’s face fell with Charlie’s admission.

“You can’t take the vaccine, it hasn’t been tested properly, she continued to plead with him. “Don’t you understand it might not be safe?”

“She’s right,” Marita added. “We only know it kills the black oil virus, not what it would do in human testing.”

Charlie eyed Marita momentarily; when he evidently surmised she was only being truthful he scanned the room, his eyes falling on Mulder. “Well, then, maybe we should find out,” Charlie’s eyes held only contempt as he looked across at Mulder.

“Why don’t you fill up a syringe, Marita? We’ll test it now.”

Scully realized all too soon what her brother was preparing to do. “No! I won’t let you do this Charlie.”

“He won’t have to,” came Marita’s voice from across the room. “I’ll do it.”

“Marita, no!” came Mulder’s plea as they all turned to see her placing the syringe against her arm, preparing to inject it. His attempt to wrench himself from the guards earning him another punch to the abdomen that knocked the wind from his lungs; he stood panting as Marita pressed the needle into her arm., her eyes meeting his.

“Damn it!” Charlie yelled as he crossed the room to where Marita stood. He grabbed her and shook her, the partially empty syringe flew arm across the room. “Tell me there’s more. Tell me you didn’t use it all.”

Marita staggered in his grip. “There is—there’s more in the vial.” She motioned to the vial still lying on the counter. “There’s more in the case.”

“Fill another syringe,” he ordered. When she didn’t comply he shook her again. “Do it now!”

With shaky hands Marita filled another syringe and handed it to Charlie. He took it and walked over to his sister. He grabbed her left wrist and pushed her sleeve up to expose her forearm while one of his men held her shoulders.

“What are you doing?” Mulder yelled, his faced etched with pain from the blow to his gut as he tried to pry himself from the grip of his guards. “Christ, she’s your sister!”

“Not since she took up with you,” he snarled back. “You going to let me do this Mulder or are you gonna sacrifice yourself for the good of your country?” Charlie turned to look at him, the threat clear in his eyes.

“Give me the damn syringe!” Mulder demanded.

“Mulder, no!” Scully pleaded as Charlie dropped her arm and took a step in Mulder’s direction. The guard pulled Scully’s arms behind her back as she tried to struggle from his grip. “Charlie please! If I mean anything to you, don’t do this! Take the vaccine and test it properly!”

“It’s you or her, Mulder, your choice.” Charlie purred standing only inches from Mulder’s face..

Mulder looked over at Scully, met her tear filled eyes. “Trust me,” he mouthed silently.

“Tell these goons to let me go, I’ll do it myself.”

Charlie met his eyes. He must have trusted what he saw there, “Let him go,” he said to his men as he handed the syringe to Mulder. Mulder wasted no time it grabbing it from him and jamming it into his left bicep and pushing the plunger home.

“Oh God, Mulder, no…” Scully sighed.

He yanked the needle from his arm and threw it at Charlie’s feet. “Let her go,” he demanded.

When neither Marita nor Mulder showed any signs of distress after several minutes Charlie instructed his guards to let Scully go. Mulder held her closely as they watched Charlie and his party to gather the remaining vials of vaccine and make their exit taking the body of the Anasazi man with them. Charlie stopped in the doorway, turning back to address Mulder. “You know what I was hoping for, don’t you Mulder? Watch your back.”

It took them several minutes after Charlie had left to realize they were alone in the room. “You okay?” Mulder asked, looking down at her.

“I can’t believe it,” she sighed. “I can’t believe he’s my brother.”

“He’s not your brother anymore, Scully,” Mulder murmured, tilting her chin up to make her look at him. “At least not the brother you knew.”

Scully took his left wrist and twisted his arm so she could look at the spot where he had injected himself. There was a small bruise forming but nothing more. She touched it gently. “You feel okay?” she asked with concern.

“Yeah, I think so,” he winced, touching his tender abdomen. Truth was, he felt a little lightheaded. Scully met his eyes. “You took a terrible chance, Mulder.”

“It was the only way I could think of to get them out of here. I was hoping they’d just take what they came for and leave.”

“Including the Anasazi?”

“Jesus, what was he thinking?” Mulder looked around. “Where’s Marita?”

Outside, they found the hallway empty as they headed out to search the building.

Scully’s quietly uttered “Mulder in here,” from the open doorway of an empty office made him freeze. Inside he found Scully stooped over Marita as she lay on the bare floor. Her skin was gray and mottled, cold to the touch; her breathing shallow and labored. At the tip of her outstretched hand lay an empty syringe. Mulder reached over and picked it up.

“She injected herself Mulder.”

“I don’t understand, it didn’t affect me this way,” Mulder commented somewhat confused.

Suddenly he felt a cold hand touch his and he looked down. Marita’s eyes were open, looking intently at him. He held up the syringe, “Why? “Why did you have to do this.?”

“I had to know for certain who you were,” she whispered. “Scully has to know.”

“I don’t understand,” Mulder whispered back, caressing Marita’s hair. “What are you trying to tell me?” He looked up as Scully stepped away. “I’m going to see if I can get a signal, call the EMT’s,” she said leaving the room.

Mulder scooped her head into his lap as she looked up at him. “One man can change the future, Agent Mulder. Be that one man,” she sighed. Mulder held her as her eyes glazed over, her last breath coming in a final gasp.

**

When Mulder emerged from the building he found the place already crawling with local law enforcement. Scully was standing next to one of the officers. “What happened here, Agent Scully?” the officer asked her. She surveyed the scene around them. “You’re looking at your future, detective.”

“I don’t understand” he replied

“Just hope you never have to,” she looked away when she saw Mulder walking towards her. “Excuse me.”

He was already shaking his head before she asked the question. “She’s dead, Scully. The vaccine was lethal.” He kept on walking. “Any sign of Spender or Krycek?”

Scully turned to follow him, worried. “No one was here but the local law and the EMT’s when I came out.”

“You didn’t call them?”

“No, to both those questions,” she answered when he finally came to a stop.

“Mulder, what about you? Why did it kill her and not you?”

“I think that’s for you to figure out,” he said turning to face her.

“Damn you, Mulder,” she hissed, her eyes filling with tears again. “You knew?”

Mulder put his hands on her shoulders. “Not at the time. I couldn’t let him use it on you Scully. You know me, this overprotective streak I have. You’re gonna be the one who saves this planet someday Scully, not me.”

“You are so wrong Mulder, you are so wrong,” she said pulling her eyes from his honest gaze to watch as EMT’s brought Marita’s body out of the building. “Don’t you ever do that to me again,” she said, meeting his eyes again. “Promise me you will never do that again.”

Mulder looked up and sighed. “I can’t make a promise I can’t keep,” he said, reaching out to pull her close. “You’re going to have to decide if you can live with that.”

THE DISTRICT CLUB, WASHINGTON DC, THREE DAYS LATER

While Charlie was in awe of the imperious Strughold and amused by the furtive, meditative Spender, the Scarred Man had always elicited a deeply subcutaneous fear in the young man.

He’d long ago become accustomed to the European’s prominent disfigurement, and the Frenchman’s past sins certainly were no darker than Strughold’s. It was the Scarred Man’s inscrutability, his relative affability in the face of cataclysm and atrocity. As if there were no horror abysmal enough to touch the man. To Charlie, at his core a creature driven solely by ill-concealed fear, he was a more alien entity than the beings The Consortium alternately conspired with and against. Even now, as his fellows laughed and drank inebriated by their sense of pending liberation; he quietly sipped his brandy, a Gioconda smile traversing the long white scar that ran from his throat to his non-existent hairline. Charlie tore his eyes away, inspecting the table at the center of the clubroom set with expensive linen and a dozen hypodermic needles with pride.

Certainly, failing to terminate Mulder and Scully or that turncoat Krycek was no feather in his cap among these ruthless men. But he had delivered salvation to their doorstep, and the rest had soon been forgotten.

“Gentlemen,” Strughold called, raising his glass. “Today, we become pioneers, the first organism on this planet to cheat its own extinction. And as a great man once told me, with survival comes the opportunity for ascension. Thanks to our unknown benefactor, we and our descendants will rise from the ashes of humanity and stand toe to toe,” the German chuckled; “so to speak; with the highest race in our universe. May our grandchildren and their grandchildren talk of this day, and may our enemies one day fear them as their masters.”

An approving rumble rolled through the loosely gathered assembly, punctuated by the tinkle of antique Waterford. The Scarred Man was the first to lower his glass, and he gestured toward the table. “Gentlemen, se vous plez?”

Predictably, Charlie started toward the center of the room. “Charles!” Strughold snapped imperiously, face suddenly dark. “We have matters to discuss, privately. Gentlemen, continue.”

Charlie, chastened, followed the old man into an anteroom off the main clubroom. He’d forgotten his place, and in his misery, he failed to hear the snick of a lock engaging.

“Ah, the impetuosity of youth,” Strughold chuckled. “Please, please, have a seat.”

Charlie looked up to see a countenance as cheerful as St. Nick’s; if Santa Claus’ eyes were as sharp and carnivorous as Satan’s. Strughold nodded toward a plush wing chair, and his protégé slowly lowered himself onto the cushion. Strughold poured two amber Sherries from a huge decanter on a sideboard, handed Charlie one, and sat across from him to savor the liqueur.

“You know, Charles,” he began, “when I was a boy, far younger than yourself, I found myself with the opportunity of working under the tutelage of one of the pre- eminent scientists of my homeland. I’m sure you would recognize his name, or any of the names by which he came to be known. I’ll call him Josef, though had I ever addressed him so familiarly in my impetuous youth, my, my, the consequences.” Strughold smiled nostalgically. Charlie felt a chill that had no relation to the club’s antiquarian architecture.

“I had been a good student, particularly in the sciences, when the call to serve Mother Country went out to the youth. When I was told I would assist this man, ach, you might have told me I would be sitting at the right hand of the Archangel Gabriel. Of course,” Strughold sighed, “he was a monster, an abomination of humanity with vile tastes and perversities. All cloaked in the veil of Science. Josef was, of course, a delusionary monster, but his delusion was shared by an entire nation.” Strughold’s expression darkened. “There are those who might argue that we are equally delusional and, perhaps, equally monstrous. The Reich was willing to slaughter millions to establish itself as a global empire. We are willing to sacrifice billions on the chance that we might survive the onslaught of our enemy.”

He leaned toward Charlie, who inhaled sharply as the German seized his wrist. Strughold’s mineral eyes bore into his. “You have proven your loyalty, Charles, and so I will share with you a secret countless men have given their lives to protect. Josef, those monsters with whom I once swore allegiance, they were the fathers of our struggle today.”

Charlie swallowed, confused and somehow certain he did not want to know what he was about to learn. Strughold smiled darkly, but did not release his wrist. “In the summer of 1939, Hitler’s Intelligence was called to investigate a report of an unusual air crash a hundred or so miles outside of Dresden. They suspected a reconnaissance mission by the British or the Russians, but instead discovered a craft so advanced in technology they knew it could not be of terrestrial origin. Two bodies were found in the wreckage; they were taken to a laboratory in Dresden, where the doctors examining them became first comatose, then managed to kill five soldiers before they were burned alive with gasoline. As no doubt you have guessed, this was the modern world’s first documented encounter with the Black Virus, the Black Oil. Their secret discovered, our “friends” from beyond contacted us with the lies they have spread, for all we know, for centuries. We were told this Black Virus had spread through their race, and now mankind faced extinction through infection with it. Der Fuhrer, as mad as any of the monsters with whom he had thrown in, believed their tale and, further, embraced their grand plan. He was to mount what today we would call a massive genetic screening program encompassing first all of Europe, then, when he was successful, the rest of the world. He would round up representatives of every culture and race, take blood and tissue samples, and turn these over to his new extraterrestrial allies. His “allies” would screen this diverse DNA for genetic resistance to the Black Virus. Hitler at this time was formulating his own horrible Final Solution for the Reich’s dominance, and this new plan no doubt appealed to his delusions of social and genetic superiority. You have seen the fruits of this conspiracy — the trainloads of human cattle, the camps, the experiments, the abattoirs of a people gripped by madness and desperation. No one but Der Fuhrer’s inner circle knew of the otherworldly dimensions of this holocaust, and Hitler himself had no idea that his extraterrestrial allies’ plan was, of course, to eradicate any trace of resistance from the planet they and their far more powerful allies planned one day to dominate. Under the guise of Josef’s insane experiments with women, children, we participated in this grand inventory of the human race. Charles, are you well? I am sorry, my son — I realize this is so much to absorb.”

Charlie nodded as a trail of sweat rolled down his temple.

“Of course, our alien friends had no concept of the bloody slaughter they had initiated, though I suspect that was of no moral or ethical consequence to them. Hitler’s genocidal campaign ultimately was the downfall of the entire plan — the world joined together to end the slaughter, and the Reich was obliterated. My knowledge of the threat to mankind’s continued existence spared me a lifetime behind prison walls — your government provided me a safe harbor and anonymity, just as it had many of my countrymen. In return, for nearly 30 years, I worked with some of your nation’s greatest scientific minds. William Mulder, our good friend Spender, many others often of questionable provenance. The American people have no idea how they have been catalogued, experimented upon, and deceived about nearly every major postwar event of their lives. Despite the incredible revelations and incomprehensible inhumanity to which I have been a party, nothing has astonished me quite so much as the blissful complacency of the masses. As long as they have their reality TV and their sleek cars and their all- you-can-eat specials, they are willing to suspend their disbelief. Soon, the fantastic has no meaning, and the people, they will do, say, believe extraordinary things to preserve the illusions that have been created for them. The Herculean leaps in science once were made by courageous men of selfless imagination and vision. They were willing to give their lives to advance a cure, isolate a virus, find an answer that had evaded their fellows…”

Charlie cocked an ear at what sounded like a strangling sound from the next room.

“Today, we are driven by illusion: We swallow pills by the handful to eclipse the dark truths with which we live daily and starve ourselves in vain hope of societal acceptance. Those who survive are those who maintain clarity of vision and a memory of history.”

The first shriek pierced Charlie’s chest. His fingers gripped the leather chair arms as he heard the muffled cries of agony from the room beyond. Strughold’s eyes closed, then opened.

“I have been at hand for many such disappointing moments, Charles,” Dr. Mengele’s former assistant sighed. “I am certain there will be many more before we find the answer.”

Charlie leapt from his chair and wrenched open the door. Strughold smiled slightly as the young man gagged. He waited patiently for Charlie to wobble white-faced back to his seat.

“Mr.–?” Charlie asked hoarsely, eyes filled with horror.

Strughold chuckled. “He is a curious man, my Gallic friend. He wanted to see firsthand the results of our experiment. Do not fear, my young friend — I imagine he’s seeing to the cleanup.”

MULDER & SCULLY’S RESIDENCE, ONE WEEK LATER

She was later getting home than she expected. Armed with her laptop case and several bags of Chinese take-out she had picked up on the way as a peace offering she fumbled her way into the kitchen. The house was quiet except for the unmistakable hum of the TV set in the front room. The sudden sound of a crowd roaring tipped her off that Mulder was probably watching a game.

He obviously hadn’t heard her come in, sprawled in the big overstuffed chair he had labeled his ‘throne’ his “Fuck, Jeeters, I coulda caught that!” let her know that his beloved Yankees weren’t having a good night. When she finally caught his eye he looked up from the set.

“Yankees this time?” she asked with a smirk.

“Is there another team?”

“Well I don’t know, you seemed to find a game at just about any time of day. I take it they’re not having a good night?”

“They suck tonight,” he sounded disappointed as he dragged his bare feet off the ottoman and motioned for her to sit on it. He evidently didn’t care that she would be blocking his view of the game.

“How do you feel?”

Why did she keep asking him that? The way he had it figured, any reaction to the vaccine he was given would have surfaced by now. Last time he looked in the mirror he looked pretty much like his old self. On orders from his ‘Doctor’ he’d been on medical leave all week while she had divided her time between the office and secretly keeping an eye on him. Right now he just wanted to go back to work. Curiosity was also beginning to get the better of him. She’d been evasive all week about what was taking up all her time. When his only avenue of communication had turned out to be her cell phone he’d come to the conclusion that she really wasn’t spending that much time in the office at all. The unmistakable smell of Chinese food had already floated in from the kitchen. Maybe she was about to come clean.

“I think we’ve established that I’ve done nothing but sit on my ass in front of the TV for days. I’m okay, Scully. What about you?”

She looked a little surprised by his question. “What do you mean?” He looked her right in the eye. “C’mon, I know you’ve been up to something.”

Frankly surprised it had taken him this long to question her; she slipped out of her jacket and laid it on the other chair, turning to face him. “Quantico labs.”

That had honestly surprised him. “Doing what?”

“Following a hunch.”

Scully watched as his eyes brightened. “Dear Diary, today my heart leapt when Agent Scully followed a hunch.”

She couldn’t stop the smile that brought to her face. “You better be careful who reads your diary, Mulder,” she chuckled softly when his eyebrows did that little Grocho Marx thing. “I’ve been at Georgetown, working with a geneticist. Doing some tests on the Anasazi blood and tissue samples we were able to bring back from New Mexico,” she bent over and began to pull her shoes off, tossing them on the floor in front of the same chair where she’d tossed her jacket. “Mulder, how much do you know about your family history?”

At first he thought she was joking and was about to come back with some wise-ass comment, but the seriousness of her expression changed his mind immediately.

“About as much as you do. My mother’s family left Europe before the Holocaust. I don’t know much about my dad’s,” the wheels had begun to turn. She’d probably been trying to trace the Anasazi gene code. “I doubt I have any Anasazi relatives though, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

She reached over and patted his arm as she got up from her spot on the ottoman and headed back into the kitchen. “I wouldn’t be so sure.”

Intrigued, he got up to follow her. Trailing her into kitchen, he found her digging through her laptop case. “This genetic trait we found in the Anasazi man, the one used to produce the vaccine,” finding what she was looking for, she handed the scans to Mulder. “It’s in your DNA, Mulder. It matches what I believed was a genetic remnant that we found in your scans back in January. It might explain why you didn’t have the reaction to the vaccine that we expected.”

“You mean why I didn’t croak,” he commented sarcastically as he grabbed the scans from her. She watched his brow furrow as he looked at the scans, deliberately avoiding looking at her. She wondered if he even knew what he was looking at.

Finally he thrust them back at her. “How would that get there?”

She took the scans from him and laid them on the table, crossing her arms. “Either inherited or introduced through some form of gene therapy. Your father had some powerful—associates, Mulder. Among other things, Victor Klemper worked in genetics, as did Dr. Openshaw, one of the doctors burned in that train car. Kurtzweil was an OBGYN…”

She watched as a sick look crossed Mulder’s face, “I don’t think I like what you’re getting at.” He backed up to lean against the kitchen counter.

“Mulder,” she smiled. “This could be an amazing discovery. The Anasazi’ immunity was something inherent in their genetic code. Something that as their civilization dispersed was lost. The vaccine that Marita developed came from an original source, I believe that’s why it killed her. It would kill anyone who didn’t have the genetic resistance. We’ve identified another source for this gene, you. a white male. There could be others, Mulder. Perhaps all those medical files we found in West Virginia had something to do with that. But right now, all I have is you. You could be the key to creating another vaccine that wouldn’t produce those horrific side effects.”

He made a face like he wasn’t too please with that information either, reached up to scratch the back of his head. “Isn’t there some other way this would show up in my DNA? I’d like to at least think that my parents knowingly had nothing to do with this.”

So would she. “Viruses can leave genetic markers—Mulder I know this all sounds cruel in a sense but this is definitely something we should pursue.”

“So, what, I get to become your personal lab rat? Trying to administer a vaccine to six billion people seems a little over the top doesn’t it?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

He decided he didn’t want to know what she meant and made to change the subject.

“Please tell me that’s Chinese I smell,” he smiled a gentle acceptance and motioned towards the table with his head. “Maybe we could experiment on that first.”

“Mulder,” she stepped closer to him, reaching out to caress his bicep and trying to catch his eyes. “You know me, you know I’m not going to turn you into some science experiment.” He still wouldn’t look at her, but let a bitter laugh escape.

“I’m not sure I trust my science anymore, not after this.” Realizing how much that admission had cost her, he finally met her eyes. “There was so much I was wrong about here Mulder, so much that was beyond our science. If I hadn’t trusted your judgment…” Mulder pulled her hand from his arm and clutched it to his chest.

“Don’t berate yourself, Scully. I’m the master of self-depreciation, remember?” his eyebrows went up a little to see if she was with him on this but all he got from her was a curve of her lips. “I want to tell you a story, something Albert explained to me,” he turned around and took the spoon from the sugar bowl on the counter, sprinkled a little pile of it on the counter and proceeded to draw a circle with a cross through it. Scully watched him. “I’ve seen this before, when I found you outside the NTE lab; it was drawn in the dust.”

“Albert drew it there.”

“When he spoke to you?”

He didn’t answer but went on with his explanation of the story as Albert had related it to him. “In some ways I think he was wrong.”

“What do you mean?” Scully asked somewhat puzzled by his admission. “You believed in these visions enough to find the truth, Mulder.”

“Yeah, but I think you have also been born with these four virtues Scully, it’s why we’re together on this.” He turned around so his ass was against the counter and wrapped his arms around her middle, leaning back so he could see her face. “Scully, I know this body of mine holds a lot of secrets. Some your science can understand and some that for lack of another word are just plain unexplainable.” He watched as her lips curved again into a soft hesitant smile. “But I’ve come to accept the secrets as a good thing. That maybe I am the key to something greater than us. But it hasn’t changed who I am, Scully. I’m still me and I’ve come to trust what my body is telling me. Can you understand that?”

She nodded and then touched his cheek. “I worry about you, you know.” And this time she watched his lips curve into that smile of his she cherished, the one that went all the way to his eyes.

“You’re a doctor, Scully and that’s why I want you to hear this. Whatever happens next, I trust you. I trust your judgment Listen to yourself. Believe what your science is telling you. Only then can you do something about it.” He pulled her close then. “This is a war Scully, but the victory won’t go to those who possess the largest army or the most horrific bomb. Your science is going to find it the humblest of things that God has put upon this planet.”

She wrapped her arms around his back, completing his embrace. “Together,” he said, resting his forehead against hers, “you and me, we have the key to unlocking the future.”

Nichtophobia

Nichtophobia

Author: Elf X

Category: Casefile

Rating: R for language, graphic violence

Summary: Mulder and Scully’s search for a man of unspeakable evil leads to a man of undisputable goodness and solution of unimaginable dimensions.

Spoilers: Mytharc, All Souls, Displacement (VS11), Season Nine alternate history

Feedback: rossprag@fgi.net

Disclaimer: Once again, I foray into the fringes of Chris Carter’s dominion, with no claim but to entertain.

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Thrif-Tee Mart Foods

Thurston, Ohio

6:44 p.m.

Jerry Pedersen heard the nauseous, rending crunch of fiberglass eating fiberglass before he could register the large cobalt object in his rearview mirror and hit the brakes.

He was old enough to remember when it was metal on metal, and you could find some guy within a couple blocks who’d bang and pull at the dents and dings until all that remained was a little character and a few bucks off the resale value. Now, cars were made out of plastic, like cheap particle board. Pederson suspected the move to fiberglass had been inspired not by safety or economy, but by the cafones in the bodywork industry who sucked your insurance company dry for a scratch on the bumper.

Jerry’s thick fingers squeezed the wheel as he inhaled deeply. He pasted on a smile, pushed the car door open (no tortured creaking — maybe the frame was still OK), and stepped out onto the Thrif-Tee Mart asphalt. The woman already was out of her car — yuppie broad, soccer mom type. Studying the taillight her Volvo had managed to shatter, a half-guilty, half-defensive look on her Barbie doll kisser.

“Aw, gee, you all right?” Jerry asked solicitously, eyeing the long scratch on her foreign yupmobile. “You were tearing along pretty fast there.”

“Well,” she breathed with an edge of indignation. “You just yanked right out of that space. I hardly had time to react.”

Jerry started to respond, then spotted the cell phone still in her deftly manicured hand. The soccer mom glanced down and instinctively shoved it into her jacket pocket. She looked up and apparently saw something in his eyes. He quickly extinguished it.

“They make the lanes so narrow, it’s almost impossible to maneuver,” the woman said in a more conciliatorily tone. “Somebody oughtta sue.”

“Well, at least nobody got hurt, right?” Jerry grinned.

They swapped numbers, and the yuppie broad went on her way. Jerry settled behind the wheel, willing away the white noise in his brain. The bitch would probably find some way to stick him with the tab for both cars, and the rocky road he’d bought for tonight’s pay-per-view fight was probably all melted to hell by now.

Before “the operation,” as he thought of it, Jerry probably would have paid that stuck-up putana a visit, rearranged a few of her botoxed features, maybe given her a little something else to thing about, capisce? In the universe from which he’d been exiled, Barbie here wouldn’t have said anything, and if she had gone bawling to her stoonad of a husband (probably some insurance agent named Brad, Jerry mused), Jerry’d set him straight, too, maybe give him the two-finger discount with a Rambo knife.

But that was then, Jerry mulled dismally. Betty Crocker would go home to her two shithead little brats and fix them and Brad a Velveeta casserole. Or maybe they’d all go to T.G.I. Effin’ Fridays by the mall, catch some Disney piece a’ puke at the Cineplex. Himself, he’d go home and throw a pizza in the microwave, watch the pay-per-view fight on cable. Nix that — ever since he’d been banned from betting on the fights, they just made him anxious and irritable. He’d watch the Wheel-Jeopardy combo, The Sopranos on HBO to get a yuk or two, then maybe go out and grab a brew or two, see what or who he could turn up.

The flywheel ground as he turned the key. Jerry inhaled deeply, as the anger management book from the library’d told him. Prick on the back cover, some kinda headshrink, had seemed to be smirking smugly up at Jerry, who’d ripped the cover off and told the library the dog had done it. No dog, of course — Jerry would never have an animal in his house.

Jerking out of the space, Jerry squealed his wheels. He escaped the supermarket parking lot as the first fat droplets of rain splattered across his windshield, and headed down Grove Road, toward Hell, as Jerry thought of it. At the intersection of Grove and Main, he changed his mind. To his surprise, Jerry had found the anger management prick was right about at least one thing. A ride through the country, past the flat corn and soybean fields and cows, seemed to quell temporarily the demons who told him to hurt and maim and destroy.

As the fencerows blurred past him on State Road 130, Jerry exhaled and pumped the gas, ignoring the pair of headlights well behind him. The storm picked up, and Jerry defied it, bearing down on the accelerator.

The raccoon scuttled up onto the road before Jerry could comprehend. He was no nature lover — he’d have squashed the rodent or whatever it was for fun — but out of sheer instinct, Jerry slammed the brakes. The car did a doughnut, then left the asphalt road. Trees sped past him as Jerry grabbed ineffectually at the wheel and hurtled down the embankment.

The trunk of the huge oak barely registered with Jerry before it stopped his car. Fucking worthless airbag, Jerry thought dimly as his head cracked into the steering wheel and blood blinded him…

**

“Donald?”

Jerry grunted, then winced at the pain in his legs, which were crushed into the dashboard. The voice was gentle, almost compassionate. God? Even in his severely damaged, delirious state, Jerry knew better.

“Wha–?” the ex-mobster mumbled, blood burbling over his lips. He felt a gentle pressure against his shoulder, although the figure looming over him in the twilight was indistinguishable.

“Please. Relax. The pain is nearly over.”

Jerry felt a stab of panic, then somehow, the stranger’s words began to sink into his broken bones, and he slumped back against the blood-soaked seatback.

“That’s good,” the voice cooed. “Donald, I know now that your existence has been one of misery, that your violence is a reflection of the hatred and cruelty you’ve endured. I forgive you, and I want to offer you a second chance. Now, just close your eyes. It’s almost over.”

Jerry’s lids closed. The last sound he heard was that of metal blades whispering and clacking together. A smile touched his dying lips.

“Not so much off the side, Sal,” he burbled before the breath left his body.

Home of Donald Gianisi/Jerry Pedersen

Two weeks later

“So this is where Sopranos go when they get canceled,” Mulder murmured as he took in the celery walls and hardwood floors. He moved across the oriental rug and glanced out over the well-fertilized lawn beyond the patio door. “That privacy fence — vinyl, right? Wow, they said maximum security, but I had no idea…”

“Mulder,” Scully sighed, leaning against the breakfast bar.

“Look, Agent Mulder,” U.S. Marshal Glenn Karnes responded tersely. “You’ve made it clear you’re no big fan of Witness Security. You don’t need to tell me Donnie Gianisi’s no angel, and I’m well aware that you busted your ass to help put him away. But Gianisi helped Justice put away several heavy hitters, including the head of Newark’s Russian Mafiya. So why don’t we just save our righteous indignation for talk radio, and get down to it?”

“Marshal, are you sure Gianisi didn’t just fly the coop, so to speak?” Scully asked as Mulder shrugged and strayed into the chromium-appointed kitchen. “You transferred a made mobster from his native environment in New Jersey to suburban Ohio, from an ethical culture of violence and excess to a nine-to-five existence in Middle America. It isn’t inconceivable that Gianisi may have felt…stifled in this environment. Could he simply have decided to find a new urban environment, maybe even skip the country?”

Karnes shook his large, crew cut head in agitation. “He’d be a dead man in Chicago, Vegas, anywhere with a Family presence. ‘Sides, Gianisi was one of the program’s poster boys — he’d adjusted well to the life, got good evaluations from his employers, even joined the Breakfast Kiwanis.”

Mulder snorted from the next room.

“Well,” Scully began, tentatively, “is there any chance at all, well, that Gianisi could have been discovered? That somehow his location got out, and his former associates ‘retrieved’ him?”

“No way,” the federal marshal growled. “Look, we’ve had our fuckups in the past, but the program’s waterproof now.”

Mulder emerged, sipping a Dasani. “Better break out the life rafts, Leonardo diCaprio. They ever question your poster boy on that shooting on the other side of town, the guy who punched out Citizen Gianisi for chatting up his significant other one Saturday night?”

Karnes head whipped around. “What the hell–? Who you been talking to, Mulder? That’s sealed shit. Only about three people know about that — I find out who leaked it, I’ll…”

“You don’t want to try to seal this leak, unless you want to wind up a park ranger at Mt. St. Helen’s. Your boy wasn’t precisely Kiwanian of the Year, was he, Marshal? You can take the wiseguy out of the Family, but you can’t take the Family out of the wiseguy, right?”

“Hey, screw you, J. Edgar,” Karnes spat as his cell phone sounded. He held up a finger as large as a bratwurst as he answered.

Scully sidled up to her partner. “Way to win friends and influence people, Mulder. I was waiting for you two to begin comparing appendage length, and my guess is, you wouldn’t have been pleased by the results.”

“Youch, kitty has sharp claws. Sorry, Scully, but look at this place. Gianisi was responsible for at least four deaths, including two civilians, before they packed him off to the Heartland here. They give him a new life, a home, a middle-management gig, and all’s forgiven because he rolled over on a few other homicidal assholes. And when the DOJ loses him, the Bureau sends us out to locate his sorry ass like he’s Elizabeth Smart.”

“Is this moral outrage?” Scully posed, “Or are you perhaps upset because we’re tracking a low-level mobster instead of Sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster? This case a bit banal for the great Spooky Mulder?”

“Good news, for me, anyhow,” Marshal Karnes declared, flipping his phone closed. “You and the missus here can catch the next flight out of Dodge. Local boys just busted what looks to be our man. Looks like one of Donnie’s ghosts came out west to haunt him. On my way to the cop shop now – been real, agents.”

“You don’t mind, Marshal, mebbe we’ll just mosey on down there ourselves,” Mulder drawled.

“Yeah,” Karnes muttered sourly.

**

“Are you the police?”

Mulder, Scully, and Karnes turned in unison halfway down Gianisi’s front sidewalk. The elderly woman in the purple housedress wasn’t much larger than the equally elderly bulldog who accompanied her.

“Sort of,” Mulder offered.

Tugging the bull, she teetered up the walk and planted herself before the trio. “Is this about Lars? Did you finally get him?”

“Get who, ma’am?” Scully asked.

“‘Pedersen.’ As if that were his real name. He’s as Scandinavian as I am Korean.”

“Yup, tight ship, Marshal,” Mulder purred. “Who’s Lars?”

“Sven’s brother,” the woman snapped impatiently, inclining her white head at her panting pet. “Lars was a bit high-strung at times, perhaps a little, well, vociferous, and one night, that ‘Pederson’ threatened to put him on a spit and ‘rotisserie his little ass’ if he heard him barking. A week later, Lars disappeared after his, um, his evening duties. The next day, I find an unmarked envelope in my screen door, with my Lars’ collar and a bottle of steak sauce inside. The policeman they sent out was very lackadaisical, almost unwilling to investigate ‘Pedersen.’”

“I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am,” Mulder commiserated with as much sincerity as he could muster. “Did Mr. Pedersen have similar problems with his other neighbors?”

“I try to mind my business,” she responded with a hint of reproval. “But the neighborhood has gone considerably downhill since my Lawrence died.” Mulder wondered if Lawrence was Lars’ and Sven’s sibling, but thought better of asking. “I mean, the Hudsons never take care of their lawn, Thorvald down the block sits on his porch with a bottle of Jack Daniels, and the woman who lives next door to Pedersen here – a young mother-to-be, mind you – well, I saw a strange man coming out of her house one night while her husband was out of town. I mean, it’s almost like my stories on TV, oh, what’s that show about the housewives and all the sex…?”

“Desperate Housewives,” Scully supplied.

“Knot’s Landing. Disgusting.” The woman frowned as Sven tugged at his leash. “When’s this Housewives show on?”

**

“I thought Monk was on Fridays,” Mulder commented, staring at the robed figure seated in the Thurston P.D. interview room.

“Monastery’s about two miles out of town,” Lt. Carl Benjamin grunted. “The brothers sell bread through some of the bakeries in Cincy, along with some jam, jelly, herbs. Raskov here showed up about two weeks ago, asked to join up.”

“Two weeks ago,” Scully observed. “About the time the woman at the grocery last saw Gianisi.”

“Next day,” Benjamin supplied. “They took him in, no questions asked. The brass balls – settles in two miles away from Gianisi. Town’s turning into Dodge City: We didn’t even know that creep Gianisi had moved in until you guys swooped in to bail him out of some barfight.”

“Same government, different club,” Mulder corrected. “How’d you get on to Raskov?”

Benjamin, a square, muscular cop, jerked his head at the meditative man in the room beyond. “After your fed buddy let us know Michael Corleone had disappeared, we started asking around his neighborhood. Got a sketch worked up of some guy’d been sneaking around Gianisi’s house a couple of weeks before he went AWOL. Imagine our astonishment when patrol unit spotted the suspect with another friar down at the Thrif-Tee Mart. Brothers closed ranks tighter than a virgin after the prom and the head, er, monk, insisted he come downtown with Raskov. Talked him into waiting out front.”

“What’s Raskov say?”

“Jack shit, so far. Thought I’d let you two have a shot at him. Now, why don’t you rub my back a little, OK? Who is this guy?”

Mulder smiled. “You must have missed the Nobel Prize Awards on CBS back in 1998, right after Murder, She Wrote, I think. Peter Raskov won the science prize for his genetic work. He’s one of the men who helped map the human genome, and he developed several genetic markers that have been crucial to cancer, AIDS, and Parkinson’s research.”

“Jeez,” Benjamin nodded. “Known that, I’da stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts steada offering him the day-old Hostesses. So this world-renowned scientist is related to Joe Pesci how?”

“Raskov left biomedicine in 2000,” Scully related. “After his wife and son were gunned down at a gas station near his home. By a man named Theo Randazzi, who had just murdered the station owner, who had been running an illegal gambling operation in competition with Randazzi’s employer. Raskov’s family was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Randazzi tried to shoot it out with the NYPD a few days later, and wound up on the losing end. So the D.A. went after the man who’d ordered the hit on the station owner. Randazzi’s employer.”

“Gianisi,” Benjamin stated.

“Who began naming more names than the Yellow Pages. The D.A. dropped the case against Gianisi and put him into Witness Security.”

“Against the recommendation of the FBI,” Mulder murmured. “Meanwhile, Raskov dropped out of the scientific limelight for awhile, quit his university post, and nobody heard anything from him for about a year. He reappeared about a year later with a book postulating a connection between human genetics and the soul. Kind of pop science stuff for the ‘intelligent design’ crowd that was beginning to emerge from the creationist-evolutionist debate. He was laughed out of the scientific community and pissed off a lot of the rollers in the bargain.”

Benjamin was quiet for a second, registering Scully’s own silent, bemused reaction to her partner’s recitation. “What say we see what the brother says, huh, folks?”

**

“I take it this is some sort of homage to Mendel,” Mulder began.

Raskov’s eyes came up. They were filled with surprise and, Mulder perceived, a germ of interest.

“Gregor Johann Mendel, born July 22, 1822, in Heizendorf, Austria, the only son of a peasant farmer,” the agent supplied. “In 1843, Mendel began studying at the St. Thomas Monastery of the Augustinian Order. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1847. In 1851, after failing to earn his teaching certification, Mendel entered the University of Vienna to train to be teach math and biology. He developed his skills as a researcher, and became the virtual father of modern genetic theory — the first man to trace the characteristics of an organism from generation to generation.

“And here you are, one of the world’s top geneticists, now a member of the Friar’s Club. The irony must’ve appealed to you: Mendel, a man of God who unlocked the secrets of genetic expression; you a man of Science who’s devoted the last three years of his life to

quantifying the metaphysical in genetic terms. How close am I?”

Raskov smiled slightly. “And what do you think of my theories?”

“I think it’s more than divine fate that you somehow managed to wind up within spitting distance of the man responsible for the death of your wife and son.”

“Of course.”

“Who fingered him for you? Someone inside Witness Security?”

“I pledged my confidence.”

“Kind of a fine ethical point, don’t you think? What did you do with Gianisi?”

Raskov shrugged. Mulder’s brow rose. “You want an attorney? I assume you took a vow of poverty — we can line you up with a public defender.”

“I don’t need an attorney. I’ve committed no statutory crime.”

Mulder caught the adjective, and pulled out a chair. “What kind of crime have you committed?”

“Nothing in your jurisdiction, I’m sure.”

“He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Raskov folded his hands before him on the table.

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Mulder stood. “I can see you’re ready to crack under the pressure. You want a cup of coffee while I leave you to sweat?”

Raskov smiled more broadly. “Thanks, no.”

Mulder nodded and stepped back into the hallway. “That’s one cool monk,” he told a waiting Scully. “He’s being playful about something, but I’m not sure he’s killed Gianisi.”

“Then where is he? You think he kidnapped him, maybe has him stowed somewhere?”

“I‘m sure the monastery has rules about roommates. Whatever’s going on, I’m positive Raskov’s involved. But hell if I know what it is.” He looked over Scully’s shoulder. “Lieutenant.”

Benjamin stalked toward them, an agitated frown on his red face. “We’re kicking him.”

“He knows something about what happened to Gianisi.”

“B.F.D. Prosecutor says he’s not busting some ‘holy man’ without hard evidence. Thinks the press, the ACLU, and the Cincinnati diocese would crucify us, pardon the pun. Says we know where Raskov is, we need him.”

Mulder pursed his lips. “Probably a safe bet. Whatever he’s done to Gianisi, I get the feeling he’s at peace in his new home.”

“I’d probably be, too, if I offed that human disease. Unfortunately, nobody asked me.”

“Hey, Lieutenant!” The trio turned to see a uniform at the end of the hall. “Got a Terry Seaver on your line. Says he’ll only talk to you.”

“Shit,” Benjamin muttered. “My insurance guy. Hope the wife didn’t rack up the car. A minute, OK, agents? And, hey, Benson?”

“Yeah,” the uniform yelled.

“Tell Friar Tuck out there he can take his guy home now, then process him out. ‘Scuse me.” The detective sprinted down the hall.

Scully looked after the cop, then at the meditative monk in the interview room.

“You think that’s good?” Lt. Benjamin posed from the doorway. “I just got a call on Gianisi. Says they’ve got him squirreled away somewhere.”

Mulder’s head whipped around. “The kidnapper?”

“Uh uh. Witness. Says she talked to our missing boy.”

**

“Sharon insisted we call you, but I had no idea you’d bring the feds along,” Terry Seavers muttered. “Swear to God, if the paper finds out about this…”

“Federal case, Terry — sorry,” Lt. Benjamin shrugged as he hooked his raincoat on the foyer rack. Mulder and Scully followed the cop and the contractor back into a cozy family room complete with bomber’s jacket leather recliners and a fireplace lined with sports memorabilia.

Seavers leaned against the mantel, arms crossed defensively over his chest. “Well, I’m already regretting this. Hell, media’d make my girl into some freakshow.”

“This is just us, Terry,” Benjamin assured him. “Agents Mulder and Scully understand that, OK?”

“You said your daughter told you some specifics,” Mulder prodded.

Seavers eyed the agent and sighed. “Says the guy’s name is Donald Gianisi, but everybody calls him Jerry. Lives over on Greenleaf Drive.”

“Nothing’s been released to the press, right, Lieutenant?” Scully asked. Benjamin shook his head. “Mr. Seavers, does your daughter say where Mr. Gianisi is?”

The girl’s beefy father paled, and he washed his face with a pink white-collar palm. “Jesus, like she wasn’t already twisted enough. Look, if we have to do this, why don’t you just talk to Sharon yourself?”

**

“He’s dead,” Sharon Seavers murmured. “Least, he said he thought he was.”

At 15, Sharon herself appeared the youthful personification of death. Full black goth gear, rings and needles pushed through every fleshy feature, black lips in contrast to her buttermilk skin. She rocked on her bare mattress — a salmon sheet was crumpled at the foot of the bed, an embarrassment discarded but kept at hand. Seavers was silent in his daughter’s presence, having obviously abdicated authority long ago.

“But he’s not now?” Mulder inquired, astonishing all but Scully by flopping onto the foot of the mattress. Sharon seemed blandly impressed by his unbidden violation of her hostile space.

“No, I don’t think so. But I think he’s hurt — he can’t see, and he said he can’t move his arms or legs or even feel them. He’s scared, and he’s pretty pissed off.”

“What’d he say?”

Sharon told him verbatim. Seavers turned to the wall with a put-upon sigh; Benjamin scratched the back of his neck, puffing his cheeks. Mulder nodded. “Sounds like our Donnie. He have any idea where they’ve got him?”

Sharon dug her tattooed knuckles into the mattress. “He’s in water, like he’s floating or something. Maybe they got him in, what do they call it, suspended animation, or something. In a big tube like in some sci-fi flick, maybe.”

Mulder ignored her sudden flippancy. “Is this the first time you’ve ever had a telepathic communication?”

Sharon’s black-rimmed eyes darted toward her father, Lt. Benjamin, with a mix of hostility and wariness. She shivered. “I’ve had like déjà vu or whatever — you know, you see or hear something you know you’ve seen or heard before, but you know you haven’t? And I knew when Zephyr was about to die. Our dog. He got hit by a truck when I was 10 – I told Mom to keep him inside that day, but she didn’t listen. Big news.”

“Jesus, Sharon,” Seavers breathed.

“They think its bullshit,” she told Mulder flatly. “Of course.”

“Say it isn’t bullshit,” Mulder suggested. “Do you think you could reestablish contact with Donald?”

“I don’t know his cell,” Sharon mumbled, scratching her forearm with a long, black talon. “And even if I did, I’m not sure I want to talk to him again.”

**

“Christ,” Lt. Benjamin breathed as the Seavers’ front door closed behind them.

Mulder looked up at Sharon’s blacked-out window. “Studies of telepathic subjects at Stockholm University suggest that strong emotional messages or signals of danger may for evolutionary reasons be easier to transmit than neutral messages. If Sharon has vestigial psychic abilities, Donald’s fear might have been able to break through her subconscious.”

“Jesus,” Benjamin invoked, looking to Scully. She shrugged.

“Lieutenant, you have to admit the girl knows a lot about Donald Gianisi. How could she have come across that information?”

The cop started toward his unit at the immaculately manicured curb. It was dusk, and lights were glowing throughout the Seavers’ subdivision. “Take a look at her, Agents. She’s the fucking Angel of Death. Probably hangs with Satanists. Maybe her and her little Addams Family clones offed Gianisi for kicks, and now she’s just fucking with us.”

“Despite their apparent preoccupation with death and darkness, Goths generally are peaceful people,” Mulder informed him. “And Goths frequently are neither Satanists nor pagans.”

