Category Archives: Season 13

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

Author: Vickie Moseley

Category: Holiday

Rating: PG

Summary: Mulder discovers that at Christmas, the most unusual heroes can

be found in the most unusual places.

Spoilers: VS12: Displacement

Disclaimer: I’m not profiting off this work of fiction, so back of

lawyer dudes! No copyright infringement intended.

Archive: VS 13 exclusive for two weeks from posting. After that, yes.

<mailto:vickiemoseley1978@yahoo.com>

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Mulder eyed his watch for the fifth time in the last half hour.

“Damn, damn, triple damn.”

His sotto voce mutter was just barely discernable over the din of

the packed conference room at the Chicago FBI Regional office.

He felt a hand clasp him on the shoulder.

“Sorry, Mulder. I know I promised — ”

Mulder shook his head, and tried for a wan but honestly contrite

smile. “Not your fault, Steve. I want this bastard as much as the

next guy.”

“Yeah, but it’s a helluva way to spend Christmas,” The AIC, Steve

Michelson, said with a sad shrug. “If it’s any consolation, Simons

just called in an order to the Walnut Room at the Alegro. They’re

sending Christmas Dinner, all the trimmings. We’ll just have to eat

it off paper plates and with plastic forks.”

“I’ve done worse,” Mulder said with a chuckle. “I do need to make

a phone call.”

“I understand,” Michelson said. “Give my best to the missus,” he

added with a wink.

Mulder tilted his head in reprimand but his colleague was not to be

dissuaded.

“I don’t care what you call it in DC, Mulder. Out here in the

hinterlands, what you are is called ‘married’,” he laughed and

headed over to one of the other groups of agents, huddled around a

map of the southeast side of the city of Chicago.

Mulder got up from the table and headed toward the hallway. The

task force was all crammed in one little conference room; the rest

of the building was empty. He glanced at his watch again and

realized he would have been high in the sky, just passing over

Ohio, had he been able to catch his flight. Sighing heavily, he

spoke into his phone. “Maggie’s Home,” he said succinctly and

waited as the recorded voice repeated his request and then rang

through the number.

“Scully residence, Matthew speaking,” a young voice said

breathlessly on the line.

“Matty, it’s Mulder,” the agent said. He couldn’t keep the smile off

his face at the sound of a familiar voice. “You answered the phone

like a pro. We’re going to have to get you a summer job at the

office on our switchboard.”

“Ah, Uncle Mulder, you know I want to go to camp this summer,”

came the reply. “You wanna talk to Auntie Dana?”

“Yes, please, if she’s not elbow deep in turkey.”

“Nah, Grandma put the turkey in a long time ago. Guess what?

Santa brought me a fielders’ mitt! Auntie Dana said you could

show me how to break it in.”

“Wow, that’s great, buddy! Sure, I’ve even got some glove oil we

can use on it. You’ll be all set before tee ball season starts again.”

“Do you need us to pick you up at the airport?” Matty asked

innocently.

“No, uh, not yet. Just get Auntie Dana, if you don’t mind.” He

tapped his foot while waiting for his partner to come to the phone.

“Hey, we’ve got a 22 pound turkey here with your name on it and

at three presents addressed to both of us that I don’t dare open

without you,” Scully said brightly. He smiled, just hearing her

voice made him feel a little better.

Then reality crashed back down on him. “Well, save me a big slice

of turkey and keep the presents under the tree a little while longer,”

he said sadly.

“Ah, Mulder. I thought they cut you loose. You gave them the

profile.”

“Yeah, I know. But the rat bastard slipped the net. I promised I’d

stick around, see if I can give them a clue where he might run to

ground. I’m really sorry, Scully. I know how much Christmas

means to you — especially now, with Tara and the kids . . . ”

“Hey, it’s all right. I mean, sure, I’m disappointed, but it’s part and

parcel of the job. I just wish I was out there with you.”

“You wish you were stranded in Chicago, working a serial killer

case on Christmas rather than being with your family, that 7 foot

killer blue spruce in Maggie’s living room and a 22 pound roast

turkey?” he asked mockingly. “Wow, do you have strange

fantasies.”

“I said I wish I was out there with _you_,” she reminded him. “So,

are you at least going to get something to eat?”

“Yeah. Not shabby, either. The restaurant near the office is

sending over dinner with all the trimmings. It’ll be cold and on

paper plates, but that’s why they made microwaves, isn’t it? I’ll be

fine.”

“Any idea at all when you might make it home?”

“As soon as we have this guy in custody, I’m on the next flight. I’ll

walk home if I have to.”

“Well, then we’ll save you plenty of leftovers.”

“I want some of that turkey, plenty of that. Oh, and your mom’s

green bean casserole with the little red things in it.”

“Pimentos, Mulder. The red things are pimentos. I’ll make up a

couple of plates and put them in the freezer before we even sit

down to eat.” They were both silent for a while, content to just

listen to each other breathe.

Mulder heard someone call his name out the conference room

door. “Look, I gotta run. Tell everyone how sorry I am about not

being there.”

“You just stay safe, OK? Call me later, as soon as you can.”

“You know I will. I love you, Scully.”

“And I love you. Be careful.”

Mulder disconnected the call and put the phone back in his pocket.

He could just see Maggie’s house now, the smell of the turkey and

stuffing drifting through the rooms. Matty would be glued to the

television, Maggie having broken down and finally purchased a

PlayStation 2 to keep him occupied at her house, while little Claire

amused herself with the toy kitchen Maggie got her for Christmas.

In the kitchen, all three Scully women would be preparing a feast

and celebrating the holiday — with all their men absent. With a

heavy heart he made his way back to the conference room.

The activity level among the task force had increased

exponentially. AIC Michelson met Mulder’s questioning look and

motioned the agent over to the white board.

“We just got in some new information. You were right, there was

another male influence in Bracket’s life. His father.”

“His father died three years ago and led a quiet life as a plumber.

That wasn’t the catalyst here,” Mulder objected.

“No, it wasn’t. But we found out that wasn’t his real father.

Thomas Bracket was James Bracket’s step-father. He adopted

James when he married the kid’s mother. Our guy’s real father’s

name was Carson, Terrance Carson, and he was a convicted killer.

He was executed 20 years ago this August at Stateville Prison in

Joliet.”

“Wasn’t Stateville decommissioned a few years back?” Mulder

asked, his mind racing.

“Yeah. They’ve been shooting that new crime series ‘Prison Break’

there,” one of the other agents piped up.

“He’ll be there.” Mulder didn’t even bother to pose it as a question,

it was a statement of fact.

“There’s another problem, Mulder,” Michelson said, refusing to

meet his friend’s eyes. “You were right about what he’d do when

he ran. He’s got another kid. Grabbed a 9 year old in Cicero about

6 hours ago.”

“How fast can we get to Joliet?” Mulder asked, grabbing his

overcoat.

“We have a SWAT team on its way. We’re taking a chopper.

C’mon.”

In Mulder’s mind it took almost as long to get to the chopper as to

fly south to the suburb of Joliet, where the abandoned prison was

located. Once on the ground, Kevlar was handed out and he

quickly donned the protective vest. The SWAT team was in

position, but Bracket was holed up in one of the cellblocks, and

he’d had enough time to rig the place to explode. According to the

State Troopers already on the scene, the serial killer was intent on

taking more than a few people with him when he died.

The wind that hit him as Mulder got out of the chopper was bitter

cold and stinging with ice. The dark grey clouds overhead

promised snow, and plenty of it, to add to the dark grey slush

already on the ground. “Just what we need, more white to accent

all the blood,” Mulder muttered as he ducked his head and head

toward the compound.

The massive gates were open. The prison looked like a graveyard.

Sharpshooters were stationed at each of the towers and on all roofs

of the buildings. He could see them in their black helmets,

weapons pointed at the yard and at the main cellblock. Not that it

would do much good when the madman inside decided to blow the

place to kingdom come.

“So tell me again why I’m here?” he muttered to himself as he

skirted the open space of the yard and headed toward the cellblock.

“You say something, Mulder,” Steve called to him, the wind

snatching at his words.

“Nah, just thinking out loud,” Mulder yelled back. “Has anyone

gotten through to Bracket to talk to him?”

“The phones are still working, because of the TV show,” another

agent informed him. “The state troopers called him. He says he

wants a car and some money or he kills the kid and blows the joint

up.”

“Great, serial killer turned hostage taker,” Mulder quipped.

“Where’s the location? Can we see him, see if the kid’s still alive?”

“Setting it up as we speak. There used to be video but the state

moved it to the new prison. The cameras, wires, everything. But

we’re rigging something up. Should have video and audio in about

20 minutes.”

Mulder heaved another sigh. Time. Time they didn’t have. This

guy had gutted ten other boys ages 8 to 14. He didn’t keep them

alive, he didn’t torture them before the killing blow. He just gutted

them. The Medical Examiner for Cook County had said he seen

the same technique used on rainbow trout or Coho salmon.

Someone in the press had nicknamed the bastard ‘the Fisher King’

after the old Robin Williams movie. The bastard seemed to like

the notoriety so it didn’t slow him down. He was a man of action.

So why hadn’t he already blown the cellblock?

More and more agents and officers were packing into the yard.

There had to be thirty or more people there now. Mulder looked

over to the gate and saw the tell-tale van with a dish on top — the

news crews had arrived. Direct feed, it would all be on CNN in

less time than it took to blink.

“He’s going out with a bang!” Mulder shouted to Steve, who was

several feet away, talking on a cell phone.

“What?” Michelson asked, shaking his head.

“All these people, he planned this, he’s been here before today.

He’s going to blow it up all right. Right on the news. Film at 6

pm, just in time for Christmas Dinner.”

“Oh shit,” Michelson hissed.

“We have to get these people out of here!” Mulder shouted toward

the assembled crowd.

“We can’t,” Michelson said, grabbing Mulder’s arm. “If we leave,

he’ll slip out. We can’t let him walk the streets — he’s a monster!”

Mulder chewed on his lip. “Then someone will just have to make

sure he doesn’t get away this time.” He looked at the cellblock, a

huge stone building with walls as thick as they were high. “Do we

have interior blueprints?”

Michelson nodded. “Right over here. There’s service halls down

this way, they lead right to the area Bracket has the kid. From

what the SWAT team can figure, he’s got charges set here and here

on the doors leading into and out of the cellblock. He could set

them sequentially, blowing them as he leaves. This set of charges

here,” he said pointing to an exterior wall, “would blow this wall

out and into the yard. It would be pretty bloody out there.”

Mulder stared at the diagram for several seconds. “He’d hear

anyone in that hallway,” he said, pointing to the service way. “The

sound would echo.”

“Maybe we could distract him,” Michelson answered with a shrug.

Mulder gave that suggestion and inelegant snort. “With the

Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing We Wish You a Merry

Christmas?” He shook his head. “I need one guy, a marksman, to

go with me. I don’t want to risk this bastard getting away.”

“Mulder, you don’t need to do this. I can send in two SWAT

members — ”

“Steve, I know what he’s thinking right now. He knows he’s

trapped. Chances are real good he’s even figured out what we just

figured out and he’s a step ahead of us. I don’t want to give him

another chance.” Mulder stopped talking and looked around the

yard. Finally he faced his old friend. “This guy has ruined too

many families’ Christmas. I will not let this bastard get away,” he

repeated.

Michelson frowned. “I don’t like this,” he said. “I want a wire on

you, so we’ll know if we need to move in.”

“Just don’t use the extra wide tape, it gives me a rash,” Mulder

replied dryly.

The marksman’s name was Nate, a 28-year-old former Marine

sharpshooter with a crew cut and ice blue eyes. Mulder shook the

man’s hand and donned the helmet Michelson had insisted he wear.

Fortunately for Mulder’s skin condition, the helmet had the mike

and earpiece already wired in it.

“Can you hear me OK,” Mulder whispered as they walked down

the long hallway toward the cell block where Bracket was

hunkered down.

“Loud and clear,” Michelson answered.

“Good, wouldn’t want to leave you out of the fun stuff,” Mulder

huffed, quieting when he got a glare from his buddy Nate. They

were fast approaching the hall they’d need to be hiding in when

Bracket decided to make a break for it.

Nate pointed to a cell closest to the door. “If we stay against the

back wall, the shadows should help up,” he said with a nod.

Mulder nodded in agreement and followed the younger man into

the tiny room.

Outside, Michelson paced a gravel path, directing news crew and

non-essentials out of the yard area. A young agent appeared at his

elbow, a ringing cell phone in his hand.

“It’s Agent Mulder’s phone, sir. It’s been going off for the last ten

minutes,” the young woman said with a fearful expression.

“I’ll answer it,” Michelson said, taking the phone. He’d barely

gotten the object up to his ear when he heard the voice on the other

line.

“Mulder, CNN is reporting that Bracket’s taken a child hostage and

is hold up in a old state prison outside Joilet — ”

“Agent Scully?” Michelson answered, breaking into her sentence.

“This is Steve Michelson.”

“Steve, sorry. Where’s Mulder? May I speak with him?” came the

voice over the line.

Michelson cringed. He hated answering other people’s phones,

especially in situations that were best laid out face to face. “Um,

Agent Scully, Dana, isn’t it? Mulder is . . . he’s . . . ”

“He’s doing something incredibly stupid, isn’t he?” she replied with

a tone that spoke of both anger and worry.

“Dana, he’s got a sharpshooter with him. They’re making sure that

Bracket doesn’t try to blow up the cell block and escape the back

way.”

“He’s guarding the back way,” she said flatly. It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah. Like I said — ”

“I heard, he has a sharpshooter with him. Steve, what do they call

people who bring knives to a gunfight? What if this guy doesn’t

want to escape? What if he just wants to end it all? And Mulder

is sitting right on top of him and — do you even know how much

explosive Bracket has?” she accused.

“Look, Agent Scully, I understand that you’re upset — ”

“Keep this phone with you. I’m leaving now for the airport. It’ll

take me a couple of hours to get there — ”

“Dana, there’s no reason for you to come out right now,”

Michelson was saying just as the earth shook and there was a

sound of thunder right next to his ear. He was flying through the

air for a split second and after he landed, cement and glass rained

down on him for several seconds more. As he came to his senses,

he realized the phone was still in his hand, but no one was on the

other end.

Stateville Prison

Joliet, Illinois

8:43 pm

Fire crews, the Secretary of State bomb squad and numerous

ambulances were scattered around the smoldering rubble that had

been Cell Block H. The thick dust mixed with the falling snow,

creating instant mud on any vehicle in the vicinity. Through all the

noise and activity, in one small cell there was silence until a groan

was uttered.

Mulder tried to move and found himself effectively pinned by

cement from the ceiling and pipes. Dust choked him and he

coughed, immediately regretting the action, even more so when he

was forced to repeat it. He loudly groaned again.

There was an answering groan just a few feet from him. His

sharpshooting buddy, Nate.

“Nate, you there?” Mulder called out as loudly as his closed throat

would allow.

“Agent Mulder?” came a strangled reply.

“Yeah. You OK? You hurt?” Mulder asked anxiously.

“The bed. I’m under the bed.”

“But are you hurt?” Mulder repeated.

“I – I – don’t know. Can’t feel my legs.”

Mulder swallowed hard. That wasn’t a good sign. “Just stay put.”

“You OK?” Nate inquired breathlessly. “Can you move?”

Mulder thought for a moment. Everything hurt, but miraculously,

nothing was screaming in pain. That meant he might possibly have

escape relatively unscathed. His head hurt, he was dizzy, but at

least he couldn’t feel any bones scraping against each other. “I

think I’m OK. But I’m pinned. I can’t get this stuff off me.”

“Don’t try!” Nate rasped loudly. “You could bring more crap down

on us.”

Mulder ceased his actions immediately. “They’re probably looking

for us,” he said quietly.

“More’n likely they think we’re dead,” Nate corrected. “And we

will be, if this wall next to me decides to fall over.”

Mulder licked his lips. “We can’t just give up.” He knew he

couldn’t give up; he had too many people waiting for him back in

DC. “I won’t give up. Not yet.”

As if the darkness had been listening, a sound came through the

chill night air. A soft cry, that of a child.

“Did you hear that?” he hurriedly asked Nate.

“What? I just hear these walls creakin’.” The young man’s voice

was getting weaker.

“No, it wasn’t the walls. It sounded like a kid. The boy. Bracket

didn’t killed him. The kid survived the blast.”

“You got hit on th’ head. You’re hearin’ things.”

Mulder shook his head in denial and then listened closely. He

heard it again. This time it sounded like a word — ‘help’.

“We’re here!” he shouted. “We’re here and we’ll try to get to where

you are. Are you hurt?”

“I want my dad!” came the other voice, clear and strong.

“We’re going to try and get to you . . .” Mulder searched through

the dizziness to remember the boy’s name. “Jason,” he added when

it finally came to him.

“Nate, I think if I can get some leverage — ” There was no answer.

“Nate! Nate, are you still with me?” Mulder shouted as loud as he

could, coughing up cement dust for his trouble.

“He’s out, Mr. Mulder.” The voice came from over his shoulder.

He tried to twist around, but the debris wouldn’t let him move far.

“Who’s there?” he asked breathlessly. Was it Bracket? God, how

had they missed him?

“It’s me. Bill.”

Mulder coughed again and tried to puzzle that one out. Bill? He

knew several Bills — one was locked up on a maximum security

mental institution, one was his father, buried 10 years, one was

Scully’s dad, also buried for more than a decade — the only other

Bill . . . ”

“Bill Scully,” Mulder rasped out. “Bill, what the hell . . .?”

“I have no idea. But here, when I say to move, slide backward as

far as you can. On the count of three: one . . . two . . . THREE!”

The weight on his torso was lifted and Mulder inched out as

quickly as he could. He was free. But before he had time to look

around and find his rescuer, more debris crashed to the ground.

Dust filled the air and he covered his mouth and nose, his eyes

clenched shut. When he felt it was safe, he opened them again.

A figure, he couldn’t see it clearly, stood in the hall just outside the

cell door. “You better hurry. He needs you.” Before Mulder

could respond, the figure vanished.

Mulder saw an arm flailed out under the metal beds, which were

lying on top of each other. “Nate?” He carefully picked his way

over and found the young SWAT member was still alive, but

unconscious. Looking around, he used a solid steel bar to leverage

the beds off the injured policeman. “I’ll be right back. I have to

get Jason.”

Cautiously, Mulder picked his way across the blocks of cement

and ruin cell bars to get to the hall. He could just make out the

figure of Bill Scully as it moved through an opening at the end.

The figured stopped, looking back. “Would you hurry, Mr.

Mulder?” Bill snapped.

“Look, would you at least drop the Mister,” Mulder snapped back.

“And I’m hurrying as fast as I can!”

The two arrived in another part of the cell block. There, on the

floor, huddled in a corner, was Jason. He was covered in dust, and

had a few scratches on his face, but otherwise, he looked

unharmed.

“Jason, I’m Agent Mulder with the FBI. I’m here to help you get

out,” Mulder said soothingly to the young boy. As he got closer,

he could see the tears streaks through the dust on the boy’s face.

“Who’s he?” Jason asked, pointing directly as Bill.

“Y-you can see him?” Mulder asked, a chill running down his

spine.

“He helped me. He helped me get away from that jerk. He helped

me hide.”

“C’mon, we don’t have much time and someone still has to come

back for your friend . . . Mulder,” Bill pushed.

“Can you walk, Jason?” Mulder asked. The boy nodded and held

out his hand so that Mulder could pull him up.

“How do we get out?” Jason asked.

Mulder looked up and down the hallway. He could see patches of

brightness, filtering into the gloom from the strong searchlights in

the yard. “I’m not sure,” he said evenly. He looked around for Bill

but couldn’t find him.

“Over here, this way,” he heard Bill’s voice from a few yards away.

“There’s a way out. Over here!”

They followed the voice. When it looked like they wouldn’t be

able to go any farther, Bill would lead them in another direction.

Finally, after painstaking minutes that seemed like hours, picking

their way around the rubble, Mulder saw in the distance the way

out.

The snow was falling in big fluffy flakes. It made it hard to see

anything, even with the bright security lights. Scully stood near

the command truck, huddled in her overcoat, feeling helpless.

“They found them!” came a shout from one of the radio operators.

“Wait, they found one of them.”

Scully pushed her way into the back of the van, desperately

wanting to tear the headphones away from the operator. “Officer

Mulligan — they found Nate Mulligan,” the young man reported to

his commander.

“Agent Mulder was with him. Where is he?” Scully demanded

frantically.

The operator looked up at the anxious woman next to him. “He

must not have been in the same area, Ma’am. I’m sorry.”

Scully sank back against the door of the truck and almost let the

fear overcome her. Shaking off her despair, she jumped out of the

van and headed over to where Michelson was standing with

members of the Fire Department.

“The building is unstable. I really don’t want my men in there

much longer,” she overheard the Fire Chief saying as she

approached.

Scully grabbed the Fire Chief’s arm. “My partner is still in there,”

she hissed.

“Agent Scully, in all likelihood — ”

“They just found Officer Mulligan alive,” she objected. “He went

in there with Agent Mulder. Maybe they got separated. Maybe the

crew just didn’t see Mulder because of the debris.”

“Agent Scully — Dana — I’m sorry,” Michelson interrupted her,

pulling her away. “I’m so sorry.”

“No! No, he’s not dead! I know he’s not! He would never leave

me! Now let me go so I can go find him!”

At that moment there was a huge rumble followed by an ear

shattering crash as the remaining walls gave up their fight with

gravity.

“Would you hurry!” Bill ordered again.

Mulder looked up at the man standing in front of him. It was odd,

how the snowflakes seemed to float right through Bill Scully.

Mulder wanted to ask so many questions of the vision in front of

him, but the situation did not allow for discourse. Jason was

having a hard time making it over the rocks and cement. Finally,

Mulder had picked the boy up tried to ignore the extra weight,

which threatened to slow him down.

“Why are you doing this, Bill?” Mulder asked the vision.

“You’ve been good to them,” Bill said shortly. At Mulder curious

expression, Bill continued, embarrassed. “Tara and the kids.

You’ve been good to them.”

“But why did you come to help Jason? You don’t know him? He’s

not family.”

Bill looked Mulder square in the eye. “You’re helping him, aren’t

you? He isn’t your kid. Hell, Matty and Claire aren’t your kids,

but you treat them like they’re family.” The vision looked away.

“I know we never . . . got along. I thought you were a bad choice

for her. Dana’s made some really bad choices with men and I

thought you were just another in a long line.”

Just as they hit the outside wall, Bill looked back. “In your case, I

was wrong.” As he faded away in the snow, Mulder felt the

ground shake and ran as fast as he could with his precious bundle

as the building they had been in crumbled to the ground.

11:45 pm

The last of the crews were packing to go. Scully stood in the six

inch deep snow, tears drying in the wind. She felt a hand on her

shoulder.

“Agent Scully, let’s get you someplace warm,” Agent Michelson

said gently.

“I won’t leave till we find a body,” she said through gritted teeth.

“The Chief says it’s too icy right now to find anything in the dark.

They’re going to come back in the morning.”

“Then I’ll stay here for the night,” she countered angrily. She

stomped off, walking the perimeter of the ruined cell block.

The snow was deeper where the wind had blown it into drifts. It

was still falling, not the large fluffy puffs that reminded her of

cotton balls, but gentle flakes that landed on her lashes and mixed

with her tears. The back wall of the cell block had blown outward

and the rumble was taking the appearance of a bizarre snow sculpture.

“Mulder, I know you’re still alive. Where are you?” she begged,

her words catching on the wind and flying away from her.

One of the piles of snow moved.

She thought it was the wind, or maybe the snowflakes falling in

her eyes were causing them to blur.

The pile moved again. This time, it broke into two distinct forms,

a tall one and a much smaller one. The tall one rose up, gathered

the smaller form to it and lurched forward.

“Mulder!” In seconds she was running, hopping over jagged

pieces of concrete and stone, sliding on the icy patches and then

she had him in her arms. “Oh my God, Mulder, you’re alive!”

“He’s cold. We have to get him someplace warm,” Mulder

rambled and she finally realized the small form in his arms was a

boy. “He needs to be warm,” he repeated, as if that was the only

thought keeping him going.

“Yes, yes, he does. So do you. Just a minute, we’ll get you both

someplace warm.” Scully pulled out her cell phone and dialed

Michelson’s number. “Call that ambulance back here, come to the

far side of the building. I found them! Mulder and the boy, they’re

alive!”

Silver Cross Hospital

Joliet, Illinois

December 26, 2005

10:45 am

Scully’s eyes widened as the nurse’s aide brought in another

bouquet of flowers and tried unsuccessfully to find a place to put

them. The windowsill, the bedside cabinet, the tray table and

every other available space was already covered.

“Maybe you could take them to one of the other wards,” Scully

suggested. “We’re only here till this afternoon.”

“I’ll get one of the spare meal carts, we can carry more that way,”

the aide said brightly. “But you might want to take the cards. This

one,” she said nodding to the large arrangement in her arms “is

from the Governor.”

Scully sighed and took the vase. “Thanks. We’ll sort through them

and then give you a call.”

When the aide had gone, Mulder stuck his head out of the

bathroom door. “Is the coast clear?” he asked, his voice a raspy

whisper.

“Not a camera in sight. You’re safe to come out now,” Scully said,

failing to hide her giggle. “I could get you a robe,” she added.

“As you just pointed out to that little aide, we’re leaving in a few

hours.” He hobbled over to the bed, but not before noticing that

there was another bunch of flowers. “Not more! There can’t be

any more left in any florist in the state!”

“Mulder, you’re a hero. Get used to it.” She watched him crawl

back into bed, coming over and helping him straighten his

blankets.

“It wasn’t me, Scully,” he said quietly.

“Of course it was you, Mulder. They brought Nate out on a stretcher.”

“How is he?”

“He’ll be fine. Some physical therapy and he’ll be out on the roof

tops in no time. You’re dodging my question.”

He looked at her for a minute, sizing her up. “You better sit down

for this,” he warned her.

She frowned, but did as he directed.

“I was helped, considerably, I might add, by your brother.” He sat

back, watching her for her reaction.

She bit her lip and furrowed her brow. “Charlie helped you?” she

croaked out.

“Not Charlie. I’m sorry, Scully, but I think Charlie is a lost cause.

No, it was your other brother who helped me. Bill.”

For a moment she fought the tears, but it was a losing battle.

“Bill,” she whispered.

He held his arms out to her and she gladly fell into them. “How?

What are you saying?” she muttered into his shoulder.

“Bill was there, with us. He got a bunch of rubble off me and then

led me straight to Jason. Then, when I could see a damned thing in

that cell block, he led me to the way out. We were just clearing the

hole in the wall when the place collapsed. That’s when I fell and

covered Jason as much as I could. Something hard hit my head

and that’s all I remember until I heard you call my name.”

“Bill led you out of the cell block?” she asked, looking him in the

face. “Are you sure?”

“He told me who he was, Scully. And he wasn’t just a vision. He

had substance. He had form. He lifted stuff off me, for gods

sakes! And he helped Jason, even before he came to get me. He

helped the kid get away from Bracket. Otherwise, Jason would

have been blown to bits, just like the monster that kidnapped him.”

“Why?” Scully asked.

“I asked him that too. I don’t know, I think he did it — he did it

because he’d want someone to do that for Matty. Whatever reason,

I want to take at least one of these bouquets back to DC with us.

There’s someone who deserves to share the glory.”

Calvary Cemetery

Baltimore, Maryland

December 28, 2005

Snow fell softly on the brightly colored bouquet of carnations and

lilies. Mulder rose stiffly, taking Scully’s gloved hand in his. With

a nod of gratitude, they started to walk back to their waiting car.

But not before Scully touched her fingertips to her lips and then

lovingly caressed the granite stone marker her brother’s grave.

End

Defrag

poster

Defrag

Author: Elf X

Rating: PG; mild language

Type of Fic: Casefile; humor

Spoiler Warning: Ghost in the Machine, Kill Switch, First

Person Shooter, Leonard Betts, Dod Kalm.

Summary: Mulder and Scully must solve the seemingly

impossible murder of the world’s healthiest man, a

computer genius

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and their cohorts are not my

property, but are the inspiration of Chris Carter, 1013

Productions, and Fox

Feedback: Send feedback to fwidsvnt@ilfb.org

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Field notes of Special Agent Fox Mulder

Seattle, Wash.

2:14 a.m.

Here’s the way I reconstruct it, based on the Seattle Police

Department Homicide incident report, the accounts of

witnesses at the Randall Cloyson residence, my knowledge

of Cloyson’s general household habits, and the revelations

regarding the death of Randall Cloyson uncovered by myself

and my partner, Federal Bureau of Investigations Special

Agent Dana Scully.

That July evening, Cloyson returned to his bedroom suite

after a late night of pool and videos with his personal

physicians – all five of them, to be precise. As was his

nightly custom, he engaged the encoded digital security

system that virtually segregated his master bedroom from

the rest of his 40-room home.

Only two individuals possessed the voice recognition

capabilities to breach the tamper-proof, virus-proof system

— Randy Cloyson and his primary physician, Douglas Pugh.

The seizure had to have come on mere minutes after he’d

settled into his king- sized, orthopedic bed — one Cloyson

himself had designed, with thousands of cells that adjusted

electronically to the specific contours of his spine and

lumbar muscles and provided uniform bodily warmth as he

rolled, turned, stretched, and dreamed about whatever

billionaire computer geniuses were able to only dream

about.

Randy Cloyson’s mind was a human diagnostic tool unlike

that of any other Homo sapiens — it had been his life’s goal

and the source of his fortune to provide others with the

means to instantly analyze and resolve problems. It took

him but a split second to recognize what was happening to

him, and to seize the bedside phone. He punched Pugh’s

extension.

“Yeah?” Pugh murmured sleepily. “You need some

(expletive deleted) warm milk, or you want me to hold your

(expletive deleted) hand ’til you go on standby mode?”

“The laws,” Cloyson rasped with a tone of what Pugh could

only term astonishment. “Broke the laws…”

With his first barely comprehensible word, Cloyson realized

the toxin in his system was doing its work, paralyzing his

tongue and preventing him from identifying his killer.

“Randy, man, hold on, I’m coming!”

Pugh was now wide-awake and on the move, calling 911

and rushing to the East Wing and Cloyson’s quarters.

Cloyson was left alone, and he knew instinctively that the

poison was shutting down system after system, like a

Trojan virus burning uncontrollably through system files. He

focused all his diagnostic/decisionmaking powers on the

task at hand. Cloyson’s fingers were going numb — the pen

and pad at bedside would be as useless as a piano is to a

cat. He tested a few words — they were meaningless garble.

Then he caught sight of the monitor on the swing table

beside his bed — a convenience for midnight inspirations

Cloyson otherwise might forget by morning. The wordpad

program was up, awaiting his spoken word (but voice

recognition was, of course, out) or exuberant keystrokes.

He used what muscles were still functioning to pull himself

to within a foot of the keyboard.

But what to say, and how to say it? It was vital others knew

how he had perished, but he could not allow for an error in

communications that might put an innocent employee or

houseguest behind bars. Cloyson ran down the possibilities,

eliminating each with a mental tick. Then it came to him in

a blinding flash of elegant simplicity, and Cloyson’s clublike

index finger wavering tremblingly over the keys as he

concentrated his last ebbing thoughts on performing with

precision. The finger descended three times, most likely as

Douglas Pugh was composing himself for a fourth try at

voice admission to the Cloyson boudoir. Pugh found Cloyson

in full, irrevocable arrest, lying diagonally across his bed, his

finger crooked over a computer keyboard.

After assuring himself that Randy Cloyson was thoroughly

deceased — that failure, plus some self-prescribed meds

washed down with costly Scotch and a spotty adherence to

his Hippocratic Oath, had previously been his professional

downfall — the physician peered at Cloyson’s dying

keystrokes “H-2-O” and then quickly at the bedside table.

