Category Archives: Season 15

Tool Time!

Tool Time!

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Summary: Mulder and Scully are acquainted with Tim the Tool Man Taylor.

Category: Humor, Crossover, X-file

Rating: PG

Two weeks exclusive with VS15.

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. I also don’t own Home

Improvement or any characters from the show.

Author’s Note: Takes place in an alternate universe where Brad Taylor is 12, Randy

Taylor is 11, and Mark Taylor is 8, in the year 2007. Just shave off a few years…I’m

sure the kids won’t mind too much and I *know* Tim Allen won’t mind at all. 🙂

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J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING

WASHINGTON, DC

MONDAY, DECEMBER 16th, 2007

0900

“You owe me big time,” Mulder heard, and lifted his eyes from his computer screen.

Standing in the doorway was his partner, obviously back from her meeting with AD

Skinner.

“And how is this news?” he asked with a smirk.

She strutted in, and sat down on the edge of his desk. She had his full attention.

“’Tis the season for team building seminars.”

“By the look on your face I’m guessing you told Skinner I was suffering from that

annual severe hem—”

“No, much better,” she said with a smile. “I made the argument, Mulder, that team

building exercises were supposed to not only improve our relationship but teach us

skills we didn’t previously possess.”

“And where does the excuse come in?”

“It doesn’t. We’re going somewhere instead of Oklahoma for the next seminar.”

“Where?” Mulder asked, still not convinced that it was time to panic. Scully was,

after all, smiling.

“Detroit, Michigan.”

“What’s in Detroit, Michigan?”

“Ever watched Tool Time, Mulder?”

He simply gave her a ‘look’. “You know how I am at fixing things.”

“You get as far as the instructions and give up. Trust me, I know. Our dryer still

beckons.”

“I thought you said you called a repair man for that.”

“I did, and he bailed. I told you this on the way to work this morning. Weren’t you

listening?”

Realizing that he was stuck, he went for the humorous approach. He grabbed a

candy bar and shoved it in his mouth.

“Need a moment?” Scully asked, catching his reference and chuckling softly.

“Anyway, we’re going to Detroit as members of the Tool Time audience, and then we

get backstage passes and a personal lesson from Tim the Tool Man Taylor.”

“A personal lesson on what?”

“Knitting. What do you think, Mulder?”

He rolled his eyes at her sarcasm, and said, “We don’t need to learn to fix things,

Scully. We’ve got repair men to do that. And besides, I sort of know how to fix a

radio.”

“Knowing how to fix one thing doesn’t help you in the field when you really need to

independently operate.”

Mulder sighed. “Scully…”

“Would you rather Skinner make us go to Oklahoma?”

“No,” he admitted emphatically. Then he leaned back, surrendering. “When do we

leave?”

“This afternoon. We’ll meet with Tim Taylor tonight, before the show, so he can brief

us on what he expects us to do. And then tomorrow we’ll appear on the show with

him, get our lesson, and we’ll be done.”

“How did you find this, anyway?”

She suddenly looked slightly guilty.

“You haven’t been cheating on me with Tim the Tool Man Taylor, have you, Scully?”

He asked jokingly.

She shook her head, smiled slightly, and said, “I was going through some X-

files…and I found one in Detroit, Michigan. Where the Tool Time show is filmed,

actually.”

“Scully!” Mulder exclaimed. “You went out of your way to find an X-file!”

“I stumbled across one.”

After a brief silence, he couldn’t help but insist, “Well, out with it, what is it?”

“Over the last twenty years, various television shows have filmed in the current Tool

Time set area. And every time the show turns three, the main character, the host,

or whoever appears on every episode ends up having a terrible accident and the

show gets cancelled.”

“Let me guess. Tool Time is about to turn three.”

“During the time we’re scheduled to be there.”

“Remarkable. Scully, this is amazing. Either you really think I need help fixing things

or you were bored one night…either one doesn’t bode well for me.”

She merely smiled.

“I’ve seen the show one time, and they made a joke about Tim’s clumsiness. Do you

know if the other show hosts are accident prone?”

“Not really, but I’ll look into it on the plane.”

“Is it me or do you seem a little excited about this one?”

Scully looked down, and said, “Mulder, I have a confession to make.”

“Go ahead,” he said, giving her a confused look.

“I’ve never missed an episode of Tool Time since the show first aired. I’ve taped it,

I’ve put it on the TiVo, I’ve downloaded episodes on the Internet off of FOX’s

site…I’ve never missed an episode.”

“Explains why you’re always the one to fix everything…” he said with a small smile.

“But why not watch Bob Vila? I hear he’s a little more…professional.”

Scully nearly glared at him. “That’s like suggesting that a Trekkie go as Darth Vader

to a Star Trek convention, Mulder!”

He smirked. “I knew you liked that case…”

“Don’t change the subject! Bob Vila’s name is a taboo to Tool Time fans.”

“Scully, it looks like you’re a full-blown fan. As in ‘fanatic’.” He chuckled. “Tim Taylor

isn’t competition, is he?”

Her face softened. “Of course not,” she said, smiling at him. “But don’t ever suggest

watching Bob Vila’s show over Tool Time again,” she added harshly.

He held up his hands. “Sorry I asked.”

“We’d better get back home and pack.” She was grinning as she headed for the

door, and Mulder gladly followed. Anything that got Scully this excited was well

worth attending.

Having seen the show once, he couldn’t help but say, “Can everyone guess what

time it is?”

“Tool time!” Scully said without fail, and turned around in the doorframe and kissed

him quickly before grabbing her coat, and leading the way out the door.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

TOOL TIME STUDIO

DETROIT, MI

MONDAY, DECEMBER 16th, 2007

1600

“What’s with the tie, Al? You haven’t gotten this dressed up since that flannel

convention.”

Al frowned at Tim’s attempt at humor, and put his hands on his hips casually. “I just

thought it would be nice to get a little dressed up for the FBI agents. I am surprised

you haven’t left town, though.”

“I was thinking about it,” Tim said thoughtfully as he snapped on his toolbelt. “Then I

realized as long as we keep them away from your mother, we should be alright.”

Al smirked nearly imperceptibly, and said, “I highly doubt my mother has done

anything illegal.”

“That’s because you weren’t there when she tried on that 4X bikini,” Tim said, and

slapped his friend on the shoulder as he walked toward the set.

A man dressed in jeans and a golf shirt followed an eager-looking woman with a Tool

Time t-shirt tucked into jeans. She even had workboots on, and they both had their

side-arms attached to their belts. When the female agent approached Tim, she

extended her hand. “Hi, I’m Agent Dana Scully, and this is my partner, Agent Fox

Mulder.”

“Dana, Fox, nice to meet you,” Tim said, and shook both their hands. “I’m Tim and

this is my co-host Al Borland.”

“Nice to meet you Al. And it’s just Mulder, if you don’t mind,” Mulder said. He

looked a little reluctant to be there, and was eyeing Al suspiciously.

Tim’s sidekick was standing to his side, even more excited than Scully, nearly

bouncing on his heels. He seemed to catch Mulder’s odd stare, and explained

himself. “I’ve never met FBI agents before…” he started, “And I must confess…when

I was a young boy I often dreamt of becoming one.”

“You an FBI agent?” Tim said with a small laugh. “They don’t sell flannel holsters,

Al.”

“I happen to be a pretty good shot, Tim.”

“Like mother like son, huh?” Tim said jokingly. Scully laughed, and Mulder just

looked confused. As Al folded his arms indignantly, Tim turned to the agents. “So,

you’re coming on the show tomorrow…I just wanted to go over some basics, give

you a quick run-through of what we’re going to do so you aren’t surprised. Then

you’re welcome to join my family and me for dinner, if you’re interested.”

“Oh, that’d be great,” Scully said with a broad smile.

Mulder nodded in agreement, but didn’t look entirely enthusiastic.

Tim walked over to the work bench and said, “Tomorrow we’ll be going over basic

drilling and sanding techniques, and we’ll build some shelves. It’s important not to

split the wood when you’re drilling, and it’s also important to know what kind of tool

to use. And when you’re sanding, you don’t want an uneven surface, so you want to

use specific tools to get the job done. We won’t cut the wood, but later on I’ll show

you how to use a miter saw and a table saw. Have you two had much experience

with construction?”

“Scully has,” Mulder said.

Tim turned to Scully in expectation, and she said, “I’ve watched your show since it

came on the air. I have to admit, I’m a big fan. Hence the t-shirt.”

God, she sounds like a nervous teenager, Mulder thought in amusement.

“Well, good,” Tim said, clearly pleased. “See, Al, another satisfied customer.”

“Seeing the show since it’s come on the air means she’s seen all your accidents, too,

Tim.”

Mulder suddenly looked more attentive as he glanced at Scully curiously. The

comment was clearly made to be a joke, but Mulder realized the significance.

“Well,” Scully said before Tim could fire back at Al, “the accidents do prove to be

educational for the viewers. I’ve always wondered if they were deliberate.”

Nice, Mulder thought. Just the right question to ask. Except he’s likely to lie. And

that’s where I come in.

“Absolutely,” Tim said automatically. “We value the safety of our viewers above

everything else on the show, so naturally we want to show them what not to do in a

way that makes them laugh, but still communicates the lesson.”

“Often at Tim’s personal expense, of course,” Al said, a small smirk on his face. Tim

gave him a dirty look, and the smirk was gone instantly.

Yep. Lying straight through his teeth, Mulder thought.

“That’s very considerate of you,” Scully said with a smile. “So first we’re going to

sand the wood?”

“Yes, exactly. We’ll use a couple of different sanders, and have you both try each

one. We’ll have some of the wood pre-sanded, and some unsanded for us. Then

we’ll start drilling. Again, we’ll try different drills, and different techniques. And

some wood will be pre-drilled. We’ll construct the shelves, and then ask one of you

to shoot them to see if they fall over on impact.”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other, and before Al could say, ‘I don’t think so,

Tim,’ the Tool Man’s facial expression changed from one of seriousness to a large

grin. “Just kidding, guys, I’d never ask you to pull out those things on stage…though

it might make it look cooler if you wear them up here.”

“We’re actually required to wear them,” Mulder said.

“Perfect,” Tim said with a smile. He looked between the two again. “So do you have

any questions?”

“Will we be issued tool belts?” Scully asked.

“Tool belts, safety glasses, and earplugs, on the house,” Tim told them. “And you

can keep them. We’re in full cooperation with the FBI.”

“Good to know,” Mulder said with a small smile.

“Tim has nothing to hide except his sense of decency,” Al said, and then snorted

before he started laughing. Everyone stared at him, including Tim.

“Nice try, Al,” Tim said with mock sympathy, and Al stopped laughing slowly. He

stood with his arms folded, slightly embarrassed. “So that’s basically all we needed

to go over…the make-up crew will take care of you before the show, and you’ll need

to get here at 8 AM to prepare for shooting.” He suddenly smiled. “That uh…that

takes on a whole new meaning around FBI agents.”

Scully smiled. “We’ll be here at 8.”

“I understand you’ll be appearing on two shows, and you’ll be receiving a personal

lesson from Tim tomorrow afternoon?” Al asked.

“That’s right, that’s the plan,” Mulder said.

“The second appearance will be shared with other guests,” Tim said. “They want us

to give the audience some variety, so you’ll be helping out with our tool cleaning and

care segment before we move into engine maintenance.”

“Okay, sounds good,” Scully said.

“Alright, on that note, I’ll give you a tour of the studio and then we’ll head to my

house. Al, you’re welcome to join us.”

“I’m sorry, Tim, I have a date.”

Tim did a double-take, and stared at Al curiously. “Bingo night, huh, Al?”

Al looked incredibly frustrated as he turned and walked away, and Mulder couldn’t

help but smirk.

“You’ll have to excuse Al. He’s never been known to let his social life get in the way

of his bingo, flannel, or his mother. Though not much could get in the way of his

mother,” he said with a small smile.

“I heard that!” Both agents heard from behind the set. Tim chuckled, and said,

“C’mon, I’ll show you around.”

They began following Tim around, studying the set carefully in case they spotted any

evidence for their potential X-file.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

TAYLOR HOUSE

DETROIT, MI

MONDAY, DECEMBER 16th, 2007

1830

“It’s so nice to meet both of you. Dinner’s ready…I hope you don’t mind Stouffer’s—

I was at work all day and didn’t have time to really prepare anything, especially since

Tim didn’t tell me you were coming until last night,” Jill, Tim’s wife, said with a

pointed glance at her husband. He started to back away slowly, nearly running into

the Christmas decorations on their banister.

“I’ll call the boys,” Tim said as he made his way toward the stairs.

“Stouffer’s is fine, Jill,” Mulder said with a gracious smile.

“We’re used to eating cold pizza and two-day-old Chinese food on the road,” Scully

said, aiming a pointed glance at Mulder that matched Jill’s glance at Tim.

Tim’s wife beamed at that, and said, “Well, then, this’ll feel like a home-cooked

meal.” She had a slight Southern accent, but Scully couldn’t quite place it.

After a roaring call for the boys, they heard pounding footprints down the stairs and

a blonde-haired boy came in first, followed by a smaller light brown-haired boy in

overalls and a younger boy in a golf shirt tucked into khaki pants.

“Brad, Randy, Mark, these are FBI agents Mulder and Scully.”

While the oldest and youngest boys beamed in shock and awe, the middle one,

Randy, suddenly got three shades paler and looked like he was going to be sick.

“Nice to meet you,” Mulder and Scully said as they shook the boys’ hands. Mulder

paid special attention to the nervous one in the middle, and realized what was going

on. “So Randy, right?”

Randy nodded ever-so-slightly.

Mulder looked completely serious as he said, “We’ve picked up some interesting

activity on your computer.”

Jill and Tim looked shocked, and Randy definitely looked ready to bolt.

“You aren’t burning CD’s illegally, are you, Randy? A little hacking on the side?”

Randy nodded his head, almost imperceptibly.

Then Mulder grinned, and tossled the boy’s hair. “Relax, Randy, I was joking.

You’re not in any trouble. But stop the burning—it’s not a good practice to start.”

Brad and Mark began poking their brother, Brad yelling, “Ooooh, he so got you!”

Mark turned to the FBI agents. “So you’re real FBI agents? Like you shoot bad guys

and stuff?”

Mulder and Scully smiled, and nodded. “We try to catch the bad guys and put them

in jail,” Scully supplied.

“That’s so cool. Can I see your gun?”

“No, Mark,” Tim said scoldingly. “Agent Mulder and Agent Scully aren’t here to show

you their guns.”

“And you’re way too young to hold a gun,” Jill told him. “You know that.”

Mark pouted.

Randy’s cheeks still hadn’t returned to their original color from their instant flush of

embarrassment, but he managed to ask, “So you guys really monitor kids’

computers?”

“No, Agent Mulder was kidding,” Scully said. “There are agents who check to see if

any computers connected to the Internet are involved in illegal activities. Including

music downloads and burning. But that isn’t our job.”

“Boys, go wash your hands for dinner,” Tim said. “And guys…” he walked over to the

railing where the three stairs that led down to the kitchen met the foyer, and the

boys halted to listen to whatever their father was about to say. “If you’re going to kill

each other, now’s the time. We’ve got the FBI already here.”

They grinned, and ran off. Brad pushed Mark on the way.

“Tim, if anyone gets hurt, I’m holding you personally responsible,” Jill said.

Tim shrugged. “What?”

“Thank you, Agent Mulder,” Jill said. “I thought we’d never convince Randy to stop

that illegal downloading.”

“Always happy to help,” Mulder said with a smile. “And it’s just Mulder.”

“Alright,” Jill accepted with a smile. She lifted the Stouffer’s out of the oven and put

it on the stove top, where she uncovered it. Tim grabbed some plates from the

cabinet behind her and they began serving the lasagna.

“What would you like to drink? We’ve got beer, Coke, Sprite, juice, water, iced

tea…?” Jill asked.

“I’ll have an iced tea,” Mulder said.

“Diet Coke?” Scully asked.

“I’ll get it out of the garage,” Tim said, and headed that way.

“So Mulder, Dana, how long have you two been partners?”

“Since 1993,” Scully said.

“Scully’s been watching Tool Time since it came on, too,” Mulder mentioned.

“Oh, you’re a fan of Al’s,” Jill joked.

Scully laughed, and was about to reply when the boys came storming into the

kitchen again, and lined up at the counter to get their food. Now three small

portions of lasagna were laid out for them, and Jill was pouring their drinks. She got

a beer out for Tim, and he grabbed it on his way in. He handed the Diet Coke to

Scully, and picked up his serving of lasagna on his way to the table.

Mulder and Scully followed suit, and soon everyone was seated at the dinner table.

Jill said a short blessing, and then Brad asked, “So…I don’t mean to be rude or

anything, but why are you here?”

Mulder smiled. “We’re guests on your dad’s show. The FBI organizes these team-

building seminars, and Agent Scully arranged for this unconventional learning

experience instead of going to Oklahoma for the next seminar.”

“We’re hoping to learn something about tools, and use what we know on the field,”

Scully told the twelve-year-old.

Randy snorted, and they all looked at him. Tim gave him a disapproving glance, and

Randy said, “Sorry…it’s just that…I hope you brought first aid kits with you.”

“Alright, alright, enough,” Tim put a stop to his son’s behavior before it escalated.

Mulder and Scully shared a quick glance. It was curious that everyone seemed to

think Tim was a klutz.

“Do you guys have a specialty, or do you solve all kinds of crime?” Brad asked.

“Well, there are lots of different divisions that the FBI has,” Scully answered,

“There’s counterterrorism, there’s violent crimes, there’s organized crime, some

agents deal with financial things, some agents deal with Internet things…you get the

idea.”

“We solve unsolved cases,” Mulder told the boy.

“Like where Jimmy Hoffa is?” Mark asked excitedly.

Scully chuckled. “Sort of, yes.”

“Have you seen lots of weird stuff?” Randy asked.

“Boys, what the agents deal with probably isn’t dinnertime conversation,” Jill told

them.

You have no idea, Scully thought.

“We have seen lots of weird stuff,” Mulder told him. “But yeah, your mom’s right—it

isn’t dinnertime conversation.”

“Well, to change the subject,” Tim said, “On Wednesday, Tool Time turns three, and

we’re going to have the agents on the show one extra day to celebrate. We’re also

having the boys from K&B construction come on the show at the same time. And it’d

be alright with me, Jill, if you want to come on the set, too.”

“Oh, Tim, I wish I could. I’ve got a huge meeting on Wednesday from 9 to 12 and

then a performance review from 2 to 4…”

“Good luck,” Scully offered.

“Thanks,” Jill said gratefully.

“You guys will have to go to friends’ houses that night ‘cause I can’t be home after

school,” Tim told the boys.

“Okay, sure,” Mark said.

Brad nodded, and Randy said, “I’m sure Brad will have plenty of fun at Jennifer’s

house!”

“Shut up!” Brad said, and shoved his brother.

Tim stuck his hand in the middle of the argument and said, “Not at the table, and not

when we have guests.”

“But you said we could kill each other,” Mark protested.

“Ever heard of sarcasm?” Tim asked, his patience growing thin.

“Nooooo,” Randy said sarcastically, which earned him a sharp look from Jill.

“Watch it, Mister,” Jill corrected. Then she turned to Scully. “Where are you two

staying?”

“The Comfort Inn on Woodward Avenue,” Mulder said.

Jill frowned. “Really? There’s a place called the Drury Inn…good for the budget, nice

rooms, not far from Woodward.”

“We can show you online if you’re interested,” Tim said.

“No, that’s alright, we’ve already gotten settled in our rooms,” Mulder said with a

gracious smile.

“And Mulder likes to pick motels that are more…historic,” Scully said jokingly.

Brad laughed, and Randy looked like he was holding back a retort that was just

begging to come out.

Mulder frowned in Scully’s general direction as he said, “There’s only so much you

can do on the government’s dollar. Besides, the messier they come, the less

cleaning we have to do when we leave.”

Jill smirked. “Sounds like Tim’s philosophy.”

“Hey, I resemble that remark,” Tim said with mock anger.

The rest of the dinner went smoothly, and when it was finished, Tim offered to show

Mulder and Scully the garage. They spent about a half hour talking about tools, and

Mulder had to admit that he learned something at the end of the conversation. He

wasn’t even bored.

They bid the family farewell, and the boys waved in excited admiration as they got in

their car and drove back to the Comfort Inn.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Scully asked on the way.

“I found Moe, Larry, and Curly pretty interesting at the dinner table,” Mulder joked.

“The boys were pretty well-behaved for kids their age,” his partner argued.

“If I talked to my parents the way Randy talks to his, at his age…” He didn’t

complete that statement. He didn’t really have to.

Scully smiled slightly. “They’re good kids. Tim and Jill give them a lot of leeway but

they lay down the law when they have to. And I think their freedom is partially a bi-

product of these times, and partially a mark of parenting genius on Tim and Jill’s

part.”

“Parenting genius?” Mulder asked, matching her smirk.

“The kids are free to explore their own boundaries and when they find them, they

don’t cross them because they’d rather retain their freedom. It’s a personal decision

not to cross the line too often. And that makes for a better-developed adult, I

think.”

“And when did you become an expert?” Mulder demanded jokingly.

“Tim…well…”

“Come on, out with it, Scully.”

“Tim sometimes talks about parenting on Tool Time.”

Mulder laughed. “You’re taking parenting tips from a guy who staples his fingers

together?”

“You can laugh all you want—Tim is a very wise and intelligent individual. And I still

think all those accidents are planned.”

“You do. Were you listening when he answered your question at the studio? Scully,

he was lying through his teeth. He doesn’t plan those accidents—they just happen,

because he isn’t careful.”

Scully was starting to get annoyed. “You’re just jealous.”

“Jealous?! Of the Tool Man? You’re grasping at straws, Scully.”

“What do you think about the curse, then?”

Mulder paused. “So we’re calling it a curse now?”

“The show’s about to turn three. We’ll be there when it does. What do you think?”

“I think we should pay close attention to that wiring system they have. It doesn’t

look new to me. And I think their fire sprinkler system looks like it was installed in

the ‘70s.”

“So you think whatever might happen would just be a product of luck, or poor

maintenance, but not a curse.”

“Do you think there’s a curse, Scully?”

Scully smiled slightly. “I just can’t see Tim planning an accident that seriously injures

him. He obviously has a high pain tolerance or he wouldn’t be able to demonstrate

what he does. But he would never endanger his life willingly. He’s got a loving

family and no reason to do so whatsoever. So I think if there is going to be an

‘accident’ two days from now, it’s either a product of luck, or poor maintenance, as

you think, or someone is actually targeting the inhabitants of the studio.”

“And if the latter is true, it’s our job to find him.”

“Of course. It’s what we do. Let’s go find Jimmy Hoffa, Mulder.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

TOOL TIME STUDIO

DETROIT, MI

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17th, 2007

1000

“Does everyone know what time it is?” Lisa, the Tool Girl, asked the audience.

“Tool Time!” The audience faithfully recited, and Lisa continued.