“Frequently, they’re scared, insecure children looking for a way to belong in a world that they assume doesn’t want them,” Scully said quietly. The cop and her partner fell silent as the first fat drops of evening rain stained the concrete beneath them.

**

“After it happened, I became a sort of bereavement junkie,” Raskov murmured, hands clasped before him on the interview table. As he had the day before, he’d turned down Mulder’s offer of coffee. After a half-hour or so of maddeningly cryptic conversation about the case at hand, Mulder had found Raskov more than receptive to discussing the murder of his wife and child.

“Well-meaning friends and colleagues confused my customary stoicism with emotional withdrawal. Truth be told, I’d seen no option following Fran and Grant’s deaths but to immerse myself in my work — again, a response my friends mistook for denial, evasion.

“So I allowed myself to be coerced into joining one of those bereavement/survivor groups — I can’t even remember the name, now. We were a motley crew: There was some kid whose husband had been stabbed by his drug dealer, an ex-Teamster whose wife had been on a flight that crashed in the Adirondacks, a gay lawyer who’d lost his life companion to AIDS, and this couple — a New York cop and his wife whose young son had been abducted and murdered apparently by some deviate. John and Barbara.

“Barbara clearly had coerced John into coming to group each Wednesday, just as I’d been browbeaten into seeking closure. John came, occasionally held Barbara’s hand, listened dutifully to the others, and said nothing. Marine type, meat-and-potatoes policeman. As time went on, we all became addicted to the grief, to the quest for some revelation that would permit us to move on without the crushing mantle of guilt. The endless storytelling alone, as if we were grappling frantically to reconstruct our fading lost ones before they vanished altogether. John remained mute through it all.

“At first, I leapt to the perfectly human assumption that John was there merely to anchor Barbara. Then I gradually recognized that Barbara was John’s emotional safe harbor, his anchor. I decided that grief had struck him mute. But again, I was wrong.”

Mulder wasn’t sure where this was heading. Raskov had opened up almost immediately, but not in the direction the agent planned. However, the behavioral scientist knew truth often was buried in bullshit, or whatever this personal confession was.

“Every so often, the discussion would descend into raw, visceral anger,” Raskov continued. “Anger at a virus, at the airline industry, at the judges who set drug dealers and predators free to take our lost ones. Eventually, that anger would turn on those lost ones — for leaving us, for making foolishly fatal decisions, for venturing recklessly into harm’s way. And ultimately, that anger became self-directed. And although he never spoke, never offered a comment or reflection, I could tell no one in the room was as full of self-hatred as John. You could see it in his eyes, the way his fingers clutched the arms of his chair, as if he were keeping them from his own throat.

“Well. One night, we’re wallowing and reminiscing, and John abruptly sits up in his chair. We all started, and John apologized and left the room. He’d been off in some reverie, no doubt about his son, his Luke. Barbara didn’t pursue him – from her demeanor, I could tell his erratic behavior had become old-hat. But his sudden departure had disrupted the emotional flow of the conversation, so our counselor called a break.

“I sought out the men’s room down the hall, but the toilet was broken or some such thing. So I went downstairs to the restroom off the lobby, and there I found John, on the pay phone. It was clear he was talking to some colleague, and he was highly agitated. He was urging his colleague to issue a warrant on someone, I assume someone connected to his son’s death. Yes, he was aware they’d already interviewed and released the man. No, he had no real evidence or information that cast any new light – it was just his hunch. Yes, he understood, but. Yes, they’d talk tomorrow.

“After he rang off, John just stood there, the phone in his hand, as still as a statue. I don’t know what led me to hang behind, eavesdropping, but I nearly jumped out of my skin as he began to beat the handset against the cradle. ‘You bastard,’ he yelled. ‘You stupid bastard.’ It took me a minutes to realize he was deriding neither his colleague nor this man who’d reawakened his suspicions.

“And when I realized who we truly were destroying with all this toxic wrath, how this poor man was chasing futile leads and blind alleys in an attempt to somehow absolve himself of whatever role he felt he’d played in his son’s death, I suddenly felt a veil lifting. I no longer needed to absolve myself or avenge myself on Gianisi.”

Mulder waited for more, but Raskov simply stopped with a serene expression. “You turned it off, just like that.”

“Well, perhaps my epiphany had been building. I’d sat through weeks in the courtroom, every day, while Gianisi’s associates and enemies casually related the violent world in which they — he — existed. In the end, Gianisi himself testified with a childish, sullen bravado. There was a void in his soul — his innocence was lost at an early age, never to be retrieved. The revelation filled me with a certain grudging sadness for the man, despite what he’d done to my life. I found myself wishing he could know the wonder with which my Fran greeted each morning, the joy Grant found in a simple word game or a bedtime story.”

“So why?” Mulder pursued. “Why did you come to Thurston? Why did you track Gianisi down?”

Raskov smiled sympathetically. “Who did you lose, Agent Mulder?”

The agent gawped, dumbfounded. “What?”

“I could see it in your eyes, the set of your jaw as I talked about Fran and Grant, about John and Barbara and Luke. Whose memory is pressed in your subconscious? Who did you lose? I see no sign of a ring. My assumption would be a sibling.”

Mulder sat rigidly, staring at the scientist/monk. Then he remembered to breathe. He grinned. “We a big Silence of the Lambs fan?”

Raskov grinned back and shook his head. “Sorry, Agent. I wasn’t attempting any mind games. I suppose bereavement makes one sort of a grief specialist. My studies have cast an entirely new light on the nature of life, of death.”

“That’s right. You’re the soul man.”

Raskov didn’t respond. Mulder was about to follow up on that silent clue when the interview room door swung open. Benjamin glanced anxiously at Raskov, then turned to the agent.

“We got…something,” the cop reported haltingly. “Mr. — Brother, I’m gonna ask you to stick around a while longer. At least.”

**

“They been doing some work up on the road, tearing things up pretty good,” Lt. Benjamin informed Scully as she examined the decomposing, blood-caked husk that had once been Donald Gianisi. Troopers and deputies explored the surrounding embankment. “That’s why it took so long for anybody to find the car – road crew ripped out any signs of skid marks and took out the vegetation at the side to widen the road, without even noticing things were already torn up. And with traffic detoured around the construction, nobody much came through the area in the last week or so. Some nature photographer hadn’t been memorializing our rural biodiversity this morning, Donnie here would might have become part of the ecosystem next spring.”

“What do you think, Scully?” Mulder asked, his back to the pathologist/agent and her “patient.” “How long’s he been here?”

“Well, based on decomposition and insect damage, I’d venture more than a week. I’ll try to tie it down in the post-mortem. Of course, we can peg it somewhere between the start of construction and his encounter in the grocery parking lot.”

“Which means about a two-day window about two weeks ago,” Benjamin contributed. “Gianisi had his fender-bender on a Tuesday, county started roadwork Friday. Can you tell if there was anything fishy about this, Agent?”

Scully glanced down at Gianisi’s damaged face. “Post-mortem can probably determine if he died accidentally or not, but it’s up to your lab to figure out whether the accident was an accident. Wait.”

“What?” Mulder turned, and turned back with a green expression.

“Lieutenant, what’s this appear to be?” Scully inquired. “Don’t touch it.”

“Hair,” Benjamin suggested. “You think the perp left some trace?”

Scully peered at the four or five black strands. “These weren’t shed – no follicles. They were cut. And given the color and thickness, I’d guess they’re probably Gianisi’s.”

“Probably grabbed a haircut earlier. There’s a salon a few doors down from the market where he met up with the yuppie babe.”

“No. See, there’s no blood on these hairs. They were cut after the accident, and probably hours after the accident, after the blood had had time to dry.”

“A posthumous haircut?” Mulder demanded. “The killer took a lock of his hair as, what? Proof of a successful hit? A souvenir or fetish for a serial killer?”

Scully turned from the corpse. “Mulder, I’m not even sure we have a killing here.”

Benjamin grunted as he stood up, back cracking. “But he is dead, and has been for a couple weeks. Like to see what Buffy the Vampire Seer has to say about her little ‘vision’ now. Especially since I found out this afternoon her cousin lives — lived — next door to the late Mr. Gianisi here.”

**

“I told you,” Sharon repeated in a dead monotone, picking at her already-scabbed arm as her eyes darted between Mulder, Scully, and Benjamin. “I didn’t know the guy. I can’t explain why he chose me.”

“Your cousin’s Jenny Gleeson, right?” Benjamin demanded.

“Yeah…”

“You see her a lot?”

“Sure – I babysit for her and her husband, though since she got pregnant, not so much.”

“And you never met her neighbor? Slick dude, abs of steel.”

Life sparked in Sharon’s eyes. “Oh, shit. That perv? That’s the dead guy?”

“Perv?”

Her face wrinkled in disgust. “Yeah. He was always checking Jenny out – real eye-fuck. I even caught him checking my ass once. I told him to go fuck himself. He looked like he would’ve broke my neck, if Brad – Jenny’s husband – hadn’t been there. That’s the guy?”

“Yeah, that’s the guy,” Benjamin mocked her. “So he didn’t tell you what a nice keister you had when you had your little after-death chat?”

“Hey,” Terry Seaver growled from beside his daughter.

“Lieutenant,” Scully cautioned.

“He never talked to me, you pig,” Sharon said through her teeth, eyes filling in betrayal of her bravado. “And he wasn’t dead. If you’d’ve heard his voice – he was scared shitless. He, he…”

“Baby?” Seaver inquired, concerned, as she placed both hands on the table. “Sharon?”

The girl’s head came up, eyes now full of terror. The adults in the room jumped at the voice that ripped from her blackened lips. “Get me the fuck outta here!! I’m dyin’ in here, I’m goin’ crazy.”

Mulder stepped toward Sharon. “Gianisi? Donald Gianisi.”

“I think they got me in some kinda fucking factory!” Sharon/”Gianisi” screamed. “I can hear the fucking generators thumpin’ away. You gotta come get me outta here!! I can’t take the dark!! I got nichta–, nichta–, I’m scared of the fucking dark!!” The girl shrieked, then collapsed on the table.

The room was silent as Seaver kneeled beside Sharon and lifted her head. Her black-lidded eyes fluttered open, and she stared wildly at the frightened faces around her.

“That was him,” she said.

Benjamin applauded, a bead of sweat rolling down his neck. “Great performance, Linda Blair.”

“Nichtophobia,” Scully said, abruptly.

“What?” the cop squeaked.

“A morbid fear of darkness. That’s what ‘he’ was trying to say.”

“So what?”

“When Agent Mulder and I were investigating Donald Gianisi’s disappearance, I read a report from a court-ordered counselor Gianisi was required to see. He’d had a series of violent encounters as a teen, and the counseling was part of a plea agreement. Gianisi told the psychiatrist he was terrified of the dark, and eventually dropped some clues that led the counselor to believe he’d been abused by a male relative, possibly in a basement or closet.”

“So now, he’s a victim,” Benjamin sneered.

“That’s not my point, Lieutenant,” Scully said patiently. “How does Sharon know about Gianisi’s nichtophobia? Information that was in a sealed police report?”

Benjamin stared incredulously at Scully. “Shit, Terry, take her home. Maybe sign her up for drama club. Betcha she’d be great.” He rubbed his face wearily as he turned to Mulder and Scully. “And you two, why don’t you get the hell out of my face, too, while we’re at it?”

**

“I’ll just save some time and breath and assume you don’t believe she’s lying,” Scully said dryly as she negotiated a discarded Coke can in the Thurston City Hall parking lot.

Mulder dug for the key fob, and their rental sedan beeped admittance. “If she was, Nicole Kidman has something to worry about.”

“You don’t see Gianisi being dead being a problem?”

“It’s a teaser, all right. Maybe he’s in some kind of limbo state, doesn’t know he’s dead, and has been channeling through Sharon.”

“Or perhaps Sharon’s suffering some kind of disassociative mental or emotional condition? Maybe ‘Gianisi’ is the product of her creative subconscious?”

Mulder smirked. “Well, now, you’re just being ridiculous.” His jacket warbled, and he plucked his cell phone from the inside pocket. “Yeah, Mulder. Hey, yeah, thanks for getting back to me, Agent. I understand you worked the kidnapping angle on a child murder a few years back, cop’s kid…Yeah, wow, you’re memory’s amazing…Dead end, huh? Well, we’ve got a case here, unrelated, but it could have a bearing on your old homicide…You would? Gee, you must’ve skipped a few of the orientation sessions on anal-retentive bureaucracy…Yeah, yeah, I’d like to help them, too. I know what it’s like to – ah, sorry, never mind. Maybe you could express mail – already e-mailed. Hey, I really appreciate it, Agent—Oh, sure, Monica. Thanks, Monica.”

“I’m not into partner-swapping, Mulder,” Scully informed him as he restored the phone. “What was that about? Does it have a bearing on Gianisi?”

“No, no,” Mulder murmured hastily. “Just a little something I’ve been checking up on.”

**

“An adolescent cry for attention, a bizarre pseudo-paranormal scam, or something more sinister?” the pretty blonde posed, staring intently at the hotel bar’s dinner crowd. “Police in a quiet suburban town just north of Cincinnati are investigating the allegedly accidental death of Donald Gianisi, once a key lieutenant with the New York mob, who had been living in Thurston, Ohio, as part of the federal Witness Security relocation program. CNN has learned Gianisi may have been involved in at least two separate criminal incidents in the five years he had been living under the alias Jerry Pedersen, raising renewed questions about government protection of potentially violent states’ witnesses.”

“Shucks, Marshall Karnes, looks like y’all might have some ‘splainin’ to do,” Mulder chuckled as a middle-aged redhead dropped a basket of buffalo wings before him and a small salad at Scully’s place.

“Shut up,” Scully ordered.

“…The case took an unusual turn when a self-proclaimed 15-year-old psychic claimed to have talked to Gianisi days after his car crashed into a rural creek embankment. The minor, whose name has not yet been released by local authorities, reportedly may have been involved in satanic rituals, and had been in counseling over the past years. Authorities would not speculate on a reported possible connection between Gianisi and the girl…”

“But, of course, you will,” Scully sighed at the anchorwoman. “Benjamin, you asshole.”

Mulder smiled disarmingly at the elderly couple at the next table, who’d craned in disapproval at his partner. “It might not have been him.”

Scully laughed harshly. “It’s the only way it could’ve got out this quickly. He’s probably at the Seavers right now, along with Wolf Blitzer and Geraldo Rivera, interrogating that girl.”

“I suppose, if it would make you feel better, we could…” Mulder drawled, his gaze moving from Scully to his wings and back. Scully was on her feet and headed toward the exit before he could complete his thought. He looked in frustration for his waitress, sighed, and tossed a $20 onto the table.

**

“Oh, God,” Scully whispered as Mulder turned onto Jacaranda Lane. It was as if the neighborhood had thrown some kind of macabre block party: Red and blue lights strobed on the street before the Seavers home, and a knot of neighbors clustered beyond the home’s perimeter in pajamas and sweats. Two Cincinnati TV vans were angled into the curb nearby, and their occupants were debating First Amendment rights with the Thurston P.D.

Scully leapt from the car before Mulder could brake at the curb three houses away, and he watched her sprint toward the Seavers’. She stopped short as a gurney emerged from the open garage bay, her arms limply at her sides, and turned toward Mulder, eyes wide.

The first thing that hit Mulder as he approached his partner was the smell of concentrated gasoline exhaust. His eyes darted toward the garage’s brightly lit interior; Lt. Benjamin was on his knee at the tailpipe, which had been extended with a piece of sump hose into the driver’s window of a white Maxima. He looked up with what could have been an expression of shame.

“EMTs worked on her for, shit, must’ve been a half-hour,” he informed Mulder and Scully dully. “Kid probably saw this shit on TV or the Internet. Probably some website out there tells fucked-up teenagers how to off themselves. God, Terry found her – thought he’d heard the car running out here.”

“Was there any note?” Mulder asked, willing himself not to look into the car.

Benjamin looked curiously at him for a moment, then blinked. “Shit, yeah, sorry.” He retrieved an evidence bag from the trunk lid. It held a folded sheet of what looked to be computer paper, a neat inscription scratched across the center above the fold. “It’s addressed to your partner.”

Scully tugged it from the cop’s grasp.

“Where is she?” Terry Seavers appeared in the garage/kitchen doorway. His hair was disheveled and his eyes framed in red. “I asked you to let me know when they took her, damn it. Goddamit, I’m her fah-fah—”

“Terry, Terry, man,” Benjamin jumped forward, throwing his muscular arms around the man. “We’ll take good care of her, OK, buddy? I’ll make sure they do, or they’ll answer to me. You gotta go back inside now, OK?”

Seavers looked with astonishment at Mulder. “I didn’t know what she meant. I thought it would be good if she got away for awhile, even with those freak friends of hers. I didn’t know. I didn’t. She asked, and I just said, sure.”

“What, Mr. Seavers?” Mulder asked gently.

“She asked…” Seavers gulped oxygen hungrily. “She asked if she could use the ca-ca-car.” He laughed hysterically, doubling over as he fell to his knees. Mulder looked to Scully as Benjamin attempted to console the wailing father. His partner was staring off into the night, the bagged letter dangling from her fist.

“Scully?” Mulder asked. “Scully, I need the letter. Please.”

She turned, eyes shining, and thrust the bag at him before stalking back out into the street. Mulder tuned out the police radios and the almost animalistic cries of grief rising from the oil-stained floor behind him.

“ ‘Dear Agent Scully,’” Sharon Seavers had written in an absurdly elegant hand. “‘What’s the opposite of nichtophobia?’ ”

**

Mulder’s voice was quietly strained, filtered through controlled anger. “That girl is dead most likely because of us, Raskov. Our intellectual screwing around allowed her delusion to grow and metastasize. The time for bullshit is over. What did you do? Slip Gianisi something to make him fall asleep at the wheel and crack up? Doctor his car? Finish him off as he was dying behind the wheel?”

Raskov’s face was as serene as ever, with the exception of a troubled cast around his eyes. “Agent Mulder, I accept my responsibility in that child’s death, and I will be called to atone for it, I’m sure. I’d reassure you you had no role in this tragedy, but I doubt it would provide you any consolation. You seem to take on the world’s burden as your own, and I can feel this young girl’s death particularly weighs on you, as if it resonates with some past tragedy in your life.”

Mulder blinked, catching his breath momentarily.

“But if that girl was tortured,” Raskov continued, “it wasn’t by any demons of her own making. There was no delusion beyond that of her own hopelessness.”

“You’re talking in riddles,” Mulder sputtered. “Did you kill Gianisi?”

Peter Raskov closed his eyes momentarily, then stared into Mulder’s. “Had that been the case. God forgive me.”

**

“So what’s worse than murder?” Mulder posed, toying with his burger. It was late, and the diner was populated primarily by teens pushing their parental envelope, second-shifters bitching about managerial veniality and customer cupidity, and socially marginal specimens for whom time and its flight had come to mean little beyond a marker between meals. Their waitress was absorbed in a TV Guide crossword puzzle, and the highway beyond was a barren strip virtually devoid of traffic.

Scully swabbed a fry through a puddle of ketchup. “Looks like for once, you’re out of your depth, Mulder. Which is pretty deep by anyone’s standards.”

“What’s that mean?” Mulder grumbled, leaning back against the red vinyl banquette.

“Just that Raskov may have pulled you into some uncharted waters. At least, for you.”

“Scully, knock off the marine metaphors or I’ll drag you into the men’s room for a porcelain shampoo.”

Scully nibbled her fry. “It’s just that you believe in spontaneous combustion and telekinesis and panspermia. You accept without question the existence of subatomic particles that defy our manmade physical laws and tears in the space-time continuum. But the idea that there’s some kind of design to all of this, that some forces guides the universe—”

“Sister Dana Stigmata,” Mulder sighed. “Am I going to have to leave a buck for you and the busboy?”

“My point precisely. You have a chip about religion about the size of the Vatican on your shoulder, Mulder. You may be willing to go up against jumbo Flukemen or bone-squeezing mutants. You’ve even picked up my feminine protection supplies at the Walgreen’s, for which you have earned my undying affection. But the idea of God scares the living crap out of you. Not that you’re an anomaly – it’s a typical intellectual reaction these days. Look at the debate between the creationists, the evolutionists, and the intelligent design people. Look at the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, anti-Muslim feeling and open verbal warfare directed against Christians in this country. Look at what happened to Raskov after he dared suggest some nexus between science and faith.”

“You wearing that cross a little too tight these days, Scully?” Mulder smirked. “If you’re planning on embracing celibacy, let me know so I can lay in some supplies.”

“Relax, Mulder,” Scully said, selecting another fry. “I’m on your side, whether you know it or not. I’m merely being open to the possibilities. Including the spookier ones. Now eat up, and maybe we can go back to the hotel and try for a few miracles of our own.”

**

“God, don’t you ever clock out?” Benjamin snorted, hands on hips in the open garage doorway. “Well, come on in. Maybe we can kill a bottle and a few dozen brain cells. I know I sure as hell feel like it.”

The cop lived in a small frame ranch house at the end of town. It was clearly his sanctuary: A neatly laid stone border outlined a bright thatch of ivy and begonias, and the lawn looked as though the PGA had paid its maintenance. A candy red ’69 Mustang was centered in the garage bay, it’s hood propped open and a spanner poised atop the engine block.

“Beauty, eh?” Benjamin chuckled. “Snagged it at a state auction a few months back — some meth-dealing asshole used to tool around town in it looking for prospects. Love to drive it up to the state hotel someday and let the bastard see what he’s missing while he’s getting boo-fooed by his prison squeeze.”

“You a hometown boy?” Mulder asked, leaning against a tool-lined workbench. “Must be frustrating to have people like that come in and dirty things up.”

“Well,” Benjamin shrugged, too casually. “Gotta leave it at the office, right?”

“But you couldn’t,” Mulder said gently. “Could you?”

The detective leaned into the Mustang’s interior. “You’re losing me.”

“Karnes, Gianisi’s keeper, told me only a few people knew about ‘Jerry’s’ interactions with some of the townfolk. The prosecutor boils it down to himself, your chief, and the investigating officer in the shooting of Gianisi’s bar ‘buddy.’ That’s you. Frosted you, didn’t it, having the feds drop this sociopathic criminal in your town, in the midst of your friends and neighbors, and you can’t do anything to control him?”

Benjamin emerged from the car, a greasy rag bundled in his hand. “The fuck you talking about?”

“You had no idea Sharon would react the way she did when you called in the media,” Mulder continued. “You must have nearly soiled yourself when she went into her Gianisi ‘act.’ You knew Gianisi’s voice from when you brought him in, before the feds pulled the plug. You had to know she wasn’t acting.”

“Gianisi was dead,” Benjamin grunted. “And it was an accident. Your partner backs that up. Raskov didn’t kill anybody, and I sure as shit–”

“But you did finger him to Raskov, didn’t you? Was it out of sympathy for his loss, or just to get rid of a town nuisance? How do you think Raskov would feel about being used to execute Gianisi? That’s why you let some oddball fed interview Raskov alone. I thought it was kind of weird, but you didn’t want Raskov unconsciously tipping us that he tipped you. I assume it’s also why you tried to lead us off the trail with that theory about Goths and Satanists.”

Benjamin’s rag dropped to the floor, revealing a gleaming .22. It hung at the cop’s side, but the threat was explicit.

“I didn’t mean for her to do…what she did,” Benjamin said gruffly. “Terry and me go back to the high school basketball squad, and I was at Sharon’s baptism. I knew what was happening was fucking impossible, but I knew I had to stop it, too. I was hoping she’d just lock herself up in her room, shut up, leave it alone.”

“Lieutenant,” Mulder said. “Like you said, Raskov couldn’t have killed Gianisi. The worst you’d face is dismissal, maybe even just a suspension.”

“This isn’t Boulder, Colo., Agent,” Benjamin laughed harshly, raising the gun. “My people are straight arrows — except for Raskov and Gianisi, I was, too. Why’d you have to screw it up? What do you gain, except I guess a slug behind the ear?”

“Don’t think so, Detective,” Marshal Karnes said, appearing around the side of the garage. “You just put it down on the floor, and nobody risks creasing the finish on that fine automobile.”

“Drop it, Benjamin!” Scully punctuated, coming up behind the marshal.

“You bastards travel in swarms, don’t you?” he asked Mulder sadly. “Neighborhood’s going to hell fast. Guess I’ll know soon enough, though.”

“Benjamin!” Karnes bellowed as the policeman shoved the barrel under his chin, and, with a shattering blast, showered blood and brain matter over the meth dealer’s former Mustang.

**

Mulder tensed as he entered the interview room. Raskov was in his place at the end of the table, but at his right hand was a fullback of a man with bull shoulders, a mastiff’s jaw, and a clean scalp ringed with salt-and-pepper hair. He might have been a cop or an aging pro wrestler, but for the brown woolen robe and the small gold cross nestled in the folds across his barrel chest.

The large man beamed and half-rose. “Agent Mulder, I presume. I’m delighted to meet you. I’m Father Ignatius with St. Eustace’s Abbey. Brother Peter asked me to accompany him today.”

Mulder, baffled, grasped the muscular fingers briefly and sunk into his chair. “Even if I’d had any reason to read him his Miranda-Escobedo, I think it’s pretty clear he’s entitled to legal rather than divine counsel.”

Father Ignatius chuckled. “Brother Peter’s spoken of your wit and insight. Your conversations have given him great pleasure. No, I’m serving as Peter’s mouthpiece today only in the most literal sense.”

Mulder looked to Raskov. The scientist/monk, eyes serene, ducked his head almost imperceptibly, with a seeming note of apology. Then it hit Mulder.

“No,” he breathed.

Father Ignatius spoke gently. “Brother Peter asked me to help him say goodbye. You see, he decided last night he was ready for the next step in his spiritual journey. He wishes to break completely from the world, to contemplate its mysteries.”

Mulder sat, speechless. As did Raskov.

“Brother Peter wanted me to express the high esteem in which he holds you. He said he’ll miss your talks.”

Mulder composed himself. “Father, I’m not sure a vow of silence will satisfy either the county prosecutor or the U.S. attorney’s office.”

The friar smiled sympathetically. “Brother Peter regrets any inconvenience this may cause you, as well as the deaths of that poor, unhappy young lady and that policeman, but he assures you that he has told you everything you need to understand. Peter told me you’re a man with a strong belief – he and I will pray you gain that understanding.”

“I’m not—” Mulder blurted. “My belief isn’t the same as yours, Father.”

“It’s still belief,” Father Ignatius said, rising with Raskov. He placed a broad, warm palm on Mulder’s shoulder. “And that’s a starting point. Peace be with you, Agent Mulder.”

Mulder stared dumbly at Scully as she took the chair beside him a few minutes after the pair departed. She squeezed his hand.

“He can’t get away with this,” her partner stammered. “We’ll get the U.S. attorney to put some heat on the diocese—”

“Mulder. We have no case. Gianisi died of injuries sustained in what the forensic evidence and the state police accident reconstruction specialist agree was an accident. There was no murder, Benjamin can’t testify about Raskov’s intention, and any effort to prove anything more, well, I don’t see the U.S. attorney being willing to take on the Catholic Church, especially given the current religious environment in this country.”

Mulder looked beseechingly into Scully’s eyes, saw what was there, and sighed. “So what do we do?”

She stood and squeezed his forearm. “Go with God?”

Three months later

“I appreciate you guys helping with the sofa,” Tara beamed, bearing a tray of sandwiches into the living room. “Bill and I had looked at it months ago, and I finally decided it was just silly of me to hold off buying it after, well.”

Scully relieved her sister-in-law of the tray, holding it beyond Mulder’s reach and placing it on the coffee table. She knew Tara had had one of her moments and that her brother’s widow had asked them to come out for their company and comfort rather than for their backs. As they waited at the furniture warehouse dock, Mulder and Scully had both noticed the “Free Delivery Anywhere in the D.C./Georgetown Area” placard.

“I just put Clara down for her nap,” Tara informed them as she scattered a bag of Lay’s in a bowl before the agents. She rubbed her sweatshirt in mock pain. “Just like her Daddy – always needs a siesta after supper.” She winced, and her smile wavered as her eyes filled. “Oh, Jeez. I’m sorry, guys.”

“Tara,” Scully murmured, jumping from the new couch and taking Tara into her arms. Mulder awkwardly but unhesitantly pulled the pair into an embrace. After a half-minute, Tara laughed weakly and pushed them away.

“Probably my little monthly visitor come to call,” she apologized, brushing a tear away. “Dig in, Dana, Fox. I’ll be right back.”

“She still seeing the counselor?” Mulder asked as she disappeared into the downstairs bathroom. “I’m not sure she’s making any progress.”

Scully dropped beside him on the sofa, resting her head on his arm. “The way Bill died…I think it made it all more random, more senseless for her. And while Clara has helped Tara focus her attention and affections, it’s also a reminder of what she’s lost. Sometimes, I’ll look into Clara’s eyes and see a little bit of Bill…” She fell silent, and after a second, Mulder felt her shoulders shake. He pulled her closer, combed her hair with his fingers.

Then Mulder froze, an icy finger jabbing at his gut. He choked the unspeakable notion back, forcing his fingers mechanically through Scully’s locks.

Thurston Community Hospital

Thurston, Ohio

Mulder looked into the dozens of eyes before him – some open and staring fearfully around a new universe, some still squeezed shut against the light. Their faces were uncomprehending, nearly alien, their fingers curled, untrained, and semi-formed. He searched the rows of tiny beings, fixing finally on the nameplate neatly lettered “Baby Boy Gleeson.” Scully leaned, arms crossed, against the glass of the viewing window, studying her partner as Mulder studied the recently emerged life before him.

“Mulder, what are we doing here?” Scully challenged. “You still believe Raskov killed Gianisi?”

Mulder continued to stare through the window. “I think he did much worse.”

“Worse?” Scully’s brow creased with concern. “Mulder, what are you thinking? Every time I’ve mentioned this case over the last four months, you’ve fallen into some kind of mumbling, pensive trance. What’s bothering you? Tell me – maybe I can help.”

Mulder turned to his lifemate with a grim smile. “I hope you’ll feel that way when I’m done. I could be totally off, but if I’m right, you may wish I’d never told you.”

Scully fell silent, searching his face. “Tell me,” she finally invited.

“All right,” he sighed. “Why do you think Raskov joined the brotherhood after Gianisi disappeared?”

“I had assumed he was atoning for what he’d done to Gianisi. Whatever that might have been.”

“When I asked him if he harbored any remorse for harming another human being, Raskov’s reaction was adamant. Raskov felt no regret. Or, maybe, he felt he hadn’t harmed Gianisi. But if either possibility were true, then we still have to explain what he apparently was repenting for.”

“What could be worse than murder?”

An obstetric nurse passed, beaming, and Mulder waited, nodding back. “Raskov was a scientist who’d rediscovered his faith in the face of tragedy. He was a decent, gentle man who went to great lengths to track down Gianisi. Why, if not to kill him?

“You remember Raskov’s theories about consciousness? That human memory and sentience are rooted in genetics? That somewhere in the genetic code is the key to the soul? Something, some force, God, cosmic energy, something turns on our consciousness, causes it to express itself.”

Scully breathed, unconsciously fingering the cross about her neck. “Frankly, Mulder, I suspect his theories reflected a grief-stricken search for answers he could accept rather than objective insight. Raskov was a scientist at heart: He probably needed an identifiable rationale to believe in a divine destiny, not just fragile faith.”

“But I think he may have been right,” Mulder said quietly. “I think Raskov not only discovered the truth, but put it into practice.”

Scully was mute for a second. “What do you mean, Mulder?” she asked, reluctantly, her face draining of color.

“I believe that somewhere in his research into the human genome, Raskov identified the gene, the chromosomal strand, whatever, that controls consciousness, the spark of human life. My guess is that that’s why he so abruptly abandoned his work – Raskov knew that what he’d discovered was earthshaking. To some, it would be the scientific proof of everything religion holds to be divinely endowed, proof of an intelligent design at the most fundamental level of human existence.

“But for others, I suspect, Raskov’s discovery would be devastating – a debunking of everything every religion on Earth holds sacred. God would be dead for millions who may only have that faith to hold onto. Can you imagine the consequences? Suicide, abandonment of moral and ethical prerogatives, the death of hope for a majority of the world’s population? We’re already seeing a second Inquisition, Scully, except instead of the Church putting Science on trial, Science is putting Faith on trial. A lot of people would love to destroy that faith, and my guess is a lot of people don’t have the Faith to stand up to this kind of trial, even if Raskov’s discovery essentially proves nothing except the physical source of consciousness.

“And think about this, Scully. If consciousness is hardwired into our DNA, a genetic switch that can be turned on at our conception, then what happens when we die? What scientist, what biotech conglomerate wouldn’t dream of unlocking immortality, turning the switch back on after it’s been turned off? You want to unlock that Pandora’s box?”

“My God,” Scully whispered, laughing bitterly at the apocalyptic irony of her remark. “I pray—, I hope you’re wrong. What if Raskov changed his mind? What if others – people we know – lucked onto what he was working on?” She shook her head vigorously before he could venture an answer, and stumbled to a nearby bench. Mulder dropped beside her, his hand brushing hers on the cushion. Scully looked up, eyes wide, as if yet another horror had emerged on the horizon. “What did you mean, Raskov put his theories into practice?”

Mulder leaned back, resting his head against the stark white hospital wall. “After his family’s death, Raskov made a study of Gianisi – his childhood growing up in a mob family, the indications of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member, the environment of violence and crime in which Gianisi was raised. Raskov was intrigued by the eternal debate over genetics vs. environment – nature vs. nurture. What makes us a saint or a monster?

“Consider Raskov’s spiritual rebirth, his turning to faith in the face of grief. After interviewing him for hours, I don’t believe cold, premeditated vengeance was what he was after. At least, not in the conventional sense.”

Scully closed her eyes. “What other sense is there?”

“Raskov and I talked about second chances – making amends, doing penance, recapturing missed opportunities. And here was one of the world’s top molecular biologists, who, if I’m right, had discovered the genetic key to human consciousness.”

Scully waited for her partner to continue, then her eyes popped open in realization. “No. That’s… No, Mulder. God, no.”

“Remember the hair cuttings on Gianisi’s shirt collar? Why would the killer or anyone else take a lock of Gianisi’s hair? Scully, think about the place where Gianisi ‘told’ Tracy he was being kept. Inky darkness, little sound except for the rhythmic throbbing of some kind of engine. Suspended in some kind of liquid. Unable to move, seemingly trapped inside his own body.”

Scully merely stared at Mulder.

“Every human hair holds the stuff of our genetic makeup. Raskov knew where to look, and had the tools to do what he needed. On one of his stalking expeditions, he’d noticed the nice young expectant parents living next door to Gianisi in the middle of a small-town Eden. Raskov told me he’d wanted Gianisi to know what it was like to be a child — full of innocence, his life ahead of him. I thought he was talking about his son, but he meant it literally.”

“How did he…. How could he?” Scully’s voice was tinged with horror. She could not look at the maternity window across the corridor.

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“Sharon was disillusioned, but not delusional, Scully. The genetic link with her cousin, and the circumstances of Gianisi’s ‘captivity’ probably are why Sharon, who already possessed rudimentary psychic abilities, was ‘lucky’ enough to pick up Gianisi’s telepathic signal. My guess is Raskov waited until Mr. Gleeson was away on a business trip, doctored Mrs. Gleeson’s juice, her medication, whatever, and inoculated her in her sleep with Gianisi’s specially treated genetic material. She probably woke up with nothing more than a headache, which she’d likely have attributed to her pregnancy.

“Raskov didn’t want to kill Gianisi. He’d moved beyond that. He wanted to give his family’s killer a second chance. To become the human being he couldn’t have become in this one. But of course Raskov couldn’t have predicted how Gianisi’s newly transplanted consciousness might express itself. That all of Gianisi’s memories, thoughts, and fears might be programmed into that same chromosomal segment.”

Scully shuddered. Her finger pointed across the corridor.

“Do you think he, you know…?”

Mulder squeezed her hand. “I think somehow the development of the fetus’s own genetics somehow shut off Gianisi’s consciousness. I think that last vestige of Donald Gianisi is gone. Or at least gone as we know it.”

Scully grasped Mulder’s hand, squeezed hard. “It’s too monstrous to even contemplate.”

Mulder stood, looking down at his partner. “Ultimately, I think Raskov realized that. He didn’t join that abbey to hide or to seek sanctuary. Think, Scully – you’re Catholic. What sin could possibly merit a potential lifetime of penance? I think even Raskov at one time could’ve justified killing the vicious animal who’d helped wipe out his family. But he’d tinkered with the human soul. He’d played God.”

**

“Yes?” Father McCue inquired. After the confessional door slid shut, all he’d heard was low, rhythmic breathing. All he could see beyond the screen was the shadow of what appeared to be a woman. “Would you like to confess?”

The breathing stopped, then continued.

“I can promise you that nothing that is said within this confessional can be shared outside it,” Father McCue assured her. “Your secrets will remain mine. And I can tell you, there isn’t anything I haven’t heard in my years in this parish, and there’s little Our Lord cannot forgive.”

The figure shifted, sighed.

The priest chuckled uneasily. “C’mon. I’ve heard it all.”

The shadow on the other side of the screen hunched, and he was certain he heard a stifled sob. The sound of the door sliding open was followed by light, heeled footsteps echoing though the sanctuary.

Father McCue quickly emerged from the confessional, peering into the dim recesses of his church. The petite figure was silhouetted briefly as one of the two huge brass doors pushed open. He caught a brief flash of red hair, and then she was gone.

“Dana?” he whispered.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

3:21 p.m.

Mulder could tell he was a hardcase the moment the mobster turned from the bar. It was a cheap, outdated working men’s tavern in the industrial part of the borough, and he was a cheap, old-school thug, an enforcer who from all reports liked his job too much.

But he wasn’t a stupid thug. He’d slipped a couple of major indictments and had managed to escape doing any really hard time. And the eyes within the hard, cold face that turned to Mulder glinted with a feral, calculating intelligence.

“Yeah,” Nicholas Regali murmured, eyeing the agent with unconcealed contempt. He smiled. “Just let you out of Quantico, kid? Grab a stool; I’ll buy you a Shirley Temple.”

Mulder returned the smile. “Forgot it was Clichéd Gangster Dialogue Week on Turner Movie Classics. What gave me away, the suit?”

“Wind shifted, and I smelled a fed. You got business with me, Kid? Cause we’re burning daylight here, and you probably don’t want to be here when the regular crowds get in.”

“OK,” Mulder nodded, leaning on the scarred wood. “Name Luke Doggett mean anything to you?”

Regali answered with a sip of his whisky.

“All right. How about Bob Harvey?”

Another sip. Mulder’s heart quickened. Hardcases like Regali never caught on that nonchalance was as good a tip-off as frantic denial. Mulder perched on the next stool, the smile still on his face.

“I mean, you and Harvey did a stretch together in ’88, right?”

The shoulders twitched in a distracted shrug. “OK, Harvey, yeah. Creep, a perv — what we called a short-eyes in the joint. Liked the kids. Piece of human puke. Didn’t have much reason or stomach to hang out with old Bob, that’s what you mean.”

“You know Harvey died in a car crash a few years back?”

The corner of Regali’s lip twitched. “Tragic.”

“Say there was this guy — a ‘businessman’ of sorts,” Mulder began, low and casual. “Say this businessman, in the course of doing business, has to associate with any number of thugs, sickos, perverts on the fringe of his business. Like Bob Harvey, for example. And say, one day, Bob Harvey sees a little boy riding a bike on the street, and he just can’t stand it. He grabs the boy. So, Harvey takes the boy back to his place, only he doesn’t tell the businessman what he’s doing. So, the businessman walks in on him. You see what I’m saying, Regali? The boy sees the businessman’s face. That would be a problem, wouldn’t it? Well… every problem has a solution, right?”

“Interesting story — might sell it to HBO, you goose it up a little.” Regali tossed back the last of his drink.

“The day Luke disappeared, you gassed up your car two miles from his house. We can put Harvey in the area that day, too. And we can link up your mutual business interests.”

“And Jack Nicholson was in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon.” Regali swiveled off his stool. “What’s not so hot about your story is what’s missing. Any kind of hard evidence to make a judge or jury buy it. They got writers’ courses down at the community college – you ought to look into that.”

The mobster was halfway to the door when a pair of men pushed away from their table. Regali tensed, hand twitching toward his back. Two guns came up, and the hand dropped to his side.

“We weren’t done talking yet,” Mulder complained, yanking Regali’s arms behind his back. “You haven’t even met my friends. Nick, meet Special Agent Vollmer and Detective First Grade John Doggett, NYPD.”

The hoodlum’s eyes narrowed as he stared into the policeman’s cold, craggy face. Anger, relief, a profound sadness were mingled in the father’s eyes.

“Detective Doggett wanted to come here alone,” Mulder murmured grimly, “but I convinced him it probably wasn’t safe. You think I was right?”

Castle Rock, Maine

20 years later

11:52 p.m.

The knock came as something of a surprise to Peter Raskov, and yet it was long overdue.

Raskov had left St. Eustace nearly 15 years before: He’d found his answers, or at least recognized that some questions would never be answered. Raskov had kept up with the industry via the abbey’s Internet service and journals forwarded by a former colleague, and after five years, he reactivated his now-rusty voice in front of a class at a private university. No one, not even the curious Mr. Mulder, had seemed inclined to investigate his previous transgressions, and his Nobel Prize still carried some cache in some circles of academia.

The one remnant of Raskov’s monastic life was the small brick cottage he’d rented off-campus. Silence outside the classroom had become a custom rather than a spiritual calling, and, as a result, he had few friends and, of course, no family.

So when the knock echoed through his small living room, Raskov started, but turned expectantly. And with a certain degree of guilty anticipation.

The boy would be 20 now, grown to genetic fruition, the product ideally of the suburban environment in which he’d been nurtured. If the boy had found Raskov, made the pilgrimage to his doorstep, it was an occasion that would rewrite every genetic and liturgical theory about human consciousness and the soul. That would never happen, and Raskov was glad of it.

The scientist’s withered fingers started toward the deadbolt, but he stopped to peer through the tiny lens set into the thick wood door.

A small, sad smile touched Raskov’s lips. The young man had his mother’s jawline, his father’s thick brown hair and aquiline nose. The eyes, the eyes were something else. Yes, they were blue, like his mother’s, but they had a familiar, feral cast, and shifted with predatory wariness.

Raskov nodded, unconsciously. For a moment, the scientist in him regretted that this momentous discovery, this cosmic moment, would be lost to a world in need even of dark wonder. But it wasn’t to be: Raskov made out in the dusk what the boy was gripping at his side, and understood for whom it was intended.

Without hesitation, Raskov turned the bolt…

Crenshaw Mansion

Title: Crenshaw Mansion

Author: Vickie Moseley (teaser and story concept by Sally Bahnsen)

Summary: Investigating the disappearance of a Forestry employee, Mulder and

Scully stumble on a horrible secret that almost separates them forever.

Rating: clean enough for everyone

Written for Virtual Season 12

Archives: two weeks exclusive with VS 12, after that, yes

Disclaimer: I don’t own the Mansion, the state bought it a couple of years ago.

I don’t own Mulder and Scully, Carter keeps them chained in his attic. I do pay

taxes in this state, so I guess I’m part owner of Ferne Clyffe State Park (yes

that is the correct spelling) and as pretty as that place is, I’ll be happy with

that. No copyright infringement intended.

Dedicated: To Sally, for helping me hammer all this out. I love ya! Kisses

for Mary for lightning fast beta while packing for Media West. Big Chocolate

Mulders for Lisa, for finding shackles and carriages with tops. And for the

rest of the VSX crew, Donnaj, T, Martin — you guys keep me sane.

Author’s notes at the end.

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Crenshaw Mansion

Teaser

It stood like a lone citadel high on a hill overlooking a patchwork quilt of

fields surrounding the small township of Gallatin County.

Tom Coleman steered the Forestry pick-up onto the access road leading to

Crenshaw Mansion, the back tires kicking up a spray of gravel as they fought for

traction on the steep driveway. “The sooner they get this place sealed, the

better.” He mumbled to himself.

Reaching the area proposed by local government for the new parking lot, he

veered to the right, coming to a stop outside the three-story building. A shiver

ran down his spine. Ever since he was a kid this place had given him the creeps.

Tall tales of ghosts and demons haunting the house had fed his vivid childish

imagination, filling his dreams with frightening images of giant black

poltergeists roaming the halls, their chain-linked feet scraping on wooden

floorboards as they cried for freedom. When his cell phone rang he jumped in

fright and threw himself against the driver’s door before realizing the only

danger he was likely to experience was from his girlfriend Beckie if he didn’t

make it home in time for dinner.