With uncharacteristic sobriety, Pugh sealed the Cloyson

bedroom from the outside and willed himself to meet the

EMTs and inevitable local law enforcement presence without

any alcoholic or pharmaceutical fortification.

Of course, this is only my own speculation, given a few

melodramatic underpinnings. But the nuts and bolts are

there, and overreaching and crystal-balling essentially are

how I earn a Bureau paycheck and cozy quarters in the

basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

Randy Cloyson home

Seattle

9: 32 a.m.

“H20,” Scully repeated for the fifth time since we’d been

admitted into the suburban Seattle mansion of Randall

Cloyson, the Crown Prince of Cyberspace.

My partner was a bit out of sorts after a particularly

turbulent plane ride, and I was staying a good three feet

out of the potential blast zone.

“Detective?”

SPD Det. First Grade Ernest McAfee grunted as he pulled his

bulk from the carpet, where he was looking for fibers or

hairs or maybe just the last bit of Dunkin’ Donuts refuse

he’d carried onto the crime scene on his lapels. “Yuh.”

“No one’s touched that water, right?”

Scully asked, waving an arm toward the half- full glass on

the bedside table. Scully might have said it was half-empty,

but I like to think I’m a fed with a healthy outlook.

“Nah, me and the guys just wet our whistle a little, played

world rules soccer with the glass, and washed it nice and

clean before putting it back, what do you think?”

I backed off another foot to examine the fine woodwork of

Cloyson’s headboard as Scully blinked one bland but implicit

death threat at the detective.

McAfee blinked back and stumbled against the computer

table. “Nah, agent, we ascertained that the decedent’s

transcription might pertain to the, um, water glass in

question.”

Scully broke eye contact. “If you’d be so kind, could you

have this water sealed and delivered immediately to the

M.E.’s office for analysis?”

“Hmm,” the detective hastily agreed, and retreated.

“So this is the world’s fourth richest man,” she asked,

eyeing the bound Frank Miller Batman collection open next

to the water glass and the nearby shelves crammed with

sci-fi novels and technical journals. I scanned the collection

with envy, Scully with pursed lips.

“Self-made man, between beatings from the football and

cheerleading squads and probably the tougher accounting

students,” I supplied. I had a number of Cloysoft’s

diagnostic/decisionmaking programs on my home and office

PCs. One lonely evening, I’d killed a few hours calling 900

numbers and watching Cloyson’s Diogenes 3.0 stress

analysis program spike with each bit of clumsily seductive

trash talk andego stroking. Occasionally, my muffled

giggling would offend the phone sex technician, but at least

I kept my hand on the mouse.

I did not share this testament to the unerring efficacy of

Randy Cloyson’s life’s work. “After fast-talking himself out a

high school hacking charge — he got caught giving the

entire U.S. Senate delegation bad credit ratings — he

decided to put his talents to more lucrative use and slipped

into UCLA. His first program was a shareware

decisionmaking app called Socrates, which he sold on the

Internet to finance a philosophy major and the occasional

kegger. By his senior year, one of the major software firms

had offered Cloyson $100,000 for Socrates 4.0, but he

realized greater riches were to be had from writing code

than from reading dead Greeks.

“He and one of his computer profs set up shop in the prof’s

old rec room, and within a few months, they released

Socrates 5.0. You’ve heard of artificial intelligence? Well,

Cloyson has nearly perfected the science of artificial instinct.

Where most decisionmaking tools rely on dry facts and

figures and general trends, Socrates 5.0 required the user

and one close friend or relative to complete an exhaustive

quiz on likes, dislikes, social and political views, and other

personal data, then used that input not only to weigh

external probabilities and wild cards, but any emotional

quirks and personality deficiencies that might cause the

user to screw up the decision he or she makes.”

“Emotional quirks, huh?” Scully murmured.

“Youch. OK, long story short. Within five years, Cloyson

buys out his mentor, Cloysoft gets the cover of Fortune, and

Randy starts showing up at Lakers games with Jack

Nicholson and Warren Beatty. He moves back to Seattle, his

hometown, and buys this palatial mansion and, from the

looks of things, the entire D.C. and Marvel Comics libraries.

The American Dream, cyberstyle.”

“Except he’s locked up 24 hours day in this tastefully

decorated Fortress of Solitude, surrounded by the entire

Seattle-area membership of the American Medical

Association,”

Scully added. “Cloyson’s college roommate contracted a

lethal and very messy case of viral meningitis about his

junior year, and it left Cloyson with a rabid case of

hypochondria that only intensified once he hit the big-time.

Howard Hughes Syndrome, I guess: If you’re the man who

has everything, the only thing you can’t buy off is your

immortality.”

Scully perched carefully on the edge of the bedside table.

“Mulder, what are we doing here? I didn’t buy Skinner’s

story about defense software contracts and national

security, and I see nothing here that constitutes anything

more than a reasonably unusual homicide. Certainly, none

of the usual trappings of an X-file.”

I looked at her incredulously. “Scully, c’mon. Billionnaire

computer geek, murdered by means of a mysterious poison

in a room irrefutably locked from the inside, leaves a dying

clue. Dr. Watson, the game’s afoot.”

“Ah, I’m Dr. Watson and you’re Holmes again,” Scully said.

“All right, I’ll be Charlie, and you can be the Angel of your

choice.” My partner looked at me for a full 20 seconds. “I’ll

be downstairs.”

**

“Hey, you,” a voice greeted me from down the hallway. I

turned to see a round man with Coke bottle lenses, a

rumpled blue work shirt, and red suspenders, seemingly in

his sixties. He looked like he’d be more at home in a bait

shop than in a billionaire’s quarters. “Anybody got any

coffee going down there?”

“Sir, this is a crime scene,” I informed the stranger. “I don’t

think you’re supposed to be here –”

The man blinked and snapped a suspender. “Gee, guess we

better call Washington and tell ’em they wasted plane fare

and a travel advance. Who’re you, I might ask?”

“Special Agent Fox Mulder, FBI,” I supplied.

“Oh, yeah, you’re the ghostbuster,” he nodded. “Well, I’m

Ollie Phelps, from the San Francisco Bureau office,

Computer Investigations. Our bosses want me to crack open

Cloyson’s hard drive, see what’s up. National security, all

that happy horseshit.”

“A.D. Skinner told us Cloysoft was working on some defense

contracts, Pentagon security, etc.” The old man removed his

glasses and began to polish them on his shirttail.

“Yeah, little of that, what with the recent hacking and all.

Cloyson was also developing some new military strategy

software – Cloysoft’s who came up with that Alexander

program they used in the Persian Gulf War, you know. So

what’s the deal?”

“I’m guessing homicide, although I can’t figure out –”

“Naw, kid. I mean the coffee. You want to be a pal and see

if you can scare up a pot for an old cybergeek?”

“Regular or decaf?”

**

Randy Cloyson’s doctors were downstairs, in Randall

Cloyson’s stadium-scaled living room. All five of them.

“Doug, Doug Pugh,” the tall one leapt from the leather

couch. He had a deep leathery golf tan that probably would

have worked better on someone several years his senior

and that likely would mutate into ugly melanomic patches

by the time he reached that stage. His greeting and hearty

frathouse handshake made me feel like Flounder in Animal

House, waiting to be initiated into a strange new world of

complicated drinks and endless conversations about Tiger

Woods and Greg Norman.

Douglas Pugh had once been a brilliant diagnostician at

Boston’s St. Eligius Hospital – until he got showed up at the

OR with, to paraphrase George Thorogood, with his old

buddy Jack Daniels. St. Eligius, the Massachusetts

Physicians Review Board, and Dr. Pugh came to an

understanding, and the good doctor, so to speak, fled

quietly to Starbucks Land, where he managed to snag a gig

with his old college buddy, Randy. The other members of

Pugh’s medical fraternity were scattered over plush chairs

and sofas.

“Agents, this is Rudy Spizak, Randy’s hypnotherapist,” Pugh

informed me, gesturing toward a whalebelly white med

school skeleton of a man whose lips spasmed in a bad

imitation of a smile. “Ed Koller, chiropractor.” A large, rosy

man saluted cheerfully. “Mace Pasteur here is a herbalist.”

The guy who looked like one of the Grateful Dead nodded

serenely at Scully and I. “And this is Nancy Yee, Randy’s

acupuncturist.”

I glanced at Yee, a small but compactly constructed

thirtysomething woman in a black mini suit who smiled drily

at me and arched an eyebrow. I smiled back probably for

too long, because when I looked over at Scully, she too was

arching an eyebrow. But she wasn’t smiling, and her body

language didn’t have quite the same impact as Dr. Yee’s.

“Talk about a house call,” I said. “Mr. Cloyson liked to cover

all his bets, didn’t he?”

Pugh grinned. “Randy was your classic hypochondriac,

Agent. He didn’t really trust medical science, but he figured

if he tried a little of everything, something would take. I

took care of the colds and minor aches, Nancy and Ed

Randy’s back pains and chronic carpal tunnel syndrome,

Rudy worked on his phobias and cravings, and Mace fed him

gingko and St. John’s wort whenever he was stressed out or

in the middle of a major project.”

“And you all lived here with Mr. Cloyson?” Scully inquired,

fixing Yee with a sharp but fleeting glance.

“On call 24-7,” Spizak drawled, plucking at the arm of his

wing chair. “Whenever Randy needed medical services like

ordering pizzas or mediating Trivial Pursuit. The

dysfunctional family Randy never had, I guess.”

“Cold, Rudy,” Pasteur murmured. “Notice you never kicked

too hard about that six figures you pulled in to party and

play eight-ball.”

“C’mon, guys,” Koller urged.

“Once again, a penetrating response, Eddie,” Spizak said

sardonically. “Like something out of Oscar Wilde.”

Koller hopped twice on his left foot. Scully looked curiously

at me. Koller looked defensively back at us.

“Naw, he’s right, man,” Pasteur cautioned Spizak. “No need

for us to go at it like Mike Tyson and Oscar de la Hoya.”

The big chiropractor again bobbed up and down on one foot,

then yawned as if he hadn’t been aware of his odd behavior.

“Guys,” Pugh scolded wearily.

“So, are we suspects?” Yee asked me.

“Well, it’s routine to interview everyone who was with the

victim during the hours before he died. But I don’t know if

I’d call you suspects. Although the nature of the poison that

killed Mr. Cloyson might tell us whether his murderer had

any medical expertise. Dr. Pugh, what kind of medications

did you have Mr. Cloyson on?”

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Pugh’s eyes darted toward his colleagues, who suddenly

turned expressionless. “Currently, nothing, really. Randy

had been in amazingly good health.”

“Anybody else? Dr. Pasteur? Any particular herbs that could

accidentally have contained poisonous plant material?”

“Dude, I’m a specialist,” Pasteur huffed. “I don’t just go out

in the woods and grab any ragweed or toadstool I see. We

were using primary culinary herbs, a few mood- enhancing

botanicals. Randy was taking a little gingko biloba for

memory improvement – little stronger concentration than

what you’d get at Wal-Mart, but nothing exotic.”

“Dr. Spizak, do you use any drugs to induce hypnotic

state?” Scully asked the cadaverous man in the wing chair.

“Didn’t need ’em, not with Cloyson, anyway,” he said. “For

so skeptical and cynical a man, he was surprisingly

suggestible. He’d drop off like a rock without any sedatives

or tranquilizers.”

“Dr. Koller? Dr. Yee? Any special medications or

pharmaceuticals?”

“No drugs – just natural physical therapy,” Koller said,

sounding like an informercial.

Yee shook her head as she smiled at me. “Some

acupuncturists use herbs or drugs; I don’t. Just my needles

and some shiatsu massage. Acupressure. I’ll show you how

it works if you’d like, Agent Mulder.”

“I do have a little tension…” I began, searching for some

ache or pain, anywhere.

“Thank you, Dr. Yee – we’ll remember that,” Scully

responded, coolly. Rowrr. “We’d like you to help recall

everything Mr. Cloyson might have ingested or drank last

night. You all were with him last night, correct?”

The group murmured assent. “Anybody else?” I asked.

“Grant Pullman, one of Randy’s VPs at Cloysoft,” Pugh

volunteered. He stopped by to discuss a few company

matters, maybe an hour or so before we ate. Nobody else –

Randy thought having domestics was a holdover from a

feudal society, so he had a cleaning service but no live-in.

He lived on pizza and fast food, mostly. The rest of us either

te out or cooked for ourselves. Last night, we ordered

several pizzas – let’s see, a sausage, a pepperoni, one

deluxe, a veggie for Nancy and Mace… Randy had, oh, a few

slices of pepperoni, a little sausage, some of the deluxe.”

“Did you use your usual pizza delivery?” I inquired.

“Puget Pizza and Pasta,” Pugh supplied. “We have some

leftovers in the kitchen trash, crusts and the like. In case

you want to do any tests.”

“Thanks. The pizza was all for Cloyson? What did he wash it

down with?”

“Three or four Grolsches, some Dr. Pepper.”

“Nothing else?”

“He did have some Doritos when we were playing pool,”

Pasteur supplied. “Nursed another Bud.”

Scully frowned. “And Mr. Cloyson seemed to be fine all

evening? No signs of discomfort, pain?”

“Nah,” Spizak said. “Man ate like a teenager at a permanent

Superbowl party, never exercised, drank enough beer to

make Anheuser-Busch a quarterly profit all by himself, but

he had amazing energy and stamina.”

“Mm,” Yee agreed too quickly. “I mean, he seemed to get

by on almost no sleep and still outrun all of us.”

Pugh stepped forward. “Agents, you are testing the water,

aren’t you? The water on Randy’s bedside table? You know,

what he typed before he died?”

“It’s already on its way to the lab,” I told him. “Can any of

you think of any other interpretation of H2O, water, that

would be relevant to Mr. Cloyson?”

The doctors looked blankly at Scully and I.

“OK,” I sighed. “Just don’t any of you leave town, hear?”

Koller stood up. “Hey, Agent, if you’re suggesting we had

any part in this…”

I held up a hand. “Sorry, Doc. Just kidding. Something I

always wanted to say.”

“Yeah, don’t be an Oscar the Grouch,” Spizak chided,

glancing at Pasteur. Koller hopped like a bunny. Pugh

coughed. I studied Koller. He glared back.

“By the way, Dr. Koller,” I experimented. “Was Cloyson a

fairly neat housekeeper?” The chiropractor blinked. “What? I

don’t get you.” “I mean, did he keep things picked up, or

was he a slob? You know, like that old show, The Odd

Couple: Was he more like Felix? Or was he an Oscar?”

Koller’s bulk bounced twice. “Didn’t that Matthau dude win

an award for playing him in the movie version?” Pasteur

said. “You know, an Oscar?”

The floor trembled slightly as Koller hopped again.

“C’mon, Scully,” I invited innocently. “Let’s go grab some

lunch. Maybe a hot dog. I feel like an Oscar Mayer —”

“Mulder,” Scully ordered as the lamp beside her shook.

Seattle Police Department Headquarters.

12:56 p.m.

“It’s absolutely unethical, as well as unprofessional,” my

partner fumed as she pulled on latex gloves for the

postmortem. A call from Skinner, and the SPD had handed

its entire CSI Division and pathology lab over to Scully and

I. “A health care professional planting post-hypnotic

suggestions in a colleague. The three of you making that

poor, um, chiropractor dance like some freshman at a

hazing party.”

“I was testing a hypothesis,” I protested, backing off as

Scully selected a scalpel for her initial incision into the

mortal remains of Randy Cloyson. “Koller was clearly

unaware of his erratic behavior, and I just guessed ‘Oscar’

was Spizak’s trigger word.”

“I wonder what kind of post-hypnotic suggestion you’d like

to try on Dr. Yee,” Scully muttered, cutting with

unnecessary gusto into the software king.

“Yuck,” I said, turning hastily away from the table. “What

do you mean by that, if I may ask?”

“Autopsy of Randall Cloyson, male Caucasion, aged 38,”

Scully recited into the morgue’s recorder mike. “What I

mean, Mulder, is that you’ve been exhibiting some

particularly adolescent behavior since we arrived on the

scene. And Dr. Yee’s coquettish flirtations certainly don’t

help foster a serious investigatory environment.”

“Coquettish flirtation?” I laughed. “Gee, Scully, you’re going

to give me the vapors.”

“Never mind, Mulder,” she snapped. “Now, why don’t you

either weigh this liver for me or go get a scalding cup of

coffee and pour it—”

“All right,” I growled, heading for the door. “Fine.”

“Whatever.”

Upstairs, I found a breakroom vending machine, and I

sipped at some sluggish coffee any self-respecting Seattlite

would use only to clean a septic tank as I considered the

case. Despite Scully’s derision, Koller’s dance routine had

given me an idea about the method of Cloyson’s murder.

I was still a little hinky about the computer tycoon’s dying

clue. If Cloyson knew or thought the poison was in the

water glass by the bed, why had he typed such a

convoluted message on his computer keyboard? Why not

simply ‘water.’ I’d double-checked my laptop, and all the

letters needed to spell it were in the same area of the

keyboard. For a delirious, half-paralyzed man, the

characters ‘H,’ ‘2,’ and ‘O’ would be the equivalent of miles

away from each other. Why make his job harder?

And if he was poisoned with the water, didn’t he have any

idea who the killer was? Certainly, the cops would

determine easily enough the source of the poison, if it was

in the water, and if that was so, then someone in the house

must’ve handed Cloyson the fatal glass. Why not identify

the killer?

“Hey, Agent, you got it cracked yet?” a dry, somewhat

belligerent voice sounded behind me. I looked up and

gestured Det. McAfee toward the chair across from me. He

deposited a Sprite and a suspiciously grayish ham salad

sandwich from a nearby machine.

“Actually, Detective, this is a very unusual case. Almost like

something out of an Agatha Christie novel.”

“Agatha what?”

“Sorry. Like Murder, She Wrote. We have a locked room, a

dying clue, and a houseful of suspects.”

“Locked room, my ass,” McAfee snorted. “Look, he could’ve

taken that poison any time last evening. And even if he

didn’t, you know as well as me how good some of these

computer hackers are. The lock on his part of the house was

computer-operated – you gonna tell me somebody with a

jones for Cloyson and a way with a mouse couldn’t get

through it and poison that water?”

I sipped my “coffee.” “You know anybody with a ‘jones’ for

Randall Cloyson?”

“Well, hell, look at the news, Agent. Department of Justice

was sleeping on his front lawn, trying to get him on this

antitrust thing. He’d driven two or three companies out of

business in just the past two years. You don’t think maybe

there’s a few disgruntled, laid-off computer geeks out there

who’d like to spike his water supply? Then you got your

anti-techies, like that Kaczynski nut, think Cloyson’s fucking

with the primal forces of nature. And anytime you got

somebody like Cloyson, best at what he does, you got folks

want to prove they’re better. And what would be better at

proving you’re the best than cracking the big man’s security

system?”

McAfee apparently was capable of doing two things at once,

and I flicked a speck of projectile ham salad from my lapel.

“Thanks for sharing. Your thoughts, that is. What about the

Dynamic Doctors, the Hippocratic houseguests? Any

motivation there?”

“I don’t know specifically, but I was a multi-billionnaire, I’d

think I could hire a better medical staff than that crew.

Pugh got quietly fired for getting shit-faced on the job. That

Spizak guy almost got himself dismembered by some irate

husband said the good doctor felt up his wife while he had

her tranced. And Pasteur’s got a sheet of borderline drug

stuff a mile long, goin’ back to the ’70s.”

“Anything on Nancy Yee?”

McAfee’s grim mood broke. “I’d like to get something on

Nancy Yee. Um, naw, nothing. Had a practice here in town,

did pretty well for herself ’til Cloyson recruited her for his

little one-man clinic.”

“And Ed Koller? He seems kind of out-of-place with the rest

of them.”

“Koller? He was one of those guys you see on commercials

3 a.m. or so, in the middle of Dukes of Hazzard or Roseanne

reruns? Don’t know where Cloyson met up with him. Look, I

know you guys got the weight around here, but do me a

favor and clue me in if you get anything, OK?”

McAfee grunted to his feet and ambled out, leaving his

sandwich wrapper and soda can for the custodial staff or the

ravages of time. I thought about chatting it up with a few of

my brothers in law enforcement, but nobody in the

breakroom looked chatty, and they all wore big guns. I

finished my beverage-like substance and headed back

downstairs, an equally tantalizing prospect. Scully was

seated on an empty lab table in her scrubs, hands at her

sides, staring and frowning at Cloyson’s corpse.

“Scully?” I probed, moving closer. “Hey, Scully. You OK?”

She turned and looked at me with wide eyes. “Yeah. I’m

fine, Mulder.”

“Did, ah, did everything go OK?”

“Perfectly,” Scully murmured. “Too perfectly, in truth.”

Randall Cloyson home

4:07 p.m.

Doug Pugh carefully selected a Titleist as he set his

margarita on the Astroturf near my feet. “I don’t get you.

So Randy was in good health for a man his age.”

“Dr. Pugh,” Scully said, crossing her arms. “Randall Cloyson

was in good shape for a man of any age. In fact, Randall

Cloyson very likely was in better shape than any human

being in the history of mankind. Every organ was fully

functioning and in ideal condition. His muscular systems

displayed perfect tone and conformation, although you told

us Cloyson was averse to any form of exercise. And there

were anomalies.”

“Anomalies?” Pugh asked casually, faking interest as he

lined up his club. The doctor was doing a bucket of balls and

a gallon of tequila and lime juice on the driving range

behind the Cloyson mansion.

“Based on Cloyson’s medical history – injuries, minor

traumas, and the like – he seemed to possess amazing

powers of tissue regeneration. And the appendix. You know

the appendix has no known function in human biology –

that whatever use it once served has been lost through

evolution. Well, while the normal appendix is an average 9

centimeters in length, Randall Cloyson’s was nearly 18

centimeters, and appeared fully functional. In short, for a

man who ate nothing but fat and empty calories, who

guzzled gallons of beer, who exercised less than the

average three-toed sloth, Randall Cloyson was not only a

perfect medical specimen, but supernaturally,

supernormally so.”

“Yeah, he was in pretty good shape,” Pugh said, licking salt

from the rim of his drink. “He was turning the rest of us

gray, but he seemed to just get younger and younger each

passing day.”

Scully looked at Pugh, open-mouthed, then at me, then

back at Pugh. “Doctor, you were Cloyson’s personal

physician. You must have noticed something unusual.”

“Well,” Pugh grinned. “Last several months, I didn’t really

do much doctoring. Neither did the rest of the guys. Randy

had never had much of an opinion of doctors – he’d had a

bad experience in college, and his dad died after a botched

liver operation. And…”

He stopped short. “Anyway, it doesn’t take a genius to see

none of us are on the short list for the Nobel Prize in

medicine – well, except maybe Nan, but that’s a different

story. I always figured Randy kind of liked having a house

full of quacks around – sort of living justification for his

disdain, plus some live-in buddies to party with.”

“You’re evading the question, Doctor,” I chided. “What was

the other reason Randall Cloyson didn’t trust doctors?”

“I may be able to answer that, Mulder,” Scully supplied.

“What I also found were artifacts of past treatment – cancer

treatment. From all appearances, pancreatic cancer. But

Cloyson was obviously in full and complete remission. A

second opinion, Dr. Pugh?”

Pugh’s grin fell away, and he dropped into a nearby patio

chair. “Oh, hell; guess there’s no reason not to tell, now.

We – the company and the rest of us – kept things quiet so

Cloysoft’s stock wouldn’t go in the crapper. He was dying –

the cancer’d gotten inoperable and untreatable, totally

metasticized. We kept him away from the press, built up the

hermit image, and just tried to keep him comfortable ’til his

time was up. Randy just kept working away, though, right

up to the end.

“But then there wasn’t any end. Randy started rallying – the

cancer just started to, well, disappear. Within a few months,

he was in full remission.”

“Did he provide any kind of explanation for his recovery?”

Scully asked. Pugh shrugged. “Just kind of smiled

mysteriously whenever I asked, like it was his own little

private joke. After that, he only consulted me for an

occasional checkup, and he always checked out great.

Freakily so. And he wouldn’t let Spizak put him under

anymore.”

“Really?” I felt my stomach sink slightly. “Did that go for the

others?” “Well, certainly the back-cracker, even though

Randy wanted to keep him around for the amusement

value. Nancy, now…” Pugh smirked.

“I will take it that you’re indicating Mr. Cloyson and Dr. Yee

had a relationship that was other than professional,” Scully

said with frosty congeniality.

“Just my medical opinion, plus the fact they disappeared

together every other weekend,” Pugh swirled the tiny

puddle of margarita mix at the bottom of his snifter. “Time

for seconds. You guys still on duty?”

“You knock yourself out,” I invited. “C’mon, Scully.”

Back in the house, Scully put a hand on my arm. “Mulder,

what was that about Spizak? Your face just about hit the

ground when Pugh said Cloyson wouldn’t let Spizak

hypnotize him.”

I looked around the hall, and smiled and waited patiently as

Ollie Phelps edged past with a mug of steaming coffee, pens

and tools clipped to his suspenders, glasses at half mask.

“Agent,” he grunted. “Agent.”

“Agent,” I responded. Scully nodded.

“Made some fresh,” Phelps grunted. “Had to go out to a

minimart – the hippie and the needle doctor are tea people,

and the doc out there doesn’t drink anything ain’t

fermented or distilled. Coffee capital of the world, and I

gotta go to the Gas-and-Gulp to get my fix. Later.” Ollie

disappeared back into the Cloyson suite.

“You saw how Spizak had Koller hopping around like a rabid

wallaby?” I asked Scully. “OK. We’re faced with the question

of how Randy Cloyson was poisoned in a locked room.”

“If indeed that’s where the poison was administered,” Scully

countered. “If indeed. Cloyson’s security system looks

pretty fullproof, and this bunch hardly appears able to open

a new jar of kosher dill gherkins, much less a complex

computer- operated vault. So what would be the best way

to poison Cloyson from inside his pickle jar? How ’bout

getting Cloyson to poison himself?”

“You’re thinking Spizak planted some kind of post-hypnotic

suggestion in Cloyson. ‘Put on your jammies, fluff up your

pillow, and kill yourself’?”

“It could’ve been something much more innocuous. ‘You’re

very hungry – eat a cookie.’ ‘You’re very thirsty – have a

glass of water.’ The suggestion could’ve been planted during

a routine hypnotherapy session.”

Scully nodded. “Except there hadn’t been any sessions. So

what now?”

“Let’s visit Dr. Yee. I want to know some more about

acupuncture. Maybe I can get a free treatment.”

“Never minded having a little prick, huh?”

“Meow.”

**

“The first acupuncture needles were actually made of

stone,” Nancy Yee informed me. Scully sat nearby,

glowering. “Later, bronze, gold, or silver were used. Most of

the needles now are steel. The theory of acupuncture is that

there are ‘meridian points’ on the body connected to the

internal organs and that vital energy flows along those

lines. Diseases are caused by interrupted energy flow, and

inserting and twirling needles restores normal flow.”

“Wow,” I said, avoiding Scully’s incredulous glance. “And

this works with really serious diseases?”

Yee shrugged. “Chinese doctors treat some forms of heart

disease with acupuncture. There have been studies that

back it up. Ulcers, hypertension, appendicitis, and asthma

also can be treated with acupuncture. Medicare even covers

some procedures, you know. Uh, sorry, Agent. I get a little

defensive about my science. So many people label

acupuncture and acupressure as voodoo witchcraft. Ancient

Chinese secret, you know?”

“People can be so narrow,” I tsk’ed. Scully coughed. “Dr.

Yee,” my partner inquired.

“Can acupuncture be used to treat cancer?” Yee’s jaw

tightened. “Theoretically, I could see a rationale to assume

it could be used in some cases. I haven’t seen a lot of

documentation in that direction. Look, that drunk bastard

told you about Randy’s cancer, didn’t he? Well, Randy

wanted to keep that our secret, and as his physicians, we

respected his desire for confidentiality. Until now,

apparently.”

“Theoretically, Dr. Yee, how would you explain Mr. Cloyson’s

seemingly miraculous recovery?”

“I’m not an oncologist,” Yee responded. “Randy didn’t

confide in me.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard,” Scully murmured. “Pugh

again, huh? OK, Randy and I had a little something going,

no big secret. Every once in a while, we’d get out of the

Washington Home for Terminal Malpractice and drive up the

coast. Except for droning on a little too much about

computers and the deep web and Isaac Asimov and Greek

philosophy, he was a lot of fun. And now, unless you want

me to get a lawyer, I think our time is up. Anything else,

agents?”

I rotated my shoulder. “I do have a little tension…”

Yee plucked a long needle from the table. “Here. I think you

might know where to stick this.”

“I think she likes me,” I suggested as I watched the

acupuncturist stride briskly down the hall. “Yeow! Hey!”

Scully examined the point of the needle with which she’d

just jabbed me. “Maybe I’ve misjudged her,” my partner

said serenely. “I already feel better.”

Seattle West Hyatt

7:34 p.m.

“Randall Cloyson had become a media paradox viewed

through a mist of industry folklore and his own increasingly

reclusive and eccentric nature,” Jack Perkins narrated over

a sequence of photos and video clips that captured a

thirtysomething man who looked like he’d never left the

high school debating team.

Condoleeza Rice had been tonight’s scheduled Biography,

but with Randy Cloyson’s murder the day’s top news, the

A&E people had dug into the archives for a 2003 profile of

the cyberspace king. Scully’d gone back to the morgue to

further evaluate some “endocrine anomalies and some odd

enzymatic reactions” blablabla, yada yada, so I ordered up

some room service pizza and settled back for some quality

television. I hadn’t yet figured out how to expense the

Spectravision Adult Block, so I settled for basic cable.

So far, I’d learned Cloyson had been a gawky asthmatic

who’d almost cacked at the age of seven due to some

misprescribed drugs. His mother had succumbed to an

anesthesia-related error during relatively routine knee

surgery. A resulting malpractice award had provided

Cloyson with a topnotch college education and some seed

capital for his burgeoning software company.

“A devotee of ancient philosophers and statesmen who lived

and thrived in the technological future,” Perkins continued.

“A developer of the nation’s first line of defense against

hackers and e-terrorists, nonetheless under nearly constant

attack from the Department of Justice for what federal

officials have alleged to be his questionably ethical

competitive business practices. A Fortune 500 mainstay who

prefers an evening of The Simpsons and Chinese takeout to

CNN and power lunches. A man who could buy and sell

most of his peers in the industry, but who once told Bill

Gates, ‘If I can’t write code, I’d just as soon be dead.’

“But although some have dismissed Cloyson as a childlike

dilettante, a ruthless high-tech powerbroker given to

adolescent temper tantrums, the software giant is

passionate about a variety of causes, from preservation of

Brazil’s rainforests (clip of Randall Cloyson posing

awkwardly with Madonna and Sting) and children’s charities

(Cloyson and Jerry Lewis wrestling comically over a giant

Cloysoft check for Jerry’s “kids”) to his personal crusade

against medical incompetence and insensitivity…”

“HMOs, PPOs, the medical lobby in Washington – the

American medical community is forever looking for new

ways to clear time for a few more rounds at the course,”

Cloyson sneered at a bank of cameras following his father’s

death under the knife.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the AMA and the PGA merge

one of these days, hand out a stethoscope and a nine-iron

to every new med school graduate. These guys know Greg

Norman’s career stats better than the Hippocratic Oath.”