“That’s right! Now, I’m proud to present, Tim the Tool Man Taylor!”

After a round of applause, Tim and Al walked out from behind the set and stood in

front of the false garage door marked ‘Tool Time’. “Hi, everyone, I’m your host, Tim

the Tool Man Taylor, and you all know my assistant, Al Good-God-What’s-Under-

That-Beard Borland.”

The audience chuckled as Al rolled his eyes and Tim took off his jacket, and clipped

his tool belt on. He then addressed the audience. “Today, we’re going to build some

shelves step by step, and bring it back to basics with some standard power tool

knowledge. But more importantly, we’ve got two very special guests. The FBI

apparently has a program that allows their agents to learn more about tools, for field

knowledge and…you know, secret agent stuff like that. So here today, directly from

Washington, D.C, are FBI Special Agents Mulder and Scully.”

The audience erupted in applause as Mulder and Scully walked on the set, Scully

smiling nervously and Mulder sporting an indifferent expression. They shook Tim’s

hand, and then Al’s hand, just as was discussed. Then Tim asked, “So…Agent Scully,

I understand you’ve had some experience with tools.”

“Yes, I’ve got general homeowner’s knowledge…you know, fixing creaky doors or

broken floorboards or basic plumbing skills.”

“The basic plumbing always comes in handy when we eat Taco Bell on the road,”

Mulder deadpanned, and the audience burst out laughing, including Tim. Scully

smiled at him.

“You two are on the road often?” Tim asked.

“Our division’s based in Washington but we do travel,” Mulder said. “Now you know

where your tax dollars are going.”

Tim smiled, and asked, “So Agent Mulder, do you have any experience with tools?”

“I can fix radios. Usually.”

“Basic electronics. Great. Okay, so today we’ve got pieces of wood, pre-cut for our

convenience, and we’ll be putting them together into shelves. Now it’ll take both of

you working together to do this, but I’m sure you’re used to that after…how many

years as partners?”

“Going on fifteen,” Scully said with a smile.

“Wow, you would really get to know a person after that long,” Al said with an

admiring gaze.

“Yeah, I think that’s how long I’ve been married,” Tim said, pretending to

concentrate. “But my wife and I discover new surprises every day.” He paused for

effect, and then said, “Especially, as you mentioned Agent Mulder, after Mexican

food.”

The audience laughed again, and Mulder offered a smile while Scully chuckled. Lisa

rolled out the wood when Tim walked backward, parallel with the work bench.

“Thank you, Lisa,” Tim said with a smile. “Alright, now the first thing we have to do

with this wood is sand it. Granted, a lot of wood you can buy pre-sanded. But let’s

say you cut your own surface. And the factory edge is still smooth, but the edge you

cut…not so much. You’re going to need a sander. But first—safety.”

Tim walked over to the work bench and pulled out two pairs of safety goggles and

work gloves. He handed both to Mulder and Scully, and they put them on.

“Whenever you’re dealing with power tools, whenever you’re picking up something

with potential splinters or a jagged edge, you need protection. Al, wanna lend me a

hand? Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, if you can lift the other large piece onto the saw

horse over there…”

Mulder and Scully lifted the large piece and brought it over to the saw horse, as Tim

and Al did the same.

“Okay, so the next thing we’ll do is go over basic sanding techniques. We’ll have

Agent Mulder work the small sander.” Al brought the small sander over as Tim kept

talking. “It’s small but powerful. 1.6 amp motor, 14,000 opm, and it fits in the palm

of your hand. Binford edition, this is the Finishing Sander.” He handed it to Mulder.

“Don’t turn it on yet, Agent Mulder. Agent Scully will be using the slightly larger

sander. 2.4 amp motor, 13,000 opm, and it requires two hands. Both will get the

job done. They’ll just both have a different feel. Now Agents, next to the saw

horses you’ll find a plug in the ground. Go ahead and plug in your sanders, and I’ll

demonstrate the general technique before you get going.”

After putting earplugs in and watching Tim miraculously successfully work his power

sander, Mulder and Scully began sanding the pieces. They only sanded one surface,

before pre-sanded surfaces were brought out after a commercial break. Then they

were ready to drill, and finally to fasten the shelves together.

“When choosing a drill,” Tim said, “You have to remember that more power isn’t

necessarily what you always need.”

Everyone, even Scully, gasped.

Al took a step forward. “Are you feeling alright, Tim?”

Tim smiled. “Yes, I’m perfectly fine. We’re working with relatively thin pieces of

wood here today, and there’s a great risk of splitting the wood.”

“Something you seem prone to do, Tim,” Al joked.

“Thank you, Al,” Tim said sarcastically. “What you want around the house and what

you want on the job site can be two different things. When on the job site, getting

the job done quickly and efficiently is key. Of course, you want to aim for that at

home, too, but you’re more likely to have a charger nearby at home than you are at

a site. So a long battery life is essential. It’s also a pain to be stuck up on your roof

at home and have your drill run out on you.”

“Which has been known to happen,” Scully said with a smile.

“Exactly. So choose a drill with a strong battery life. And when you’re talking prices,

you want to choose a drill with a voltage rating and torque rating that doesn’t send

your credit rating plummeting into negatives.”

Mulder smirked. “Hey, it’s government money.”

“In that case, bring out the big guns first,” Tim said happily, and Lisa brought out a

very large drill—almost so large that she couldn’t carry it. Mulder and Scully glanced

at each other, both wondering what the hell it was.

“7.5 Amp motor,” Tim said with a grin, “Up to 1200 rpm, 120 Volts, ladies and

gentlemen, meet the Binford Heavy Duty Hole Hawg!” He propped it up on his

shoulder, and continued, “This baby’ll drill a hole from your house foundation to

China.” He grunted for effect, and everyone in the audience followed along. Then

he put the drill down on the workbench, and addressed the audience. “But the Hole

Hawg is used for big projects—not building shelves. This wood, ladies and

gentlemen, is one inch and three-eighths thick—”

“No, Tim, it’s one and a half.”

“I’m pretty sure I measured it, Al,” Tim said, looking quite annoyed, “And it was one

inch and three eighths—”

Al whipped out a tape measure and measured the nearest piece of wood. “One and a

half,” he said simply, and then waited smugly for Tim’s response.

Tim pursed his lips, and then addressed the audience. “See, this is why you should

always work in pairs. Your partner is likely to catch something you didn’t. And then

he’s out sick for a week and you collect all the pay,” Tim said jokingly.

The audience chuckled at the attempt at humor, and Scully smirked at Mulder, more

because of Mulder’s tendency to ‘catch’ things than anything else.

“Alright, the point is that the wood is pretty thin, and there’s a good chance it’ll split.

Especially if you drill right along the ring. So you choose your drill accordingly.

Agent Mulder, you’ll be working with an 18V Binford, and Agent Scully, you’ll be

working with the 14V.” Lisa brought both cordless drills to them, and Tim continued.

“You shouldn’t need anything bigger than 18V for your projects around the house,

but sometimes you need to call in for the big guns, and get a special bit or a special

drill. If you’re drilling into concrete, brick, or mortar, you need a hammer drill. But

this is wood, and too much torque and too much power can split it, rendering it

useless.”

He walked over to Mulder and Scully, and said, “Now you always mark your wood for

where you want to drill, using a level, a ruler, and a pencil. These are pre-marked

for time’s sake, and so the agents can go ahead and start drilling, nice and slow.”

Mulder and Scully handled the drills easily, and one could see that although Mulder

didn’t have a lot of practice, he caught on quickly.

“So once you’ve gone through the wood, you stop, and put the drill in reverse, and

then pull it out.” The agents did as Tim told them, and they had two neat holes

formed in their respective pieces of wood. “Now let’s get the opinions of the agents,

shall we? Agent Scully, how did the drill feel?”

“It went in easily—the wood wasn’t very dense. The vibration control was amazing.

I was really impressed. This drill’s better than the one I have at home.”

“And what do you have at home?”

“A Binford 2530, from 2003.”

“Ah, see, the vibration control on the drills has improved drastically since 2003. Plus

you’ve got a lower voltage on this drill than the one you have at home, so it’s gonna

feel a little smoother without so much torque. What about you, Agent Mulder?”

“This thing’s powerful,” Mulder said. “It went straight through the wood, even on the

low torque setting.”

“Well, that’s an 18V for you. It really depends on your style, and what project you’re

tackling, as to what drill you need to buy. A 14V won’t carry as much torque, in

general, as an 18V, and they tend to be smaller, too. So for smaller hands, a 14V is

ideal. Binford also has a line of tools scaled down for smaller hands, which makes

sense, given the amount of kids and women who use our tools for their every-day

jobs.”

“Tim, what’s gotten into you? I’ve never heard you mention the smaller-scale tools

on the show,” Al said.

“Al, I’m shocked,” Tim said, feigning insult, “I’ve always respected the smaller users

of our tools. Doesn’t mean I’ve given up any respect for the…Heavy Duty Hole

Hawg!” He said as he picked up the giant drill left on the workbench, activated the

forward switch, and squeezed the trigger. The enormous bit twisted with torque

unimaginable and even displayed some kickback at first.

Al rolled his eyes, and said, “I believe it’s time for a commercial break.”

“Absolutely, Al. And when we come back, we’ll put these shelves together.”

A few moments later, they had everything in place to construct the shelves.

Together, Mulder and Scully were able to fasten the bolts and create an eight-foot-

tall bookcase. It was sturdy and impressive.

“The last thing we need to do,” Tim said, “Is test its sturdiness. So in light of our

visitors, we’ve brought out some volunteers from the set crew to shoot airsoft pellets

at the bookshelf and see if it topples over. We’ve got a firing squad of five crew

members. Come on out, boys and girls.”

The crew, dressed in black and wearing ear and eye protection merely for effect,

were sporting spring loaded airsoft guns with bright orange tips. Mulder and Scully

couldn’t help but smirk.

“Tim…I don’t think this is such a good idea—Airsoft pellets have been known to

bounce off of objects—” Al started.

“If you want to go grab your mother to block the shots—” Tim started, but earned a

laugh from the audience before he could complete his sentence. Al stood off to the

side indignantly, and Tim put on safety goggles and ear protection just for fun.

“Ready…aim…fire!” Tim yelled, and the crew fired. Little orange pellets bounced off

the shelves, and some rested inside. “Fire!” Tim yelled again. Ten more times, until

their magazines were emptied, and then Tim lifted his ear protection. “Alright, folks,

I think the FBI agents did a wonderful job. Next time, we’ll be working with Agents

Mulder and Scully again, as well as the boys from K&B construction on our three-

year anniversary episode. Thanks, have a great night.”

“Cut!” Was yelled, and the audience got up to leave. Mulder and Scully approached

Tim grinning.

“The firing squad idea was hilarious,” Scully said.

“Did you guys learn anything?” Tim asked.

“We learned a lot,” Mulder said, surprisingly enough.

“And we can’t wait for our afternoon lesson,” Scully added.

“Well, let’s clean up the set first, and then you two can head back here later this

afternoon. I’ll show you the basics of the table saw and some basic building

techniques, and some cleaning and maintenance of your tools. Then we’ll look at a

car engine—something I’m sure will come in handy on the field. And to top it off

we’ll go over basic home maintenance, something I’m sure you two will be able to

use if not on the job or in the office, when you’re at home.”

“Absolutely,” Mulder agreed.

“Okay, we’ll see you later, then,” Tim told them.

Mulder and Scully left the studio, and headed to get some late lunch. They found a

Burger King and sat down, discussing what they had seen.

“I really don’t think he’s that much of a klutz,” Scully said. “He was careful on the

show—he loves his power, but he’s not an endangerment to his surroundings.”

“Wish I could say the same for you, with that drill in your hand,” Mulder joked.

Scully rolled her eyes. “Come on, Mulder. We need to focus on the case, too.”

“I think I agree with you, Scully. After seeing him on the set, I’m pretty sure that

some of his accidents can be attributed to carelessness, but not all, and certainly not

the big ones. He might shock himself because he forgets to unplug the wall socket

but he wouldn’t do something to endanger the people around him, or seriously injure

himself. He’s confident, macho, knowledgeable, and caring. He cares about the

people around him more than himself, even if he puts on a front of limited emotional

capacity.”

“Is this your official profile?”

“Something like that. It’s still a little odd to be profiling Tim the Tool Man Taylor.”

“Well, if nothing else, we’ll find out tomorrow if the curse can be broken.”

“Or if the suspect can be apprehended.”

“So you think it’s a suspect now?”

“I don’t know what to think. He really knows what he’s doing. He’s not the type to

blow up the studio. But he is the type that everyone would blame for that kind of

thing. So I can see how this might turn out, if we aren’t careful.”

Scully nodded. “I agree. So…did you learn anything?”

“I learned a lot, actually. I wasn’t bluffing.” He took a bite of his hamburger, and

gave himself a moment before saying, “I never really got the chance to have a father

like Tim…you know, to show me how to use tools and learn the skills you’ve learned

from your father.”

Scully just gave him a sympathetic, understanding look.

“But now that I’m learning, I don’t really mind it anymore. I think I could really

learn to like this stuff.”

“Good,” Scully said with a grin. “Our dryer’s waiting.”

“What have I gotten myself into?” Mulder asked with a shake of his head.

Scully laughed, and they continued with their lunch.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

TOOL TIME STUDIO

DETROIT, MI

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 18th, 2007

1000

Their lesson the previous afternoon had been enlightening and fun. Tim electrocuted

himself once, but not severely, and was the butt of lame jokes from Al for the rest of

their lesson. Mulder learned something about how to fix a car engine, and they

skipped the hot wiring lesson since the FBI had already educated both agents on the

topic.

They also learned how to operate a table saw, basic safety rules for using one, and

techniques for preventing kickback. They learned how to change the blade on a

miter saw, and how to tell which miter saw was right for the job.

Finally, Mulder and Scully took some time walking around the studio during a break

to examine any sources of danger. They found none, other than the rather old

electrical system that probably needed replaced soon.

They had spent the night before the anniversary show going through personnel files

on the crew, and running background checks to see if anyone had been present for

the three previous cancelled shows. One person’s name popped up: Marcus

Gregory, a sixty-year-old lighting coordinator who had worked on the studio for the

past thirty-five years. But he had no prior police record and no reason to arrest him

under suspicion of conspiracy. So they just decided to keep their eyes open.

The next morning Mulder and Scully walked out from behind the set when they were

introduced for the second time in two days, and waved at the audience as they

applauded.

They had just met the rather…colorful…construction workers from the K&B

Construction company backstage, and Mulder couldn’t wait to actually work with

them on set.

“Okay, so today we’re going to go over basic tool maintenance with the agents. It’s

very important to keep your tools clean, and operating at their maximum capacity.”

“And how would you know, Tim?” Al asked.

“Because I maintain my tools, Al,” Tim said with mock annoyance.

“I think it’s also noteworthy to mention that it’s important, when working in pairs, to

split the maintenance between you,” Al told the audience.

“We share plenty of work around here,” Tim told him with a clap on his shoulder.

Al paused for a moment. “I don’t think so, Tim.”

The audience laughed, and Tim said, “Well, you can share the work all the way to the

unemployment line if you’d like.”

Al was quiet, even though Tim had a grin on his face. “Anyway, back to tool

maintenance. We’ll talk about drills first—these are the easiest to abuse. Almost

everyone’s got one, and not many people care for it properly.”

Lisa brought out a 14V drill for Scully, and an 18V drill for Mulder. In fact, they were

the same drills as they had used yesterday.

“So picture you’re done with a job, and your wife’s calling you,” Tim changed his

voice to a high-pitched, stereotypical ‘male-imitating-annoying-female’ voice as he

said, “’Get back in the kitchen and help me with the carrots. For God’s sake, what

are you doing out there in the garage?’ So being the good husband that you are,

you just leave your drill on the workbench and walk into the kitchen. Right?

Wrong!” Tim leaned into the camera as he exclaimed the last part of his monologue.

“First, you’ve got to take care of that drill,” Tim told the audience. “So Agent Mulder,

Agent Scully, why don’t you take those batteries out of the drill and place them in

the chargers, right on the workbench.” After the agents had done so, Tim continued,

“Now take the bit out of the drill and put it back in the right slot the containers.” The

agents followed this instruction as well. Then Tim said, “Alright, now under the

workbench are two cases. One for the 14V, one for the 18V. Just pull those out,

and open them up on the work bench. Great. Inside there should be a rag. Go

ahead and wipe your drill handles down. You don’t want excess grease on your

forward/reverse button, and you absolutely don’t want excess grease on your torque

gauges. Great. Now place the drill in the case, put the rag on top, and close the

case. Fasten it tight.

“Excellent,” Tim said. “See, basic tool maintenance not only gives your tools a longer

life span, but it also gives you an excuse to stay away from your wi—those carrots in

the kitchen.”

The audience chuckled, and Tim continued, “All right. Now basic tool maintenance is

pretty easy. You keep the case that comes with the tool, and remember to clean

and oil your moving parts regularly. This becomes essential as you get older.”

This earned another laugh from the audience, and Mulder and Scully.

“The worst thing you can do to a tool is to drop it, dump it into a pile, disregard it

like it’s a toy you’re done playing with. Because as I tell my boys, tools are not toys,

and they need to be cared for properly. When we come back, we’ll learn some basic

techniques on how to use household and mechanics’ tools, and then we’ll bring out

the boys from K&B construction and work on a car engine.”

The show cut to commercial break, and Tim exhaled. “Is it me, or is it getting hot in

here?”

Mulder and Scully were in T-shirts, but Al had already rolled up the sleeves to his

flannel shirt and was still sweating. That wasn’t right for the time of year. “Maybe

the heat’s broken,” Mulder said. “If you want, we could go take a look while you

prepare for the next shoot.”

“You’ve only got a few minutes. But I can see I’ve inspired you,” Tim said with a

smile. “Go ahead.”

The agents left the set, and walked to where they had seen the heating and air units.

“Think this is part of the ‘curse’?” Mulder asked Scully.

“Possibly,” Scully said. “But let’s not jump to conclusions before we’ve seen the—

whoa.” They stopped in front of the electric grid, near the heating system. Scully

shook her head. “This doesn’t look good to me.”

“I don’t know a whole lot about it, and it doesn’t look good to me, either,” Mulder

said. “I’m pretty sure juice shouldn’t be leaking out of there…”

“When do you think this was last repaired?” Scully asked.

“The birth of Christ,” Mulder joked. He surveyed the system, and frowned. “Scully, it

looks like it’s been tampered with.”

“How are you getting that?” Scully asked curiously.

“Because these wires…it doesn’t make any sense to have it routed through here.

Look. It makes a full loop and bypasses all these wires…this isn’t right.”

“What do you think it has to do with the heating system? I thought this just

controlled the lights.”

“It probably controls the heating too. We just don’t know it. Come on, we need to

tell Tim.”

Scully agreed, and followed Mulder back to the set. Tim was almost done setting up

and they were about to roll. Mulder approached the Tool Man first, and Al walked

over too, seeing their expressions. “There’s something wrong with the wiring system

over by the heater,” Mulder said. “It doesn’t look right, and it’s leaking fluid.”

“Leaking fluid?” Al asked, stunned. “Where?”

“Around the corner, the main electrical grid,” Scully said.

“We’ll get someone on that,” Tim said. “We’re about to roll here. Marcus!” He

called, and an older man walked up, dressed in all black. Mulder and Scully

exchanged a worried glance. “Marcus, there’s something wrong with the lighting

grid, near the heating system. It might be wired wrong, which would explain why

it’s so damn hot in here. Take care of it. We’re about to shoot.”

“Got it, Tim,” Marcus said in a gruff voice, and ventured back behind the set.

“Problem solved,” Tim said satisfactorily, and Al nodded, and walked away.

Mulder and Scully just weren’t so sure, and were in silent agreement to keep on high

alert.

The new segment started, and Tim showed the agents the basic way of holding and

using each standard tool in their homeowner’s kit. Then they began exploring

mechanics’ tools, as a precursor to the car engine. Finally, Lisa brought out the car

engine and Tim called out the K&B Construction crew.

Pete was a tall, heavy-set man with an interesting beard and very long hair tied tight

into a ponytail. Dwayne was a short man with a hardhat on. He looked intense, and

completely serious. Rock, on the other hand, was of average build, and looked

downright bouncy.

“Tim, it’s great to be here again,” Rock said eagerly, shaking Tim’s hand a bit too

long.

“Great to have you guys back,” Tim said politely, and smiled. “I know you met

backstage, but we should have formal introductions here. FBI Agents Mulder and

Scully, this is Pete, Rock, and Dwayne from K&B Construction company. They’re

recurring guests here on the show. They’ve showed us a lot of useful

tips…everything from cooking on the job site to how to get the WD-40 out of your

hair at night.”

“That’s right, Timmy, and we’ve got plenty of tips for the FBI agents here. But first

we’re gonna work on that car engine?” Rock asked.

“Of course.”

“Wait—Tim, if I could, I’d like to say something,” Pete interjected.

“Pete, this is neither the time nor the place,” Dwayne said forcefully, but Tim cut in.

“It’s alright, go ahead,” he said. “We’re running on a schedule here, so keep it

short.”

“Of course.” Pete said, and bowed his head briefly before looking into Mulder and

Scully’s eyes. “I want to thank you two for serving our country. From the bottom of

my heart,” he said sincerely, while Dwayne rolled his eyes, “You two deserve a

standing ovation.”

And much to Mulder and Scully’s surprise, Pete had apparently elicited enough

respect from the audience in the past to warrant just that—a full standing ovation,

where even Dwayne clapped.

When that was finally done, much to Mulder’s relief, Tim was standing by the engine,

looking it over. “Alright, before we get started, let’s go over the basics on how an

engine works. There are six valves to the engine here—”

Tim was cut off by a screeching noise, just as the lights went out. Mulder and Scully

had their guns drawn despite the interference from their tool belts, and neither even

noticed that the camera was still rolling. Another screeching noise initiated, and

then the horrible sound of twisting metal entered their ears.

Mulder looked up, and saw the beam with the lights fixed on it, about to give. He

had no idea how, but every light had blown and glass had showered the set.

“Evacuate the set!” Scully read Mulder’s mind. “Everyone out! Now!”

Her commanding voice forced the K&B Construction crew off the set immediately,

and Al and Lisa were next. Tim was trying to get the engine out of the way of the

beam—he saw it too, and apparently the engine was expensive. But there wasn’t

time for that, and as Scully evacuated the audience, they heard one last sickening

screech of metal giving way.

The beam fell, and Mulder dove into Tim, both of them rolling past the workbench

and colliding with the back wall of the set. The beam crashed through the set floor,

and stopped at the concrete.

The camera, miraculously, was still rolling not far away. But the crew had

abandoned it.

Through the dust, Mulder coughed and stood up slowly. He offered Tim his hand,

and they both stood, slightly dazed. Scully ran over as soon as the last audience

member was out of the building, and surveyed the two men. “Are you two—”

“We’re fine, Scully. Take Tim and get him checked out by a paramedic. I’m gonna

go find Gregory.”

“No way. Tim, you alright?”