He flipped open his cell phone, feeling somewhat foolish at his over reaction.

“Hi, hon. One hour. I promise.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that before.” He could hear the smile in her voice, but

knew better than to be fooled into complacency by her easy going manner. Rebecca

Murphy’s gentle lilt could shift to that of a raving banshee in a matter of

seconds if pushed the wrong way. But Tom had a knack for heading her off at the

pass. She was beautiful when she was angry. Beautiful when smiling, asleep,

crying, laughing, and he was counting the days before he would make her his

wife.

“I swear, Beck, this is my last stop. I just gotta sign off at the office and

then I’ll be home. Get the fire started and the wine cooled, I’m practically on

my way.”

“You better be.”

“I promise. Now, if you’ll stop yacking at me, I’ll be a lot quicker. See you

soon, I love you.”

“Love you, too. Be careful.”

“Always.”

He disconnected with a loopy grin plastered on his face. With some luck he’d

have the job finished within ten minutes and be home well inside the hour he’d

promised.

Pacing out the eastern perimeter, Tom checked his watch and smiled to himself.

He’d make it with time to spare, might even have time to stop on the way home

and surprise Beckie with a bunch of flowers. A small gesture to ease ruffled

feathers caused by too many late night budget and planning meetings to get the

proposed parking lot underway.

A sudden bolt of lightening split the early evening sky in two, followed

immediately by a loud clap of thunder. Tom peered at the dark clouds rolling in

from the north. If he didn’t get moving he was going to end up with a wet ass.

He pulled his jacket tighter around his body and lifted the collar to protect

his ears and neck from the squalling wind. He was within 20 or 30 yards of

finishing up when the first raindrops landed on his head. It was only seconds

before the heavens opened up dumping gallons of torrential rain from above.

Tom made a run for it. His pick-up was parked on the western side of the

building; he’d be soaked through before he could make it even half way there.

Sprinting hard, he took the steps leading to the old mansion two at a time

seeking shelter on the porch. The wind picked up, whipping his hair and tugging

at this jacket. Rain pelted underneath the eaves, giant drops creating a

horizontal sheet of water drumming against the front of the house and soaking

Tom to his skin. In desperation he grabbed at the door handle giving it an

experimental tug. To his surprise the door swung open, its creaking hinges

barely audible over the torrent of rain. He stepped through to the foyer,

slamming the door shut behind him and leaned against the solid oak, feeling it

rattling against his body as he fought to catch his breath.

Outside the storm raged sending another bolt of lightening arcing across the

sky, its brief illumination giving Tom a chance to check out his surroundings.

The foyer was a short rectangular shape, a small hallway leading to the back of

the house. Tom’s immediate thought was that the house seemed to be split in two

by some kind of time warp. On the left he saw a door and a staircase leading to

an upper level, its design every bit in keeping with architecture of the late

1800s. However, in stark contrast to the period style setting of left, the right

side was every bit as modern as the left was old. Tom could just make out a

single door opposite the staircase. But what really caught his attention was

the glow of light coming from the second floor.

That didn’t seem right. As far as he knew no one had lived in the old Crenshaw

mansion for years. It had become a popular tourist attraction both with locals

and visitors, hence the need for a new improved parking lot.

Slowly, he moved towards the staircase.

“Hello? Is anyone up there?” Apart from the howl of the wind he was greeted

with silence.

“Hello!” He tried again, this time cautiously ascending the stairs one at a

time. Still there was no answer. “My name is Tom Coleman. I’m a Ranger with the

Forestry Service. Is anyone up there?”

Each step upwards emitted a long creak of protest from the stairs. Tom had never

been inside the house and quite frankly he was beginning to wish he wasn’t there

now. The hair on the back of his neck tingled and he could feel his heart

hammering against his chest.

When he finally reached the second floor he was greeted with a scene reminiscent

of an old western movie. It was as if he’d been transported back in time a

hundred and fifty years. The light that had been visible from the foyer was not

electric, but instead originated from a series of candelabras attached to the

walls on both sides of the hallway. The flames flickered almost to extinction

then flared to life again, as a gust of wind swept down the hallway.

“Hello! Is anyone there?” Tom made his way tentatively along the second floor,

another gust of wind blew through an open window at the end of the hallway

momentarily dousing the flames to almost nothing. Tom moved towards the window

intending to close it before the candles were snuffed out completely. He was

only a few feet from the window when he heard a noise behind him. Turning, his

eyes widened with shock and a scream caught in the back of his throat as a

wooden bat connected with his head. Tom slumped to the ground, blood oozing from

a cut just behind his left ear.

Act I Scene 1

The sun was shining brightly in the cloudless blue sky. If Mulder closed his

eyes, feeling the hot sun on his face, he could almost envision a summer’s day.

A strong gust of wind brought a flurry of dried oak leaves to swirl near his

face and brought him back to reality. It was still spring, even in far Southern

Illinois. The temperature was a ‘balmy’ 40 degrees and he shuddered inside his

charcoal suit coat when the gust brought that down closer to 20.

The house before him was impressive in the bright sunlight. It was painted red

and he wondered if it had always been red, even when first built. It gave off a

quality of opulence that was missing from the small towns and farm fields of

Gallatin County. A three-story manse, set on the very top of one of the tallest

hills, made for a curiosity, if not a tourist site. When the history of the

house was told, it held a natural, as well as unnatural, attraction.

Mulder fumbled in the pocket of his suit jacket and withdrew the brochure he’d

found at a rest stop on Interstate 24 on his way up from the Paducah, KY

airport. “Slave House”, the cover screamed in the old B movie poster font of

Vincent Price and Ed Wood features. The house before him was prominently

featured on the cover as well as a short summary. Inside, pictures of the

house, each floor, but particularly the third floor, spelled out the history of

the mansion. Owned by one John Crenshaw before and during the Civil War, the

house was once a stop on the reverse ‘Underground Railway’. Instead of helping

slaves escape their captors and find freedom in the northern states, this house

was a collecting station for runaways who were then returned to their captivity

in the south. Mulder was just beginning to read when his cell phone trilled in

his pocket. He took note of the ring tone, ‘Walking in Memphis’ and smiled.

“Hey Scully,” he said affably as he answered. “How goes the autopsy?”

“That’s why I’m calling. I may be a while. When does my plane leave?”

He glanced at his watch. “2:45. The best Kim could do was to get you on a

flight into Evansville, Indiana, but it’s not a far drive. We end up with two

rental cars that way.”

“Mulder, why don’t you pick me up? Or can’t you tear yourself away from the

ghosts in the attic?” she teased lightly.

“Yeah, I could, you’re right. But I did want to look around a bit. Wait till

you see this place, Scully. It’s got a real Norman Bates feel to it,” he joked

in return.

“Just remember, we’re there to find a missing Forestry Service employee, not

find the ghosts of old slaves and slave owners,” she reminded him.

“I remember,” he said. “I left your ticket on the desk, under the blotter.

Give me a call when you get to the airport and I’ll pick you up.”

“You better be there, Mulder. If I end up stranded in Evansville, Indiana, for

any length of time, you will pay and pay dearly,” she warned.

The sound of tires on the gravel drive alerted Mulder to an approaching vehicle.

“I gotta run, Scully. I think the locals just arrived.”

“Be nice, Mulder,” she warned.

“I’m always nice,” he shot back with a grin he knew she knew he was wearing.

“OK, be _nicer_ than usual,” she responded and his grin grew to encompass his

whole face.

“Just hurry, Scully. It’s cold here without you.” Before she had a chance to

respond, or before either of them was forced to forego endearments because of

their very public locations, he disconnected the line. A US Department of

Interior Forestry Service truck pulled into the parking area and stopped next to

his rented Ford. Mulder stood by the white gate to the mansion and watched the

uniformed gentleman get out of the truck and come toward him.

“Folk Mulder?” called out the tall man, early 50s with a fringe of graying hair

sticking out under his dark green USFS cap.

“Fox, actually. Fox Mulder,” the agent corrected.

“Ah,” the man said with no apparent embarrassment. “Went to school with a guy

named Folk. No ‘Fox’, though,” he chuckled and held out his hand in greeting.

“Bob Miller, Forestry. Sure am glad you decided to make the trip.”

Mulder shook Miller’s hand firmly. “When Interior calls, the FBI really doesn’t

have much choice, does it?”

Miller snorted and looked away. “That’s what I thought, till I talked to those

deadheads up in Springfield. Seems none of the regional offices wanted to claim

jurisdiction,” he said around a stream of tobacco juice that he managed to spit

a few feet from Mulder’s shoes.

“Well, I’m here now and my partner will be joining us as soon as she can get

away from DC. Why don’t you fill me in on the disappearance.”

“Sure. Let’s go on up to the porch,” Miller said and opened the gate, walking

fast. Mulder had little trouble catching up.

“House has been in private ownership since it was built. Crenshaw, that’s John

Crenshaw, built it back in the 1830s. He made his money in the salt fields,

just down by the river. But his real money, folks believe, came from returning

escaped slaves. ‘Course, there are no records of that, but that’s not unusual,

since Illinois joined the Union as a free state in 1818. Returning escaped

slaves was criminal activity in this state, even before the Civil War. Didn’t

mean it wasn’t lucrative, o’ course.”

They were standing on the front porch of the mansion. It ran the length of the

front of the building and reached above them to the second floor. “Slaves were

reportedly kept in the third floor attic, brought in during the night, held for

a while and then taken back across the river. Landings just a few miles to the

south.”

“And no one reported it?” Mulder asked with a smirk.

Miller returned the look. “Well, those were different times, I tell ya. But

no, no one reported him. Since he was a fairly respected businessman, most

people turned a blind eye. But there were some, mostly the abolitionist types,

who would have gladly handed him over to the authorities. Still, there were

never any charges. ‘Course, he did have some connections.”

“Political, I take it,” Mulder interjected.

Miller smiled broadly. “Why, Abe Lincoln himself was supposed to have stopped

right here and had dinner with the local party when he was making the run for

the White House.”

“I bet that’s a story that got around.”

“Not really. I think the Lincoln folks would just as soon hide that one under a

rug,” Miller smirked.

Hearing its sordid past, the wood frame and clapboard structure took on an

ominous feel. “The most recent owners lived here on the first floor and opened

the rest of the house up as a museum and tourist attraction. Did real well for

many years, since we’re right on US Route 45, the old main south road from

Chicago. But the new Interstates, 24 and 64, pretty much changed all that. And

the couple who owned it were getting up in years, were having trouble with the

maintenance of the place and got the state to buy it and make a ‘historic

site’.”

“How did Forestry get involved?” Mulder asked, peering into one of the first

floor windows. There was nothing but gloom on the other side of the glass.

“This land is all part of the Shawnee National Forest,” Miller explained, making

a wide sweep of the surrounding hills with his hand. “We run fire towers, do

maintenance work on the roads. State asked us to look at that old parking lot

out there and see if we could chip in for a new paved lot. We do that sort of

thing from time to time, when the budget allows.”

“So we sent Tom, that’s Tom Coleman, over to check out the parking lot. Tom’s a

civil engineer, used to do highway work. Can look at a patch of dirt and tell

you exactly how much concrete it’ll take to cover it. Anyways, a storm came up,

as does in these parts, and we’re guessin’ Tom ran up on the porch. He didn’t

have a key, but when we came to look for him, the front door was wide open. We

found his footsteps, it was pretty muddy that day, all the way up the stairs to

the second floor. Then, they just disappear.”

“Tell me a little about Tom?” Mulder asked.

Miller’s eyes narrowed but he nodded in compliance. “Tom’s a good worker, top

notch. Got his engineering degree from Southern Illinois University, over in

Carbondale. He’s been with the Service now five years. He’s the most reliable

man on my crew, which is why I sent him over by himself to do this work. That,

plus, as I said, he used to do road work with IDOT in the summers when he was in

college.”

“IDOT?”

“Illinois Department of Transportation. He knows his stuff.”

“He’d have no reason to ‘just up and disappear’, then,” Mulder concluded.

“No sir.” Catching Mulder’s glance toward the windows, Miller shook his head.

“Tom just bought a house in Marion. I think he was getting ready to propose to

his girlfriend. She lives in Harrisburg — right shook up about him missing.”

Mulder felt a pang of guilt for pressing. He knew how ‘shook up’ someone’s

disappearance could make a person. Almost a decade had passed since Scully’s

disappearance and it still haunted his dreams. He was grateful that he could

wake up and pull her into his arms.

“Anyway, when he didn’t show up back at the office, me and another member of the

crew came over. Figured he had engine trouble with the truck. We found the

truck right here in the parking lot, and no sign of Tom. We called the Sheriff

and decided to see if we couldn’t find him around somewhere. The front door was

still open, so we went inside. Looked all over the place, just found the

footsteps. But . . .” The man hesitated and looked uncomfortable, failing to

meet Mulder’s questioning gaze.

“But what, Mr. Miller?” the agent prodded.

“Well, I don’t go in for all that spookster nonsense, mind ya. Oh, it’s great

for the tourists and all, but my feet are planted firmly on ole’ Terra Firma, if

you get my drift.”

“Sure, I understand,” Mulder consoled.

“But as we were looking on the second floor, just as we passed the stairs going

up to the third, well, damnedest thing . . .”

“Go on,” Mulder prodded.

“I swear I heard Tom’s voice. He was calling to me. But we’d searched the

third floor, the Sheriff had gone up there, too. There was nothing there.”

Miller took a deep breath. “I’ve lived in these parts all my life. I knew the

people who used to own this place, my younger brother went to high school with

their son. I’ve spent many a fall afternoon with my dogs hunting squirrel right

over there,” he pointed to the stand of trees just down the hillside. “I never

thought anything about all the stories. But after this, I think I might have

changed my mind.”

Mulder gave him a confused look.

“Agent Mulder, I will deny I said this to my dying day, but I’ll tell you. I’m

beginning to think this place really is haunted.”

Act I scene 2

“Maybe we better take a look inside,” Mulder suggested, trying to shake off the

chill that had crawled up his back at Miller’s comments.

“Sure thing. Got the key right here,” Miller said and produced a key on its own

steel ring. The lock was well worn and the door swung open with an almost

silent moan. Mulder peered into the gloom from the doorway, letting his eyes

adjust to the lights. He absently pulled a small maglight from his pocket,

Miller produced a larger flashlight from the pocket of his jacket and they both

proceeded into the house.

There was a light switch by the door. Mulder flipped it once, to no avail.

“Electric’s been off since the old owners left,” Miller explained.

Mulder shined his beam around the room, checking the door. “Not much security,”

he muttered.

“Folks around these parts are generally honest. Get a few trouble makers, but

nobody stupid enough to try and steal something outta a house like this.”

“Maybe they should hire ghosts to guard houses in the big city,” Mulder said

with a smirk. Miller answered with a nervous chuckle. He flashed the light

along the right hand wall and let it rest on a door in the center, a rather

modern looking door.

“Entrance to the private residence,” Miller explained.

“The owners lived here?” Mulder asked. “Did they know about the . . . ?”

“Ghosts? Sure! The lady of the house believed, the man more or less said it

was hogwash, to everyone round these parts at least. But they made a good

livin’ on the tourist trade comin’ through. And to be honest, they saved this

old place. Not that many people want a house this big, with this much past

history. If the previous owners hadn’t lived here and made it a tourist

attraction, chances are we’d be standing in an open field right now.”

Miller pulled out another key ring and found another key, unlocking the private

residence. “They updated the place a few years back,” he told Mulder as they

walked through the rooms. A living room with a fireplace and recently laid

berber carpet greeted them just inside the door. Through an archway they found

a modern kitchen with black enamel appliances and a modern island with faux

stone countertop. There were two bedrooms, a dining room and two baths in an

addition on the back of the house. The two men found nothing out of the

ordinary.

Mulder was feeling just a little foolish now that they’d gone through what

appeared to be a remodeled, but stylish, old house. “Let’s take a look at the

rest of the place,” he said decisively.

The other rooms downstairs had obviously been used for storage. The room at the

back of the house sported a large four-poster bed and nothing else. “This is

supposed to be the room Mr. Lincoln stayed in when he visited,” Miller

explained.

A thick layer of dust covered the floors, revealing no footprints. Mulder

noticed the absence of closets. “No closets? No place to hide?”

“Didn’t have ’em back then. People used ‘wardrobes’ and dressers, highboys and

the like. There’s some of ’em upstairs on the second floor, in the ‘restored’

rooms.”

“Then let’s head up stairs,” Mulder said easily.

The steps were old and creaked in several places as they made their way to the

second story of the house. In the open hallway, Mulder first encountered a low

display case, exhibiting a number of small bottles and boxes with a few pieces

of silver, tarnished with age. Hand printed signs gave the names of the

utensils and what the bottles held, each dated. “There are some old pieces in

this,” Mulder commented. Miller nodded.

The rooms on the second floor held more furnishings but these were by no means

modern. A formal parlor was set with china that looked very old to Mulder.

There was an old wardrobe, as Miller had described, in one room and Mulder

searched it for signs of anything amiss. Each room showed markings on the floor

where the search teams had already gone through.

Mulder stood in the hallway once again, scratching his head. “What’s that?” he

asked, pointing to a small door to the left of the staircase they’d used to come

up from the first floor.

“The attic,” Miller said solemnly. “Third floor. We checked that too.”

“Do you mind if I take a look?” Mulder asked but had already started toward the

door. A large padlock hung from a hasp and he waited patiently while Miller

produced the correct key.

“Knock yourself out,” Miller said, waving the agent to go up the steps before

him.

The stairwell was dark and musty smelling. A few of the boards seemed soft and

Mulder stepped carefully over them, making his ascent rather awkward. Miller

came behind him, mimicking his actions. When they finally made it to the third

floor, Mulder wasn’t sure what to expect. What he found was an empty attic,

with small cubicles running each long side of the house. Two windows, opposite

each other, broken out and wind howling through them, gave the only light to the

room.

“I thought you said they didn’t have closets,” Mulder commented as he flashed

his maglight into one of the cubicles.

“Those aren’t closets. They’re ‘quarters’,” Miller said with a dour expression.

In each cubicle, three slats of wood created shelves, approximately three feet

across and not more than five feet long. At the back wall, huge iron rings were

imbedded in the thick wood wall. A few of the rings still had heavy iron chains

attached.

“This is where they kept the poor bastards,” Miller said quietly.

Mulder reached out and hefted one of the chains. It was heavy enough to keep a

man from moving much. A thought occurred to him and he hurriedly searched every

cubicle. Miller stood near the stairs, watching the agent search.

“We looked up here, Agent Mulder. Believe me, we searched the whole structure.”

“Basement?” Mulder asked anxiously.

“Root cellar,” Miller corrected. “We had the dogs through too,” he added,

pointing to a paw print in the dust and dirt on the floor. “Nothing.”

“May I see the root cellar?”

“Sure. You done up here?” Miller asked.

“Yeah. I think so,” Mulder admitted reluctantly.

Miller led the way down the steps, Mulder following only after taking a long

look around the attic. The place felt cold, but with the broken windows, he

brushed it off as being the wind blowing through the place. Scully’s rubbing

off on you, he mused and that thought made him smile. When had he stopped

thinking first of the paranormal and instead trying to come up with a rational

explanation? He couldn’t wait to tell her when he picked her up at the airport.

Which meant he had better check the root cellar and leave soon to make it in

time.

Miller locked the door with the padlock when they reached the second floor.

“Kids like to scare each other, try stayin’ the night up here. Set a fire one

night, almost burned the place down. Lucky thing, we had a rainstorm blow

through, rain put out the fire. Best to keep the place locked and out of

temptation’s path.”

Miller’s cell phone chirped and he patted down his pockets until he located the

noisy object. He spoke into the receiver, squinting and moving around. “Can’t

hear ya, ah hell,” he said, finally hurrying down the steps to find a better

spot for reception.

Mulder started to follow, but didn’t want to intrude on the man’s conversation.

He was just starting down the steps when he heard something. At first he was

certain it was the wind howling through the open windows in the attic above, but

it had a different quality, one that raised the hairs on the back of his neck.

He heard it a second time and this time it was accompanied by a scraping sound,

like one of the heavy chains being dragged across wood.

He was able to hone in on the sound the second time he heard it. It was coming

from the attic. He stepped quickly over to the door that Miller had just

locked. He heard the sound again, much closer.

“Miller!” he yelled. “Mr. Miller, I need the key to the attic!” Mulder called

down, hoping the man hadn’t stepped too far away to hear him. “Miller, I need

that key!” he shouted again and moved toward the stairs to hurry after the man.

He was right on the first step down when something hard hit him in the back of

the head. It stunned him, but he reached for his gun and turned back to look

over his shoulder just in time to see a huge fist coming straight at him. Then

all was dark.

Act II scene 1

Evansville Regional Airport

Evansville, Indiana

4:00 pm

Scully stood at the baggage claim area and fumed silently. Once more she put

her cell phone to her ear, pressing the send button twice. There was no need to

dial the number, she’d been calling the same number during the 45-minute layover

she experienced in Detroit and for the 15 minutes since her Northwest Airlines

commuter plane had touched down in Evansville. When her partner’s voice mail

picked up, yet again, this time she decided to leave a message.

“Mulder. I’m going to assume you are brave enough to listen to this after

seeing the dozen or more missed calls coming from my number. This is to inform

you that you are now in deep shit for failing to pick me up at the airport. I

just wanted to make sure you realize that you are sleeping in a separate STATE

tonight, not just a separate room. And furthermore, you better figure out where

you’re going to be sleeping for the next month, because it will NOT be our

bedroom. I think I saw an old army cot down in the coal cellar. I’m sure

you’ll be quite comfortable down there.”

Just as she angrily pushed the button to disconnect the call, her luggage

appeared on the conveyor belt. “At least one thing seems to be going right

today,” she growled low as she grabbed the handle of the bag and lifted. The

sickening sound of a separating luggage zipper that had been on one too many X

files hit her ears mere seconds before the contents of her bag spewed forth

across the institutional grey tile floor of the concourse.

“Shit!” she cried out only too late realizing that she was in the midst of

traveling families. “Sorry,” she muttered as more than one angry mother shot

her a dirty look and covered their child’s ears. Hastily, she scooped the

wayward clothing back into the bag, wrapping her arms around it to keep the

contents inside. With effort, she made her way to the nearby rental car agency

and with a calm born only from years of working with Fox Mulder, she rented a

car and obtained directions to Harrisburg, Illinois.

Once on the road, she glanced down at the phone resting next to her on the empty

passenger seat. He’d turned it off. No, better yet, he’d let it run down.

That had to be the answer. Mulder had forgotten, as always, to recharge his

battery and as a result, it was dead as a doornail, sitting in his pocket and he

was none the wiser. She knew there had to be a logical explanation, but she was

getting rather sick of being the ‘grown up’ about their cell phones. If he

wasn’t losing the damned things, he was letting the batteries run down. He’d

tried to convince her that he did it just to save the life of the battery.

After letting him have it with both barrels, he’d sheepishly swore it would

never happen again. Until the next time, of course.

At least the sky was clear and the road was reasonably dry. It had been raining

when the plane touched down, but the storm had moved east and now it was bright

sunshine with no clouds to the west. After consulting the map, Scully realized

it was all two-lane highway to her destination, another reason to give Mulder

hell. She hated driving country roads, more so when she was by herself. She

had to watch carefully because it wasn’t a straight route, but required road

changes. She didn’t even have the comfort of knowing exactly where she was

going to meet up with her partner. Since he hadn’t told her how to get to the

mansion, she’d have to get the rest of the directions upon reaching Harrisburg,

which she prayed was bigger than its tiny circle appeared on the map.

Harrisburg Jiffy Stop

6:05 pm

After making a quick stop at the ladies room, Scully went into the store and

asked directions to the Crenshaw Mansion. She was met with a dull stare.

“Oh, you mean the old Slave House?” asked the ‘bright’, young woman working her

gum somewhat harder than she was working the keys to the cash register.

“Yes. The Slave House. I need directions,” Scully replied tiredly.

“Well, just go out west of town and look for the sign for Equality. Turn right

and you’ll see it at the top of the hill. Or you could just look for all the

police cars. Should be a slew of ’em out there by now.”

Something sour rose in her throat and her stomach did a slow roll. “Police

cars?” Scully queried.

“Yeah. Musta had some trouble out there, though I sure don’t know how. But the

sheriff was in here getting coffee when he got the call and a whole bunch of

squad cars and a couple of state troopers went tearing up the road. I heard ’em

say ‘old slave house’, that’s how I know’d where they went,” she added with a

proud smile.

Scully swallowed thickly and tamped down on the panic rising in her chest. “Do

you remember how long ago that was?”

“‘Bout 3, maybe 3:15. I know ’cause the middle school was lettin’ out and all

the kids were in here gettin’ sodies.”

“Thank you,” Scully said and turned to leave.

“Wonder if they found Tom’s body,” the girl mused and Scully turned back.

“You know about the missing Forestry Employee?”

The girl nodded sadly. “I’m Beckie’s cousin. Beckie and Tom were engaged, but

not a lot of folks ’round here now about it, lest not yet. Beckie asked me to

be a bridesmaid.” The girl sighed and shook her head. “He was such a nice guy,

too. Sure is a shame.”

Scully nodded in agreement and left the store for her car. Maybe that was it,

she thought. Maybe Mulder hadn’t picked her up because they found the body of

the missing ranger. That would explain it. He might have even turned his cell

phone off in that case. She’d almost convinced herself of that possibility when

she finished the final leg of her journey and steered the car up the narrow

gravel path to the large red house on the top of the hill.

The gravel parking lot looked like a convention — or a crime scene. Scully

spotted two Illinois State Police cruisers, three squad cars from Saline County

Sheriff’s Department and two trucks from the US Forestry Service. Off to one

side sat a light blue late model Taurus with a Lariat Rental Cars bumper

sticker. She sighed heavily as she pulled her own rental next to her partner’s.

She got out of the car, searching for Mulder among the commotion of law

enforcement officials. A uniformed State Trooper approached her and she dug in

her pocket for her identification.

“Agent Scully, I’m with the Bureau,” she said before the officer had a chance to

question her presence. “My partner is here somewhere.”

The Trooper looked closely at her badge and ID and then frowned. “What’s your

partner’s name?” he asked.

“Fox Mulder. He came out here before me. I’m sure if you check . . .”

“Bob! This is the partner you’ve been waiting for!” the officer called out in a

loud voice. An older man, wearing a forestry service uniform jacket turned and

walked quickly over to them.

“Agent Scully,” the man said offering his hand. “I’m Bob Miller, Forestry.

You’re partner mentioned you were on your way.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Miller. Where is Agent Mulder?” Scully asked, noticing

that the State Trooper hadn’t hung around long after Miller had stepped over.

“Well, you see, that’s the question,” Miller said nervously, his eyes darting

anywhere but to meet Scully’s ice blue gaze. “He, um, he . . .”

“Mr. Miller, is my partner here?” Scully asked again, realizing the man was

struggling with the question, albeit a very simple one.

“He was. He was right here. I was right next to him. And then, the next

minute — he was gone.”

Scully frowned and worried a back tooth with her tongue. “He left?”

“No, ma’am. He didn’t leave. The front door never opened, that I could see.

He just . . . he wasn’t there anymore!” the man stuttered out. “Just like Tom.”

Miller took her arm and led her to the front porch of the house. “I looked

everywhere. When I called and called and didn’t get an answer, I thought maybe

he went outside. I searched around. His car’s still here, as you can see,” he

said, pointing to the rental next to hers. “I found his overcoat and suit

jacket with his gun, his cell phone and his ID at the top of the steps on the

second floor. Look like he’d been patted down, because I didn’t find a holster.

That’s when I got nervous. I called the State Police and the Sheriff’s

department. They’ve been out here going on three hours, looking. We haven’t

found hide ner hair of him.”

Scully looked down at her watch and realized it had only been 4 hours since she

talked to him. She closed her eyes. She was afraid it was going to be a long

night.

Act II scene 2

Crenshaw Mansion

8:30 pm

It was now fully dark and Scully was doing her best not to panic. “We searched

the crawl space, Agent Scully,” the Sheriff’s deputy informed her as he

sidestepped a group of men coming out from under the house. “No sign anyone’s

been down there for a long time,” he said.

“Thank you, Deputy,” Scully said with forced calm. They had been through the

house several times already. She had personally gone through every room,

including the private quarters, at least twice. She found Mulder’s footprints

in the dust that covered the floor in one of the rooms, but it was obvious that

he had left the way he’d come in. It truly was as Bob Miller had told her: her

partner seemed to just disappear into thin air, without a trace. But she

couldn’t believe it, couldn’t drop into the despair that realization would

bring.

Miller had left for home an hour ago. He’d asked her if he should stay, but she

could see no point. There were at least seven men combing the house and the

small outbuilding in the back. The Sheriff had already made plans to start

searching the woods and fields surrounding the mansion. Scully thanked Miller

and promised to call if they found anything. With shoulders slumped and looking

desolate and very tired, the man reluctantly left for the night to get some

rest.

She’d already put in a call to Skinner. He had gone through the database,

searched for any escaped or paroled convicts who might have been in the

vicinity. He also put in the call to the regional office in Springfield.

Scully had hoped to get help not just from Springfield, but from St. Louis,

which had a larger office, but since Mulder had only been missing a little over

12 hours, Skinner’s hands were tied.

Scully leaned against the wall at the bottom of the steps on the first floor.

She watched as a deputy dusted the stair railing for prints. It was a long

shot, worse than a long shot. It was a shot in the dark, but she knew the

Sheriff was doing everything possible to treat this seriously. She knew several

of the men were thinking what her nagging little voice was telling her–Mulder

wasn’t here, he’d been taken from this place and their only hope was in finding

tracks of some kind so they could redirect their efforts away from this house.

“We’ve got the teams set up, Agent Scully. You said you wanted to come out with

us,” said a young man, another deputy that she couldn’t place with a name.

“Yes, thank you.” She nodded wearily and followed him out onto the porch. She

was just about to step off the top step when she heard it, plain as day.

“Scully!”

Her breath caught in her throat, she spun around and ran back into the house.

She heard it, she heard him call to her. Frantically she looked into the first

room, the one with a window overlooking the porch. There was nothing there.

The deputy who had been dusting saw her actions and joined her.

“I heard him. My partner. I heard him. Didn’t you hear him?” she demanded.

“No ma’am,” the young man said, a bewildered look on his face. “Just now?”

“Yes, just now! Right here, it sounded like — no, it was more . . . it echoed

more, like in the stairwell.” She was chewing on her lip, trying to place the

exact location Mulder would have been to call to her.

She hurried out to the hall. “Here, he would have . . .” She stopped. The

deputy was looking at her with wide eyes, obviously doubting her words, but

anxious to help. “You didn’t hear it?” she asked again, forcing a calm she

didn’t want to feel.

He shook his head in the negative. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I was right here and I

didn’t hear a thing.”

Mulder started to call out to Scully again, but the man holding his chains

backhanded him, sending him crashing to the floor. “No talking!” he was warned.

A yank on the iron collar around his neck cut off his airway for a few seconds,

forcing his feet under him. His vision grayed out for a moment, but when he was

standing the pressure lessened and he could see again. In the space of a

heartbeat, Scully was gone.

What was going on? he mused silently for what seemed like the millionth time.

One minute he could see her plain as day, talking to some kid in a uniform. The

next minute, she vanished into thin air and the whole mansion took on a

different quality.

“Rip in the time-space continuum?” he muttered, but it only caused his guard to

yank on the collar at his throat again. The iron was cutting into his skin at

his throat and wrists. He was shackled, throat, wrist and ankles. If he tried

to run, he’d likely fall flat on his face. The guard yanked again, this time

indicating that the prisoner was to move up the stairs. This time he followed

without making a sound.

As they approach the attic, the smell hits Mulder. He can’t remember anything

that smelled that bad. Years ago he’d gone with his father to the animal pound

and thought that was bad. He’d been to crime scenes where the body had laid

undetected for days in heat and humidity and knew that was bad. But this was

worse, much worse. Urine, sweat . . . and fear. It assaulted his sinuses and

made his eyes water. They cleared the doorway and it was even more

concentrated. It took his breath away.

His handler yanked on the chain and Mulder stumbled toward the left. As he

moved into the room he could see them. People, dozens of people. Most of them

men, here or there he might catch sight of a teen-age boy. All of them African-

American. All of them chained as he was, tethered to the iron rings he’d seen

earlier in the walls of the attic.

“This isn’t possible,” Mulder muttered. “I’m dreaming this,” he voiced aloud,

trying desperately to wake up from this nightmare.

“Shaddup!” yelled his handler and yanked so hard on his chains that for a moment

he thought his neck would break from the pulling. “Over here.” They were

standing directly in front of the second set of cells to the outside wall. In

the middle of that wall set one tiny window, the one that had let in such cold

air earlier, was now the only source of light or fresh air and it barely made a

dent. Mulder looked to the window and prayed a breeze would come by and give

him some air.

“Top bunk, now!” yelled the handler, right in his ear, and Mulder scrambled as

best as he could with his shackled legs to get up into the top bunk. The

handler reached over him and attached the chain to the ring in the wall.

Confident his prisoner was secured, the handler left without another word.

Mulder lay there for several minutes, too stunned to move. Gradually, the pain

in his neck and ankles from the chains forced him to move on to his back. It

amused him that he’d been correct in his earlier assessment of the cells — they

weren’t big enough to stretch out. His knees were bent to almost double to

accommodate him on his back, but at least the weight of the iron collar was less

on his throat and he could breath easier. He noticed that he was even becoming

accustomed to the stench of the attic room.

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“Hey,” came a voice from below him. “Hey, you were with Bob, weren’t you?” The

voice was hoarse and raspy, Mulder could just barely make out the strained

whisper.

Leaning over as far as he could, he could see the man in the bunk below him.

After a moment, he could make out the face, could see the clothing. The man was

obviously Caucasian, he had sandy blond hair cut short. Although his clothing

was torn and filthy, Mulder could make out a US Forestry Service nametag sewn

onto the shirt on the left shoulder. “Are you Tom Coleman?” Mulder asked in a

hushed voice.

The man nodded vigorously and then winced at the movement. “Yeah, I’m Coleman.

You were with Bob Miller, my supervisor. I saw you earlier.” He lay back after

speaking, as if the effort was too much for him.

“Are you all right?” Mulder asked worriedly. “What happened to you?”

“Mouthed off and got whipped — tried to call out to you but you couldn’t hear

me,” Tom said in a tired whisper. “My back’s all cut up. I think I got a fever

to boot.”

“Look, Tom, my name is Fox Mulder. I’m a Special Agent with the FBI. As soon

as I can figure out what is going on here, I’m going to get us out.”

Tom barked out a bitter laugh. “We can’t get out. Don’t you see? We’re stuck

here, in this hellhole, for all time. Just like these poor bastards around us.”

“I can’t pretend to know I understand what’s going on — ” Mulder started.

“We’re gonna be sold acros’t t’ river,” came a voice from the bunk above. “You

think you got it made when you cross that big water, but man comes and drags you

back. Tha’s the way it always been.” There was a pause. “Lessen’ you escape.”

“What are you talking about?” Mulder asked. He leaned his head up to look at

the top bunk but couldn’t see the other man’s face because he was too far back

against the wall.

“Run fer it. What ’til the o’r’seer comes up here wit’ the keys. Tackle him

and run fer it. If we all go after him, we can take ‘im down. You with us?”

Mulder frowned. “How? How do you take him down?”

The hidden man chuckled. “You got ‘nuf chain to go ’round his throat, don’ ya?

Choke ‘im! I’ll whup him on t’ head. Young pup down dare can get his keys and

we’d be free men!”

Mulder was quiet for a long while, contemplating the other man’s words. “What

do you think?” Tom voice came from the gloom.

“I don’t know,” Mulder replied honestly.

“Don’t have much choice, do we?” Tom asked, the nervousness evident in his voice

as much as the fatigue.

“Guess not,” Mulder agreed reluctantly. Louder, to the other man, Mulder

hissed. “We’ll do it.”

The other man chuckled. “Jes’ foller my lead,” he said.

The light from the window dimmed with the passage of the sun. Soon the attic

took on the dark gloom of a cave. There was a rattle at the door and the man

who had dragged Mulder to his prison was back. He went around the attic,

lighting kerosene lamps attached to the walls. For a dim second Mulder

considered the fire hazard those lights entailed, but shoved the thought aside

as he realized their plan was about to come to fruition. Plan? What plan? He

could hear Scully’s voice whispering in his ear but he shook his head to dispel

the nagging sense of foreboding.

As he approached, Mulder had a chance to size up the ‘overseer’, as his bunkmate

had called the man. The guard wasn’t quite as tall as Mulder, but what he

lacked in height he more than made up in bulk. He was easily 250 pounds and all

of it looked to be muscle. Mulder noticed that his neck was as thick as a tree

trunk. Not an easy target, to be sure. Mulder swallowed uneasily. He had to

think this through and come up with his part of the plan.

He hefted the chains as silently as he could. The chains were heavy, each link

was about two inches long and too strong for any man to pull apart. He had

about two feet of play between the cuffs around his wrist, with another length

of chain sliding through a ring that tethered the collar at his neck all the way

down to the cuffs at his ankles. It wasn’t going to be easy to get the chain

around that thick neck, but it was possible. All he needed was a distraction .

. . and a whole lot of luck.

As the man made his rounds, Mulder noticed he was leaning over each prisoner,

checking their shackles. It was the break he needed. He waited silently as the

man checked the occupants of the cell next to theirs. Just a few more minutes .

. .

The overseer was there. He sauntered into the small opening of the cell,

stopping only long enough to light the lamp near the window. As he approached,

Mulder’s heartbeat sped up and his hands grew slick with sweat. He kicked the

bunk once to alert the other two men, but he was certain they were as ready as

he was. The overseer checked the man above him and when he was satisfied, he

leaned in to check Mulder’s chains.

Fast as lightning, Mulder hands shot out and wrapped the chain around the

behemoth’s neck. He crossed his arms to tighten the garrote. He was so intent

on his task he didn’t hear the man in the bunk above yelling for all and sundry.

“Buck! Buck! He’s tryin’ to kill Mas’er Henry! Buck, come quick!”

Something fierce latched onto Mulder’s arms and pulled them apart, almost

ripping his shoulder out of its socket. The overseer dropped to his knees, his

hands clutching at his throat. Before Mulder could figure out what was

happening a huge fist smashed into his face, snapping his head back. Before he

succumbed to the darkness he heard a voice.

“Take ‘im out back and whip the bastard till he ain’t movin’ no more!”

4:00 am

It was the darkest part of the night, just before dawn. The stars were all the

illumination in the sky, the moon set early. However, the mansion was ablaze

with light. The Sheriff’s Department had placed portable floodlights all over

the parking area and throughout the house. In addition, the electricity had

been restored and all the rooms in the house were lit. Every speck of dust,

every cobweb in the attic was cast in stark relief. If there were an injured

agent, or even one just trying to hide in the house, someone would have seen it.

Scully’s mind was reeling. She stood on the front porch and looked out to the

woods just beyond the parking lot. Trees ran along both sides of the small

creek, which she noted was past its banks from recent spring rains. She

couldn’t imagine what would have provoked Mulder to run into the woods or the

fields on all sides of this hilltop. It made no sense for him to leave Miller

and take off without consulting anyone. Without waiting for her.

Not for the first time, her mind flashed images of other famous ‘ditches’ —

when she’d been left behind for supposedly noble reasons. Arecibo, Dead Horse,

the middle of the Sargasso Sea . . . She’d lost track long ago of most of the

smaller infractions. But since they’d been together, since they’d spent almost

every waking and sleeping hour in each other’s presence he hadn’t taken off on

her. Well, not as often, and usually with some clue as to where he’d gone.

This time he’d just disappeared. She did remember, back in 2000, a case that

brought them out to the shores of Lake Michigan and into the company of a

murderous ghost. Her mind flashed forward to their recent run-in with a ghostly

presence; one that almost cost her life as well as Mulder’s.

“No more damned ghost stories after this one, Mulder, and I mean it,” she

mumbled to herself in the cold night air. “At least for a while,” she amended,

because as much as she would like to pretend they had any say in their cases,

she knew that wasn’t the truth of the matter. Even though Skinner and the

Bureau would allow them to turn down a case now and then, Mulder’s innate

curiosity always got the better of both of them.

She heard the car tires on gravel before she could see the car. It came into

the bright light of the parking lot and slowed, looking for a place to stop. A

dark blue or black Ford Taurus, federal plates. She groaned inwardly — the

‘cavalry’ had arrived from Springfield. Skinner had made it clear that she

needed help finding her partner, but he never seemed to process that more often

than not the local field agents were less than helpful. She sighed heavily and

made her way down the steps to greet the two men at the picket fence gate.

Their whole demeanor screamed FBI. The taller of the two was at least 6 foot 3,

while his shorter counterpart still had Scully craning her neck. As they

approached stiff-necked and glowering, she could imagine them with dark

sunglasses, even though it was the dark of night.

“Agents,” Scully called, pulling out her own identification. In tandem, the two

men reached into identical pockets and produced their own ID wallets.

“Peters,” announced the taller of the two, a dark skinned and strikingly

handsome man with an expression that would have melted a more timid person. Or

any unattached female in the vicinity.

“Jeffers,” said the other man who was a polar opposite to his partner — fair

skinned, blonde, surfer good looks. They could be bookends, Scully thought to

herself.

“Dana Scully,” she introduced herself, making use of her first name as well as

her last. Out of courtesy she extended her hand to Peters who merely raised his

eyebrow.

“Yeah. We know. So, what’s ol’ Spook gotten himself into this time?” Peters

asked and Jeffers snickered at the joke.

Scully quickly schooled her expression. She took an immediate dislike to both

men, but they weren’t just flesh and blood to her at that point. They were all

the Bureau resources and she was alone in a remote part of the country. As much

as it irked her, she needed them more than they needed her.

“Agent Mulder was called out to investigate the disappearance of a United States

Forestry employee,” she said evenly.

“Look, Scully, we got the fax from AD Skinner. What we need are the details.

What did Spooky step in? Have you two pissed off anyone who might have nabbed

him? Did you two have a fight and now he’s shacked up with a local waitress?

What the hell are we doing standing on a goddamned hill top in the middle of

goddamned nowhere southern Illinois at not even five o’clock in the goddamned

morning?”

“Agent Scully,” called one of the uniformed state troopers from around the side

of the house. “There’s somethin’ you oughta look at back here.”

Flashlight beams danced as she and the trooper ran back around the house, the

two agents close on their heels. When the trooper stopped it was at a post

sticking out of the ground about 5 feet tall with a iron hoop about a half foot

from the top connected to the post with a thick screw. The trooper shone his

light near the bottom of the post.

Scully tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and stared at the circle of light

as it struck the wooden post. “I don’t — ”

“There,” the trooper said, bending down and pointing a finger at a fine line of

liquid running down the grain of the wood. “It’s wet.”

Scully looked up at him wide-eyed and pulled a latex glove out of her pocket.

In a few seconds, she was running one gloved finger down the wood and brought it

forward into the light of her flashlight to examine it. “It’s blood,” she

declared evenly. “Take samples, I want this run against Agent Mulder’s blood

type. It’s on file with the Bureau in DC.”

“But this is fresh, it can’t be over a couple of hours old,” Jeffers pointed

out. “How did he get out here without anybody seeing him?”

“There’ve been troopers and county people out and about this yard all night. No

one’s been out here that we didn’t know about,” the trooper interjected.

At that moment, Scully heard it. At first she thought it was the wind howling

through the branches of the tree just thirty or so yards from where they were

standing. Then, when she heard it again, she realized it was coming from the

house.

The third time she heard it, her blood ran cold. She knew that moan. She’d

heard in times of extreme pain and in the heights of passion. It could only

belong to her partner.

“Mulder!” she whispered and then shouted it loudly. “Mulder!” Leaving the

three men in her dust, she ran toward the house and the door that came off the

small addition to the private residence.

“Agent Scully, that door’s locked,” the trooper called out.

Realizing her mistake, Scully turned on her heel and ran for the front of the

house. She made it long before the other men, even given the difference in

length of strides. She bounded up the steps and into the house without a glance

back to see if anyone followed.

Shoving deputies out of her way, she continued up the steps to the second floor.

In the hallway, she stopped, tried to calm her breathing and the pounding of her

heart. She strained her ears to hear the sound, the moan, again. Nothing.

“Mulder?” she called hesitantly, hopefully. “Mulder, where are you? Mulder, if

you can hear me, answer me. Anything, a grunt. Just tell me which way to go,”

she demanded. She waited again. Silence echoed back to her.