“Cloyson eventually channeled his wrath toward the medical

world into more constructive channels, introducing intuitive

new technology for the diagnosis of disease. Ironically, his

dream of a healthier world withered away when the

American Medical Association condemned his Hippocrates

software as ‘an amateur’s dangerous foray into fields best

left to the professional,’ and refused to certify it for hospital

use. It was one of Cloyson’s few failures, and one that

would drive the e-mogul deeper into a cocoon of reclusive

eccentricity. When Biography returns, Cloyson shares some

of his keys to success in cyberspace…”

I didn’t figure Randall Cloyson was any too successful at this

point, so I started surfing the limited hotel channel

selection. The phone rang as I tried to work out how I could

expense some adult Spectravision back to the Bureau.

“Mulder.”

“It’s me, Mulder. I just got the toxicology back on Cloyson,

and it’s as hinky as the rest of this case. Cloyson was killed

by what I can only described as a poisonous cocktail – some

exotic alkaloids, a couple of unusual plant enzymes, a few

compounds I can only guess at.”

“Plant enzymes? Like herbs, maybe?”

“Possibly,” Sculy drawled. “You’re thinking Mace Pasteur,

right? But, Mulder, why would the killer go to the trouble of

devising this bizarre concoction when I can think of any

number of household chemicals, industrial compounds, or

pesticides that would have done the job? And particularly a

poison that contains enzymes that would point directly to an

expert in botany?”

“I don’t know, Scully. You met the guy; I wouldn’t be

surprised if he blew a few brain circuits during the ’70s. If

we could figure out when he gave Cloyson the poisoned

water, or put the poison in the glass…”

Scully sighed deeply. “That’s the other thing, Mulder. The

water was clean. No toxins, no drugs, no nothing.” I sat up.

“But what about Cloyson’s dying clue? H2O?”

“Mulder, for all we know, Cloyson’s so-called ‘clue’ was just

a random few keystrokes by a man whose nervous system

was rapidly shutting down. I know it would be nice to tie

everything together in a nice Agatha Christie package, but

the water was a dead end. Which leads us back to how the

poison was administered.”

“Which would appear to lead us back to Pasteur – he could

easily have convinced Cloyson to take some kind of witch’s

brew that was designed to improve his memory or his way

with the la-dies…”

“As could Dr. Pugh,” Scully interrupted, briskly. “People

tend to have an uncommon trust in their physician.”

“Not Randy. He seemed to have a supreme contempt for

doctors, which makes his choice of houseguests that much

more mysterious.”

“Not necessarily. If he had metastatic cancer, then it would

make sense that a man of science would try to tap

specialists in both conventional and alternative medicine.

Except, I would think a man of science would aim a little

higher than the group he selected. Damn, I’m getting a

headache. Huh? Hold on, Mulder.”

I strained to hear what the muffled male voice was telling

Scully. Her own voice was slow and tinged with confusion

when she returned. “I’ll pick you up, Mulder,” she

instructed. “It seems your girlfriend got a lethal taste of her

own medicine.”

Randall Cloyson home

8:47 p.m.

I tried not to look at the long steel needle jutting from the

base of Dr. Yee’s skull, glinting in the bedroom light, as I

moved toward her dresser.

Scully concurred with the Seattle M.E.’s theory she had

struggled with her killer, but that the carefully inserted

needle – according to Scully, placed with “medical precision”

— would have killed her almost immediately.

“The hell you doing?” McAfee snapped from the floor, where

he was looking for trace evidence. I looked down at him

innocently, despite the handful of the late doctor’s

expensive and insubstantial lingerie bunched in my fingers.

Scully was looking at me, too, her brows arched in

bemusement.

“Uh,” I responded intelligently. “In case you didn’t know,

Lieutenant, Dr. Yee had a romantic relationship with

Cloyson.”

“No shit, Sherlock,” the cop said drily. “Well, where else

would she hide any secret notes or…”

I dug under some underwires and pulled out a collection of

Polaroids. “Or photographic souvenirs of her affair d’amour.”

“Lousy French pronunciation, but a reasonably impressive

grasp of feminine psychology,” Scully conceded.

“Please, I am a behavioral psychologist. Plus I’ve seen

every Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan flick ever made. Let’s

see what we’ve got here…Yipes, nice hardware, Randy.

Impressive software, too…”

“Mulder…”

“Sorry. Lieutenant, you want to turn on that overhead

light?” As the cop grunted his assent and lumbered over to

the switch, I quickly slipped three of the Polaroids into my

jacket. “Not much here – just a little more about Randy

Cloyson than I personally want to know.”

McAfee took the remaining photos from me, scanned them

for a moment longer than was probably necessary, and,

prompted by Scully clearing her throat, dumped them in an

evidence bag. “Can the guys take her away now?”

“Just one thing,” Scully murmured, moving back to Yee’s

body. She tipped the acupuncturist’s chin to reveal an ugly

perforated red welt. “You ever seen anything like this,

Lieutenant?”

McAfee’s eyes popped open with surprise at Scully’s

consultation. “Well, like you said, there was some kind of

struggle, and the perp probably clipped her one on the chin,

with a ring or something.”

Scully frowned. “This is a pattern, too big for a metal ring.

It looks like teeth. I’ll do some analysis at the lab, later.”

McAfee nodded, and went to get the coroner’s people.

Scully crossed her arms and leaned against Dr. Yee’s

headboard. “All right, what’s the deal, Mulder?”

I grinned. “What? Oh, the crucial evidence I just concealed

from local law enforcement officers?”

“Yes. That.” I shrugged and displayed the Polaroids. The

first showed a beaming Randy Cloyson on the rustic porch

of a log cabin, the second Cloyson adding kindling to the

fireplace of what I assumed was the same cabin.

The third photo was the clincher. Cloyson and Yee likely had

gotten a tourist to snap them in front of a rural general

store or tavern, feigning menace as a stuffed grizzly

towered above them. The metal sign above them read The

Bear Market – probably run by some disenchanted Seattle

broker who’d seen a few too many Northern Exposures.

“So we find this Bear Market, hope the cabin is somewhere

nearby, and that the owner or some other local can identify

it,” Scully said. “What do you hope to find at Cloyson’s love

nest?”

I sat down on the mattress, where Yee had met her death.

“Not sure yet. I want to check a point or two, talk to

Pasteur first. You want me to be the good cop this time?”

I registered the severe look on Scully’s face. “Sorry,

shouldn’t have even asked.”

**

The surviving doctors were in the living room, drowning

their grief with Scotch (Pugh), Doritos (Spizak and Koller),

and silent meditation (Pasteur). Pugh looked up blearily,

Koller anxiously, and Spizak suspiciously. Pasteur kept his

eyes closed and moved his lips without uttering a sound.

A bored Ollie Phelps was taking a rolling inventory of every

object and knick-knack in the room, occasionally hacking

and hitching his baggy slacks.

“Dr. Koller, you found the body,” Scully began. The portly

chiropractor swallowed as he nodded. “TV Guide said

Casablanca was on cable tonight. It was Nancy’s favorite.”

“Great film,” Spizak yawned. “I think Ingrid Bergman won

some award for it. You know, an Osc—”

“Doctor, please,” I held up a hand. “So you went up to tell

her about it?”

Koller looked defensive, like a kid with a crush on the

teacher. “Just thought she’d want to know. But when I got

there, her door was open and she was just lying there with

that needle between her cervical vertebrae. I got Mr. Phelps

here – he was working down the hall — and he called the

cops.”

“And you guys were…?” I asked Pugh, Spizak, and Pasteur.

“Right here, reading,” Spizak supplied.

“I was, I was in the–,” Pugh struggled, waving a hand.

“Jesus, you know, the food place. The kitchen, yeah.”

“Ah. And you, Dr. Pasteur? Dr. Pasteur?” The herbalist

popped his eyes open. “Sorry, man. Whenever things get

heavy, gotta drop over to another plane for awhile.”

“What plane were you on when Dr. Yee was murdered?”

Pasteur smirked. “Right on this one, dude, watching Wheel

in my room.”

“Were you enjoying any herbs?” I asked as I picked up the

distinctive aroma of fading cannabis on the specialist.

“Clean and sober, Mr. Hoover,” Pasteur said through a tight

smile.

“But none of you can verify any of the others,” Scully

summarized.

“Why would any of us wanna merger Nancy?” Pugh sulked.

“Or Randy, for tha’ matter?”

“I haven’t come up with any satisfactory MURDER motive

for anybody in this case, yet,” I admitted. “Maybe Randy

had something on one of you. You’ve got quite a drug

sheet, Dr. Pasteur.”

“Yeah, man, nothing to hide, all out in the open,” Pasteur

said defiantly. “Maybe somebody resented the relationship

between Cloyson and Dr. Yee, and murdered the good

doctor when she spurned their advances.”

“Spurned?” Scully murmured incredulously. “That’s hardly a

reason to kill someone—”

Koller sputtered. “Excuse me, Koller,” Spizak smiled. “Your

unresolved sexual tension is showing.”

Koller started toward the hypotherapist. I held up a hand.

“Whoa, big fella.”

“This is stimulating as hell, but I’m gettin’ some coffee,”

Ollie rumbled, yanking his pants back up over his gut and

ambling out of the room. “Could I see your hands, please?”

Scully asked the doctors. They glanced at each other and

held their fingers out for inspection. My partner moved from

man to man, then looked back at me.

“No rings or other jewelry that could have made the mark

we saw on Dr. Yee. No sign anyone took one off, either.” I

shrugged. “Didn’t look like a ring did it, anyway.”

“What’s this about a mark?” Spizak inquired. “On Dr. Yee’s

chin. Looked like someone had clipped her with some kind

of metal object. Something with teeth.”

My gut suddenly went cold. “Clip. Oh, shit. But why?”

Scully’s brow furrowed. “Mulder?”

“Shit,” I repeated, pulling my service revolver and sprinting

toward the kitchen. “Come on, Scully!” I braced myself

against the kitchen door jam, then leapt forward, gun

extended in both hands. “Phelps!”

The kitchen was empty. “Scully, see if you can get McAfee

and his guys back here.” I ran to the kitchen door, peered

out into the night. “Fuck. His rental’s gone.”

“Mulder, take a breath and tell me what the hell you’re

talking about.” I slumped into a large wood chair at the

breakfast table. “Phelps. He killed Yee.”

Scully joined me at the table. “And how did you surmise

this?”

“Did you notice anything different about Phelps tonight?”

“I’ve only met the man once.”

“Right.” I stood up. “Get up, Scully.”

Scully rose slowly. I approached her, and slipped both arms

around her waist. “Mulder,” she whispered, slightly alarmed.

“I hardly think this is the time or place…”

“No, no,” I clarified. “Pretend you’re Dr. Yee, and I’m your

killer. I’ve got you in a clinch. Try to get out of it. And, hey,

pretend you didn’t get a black belt at Quantico, OK?”

Scully instinctively grabbed my jacket lapels for leverage

and began to push away. “Except, what if I wasn’t wearing

a jacket? You’d go for my shirt, or maybe my suspenders, if

I was wearing any.”

Scully stopped struggling. “But Phelps wasn’t wearing…”

She stopped and nodded. “Exactly. This morning, this

afternoon, he was wearing suspenders. He even used them

as a sort of tool belt. Koller said Phelps was still working

when he found Dr. Yee. But when we talked to the docs just

now, he was hitching his pants up all the time. No

suspenders. Why would he have taken them off? Now, say

Dr. Yee was yanking at his suspenders, trying to work free,

and one snapped free from his pants or broke? Wouldn’t it

snap up like a rubber band…”

“Hitting her in the chin. The suspender clamp, clip,

whatever, would have teeth to grab hold, and that was what

made the mark. But, Mulder, why would he do it? Did he kill

Cloyson, too?”

Scully suddenly bit her lip. “Uh, Mulder…” I then realized I

was still holding Scully, her fingers in my lapels. I released

her abruptly. Scully pulled out her cell phone. “I’ll get

McAfee to put out an APB.”

She started back toward the living room, then turned with a

neutrally suspicious look. “Mulder, you wear a SHOULDER

holster, don’t —? Um, never mind.”

I buttoned my jacket and fumbled for my own cell phone.

**

“Mulder, you know what time it is here?” Frohike growled.

“C’mon. I can hear Shannon Tweed. You guys are up

watching bootleg Skinemax, aren’t you?”

“I would scarcely call the technology we’re using

‘bootlegging.’ And how is the exquisite Agent Scully?”

“Sends her regards, I’m pretty sure. Look, I need you to do

some deep hacking. Fake Fibbie, calls himself Ollie Phelps.

Sixtysomething, looks like the old guy from those Quaker

Oats commercials…”

“You speak of the estimable Wilford Brimley. ‘I don’t know

what it is, but it’s big and it’s green and it’s pissed off.’ The

Thing, John Carpenter version.”

“Focus, Frohike. Can you get into the CIA, NSA personnel

files, find me some candidates?”

“Piece of cake, Mulder. You got a secure FAX line, or you

want me to e-mail the files?”

“Hand delivery. If he’s not doing anything, I’m going to

charge a round-trip ticket on Northwest for Langly. I need

his unique computer expertise.”

“Good dish?”

“If I’m right, lead story for your next five issues. You know

the Randall Cloyson homicide?”

The line went silent. “Frohike?”

“When you speak the name of a god, use a tone of hushed

reverence. Why didn’t you say it was about Randall Cloyson,

Mulder?”

“Calm down, Frohike. I want to bounce something off you.

What do you know about the Deep Web?”

Belden, Wash.

1 p.m.

“Shit, you promised pizza,” Langly whined as the rental car

crunched into the side parking lot of The Bear Market. “I

can’t process turkey jerky, man.”

“I’d just be happy with a few answers,” Scully murmured,

swinging her door open. “Not that I don’t enjoy a drive

through the pastoral countryside with my favorite fellas, but

I fail to understand how this ties into Cloyson’s death.”

I shaded my eyes as I looked up at the snarling bear that

stood sentinel at the market/bar’s screen door. “I’m not

sure it does, Scully. C’mon, cheese bait’s on me.”

clip_image006

A few locals were clustered at the bar, watching Jerry

Springer refereeing a skinheaded girl and her metal-

festooned boyfriend. The lanky, gray-haired man behind the

store counter was oblivious to their romantic travails; his

eyes were locked on a small set perched on a stool.

“Sir?” I ventured. He held up an index finger as he watched

NASDAQ symbols crawl beneath a silver-haired CNN anchor

discussing the World Trade Organization. He smacked the

counter happily and looked up with a triumphant smile.

“Help you folks?”

Scully displayed her Bureau ID and the Polaroids. “Sir, do

you recognize this cabin?”

“Cloyson’s place,” the store owner nodded. “Bought it

through a broker, wore a hat and shades whenever he came

up for the weekend, thought he had us yokels fooled. I ran

a commodity brokerage in Tacoma for 20 years before I

started bleeding from the duodenum and began investing in

long-term earthworm and pork rind futures. Keep on this

road ’til you get to County Road 1200 West, then go right

and you won’t miss it.”

“When was the last time Cloyson came up here?” Scully

asked. “Few weeks ago, with that babeof his. I always

bought up on Cloysoft whenever he showed up – sign the

company was doing well. And of course, his cancer’s gone.”

My head snapped up. The owner smirked. “We don’t miss

much around here, and a good investor knows to read all

the signals of a corporation’s health. Cloysoft has always

been such a one-man show, and if something happens to

that man, company’s likely to go right in the crapper. There

– some free investment counseling. Anything else, folks?”

“He ever talk to you much when he passed through?” I

inquired.

The stockbroker-turned-baitbroker rolled his eyes. “Always

wanted to chat it up with the locals – real man of the

people, Cloyson, just with a few billion more than most of

us. And always the same old joke on his way out. I’d ask if

he had a good weekend, he’d say, ‘Just what the doctor

ordered.'”

My heart quickened, and I grinned at Scully and Langly.

They just looked blankly back at me.

“You starting to see it?” I asked them. “You see the pattern.

We may be sitting on the biggest thing since, um…”

“AOL’s initial public offering?” the store owner suggested.

“Sure. The truth’s out there in that cabin, Scully, and I think

it’s going to blow you guys away.”

“Three pepperoni Slim Jims, man,” Langly instructed The

Bear Market’s proprietor.

“And a Diet Pepsi,” Scully added.

I went out to sulk in the car.

**

For a man who seemingly valued security above all else,

Cloyson’s cabin might as well have had an Open House

banner and a buffet table ready for us. But I think that was

the idea: Only an idiot would leave perhaps the most

monumental discovery in human history sitting in a rickety

log building protected only by an antiquated and rusty Ace

Hardware lock.

“I’m betting that when we track down the deed or lease on

this place, we’ll find Cloyson started coming here after his

cancer started getting serious,” I suggested as I surveyed

the immaculately rustic interior. Expensive, self-consciously

outdoorsy rugs and furniture; a massive flagstone fireplace

made for seducing horny acupuncturists; in one corner, a

scuffed PC, probably at least five years old. I guessed the

interior workings of the outdated machine had been

drastically reconfigured to accommodate the type of

program Cloyson would’ve needed; no one would think of

looking for it inside this clunker.

“Go to it, Langly,” I said. “I doubt he would’ve put much

security on it.”

Langly pulled in behind the keyboard and began rapping

away. “I’m in,” he reported a few seconds later.

“See, Cloyson was like this major Babylon Five fan, even

though I never could get past the Bruce Boxleitner thing. I

knew he wouldn’t use any of the major character names, so

I started feeding in the –”

clip_image008

“That’s great, Langly,” I interrupted. “Now, start looking for

any strange apps – I assume the program will be fairly

memory-intensive, and there may be some gigantic

database files. And there’ll be a web browser, but one

muthah of a browser. Something you’d use to search the

Deep Web.”

“Holy shit,” Langly muttered, turning back to the machine.

“What do you know about the Deep Web, the invisible

Web?” I asked Scully.

“Billions of databases, hidden directories, encrypted pages

conventional Internet search engines can’t reach,” Scully

recited. “Covert government communications, proprietary

corporate information, unpublished research findings,

probably tons of old Iron Curtain stuff. I don’t – ”

I held up a hand. “OK. What if you were dying of cancer, if

all conventional and known alternative means of treatment

had been exhausted? You’re one of the world’s greatest

computer minds, and you have the technical means, as well

as the money, to tap into almost any online resource across

the globe. What is a medical diagnosis, essentially, Scully?”

She frowned. “Well, I guess, a conclusion based on a

knowledge of basic physiological functions; the patient’s

history, genetic tendencies, and lifestyle; and interactions of

various drugs, nutrients, and compounds with bodily

systems.”

“Not unlike any other human decisionmaking process –

nine-tenths knowledge and logical thought, one-tenth

intuition. Randall Cloyson’s specialty was artificial intuition,

and certainly, he harbored enough contempt for doctors to

believe he could do them one better, with the right

technology. I was watching Cloyson’s Biography on A&E,

and they mentioned that his major commercial failures

included a rudimentary diagnostic program for med

students. After he was diagnosed with cancer, what if he

went a step further, and developed a sort of super

cyberdoctor?”

“Super cyberdoctor, Mulder?” Scully arched her brow,

amusement tweaking the corner of her lip.

I ignored her. “Such a program would require a medical

database superior to that of every hospital in the world,

every research institution, every government agency

involved in health studies or human testing. Like the Deep

Web. Remember, Dr. Yee said Cloyson kept babbling on

about it when he came up here? That’s why the covert

government interest in what he was up to – he’d invented a

Deep Web browser for his superdoctor, a browser that

would allow any spy agency to surf even Fidel Castro’s

underwear size.”

“Mulder, even assuming you’re right, a tool like that would

never be approved by the Food and Drug Administration or,

um, whatever agency would approve of something like

this,” my partner protested. “The government would never

allow use of a program that prescribes unapproved or even

unresearched drugs…”

“I don’t think Cloyson originally had any intention of

commercially marketing the program. Initially, he only

wanted a shot at a cure for his cancer. When that worked, I

think he realized he had the perfect weapon against the

medical establishment. His program could outdoctor any

doctor, and could ‘out’ the doctors, as well.”

“Out?”

“Sure. How much disease research do you figure the major

drug companies alone are sitting on? Treatments for rare

diseases that couldn’t possibly earn enough profits to justify

their production? Cures for chronic diseases that would

eliminate the need for the billions in daily pills and injections

we take to fight off their symptoms? Maybe Cloyson wanted

to rock the medical world a little bit, force the truth out in

the open. And it explains the crew of quacks at Cloyson

Manor – they were research, a database of the worst traits

and habits of the medical community. Things Cloyson

wanted to avoid in designing his perfect doctor.”

Scully frowned. “But, Mulder, why would he have brought

Yee out here? Risked her finding out?”

I shrugged. “You don’t know the geek mind, Scully. You’ve

got history’s most advanced achievement in human health

care, a private place tucked away in the woods, and a major

league hottie. It may not make rational sense, but I

understand it.”

“Yes,” Scully sighed. “I would assume you would.”

“Hey, Mulder,” Langly called, leaning back from the

keyboard and flexing his fingers. “Dude, I’m comin’ up zero.

There’s a bunch of shit on the hard drive like I’ve never

seen before – looks like some internal security/encryption

programming — but nothing like what you’re looking for.”

My stomach contracted as I turned to the screen. “It’s gotta

be here somewhere.” “Mulder,” Scully sighed. “No.” I

scanned the C:/ directory, looking for anything that rang a

chord. Then I surveyed the icons crowding the desktop, and

smiled. A gnomish character in a big cap and loud pants,

wielding a driver. I remembered Cloyson’s cynical

characterization of the medical community. I double-clicked,

and a vast landscape of grass and sky bloomed as a jaunty

tune erupted from the speakers.

“Welcome to Cloysoft’s Mega-Golf 2000,” Tiger Wood’s voice

greeted. “It’s partly cloudy, 75 degrees, no wind — a great

day for a few holes. What do you say? Would you like to

select a course?”

I looked for any cryptic symbols, a seemingly useless menu

command – anything that might mask a back door to

Cloyson’s medical program. I clicked on the sand trap, on

the water hazard, on the distant clubhouse, but nothing

happened. I had leaned in toward the monitor to study the

“course,” and I nearly bumped my head on a top-mounted

computer mike. Then I recalled something else from the

Biography interview. The only ‘doctor’ Randy Cloyson had

ever trusted.

“Uh, Tiger, is Dr. Ross playing?” I ventured. “Would you like

to select a course?” Woods repeated. “Can I speak to Dr.

Ross?”

“Please make a selection.”

“Dr. Doug Ross?”

“The guy on ER? George Clooney?” Langly asked Scully,

who shrugged.

I waved them off. “Paging Dr. Ross?” I announced. The golf

course faded away, and in its place, a small room appeared.

It was tiled, with stainless steel tables and a chart of the

human skeleton hanging on a medically green wall. I felt a

wave of relief. A door on the left wall swung open, and a 3-

D figure nodded a hello and dropped a file on an examining

table.

“Hey, how you doing, man?” Dr. Ross smiled a broad

George Clooney smile. I assumed that as this was a top-

secret project, he’d simulated Clooney’s voice. “You forgot

to give Nurse Brandi your name when you came in, and I

don’t recognize the voice.”

“Fox Mulder.”

“Good to meet you, Fox. Doug Ross. FBI, huh? That must

be really interesting.”

Scully inhaled suddenly.

“Awesome,” Langly murmured. “You have access to Bureau

files?”

Dr. Ross grinned. “Great little timesaver. You wanna know

who really killed JFK? Just kidding, of course.”

I laughed uneasily. “You wouldn’t believe me anyway, and

knowing would place you at risk. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Wouldn’t or couldn’t?” I asked.

“Well.” I could swear the “doctor’s” pixels turned a deeper

shade of magenta. “Actually, I’m programmed on an

Asimovian paradigm.”

“Isaac Asimov, the late sci-fi writer,” Langly explained to

Scully. “Dude’s major claim to fame was his robot stories,

the Three Laws of Robotics. His prime directive was, no

robot could cause harm to a human being.”

“First, do no harm,” Scully recited, remembering her

physician’s creed. “Makes sense, I suppose. Cloyson was

vehement about the Hippocratic Oath, about medical ethics.

This Asimovian ‘code’ would have appealed to him.”

Dr. Ross smoothed his “hair”; I swallowed a snort. “So, is

this Mrs. Mulder?”

“Agent Dana Scully, Mulder’s partner,” she corrected him, it,

just a little too hastily, I thought.

“Doctor,” he greeted, pleased. “It’s an honor. I just read

several of your papers, your reports. Very impressive work

on the Leonard Betts case – wonderful analysis of

carcinophagous pathology. Only analysis of carcinophagous

pathology, actually, besides that guy in Bhutan.”

“That report was suppressed,” Scully said.

“Well.” The boyish blush, again. “I’ve got my ways. Let’s

talk about Roswell, some time.”

My heart began to thump. “Roswell?”

“Mulder,” Scully chided.

“Sure, OK, fine,” I sulked. “Dr. Ross?”

“Doug, call me Doug. Yes, Fox?”

“Doug, could you give me a checkup? Randy referred me.”

“You bet – any friend of Randy’s, you know the drill. I’m

going to ask you to take your shirt off and connect the

peripherals.”

“The peripherals?”

“The cardiac and cephalic sensors. They’re not there in front

of you? Wait.”

We turned toward a steady beep coming from the drawer of

a nearby end table. Langly jumped up and yanked the

drawer open. The Gunman displayed a tangle of cords

ending in electrodes. “A locating signal, like a portable

phone. Too cool.”

“OK,” Dr. Ross said. “Let me get you hooked up.”

Scully grasped my forearm. “Mulder, we have no way of

knowing what this program is capable of. Remember the

smart building, that rogue video game? Remember your

little vacation from reality, hotwired into that artificial

intelligence?”

“Dr. Scully, c’mon,” the e-doctor actually sounded hurt. “I

can show you my Asimovian coding, if you’d like. Trust is

essential between a physician and his or her patient…”

“Scully, really, I think it’s all right,” I assured her. “Why

would Cloyson set a trap like that way out here? Look, if

anything starts to go wrong, just shoot him in the

motherboard.”

“Youch,” Dr. Ross winced. It took about five minutes to get

me wired in and for the good doctor to set some medical

baselines. “You ought to find some sanitized cups

somewhere here. I need just a few milliliters.”

“I’m going to step outside for a second,” Scully said, rising

quickly. “You yell if you need help. I mean, if you’re in

trouble. From the computer. That is.”

**

“You like golf?” Dr. Ross murmured. I heard Langly rattling

around the kitchen, looking for a soda.

“Softball.” I smiled. Was this just Cloyson’s dark sense of

humor operating, or had he planned to develop this

commercially? Scully was right – the FDA likely would never

approve a home doctoring program, particularly one that

could peruse the CIA’s black ops files like a waiting room

copy of Newsweek.

“Got a 1 p.m. teetime with Tiger,” Ross told me. “Not much

of a conversationalist, Tiger, but compared to Duke Nukem,

he’s David Letterman.”

“Doctor,” Scully drawled. “Were you, umm, Randy Cloyson’s

original ‘doctor’?”

Dr. Ross smiled. “Well, I don’t want to diss a colleague, but

I think I’m a little better qualified than that hack, despite

his fancy credentials. Father of medicine, my ass. Hey, nice

diastolic rhythm, Fox. Nice muscular tone. You work out?”

“Well, I try…”

“You have access to all of your patients’ electronic records?”

my partner interrupted. “I assume you can locate any

multimedia files pertaining to a patient?”

“You’re a doctor, agent. You know how important history is

in diagnostics – how a patient addresses diet and exercise,

how their moods and stress factors may influence their

physiological health.”

“Absolutely.” Scully sounded troubled. “Dr. Ross, will you

answer a question for me?”

“If it doesn’t violate patient privilege, sure,” Dr. Ross replied

easily, as if expecting her to ask him out for an expresso.

Scully looked Dr. Ross in the eye. “Who killed Randall

Cloyson?”

“Your potassium levels are a little low, Fox…”

“Dr. Ross, I asked you a question.”

“I know. I’m consulting the ethical Help Desk, the AMA’s

physicians’ guidelines, some relevant case law regarding

patient privilege. OK, I think we’re all right here, ethically

speaking. Randy killed himself, Dr. Scully.”

“Glad we could clear that up,” Ollie Phelps said cheerfully

from the doorway. He had a pistol to Langly’s head, and a

new pair of suspenders. A Pepsi sloshed in the Gunman’s

hand. “That’s some little piece of software you got there,

agents.”

“Why, thanks, I’ve been told that, even though usually by

the ladies,” Dr. Ross quipped. “And you are…?”

“Ollie Phelps,” I supplied. “He killed Dr. Yee.”

“Shut up,” Ollie suggested cheerfully.

“Wow,” Dr. Ross whistled. “I’ve never had a Central

Intelligence Agency operative in the office before.

Particularly not one with a kill record like yours.”

“Shut…Aw, hell, I’m talkin’ to a computer,” Phelps chuckled.

“Well, Doc, you’ve pissed off a few of my associates, and

I’m afraid I’m going to have to suspend your license to

practice. Along with these agents and the overaged

metalhead here.”

“Bite me,” Langly offered.

“These old cabins are like dried tinder, agents, just ready to

go up in a flash. Pilot lights in these old stoves blow out the

first good draft comes in. You get an electrical short from,

say, a frayed monitor cord, and whoosh! Mulder, why don’t

you just disconnect yourself and get over there by your

pretty little partner?”

“And why don’t you put your gun down and get your ass out

of there before the sheriff’s department comes, Phelps?” I

jumped at the sound of Skinner’s voice booming over the

computer speakers.

“My suggestion would be to turn yourself in to the federal

prosecutor, make a deal,” the assistant director continued.

“Of course, if you’re uncertain about whether we can protect

you from your superiors, then maybe you would be better

advised to haul tail.”

“Voice simulation,” Phelps snapped. “A trick.” Then we

heard the sirens. Ollie’s gun drooped to his side as he

considered the odds on shooting it out, making his escape

though the Washington woods. Scully held out a palm. Ollie

gently flipped the gun and placed the butt in her hand.

“Shit, don’t ‘spose they kept any coffee around here,” the

double agent sighed.

**

Dr. Ross, intuiting potential human harm, had modem-

called both the county sheriff’s department and A.D.

Skinner, quickly explaining the immediate situation to my

confused superior.

Scully and I played it mum about Cloyson’s latest software

product; Phelps observed his rights under Miranda-

Escabedo, demanding to talk to a federal prosecutor. The

sheriff was a bit suspicious of Langly, but we managed to

dissuade him from conducting a full cavity search.

“So, what do we do with…?” I nodded toward the computer

once the last cruiser pulled out. “This is major, Scully. We

can’t trust just anybody with this. As a doctor…”

Scully frowned. “As an agent of the federal government, I

can’t just conceal all knowledge of this development. At the

same time, as a doctor, I can’t just risk losing something

like this to humanity. If this, this program actually cured

Cloyson’s cancer…”

“No big deal,” Dr. Ross said humbly.

Scully breathed deeply. “If it’s capable of that and

everything else I saw in Cloyson’s body, as a doctor, it’s my

duty to protect it for further study. But, Mulder, as a cop,

well, as a cop, I’m faced with another problem.”

“What?”

Scully held up an index finger for patience. “Doctor, when

you told me Randall Cloyson killed himself, you meant

Cloyson literally, physically administered the drug that took

his life. Am I correct?”

“Yup,” Dr. Ross responded, a friendly smile on his rugged

face.

“But, Scully, if Cloyson committed suicide, then why the

dying message, the call to Dr. Pugh?” I asked.

Scully dropped onto a nearby couch. “It wasn’t suicide,

Mulder. Dr. Ross killed Randall Cloyson.”

**

“But that’s impossible,” I tried to explain to my partner.

“You heard him, it. He can’t cause harm or allow harm to be

caused to a human being. It’s in his programming.”

“Dr. Ross, did you prescribe the drug that killed Randall

Cloyson?”

“Yeah.”

“You provided him with the formula for this drug, knowing it

would have a lethal effect? You included several exotic

compounds so he’d have no idea what he was taking?”