Tim nodded, and looked at where the beam had crashed—right where he had been

standing only seconds before. “Did Marcus not get out?”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other, and Mulder coughed from the smoke.

“We’re going to look into that. Do you think you can find your way out to the

paramedics?”

“I don’t need a paramedic. If some of the crew didn’t get out, I need to help look for

them with you.”

“It might be too dangerous,” Scully told him.

“Why? The set isn’t stable—that doesn’t mean the rest of the studio isn’t.”

“Speaking of the set not being stable, I think we should get off of it,” Mulder said,

and they carefully made their way off the set, and into the audience area. There

they continued the conversation, but only briefly. “We think Marcus may have had

something to do with this, Tim,” Mulder said simply. “And we need to find him. But

you can’t be here.”

“Mulder, where’s your gun?” Scully asked.

Mulder looked into the pile of rubble where floorboards of the set had come up and

crowded the crash site. He shook his head, and reached down to grab the weapon

out of his ankle holster.

“Are you two serious? Marcus might have caused this?” Tim asked.

Scully only nodded forlornly, and said, “And we might not have much time.”

Tim took a deep breath, and coughed slightly. “Okay,” he said. “Let me know when

you find him.”

“That won’t be necessary,” a voice said from behind the set. They all turned, to see

the sixty-year-old lighting coordinator with a wire in his hand, standing near the

heating tank. “Don’t move,” he told the agents. “Or I attach this wire to the

detonator wire and create a complete circuit.”

“Marcus?” Tim asked in disbelief.

“Oh, shut up,” the man snapped. “You’re even dumber than you look. All you TV

show hosts are—I haven’t found a good one yet.”

“So you keep killing them,” Mulder said smoothly, and took a step forward. He

moved calmly, non-threateningly. “You keep causing these accidents and no one

ever finds the source. What was it this time? Controlled explosion?”

“More like loosened bolts and a simple charge. All it took was some re-wiring.

Something the ‘Tool Man’ wouldn’t be able to do if his life depended on it.”

“But you could,” Mulder told him. “You’re much smarter, more capable.”

The sixty-year-old’s eyes darted between his three enemies, paranoid and angry.

Mulder was inching closer, but it was so hard to watch all of them at once…especially

when Mulder’s partner was edging off to the side, out of his peripheral vision. Tim

still stood there, dumbfounded.

“But no one would pay attention,” Mulder continued. “You were just the lighting

coordinator. And you should have been giving the hosts lessons.”

The man realized what was going on, apparently. “Don’t come any closer! I’ve got

this wire so close to the detonator that—”

He didn’t get the opportunity to finish his sentence. Mulder caught Scully’s eye and

they had a standard plan in motion within seconds. Scully came at him from behind,

grabbed his hand with the wire and twisted it behind his back while simultaneously

getting him in a headlock. A simple disarming maneuver. She had him cuffed and

on his knees in seconds. Tim still stood, pale and apparently in shock, watching the

scene unfold before his eyes.

Mulder flipped his cell phone out and called for a Bomb Squad using his badge

number, just in case there were more charges around the set. He took over

watching Marcus as Scully approached Tim.

“Are you okay?” She asked him softly.

Tim nodded. “Yeah…yeah, I guess.” He pursed his lips together. Forever the ‘tough

guy’.

Scully gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder and said, “Come on, let’s get out of

here.”

None of them even bothered to look at the rolling camera as they heard the sirens

approaching, and decided to join the others outside.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

TAYLOR HOUSE

DETROIT, MI

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19th, 2007

1100

Mulder and Scully sat on the Taylor’s couch with Tim and Jill. The kids were out of

school now and upstairs playing…or fighting…as instructed.

Jill and Tim, needless to say, had taken the day off.

“Agent Mulder, I can’t thank you enough,” Jill started, but Mulder held up his hand.

“We’re trained to do this sort of thing. It’s everyday life for us.”

“Well, we can still be grateful,” Jill told him. “If you ever need a place to stay while

you’re in Detroit…just ask.”

“And you’re always welcome back on the show,” Tim told them.

“We’d love to come back on the show sometime,” Scully said. “Provided our work

schedules allow for it. Hopefully now your studio won’t have any more problems.”

“Remind me again how the heating was affected by the bombs on the lighting

beam?” Mulder asked, still confused.

“The heating tank was next to the electrical circuit,” Tim explained. His voice didn’t

sound at all like the confident, all-knowing tone they had heard before when he

explained something mechanical. But that, of course, was understandable. “The

charges on the beam were run right by the heating tank, and part of the wire to the

charge shorted out when it made contact with the heating system. But the other

part was still enough to knock the loosened bolts out and let the beam fall.”

Jill rubbed Tim’s back affectionately, and he looked down briefly before raising his

head again. “The best part is we got it all on tape. Not only can you have a copy for

whatever report you need to fill out, but we can air it on the show to pay a tribute to

what you did in there.”

Scully blushed slightly. “That’s really not necessary, Tim.”

“No, it’s not necessary, but I want to do it. The audience will want you back after

seeing that. And I think Pete might have wet his pants…may not be coming back

anytime soon.” He smiled at the last, to let them know he was kidding.

“We really did enjoy being on your show,” Mulder said. “And we learned a lot.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Tim said, brightening slightly. “That’s what the show’s all

about. Oh, Agent Scully…Al got you a present.” He got up suddenly, and jogged

into the kitchen. He removed something small from the bottom cupboard near Jill’s

plates, and brought it over. It was wrapped in a plastic bag.

“Wow, great wrapping job, Tim.”

“It was Al’s wrapping job,” Tim said with fake annoyance, and handed the small

package to Scully. “There’s something in there for Mulder, apparently, too. He

picked it up last night.”

Scully opened the package, and pulled out the little boxes inside. Seasons 1 and 2

of Tool Time, on DVD. She beamed. “Thank you! Tell Al I said thank you!”

Tim smiled. “I think he figured on the road, you might not get the chance to watch

the show. So you can re-watch some episodes.”

Mulder pulled out the softer item in the bag, and held it up for everyone to see. A

flannel shirt, size large in men’s, with a Tool Time logo on the breast pocket. He had

to laugh.

“Figures,” Tim said with a smirk. “Well, I’m sure you’ll get some use out of it.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged a glance, which Tim and Jill couldn’t really read, and

then Mulder turned back to the Tool Man. “I definitely will,” he promised sincerely.

“Well, thank you so much for having us over. We should be going,” Scully said.

“We’ve got to get to the airport. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Dana. Mulder,” Jill said with a warm smile. “And Dana…next time

you’re in town…I think we should go out to lunch. I get the feeling sharing stories

about Mulder and Tim would keep us busy for hours.”

Scully laughed. “You read my mind,” she said.

Tim and Mulder rolled their eyes. “Tigers game?” Tim asked. “I owe ya one.”

“I’m there,” Mulder told him. He shook the man’s hand in a firm grasp, and then Tim

clapped the agent on the shoulder.

“Remember, you’re always welcome back,” Tim told them as they walked to the

door.

“We’ll definitely give you a call next time we’re in town,” Scully promised. “Thanks

again.”

“Have a safe trip!” Jill called as they left the house.

Tim and Jill held hands on their way back to the couch, and Tim popped the copy of

the video from yesterday’s event back in the player.

“Tim…no, don’t watch it again. You don’t need to.”

Tim stared at her.

“It’s alright. Marcus is in jail. Or he will be. The set can be rebuilt—no one was

hurt. Stop obsessing. Go to the garage and build something. Watch sports.

Anything. Just stop watching the damn tape.”

Tim continued to stare, before pressing ‘eject’, and setting the tape aside. He

smiled, and took Jill into his arms. They shared a long, passionate kiss.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

FLIGHT 269

SOMEWHERE OVER THE US

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19th, 2007

1400

“So Mulder, what are you going to put in your field report?”

“Exactly what happened, Scully,” Mulder said.

“Including what you learned from the show?”

“Especially what I learned from the show. Hopefully we can get out of more

seminars this way.”

Scully grinned at him.

“What about you? You’re going to write everything you learned?”

“Absolutely. I don’t like those stupid ‘pyramid of agents’ exercises any more than

you.”

Mulder laughed. “It’s the icebreaker exercises that always get me. Two truths and a

lie. How does ‘I’ve been attacked by a mothman,’ ‘I’ve seen aliens,’ and ‘I’ve gone

skydiving in Fiji’ sound?”

Scully shared his chuckle at that one. “Now we’ve got to put skydiving in Fiji on our

list of things to do. But first…” she leaned in, and spoke into his ear, “I want you in

that flannel shirt. And only that flannel shirt.”

Mulder flushed, and turned to look at her. He was about to say something, when he

thought of the perfect, and really only appropriate, response. He wrapped one arm

around her, and grunted just like Tim the Tool Man Taylor. Somehow, his grunt

sounded like a very gravelly, “Ooooh, yeah!”

Scully was happy for the rest of the flight.

5

Tool Time! By Starfleetofficer1

Double Jeopardy

TITLE: Double Jeopardy

AUTHOR: XSketch (XSketch@hotmail.com)

WEBSITE: http://thesketchfiles.bravehost.com

CATEGORY: X, S, MSR, MT

RATING: PG-15 (for strong language)

SUMMARY: 42 years after the first incident a UFO crashes in Pennsylvania, except

this time somebody believes they can hand the craft over to Mulder and Scully.

Could it finally be the proof they’ve been after for 15 years?

SPOILERS: The whole VS universe thus far.

DISCLAIMER: Whilst this story is inspired by an actually documented UFO

encounter and the news of NASA’s recent order to investigate the reports, all

characters and plots are this story are completely fictitious and nothing more

than imaginings of my muse – any similarity to people living or dead or any

events is nothing more than coincidental. The X-Files, Mulder, Scully, CSM and

Deep Throat remain property of Chris Carter and are used here without

permission – I make no money from writing this and no infringement is intended.

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusive to Virtual Season 15, and then it’s yours as long

as you let me know where and keep my name/all disclaimers attached.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Mucho gracias to my lovely beta Lisa 🙂 Happy holidays

everyone!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

KECKSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA

DECEMBER 9th, 1965

6:14 PM

As the wintry Thursday evening drew in and a blanket of clouds tinted with a

myriad of colors unravelled, nine-year-old Josh Kerstein sang along with The

Byrds’ ‘Turn Turn Turn’, which played on the battered wireless that sat beside him

on the large tree bough and watched as his father locked up their barn for the

night. A large smile widened on his face. Despite the freezing temperature

biting at his body, thanks to his mother’s ignored orders to wrap up well, this was

the best time of his life: listening to music and watching his father work.

Randall Kerstein turned, blew into his cupped hands and then rubbed them

together as he looked up toward the heavens, thanking God for another day of

good farming regardless of the weather.

“Pa, we going in now?” the boy called from his perch, switching off the radio.

The wind picked up as Randy glanced at his son, scratched at the stubble on his

left cheek and smiled. “Yep, I do believe it’s that time. Smells like your

mom’s cooking up some of tha–”

Suddenly the ground shook with an inconceivable force, Josh slipped from the

high branch – only just barely managing to grab hold with his right hand before

he fell to the ground like his now-smashed radio.

“Joshua!”

The air around them was sucked into a vacuum, the icy temperature boiled to a

simmer, and as the elder Kerstein struggled to catch his breath and run to his

son’s aid at the same time, a raging fireball larger than the family’s farm shed

hurtled past them at break-neck speed toward the line of trees on the horizon,

where it crashed with a sonic boom.

…Which was enough to send Josh falling from the tree completely.

As his world faded to black, he could just barely make out the voices of his

screaming mother and father rushing towards him, and at least half of the

townsfolk hurrying for the woods.

XxXxXxXxX

NASA HEADQUARTERS

WASHINGTON D.C

DECEMBER 21st, 2007

“What do they know, anyway? Forty years on and they expect us to do what,

exactly?”

The loud, booming voice echoed down the long hallway as the two men – one

suited and one uniformed – hastily made their way along the black-carpeted

floor..

“Stupid, fucking government trying to get on the good side of crappy, Podunk

townies in time for the next election.”

Administrator Warren Anderson waved the piece of paper that was tightly gripped

in his right hand in the air, wishing he could just burn it and forget that it had

ever existed.

At the end of October, an order had been passed across Anderson’s desk to open

an investigation into sightings of an unidentified flying object by residents of

Kecksburg, Pennsylvania back in 1965. He’d pushed it aside, hoping that it would

be forgotten, but a faceless somebody higher up apparently had other ideas.

He’d received yet another order, clearly stating that if he did not follow it

immediately, it wouldn’t be long before he’d be struggling to find another job and

the thirteenth NASA administrator was being sworn in.

With the Christmas rush just around the corner, and the January shuttle launch in

jeopardy due to numerous technical ‘concerns’, fulfilling somebody’s Twilight

Zone fantasy was far from the top of his ‘To Do’ list. If it was worth threatening

his job over, Anderson had no choice but to obey – no matter how reluctantly.

He stopped, turned to face his second-in-command and thrust the confidential

piece of paper into the shorter man’s hands.

“Deal with it,” Anderson gritted out, shaking his head to accentuate his

dissatisfaction. “As quickly and quietly as possible.”

The neatly uniformed officer glanced at the order in confusion, but then clicked

his heels together, saluted and barked out “Yes, sir,” without question. He was

about to walk away when suddenly a woman in a lab coat quickly approached

from behind them, calling out Anderson’s name.

“Sir, we have a problem,” the scientist panted, taking a deep, cleansing breath

before finishing, “The Kecksburg anomaly…”

“Oh for–… You really do hate me, don’t You?” Warren groaned, exasperated –

turning his gaze to the ceiling for a moment with both hands outstretched in

defeat. “Yes, what about it?” He sighed, looking back at the woman.

She faltered, dissuaded by his apparent temper, and then replied, hesitantly,

“There’s been another one.”

Anderson struggled to categorize his new mood – was there even a category

beyond ‘pissed off to the max’? “When?” he almost whined.

“That…That would be the problem, sir.”

“You mean *that* wasn’t the problem!?”

“The new anomaly crashed in the same woods in Kecksburg two weeks

ago…and…” Dr Catherine Schubert stuttered to a pause, shooting a cursory

glance at the deputy administrator and finishing, “and has now disappeared

from the crash site.”

It was doubtful that anyone within a five mile radius of where they stood didn’t

hear Anderson’s loudly exclaimed “For fuck’s sake!”

XxXxXxXxX

Mulder and Scully’s SUV completed a second circuit of the store’s full car lot as

they struggled to find a free space. Having gone from one exhaustive,

tumultuous case to another within a matter of days in the last month, they hadn’t

had time to even think about Christmas, let alone shop for the occasion. So now,

on the last, Saturday three days before the big day, they’d hoped to make a last-

minute attempt at buying in all of their gifts, decorations and food.

If they could just fight their way through the hordes of weekend shoppers,

carollers, and eager street merchants.

To make things worse, at some point during the busy blur of case files and

hospital visits they’d agreed to have the Scully Clan over for the festivities. Which

the partners would have forgotten about, had it not been for Maggie’s phone call

late last night – as they’d finally, literally, dragged themselves into bed – to check

if she needed to bring anything with her, The agents could live without the lights

and formalities of the season in their own company, but they needed to make this

a special time for Margaret in the wake of yet another death in the family – no

matter how long-overdue they believed that particular comeuppance might have

been .

“Just one more try,” Mulder grumbled, refusing to let the lazy last-minuters that

actually could have been out getting their supplies whilst they’d been putting

their lives on the line, beat him as his sweaty palms clenched a little tighter

around the steering wheel. Dana’s calm streak was far from faultless when it

came to making preparations for family get-togethers, but today she was

relatively relaxed compared to her partner’s frantic disposition.

“Mulder, you said that twenty minutes ago,” she sighed, resting what she hoped

would be a soothing hand on his arm. “Come on, let’s go for coffee, take a

break, and then maybe try another mall.”

He shot a glance in her direction, noted the concern etched in her features, but

then shook his head and returned his attention to the tarmac and gravel. “We

can’t let your mom and Tara down–”

“Mom will just be happy that we’re there, alive and well,” Scully quickly

countered. “One more lap and I think I’m gonna be ill from motion sickness!”

Once again the male agent diverted his gaze to momentarily study his partner.

Scully gave a wry smile and felt a wave of relief as she saw the stubborn

determination that had been creasing his features slowly dissipate.

Suddenly there was the sound of screeching tires, and Dana’s head whipped

round in time to see a red 1997 Ford F-150 braking to a halt half-way out of a

parking spot not far ahead of them.

“Mulder, look out!”

Thanks to lightning-speed reflexes honed over the years at work, Mulder’s foot

slammed on the brake pedal before the whole of her exclamation registered in his

brain, or he’d had chance to turn his own head.

A little surprised by the near-collision, both agents sat still and watched as the

sole occupant of the other vehicle got out the drivers’ side and moved around the

rear bumper to approach them. The man was tall, walked with a limp, and bore a

prominent scar down the right side of his clean-shaven face; there was no sign of

malice in his stance or expression, yet Scully still scrambled for the holstered gun

in the glove compartment nevertheless.

“Hey, sorry about that,” Mulder courteously smiled, winding down his window as

the stranger stopped beside him and bent down to peek into their vehicle.

The other man looked from one agent to the other, shot a shifty glance over his

shoulder to check nobody was watching, and then turned back to lean further in

through their open car window. “You’re M-Mulder and Sc-Scu…Scully, right?” he

stammered.

Memories of an evening almost eleven years ago and a woman claiming to be

Max Fenig’s sister interrupting her birthday celebrations echoed in Scully’s mind

and she sharply sat up straight in her seat, tightening her hold on both Mulder’s

arm and the gun now concealed under her jacket.

“Yes,” Mulder replied skeptically, sensing her unease and feeling his own paranoia

brimming to the surface.

“Who’s asking?”

Yet again the man checked behind him for any onlookers before responding, “M-

my name’s Josh Ke-Kerstein…I h-have a UFO f-f-for you…”

A car horn suddenly blared from behind them and Kerstein quickly raised a hand

to shield his face from view of the other drivers.

“M-meet me in the Starb-b-bucks across t-the street in five minutes i-if you’re

interested…Please, I- d-don’t know h-how much longer I c-c-can hide it from

them,” he implored, with a solemn shake of his head before rushing back to his

own car and vacating the lot.

Finally, a free space!

Mulder bit down on his lip, watching the departing pickup truck as he weighed up

their options. He just wanted to pull into the open lot and do the planned

shopping spree as soon as possible so that they could have a nice, relaxing

evening, but his gut…dammit…His gut instinct was telling him, for some reason,

to find out what the stranger had that was so important.

“Mulder?”

Of course, she knew exactly what he was thinking, and any other time she

probably would have let him, but three days before Christmas Dana hoped that

even Fox Mulder couldn’t be lured by the hint of a case right now.

Without a word, he pulled their Saturn hybrid into the deserted space and slipped

out of the driver’s seat – activating the automatic locking system once his partner

had left the vehicle also, and then pocketing the keys as he walked around the

bonnet to stand beside her.

The driver who’d been impatiently honking his horn behind them, sped off,

shouting expletives at them through the open passenger-side window as he went.

“You go ahead and I’ll catch you up in a couple minutes,” he smiled reassuringly,

leaning in to place a kiss on her cheek.

Scully’s hand quickly raised to intercept him, though.

“Please don’t say you going to give that guy two seconds of your time,” she

exclaimed, pinning him with a scolding stare. When he didn’t try to even lie his

way out, she knew the answer and her frown deepened.

“Mulder, we have to put up with enough crackpots during the year as it is, don’t

you think there might actually be a few extra rolling around at Christmas?”

“You mean besides the one that’s standing in front of you now?” he tried to joke

with a goofy grin.

She let out a despondent sigh, shaking her head. “Well, I guess I can’t argue

with that…”

“C’mon, I’ll just be five minutes. I swear.” He started to bounce excitedly on the

balls of his feet, which usually meant he was about to take flight, no matter how

against the idea she may be. “I don’t know why, but something’s telling me to

find out what this guy’s hiding.”

“The same feeling that got us trapped one Christmas Eve in a house that

*wasn’t* haunted?”

“Sculleeeee…”

“Oh, for God’s sake…” Anybody would have thought he was a small child

begging to see Santa Claus. “Okay. Sure, fine, whatever,” she finally relented.

“But *no* cases until after Mom, Tara and the kids have visited. I can handle an

abbreviated Christmas, but I won’t ruin

it for them.”

With the widest grin imaginable, Mulder swooped in to attempt to kiss her again

and this time she let him, returning the gesture. He turned and started to quickly

wind his way through the parked vehicles, but slowed down when he suddenly

felt her arm slip through and hook onto his own.

“Miss me already?” came his surprised, puzzled retort.

Dana shook her head and smiled enigmatically, “If you think I’m letting you loose

on your own to get up to mischief, you can think again. I know you – I’ll look

away and you’ll wind up in hospital within three seconds with some idiotic injury.”

“And…you think I’m how old?”

“It’s happened. Need I remind you of last year’s drama when you were entrusted

to put up the decorations by yourself? Let’s just find out what this particular

nutjob wants, and if you’re good maybe we’ll go see Santa after we’re done

shopping.”

“Well, alrighty then!”

XxXxXxXxX

They found Kerstein sitting in the farthest corner of the cafe, nervously eyeing

everyone that entered and exited the building as if they were out to get him.

Scully inwardly chuckled at the thought – no wonder Mulder felt so drawn to what

the stranger was supposedly offering: they were probably kindred spirits

separated at birth.

The middle-aged man stood to greet them – shaking each of their hands in turn –

but just as quickly sat down again, as if he’d exposed his location by popping into

view above eye-level. “T-thank you f-f-for coming,” he started with a nod of his

head. “You’ll have to f-forgive my s-speech… I w-w-was in an accident when I

w-was a k-kid. B-b-banged my brain a b-bit.”

Both agents nodded in acceptance of the apology as they seated themselves also.

“How do you know who we are, Mr Kerstein?” Mulder queried, leaning forward

slightly onto his elbows to help allay the older man’s paranoia.

“I read an a-article about y-you both in the P-P-Pennsylania T-Tribune a few y-

years back when you investigated s-some alien abduction c-c-claims…I w-was

gonna contact y-you then to s-share m-m-my story, but I kinda c-chickened o-

out,” Josh explained, looking closely from one agent to the other and back again.

“When the second one c-came, though, I-I knew I h-h-had t-to get to y-you,

before they g-got to me.”

Mulder shifted uncomfortably on his stool. No invisible deity would be able to

protect him from the wrath of Scully if this had been a wasted detour from their

schedule, and despite his refusal to regret the decision he’d made to listen to

Kerstein, he hoped the guy started speaking in plain English soon and spat out

what he wanted them to know. “It’s been a rough few weeks, sir,” he breathed,

wiping a hand across his suddenly-dry mouth, “so please forgive my stupidity

when I ask ‘what are you talking about?'” He felt the sharp pain of Dana’s foot

kicking his right shin, but the relieved glance she shot his way let him know that

she’d almost been bursting to ask the exact same thing.