The tears caught her by surprise. Angrily, she swiped at her eyes and turned

her back on the two agents and the trooper who had finally made it to the second

floor. When she got control of her emotions, she turned to face them.

“What did you hear?” asked Jeffers, who gently took her elbow and steered her

toward the steps leading to the attic. At first she refused to sit, but it

seemed that all the fight was leaving her and in the wake of its departure she

felt completely drained of life.

“I heard him,” she said in a voice just above a whisper. “I heard him. He was

here. I don’t know where he is now, but he was here.” She sat there a moment,

chewing on her bottom lip. Suddenly, she sprang to her feet. “A tunnel. There

has to be a tunnel somewhere, under the house. That’s where he is, it’s where

he has to be!”

Mulder was in so much agony, he kept his eyes clamped tight as the overseer

dragged him up the stairs of the house by the shackles on his wrists. The open

cuts on his back flared with white hot fire with each bump and bounce as he hit

the steps one by one. At the top of the stairs, his hip hit the edge of a

baluster and his eyes flew open in pain and surprise.

There, in the dim light that comes just with the dawn, he saw her. Scully. She

was saying something but he couldn’t hear her voice. Her image wavered in the

air, like a mirage. He wanted to call out to her, to warn her, to call out to

her to get help, but he was being dragged up the final set of stairs to the

prison on the third floor. When he blinked the tears from his eyes, she was

gone.

An eternity later, he was thrown in the little closet that was their cell. Tom

was lying on his side on the bottom bunk, staring into space. Mulder crawled

into the second bunk and stifled a cry as his back hit the hard wood.

“Tom,” Mulder whispered after he found a position that didn’t bring tears to his

eyes. “Tom. I think I saw my partner. I think I saw Scully.”

The other man made no response for several minutes. Finally, he drew in a deep

breath. “Hallucination. Or trickery. We’re in Hell, haven’t you figured that

out yet?”

“This ain’t Hell,” came a voice from the next cell. “Ain’t done nuthin’ to

deserve gonna ta Hell.”

“No, it wasn’t a hallucination,” Mulder gritted out, ignoring their companion.

“I saw her. I know she’s here. She’s looking for us.”

“Thought I heard Beckie once. It’s just the mind, playin’ tricks on you,” Tom

bit back angrily.

“She was all shimmering. It was like she was there, but not really there.

Maybe it was a mirage,” Mulder said with a heavy sigh. “But I felt her. I know

Scully was there. She was calling my name but I couldn’t hear her voice.”

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“It’s the pain. Does things to the head,” the man in the next cell said.

“What if — what if we’re here and she’s here but we’re in two different planes

of existence?” Mulder mused aloud.

“Different — what? What kinda nonsense is that?” Tom demanded, stopping to

cough. “We’re here but we’re not? You hit your head on the way up them steps,

Agent Mulder?”

“No, listen, when I came into this house Miller and I checked the attic. There

was nothing up here — no chains, definitely no men. Now the place is full of

people. How is that?”

“We aren’t in the same place,” Tom answered.

“No! We’re not in the same ‘time’!” Mulder replied quickly. “We just have to

figure out how to get back to our time.”

Tom coughed again, this time the sound was wet and wheezing. “Well, when you

figure that out, you let me know,” he said derisively.

Act III scene 1

She had the bearing of a woman of wealth and power. Mulder caught sight of her

as he curled in a corner of his bunk, trying to keep his aching back from

touching the unforgiving wood surface. She stepped around the attic room as if

she didn’t notice the squalor or the stench. When the man they’d called ‘Buck’

moved toward her, the smile on her face lit the dark corners of the room. She

put her arms around his neck and kissed him fervently. Mulder closed his eyes,

thoughts of Scully in his arms warring with the image of a woman in silk and

hoop skirts embracing a man barely clothed in tattered garments.

His eyes were still closed when he heard the two approach. He feigned sleep.

It wasn’t hard to do, his back was screaming but his body was so tired he

probably would have fallen asleep standing up. On reflection, that was most

likely the only position he would be able to sleep. Every time his back hit the

wood, he was jolted from what little peace his slumber could give him.

They were whispering. Part of him wanted to listen closely to what they were

saying. Part of him wanted the entire experience, hell, the whole trip out to

Illinois to be a very bad nightmare so he could wake up in Scully’s arms and

have her tell him he was going in late in the morning because she wanted him to

get a little more sleep.

He decided to ignore the intruders until they moved closer into the cell. He

cracked an eye open just a slit and watched Buck nudge Tom with his foot. The

younger man groaned in pain. It relieved Mulder that Tom was responding at all,

he’d begun to wonder if the engineer was unconscious.

“They’re white,” the woman commented, as if noting that there might be rain

later in the day. Buck grunted in agreement. She looked up at the tall man

with a coy smile. “Come, we don’t have much time,” she purred and took Buck by

the arm, leading him to the far end of the attic.

When they were far enough out of earshot, Mulder leaned over to check on Tom.

He found the young man’s eyes open, staring into space. He had to get him

talking.

“Who was that?” Mulder asked in a hoarse whisper.

“Mrs. Crenshaw,” Tom replied with a tired smirk. “She and Buck — well, let’s

just say Buck has lots of duties around here, some of them nicer than others.”

“Mrs. Crenshaw?” Mulder repeated. “As in — ”

“Crenshaw’s wife. Her family had money and lost it in some land deal. She

thought she was gonna marry into society because Crenshaw was up and coming. He

built this place for her. Guess this wasn’t the exciting life she’d hoped for,”

Tom said with a faint twinkle in his eyes before turning serious. “Be careful

around her. I’ve seen her get more than one man whipped for just lookin’ at

her. And if Buck gets to do the job — those men never came back.”

“So Buck — ”

“Buck is an overseer, just like Harold. Crenshaw doesn’t have him on the same

payroll,” Tom tried to explain.

“How did you find out all of this?” Mulder asked.

“Been listenin’ to some of the talk up here. Plus, I grew up in these parts.

Crenshaws have been a topic of gossip since they moved here. The fact they were

dead didn’t make them any less interestin’ to the most of us.”

Mulder dozed for a while, he had no idea how much time had passed. He heard

footsteps and looked out to see Mrs. Crenshaw coming back to ward them,

straightening her skirt and adjusting it in the reflection of the windowpane.

She walked over to their cell and peered in at Tom on the bottom bunk. She put

her hand out, touching the young man and flinched when she made contact. “He’s

feverish,” she said over her shoulder to Buck, who was standing right behind

her. “How long have they been here?”

“That one, two nights. This one just got here.”

She turned to speak directly to Buck, disregarding Mulder, who was staring right

at her. “They can’t stay here,” she said firmly.

“We could dump the bodies in the woods,” Buck offered.

She shook her head. “No, it would just lead to more questions. Two white men,

whipped, dead. There would be an investigation of some sort. There’s enough

suspicion in town as it is. Besides, our guest will be arriving soon. Finding

them here would be an embarrassment to Mr. Crenshaw. We have to do something

quickly.”

“What do you want me to do?” Buck asked. She started to answer, cast a glance

down at Mulder and then moved Buck away. Mulder could hear them murmuring, but

couldn’t make out any words.

Act III scene 2

Mulder had drifted off to sleep, so he was startled when a hand landed on his

shoulder. In the dim light of the cell he could make out the huge dark form

looming over him. A second large hand came down over his mouth and he struggled

for a moment before the hand covered his nose and he was forced to be still.

“Quiet,” ordered a voice in the darkness. “Be quiet.”

Mulder nodded silently and the pressure on his mouth and nose lessened. He

watched in silence as the large form moved into a slant of light from a far

lantern and he could see its face. Buck.

“What — ”

“Silence, damn it,” Buck hissed. He reached into his pocket and Mulder watched

in amazement as the larger man produced a set of skeleton keys and deftly

unlocked the shackles around Mulder’s throat, wrists and ankles. In a few

seconds, he’d accomplished the same feat for Tom. Tom, unlike Mulder, was now

totally unresponsive.

“You have to carry him,” Buck directed, jerking his head down to the bottom bunk

and Tom’s still mass.

“Is he dead?” Mulder breathed. It was taking him some time to crawl down from

his bunk, his back was aching and his legs where wobbly.

“No. He’s alive. You have to get out of here.”

Mulder pulled Tom into a sitting position and hoisted the other man’s arm across

his shoulders. Pain licked up his back as the action pulled torn flesh, but

that didn’t deter him. A tiny voice in his mind that sounded almost like Scully

cautioned him and he stopped.

“Wait. Why are you doing this? Is this a trap? Are you going to kill us for

trying to escape?”

Buck looked at him sourly. “Mas’er Harold’s down in the main house, play acting

as a servant. The Missus wants you gone. If you were found up here, there’d be

Hell to pay. Nobody minds what happens to one of us, but if they found out

about you — ”

“Servant? Why, what’s happening?”

“Someone’s coming. Even Crenshaw has overseers,” Buck snorted at his own joke.

Tom started to rouse and moan. Buck clamped a hand over his mouth. “Keep him

quiet, or I will have to kill him,” he warned Mulder. The agent nodded mutely

and struggled with Tom’s weight a moment before following Buck to the window.

“How are we supposed to get down?” Mulder asked when Buck came to an abrupt

stop. The agent looked out the window and down, then faced Buck, who was

smiling.

“You can’t expect us to jump! The fall would kill us!” Mulder sneered.

“You dumb bastard,” Buck said with the shake of his head. “That drainpipe has

carried twice your skinny asses. Just grab hold and shimmy down.” To

demonstrate his point, Buck leaned out the window, took hold of the guttering

and proceeded to climb down as if it were a tall tree.

Mulder gapped at the man’s head as it got farther and farther away down the

pipe. When Buck hit the ground and waved up to him, he had no choice.

“Scully, you’re missing another display of my youthful agility,” he muttered as

he hoisted Tom onto his shoulder. He would have to take the younger man in a

fireman’s carry and even then it would be a dangerous feat. “Tom, I’m really

glad you’re a health nut,” Mulder told the unconscious engineer. “Otherwise,

this journey would be all over before we even got started.”

It was a tight squeeze getting out of the window, but they managed. Mulder was

surprised to find the sill provided a decent foothold as he reached for the

drainpipe. He was pleasantly amazed to note that the gutter pipe was made of

cast iron and very sturdy. That didn’t make climbing with 160 pounds of dead

weight any easier, but at least he didn’t have the worry that the pipe would

collapse as they crawled down.

When he got to the second floor, he realized their proximity to the open window.

He could see, in the corner of his eyes serving girls coming and going out of

one of the rooms. He saw Crenshaw’s wife, dressed in a beautiful green gown,

enter the hallway and start for the stairs. For a second, she turned and

glanced out the window. She met Mulder’s eyes and smiled. She turned and

descended down the stairs without saying a word.

Buck was on the ground shooting Mulder glares when the agent faltered and almost

dropped Tom. The engineer’s body seemed to grow heavier with each step, but

Mulder doubled his efforts.

If felt like an eternity to Mulder before they finally reached the ground.

Mulder’s back was bleeding again; he could feel the sticky wetness and felt the

pull as it clung to his shirt. Adrenaline was keeping the pain at bay.

Carefully he lowered Tom to his feet and leaned him against the pipe. Buck

grabbed Mulder’s arm and shoved him against the clapboard of the house. “Stay

here,” he hissed and melted into the darkness around the corner of the

structure.

“Tom? Tom, can you hear me?” Mulder asked, trying to rouse his companion.

The young man’s eyes flittered open. When he realized he was standing, or

rather leaning, and felt the cool air on his face, he searched around for

Mulder.

“Where are we?” he asked in a hoarse rasp.

“We’re outside the house. We’re going to get out of here. My car was parked

out front. If we can just get out that way — ”

Buck’s sudden appearance from around the corner stopped further conversation.

“You go straight to the woods, down there,” the big man growled, pointing to the

woods to the south of the house. “Don’t go near the front of the house.

People’s comin’ — there are carriages up there. If you don’t wanna be caught

again, go that way.”

“Why are you helping us?” Mulder asked again, still harboring suspicions that

they were being lured into a trap.

“Missus and me, we don’t want no trouble. Not for old Crenshaw and not for us.

Understand?” He towered over Mulder, a menacing look to his eyes.

“Understood,” Mulder said with a nod. “What about water?”

“Plenty in that stream you have to cross,” Buck said with the hint of a chuckle.

“You’ll have all the water you could ask for in just a few minutes. Now,

hightail afore I change my mind and just kill ya for the fun of it!”

Over in the east, the deep purple was just beginning to give way to a lighter

blue. Mulder knew they didn’t have much time to make the woods before someone

would be up and would notice their escape. Hoisting Tom on his shoulder again,

he started around the house and down the gentle slope to the stand of trees.

Horses hoofs on the dirt path to the house caused him to press against the

clapboard. The sound of carriage wheels, groaning under their burden seemed

horribly close to Mulder’s ear. Cautiously, he lowered Tom to the ground so he

could creep along the building and see if they might be detected.

Torches were lit at the front of the mansion, lighting the circular drive up to

the house. Two horsemen and a carriage had just pulled up directly in front of

the stone sidewalk that led to the front porch. Mulder saw a big bulk of a man,

easily near six feet and more than 200 pounds, standing at the gate at the end

of the sidewalk. As the driver to the carriage jumped down and opened the small

leather door, the man at the gate almost danced with excitement.

It took a moment for the occupant of the carriage to exit and Mulder’s position

was such that the carriage door blocked most of his view. Finally, the occupant

stepped forward, adjusting a tall ‘stovepipe’ hat before extending his hand

toward the man at the gate. In the profile cast by the torches, Mulder got a

picture of the occupant of the carriage worthy of the front page for any

newspaper in the country.

It was the 16th President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln had come to

visit the Crenshaw Mansion.

“Mr. Lincoln, I trust the ride down from Springfield wasn’t too difficult,”

spoke the jovial man at the gate.

“It will be a far sight easier when we get the railroads completed, Mr.

Crenshaw. A far sight easier,” said Lincoln. Now that they stood together,

Mulder could see that Lincoln was much taller than Crenshaw, taller than any

other man standing near him.

“Well, let’s get inside and I’ll take you to your room. You can rest and then

we’ll have some breakfast. I’ve taken the liberty of contacting some of the

other businessmen in the area in regards to your campaign. They’re very excited

about . . .” The rest of Crenshaw’s words were lost as the men, Lincoln,

Crenshaw, the riders and the driver all entered the house.

Mulder leaned against the clapboard, trying to process what he’d just seen. He

remembered Bob Miller telling him that Lincoln was supposed to have visited

Crenshaw, but to have the man who was credited with freeing the slaves right

under the same roof as a slave trader was almost too extreme a possibility!

He waited until he was sure that all the men were inside the house before he

went to Tom. The younger man was coming around, obviously in pain. Mulder put

his hand over Tom’s mouth to keep him from moaning too loud and alerting the

occupants of the mansion. Finally the agent slung the engineer’s arm over his

shoulder and the two started the trek to the trees and hopefully, freedom.

They hadn’t gone far when Mulder’s ears picked up on something coming from the

direction of the house. He stopped for a moment, almost causing Tom to slip

from his grasp. The jarring was enough to snap the younger man into full

consciousness.

“What is it?” Tom asked.

“I thought . . . ” Mulder was silent until he heard it again, confirming his

worst fears. He looked over at the engineer, realizing that his companion had

heard it too.

“Dogs,” they said in unison.

Panic swept across both men’s faces. Mulder looked around frantically, trying

to find a good hiding place or even an easier way to get through the trees. Tom

tugged on his hand and pointed toward the water.

“The creek. We’ll walk the creek bed. Hopefully they’ll lose the scent.”

Mulder nodded immediately and headed off toward the creek.

Act III scene 2

Crenshaw Mansion

5:04 am

Scully stood on the top step of the porch and looked out into the darkness. Off

to the east, she could see the deep purple letting go to the lighter blue of the

morning sky. One star shone brightly on the horizon and she offered up a prayer

for her partner. She was about to go back into the house when she heard another

set of tires on the gravel drive.

Two minivans with Sheriff’s Department markings pulled into the parking area.

Quickly, the drivers of each van jumped out and released the occupants of the

back cargo areas. Four tan bloodhounds, tails wagging and tongues lapping,

tumbled over each other in their excitement to get on with the chase.

Scully felt a hand on her elbow and looked up into the kind eyes of the local

Sheriff. “We tried this when Tom first disappeared, but the trail had gone

cold. It’s the best we can do until the State Police can get a helicopter up at

full light to search the fields.”

She nodded, but could tell even the Sheriff thought it was a futile attempt.

“Do you need anything?” she asked.

“If you have some item of clothing, maybe something in his rental car?”

“If one of your men doesn’t mind popping the lock on the trunk, I’m sure I can

find something,” she said, walking to the abandoned car with the Lariat sticker

at the far end of the parking lot.

In minutes she had rummaged through Mulder’s bag, the bag she’d helped him pack

just two nights before, and found his Hoya’s sweatshirt with the cut off

sleeves. She’d often threatened to turn it into a dust cloth because it never

seemed to lose the smell of sweat, even after repeated launderings. He’d always

managed to dig it out of the wash and hide it before she had a chance to find

her scissors. She caressed the natted fleece for the briefest of moments and

then handed the shirt to the Sheriff.

“This should work,” he said and smiled in encouragement. “We still have the

ball cap Beckie gave us that Tom wore, so that’s all we need.” He turned to go

over to the dogs and their handlers, but turned back. “Did I hear you talking

to your boss in DC?”

Scully was chewing on her lip, deep in thought, but his question got her

attention. “Yes. He got a call through to the Director. The St. Louis office

will be sending a team out this morning. They should be here around 10.”

The Sheriff smiled. “We haven’t had this big of a posse since Jesse James used

Cave-in-Rock for a hideout one winter,” he smiled. “We’ll find ’em, Agent

Scully. Don’t you fret.”

All she could do was nod and plaster on a hopeful expression. It made her face

feel like it was cast in cement.

It was painful to stand and wait, but Skinner had instructed her to be available

to the St. Louis agents when they arrived. She watched the dogs and their four

handlers canvass the grounds of the mansion and then saw them perk up the ears

and head in the direction of the creek several yards from the house. She pulled

in a deep breath and watched them, sending up another silent prayer.

9:54 am

She’d sat on the top step of the porch steps and dozed for a few moments. The

tires on the gravel startled her awake. The cavalry, such as it was, had

arrived. Four men wearing FBI jackets emerged from the Crown Vic and headed

toward her. One broke ranks and headed straight for her. She did a quick

double take and stood up as recognition hit.

“Marty? Marty Neil?” she said, first in a whisper and then louder. “Marty?”

The man was standing directly in front of her, a big grin on his face. Glancing

over his shoulder before turning back to her, he gave her a wink and offered his

hand before pulling her into a quick hug. “Dana. Been a long time.”

“Marty, I thought you were in New York, foreign counter terrorism. Of course

that was years ago.”

“Nine-eleven shake up. It was decided that the Midwest needed some expertise in

that area, too. Been in St. Louis almost four years. I’m regional SAC,” he

said, a proud smile on his face. “And you. You’re still with . . . Mulder?”

She could tell he was about to call her partner by his nickname, but thought

better of it. “You two have been partners — how long now? Some kind of Bureau

record, isn’t it?”

Scully dipped her head, allowing her hair to hide her face for a second.

“Twelve years now,” she said, lifting her chin and meeting his challenge.

“That’s, uh, that’s great. I heard about some of the work you’ve done.”

“Good reports, I hope,” she shot back.

“Oh, yeah, definitely. Well, mostly. Say, I got the file from DC, but maybe

you could fill us in a little better? I brought Starbucks in a thermos. You

still drink latte, right?”

Somewhere in southern Illinois

10:14 am

For a while, the cold water of the creek rejuvenated both men. As the day drew

on and the air grew hot and humid, their strength began to sap. Mulder was now

almost carrying Tom and he wasn’t in much better shape himself.

“We have to rest a minute,” he told the younger man. “Do you hear them?”

“Nah, I think we lost ’em. Look, if we follow this creek for just a little

more, the Cache River that runs past here. We can follow that further south.”

The two stumbled up the creek bed to dry land, falling to their knees. Mulder’s

legs were wobbly from running and dodging the rocks at the bottom of the stream.

They were in a few trees, but just beyond a couple of cottonwoods, the day was

heating up and the field of foot high corn near them already seemed to shimmer

in the heat, waving in the gentle breeze.

Mulder pulled off his shirt and tore it into strips. Dipping one in the creek,

he wiped his own face and then wet another and handed it to Tom to do the same.

“Where are we going, Tom?” Mulder asked, concerned that they were just running

but had no plan. They still had to figure out how to get back to their own

time. He had to find a way back to Scully.

“There’s some rock formations just a few miles from here. Lots of caves, rocky

land. We can hide there while we figure out how to get into town,” answered the

engineer.

“Tom, town may not be like it was a few days ago. Town might be like the house,

170 years ago,” Mulder cautioned softly.

“Look, all’s I know is Beckie can find me if we get someplace with a phone.”

“That’s just what I’m saying, Tom. Back at the house, they didn’t have phones

back then.”

That seemed to only anger the young man. “You got a better idea?”

Mulder stared out into the cornfield. It didn’t look any different than

cornfields he’d seen on any of his several visits to this part of the country.

But had farming really changed that much in 170 years? Without an obvious piece

of evidence, say a John Deere tractor plowing a field or an SUV parked in a

farmhouse driveway, how would you know what century you were in down here in the

deep rural Midwest? It all looked ageless.

“How far did you say these caves were?”

Tom smiled. “Rest up. Just a couple of miles, but the last couple will take a

bit of climbin’.”

Crenshaw Mansion

1:15 pm

The Sheriff’s Department had sent out lunches, bags of burgers and fries from

McDonald’s, but Scully hadn’t touched hers. She’d managed to down half a cup of

latte, but eventually left the cup somewhere and couldn’t remember where she’d

put it.

The private residence had been opened up and now served as the command post.

The kitchen island held topographical maps of the area, pictures of both Tom and

Mulder were taped to the doors of the cabinets. Scully stood in the living room

area, away from the bustle of agents and local law enforcement, feeling adrift

and totally useless. The Sheriff’s walkie-talkie squawked to life but she only

marginally listened. So far, all reports from the field had been negative.

“That’s great! Give me your coordinates again; we’ll be out there fast as we

can. No, just leave one man behind, you others go on ahead. This might be the

lead we’re lookin’ for.”

The Sheriff’s words grabbed her attention and she was next to the man in a

flash. “They found something,” she said breathless.

“A neck tie. The tag said it was some shop in Georgetown.”

“Mulder,” Scully whispered. “I’m going with you.”

“I figured you would. We’ll take my Jeep. It’s got four-wheel drive.”

They took mostly back roads and Scully was amazed at the switchback curves and

deep hills and valleys. Illinois had never seemed to have much landscaping;

certainly not up near Tuscola where they’d encountered a phantom panther just a

few months back. Here the landscape almost resembled the foothills of the

Appalachians that she knew in Maryland and Virginia.

When they went off road, she was very happy to have the four-wheel drive and

even happier to leave the driving to the Sheriff. He plowed along farm paths

and finally came to a creek where she spotted one of his men.

“I gave Brutus to John, figured they’d need him on the trail,” the deputy told

the Sheriff to explain his missing bloodhound. “Here’s the tie.” He held the

scrap of silk out to the Sheriff, but Scully’s hand snatched it from him.

“It’s Mulder’s. He was wearing it the last time I saw him.”

The Sheriff looked around. “We’re a good nine miles from the house. If that

blood can account for anything — ” He gave Scully a furtive glance and didn’t

finish the thought.

“How did he get this far, injured?” Scully said quietly. “And is he alone?”

“We found some footprints over there. Looks like he was following the creek,

like you thought, Sheriff.” The deputy directed them to a fallen log just on

the edge of the creek. “There’re two sets of prints. Those are work boots one

of ’em’s wearing. The other set appears to be leather, no tread to speak of.”

“The leather shoes are Mulder’s. He had on his wingtips. But I don’t know

about the work boots,” Scully mused.

“Could that be who took him?” the Sheriff asked. “But we didn’t find any of

those prints back at the house.”

“Wouldn’t Tom Coleman wear boots like those?” Scully asked. “And look at the

imprints. They’re both struggling, but the work boots are fainter impressions

and dragging the toes. Either the person is very light — ”

“Or your partner is helping him along.”

The Sheriff and Scully exchanged worried looks. “We best get moving. We might

be able to catch up to the dogs now,” the Sheriff said. The deputy hopped in

the back of the Jeep and they were off.

Act III scene 3

Gallatin County, Illinois

4:30 pm

Mulder had been so concentrated on the path before him that he hadn’t had time

to look around at the spectacular scenery surrounding them. Tom was as good as

his word, knowing where trails were that led them over hill, dale and skirted

large rock formations. Their path left Mulder almost dizzy but finally, just as

Tom’s energy seemed at its lowest point, they topped a crest and saw the cave.

When Mulder thought of ‘cave’ he assumed it was a hole in the side of a hill or

mountain, like he’d found in Tennessee, home of the gigantic man-eating

mushroom. But these caves were really indentations under huge granite boulders,

little more than low roofed shelters. It took some time to scramble down the

hill to the nearest cave, but after several missteps and an almost twisted

ankle, they arrived at their destination.

“This is it, this is as far as I go,” Tom gasped as he slid out from under

Mulder’s arm and to the rock floor.

“I’ll see about getting us some water,” Mulder said tiredly. There was a

trickle of water coming from a crack in the ceiling of their cave and he made

for it. Once there he’d cupped handfuls of the precious commodity into his

mouth to quench his own thirst, he realized he really didn’t have much to carry

any water back. He quickly soaked a corner of his tattered shirt to take back

to Tom.

Tom wasn’t conscious when Mulder checked on him. The agent shook his head in

frustration and then looked around. It was getting close to evening and a cool

wind had blown in. The day had been hot, but the night could be a problem and

they had nothing to keep them warm. He thought briefly about starting a fire,

but was concerned that the wood smoke might alert their pursuers to their

whereabouts. They weren’t much better off here than they had been walking,

except they had some time to rest.

He was so tired. He hadn’t slept at all the night before and between the

journey and carrying Tom, his back felt on fire. He sat down next to where the

young engineer was sprawled on a rock. When his back hit the cool, rough

surface of the cave wall Mulder winced, but gradually accepted the small amount

of comfort it afforded. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a moment he could

collect his thoughts.

The sun was further behind the hills when he awoke. Something he’d heard had

jarred his senses and brought him out of a deep slumber. He looked over at Tom,

putting a hand to the young man’s forehead. Fever radiated off the engineer’s

pale skin. Mulder bit his lip and thought about getting more water just to try

and cool Tom down a bit. But then the sound that woke him came again. Barking

— off in the distance but coming closer.

Mulder had to do something! They were going to be found. Searching the ledge

cave for any fissure big enough to hold both of them, he found only a few

boulders at the far end of the indent. Maybe he could hide Tom and lead the

dogs away from the sick and injured man. It was all he could think of on such

short notice.

It took almost all his strength to pull Tom’s senseless body over behind the

rocks. He hoped it was enough cover. He walked out of the cave and listened

again. It was hard to judge exactly which direction the dogs were coming, the

hills and rock formations made for natural echo chambers. The deep shadows from

the setting sun made it even more difficult to decide on a direction to run. He

saw a rise with a huge oval shaped boulder just a few hundred yards away from

the cave and sprinted off toward it.

The dogs were close now. He could almost hear their panting in between the

howls and the barking. He imagined he could hear their paws clawing at the

rocks for purchase. He made it to the boulder and was looking back, trying to

see if he could spot the dogs. His foot caught on a tree root and he went head

over heels, but instead of hitting forest floor, he kept falling, tumbling over

and over until all was darkness.

Ferne Clyffe State Park

Just outside Goreville, Illinois

6:00 pm

As they cleared the ridge, Scully was scrambling to keep up with the dogs and

their handlers. All four animals were brown and black balls of pure energy,

excited by the strength of the scent and the end of their hunt. Anxiety was

high among the humans. Scully had been calling her partner’s name as she

climbed down the rocks, but the wind kept stealing it away.

The dogs stopped under a ledge and sniffed. One grabbed something in its mouth

and the handler took it gently. “Looks like a piece torn off a shirt,” he said,

handing the cloth over to Scully.

“There’s blood on it,” Scully noted, biting her lip.

As she spoke the words another one of the dogs rushed over to a boulder at the

far end of the overhang and started pawing at the ground. Its handler looked

behind the rock with a flashlight and then frantically flagged the rest of the

group. “I found one of ’em!” he shouted.

A portable stretcher materialized from some one’s backpack and Scully hurried

over to see who had been found. She had to choke back an anguished cry when she

discovered not her partner, but the man they had originally been sent to

recover, Tom Coleman. Swallowing her fear for Mulder, she quickly examined the

engineer.

“Get him on the stretcher and get a thermal blanket over him. Notify the

chopper of our whereabouts and that they need to get this man to the nearest

trauma center. He’s in shock, feverish, looks like he’s been hit pretty hard in

the head. If I’m not mistaken, he’s been horse whipped.”

“Horse whipped?” questioned one of the rescuers, but hurried to help perform the

task of getting the injured man on the stretcher. As they moved him, Tom began

to rouse.

“Dogs. . . gotta keep movin’ . . . can’t let ’em . . .” The rest of his words

were lost in his delirium.

“Mr. Coleman, where is my partner?” Scully asked gently, hoping the young man

would have some connection to reality and could point them in the right

direction.

“Overseers,” Tom muttered and fell back into unconsciousness.

The Sheriff touched Scully’s shoulder. “We’re losing the light, Agent,” he said

firmly.

“He has to be here!” she spit out. “He would never have left an injured man

behind. Not unless he couldn’t help it.”

One of the dogs had broken loose from its handler and had run to a boulder some

distance away. The bloodhound was now standing on top of the boulder, barking

at whatever lay on the other side. Scully took one look at the Sheriff and they

both hurried after the dog.

She thought about climbing up the rock, but the Sheriff pointed to a way to get

around it. As she cleared the edge of the rock and peered down into the ravine

hidden beyond it, her heart jumped to her throat.

There on the forest floor, unmoving, was her partner.

clip_image005

Epilogue

Massac Memorial Hospital

Metropolis, Illinois

The next day

10:13 am

Mulder was dozing in his hospital bed when Scully came in carrying another

bouquet of flowers.

“Did I die and you just haven’t had the heart to tell me?” he asked as she

placed them next to the other four or five bouquets already decorating the

windowsill.

“No, it’s just Southern Illinois hospitality,” Scully said with a grin. “These

are from Tom’s parents.”

“How is he doing?” Mulder asked, wincing as he reached for the cup of water on

his tray table. His back still hurt but the pain meds were helping

tremendously.

“Better. His fever is down. Some of the cuts and welts on his back had become

infected and he had a touch of pneumonia, but he’ll be back on his feet in a few

weeks. He and Beckie finally announced their engagement, so everyone was pretty

happy. The flowers by the wall are from Beckie, by the way.”

“Did you get a chance . . .”

She held up her hand to stop his question. “Mulder, after ensuring that you

weren’t in a coma and weren’t going to die on me, I went back to the mansion.

Neill and his men had all but dismantled the attic. There were no signs of any

of the men you told me about, not any chains, shackles, iron collars — ”

“Nothing? What about the bunk where Tom was kept? There should have been blood

there.”

“I’m don’t know what to tell you, Mulder. There wasn’t any blood anywhere.”

“But you did find my blood on the whipping post,” he reminded her.

“Yes, the blood we found out there was a match to you. Are you sure someone

didn’t just hit you in the head and you hallucinated — ” She stopped her

question when she saw the set of his jaw.

“Scully, I didn’t imagine being whipped. I have the cuts on my back to prove

that. And what about this?” he asked, holding his hospital issued gown out to

expose a dark bruise at his throat where he wore the iron collar. “I suppose I

hallucinated that, too, huh?”

“But Mulder, I was there all night. I never left that house, except to go out

on the porch. And I saw nothing.”

“But you heard me. You admitted to me that you heard me call your name. And

you heard me moaning in pain. You aren’t suggesting that you were

hallucinating, are you, Scully? Because you weren’t hit on the head.”

“Mulder, I’m just saying it’s hard for me to believe that you were lost in

another time, that the 1840s and 2005 crossed for a while.” He folded his arms

defiantly, grimacing when he pulled the healing cuts on his back. Scully shook

her head. He wasn’t going to be dissuaded this time, but then she reminded

herself that was nothing new. “Look, however you accomplished it, you did find

Tom Coleman and return him to his loved ones.”

“And you found me and did the same,” he said, reaching for her hand. She

allowed him to pull her next to him on the narrow hospital bed, happy to be in

his arms. “So, when can we go home?”

“Doctor wants to keep you one more night for observation. I have us on a 2:30

flight out of Paducah tomorrow afternoon.” He scooted over a bit so she had

more room. “So you were invisible to us all that time, huh, Mulder?” she asked

as she put her head down on his chest. The rhythm of his heartbeat was a salve

to her own emotional cuts and bruises from the last 24 hours.

“A hundred and sixty years ago men were gathered up and sold back into slavery

in a free state, Scully. No one noticed then, either. Maybe sometimes evil is

just invisible.”

She nodded, digesting that thought. After a moment she pulled up enough to look

in his eyes. “You really saw Abraham Lincoln,” she challenged.

“Stove pipe, beard and all,” he replied.

“The Great Emancipator spent the night in a mansion where slaves were being

housed and sold. What does that say, Mulder?”

“I’m pretty certain he didn’t know it was happening, Scully. As for what it

says, I would think it says evil is everywhere. And it’s up to the righteous to

be constantly on guard,” he told her. He kissed her softly on the crown of her

head. “It says that we will always have work to do, Scully. No matter what

happens next, we must always be vigilant and look where no one else dares.”

the end

Author’s notes: There is a lot of factual information in this story. I want to

acknowledge some articles I dug up on the internet about the Crenshaw Mansion at

Hickory Hill. The Daily Egyptian, fall 2003 edition has a wonderful article on

the house.

http://newshound.de.siu.edu/fall03/stories/storyReader$539

Clarence Bonnell gives a nicely detailed account of the Crenshaws and the house

on the illinoishistory.com site

http://www.illinoishistory.com/osh-loststory.html

Bill Furry did a lengthy article for the Illinois Times in 1997

http://www.illinoishistory.com/itosh.html

And finally, the house was featured in Brian Roesch’s Haunted Illinois (scroll

down to ‘Shawneetown’)

http://www.webspawner.com/users/hhaauunntteeddillino/

But last and certainly not least, I have to thank the former owners of the

house, the Sisk family, who gave me a guided tour of the premises. It was when

I first saw the bed that Lincoln supposedly slept in (just as I describe it

here) that I got the inspiration for this story.

PS, many of the pictures used for the illustrations are pictures of the actual

house and the surrounding county.

Peccavi Part 2

part 2

AUTHOR: truthwebothknow1 dragonrider1@ntlworld.com
CATEGORY: Pre-X files MT Angst MSR
RATING: Mature reading
ARCHIVE: Sure after two weeks sole exclusivity for IMTP VS12.

Continued from Part 1

DISCLAIMER: Fox and CC own the X files. I just like messing with Mulder and Sully’s head. Good cheap therapy. I wash them feed and clean them before sending them back to Chris’s tent Mulder gets Scully comfort with me too. Cheap thrills but no profit.

SUMMARY: Looks like another Christmas will suck and the past comes back to haunt and opens up Mulder’s personal Pandora’s box.
clip_image001

Peccavi 2: Boy interrupted.

Chilmark 15th December 73.

Mulder Residence. After midday.

“What in the world…what is the meaning of this?” Bill Mulder’s stony face twisted alongsidehis lips as he as he opened the door to find his friend with his big 12-year-old son in his arms.

“Good to see you too Bill, now if you wouldn’t mind moving out of my way, your boy has grown since I last saw him, he’s damned heavy.”

Bill’s eyes were dark, with even darker rings showing starkly underneath them. He obviously hadn’t slept well in a while and Fox was shocked at his appearance, the faint smell of whisky on his clothes. Without fanfare or further comment, Bill moved aside to let them through. Henry deposited the injured Fox on the nearest sofa and straitened up to meet Bill with a look that Fox couldn’t read. He didn’t think it was good though. He was still reeling from the expression on his father’s face.  Such a melting pot of emotions.

He couldn’t read them all. Fear, worry, grief and anger seemed to be the most prevalent. Like a good son he decided to keep his mouth shut. That way he couldn’t invite that anger to visit him. Well he hoped not. He was dismayed to find his mother was most conspicuous by her absence, his need to see her becoming urgent. He’d never rest until he had seen her. He didn’t think now was a good time to ask, so he kept quiet.

‘Don’t cry.’ He willed himself. ‘Just don’t cry, not here, not now.’

“What’s he done now?” Bill scowled directly at Fox as his eyes raked over his son’s bandaged foot. His toes had already gone a horrible purple color and stuck out the end. Maybe it was just the drugs kicking in but he couldn’t feel them at all now. He couldn’t really feel anything.

“Just a slight mishap, he took a tumble. In case you hadn’t noticed Bill it’s icy out there.”

Henry winked at Fox and he inwardly thanked his new friend for not causing him to feel anymore embarrassed about the whole sorry incident than he already was. “ Now speaking of ice, this boy could do with some on his foot to get the swelling down. A bag of peas will do nicely.”

Henry picked up the nearest pile of cushions and lifted Fox’s foot until it was gently perched on top. He gave him a smile he hoped might reassure the boy and Fox tried hard to return it. His facial muscles felt paralysed, probably an effect of the Valium, he realised. By now his father was standing by the drinks closet, pouring himself a Scotch. He added some extra ice to a second glass and found a tea towel in a drawer there.

He came back over and gave both to Henry, while he sipped at the drink in his other hand.

“Here. Use this.”

Using the uneasy silence and unspoken conversation the two older men were giving each other as Henry placed the ice bag on his foot, Fox let his eyes take in his surroundings. For the middle of the day the place was like a tomb; the curtains were all drawn and the light was minimal. As close as the approaching holidays were, his previously happy family home was completely devoid of anything Christmassy, he never really expected anything else. The room seemed colder than it was outside. The TV seemed to have gone and the whole place smelled dusty and uncared for. Unloved. A bit like him, the little voice in his head supplied. He sensed two eyes boring into the top of his head and slowly raised his eyes to his father’s.

“Hello …Dad.” He gave him a tentative smile, that felt out of place on his face after all that had happened, as a spark of hope that his father was about to give him a hug when Bill closed the distance. Instead his father’s firm grip moved forward to shake his right hand once and then dropped it like a stone.

“Hello son. Good to see you.”

That was all he offered before downing the rest of his scotch and turning his back on Fox’s burning eyes as he went to fix himself another.

Fox turned his betrayed expression to his companion, confused, full of questions tripping over in his mind and the effort not to spring from the sofa and get as far away as he could, making his throat burn and his tendons shake. Tears were not far away. The air was thick and mausoleum like, unseen blood leaking from the boy in every direction.

Henry’s eyes were nothing but apologetic and sad as he put a finger to his lips and mouthed, “Let me talk to him,” He patted the boy’s knee, watching him bite deep into his lower lip, the frantic twitch in his jaw, then followed Bill who had now retreated to the kitchen. The door slamming was his que to bolt.

“..Mom”.

Fox was halfway to the stairs before he heard the angry shouts competing. The rising and falling tones made him feel panicked and it gave him even more impetus to get himself away from the sound. His mother was upstairs he surmised. His father hadn’t said so but he thought he heard a faint snoring from one of the rooms up there. Hobbling with weight on his heel as opposed to his sorry looking toes didn’t hurt so much but throbbed,  picking up speed with his heart as the awful sounds of two men arguing—probably over him, almost overwhelmed him. He was curious as to why it sent off his inner terror—he’d heard the men who’d turned up at the house past a reasonable hour, argue and end up shouting back and forth with his parents before and his mother had also added her sorrow laden voice to the mix. His thick fluffy pillows had been a friend to him then as he smothered the sounds with his head buried beneath them. Occasionally Samantha had come in crying and they had sat and hugged each other, wondering what on earth was going to come crashing down onto their innocence.

“Fox, Fox…I’m scared. I hate the shouting. Why is this happening?”

“Don’t cry. It’s okay. I’m here and you can play with my baseball stuff if you want, or I can read you some DR SUESS.”

“But I can still hear them yelling. Why do they have to yell? Make its stop Fox!”

“Here curl up next to me and you can borrow my other pillow. We can pretend we’re in igloos where no one can find us.”

His room had been his sanctuary then against the big bad world and its odious fingers that snaked their way into his previously happy family comfort zone, threatening to destroy his and Sam’s sense of security. Had that all been only a month ago? The realisation almost toppled him right there and then. Why could he never tell her that he loved her?

He burned the sudden tears that tried to escape on the end on his sleeve, redoubling his efforts to reach the top of the stairs. Sanctuary and his mother were above him and he needed both.

Now.

Going up sideways on his ass had seemed like the best option; he could push up with his good foot and his arms could do the rest. He was sweating now and feeling dizzy, looking back behind him had been a big mistake and he suddenly swooned as the bottom of the stairs loomed up to taunt him.

Heart pounding, he wavered and clung to the banister like grim death and took a deep breath. Close call. His father would love that. Him sprawled all limbs and bloody toes in a heap at the bottom of the stairs like a broken lamp. A mess, a bother to clear up, a sharp intake of breath and a glowering look as he carried him to the sofa…or just left him there while he called the hospital. A quick trip to the ER and his dad tanking up on scotch while the ambulance arrived.

He could just hear his voice in his mind telling the driver not to bring him home again ever. If they couldn’t have Samantha, the didn’t want him back….he …Fox…the one responsible for bringing such sorrow on his family.

His heart shouted down that assumption, squeezing his breath and forcing out tears, but his mind warred with the snatches of nurse’s careless gossip when they were unaware he could hear them. His head fell to his chest as their words stung him again and he wished he could disappear. A state of non-existence would absolve him of trying to claw back the sense of safety he once enjoyed as a carefree child, one he knew wasn’t coming back, shattered forever on a terrifying winter night of shadows, light and screaming.

He pondered at the lovely side effects of these drugs he was pickled on. Most of the time they kept him hazy and numb but just when he least expected it a sight, smell or sound would trigger snatches of his worst memories of that night and beyond.

He’d never before in his life felt so unloved. Of course they didn’t want him. Would they send him away again soon? It wasn’t their fault, it was his. He was a bad person, not the loving boy he thought he was– hell he couldn’t even tell Sam in so many words he loved her. He was bad and bad kids should be sent away..he should be sent away.

The way things were going maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea. He was a constant painful reminder to them of his failure to protect his sister. Maybe Ryan Parks mother, who’d always ruffled his hair and given him a share of her family picnic at school events would adopt him. She was the most  forgiving soul he’d ever come across and he was in awe of her capacity to love and care for her family. Almost like Shirley Jones had on the ‘Partridge family.’ But then no, noone not even Ryan’s mom could ever forgive him enough to take him into her home. He might loose one of her children too. She was too nice to say that of course, but she’d think it.  Their eyes would betray their fear of him being amongst them. They’d always wonder. Everyone remembered the police tape blowing like some sad ribbon in the November chill around the Mulder house and the rumors, and the sight of him like a zombie being strapped to a gurney and loaded into a funny farm truck like so much garbage to be taken away.

Yeah…they’d always wonder. And if only his grandma kitty hadn’t died two summers ago. She always loved her ‘brown eyed boy’ as she often emphasised in that old European accent of hers. But he colored with shame as he thought of her, she had also loved Samantha and spoiled her rotten, what would she have said to all this? If she hadn’t already been dead, the shock would have killed her, frail old lady that she was……..

Wherever she was now, he doubted she looked down favourably on him either….and he was suddenly pierced through with the fear that maybe she might haunt him.

Shame swept through him at these thoughts about the people who were dear to him. He loved them so much, how could he think this about them. He was full of love, wasn’t he? He loved his sister.. but at the end of the day he didn’t save her. He could never say sorry enough, even if he lived to be really old…like his dad.

“What are you doing Fox? Get back downstairs.” His father’s voice boomed just as he reached up to pull himself over the last gruelling step, the shock of being caught almost toppling him again.

“Mom…Please I just want to see her.”

“She’s sleeping. I don’t want you disturbing her.” The ‘You’ sounded distinctly like a dirty word when his father almost spat it out.

“But dad?”

“But nothing, get back down those stairs or go to your room.”