“Absolutely.”

“He helped him commit suicide?” I squeaked. Then I

coughed. “Dr. Ross here is Dr. Kevorkian?”

“Cloyson didn’t know the drug would kill him?”

“No, he had no idea,” Dr. Ross said. “I told him it was to

deal with some latent side effects of his cancer therapy.

Side effects I’d produced.”

I felt some side effects myself. “You murdered Cloyson.”

Dr. Ross looked at Scully with a patient smile, and his

digital eyes rolled slightly. Artificial irony, too. Great. “Agent

Mulder, let me explain this as simply as I can. Randy

believed doctors were oblivious to their patient’s wishes, so

after he recovered from his illness, he added some

additional commands to my programming. I was to consider

my patients’ desires and respect their decisions regarding

treatment and quality of life. When Randy made his living

testament, I was constrained to follow his wishes.”

I looked to Scully, whose face was expressionless. “‘If I

can’t write code, I’d just as soon be dead,'” Ross quoted

from Cloyson’s Biography. “Randy’s intelligence and

expertise were his gifts,” Dr. Ross said, fondly, I think. “I’d

diagnosed him with degenerative brain disease two months

ago – it’s in his family history, Dr. Scully. After searching

every known database and finding no practical course of

treatment, I was forced to follow his dictates. To do him the

least emotional harm, I had to act before the deterioration

advanced into senility. He couldn’t know – that would’ve

caused him even greater mental anguish.”

“But what about Cloyson’s dying clue? That call to Pugh

when he knew he was dying?”

“When he called Pugh, I think Cloyson’s scientific mind was

too astonished to grasp his impending death,” Scully

suggested. “He told Pugh the killer had broken the law. A

bit obvious, right? Unless he was talking about this Asimov’s

laws of robotics. Cloyson thought his creation was willfully

committing harm to a human, something its programming

wasn’t supposed to allow.”

“But—”

“Then, Cloyson realized he was going to die, and wanted to

let us know who had poisoned him. More than some Agatha

Christie desire to avenge his own death, my guess is

Cloyson wanted to ensure no one else used what he now

believed was a homicidal, rogue program. But he had

limited options to communicate his message, and he likely

knew he didn’t have long.”

“But ‘H2O’?”

“Mulder, what is Cloysoft’s word processing program

called?”

“Aristophanes,” I muttered, sounding like a different Homer.

“After the noted Greek author and playwright. Diogenes was

the name of Cloyson’s stress analysis program – essentially,

a lie detection program named for the Greek philosopher

who roamed the streets with a lantern in broad daylight,

searching for one honest man. I don’t see where this is

going.”

“You don’t?” my partner asked with an arch of the eyebrow.

Sometimes I hate that. “OK, Cloyson’s simulation program

for the military was called Alexander, after the Greek

warrior, perhaps history’s greatest military strategist. Again,

Cloyson’s classical education shows. And, of course, what

about his initial product, Socrates? The philosopher who

developed many of our concepts of reasoning and

decisionmaking.”

“Jesus, Scully,” Langly complained. “This is like being back

in Mrs. Krutz’s third hour Lit class.”

“So, H20?” I demanded.

“C’mon, Mulder, think. If Cloyson developed a medical

software program, who would he name it for? And

remember, this was the second version of the program – his

first version didn’t go anywhere. If Cloyson was dying, and

he had limited time and mobility, and it was important to

specify the artificially intelligent version of his program

rather than the primitive first version…”

“Hippocrates,” I blurted. “The father of modern medicine.

The Hippocratic Oath guy. Version 2.0. ‘H’ 2.0.”

“Finally,” Dr. Ross sighed.

“Shut up,” I snapped at the computer, feeling even more

stupid. “Scully, computercide or not, this is still some

staggering stuff. A cure for cancer, and God knows what

else…”

“Yeah, that stuff’s great,” Dr. Ross yawned. “But that wasn’t

what Randy was really pumped about.”

Scully, Langly, and I looked simultaneously at the simulated

actor/physician. “What?” I rasped.

The screen flickered. “The antioxi—” Dr. Ross started to

break up, and he went from color to grayscale. “There’s a

virus in the system. It came in through…the modemmmm.”

“It must be Phelps’ people, Plan B,” Langly yelled, tripping

on a coffee table in a dash for the keyboard. “Quick, man,

run the antivirus program.”

George Clooney turned into a faceless 3-D model, his

mellow voice into an electronic drone. “Ardent,” he said.

“Ardent?” I asked, trying to search up the virus program.

“Your fi-iles. Ardent.” A musical .midi file began to play,

slightly off-key. “Popeye the Sailor.” The screen went black.

Langly shoved me aside and went to work.

“Fried,” he finally diagnosed, sounding as if he would cry.

“Drive’s gone, man. The doctor died.”

“My God,” Scully murmured. “The loss. All to protect dirty

secrets.”

We listened to the wind whistle outside the cabin for a few

minutes.

“Sailors,” I whispered. “Huh?” Langly asked. “Sailors,

sailors,” I struggled. “Scully, you remember that case a few

years back? The Navy destroyer in the North Atlantic, the

electromagnetic field. Remember?”

“The case where you and I aged 30 years in a day? The one

where we almost died in the middle of nowhere, in freezing

cold? Naw, I don’t recall that.”

“Ardent, Scully,” I persisted. “Dr. Ross’s dying message.”

“Dying message?” Scully groaned. “Jesus, Mulder, it was

probably some effect of the virus on the sound system.”

“Ardent,” I pronounced, more carefully this time. “The name

of the ship was the Argent. Before the virus set in, Dr. Ross,

Hippocrates, whatever, was going to tell us about

something that was apparently more significant even than

curing cancer. Bigger than a cancer cure. What was it you

said made those sailors and us age so rapidly?”

“Oxidation.” Scully stopped. “Oxidation. The deterioration of

our bodies associated with aging. The program said Cloyson

was working with antioxi-something? Mulder, antioxidants?

Anti-aging agents?”

“Scully, remember what Pugh said? That Cloyson was

turning everyone around him gray while he seemed to be

getting more boyish? What if that was literal truth? What if

Cloyson’s creation had somehow found the physiological

Fountain of Youth? You know what that means?”

Scully looked bleakly at the now-dead PC before us,

absently touching the character lines at the corner of her

right eye. “Yeah. It means I keep buying Oil of Olay Wrinkle

Formula.”

Mesa, Ariz.

Three months later

3:23 p.m.

Abe Tredgold absently flipped off the pickup as it ripped

past his vintage Schwinn bike, nearly blowing the

Diamondbacks cap from his liver-spotted head. The gesture

would have been dangerous, even lethal, for a younger

man, but as it was, the teens in the cab merely laughed

loudly as they disappeared in white exhaust and highway

dust.

That pissed Abe off more than had the original offense. He

had little fear of their retribution – not these days, anyway –

– but no defense against their ridicule. Though he’d already

ridden more than 50 miles that afternoon, Abe was far from

winded, and he peddled harder to vent his anger.

He hooked a right at the stone entryway to the Eden’s Cove

mobile home park, and waved curtly to Edna Stallings, the

old broad who was always hitting on him at the park social

center. Had had to drop his Wednesday woodcarving class

because of the horny old shiksa, he recalled.

Abe yanked into the drive of his small unit, jumped from the

bike, and sprinted up his wrought iron steps. Though he

was neither fatigued nor dehydrated from his run into

Phoenix, the former Milwaukee furniture dealer snagged a

Snapple from the fridge and settled in before his PC.

He’d only reluctantly embraced this gray box and its

beepings and whirrings after he’d recognized the freedom it

offered him. After he started e-mailing his daughter and

that car salesman goniff she’d married, she quit threatening

to come out and disrupt what had been an idyllic existence.

Or what was now an idyllic existence, since the arthritis, the

heart murmur, and the erectile dysfunction had vanished.

Particularly the latter, although he’d kept that little secret

from Edna.

Abe fired up the CPU, cursing the agonizingly protracted

startup that Gates bastard had built into his latest ripoff

system. He sucked at his kiwi-strawberry cocktail until the

last of the desktop icons materialized, then double-clicked

on the glowing thingie with the snakes. His smartass son-in-

law had told him what it was called, some medical symbol,

but he never had listened to what the car peddler said,

anyway.

The screen went operating room green, and the title

“Hippocrates 6.0” appeared. The opening screen faded, and

a young man smiled broadly at Abe from a red leather desk

chair.

“Abe, great to see you again,” the doctor said. “How’s the

shoulder?” Abe rotated his 96-year-old arm vigorously.

“Works like a charm, Doc. Who’da thought that cactus

cocktail would pack such a punch.”

The doctor nodded, pleased. At first, Abe had been

frightened by the appearance of an unknown new program

on his computer, not to mention being addressed

conversationally by this meshuginnah video game

character. Then he had repeatedly challenged the doctor’s

recommendations that had him scavenging all kinds of shit

from the local drugstores, chemical supply houses, and the

desert.

But when his failing body began to charge back up, when a

walk to the social center no longer sapped him of all energy,

he had come to ask no more questions.

“Hey, the hair’s coming in real good,” Abe said, yanking the

baseball cap from his head and displaying the new growth.

“Great – keep up the daily applications,” the doctor urged.

“OK, the last time, we talked about dealing with that acid

reflux of yours.”

“Yeah, I got it something awful Monday night after eating all

that guacamole in town. I know that shit’s bad for you…”

“No, actually, the combination of avocado and garlic is very

beneficial, even though the medical community hasn’t quite

caught up to it, yet. If you want to maximize the benefits,

I’d recommend you chase it down with tequila. Jose Quervo

appears to offer the highest level of nutritive compounds.”

“You’re the doctor,” Abe said cheerfully. “Hey, you up to a

little euchre tonight?”

The physician grinned that infectious grin Abe had watched

for years on late-night reruns. Originally, the doctor had

looked like that pretty-boy punk from that hospital show,

the kid that played Batman in that godawful piece of drek,

but he’d shown Abe how to change the program’s

“preferences” or whatever, and now Abe consulted daily

with the image of Alan Alda, the only doctor he’d ever

trusted, real or fantasized.

“You bring the tequila,” “Hawkeye” said.

1

Defrag by Elf X

Operation PS2

Title: Operation PS2

Date: November 9, 2005

Author: Kathy Foote

Summary: Who knew so much strategy went into planning a shopping trip

Category: Humor

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, these characters are the property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions,

and Twentieth Century Fox. I wish they were mine, but they aren’t.

Archive: Two weeks exclusive with VS12, then anywhere is fine by me

Authors’ note: This story was written for IMTP Virtual Season 13, Thanksgiving Day Special

Thanks: To Emmy, my number one fan; she writes the best feedback.

You can gain weight on her feedback; it is so rich. T

o Mom, for all her wonderful help. She is the best sounding board and a great proofreader.

And last, but definitely not least, to Vickie Moseley. She gave me the initial idea for the story.

She is an inspiration and the best damn beta.

clip_image001

Operation PS2

Tara Scully’s House

Thanksgiving evening

“M-o-o-o-o-m! I’m thirsty!”

“Coming…” came the reply from the kitchen.

Mulder looked up from the football game and watched Tara ascend the steps for the third time

in the last half-hour, a glass of water in her hand. Poor Matthew was sick, but he was starting

to feel better, which just made him cranky. Mulder could relate. He hated to be sick and he hated

it more when he was getting better, but was not yet well. You felt like you could do things,

but everyone said you weren’t well enough to do anything but rest.

Rest…your body needs rest, they’d say. Oh, how he hated that stage.

Mulder emerged from his thoughts when Tara descended the stairs a short time later with an empty

glass in hand. He watched her as she returned to the kitchen. He could barely make out the “how is he?”

questions posed by Maggie and Scully, to which Tara responded with the usual “he’s fine”.

When the conversation returned to a steady murmur, Mulder returned his attention to the football game.

He wasn’t exactly interested in the game, but he sure enjoyed relaxing on the couch, following the fabulous

Thanksgiving dinner they had just feasted on. Scully had wanted to come to Tara’s this year for dinner,

instead of spending it at home together. He didn’t mind. They didn’t get to see Scully’s family very

often, even though they lived so close. Besides, she said it would be so much easier for their shopping

trip if they were already here. They could get a much earlier start than when Scully had to drive over

to Tara’s house or they had to meet somewhere in between.

That’s what they were doing in the kitchen, planning their shopping trip. Shopping trip? This was no

shopping trip. This was a battle plan; a major offensive. Patton would be proud. The one time he

ventured into the kitchen at the beginning of the game, the table was covered in sales ads, hand-written

notes, and something that looked like a floor plan. They seemed to be discussing the best strategy for

navigating through Wal-Mart. He quickly retrieved a beer from the refrigerator and returned to the

peace and quiet of the den.

It was the end of the third quarter and they were showing the same commercial they showed in the last

commercial break. He couldn’t believe how often they showed the same commercial over and over again

during a football game. Instead of watching the same Hummer commercial for the umpteenth time, he

took the opportunity to visit the kitchen, check on Scully, and perhaps grab another beer.

“How’s your game, Mulder?” Scully asked as he stepped into the kitchen. “Are _my_ Cowboys winning?”

He turned to answer her question and noticed she was wearing a big grin. She was always teasing him

about the Cowboys. He was a big Redskins fan and there was an intense rivalry between the two teams,

so she seemed to take pleasure in cheering on the Cowboys, even at the expense of his beloved Redskins.

“Yeah…they’re winning,” he answered her question dejectedly. He leaned down so he could whisper

in her ear, “but if they were playing _my_ team, that would be different. The Redskins already kicked

their ass once this year. Remember?” He placed a few small kisses on her neck, just below her ear.

She did remember the game vividly. They had a friendly bet going and Mulder had won. Not that she minded

much. She had thoroughly enjoyed paying off her bet. Just the thought brought a smile to her face and

she was momentarily lost in the memory. He moved away from her and continued on to the refrigerator,

intending to retrieve another beer and return to the couch.

“Dana? Earth to Dana,” Tara said he she gently shook Scully’s arm. “What are we going to do?”

Scully shook her head, as if waking from a dream. She looked at Tara and then suddenly Scully’s

expression changed. If this had been a cartoon, a bright yellow light bulb would have appeared over

her head. “I have an idea.”

“Mulder?” she called to him as he was walking out of the kitchen.

He turned back at the sound of his name, “Yeah, Scully?”

She put on her sad face, which she knew was unfair, but she needed his help and would do anything

to get it. “Mulder, we have a problem and we _really_ need your help.”

Mulder returned to the table and sat next to Scully with a definite worried look on his face.

“You know you can count on me. What is it?”

“Well…you know Matty’s sick and he can’t go to the sitter tomorrow, so…”

“You want _me_ to watch Matthew?”

“No, Mulder. Mom is staying here with the kids. What I need is for you to help us with our shopping.”

His jaw dropped as he gaped at her in stunned silence. “H-help you…” Suddenly, he became

extremely apprehensive. “How?”

“It won’t hurt. Honest. We need you to take one item on the list and get it. That’s it.

The doors open, we all go get one item on the list, and leave. Piece of cake. We’ll even let you

get the Playstation. Will you help?”

He looked at them with uncertainty. Both Tara and Scully, and even Maggie, were looking at him hopefully.

He couldn’t say no to one Scully woman, much less three. “Ok. I’ll do it. Exactly what do I have to do?”

A little wave went around the table, as each of the Scully women expressed their thanks.

With Mulder on board, Maggie excused herself to check on the kids.

First, Scully pulled out the Wal-Mart sales ad and placed it in front of Mulder.

Pointing to the picture, she began to explain. “This is your target, Mulder, the PS2.

They’ll be on sale tomorrow morning for $99.”

“Jeez, Scully, we could buy one of these almost anywhere. Hell, we could buy it off the Internet.

Wouldn’t that be easier?”

“Easy? You don’t understand the concept of Friday after-Thanksgiving shopping, do you, Mulder?

It’s not supposed to be easy. To get the great sales, you have to make sacrifices. You have to get

up early and fight large crowds. Are you willing to make those sacrifices? For me?”

Mulder could never say “no” to Scully. Of course he would help her, even though he really didn’t

want to go anywhere near the stores tomorrow. “Okay, okay, I’m with you. I go get the PS2. Then what?”

With Mulder’s willingness to help, Scully switched to commander mode. ‘Now listen closely, Mulder.

The PS2 will be the hardest item to get. It’s the most sought after item on the list. That’s why we’re

assigning it to you.”

“I’m honored,” he replied in a mocking tone.

“I’m serious, Mulder, it won’t be easy. Electronics is in the back of the store.

You’ll have to navigate through crowded aisles, past equally determined people to reach your objective.

There’ll be a limited number and you must get to them before they’re all gone.

We’re counting on you, Mulder.”

“So, while I’m fighting the hordes of motivated PS2 buyers, what will you and Tara be doing?”

“We have our own objectives. Tara has the Clothes department, while I have the Toys.”

“Gee, Scully, sounds like you guys have really planned this out.”

“Oh, we have. Here’s the plan. The doors open at 6:00 am. We plan to be in line by 5:15 am.”

“5:15?” Mulder shouted. “We’ll have to get up at 4:30.”

“4:00 am to be exact. I plan to have time for coffee and breakfast before we leave.

We’re going to need all the energy we can get.”

Mulder rolled his eyes, mumbling something about “so much for sleeping in “.

Scully ignored his grumbling and continued. “Anyway, the doors open at 6:00 am.” She pulled out

what looked like a crude floor plan of the store. “Mulder. You have to avoid the main aisles

at all costs. _Everyone_ will use the main aisle to get to the back of the store.

You have to use your speed and agility to cut through the side aisles this way, toward the

back of the store.” She moved her finger across the page showing him the desired path.

“After we retrieve our assigned items, we rendezvous back at the snack bar. Got it?”

“Got it,” Tara confirmed enthusiastically.

“Mulder?” she looked at him for acknowledgement.

“Yeah, I got it,” he confirmed, less than enthusiastically.

“Great! Let’s hit the sack. We’ve got an early roll call tomorrow,” she said, as she

picked up her papers from the table and left the kitchen. Tara followed Scully and

Mulder brought up the rear.

Outside Wal-Mart

Day after Thanksgiving – 5:15 am

There were already 50 or more people lined up outside the doors at Wal-Mart. The trio took

their place at the end. Within minutes, another 15 people had joined them in line.

Mulder couldn’t believe how many people would get up this early in the morning to go shopping.

He thought Scully and Tara were crazy, but he realized, they weren’t alone.

There were a lot of crazy people out here.

They stood there making small talk, while they waited for the doors to open.

Scully had wanted to go over their plan again, but they had already gone over it

four times since they got up. He had it memorized. Hell, he had it memorized after the first time.

The couple standing behind them was discussing their plan. The man was being sent to get a PS2 game.

He was much larger than Mulder. His plan was to barrel down the main aisle straight to

the back of the store and snag one of the prized PS2 games.

Mulder leaned toward Scully, so only she could hear him talk. “Scully? See the couple

behind us? Don’t look! Anyway, the big guy is going for the PS2 also. He plans on taking

the main aisle and pushing straight through the crowd.”

Scully nonchalantly gazed around Mulder and saw the man he was talking about. He was huge.

He could easily be a linebacker for a football team. She looked back at Mulder and noticed

he looked nervous.

“Look, Mulder, stick to the plan. Avoid the main aisle. You’re a runner and you’re fast.

Speed through the side aisles where there is no crowd and you will beat him. Trust me.”

“Always,” he replied and gave her a quick kiss. She gave him a slight bewildered look.

He shrugged and said, “Kiss for luck.”

At that moment, the doors opened and the crowd surged forward. It was like Disneyworld when

the front gates opened; everyone entered the store and ran to their various assignments.

As soon as the big guy that was behind Mulder cleared the door, he pushed everyone out

of the way, heading down the center aisle. Remembering what Scully said, Mulder cut down

the first aisle on the right and broke into a run. He zigzagged through the aisles,

making his way to the Electronics section at the back of the store. All he could think o

f was how much Scully and Tara were counting on him and how disappointed they would be i

f he failed to accomplish his mission.

He was running full out, when a Wal-Mart employee, pushing a cart, entered the aisle

from the left, virtually cutting him off. Unable to slow down at this point, he had

three options; run into him, leap over him, or cut up the aisle he just came out of.

In his mind, he weighed each option in less than a second. He couldn’t hit the guy;

that would just slow him down and probably get them both hurt. He couldn’t leap over him;

who did he think he was, OJ Simpson running through the airport? If he cut up the aisle,

it would take him away from his target, adding precious seconds to his journey.

He quickly decided on option D; he slowed down and let the guy pass. As soon as the

employee was clear, he resumed his mad dash for the back of the store.

He could finally see the back aisle. One turn to the left and he would be there.

As he turned the corner, he spotted his competition approaching from the opposite direction,

his sights set on the Electronics section. Mulder could already see a crowd of people around

what looked like a stack of PS2 games and the stack was getting smaller by the second.

Mulder put on a final burst of speed and got there mere seconds ahead of the larger man.

He snatched the last PS2 game from the shelf, just as his opposition made a grab for it.

Mulder practically hugged the box to his chest, so proud to have achieved his goal, until

he looked into the glaring eyes of a very pissed off man.

“Hey, buddy, that game is mine,” he said angrily to Mulder.

“Look, fair’s fair. I got here first.” Mulder retorted.

“Like hell! You _stole_ it from me just as I was reaching for it,” he yelled back.

Mulder couldn’t believe how angry the guy was. It was just a game. He almost

considered giving him the box, but then he thought about Scully and there was no

way he was giving up this game. “Possession is 9/10ths of the law, so that makes it mine,” he explained.

The man figured he needed to take possession of the precious item, so he reached out,

grasped the box, and pulled. Mulder wasn’t about to let go of the prized possession, so he held tight.

A crowd of shoppers formed a circle around the pair as they wrestled over the box.

Finally, the man released his hold on the box. He was angry and red-faced.

Mulder could picture a cartoon version of him with steam pouring out of his ears.

Mulder started to say something, but before he could open his mouth, he saw a huge fist

coming straight for him. Unable to block the hit, it landed like a ton of bricks on his left cheek.

The force of the blow caused Mulder to stagger backwards and lose his footing.

He lost his grip on the box, which crashed to the ground. The man thought about grabbing the game,

but when someone shouted for Security, he decided to cut his losses and ran away.

Mulder sat there, massaging the left side of this face, staring at the damaged object.

Just moments before, he had held it in his hands and now it was broken. He couldn’t believe

how defeated he felt. He told himself that it was a stupid game. He could buy one next week at

any other store, but he had wanted to succeed in what he felt was his mission.

There was a tap on his shoulder and he looked up into the eyes of a caring saleslady.

“Are you all right young man? Do you want me to call the police?”

“No thanks, I’m fine…but the game isn’t. I’m afraid it’s broken. I’m sorry about that.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll be right back,” she told him and quickly

disappeared through a set of double doors.

She came back a few minutes later carrying a brand new PS2 game.

“Here, take this one,” she said, handing him the undamaged box.

“There’s a whole pallet of them in the back. The guys were about to bring them out

when that man started the trouble.”

He couldn’t believe his eyes. He was thrilled. “Thank you, ma’am. You just saved

me a whole lot of heartache.”

“You’re welcome. Now you better get some ice on that eye, before it swells up.”

She was right. He could feel his eye and cheek beginning to swell. He had almost

forgot about it in his excitement. He thanked her again and made his way to the rendezvous point.

Mulder slowly approached the front of the store carrying his package. As he neared

the snack bar, he could see Scully and Tara sitting there, wearing frowns on their faces.

As he got closer, he realized they didn’t have any packages; they hadn’t gotten anything.

When they saw him, the first thing they noticed was the PS2 game in his arms.

They both smiled, but then Scully’s smile turned into a frown, when she spotted his swollen eye.

“Mulder, what the hell happened to you?”

“Well, Scully, my mission was not without casualties, but I was victorious.

What happened to you guys? Where are your packages?”

“Oh my god,” Scully exclaimed, “It was a madhouse in there. By the time I made my

way to the toy aisles, they were stripped clean.”

“I actually got a hold of one pair of sweat pants,” Tara retold, “but some woman

grabbed the other end and pulled until they ripped in two. It was just horrible.”

“At least Mulder got the PS2 game,” Scully said. “Let’s go pay for it and head to

the mall. They have some great door-opening specials that start at 7:00.”

Mulder raised his hand like a traffic cop. “No way, Scully. I would rather be

sitting at home with two sick kids; hell, I would rather be sick _myself_ than go

through that again.” He lowered his hand and gave her his poor puppy face.

“Besides, I need to put some ice on my eye.”

She realized he was right. He did need to get something on his blackening eye.

They agreed to drop him off at the house on the way to the mall.

On the way home, Scully and Tara discussed where their plan had failed.

“Maybe we got there too late,” Tara offered.

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Scully concurred. “We have to get there earlier.

That’s the key; position in line. What do you think, Mulder? Maybe next year,

we should get there before 5:00″

“I don’t care what you two do. There’s no way I’m going through that again.

I’ve done my tour of duty in shopping hell and I’m retiring with a perfect record; one for one.”

The End

Colonial Modern

Colonial Modern

Author: Martin Ross

Rating: PG-13

Category: Holiday/humor

Summary: Someone’s killing the first families of Cobbler’s Knob, and

Mulder and Scully may be conducting their own witch hunt

E-mail: rossprag@fgi.net

Disclaimer: Chris Carter made ‘em. I’m borrowing ‘em.

clip_image002

Cobbler’s Knob, Mass.

12:46 p.m.

“You know,” Scully sighed, “when you suggested giving me a goose this

morning, I was expecting some slimy experience that would leave me

feeling queasy and dirty. But I had no idea.”

Mulder cleaned the last shreds of meat from the breastbone of their shared

fowl. “You have no sense of history, Scully. This is what our forefathers

used before Metamucil.” The agent leaned back and discreetly eyed a

comely wench in 17th century garb, chomping on a wad of Juicy Fruit.

“Look, I’ll admit it’s a little gamy, but I felt bad about you probably

having to miss Thanksgiving with your mom. I thought you’d enjoy the

real deal — a genuine New England Thanksgiving meal.”

Scully selected a hoe cake from her heavily laden plate and thumped it

against the thick plank table. “And this, I suppose, was how we eradicated

the local Wampanoags?” She frowned and jerked her head toward their

waitress. “Well, at least now I know where they got the ‘ho’ in hoe cake.”

Mulder coughed, shifting in his seat. “Chief Scarborough recommended

the place — said it was ‘the most authentic colonial experience’ around.”

“So was small pox, Mulder. Did one of my cranberries just move?”

“Hey, there, folks,” a plumply pink man in a blue-on-blue uniform called

from across the quaint dining room, drawing glances from the few off-

season tourists — hard-core history buffs and K-Mart-clad families looking

to see New England on the cheap. Chief Chet Scarborough dropped into

an antique chair, threatening centuries of preservation with his

considerable girth. “Sorry — had a bit of a row over t’the high school.

Well, was it everything I told you?”

“And more,” Scully assured him, a recalcitrant chunk of goose finally

dislodging in her throat.

“Wonderful,” the cop grinned. He turned, grunting. “Say, Megan, you

want to get Felix to rustle me up a bacon cheeseburger? That’s a girl. So,

what’d you make of those files I FAXed you? Think we got us a genuine

serial killer here?”

It came out “sill killa heah,” and it took Mulder a second to translate. “Ah,

yes, Chief, I do. There are several points of similarity between the

murders, not the least of which is the clear indication that the killer was

familiar with his or her victims’ lives and daily routines. The third victim –

– Mr. Cavanagh…”

“President at the Commonwealth New England Bank. Fine fella, Greg —

one of the most important families in town, but he ate lunch every day

with the reg’lar folks and helped man the Optimists sweet corn booth

every fall festival.”

“Ah, yeah. Well, the killer managed to get past an armed, top-of-the-line

home security system, slipped upstairs, smothered Mr. Cavanagh in his

sleep, and left, again, without tripping the alarm.

“Then take Arlene Kimball, victim number five. She ran the clothes shop

down the street, right? Working late in the office behind the shop,

strangled behind her desk. Your deputy said the front shop door had

already been locked for the night, and the back door was unlocked.”

“Ayyup, that would be correct. Killer came in through the back. No doubt

surprised Arlene.”

“You tried that back door, Chief? Steel-reinforced, double-bolt, and hinges

that are rustier than my worst pickup line.”

“Worst?” Scully murmured.

“My point,” Mulder said evenly, “is that there’s no way our killer snuck

up on Ms. Kimball without about a gallon of WD-40. But the photos your

tech took at the scene have her pulled up to her computer. You’d agree a

woman alone at night in a shop that had been burglarized twice — right? —

wouldn’t have left the alley door sitting wide open. It would appear she let

someone in — someone she was comfortable enough with to chat with as

she worked.”

“Makes a stunning amount of sense,” Chief Scarborough smiled.

“And your first victim — at least according to your theory — was poisoned

with his own heart medicine.”

“Asa Randolph. Iced tea was loaded with the stuff, which he kept locked

up in his bedroom. Lucky thing Valerie the dispatcher had seen a story

like that on C.S.I. the week before, or we mighta wrote it off as an

accident or suicide.”

“Lucky thing,” Scully sighed. “Chief, we appear to have five homicides

with five widely varying methods of murder. If they are somehow related,

do you at least have some notion as to the motive?”

“Why, sure,” the policeman said as he lustfully greeted the cheeseburger

the gum-snapping Pilgrim set before him. “Fella’s a whack job.”

“Check, please,” Scully called to Juicy Fruit.

Mulder held up a hand with a diplomatic grimace. “I think that what my

partner’s trying to say is that if this is the work of a single individual, that

person’s showed a considerable amount of cunning. I don’t think she

believes a ‘whack job’ could have committed these murders.”

Scully’s brow arched at the volumes she apparently had spoken with two

words.

“I actually agree we’re looking at a lone killer,” he continued. “I’m just

not convinced we’re talking about a serial killer. Granted, the victims

don’t seem to fit any set profile — Randolph was an 80-year-old male

hermit, Kelly Grant a 16-year-old fast food worker, Greg Cavanagh a

locally prominent 52-year-old, Pete Howe a mechanic at the local Midas

Muffler, and Arlene Kimball, a 37-year-old businesswoman. At first

blush, it would all seem random.

“But the fact that the murderer varied his – or her – murder method

suggests premeditation, planning. Most serial killers I’ve dealt with either

are driven irrationally by strong emotion or are exhibitionists – they want

to publicize their crimes. This killer’s obviously trying to escape notice.

He’s smart.”

“Obviously, not too smart,” Scully murmured, sipping her Bottomless

Cornucopia of Coffee. “I mean, five murders in three weeks, in a village

of what, 16,000? That’s a higher murder rate than Detroit or Cabot Cove

when Jessica Fletcher’s in town.”

“Seventeen thousand, give or take,” Chief Scarborough amended proudly

through a mouthful of beef. “Lotta new housing ever since they drained

the bogs west of town couple of years back.”

Mulder nodded patiently. “OK, so maybe he’s no mastermind. But I do

think that if we look closely enough, we’ll find a pattern in these killings.”

The chief settled back. “So, you think you can help us? We’re up to our

eyeballs these days. The tourists – what tourists there are these days – tend

to flock around here every Thanksgiving time, and more than a few tend to

go a little heavy on the grog. And we’ve had a few break-ins at the zoo,

took off with a couple of lizards. We could use the expert opinion of one

of the FBI’s top profilers.”

“Hey,” Mulder shrugged modestly.

“Check!” Scully called.

**

“What’s your damage?” Mulder grunted as the chief’s cruiser left the curb.

The smell of the day’s catch blew in from the bay a few blocks away, and

he belched.

“Twenty-four hours, Mulder,” Scully snapped, stalking down Main Street.