Kerstein watched the silent exchange between the two agents, but didn’t

comment as he elaborated, “I was b-b-born and br-brought up in K-Kecksburg,

Pennsylvania…L-lived there a-a-all my l-life. B-back in sixty-five a fireball the s-

s-size o-of…” Both of his arms outstretched as wide as they could go in a

grandiose demonstration of the size scale he was struggling to explain with

words. “I-it was almost a-as big as the f-field at Yankee Stadium… A-anyway, it

flew s-straight past our f-farm and c-c-crashed in the woods w-with such a force

t-that it made me fall out of the tree I-I’d b-b-been watching m-my dad from…”

He gulped and his eyes quickly looked down and away as he almost whispered,

“That w-w-was the last time I saw–…. Dad calling m-my name as I-I hit t-t-the

ground was t-the l-last time I heard his v-voice…”

XxXxXxXxX

KECKSBURG, PA

DECEMBER 9th, 1965

6:31 PM

The acrid stench of smoke mixed with something less distinguishable filled the air

as plumes of black reached up for the heavens from the horizon. The fifteen

residents of the town rushing towards the line of trees didn’t seem to care about

that, though – one man even waving his wife off when she ran after him with

a gas mask raised in the air.

Randy Kerstein glanced up at the mob, feeling the tug of curiosity, but then

turned his attention back to the prone body of Josh at his wife’s scream.

“My baby!” Jessica wept, falling to her knees and cradling the boy’s head in her

lap. Her fingers immediately started to comb through his hair, but one hand

sharply pulled away only milliseconds later when her skin came in contact with a

warm, steady flow of blood. “Oh, my God! Randall! He’s bleeding!”

Without hesitation, despite how numb and leaden he suddenly felt, her husband

quickly hauled himself to his feet. “Take care of him. I’m gonna go get Doc

Thruxton,” he instructed, turning to make his way north.

“Randall, wait! Just call the operator for an ambulance!”

He feared for their only child’s life as much as his wife, but she was falling apart,

and he knew that one thing they definitely couldn’t do if they wanted to help

Josh was lose their heads. “Jess…” Turning back, he crouched down beside her

and stared into her watery eyes. There were no words to say that could reassure

either of them, but he soothingly sighed, “That’ll take too long. Look, I’ll go get

Doc from up the street. I’ll be back before you realise I’ve gone, okay?” At

her slightly whimpered nod, he weakly smiled, placed a gentle kiss on her

forehead and then headed back towards the dirt track road.

Where he literally ran into Doctor Herb Thruxton, who was also heading for the

woods.

“Doc! I need–”

Thruxton greeted the other man with a slightly impatient smile, but then grabbed

Kerstein’s arm and pulled him along with him as he refused to divert from his

destination.

The doctor was an oddity in the small God-fearing town, and only had interaction

with the other residents through his work as a result. He was what they hatefully

called a hippie, with long hair and non-conformist clothing, and several of the

more strict busy-bodies of the community had even gone to the AMA with their

wild theories in the hope that they could get his medical license revoked for

possession of marijuana, which had repeatedly been proven as false.

He should have suspected that Kerstein’s greeting was for more than sociable

reasons, then, but he was so intrigued by what might have just crashed to earth,

that his mind was too pre-occupied to process anything else, let alone any logic.

“Yo, Randy! You headed for the crash site as well? Excellent – I’ll walk with you!

So, what do you think it is? A plane or an asteroid?”

“Whuh?” Kerstein, caught off-guard and still trying to regain his bearings, tried

unsuccessfully to pull out of the other man’s grasp as he sputtered out his

nonsensical reply.

“You never know, it might be a sign from God!”

“No, you don’t understand–”

“Looks like the whole town’s going to find out.”

“But, Josh–” Suddenly Randall’s voice died in his throat as he found himself

looking down into the large crater that the fireball had made amongst the trees.

“Holy mother of God…”

An eerie silence filled the air as the seventeen souls stood in awe and fear,

staring uncertainly at the large, dark, acorn-shaped object, which must have

measured at least three meters in diameter at its widest point. Several of the

residents crossed themselves, certain that it was a sign of coming apocalypse,

whilst Mrs. Pitney, the local butcher’s wife, passed out altogether.

“Wow,” Thruxton exhaled, letting go of Kerstein’s arm and slowly, carefully

climbing his way down the crater’s rim with both arms outstretched in front of

him = intoxicated, instead of repelled, by the blue/black putrid clouds of smoke.

At the back of Randall Kerstein’s brain, he knew he should be running back to his

farm and calling the operator, as his wife had initially begged him to do, but

he couldn’t stop staring at the unknown craft and the strange writing engraved

around the base; hypnotized by the ancient pictures as if able to interpret but not

fully process what they were telling him.

The doctor approached ever closer, fingertips literally tingling as his splayed

hands inched nearer to the craft’s metallic surface. The smoke was causing his

eyes to water furiously and his chest to almost seize up from the thick gasses

percolating and suffocating his air passages, yet it was as if there was something

else – a power – taking over his (and everybody else’s, in fact) senses, and he

couldn’t have turned away even if he’d wanted to.

Closer, until he was barely a hair’s breadth away.

Both eyes rolled back into his head and trembling fingers reached to close the

final millimeters.

And a gunshot rang out in the air.

The spell broken, Herb Thruxton fell to the ground like a dead weight, clawing at

his throat and chest in a desperate bid to reclaim cleansing oxygen that his lungs

were long beyond the point of being able to find or use to any effect.

Randy shook his head, unable to dispel the image of the strange lines and

markings that had seemingly burnt themselves onto the back of his eyeballs, and

struggled to remain standing as a wave of dizziness wracked his body. Rubbing

his temples between forefinger and thumb, Randy staggered towards the exit of

the woods, only to find his path blocked by an armed soldier dressed in full

combat gear.

“Stop right there!” the other man ordered, immediately raising his weapon.

At least twenty military personnel swarmed into the clearing, surrounding the

cowering gathering of civilians.

Kerstein would not be deterred, though – he had to get back to his family,

dammit! He’d left them for too long already as it was. “I have to get back,” he

rasped out, still barely able to focus properly.

“Sorry, sir, but you have to stay here. We need to question you about what you

witnessed here today.”

Two men in white, protective body outfits carrying a boxed-in stretcher, bumped

past the farmer and briskly headed to where Thruxton’s body now lay completely

lifeless.

“No!” Randall stumbled, but regained his footing and tried to dodge around the

soldier, only to be pushed back and blocked yet again. “I have to get to my son!”

Despite the headache disorientating him and the armed man forcing him to stand

still, Kerstein had had enough and was ready to do whatever it took to get away

from these woods and back to his injured son’s side. He sucked in a breath,

straightened his back, and stared at the other man for a contemplative moment

before charging ahead as quickly as his still-unsteady legs would allow on the

cold, loose soil.

A struggle ensued as the soldier fought to force Kerstein to the ground, either by

hand or weapon, and the farmer used all the strength he could muster to wrestle

and twist his way out of the other man’s grasp in his bid to make a run for it.

Yet another gunshot rang out.

Except this time it hadn’t been a warning shot into thin air.

Kerstein staggered backwards, wide eyes blinking furiously as he tried to work

out what had happened and then looked down at his blood-drenched hands and

clothes. A guttural groan escaped past his quivering lips as pain worse than

anything he’d ever experienced ripped through his abdomen and he fell to his

knees.

The soldier looked on stoically.

*Pa, we going in now?*

“J–…–osh…”

Several of the townsfolk cried out in horror, but they were quickly hustled away

into an awaiting unmarked truck by half a dozen of the uniformed men whilst the

rest continued to secure the area. Not diverting their attention away from their

own work, the two unknown men in hazmat outfits rushed back past carrying

their own dead body.

As darkness drew in, Kerstein scrabbled at the ground, for the soldiers legs –

anything that could offer help. His weak hands gained no purchase, though, and

he was left to writhe in agony alone. Josh’s last words to him played over and

over in his ears, the strange symbols from the craft flashed behind his eyelids,

but as the pain faded and everything faded to black forever, the last thing

echoing in his mind was the dulcet tone of the song that had been playing on his

son’s wireless before the fireball appeared.

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep

XxXxXxXxX

STARBUCKS CAFE, WASHINGTON, D.C

PRESENT DAY

10:13 AM

“Nobody t-talks of the i-i-incident in town m-much anymore – n-nobody d-dares

to – so I don’t know a-all the details of w-what h-happened,” the grown-up Josh

Kerstein relented, sipping at his newly-received cappuccino and staring

thoughtfully at the mug for a moment. “I o-only know what t-tales they u-u-used

to tell and t-tiny snippets I’ve managed to find on t-the internet, and that

somebody d-d-demanded that a-an investigation be o-opened into it…”

Mulder nodded and glanced at Scully with a raised brow, silently asking ‘Would

you think me crazy if I said I believe this guy?’. When she flashed him a

reassuring smile, he let out a sigh of relief and returned his attention to the older

man. They’d both read in the newspaper about the orders NASA had received,

but hadn’t had the time or energy to give it much thought due to their workload.

“All I d-d-do know for c-certain i-is that two w-weeks ago, very early in t-t-the

morning, something a-almost identical to w-what the reports s-say crashed in a-

almost the e-exact same spot,” Josh finished, looking up and staring at them both

seriously. “I d-don’t t-think anybody knows what h-happened as they were p-

pretty much all in bed…B-but I was up and s-saw it…So I d-dug my pa’s old gas

m-mask out, took the t-truck up t-t-to the woods…and collected it…Hid it in the

family b-barn.” He paused, surveyed their surroundings once again and then

reached inside his coat pocket to pull out a Polaroid, which he handed to the male

agent.

Wondrous silence fell as the two FBI agents stared disbelievingly at the photo of a

large acorn-shaped metallic structure.

“Why…Why would you risk your security – your life – by taking and hiding this?”

Mulder finally asked, needing to cough to clear his suddenly raw throat. He

himself had taken many chances and risks over the years in his search for the

truth which had cost both he and Scully highly, but even he knew that there

would be far too much at stake if he ever did what Kerstein had done by

concealing this supposed UFO from the government. “Surely you realise that

sooner or later they’ll figure out that something did land and then they’ll come

looking.”

Sensing the concern in his voice and instinctively understanding where his

thoughts had wandered to, Dana rested a hand on Mulder’s knee under the table.

“Agent M-Mulder, I have no f-f-family. From that day u-until the day she d-died,

m-m-my mother made it a d-daily c-chore to d-drum it into me that Pa put his

curiosity before the life of his only son – she n-n-never forgave him. I d-don’t

know how he e-ended u-u-up in those woods, and I know I never will, but I

n-never believed her – I guess even something like t-that can’t stop a kid looking

up to his father.”

Once again Scully gave Mulder’s knee a gentle, reassuring squeeze.

“My d-dad died, and if it’s b-b-because of w-whatever they’re t-trying to cover-

up, I need to e-expose it. You were the o-only people I c-c-could come to.”

A solemn, thoughtful pause, and then Mulder rose to his feet. “Would you excuse

us, please, Mr Kerstein, whilst my partner and I speak in private?” he asked,

outstretching an arm to rest a guiding hand on Scully’s back when she stood also.

“O-of course…”

“I know what you’re thinking, Mulder,” Scully started when they were finally out

of earshot, “and despite my logical reservations, any other time I wouldn’t argue

with you, but in three days time we’ve got three expectant bodies going to be

turning up on our front doorstep, and I, for one, am not goin to be the one to

leave them out in the cold. Are you?” That was an unfair low blow, and she

quickly retracted it by adding, “Do you realise how much trouble he can get into?

How much trouble *we* could get into if we’re caught helping him? And what are

we even supposed to do about it?”

Mulder stared at her for a long moment, surprised by her words and question.

“What has it ever been about, Scully?” he queried earnestly, never breaking eye-

contact. “Finding and exposing the truth. If there’s proof–”

“And what if there isn’t? Look” – she reached for his hand and held on to it tightly

– “you know I’ll follow you no matter what – that whatever the risk, every battle

we fight will be together. But I don’t want to put either of us in the firing line for

the sake of one craft that the conspirators will easily deny the existence of and

sweep under the carpet within a matter of hours.” She saw the mixture of

acceptance and denial warring for dominance in his eyes, and realized she was

losing. “I saw that photo too, Mulder, and as a scientist I want the answers as

well, but be honest with me: does that really sound worth it to you? That man

has nothing to lose and retribution to gain, but we–”

“–have to do our jobs.” He’d already made up his mind.

No amount of arguing would change it now. “I get what you’re saying, Scully – I

do,” the tall agent finally sighed, shaking his head slightly. He knew he was

being stubborn, but he felt like he’d passed the point of backing down and his

mind was too set on the idea of finally having something to show for their work in

the paranormal field. “I’m just as tired and cold and ready for some rest as you

are, but this could be the credibility we’re looking for. Surely you, as a

scientist, want some answers to rationalise what that thing might be? All we

have to do is go, take some pictures and surface scrapings and other evidence for

analysis, and then we can be back home by tomorrow afternoon – plenty of time

to do our shopping and relax before the festivities kick in.”

There were those pleading puppy-dog eyes again, and Dana cursed herself for

still not being able to resist their pull after all these years.

“Okay,” she finally relented, closing her eyes in disbelief that she’d let the words

pas her lips. “But if we’re not back in D.C tomorrow, you can explain it all to

Mom.”

“It won’t come to that, I swear.”

They were on the road, headed for Pennsylvania within the hour, following

Kerstein’s pickup in their SUV.

XxXxXxXxX

NASA HEADQUARTERS

12:56 PM

As snow lightly smattered against the window of his office, head administrator of

the organization Warren Anderson disconnected yet another conference call and

shifted in his chair to scratch at the annoying itch just above the center of his left

butt cheek.

Typical that someone would pick that exact moment to knock at his office door

and then enter without verbal admittance.

“What the hell?” Anderson growled, quickly withdrawing his hand out from the

seat of his pants. “D’ you wanna, maybe, try that again and actually wait for me

to say ‘come in’ this time?”

The intruding scientist adjusted her glasses and whispered an apology, but didn’t

seem to be in any rush to do as he’d ordered. Instead, she handed him a file

folder. “My apologies, sir, but this is urgent. We have managed to locate the

second Kecksburg fallen angel, and a team have been sent to investigate.”

Anderson shot out of his leather chair – bloodshot eyes almost popping as they

snapped wide open. “You mean it really does exist?” he almost choked out. Up

until now he’d considered the whole investigation order a waste of the

administration’s time and resources – believing the claims of a crashed UFO just

another in a million made-up sensationalist tales about aliens that appeared in

the tabloids each week. When Dr Schubert gave a subtle nod of her head,

Anderson exhaled a deep breath and looked through the folder she’d given him.

“Do we have any idea what it actually is yet?”

“No, sir. As I said, a team are en route to the site.”

“Good. Good…” He paused, wiped a hand across his mouth. “Let me know

when there’s any more news.”

“Yes, sir.”

With that, Schubert left the office, quietly shutting the door after her.

Warren watched her departure and then picked up his phone, pressing the first

speed dial button on the keypad. He only needed to wait one ring before the

other end of the line picked up. “It’s me,” he simply announced into the receiver.

“We have it.”

“You better, because they’re on their way,” a deep, foreign voice boomed back,

causing the hairs on the back of Anderson’s neck to stand erect, “and we can’t

have them going anywhere near it.”

XxXxXxXxX

“Gonna give me any clues what you got me for Christmas, then, G-man?” Scully

chuckled, shifting into a more comfortable position in her car seat so that she

could stare at her partner.

It had been a relatively quiet, pleasant drive, and 0071w there were only a

handful of miles to go. At one point the car heater had packed in and they’d had

to freeze for at least an hour before it decided to kick in again, but that had

pretty much been the only eventful point in the journey – both too busy

wondering if they would truly be able to expose the truth of a real UFO crashing

to earth, and how much (if at all) it would affect their jobs if they did.

“Something black and sexy,” Mulder smiled enigmatically, keep his eyes on the

road.

“One of your porn videos?” she snorted with a mixture of mock shock and hurt.

“Really, Mulder, you shouldn’t have!”

“Well, you’ve ruined it for yourself – there’s no point you having it now you know

what it is.”

They both laughed companionably as Dana swatted his arm. They were

exhausted and car trips always seemed to have that ability of sapping every last

ounce of energy from their very bones, but this was nice…relaxing.

Kerstein’s truck, a little further on ahead, took the turn off the interstate, and

Mulder did likewise.

“Besides, it’d be no fun if I gave you clues,” he continued, briefly diverting his

eyes away from the road to shoot a wry smile in her direction. “I mean, would

you give me clues about what you’ve bought for me?”

“Who says I’ve gotten you anything?”

The remark definitely made him turn his attention away from the road, and he

glanced at her to see the playful glint in her eye. “You’re an evil woman, Dana

Scully. Does that make me a masochist for loving you?”

“It’s a start,” she replied dryly, shifting even more in her seat. “The only clue I’ll

give is that it’s not black.”

“But ‘sexy’ is still involved?” Damn, why did she have to be this playful when he

was driving and had to keep his attention on something other than her?

She rolled her eyes and both lips thinned into a straight line as she held back a

smile. He was starting to get a little antsy, and if the growing bulge in his pants

was anything to go by, he was one more innuendo away from stopping the car

and having his way with her on the side of the road, so she sobered and nestled

against him – sleepy despite the afternoon hour.

*Now there’s a Christmas package I’ll never tire of unwrapping,* she inwardly

sighed, indulging herself with another glance at his crotch. Whoever said love

couldn’t last forever had definitely never known Mulder.

Their SUV passed the Kecksburg town line half an hour later and pulled in at

Kerstein’s farm five minutes after that, only to be confronted by two men in black

suits and half a dozen military personnel, who were forcing Josh out of his Ford

pickup. Mulder holstered his gun and flicked a quick, wary glance at his partner

before switching off the ignition.

“Get out of the vehicle now!” one of the soldiers ordered, running towards their

car with his weapon aimed and ready should they make a wrong move.

“Nice manners they have around here,” the male agent deadpanned with a raised

brow as he exited the hybrid.

“I’d stop worrying about their manners and start worrying about how to not let

this get out of control,” Dana warned in reply.

They both moved around to stand in front of the vehicle with their hands slightly

raised – the soldier intently tracking their every step as one of his colleagues

came up behind him.

“Wait! Stop!”

Scully diverted her gaze at the sound of Kerstein’s panicked voice to see him

being man-handled into the back of a green jeep. “Where are you taking him?”

“No questions, unless you wanna go along with him,” the first soldier snarled.

Mulder shrugged, “Depends…Do we get free room service?”

Agitated, the soldier sharply raised his weapon and pointed it at the taller man.

“Why I oughta–”

“Well, well, well. I guess I shouldn’t, but I’m actually quite surprised to see you

here. Really, Agent Scully, you need to tighten Fox’s leash a little more.”

The agents felt a chill run down their spines and they straightened up as they

heard the familiar voice and saw a thin trail of smoke escape through the barn’s

entrance. When CGB Spender emerged shortly after, Mulder took an angry step

forward but was instantly pushed back by the uniformed man.

“You son of a bitch,” Mulder heard Scully curse under her breath beside him

before she called out, “Maybe if you didn’t keep giving us the run-around he

wouldn’t need a leash at all.”

Spender beamed and took another drag on his cigarette as he approached. It

had been a while since he’d seen them due to numerous circumstances and the

number of branches that had unexpectedly started to sprout within the

conspirators’ circle, thanks to Strughold’s meddling that he was looking forward

to having a little fun here. “Of course. Besides, I suppose it’s difficult to keep an

eye on him when you’re busy killing your brother. Congratulations on that, by

the way – it was about time Charlie faced a little retribution…”

Mulder had heard enough and lunged at the smoking man. The soldier struck the

agent with his fist, hard, but the FBI agent refused to be deterred and made

another move for the smoker, so this time the commando used the butt of his

rifle, to more effective results.

“Mulder!” Scully dropped to her knees beside her fallen partner and examined his

bleeding lip and nose. He tried to wave her off, but too much movement and

change in expression caused pain to tear across his face so he let her go about

her examination, wondering if there ever would be a Christmas when he wouldn’t

be high on Demerol for a majority of the festive season.

The wind picked up, blasting them all with its icy chill as the smoking man looked

up to the sky. “It’s a shame that you made such a long journey for no reason,”

he idly remarked. “But then, I never would have pegged either of you to aid and

abet a conspirator against the US government to conceal something of national

security.”

“There’s a nice example of hypocritical irony,” Mulder ground out, cupping a hand

over his nose as he shakily raised to his feet with the support of his partner. “We

want to expose it for what it is. You’re the ones that want to hide the truth.”

“And what do you think it is, exactly?” Spender turned his focus on the petite

red-head. “Agent Scully?”

She faltered, and Mulder understood why. Despite all she’d experienced over the

years and what she had seen in Kerstein’s photo, there was no way she would

ever openly call it a UFO until she had collected and examined every piece of

scientific evidence to prove it. And he expected that from her – he wished she

would bend to his way of thinking sometimes, but Scully wouldn’t be Scully unless

she looked for the logical explanation to all his wild theories, and she certainly

wouldn’t be able to keep him as honest and anchored as she always had if she did

things differently.

“Do you think it’s a flying saucer from outer space?”

“I think it’s something important enough for you to hide from us,” she finally

piped up, never letting go of her partner’s arm as she sent a scowling glare in

Spender’s direction. “Something you think is important enough to kill for.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if you were the one behind the cover-up of the original

crash,” Mulder added in agreement.

Spender shook his head and took a slow drag on his Morley before dropping it to

the ground and stubbing it out. “Actually, no I wasn’t. The man you respected

and trusted as your informant many years ago was, though.”

“You’re a liar!” the injured agent exclaimed, making yet another unsuccessful

lunge at the smoking man. Maybe there had been more to Deep Throat than he’d

known, but he wasn’t ready to play Spender’s mind games.

“Perhaps. But is my claim any more believable than some farmer’s ranting about

a downed spacecraft? You believed him enough to make the four-and-a-half hour

drive on the weekend before Christmas, so why won’t you believe me?”

“Because you’re full of shit,” Dana spat out.

The second soldier raised his gun and Mulder moved to protect her, but CSM

waved the military man down with a satisfied smile, pleased that he’d managed

to pull the reaction out of them that he’d been waiting for.

“We all have to abide by a chain of command, Agent Scully. *All* of us. And on

that particular day, the man you called ‘Deep Throat’ drew the short straw.”

Dana’s frown deepened. “So, you admit something did crash here in ’65?”

“I admit nothing,” Spender replied smugly, reaching for yet another cigarette.

“My plausible deniability card hasn’t run out yet.”

“What’s going to happen to Kerstein?” Mulder queried. The pain radiating from

the center of his face was starting to make his eyes water, and he didn’t know

how much longer he could stay conscious if he didn’t get any medical help and

some good meds soon.

“We’re just going to talk to him…smooth out a few facts about what he may or

may not have seen.”