“Bill, “ Henry’s voice warned from below.

“Stay the hell out of this Henry. This is my house and My son.”

“Well then take care of him like he is your son.” He exploded, but trying to keep his angry voice to a whisper. “You had two children Bill, not one. The one left behind needs you and Teena now, more than ever.” Fox watched his father sneer at the other man, barely controlled temper rippling through him as he towered over him.

“You don’t understand.”

“I understand enough Bill. “ Henry ground out, eyes darting from father to son, for a moment, Fox thought both men might come to blows right there as Henry joined them on the stairs. His expression sad and grave as he looked first at Fox, who he pursed his lips at in a small smile and then glared more disappointedly at his old friend. “Then let the boy see his mother. She’s your wife Bill, but she is his mother too. It’s the least you can do. All he wants is to see her, after all it’s been a dreadful few weeks and the boy needs her now. He hasn’t seen her for a while.” Bill scowled at Henry’s challenging tone, looking down at the other man’s hand on his arm, and then bore his gaze on Fox who was trying hard to be angry; it was better than breaking down in front of his father.

“Please dad. I just want to make sure she’s okay. Please?” He hated that the drugs slurred his voice and he was whining like a baby but it was beyond him at this point.

“Of course she’s not okay Fox,” his father enunciated each word like it caused him physical pain to have to explain it to this halfwit boy. “She will never be okay again. Now…”

“Bill, just let him see her, what harm can it do just to poke his head around the door, especially after all that’s happened. Then he can go to his room, he needs to rest too with the medication he’s on.”

“No, Fox stop being selfish. Its hard all round, don’t you see that? Come with me boy,” The next thing Fox felt was his father was gripping his upper arm and pulling him away from the top of the stairs; Henry tugging at his father’s other arm like some bizarre tug of war.

He had this mad idea that they would all end up in tangle at the bottom of the stairs in a moment. Something in him finally rose to the surface and snapped, Fox yanked his arm away from his father with more force than he expected and his father had to steady himself on the banister to stop from falling. Henry shot out his free hand to grip Bill while Fox scrambled awkwardly up and away from the two men. His need for his mother  outstripping any possible wrath his father might mete on him.

He turned despite himself and was shocked by his father’s expression. Was that hurt he saw in his eyes?

His father and Henry made an interesting snapshot, frozen as they were on the stairs. Henry’s eyes told him to go to his mother while he had words again with his father. There would be hell to pay later. Fox needed no further encouragement and ambled the last few steps towards the light in the farthest bedroom. He felt like hell himself, wobbly and sick as he crept into the cocoon that was his mother’s bedroom.

His heartbeat was the loudest thing in the room as he shuffled towards her bed. He could just see her dark hair cresting the top of the eiderdown and the still corpselike shape of her body buried beneath. A muted lamp illuminated how paper thin and pale her skin was, her cheeks once full and elegant when she laughed looked like they were in stark relief now. Sucked in. Lifeless, dead.

Because he didn’t save Samantha.

Fox could see she was breathing. He wasn’t as he reached out his hand to touch the fingers covering her face from the world. There wasn’t much warmth when he touched her and he bit back a sob. ‘Mom,’ resounded in his head but the lump wedged in his throat and the galvanisation of all he’d been through in the last few terrible weeks wouldn’t let him make enough air to squeeze the words out. Little crow’s feet cracks were running all over his insides and he didn’t know how to stop them.

The curtains wavered in the breeze and he recoiled at the sibilant sound of snow hissing against glass, startled. His mother stirred gently. For a brief moment, when he looked again, she was starring straight at him, eyes very black in the dust motes and gloom.

“….Fox… beautiful …boy. ”

“…Mommy,” his voice broke apart on a painful whisper, somehow he’d dropped to his knees by the bed and laid his head next to where her hands rested. For a few seconds he thought he’d imagined her voice and that her brief lucidity was nothing more than wishful thinking, then he felt the warm weight of her hand stroking his head and his throat burned deep into the covers and his chest convulsed in silent agony, relief, sorrow against the hard edge of the bed..

“Sorrysorrysorry,” spilled out between his agonized sobs, but she was asleep again, he realised as her hand slid away and he pined for the loss of the warmth. Scarcely daring to breathe, he lifted her hand to his cheek, unable to stop a trail of tears from wetting her skin.

Soft snoring was all the response he had.

The door closed downstairs and he felt a surge of panic and a sudden suffocating feeling of being buried alive gripped him, knowing that was almost certainly Henry, his knight apparent, leaving.

Then he smelled the whisky before he heard his footfalls.

“Like I said, Fox,” his father’s eerily soft voice bled from the silhouette by the door. “It’s hard all round.” Fox’s hands swiped at the snot and tears as he looked up. He nodded. “Satisfied now? Come boy.”

The calm before the storm?

Right then the kinder edge in his father’s tone shook him and he wondered not for the first time what Henry had said. He hung his head, not wanting to see his own shame mirrored in his father’s booze sodden eyes as he limped past him.

Chilmark : Mulder house. 3.17am.

Tap tap..tatatatap. Tap tap..tatatatap

There was a demon trying to get through the window. It had red eyes and claws and kept tapping on the Glass. Insistent, unrelenting.  Fox hid under his quilt in a foetal position and willed himself to be struck deaf. He didn’t want to hear that…whatever it was or anything else the night had lurking out there. Not for the first time he wished to be back in the hospital, at least it was safe and the nurses were okay with him most of the time. But this, this indifference, this torment and misery that leaked from his every pore and from the people he loved made him feel like he would break apart.

Especially after seeing his mother like that. Drugged to the gills and scarcely aware of anything. Thinking of the pills he was supposed to take and the way they made him feel, he wondered how long it might take him to end up like his mother, maybe that would be a blessing, block everything out, but how could he live like that? What did she see in that valium cloud when she closed her eyes? Did she hear the tapping?

Tap tap..tatatatap

“Noooo!! Stop stop…”

After Henry left, and Fox fled to the relative safety of his room, the expected showdown with his father never materialised. Instead he’d silently delivered his next dose of meds, a rather curled up chicken sandwich and a stack of school books, informing his son that he’ d lost enough schooling and needed to occupy himself with catching up. After that he left, Fox staring at his back as he closed the door. Out of sight and out of mind, back to his drinks cabinet, no doubt.

Alone.

Alone with a thousand eyes and otherworldly horrors waiting in the shadows.

Tap..tatatatap. The wind howled like evil laughter and the snow took on the form of freezing breath trying to crack the glass to let everything out there lying in wait to get him inside. There it was again. Was just his imagination or was it getting louder? It a fit of hysteria he’d already torn all his posters off the wall. He couldn’t explain why, he just didn’t like the faces anymore; they stared down accusingly at him, some menacing, and others boring into his soul with cruel eyes threatening to leap out and take form, then get him.

Mr Spock didn’t look kind anymore. The Vulcan’s dark eyes seemed to follow him around the room. His mother had once commented that he looked demonic; he was beginning to agree.

The paper rustled and moved like living things, distorting those faces, the others, the science fiction posters full of nightmares he couldn’t fathom or name. All now in a screwed up heap of shredded paper on the floor.

Fox felt bone cold. It was freezing in here and he could imagine that he might turn into an ice cube by morning as he shivered under too thin an eiderdown, trying to breathe over too fast a heartbeat. The rest of the house was just as cold and he’d noticed that no one had lit the fireplace in the front room for some time. It was as if the world inside the house had turned on its axis, setting it apart from the rest of the world and rendered it impenetrable by heat or joy.

And he was trapped inside it.

Time had stood still on November 27th 1973.

A time capsule of despair.

He hated feeling so helpless, so frightened, like a little boy. And he couldn’t even bear to peer out at what was making the tapping noise. In his minds eye he kept seeing his sister, being spirited away on a shaft of light while he gurgled under the blankets paralysed with fear until exhaustion took him back to the troubled plains between sleep and light.

5.15am

He’d wandered in and out of nightmare filled sleep for hours and finally awake again he’d found himself crouched, arms wrapped tightly around his chest in the corner of the room, trying desperately to get away from the shaft of bright light raking the room, looking for him. A hooded figure suddenly loomed forward in the bright glare and a silent scream tore from his throat, eyes transfixed to the spot. Were they coming back for him?

“Gnnnurr gerraway…go way!” he shrieked, scrambling around in a panic.

His hand closed over his baseball beside him on the floor where he’d knocked everything flying sometime in his exodus from the bed. A desperate flick of his wrist sent it hurling across the room at the advancing menace. He blinked, ready to run if it missed its target… It hit home and another shaft of light had him throwing his arms up over his eyes, panting for dear life. Almost imagining the snaky fingers clawing at his legs and pulling him into hell…. It took him a moment or two to process that everything had stopped, no sound, except the distant chuckle of wind outside.

Somehow he willed himself to look.  And he laughed. Not a humorous laugh but a relieved sad chuckle that came with realisation that he’d been an idiot. Harmlessly lying on the floor was his old green hooded bathrobe. Crawling over with his baseball bat, he poked at it to make sure it wasn’t suddenly going to achieve form and spring at him. Another streak of bright light shot through the room from the window, this time not stirring blind panic but compounding the feelings of foolishness. The headlights of a car passing the house; nothing more sinister than that. Shaking his head he took a deep breath and moved to the window.

Taptap tap. A bare and gnarly old tree swayed in the wind and reached his window, branches tapping against the glass. Something that had terrified him stupid, morphed back to the natural and familiar in the creeping blanket of morning.

Silent snow and Christmas tree lights on the Mansard’s house across the street gaily blinked at him. It made him shiver and he thought he could hear Her voice, calling through the grim icy dawn. He heard her everywhere now. Damn drugs. In no time at all he’d be a gibbering monkey, back to the funny farm for good this time.

“Fox helppppp. Foooxxxxxx. “

“Sam….”

Still staring out of the window, hands splayed against the glass, Fox felt the sweat drying on his back, adrenalin leaving as fast as it came and he shivered, teeth chattering, with cold and dread. He could have sworn he saw a small figure running away in the snow. But the blizzard showered the window with fresh flakes and when he could see clearly again, there was nothing, like noone had ever been there. But he felt her calling his soul. A lost siren. Like iron filings to a magnet and a thud in his chest that told him she was out there and that tight stricken feeling like a fist wedged there wouldn’t ever leave until he found her. Somehow he had to find a way to make her come home. He just had to.

‘Your family needs to heal’

Henry’s words came back to him, a comforting voice in his mind. But he knew as difficult and awful as the day before had been, it would only get worse if she never returned. He didn’t know what to do, all his common sense buried under a haze of medication, just like his mom.

It wasn’t living; she just existed in limbo, like not being able to breath or something. And he couldn’t bear to be like his mom.

No, he lost Samantha so he would have to find her, search endlessly if he had to till he could bring her home. No one would heal until he did. The first thing to go would be those stupid pills. No more. If his father remembered between alcoholic stupors to give him his next dose he would palm them.

The irony of this house of forever closed curtains was that the only ones open now were in his room. Just as he moved to close them something hard hit the window and two huge yellow eyes blazed flame into his. His heart almost stopped and he stumbled back, when he looked again, there was nothing there. What the hell was that?

Feathers, his brain supplied, Just an owl ..or a hawk. It seemed like the whole world, from the most gentle breeze to an innocent animal had the capacity to frighten him now. What had he become in two short weeks? A confident boy, a swim team champion and academic over achiever to snivelling, hallucinating wreck. No wonder his father couldn’t look him in the eye or speak to him without a drink in his hand.

Unsure how he had the balls to be in Sam’s room, but nevertheless that’s where he found himself, Fox closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Bare feet on the pink carpet in his missing sister’s inner sanctum of all things girly, he waited for the onslaught of memories to wash over him. He sucked in each one, allowing them to fully wash over him like a penance to a higher power. He deserved the damage it wrought and the shredding of his mind.

I lost you.

Fighting tears, he found himself crawling up onto her bed, groping around for her pillow.  Covered in little print roses, it smelled of her. Lemon verbena and violets, a few strands of dark hair. He hugged it to him tightly, sank his tears into it and fought to imagine it was actually her, a living-breathing sister he’d never had time to say he loved. He wasn’t sure why he came here but it was almost like following a voice. If he strained his ears, he could almost

imagine her voice.

She wanted him to come here, he felt that with every ounce of his being, and all the hairs stood up on his neck as he lay there and looked around. Sniffing through his tears, what struck him then was that he’d never been in here before. Never had an inclination in all the years since she was a very tiny baby to come look around. Why would he, she was a girl after all. Her childish crap didn’t interest him.

Until now.

They hadn’t touched it since she’d gone, since that night….

It was untouched like a shrine to her, all her things; her Barbies, stuffed animals, books…..and costume dolls. Dozens of them.

Pretty maids all in a row.

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Wow, he thought.

Small faces, long faces, cherubic, cruel looking, some dolls dressed in national costume, baby dolls, native dolls. All types sizes and shapes, which she kept in some kind of weird order only known to Samantha’s little girl logic on various shelves.

The more Fox stared at them the more he felt like they were watching him, damning him for loosing their owner and he had this odd urge to declare he was sorry. Which of course he was.

On one shelf there was a gap. That was his clue.

He vaguely remembered a conversation with his sister from a few months back, mostly one sided on her part, about a new doll she had wanted. She had waved a picture under his nose torn from one of those girly books his mom indulged her in about imported dolls from Europe, all excited and screechy. He hadn’t wanted to listen at the time for she went on and on about it, bending his ear incessantly and he’d been too engrossed in tinkering with his chopper bike to bother really listening. Beyond answering with a disinterested ‘Yeah yeah yeah.’ Finally, after enduring her nagging long enough, he rolled his eyes and gave the picture a quick once over.

“She’s wonderful Fox. I want her. If I can have her that will complete my set., I will never want another thing again as long as I live. I’d do anything to get her.”

“Yeah right, it’s just a doll. You have tons of the stupid things.”

Samantha thumped his arm; “ You’re the stupid one, messing all day with this bike. Looking at Steven Payne’s father’s bad magazines when you’re up at his place.”

“Well at least its better than making silly faces at dolls. Does she have any panties on under that frock? “

Sam scowled at his laughter and kicked his bike. “ She looks like me, look at her hair Fox….stop laughing…..gross boy.”

But he’d kept laughing…..and he’d made her cry.

He blushed with shame now, a tear sliding down his face as he recalled telling her it looked like a waxy dead version of her …and to get her dumb picture out of his face. Predictably she had gone off crying to their mom in outrage; while he dawdled down the beach to get away from her…

“Sorry Sam, I’m sorry”, his quiet voice bled into the heavy air as he hugged his ribs against the pain of his memories. If only he could take those words back. If only he could make it up to her.

And then he had an idea. He’d get her the doll for Christmas. She’d come back for sure then. He wasn’t sure how or where he would get the money but he knew he had to do this. She’d come home for this doll. She’d do anything right? She’d come home and it would be sitting under the tree waiting for her on Christmas morning, her eyes would light up and she would be happy again. Then everyone would be all right. His family would be back the way it was and all this would just be an unpleasant memory. They wouldn’t hate him any more.

He swiped the tears from his eyes. He could do this, he knew he could. He just had to figure it all out. Ten days, he had ten short days…But then people said he was a bright boy, didn’t they.

“Don’t lose sight of that no matter what,” Henry’s words bolstered him.

Time to start showing it.

After loosing Sam, it was time for him to bring her home.

And this time, he would tell her how much he loved her.

xxxxx

It was surreal having a bowl of breakfast cereal put in front of you while being asked if you murdered your sister. Just a routine interview the cops said as they stared at him like two starved timber wolves waiting to pounce. Timber wolves that ate too many doughnuts, the devil inhabiting his brain suggested. They had been waiting two weeks for this and now they were going to make a meal of him; the little trapped Fox.

Fox stared into the sickly looking oatmeal; sure everyone in the room could hear how loud his heart was beating. Face flushed with an almost numb terror, and his father standing off to his left side, exploded at their opening ‘routine’ question. His quietly menacing tone talking about lawyers and snowstorms, some big words that probably meant something to everyone in the room but him, so he let it all go over his head.

Strange how this morning, there was no drink in his hand. Black coffee seemed to be the order of the day.

A spoonful of oatmeal found its way into his mouth but it tasted like ashes. He hadn’t been able to eat the sandwich left for him last night either. Especially after it seemed to have been crawling across the plate during that psychotic attack he’d had.

It was though someone had taken his stomach away while he was in hospital. He had no desire to eat, just going through the motions so he wouldn’t get shouted at. His father handed him two happy pills and a glass of milk. Damn, he couldn’t palm these; there were too many eyes on him.

“Answer the question Fox,” the first cop with thinning hair, prompted impatiently, tapping his pen against his notepad and swapping telling looks with his cohort. Up till now Fox had been too stunned and sleep deprived to form coherent answers. “Do you know what happened to Samantha?” His eyes found his father’s and the older man gave him a terse nod. He pushed the bowl into the middle of the table with one finger, decidedly sick to his stomach now. His mind was racing, trying to formulate what on earth he could say and not being ale to get the words out.

What could he say to make them believe what had actually happened, the truth that his sister had been stolen on a sea of light. Things had got a bit sketchy after that and he couldn’t be sure what happened. He wouldn’t have believed him either on the basis of that.

“No…she…something took her.”

He was the one in charge that night; of course he was the scapegoat. It must have looked real bad for him to be sat there on the living room floor in a puddle of piss and holding his dad’s gun and hyperventilating. What a hero. Fox Mulder, his sister’s champion. Yeah right.

“I didn’t hurt her. …I couldn’t.” Barely a whisper, fingers white knuckled around his spoon. He ground his bad foot into the linoleum so he could savor the pain. It was better than tears that were building up like a dam as he relived the scene over and over.

“You don’t seem sure on anything young man, you sure about that?”

“No…..I mean…..She ‘s my sister. I love her.”

“Really. And what kind of love is that…exactly?”

“For heaven sake he’s a 12 year old boy!” His father exploded again, Fox was focused on the veins in his neck, mesmerised, expecting some impending blow out at any second as he tuned out the heated exchange going on around him, watching his lips moving but not registering the bitter words.

Anything was better than tying to wrap his head around the implications the cop was making.

Asshole. Knowing he hadn’t done anything to his sister, the whole magnitude of what had been implied was too painful to bear. Fortunenately the hated pills were kicking in and he was starting to float off down the rabbit hole of oblivion he had often sought solace in lately.

A little bubble formed in his mind and surrounded him so that no one else could penetrate– their cruel and mindless accusations merely flashed off the tungsten surface of the bubble without ever creating a flesh wound.

Maybe if he babbled like a monkey and left a little drool on the table that would convince them to put away that notepad leave him the fuck alone.

His hands slid forward across the table and he rested his head on them, studying the wood grain. That morning when he’d looked out of Samantha’s window and saw the flashing squad car lights it had struck more terror into him than being found by his father in her room. He had known this was coming; who they would try and blame.

His father had been strangely quiet all morning when that door opened and found him there. Instead of a tirade Fox was met with an uneasy silence and he was speared by the sadness and underlying emotions in his eyes, almost as if he’d made the same mistake he had in imagining Sam would there tucked up in her bed, her long dark pigtails strewn across the pillows. Dismay evident that all he found was the one person responsible for her absence.

They both shared a moment of that invisible knife slitting them open again. He’d held the door open wider as a gesture for him to come out and said evenly, almost as an  apology, “The Police are here Fox, Go strait down, there, I want to check on your mother. I’ll join you in a moment.”

Unable to breath, he’d shuffled awkwardly, jelly legged down each step like a prisoner going to an execution, each heartbeat bringing him closer to something nameless and terrifying, not because he feared them or their questions; that was only part of it, what he’d really feared was having to relive it over and over, knowing no one would believe his boy’s adventure tale. The ramblings of a 12 year old on a knife-edge, babbling about bright lights floating sisters out of windows and Bill Bixby’s familiar grin. The rest of it had all counter sunk into the gaping holes in his normally fantastic memory.

He was dead meat.

It was quite clear they had dug up the garden. Henry had tried to shield his eyes from the newly turned over mounds of earth the day before, so stark against the still falling backdrop of snow. They even dug up his dead dog; that poison arrow had penetrated the steel bubble and left him bleeding inside. Duke the border collie, who had been run over by a delivery van the summer before, who if he’d been alive would have been another ally, the trusting faithful honey eyed friend who gave unconditional love but like everyone else seemed to have abandoned him. Damn not now—his eyes were wet again.

How he missed him licking his hands and carefree nuzzles but nothing was sacred to these people thirsty for a resolution to this mystery and now his poor dog’s last resting place and little wooden cross, he carved from driftwood for him had been pulled into the undertow of the Mulder family tragedy.

It was a pretty safe bet no one would call here and sing carols this year. Too scared to knock on the door of the house of screams and foam mouthed 12 year olds with wild stories and big brown holes in the back yard. Police tape for a festive reef and ‘Christmas is cancelled oozing from the rafters.’ With that thought slithered away his hope to bring Sam back. She always loved this time of year. Jumping up and down like a yoyo with excitement. Her eyes gleaming with reflection of Christmas lights and baking with their mother.

Mostly likely he’d be thrown in jail this afternoon.

“Fox!”

“What….?” God, would this nightmare ever go away? He could do better than drool he thought and he did.

He threw up.

“Jesus!”

Hands were on him then, dragging him away fro the table. The chair falling over with a clatter as he was whisked up and out of the room, still vomiting, gasping in between heaves. Limp in his father’s arms, he heard the frustrated volley of dialogue going on over his head but it was short-lived and he never understood a word. He felt his body gently unfurled down on a soft surface, rolled onto his side by strong hands and a blanket hurried thrown over him and a cold plastic thing that must have been a bowl shoved under his chin. After what seemed like eternity his stomach calmed and all went quiet. Just the deeply cold bite of an icepack against his head and someone wiping his face. Like a kitten seeking the sun’s warmth he leaned into the touch, whoever’s it was and gratefully passed out.

Stomach on fire and shaking like a leaf he lay there, taking painful breaths that ripped up his throat and chest like he’d swallowed broken glass. Unable to form any kind of thought other than to inhale and exhale like asthmatic bellows.

His eyes flickered open and met the inscrutable wildness of his father’s gaze. “It’s okay Fox,” his voice intoned in that way he could never ignore, Fox’s hearing distorted by surging narcotics so it made him sound like a wound down recording, “You were a bit out of sorts. You just rest. That’s it, take deep breaths.” A hand nervously patted his shoulder, almost like an afterthought then his father stood and moved away, still talking. He blinked trying to assimilate the sound with the speed his lips were moving and failing, it made him too dizzy. No words came from his mouth when he opened it to speak and he swallowed against the bile still clinging like acid to his throat. Blackness descended on him like a dark suffocating shroud to the long drawn out ringing of a phone somewhere a million miles away.

Outside the snowflakes gathered momentum and fell like frigid tears, as if seeking to act as a salve to the sorrow below on a community wounded by the incalculable loss of an 8 year old girl and the people who loved her.

Xxx

Fox awoke in a panic, burning lips and eyes, weak as a kitten, not knowing where he was, then he heard a little noise at the peripheral of his consciousness. It took a moment to realise it was two people speaking softly in another room. An undulating conversation probably not meant for his ears. He lay very still listening, eyes shut against the glowing demons of the fire that someone had lit in the hearth. It matched the fire in his body. There was something wet across his forehead, that took the edge of his pain. Where was he? Oh yeah, on the sofa downstairs. No handcuffs, no jail cell. He let relief flood his senses, exhausted and listless as he was.

“When is the doctor coming to see Teena?” His heart tumbled in relief at the sound of his unlikely angel. Henry hadn’t abandoned him after all.

“This afternoon, he had an emergency up in Aquinnah.”

“ Then you better get him to look at Fox. I can’t believe you left him in that state for three days. What were you thinking? “

“ Not that it’s any business of your’s but he was fine. I bathed him, kept his temperature down. He was never in danger, just a bit sick, that’s all. “

“ He’s a child in distress Bill, you do realise this, don’t you? Especially after what those poor excuses for detectives put him through. My god, he’s just out of the hospital. To traumatise him like that…” A sharp intake of angry breath. The sound of a coffee cup being banged down hard on a surface.

“We are going through….a difficult time. …they had a job to do I guess.”

“ Yes I know full well and I understand Bill, these times are very hard on everyone; you won’t be the first and certainly not the last. But we have to care for those who are still here. You still have a son.”

“They…they came right out and asked if he’d killed her.”

A sharp intake of breath. “What? And you stood by and let them?”

Fox fought back tears as the shock of those accusations returned to stab him again. If he’d had the strength to get up then he would have run to the ocean and thrown himself into the freezing waves to drown to away the filth that still clung to his soul.

“Dad?….dad! “ A rustle of clothing told him that someone was in the room and sure enough when he was brave enough to open his eyes, two sets of eyes were regarding him. Somebody was ruffling his hair. Henry smiled down at him, while his father just looked at him like he’d sprouted antenna.

“Are those cops coming back dad?” With a tongue that felt so thick and lips so dry it was hard to form words but he needed answers.

“No Fox. I don’t think so. “ Fox didn’t seem quiet convinced. His father and Henry exchanged glances, a whole silent conversation with just one drawn out look. A few heartbeats later his father sighed, Fox noticed that the whiskey tumbler was back in its usual place, in his father’s hand; alongside the tremor he hadn’t noticed before.

“I would never hurt Sam, you know that don’t you dad…I….?” His voice got buried under the groundswell of tears that rose in his throat, making the last come out as a raw squeak. A few tears spilled as he felt Henry squeeze his shoulder in reassurance.” He screwed his eyes shut tight but when he opened them again, he stared directly into his father’s troubled face.

“I know you didn’t son. Rest now, the doctor will be here soon.” And with that he got up and walked away. Henry shook his head slightly before turning back to the boy.

“Don’t pay him any attention, Fox. You know how bad you feel, all upset inside and scared; well he’s feeling pretty bad about things too. “

“I know…..I just wish…doesn’t matter.”

“Oh but it does Fox. You do matter, maybe he can’t show you at the moment…and your Mom,… well you saw her so you know she is….” Fox watched his father’s friend frown, sifting through his internal lexicon for the right words. “Indisposed right now…but I have a little idea I’d like to run by you. “ He tilted his head sideways with a careful grin.

To be continued in part 3.

Peccavi Part 1

VS12x17_004

Peccavi Part 1

Author: truthwebothknow1 dragonrider1@ntlworld.com

Category: Pre-X files MT Angst MSR

Rating: Mature reading

Summary: Looks like another Christmas will suck and the past comes back to haunt and opens up Mulder’s personal Pandora’s box.

Archive: Sure after two weeks sole exclusivity for IMTP VS12.

Disclaimer: Fox and CC own the X files. I just like messing with Mulder and Sully’s head. Good cheap therapy. I wash them feed and clean them before sending them back to Chris’s tent Mulder gets Scully comfort with me too. Cheap thrills but no profit.

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Washington DC Downtown mall

23rd December

The Mall was swarming with Christmas shoppers like an army of noisy, gaudily coloured ants with manic purpose.

Mulder could just make out the back of Scully’s flame-haired head, as she stood at the counter in the faux Dickensian fronted toy shop. The snow was fake too, he mused. A bit like the smile he’d pasted on his face for Scully’s sake this morning, when his partner suggested this grand expedition into the frenzied unwashed masses of DC.  It had been a back-achingly long day, and he felt as though he had just trudged around the Sahara for hours draped in his heaviest wool long coat while fending off the first tingling throat irritation of a cold, and feeling the sweat pour down his back. Great — that’s all he needed, he sniffled as he tried to take a deep breath amidst the sweltering throng of bodies milling around him. He so wanted to be home, take a hot shower, and curl up with Scully, preferably in bed with some cocoa and TLC.

As much as he loved Scully and as much as she loved shopping for her nieces and nephews, if he had to endure his feet getting trampled on, or shoved unceremoniously one more time, or winked at by a Hohoho-ing Santa, he might just have to draw his gun.

His head being the first recipient of a bullet, he decided. He idly wondered what the halls would look like decked with his brains.

Here he was sitting in a slump on the bench by the strobing lights of a huge tinsel conifer next to McDonald’s, which currently seemed to be invaded by a gaggle of Japanese tourists. By his side he gazed nonchalantly at a huge stack of bags and boxes; the fruits of Scully’s shopping labors. Had she bought half the Mall?

He gamely rubbed his sore back with one hand while the other held the remains of a soggy egg Mcmuffin. It looked as sad as he felt, now hours old. The lights flashed and mocked him like a bank of undulating UFOs; intensifying his headache and the smell of the grease ball in his hand making his stomach do the Christmas twist.

Up until today, he hadn’t seen much joy on Scully’s face at the prospect of another grief tinged holiday season and yet another empty space at the table.  Bill’s death was still palpable, and poor Tara was facing her first Christmas without her husband and her two small kids and their father. But the Scullys were stronger than that. Mulder knew that right down to his marrow. Adversity made them rally; they overcame and made the best of a bad situation. How different from his own family. A slither of pain lanced through him as his mind traitorously supplied that thought.

His family had crumbled like dust in the wind after Sam was taken. He was always astonished how the ghosts of half a lifetime ago could ambush him with painful clarity, especially amidst all this festivity.

The holidays were always difficult for Mulder but it had gotten much better since Scully came into his life with the love and light he’d been missing.

Despite feeling like shit, he’d make the best of it too. Bill and he had never been each other’s biggest fans, but his children were adorable. They deserved a nice Christmas. Even out today, Scully seemed to have shaken off her melancholia and actively looked to be having fun. It did his heart good to see it.

All of them, bar Charlie…..and he wasn’t going there—would be at Maggie’s on Christmas Day, and they would swallow their collective pain to create the happiest holiday they could for the sake of little Mathew and Claire, hence Scully’s seemingly unstoppable attempts to max out her credit cards and few of his.

Mulder was jolted from his reverie when he looked up to find two piercing blue eyes raking over him. They weren’t Scully’s. Their swarthy owner scowled as Mulder coughed again, and then wiped disgustedly at his damp lapel and shuffled away from the ailing agent.

He never felt more unloved and dejected than he did right then and now his nose was rebelling too. He sneezed once, twice and blew his nose loudly into the greasy serviette that had held his lunch, the only thing he had serviceable as a tissue. The rest of the McMuffin rolled onto the floor.

“Yo ho–” sneeze, sniff, “–Ho!!”

“Hey, there. What is it, Mulder? You sick?”

Immediately she launched into doctor mode, and her free hand shot out to touch his forehead; it must have burned her hand. A furnace would have been cooler. It was slightly embarrassing too as there were lots of people around. “You’re burning up. Time to call it a day, I think, and get you home to bed.” He pulled two sad eyes up to meet Scully’s. She smiled at him ruefully and rubbed her fingers over one slightly eggy cheek with the hand that wasn’t laden down with yet more parcels.

“Ooh, yeah. I’m just sitting here like one big old germ factory. Caught my sad attempt at spreading joy to the world, huh?”

“You give me plenty of joy. You know that, don’t you? Come on, if you are a good boy and cooperative, I might get out the Vick’s Vapor Rub. ” She ruffled his hair and placed a kiss against his forehead.

He sniffed loudly, dumping his makeshift hankie in a trashcan as he hauled himself to his feet. He managed a small leer and leaned into her touch. “Even when I literally have egg on my face and I’m full of snot?”

“Especially then. Come on Santa let’s get home. ”

Mulder and Scully Duplex December 23.

Two hours later.

Scully and Mulder shuttled their many purchases from the car into their home. It was beginning to snow again, and a hot drink and food beckoned.

“What’s in the bags Scully?” he asked teasingly as he blew his nose for what seemed like the millionth time that day. Scully slapped at his questing fingers, on her way to put the kettle on.

“All kinds of goodies… Oh, careful with that big box!”

Her warning came too late, Mulder must have picked up the box at the wrong end and the packaging fell off, revealing what was inside.

Mulder froze, his breath disappearing as the package fell to the floor. He staggered back and then seemed to crumple forward against the table. His fingers shot out to steady himself. The other hand clutched at his chest as if he were in pain.

“Mulder…..what is it?”

Slowly his breath came back in little puffs, but along with it the sharp skewer of pain that threatened to crack his heart as if ice fingers had captured it and were squeezing. The room swam and a cacophony of voices beat off the inside of his skull. It was over in seconds and he suddenly became aware of Scully at his side. She was taking his pulse. Counting. Her face the epitome of worried medical professionalism and…loving anxiety.

“Sit….need….to sit…!” She carefully guided him to a chair, her hand never leaving his wrist.

“I’m going to call for the paramedics, it could be your heart again like last time. It’s racing like a thoroughbred..”

“No, no, Scully — it’s okay. Please. Don’t call.”

“Mulder… you are sick, you’re running a temperature.”

Her palm was against his head now, and he was sweating, slumped against her, breathing hard. Despite his assurances, his face was distorted in pain.

“It’s only a heavy cold, not my heart.” Long clammy fingers brushed at her cheek in entreaty. “I had some kind of a flashback…..the doll.”

“The doll I just got for Tara’s daughter? Mulder why would that give you a flashback? What the hell happened, you looked like you were having a heart attack. What …. ?”

“The Doll,” he ground out painfully, bringing up two dilated eyes to Scully’s worried ones, ” It’s almost the copy of one I got for Samantha… the Christmas after she was… taken.”

Scully blanched with a strange guilt, aghast at the effect a simple doll had on him. “Mulder, you don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to.”

“I want to. I think I need to. This is another piece of the puzzle of my childhood, just not one I’ve had before.” He gazed up past her and out of the kitchen window onto a cold December day. Snow was swirling around in the early evening silence, whispering against the glass, and he was transported back to a time he’d dearly wished he’d never gone through. The face of the doll’s silicon smile and plaited dark hair mocked him like a caricature of his missing sister.

How something so innocent looking could evoke such heart slamming misery never ceased to amaze him.

Scully helped him up and steered him towards the bedroom and away from the damned thing.

“You Mulder are going to bed with some Tylenol 3 and a hot drink. Then if you feel up to it, we’ll talk. OK, sweetheart?”

He nodded and leaned into her, angry at this jelly-legged weakness he felt throughout his body.

Later he lay in her arms and let the memories pour out of him like rancid oil, while the snow hissed like eager witnesses to his pain against the  windows.

Xxxxxxx

Danforth Private Mental Health Clinic

Tennyson Bridge. Mass

December 12, 1973

The first few times he’d come around, he never bothered opening his eyes. There was no point really.

He knew what he would see; white walls, white sheets, cracks in the ceiling plaster and maybe a spider making a web if he was lucky.

Mindless stuff that didn’t require him to think past the screams that tapped urgently at the edge of his consciousness.

All in all he felt numb and couldn’t be bothered. Somehow he felt it would make everything more real and by playing possum, the nurses would forget about him and not try to make small talk while they prodded and poked, did his vitals.

Perhaps he could melt into the sheets and vanish. Yeah that would be good. Perhaps then he wouldn’t see her face silently beseeching him behind his eyelids.

At least now they weren’t restraining him. In a few lucid awake periods, he’d hated those. The five points had vanished sometime in the last few days. The catheter had gone, too. He was too indifferent to be embarrassed about that, or how the nurse who’d inserted it didn’t look much older than him. Lying there feeling like a tiny weightless speck in the middle of what seemed like a huge cavernous bed, so small in the great scheme of things, he couldn’t even summon up the incentive to try moving.

It seemed like almost an hour since the fleeting urge to try an experimental finger flex struck him. But he remained as frozen as he’d done that night when Sam…. ‘No, don’t think about it, thinking makes it real…No!’

Cotton-mouthed and sporting a head that felt like it was filling up with expanding bread dough, he longed to be left alone, forgotten. Maybe, next time, he would wake up and all this would be some horrific nightmare. Just bring him some more good drugs and let him evaporate into non-existence.

Twelve years old and incarcerated in a nut house. The future seemed a million miles away and not looking like it might improve anytime soon. A plush nuthouse, he corrected himself, if his father’s ample checkbook had anything to do with it, but still. His parents were nowhere in sight, and he had lost track of how long had passed. Five hours or five days? None of it had any meaning now.

Out in the halls, weird sounds echoed back through half opened door to his room.

Dinner trolleys clattered along the stone floor, sundry footsteps came and went; some normal passer-by sounds, others more urgent and hurried that made him listen more closely and his heart beat faster.

Sometimes his drugged brain would let him register smells, but it was all unidentifiable in his limited haze, and it made him feel slightly sick.

Voices, too, reached his ears but he let them wash over him like white noise, snippets of normal life going on around him, nurses and staff discussing

Christmas plans, their sex lives or what was on TV the night before. The odd cheesy yuletide song and doors protesting their hinges as they closed. The tinkle of mad laughter or heart stopping shrieking.  His ears surfed along on the waves of sound like a lullaby propelling him through some unending vortex of sensory fog, oddly divorced from his limbs. Until the little part of his brain still taking notes registered that it was him he could hear being discussed. His body gave an involuntary jerk and he tuned in with every molecule he could claw back from the pull of the Valium.

“What do you mean they don’t want to pick him up? Fox is just a kid, a kid who’s been through the wringer.”

“Just what I said. They had a hard enough time reaching them by phone. They seemed……indifferent. Uninterested.”

“Jeez, it’s Christmas and they don’t want their only surviving child home?”

“I guess it has something to do with that. The mother, well….” The rest of the sentence dissolved into hushed whispers.

“Oh…OH. Do they think he….? Ah. Jeez. ”

“Yeah , he was catatonic when he got here. She was missing. No one’s found her still. She just vanished. Fox was holding his father’s gun. No blood though.”

“Cops crawled over everything but they never got a chance to talk to him. He was brought here…like that.”

“Poor people….not knowing.”

“Yeah.”

“Still he should be home, poor kid. ”

“Tried them twice today. Guess once more wouldn’t hurt. He will be ready to go in a few days. ..”

“Keep trying. Those people, despite what they have been through, need a kick up the ass. . And don’t get me started on his father. Whisky bottle dictator.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

Fox gasped in his white cocoon. Surprised and angry to find his view of the ceiling obscured by hot tears, he swung his head towards the barred window. Bad idea as the room seemed to move at a different pace to what his brain could process and made him giddy and nauseous.

Big fat snowflakes plummeted past the window like white tears mirroring his own and he closed his eyes. The shiver he felt inside had little to do with the weather out there in the real world.

A sharp stab of pain in his tummy made him realise how much he needed his mother right then, and he bit back on the hard lump that was travelling like a fist up his chest and into his throat and threatening to rent the languid air with his screams.

The sudden shuffle of feet outside, and the door screeching open had him feigning unconsciousness. No doubt this was one of his parent’s critics from a few moments ago and he had no desire to talk, or look into her pitying features.

He endured the vital sign check and the feel of the pressure cuff sliding around his arm in silent purgatory. A sharp prick in his arm, and the world

obligingly went away.

Danforth Clinic

December 15

9 a.m.

This time when he woke up his eyes shot open, instantly on alert that there was someone in the room with him. A slight hand shook his shoulder gently but he’d no desire to acknowledge whoever it was. Just by her perfume he could tell it wasn’t his Mom, and again he suppressed his curious blend of shame, need and the utter crushing sensation that lanced through him that it wasn’t her.

“Hey Fox, c’mon, sleepyhead. Time to wake up. ”

What for? He wanted to ask his nurse, but kept his lips firmly pressed together, then bit down on his lower lip. The truth of the matter was too painful to voice, let alone hear.

He heard her sigh, but undeterred by his silence, she helped him upright. At first he wobbled drunkenly.

“Easy does it. ”

The room swam, so he kept his eyes shut tight. When he chanced to open them again his nurse was plumping up pillows behind him so he was now wedged in a sitting position. She was fussing over his covers and now and then gave him an uncomfortable grin. For the hell of it he refused to look at her and settled his gaze on her ample chest instead and tried to tell himself that he needed a change of scenery from the snow.

After she’d given him something to drink, he drew his knees up to his chest, and felt it curious that he accomplished this without swaying all over the place.

His next urge was to give in to his body and rock back and forth, but stopped himself. He was 12 for god’s sakes. That was for babies and he really needed to not add to the wretched way he felt inside, the guilt, the sadness and the sheer disassociation he felt towards anyone who tried to interact with him.

When he looked up again she’d gone. He neither knew nor cared to know her name. She had a kind voice though but she didn’t like his mother. It seemed more comforting to stay locked inside himself. The falling snow outside was kind of mesmerizing and the landscape seemed to consist of two colors; black and white. Somehow that comforted him too.

“Hello Fox.”

He almost went into orbit at the gruff male voice that bit through his preoccupation and his body shot back up against the head rail of the bed in his panic. He gulped down a huge gasp as his eyes flew open and blinked wildly toward the source of the voice. The man smiled apologetically. He looked like a cop in that suit and that scared him for some reason. Most of his face was obscured by the shadows in the room and Fox gasped again as he moved forward into view. He guessed he was about as old, if not a little older than his dad.

“Sorry, son; didn’t mean to startle you. ”

“Wh….who are you….sir? ” he blurted out in a stream of words , his own voice startled him — dry and scratchy with lack of use, his words vulnerable- sounding. But the ingrained good manners his mother had given him made him bow to the authority this man instilled.

“I’m a friend of your father, although….” He smiled as he paused conversationally, ” it’s been a few years.  You’ve grown. You were knee-high to grasshopper last time I saw you.”

“Where…?…..Samantha….”

It was then that the dark haired man frowned, and his mouth turned up in some act of contrition and his sad smile pierced something deep inside Fox’s chest. His visitor came nearer the bed and extended a hand. Fox looked at it as if it might suddenly bite him and then, slowly experimentally he pushed his own shaky hand across the bedclothes to meet it.  It was warm. It occurred to him that nothing had felt warm for some time and thus threatened to crack something that had taken root inside him. Hazel eyes met the grey scrutiny of this man.

“I heard about your sister. I’m very sorry.”

Fox escaped from his sudden roiling emotions by changing the subject. He wouldn’t cry, not in front of a stranger. “I’m not sure I remember….you. Where are my parents, sir?”

“It’s Henry Fox. Just Henry. Your mother wasn’t feeling well…your father is with her.”

Fox studied his face for any betrayal, but the man had turned his attention to the snow. For a long moment, he wouldn’t look at him.

“My Mom…? What…why… Henry….why are you here?”

The man turned back and looked at him fully this time, sensing the boy’s growing panic. A fainter smile back on his face like a mask, he patted him on the shoulder like an afterthought.

“It’s time to get dressed now. I will leave for a little while and come back shortly.”

It was then he noticed a pile of clothes on the end of his bed.

“Why…where are we going? What’s going to happen? …I can’t….Sam..!”

Henry leaned over and took him by both shoulders, staring kindly into the wide fear laden hazel eyes of his friend’s child. He cursed inwardly.

“Time to go home, Fox. I’ve come to take you home.”

En route to Chilmark

10:24 a.m.

It was strange being in the car and dressed in something other than a scratchy gown that refused to cover his ass. He laid his cheek against the cool window and watched his breath form a white fog creature on the glass, blocking out the trees, houses and dull white landscape as they rushed  passed. It all looked so different now, the area where he had grown up. Instead of the familiar scenery he’d always had fun exploring it had taken on an uneasier tome. Staring out at it all had chilled him, especially the bare trees as if they’d concealed a million predators lurking in the dark shadows.

Somehow he couldn’t pull his eyes away from them. After a while he let his eyes close and drifted off to the low hum of music that his companion had tuned into on the radio.

Woods Hole Ferry, Mass.

11:30 a.m.

The lack of movement of the car woke him again. A moment of absolute fear and disorientation gripped him and then soon passed on a sharp intake of breath.

Henry gave him a cautious smile as he studied the ferry times on a card. Despite hardly knowing this guy, he felt an air of safeness, perhaps even safer than that he felt with his father.

Fox watched his fingers as he produced a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket, tapped the pack, withdrew one, and brought it to his lips. Staring straight ahead Henry stopped in mid thought then turned to look at his young companion. He deftly put the cigarette back in the pack, and slipped  them back into his pocket the boy’s dark eyes on him the whole time.

“Sorry, Fox. Bad habit — I should really kick. Shouldn’t be polluting your young lungs with this stuff. ”

Fox shrugged. He’d been tempted to try one the summer before but the smell had put him off, much to the taunting jibes of his school friends. The smallest smile crossed his features, remembering how his friends choked for hours after their introduction to the demon weed.

“They’ll kill you, you know.”

Henry laughed and nodded sagely. The boy had said barely a word until now. “You’re a bright young man, Fox. Don’t lose sight of that, no matter what.”