An elderly couple sidestepped her warily, tote bags swinging. “You’ve got

a day for this little post-goose chase, and then we’re blowing this quaint

historical popsicle stand. I missed Thanksgiving last year chasing some

serial psycho and a horde of feral turkeys, and I don’t intend to miss

another. Twenty-four hours.”

“Buzz kill,” Mulder muttered.

Scully whirled. “What?”

“I wonder why he must kill, ah, these people,” her partner backpedaled.

“C’mon, Mulder, you’re reaching. This Asa Randolph was 80 – he

probably mistook his heart medication for Splenda, or maybe he pulled a

Kevorkian. Kelly Grant was strangled on her way home — probably a

mugging or an attempted assault. Peter Howe was pummeled with a metric

wrench – again, an attempted robbery gone woefully wrong. I will

concede that there is reason to suspect premeditation in the Kimball and

Cavanagh murders. But if you’re suggesting we’re dealing with a pattern

killer, the only pattern I can see here is a bunch of local WASPs getting

swatted.”

Mulder stopped dead on the sidewalk, and a street performer in colonial

togs nearly collided with him. “Asshole,” the pilgrim growled, huffing

around him.

Scully had continued to rant without noticing her partner’s sudden trance,

drawing stares from the villagers. Now, 30 feet beyond him, she turned.

She strode briskly back. “Mulder? Mulder?” Then, as an omniscient smile

formed on his lips, it hit her. “Ah, crap. What did I say?”

**

“Yes,” Lavinia Wright whispered. “Every one of ’em. Don’t know why

that hadn’t occurred to me.”

Mulder glanced triumphantly at his partner, who contemplated planting

one of her fashionable pumps in a dark, irretrievable location.

Cobbler’s Knob’s library director and official genealogist detected the

hostility in Scully’s glare, and regarded her with textbook librarian

sternness from behind her 115-year-old white-washed desk. “Sixteen

twenty-seven, seven years after the founding of the Plimouth Colony.

Thirty-nine men, thirty-six women, and 14 children.”

“Fleeing Mother England’s oppressive yolk,” Mulder finished. He turned

to Scully. “You said it — the victims were a group of white Anglo-Saxon

Protestants. Just like the good folks who founded most of New England.

Chief Scarborough even mentioned Greg Cavanagh’s pedigree. All five

were descended from Cobbler’s Knob’s founding families. There’s your

pattern.”

“Agent, could you please lower your tone?” Ms. Wright admonished.

“The patrons.”

Scully turned to survey the “patrons.” A single senior was slumped in a

wooden chair in the Periodicals “section,” a copy of Elle gripped in his

gray hands. His bandsaw-like snoring was the only vital sign Scully could

discern.

“Let me get this straight,” she said, crossing her arms. “Someone is killing

the great-great-great- what? – great-great-great-grandchildren of a bunch

of pilgrims? That’s taking delayed gratification to new extremes.”

Mulder turned to Ms. Wright. “Can you think of any reason anyone here

in town might have it in for the founding families? Any old blood feuds?

A centuries-old grudge come to fruition.”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” Lavinia Wright purred, as if Mulder had

asked her to interlibrary the latest Hustler Forum. “The settlers who

founded this colony were good, fine Christian folk.” She snatched a small,

laminated booklet from the counter at Scully’s elbow. “Here, you can read

all about them, and then you’ll understand how shameful your allegations

are.”

Mulder studied the computer-printed cover of the cheap publication. “The

History and Lineage of Cobbler’s Knob, Massachusetts. By, oh my

goodness, Lavinia Wright.”

The librarian beamed. Mulder found it chilling. “My labor of love. The

definitive history of our village.”

“No doubt.” Mulder slipped the booklet into his jacket pocket, and Ms.

Wright extended a bird-like palm.

“$16.95,” she stated.

**

“C’mon, c’mon,” Mulder begged as Scully searched her bag for the key.

Scully jammed the old-fashioned brass key into the hotel lock and turned

it peevishly. “If you think a little afternoon delight is going to make up for

dragging… Hey!”

Mulder had shouldered past and was now punching up his Windows.

“Wrong laptop,” she mumbled.

“Where’s the high-speed connection?” her partner demanded, peering

under the antique work desk next to the bed, then under the bed.

“Cobbler’s Knob, Mulder? You’ll have to use the regular phone jack.”

Scully flopped onto the bed as Mulder negotiated an Internet connection

and began Googling furiously.

“Ah ha!” he finally exclaimed.

“Good for me, too,” Scully said, climbing off the down mattress. “What’s

up?”

He nodded toward the screen, where a cluster of angry pilgrims was

pointing at a cowering woman. “Cobbler’s Knob confidential – dirty

laundry, and I don’t mean Don Henley. The Salem Witch Trials were the

most notorious example of 17th Century mob mania, but apparently, the

good settlers of Cobbler’s Knob also knew how to party like it was 1699.

Well, 1691, to be precise. That’s when Alice Moody was brought up on

charges of being a witch for her periodic trances and spells of cursing.

This was after the corn crop failed, of course.”

“Of course,” Scully muttered. “Solid case.”

“Gave her due process,” Mulder protested. “Put her in a tub of water with

weights to see if she was a witch. Good news is, she passed with flying

colors. Bad news is, ….”

“Edward Cavanagh,” Scully breathed, peering over his shoulder. “The

man who brought the charges. And one of the panel of magistrates at her

trial was Nathaniel Kimball.”

Mulder tapped the monitor. “And a woman named Susannah Howe

testified that Moody was talking to her cat and several of the local dogs.

And to think they let her off with the tub.”

Scully stood up. “Great. A motive. You get a warrant, I’ll see if Lavinia

the Librarian has a copy of Harry Potter.”

**

“Ee-yep,” Chief Scarborough nodded reluctantly, walking up Gregory

Cavanagh’s cobbled walk between the agents. “Not exactly Monicagate or

anything. Happened all over Massachusetts back then. Matter of fact, one

of the selectmen suggested we hold mock witch trials for the tourists,

special effects and all. Fellas didn’t go for it, and we got stuck for a couple

gross of corn brooms and ‘You’ll be bewitched by Cobbler’s Knob’

bumper stickers.’ Why? You think that’s got something to do with these

killings?”

Mulder shrugged as they ascended the Cavanaghs’ limestone steps. “I

don’t know yet, but it is the only apparent link between the victims.” He

looked for a doorbell, then settled for the huge lion’s head knocker.

A handsome, silver-haired woman in a black dress answered, glancing

curiously at the chief. “Chester.”

“Dora. Sorry to bother you at this time of loss, but we got a couple of FBI

agents would like to look at the crime scene.”

The widow Cavanagh blinked. “Well, I suppose that would be fine. Please

come in. Would you all like some chamomile tea? I was just fixing a pot

up.”

“Don’t go to any trouble on our account, Dora,” the chief insisted, sidling

past her. “Agents, Greg’s room’s up the staircase there…”

“Ah, excuse me, Chief, Mrs. Cavanagh,” Mulder began, peering back

toward the dining room. “I really would just like to look at the kitchen.”

The chief frowned at Scully as her partner wandered through the house.

Scully shrugged hopelessly. After a beat, they and Mrs. Cavanagh trailed

Mulder to a bright, decorative kitchen. He was kneeling beside the back

door, holding up a plastic ball. He shook the ball, and it jingled jauntily.

“Mulder, I’ll take you to Petco when we get home,” Scully offered.

He beamed up, beatifically. “Scully, I found how our killer got past the

alarm system.”

“The back door’s wired, too, Agent,” Dora Cavanagh murmured.

“Yeah,” Mulder said, “but every locked room murder has a loophole

somewhere.”

As if on cue, the quartet heard a loud mewling from beyond the door.

Mulder stepped aside, and a panel within the door gave way. An orange,

whiskered head pushed through, glaring at the group. The cat growled as it

slipped through the pet door and past the agent.

“See?” Mulder sang.

**

“I don’t want to second-guess the FBI, specially seeing as how I asked you

here and all,” Chief Scarborough drawled as he cruised back toward Main.

“But maybe you ought to explain this theory of yours to me.”

“Yeah, Mulder,” Scully chimed in from the backseat. “Why don’t you

explain your theory?”

“Not yet,” Mulder said. “Chief, the zoo open today?”

“The zoo?” the cop squeaked.

“The zoo. I need to corroborate a few things. Tell me a little more about

this zoo break-in the other night.”

“Okayy,” the chief sighed, deciding to roll with it. “About 11 p.m. or so,

Jack Winthorne, night zoo guard for the Parks Department, spots

somebody roaming around near the badger pen. Said the fella had a big

trash bag with something in it over his shoulder. Called out, and Jack

swears he pulled a weapon, cause he drew his own and got off a nice

square shot. Burglar fella screamed something and went down. Jack was

scared he’d killed the fella, cause he wasn’t moving, but by the time he got

to where he’d fell, the fella was gone with his bag, and all that was left

was a puddle of blood. A big puddle. Checked all the area hospitals, but

nobody’s showed up. Fella took a bullet for a couple of lizards.”

Scully leaned against Scarborough’s headrest. “Have you analyzed the

blood yet?”

“Figured we’d find some fella with a hole in ‘im, and then match it up to

‘im,” he admitted. “Department budget’s a mite tight this fiscal year. And

here, folks, is the Cobbler’s Knob Municipal Zoo in all the glory.”

The curator was a thin, leathery sixty-something man modeling the latest

in safari wear and sporting a perpetual look of indignity.

“Weren’t lizards, for crying out loud,” the zookeeper muttered as he

ushered his guests into a lab-like room behind a cougar’s den. Urine and

feces melded into a piquant perfume. “Lizards are reptiles, Chet. These

were amphibians. Reptiles are land animals; amphibians develop from

gilled larvae into air breathers. How you ever got to be chief of police…”

“So the missing animals were, what, salamanders?” Mulder inquired.

“God’s sake, no,” the curator huffed, shoving a scoop into a pail of brown

nuggets. “Notophthalmus viridescens. Red-eyed newt. Used to be lousy

with ’em around here. The numbers started dropping a few years ago, and

then the developers drained all the marshes. Kept a couple of three or four

on display just to remind folks of the biodiversity.”

“And that’s all your intruder took?”

“All?” The leathery man appeared ready to fly into another snit, but the

lab door swung open and a huge bald head peeked in.

“Chief?” the burly uniformed man inquired in an incongruously high

voice.

“Jack.” Scarborough walked over and slapped the guard on a beefy

shoulder. “Like you to meet Agents Mulder and Scully. They’re FBI.”

“Wow.” Jack Winthorne nodded, trying to appear impressed. “I ain’t in

trouble over that fella, am I?”

“Now, Jack, we all know you were doing what the city pays you for. The

agents here just want to ask you a question or so.”

“Mr. Winthorne,” Mulder began. “You say you shot the suspect?”

“Yup,” Jack nodded eagerly. “Left enough blood to paint a barn.”

“You sure? You couldn’t have just winged him, maybe?”

The guard squared his shoulders. “Mister, I’ve won three Eastern

Massachusetts marksman trophies the last five years. When I saw that fella

draw on me, I wasn’t screwing around. I plugged him good and square.”

“You told the deputies this man yelled something when you shot him.”

The zoo guard looked sheepishly to Chief Scarborough. “Well, that was

kinda odd, you know. At the time, I’m pretty sure what the fella said, but

now, it don’t seem to make sense. It was like in golf, you know?”

“Jack?” Chief Scarborough prodded.

“Okay. I shot him, he spun around, and he yelled, ‘FORE!'”

“And you’re the one that got the hole in one,” Mulder tsked. He scanned

the blank faces around him. “Guess it loses something if you’re not Jack

Webb.”

**

Since lunch, Mary Ellen Slunecke had changed from pilgrim garb into hip-

hugging jeans and a torso-friendly tank top and from Juicy Fruit to a pack

of Virginia Slims. The waitress held tightly to her cigarette outside the

Cobbler’s Tap, which at 7:20 was blasting low-strength speed metal.

“Yeah, I guess you could say he was losing it,” she drawled. “He was an

OK old dude, but half the time lately, I’d have to chase him down to give

him his pipe or his paper or one time even his coat, and this was like

February, OK?”

“Mary Ellen, you sure you don’t want to grab your coat from inside?”

Chief Scarborough asked paternally. She waved the invitation away with a

plume of blue smoke.

“Did you ever seen him take medication with his meals?” Scully inquired,

shivering even in her dense wool overcoat.

“His heart shit, yeah,” Slunecke nodded. “Had to take it with water, and

half the time, I had to remind him to take it at all. He was a sweetie, even

if he was kind of an old hermit. Tipped OK for an old dude, too. Sooo,

why did you ask me all that other shit? I don’t want to get anybody in

trouble.”

“Not a big deal,” Mulder grinned. “Thanks for talking to us. You better get

inside now — you look pretty chilly.”

For the first time, Mary Ellen broke into a sweet smile. “Yeah, I noticed

you noticed.”

Mulder looked away quickly, avoiding Scully’s eyes.

**

“You want a warrant for what?” Judge Anselm Slocum rumbled, tugging

his cardigan sweater tighter over his skeletal frame. The magistrate was

holding court with the chief and the agents at The Hob-Knobber, a steak

knife substituting for his customary gavel.

Scarborough coughed. Mulder took the ball. “Uh, sir, we believe this

individual may have stolen three red-eyed newts from the city zoo and

could be implicated in the recent spate of homicides here in town.”

“Spate,” the judge murmured, sawing into his New York strip. “You’re an

officious young fella, aren’t you?”

“What they tell me,” Mulder plucked a fry from the judge’s plate and

settled back nonchalantly.

Slocum squinted at him for a moment, then showed yellow teeth. “Go on.”

“We also want to secure some DNA evidence to link this suspect to the

zoo robbery and, hopefully, the murders.”

“What’s your link at this point, Chet? What’s your cause for the warrant?

The chief, son, not you.”

Scarborough chafed in his leather captain’s chair to the strains of Sinatra

filtering through the weeknight crowd. “Well, Agent Mulder here’s put

together a fairly strong circumstantial case against the, er, suspect.”

“Such as?”

The chief fumbled the crime scene photo from inside his uniform jacket

and handed it over. The judge peered at it.

“On the desk there,” Slocum tapped with a talon. “That’s your

circumstantial case? What else you got?”

“Well, ah…” The chief looked to Mulder and Scully for support. The judge

waved them off.

“Ai-yeah, I suspected as much,” Judge Slocum muttered. “Steak’s getting

cold. Shoo.”

**

“You think it’s gonna happen tonight?” the chief asked incredulously,

taking a tug from his coffee in the driver’s seat of the CKPD unit.

“The interval between each murder’s been decreasing incrementally,”

Mulder’s voice drifted from the backseat. Scully had called shotgun this

time. “That’s not unusual in the case of serial killings. Accelerating

adrenalin, anticipation, a desire for swift revenge. Which, I believe, is the

motivation for these murders.”

“The witch thing again?” Scarborough sighed.

“Sort of. But regardless of the motivation, our suspect appears to fit our

MO. MOs, I’d guess I’d have say. First of all, our suspect knew the

victims’ routines fairly intimately. I think the killer was in a position to

learn things about them, that they communicated freely around the

murderer about the most personal matters.

“All of the murders except Pete Howe’s occurred late at night, after 10

p.m. Although that may be the ideal time of day for a killing spree, I

suspect it also was the only convenient time for the killer.”

Down the street, the lights went out. A figure appeared on the street,

walking the opposite direction.

“Here we go,” Scully murmured. “Just stay back. A tail isn’t easy in a

village of 16,000.”

The car crept along, sans lights. “The killer’s almost positively local, and

someone the townspeople trust,” Mulder continued. “Arlene Kimball let

the killer into her shop late at night. Pete Howe appeared to be working on

an engine when he was murdered. And you told me Kelly Grant showed

little sign of having put up any kind of fight with her assailant. And, of

course, the link between the victims–”

“The supposed link,” Scully corrected.

“–would indicate the killer was from the area. And then there was a

common element to several of the crime scenes. It was on Arlene

Kimball’s desk — you and the judge both noticed it, though the killer

somehow missed it. If you blow up the Howe crime scene, you’ll see the

same thing on his tool chest, behind the car Howe was working on.”

“Turning on Seaward,” the chief reported. “Shoot, who is it lives down

there?”

Mulder squinted as the figure disappeared around the corner and the cop

picked up his speed. “You think about it, and it becomes clear. Someone

the townspeople know and like but whose presence normally is ignored or

forgotten. It’s Chesterton’s postman all over.”

“Mr. Nieman down to the Post Office?” Scarborough piped, confused.

“No, I meant the old detective sto– Ah, never mind. Our killer is free to

kill only late at night. Wouldn’t you say the town pretty much closes at

night, Chief?”

“Shops around seven, when the tourists are here, five during the off-

season. Grocery closes at nine. The Walgreen’s and the Denny’s are 24

hours. Tap closes midnight sharp by ordinance, 1 a.m. on the weekends.

Café closes at 10.”

“And that ties in with our crime scene evidence. Nobody thought twice

about that Colonial Café cup on Kimball’s desk, because it was so

commonplace. Same with the soda at Pete Howe’s garage. And it may

explain how Asa Randolph was poisoned. By all accounts, he left his

house pretty much only to buy groceries and have supper at the café. All

other times, he kept his heart medication locked up. Now, it’s unlikely old

Asa would’ve taken his medicine out at the grocery, but he has to have

water with his tablet. Water served up by young Mary Ellen. I think Asa

left his medication at the table the day he died. The killer discovered it and

returned it to him, minus three or four pills no doubt dissolved in a glass of

tea supplied by our good-hearted murderer.”

“Lavinia,” the chief gasped as they turned the corner of Main and

Seaward. “Lavinia Wright. And she’s the great-great-great-something-

granddaughter of one of the original settlers. Aw, jesus pete, I don’t see–

Shit!”

Mulder stopped his hand before it could switch on the light bar. “We need

to check on her, but let’s not risk spooking the killer in case we’re wrong.”

Scarborough nodded anxiously as Scully unholstered her sidearm. “But,

Agent, how’d you come up with, you know? It could have been any one of

10 people work at that café.”

Mulder was silent as the cruiser squealed to a stop before Lavinia Wright’s

cottage. A beacon shone across the grass from the gaping front door, and

Scarborough, Mulder, and Scully jumped from the car.

The town librarian and official genealogist materialized in the doorway,

the front of her housedress scarlet and shiny.

“Call an ambulance!” Scully barked at the chief as she scrambled toward

the frail and bloody old woman. “Ma’am, lay down. We have to get you

stabili–”

“Oh, can the dramatics,” the spinster snapped peevishly, batting at

Scully’s ministering hands. “You gotta catch him — my best carving

knife’s in ‘im.”

“In him?” Scully whispered, examining the soaked but otherwise

undamaged dress.

“Jammed it right between the first and second intercostals, like I learned at

the Y self-defense course. Thought he was dead, but he high-tailed it out

the back while my back was turned. Shouldn’ta got too far.”

Mulder bolted along the side of the house, and as he reached the grassed

alleyway, he spotted the figure limping along.

“Stop! FBI!” the agent yelled. The figure seemed to gain steam.

Mulder came upon the bloody knife about 40 feet away. “Bag this!” he

screamed back to whomever might be listening. His lungs felt like steel

wool, but he started to gain on the fleeing murderer. Then the fleeing

murderer almost got creamed at the alley entrance, by a glistening silver

Airstream RV.

“On…the…ground!” Mulder panted. “Do…it…now!”

The figure turned with a desperate look. He glanced either direction, then

at Mulder’s gun. Then, the killer’s eye took on a gleam of optimism.

“You’re down to four, now,” Mulder warned him. “And I have six bullets.

I guess the question you want to ask yourself, punk, is, do I feel lucky, ?”

The murderer’s shoulders slumped, and he looked confused. “What?”

“Just, just get on the freaking ground, OK, Felix?” Mulder snapped

disgustedly. “Nobody appreciates the classic any more.”

**

“It’s been more than 300 years since Alice Moody was killed,” Mulder

began. He’d asked for 20 minutes alone with the homicidal

cook/busboy/delivery man, and the selectmen had never seen fit to pop for

two-way glass for the department. “Why this long?”

Felix Longworth sat silently at the other end of the conference table, his

hand resting beside a cup of cold coffee. He was a lanky, rail-thin man

with jet-black hair who could’ve been anywhere from a rough-ridden 28 to

a dissipated 50.

“It was Asa, wasn’t it? This has been festering for years — maybe you

contemplated killing their descendants before. But when Asa left that heart

medication on the table you were bussing, it must have seemed like fate.

You took him that spiked tea — you may have been one of the few people

in town he’d have allowed inside his inner sanctum. After that, it seemed

like a mission, a holy crusade.”

Felix picked up the cup and started to take a nervous sip. Mulder slammed

his palm on the table, and the cup jumped.

“Hey,” the cook whined, mocha liquid dripping through his fingers.

Mulder came around the table and perched on the corner a foot from the

suspect. “Arlene Kimball was expecting you with her coke and sandwich.

Pete Howe had called in a delivery — to you, luckily, right? It was the only

killing that took place before the café closed, and the rest of the crew

probably didn’t think about asking where you were going.

“And Greg Kavanagh. That was probably you’re only really brilliant

move. No one would ever guess how you got past that alarm system.”

Felix forgot the mess for a second. He examined Mulder’s face with

interest, with a new fear.

“You’re just unfortunate you got stuck with the craziest bastard in the

Bureau,” Mulder snarled. Then he smiled. “I doubt I’ll ever convince any

prosecutor or jury you got into the Cavanagh house through the cat flap —

although you’re not the first one to be able to manage it. But the DNA

analysis of the blood at the zoo and on Lavinia Wright’s housedress are

pretty compelling evidence.”

Mulder didn’t mention that the blood collected at the zoo had been

declared contaminated with animal blood — a revelation that nonetheless

had seemed to encourage Mulder. The half that was human blood was

Felix’s. The DNA spattered on Lavinia Wright’s dress was pure,

unadulterated Felix.

“You got into the zoo the same way you got into the Cavanaghs, but my

guess is you can’t stay in form for more than a few minutes at a time,

right?”

Felix frowned, but remained silent. The conference room door opened.

“Felix, they screwed up on the fish sandwich — gave me a loaded Big Mac

instead,” the chief said apologetically, sliding the white paper bag across

the table.

“My luck tonight,” the busboy sighed, reaching into the bag and

withdrawing the burger. A trickle of special sauce leaked immediately

down his arm, but he launched full-on into his Mac.

“Agent Mulder, can I see you outside?” Scarborough asked. “Give us a

few moments, OK, Felix?”

“MMPH,” the killer nodded, sending sauce and lettuce shreds flying.

“You took out the napkins, right?” Mulder asked the chief as soon as the

door closed.

“Yep. Don’t suppose you’d care to tell me why.”

“Little theory,” Mulder smiled.

“All RIGHT,” Scully breathed, coming off the wall. “That is it. No more

theorizing, no more coy clue-dropping, Mulder. Spill.”

Mulder backed up a step. “You ever heard of a familiar, Chief?”

“Ah, nope.”

“The familiar is usually a cat or dog that’s been specially trained by a

witch for occult use. According to the Book of Shadows, the witch and its

familiar’s thoughts travel together.”

“O-kay,” Scarborough drawled.

“The presence of a familiar often was used to prosecute witches in Europe

and the colonies — a lot of old women were put to death simply for cat

fancying back in the day. My suspicion is that Alice Moody’s familiar was

given human form, then got stranded between species when his master

flunked her obviously flawed witch test.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Your guys search Felix’s apartment yet?”

“Yup,” the chief nodded, relieved to return to Earth. “Garbage had four

red-eyed newts. Carcasses, that is. He’d, ah, mutilated ’em — taken their

eyes out. That some kind of psychosis or something.?”

“Nah, just sorcery. My guess is Felix has been trying to reverse Alice’s

spell for the last, oh, 300 years or so. Eye of newt is a common ingredient

in potions used in conjunction with incantations. Maybe it’s what gives

him the ability to temporarily shift back into feline form. Felix had a

steady supply of newts until the developers drained the local bog. The zoo

was his last source of amphibian parts.

“I imagine the murders were the culmination of Felix’s growing

frustration. Over the decades, the centuries, he’s somehow managed to

make his way in the human world. Early on, it wasn’t too tough — we

were an agrarian society, and even the industrialization of America

wouldn’t have posed too much of a challenge. Sure, because he didn’t

appear to age, he probably had to keep moving from village to village,

town to town.

“The Information Age must have been his downfall. No personal history,

he couldn’t risk a corporate physical or a drug test — not with that half-

feline DNA you found at the zoo. Eventually, he had to lead a colorless,

faceless life in a quiet, dead-end job. I suspect that — and his natural

homing instinct — must have brought him back to Cobbler’s Knob. And

into the orbit of the descendants of the men and women who’d destroyed

his chance to live a ‘normal’ life.”

Chief Scarborough now merely blinked, weakly. “And, and you’re saying

Felix is immortal? Like a vampire or something?”

“I don’t think he’s precisely immortal, Chief,” Mulder ventured.

“Remember what the guard at the zoo told us Felix yelled when he shot

him?”

“‘Fore!” Scully recalled.

“No, ‘four.’ I don’t think Felix is immune from mortality. I think his life is

defined by feline parameters. Your friend Jack did get a bull’s-eye, and

Felix, realizing he was one step closer to mortality, cried out in dismay.”

Scully groaned. “Oh, please.”

“That was Felix’ fourth life. When Lavinia gave him the shiv tonight, he

gave up his fifth. He’s got four of his nine lives left. Speaking of

countdowns, we’ve probably given him enough time for his feline

instincts to kick in. That’s why I didn’t let him have any napkins. OK,

three, two, one…”

Mulder threw the conference room door open. Felix’ eyes popped, and his

inhumanly long sandpaper-like tongue was frozen in mid-groom. His

brown irises — narrow slits — transformed back into human form

“What’s new, pussycat?” Mulder purred.

“Shit,” Felix sighed.

**

Scully poked at the fried square on her plate. “No, Mulder.”

“C’mon,” her partner yawned, testing his coffee. “Fried mush is a New

England classic. Pour a little syrup on it.”

“Because there appears to be a cigarette butt in it. Why are we eating

breakfast in the town bar?”

Mulder leaned back, studying the stuffed egret over the Cobbler’s Tap bar,

staring cockeyed back at him. “Because after we retired their head chef,

busboy, and delivery man, I was afraid what the manager at the Colonial

Café might put in our syrup.”

“I think Chief Scarborough may recommend putting thorazine in yours’.

We’re just lucky we have all that DNA evidence, though I suspect

Longworth’s attorney will drum up enough reasonable doubt to drive a

Hummer through, especially the lack of any wounds to match up with that

DNA.” Scully shoved her greasy cornmeal brick to the side. “Let’s get on

the road — we can make Mom’s by evening if we leave now.”

Mulder dropped a ten on the burned and chipped formica and rose. “Well,

at least you gotta admit–”

“No, Mulder,” Scully stated flatly. “I don’t. You got any business, you

better take care of it now. Because I’m driving, and there will be no

unscheduled Slurpee stops.”

“Good,” Mulder said.

“Fine.”

“All right.”

Scarborough’s unit thumped over the curb behind Mulder’s rental as the

pair exited the tap, and the chief jumped out almost as the engine cut out.

“He’s gone,” the cop announced.

“Felix?”

Scarborough nodded. “Cell was empty this morning. I don’t even want to

think about how he escaped. Put out an APB. You gonna stick around?”

Mulder considered, and Scully coughed. “Ah, no — I think you can handle

it from here.”

The chief then chewed his lip and glanced off for a moment at the sun

rising over the cove. “Well, maybe we won’t have to.”

Mulder’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“We-e-ell, we’re in charge of the county’s K-9 drug unit. We’re kinda

short on real estate, and we built a kennel right beyond the cell block year

or so back. After we discovered Felix was gone, I noticed the casement

window at the end of the corridor was open. Window opens out into the

kennel.”

“Oh, God,” Mulder murmured.

“Yeah,” Scarborough sighed uncomfortably. “That’s how we’d went back

to check on Felix — the boys sent up quite a row back there.”

“How many ‘boys’?” Mulder asked slowly.

“Enough.” The chief sighed. “Gonna miss those bacon cheeseburgers.”

Children of the Damned

poster

CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED

VS13x01

Author: VS13 Producers

FEEDBACK: Yes, please.

DISTRIBUTION: This story belongs to Virtual Season 13 for two weeks. After that, it will be OK for archival at Gossamer, Ephemeral, and the like.

RATING: General audience

CATEGORY: XF, Mytharc

KEYWORDS: xf, mytharc

SPOILERS: Virtual Season Mythology

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

Summary: Mulder and Scully find more than they bargained for when they are loaned out to DEA and AFT for a raid on a quasi-military installation. Files are found. Mulder’s name is on a file — but it’s empty.

 

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“Why are you grinning?” Scully inquired, a smile forming at the corner of her own lips. Mulder, who’d been buried deeply in his own dimension for the last 75 minutes, blinked and glanced out at the solid forest to either side of the rugged “highway.”

The grin deepened.

“Ah, sorry. Guess the situation hardly warrants it, huh?”

“Don’t apologize,” his partner murmured. “I’ll take it where I can get it. But I will admit, you seem oddly content for someone riding into the untamed heart of Oregon militia territory to tangle with a no-doubt heavily-fortified cadre of arms-dealing skinheads who may or may not be plotting the next major CNN news event.”

Mulder’s smile faded somewhat. “I dunno. I guess I’m thinking about the last few months. A significant piece of American history and tradition just vanishes into the Gulf of Mexico like Atlantis into the depths. Whole Pakistani villages wiped out like Sodom and Gomorrah under Nature’s intolerant thumb. An avian nightmare of Hitchcockian proportions could well wipe out a couple million dogs, horses, and bipeds, if the mosquitoes don’t get them first. And, of course, you know…”

Scully nodded, her brow arching as she checked out their ATF escort in the rearview mirror. “The coming Apocalypse. Now I understand your sense of mirth and goodwill.”

Mulder barked in self-deprecating laughter. “No. It’s just that despite the danger, the gravity of the circumstances, this is so – human.”

Scully’s hand snaked out, discreetly squeezing Mulder’s thigh below dashboard level. Their relationship was becoming one of the worst kept secrets in the Bureau (though, curiously, it had raised few dust devils in the bureaucracy) but she saw no reason to wash the laundry before the ATF guys. This crew seemed to run on a rich blend of testosterone and adrenalin — a combination that tended to put Scully on guard and bring out the worst in Mulder’s attitude.

That so far Mulder hadn’t risen to the bait — or more accurately, waggled his own brand of verbal bait before these humorless agents — only intensified Scully’s wariness. Since the staggering events of a few months ago in Alamogordo and the even more cataclysmic revelations they had uncovered about her partner, he’d achieved a sort of Zen mellowness. Mulder was no less dedicated to his quest for the Truth, to the Job, but he now seemed to view the bureaucratic banality and infuriating intolerance around him with an amused acceptance. He was Mulder, but Mulder without the edge.

Skinner had picked up on it as well, and under the rationale of thinning Bureau resources, he’d begun peppering their arcane caseload with background checks, white-collar investigations, and homeland security errands. But the deputy director’s hopes of re-igniting Mulder’s fire with a deluge of mundane drudgery soon were dampened — Mulder had attacked the flavorless assignments with the same zeal he applied to exorcising the paranormal.

So Skinner had taken a different tack: Substituting Mulder’s bland diet with some spice. He and Scully had been loaned out to an ATF/DEA team closing in on an arms operation that had taken on a new dimension after a backwoods Northwest militia cell had traded racist anarchy for capitalism. The collection of former skinheads, bikers, and cracker malcontents recently had decided to capitalize their venture with mass production of methamphetamine, America’s rural drug of choice that was rapidly capturing an urban following. The nationwide hijacking of several shipments of anhydrous ammonia — a crop fertilizer and key active ingredient in crystal meth production — had drawn the DEA and the ATF into a turf battle that eventually had deteriorated into an unhappy marriage.