“Deceive, inveigle and obfuscate all over again, you mean.”

“You believe you know all the answers, Fox, but think: what would happen if the

truth about something like this really was exposed? Two reports in exactly the

same place forty-two years apart? There would be mass panic, countries would

go to war for possession of the craft, and worlds would collide. You think people

knowing your truth would make everything flowers and rainbows and peaceful.”

Spender paused and glanced up at the cloudy sky briefly as the sound of spinning

rotor blades neared. “It goes much deeper than that, and if you had to make the

choices I have for this world we would have already been re-colonized by Them

long ago.”

A large, black helicopter cut through the low cloud cover and landed not far from

the barn, which the two men in black were locking up.

“It was here, wasn’t it?” Scully blinked against the updraft of leaves, dirt and hay

as she and her partner watched Spender back away.

The smoking man shrugged dismissively and then, without another word, got into

the chopper, followed by the mysterious suited men.

The first soldier glared at the two agents and took another swing at Mulder that

only hit air before making his way to the parked jeep with his colleague in tow.

Awkward silence fell as the ‘copter and jeep made their speedy retreats…

…And remained for several minutes after.

Scully was the first to move into action, reaching to examine Mulder’s injuries

more closely, but once again he impatiently waved her off and stomped over to

the closed barn doors – un-holstering his gun as he did so.

She watched him, worried about his intentions, and then chased after him when

she saw him raise the weapon and aim it at the padlock between the two large

doors.

“Mulder, no,” she begged, running up behind him and resting a soothing hand

between his shoulder blades.

“Let’s just leave it and go home. There’s nothing more we can do – you heard

him.”

He shook his head and kept the gun steady. “I have to know,” he mumbled,

choking back the blood clogging his airway. “*We* have to know.” He hesitated

and glanced over his shoulder at her longingly. “…Don’t we?” As always he was

putting everything in her hands and waiting for her answer before he took the

final step.

She stared at his face – the closed right eye that was beginning to swell and

bruise, the blood flowing from his purpling nose and lower lip – and gave a slow

but firm nod. “We do,” she almost whispered, letting the palm of her hand warm

his back even through his thick winter jacket.

Two sure shots decimated the padlock, and one kick sent the entrance flying

open…

To reveal nothing more than a few bales of hay.

Exhausted, cold, defeated and in excruciating pain, Mulder lowered the gun to his

side, let it slip from his fingers, and then dropped to his knees. Scully followed

him down and cradled him in her lap as she dialled 911,

“It’s gonna be okay,” she sighed, combing her fingers through his hair as she also

felt the crushing blow of defeat begin to sink in.

They’d come so close to finally holding some credibility for the work they did in

their hands, regardless of her reservations concerning the trip, she had put as

much hope in his belief as she’d once put in the possibility of a scientific

breakthrough with Anson Stokes: The Invisible Man. Maybe the only truth they

would ever be allowed to know was that no matter how much of it there actually

was, they would never be able to hold any proof whatsoever.

“It’s okay…”

XxXxXxXxX

Anderson picked up the phone on the second ring, wiping a sweaty hand down his

pale face. He’d just received word of the missing status of the crashed craft, and

knew his superiors would not be reacting well.

“They got to it first,” the voice at the other end of the call stated without any hint

of a question. “We’ll have to officially call off the investigation into the original

incident.”

“B-but what do we tell them? The public will want answers… Hell, I’d like to

know what the fuck is going on.”

“Tell the truth as far as we know it: nothing was found. Make the shuttle launch

your priority. No one can overpower these men, so we shall have to deal as

usual.”

The administrator hesitated. He’d been handed an order to investigate the 1965

reports, but suddenly it felt as if the recent event was the real one he should’ve

been focusing on and sooner. “You knew about this when you sent me the file,”

he slowly remarked, a little accusatorily. “Why didn’t you tell me about the

second crash earlier?”

“NASA could not know – the courts were after information about the past event,

so that was all you needed to know about. Anything else you had to learn

yourself. We had hoped the farmer would be able to protect it for longer, but

obviously that was not the case. Happy holidays, Anderson.”

The line sharply disconnected and a confused Warren remained standing with the

receiver in his hand for at least three minutes before resting it back in its

cradle. With a deep sigh of frustration he picked up the file from his desk, gave it

one final look over and then dropped it into the waste paper basket beside his

desk.

XxXxXxXxX

DECEMBER 10th, 1965

12:12 AM

“You’re still here, then?”

At the sound of his approaching friend’s voice, the man who would many years

later come to be known as Deep Throat turned and greeted Spender with a nod of

his head. “I hear the negotiations were settled quickly?” he asked, pulling a

lighter from his coat pocket and offering it.

“The most awkward and unpleasant negotiations can sometimes be settled within

minutes, Ronald,” CSM replied prophetically, accepting the item and using it

to light a Morley.

“But they were?”

“Eventually… That’s why I’m here.” Spender paused, exhaled a puff of smoke

and then gestured toward the lights that had suddenly appeared amongst the line

of trees.

Without a word they both made their way to the clearing in the woods where the

downed spacecraft had come to life.

“So, they get the body and the craft, and we get…?”

Deep Throat asked, tightening the tie on his trench coat and watching as the top

half of the acorn-shaped object begun to rotate.

“Peace of mind and the ability to keep the line of communication open with

them.”

It didn’t seem like a fair trade that the Syndicate would normally give in to, but

Deep Throat guessed there must be some kind of reasoning this time and didn’t

push the subject any further.

The whirring noise emanating from the craft gained in volume and the lights

brightened in intensity until the whole thing finally dislodged itself from the frozen

earth. Both men covered their ears and watched as the UFO shot up into space

at break-neck speed, leaving a glowing vaporous trail in its wake across the sky –

never to be seen again.

Or so they hoped.

THE END

1

Oh Holy Night

clip_image001

OH HOLY NIGHT

By: Traveler

Rating: PG13 for language

Summary: Mulder gets some unexpected help in a harrowing situation on this most

special of nights.

Disclaimer: 2 weeks exclusive to VS…

Author’s Notes: I don’t know where I get these story ideas…other than watching too

many movies about the subject from ISLAND IN THE SKY to AIRPLANE, I know very

little about flying a plane. So with the help of a neat worst case scenario archive I

found on the web and some special help from Phoebe this story became possible.

Don’t try this at home.

BUFFALO FIELD OFFICE

CHRISTMAS EVE

“Hey, Scully, it’s me,” Mulder tried to put forward his best “happy voice” but the

news he had to tell his partner wasn’t good.

He’d been in town for the past two days as a favor to his superior, he certainly owed

Skinner enough of them. Frank Bartinelli, the field office’s ASAC, was an old Marine

buddy of the Skinman and desperately needing help on a missing person’s case

involving one of his own agents. The department felt the case could be tied to

several others up and down the east coast also involving law enforcement personnel.

As it turned out, the missing agent, one Terrance Emerick, had gone missing of his

own hand. Using the information gained on the other cases he’d staged his own

disappearance in an attempt to get out of a gambling debt. Case closed.

“Mulder, please tell me you’re getting ready to board a plane,” came his partner’s

reply through his cell.

Mulder looked across the desk at the snow that blew furiously outside the ASAC’s

office window. “I’m ready, my luggage is ready, Frank is ready to take me to the

airport — there’s just one problem.”

“And that would be?” she questioned.

Mulder sighed, “They shut down the airport about half an hour ago, nothing’s going

out of here tonight.”

From the other side of the connection Scully could hear the disappointment in his

voice. They’d both been looking forward to a little holiday downtime. Now it

appeared he was stuck in Buffalo, just a little over 45 minutes away by air. “Oh,

Mulder, what’s going on up there? When I talked to you earlier, you said everything

had been wrapped up.”

“With a big red bow and a Ho, Ho, Ho,” he joked at her unconscious slip. “No,

seriously, Santa’s gonna need Rudolph if he’s gonna deliver any toys up here

tonight. Buffalo is in the throws of what Frank here says is classic lake effect snow

courtesy of Lake Erie. They’re talking 18 to 20 inches by morning. The visibility is

close to zero.” When he got no response from the other end of the line he

continued, “I’m sorry Scully, I know your mom wanted everyone to be together this

year.”

Scully knew what lake effect snow was. The waters of the Great Lakes were one of

the few places on the planet that it occurred. North winds coming across Lake Erie

would pick up moisture and depending on their direction dump it in the form of snow

anywhere from Cleveland to upstate New York. Evidently this time Buffalo was

ground zero. “I could say I should blame Skinner for this one,” came her eventual

reply. “But that wouldn’t be fair would it?”

“No, but don’t think I’ll let him get away without a serious guilt trip.” He looked

around the now empty office wondering where Frank had disappeared to. “Look,

maybe it will let up or if worse comes to worse, I’ll rent a car. It’s only about an 8

hour drive; I could still be there by morning…”

“Mulder, I want you here but I don’t want you driving in a blizzard. We’ll all be here

when you get here. Just be safe, please.”

For a moment he didn’t want to hang up, thinking that they could spend Christmas

Eve together over the phone. “Give my apologies to everyone and I’ll call you if

there’s any change,” he paused before disconnecting, wanting to reassure himself

that he wasn’t in the dog house.

“It’s not your fault, Mulder. Stay warm.”

He stared at the phone for a long moment before pocketing it and then moving to

stand near the window. What he saw outside at the moment put to rest any

assumption that there was any truth to global warming, or at least that’s how it

appeared. What had only started a couple hours ago had turned the world outside

into a white wilderness. Traffic crawled along in the street below him as the wind

swirled the heavy flakes. He reached out and put both palms on the cold glass in

front of him sending a chill all the way to his toes. Shit.

“Get your stuff!” Mulder startled at the sound of Frank’s voice behind him.

“What?” he asked almost in astonishment as he turned around. Frank was standing

in the doorway already in the process of wrapping himself in his overcoat. “Come

on, I got you a flight.”

Mulder hesitated as he glanced outside again, “In this?” he asked, pointing to the

nasty weather just beyond the window’s glass barrier.

“You want to be home for Christmas don’t you?” Frank asked as he tossed the other

agent his coat and finished the thought before Mulder could even acknowledge him.

“Your sleigh’s waiting,” he told him as he turned and headed down the hall.

It took several seconds before the agent moved, grabbing his brief case and the

handle of his rolling garment bag, while in the process of trying to wrangle into his

own coat. Frank was waiting by the elevator and grabbed the bag from him. “Put

that on,” he motioned to the coat that at the moment only covered the agent’s left

shoulder. “I can’t send you back to Scully with pneumonia.”

“Just how are you sending me back to Scully?” Mulder asked as he stepped into the

elevator behind the other agent and pulled on his coat.

“Friend of mine has a small plane. I just promised him some of my Bills seats for

next year to fly you home.”

“In this?” Mulder watched Frank break into a grin.

“Relax,” Frank patted Mulder’s shoulder. “He flies out of a little airport in Collins,

about an hour south of here. He said it’s as clear as a bell down there. You see,

that’s the funny thing about lake effect snow. It can be snowing like hell one minute

and then ten minutes down the road there isn’t a flake in the sky.”

Mulder wasn’t sure he believed the story but if that was the case then rather then tie

up someone else’s holiday he’d just get a car and drive back to D.C. “Frank, it’s

Christmas Eve for God’s sake. I don’t want to ruin someone else’s holiday, just get

me a rental and I’ll drive.”

The elevator doors opened into the parking garage and Frank motioned to the black

Lexus in the first spot as the car answered the remote with a beep. Five minutes

later he was edging the car out onto the crowded street. “Jack’s another Nam buddy

of mine, Mulder. He doesn’t have any family. Fact is I worry about him and you’ll be

keeping him company on an otherwise lonely night.”

It took almost an hour for Frank to fight his way through the weather-snarled Buffalo

traffic, but by the time they were leaving the city limits the snow had already

tapered to light flakes. “See, what’d I tell ya. All depends on which way the wind

blows who gets the snow.”

“I still say I could have rented a car,” Mulder nodded in acknowledgement of the now

clearing skies.

“Yeah, but I feel bad about dragging you out here for what turned out to be nothing

and this way you’ll be walking in the door in a couple hours instead of being behind

the wheel for eight,” Frank told him, fumbling through his coat pockets and pulling

out his cell phone. The other party answered almost immediately. “Hey man,”

Frank replied. “We’re about 30 minutes out, warm that bird up!”

Mulder sat back and watched the dark landscape pass by. Occasionally they would

pass a home brightly lit with Christmas lights. “Have you in the air in 15 minutes,”

the other agent told him as they passed a sign stating they were now in Collins, New

York.

As they passed through the center of town, the Christmas displays reminded Mulder

that he needed to make a call himself. Scully answered on the second ring, she

sounded a little out of breath. “Mulder, why did we buy so much stuff?”

“You okay?” he asked with concern.

“Oh, yes, I’m fine. I’m trying to pack up the car — by myself, thank you”

“Well then pack me some clothes, I’ll meet you at your mom’s,” he answered,

realizing she was just ragging on him. “Rudolph’s warming up his engines and I

should be in around 11.”

“Mulder? I thought Buffalo was shut down, where are you?”

Mulder looked out the window as Frank turned the car onto a side road and past a

sign proclaiming that they had arrived at Gowanda Airport. “Long story, and we’re

both short on time. Frank found me a twin engine sleigh and a little old driver. I’ll

be home for Christmas.”

“Just please tell me you’re not doing something stupid,” she asked knowing her

partner’s propensity of putting himself last.

“No, actually Frank’s preventing me from doing that, fortunately,” he replied as the

senior agent pulled the car up next to a white metal building and killed the engine.

“Well, thank him for me. And Mulder…”

“Yeah.”

“Please, be careful.”

“You know, I’m really trying to be.”

Frank was already pulling his bags from the trunk of the car and handing them off to

another man that Mulder assumed was his pilot friend. He clicked off the phone and

exited the car.

The plane was actually larger then Mulder had pictured. A twin engine Beechcraft

that was a little long on age but looked to be in good condition. The engines

hummed as Frank’s friend loaded his luggage into the cargo section, secured the

door and turned around.

“Mulder, this is Jack Pierce. Jack, this is Fox Mulder, a colleague of Walt Skinner’s,”

the Buffalo SAC made the introductions while Jack lit up a cigarette and then reached

out to shake Mulder’s hand.

“Don’t mind if I catch a quick fix do you?” the pilot asked motioning to the smoke

that luckily curled away from them in the breeze.

The agent motioned his approval and then made a quick assessment of man. Jack

looked worn. He was about Mulder’s height with stringy gray hair that tufted out

from under his Pittsburgh Steelers’ cap. He wore a leather bomber jacket dotted

with patches that had obviously seen better days. His hand when Mulder shook it

was roughly calloused indicating that Jack probably didn’t spend his days behind a

desk like his two war buddies.

Jack took one last drag on the cigarette and then flicked it away. “Well come on,” he

said, patting Mulder’s shoulder. “Let’s get the pretty Fed home to the missus.”

The agent gave the SAC a wary look as Frank and Jack broke into laughter and then

Frank gave his friend a rough hug. “Merry Christmas, man. Safe flight.”

“I’m holdin’ you to those football tickets, you know,” the pilot told his friend stepping

away and then turning to Mulder as he opened the cabin door. “Sit up front,” he

motioned. “Your legs are as long as mine.”

The agent tossed his overcoat onto one of the rear seats and climbed into the co-

pilot’s seat. Within a few minutes they were airborne, banking to the north and then

circling the field and heading southeast.

Mulder watched the earth pass by below them. Flying at a lower altitude the festive

colors of the holiday countryside were wonderfully visible. In a childish way he could

almost imagine it was the view Santa himself would see as he made his mythical

journey across the continent.

Finally the drone of the engines became too monotonous and he turned to study Jack

from the corner of his eye. “You know Skinner from Vietnam too?” he asked

breaking the silence.

Jack pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes momentarily and then turned to

Mulder. “Not exactly,” he told the agent, wincing slightly as if he were in pain. “I

was a medivac pilot. He ever tell you the story ’bout leavin’ the country in a body

bag?”

Mulder remember the conversation in his office many years ago when Skinner had

talked him out of leaving the F.B.I., and nodded.

“Damn’dest thing. I’m loading up corpses from this whole platoon and all of a

sudden one of them groans. Nearly shit my pants right then,” he told the agent a

wry grin spreading across his face. “Called over a corpsman and sure enough, the

guy’s not dead. Anyway, my cargo went from being a load of stiffs that night to an

emergency flight to Saigon, with the only two guys we found alive, him and Frank.

They — ah looked me up after the war and we — ah kinda keep in touch.”

“That’s nice, to know that you’re still looking out for each other,” Mulder commented.

“Yeah, but I ain’t got much in common with these guys,” Jack admitted before he

wrapped his left arm around his abdomen. “Jesus,” he winced.

“You alright?” Mulder asked, suddenly concerned by the man’s distress.

“Damned pain in my gut again,” Jack told him fumbling under the seat and producing

a large bottle of Tums.

Mulder watched Jack dump four tablets into his palm and then toss them into his

mouth, chewing them rapidly. He recapped the bottle and dropped it on the floor,

before grabbing a paper cup from the plane’s console and washing the pills down

with its contents. “Lord, wonder how old that stuff was!” He grimaced and then

laughed. Mulder wasn’t so sure it was funny.

They sat in silence again until Mulder heard the radio crackle to life with a course

change that Jack acknowledged. “Sorry, they gotta get those big birds in there first.

Where did you say you were headed, Baltimore?”

“Yeah, hopefully.”

“You wouldn’t think it would be this busy so late on Christmas Eve, would you? Ah,

damn,” he winced again in anguish. “Got so the Tums don’t do me much good

either. We should still get in before midnight,” Jack informed him and then leaned

forward to examine the heavens from the cockpit windshield. “Clear as a bell down

here.”

Mulder followed his gaze to the moonlit sky ahead of them. It really was a pretty

night. It would be a lot prettier once he had his feet back on the ground and in Mrs.

Scully’s living room.

“You’re a vet, you’ve got the medical benefits, ever think about having that pain of

yours checked out?” Mulder didn’t want to sound like he was prying into Jack’s

business but he was looking pretty white to him at the moment.

“Yeah, I’ve thought about it. Afraid they’ll tell me I got cancer, you know what I

mean?” Jack asked, turning to look at Mulder. “And I really don’t want to go through

that hell.”

“Yes, I do know what you mean,” Mulder answered, meeting Jack’s eyes. “It could

also be something else. You look like you’re in a lot of discomfort, that’s got to be

hell too.”

Jack acknowledged Mulder’s comment and then turned back to study his

instruments. The plane buffeted a little as they passed over the eastern Appalachians

and out over the foothills of southeast Pennsylvania. Studying the darkened

countryside below Mulder realized that there was still plenty of open land even on

the crowded east coast.

“Ah, God!” Jack’s shriek of pain startled the agent. Suddenly the plane dipped

sharply to the left. Feeling like he was falling, Mulder’s first instinct was to grab onto

something, like the yoke in front of him. A quick glance to his left revealed that Jack

had let go of the pilot’s yoke and was practically doubled over with pain, causing the

plane to descend. The older man gasped for air. Mulder feared the man was

having a heart attack.

“Jack!” he exclaimed reaching out for the man.

“No!” the pilot gasped, “get us — us level!” he gasped again. “God, can’t breathe —

grab the yoke…” he told Mulder, reaching out a shaky hand to point at the yoke in

front of the agent.

Mulder put both hands on the yoke and looked desperately toward Jack, “What do I

do?”

Jack took a few more rapid breaths and then seemed to relax a little. “Turn easy to

your right and then pull back — slowly.”

Mulder did as Jack asked. He wasn’t sure who was shaking more at the moment,

Jack or himself. The plane rolled slowly back to level. “Pull back a little more,” the

pilot instructed as he watched the altimeter climb back to about thirty eight hundred

feet. “Press that little button on the right there, that’s your autopilot…”

With the plane flying on it’s own for the moment Mulder turned to look at Jack. The

man was as white as a sheet. A thin veil of perspiration covered his face, once again

contorting in pain. “What can I do?” he stammered.

“I — pain in — in my chest…” Jack managed to gasp out.

His actions seeming to confirm what Mulder had already suspected. “You’re not going

to be able to land this thing are you?” he asked absurdly. Jesus, what was he

thinking? The man could die up here.

Jack stared at the agent with glassy eyes, “I ain’t gonna be able — ah…”he gasped

out as pain erupted from his abdomen again up into his chest, taking his breath

away. He reached toward the agent next to him. The last thing he remembered was

grabbing Mulder’s hand and squeezing it hard.

As Jack’s hand when limp in his own, Mulder froze, “No! Come on Jack!” He tried

desperately to rouse the older man. Finding a thready pulse, he was at the moment

relieved that the man hadn’t died but he still could not waken him. “Jack,” he

grabbed the man’s chin, turning his face towards his own. “Jack, come on, man,” he

pleaded.

The pilot’s eyes flickered briefly and then his face scrunched in pain, “Radio…” he

whispered.

“What?” Mulder asked momentarily confused.

“Take — the radio, mayday…” Jack doubled over in pain again, wrapping his arms

around his abdomen and then his body went limp.

“Shit,” Mulder told himself as the realization hit him and he fumbled the headset

from Jack. “This is not happening!”

As Mulder dropped back into his seat he slipped the headset over his head and

adjusted the mike. He pressed the button on the yoke in front of him and began his

distress call, “Mayday! Mayday! This Agent Fox Mulder with the F.B.I.. My badge

number is JTT047101111 Requesting assistance!”

Silence. He pressed the button again, “Mayday! Mayday! Can anybody hear me out

there?”

“Washington Center, can you identify yourself?” came the reply.

“This is Agent Mulder with the F.B.I. I have an emergency situation.”

“Are you the pilot Mr. Mulder?”

“No, no, the pilot’s taken ill,” he told the voice glancing to the side to see that Jack

was still unconscious. “I need some help up here!” Mulder looked out into the dark

night sky beyond the plane’s windshield, at the moment it seemed like he was on the

edge of an abyss.

“Okay, okay. My name is Mark, I’m going to help you,” the flight controller’s steady

voice came back. “I want you to relax and listen to me carefully. Is the plane flying

level?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s on auto pilot,” Mulder answered trying desperately to keep calm

himself.

“Alright, that’s good. Do you have any experience flying a plane Mr. Mulder? I need

you to help me identify your position.”

“Not exactly,” the agent snorted out. “I knew a guy in college, used to take me up

in an old B-25.”

“Lucky you,” Mark replied. “Got a bunch of guys here who would envy you.” The

controller tried to calm the shaken agent. “Now I want you to look for a number on

the control panel, should start with ‘N’…”

“Yeah, call number, hang on.” Mulder started to look around the plane’s instrument

panel when it hit him, the number on the plane’s fuselage, N22364, Scully’s

birthday, he’d noticed it when he and Frank had pulled up at the airport. “N22364,”

he answered.