Fox wondered what he meant by that; he decided not to dwell on the layers of undercurrents he detected there. People told him he was bright for his age, and sometimes he cursed that.Sometimes he’d heard things, things he and Samantha weren’t supposed to hear; arguments between his parents, callers to the house in the middle of the night. Something was going on, and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out exactly what, but when his father went away for long business trips, his mother cried. That scared him more than anything. When he asked why, she had put up impregnable barriers and gone back to her baking.

What did he know, a gangly 12-year-old kid? Why let him in on any of it? How nice it would have been to be Samantha, joyful and ignorant, just playing with her dollies. Sometime it sucked to be that bright boy. But he wasn’t that great, was he? For all the intelligence everyone constantly praised him for, he’d still let his sister float out that window on a sea of light. He was still inadequate. Persona non grata. A waste of space.

He let out a sigh and slouched back into his seat, trying to quell the growing unease in his stomach. He rubbed at it, but the acid feeling just intensified, like a million bees swarming around inside him. At any given time over the last few weeks, he’d felt bad like this, panicky and sick, feeling that life was a bad joke someone was playing on him and how he longed for it to just stop. He guessed that’s why the doctors at the hospital pumped him full of valium — the feeling invariably went away then — but now the proximity of home and the sheer terror of uncertainly he knew was coming when he got there, was enough to make him want to curl up into a ball and make himself very tiny.

He sucked in a deep breath. It had been a while since his last happy pill and he was about due for another. He hated whatever it was they made him take. It left a nasty dry metallic taste in his mouth. Henry must have had the same thought as he was holding out a small sack of meds that the hospital gave him.

“You okay, Fox?”

“Yeah….sort of.”

“You need to take another pill. We have some time before the next ferry over. I’ll get you a soda….scrub that, I forgot you can’t have caffeine. Juice okay?”

“Yeah. O.J. ”

“How about a snack? You ought to eat with the meds, too.”

“Don’t feel hungry. The pills make me feel….weird.”

Henry leaned over and squeezed his hand. “I know, but you need something to take with them. What is it do you feel sick?”

“Yeah. Kind of dizzy. Woozy.”

“Valium will do that. I’ll pick up some potato chips. They’re dry so you should be able to keep them down. Will you be okay here in the car for few minutes alone?” He opened the car door in readiness to get out and a freezing draft blew over them both.

Fox forced a grin. “Sure. I’ll just sit here.”

“Good, I’m leaving the keys there. Don’t touch the ignition ok?” Fox turned from his reverie so sharply he could have given himself whiplash. The enormity of the trust he was being given hitting him full on.

“I won’t. … Henry?” Their eyes met. Hazel on grey, trying both to read each other. Both inscrutable.

“What is it son?”

“…Thanks for taking me home.”

“You’re welcome. But I suspect that that maybe you don’t want to be going home.” Fox averted his eyes to his lap suddenly, twisting the sleeve of his coat. When he looked back up his eyes were hot and blurry with unshed tears. Somehow he held onto them.

“Would you?”

Henry didn’t have an answer for him and covered the slither of inner rage and sorrow that washed through him with a tight smile that never quite reached his eyes. “I’ll be back in a few moments.” He squeezed the boy’s shoulder in a gesture of understanding, and his young charge watched his back stiffen in the cold as he strode away from the car and towards the waterfront café. In a short time he’d be home and that thought scared him rigid. Henry had read him like a book.

The snow had stopped now. Fox couldn’t remember a time when there had been so much snow; usually the salt air of the coast kept the blizzards away further inland, but the heavens seemed full of it and it was feet deep here. Normally this would have excited him, thoughts of tobogganing with his friends, snowball fights and hours of boyish fun but not this time. He wanted to be anywhere else but here. That feeling alone was alien to him and he couldn’t ever remember feeling like this before now. He’d spent his whole life in this area. It was home, and yet wasn’t like home anymore.  and the sense of foreboding wouldn’t go away.

He stared impassively out at the frigid harbor, the snug haven of white clap-boarded houses, fighting for prime real estate space like teeth too cramped in one mouth. Plumes of smoke rising in the frigid air from the roaring open fires inside, some porches already decked out with Christmas bunting and multicoloured lights hanging from well-appointed trees. Even the local café, which was a welcome haunt of the local fisherman here, had a huge inflatable Santa on the veranda, which grinned down at him with a sneer. It all looked so normal, just so ….not his world anymore. Like some giant hand had come down and erased everything he’d ever known, ever been certain about and ripped away his comfort zone in a heartbeat. The boat spinnakers rattled in the wind, making the same sad echo in his heart, whilst in the car the keys jangling quietly in the air of the car caught his attention.

He knew how to drive. For years now he’d watched his father’s driving, inadvertently memorizing every action and manoeuvre while on trips in the family’s big black Ford. He reached towards the keys and turned them over in his hand, feeling their coldness, their weight in his shaking fingers. It would be so easy to turn on the ignition and drive away, away from the sheer panic he felt looming up inside him like a great wounded animal clawing for escape. He couldn’t even put his finger on why he was so scared.  Maybe it was facing his parents — he’d seen them once since……. Just once, and the looks on their faces…. The disdain and horror in their eyes when they looked upon him, mixed with her screams — that’s what stayed in his mind. Perhaps it was the house, where it had all happened. Was it only a few short weeks ago? The light! Every time he closed his eyes…he saw her, floating away from him in the light, just out of reach, shrieking for him to help her, fumbling for his dad’s gun, but he was as frozen as a corpse. A snapshot of deafening heartbeats, his mouth agape on a scream that was stilled in terror. In the seconds after she had gone and he had regained his ability to move, he wished he’d had the guts to turn the gun on himself. Then there was nothing. Nothing until he’d woken in up in that cold prison like room at the hospital. Drugged to the gills and tied up like Houdini. This island of a thousand sails threatened to become his prison now and his mind an inmate in a body too small to ever harbor so much anguish. He turned the key and felt his heart accelerate. Then he saw his mother’s face in his minds eye and knew he couldn’t do it.

Run away and the demon would follow. The shrink that talked at him in the funny farm had said that. Not like he could ever forget. Or forget Sam.

He had to get to her, he had to make this family right again. He wanted the house to be full of carefree laughter like it used to be, his father’s face to be free of the deep creases that had taken residence over the last few weeks. His mother endless tears to cease and he wanted his little sister back. Whole healthy, even with all her annoying little girly ways, how he wanted her back. The keys blurred out as he stared at them and he moved back away from them. God, he’d even let her raid his stuff, if only he could see her again. She could keep his special baseball bat for as long as she liked. The autographed one his dad got all the Yankees to sign. How would he face Christmas without her? Life. ..Without her. Nooo, no. That was  unthinkable.

Don’t…..

With the realization that he didn’t know where to start, he slumped forward onto his arms against the steering wheel, willing himself not to weep. He

almost shot through the roof of the car as the horn blared when his hand touched it and the shriek that ripped from him got buried underneath the  deafening siren as he slammed back in his seat. Eyes closed, he was consciously trying to get control of his breathing when he heard the tapping on the passenger side of the car. Deep almond eyes. Small mouth. No discernable nose and long tapering fingers. Tapping. Tapping on his window.

“Noooooo. Condensation from his screaming fogged up the window and hid the terrifying vision. He shook his head to clear it, leaned over and rubbed at the glass to reveal….. …a spotty looking blonde kid on a bike, probably around 16 or older, cro magnon type forehead , big dark eyes and chewing gum squishing back and forth in his gap toothed mouth. He bellowed with laughter at the petrified face of his victim, poked out his tongue and high tailed it away toward the town. Fox held his ribs as he struggled to breath, sweat trickling down his back like a knife-edge was being drawn down his skin. His heart sank back down from his throat into his chest with a dull aching slither. Where the hell was Henry? Had he abandoned him too?

Gingerly he opened the car door. “Baaaastarrrrrdddd” he yelled across the street as he pulled himself up, hearing his underused voice suddenly loud and alien ricocheting off the buildings.

Stumbling through the drifts, he ambled after the boy on the bike, wanting to beat him to a pulp, somewhere at the back of his mind that harboured common sense he knew he had no hope of catching him up, and he’d be the one biting the tarmac not that lunatic. But his tormentor was long gone and he kicked at the snow in disgust as he skidded to a halt by the edge of the harbormasters cottage, gasping for breath. During his incarceration at “Camp Fun,” he must have gotten right out of shape. Knowing that Henry would probably be looking for him, he stifled a sob and made his way back to the car. As he turned the corner, he saw her. Little red coat, black pigtails…skipping through the snow, running down one of the private jetties. He started, suddenly robbed of breath. It had to be her. He could hear her laughter.

“Samantha?….Sam!!” Ohmigod. He ran, but in his haste he stumbled on the ice, a mass of careening arms and legs, seconds later his head just  narrowly missed the “Welcome to Wood’s Hole” sign. When he looked up, she’d gone — there was no sign of her. No foot prints other than his huge ones in the virgin snow. Sucking at his bloody bottom lip, he looked all around him, but the town was quiet that morning. Only idiots like him were clumping around in the freezing wind and elements.

“Sam!!!” His eyes blinked furiously against the arctic blasts blowing down on him; he’d seen her, he had. Is this what he’d come to, seeing things that eren’t there? ‘Fuck Wood’s Hole, fuck everything,’ he wanted to scream, but he didn’t have the breath. Winded and furious, he backed away from the sign…. then launched his foot at it for all he was worth. It hurt. The pain was real enough, and felt strangely good. The dent he’d made in the metal was satisfying, so he kicked it again, and again and again until he couldn’t feel his foot anymore inside his trainers. Just blindly kicking, finding his voice along the way and screaming, venting his anger and hurt to the seagulls or anyone else who would listen. The cold the pain, and satisfaction galvanised into mindless sensation and noise. It was like he was channelling someone else’s strength while he spilled his rage like blood on the inanimate object, scarcely able to breath, but soaking the pain in like a sponge….until he felt two strong arms suddenly gripping his shoulders.

Incensed at the intrusion, he lashed out to try and dislodge whoever the hands belonged to…but they were far stronger than his twelve-year-old frame could fight off. “Fox, Fox stop it… stop it, lad!” And two hefty arms seized him from behind and wrapped his own arms tightly by his side in a lock manoeuvre. They had done this to him in the hospital; a slither of memory pierced through his rage and his breath died as he was restrained again.

” Get off me, damn you,” he squealed almost incoherently, still kicking out.

“Fox! It’s all right, boy, come on. It’s okay,” Henry soothed, holding onto the seething mass of adolescent boy against his chest for all he was worth, whispering words of reassurance, willing him to calm down.

“Nooo!”

“Fox, come on, son, let’s get back to the car. You will catch your death out here. Please. You need your meds.”

“Screw you. I don’t need them. I…I saw her!”

“Saw who, Fox? What was it? What on earth happened? I’m so sorry I was so long. I was held up for a few moments. I had to make a phone call. Just breathe, son, just calm down and breath.”

Fox’s labored breathing filled the air around them like an energised pall. He was almost hysterical.”Sa…Sam…saw ….her. I did.” His voice cracking at the last.

Henry sighed audibly; he closed his eyes with the stab of anxiety that passed through him, making him hold the boy just that little bit tighter.

“It wasn’t her, Fox. You were having an episode. This is why the hospital gave you this medicine. You need another dose now. Come on; let’s get back to the car.”

“Noo…I did. I saw her.” He was chewing on his lower lip furiously, and his eyes bugged. The cold and fading adrenalin rush was making him shake now, and he suddenly sagged in Henry’s arms. His knees buckled and for the first time — the older man noticed he was dragging his foot. It was bent at an odd angle.

“Fox, your foot. Come on; let’s get out of the cold. You’ll catch your death. You can have some hot tea with sugar in, you’re going to go into shock out here and I want to look at that foot. We’ll talk about this in the car. The ferry is almost in and if we miss this one, it will be hours to the next. Come on lad.”

“No. Please…have to find her.” The distressed boy was rambling only the way the truly shocked can, and he stumbled against Henry for support as he tried to point him towards the car. The fist he was pummelling against Henry’s chest was a weak protest now, lacking the unrestrained fury of a few moments before. Both of them were breathing heavily from their exertions. His foot was a mass of agony now, and all the fight had finally left him. “Lemme go. Got to find…Sam. Need her. …” His voiced trailed into nothing and he was unconscious before he could move another inch, so

Henry carried him.  They made the ferry. Just. Too rushed to deal with the boy’s injuries, Henry threw a travel blanket over him; listening sadly as the poor kid was alternately whimpering or shouting in his stupor. They were in mid crossing before he had the chance to look at the mess Fox had made of his foot. He had just taken off his shoe and sock when he’d started to come around again, jerking in alarm.

“Easy. Easy lad. Just going to have a look at this. Oh dear. You did a number on this. A few broken toes at least, and a bit of a sprained ankle.” He gave the boy a tight smile and a knowing look. “Guess you had a lot to get off your chest. Huh?”

“Will you send me back to that hospital? I’m a nut case; it’s probably the best place for me.” His head was hanging in his lap, trying hard not to cringe or yell as Henry bandaged up his foot. “I…I’m sorry I was rude…and that you had to come get me.”

“No, no. You gave me one hell of a scare, young man. I want you to know that. I’m not sure what sparked that all off but I think I will just make sure your parents know to have you take your meds when they are due. That was my fault; forgot. Sorry about that. See if that’s too tight.”

Fox winced but his foot felt more comfortable with an ace bandage around it. He’d not get the shoe on again for a while that was for sure. Henry then handed him two pills and carton of juice with his free hand. After a long silent pause he took them.

“Down the hatch, Fox.” He paused as he watched the kid slip the pills onto his tongue and take a swig of juice. Good boy. Now, you can keep that foot elevated at home and maybe ice it. Should be okay in a few days. Lucky boy. I’d have hated to tell your father that I had to take you to the ER on the way home.” He finished the fastening on the bandage and declared it done, his eyes twinkling with wry amusement as he glanced at the boy’s troubled face. Fox tested his own smile, and looked at his companion sideways on. It was crooked and his lip felt sore, but it was still a semblance of a smile. His eyes were haunted, though, and Henry wished he had known what happened back there. Fox seemed reticent to speak at the best of times, and didn’t feel the like pushing him. It had been quite an episode.

“They don’t want me, you know.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“My parents.”

Henry frowned at him, but shook his head. “That’s preposterous — of course they do.”

“I overheard the nurses talking. They said Mom and Dad didn’t want me home. I know why — it’s cause I lost Sam.” His eyes blurred while his throat got something stuck in it all of a sudden, and he felt a warm hand on his own.

“You shouldn’t listen to the gossip of a few stupid nurses. What were they thinking?” His tone was one of restrained anger, but then it softened again. “Of course they want you home. They sent me to get you.”

“But why didn’t they come? Why did they never visit me? Doctors trussed me up like a turkey and stuck needles everywhere…” he sobbed. “I only saw them….the night…the night she… and I…”

“It’s been hard all round, Fox. Ever since, ….well your mother has taken unwell. She is devastated by the loss of her little girl.” At that, Fox’s face started to crumple again so Henry shook his hand and squeezed. “Ahh, come now, Fox, it’s okay. Listen to me. Your father, too, has been through a traumatic time. They knew you were being looked after well, so they have been concentrating on coping themselves. They never meant to exclude or ignore you. They’ve been very worried about you. You were catatonic for a while. It was the shock.”

“Dry that one out you can fertilize the lawn.”

“It’s true.”

“Yeah, right.”

Fox snuggled under the blanket Henry pulled up to his chin, but he still felt cold. Still felt a stomach full of roiling dread as he looked out at the rough gray waves of the ocean. “I’m…. scared.” His voice threatened to crack him wide open with the power of those few uttered words. “What’s going to happen to us? ” He could choke on that sound, his own pitiful voice. ‘Be a man,’ his father had drummed into him. Even more reason to hate him now that he was whining like a girl. Boys never cried. Isn’t that was what he was told? He felt a warm arm go around his shoulder.

“Don’t do this Fox. Try and sleep. When you get home in a short while, your parents will be there to meet you. They are looking forward to your homecoming very much. I just spoke with them not half an hour ago. See? It will be okay boy, and when you are all together again, you will eventually learn how to heal as a family. ”

Henry hoped he wouldn’t choke on another lie. One more to go with legions of others he’d been forced to tell in his life for the greater good. The taste in his soul was getting very sour. In an hour or so, this child who needed hope so much, would be off his hands. Then duty over, he’d go drown himself with a large scotch and a whole gutful of Morley’s.

“I did see Sam. Back there…I’m sure of it.”

“Of course you did, Fox.” Fox’s head shot up at that and two huge hazel eyes threatened to burst. “You saw her because she’s in here.” And he looked down to where Henry’s fingers gently tapped his chest. To be continued…

In Part two “Peccavi: Boy interrupted.”

Eye of the Beholder

TITLE: ‘Eye Of The Beholder’

AUTHOR: XSketch

EMAIL: XSketch@hotmail.com

WEBSITE: http://thesketchfiles.bravehost.com

SPOILERS: Oh, everything up to Je Souhaite and all the way thru to

the middle of VS12 is up for targeting 😉

RATING: R (Strong violence, gory scenes and occasional language.)

CATEGORY: X, S, MSR, A, ST, MT

SUMMARY: Do you see it or don’t you? Reality or hallucination?

Is a middle-aged, disabled man or an unknown creature committing

sporadic murders in a small Illinois town? Mulder and Scully

arrive to find the answers, but will they be able to wrap up the

case before they’re next on the menu?

FEEDBACK: It would make me the happiest person in the whole world!!!

DISCLAIMER: *sigh* Still not mine, which I guess means everything

you recognise from the show belongs to CC, 1013, Fox, yadda yadda

yadda – no copyright infringement intended. Kenny Andrews belongs

to the talented duo of Susan Proto & Vickie Moseley, and is being

given an airing here with their permission because at least they

know how to share their toys!!! 🙂

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusive to IMTP, and then I’d be honored for

you to archive it as long as you let me know 🙂

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Written for the Virtual Season 12. Biggest thanks and

hugs to Vickie and Lisa for looking this over, checking it and

encouraging me – if it hadn’t been for the poking, this would probably

be sitting on my computer only half done! LOL

DEDICATION: In fond memory of my dear friend Karin Crabb – this was

out of your area of interest, but you were always supportive.

You’ll be missed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

==========

TEASER

==========

SOLUS, ILLINOIS

APRIL 17th, 2005

Everybody thought the guy was crazy, and they always questioned Pitt

as to why he was still friends with the loony. But as high up in

the social ladder Greg Pitt might be, he wasn’t that small-minded

and he certainly didn’t listen to what the folks had to say in this

neighborhood (at least, not for several years now), so whether his

friend was shouting a load of mumbo-jumbo or not all the time was

none of their business. Besides, it wasn’t right to pick on a

blind guy.

Greg Pitt and Bobby Randolf had grown up together as the bestest of

friends, with similar interests and hobbies – they’d even wound up

working at the same digital graphic designs company twelve years

ago. But since the car accident that had killed his wife last

Christmas Eve, Bobby had drastically begun to lose his sight. He

still had some peripheral vision, but only to a very limited extent.

That wasn’t why everybody thought he was crazy, though.

*Don’t you see it?*

Despite his disability, Randolf…saw things that weren’t actually

there. No matter how much the members of the small community told

him he was mistaken, he would swear blue murder that there was a

big vase of flowers, or a fruit bowl or something of the like there.

*Ooh, maybe the ghost of the fruit bowl is coming to haunt

yooooooooooouuu!* Jerry Richter at the local gas station had teased.

Greg wasn’t sure to be more annoyed at their rudeness or saddened

by the state his friend’s mind had deteriorated to to bring on such

hallucinations.

“I saw it again this morning,” Bobby suddenly called out.

Snapping out of his own deep thoughts, Pitt looked up from the two

cups of coffee he was making out in Randolf’s kitchen. “Say again?”

“I saw it again!”

Just recently, claims of non-existent, inanimate objects had moved

on to a large, black, panther-like creature stalking the streets of

Solus. Of course, nobody had seen it and no-one believed him, but

he continued to warn them of its threatening presence nevertheless.

“Ah,” Greg sighed, carrying the drinks into the living room and

putting his down on the table before carefully handing the other to

his friend. “You got it? There. Well, you sure it wasn’t just a

shadow? Maybe a trick of the light…Even your doc said that

sometimes your brain fills in for what your peepers don’t see, so

maybe your imagination–”

“I know what I *saw*, Greg. It was there…slowly, *slowly*

walking up the sidewalk right outside my window there, fixing its

eyes on anybody that passed. I’m tellin’ ya, it’s planning

something a–”

“‘Planning something’, Bob? Come on, even if it were real, no

creature or whatever it is you think you’re seeing has some…uh…

calculated plan laid out.” Pitt paused and finally sat down,

briefly glancing out at the street through the window on his left.

“Now, how about we forget about it and get on with our game…”

His voice trailed off into a sigh as Bobby shook his head

dismissively. “Bob, look, I know you’re still mourning after what

happened to Jess, and losing your sight must really be the final

blow, but this ain’t healthy. Do you like hearing ev’rybody call

you crazy? I mean, you go ’round telling these stories, and how

the hell you expect people to ever listen to you I don’t know!”

Randolf frowned and found it hard to keep control of the anger

boiling within him. For thirty-seven years – and, more

importantly, over the past five months – Greg Pitt had been the

only person he could really trust and depend upon. And now, with

the whole village literally turning against him, he had hoped that

to still be the case. Maybe it truly wasn’t, though, after all…

He shook his head to try shake that thought process away – this was

his best friend for god’s sake! – but it refused to budge, and as

tears stung at his eyes, he turned his head away to face the large

window to his right.

And there it was, stalking the street as always. But this time, it

actually stopped and looked directly back at him.

“Are you listenin’ to me, Bo–”

“Shhh.” Fear pulsing through his veins; sweat beading his skin;

terror widening his almost-sightless eyes that refused to turn

away, Randolf shot out a hand to his side to touch his friend’s

forearm. “I-It’s b-b-back…”

There had always been doubt and disbelief, and even as Greg shot a

brief, almost dismissive look out the window only to see – as

always – nothing, he had no reason to listen to what his friend

said. And yet the pale face on the quivering figure beside him

that had uttered such fear-laced words seemed so genuine, he had to

wonder…

“Where? I don’t see it? Are you *really*–”

“I…I’m n-not imagining it, Greg – Jesus Christ in H-Heaven I-I-I

wish I w-were…But…”

The shadowy figure outside took a step closer with its head lowered

– preparing to pounce.

“I get that, Bobby, but maybe you just need some rest-”

Four feet breaking into a run as an almost hidden force bursts

through the fence around Randolf’s front yard.

“-and forget what the others say. Maybe you just need a vacation.”

…Teeth baring, sleek body propelling itself into the air…

Frozen, all Randolf could do was cry out his friend’s name as the

window imploded and both of them were thrown to the floor along

with the shattered glass.

“GREG! LOOK OUT!”

Pitt looked up in time to get a quick look at the long-thought

imaginary panther-esque creature looming above him before its jaw

lowered to tear out his throat.

XxXxXxXxX

==========

ACT ONE

==========

“You’re here!?”

Mulder looked up from the piece of paper he was scrawling a note on

at his desk in the X-Files office to see a flustered Scully

standing in the doorway – a mixture of relief and annoyance pasted

on her face. Clearly she had been trying to find him since waking

up alone in the bed earlier this morning.

“Oh, hey…uh…yeah, sorry if I made you worry…” He nervously

glanced around the office, searching for anything to look at but

her until he’d cleared his name of the criminal charge of

‘ditching’. Admittedly, acting guilty wasn’t exactly helping his

cause, but…

“Mul-der?”

He began rifling several papers on his desk – trying and hoping to

be able to hide the note he had started writing to her within the

blur. But his slight of hand was rusty, and certainly no match for

the ever-observant Doctor Dana Scully.

“What you writing?” She stopped in front of his desk and folded

her arms across her chest as the too-familiar brow-raise showed

up. “If it’s a grocery list, don’t forget beer. It was your idea

to let the guys come over later, so you can deal with the

responsibilities.” Of course, she knew full well it wasn’t any

such thing, but it helped calm her before she yet again had to

breach the subject of his unannounced disappearances.

The past year had certainly been…challenging. Then again, when

wasn’t anything in their lives like that? Permanently moving in

together in their own home had certainly been one of (if not) the

best decisions they’d made since their relationship had stepped up

a level – leaving behind her apartment and the ashes of his that

had both only haunted them with bad, painful memories over the

years. The fact remained, however, that her older brother was

dead, her youngest brother was one of Them, Mulder had almost been

taken away from her again due to another piece of alien artifact

turning up, and she still wasn’t one hundred percent convinced

either of them were happy with their decision to return to the

Bureau.

His behavior this morning was not something Dana’d seen for quite

some time, and it worried her.

“No, I…uhh…” Mulder paused and shook his head – lifting out

the sheet of paper he’d been trying to conceal. He couldn’t

explain why he felt so guilty – he’d left her this morning for good

reason, and all he’d been doing upon her arrival was writing a note

to let her know he had to see somebody before they met up for lunch

– but it just refused to let him be. “I was just writing you a

note,” he continued, sitting down in his chair. “I got a call from

Kenny earlier asking if we could meet up to discuss a possible

X-File. I figured I could see him, and then meet you in the park

for lunch.”

The raised brow quickly lowered into a frown. “Kenny? Mulder,

not–?”

“Yes, *that* Kenny – Spooky Jr.”

“I thought we’d discussed–”

“It’s not like that. C’mon, he knows as well as you, me and

Skinner how I get on those cases. I promise, this is different. I

don’t know the specifics, but it sounds like some kind of animal

attack,” he shrugged, silently pleading for her to bear with him.

Doubtful, she ignored the puppy-dog look and backtracked slightly.

“‘An animal attack’, Mulder? Side-stepping the fact that whenever

there’s an animal attack somewhere, somebody for some reason thinks

we should be called in, how did Kenny come across it?”

“I guess I’m never gonna be able to shift the title of ‘Monster

Boy’ after all, am I?” Mulder quipped, leaning back in his chair

and fiddling with the pencil he’d been using to write the note.

When no positive reaction sparked from where she stood, he knew

there was no wriggling away with lame jokes. “I told you,” he

sighed, serious, “I don’t know any details. Kenny said he had

something he wanted to talk over, so I left, got earlier-mentioned

beer from the store, and then came here. I guess, now you’re here,

though, we can go see him together!” He smiled, but she shook her

head.

“Oh, how kind of you!” She let out a deep sigh and sat down on the

corner of the desk. “I’m just so tired of it all sometimes.”

He considered her words for a minute. “Do you regret coming back?”

“No…No, you know it’s not that – we still have answers to

uncover, lies to expose and mysteries to unravel – but…I don’t

know…Maybe I’m just having one of those mornings.”

With an understanding nod, Mulder slowly raised to his feet and

cupped her face in his hands. “I know – we’re damned if we do and

damned if we don’t,” he smiled as she looked up into his eyes. A

brief, silent pause followed as they both ran the past months over

in their minds. “Look, if you’d rather I cancelled the meeting, we

could skip straight to lunch in the park…”

“And have you go on for the rest of eternity about how you wonder

what that case you passed up on was about? No way, mister!” Her

arms snaked around his waist and pulled him forward to close the

gap separating them. “I’ll go with you, but please, Mulder, can we

talk it through before you jump into a decision if it is a

profiling case?”

He moved back a fraction so that he could lower his forehead

against hers – never letting her face fall from the cradle of his

warm palms as he gently rubbed both thumbs back and forth across

her skin. Once, he’d been a creature of habit, but, if he hadn’t

known already, the past year had certainly brought it home that he

wasn’t the only one he had to think about now; every decision had

to be made with her in mind. If the hypothesized consequences of

that decision didn’t look one hundred percent positive, it was

definitely not the path to follow. That didn’t necessarily stop

him from being a forgetful, selfish fool now and then, but he was

trying to make amends in his own clumsy way.

“I promise you that with all I am,” Mulder whispered, silently

praying it was a promise he would manage to keep for once.

With a final kiss, they collected their stuff and then made their

way to meet Agent Kenny Andrews from Violent Crimes.

XxXxXxXxX

The crime scene photos in their full Technicolor goriness were

nowhere near as contradictive as the theories and accusations

flying round about the murder – it was obvious something had burst

through Robert Randolf’s window thus supporting the now-

incarcerated Randolf’s statement. But, as Andrews pointed out,

nothing – no human, let alone creature – was witnessed entering

the house after the deceased Pitt’s arrival, nothing was seen

leaving, nothing was found inside the house, and none of the blood

sampled so far showed traces of foreign DNA, which remained the

local law’s basis for arresting Randolf.

Mulder’s mind, of course, was in overdrive, and his curiosity was

in its element. Even with her eyes trained on the photographs in

her hands, Scully could sense his child-like excitement emanating

from his body beside her.

“So, what d’ya think?” Kenny asked, leaning forward on the edge of

the bench.

Dana had a lot of questions regarding evidence etcetera, but she

knew her partner would explode if he didn’t ask something as soon

as humanly possible, so she let him go first.

It was an opportunity he snatched up within a heartbeat, but he

surprised her when he asked with a slight chuckle, “If the cops are

so certain it’s a simple murder, but all the signs point to an

animal attack, how the hell did you get hold of this? Surely the

VCS doesn’t follow up on this kind of stuff now?”

Andrews let out a loud chuckle and slapped a hand down on his

knee. “No, far from! I actually have a cousin who’s the deputy

there, and …Well, let’s say he’s about as paranoid and hell-bent

on conspiracy theories as you, Mulder!”

There was no holding back the snort of laughter that escaped Scully

– making both men turn to look in her direction – but she said

nothing more as she continued to focus on the crime-scene photos.

“Never mind her – she’s having ‘one of those mornings’,” Mulder

teased, playfully nudging his partner’s arm. “So, your cousin

called you? He thinks it’s an animal?”

“You know that as an officer of the law you’re supposed to take all

the evidence into account. As far as I, and my cousin, figure, the

Douglas County sheriff and the rest of the guys there are ignoring

the hard facts and only paying attention to the circumstantial

evidence.”

“Surely they have more than Randolf’s presence in the room to go

on?” Dana asked, sitting up and handing the photos back to Kenny.

“Neighbors say that–…Oh, no, give ’em to Mulder to put in the

file, and keep it… Apparently, neighbors reported hearing raised

voices, and Randolf’s guide stick was covered with blood – as well

as dented from where it had obviously impacted something.”

“But his throat’s been eaten away!” Mulder exclaimed.

“You don’t need to tell me that. Look, I don’t know if you’re

interested or if you can get the green light on this, but I bet

they could really do with your help there to find the truth.”

Kenny stared at them both with a smile and then slowly stood up.

“I’ll leave it with you – I gotta get back…Real nut-jobs to

profile and track down, you know… I mean, we can’t all be

geniuses, have beautiful partners and our own office in the

basement of the FBI now, can we?”

Scully shot a impish grin in her partner’s direction, and then

turned back to the profiler, quickly replying, “Why thank you,

Kenny – it’s a position I’ve worked hard to reach, though.”

With a warm smile, Mulder gave a nod of his head and ran a finger

across the back of her hand – acknowledging that she’d deserved

that. “We’ll see what we can do, but no promises,” he sighed,

standing also, as did Scully a second later. “It’s good to see you

again, kid. Jeez, it’s been too long! Hey, Scully and I now have

a place over on N – you and Kerry should stop by some time so we

can catch up.”

“Yeah, sure. Keep in touch and keep me up to date on how this

goes, if it goes at all.” Kenny shook the two FBI agents’ hands,

turned, and was just beginning to walk away when Mulder’s voice

made him pause momentarily in his tracks.

“Hey, Kid?”

“Yeah?”

Mulder faltered for a second as he eyed his partner, and then, with

a slow nod of his head and small lift of the case file in his hand,

he finished, seriously “Thanks for this.”

“Always.”

The two sat back down and watched their friend walk away until he

was completely gone from view, but even then they remained still

and silent for several minutes.

A crowd of cheering children ran past, playing ‘Tag’.

An elderly couple followed the path across the horizon, arm in arm,

and then entered the small library hidden in the eastern corner of

the park.

Somewhere to their right a dog playfully barked.

These moments when they could watch and listen to others blissfully

living their purportedly ‘normal’ lives in ignorance while they

fought so painfully hard for the future somehow made it all

worthwhile.

Finally, Mulder started, “So, what do you think?”

“Well, it’s not a profiling case–”

“Right.”

“–it’s not in Florida; by the looks of it there are no woods to

trawl through; no ghosts; no mutants…It would be completely

different from what we’re used to if it weren’t for the possibility

of pissing off the local law.”

Beside her, Mulder sat staring at her with bated breath – a smile

tugging at the corners of his mouth as she reeled off the list.

“It’s perfect!” she beamed playfully, reaching out to take the file

from his grasp. “I’ll go submit the 302 to Skinner and then come

collect you. You can call the guys to let them know they can’t

come over tonight, check we’ve got everything in the overnight

bag… Oh, and can you get the flights or shall I?”

“I got it,” came his reply as he immediately reached for his cell

phone. “Anything else?”

“No. I’ll see you back home – I’ll call when I’m on my way.”

He bent to kiss her on the forehead, but she quickly grabbed his

arm before he could pull away.

“This doesn’t mean I think this is an x-file in any way, of course

– I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

“Oh, of course!”

XxXxXxXxX

CRIME SCENE

2427 SYCAMORE STREET

SOLUS, ILLINOIS

3:12 PM

As anticipated, Skinner had signed off on the case, in fact, happy

they were taking an ‘easy’ case so they could wind down a little,

but the Sheriff’s Department had been barely a couple degrees above

freezing with their welcome. The fact that the two interlopers

were from the Bureau spelled trouble enough, but even worse was

their interruption with a case that was almost wrapped up.

Here they were though, beyond the yellow tape and conducting their

own thorough survey of the scene. Scully had managed to carry out

an inspection of all the evidence still present on site after ten

minutes, but Mulder seemed more interested in the shattered glass

on the floor and the window from where it had come. Scully hadn’t

questioned him about it for a couple of minutes as she knew his

mind was probably working a hundred miles a minute to come up with

some theories, but now it was worrying her.

“Mulder?”

No answer.

Pulling off her latex gloves, she approached – being careful not to

tread on anything of importance.

“Mulder? What you got?”

He glanced up, finally acknowledging her presence, but just as

quickly turned his attention back down to the floor.

“*Something* burst through the window from outside…” His head

raised and he pointed at the overturned table and chairs. “Pitt

and Randolf were sitting at the table at the time, and Randolf must

have…stood up to step away. He put his mug down on the

table…” Mulder paused for a thoughtful second as he moved his

hands around to kind of re-enact the last seconds of Greg Pitt’s

life, before motioning towards the still intact mug that lay close

to the toppled table.

Nodding her head at every observation he made, Scully smiled and

watched her partner do what he did best: piece the puzzle together

and hunt down the missing parts until it was complete. It was what

they were trained to do as investigators, but she found herself

staring in awe at his ability to literally recreate a scene in his

head as if he were there at the time nevertheless.

Her only concern was that he was starting to show the

characteristic habits he took on when he got deeply into a

profiling case.

Several frowning officers silently stood in the corner with their

arms folded across their chests and watched.

“But Pitt didn’t believe his friend…he didn’t expect anything…”

Mulder continued, standing up.

“Bobby’s crazy is why,” one cop piped up, clearly disgruntled. “He

believes in ghosts, you know? Thinks there’s some phantom creature

on the prowl!”

“He was thrown to the floor by whatever it was…” Trailing off,

Mulder looked around the room thoughtfully, and then looked up at

the group of uniformed men. “The report said something about the

accused’s white stick. Where is it?”

There was silence before, a minute later, “In evidence back at the

sheriff’s office.”

Scully stepped up beside him and lightly touched his forearm. He

automatically looked down at her, and to her surprise he actually

had an apologetic expression on his face.

“What are you thinking?” she asked quietly.

“I’m…not sure yet…” Just the look in his eyes and the

hesitation let her know otherwise, but he inclined his head

slightly towards the officers to emphasize his point, and then

snapped his own latex gloves off before resting his hand at its

home on her lower back. “We’ll know more after you’ve examined the

victim. Come on.”

“She–…You’re examining the body?”

Both agents looked at the man that had suddenly stepped forward

with both hands on his hips. It was an attitude and reaction they

were used to having to deal with, but they still wondered when

everybody would catch up with the twentieth century, let alone join

the twenty-first.

“Agent Scully is a medical doctor and we are here to find the truth

about what happened. Just, exactly, what problem do you have with

that?” Mulder snapped, stepping in front of his partner.

At only five foot seven, the officer found himself staring up at

the FBI agent, and he stuttered as he looked for a good enough

answer. Not that he had one, of course, but that was beside the

point… “W-well, uh…n–…”

When no intelligible reply came, Mulder gave a nod of his head and

turned away to lead Scully out. “We’ll be on our way and get back

to you later, then.”

~~~~~

“What was with the alpha male act back there?” Dana chuckled as

they got into their parked sedan.

Mulder fastened his seatbelt and started up the engine. “Small-

town, wanna-be cops always piss me off,” he grumbled, glancing out

at the group leaving the house. “Nobody had even bothered to

examine or consider anything we just worked out in…what? Fifteen

minutes of our arrival?”

“It’s not exactly something we’re unfamiliar with,” she pointed

out. “So, what was your mind working overtime on in there?”

“I’m not saying it’s out of the realms of possibility, but these

guys were sitting having coffee together…Pitt was probably the

only person that had anything to do with Randolf – everybody else

in the town thought he was crazy because of his ravings about

seeing stuff. Why kill the only person that wouldn’t ignore him in

the street, let alone sit down with him in his home?”

“We-ll, that I don’t know…” She shifted in her seat and glanced

out of her own window before shooting him an evil grin. “Maybe if

it were the other way around…”

Wide-eyed, he stared at her, and then slapped a hand against his

chest in mock hurt. “Wow, Sadistic Scully! Have I forgotten

something you’re trying to hint at?”

Chuckling, she shook her head. “At any rate, I think you’re

right. Everything in the house points to somebody–”

“Or something.”

“Yes, even *something*, else. We might, hopefully, be able to

settle that one after I’ve done the autopsy. Are you gonna

question Mr. Randolf while I do that?”

“Actually,” Mulder started, putting the vehicle into gear and

pulling away from the curb, “I thought I’d stick with you for a

while, if that’s okay.”

Now she was confused! “You want to come with me to the morgue?

I’m definitely worried!”

“I’m curious about what could have done this.”

That was his only answer and she silently accepted.

~~~~~

Strangers.

Interfering strangers.

It had silently watched through slit eyes as solid pad had followed

solid pad along the damp, asphalt road, but as they had sat in

their car, Its teeth had bared – saliva dripping from Its hungry

jaws as It felt the desperate need to dispose of these threatening

beings course through its veins.

It could almost smell and taste their blood.

…Later.

It would get them later.

…Make the hunt a little more interesting…

It watched their car pull away, and then turned a thoughtful eye on

the departing police officers before continuing on its way.

It still had some leftovers from its newest victim to eat…

XxXxXxXxX

DOUGLAS COUNTY MORGUE

TUSCOLA, ILLINOIS

“Oh, my God!”

The photos Kenny had shown them had been gory in their detail, but

they certainly had not done enough justice to capture the full

extent of wounds on the victim, and even Scully found herself

having to look away briefly as she pulled the cover back.

Mulder immediately covered his mouth and stepped away.

The throat was practically non-existent – even the neck was nothing

but a collection of bone fragments. At least a dozen long slashes

down and across the face had ripped it to near unidentifiability.

Further down the body was no better…

Ravished skin hung loosely from the left shoulder and arm, exposing

the torn and dead muscle tissue inside; lacerations marred the

torso, but not as badly as the large rip leading all the way down

from the decimated throat to the just-as-mutilated groin, and

without even having to look too closely it was easy to see through

the wound that all vital organs had been nibbled at…some were

even missing…

“They think a human did this?” Scully croaked, examining the whole

body with wide-eyed horror.

“No, they think a middle-aged, weak, lonely, blind guy did it,”

Mulder tried to joke with little success.

He stepped around the metal gurney until he was opposite her, and

frowned as he stole a glance at the torso – hand still firmly

covering mouth. Scully watched the curiosity grow on his face as

he leaned in closer, and asked what it was, but he didn’t reply

until his face was merely centimeters from the victims chest.

“Hey, Scully, you got a razor there?” his muffled voice queried

from behind his sweaty palm.

She quickly turned to pull the utensils tray over and picked up the

electrical razor – handing it over to Mulder, who then immediately

shaved away the fair chest hair that covered the area he was

examining.

“A-ha!”

“What is it?”

He took several steps away and gestured toward the body. “Tell me

what that looks like to you.”

Scully eyed him curiously, pulled a magnifying glass from the tray

and then moved to stand beside him. She was about to question

further until she noticed what he had found: a faint, purple bruise

in the shape of a–

“It’s a paw print,” she coughed, sharply looking up.

A moment of silence as they both weighed up the facts.

“Scully, can you do a full autopsy of this body?” Mulder suddenly

started, planting both hands on Dana’s shoulders and surprising

her. “Document every wound…maybe run a tox screen to see if he

was under the influence in any way…See if you can find out the

size of what we’re dealing with?”

“Well, of course, b-but…” The frown creasing her brow deepened.

“You don’t think it’s obvious already?”

“I know and you know, but something tells me the Douglas County law

won’t be ready to accept our complete overhaul of their work. We

need as much evidence as possible more than ever.”

With a nod of her head, Scully’s hands raised to pull the green

mask up over her mouth, but he quickly stopped her by grabbing her

wrists.

“Don’t I get a kiss before I go?” he asked, bending slightly and

puckering his lips in expectation.

She stared at him for a while, smiling – he was so beautiful when

he acted so sappy. Of course, they shouldn’t be being so openly

affectionate towards each other – particularly while on the job –

but there was no one around, and hey, she’d pretty much stopped

caring about it since they’d moved in together. So, she eventually

reached up on tiptoe to share a passionate kiss with him that

became very difficult to leave.

“You just didn’t want to stay for the autopsy,” she laughed,

finally pulling the face mask up.

“Well, there is that, but I figured I’d go return the favor and

piss the local law off a little more by questioning Robert Randolf.”

“That’s my g-man. I’ll call you if I come up with anything. You

be careful!”

Cupping her cheek in the palm of his hand, he smiled at her and

then walked out.

Scully turned back to the corpse and let out a deep sigh.

XxXxXxXxX

SHERIFF’S STATION

TUSCOLA, ILLINOIS

“Oh, hey! You!”

Mulder sharply turned at the sound of the calling voice to see a

uniformed man quickly pacing down the corridor toward him with a

waving hand in the air.

“Yeah, you. Can you wait a moment?”

Nodding, the FBI agent sighed and cast a brief glance at the room

behind him.

“Hey! You Ken’s guy? From the Bureau?” the stranger panted once

he’d finally caught up.

Mulder smiled and pulled out his ID wallet. “Hi, yeah – Special

Agent Fox Mulder. Are you his…uh…cousin?” He hesitated,

holding out his free hand to shake the stranger’s. If this guy was

the deputy, he was the most unlikely one Mulder’d ever come across:

Short-cropped blonde hair topped the slim-built man that likely

only just reached the height of five foot one because he was

wearing shoes.

“Deputy Michael Grovener – you can just call me Mike. I’m so glad

you made it…Ken’s mentioned a lot about you – about the work you

do; sounds like fun.”

“I wouldn’t call it that as such…” The agent shifted

uncomfortably from one foot to the other as he continued to study

the man he towered above. “Uh…maybe more ‘interesting’. Anyway,

Kenny said you didn’t agree with how this is being conducted?” He

had hoped to question Randolf before confronting the sheriff or

even the deputy, but that idea was clearly out the window now.

Fingers were suddenly more tightly crossed that Scully would be

able to turn up the answers and proof they needed.

Grovener shook his head, quickly glanced around to check no one was

within earshot, and then whispered, “You’ve seen the scene, right?

The file? There’s no way the case holds. I mean, have you spoke

to Bill yet?”

“Bill?”

“Bill Dench – the sheriff?”

“Uh…no,” Mulder shrugged, becoming more uneasy. “We met a couple

of officers at Randolf’s home, but that was–”

“We?”

“Me and my partner, Agent Scully.” At the deputy’s frown he

quickly added, “She’s at the county morgue examining the victim.”