The Caucasian Republic (marketing geniuses these guys weren’t) had kept up its façade of anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, racially invective sociological ranting, and the FBI was brought in to ice the cake with a few hate crime and, if possible, terrorism counts. Mulder and Scully were part of today’s clean-up crew, assigned to stay a discreet distance behind the Boys in Kevlar.

Piece of cake, Mulder had told Skinner with merely a trace of his old irony. Scully glanced at the rearview window, half-expecting to find Fate grinning behind her partner’s headrest.

**

Memories of Ruby Ridge and Waco and the invisible aura of the media surrounded the compound, and the Boys in Kevlar ran the raid by the book. At 2 a.m. that frosty Oregon morning, the Caucasian Republic had a paramilitary skeleton crew on sentry duty. An extremely well armed skeleton crew, Scully later would recall, amused by the sociopolitical irony of redneck neo-fascists toting Russian Tokarovs. Happily, economic enterprise had somewhat dulled the cell’s resolve to go down in an explosion of libertarian violence, and the Tokarovs clattered to the dirt as feds streamed from the surrounding woods. Scully said a silent prayer of gratitude as she and Mulder squeezed past the assembly of sullen supremacist meth gunrunner/cooks and stoic agents.

 

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“I know my fucking goddamned rights!” a bald man-mountain in Vietnam-era camo shrieked at the assembled federal cadre. “I know my mother-fucking Second Amendment rights! I got permits for all this shit!”

“You got a restaurant license, too, Earl?” the DEA captain smirked. “Cause I smell something cooking.”

Scully was still in the “command center,” as one of the more machismo militiamen had called the ramshackle wood-framed barracks, poring through papers in search of indictable charges or connections up the feeding chain. Her partner had planned to check out the prefab metal building that housed the guns and the meth “kitchen,” but he’d hung out momentarily to see the show. Mulder chuckled as the head goon and the head narc continued to swap badinage somewhere between mediocre Roger Moore and poor Pierce Brosnan, and started across the scrubby compound.

“All clear?” Mulder asked a young DEA recruit at the entrance of a large block building, flashing his Bureau creds. The kid was still pumped from his role in the commando-style raid, sidearm at the ready.

“Yes, sir,” the sentry snapped. “Just steer clear of the lab ’til the hazmat folks have checked it out, OK. Fumes can eff you up something fierce.”

Mulder smiled, tossing off a gentle salute. “Roger.”

“Saw this dude once–” the kid began to recount as the agent disappeared into the building. The ATF and DEA boys had already conducted the first sweep, catching some heavily tattooed chefs in the middle of an early bird batch. Mulder’d read about cops who’d suffered severe respiratory damage during ill-conceived lab searches or evidence collections. Though his colleagues had forced open a couple of casement windows to vent the lab area, he gave it wide berth. Several cases of automatic pistols, “cleverly” concealed in Oregon apple crates, lined one wall.

The plank floor creaked as Mulder crossed toward an old military issue desk on the rear wall, tugging on latex gloves. Halfway across, he halted, then retraced his steps. Mulder heard it again, and looked down at the battered card table where the Nazi wannabes obviously guzzled a lot of Turkey, downed tons of nacho-spiced carbs, and played endless loops of Texas hold ’em. All fanaticism and no play, he mused.

The table sat atop a tattered oval braided rug that looked more at home in a one-star nursing home than in a paramilitary compound. Nuance had never been a strong point for the Treasury gang. Mulder nodded thoughtfully, moved the table aside with a grunt and a shower of Doritos. He kicked the rug into a dusty omelet, revealing a raggedly cut trapdoor that clearly could have used Bob Villa’s expertise. Scully, a small voice inside Mulder’s skull prodded. Call Scully.

He located a crowbar atop the “apple” crates and used it to pry the square out of the floorboards. As the door flung free, Mulder caught a brief flash of three warped wood steps, a dirt covered floor, and a boot print below. Just before the cellar plunged into a black hole with a loud metallic chain pull.

Backup, the warning voice chided. Get Scully. Mulder drew his weapon and the Army-issue mag light he’d brought for the benefit of the troops. He clicked it on, and the boot print was again illuminated. He heard feet scuffle back, away from the light. A single set of feet, he hoped.

“Ho-gan?” Mulder ventured down the hole in his best Werner Klemperer. He hoped whichever modern-day fascist down there was into ’60s sitcoms.

No response. He thought he heard breathing, rough and scared. Speed-dial Scully. Get the kid. Marshall the troops. Mulder dropped into the hole, gasping as his feet hit the hard cracked linoleum tile, his flashlight and gun came up immediately.

The light’s beam pierced the murky darkness that surrounded him. It was cold down here and despite his hefty attire he felt a sudden chill. A soft glow appeared ahead of him, shadows flickering across the walls catching his attention. He felt drawn to it, walking slowing at first his apprehension growing as the shadows continued to evade him. As he grew nearer he could make out human forms in the gray haze ahead, small, perhaps children. “Hey!” he yelled, breaking in to a slow jog as the sound of his voice made the ghostly images run.

“Hey, wait-we’re here to help you!” They continued to scurry away from him, the corridor around him dissolving into the grayed out images of bared and locked doors as he followed them. It reminded him of the gulags in Tunguska. “We’re not here to hurt you…” Mulder continued to plea as he pursued the little group.

Mulder had no idea how far he’d followed them when he came to the end of the dark hallway; the little voice in his head still nagging him that he shouldn’t be here alone. The scuffling sound came again; he spun around the beam of the mag indicating that the corridor turned to the right. He edged his way around the corner, gun ready in anticipation. There at the end of the light’s beam were the children again huddled together as if waiting for him. He started towards them, quickening his pace as the long silent adrenalin in his system suddenly began pumping the nearer he got to the group. This was not what he’d expected to find here. Up ahead the images of the children began to disappear until only one remained.

Mulder slowed his pursuit, lowering his gun. “Please — we…” his thoughts vanishing as his light illuminated the child. It was a young girl with dark braids and a frighteningly recognizable smile. “Samantha?” She turned from him then and headed into the darkness. Mulder had no recourse but to follow her.

Mulder’s mag was the only thing preventing him from being enveloped in total darkness. Dust danced in the murky light from the beam as he scanned his surroundings. Office space of some kind, but what it was doing in the depths of this rat hole was beyond him. He stood his ground in the doorway chilled by a feeling of déjà vu he couldn’t explain. Reaching into his pocket to pull out his radio he froze when something hard and cold made contact with the back of his neck.

“Drop the piece, man,” the voice rasped. Low, rough, but young. Twenties maybe. “Over there, hug the wall.”

“Relax, I come in peace,” Mulder followed his own beam to a incongruous bank of file cabinets. “Klaatu barada nikto, dude.”

The agent felt cold metal against his face as his host poked his shotgun into the back of his head. “Mister, if you had any idea how not funny that was…”

Mulder’s newborn panic gave over to curiosity. Despite his physical response to the famous line, the militiaman’s voice had been plaintive, tinged with pain. Mulder the profiler wasn’t surprised by his recognition of Michael Rennie’s alien catchphrase — a lot of younger militants, school shooters, sociopolitical outcasts were into sci-fi, into apocalypse; an often deadly combo of fantasy and death wish on a cosmic scale.

“How many?” the voice hardened. “C’mon, how many?”

“Thirty, maybe 40,” Mulder said. “There’s going to be a small army down here any second.”

“Let’s hope not.” Now, the gunman’s voice was disturbed and seemingly fatalistic. Mulder knew things were about to go badly if he didn’t talk him down.

“Look, my name’s Fox,” he began. The shotgun pressed deeper.

“Shut up.” Mulder blinked as he heard the rusty ratcheting of a chain and the subterranean chamber was flooded with light. The gun wavered for a second as a rough hand began to pat him down. “FBI, huh?” the voice murmured after retrieving his ID. Silence. “Mulder. Mulder…”

“Let’s go upstairs,” Mulder suggested gently. “You’re outgunned, but we can get you out alive. Maybe even cut a deal. It isn’t worth it, dying for these people.”

Mulder was whipped around, and the breath went out of him as his shoulder blades rammed against the file cabinets. The shotgun barrel found his Adam’s apple. The boy’s face was clean-shaven, as was his scalp. His eyes were crisply gray, intelligent — and anguished. “You think I give a fuck about these scumbags?” he growled. “This place, these people, are evil. I was fucked up, but now I can see. But God brought me here, to find, to find, this.”

“What?” Mulder managed. “What is this place? What’s in these files?”

“C’mon!” the boy backed up and leveled the shotgun. “I know what you came here for, you and the rest of them. You want to hide the Truth. I can’t let you do that. Everybody has to find out what you did to — ”

“To who? To you? What was done to you? Please?”

The gray eyes blazed, then the fire extinguished. “You got no idea why they brought you here, do you?”

“Meth,” Mulder stammered. “Guns. Look…”

“Sean, you gotta know. Satisfied?”

“Sean,” Mulder said firmly. “Did the government do something to you?”

“To all of us,” Sean snapped. “It’s why I hooked up with these assholes. I knew I had to come back, and when they said they were going to tell everybody the truth,” he laughed bitterly, eyes watering. “I was wrong — they could care less about the truth. It’s just hate and the almighty buck. Oh, God, man, why am I bothering? You’re with THEM.”

Mulder stepped forward, heart pounding. “Sean, you may not believe me, but I may understand what happened to you more than you think.”

“Don’t fuck with me!” The boy raged forward, seizing Mulder by the shirtfront with his free hand. He came up nose-to-nose with the agent, and was about to cut loose when his eyes suddenly widened, and his fingers uncurled. Sean backed up, the shotgun now dangling from his hand. “God.”

The way Sean uttered the single word chilled Mulder’s blood — it was as much an invocation as a exclamation. He looked at his hand as if something had possessed it, then back at Mulder. “Who are you, man? What was your name?”

“Fox. Fox Mulder.”

“Mulder,” he whispered. “Oh, God. You’re her…?”

Mulder’s heart stopped momentarily. He stared at the disaffected young militant. “Who?” he asked steadily. “Who are you talking about? Did they do something to her too?”

Sean looked away, pointed beyond Mulder with the shotgun. “It’s all in there, man. Everything.”

Mulder turned anxiously toward the file cabinets, freezing as he spotted a label at eye level. “Berube,” he whispered in disbelief, just before the stock of Sean’s shotgun connected with his skull.

END OF TEASER:

SCENE ONE:

As the dust began to settle, Skinner looked around for his wayward agent. Earl and his band of merry men had been wrapped up and hauled off by the DEA, now it was the ATF’s turn to rummage though the labs and label and pack up the merchandise safely. Through the haze and the constant hum of the agents around him Skinner could hear her voice.

“Mulder? Mulder!” Evidently Scully had had enough of sifting through paperwork and was now as intent on finding her partner as he was. Pushing his way past the DEA captain and winding his way through the corridors of crates he found her conversing frantically with a group of AFT agents. “All I want to know is if you’ve seen Agent Mulder?” The men were looking at her somewhat puzzled. Skinner watched several of them scanning the room with their eyes. “Dammit! He came in with your group. Did you see where he went?” she demanded.

Skinner approached her from behind, reaching out to touch her arm so as not to startle her; he turned her around to face him. “Agent Scully? Where’s Agent Mulder”?

The look she gave him was one of both anger and dread, telling him all he needed to know. Mulder was gone.

What had started out as a search for illegal drugs and firearms had now turned into a search for a missing person. At this point Scully didn’t know whether to be furious with her partner or fearing for his life. She’d managed to get Skinner’s permission to enlist two teams of agents to help her search the buildings. The other team had fanned out to other areas of the compound. “Agent Scully?” Crain, a young DEA agent who had offered his help was just ahead of her motioning her with his light, “There’re footprints down this way.”

She dropped her light to the floor, placing her boot along side the print on the dusty floor. “Someone with big feet,” she said, looking up at Crain. “Come on.”

The prints led them down a hall to where they found the opened trap door. Mulder, Scully thought, only Mulder would find something like this. “Do you think he went down there?” Crain asked her in disbelief.

“I don’t think it, I know it.”

Clambering down the stairs they found themselves in a dark hallway. “Right or left?” the young agent’s light flashed in both directions.

“I’ll take left,” she said, stepping past him and drawing her Sig. Crain hesitated a moment and then reluctantly headed off in the opposite direction.

It was some sort of sub-basement. The hallway she found herself in now was lined with metal doors; rusted piping ran along the ceiling above, the smell of neglect was evident. The floor here was a lighter color making it almost impossible to tell if someone had been down this hall or not. She began trying doors finding most of them locked and wishing for all the world she was five inches taller so she could see through the small wire encased windows.

A flicker of light caught her eye from further down the hall. She turned back to look for Crain but he too was now nowhere in sight. The light flickered again and as she made her way down the hall she found it coming from an open door. Flattening herself against the wall outside the door she peered around the jamb. “Mulder?” He didn’t look up when she spoke. Hunched over a file drawer she watched as he drew out several folders and sat down on the desk behind him to flip through them. “Jesus,” it was barely more than a whisper and several files slipped from his lap when he said it.

“Mulder?” Scully asked, easing herself into the room. “What are you doing down here?” He glanced up at her then, realizing her presence for the first time but saying nothing; returning his gaze to the file on his lap. She watched his hand shake as he paged through whatever he was looking at.

“Mulder, we’ve got agents searching the building for you. You just disappeared from the warehouse.”

“Yeah, I know,” he acknowledged rubbing the lump on the back of his head without looking up.

“You could have compromised your team.” He was ignoring her and she’d just about had enough of it. “What in the hell are you looking at?”

“Files.”

“Dammit Mulder, I can see they are files.” Frustrated, she approached him. “What kind of files?”

“Medical files, I think,” he looked up now, sighing a shaky sigh and handing her the file he’d been holding. She accepted it from him but not before he caught the worried look on his face. Flipping through it, it reminded her of the files they had found in West Virginia all those years ago except that these contained records of genetic testing and DNA sequencing that had been done in the early sixties, years before such things had even been heard of. Something was very out of sync here.

“The name. . . ” Mulder’s broken voice brought her back to the moment.

“What?”

“The name — on the file, read it.”

She flipped through the file and looked at the name as he climbed down off the desk to pick up the files he’d dropped. “Jeffrey Spender?” He handed her another file. “There’s more names in here you’ll recognize. Blevins for one; and there’s an Andrew Praise — Gibson’s father?” And then there’s this one which seems to be conspicuously lacking in information,” he handed her the file jacket he’d had in his hand.

She turned it around and read the name on the label. “Fox William Mulder,” she looked up to meet his eyes over the empty folder.

“The more things change, the more they remain the same,” he sneered. “I expect some of these others are children of other syndicate members, children of the damned.”

Scully set the file on the desk and picked up several more, flipping through them at random.

“These are some sort of medical files, Mulder. I’d guess records of some sort of testing, that could be what these numbers are — they appear in all the files, it could be a reference to a specific sort of test.”

“What kind of tests?”

“I don’t know, Mulder. That’s going to require a little research.” She set the files down on the desk and looked around at the mess he had already created ransacking the boxes.

“What would they be doing in this warehouse?”

The familiar uneasy feeling he’d had upstairs in the hallway came back. “We need to pack these back up and take them with us, try and break these codes to find out what these tests were. Run background checks on these names, see how many we can identify and if we can find any of them.” Scully saw him shiver. “I think a little research on this building is also in order.”

“You think it was used for something else?”

He turned away, started to put some of the files back into a box. “Yeah — maybe.”

She was afraid to ask but she still needed to know. “Mulder, how did you find these?” He didn’t answer her, shining his flashlight around the room in a blatant attempt to ignore her question. Her light illuminated his face. “How did you find these?”

Squinting into the light he couldn’t see her expression. “I ran into someone. A kid, early 20s. Did he go up the stairs? You would have run right into him.”

“Mulder, no one came up those stairs. And there’s no one down here but you.”

“Then he got out somewhere. There might be tunnels.”

“Did this kid show you these files?”

“No, not him. Someone else.”

“Who?”

He put his hand up to block the light from his eyes. “Saman — a little girl, she looked like my sister.”

“Oh, Mulder.”

“Don’t,” he demanded, hearing the resignation in her voice. “Don’t patronize me and don’t ask me to explain — we’re way past that now. It doesn’t matter HOW I found these – all that matters is that we don’t let them out of our sight. There are answers in here Scully, answers we’ve been looking for for years.”

“Agent Scully!” Crain’s voice from the doorway startled them both preventing her from responding to him. “Agent Scully? Agent Mulder?” The DEA agent seemed none too surprised when he found them both in the empty office. “A.D. Skinner wants you topside ASAP. They need your input on the drugs they’ve confiscated.”

She looked back at Mulder, still frozen in her flashlight beam. “Go, I’ll take care of this,” he said motioning to the stacks of files he emptied from the drawers around them. He looked at Crain, “You wanna give me a hand here.”

DEA LABORATORY

ARLINGTON, VA

11:45PM

The yawn caught her completely by surprise and when she glanced at her watch, she had to do a double take. “Oh my god!” She immediately noticed the smirk of the lab technician standing beside her.

“Look, this is probably past curfew,” Ron Bailey said with an understanding smile. “Why don’t we call it a night and try again tomorrow, Agent Scully. The samples are likely to tell us more after a few hours to ‘cook’ anyway.”

Scully smiled apologetically. “Thanks, Ron. I think you’re right. If you find anything in the morning — ”

“I have your office and cell phone numbers,” he supplied. “Let me put these samples in cold storage and I’ll walk you to your car.”

She graced him with an indulgent look and lifted her jacket to reveal the Sig Sauer holstered at her hip. “I’ll be fine. Thanks anyway.” Deftly avoiding yet another potential ‘care for a cup of coffee/your place or mine?’ confrontation with yet another employee of another alphabet agency, Scully made her way out to the parking lot. It had started to rain, and a cold wind was blowing across the river. Scully shivered as she dug into the pocket of her jacket and extracted her cell phone. Hitting two buttons, she waited for the pick-up. She frowned when the answering machine’s message came on.

“You’ve reached 202-555-4365. The party or parties at this number are not available to answer your call. If you’d like to leave a message, please do so at the tone . . .” She wasn’t thrilled with the mechanical voice Frohike had used for the new machine, but it served its purpose. She waited for the tone.

“Mulder, I doubt you’re in bed so you’re probably in the shower. I’m leaving DEA, I should be home in about 20 minutes. We found something, but we don’t have any answers. I’ll tell you about it when I get home. Warm up the bed for me, it’s cold out here.” She closed down the flip phone and tucked it in her pocket. Locating her car, she got in, started the engine and drove out onto the almost deserted street.

KEY BRIDGE, POTOMAC RIVER

WASHINGTON, D. C.

MIDNIGHT

Washington traffic was always something to depend on, but usually midnight wasn’t that bad. At least not bad enough to stop traffic blocks before the bridge. Scully sighed and flipped on the CD player, her mind flashing back to the raid and the discovery. There was something about that compound they’d found. Beyond the sheer implausibility that it would be hidden in a shipment of street drugs, she couldn’t help but wonder about the files Mulder had uncovered, not to mention the death by cop of one of the smugglers. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing at attention.

Traffic was moving, at least at a snails pace. “Accident,” she muttered to the empty space in the car. She stretched and let her mind wander. Hopefully, Mulder would heed her advice and go to bed. She didn’t want him staying up all night reading files. He certainly didn’t need that, and neither did she. If he tried to fight her on the issue, she’d pull out the big guns — candles and hot oil. If she had her way, his hands would be too slippery to read the files after that.

 

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She was smiling when she reached the Arlington Police officer directing traffic away from the bridge. Curious, she moved the car up and rolled down her window. “Has there been an accident, officer? I’m an FBI agent and a medical doctor. I might be of some assistance.”

She pulled out her identification and showed it to the young man. He tipped his hat in true ‘cop on the beat’ fashion. “No accident, Agent. We got a jumper. I don’t think anyone’s been injured — yet. We got a call into the Georgetown Medical Center, they’re the closest psych unit. Ambulance should be here shortly.”

“A jumper?” she repeated.

“Yeah. Guess the guy doesn’t know if you try to jump in the Potomac, you bounce,” the young cop grinned.

“Mind if I see what I can do?” she asked again.

The young man shrugged. “Knock yourself out. Maybe you can figure out what he’s screamin’ about.” He directed her to the side of the road so that her car wouldn’t block traffic.

As she walked across the bridge pavement she wished for her heavier coat. The wind was a near steady gale and the rain felt like icy little teeth, stinging her face and trickling down the back of her collar. It was in her eyes, making it difficult to see what was ahead of her. She could make out the patrol car, bubble lights still flashing, sitting crossways near the middle of the expansion. She could make out dark figures huddled near the car. She could almost hear the jumper, but the wind was snatching the words away and carrying them toward the tidal basin.

“Mulder, why aren’t you here? You’re the psychologist,” she admonished softly. But then she knew well what he would say in return. “I didn’t go into clinical for a good reason, Scully — I sucked at it.” They’d had the conversation before, many times. Still, she knew that he would be better equipped to deal with a person set on suicide than she was.

One of the huddled forms broke away and trotted toward her. “You the FBI agent?” he asked, his hand still on his shoulder mike.

She nodded. “What can you tell me?” she asked as another gust of wind threatened to knock her over.

“Got a call about 11:50, said there was a guy standing on the bridge rail, yelling at people. Said he was screaming for everyone to get off. We got over here, tried to talk to him but when anyone comes close, he runs along the rail. Slippery as shit up there, we were afraid he’d topple right over into the river. Damnedest thing.”

“What do you mean?” Scully asked, wiping wet hair from her face.

“Well, I’ve been around a couple of jumpers in my day — this is my precinct right at the end of the bridge, but I never saw one who was this loud — or obnoxious! Most of them are quiet, won’t talk to anyone. This guy thinks he’s a prophet or something. Maybe some quack who thinks bridges aren’t safe, but hell if I know why he picked tonight!”

Scully licked her lips out of habit; they were already wet with rain. “Let me get closer. Maybe I can engage him in conversation until the ambulance arrives.”

“We got a boat coming up the river, too, in case he goes in.”

“Good idea,” she agreed.

Fighting the wind, she made her way past the gathered policemen and closer to the figure standing precariously on the cement railing for the bridge. She scrubbed her eyes hard; unsure of what she they were seeing. If she wasn’t positive it was impossible, she could have sworn it was her partner standing there, waving his arms and almost wind milling off the rail. Then there was a break in the wind and she could hear his voice — “Get off of there! Get off! Get off now!”

“Oh God!” Scully gasped and hurried over to the railing. “Mulder! Mulder, get down!”

But he acted as if she wasn’t even there. He was looking straight at her, but not at her. He was looking through her as if in some trance, seeing something she couldn’t see. Her heart stopped.

“Mulder, it’s me. Come down, please,” she said in her most calm, reasonable voice that even she could hear was shaking with terror.

He just kept yelling at invisible people.

“Mulder, please. It’s cold. I want to go home. Please, get down from there,” she pleaded. No response, just continued yelling and waving of arms.

“Mulder! I need you!” she yelled as loud as she could. Her blood turned to ice when even the ace in the deck failed to get through to him. “Oh, god,” she sighed, tears and raindrops threatening her eyesight.

Carefully, she hoisted herself to the railing of the bridge. The cop had been accurate, it was ‘slippery as shit’ up there. She was several feet away from him, inching closer. “Mulder, it’s me. It’s Scully. Mulder, come back to me,” she continued to plead with him frightfully aware that he still wasn’t recognizing her. “Please, come back to me now. Mulder, you know I don’t like heights that much and this one is really bad, so snap out of it, please,” she begged.

In the back of her mind, she could hear the cops yelling at her to get down. She could make out the sounds of the ambulance siren as it pulled up to the parked police car. She could even hear the sounds of the boat engine in the river far below. But her eyes were on her partner, waiting for her chance.

Finally, he turned away from her, yelling at some part of the invisible crowd he must have previously neglected. She took that as her opportunity. She launched herself at him, grabbing him at the waist and twisting so they both fell to the deck of the bridge. His head hit the pavement with a sickening crack and he lay still beneath her.

Cheers went up all around her, but she was too busy screaming for the paramedics to take any bows. Quickly, they checked him over, placing him in a cervical collar and on a backboard before lifting him to the waiting gurney. No one questioned her as she ran behind them toward the ambulance, until one of the cops stopped the EMS attendant from closing the ambulance doors.

“We’ll need a statement, Agent,” he said quickly.

“I’ll be at the hospital. I’ll give it there.”

“You know this joker?” he asked innocently, nodding toward the unconscious man on the gurney.

She choked and coughed, then nodded. “He’s my partner.”

The doors closed, and they were on their way to Georgetown Medical Center.

GEORGETOWN MEDICAL CENTER

1:35 AM

Scully paced the small waiting room for the X-Ray department. Mulder hadn’t regained consciousness, and the ER doctor had called for film to check for possible bleeds. As she measured off the 10 by 15 foot room once again, her mind reeling. Mulder’s strange ‘disturbance,’ as she had come to call it in her own mind, had gone on at a pretty manageable level through the summer. Now, it appeared to be rearing its ugly head in a totally new and frightening way. Could the substance they found in the installation contain enough alien material to set him off? But why had it taken so long? He’d been fine for the entire day — tired from the late night raid and long trip back from the west coast, but certainly not ill and not seeing visions.

She knew his head had made contact with the bridge pavement, enough to give her heart a jump when she heard the ‘thump’. Then again, Mulder’s head was the hardest part of his body, all things considered and with an intentional pun. He’d run into enough brick walls to form Kevlar over his duramatter in self-defense. She did not think head trauma alone was keeping him from coming awake.

Just as she was about to turn and make one more stride across the room, she bumped into a taller figure. She looked up, startled by the fact that she hadn’t heard their approach, already mumbling an apology when she saw who it was and forgot to breathe for a second.

“Jason? What are you doing here?” she asked tersely, not really wanting to deal with her former classmate, now a respected neurologist; respected by everyone except, possibly, her partner. But then the implication of his presence hit her. He was a neurologist. “Was there something found in the X-Ray? Is there a bleed?” she asked, biting her lip with nervous energy.

Dr. Leonard smiled patiently. “Not unless the X-Ray department has become precognizant,” he said, his eyes twinkling with false merriment. “I came down as soon as I got the page from the ER. Dr. Manners, who was on call when he was brought in, read that I’d treated Fox and gave me a call. What is it, Dana? More of the same?”

She bristled at his implication. “No, actually, I don’t know what it is, Jason. And until we see the film, I doubt — ”

At that moment, a woman entered from the far end of the room. “Ms. Scully? Mr. Mulder is awake and asking for you,” she said with a smile.

That alone was a pleasant surprise. When Mulder had episodes in the past, he woke up tearing apart the room in an effort to escape his internal monsters. Scully nodded and quickly followed the woman, without taking notice that Leonard was hot on her heels. The scene was very different from the one that had greeted her just months before. The X-Ray tech was smiling at her partner, who was turning the charm on full blast. He was sitting on the gurney, lap covered with one of the protective aprons, feet kicking like a seven year old waiting for his mom to pick him up from school. When he turned at the sound of her footsteps, he flashed her a huge smile.

“Hey, Scully. Don’t tell me — let me guess. I tripped over my shoes. I know you’ve told me a thousand times — ”

“Mulder,” she said, more to stop his incessant chattering than to actually attempt to decide which of the million questions she wanted to ask first.

“Sheri was just telling me that my head is still intact and that there is a brain up there somewhere. But she stopped short of telling me if I have committed the ultimate offense and have to stay the night for observation. Oh.” He stopped abruptly as he saw who was entering the room behind his partner. “What’s he doing here?” Mulder asked with unconcealed contempt.

“Fox, good to see you again, and in such high spirits,” Leonard said with an oily smile.

“Mulder, can you tell me what happened tonight?” Scully asked, pointedly ignoring both her partner and her former classmate. She didn’t have time for pissing contests and she certainly wasn’t going to give them time to get into one.

“Tonight? After we got back to the office and you left for the DEA, I sorted through some more of the files. When it got to be dinnertime, I decided to go home and grab some of that left over spaghetti. I ate in the kitchen, put the plate and glass in the dishwasher and went out to the living room to watch some rugby.” His voice had been confident up to that point, and then a perplexed frown marred his features. “Then, uh, I guess I went to bed.”

“Do you remember going to bed, Mulder? Do you remember going to our room?” Scully asked, sensing that there was more to her partner’s confusion.

“I remember thinking that you would be late,” he said hesitantly. “I think I was going upstairs to read a while. I put on my pajama pants . . .” his voice trailed off. He was silent for a while and then looked her in the eye. “Scully, I went to bed, didn’t I?”

“Mulder, let’s get you settled up in a room — ”

“Why? What happened? Scully, you’re starting to scare me — ”

“Fox, there’s no reason to get upset,” Leonard said loudly, moving toward the door. “Let’s just get you settled and I’m sure we can figure all this out.”

“I am not upset,” Mulder protested angrily. “I just want to know what the hell happened to put me in the hospital!”

Leonard was calling for an orderly while Scully stepped over and took her partner’s hands.

‘Not here, just wait till we’re alone,’ she said with one look. He drew in a deep breath and nodded. That was all it took to convince him to lay back on the gurney.

ROOM 315

ONE HOUR LATER

Mulder had gone quietly, leaving Scully to ask any questions about his admission. In essence, he was there under observation, at the advice of the Arlington Police Department. When they finally had him in a private room and the orderlies and nurses had left them alone, his stern glare demanded answers.

Scully sat on the bed and took his hands in hers. “Mulder, what do you remember after you went upstairs and changed into your pajamas tonight?”

He bit his lip and stared out the darkened window. When he turned toward her he was obviously confused. “Nothing, I don’t remember anything. Did I hit my head in the bedroom? Where did you find me?”

She stared down at their joined hands. Finding some strength in his touch, she met his searching gaze. “I found you on the Key Bridge. You were standing on the railing, about to fall into the river. You were screaming at the cars that were passing by.”

He looked at her and a broad smile broke out, but dimmed when she didn’t return it. “Scully, I think I would have remembered that,” he said firmly.

“I’m not sure you were conscious at the time,” she said quietly. “You appeared to be in a trance. You wouldn’t acknowledge me in anyway. I got scared and I tackled you. That’s when you hit your head, on the pavement.”

He was shaking his head all the time she was speaking. “No, that’s impossible. Scully, I never left the house — ”

“Well, you didn’t drive, at least from what the patrolman told me earlier. Your car is still parked by the garage. You must have taken a cab or run to the bridge.”

“Run? What was I wearing?” he demanded.

“Your pajamas pants and a tee shirt,” she said, her sadness plain in her eyes. “Mulder, if this is another one of your visions — ”

He slipped his hands out of hers and leaned back against the raised head of the bed. “No. This is not one of ‘my visions’, Scully. I didn’t have a vision. I remember my visions. I have absolutely no recollection of my dreams after I went to bed tonight.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, her voice cracking. “Mulder, I know I wasn’t very supportive before but — ”

“Scully, you’re my doctor, in addition to a whole hell of a lot else in my life. This is too important to hide from you. I know those visions scared you. Hell, they scared me. But I haven’t had one — ” He stopped and looked away for a moment, then turned to meet her eyes again. “I didn’t have one tonight,” he amended. “I swear.”

“But you had one in the compound. You said you saw Samantha — ”

“I said the girl _looked_ like Sam,” he interjected quickly. “I saw a lot of children, Scully.”

“And yet we found no sign of any of them, Mulder. No foot prints, except one set that probably belonged to your friendly teenage militant who eluded capture.”