Mark Newman, one of the many air traffic controllers in busy Washington Center had

been one of the unlucky guys to draw duty Christmas Eve. He studied his screen

until he found the small plane near the PA, Maryland border just outside P-40’s

restricted airspace. Wonderful. P-40 was the no-fly zone around the presidential

retreat, Camp David. Luckily the President wasn’t in residence at the present time.

He needed to keep this guy’s attention on flying the plane, the last thing he needed

on his tail was an F-18.

“Hey, Mark, you still with me?” Mulder’s voice came back in his ear.

“Yes, I’m still with you Mr. Mulder. I have your position. You still okay up there?” he

asked the agent. The small plane was cruising at round 38 hundred feet. There

wasn’t a whole lot of traffic at that low altitude right now. The guy practically had

the sky to himself.

“Oh yeah, feel like Santa Claus dancing across the night sky. You’re gonna get me

down from here aren’t you?” Mulder tried his best to make light of the situation but

in fact he was pretty damn nervous.

“Yes, Santa, I just want you to remain calm and do just what I tell you and we’ll get

you home for Christmas,” the controller told him. “Did you say your first name was

Fox? Can I call you that?”

Mulder wanted to correct him, like he did everyone else but at the moment the idea

seemed moot. “That’s fine,” he acknowledged.

“Can you tell me the condition of the pilot, Fox?” Mark asked him through the

headset.

Mulder looked over at the older man, reaching over to gently touch his neck. Jack

stirred and moaned a little but did not waken. “I don’t know if he had a heart attack

or he’s just got a bad case of indigestion. Pulse is a little thready, he’s fading in and

out,” Mulder confirmed.

“Alright, Fox, your flight plan indicated you were headed into BWI. You and I are

going to make a little course correction in a few minutes that will take you into

Martin State. You’re only about 70 minutes out. You with me?” A quick assessment

of the plane’s location had told him that getting the plane into Hagerstown would

require some tricky maneuvers, best to try for the closest straight in approach.

“I guess so,” Mulder stated after taking a big breath. Making a course correction

meant taking the plane off auto pilot. Evidently Mark wanted him to fly this thing.

Something he was going to have to do sooner or later anyway if he had any chance

of getting down in one piece.

“Good. I want you to look at the instrument panel in front of you. Do you know

what an altimeter is? It should be in the center of the control panel,” Mark told him

with a steady voice.

“Tells me my altitude,” Mulder replied as his eyes came to rest on the panel in front

of him. “Says three, seven, eight, five,” he finally told Mark.

“That’s right, you want to try and maintain that when we do this turn. Do you

understand?” Mark asked him. “I want you to find the airspeed indicator. It should

be on your left. The auto pilot should have your airspeed at about 120 knots. You

want to try and maintain that in the turn also. If you start to slow down use your

throttle, between the seats. Pushing it forward will increase your airspeed and make

the plane ascend. Pulling back will decrease it but it will also cause the plane to

descend. Listen to your engines. You might need to compensate with the yoke. It

works the same way. It’s very sensitive, Fox. Just an easy touch is all you need.

Are you following me?” Mark tried to explain the plane’s controls as best he could

without sounding too condescending.

Mulder glanced around the cockpit trying to familiarize himself with his surroundings.

A small gold plaque on the center of the instrument panel caught his eye. In the dim

light of the cockpit, it was hard to read but by tilting his head a little so the words

caught the light, the sentiment became clear, ‘God is my co-pilot’ was written across

it’s surface in figurative script. The agent studied it for a moment, somewhat

surprised given his first impression of the man beside him. He let out a shaky sigh.

It had been a long time since he’d put any faith in God. Maybe now was a good time

to reconsider. This was going to be the longest hour of his life. “Well, I hope you’re

with me tonight,” he finally said to himself.

A quick look at Jack told him the man was at least still breathing. “Okay, I’m with

you,” he told Mark.

“Your fuel gauges should be on the lower portion of the instrument panel. Just like

your car, you want to be sure you have enough gas to get you where you’re going,”

he told the agent, with a slightly lighter tone.

“Looks like I have a little over half a tank in both,” Mulder replied.

“Alright, here we go, this plane’s going to be a lot easier to fly than that B-25,” the

controller told him.

“I sure hope so,” Mulder acknowledged, remembering the bumpy rides over the

English countryside.

Mark’s supervisor had come to stand behind him in the control center. “First thing I

want you to do is locate the heading. It will be a dial with a little image of a plane in

the center. The nose of that little plane points in the direction your heading. Right

now your heading is about 170 degrees,” he heard Mark tell the agent.

“Okay,” was all Mulder could say.

“Now you need to turn off the auto pilot and then gently turn the yoke to the left so

the plane turns to the left. You want to come to a heading of 120 degrees. Once

you’re at that heading, I want you to descend to thirty five hundred feet. Do you

understand?” Flight conditions in the area of the small plane were almost ideal. As

long as Fox followed his directions this harrowing evening should turn out alright.

This guy had to have someone watching out for him.

Mulder reached out and turned off the autopilot. He flinched when the plane dipped

a little and he gave the yoke a hair touch to keep it at thirty seven hundred feet. “I

guess I’m flyin’ this thing now,” he told Mark. “I think I’m going to be a little busy

for a few minutes, get back to you.”

The agent studied the instrument panel once more, his eyes coming to rest on the

little plaque once again. “You with me?” he asked it and then turned his gaze to the

heading dial and gently turned the yoke to his left. The plane started to bank

immediately, climbing slightly. Mulder watched the compass numbers drop slowly

compensating a little by pulling back on the yoke until his airspeed started to drop.

Nervous sweat started to bead his forehead. His hands were clammy on the yoke.

He pushed forward a touch on the throttle hearing the engine come to life, until

finally the small plane leveled out at the 120 degree heading Mark had told him he

needed to achieve. He could feel himself trembling. He pushed the mic button,

“Okay Mark, I’m at 120 degrees and I haven’t wet my pants. What else did you need

me to do?”

Mark had watched the plane’s tiny image on his radar screen, “Well that’s good Fox,”

Mark joked. “Unfortunately those old Beech’s didn’t come with lavatories.” His

supervisor tapped him on the shoulder. “Get him down,” he told the controller.

“You did that just fine Fox. Now I want you to descend to thirty five hundred feet

and keep that same heading. It will take you right into Martin State,” he told the

agent. He would have a tail wind all the way. “You’re only about 50 minutes out

now. How’s your pilot?”

“He’s still breathing, which I guess is a good sign,” Mulder replied. “You better have

some emergency equipment there to meet us.”

“I already have them on alert; they’ve cleared any other traffic. You have the sky to

yourself, Fox,” Mark told him reassuringly.

The controller watched the image on his screen again as the altitude reading dropped

just below thirty five hundred feet. “You can turn on the autopilot again for a while,

Fox. Catch your breath.” Mark could hear the nervous tone in the agent’s voice

when he spoke. He had to keep him focused.

Mulder reached out and flicked on the autopilot once more, letting the plane fly itself

for a while. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was on his way home but they were still

three thousand feet in the air. That was a long way to fall.

His gaze then drifted out the right window to the starlit night sky. It was a beautiful

night but he suddenly felt very alone. As his eyes came back to rest on the

instrument panel the little gold plaque glimmered in the low light as if trying to tell

him that that wasn’t the case.

He admired Scully’s faith despite the things she had been through in their

partnership. There were times when he had questioned and even condemned her for

it, but in truth he realized it was what had gotten her through some of the most

trying times of her life. She too, over the years had beaten him up over his belief in

the unprovable but he also knew she believed in him. He bit his lower lip. Perhaps

the time had come for him to put a little faith in her beliefs.

“Fox?” Mark’s voice came back into his ear.

“Let me guess, there’s something else you want me to do?” he replied.

“Yes, we’re going to start your descent now so I want you to turn off the autopilot

again and descend to three thousand feet, then turn it back on. You copy?” Mark

asked.

“I copy,” Mulder replied. Hell, he thought to himself, might as well get this over

with. Jack was in no condition to be of any help, the only way they were going to

get down was if he did it himself. Even though his present circumstances were not

his fault, he’d never hear the end of this from his partner. He hoped she had no idea

what was happening. But then on the other hand, he could use a few extra prayers

right now. Once again he reached over and turned off the auto pilot. The small

plane buffeted a little as they hit some air, but he was able to compensate for it and

eased the plane to an altitude of just under three thousand feet before turning the

autopilot back on.

“You’re doing just fine, Fox,” Mark told him. “We’re going to do that one more time

and then I’m going to turn you over to Martin tower. I have a gentleman there

who’s been listening in on our frequency. He’s going to talk you in the rest of the

way. You okay with that?”

Did he have a choice? Mulder just wished he could stop shaking. “I’m okay,” he told

the controller.

“Fox, this is Rich Franklin at Martin tower,” the other man’s voice came through his

headset. “I understand you need a crash course in landing a plane?” Joking with

Mulder, Rich was trying to keep the urgency of the situation at a minimum. The

airport was located in a mostly industrial area just north of Baltimore on Chesapeake

Bay, away from tall buildings and residential neighborhoods. As long as the agent

kept his cool there was a good chance this whole event would end in a good way.

“I hope not,” came Mulder’s reply.

“Rich will get you down in one piece, Fox. Don’t worry,” Mark came back on the

frequency. “I want you to descend to twenty five hundred feet, just like before and

then Rich will take over from there, copy?”

Mulder put the plane through another descent and then leveled it off. His airspeed

had dropped a little to around 110 knots. “My airspeed dropped do I need to

increase it?” he asked. He was actually starting to get the feel of the controls and it

made him relax a little.

“No, you’re going to need to slow down for landing,” Mark replied. “Rich will talk you

through that. You’re going to be fine, Fox. You’ve done a great job so far. You

have a wonderful holiday.”

“I hope so, you have a Merry Christmas too,” Mulder acknowledge back. “And

Mark…”

“Yes, Fox?”

“Thank you.”

“You’re more than welcome, Fox,” Mark replied back. He left his radio on the same

frequency until he heard that Rich was in contact with the F.B.I. agent and then

slipped it off and started to get up.

“He make it?” Steve Tucker, the controller at the next station asked.

“Let you know in about fifteen minutes,” Mark replied as he stepped away.

“Fox, this is Rich,” the Martin State controller came through Mulder’s headset. “I

want to go over some instruction with you before we start your final descent. The

last thing you want to be doing when you’re attempting your landing is trying to talk

to me, you copy?”

“What do you mean ‘attempting’?” Mulder asked. That nervous feeling had returned

as he noticed the landscape below him had changed from rural to a more densely

populated area. If this plane went down with him and Jack in it that was one thing.

The last thing he wanted to do was end up in somebody’s living room.

“Sorry, Fox, poor choice of words,” Rich told him lightly. “You’re on a straight in

approach, just follow my instructions and you’ll do fine.”

“I’m going to remember you said that, Rich,” Mulder replied.

“Okay, now listen carefully,” Rich began. “To begin your descent I want you to pull

back on the throttle. We’re not going to worry about the flaps. We’re just going to

use the throttle to control your airspeed. As the plane slows the nose will drop but

you don’t want it to be more than four inches below the horizon. Now you can’t see

the horizon in the dark so you’re going to have to rely on the instruments. You don’t

want your airspeed to go below 70 knots or you’re going to lose your lift and stall.”

“And drop like a rock…” Mulder finished.

An experienced pilot could probably pull out of a stall, Rich thought to himself. Fox

wouldn’t have much of a chance. “Just watch your airspeed and that won’t happen,”

he told the agent. “And you want to stay on a heading of 120 degrees. Is that

clear?”

“Oh, yeah,” the agent acknowledged. “Throttle back, drop the nose and don’t stall

the plane.”

“It will all make sense when you start to execute,” the controlled told him. “What’s

your airspeed now?”

Mulder looked for the airspeed dial on the instrument panel, “The autopilot is still on,

I’m at about 110 knots.”

“I want you to keep your eyes focused forward. As you get closer to the field you’re

going to see our runway lights, just follow them in. You want to keep the nose

centered on those,” Rich instructed. “You want to be at about 100 feet when you’re

just above the runway. Your airspeed should be just about 70 knots. Are you still

following me?”

“How about I just put this thing down in the bay and then you come fish us out?”

Mulder asked, once again using humor to hide his fear. His heart rate was increasing

by the minute. He took a deep breath.

“Well, if you overshoot the runway, that’s where you’ll end up,” Rich told him. “At

100 feet I want you to pull back all the way on the throttle but don’t let the nose dip

too sharply. You want the rear wheels to touch the ground first. After the nose

wheel touches the ground, use the brakes, those are the upper pedals to slow your

groundspeed until you come to a stop. Don’t worry about where you stop, we’ll

come get you.” Rich checked his radar again. The plane was about fifteen minutes

out, time to get this show on the road. “Okay, Fox. You ready?” he asked the agent.

Mulder hesitated to reply for a moment. Closing his eyes and taking several deep

breaths. When he opened them again he once again sought out the little gold plaque

on the instrument panel. “God, I know we don’t talk, but I’ve got someone very

close who puts a lot of faith in you,” he whispered. “So, if you can hear me now, I

could really use your help here.”

The agent pressed the mic button, “What do I do first?”

“Good,” Rich replied. “First you need to switch off that autopilot. You’re going to fly

the plane from here on. Then I want you to look for a lever near the throttle, looks

like a little wheel. That’s you landing gear. I want you to lower the landing gear.

Now you’re going to feel some drag on the plane that might require you to increase

your airspeed a little. Do you follow me?”

As Mulder switched off the autopilot the little plane rocked slightly, he had to steady

it by turning the yoke slightly. The air was becoming a little more turbulent as he

neared the bay. He found the control for the landing gear and lowered it, feeling the

drag immediately and compensating for it. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as bad as

he thought. He glanced momentarily at Jack and wondered if he could do this with

his eyes closed. At the moment both their lives were in his hands.

“You’re doing fine, Fox. I need you to descend to 2 thousand feet,” Rich’s voice told

him. “Can you see the runway lights yet?”

Mulder peered into the darkness ahead of him. He had already been able to make

out streets and building below him. He was hoping he would see a big sign that said

“LAND HERE” but he hadn’t found it yet. Then on the horizon in front of him in a

dark open area the parallel lights of the landing strip began to become clear. “Yeah,

I got it,” he told Rich.

“You’re almost here then. You don’t need to talk to me from now on. I just want

you to concentrate on what we talked about before. Watch your airspeed and your

altimeter, trust the instruments. We have some light cross winds at the field so it

might be a little bumpy as you come in. Don’t let that frighten you. Orville and

Wilber knew what they were doing,” Rich concluded. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Mulder acknowledged, his voice betraying him by trembling a little.

As the runway lights grew closer, Mulder throttled back again and the plane began

its descent. Watching his airspeed as Rich had instructed he felt the plane rock

slightly again from the crosswinds. He used the yoke to straighten himself out.

He crossed the outer marker for the runway and started to bite his tongue. His

airspeed had now dropped to 90 knots. The plane rocked back and forth, he was

having a hard time getting the feel of the yoke to keep it steady with one hand.

Crossing the end of the runway he throttled back one more time, reducing his

airspeed to 80 knots and dropping the nose. He grabbed the yoke with both hands

and pulled back, the ground was right below him now, passing by at what seemed

like an alarming speed. He was coming in at a slight angle, one wing slightly higher

than the other and tried to steer it back level. Suddenly the right wheel hit the

ground and then he bounced up again. Turning the yoke to the left, trying to

compensate and level himself out both wheels hit the ground hard and then the nose

wheel dropped onto the pavement.

Jostled by the impact, he heard Jack moan beside him. He was on the ground but

moving too fast. Mulder pulled the throttle all the way back but the plane still rolled

along much too fast for his liking. “Brakes! Brakes!” Jack’s yelled from the seat

beside him, reaching out an arm to try and steady himself against the instrument

panel. Mulder looked down trying to find the pedals in the dark cockpit and then

working them as if he were sliding on ice the plane finally came to a stop. He

reached over to kill the engines and then dropped his head. It was over.

Sirens and flashing lights approached from his left. He looked over at Jack who was

resting wearily against the opposite door but appeared to be alright for the moment.

Mulder opened the cockpit door and dropped out onto the tarmac as the first

emergency vehicles pulled up. He doubled over resting his hands on his knees,

trying to catch his breath and steady himself.

“Sir? Sir, are you okay,” the EMT’s voice broke through the momentary haze in his

head and he stood up. Someone wrapped a heavy blanket around his shoulders.

“Yeah, I’m fine. The pilot, he needs your attention,” he told the young man stepping

around the plane to watch as the EMT’s pulled Jack from the plane and began

working on him.

“Agent Mulder?” The familiar voice came from behind him and he turned around.

“Rich Franklin,” the younger man said extending his hand to Mulder. He accepted

the man’s hand and shook it hard. It was a pleasure to see the face the belonged to

that patient voice.

“Hey, thanks, Rich,” Mulder told him pulling him into a gentle manly hug. “Thanks

for getting me back to planet earth.”

“He going to be okay?” Rich asked motioning towards the commotion over Jack.

“I — I don’t know,” Mulder replied as he stepped away from Rich and headed

towards the ambulance. “How is he?” he asked as he approached the vehicle.

One of the EMT’s, a young woman with “Erica” on the front of her jacket stepped

towards him. “We don’t think he’s had a heart attack. We suspect a gall bladder

attack or even a perforated ulcer. We’re getting ready to transport him now,” she

confirmed. “How about you? We can take you along with us.”

“No, I’m okay, just a little shook up,” the agent replied pulling his sleeve back to

check his watch. It was almost ten thirty. “There’s somewhere else I need to be right

now, like home,” he told her glancing around the field as if hoping his car would

mysteriously materialize. He stepped back over to Rich who had been waiting for

word on the pilot. “You don’t know where I can get a car do you?”

“Hey, man,” Rich said, patting Mulder on the arm. “You might have landed that

plane shaking like you are but there’s no way I’m letting you get behind the wheel of

a car. Let me see what I can do.” The controller turned away and headed for the

bank of emergency vehicles that were parked nearby. Mulder pulled the blanket

around himself. He was shaking but he’d thought it was from the cold.

A few moments later Rich returned with a sheriff’s officer. “This is Deputy Wagner,

he’ll take you home Agent Mulder.”

Great, Mulder thought to himself. That’s all he needed was to pull into Mrs. Scully’s

driveway with the emergency lights flashing. He looked at Officer Wagner. “I’d really

appreciate that,” he replied. “I just need a ride to my moth… He almost said

mother-in-law’s before he caught himself. “Actually you can drop me off right here

in Baltimore — but no emergency lights, okay?”

“No problem, Agent Mulder,” the young office acknowledged. “You have anything in

the plane you need to take with you?” he asked as they all turned to watch the

ambulance pull away.

“Get your things,” Rich told him. “We’ll take care of the plane.”

Mulder pulled his bag and coat from the plane. Exchanging his wool coat for the

blanket he slipped it on and slid his hands into his pockets to warm them while the

office put his bag in the trunk of the cruiser. As Wagner slammed the trunk Mulder

turned to Rich. “I don’t know what else to say besides thanks again,” he told the

man reaching out once again to shake his hand. “Do you know how I can get in

touch with Mark,” he asked, remembering the controller at Washington Center who

had answered his Mayday call.

“Talked to him before I came out. Let him know you were on the ground — in one

piece,” he said with a smile. His name’s Mark Newman,” he told Mulder handing him

a slip of paper with a phone number scrawled across it. “Have a Merry Christmas,”

he told the agent.”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” Mulder replied accepting Rich’s handshake once again.

“And leave the flying to the licensed pilots from now on, okay?” Rich joked.

Mulder waved and stepped away, smiling before he climbed into the cruiser’s front

seat. The officer started the car and Mulder took one last look at the Beech before

they pulled away. “Rough night?” the officer asked.

Mulder thought for a moment, maybe landing that plane was the easy part,

explaining it all to Scully was going to be the rough part. “Could be,” he replied.

They drove the thirty minute drive in relative silence. As they pulled into Mrs.

Scully’s drive the radio squawked and Wagner picked it up. Mulder watched him

listen to the voice on the other end. “That’s good to know,” he finally said. “He’s

still with me, I’ll let him know.”

“The pilot’s going to be alright, perforated ulcer, could have bled to death. He was

lucky he had someone with him tonight,” he told Mulder.

Mulder thought about the little gold plaque on the instrument panel for a moment.

“I think maybe we were both lucky we had someone with us tonight,” he replied

turning to the officer. “Thanks for the ride.” Wagner nodded in reply.

Tara was just finishing getting the kids ready for mass when headlights flicked across

the front room window indicating that a car had pulled in the driveway, “Dana, I

think Fox is here,” she called out. Scully had been in the kitchen helping her mom

with preparations for the next day’s Christmas dinner. She smiled at her mother,

“Maybe this is our Christmas miracle,” she joked, wiping her hands and then heading

into the living room. She opened the door before Mulder was even on the first step

of Maggie’s porch. “Mulder?” she asked as she came out to greet him. “We were

just about to leave for Mass, what’s going on?” she asked eyeing the cruiser in the

driveway.

Mulder pulled her into a tight hug. She could actually feel him trembling in her

arms. “I’m just glad to have my two feet on the ground,” he replied and then pulled

back. “You haven’t gone to Mass yet?” he asked.

Scully looked at her partner puzzled, “No, why?” Scully didn’t quite understand her

partner’s behavior but she could tell that something tonight had shaken him badly.

“I figured you’d have some time to relax while we were gone. I need some help with

‘assembly’ after the kids go to bed.”

“I think I’d like to go with you, if you don’t mind,” he searched his partner’s face for

her approval. “There’s someone else I need to thank.”

Realizing that she’d get the whole story when he was ready to tell it, Scully smiled at

him, “I think we’d all like that very much.”

1

Paratio Parasitus

15x05_title

Title: Paratio Parasitus

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate an unusual spike in deaths due to a brain-

eating amoeba.

Category: X-file

Rating: PG-13

Two weeks exclusive with VS15.

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. I also don’t intend to insult Florida,

the Miami-Dade county, the Everglades National Park office, or anyone else that I

mentioned in this fanfiction.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

clip_image002

LONG PINE KEY CAMPGROUND

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FL

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 29th, 2007

1400

“Come on, Willie, wake up. Please, wake up, Willie. Please.” Jed Kirsten hovered

over his son in their tent, wiping his sweat-soaked brow with a dirty hand towel. The

ten-year-old had a high fever, and had been suffering from a headache for the past

three days. It was only after the third day and the fever spike that Jed realized he

had to bring his son to an official campground.

The rifle was hidden inside Jed’s sleeping bag, and Willie lay on top of his own. The

boy was much too hot to cover up, Jed reasoned. He had undressed his son down to

his boxer shorts to make him more comfortable in the 65º weather. The 80%

humidity was what killed it—65 was remarkably chilly for these parts.

Gator hunting had been one of Jed’s favorite activities since he was Willie’s age, and

since Willie’s mother died, it had been a way to escape. So what if it was illegal? He

had lived around the Everglades his entire life and he’d be damned if he let some

stupid rules issued from a fat-ass behind a desk get in the way of his fun. And

lately, the Gators had been spotted later and later in the year, as the temperatures

got hotter.