“Oh…uh…” The frown creasing Grovener’s brow deepened and he

shook his head. He didn’t have a problem with what he’d just been

told, but Bill certainly would, and he’d not worked alongside the

sheriff for two years to not learn that it was best to never get on

his bad side. “Oh-kay…uh…Ken never mentioned you had a

female partner…But–”

“You have a problem with that?” Mulder’s arms folded across his

chest. “We got the same kind of reception from a group of your

colleagues earlier…”

“Believe me, I don’t think that way, but Bill…Well, he’s old-

fashioned – lived here his whole life and, well, he’s lived it

pretty sheltered, like. You know what I mean? That’s why nobody

in this building, ‘cept his assistant, is female.”

This could get interesting once Scully returned from the morgue!

Smiling, Mulder couldn’t help but envision one of the possible

disagreements his fiery partner and the sheriff would get into on

their encounter. It wasn’t the others undermining her he liked –

far from, and he would happily throw a fist or two in her defense

if allowed – but her kick-ass reactions and retorts made it

worthwhile.

“We can worry about that later, though,” Grovener’s voice droned

on. “So, have you found any answers yet?”

Answers? They’d only been in town an hour, if that! Admittedly,

they had come to a better conclusion than the sheriff, but that

didn’t mean to say they had concrete answers (at least, not ones

they wanted to share just yet). He had to wonder what the kid had

been saying to his cousin…

“Not yet – I was just about to go question Mr. Randolf,” Mulder

replied, gesturing toward the door behind him.

“Oh, sorry! Hey, mind if I come in and watch?”

Did Mulder even have a choice in the matter? This wasn’t his

territory – he didn’t exactly have the right to say ‘no’ to the

county deputy.

“Uh…no, of course not…”

XxXxXxXxX

Step. Step. Step.

The green linoleum flooring slipped easily beneath Its paws – the

pads leaving prints of condensation in the wake of each that slowly

faded away just as the lives of these strangers would soon

enough… Them and anybody else that crossed Its path.

Step.

Step.

Its lithe body moved along the corridor, and It desperately tried

to ignore the foul smell of disinfectant that polluted every

molecule in the air and filled Its nostrils. It couldn’t

understand how a species that depended on blood as its life source,

could be so desperate to clean the stuff away.

Step.

“…Organs to note that are missing include–”

Ears pricked up, body pressed to the ground and eyes contracted to

slits. The voice of the woman echoed against the walls, and It

slinked along until It crouched outside the double doors.

Wait.

XxXxXxXxX

“I believe you didn’t do it, but your defense is far from

conceivable, so why don’t you just explain it to me? Forget Deputy

Grovener – just me. Tell me about this creature you swear killed

your friend–”

“I don’t even understand it!” Randolf whined, shaking his lowered

head. “I just see it – most of the time it just walks along the

street, but sometimes…” Gulp. “Sometimes It stops and…and

w-w-watches people…J-just *stares*, like Its planning

something…”

Mulder – one hand flat down on the table Bob sat at while the other

quickly reached up to wipe some sweat from his brow – glanced round

at the deputy, who continued to stand silently in the corner of the

room.

“I tried to help Greg…I-I used my stick, but…b-but…” The

seated man’s tears overwhelmed him, and he broke down – resting his

forehead against the edge of the table.

“Why can’t anybody but you see it, Bob?” Mulder continued, quietly,

moving to crouch beside Randolf. “What does it even look like?”

His voice dropped to a near whisper. “I can help you stop It –

make sure It doesn’t hurt anybody else, if you just trust me and

tell all you can.”

Bob’s head lifted a fraction, and Mulder prayed he’d made the

connection necessary to gain the key information to stop the

creature.

“It’s like a panther – black and slim…” came the choked response

after several tense minutes. “Its teeth…It–…I don’t know if

It can be stopped…”

“Just help me find It.”

“I–”

The door swung open and a tall, broad man stood with hands on hips

casting a puzzled look around the room before focusing on

Grovener. “Deputy, I been looking for you everywhere! Come on, we

got another one.”

Randolf sat upright with wide eyes, Mulder sharply turned and

raised to his full height, and Grovener quickly moved to the exit.

“Same MO?”

Sheriff Bill Dench snapped around to frown at the stranger who had

called out the question, as if only just noticing his presence.

“Who’s asking?”

“This is Agent Mulder from the FBI,” the deputy piped up before

Mulder had chance to reply.

“FBI?” The frown deepened, and then realization dawned. “Oh,

*you* – the guy here to screw up our hard work? Well, looks like

there’s a new twist without you having done a thing,” Dench sniped,

bitterly. “Heard you had a partner with you. Where is he?”

Mulder’s mouth opened to respond, but once again Grovener jumped in

with “At the morgue – examining Pitt. Who’s the new victim?”

before any sound managed to pass his lips.

“Unidentified female in her late twenties/early thirties found

behind the post office just two blocks away from this guy’s

place.” A large, gloved hand pointed in Randolf’s direction before

Dench turned steely eyes back on the FBI agent. “And yes, the

body’s in the same condition as Pitt’s. Come on, Deputy, let’s

go.” With one last disgusted glance at Mulder, the sheriff stalked

out with Grovener slowly following.

Waiting a beat after the door had slammed shut, Mulder crouched

back down beside Bob. “I’m gonna go now…My partner and I are

working our own investigation, and we knew you hadn’t done this

even before the newest victim, but you gotta promise me something:

as soon as you get out of here, you’ll help us find this and stop

It. Do you think you can do that?”

Randolf lifted his head to stare at the blurred shape of the figure

beside him, and gave an unsteady nod. In honesty, he didn’t think

he could stop the creature, but he’d lost everybody that meant

anything to him. So very little mattered to him, except killing

the creature that had murdered his best friend. He had to try, and

at least this guy seemed to care and believe him.

Mulder left the room, nodded his thanks to the police officer

outside the door, and then pulled out his cell phone as he headed

for the car park – hitting the well-used speed-dial button.

“Mulder?”

His eyebrows raised sharply at the sound of his partner’s response

over the line, but then a mischievous grin begun to lift his

cheeks. “Wow! What a coincidence – my name’s Mulder, too!” he

teased. “I’m sorry, though – I must have the wrong number…I’m

trying to get hold of my doubting, forever-questioning-every-theory

little partner whose name is only Mulder in my fantasies.”

There was an unsettled pause from the other end, and his smile

broadened at the thought that he’d succeeded with his aim.

“Mul–…”

“Had you big time, Scully!” he chuckled – shaking his head as he

heard her large release of breath. “How’s it going on your end?”

“This is a case for Animal Control, Mulder, without question, but I

don’t see what we can do.” It was obvious she was tired and

frustrated. The sigh punctuating her sentence only confirmed that,

but he had to know…

“What’ve you got?”

“There’s a similar bruise to the one you found on the opposite side

of Mr. Pitt’s chest; a lung, the heart and liver have been ripped

out as if It knew distinctly what It was after – I mean, other than

from the deep lacerations, there is no damage to any of the other

body tissue. There’s signs Pitt struggled right until It bit

through the aorta and superior vena cava.”

“Ouch.” He irritably wiped a hand down his face before reaching to

put the key in the ignition. “I just spoke to Bob Randolf, before

the high-and-mighty Sheriff Dench intervened–”

“That bad?”

“We-ell, let’s say–” He cut himself off abruptly – he’d almost

made a crack about another Bill hating his guts, but that was still

a little too inappropriate, so he quickly considered his next

words. “…uh…he’s not exactly separate from everybody else

we’ve received a cold reception from. Anyway, Randolf’s probably

about as clueless as we are right about now.”

Pacing the room, Scully shook her head and quirked an eyebrow. It

actually sounded as if…

“So, what theory have you subscribed to? Phantom beast? Invoked

spirit summoned to protect Randolf? Some kind of psychic ability

on Randolf’s or an outside source’s part? Lycanthrope?–”

“‘Lycanthrope’? Scully! Dear diary…”

“*What’s your theory*?”

His hand withdrew from the key. She knew already, so why she had

to have so much fun rubbing it in his face still puzzled him.

“Actually…I’m not–…I don’t have one.”

There it was!

“You, without a theory? Maybe I should be the one saying ‘Dear

Diary…’,” she scoffed, pausing in her tracks near the double-door

entrance to the room.

“Whatever,” he chuckled, clearing his throat, before turning

serious again. “This thing is hungry, Scully, and It’s found Its

next victim already – they’ve disc…….”

Her partner’s voice drained out as Scully frowned and stared at the

double doors. She didn’t know why, but she felt inexplicably

unsettled – almost as if she was being watched. The phone lowered

away from her ear, but it didn’t really matter as she’d already

stopped registering what Mulder was saying, anyway, or if he was

even saying anything at all anymore.

*It’s just your imagination running away,* the voice in her head

rationalized.

The dark, gripping sensation refused to go though, and the tiny

hairs on the back of her neck stood up in terror. …Just that

irrational feeling of eyes following her every move…

Watching.

Waiting.

“–nd…Scully?”

A small, latex-encased hand raised shakily to press against one of

the metal double-doors.

“Scully? Scully, are you there?!”

Eyes narrowed.

Mulder’s worry heightened.

Scully stepped out into the hallway…

…And then the phone line disconnected.

“*Scully!*”

XxXxXxXxX

==========

ACT TWO

==========

Memories of blood-spatter on walls, ripped skin, and a gouged

throat hounded Mulder as he slammed on the brake, exited the car as

quickly as possible, and then ran down the long corridor of the

morgue to the room he’d left his partner in earlier. Any number of

things could have been the reason for her hanging up, but the only

ones he could think of as cold sweat bathed his body filled his

heart with dread.

“Scully?”

He burst through the double doors – eyes darting around the area as

he searched for her.

‘Please, God, let her be okay.’

“Scully!”

When he saw her smashed cellphone on the floor, all hope he’d been

harboring was snatched away.

Mulder stepped cautiously toward the gurney he’d stood beside

earlier; where Greg Pitt’s body had been but now wasn’t. Gone,

just like–

“Sc–?”

“Mul-der?”

Defying whiplash, his head snapped around at maximum speed to stare

at the mauled utility closet door. The knob turned, but the wood

had been bent in its frame and wouldn’t budge.

“Mulder, are you there?”

The breath he’d been holding quickly left his lungs in a relieved

sigh as he ran to the door holding his partner captive. He didn’t

think he’d ever been so glad to hear her voice – no matter how

shaken.

“I’m here, Scully! Are you okay? What happened?”

“I’m…I’m fine…”

She said nothing more, and there was no doubting she was far from.

Mulder tried to open the door from his side, but had as little luck

as she’d had.

“Stand back, I’m gonna kick the door in,” he told her gently,

briefly resting his forehead against the scratched wood panel in a

silent prayer that she wasn’t too badly injured. “Okay?”

“Okay…I’m clear…”

One hearty kick freed her from the prison she’d originally used as

a refuge, and she rushed into his open arms – quietly sobbing. He

held her close for a moment, before stepping back to examine her.

The four long, parallel gouges on her right arm told him more than

he wanted to know.

“I was talking to you and…I can’t explain it – I just got this

feeling that somebody was watching me and…” Her voice trailed

off momentarily as she shook her head dismissively, the scientist

in her trying to push away all the other explanations she’d been

pondering over for the last ten minutes, but her better judgment

knowing otherwise. “I couldn’t see anything…There was

nothing–” Shakily, she lifted the injured arm and studied it.

“The next thing I knew, something slashed my arm… But still I

couldn’t see anything else in the room…”

Mulder tentatively ran his fingertips over the scratches – wiping

away the blood pooling from them. They’d faced so many dangerous

beasts, creatures and mutants over the years, but the only time he

was sure he’d seen her this shaken was after her encounters with

Donnie Pfaster. Of course, this was a completely different

scenario, but he’d come so close to losing her… His eyes slipped

shut and it was difficult to push away the memories of the scene at

Randolf’s home.

“We need to get you to the hospital,” he finally started, opening

his eyes to stare at her.

“I’m fine – I’ll go to the hospital later, but it’s nothing,

really.” Once again, Scully paused, but this time her jaw set and

her shoulders squared as she continued to stare at him for a long

while before continuing, in a serious tone, “I was lucky – every

cell of logic in me said it wasn’t possible, but I got to the

closet before any real damage could be done. This…*thing* –

whatever It is – is still out there and we have to find a way to

stop it before somebody else isn’t as lucky.”

“It’s killed two people already…You could have been the third…”

“But I *wasn’t*,” she assured him, lifting her left hand to cup his

cheek and prove she was really there. “Randolf must know more than

he’s letting on – why is he the only one that can see this thing?”

“Maybe I can help a little with that.”

Both agents turned towards the double doors to see a tall, gray-

haired, bespectacled man.

“It’s okay. My name’s Doctor Tom David – I’m Mister Randolf’s

local physician. I just received a distraught phone call from him

asking that I come speak with you – I take it you’re the agents

from the FBI?” the stranger explained, wearily glancing at the

destroyed closet door in the far corner of the room, and the

congealed globs of blood on the floor by one of the gurneys.

Mulder gave a last lingering ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ look to

his partner as he carefully let go of her arm, waited for her nod

and tiny smile that anybody but him would have missed, and then

stepped toward the intruder. “Doctor David?” he frowned, searching

his memory cabinet for the name. “Oh! You were questioned by the

sheriff right after the murder of Greg Pitt. You’re on file saying

Randolf is…uh…’Delusional’?”

David gave a nervous chuckle and shrug of his shoulders as, yet

again, he cast a surveying eye around the room. “‘Delusional’ is

maybe a little over-exaggeration concocted by Sheriff Dench to make

his report look more aesthetically pleasing to his own ego. My

point I came here to talk with you about is that Bob suffers from

something called Macular Degeneration…It’s a condition that

usually affects people as they get older, but I believe the trauma

of the car crash he was in and the resulting death of his wife

caused a great surge of pressure on all his functions, leading to

the bursting of vessels in his eyes.”

A befuddled Mulder turned back to Scully – silently asking for

confirmation.

“That would be a fair enough assessment,” she finally piped up,

clearing her throat and quickly shifting into Doctor mode.

“But…” Suddenly, a look of confusion creased her features also,

and she rested her left hand against her hip. “That doesn’t

explain what Randolf has been reporting, or – more to the point –

why you’re here.”

Tom David had lived in Douglas County all his life – in Solus for

the largest part of that – and had practiced medicine for almost

thirty years, but despite the many people he’d met, he didn’t think

he’d ever come across anybody like these two federal agents. He

couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was an electricity or

unseeable force of some kind in this room, and the inability to

explain it scared him. Admittedly, he was more concerned about the

broken door, blood splatters and broken cellphone on the floor, but

he couldn’t let them know that – after all, he had a job to do.

“The degeneration has been causing Bob to hallucinate. His brain

fills in the holes that his eyes cannot, and, as a result, his

imagination presents him with mostly mundane objects…except for a

dark beast that, I believe, represents his anger at his whole

situation. He’s become fixated, though, his grief has been

deepening, and everybody in the town mocks. In my medical opinion,

I believe the stress became too much and he finally snapped – using

this manifestation as an excuse.”

“That sounds more like a psychologist’s opinion to me,” Mulder

grunted, folding both arms across his chest. “A psychiatrist’s

assessment. I thought you said you were his physician?” They’d

been faced by so much contempt so far for reasons they’d put down

to just their presence, but he was beginning to wonder if there was

something else going on. Even Scully looked doubtful.

The doctor shifted from one foot to the other, refusing to say

anymore.

“Who asked you to speak with us, again?”

“I told you, Mr. Randolf phoned me.”

“He asked you to tell us he’s guilty of murdering his only friend,

despite swearing to me half-hour ago that it was a panther-like

creature? Fascinating!” the tall agent snapped sarcastically.

“Who sent you, Doctor David, and how did you know I was here?”

There was a moment of tense silence, before the older man finally

closed his eyes and conceded, “Sheriff Dench gave me a call… He

said your partner was examining the body, and asked me to come and

speak with…’him’.” He fixed his gaze on Scully briefly before

turning back to Mulder and shrugging his shoulders. “He’s just

trying to tie up loose ends without it all having to be dredged up

again. I am Bob’s doctor, but I confess to listening a bit too

much to the rumors and things people say about him.”

Wincing when she took a step forward and accidentally brushed her

injured arm against Mulder’s jacket, Scully queried, “Why weren’t

any of your medical observations noted on record? If Dench is so

adamant on essentially solving this with Occam’s Razor, why not

include what you just theorized to us on file?”

“Because nobody else reading it would have believed it.

Hallucinations seen by a sane, visually handicapped man? That,

alone, would have been cause for further investigation.”

“Actually, no,” she replied. “It’s known as Charles Bonnet

Syndrome to specialists…I heard somebody once mention it in

passing while I was at Quantico, but didn’t know anything until I

read a paper on it a year or so ago. It’s a fairly common

condition, and some people have actually been recorded as seeing

figures and monsters. What Bob is seeing though, isn’t a

hallucination…” She raised her right arm and felt a wave of

nausea and giddiness overtake her senses momentarily.

“Scully?”

“Oh my God!” David exclaimed, examining the deep, bleeding

slashes. “What the hell did this? You should be at a hospital.”

“That’s what I said,” Mulder scolded, staring at his partner.

“This is what Randolf’s imagination did. If he’s delusional,

Delusion must have its own body.”

“What?”

“Whatever Randolf’s seeing, it attacked Agent Scully–”

“I’m fine,” she insisted, trying to calm Mulder’s heightening

temper and voice. “It’s just a couple of scratches…”

Her voice trailed off as a larger wave of light-headedness claimed

her, and just as the looks of concern on the two men’s faces

registered in her brain, everything faded to black. There was the

distant sound of Mulder calling her name as he rushed to catch her,

and then nothing.

XxXxXxXxX

As the doors on the back of the coroner’s van slammed shut, Deputy

Mike Grovener turned with a hung head, wiped a hand down his weaty

face and sighed, “This is the fourth known attack! God, what the

hell’s doin’ this?”

“And why is it they’re all only turning up after these two FBI

agents arrive in town?” a frustrated sheriff growled, briskly

approaching with a small evidence bag tightly gripped in one hand.

“I had it all wrapped up, and then they had to come in snoopin’

around for some goddamned reason!”

“It’s not their fault,” Grovener defended. He knew he’d done the

right thing by getting an outside source involved to find the

truth, but he couldn’t believe how out-of-hand this had gotten in

just a few short days. “That body looked like it’d been there for

a good couple months. Nobody’s to blame ‘cept whatever’s doin’

this.”

“The hell it ain’t! How the hell did they even know to come here

in the first place?”

A broad, spectacled figure dressed in a dark suit and trenchcoat

stepped up behind them and attempted to intercept the conversation,

but was quickly shot down by the infuriated sheriff. “They were–”

“Can you shut up a second – I’m talkin’ to my Deputy! Now, you

tell me, Grovener: if they ain’t responsible in any way for any of

this, how the hell did they find out about this case?”

Mike shot a nervous glance over at the federal agent behind Dench,

before finally and tentatively replying, “I called them in.”

“Excuse me?”

“I have a cousin in D.C who’d spoken a lot about two agents he knew

that dealt with…unusual cases. I thought they’d be the best to

help solve this,” the deputy explained, regaining some confidence.

“‘Solve this’? We had it solved!”

“Oh, come on, Bill! You know as well as me that there’s no way

Bobby could have killed Greg at all, let alone done what we saw at

that house…or even what we’ve seen here!” Irritably, Grovener

gestured toward where the last few police officers were still

standing with shocked expressions on their faces. “We’ve got three

people dead, one in hospital, and for some reason Randolf is still

in custody!”

Dench felt the energy drain out of him, and his shoulders sagged as

his head shook in defeat. So, maybe Mike was right, but at the

time it had seemed so simple…what else was he supposed to have

thought? And now, as the afternoon light was beginning to fade and

the cloud cover threatened to bring weather that would wash any

other possible evidence away, he didn’t know what to do – he just

felt as if his ability to do his job had been ripped away like the

lives of these victims.

“I’m gonna go speak to Randolf – that Agent M–…uh…whatever his

name was…”

“Mulder,” Grovener provided.

“Whatever…I got the impression he thought Bob was connected to

whatever this is somehow, and those stupid rumors in town imply the

same. Deputy, maybe it’s time we called in Animal Control after

all – if the FBI can’t crack this, we’ll have to take a different

approach.”

“Yes, sir.” With a small, acknowledging nod to both men, Grovener

turned and walked away to make a call on the car radio.

“We are doing all we can, Sheriff, I assure you. Those two are our

best, and this won’t stop them from finding the truth,” the third

man assured, staring at Dench’s back.

“Ian was sixteen years old – his life hadn’t even started yet. I

just want this thing captured before it kills anybody else –

especially a small child.”

Pushing his glasses up to rest properly on the bridge of his nose,

Assistant Director Walter Skinner watched as the Douglas County

sheriff shook his head and left also.

So much for letting Mulder and Scully work on an ‘easy case’.

XxXxXxXxX

JARMAN MEMORIAL HOSPITAL

TUSCOLA, ILLINOIS

APRIL 19th, 2005

4:12 PM

Dim light.

Sounds of people milling about and occasional cries of pain.

The familiar smell of–…

As senses kicked in, both eyes slowly opened and Dana Scully turned

her head until she noticed Mulder’s tired form slumped in the chair

to her left.

“Mul–”

“Scully!” he exclaimed with relief – leaning forward and kissing

her forehead, his hand never releasing its death grip on hers.

“You’re awake?”

She frowned, confused. She remembered performing the autopsy on

the victim’s body and speaking to Mulder on the phone, but after

that was a complete blank.

“Mulder, where am I? What’s happened?”

“You don’t remember?” It was his turn to frown, but he was just

grateful she was okay.

When she shook her head, he explained what had happened over the

past twenty-four hours: how she’d been attacked by the invisible

entity; how they’d spoken with Doctor David and she had then

passed out; how she’d been brought here and stitched up.

“But, I don’t understand… Why can’t I remember anything after

going to open the doors?” Scully asked.

He wished he could give her the answers, but he didn’t even know

them himself. So much of the last day was a blur, he even had

trouble describing it to her. The only thing barely coherent in

his memory was the call he’d made to Skinner at 2:37 this morning

begging the assistant director to fly to Illinois and help in their

hunt for the answers.

‘Mulder, you know I’ll help as much as I can, but I can’t just leave

what I’m working on to assist with what was originally a simple

homicide!’ the man at the end of the line had exclaimed, rubbing a

hand across his chest and then reaching for his glasses on the

nightstand. ‘I’m Assistant Director of the FBI – things are a

little busier than they are down in the basement.’

‘I know, but I need you here,’ had been Mulder’s insistant reply as

he’d paced back and forth outside Scully’s hospital room. ‘I can’t

leave her – not until she’s woken up. But I need to chase down

some possible leads and come up with a solid theory. Please.’

“Skinner’s here?” Dana coughed at the end of her partner’s

narrative – eyeing him suspiciously. “He ditched all his

appointments because you said ‘please’?”

Grinning at the skepticism he’d missed not being able to throw wild

theories at last night, Mulder shrugged his shoulders and joked,

“What? You don’t think Skinner’s susceptible to my charms as

well? How’d you think we got away with my ‘losing’ the expense

report last week?”

“Okay, okay, so he’s here – although I hasten to correct that it’s

Accounting’s responsibility to ream you a new ass for that, not

Skinner’s,” she chided with a shake of her head.

“Of course.”

“But I still don’t understand why I don’t remember anything or why

I’m still here?”

He nodded his head in agreement. “That I’m still trying to figure,

as well as a hundred other things. I got Grovener to bring me some

reference books, and have been looking some stuff up whilst waiting

for you to come to. The one thing that keeps coming up is the myth

of the black, unknown creature that has been spotted primarily in

farm lands across the world…Central and southern Illinois even

have their own claims to the myth.”

“You can’t be serious?” came her familiar, cautionary tone.

“Actually, no. Those have, for the most past, all been proven to

be either large domesticated cats or creatures that have escaped

captivity and adapted to live in the wild – all only feeding on

cattle and other livestock to help survival. This…this is

different to anything I’m finding in the literature.” He could see

from the dubious frown creasing her features that she disliked the

sound of that even more than the idea that this was something out

of local folklore, but he stuck with the train of thought

nevertheless. “This thing has thought – it even came back for

Pitt’s body. Why, when there’s plenty of others in the town to

hunt down if It’s hungry? And then there’s that important aspect:

why can no one but Randolf see It? It attacked you but you still

didn’t see it…”

“At the moment, I don’t even remember it,” Scully groaned.

“I know, and we’ll figure that out, but I’ve been thinking about

something Randolf said, you said, Doc David said and I said, and it

occurred to me: what if all of Randolf’s emotions became so great

and overwhelming that they broke free and manifested themselves

into a violent spirit intent on protecting Randolf as best it can –

it would explain the connection between them. And he suffers from

MD – blocking out parts of his vision…What if his having that

disability is what gives him the ability to see this thing when

everybody else can’t?”

Scully stared at her partner, waiting for him to say ‘gotcha’ or

anything of the like. But when he finished and took a deep breath,

she knew he was serious. She took a deep breath also, and then

glanced down at the four hands tightly linked together and resting

in her lap. If only she could remember what had happened at the

morgue…

“Maybe I should have stayed asleep a little longer,” she sighed,

half-heartedly. “Mulder, something invisible cannot scratch me,

let alone kill somebody, it’s impossible. You know we’ve come far

enough along for me to not so readily push your theories aside, but

you have to admit this is asking me to believe in a lot! There’s

nothing in what you just said that I can scientifically prove or

disprove. And…Who’s ‘Doc David’?”

“You wanted a theory yesterday, and this is the best I got,” came

his hurt reply, shortly followed by a large, uncontrollable yawn.

“For all I know it could be Randolf’s wife reincarnated! I know it

sounds crazy, but when hasn’t the craziest possible scenario been

the right one? Bob has a connection to this thing he likely

doesn’t know about, and It’s killing anybody that has questioned

anything he says. And I know you can’t remember (for reasons as

questionable as this case, I hasten to remind), but yesterday you

said that Charles Bonnet Syndrome caused visually impaired people

to see hallucinations – often times actual moving figures.

Correct?”

Finding it hard not to cower away from his growing temper and the

crushing hold he now had on her hands, she gave a silent nod. Of

course, he was right – in fact, his theory held a logical

believability no matter how far out there it was.

But something didn’t *feel* right.

He’d been acting…odd…since they’d arrived yesterday. Even she

hadn’t exactly been acting her normal self.

It wasn’t right. Something just–…It all felt too orchestrated.

Her eyes slipped shut, but they flung back open again straight

after as all she saw behind her eyelids were those cold, piercing

yellow eyes staring back at her from that black snarling, hungry

feline face.

“Scully?” Mulder quickly asked in concern – realizing the death

grip he had on her hands and immediately letting them go. “I’m

sorry…I didn’t mean–…I’m petrified by what could happen.”

“It doesn’t like strangers,” she whispered.

“Huh?”

“Where’s Skinner?”

“Uh…Last I heard he was trying to convince Animal Control that

this isn’t their standard coyote or coydog to exterminate, with

little luck. Why?”

She fixed her gaze on him – eyes filled with terror. For some

reason there were thoughts in her head she knew didn’t belong there

– explanations for what was going on in Solus – but the words were

jumbled and she couldn’t seem to speak them out loud. She didn’t

need to, though: Mulder could see at least some of it through her

eyes and quickly left the hospital room, placing a lingering kiss

on her lips before he did.

XxXxXxXxX

Meat tore away from bone.

Blood-soaked teeth tore ferociously once more at the throat until

the head completely disconnected, and then the silhouetted figure

stood.

“They’ll learn,” a voice whispered, before the hand lowered to pick

up the discarded cranium. “I’ll show them what they refuse to see.”

A tearful Randolf moved to put his find in a paper bag, and then

left Sheriff Dench’s home – forgetting to wash up the bloodied saw in

his haste.

XxXxXxXxX

==========

ACT THREE

==========

“Skinner.”

“Sir, it’s Mulder.”

“How is she?”

Mulder smiled as he pulled the car up alongside where the assistant

director stood, hung up the phone and called out the open window,

“You workin’?”

“I thought yours and Agent Scully’s relationship gave you no need

to follow that form of recreation,” Skinner frowned, turning at the

sound of his agent’s voice and pocketing the cellphone. “Besides,

I asked you a question first.”

“She’s awake. Hop in, sir – I’m heading over to Greg Pitt’s place

to do some sniffing around.”

Skinner eyed his friend suspiciously. At half-three this morning

Eastern time, Mulder had been seemingly lost and completely

clueless when he’d spoken to him over the phone. Six hours later

he’d been pretty much the same. Skinner’d known there would be

some level of regained energy upon Scully’s awakening, but the

gleam he saw in Mulder’s eyes now was…

Well, it was just spooky.

“How’d it go with Animal Control?”

“Not very well. They’ve sent out a special team to hunt It down,

but they’re still under the impression they’re searching for a

coyote, not a black, phantom cat. Deputy Grovener tried to help

explain, but it was useless,” the A.D sighed, settling into the

passenger seat. “Anyway, why you off to Pitt’s place?”

Mulder diverted his eyes off the road long enough to throw an

enigmatic glance in his boss’s direction, and then replied – more

serious, “Playing a hunch. Scully doesn’t remember anything after

when we spoke on the phone, and I think she may be questioning my

sanity right around now, but when I looked in her eyes…” He

paused. What was he’d seen? How could he explain it? When he’d

looked into the depths of her blue eyes, it had been like there

something was missing – or, even, that something else had been

added.

He’d caught a fleeting image of the beast reflected in her eyes.

“I can’t explain it,” he continued after attempting,

unsuccessfully, to explain to himself how the new theory eating

away at him had come to mind. “But so many dead-end thoughts have

been swimming about in my head since yesterday, I figured it might

be best to try chase down the unconsidered option that would

normally have probably been my initial gut instinct upon reading

the case file.”

All Skinner could do was sit and stare in unresolved bewilderment.

“If I tell you, you’ll laugh.”

“Mulder, I may not agree with some–…Well, a *majority* of your

ideas…and I may question your sanity even moreso than Agent

Scully, but I don’t ‘laugh’ at any of your theories.”

Awkward, hesitant silence lasted for long minutes. It wasn’t until

the rental car had pulled up on Mekke Avenue in Solus, and the two

men had gotten out, that Mulder started, “When I looked in Scully’s

eyes at the hospital, I saw this thing – this black cat – and I

realized Pitt saw it too right before it killed him.”

“But how?”

*Pitt didn’t believe his friend…he didn’t expect anything.*

“He looked around – his chair was slightly pushed away from the

table as well. Scully said at the morgue that he’d fought against

It until It gutted him, but there was no sign that he was making a

mad, frantic struggle against something invisible; it was a

controlled fight against something he could see – something that

left paw prints on his chest.” The younger agent frowned and then

moved toward the front entrance of Pitt’s home. “Maybe he did

believe his friend after all…or maybe he knew something…”

“And you thought I’d laugh at you because…?”

“You’re not amused or disturbed by the concept that I came up with

these thoughts just by looking into Scully’s eyes? This is stuff –

crazy stuff at that – that I should have come up with before we

even reached the airport!”

Skinner shook his head and chuckled, “Believe me, I’ve seen a lot

weirder things happen between you two. Maybe you tried thinking so

much about the case, too much of a pressure to find all the answers

clouded your mind and it was up to Scully to use her magic whatever-

it-is-she-has-over-you to clear it.” Shrug. “Maybe you did see

something she saw in her eyes, and it’ll all come clear soon.”

A shy, agreeing nod from Mulder was shortly followed by the deep,

groaning creak of the front door opening.

XxXxXxXxX

DENCH RESIDENCE

TUSCOLA, ILLINOIS

4:47 PM

As the wind picked up and a storm looked imminent, Bill Dench

removed his hat and entered the house.

“Bob?”

Shrugging off his coat he mentally evaluated the last few days in a

desperate bid to seek the answers that nobody else seemed fit to

find. Unsurprisingly, though, nothing came to mind, so he shook

his head and paced out into the kitchen. He had a few minutes

before he should probably get back out on the road and question

some of the locals in Solus, but he wanted to take this opportunity

to take a long swig of cold beer and speak with Randolf – who’d

been driven here a little earlier for safety.

“Bob!”

When silence was the only answer his empty home delivered, broken

only a second later by the distant roll of thunder, the sheriff

quickly paced into the living room…

Only to see, lying in a large pool of blood in the center of the

room, the mutilated, beheaded corpse of his beloved pet Alsatian.

A hand shot up to cover his mouth before the vomit spewed

everywhere, and then he ran as fast as he could back out to his car.

The animal supposedly loose in the area could easily be blamed for

the torn and bloodied torso of his dog, but he knew full well who

was responsible for the saw he’d also seen on the living room floor.

XxXxXxXxX

Eyes narrowed.

Ears lifted to attention.

Cold tongue swept over the tops of sharp, blood-stained teeth.

It paced along the road, effortlessly missing the cars passing

hurriedly by, and watched Bob Randolf yelling out at the top of his

voice and waving a blood-drenched grocery bag above his head.

People stopped to stare in shock.

But they didn’t see.

‘Make them.’

As the distant voice struck into the creature’s brain like the

coming lightning, It lowered Its body nearer to the ground and

speeded up Its gait toward Randolf.

XxXxXxXxX

1766 MEKKE AVENUE

SOLUS, ILLINOIS

Aside from the pentagrams painted in dark red on every door in the

house, Skinner and Mulder found little in their brief search of the

late Greg Pitt’s residence to implicate that he had anything to do

with the phantom beast’s existence…

…Until they entered his bedroom.

“What the hell is all this?” the assistant director croaked,

glancing at the candles and altar on the bedside cabinet before

turning in a circle to look at all four walls, which were

completely covered in poorly-painted pentagrams, foreign,

unintelligible verses and crude pencil drawings of black cats.

Taking it all in as well, Mulder looked down at the unusual diagram

painted on the floorboards and felt the breath catch momentarily in

his lungs. “‘The Triangle of the Art’…” he whispered, almost to

himself. “He really did know something.” There was a thoughtful

pause, but then he shook his head and moved to pick up the large

book from beside the small altar. “Pentagrams are traditionally

used to attract good spirits – to protect its bearer…”

Stale air filled with dubious silence as Skinner frowned and looked

once again at all four walls.

“Protect him from what?” he finally asked, shooting another brief

glance at the drawings before turning his attention back on Mulder

– who was now reading the hand-written passages in the book.

“‘It wasn’t meant to happened this way. All I wanted to do was

make things better for Bob – try bring back Jessica. I know I

don’t know about this stuff and I shouldn’t have tried it, but

Tommy assured me it was easy and would be the best solution… No

idea what I’ve brought back, but it ain’t Jess, for sure.'”

Skinner approached as he silently, intently watched Mulder skim

through several pages and then continue,

“‘Bob saw It today – for real. He told me about It, and I tried to

laugh like everyone else, but I know he’s not lying. In a way he’s

lucky though – I might not be able to see It, but I can sense It,

and at least It doesn’t haunt his dreams.'” More pages were turned

over, but Mulder found himself pausing to soak in what he saw

before reading out loud. “‘I tried to reverse what I’d done but

that failed. Then I tried to control it for good…but now I think

somebody else controls It, or It even controls Itself. I saw It

kill someone today, and I never wanted that! Never. What am I

gonna do?'”

“Somebody’s intervening?” Skinner piped up, staring at the open

book resting in the younger man’s hands.

“He tried to play God for his best friend, but somebody with more

power wanted to play God for their own purposes.”

“But who?”

Closing the book and shaking his head as the storm outside begun to

gain momentum, Mulder looked up with uncertainty creasing his brow,

and both men stared at each other in silence.

XxXxXxXxX

“Ah, Dana! I heard you were awake! How are you feeling?”

It took several long moments for Scully to break free of her

thoughtful trance and register the voice, let alone realize that

there was somebody hovering beside her hospital bed. Still the

image of those piercing eyes and blood-stained teeth ingrained on

the insides of her eyelids refused to let her be, and now she had

the added worry as to what Mulder was up to. A clap of lightning

brought reality back into focus, and she shook her head as she

looked up at the dark haired woman.

“I’m…uh…fine,” she started, a little hesitantly. “Sore and

very foggy on the events after the attack, but considering what the

alternative could have been, I’m very well, Doctor…?”

The tall, neatly-dressed woman smiled, stowed the clipboard she’d

lifted from the end of the bed under her arm, and then offered her

hand to shake Dana’s. “I’m Doctor Sowlitzer, I was here when you

were brought in,” she declared, lowering her eyes to the charts

attached to the board she’d pulled back out from under her arm.

“Considering the excessively high level of amino acids found in

your bloodstream – in turn, overproducing serotonin – the extended

sleep pattern is to be expected, but–”

“Amino acids?” Scully frowned. She’d been attacked, not ingested

something to knock her body’s levels off-balance…

Thunder echoed in the room as heavy rain attacked the building, and

Sowlitzer frowned herself. She’d been told her patient was a

medical doctor, so surely the woman knew what Amino acids were?

“Ye-es,” she awkwardly replied. “When you were admitted, we

stitched the four deep scratches on your right forearm and took a

blood sample, which showed extremely unbalanced levels.

Fortunately – if not surprisingly – they seem to have sorted

themselves out, but we’re still waiting on some other test results

to see if they explain your amnesia.”

Still frowning, Dana looked down at her bandaged arm. She was

still trying to understand what she had meant by ‘It doesn’t like

strangers’ and why she had said it to her partner earlier before

his quick departure, and make sense of the jumbled thoughts tearing

her mind in all directions. But…very unstable Amino levels

balancing themselves out without any kind of medical therapy? It

was the scientific side of the case she really had no hold over…

…Or maybe it was the scientific fact necessary to tie some of the

extraordinary scenarios together…

Her frown deepened as her legs swung out of the bed. “Can I look

at that chart quickly, please?”

Sowlitzer shrugged her shoulders and handed the clipboard over –

looking up at the window as the thunder and lightning outside grew

louder and more frequent. “As I explained to your…uh…partner?

Your case is odd, but not unheard of. We had a young boy in at the

start of the new year with similar symptoms who’d been attacked by

a rabid dog.”

Scully looked down the list of numbers and other statistics –

barely registering the female doctor’s voice. “A rabid dog?” she

asked, distractedly.

“Yes. I don’t know the ins and outs of his case as he was mainly

dealt with by his doctor in Solus – Doctor David – but the boy’s

condition worsened shortly after the levels in his system rectified

themselves, and the authorities brought him here.” Sowlitzer

paused and shook her head as she added in disgust, “That was also

when they found out about how medicine wasn’t the only thing that

guy was practicing.”

*And…Who’s ‘Doc David’?*

The FBI agent’s head snapped up to stare at the doctor, and flashes

of what had happened during and after the attack at the morgue

returned to her memory with each beat of rain against the windows.

*What Bob is seeing though, isn’t an hallucination, though…*

*It’s okay. My name’s Doctor Tom David – I’m Mister Randolf’s

local physician*

*’Delusional’ is maybe a little over-exaggeration concocted by

Sheriff Dench to make his report look more aesthetically pleasing

to his own ego*

*That doesn’t explain what Randolf has been reporting, or – more to

the point – why you’re here…*

“What do you mean?” she queried, passing the medical notes back.

“You mean you don’t know – never heard – about him?” At the blank

expression on Scully’s face, Sowlitzer suddenly became nervous and

closed off – quickly looking away at anything to break eye contact,

and giving an awkward shrug of her shoulders. “It must just be

local lore then.”

Scully wasn’t ready to be deterred from finding out the facts so

easily. “What did you mean by that?”

Lightning struck, accompanied by a ear-deafening crack of thunder

as the female doctor once again gave a dismissive shrug of her

shoulders.

“Doctor Sowlitzer?”

“It’s not really my place to discuss something that’s not common

knowledge, but Doctor David had his medical license revoked two

months ago ‘cos they found out that he’d been dabbling pretty

heavily in Black Magic or something like that. There was no proof

that he’d been using it to make people ill, but the board

definitely couldn’t take the risk of having him handling people’s

lives so freely. Personally, I never understood what good that

would do – I mean, if he was experimenting with that rubbish, what

good would taking away a bit of paper do? It’s not even as if they

got him to leave the area. I didn’t know him too well – he didn’t

come into Tuscola all that often – but when I did see him, he came

over as a very strange guy…bad attitude towards new people.”

*It doesn’t like strangers*

Eyes widened as far as they could, and Scully focused her complete

attention on the doctor. Finally things were beginning to make

more sense than they had twenty-four hours ago. There was an

unavoidable paranormal element that Mulder would have to unravel,

but at least she had a possible direction to point accusations in.

“Did you tell any of this to Agent Mulder – my partner?”

“He didn’t ask…It didn’t seem relevant. Besides, he was clearly

too distracted. Anyway, I have other patients to see. I just

stopped by to let you know that when you’re feeling up to it,

you’re free to go. There’s nothing else we can do for you, and

unless the extra test results come back saying something to the

contrary, you’re going to be fine in a couple of weeks. Is there

anything else you’d like to ask?”

Before a couple of seconds had even passed for the federal agent to

consider her answer the doctor rudely gave a nod of her head and

quickly left the room – leaving Scully alone, still gently rubbing

at the bandage on her forearm and mouth hanging agape in shock.

XxXxXxXxX

As the violent storm continued its attack on the northern towns of

Douglas County, Deputy Michael Grovener – who’d received a call

from the sheriff five minutes ago ordering him to find Bob Randolf

– edged cautiously down Main Street toward the visually impaired

man. He hadn’t understood the urgency of Dench’s direction, but as

he eyed the bag soaked so heavily with blood that it was a wonder

the contents hadn’t broken free yet being waved ceremoniously in

the air, he had every reason to be comforted by the feel of his

hand resting on his holstered gun.

“It’s here!” Randolf’s trembling voice cried out as loud as it

could. “You wouldn’t believe me, but It’s here!”

As per human nature, Curiosity was too strong for the townsfolk of

Solus to ignore, and they all gathered to stare in disgust at the

man causing such a ruckus.

Grovener approached, drawing his weapon – his cold, stinging eyes

too set straight ahead to notice the black beast stalking Its way

up behind him, or the man shrouded in shadows to his right.

XxXxXxXxX

“Mulder.”

“Mulder, it’s me.”

With a lazy smile lifting his features, Mulder rested his head

against the back in the passenger seat as Skinner drove them to

Main Street. He’d only been away from the hospital for a couple

hours, but having spent the whole night before at her bedside, it

felt like he’d abandoned her for a lifetime, the overwhelming

regret he felt at his raised temper shortly before his departure

making the distance between them seem greater.

“Hey, Me,” he teased, combing a hand through his drenched hair.

“You okay?”

“I’ve been released from the hospital and just getting a cab to

come find you. I just found something out that might help us with

this case.” Scully paused and watched as the taxi she’d called for

pulled up outside the hospital.

“Ditto. Skinner and I just checked out Greg Pitt’s home and it

turns out he inadvertently summoned this thing instead of his

friend’s wife using black magic he learnt from somebody we only

know as ‘Tommy’–”

“Tom David,” she cut in before quickly asking the driver to take

her to Solus. “Doctor Tom David.”

“*What*?” The exclamation – almost washed out by the accompanying

crack of thunder – was filled with a mixture of confusion,

disbelief and surprise. Mulder sat upright in his seat as all

senses went on alert, and Skinner turned his attention away from

the treacherous road ahead just long enough to shoot a slightly

worried glance of his own at the younger man. “The guy we met at

the morgue?”

“My doctor told me David’s practice was stopped because it was

revealed he was heavily playing with Black Magic. I called the

guys to ask them to dig up anything they could on him, but think

about it: who showed up at the morgue not long after I was

attacked?”

“Shit…”

“Apparently a boy displaying similar symptoms to those which I’ve

been suffering from since the incident at the morgue was under

David’s care until his condition worsened to the point his parents

took him to the hospital.”

“Jesus Christ, he…he touched you! I…” Mulder’s voice trailed

off briefly as he cursed himself yet again, before whispering, “I

let him examine your arm and that was when you collapsed… Scu–”

“It’s okay,” she assured from the other end of the line – keeping

her voice low so that the cab driver didn’t overhear her side of

the conversation too much. “Honestly, I’m going to be fine.

Besides, I think his touching me and my unconsciousness were purely

coincidental.”

Mulder frowned and shifted uncomfortably. “What do you mean?”

“This is gonna sound strange coming from me, but… *Something*

undoubtedly attacked me, and to have caused the damage it did on my

arm, it has to be something solid–”

“But S–”

“What if this creature–…What if it’s becoming real – changing

from a spirit to something a lot more violent and permanent?”