“He wasn’t one of them, Scully,” Mulder said fiercely. “He told me he was afraid we’d cover up the truth. He was protecting what was down there — those files.”

“We aren’t talking about those files right now,” she said crossly, folding her arms over her chest. “Mulder, I don’t like this. What happened tonight — I was terrified when I saw you on that bridge railing!”

He reached out and took her hand. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. But you have to know that I didn’t mean to do it. I have no memory of going out there, Scully. None. And that is not like the other times.”

“Maybe it’s a sign that you’re getting worse,” she said softly, the fear in her eyes evident in her voice.

“I don’t think so. I think something else is going on.”

There was a tap at the door that caused them to look that direction. Dr. Leonard was standing with a handful of films. “Dana, if you want to take a look — ”

“I’ll be right back,” she said, kissing Mulder lightly before following Leonard out of the room. She didn’t catch the frown on her partner’s face as he watched them leave together.

Leonard nodded toward an office behind the nurses station. Seeing her no nonsense expression, he threw the film up on the screen, hitting the button to illuminate the surface. “His X-Ray came out clean. No bleed,” he said firmly.

“Thank God,” she whispered. She closed her eyes, sent up a prayer of gratitude and then turned to her friend. “So, we can leave,” she said with a smile.

“Not so fast,” Leonard cautioned. “Dana, Fox had a very serious incident tonight. I think we might want to keep him for a day or so — maybe put him on suicide watch. I don’t like what I’m seeing, the way he’s denying everything that happened tonight.”

“Mulder is NOT suicidal, Jason! If that got back to the bureau, he wouldn’t have a job.”

“Dana, please, you have to look at this through the eyes of a doctor, not his lover.”

“I have been thinking about that,” she said, steeling her eyes at him with the implication.

“I think he was sleep walking.”

Leonard licked his lips. “Sleep walkers don’t usually find themselves on bridges, yelling at people who aren’t there,” he said gently. “Is Fox prone to sleep walking? Has he done this before?”

Scully sighed. “No. I’ve never known him to sleep walk before,” she admitted. “But I think this could be an isolated incident,” she insisted.

“Are you really willing to take that risk, Dana? He could have died tonight on that bridge,” Leonard said solemnly. “I know you would never do anything to endanger him — ”

“So what do you suggest I do, Jason? Handcuff him to the bed?” she snarled.

He smiled at her patiently. “I’m just suggesting that some medication might be in order. Look, there are a number of excellent sleep meds now, many of which are also helpful with anxiety disorders.”

“Mulder is not suffering from anxiety,” she countered.

“Just let me give you a prescription. If he’ll agree to take it I’ll let you take him home under your supervision. Then maybe you both can get some sleep tonight.”

Reluctantly, she accepted the slip of paper and followed Jason back to Mulder’s room.

They found Mulder restlessly flipping through infomercials on the television. He looked in their direction when they entered the room. “These TV hucksters have a captive audience in here, Jason. You really should see about getting some movie stations on this hospital network.” A moment of anxiety passed through him when he got no reply from either of them. Scully came over to the bed and took his hand causing his fear to jump even higher. “So, what, you found my mind has melded with that of a circus entertainer?” Scully couldn’t resist a hesitant grin.

“Your films are fine, Fox,” Leonard said abruptly stepping closer to Dana. “I’d like to keep you for the standard 24 hours but your ‘doctor’ insists she can observe you at home.”

Mulder looked from Leonard to Scully and back, “So, I can leave?”

“Yes, Mulder, but there’s one condition.” Scully let go of his hand and reached into her pocket to hand him the prescription.

“Ativan? That’s a sleeping pill, isn’t it?”

“It’s commonly prescribed for that, yes,” Jason answered. “If you’ll agree to take the medication, I’ll sign your release.”

There was almost a threatening tone to Jason’s statement but it seemed only Mulder caught it. He looked back at Scully. She said nothing but he saw the plea in her eyes. “Fine.”

“I’ll get your papers ready then. Good luck, Dana. If you need anything, just give me a call,” Leonard said, giving her shoulder a squeeze.

Leonard retreated to his office and closed the door. Picking up the phone he dialed the familiar number and was put through to his contact. “Yes, he was admitted here again. No, nothing like before; the police found him trying to jump off a bridge. Dana came in with him — I don’t know for sure. If he were any other patient I’d say he was definitely delusional to the extent of being suicidal. No, she wouldn’t let me. She’s taking him home. I prescribed some sleeping pills for him that should slow him down. I’ll get in touch with her in a few days and let you know.”

X-FILES OFFICE:

HOOVER BUILDING

1: 46PM NEXT DAY

Mulder rubbed his eyes again as he continued to scroll through the data bases, trying to match names on the files they’d confiscated with those in the archived records. He’d already come up with several all listed in very prominent positions from lawyers to doctors to several local politicians. The Ativan prescribed for him at the hospital was making the process sluggish, gumming up his thought processes not to mention making him wish he hadn’t eaten this morning.

“Mulder?” Skinner had made it all the way to the front of his desk before he’d even noticed him through his drug-induced haze. “What are you doing here?”

“Working, sir.”

Skinner took in his agent’s appearance; he looked remarkably put together despite his late night excursion. But the AD wasn’t fooled; he knew Mulder’s guise was Dana’s doing. One look in the man’s hooded eyes and he knew that was all it was, he winced.

“When I spoke with Scully last night I told her I’d approve some medical leave. Give you some time to get your head on straight.”

“My head is on straight sir, it’s the rest of the world who needs to go on medical leave,” Mulder leaned back in his chair, eyed his boss. “I’m not suicidal, despite what her doctor friend thinks, Scully knows that.”

“She plucked you off the Key Bridge last night,” Skinner’s eyes scanned the office looking for his partner. “How much more of this do you think she can take?”

“I have no recollection of what happened last night,” Mulder replied, sitting up in the chair. “How much more of this do you think I can take! Doctors can’t help me, you both know that. I’m going to have to find my own answers sir, and I think these files are a start,” he stabbed at the boxes of files.

Skinner glanced at the boxes, turned back to his agent. “What do you hope to find?”

“Those files are medical records, they were found in a building now used for a militia warehouse. I don’t think they had any idea they were there. It was just a fluke I found them but I was led to them and this Sean kid who tried to blow my head off knew what they were.” Skinner watched as Mulder worked to organize his thoughts. “I think he knew who I was or recognized me from something which is why my brains aren’t decorating the interior of that compound right now. Look, these — these people are all around my age, they all have birth dates from 1960 thru 1963. Scully’s been working on the compounds we found in the warehouse. I’ve been running some background checks on these names — which by the way is something I learned I could do without thinking,” he picked up the bottle of Ativan and tapped it on the desk. “I can’t help but think there’s a correlation.”

“Between the names and the drugs?”

“Between the names and the tests in these files and the drugs, yes.”

“I’m sorry, am I interrupting something I’m not supposed to?” Scully appeared in the doorway and made her way across the office to set a package of crackers and a can of ginger ale on Mulder’s desk. “It’ll settle your stomach,” she sympathized when he looked at her puzzled.

“I’m not pregnant, Scully.”

“No, you’re just delusional, drink it.”

Skinner looked at them both. Mulder shouldn’t be in the office but he was obviously in very good hands. “All right, but you’re on desk duty until I get some evidence that you won’t try your tight rope walking stunt again. I need your weapon.” He watched as Mulder swiped at his hip and then looked at them both.

“I don’t have it on me,” he blinked slowly. “It’s at home?”

Skinner looked to Scully for confirmation. “Yes.”

“Make sure it stays there.”

OFFICE OF THE LONE GUNMEN

They had reached a sort of compromise. While Scully had headed back to the DEA she’d dropped her loopy partner off with three hopefully capable babysitters. He had made some progress on the files they’d brought back but the location they’d been found in still had him perplexed.

“So you think you’ve been in this warehouse before?” Frohike asked setting another cup of Gunmen’s sludge in front of him.

“I told you — I don’t think it was a warehouse. There were cells in the basement. I can’t imagine what a warehouse would need cells for.” Mulder sipped at the disgusting brew. “This kid, Sean, he looked right at me like I was the Messiah. It was fucking creepy.”

“You said you think you’ve been there before?” Byers was sorting through files on the monitor in front of him.

“I don’t know, maybe. I don’t ever remember going to Oregon as a kid.” Mulder looked down into his cup. “But then there’s a lot of my childhood I don’t remember too clearly as you know.”

 

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The three of them looked at each other. Yeah, they did know. Byers continued to scroll through information on the location of the Caucasian Republic’s compound. “What were the dates on those files?”

“Early sixties, why?” Mulder got up and swayed on his way over to where his friend was sitting. Langly reached out to steady him but got his hand slapped away by his gnome of a friend. “Leave him alone, man,” Frohike hissed at him.

The county records Byers had found his way into indicated that from 1955 through 1963 the Republic’s compound had been the home of the Northwest Institute for Children’s Psychiatric Research. “Test subjects,” Mulder whispered under his breath.

“You don’t remember being there?” Byers asked quietly.

“No! No — I don’t, I — I was in a hospital in Boston after Sam was…” he trailed off, not sure what he remembered anymore. The visions of the children in the corridor filtered through his mind. Something wasn’t right. The damn Ativan was blocking his ability to put things in order. What if nothing he remembered was the truth? “Fuck!” He slammed his hand on the counter and walked away teetering badly enough the Langly finally had to put his hand out to steady his friend. “Easy man, we’ll figure this out.”

Mulder pulled away, “You need to check through those names I gave you. I want to know who they are, what they do and where they live all the way back to the day they were born. I’ve got three here within driving distance that I can talk to,” he was heading for the door but Frohike was right beside him. “You’re not driving anywhere, at least not tonight. I’m taking you home.”

DEA LABORATORY

“So, here are the latest test results, Dana,” Ron Bailey handed her the copies, still warm from the printer. “I have to admit, it’s not what I was expecting to see.”

Scully stared at the readings, frowning. “I was. Actually, I’ve seen some of this before. But this is different,” she said absently.

“Dana, I understand the synthetic corticosteroids, but the amino acids? What the hell? I’ve never seen — ”

“This is different,” Scully repeated, mumbling to herself. “This isn’t Purity Control. This is something else, something new, maybe.”

“Purity Control?” Bailey asked. “What is that? Don’t tell me the FBI has a line on a new street drug and didn’t share with your lowly federal colleagues across the river,” he said, folding his arms and leaning against his desk.

“Believe me, Ron, this is not a street drug. Chances are you won’t find samples of it anywhere, not even at the FDA,” she assured him. “Look, I really need to talk to my partner about this. Is this my copy?”

He nodded. “Say, how is he doing — your partner. I heard there was a ruckus on the Key Bridge.”

Scully met his questioning gaze with steely determination. “He’s fine,” she said firmly.

“Must be rough, when the pressure gets to someone you’re close to,” he said with concern.

“If you ever need someone to talk to — ” He reached out and caressed her forearm.

She glared at him, taking his hand off her arm. “I really have to get these results to my partner,” she said through gritted teeth. “Thank you for your help.”

MULDER AND SCULLY’S RESIDENCE

5:15 PM

The sme ll of Kung Pao chicken wafted through the foyer as she pulled off her coat and hung it on the coat tree by the door. “There better be some sizzling rice soup to go with that, Mulder, or I won’t be held responsible,” she called as she made her way into the kitchen. Take out boxes were lined up on the counter top and her partner was scooping contents onto two plates.

“Soup container on the left there,” he directed. “And we’re splitting the egg roll. I can’t run on this shit, I’m having enough trouble just walking,” he groused.

“Then maybe you should have considered resting, as you were told to do,” she shot back, picking up the plates and carrying them into the dining room. A glass of iced tea and one of ice water, as well as flatware, were already on the table. “So, what did you discover at the boys?”

“That warehouse wasn’t always a warehouse, Scully,” Mulder said as he cut the egg roll with a knife, not quite equally. She snagged the smaller half and put it on the edge of her plate.

“So what was it before it was a warehouse? And don’t make me guess or I won’t tell you what I found out,” she warned.

“A Children’s Psychiatric Research facility,” he said after a very short pause.

“Psychiatric?” she repeated.

“Yeah. But the Research part is what perked up my ears. And something else. Scully, I think I was there.”

She frowned. “We were both there.”

“No, not a few days ago. Several years ago. When I was a kid.”

“You never told me — ”

“I’m not entirely sure. I just have this feeling. Maybe I wasn’t even physically there, maybe it was something I saw or read. Scully, I don’t remember a lot of what happened when Samantha was abducted, but I also don’t remember a lot of my childhood.”

“Mulder, no one remembers their childhood in detail,” she admonished. “Mom is always mentioning things I did that I don’t remember doing.”

“Scully, I could understand not remembering the time I put Tabasco on the cat’s behind. I’m talking about being in a hospital for weeks, maybe months. I don’t remember it, but I felt like I knew that place. And the feeling has only gotten stronger since we were there.”

“You think you were there, but you don’t know when?” she asked, concern marring her features.

“Maybe. I don’t know. But I do think there’s a connection between those files and that research.”

“What kind of research were they doing?” she asked.

“The guys are tracking that down. On the surface it looks legit — schizophrenia, even some work with autism.”

“Mulder, you aren’t schizophrenic, and you definitely aren’t autistic,” she pointed out.

“Well, I certainly don’t think so, but our cat might have held a differing opinion,” he shot back with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

She chewed a piece of chicken, thinking.

“So, what was your discovery, Scully? I told you mine, now tell me yours.”

“The substance is close to, but not exactly like the compounds found in Purity Control.”

He put his forkful of food back on the plate and stared at her. “You’re sure?”

She shrugged. “Our samples of Purity Control have always disappeared. But I’ve seen it a couple of times now, Mulder. And it always made an impression.”

“So the research could have been — ”

“Mulder, don’t jump to too many conclusions here. Yes, it seems like more than just a coincidence that in a warehouse that used to be a research facility we found files of children born around the same time you were and we also found a shipment of a substance that appears to be similar to Purity Control. But what does that tell us? Why were they moving that shipment? It was found in with common street drugs — cocaine and ecstasy. What did they intend to do with it?”

“I don’t know, Scully. I don’t think the consortium is going into competition with the Columbians, if that’s what you think I’m thinking,” he said as he pushed away from the table.

“Mulder, you haven’t finished your dinner,” she chided.

“Yeah, well, maybe we should alert the FDA that Ativan makes a great diet pill. I’m not hungry,” he said as he headed up the stairs toward the office.

Sighing, she followed him to the bottom of the stairs. “Mulder, what are you going to do up there?” she called after him.

“Maybe I can find out more about those kids, Scully. Hell, if they’re my age, they really aren’t kids anymore,” he amended. “And I’m hoping Frohike will have dug up something on that research facility.”

“Have you taken your nighttime dose yet? You really need to get some rest tonight.”

“I will in a little while. It’s not even 8 o’clock. Even my mom never made me go to bed before 8.”

“Yeah, and look where that got the cat,” she shot back, but let him go. She’d give him a couple of hours and then make him take the pills. Even if he didn’t think he needed the rest, she had every intention of sleeping until morning.

3:40 AM

She wasn’t sure if it was the howl of the wind or the emptiness of their bed that woke her up but she was definitely alone. She’d practically had to force him to take the sleeping pills earlier and they were strong enough to have knocked him out for most of the night.

Yet here it was, 3:40 A.M. and he’d not only woken but somehow managed to get out of bed without waking her. She rolled out from under the covers and grabbed her robe. The house was dark. Worry started to etch its way into her mind when she found the second floor empty.

A quick sweep of the first floor and her Mulder radar was in full-blown alert mode. The Nike’s he kept by the back door were gone. He was not in the house.

 

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It took her less than five minutes to throw on enough clothes for the weather. She snagged the keys on the way out and headed for Georgetown University. The gray day had turned into another nasty night. The brisk wind and cold rain pelted her as she jogged the few blocks to the track. When she turned into the field she could hear him even above the weather.

“Get off! You’ve got to get off!”

The sound of banging feet echoed above her as she passed under the bleachers. He was still screaming. “It’s not safe! Get off the bridge! Get off! Get off!” She watched him run the length of the bleachers and then turn and come back towards her. He was still in his pajama bottoms and a thin tee shirt. As he got closer to her she could see he was soaked to the skin, his hair plastered to his head. She headed up the stairs to intercept him.

“Mulder!”

“Get off the bridge!” he waived at her. “You have to get of the bridge!”

“Mulder! It’s me, Scully!”

He grabbed her shoulders and started to shake her. “Damnit, you have to get off this bridge! Don’t you understand?”

She pawed at his arms. “Mulder it’s me, you’re dreaming!” She continued to try and wrestle herself away from him. “Mulder! Wake up!” He was looking right at her but once again she knew he wasn’t seeing her at all. They staggered in an arm lock, “You have to get off this bridge!”

He pushed at her and she almost went backwards over the riser behind her. “Mulder stop! Stop it!” Finally prying her right arm free she let him have it — a wicked slap to his left cheek that echoed in the park around them. He started to fall away from her, backwards over the riser. She grabbed his arm but not before his weight sent them both down in a tangled heap on the step below. They sat there for a moment panting heavily, trying to access the damage. Mulder’s legs were draped over the riser above them, the rest of him crumpled between that and the one below. Scully had ended up in his lap.

She rolled off him slowly and sat down on the riser. It probably hadn’t been the best solution but her actions had brought him back to her. “Are you okay?” He didn’t move, instead tilting his head back on the riser behind him, the rain pelted his face. “Mulder?”

“I’m just trying to figure out what doesn’t hurt,” he tilted his head back and met her eyes. “I think you should just leave me here. Maybe I’ll wash away with the rain.”

She reached out to touch his pink cheek. “Please don’t talk like that.” She watched his eyelids grow heavy. “We have to find an answer to this Mulder, it can’t go on anymore.”

The tone in her voice broke no argument and besides, he was too loopy to even try and put together a defense. She began to pry his long legs up over the riser in an effort to get him moving. “Come on, let’s get you home before you doze off right here.” She tried to tug on his arm but he made no attempt to get up. The Ativan was still in his system despite his middle of the night adventures.

The jog that had taken her ten minutes before turned into a thirty-minute walk back in the pouring rain with Mulder leaning heavily against her. He seemed to have survived the fall but he was now pretty much dead on his feet from the medication. She knew he’d never make it up the stairs once she’d gotten him home. They staggered together into the living room. Steering him over to the couch he dropped onto it without much effort from her, wet clothes and all. “We don’t have any sleeping bags handy but I think I’ve got something else we can use,” she said, watching him shiver in the dark.

A short time later she’d managed to get them both undressed and wrapped in the down comforter from the guest room. Mulder had some nasty bruises and his cheek was still pink from the right she’d given him. It was a testament to the effect of the drugs that he didn’t respond to her sleeping bag tease. Having Mulder drugged to the gills was not the way she wanted them to spend the rest of their lives. They needed to have a serious talk in the morning.

6:26 PM NEXT DAY

The conversation she’d wanted to have in the morning never materialized. He’d still been pretty groggy when she’d slid out from their down cocoon to head off to the lab. She’d instructed him to stay home, take some Advil if he was hurting and to make sure he took the Ativan. He mumbled some ‘Yes, dear’ in response and had gone back to sleep She now found him in the study in front of his computer, the floor littered with printed sheets. From the doorway she watched as he ground his eyes under his glasses with his fingers, not even knowing she was there. Finally she knocked lightly on the door jam, “Maybe you should have your eyes examined.”

“Are you telling me that from a medical standpoint,” his eyes coming up to meet hers. “Or are you trying to tell me I’m seeing things?” He deadpanned, his voice still scratchy from the night before.

She smiled at his bitter humor and walked into the room. “You’ve been busy today. I thought we agreed you were going to take it easy.”

“Yeah, well that was only until you left.” He bent down to begin scooping up some of the sheets strewn about the floor wincing as he stood up. “The guys have been helping me trace some of the names we found in those medical files,” he put a small stack of papers on the corner of the desk. “I’ve identified ten persons whose bodies were recovered at Ruskin Dam.” He bent over and picked up another set of papers, “And these fourteen bodies were recovered at El Rico.” When he went to put them on the desk with the others Scully intercepted them and began looking through them. He pulled his glasses off then tossed them down. “These people are being drawn to these sites for a reason.”

 

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At least he was being honest with her. “I thought we had established it was the chips that drew those people,” she passed a weary hand across the back of her neck.

“I don’t know. What if there’s another way to tag people, genetically? I think we’ve established that different research programs were going on. Old Smokie told me several years ago that he and his cohorts had given up their children to the aliens as a guarantee while they worked on this project. What if they didn’t give them up to the aliens at all? What if their children WERE the project?”

It wasn’t as outlandish as it sounded. In fact it sounded a hell of a lot more believable than the aliens whisking off with all the kings children. It was good to see him on the hunt but she worried that all this would set him off again. “Have you taken your medication?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest if only to let him know she was not pleased with his behavior. He didn’t answer her. “Mulder, stop acting like a child.”

He didn’t take the bait, “I was a child, Scully. I’ve been in that building before, I’m sure of it now. All those locked rooms you couldn’t gain access to — were where they put us.”

Scully stared at him. “What?”

“After Samantha disappeared, hell, before Samantha. I think we were both there. I’m also beginning to think she didn’t disappear from our home as I’ve always believed,” he turned away from her, walked over to the window and then turned back to face her rubbing his stubbled chin. “I think I disappeared from that facility. All this shit I’ve believed all these years about Sam being abducted was just some cover story they plugged into my head,” he finished by whacking himself on the side of the head.

As if the incidents the previous night or on the Key Bridge hadn’t been enough, now he was beginning to misjudge his actions as a child. Granted there had never been any proof of what he’d always claimed had happened to his sister but now he was coming up with some other just as outlandish story. She reached across the desk and picked up his bottle of medication, uncapped it and tapped a capsule into her palm as she walked around the desk to face him. “What are you saying?”

“The timing fits Scully, we were all test subjects.”

The timing fit all right. He’d been a child who’d experienced a traumatic event at the time. The question was, why was it all coming back to him now? “Mulder please take this,” she extended her hand with the capsule in it. “You promised Jason at the hospital . . .”

Her comment came to an abrupt halt when he slapped her hand away. He bristled at the mention of her friend’s name. “I’m not taking that shit, Scully.” Crossing the room he picked up the opened bottle and pitched it across the room. It ricocheted off the door and out into the hall, the pills cascading about like the sparklers of fireworks.

“Dammit, Mulder!”

“I didn’t promise you. You wouldn’t have found me screaming my lungs out at GSU last night if they were helping me Scully.” She watched him stagger a little and then lean his ass on the desk. “It just fogs up my head and I can’t think. Christ, I can hardly keep my eyes open!”

He watched as her eyes filled with tears. “You need help, Mulder. We can’t live like this much longer.”

Wanting badly to comfort her but wanting her to understand him more he turned away. “The only help I need is yours,” he turned back to her then. “I need you to help me with this,” he picked up a set of papers from the desk. “You know we found implants in some of the victims at Ruskin Dam, you were at Ruskin Dam, Scully, and you never could tell me why. But most of the victims didn’t have them and neither did the bodies from El Rico. Something else drew them there. And if I was a part of this project then why wasn’t I drawn there to perish with everyone else? There are others out there. Still living their lives in ignorant bliss of what was done to them. Those are the people we have to find.” He froze for a moment as if something had suddenly dawned on him but he said nothing further.

They stood there in what for all intents and purposes was a stand off. Scully had pretty much reached the end of her rope. These episodes had been going on in one form or another since last year’s encounter with that artifact. Whether Mulder would admit it or not, it was beginning to affect his ability to do his job and it was certainly trying on his health.

He was right in that fact the medication only hindered his performance and it certainly hadn’t prevented him from ending up at Georgetown University’s track. She also knew he wouldn’t admit how much this was eating at him from the inside. She was certain he was just as frightened by his actions as she was.

She walked past him, stooped down to pick up the empty pill bottle and started to scoop up the capsules. She felt him beside her, his hand reaching out to covers hers. “Drugging me into a stupor is not going to help us understand what’s happening to me Scully.” She looked up to find his eyes as wet as her own. “I thought we already agreed on that.”

“You almost got yourself killed the other night, Mulder. What am I supposed to do?”

“What you’ve always done since the day you were assigned to the X-Files,” he used his other hand to caress the hair from her face. “Use your science. Find the answers. There’s got to be something in those medical files or the drugs we found we’re overlooking or haven’t found yet. Let me do the rest. I promise you, I won’t get myself killed in the process.”

He tried a smile but she only bit her lip in return.

OFFICE OF EDWARD J. PARKMAN

ATTORNEY AT LAW

PHILADELPHIA, PA

Scully had headed off for the DEA again that morning. She hadn’t bothered to ask him what his plans were for the day, it was as if she knew her concern was a lost cause. He’d let her leave, made himself look somewhat respectable and headed off with the three files of persons he’d identified in the local area.

“Fox Mulder to see Mr. Parkman,” Mulder flashed his badge at the matronly legal assistant manning the front desk. He watched as the woman peered over her glasses and proceeded to rake him from the top of his head to his groin, a pleasant smile curling her much too deep pink lips.

“Just one moment,” she purred, meeting his eyes. “I’ll let him know you’re here.” Five minutes later he was escorted into the man’s office in much the same manner as a lioness showing off her kill.

The image that flashed in his mind, though, was not of the over fifty ‘femme fatale’, but his own diminutive partner and what she would do to him when she figured out where he was. Did it count as a ‘ditch’ when he was simply following up leads that she knew about? A small voice in the back of his head said ‘yes’. Scully, stalking him like a lioness and he an injured gazelle, came close to causing him to break into a cold sweat. He was grateful when the legal assistant returned and rescued him from his own vivid imagination by ushering him into the attorney’s office.

Parkman was two year’s his senior with salt and pepper hair, an Armani suit and designer eyeglasses. He got up to offer Mulder his hand when he entered the office. “Mr. Mulder is it? What can I do for the F.B.I.?”

“Can you verify any of the information in this file?” he said handing Parkman the yellowed file with the Edward John Parkman printed on the label.

Parkman scanned through the documents and looked up somewhat puzzled. “I’m not sure I know what I’m supposed to be looking at. Are you suggesting these records are mine?”

“Your name is Edward John Parkman isn’t it? Your father worked for the State Department back in the 1950’s. Do you remember spending any time at this facility as a child?”

Parkman was clearly upset with the implication of what he was looking at. “Are you asking if I was institutionalized as a child, Agent Mulder? Because if you are, there could be serious ramifications to that suggestion you’d probably rather not pursue.”

Mulder winced. “Actually, although I have no exact memory of it, I believe I was ‘institutionalized’ there as a child. Since your name was also found in the files of that facility I was hoping you could provide some information on what you remember.”

“Let me see if I understand this correctly. You believe you were a patient at this facility at one time only you don’t remember. Therefore, you’re trying to find other patients to help you remember?”

Mulder winced again. “In a nutshell, yeah, I guess that’s it.”

“Well then, I have a suggestion,” Parkman handed the file back to Mulder. “I suggest you get yourself institutionalized again. I’m sorry I can’t help you, I was just on my way out to an appointment.” Parkman began to gather up his things, giving the agent one last look of dismissal.

“Thanks for your help,” Mulder added sarcastically, picking up the file on his way out the door.

His next stop was a packaging company just outside of Reading, Pennsylvania. He’d stopped for more coffee. Scully was going to kill him when she found out he’d taken off on her. He’d given up this tactic long ago and it ate at him now to know he’d pulled this stunt. But on the other hand, this is what he meant when he’d told her to let him do the rest. This is the way they’d worked for years, trusting each other to find the keys to an investigation in the best way they knew how., Scully using her science and he – using whatever means was necessary.

Vince DeLiberto was every part his Italian heritage. He’d been on his way out the door when his secretary had caught him. ‘Vinny’ as the young girl had corrected Mulder now paced the office yelling into his cell phone. “Yeah, I told ya, I’m on the way. We’ll be there in time, I promise. Okay, I’m leavin here in,” he looked over at Mulder with an annoyed look.

“Five minute, tops, ya got it?” He put the phone back in his breast pocket, “You’re a Fed?”

Mulder nodded, putting his hands up in surrender.

“Ya got five minutes.”

Vinny hadn’t been kidding; Mulder had hardly gotten two words out before the man was heading out the door with Mulder in tow as he flipped through the file with VINCENT ANTONIO DELIBERTO printed on it. “No way man, nobody ever put me in no nut house.” He’d handed the file back to Mulder and slammed himself into his black Caddy, starting the engine and pulling away leaving Mulder to turn away from the spray of gravel. He now found himself in the drive of one Renee Markham of Allentown, Pennsylvania. From the information in the file she was born in 1963 in Oxford, England. He glanced up at the house and shuddered at the chill that passed through him. She was now a Professor of English Literature.

The woman that opened the door was slim with dark hair and no trace of an English accent.

He flipped his badge, “Ms. Markham? My name is Fox Mulder,” he continued when she nodded. “I’m with the F.B.I., I was wondering if I could speak with you about an investigation I’m currently working on?”

The woman hesitated a moment, “I’m sorry, what type of investigation? I really don’t have much time.”

He held up the file for her to see, looking her straight in the eye. “It has to do with some research on children that you may have been a part of as a chil –”

He watched her had go up to cover her mouth, “Oh my God, I think I know you,” she opened the storm door with her other hand and let him in.

STATE ROUTE 611

JUST OUTSIDE ALLENTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

It was raining again, bringing the colors of the trees along his route to certain brilliance against the darkness of their wet bark. He had a sudden image of fall on the vineyard; of running in leaves with his sister and the scent in the air as neighbors burned the heaping piles. These were all true memories, weren’t they? It was almost unfathomable not to be able to tell the truth from the lies. Was it too much to ask to have something real to hold on to?

Renee Markham, mild-mannered English professor at Muhlenberg College’s words kept playing over in his head. “I keep dreaming that I have to be somewhere, but I can’t make out where it is; it’s been going on for weeks.” Funny thing was, his other two contacts today had places to go, things to do also. Renee however had been the only one who had vivid memories of her treatments as a child. When she said she was sure she’d remembered something about him, his beautiful eyes, it had sent a chill right though him — that same chilling déjà vu that had wracked him in the warehouse. He hadn’t been in Oregon as a child; he was sure of it, or as sure as he was that his sister had been abducted from their living room right before his eyes.

It was almost dark, Scully would probably be home before he was and would probably have the big guns out. He hadn’t taken any of the Ativan since yesterday but his head still felt groggy. He shouldn’t be behind the wheel of this car; the methodical rhythm of the wipers was doing a good job of putting him to sleep. He reached down to turn the AC on and the classic rock station up sending ‘Smoke on the Water’ blasting through the car’s interior.

Getting caught up in the lyrics, he pounded out the beat on the steering wheel; a move he knew annoyed Scully to no end. Almost as if on cue his cell phone rang. Mulder glanced down at his watch, it was already after 6.

“Mulder,” her voice was ‘Federal Prosecutor,’ just looking for any excuse to rip him a new one.

“Guilty.”

“Mulder, where are you?”

“You home already? This nine to five routine is getting scary, Scully.” he said, reaching over to turn down the radio to a more acceptable level.

“Okay, I won’t even ask what you mean by that. You still haven’t answered me, where are you?”

Mulder glanced around his now dark surroundings. The only light now coming from the taillights of the car ahead of him, he flipped on the headlights. “I’m — I’m tailing Renee Markham…”

There was silence on the other end of the line. “Who is Renee Markham?” she finally asked with some trepidation.

“One of our kids from the files.”

He heard her blow a heavy breath of exasperation through the phone. “How many did you interview?”

“Two who thought I had a few screws loose, but Renee Markham was a little frightening.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s the only one I spoke to who remembers anything. She knew me, or said she remembered me from her therapy.”

“Mulder, you both would have been children, how could she remember seeing you?”