But during this trip, while they hid from authorities in makeshift chickees and

abandoned ground sites, Willie had taken ill. The headache, the fever, and now

this…his little boy wouldn’t wake up. He lay motionless on the sleeping bag,

oblivious to the mosquitoes, humid, damp, and swampy air, and most of all, his

father’s pleas.

“Please, Willie,” Jed begged, but got no response. “Don’t make me go to the

authorities…don’t make me go to the god-damned park rangers, please, Willie, just

wake up!”

He felt for a pulse, and found that there was none.

“Oh, sweet Jesus, no…” he breathed. He started pounding on Willie’s chest. He

didn’t know CPR, but he knew some kind of compression might get things going

again. Then he’d go to a ranger, he’d go to the police, he’d turn himself into the FBI

if he had to—just as long as Willie woke up. He opened Willie’s mouth and breathed

into it, but nothing happened. He kept pounding on the little boy’s chest until

bruises formed, tears streaming down his cheeks and hitting his son’s uncovered

body. He collapsed onto the ten-year-old, sobbing uncontrollably.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING

WASHINGTON, D.C.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2007

0830

“No! I did not order a pizza-pattern 12-foot by 12-foot throw rug! I don’t even have

room for that kind of thing! What do I want you to do with it?” Mulder looked up,

and saw Scully enter the office. “Take it back to whatever dollar store it came from!”

Scully raised an eyebrow, but Mulder didn’t acknowledge her.

“I don’t care if it came from an expensive furniture store—no, I’m not anywhere near

my residence. I’m at work. You do realize you’re calling me at work? No, I know

you have a job to do, and I know it isn’t your fault, but take the damn thing back

and read the name on the order.”

There was a pause, and Mulder moved the phone so the receiver was up against his

neck. “I’m on hold. You didn’t order a pizza pattern throw rug, did you, Scully?”

Scully smirked. “Does it come with the pizza?”

Mulder shook his head. “No, it probably comes with fleas. Yes! Yes, I’m still here,”

he said into the phone. “No, it’s definitely not alright with me if you leave it outside

my door. Read me the name on the order. No—read me the name on the order.

Mm-hmm. See, there’s your problem. My name isn’t Mudler, it’s Mulder. There’s a

Frank Mudler living down the street—you probably got his house number and mine

mixed up.”

Scully’s smirk didn’t go away, much to Mulder’s annoyance.

“Because I get his mail all the time!” Mulder yelled into the phone. “Look, if I get

home, and that thing’s sitting outside my door, I’m gonna lodge a formal complaint

to your manager. Yeah, that’s right. Take it down the street to Frank Mudler.

Thank you. Goodbye.” Mulder flipped his cell phone closed and put it in its holster.

“My God, that took forever.”

“How did they get your phone number?”

“Beats the hell out of me,” he said, shaking his head in disgust. “It’s probably on

some practical joke list. Pizza throw rug. I’ve imagined more attractive things at a

senior center.”

Scully grinned, and said, “Watch it, Mulder, it won’t be long before you’re there.”

“Ouch!” Mulder said, grabbing his chest just over his heart and gasping in mock pain.

He walked over to Scully and pulled her into a sudden, passionate kiss. “Still think

I’m old?” He asked when he was done.

She seemed to be contemplating her response. “Eh…getting there,” she teased.

“You’re so dead,” he said playfully, and she quickly dodged him and went to her

desk.

“Not at work, Mulder,” she warned him.

“We’ve got no case file.”

“We’re still at work.”

“Nowhere to go, nothing to do…” Mulder sat on his desk and twiddled his thumbs.

“C’mon, we could easily shut the door and—”

“Agent Mulder? Agent Scully?” A familiar voice asked.

They both turned instantly, embarrassed to have been caught so completely off

guard. “Yes, Sir,” Mulder asked as Skinner walked in. He was carrying a folder.

“I have a case for you. It’s actually more for Agent Scully.” He handed her the

folder, and she opened it and began looking at pictures. Mulder looked curiously

between his partner and the A.D. “I’m sure you’re aware of the amoeba that feeds

on brain cells.”

“It was discovered in the 1960s. There’ve only been a few cases of deaths due to

the amoeba, but it enters through the nasal cavity and begins feeding on the brain,”

Scully said absently as she looked at the pictures.

Mulder looked like he was about to make a wise-crack about brain-sucking

microscopic parasites, but Skinner stopped him before he could. “There have been

fifteen cases in Florida in the past three weeks. They’re beginning to wonder if

something may have accelerated the amoeba’s growth, to exit the Everglades and

reach the surrounding area. Miami Dade police are especially concerned about the

threat of rioting, once people realize what they may be at risk for. Because of your

medical expertise, Scully, I’m assigning both of you to figure out what’s accelerated

the amoeba’s growth. And Agent Mulder, I’m sure you can find something in the X-

files that may shed some light on this…?”

The agent was slightly confused. “Sir…I have to admit, the brain-eating amoeba

sounds like an X-file, but it’s already been scientifically identified and scientists are

currently looking for a way to kill it. While odd, the amoeba isn’t unexplainable, and

it isn’t an X-file,” Mulder said. “I think it’s better suited for the Centers for Disease

Control.”

“The CDC looked it over and sent it to us…they’re puzzled and apparently too busy,”

Skinner said, obviously annoyed with the CDC’s disposition.

“No…Mulder, I think it is an X-file,” Scully said. She showed him the photographs,

and he shook his head. She realized he still didn’t understand. “Four of the victims

are doctors that treated the first few victims. Another three victims are nurses.

They’re all employees at hospitals in downtown Miami, where the victims were

airlifted for treatment. They were all present when the time of death was called for

the first victims…”

Comprehension washed over Mulder’s face. “It wasn’t contagious before, was it?”

“No, not like this. It’s usually transmitted by water droplets, through the nose.

When you’re underwater, or when you get splashed in the face, you’re at risk for

contracting it. But otherwise, no. I think it’s found a way to transmit itself directly

to another host, using only air as a medium.”

“But doesn’t that imply higher-level reasoning?”

“No, not necessarily. But it does imply natural selection, and definite evolution. We

might not even be looking at the same amoeba.”

Skinner stopped them before they got any further. “So you think you can handle

this?”

“Yes, Sir,” Mulder said, answering for Scully only because he knew her response.

“Good. My…a good friend of mine was one of the victims,” Skinner admitted.

Mulder realized at that point why the A.D. had been acting so nervous, so uneasy

about this case. Now it made sense. “I’m sorry, Sir,” he said.

Skinner nodded, and turned toward the door. “You should get to Florida as soon as

possible,” he said as he left.

Mulder glanced at Scully. “I hear Florida’s nice this time of year.”

Scully almost snorted. “Just the right temperature for brain-eating parasites.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

clip_image004

LONG PINE KEY NATIONAL PARK OFFICE

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FL

MONDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2007

1800

“No, we’ve already been to the Dade County Sheriff’s department, and we’ve seen

the evidence. We just wanted to talk to someone here,” Mulder argued.

“No one’s available,” the rather stout and annoyed park ranger said on his way out

the door.

“We can wait!” Mulder yelled after him, but he was already gone. They were left

alone in the office.

“Aren’t these things supposed to be manned all the time?” Scully asked, looking

around at the empty building.

“Supposed to be,” Mulder agreed, and led the way toward the door. “We’ll come

back. I think we should get back to the sheriff’s office and talk with the detective

again.”

“First we should get dinner. I’m starving.”

“We’ll pick something up on—”

“Mulder,” Scully warned.

“Okay, okay, we’ll find someplace to sit down. I value my life.”

She snorted as they got into their car. They had come all the way out here for

nothing, and there had to be a reason for the park rangers’ stand-offish nature.

“They’re hiding something, Scully,” Mulder said once they were on their way.

“The cat’s already out of the bag on the brain-eating amoebas,” Scully offered.

“No—there’s a reason why the attacks have escalated, and I think they know why.”

“We have no evidence to suggest they had any inclination as to why—”

“Where did he go?”

“Where did who go?”

“The park ranger. When he left the office. Where did he go? He went out the door

and he walked straight toward our car, then made a sharp right and disappeared

behind the office, into the Everglades. He took a flashlight with him, and his rifle,

and that was it. Have any idea what he’s doing out there, Scully?”

“No, but Mulder, we—”

“We need to find out.”

“We just got here!”

“And this might be our only chance.”

“We need protective gear if we’re going in. We’re not dressed properly, we don’t

have a rifle, we have no idea which direction he went, we don’t know this territory,

we have nothing to throw to gators if they happen to smell us, and we haven’t eaten

in seven hours, Mulder. There’s no way we can go into the woods. Mulder, turn the

car around. I’m serious!”

He looked at her. “This is our one chance to figure out what they know. He went

somewhere, Scully. Abandoned his post to get somewhere very quickly.”

“And he’ll probably abandon it again to get somewhere equally as quickly. But we’ll

come back. Prepared. We need a map of the Everglades, possibly a guide, a rifle

and bait for gators, we’ll need the proper equipment and biohazard suits if we end up

wading in water.”

Mulder frowned. “Bio-hazard suits?”

“These amoebas are breathed in. That’s how they get into your system. If you’re

wading in water, and water splashes up your nose, you’re at a greater risk for

infection. I’m not disagreeing that we should figure out what they know—”

“You’re not?” Mulder asked, surprised.

“Well, no, I think—”

“You’re not objecting to us going into the Everglades and wading through muck and

dirt in search of something you don’t think is even there?” Mulder asked skeptically.

“You should know me better than that by now, Mulder. You know I want to figure

out what they’re hiding as much as you do.”

“A minute ago you weren’t convinced they were hiding anything,” Mulder argued, as

he turned the car around and headed back toward the city.

“The more I think about it…Mulder, the results from the lab that we saw in the

sheriff’s department. The detective showed the results to us. The latest victims had

something in common—they had all camped in the campground or treated those who

had. We knew that already. What we didn’t realize is that they probably bought the

water at the National Park office.”

“Scully—really? This is huge. If this thing is transmitted by water, then—”

“I know, and I didn’t get a sample.”

“We have to go back, then,” Mulder insisted.

Scully hesitated for a moment, then said, “Okay. But we still don’t have the

necessary equipment. We go in and get the water, and leave. We’re not going into

the Everglades.”

“Of course not,” he said, but Scully recognized that look in his eye. He had made

some kind of connection, bigger than the one she had made, and they had only been

in Florida for the past eight hours. She couldn’t stop him now. All she could hope to

do was rein him in enough to keep up, so they could solve this together.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

LONG PINE KEY NATIONAL PARK OFFICE

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FL

MONDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2007

1830

“Hello? We’re back—we forgot something,” Scully called, as they let themselves in.

The front door was open. “Hello? Is anyone here?” No one answered, and so they

walked over to the cooler where water was being sold.

“What made you remember the water, Scully?” Mulder asked curiously.

“I remember reading the autopsy report on what was in their stomachs, and I knew

they consumed large amounts of water. They were camping. Then I saw the water

while we were just here…” she picked up a bottle. “It’s a great price, and it’s

obviously worth checking out.”

He nodded, and moved away from where she was. He walked behind the desk, and

Scully looked at him disapprovingly. “Mulder, what are you doing?”

“Just checking out a few things…there it is.” He ejected the security tape pulled up a

chair, searching through the shelf of security tapes until he found the ones that

corresponded to the dates that victims checked in. He stuck the first one in the

machine.

“Mulder, if they come back—”

“Watch the door, then, Scully.”

She groaned. She couldn’t believe him. He was doing it again.

“You must not think they’re coming back for a while.”

“It’s a hunch,” he explained.

“And if you’re wrong?”

“Scully,” Mulder said with a smile, “I’m never wrong.”

She rolled her eyes, and walked over to the door. She kept watch, eventually

needing to get a chair and sit down. It had been a long day. No one came for at

least an hour. Mulder had fast-forwarded through three security tapes and was on

his fourth.

“What do you hope to find?” Scully asked.

“Something indicating that these people bought the water, or anything from this

ranger station.”

“Or…?” she continued, knowing from his tone that there was more.

“Or evidence to suggest that the park rangers are going outside with something

unusual.”

“You really think they’re responsible?”

“They know something,” Mulder repeated himself.

Scully was quiet for a few moments. “Have you found anything?” She asked

eventually.

“One park ranger in particular seems to have a ritual of eating his sandwich at

exactly 12:15 every afternoon, and another sneaks a portable TV under the desk at

the beginning of his shift every morning, but nothing other than that.”

She sighed. “Mulder, we need to get back and test this water sample.”

“Hang on, I’ve got a few more of these to go through.”

“What makes you think they’re going to be gone much longer?”

“They’ve been gone for over an hour, Scully. They’re doing something out there,

and we’re going to find out what. As soon as we have the proper gear. In the mean

time, I see no reason why we can’t take advantage of the opportunity—”

He was cut off by Scully’s cell phone ringing. She instantly plucked it out of her

pocket and answered it. “Scully.”

“Agent Scully, this is Detective Harris. We’ve got something at the Sheriff’s office

that you’re gonna want to look at.”

“Alright, we’ll be there as soon as we can. Thanks for letting us know.”

“No problem. See you in a few.”

She didn’t bother to tell Detective Harris that it would be more than ‘a few’ at the

rate they were going. “Come on, Mulder,” she said as she hung up the phone.

“We’ve got to go. They’ve got something at the sheriff’s department that they want

us to see.”

“What is it?”

“I didn’t ask.”

Mulder sighed, and popped the tape out. He put today’s tape back in the machine,

and activated the camera again.

“What’s going to happen when they look at that tape and figure out that we were

trespassing?” Scully asked.

“They won’t look at it. They’re not going to care, Scully. Whatever it is that’s

occupying them, it’s got their complete and undivided attention.”

Scully rolled her eyes, and led the way out the door. They got in their car and drove

off in the dark, neither one of them seeing the park ranger emerge from the woods

with one of his colleagues. They were laboriously carrying a large, mysterious

cooler.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

DADE COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

MIAMI, FL

MONDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2007

2045

“What’ve you got for us, Detective Harris?” Mulder asked immediately upon meeting

the man in the lobby. He was young, a new homicide detective probably on one of

his first cases. His brown curly hair was cropped relatively short, and he wore a

sweater vest over his Oxford shirt and tie. He was the only one without a uniform

who wore a tie at all.

“One of our officers found traces of fertilizer on one of the victim’s hands.”

“Which victim?” Scully asked as they proceeded through the modern building to their

destination.

“One of the city dwellers. Adam Rozinski. I did a background check on him; he

recently joined a club called The Fraternity…it’s an independent organization

contained to the city. We’re planning to send someone out tomorrow to question

some of the people in this club about his daily routine. He has no family and he’s

unemployed. We have no way of knowing how this guy might have contracted the

amoeba.”

Scully nodded. “We’ll go with your people tomorrow,” she said.

Mulder spoke up. “What do you think the fertilizer will tell us, Detective?”

“We had the compound analyzed, Agent Mulder. It’s a very distinct combination of

chemicals, only found in one brand and only made in one location in Miami.”

“If we go to that location, we might find another amoeba danger spot and that’ll

enable us to bring biohazard teams in,” Scully explained. “As it stands, the only

conceivable explanation for this outbreak is that there are multiple origin points for a

rapidly growing and mutating entity. The amoeba couldn’t spread so fast without

different points of origin. The more of them we have, the better our chances are of

eradicating it.”

Mulder nodded. “Is there a possibility that Rozinski was working on a bomb?

Fertilizer’s a well-known ingredient for home-made bombs. Do you know anything

else about him, Detective?”

“He doesn’t have a record. He was orphaned at age eight. Only child, raised in

foster care, never got a job. Twenty-three years old, declared bankruptcy already

and has been living off of food stamps and welfare until he got involved with the

club. They’ve helped him considerably. Seems like a kid just trying to get by, to

me,” Harris said. “But then, things aren’t often as they seem.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Mulder said with a smile.

“Have you already completed the autopsy, Detective?” Scully asked.

“Our coroner, Alexi, she’s gotten through the preliminary steps. She was about to

make a Y-incision when I left twenty minutes ago. If you want to get down there,

Dr. Scully, I’d recommend you hurry.”

“I’m gonna run ahead, Mulder,” Scully said.

“Go for it. We’ll catch up,” Mulder accepted, and watched as she jogged in the other

direction, toward the elevator. Then he turned to Harris, and continued their brief

journey to a small room with a microscope in the center.

Harris gestured toward the projector on the far end of the room, and Mulder stood

off to the side while the younger man activated the computer. A moment later, they

were staring at a background check on Rozinski. “If you see anything that might

shed some light on how he contracted the amoeba, Agent Mulder, please divulge.

Sheriff Carr is very eager to get to the bottom of this one.”

“I can imagine,” Mulder said absently, looking at the blown-up version of Rozinski’s

record. He scanned the entire thing, looking for something that stood out. Then he

saw it. “This date, November 29th, he was caught trespassing on National Park

property,” Mulder said.

“Yeah…it was just him being stupid. I pulled up the record and it’s the only charge

we have against him. He claims he was going to try to light off some firecrackers.

Or rather, he had lit off some firecrackers. By the time we got there, there weren’t

any left. Stupid kid. Nothing to do.”

“One of the recent outbreaks we have on file as an anomaly is Willie Kirsten, a ten-

year-old boy brought into the hospital by his father, who claims they were illegally

camping—”

“That translates to gator-hunting, Agent Mulder,” the detective interrupted.

“Whatever they were doing, they were doing it on November 29th. Willie’s infection,

we believe, caused four more infections resulting in death. All four were hospital

workers.”

“You think Rozinski might have something to do with that?”

“I think it’s a coincidence we can’t ignore. I want you to cross-check all the other

victims for any connection to other victims, other than treating them. If they were in

the park at the same day, if they were next-door neighbors or worked together—

anything that would put them in close proximity. But I want you to especially pay

attention to cases where one victim was trespassing on property another victim was

occupying right before the outbreak.”

Harris nodded. “Of course,” he said.

“I’ll help you until my partner’s done.”

“Sounds good. Let’s pull up those files and get going.”

A few hours and six pieces of pizza later, Mulder saw Scully walk past their room,

back up, and enter. “Finished assisting with the autopsy,” she announced.

Harris and Mulder were both very attentive.

“Alexi and I both agree without a doubt that the amoeba killed Rozinski. But he

didn’t inhale it. Rozinski not only had traces of fertilizer on his hands and arms, but

his wrists and ankles were irritated and his upper arm had a single injection point.

We believe he was murdered.”

“Damn. They put the amoeba in a vial and injected it into his arm?”

“That’s Dr. Morgan’s conclusion,” Scully said. “And I agree with her. He was tied

down, and killed.”

“Fingerprints, signs of a struggle?” Harris asked.

“No, no fingerprints, but he did have a bruise on his cheek that hadn’t formed yet,

and he took a blow to the head. It’s likely he wasn’t subdued quietly. What did you

two find?”

“Adam Rozinski’s bank account has been bulging in the last few days. He received a

deposit of $50,000 yesterday from an unknown source. Detective Harris is trying to

track it now,” Mulder reported. “And Scully, Rozinski was arrested for trespassing on

National Park grounds on the same day Willie Kirsten was brought into the hospital.

The ICU doctors who attended to him for the last few hours of his life all died within

the same few days, of the amoeba infection.”

“I think it’s pretty clear what’s going on here,” Detective Harris said. “They’ve found

a way to infect people, and Rozinski was so far in debt that he took a bribe to deliver

it.”

“I don’t think it stops with Rozinski,” Mulder said, standing up. “I agree with you

there, Detective.”

“We’ve also got information, Agent Scully, about three other victims who were either

arrested for trespassing in areas where other victims occupied the day they were

brought into the hospital, or inhabited those areas legally. And there’s a very

disturbing commonality.”

“What’s that?” Scully asked.

“They’re all involved in some way with the local club Rozinski recently joined.

They’re not all members—some are contributors, some are in charge of finances, and

some are employees. But they all are somehow affiliated with The Fraternity on 7th

street. In the city.”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other. “Alright, we’re going to need a warrant,”

Scully said. “And I’d like to question these people as soon as possible. We’ll need

your resources to do that, Detective Harris. There are bound to be a lot of them.”

“We’ll start first thing in the morning,” Harris said. “Can you two be here at 7?”

“We definitely can,” Mulder said with a nod. He walked over to Scully, and she said,

“We’re gonna grab something to eat. We haven’t eaten since the plane ride…if you

can call that food.”

Harris, immediately seeing Mulder’s plight, shifted in front of the pizza box a little

further, just in case Scully saw. “Fair enough. I’ll see you two tomorrow. We made

great progress.”

“We definitely did,” Mulder agreed, and led Scully out the door. A few minutes later,

when they were in their car, Scully spoke.

“You didn’t mention the Forest Rangers’ odd behavior.”

“Not yet,” Mulder said. “There’s something to this club lead, but I don’t think this

stops there. And we don’t have any evidence against the Rangers. After we search

the club I want to go back to that ranger station, Scully. There’s something going on

there.”

“We need to find a connection between the forest rangers and The Fraternity,” Scully

stated. “I have a feeling that will explain a lot.”

“What about the fertilizer? Do you think they’re planning a bomb?”

“If they are, they’re probably releasing the amoeba into the atmosphere while they

do it,” she said.

He started the car and drove toward their motel. “If this is what it looks like, I’m

hoping it’s contained to Miami.”

She nodded solemnly, and looked out the window. “Mulder, there’s a pizza place

right there—why don’t we stop in?”

“Eh, I don’t really feel much like pizza, Scully. Why not go to Wendy’s?”

“Do you see a Wendy’s anywhere?” Scully asked, her tone annoyed. “The pizza place

is right there. Come on, pull over.”

“Hey, look, a Chick-Fil-A,” Mulder said excitedly, and pulled into the parking lot.

“Let’s get some waffle fries and chicken on a bun, Scully.”

“Fine, anything edible,” Scully said, and they both headed into the fast food

restaurant. Neither one of them noticed the forest ranger’s truck that slowed in front

of the store, and then continued past.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

THE FRATERNITY

MIAMI, FL

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2007

1000

Mulder and Scully left the club with Detective Harris and a team of CSI’s,

discouraged. The only thing they had gotten out of their search was a handful of

rude stares, not-so-polite words, and numerous requests to leave.

Mulder had particularly reacted to one man’s words. “This club does nothing but

reach out to young men in need, Agents. What you’ve done here is inflict prejudice

on us. The whole neighborhood will think we’re some kind of illegal group.” Their

intentions had been just, going into the building, but Mulder still felt like dirt after

being on the receiving end of that accusation, and seeing the physical evidence of

who belonged to The Fraternity. Boys ranging from early teenage years to late 20’s,

mostly homeless or runaways, gathered together for prayer, for counseling, for

simple socialization. Not criminals.

Scully was about to say something when a boy, about fourteen years old, ran up to

them. He wasn’t followed. Mulder recognized him from inside the building, and it

was clear that he had left in a hurry and was worried that he might be in trouble for

it.