Long seconds of uneasy silence ensued as Mulder’s jaw fell open in

shock. It wasn’t that he thought she was crazy, but…God, Scully

pitching a paranormal theory he should have done ages ago? Scully

even making a passing glance at something as far out of the reach

of the laws of Science as *that*?

“Mulder?”

“Are you sure you’re okay, Scully?”

“I told you after we accepted the case that there was more than

likely a perfectly reasonable explanation for the murders…I still

think there is, but that it has to go hand-in-hand with the good

ol’ x-files explanation. You’re the expert when it comes to

knowing the possibility or regularity of this kind of phenomena,

but…” Yet again Scully’s hesitant voice stops as she tried –

desperately – to iron out the knot of theories in her head. “The

organs missing from Pitt are ones we know are often used in ritual

sacrifice. My doctor says my Amino acid levels were severely

imbalanced when I was admitted to the hospital, and that can only

have happened if I’d eaten something to boost my energy, but the

last time I’d eaten before the attack was on the way to the airport

in D.C!…Maybe contaminated blood was absorbed into my system from

this creature’s claws when it scratched me…” A deep breath

followed by a sweaty palm wiping down the front of her face, and

then, “Look, none of this fits into conventional lines of thought,

and I really can’t believe I’m saying any of this, but if there’s

anything I’ve learnt from being with you for over a decade it’s

that sometimes it’s wise not to turn a blind eye to the fantastic,

and I think that’s what we’re purposely being made to do here. Is

it at all possible David is dealing with enough black magic to

control this thing?”

The rental car slowed to a stop, and Mulder looked up to just see

the red light through the heavy rain attacking the windshield. He

bit down on his lower lip and gave a agreeing nod of his head.

“Pitt raises this thing, but he was inexperienced so he has no

control over it,” he replied, plotting out the new theory. “I

think It feeds off Randolf’s emotions, and those were enough to

help it exist on this plane, but then David – who suggested the

invocation in the first place – took his chance and now has

possession of the spirit.”

“But why a black panther?”

“That one I still don’t know…I mean, it could just have been a

bad consequence of Pitt’s unfamiliarity with the ritual, but It

seems to have far too much of a connection to Randolf. Maybe you

should get back on to the guys and see if they can dig up anything

from Randolf’s past. I gotta go – we got a tip-off that Randolf’s

on Main Street brandishing a severed head. I should be able to get

more answers there.”

“What do you mean by that? Mulder, who gave you the tip?” her

panicked voice choked into the cellphone.

“Our supposedly friendly Doctor David. Look, we’re just pulling up

there now. You take care – I’ll speak to you later.”

“Mulder, no! Wait until I’m there!”

Silence.

“Mulder?!” She was practically yelling into the mouthpiece, and

the cab driver looked up briefly into the rear-view mirror as the

car entered the long stretch of corn and soybean fields separating

Tuscola and Solus. “Mulder!” Eyes flicked down to stare at the

phone display, only to see the ‘NO SERVICE’ message flashing

tauntingly on and off.

XxXxXxXxX

MAIN STREET

SOLUS, ILLINOIS

5:54 PM

With coat collars pulled up to shield themselves as much as

possible from the unrelenting storm flooding the streets, Mulder

and Skinner got out of the Ford and rounded the corner, only to

almost trip over the mutilated – almost unrecognizable – corpse of

Sheriff Bill Dench and bump into Deputy Grovener standing beside it

with his head lowered.

He slowly looked up at the sound of their approach and mournfully

shook his head.

“I was…I–” He turned a fraction and pointed at Bob Randolf, who

now stood at the other end of the road – the useless, disintegrated

paper bag now lost in one of the storm drains courtesy of the

running rain, and the severed head of Dench’s pet rolling in a

circle at his feet. “I was approaching him when Bill…He turned

up in the Rancher, but then…” Grovener shook his head yet again

– desperately fighting against the tears clouding his vision. “I

didn’ see it…He didn’ see it…But *he* saw it!” The accusing

finger stabbed the air again to point in Bob’s direction. “The

next thing I knew, somet’ing p-p-pushed me over and blood was…Oh,

God, his flesh was just bein’ ripped away, and there was so much

blood, but I still couldn’ see anything!”

“Because you never look, and that’s why Sheriff Dench had to pay

for his ignorance – for his ‘Old School’ way of thinking.”

The two men from the FBI sharply turned with weapons drawn.

“So, who sent you this time, Doctor David?” Mulder seethed through

grit teeth – the memory of him ignorantly standing aside as this

convincing liar touched Scully’s wounds refusing to let him be. “I

don’t think Sheriff Dench is in much of a condition to use as a

false alibi this time.”

Lightning tore through the clouds, illuminating the older man

standing only a few feet away.

“People meddle with things they should never touch. People turn up

where they don’t belong. People commit crimes but remain

unpunished. Why does everybody become so blind and deaf to these

things, Mr. Mulder?” Tom David ground out, keeping both hands deep

in the pockets of his anorak. “Oh, and how’s your partner, by the

way? She seemed rather shaken up at the morgue…”

“Where’s the creature, sir?” Skinner barked before Mulder had

chance to react – briefly glancing over his shoulder for any clue

that the panther was still around.

David let out a chuckle, but refused to answer.

“You don’t have control over It anymore, do you?” the younger agent

hesitantly queried, taking a step forward and pushing the last

comment directed at him away.

“You’ve got it all wrong.”

“It’s coming back!” Randolf suddenly cried out to anybody or

anything that could hear him over the hurricane.

All faces turned to stare at him questioningly for a second before

Mulder turned back and demanded of the doctor, “How’ve I got it

wrong? Tell me. Explain it to me.”

“Greg lied to me. We were talking a few days after Jess Randolf’s

funeral, and he said how much he wished he could do one of those

resurrection spells like in the movies so his friend would be happy

again…” David shook his head and lowered it for a second as

inside his coat pockets he continued to rub thumb and forefingers

along the metal concealed there. “I told him it was easy, but only

if you could handle that kind of power – if you’d worked with the

dark arts before. He told me he had, years ago, but he’d never

been able to do *that*.”

“You believed him?”

Clueless, Skinner remained silent – gun steadily trained on the

still figure of the doctor.

Likewise for Deputy Mike Grovener.

At the other end of the road, as thick clouds begun to circle above

their heads, Bob Randolf desperately searched left and right for

the source of the distant voices he could hear. He was angry the

death of the sheriff had caused the gathered townsfolk to run away

before they’d properly seen what he could, but at the same time it

relieved him because he didn’t think he could bear to witness

another death.

When the creature materialized into view through the fog forever more

marring his vision – yellow piercing eyes fixing on blue clouded

ones – he knew it was time.

“I thought I could help,” David continued, reluctantly. “When I

received a call from Bob’s ophthalmologist at Jarman ten days later

reporting the symptoms of possible CBS, and then a week after that

when Heather Mallory brought her boy to me with the strange bite

wound on his leg, I knew that it had gone awry…that Greg had no

control over It. I tried to send It back to the Hell It came

from, but It was too strong. It… It feeds on emotions – the

ultimate pet peeves of anybody with a mystical connection to It. I

don’t know what It gained from Greg, other than his life, but It

fed on my hatred of the people that just waltz into this town, milk

it of whatever they can and then disappear again – that’s why the

victims over the last month have been new members of the community

and why your partner was almost the next….why you two will be as

well if you don’t leave here as soon as possible.”

Slow steps followed by tiny splashes of water on the tarmac road

started out toward the three men, and then increased pace to a run.

Somewhere nearby there was the sound of tires screeching to a halt.

Mulder felt an inexplicable shiver run up his spine – making the

sensitive hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and his head

turn to look over his shoulder.

“But there’s something else driving this creature – something that

made my attempts to dismiss it impossible,” the gray-haired doctor

continued shakily as he sensed the approach of the unseen entity.

“It has to be guardian to the man that killed It.”

Skinner’s eyes opened wide, but as he turned to glance at Mulder,

the younger agent fell to the ground – a loud scream of pain

rushing past his lips.

“Mulder!” Scully cried out as she quickly rounded the corner in

time to see several inexplicable slash marks tear through his

Armani suit and chest. “Wh–?” She pulled her gun, but there was

nothing she could do but watch helplessly as her partner was

attacked by something she could neither see nor explain.

Time seemed to slow in the minds of the interlopers, but Tom David

focused his attention on the visually-impaired man who’d taken

several steps to the middle of the road, and then quickly removed

the two metallic items from inside his custom-altered coat

pockets. Grovener’s weapon fired, but not in time to stop the

doctor from throwing the unknown, round objects at Randolf.

Lightning struck the road where Randolf had been earlier.

Light reflected on the surface of the flying pieces.

A bullet ripped through David’s chest.

Sharp, bloodied teeth released their catch.

Scully dropped to her knees beside Mulder’s unconscious, bloody,

discarded body.

Piercing eyes sharply turned to intently watch as the two headlamps

landed by Randolf’s feet, and that was when the memory returned.

//Roaming the open land, hoping to find food and maybe a mate as

the dark night enveloped It; the unending rain pelting against Its

fur; crossing the makeshift road; hearing the screeching tires and

looking up into two blinding saucers of light before unspeakable

pain ravaged Its body, and then………nothing\\

Suddenly, It knows who the true threat to It is.

Despite his open mind when it came to weird stuff – beliefs that

had certainly only been strengthened by this case – Deputy Michael

Grovener had had no true handle on just how weird things could be

until he – as well as Agent Scully and AD Skinner – looked over at

the two headlamps.

Paw followed paw followed paw and then the creature leapt into the

air – ready to pounce on Its prey.

“Go in peace,” David whispered from where he lay writhing on the

sidewalk.

And in that moment a lightning bolt struck the earth mere

centimeters from Randolf’s feet, sending him hurtling backwards

several meters and a surge of energy causing the headlamps from the

car he’d crashed four months ago to momentarily illuminate. Three

faces watched in shock as the beams revealed the shape of a panther

in mid-pounce, but then the light faded…

Absolutely everything went still.

XxXxXxXxX

==========

EPILOGUE

==========

3605 N STREET NW

WASHINGTON, DC

MAY 4th, 2005

8:21 PM

“Wow.”

Wide, blue eyes stared in awe and then blinked.

“I mean, *wow*!”

Sitting down on the couch, Scully gave an uncertain shrug of her

shoulders and a just-short-of-genuine smile. The last two weeks

had been a living nightmare she prayed to God she could forget, and

as fascinating as it may be to Kenny as he sat there with a can of

Coke in one hand and listened to her recital of the events, ‘wow’

was far from being the word she would have used to sum it all up.

It had taken fifteen minutes for the EMS vehicles to arrive in

Solus due to the debris kicked up by the tumultuous storm that had

miraculously cleared after the beams from the damaged car

headlights died. Questions had been asked, answers had been

disbelieved and Skinner had had to try explain as much as he could

of what he understood – which was very little – whilst the

paramedics worked on the three injured men and Dana frantically

begged her unconscious partner to hold on.

The next forty-eight hours had seen all three patients in critical

status, but only two made it beyond then; both Mulder and Randolf

regaining consciousness on the 22nd.

“So, this creature was the ghost of the thing that caused Randolf’s

car crash?” Kenny Andrews queried, sipping on his drink.

Skinner had returned to D.C to deliver the necessary paperwork on

the case and inform Andrews of what had happened. The Kid had

wanted to visit his friends at the hospital in Tuscola, but had

been trying to wrap up the profiling case he’d been n when they’d

left, so this was the first time he was able to catch up properly.

“It would seem so,” Scully sighed reluctantly – knowing that by

doing so she was admitting to some belief in ghosts.

An awkward pause for thought.

“But how the hell are you gonna explain any of this? I mean, how

and who do you prosecute?” the younger man pressed with a frown.

“What does Mulder think?”

‘Too much,’ she inwardly chuckled. Despite his lethargic state,

her partner had certainly been the master at reeling off summations

on their experience, much to her chagrin, although she did partly

blame herself for letting him use that damn laptop in the bed.

“Mulder’s been making a lot of reference to Shamanisitic and Native

American beliefs – about the black panther spirit’s power and

guardian energy. So much of those two days is inconceivable,

though, I really couldn’t tell you either way or the other. The

x-files explanation will go on file saying Pitt, David and Randolf

were all responsible in some way for the murders, but Pitt was the

instigator – that a mystical, vengeful spirit killed anybody that

went against Its masters. The official explanation? It never

happened.”

“I got a letter from Mike saying he’d moved on and would contact me

soon, but he didn’t tell me anything else,” Andrews sighed,

shaking his head before combing a hand through his black hair.

“Seriously? They’re sweeping it under the carpet?”

“Assistant Director Skinner says the senior US Senator from

Illinois ordered us not to take this further, and he thinks it

might be for the best – to let them take care of things.”

“What about you?”

She looked up and fixed her gaze on him at the sound of the

concerned tone, but then quickly looked away and shook her head.

“I guess he’s right. We were there to prove Randolf didn’t kill his

friend, and we did that – our involvement was fi–”

“No, I meant ‘how are you doing’?”

“Me? Oh, I’m fine…”

“Mulder still letting you get away with that one?”

Scully smiled and checked the time on her watch. “No – I wish!”

she teased. “Seriously, though, I’m doing okay – the scratches on

my arm healed so that there’s just light scarring there, and I’m

just happy he’s doing well. I gotta give him supplements to ensure

his amino acid levels stay balanced for a few more days, but

hopefully after that everything will be as ‘back to normal’ as it

can be for us.” She paused, let out a sigh and then raised to her

feet barely managing to conceal a large yawn by raising a hand to

her mouth. “Did you want to go in and see him?”

“You sure that’s alright? I don’t wanna disturb him if he should

be resting…”

“Resting? You are still referring to the same Fox William Mulder

that I live with, aren’t you?”

Kenny laughed and stood also.

~~~~~

Mulder looked up from the laptop screen as the bedroom door clicked

open, and smiled as Kenny came in. He closed the computer up and

reached to place it carefully on the nightstand – wincing slightly

at the pain in his chest the movement caused.

“Coming to laugh at the helpless, fallen agent, Kid?” he teased,

outstretching a hand to shake Kenny’s.

“Well, it was a thought, but then I just learnt from Scully that

you’re not as ‘helpless’ as you like to make out and figured maybe

I should come in here and kick your ass instead.”

Mulder let out a small chuckle – blinking several times to clear

the sleep from his eyes. “She worries too much. I told her ‘a

couple more days or so and then we can go on another little trip to

the forest’, but she doesn’t believe me. Then again, she’s not

exactly rushing to repeat the theories she suggested in Solus…”

“She’s a scientist, Mulder! She may be more open ‘cos of all the

stuff you’ve experienced together, but a part of her will always be

reluctant to accept anything paranormal – that’s what makes her

her.”

Silence and then a nod as Mulder mulled over the past fortnight.

If it had been up to him, he probably would have been back at the

office after their return to D.C a few days before the end of

April, but Scully, Skinner, the Gunmen and even Mrs. Scully had all

been on hand to make sure he remained in bed to recouperate.

He was impressed they actually let him use the toilet on his own!

‘A big, phantom cat clawed my chest, that’s all!’ he’d whined to

apparently deaf ears. ‘I’m not incapacitated!’

‘I don’t care, Mulder – this time you’re gonna properly take it

easy…at least for a week.’

Despite the small ache when he stretched too much, he felt fine

now, but nobody seemed to wanna know that, and he had to wonder

if they just liked to see him in this state!

“Anyway, what happened to Randolf in the end? Scully didn’t tell

me,” Kenny piped up again after a few minutes.

“Bob’s receiving psychiatric help to get him over the last five

months of his life,” the agent in the bed replied sleepily. “Maybe

tamper down those emotions. He completely lost his sight, so there

were fears that might push him completely over the edge, but it

seems to work out better for him – at least now the CBS isn’t

affecting him as badly… Certainly no claims so far of seeing any

kinds of creatures…”

“No sightings at all?”

With a shake of his head, the bed-bound agent sighed, “You know,

everybody mocked Bob because of what he reported seeing, and yet –

irony of ironies – before the accident, there were numerous

reported sightings of a black figure disappearing into the woods

bordering the town, and I even managed to track down a local

newspaper report from a couple years back stating that Sheriff

Dench had taken a couple pot-shots at it.” He paused only for a

second to yawn, and then continued, “Bob managed to kill the local

legend, but in the process became the cause of a new one being

born. Nobody wanted to believe him because they couldn’t see it

and there was the possibility of it really being right on their

doorsteps as opposed to out in the fields.”

“Do you think he knew he was the main cause of the people dying?

D’ you think he purposely dwelled on those emotions so that the

spirit would act upon them?”

Mulder considered the question for several moments – remembering

his meeting with the petrified man at the Sheriff’s Department.

“No,” he replied, confidently. “He wanted It to stop – to stop

seeing It at all. Maybe it was that feeling that made It do the

opposite and stay there.”

~~~~~

‘Case file #X121692B

Agent of record: Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully.

For centuries mankind has debated on the subject of if

there is an afterlife or not. Having grown up in a

Catholic family, I was taught that the fate of our souls

is up to God after our bodies have ceased to exist.

However, scientific logic states that there is nothing

after death. Though very little of this case can be

explained, and my personal accounts of witnessed events

may not be wholly depended upon, this investigation

certainly proved that there are just too many questions

out there for us to ignore all the answers…

…And maybe, sometimes, it really is possible for you to

take that second chance – whether you’re human or animal.’

XxXxXxXxX

THE END

Take Me Out With The Ball Team

TITLE: ‘Take Me Out With The Ball Team’

AUTHOR: XSketch

EMAIL: XSketch@hotmail.com

WEBSITE

Artwork: mercimulder

SPOILERS: General knowledge of the show – particularly the Biogenesis trilogy necessary. Also a brief poke at VS12’s ‘Finding The Future’

by Traveler, and a tiny reference to ‘Resist Or Serve’ (the video game) you’ll only notice if you’ve played it and paid attention 🙂

RATING: PG

CATEGORY: S, MSR, MT, A

SUMMARY: She prays for the time when they can share a ‘normal’ day out together, but it looks like she’s not going to be answered today.

FEEDBACK: Big hugs are offered in return for this holy gift!

DISCLAIMER: None of the characters herein belong to me – all characters from The X-Files are property of CC, Fox, 1013 and co.; all baseball teams, players and field remain property of Major League Baseball and their affiliates. No infringement’s intended,

and I guarantee I’m making no monetary profit for writing this.

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusive to IMTP’s VS12, and then it becomes a free agent for anyone to host as long as my name stays attached.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Written for the VS12 ‘Spring Sports Spectacular Special’

DEDICATION: To the forever-great Sue Briscoe and Gene Pitney. Thanks

sooooooo much for everything and being the people you are. Mr P: Get better soon and have a safe journey back from Oz! 🙂 Sue: Hope to see you again soon!

clip_image001

Take Me Out With The Ball Team

YANKEE STADIUM

BRONX, NEW YORK

APRIL 3rd, 2005

He was like a child, and if she hadn’t known or seen who was sitting beside her she would have guessed that he was a little boy.

He wriggled, he hummed, he tapped his feet, he occasionally bounced up and down on the seat…

It made her smile, but God did it ever annoy her!

Scully eyed her partner yet again as he stood up and then disappointingly sat down – having missed his chance to appear on the large video screen.

“Wow! Please, Scully, if I’m dreaming *don’t* pinch me!* Mulder beamed, turning to face her.

By some miracle, she’d managed to get a pair of tickets to the New York Yankees’ opening game of the baseball season against Boston off

eBay, and to say Mulder had been over-zealous when he’d opened the envelope on Valentine’s Day would be a bad understatement – he’d

lifted her up into his arms, spun her around, kissed every millimetre of her face and then carried her into the bedroom to show how happy

she really did make him. Now, dressed in faded jeans, baseball shirt and matching team cap, as he stared into her eyes, she understood that this man had never really had a childhood after the abduction of his sister, and what she saw now was that locked-away boy finally being let free – despite the pain and turmoil the older version of

him suffered.

It made him look relaxed.

It made her feel relaxed.

And all irritation was forgotten…at least for now.

He swallowed hard and ran the tongue he’d burnt with a hot dog shortly after their arrival across the roof of his mouth. “You know how grateful I am, don’t you?” he asked quietly, sincerely.

“Your excited and restless bouncing beside me was a small giveaway,” Dana chuckled, reaching out a hand and entwining their fingers

together. “Just try not to injure yourself any more, please – it’s *our* day, and I just wanna enjoy it, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Giving her hands a gentle squeeze but refusing to let go, he turned back to face the baseball field just as Randy Johnson stepped up to pitch for the Yankees.

“Come on, guys – we can show them who the true kings of this game are!” Mulder whispered through grit teeth – beginning his session of bouncing once again.

Scully just smiled, shook her head and settled to watch the game as well.

By the seventh inning stretch, everything had remained so perfect that it had become easy to forget who they were – the evening weather was unseasonably tranquil, she was in the company of this beautiful man, and the game had been entertaining. Boston had taken an early lead, resulting in the most grumbling, whining and shouted expletives she recalled ever hearing pass Mulder’s lips, but it had only taken New York a couple more innings to regain their hold on the game and score a two run lead – much to her partner’s boyish excitement.

Perfect.

…A little too perfect…

“Ooh, need to drain the lizard,” he suddenly exclaimed, standing up. “Want anything while I’m gone? Soda? Popcorn?”

With a slow shake of her head, Dana replied, “No, thanks. Their popcorn’s far too buttery for human consumption – it should be made illegal.”

Mulder let out a loud, relaxed chuckle and shook his own head.

“Ugh! I really need to work harder on changing your opinion about that!”

“You won’t get far.”

“Sure you don’t want anything?”

“No, I’m fine, really.”

Adjusting his jeans slightly, Mulder made his way to the aisle, gave one last look in her direction over his shoulder, and then disappeared just as the visiting Red Sox ran back out onto the field.

A curious glance sideways fifteen minutes later, she spotted him making his way down the stairs toward their row.

“Next to bat, the first baseman, number 25: Jason Giambi,” the announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker.

The crowd cheered, and Mulder’s pace quickly increased. Scully turned away briefly to watch the first pitch, but looked back at her approaching partner as a strike was called.

“Took your time,” she joked as he made his way down the line.

There was the sound of bat hitting ball and the crowd became even more excited. Mulder desperately tried to get past the now-standing,

mitt-raised fans without losing his footing, replying, “Damn queue,” at the top of his voice so she could hear, before a sharp pain ripped

through his skull and everything went to black.

Scully’s eyes opened as wide as possible, and she dropped to her knees beside his motionless body. “Mulder?” No response.

“Mulder!” She gently patted his face several times, and was rewarded

with a low groan.

“Is he okay?”

Only just realising that everybody in their row, the row in front and the row behind was interested in the health of her injured partner, Dana raised her eyes to stare at the small boy that had asked the

question and gave a weary smile.

“He’s gonna be fine,” she replied, quietly – unsure if she was trying to convince the boy or herself more. “Just a big lump on his head is all he has to look forward to – that’ll teach him to be more aware of his surroundings next time, won’t it, Mulder?”

Another unintelligible groan of pain from the barely conscious FBI agent.

The boy – at least five years old, if Scully had to guess – glanced up at his father with a frown, but then turned back and gave an accepting nod of his head before returning to his seat.

“You sure you okay there with him, ma’am?” the man that had been sitting next to Mulder and was now being forced to remain standing by the body at his feet queried.

“He’ll be fine,” she repeated, making a closer examination of the growing lump on the left side of Mulder’s forehead. “But I’d be grateful if you could help me get him back on his seat.”

Without hesitation, the stranger obliged, and it wasn’t long before Mulder was seated beside her again.

“Mulder, can you hear me?” she whispered in his ear.

He made some kind of grunting sound and let his chin drop to rest against his chest, but it took several minutes before his eyes opened

and he blinked several times.

“Mul–” Her voice died in her throat and she froze as he looked up at her and she saw the completely blank expression on hi face – there

was just nothing there…

Absolutely nothing.

No recognition, no compassion, no familiar spark burning behind his eyes, no sign of the twelve years-worth of memories that she has

shared with this man through thick and thin – no sign, in fact, of any memory whatsoever in his life. Everything gone as if the slate had been wiped clean.

He glanced down at the hands she rested on his forearms, then frowned at her – silently asking, ‘who the hell are you?’

Her heart broke into a million pieces then and there.

*crack*

The crowd immediately burst into enthusiastic cheering once again as another ball was hit, and Mulder turned away to look down at the

players on the field. All Dana could do was watch him intently as he tilted his head a fraction to the side, then glanced down to examine the clothes he wore, and then turned his attention back to the

players – unsteadily standing up.

“Mulder, what ar–”

But he was already gone – quickly making his way back down the row and then running down the stairs toward the field.

“Oh, God, no…”

It took several long seconds for her motor functions to kick in, and by the time she was on her own feet and awkwardly trying to squeeze

past the people, Mulder had already jumped the wall onto the field, and was casually making his way to the right fielder – security in close pursuit.

“I’m a federal agent, and he’s my partner,” Scully frantically explained to the first uniformed man that grabbed her to stop her going out onto the turf also. At his doubtful frown, she pulled out

her ID wallet (thankful she’d thought to keep it upon her person today.)

“So, what? That gives you the right to jus’ go wherever you wan’?” the officer angrily replied, shaking his head.

“No, of course not, but Agent Mulder was struck on the head by the last home run, and I have reason to believe he may be suffering from amnesia.”

The tall, broad, officer frowned and glanced over his shoulder at the men now forcing Mulder off the field. He had a job to do and order to uphold, but as he looked into the fear and anger-filled eyes of

this petite woman, he had no choice but to let her go to her partner and order his colleagues to let their captive go.

Mulder shrugged the retreating hands away, and then watched as the small, red-haired woman he’d been sitting next to earlier approached. The expression on her face begged him to remember her, and the increasing rate of heartbeat indicated he more than likely should, but his brain just refused to retrieve the necessary information… Hell, he didn’t even have a clue as to who he was!

The woman stopped directly in front of him, and one of her slim hands reached out to touch his arm. His heart almost flipped at the contact, and he fixed his gaze on her face – frowning at the

unexplainable sensations her proximity was rousing within him.

“Who–”

“It’s gonna be okay…Let’s just get you to the hospital,” Scully somehow managed to choke out – unable to hear those words passing his lips, despite all they’d been through together. Now was when he would need her strength and support the most, but that empty look had taken so much out of her, she didn’t know if she could offer him

anything. “We’re gonna need to do an x-ray and scan on your head to see how much trauma that baseball inflicted.”

His frown deepened even further. She was a doctor? Did that mean he was a doctor also? And, if so, what were they doing here?

“Is that okay, Mulder?”

‘Mulder’? Mulder…Mulder… Nope, nothing familiar about that.

With a hesitant nod of his head, he allowed her to guide him out of the ballpark.

XxXxXxXxX

“What is your name?”

“Uh…That lady that came in with me kept calling me ‘Mulder’, so I guess that’s what it is…unless that’s some kind of nickname or… uh…or pet name…” The last two words came out in a bare whisper (part-embarrassment and part-anger at the fact that he couldn’t remember something as important as that) and his face blanched

considerably.

Dana – unable to watch any longer as the doctor questioned her partner in his hospital room – turned and left, quietly pulling the door shut after her.

Her cellphone picked that second to ring to life.

“Scully.” Tired and emotionally drained, she mentally congratulated herself for managing to get the word out at all.

“How’s he doing?”

“Sir? How–”

“Agent Scully, it’s Sunday evening and the first day of the baseball season. Assistant directors of the FBI do try to have lives as well, every now and then, and even find the time to interested in things

other than paperwork,” Skinner’s deep voice chuckled over the line before sobering a minute later. “I was watching the game on TV,

and saw Giambi’s ball knock Mulder down. Is he okay?”

“He’s…” She hesitated momentarily and sighed as she cast a glance over her shoulder at the closed entrance to Mulder’s room. “He’s functioning, but…He can’t remember anything – not who he is, what day of the week it is, who…who I am…It’s as if the ball hit a ‘reboot’ button on his head and all information’s been lost.”

Now standing up, Skinner nervously begun to pace the length of his apartment and wiped a hand across his fry mouth. “Jesus, Dana. Have

the doctors done tests? Do they know how long it’ll last?”

“They’ve run x-rays and MRI scans on his head, but apart from the large bump on his forehead, there’s no other signs of trauma that

would explain the amnesia. As for how long it will last…I really don’t know…”

Skinner remained quiet – unsure of what to say.

“My fear is that the encounter with the artifact at the start of the year left his brain so vulnerable, any little thing could have triggered this.”

“You want me to come up there?”

“No, sir. I..I just wish I knew…” Scully’s voice trailed off as the doctor stepped out of Mulder’s room. “Sir, I need to go. Can I call you back in a few minutes?”

“Of course. You take care and keep me updated,” the older man sighed, desperately wishing there was something more assuring he could say or do.

“Agent Scully?” Doctor Homer Muzzy started as he watched her put away her cellphone. “Can I talk with you in private?”

Dana’s level of panic heightened, and a ball of dread formed in the pit of her stomach. “Why? I know he can’t remember anything, so what else is there to discuss?” She didn’t mean to be so sharp with the defenceless man, but at the moment all that mattered was that she got back to her partner and helped him recover.

“The scans showed no swelling, no blood clots – nothing. There’s no logical explanation for this extent of memory loss,” Muzzy explained.

She’d been about to make a joke about nothing to do with Fox Mulder ever being logical, but then she realised what the doctor was getting at…

“You think he may not regain his memory?”

Muzzy’s shoulders shrugged and then sagged considerably. “If there were visible signs of internal trauma, we could make an estimation on

how long this would last, but without those, and the fact that he can’t even remember his own name… I’m sorry, but you may have to prepare yourself for the possibility that this will be permanent.”

Scully shook her head and set her jaw. She couldn’t accept this; she *wouldn’t*. She’d once told Mulder that she wouldn’t pick him up off

the floor again, but she wasn’t about to stand aside and watch him fade away like his memories

Wouldn’t give up on him.

Wouldn’t give up on them.

“There’s got to be another way…”

“I–” Muzzy cut off as his pager bleeped. “I’m needed elsewhere. I’ll come by later to check up on him and consider releasing him from

my care, but really: consider what I’ve said, and think about how you’re gonna help him fit back into society.” With that, he turned and disappeared down the corridor.

Stepping toward the room entrance, Scully paused and took a deep breath. Just the thought of staring into that emptiness again tore at her, but she fought against it and opened the door.

“Hey,” she smiled, moving with forced confidence until she stood directly in front of Mulder.

His lowered head raised so that he can stare into her sky blue eyes and feel the love he saw there warm his heart. “Hey. I thought you’d have run a mile away by now.”

“You really have forgotten who I am, then.” The chuckle lacked all trace of humour, and yet – ironically – felt natural.

“No, I haven’t.”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “What?”

“That’s…That’s the thing…I know I know you and that you mean…” He hesitated and blinked several times to clear the wetness beginning to form in his eyes. “That you mean the world and

everything else to me, but only because that’s what my body and heart are telling me. Ask me to recall your name or when I was born or how we met and I’ll only be able to answer with a blank expression. I musta been pretty crazy before this if this hasn’t scared you off.”

Tears begun to blur Scully’s vision also at his words and the sight of his shy smile. Her mouth opened to reply, but suddenly the door

opened and a man dressed in a baseball uniform entered. Both agents turned simultaneously to frown at the intruder.

“Hi, I’m Jason Giambi,” the man smiled, turning slightly to reveal the name on the back of his jersey, as if that was validation enough

of his identity (seemingly forgetting, in the process, that you could buy a identical one from the local sports store for eighty dollars).

“Bud from security told me, after the game, how you got knocked out by my home run,” he explained, facing them again. “We managed to

retrieve the ball and I figured the decent thing would be to return it to its rightful owner.”

Several blue flashes filled the room, and Scully turned her head to see five photographers standing in the doorway. Mulder kept his

attention on the ballplayer and watched in awe as he offered a signed baseball. The frequency of flashes increased and Scully decided it was time to bring the circus to an end.

“Well, thank you very much, Mr. Giambi, but Mulder really needs to rest now,” she started as politely as possible, outstretching a hand to shake the visitor’s.

Giambi hesitated, frowned at her and then gave an acknowledging nod of his head. “Of course. I just thought I’d stop by,” he smiled, accepting the proffered hand. “It was nice to meet you both, and

hope to see you at another game some time.”

After several more minutes of stalling so that the journalists managed to get as many photographs as possible, the celebrity sportsman left.

“Wow, an autographed baseball,” Mulder exclaimed, examining the black ink inscription between the two seams. “I take it from the clothes

I’m wearing that he plays for the team I like?”

Scully was still staring thoughtfully at the closed entrance.

“Ma’am?”

That word coming from his lips and referring to her caught her attention immediately, and she sharply turned to stare at him.

“Sorry, but I still don’t know what your name is,” he quietly

apologised.

“Scully,” she almost whispered. “It’s Dana Scully, but you’ve always called me just ‘Scully’.”

“Scully…” He tried it out, and the sound of it on his lips felt familiar, but it still didn’t conjure up any memories. “Scully…”

“It’s gonna be okay,” she quickly cut in, although this time definitely to reassure herself more.

He stared at her thoughtfully, and the sinking feeling in his stomach made him feel guilty. The words “I’m sorry, Scully,” escaped before

he even had chance to understand why he was saying them.

Tense silence rested between them for long, seconds as they simply stared at each – Scully desperately searching the depths of his soul

for the flicker of flame that made him him, whilst Mulder frantically seeked the lighter in hers. Despite the fact that she knew she probably shouldn’t, Dana felt herself drawn towards him and took several steps forward so that she could reach a hand up to cup his cheek.

“We’ve been through everything together – literally to Hell and back – for over twelve years, Mulder, and I’ve never wanted to turn away

from you…*We’ve* never turned our backs on each other, and I certainly don’t intend to start now,” she almost choked.

“Especially when now is probably the time we need each other the most.”

The warmth of her skin against his kicked his heart into a fast beat yet again, and the top half of his body begun to lean forward – his face resting more fully in the cradle of her palm.

“Scully…” It was suddenly the only word he could say despite his brain’s refusal to remember it, and the autographed baseball fell from his grasp.

“Scu–”

*thud*

The ball hit the ground, and at the instant of impact Mulder’s body suddenly jolted upright – his head shaking several times in a desperate attempt to dispel the waves of giddiness now over-whelming him.

Unsure of what was happening, the hand that had been resting against his cheek moved up to press against his creasing forehead.

“Mulder, what’s wrong?”

Frightened eyes to needed to blink several times before they could focus properly fixed on her and silently begged her to make everything better.

“We were at the game,” he whispered through grit teeth. “It was supposed to be our day out…”

“Mu–?”

“I promised I wouldn’t injure myself anymore after burning my tongue, an–”

The ball slowed before bumping into the wall on the opposite side of the room and stopping. All the muscles in Mulder’s body relaxed and his head dropped to rest against the top of his chest.

“‘And’ what?”

His head shook, but did not lift. “I can’t remember.”

Feeling the same desperation she sensed in his voice, Scully looked around the room and fixed her gaze on the discarded projectile that had caused all this in the first place. She frowned and stepped over to bend and pick it up.

Something didn’t feel right.

It felt too heavy – moreso on one side than the other.

The frown deepened and she lifted the ball to shake it by her ear. There was no audible sound coming from within the object, but she saw a shiver wrack Mulder’s frame at exactly the same moment.

“Jesus…” The coincidences were too great, but she needed one more test to be certain, so her hold loosened on the ball and she purposely let it drop to the floor.

*thud*

“And, God, I love you so much, Scully! Please, make this stop!”

A hand shot up to cover her mouth whilst the other reached out to rest on something and support her weight before her knees gave way.

“Oh, my God…”

Exhausted and nauseated, Mulder collapsed onto the bed so that he was laying down – both hands coming up to cover his sweating face.

“What the hell’s happening to me?” he begged to know, sobbing.

Unable to answer, Scully shook her head and eyed the ball that had stopped rolling at the foot of his bed. She didn’t have a clue how to explain this; all she knew was that they had to get out of here as

soon as humanly possible.

Taking a second to regain her balance, she let both hands drop down by her sides and approached him.

“Mulder?” she whispered in case somebody else should be listening in. “Mulder, we need to get out of here, now.” He didn’t respond, so she tenderly combed her fingers through his hair. “I know you–… you don’t remember me, but please trust me.”

The hands slowly lowered away from his face and hazel, red-rimmed eyes sought out her watery blue ones. “I…” He paused and swallowed hard. Emotions he didn’t know and couldn’t explain surged through him, and yet – despite the ball of confusion engulfing him – there was one thing he knew with the certainty he should have had for his own name: this woman was the truth and could save him from this nightmare.

“I’ve always trusted you,” he croaked.

With a sad smile, Scully nodded and helped him to his feet – only leaving his side briefly to pick up the baseball and carefully place it in her purse.

A few minutes later they were out of the hospital and on their way back to D.C.

XxXxXxXxX

RESIDENCE OF THE LONE GUNMEN

TACOMA PARK, WASHINGTON D.C

“Holy kamoly.”

All still dressed in their pyjamas, the three paranoid geeks gathered around the baseball they’d carefully dissected the top off of and

stared with awe at the exposed mechanical interior.

“I take it that’s not normal?” Mulder started uneasily from a short distance away, wincing whenever one of the other men poked a pencil

at the ball’s contents.

“Man, we’ve never seen anything like it!” Frohike exclaimed, reaching out to touch the oddity again. Having seen the affects their earlier probing had had on her partner, though, Scully stopped him in mid-air and shook her head. “I mean, are you sure this isn’t another of your tests to try keep us up to speed?”

Mulder shrugged his shoulders and looked away.

Byers stepped away from the magnifying glass he’d been using to examine the electronic device more closely and folded both arms across his chest. “The circuit looks designed to process the cosmic galactic radiation from the small piece of the alien ship into microwaves and direct the signal to only affect a particular part of Mulder’s temporal lobe.”

Having been up for twenty hours straight – including a long, exhausting journey home from New York – Scully was pretty much at the end of her tether, but she tried to stay as polite as possible… After all, the guys were helping.

“But the tests showed no abnormalities in his brain at all,” she countered, reaching for the magnifier so she could look at the baseball also.

“That’s what we got suspicious about when you first called,” Langley explained, “so we hacked into the hospital medical records and–”

“Surprise, surprise, there’s no record of any such tests being done on Mulder at all. Whatever they showed you were either fakes, or they ‘accidentally’ mislaid his results,” Frohike cut in,

bitterly. “I’m sure you can guess which one we subscribe to.”

“And, in case you’re in any doubt, we tried checking up this Doctor Homer Muzzy dude and, nope, he doesn’t exist,” Langley added. “We

got a couple of interesting results when we searched the net for that name, but no doctors, and certainly not at that hospital.”

Scully stared at the single symbol engraved on the piece of artifact and frowned, but then looked back up at the Gunmen. “They’re not trying to kill him,” she uttered, distantly. “They’ve tried that and

it didn’t work, so they thought…” Trailing off, she cast a sideways glance at Mulder, who was looking back at her over his shoulder. “They thought if he completely forgot who he was, he’d no longer be a threat…”

“Nice to know I’m so popular,” the dry retort came from the other side of the room.

“But how do we stop this from shutting down his memory banks?”

“Well, you said on the phone that when the ball incurred damage, he remembered things again,” Byers hesitated.

“No,” Dana quickly replied. “No, there has to be another way…You didn’t see how much pain his body went through during those moments…

I won’t let that happen again.”

“But maybe that was because when the microwave processors malfunctioned the C.G.R took control of him as we’ve seen in the

past,” Byers went on, more confidently. “Maybe if you were back at your place – away from the artifact – it wouldn’t have the same effect. Then we could get rid of the piece so he was completely in

the clear.”

Close to falling asleep whilst still standing, she desperately tried to process it all into a logical order.

In the end, there was no denying it was probably the only answer.

“Oh-kay,” she exhaled, taking a step back. “Call me as soon as it’s done.”

Arrangements were made, and all Mulder could do was watch as decisions were made regarding things to do with his brain that he probably should have had more input on, but he put his faith in

Scully and five minutes later she was driving them to what she called ‘their home’.

XxXxXxXxX

3605 N STREET NW

WASHINGTON, DC

APRIL 4th, 2005

Mulder looked around the living room like a child seeing the wonder of Christmas properly for the first, and Scully was reminded of his excitement at the baseball game yesterday before this nightmare began.

“I thought you said we were FBI partners?” he queried, looking at the comfortable furniture. She nodded, but he remained unconvinced.

“You sure we’re not married?”

“In your dreams, Mulder,” Scully chuckled, watching him to settle down on the couch before pacing out into the kitchen. “No, we’re just FBI partners that took seven-and-a-bit years to confess their undying love for each other.”

“You don’t make it sound very romantic,” Mulder snorted in reply as she re-entered the room carrying a bottle of wine. “What’s that for? To numb my brain in case this ‘plan’ doesn’t work?”

She sat down beside him – grimacing at the sarcasm in his tone – and shrugged, “Well, you never know.”

He shrugged also and let out a burst of laughter, but then fell very serious. “You know how much I love you, don’t you? Please say I’m not that crazy a person to have not proven it to you…”

Scully frowned, suddenly afraid of where this conversation might go.

“Of course you have! Often more times than necessary!”

“I just–…I mean, since the ‘accident’, I’ve not known a single thing about you, but my heart always reacts in a different way to

your presence and it told me when I saw you that you were important – that I did know you, even though my brain couldn’t or wouldn’t.”

“Mulder, what–”

“What I’m getting at is if this thing doesn’t work, and I’m stuck like this, I want you to walk away.”

Her jaw dropped, but no words could form.

“I can’t dump the responsibility on you of trying to bring me back up to speed on a life I’m not sure even belongs to me anymore…”

*If I quit now, they win*

He was gonna let them win! After everything, he was–

“No,” she said simply. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“Maybe now’s when–” He stopped as his body stiffened and then began to shake. The fit lasted for several minutes, and when it ended he was unconscious.

“Mulder?” Dana whispered into his ear, reaching for one of his hands. “Mulder, you have to wake up.”

The persistent ring of the phone went on…

But then she heard it: slow and low, but definitely coming from her partner:

He was humming the tune ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’.

When he finished, one eye opened and fixed on her. “D’you think we should maybe try for a mid-season game next time?” he asked, trying

not to smile as the memories he couldn’t believe he’d ever been able to lose came back in their full Technicolor glories and terrors.

All the air whooshed out of Scully’s lungs, but as ever she couldn’t be reassured by the first words out of his mouth, and her eyebrows raised in question.

Knowing that look too well, Mulder grinned and sat up so that he could stare at her and pleaded, “*Please* tell me the guys kept Giambi’s autograph intact?!”

It was enough, and her arms tightly wrapped around his neck as her face burrowed against his heaving chest – the annoying phone now

completely forgotten.

“Don’t you *ever* do that to me again!” she chided as his hands an up her back.

Somehow, though, he knew it was about his trying to make her walk away, not the fact that their trip out together had been ruined.

“I promise.”

XxXxXxXxX

“Another one of your supposedly ‘great’ plans going down in flames,” the man shrouded in shadows laughed sarcastically as he reached to

light another cigarette and turn off the video display of Mulder and Scully in each other’s arms. “This technology is not a toy you can just distribute however you feel like it. You know what happened to John Gillnitz when he played with this technology?”

The other man threw down medical charts and scan results. “The technology worked. If they hadn’t figured out how to shut it off, he

would have remained neutral.”

“But that’s the point: they *did* figure it out – a little too easily, in fact.” The seated man exhaled a cloud of smoke and spun round on his chair so that he faced in the opposite direction.

“Don’t bother coming back until you have something a little more complex than a puzzle a five-year-old could solve. Your sister became an important player in the larger picture when she joined the FBI, so stop trying to save her.”

Charles Scully’s shoulders squared before he cursed the seated man through grit teeth and then reluctantly left the room.

Darkness reigned in his departure as the lone figure reached for the phone and started to make his own plans.

XxXxXxXxX

THE END

AUTHORS EXTRA NOTE: This was inspired by an episode of Futurama, a little too much baseball hype (hey, I’m a British gal that supports

the Boston Red Sox – I can’t begin to tell you how painful writing parts of this was LOL), and just the sadistic need to torture Mulder a bit <EG> I figured these characters sometimes think too much using

instead of listening to their hearts, so I wondered what would happen if our favourite g-man only had his gut instinct to rely on; this was the result. Please let me know what you think of it at

XSketch@hotmail.com

– I’m begging on my knees! :-p