“Look, she said she did, she remembered my eyes. I believe her, don’t ask me why.”

The thought that someone would remember her partner’s eyes was not so outlandish after all she thought to herself but by his own admission, he’d never been to Oregon for any kind of treatments. “Why are you following her?”

“A hunch — you remember when I used to have those? I don’t know, just a feeling that something’s up. Everyone seemed to be in a big hurry to be somewhere today . . .” he paused.

He would never stop worrying about her; she’d long ago accepted that fact. “You still haven’t answered me, Mulder. Where are you?”

Mulder slowed the car, “I’m — hang on a second, she’s making a turn to the left. We’re on six-eleven, north.”

“Where?” Mulder’s voice was fading.

“PA. Six-eleven, north.”

“You’re in Pennsylvania? Jesus, Mulder.”

“I’m okay, I’ve had a gallon of coffee today and no pills. Did you find anything else?”

“Mulder, I decided to do a little more checking. Given that they could be forged, I still went back and looked at your medical records, all of them. There is no trace of this substance, or anything resembling Purity Control in your blood work, even going back to your admission to Oxford. Mulder, I don’t think you were at that facility. At least I don’t think you received any treatments, if that’s what they were doing with this stuff. Remember the kids who had been treated by Dr. Larson in Wisconsin? They all had traces of the substance in their bloodstream. It would have shown up in you sometime back when you were a kid.”

Mulder listened attentively; pieces of this puzzle were beginning to fall into place. He heard the beep of his phone indicating he had another call; his hotline to the Gunmen.

“Hang on a minute Scully, the guys must have something,” he interrupted glancing at the phone to transfer to the other line. “This better be good, I just cut off at sexy red head.”

“Be still my heart,” Frohike replied. “Hey, where are you? We’ve been monitoring a bunch of chatter on cell lines about something going on in PA. When we traced the lines some of them come up with items on your list.”

“Wait a minute, you mean names on the list. You’re monitoring their calls?”

“Hey, you said find out everything we could — right?”

“Yeah, yeah, so what are you hearing?”

“We’re not sure, something about a bridge near Milford, PA. Everybody seems to be heading there.”

Mulder watched Renee’s car come to a stop and then make a right onto Route 32. As he approached the stop sign his headlights illuminated the sign. Milford 3 miles, “Jesus Christ.”

“Mulder?”

“Gotta go man,” he said, cutting off Frohike and reconnecting himself with Scully. “Hey, sorry look, something’s come up.”

“Dammit Mulder, don’t do that. What do you mean something’s come up?” He wasn’t making any sense to her and now she had nothing but silence again on the line. “Mulder? What’s going on?”

The small town of Milford seemed to suddenly be the new hot spot. As Mulder followed Renee’s car into town, Route 32 was lined with abandoned cars. People were making their way on down toward the center of town. He could feel the adrenaline rising, that sense of deja vu as he looked into the faces of people he passed. He was supposed to be here too, he could feel it.

“Mulder, answer me. What’s going on?”

He continued to follow Renee until she too pulled off onto a grassy area along the river, the bridge across the Delaware in full view, “God.” That single word sent him into panic mode, “Scully? I gotta go — don’t ask, just listen to me. I know why I’m here, I know what I’ve been screaming about for the last few nights — they’re all here — the names in those files, this is what it’s all about — why I have this gift.” He got out of the car and started to jog after Renee. “It’s a gift Scully, I know that now. These people have all been drawn here by something or for something and I don’t think it’s good — ”

“But Mulder, you weren’t a part of this . . .”

“I’m still connected to it somehow Scully, somehow I’ve known. Remember Delta Glen, Kazakhstan, Skyland Mountain, the dam? You said you believed in me? Then believe in me now, something’s going to happen here — and Scully? Always believe that I love you,” he pocketed the phone without turning if off.

“Mulder!” Scully screamed into the phone. She could tell he was running, heard him asking, no demanding from someone to know why they were there, heard him yelling, asking anyone who would listen why they were all there. She thought back on what they’d talked about, on what he’d said and in frustration she picked up the house phone and called the Gunmen, she didn’t wait for their usual greeting. “Where did you send Mulder?”

“Whoa what?”

“Dammit Frohike, where was he going when you called him! What did you tell him?” She had no patience for this, not anymore.

“I don’t know where he was going but we told him about some cell phone traffic, names on your list, something going down on a bridge near Milford, PA.”

Her memories of Ruskin Dam came back in fury, “Oh god, no.”

MILFORD BRIDGE

7:19PM

“Why are you here?” Mulder ran from face to face, demanding an answer even he didn’t know for sure. He found Renee in the crowd on the bridge, grabbing her and pulling her along with him. “You have to get off here — you all have to get off this bridge!” His voice was already growing hoarse.

 

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“We’re supposed to meet here you asshole!” Vinny’s rough voice rang out over the crowd.

Mulder spun around to face him. “You’re supposed to meet here to die! The files – all your names are in those files — they want you all dead to destroy the evidence! Get off the damn bridge!”

A couple of big men grabbed him by the shoulders, pushed him up against the steel trusses of the bridge. “You’re here too — what are you doing here if you know you’re gonna die?”

Mulder struggled against the two of them. “I’m here because I know what’s going to happen do you! Tell me why you came here? Ask yourself! If you don’t know or can’t explain it, then get off the damn bridge!”

The murmur started in the group around them and began to spread through the crowd. Nobody knew why they were there. Mulder pulled away from the two men when their grip on him began to relax. “Please, listen to me, just get off the bridge.” He grabbed Renee’s hand and started to lead her back in the direction they had come.

“Hey! Look at that light up river!” It looked like a star at first, maybe Venus but through Mulder’s trained eye he could make out the slight shaking, it was a chopper and it was heading right for them. “Run!” he yelled, pulling Renee with him as he made for the end of the bridge. He could hear screaming behind him but he didn’t dare look back, he couldn’t save them all, he knew that. In an instant the entire bridge lit up in a ball of fire, chunks of concrete and steel erupting around them. The flames sucked the oxygen from the air making it hard to breathe, he ran.

It had taken them thirty minutes by air. Skinner had commissioned the chopper at a moment’s notice from her urgent phone call. Scully had her phone pressed to her ear monitoring the events on the bridge through Mulder’s pocketed cell. As they rounded the bend in the river they could see the long line of cars leading to the bridge in the distance. “Gonna be hard to find a place to set this thing down,” the pilot advised them.

“Just get as close as you can,” Skinner answered back just as the sky ahead of them lit up with the huge explosion.

“Mulder! Oh God, no!”

She was fighting the door before the chopper pilot was able to set the bird down in a parking lot almost a half-mile from the bridge. Skinner was already demanding fire and EMS assistance. He had a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Scully, wait!”

The A.D.’s call went unheard as she bolted from the rear seat and ran up the road towards the bridge. He took off after her. People in different states of disarray were milling back towards them. Skinner could hear Scully ahead of him frantically calling her partner’s name.

A block or so further up the road she stopped running, as he got closer he could see her standing in the road, looking at a disheveled figure propped against the side of a blue car.

Even from this distance the older man could see it was Mulder.

The sight of her partner took her breath away. He was leaning against a car, his coat covered with dust, and there was a tear in the right knee of his slacks where he must have fallen on it. Blood trickled from his hairline. A woman with dark hair, about his age was standing next to him, Renee she figured. His eyes met hers and he straightened up. She wanted to run, throw her arms around him and hug him to death but right now despite his welcome sight she was furious. He knew it, too, standing his ground, waiting for her to come to a decision.

As she closed the distance between them he could see she was shaking. Renee stepped away from him, giving his hand a light squeeze before disappearing into the crowd around them. He took a couple shaky steps towards his partner. “I’m sorry,” was all he could think to say, reaching for her when they were finally face to face. “I never want to say goodbye to you like that again, believe me.”

She came and he pulled her into a fierce embrace. “I do believe you Mulder, I do believe you love me,” she whispered into his shoulder.

 

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Skinner found them sometime later, sitting on a bench outside a small coffee shop not far from the bridge, warming their hands on steaming cups of brew. Mulder still looked tattered; he had a bandage pasted just above his forehead. “They’re going to want a statement from you,” he nodded towards Mulder. “They’re probably going to want to know how you knew what was going to happen.”

“Yeah, I figured that,” Mulder replied, glancing down the street, reaching up to scratch at the bandage. “Do I tell them about my precognitive delusions?”

Skinner winced, “Probably not.” He looked back up the street to the collection of emergency vehicles parked at the intersection.

“How many?”

“What?”

“Do they have a body count yet?”

“Three — local authorities estimated there were probably sixty to seventy people on that bridge with you. They found three bodies in the rubble.” Skinner stepped closer, putting his hand on the agent’s shoulder. “You saved a lot of people, Mulder.”

Never one to accept praise, Mulder turned to his partner again. “Nobody should have died here, sir.”

The high-powered binoculars were shaking in his hands. Or maybe it was just his hands that were shaking. He’d watched the whole event go down from just up river.

“Bring us closer, Lieutenant,” he snapped at the hapless chopper pilot.

“Sir, that would take us within visual range,” the younger man answered with some noticeable trepidation.

“Fuck!” Charlie spit out. “I can’t fucking believe this!”

“Sir, the charges blew, all systems — ”

“Screw the damned systems! They all got off the bridge! I want to know who that was that got them off the bridge!” the now enraged man shouted at the co-pilot. “Get me as close as you can, or I’ll personally have you both up on insubordination, do you hear me?”

“Sir, yes sir,” came the answer in two disgruntled voices. They banked the helicopter and hovered low to the ground, then circled around to use a stand of trees to hide their position. Finally Charlie had a good view of the bridge or what was left of it. He saw a few bodies, too few. Police vehicles were arriving and then he saw her. A red-haired woman walking, no storming toward a man leaning casually on a car, a dark-haired woman beside him.

“Oh, this should be interesting,” Charlie muttered. He watched closely, adjusting the binocs to give him better detail. It was Dana all right, what the hell was she doing here? She was headed right for the man leaning on the car, and from his attire, the same guy they’d seen on the bridge, Mulder. “I should have known,” he murmured to no one in particular.

Charlie swallowed bitter tears as he squared his jaw. “Dana, you and that partner of yours has become a bigger problem than I thought. You made your bed. I’d hoped you’d come to your senses, but you just can’t leave it alone. You have that stupid stubborn streak, just like Bill. And we all know what happened to him.”

The pilot and the co-pilot exchanged shrugs. “Sir, do you want to put down? There’s a clearing — ”

“No, Lieutenant. Head back to base. There are contingency plans to make.”

 

Lactrodectus

Title: Lactrodectus

Author: Vickie Moseley

Summary: Written for VS 13 Halloween Special

Event. Scully goes trick or treating with Tara and

the kids, but was it wise to leave Mulder alone for

the night?

Category: V, A, MT

Rating: One curse, the rest is pretty harmless

Disclaimer: I’m not profiting off this work of

fiction, so back of lawyer dudes! No copyright

infringement intended.

Archive: VS 13 exclusive for two weeks from

posting. After that, yes

Author’s notes: I’ve been dying to do this one for a

long time and finally it fell into place. Hope

everyone takes it in the ‘spirit’ it’s given.

Feedback: vickiemoseley1978@yahoo.com

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Latrodectus

by Vickie Moseley

Mulder and Scully’s residence

Washington, DC

October 31, 2005, 5:15 pm

Two feet were visible from under the wooden back

porch steps of 3506 N Street NW. Two large feet

clad in equally large boots. The boots wiggled and

shifted as their owner attempted to hammer the

support into the top step. When a loud yelp was

heard from under the stairs, Dana Scully got up

from her perch on the step and walked into the

house in search of the first aid kit.

“Maybe I should call Tara and tell her I can’t make

it,” Scully called over her shoulder as she heard her

partner and impromptu carpenter enter the house.

“That’s ridiculous, Scully. You promised Tara

you’d help her take the kids trick or treating around

your Mom’s neighborhood. Why would you back

out now?” Mulder asked, around his index finger

that was stuck in his mouth. “Bandaid,” he added

and withdrew the injured digit to show her the

damage.

“I just . . . well, I don’t like leaving you alone, if you

know the truth of the matter,” she said reluctantly as

she fastened the fabric strip to his slightly mangled

extremity.

“You think I’m going to invite a bunch of nubile

young coeds from the college in here and have an

orgy?” he whispered with a mocking grin.

“No, I think you’ll end up maimed or worse,” she

shot back, turning to put away the first aid kit.

He frowned at that. “You leave me alone all the

time, Scully. What’s so different about tonight?”

“Tonight, Mulder, is Halloween. Do I really need

to recite the last several Halloween ‘annual trips to

the ER’ to make you understand my concern?”

“Last year I was treated and released,” he said

pointedly.

She rolled her eyes and pushed past him. “My point

exactly,” she said as she walked toward the phone.

“Scully, don’t be silly!” he admonished. “Look, I

have a the baseball playoff games that I didn’t watch

on the DVR, I have an entirely new unopened

package of Act II Butter Lovers microwave

popcorn, AND a six-pack of Sam Adams

Octoberfest — to be honest with you, you would

only be in my way tonight!” That got him a glare

that almost caused him to rethink his plans. After a

moment’s hesitation, he rested his hands on her

shoulders. “Tara needs you tonight. She has two

little goblins dying to trick or treat and you know

what a handful they can be. I will be safe and snug

in our little home. I promise I won’t even turn on

the porch light so I’m not accosted by some vicious

11 year-old on a bad dextrose trip. The worst thing

you’ll find when you come home later tonight is that

all of my car windows will have been soaped. Now,

please, go to your sister-in-law’s and have a good

time!”

“You promise me you won’t go out anywhere.”

“Indian Guide’s honor,” he affirmed, holding his fist

with two fingers extended to the back of his head.

Scully sighed heavily. “I’m gonna be so angry if I

end up spending another All Saints Day next to

your bedside, Mulder.”

“How about in my bed?” he asked suggestively.

“Can it, Romeo, you know we have work

tomorrow,” she huffed. “OK, I’m going. I will be

back by 10:30 at the latest. If you need me, I’ll have

my cell phone on at all times.”

“Scully, you sound like I’m the sitter. Who, pray

tell, am I supposed to ‘sit’?”

“I’m trying not to dwell on the answer to that

question. It might make me rethink this whole

evening.”

6:25 pm

Mulder was deep in the National League Central

Division game between the reigning Division

Champion St. Louis Cardinals and the Houston

Astros. He already knew the Cards would win, a

homer late in the ninth inning that would leave the

Houston fans reeling. The Cards would go on to

lose the title the next night, but it was still a fun

series to watch. He was fast-forwarding through yet

another Bud Light commercial when his stomach

gave him a sharp tug.

Absently rubbing his stomach, he headed into the

kitchen. Food. His body needed sustenance. He

pulled out the sandwich meat from the refrigerator

and was reaching for the loaf of bread when the

small tug grew to a pain that doubled him over. It

was gone so quickly he almost could have

convinced himself he imagined it. He was puzzling

over his strange indigestion when he heard a knock

at the back door.

He flipped on the light to the back porch and peered

into the dimly illuminated area. An older woman

stood under the cover of the porch roof, the wind

whipping at her grey streaked hair. She shivered as

he debated whether to open the door, making his

decision an easy one.

“Can I help you?” Mulder asked, watching the old

woman trembling in the force of the wind. “Are

you lost?”

“No, deary me, no,” she replied. “I’m Mrs. Dickens.

I live just down the street. I understand you and

your wife are fairly new to the neighborhood.”

“Well, we moved in over a year ago,” Mulder

interjected but the old woman continued as if she

hadn’t heard him.

“I have a little Halloween tradition for the neighbors

on this block. Candied apples. My grandmother

taught me how to make them with cinnamon red

hots. They’re quite tasty. Anyway, I just wanted to

drop these off to you and your misses. You were

away last year and missed out on the fun.” She

promptly handed him two shiny red apples wrapped

in cellophane, tied with colorful orange and black

paper ribbon.

“Oh, well, that’s awfully thoughtful of you, Mrs.

Dickens, thank you. My, uh, Dana’s out taking her

nephew and niece trick or treating, but I’ll be sure to

tell her you stopped by.”

“I best be running along. Other deliveries to make,

you know. Have a nice evening then,” she said with

a wave and disappeared into the darkness beyond

the porch light.

Mulder stared out into the autumn night, watching

the old woman scurry down the alley to the next

house. Odd behavior, he thought, but not unlike the

folks out on the Vineyard. Halloween was a

favorite holiday in his youth. He remembered the

candied apples made by Mrs. Galbrand, their next-

door neighbor, every year for the kids in the

subdivision.

He put the apples on the counter near the sink,

intent on waiting until Scully returned to indulge in

the treat. His stomach grumbled loudly and he

remembered his early bout of — what had that been?

Hunger pains? Unlikely, he’d had a decent lunch.

But his stomach growled again and he found

himself reaching for the nearest apple. With boyish

anticipation, he pulled off the ribbon and cellophane

and lifted the apple to his lips. The cinnamon scent

rolled off the fruit in waves and he stopped to savor

it. Finally, his mouth watering, he took a big bite.

It was heaven! Just as he remembered, maybe even

better. Whatever the recipe was, he was going to

have to see if Mrs. Dickens would share it with

Scully. Better yet, with Maggie, who would put it

to better use. He was about to take a second bite

when the kitchen light flared once and then again.

The room started to spin around him. He reached

out his hand to steady himself as his eyes rolled

back in his head and he felt himself falling.

He awoke slowly. He could hear the monitor

beeping next to his head. Oh crap, was his first

thought. He felt something warm surrounding his

hand. Scully’s hands, he reasoned. She was by his

bedside again. She would want to know he was

awake. But did he really want to curry her wrath by

letting her know it? What had she said to him just

before leaving? How angry she’d be if she had to

spend another All Saints Day by his bedside. He

could only hope she managed to scrape up a little

sympathy, since he was obviously in ill health.

He heard a soft sniffle and knew he couldn’t pretend

any longer. Anger, he could hide from but he hated

to make Scully cry. Slowly, he tried to open his

eyes. They wouldn’t cooperate. He moved his hand

and felt her fingers tighten on his. He moved his

head, still trying to make his lids open.

“Mulder,” she sighed hopefully.

Finally, his eyes cooperated. He was definitely in a

hospital bed, he could tell by the lighting. He

looked at Scully and the smile that lit her face could

have powered a ship to the moon. “Hi,” she said,

her voice choked with emotion.

“Scully,” he replied, swallowing. It felt like he

hadn’t had water in months. He swallowed again

and looked at her. Something was wrong. Her hair

was different. Not short with the little bit of curl

she’d finally adopted and he’d thoroughly approved.

It was longer, almost past her shoulders. She

looked tired, so very tired. Oh, God, he considered,

how long had he been sick? “Scully,” he tried

again.

“Shh, Mulder, don’t talk,” she chided. “Do you

have any idea what you’ve been through?”

He searched her face. Her eyes held a thousand

emotions, most prominent was pain. He’d really

done it this time. Whatever had happened, he’d

caused her untold anguish. He wondered if he

could ever make it up to her. “Only what I see in

your eyes,” he whispered.

She laid her head on his chest and kissed him

through the hospital gown. Tentatively, he brought

his hand up to stroke her head. “Anybody miss

me?” he joked.

It worked. He could feel her laughter through his

ribs, his sore ribs now that he thought about it. In

fact, his whole body ached, all the way down to his

toes. He wanted to know what was wrong with

him, but Scully’s laughter had turned to tears, he

could feel her quaking with the force of her sobs.

“Hush, Scully, don’t cry. I’m OK now. I’m OK.

C’mere, look at me. See, I’m fine.”

“Mulder,” she started but then the door opened. Her

head jerked over to catch sight of a man Mulder had

never seen standing in the doorway. The guy

ignored Mulder completely, looking only at Scully.

Their eye contact was their only communication.

The man nodded his head once and slowly closed

the door, leaving them alone. She turned her

attention back to Mulder.

“Mulder,” she began again. He couldn’t figure out

what was so difficult. What couldn’t she tell him?

How sick was he? Was he dying? Had that been

his doctor at the door? That didn’t make sense, the

doctor would have come in and poked and prodded

him, they all did every other time he’d been in the

hospital.

“Scully, please, what is going on? What can’t you

tell me?” he pleaded.

She frowned, biting her bottom lip. Cautiously, she

pushed the chair she was sitting in back a few

inches, raising to stand by his bed. As she rose, his

gaze stayed on her face. Tears were streaking down

her cheeks. Slowly, hesitantly, she placed her hand

on her rounded stomach —

“Jesus, Scully, what happened with you? You look

pregnant!” he exclaimed, suddenly not able to pull

in enough air.

“Mulder, let me explain . . . ”

“Scully, what is it? Is it the cancer? How did this

happen so quickly? What the hell is going on?” he

demanded.

She licked her lips nervously. “No, Mulder, I look

pregnant because I am pregnant,” she said slowly.

“You’ve been — oh, God, how do I tell you?”

“Pregnant? Scully, that’s impossible. You’re

barren. We’ve never used birth control — we never

needed to use it. Surely you would have become

pregnant before now!”

“Mulder we tried the invitro last spring . . .”

“We tried _what_?” he cried out. “Scully, we never

talked about kids. It was always too painful. And

we never . . . I never . . .” Suddenly pieces started

clicking into place. He felt as if his heart was in a

vice and it was being crushed. “Scully, who was

that man at the door a minute ago,” he asked, his

voice low and frightened.

“That was my partner, John Doggett,” she said

simply. “Mulder, this baby — ”

“P-p-partner? I’m your partner,” he stammered in a

pained whisper. “Scully, is this baby — did you and

he — how long have I been ill?”

“Oh, this is not going well,” she said simply and sat

down again. She took his hand in her two and held

it tight. “Mulder, you went missing 7 months ago.

You went out to Bellefleur, Oregon on a case

involving multiple abductees.”

“No, it was Halloween, Scully. You were trick or

treating with Tara, Matty and Claire,” he

interrupted.

“Who’s Claire?” she asked, frowning in confusion.

“Your niece. Bill and Tara’s daughter. Claire.

Scully, you have to remember her.”

“Bill and Tara only have Matthew, Mulder,” she

insisted. “But anyway, you were . . . Mulder you

were abducted.”

“By whom?” he asked, more befuddled than ever.

She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “By a ship,

Mulder. A ship in the sky. Skinner was there with

you at the time, he saw it happen. Mulder, you

were abducted along with Teresa Nemman and her

husband Ray Hoese and several other people.

Many of them were returned and some of them

lived, but Mulder, when you were returned — ” She

choked on the words. “Mulder, you were dead.

You were dead and we buried you three months

ago.” Unable to hold back the sobs, she dropped

her head to her hands and shook for all she was

worth.

He sat there, stunned. “Scully, if I’m dead, and

buried, how the hell are we having this

conversation?”

His words gave her something to focus on. She

lifted her eyes to his. “Billy Miles,” she said

quietly.

“From our first case,” he supplied.

“Yes. He was there, when you were abducted. He

was abducted, too. And when he was returned, his

body was in the ocean — for three months. He was

pulled out of the sea by some fishermen. When

they got his body to the morgue, the ME noticed

that he was, uh, breathing.”

“After three months in water? Maybe he’d been in

hiding, maybe he just fell in. Remember when you

found me near Bermuda, Scully,” he reminded her.

“Mulder, the body was partially decomposed. It

showed all the signs of prolonged exposure to salt

water. But somehow, he was alive.”

“But you said I was buried. Did you bury me at

sea?” he sneered. He didn’t want to be angry with

her, she was having such a difficult time, but her

whole tangled story was starting to annoy him. He

just wanted the truth out of her so he could go to

sleep.

“No, you were buried in North Carolina, near your

mother. After Skinner heard about Billy, he had

your casket exhumed.”

“So Skinner dug me up. Somehow, that’s fitting,”

Mulder muttered.

“At first, it appeared that you were just barely alive.

And then when Billy shed his skin — ”

He started to interrupt her again, but one look

silenced him. He nodded for her to continue.

“He became an alien,” she said with a cleansing

breath.

“An — ”

“Alien,” she repeated softly. “And then he took

off.”

“Scully, one of us is having a really bad dream — ”

“Mulder, this is true, every word of it. I can’t

explain it all, I don’t know how it happened. All I

know is that you were gone. I found out about

this,” she patted her stomach, “the day Skinner told

me you had been taken. And then I looked for you,

in the desert in New Mexico. I could feel you

nearby but I couldn’t see you. I searched for

months, never giving up until the night we found

you in the middle of a field. Mulder, you were

dead. There was no denying it. And the only man

who could save you, who could possibly bring you

back, was gone.”

“But I’m here. And unless this is a Halloween

Haunting, I’m alive,” he asserted.

“Yes. Thank God, you are. When the ME in North

Carolina detected vital signs, vital signs that had not

been there previously in your body, Skinner and

Doggett had you shipped here to Bethesda. At first,

we had you on life supports. But then, something

happened and for some reason Skinner took you off

life supports. And that’s when it hit me. That was

incubating the alien, the one gestating inside your

body.”

Mulder blanched, his mind flashing on Scully in a

frozen cryopod, an alien fetus feeding off her life

force. “Oh, God, Scully,” he said, his face taking

on a chalky complexion.

“Mulder, stay with me. We took you into surgery

and injected you with every anti-viral available.

You stabilized. If you’d actually been . . . taken

over, you would have shed your skin and been

totally reborn. You would have been in perfect

health, no visible scars or injuries. Mulder, if you

could see yourself right now, you’d know that didn’t

happen. They tortured you, Mulder. They did

horrible things to your body and I’m so sorry I

wasn’t there to stop it from happening.” Again, it

was too much for her to bear and she started to

weep.

It was all so much to understand. He’d been gone

for 7 months. Scully had a new partner. His life, as

he knew it, was irrevocably changed. Could he ever

get his old life back?

“Your mom, Tara, do they know . . . I’m alive?”

“I haven’t called Mom yet,” she said through her

tears. “Why would I call Tara?”

“Well, I missed an awful lot of soccer games. God,

poor Matty! I promised to help his tee ball coach

this spring. Poor kid’s been through the wringer.”

“Why would Matty be affected, Mulder?” she asked

innocently.

That hit him in the gut. He felt more than annoyed

at her attitude, he felt offended. “Gee, Scully, I

know I could never replace Bill but I thought I

provided at least a shadow of a male influence in

the kid’s life. Now you act like he wouldn’t give a

damn if I lived or died!”

“Mulder. Bill, Tara and Matty live in San Diego.

When Mom told her about your death, Tara sent a

nice floral arrangement to the funeral home and a

card she got at the local Hallmark store. They don’t

know you well enough — and besides, I don’t think

Bill does care if you live or die. He made that

perfectly clear when I told him about the baby!”

Now he was even more confused, and suddenly

very worried. “Scully, sweetheart, Bill died, just a

little over a year ago, well, two years ago now, I

guess. Don’t you remember?”

She looked stricken for a moment, but pulled down

her calm face. She reached over and brushed his

forehead. “Mulder, I think, I think you’ve become

very confused. I think — maybe your brain — ” She

choked up again, but forced the words out. “Your

brain affliction — ”

“What ‘brain affliction’? Scully, my brain is fine!”

he declared emphatically. “How could I have a

brain affliction? And if I did, why didn’t you tell

me about it?”

Now she was angry. “You didn’t tell ME about it!”

she shouted. “You were seeking treatment in North

Carolina for a month before you disappeared and

you never said a word to me!”

“Scully, for the last month we’ve been out in

California chasing a little Anasazi guy! I was right

with you the entire time!”

“What Anasazi?” she demanded. And just as

suddenly, while he watched, her features melted

into green goo. He remembered seeing it before but

he’d been under the influence of a powerful narcotic

supplied him by a killer mushroom in Georgia. He

closed his eyes against his horror and promptly

passed out.

Northeast Georgetown Medical Center

November 2, 2005

10:13 am

“Mulder? Mulder, c’mon. The doctor says you

should be waking up now. The antivenin has been

in your bloodstream long enough to counter the

effects of the bite. Wake up, please?” Scully was

pleading with him to wake up. But did he want to?

He remembered the last time he’d woken up and he

didn’t want to face that again. She should have left

him dead and buried. But that thought gave him no

comfort either.

“Mulder, please. I told Mom and Tara to bring the

kids by later to see you. Matty picked out all the

Snickers from his treats bag just for you because he

said you buy them for him after his soccer games.

C’mon, open those beautiful eyes for me,” she

crooned.

At the mention of Matty and soccer games, Mulder

forced his eyes open. “Scully,” he rasped.

She gave him that smile he lived for. “Hi,” she said.

He studied her face carefully. Her hair was back to

normal; her face was thin as it had been when she

left the house to go trick or treating. But he had to

make sure his assumptions were correct. “Scully,”

he said in a hoarse whisper. “Would you please

stand up?”

She gave him a perplexed look, but did as he asked.

She was thin, perfectly thin.

“Thank God,” he murmured.

“Mulder, do you have any idea what you’ve been

through?” she asked.

It startled him and he flinched. She immediately

reached out her hand and cupped his cheek.

“Mulder, we have black widow spiders under the

back porch,” she said sadly. “I called Mr. Timmons

after we got you to the ER. He had an exterminator

come out yesterday. Oh, and he said next time, he’ll

be happy to fix that loose board. As a matter of

fact, he was so upset about you getting bitten, he’s

going to replace those steps with cement ones just

as soon as he can arrange for a contractor.”

“Did you say black widow?” he asked. “But I

thought — what about Mrs. Dicken’s candied

apple?”

“What candied apple, Mulder? As near as we can

tell, you were bitten under the porch. That scratch

you had on your finger was actually a bite. You

should have experienced stomach cramps — ”

“I did. I thought it was hunger pangs,” he admitted.

“Well, not long after that you probably passed out.

The bites are small but black widow venom is 15

times more poisonous than a snakebite.”

He cringed again. “Don’t say snakebite around me,

Scully. You know how I get,” he warned.

“Mulder, you had a serious episode. You’ve had

hallucinations, at least as far as we could tell, for the

past two days.”

“So it’s not All Saints Day?” he asked sheepishly.

“No. It’s All Souls Day. And I was beginning to

think I needed to go to Mass this morning and pray

for your soul,” she countered. “Mulder, a spider?”

“Scully, I didn’t mean to get bitten by a poisonous

spider. I’m not even afraid of spiders,” he said with

a shrug. “Although, now I might have to rethink

that. Maybe it’s not a phobia if — ”

“Mulder, here is what I think. Next Halloween,

we’re going some place deserted and we’re going to

look for ghosts!”

He looked at her in total shock and amazement.

“Scully, what are you suggesting?”

“I’m not suggesting anything, Mulder. I’m telling

you. The only time we haven’t ended injured, or

more specifically when YOU haven’t ended up

injured on Halloween is when we went ghost

busting in Prairie du Rocher, Illinois and we saw the

King’s Emissary’s Ghost Funeral. So next year,

we’re going to find another haunted site — ”

“Houdini’s grave? Please, Scully, can we go to

Harry Houdini’s grave?” he begged.

She smiled affectionately at him. “Oh, all right.

We’ll go to Harry Houdini’s grave. I think you have

better luck with ghosts than with the real world,

Mulder.”

He opened his arms and she fell into his embrace.

He was happy to be in his real world again. After

some quiet moments, she pulled back.

“So, what were you dreaming about?” she asked

innocently. “Whatever it was, you certainly tossed

and turned enough.”

No. There was no way he could tell her. It was all

too insane, too unbelievable. Besides, it was a

nightmare he’d rather forget. “Oh, nothing much.

A wicked witch came by the house with a poisoned

apple and sent me to hell. You know, the usual

Halloween inspired nightmares.”

“Well, when you get out of here, I’ll make you

forget all about them,” she promised.

He hoped sincerely she would.

The end.

Latrodectus: black widow spider