“FBI dudes! Wait up!” he yelled. His clothes were worn and tattered, his shirt

several sizes too small for him. “Sorry…I gotta tell you something. There’s this

group of dudes that meets every Tuesday night, at 9 pm. They meet in the

basement, and don’t let no one in. Now I don’t know what they’re doing down there,

and I don’t want no one knowin’ I told you nothing…if you get my drift.” He gave

them a meaningful look. “But I got a gut feeling they ain’t up to no good.”

Scully smiled gently at him. “Thank you very much for your information. You’ve

done the right thing.”

The boy simply said, “Gotta split,” and ran back inside the building before he was

missed. Mulder and Scully weren’t quite sure he wasn’t missed in the first place.

“Hope he doesn’t get in trouble with the other guys,” Mulder commented.

“Think he was a runaway?”

“Maybe homeless, maybe a runaway…maybe drugs.” Mulder shook his head. “You

never know.”

Scully nodded. Harris walked over to them after finishing his discussion with one of

the officers. “Kid tell you anything important?”

“We’re going to try to investigate a group that’s held here tonight at 9 pm. We’ll

need audio surveillance,” Mulder told him.

“That I can get you. I think we should try to figure out who’s in it before we start

the surveillance.”

“Agreed. Why don’t you do that, Detective…Scully and I are going to pursue our own

avenue of investigation.”

“Sure,” Harris said, slightly confused. “So we’ll meet up sometime this afternoon?”

“Sometime around 4,” Scully said. It was good to put a time limit on whatever

Mulder had in mind…or they might just end up spending the night in the woods with

brain-sucking amoebas.

“See you then,” Harris said.

They parted, and it was only when they were in the car that Mulder said, “We need

to go back to the ranger station.”

“Mulder, I agree that those rangers were acting odd, but all the evidence points to

this being the work of a group within The Fraternity.”

“It’s not just The Fraternity,” Mulder said. He started the car and pulled away.

“What makes you so sure?”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he popped a sunflower seed in his mouth and focused his

eyes steadily on the road. Scully sighed. It had to be one of his ‘feelings’, but with

no evidence to back them up, she wasn’t sure how much they would get away with.

They had already waltzed into the ranger station and viewed the security tapes

without permission. What did Mulder have in mind now? Audio surveillance on their

houses? Going through their emails? Stalking them on MySpace?

It didn’t take long to get to the ranger station, but when they arrived, they found

that it was completely empty. There were no cars outside, or around back. The

lights were off. It was exceedingly odd.

“They’re supposed to have people manning these posts all the time,” Mulder said,

annoyed, as he strode up to the front door.

“So you’ve said,” his partner answered him. “I never suggested these rangers aren’t

acting odd, and I agree with you that they probably know something, but we just

don’t have any evidence.”

“How’d that water bottle come out?”

“It’s clean,” Scully said, disappointed.

“There goes our water selling theory.”

“What if only some of them are contaminated?” Scully asked, stopping in her tracks.

They hadn’t reached the door yet. “What if they’re only selling one or two

contaminated bottles to the campers? That would explain an increase in infections,

but it would also explain why everyone who walks into the Everglades doesn’t die.”

Mulder nodded, enthusiastic. “We’ll need probable cause to confiscate their water

bottle supply and have it tested.”

“I agree. And whatever we find in this station might just help us get it. Let’s go.”

It was odd that their roles were suddenly reversed, with Scully energetically in front,

eager to find whatever the rangers were hiding.

They walked inside, only slightly surprised that the door wasn’t locked, and found

that it was pitch black inside. Mulder turned on the lights with his sleeve. “Hello?”

the announced. “We’re with the FBI, and we have some questions. Is anyone here?”

No one answered.

Scully had already walked behind the counter, and into the back room, gun drawn.

Mulder followed her after surveying the open space and finding nothing. They saw

quickly that the back room consisted of a couch, a television, a coffee table, and a

door that led to the outside. Mulder opened it, his gun still extended in front of him.

The light from the back room spilled into the small closet they had just discovered,

and they spotted a door that truly led to the outdoors directly in front of them. The

closet was about the size of a broom closet, and was completely empty. “This is

odd,” Scully said.

“It is,” Mulder agreed, but didn’t find anything interesting. Until he looked down.

“Scully, look at this.”

Scully took out her flashlight and pointed it at the floor. A very small handle, made

of wood and hinged with metal, was barely visible between the wooden boards. The

agents stepped out of the small closet and Mulder picked up the handle, heaving the

entire floor of the little room up on hinges, and blocking the exit as he did so. He

exposed a stairwell that went down at least two stories, into a basement of sorts.

“Now I’m pretty sure this isn’t in the building plans,” Mulder said.

They went down the stairs without another word, Mulder first and Scully covering his

back.

Mulder shone his flashlight on the warehouse-sized underground space they viewed

when they reached the bottom of the stairs. There were crates lining the walls,

stacked one on top of the other, as far as they could see. The room was so large

that Mulder’s voice echoed when he said, “How did they build underground in the

Everglades? Isn’t that impossible?”

“It should be,” Scully said. “This entire room might not be dug out…it might have

been inserted. Or it might be a very dangerous room to occupy.”

“Come on, let’s see what’s in these crates.”

She normally would have protested, but she was so damn curious to see what

evidence had eluded them that she didn’t say a word as Mulder grabbed a crowbar

laying nearby and walked up to a crate behind some others. He pried it open and

tossed the crowbar aside, creating a loud, resonating ‘clang’ through the basement.

Scully almost pushed him out of the way to get a look at what was inside. There

were two large water dispensers, the kind one saw at sports games for the players

down by the benches.

“Do you have any way of getting a water sample, Scully?” Mulder asked.

“I left my equipment in the car. I’ll go get it.”

“Hurry up,” he said, and watched her run up the stairs at full speed.

He inspected the dispensers closer when she was gone, leaning in for a good look at

the dispensing mechanism and the sealing on the container. He saw an electronic

mechanism that he couldn’t quite understand, stuck to the container at the bottom.

He wondered if it could be a bomb, but he didn’t see any explosives.

Then something caught his eye. A small red wire running from the crate into the

wall. It was then that he discovered that all the crates were equipped with these

wires, running into the walls of the secret basement room. He was getting a very

bad feeling about this.

The feeling only escalated when Scully didn’t return for another two minutes.

Something was wrong. He held his gun in front of him as he ran up the stairs, but

only got to the top step before his partner came into his field of view. Only she

wasn’t alone. A park ranger was right behind her, shotgun visible and threateningly

held at his side. And her gun in his other hand.

“Thought I told you people no one was available here,” the park ranger growled as

Scully walked in Mulder’s direction.

“The front door was unlocked. We needed answers, and no one wanted to provide

any.”

“So this is what you people do when you need answers? You barge into someone’s

water supply chamber?”

“Water supply?” Scully asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, water supply. And before you jump to any stupid conclusions, hear me out.

This has nothing to do with that damn amoeba. This has to do with the town’s water

supply bein’ in serious danger. We found a way to get the water out of the swamps

and purify it. That down there is a water purification system.”

“So why are you hiding it in a basement?” Mulder challenged.

“Because it’s a nice big space near the Everglades, genius. Now I got a job to do,

and I don’t need two Feds gettin’ in my way. I’d greatly appreciate it if you two left.”

Mulder climbed the final stair as the man lowered his gun, and walked with Scully

toward the door. He took one last look behind him before Scully shoved him gently,

and they walked to their car. Scully picked up her gun from the dirt, noticing that

the park ranger stood outside the station, shotgun at his side, waiting for them to

leave.

“Something else is going on here, Scully, I know there is,” Mulder said once he was

behind the wheel.

Scully didn’t say anything.

He started the car, and pulled out of the station. After several moments of silence,

he looked at her. “You believed him.”

“It’s plausible that they could be circulating a water supply, for a storm or for a

limited population within the city. A water purification system for a community

whose water supply is diminishing every day. The amoeba might be transferred

through something else, and it probably is, considering the water bottle we tested

came out clean.”

“You think they’re totally innocent? That they don’t know what’s going on here?”

She was quiet.

“You have your doubts.”

“I’m doubting his lack of knowledge,” she said. “But I’m not doubting his innocence.

I don’t think they have anything to do with what’s happening.”

He sighed, and she gave him a pained expression. “You can’t be right all the time,

Mulder,” she said.

“But I’m driving,” he responded, and a smile played on his lips.

“You use that too often,” Scully accused.

They drove toward the Sheriff’s Department, ready to report to Detective Harris their

findings…or lack thereof.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

THE FRATERNITY

MIAMI, FL

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2007

2100

Mulder and Scully sat in a van with Detective Harris and an officer from the Dade

County Sheriff’s Department, listening intently to the men who piled into the small

basement room of the building across the street.

“Should we begin?” they heard. It was a shame they didn’t have video feed.

Although they had confirmed the suspects’ identities as they walked into the

building, it would still help to know who said what.

“The new shipment arrived today,” another man said in a thick European accent.

“Then we should begin dispersal as quickly as possible. I got a plan,” a third man

stated, and they heard the ruffling of a piece of paper. Mulder and Scully could

guess it was a map. “This will lead to maximum casualties.”

“We should start this tonight.”

“There aren’t many campers registered tonight. But I’m on shift,” the first man said.

“And so I can let you in the door. My friend is covering for me, but he’ll go do his

thing as soon as I am back.”

“In an hour and a half, we’ll be done here and you’ll be back at your post. That’s

when you let us in,” the third man told him.

“And then we take the containers and begin,” a fourth man chimed in. “We’ll bring

the truck.”

“Are you sure you can gain access to the water treatment plant? It pretty closely

guarded,” the second man told him.

“We can gain access. No problem.”

“Call us if you need to drop any bodies,” the first man said.

“We will,” a fifth man finally spoke.

“Let’s get outta here. It’s not safe to stay here for that long.”

“People are gonna wonder if we don’t stay here a little longer,” the second man

cautioned him.

“Then let’s chill.”

Mulder and Scully looked at each other as the men launched into normal

conversation, and it was Scully who first spoke. “We need a team at the water

treatment plant, and at the ranger station. We need a roster of all the employees of

the ranger station and we need a cross-check with those that attend this club. And

we need to move, people, we only have an hour and a half.”

The detective and officer jumped into action. They dispatched a team to the nearest

water treatment plant, and alerted others to be on guard. They rode to the ranger

station at top speed, and formulated a plan on the way.

They called in for backup, and had the entire place surrounded quickly and silently.

The park ranger inside didn’t know what was going on. Mulder and Scully didn’t

bother going into the station—instead, they hid outside, and waited to catch the men

in the act of loading the containers onto the back of a vehicle.

It seemed like they waited forever. Scully grew tired and leaned against a tree, and

Mulder rubbed her shoulders one by one, briefly, with his gun still in his hand. She

smiled her thanks.

Mulder’s own fatigue was written all over his face. It had been a long couple of days,

and he had obviously been awake thinking about this case. Something still wasn’t

quite right. There was something missing…it fell together too well. It was the classic

domestic terrorist plot, and yet it just…wasn’t right.

Finally, they saw movement. A truck pulled up and one Middle-Eastern man got out

of the driver’s side, and walked into the ranger station in a Park Ranger’s uniform. A

few minutes later, another man left.

Scully called in a trace on his vehicle and license plate, and they stayed put. Only

ten minutes later, another, larger truck pulled up and two men got out. They were

both very large, clearly capable of lifting more than Mulder’s weight. They walked

into the ranger station, and what seemed like an eternity later, walked out carrying a

large crate.

“Move in!” Mulder commanded, and everyone jumped out of their hiding places,

surrounding the men. They put the case down without being asked, and put their

hands up.

“Do not move,” a police officer instructed, even though the men were stationary.

“Get that to the lab,” Scully said. “Test the water samples for the amoeba,” she

commanded the officer who had accompanied them. As the officers handcuffed their

suspected terrorists, one of them looked up at Mulder and said, “I know you.”

Mulder glanced at him, the curiosity on his face so slight that he knew only Scully

picked it up. “What do you mean?” he asked in a harsh tone.

“You’re that profiler,” he said in perfect English. “And you handle freaky cases. I

know you.”

“How is that of any consequence to me?” Mulder asked.

“Oh…I think you’ll find out.”

And as he said it, he glanced at his comrade, handcuffed and on his knees beside

him. They nodded to each other, and bit down on capsules no one had seen they

had. “No!” Mulder screamed simultaneously with Scully, but as the agents rushed

forward to try to wipe the cyanide out of the men’s mouths, they had already been

fatally poisoned.

Foaming at the mouth and collapsed on the ground, their suspects were dead. And

more good news came through a police officer’s radio. “Report of an explosion at the

Euphoria Water Company. All available units, respond.”

Mulder and Scully gave each other pained expressions before breaking into a run for

the nearest available vehicle. “Arrest that park ranger inside,” Scully commanded.

“Seal off this station, keep it guarded and closed off to civilians. Evacuate the

campers and get me that water test,” she ordered.

“Get those bodies to the morgue and hold off on the autopsy until Agent Scully can

get a look at them,” Mulder added as he opened the passenger side door of one of

the Sheriff’s Department vehicles.

“Where are you two going?” Detective Harris demanded. “The officers can handle the

water treatment facility.”

“We need to be there,” was Mulder’s only explanation as he closed his door. Scully

started the car, and they were on their way with the help of the GPS in only a few

seconds.

“They’ve outsmarted us. Anticipated our arrival. They know what we’re up to, they

know what I’m investigating, and they’ve planned for all of it. Including the audio

surveillance,” Mulder said.

“There’s still one consistently unanswered question, Mulder.”

“I thought we had a lot of those.”

She ignored the comment. “Where are they getting the amoeba? How are they

controlling it? How can they guarantee that there will be a sample of that amoeba in

their water supply that they’re dispersing?”

“The answer’s in the Everglades—I’m sure of it.”

“It is an optimal place for the amoeba to spread, I’ll give you that,” Scully started.

“But?”

“But you still don’t have any evidence.”

“That’s what we’re going to the water treatment plant for, Scully.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

clip_image006

EUPHORIA WATER TREATMENT FACILITY

MIAMI, FL

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2007

2250

When Mulder and Scully arrived, they saw only chaos. Employees were huddled near

emergency vehicles, a fire truck was putting out a fire on the fourth floor, and the

entire upper floor of the building looked decimated. They could see inside in several

places, with the assistance of the floodlights the emergency workers had

constructed.

Mulder walked up to the first firefighter he found, and flashed his badge. “What

happened here?” he demanded.

“Explosion on the fourth floor. Damaged the third and fifth, didn’t destroy anything

but a couple of offices, and a supply route.”

“Supply route?”

“Two simultaneous explosions, one on the fourth floor, and one by the water supply

tank. We’ve got no way of knowing what the root of the explosion was until the

Bomb Squad gets here.”

Mulder’s mind zoomed through the possibilities, remembering exactly what those

men had said. The park ranger’s friend, who had covered for him, was going to ‘do

his thing’ when he left. “It was a suicide bomber,” Mulder said, more to Scully than

to the fireman in front of them. “That trace you ordered—it obviously wasn’t fast

enough. The man pulled into here, walked into this building, and blew up himself

and the water supply route simultaneously.”

“But Mulder, why would he do that? He didn’t release anything into the water supply

from inside…do you think?”

“We need those security tapes. And we need them now,” Mulder demanded.

“Well, I’m not the one to talk to. Building security has its hands full. You won’t get

much from them either. Best of luck to you, though.” The man walked away, and

Mulder stormed toward the building.

“Are you in charge?” he demanded. Scully followed closely behind, and matched

Mulder’s intense glance at the security guard coordinating an evacuation.

“Who are you?” The guard asked, clearly annoyed.

The agents quickly flashed their badges. “We need to see your security tapes for

water supply routes, and we need them now. You’ve got a toxic substance in your

water supply and we need to localize it.”

“How the hell can you know that?” The guard asked accusingly.

“Just get us the damn records, or find someone who can,” Scully insisted. “Every

second we wait here, we delay our chances to shut down the water supply.”

“Even if you wanted to shut down the water supply, you’d have to shut down at least

three routes,” a voice said from behind them. They turned to see a man in a suit.

“I’m Peter Grossman, water treatment engineer for this plant,” he introduced.

“You’re from the police department?”

“FBI,” Mulder said. “And you’ve got a toxic substance in one of your supply routes.

We need to shut it down before it gets to people’s houses. How much time do we

have?”

“About five minutes,” he said, and broke into a run, waving to them to follow him.

Out of options, they complied, and ran with the man through the building as the fire

alarm sounded its piercing whine. They ignored the alarm and the late-working

employees making their way out of the building, and went directly to the control

room.

“The best bet is to shut down the East P-16 gridline,” Grossman said, jogging up to

the central computer and sitting down in front of the console. “The explosion was on

the fourth floor, right?”

“Right,” Mulder said.

“And it was right here,” he pointed to a spot on an electronic schematic of the

building displayed on the security screen. “This part of the building is only accessible

through this one route. That’s because of the highly sensitive equipment in that

area. We sealed off the staircase and made it a separate suite. Whoever got in

must have known about that in advance—”

“Just shut down the damn water supply!” Scully ordered.

“Right…” the engineer said, and turned back to his station. “There are three options

that go into this area. All three routes cover about a third of our clients. Shutting

them down isn’t something I have the authority to do, but under the

circumstances…”

“Just do it,” Mulder said impatiently.

The engineer flipped the switch, and the glowing lights in those areas went dead.

“It’s done. Your water supply is now standing—that means it’s not flowing through

its usual pipeline. It’ll have to be re-distributed throughout the grid once it’s

cleaned. Those people, though, don’t have any water.”

“How long before they get their water back?” Scully asked.

“A day, two days?”

Mulder rolled his eyes, and then looked at the engineer sincerely. “Thank you, Mr.

Grossman, you’ve been very helpful.”

“Anything I can do to help you guys out. Let me just log out here…” He turned back

toward the computer, and pressed a few buttons. Mulder and Scully headed toward

the door. “Just wait a minute,” they heard him say, and when they turned around,

he had pulled a gun. They had no time to reach for theirs. “Disarm yourselves.

Now!”

They complied, warily gauging the situation. “So you’re the one who let him in,

Grossman? You’re the one who led him up to that fourth floor, and set the charge

outside?”

“To cut the power to the clean water supply and guarantee contamination,” the

engineer confirmed. “Kick the guns away from you and get away from each other.

That’s it. Good. Now stay there.”

Mulder didn’t know the man enough to judge whether he would really pull that

trigger, but he was awfully calm for an engineer with a gun. He decided to take a

wild guess. “So you believe what they’re doing? You believe this Fraternity group

has the right idea?”

Grossman snorted. “Right, you pegged it.”

Mulder had him right where he wanted him. “So this is for money?”

“What do you think? You think Moe, Larry, and Curly are well-funded over in that

club’s basement?”

Bull’s eye. “You’re doing this for some reason, Peter.”

“Why not for just no reason at all?”

Scully wasn’t sure what Mulder was doing, but she was being quiet and letting him

go at his speed…it was, at least, delaying the crazy man in the room. “Because

people generally don’t do things for ‘no reason at all’.”

“What do you want me to say? My mother never loved me? My father never hugged

me?”

“No, I’d expect a teenage pick-pocket to say that.”

“Then what the hell do you want from me?”

“The truth. Why you’re condemning a third of the city to death. Why you’re helping

a cause you don’t believe in, and stand to get no profit from.”

“Because of people like you, Mr. Mudler.”

“Mulder.”

“Whatever!” The man said, cocking his weapon and pointing it at Mulder’s head.

“People like you who think they’re so god-damned better than everyone else. People

who don’t think people like me are worth anything…people who take us for granted,

and people who go into the evil, brainwashing, child-murdering government that

accepts those people like you and rejects people like me for ‘psychological reasons’.”

Mulder didn’t respond for a moment, sensing that the man was about to continue.

Grossman took a step forward. “Do you know how hard I studied for that entrance

exam? Do you know how badly I wanted to serve my country? Before I found out

what an evil machine it is, disregarding the people who break their backs to hold it

up, while they chase pointless tasks, waste our money, and destroy our foreign

policy!”

Mulder shook his head. “So you’re going to punish a third of Miami for the

government’s mistakes.”

“Yes! Only then can we get you people to listen to us! They don’t give minorities a

chance! They don’t give the poor kids a chance to get up in this world and pull

themselves out of the muck. All they give them is a rejection! And they only pay

attention when something blows up!” He took another step forward, so that the gun

was nearly in Mulder’s face. Then he shifted the gun so that it was pointed directly

at Scully. His face was red, he was sweating bullets, and his eyes darted around,

paranoid. “Do you think for one minute you were hired because you passed a test?

It’s because you were needed to meet a damn diversity quota! They don’t hire

women or minorities because they want to!” He began to laugh. “It’s all some big

damn dinner party. Everyone impressing everyone else. And—”

He didn’t get the opportunity to continue because Mulder disarmed him in one fluid

motion, kicking the gun out of his hand and wrapping his arm behind his back. He

cuffed him last, and ignored the man’s loud protests. “You know what the sad thing

is, Scully?”

Scully raised an eyebrow, waiting for the corny punch-line.

“He never even got to the appetizer.” Mulder shoved Peter toward the door without

another word, but didn’t miss Scully rolling her eyes. He smiled slightly at her as

they walked side-by-side to their car. They shoved the incessantly loquacious

engineer in the back, and locked the doors before they started the car and drove off.

They headed directly for the Miami-Dade PD office.

“Now we get the joy of interrogations,” Scully said, resting her head in her palm, and

her elbow on the windowsill of the passenger’s seat.

“One after the other,” Mulder responded with mock enthusiasm.

The immediate danger seemed to have passed. But there was still a mystery here,

and they both knew it. How did these insane, delusional people get a hold of a

brain-eating amoeba? Hopefully, through the daunting interrogations, they would

find some answers.

And, Scully hoped, not get stuck in the woods overnight.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

MIAMI-DADE PD CRIME LAB

MIAMI, FL

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2007

0002

The park ranger was little more than a boy. He was probably nineteen, twenty years

old, of Arab descent, but clearly American, and scared out of his mind in that

interrogation room. He was a tall man, about Mulder’s height, but hadn’t filled out

yet. His park ranger’s uniform hung loosely on him as he sat in the hot seat.

Mulder knew he was their weakest link, the one who would tell them where the

amoebas were coming from. Scully stood by the door, leaning against the wall,

while her partner circled the suspect in the center.

“Treason,” Mulder said. “You’ll be in prison for the rest of your life. Terrorism is just

about the worst thing you can do, politically, right now, Mr. Ibrahim. You’ll get no

sympathy in the American justice system. And you don’t deserve that, do you?”

The park ranger looked up at Mulder, confused.

“You’re what, nineteen years old?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Just got your first job. Didn’t want to go to college. Got roped into doing the wrong

thing with the wrong people. Thought you could be a big shot, and was doing fine

until this entire thing blew up in your face. Help yourself out. Tell me where you got

the amoeba.”

“I…to do so would be betraying The Fraternity.”

“A third of the city could have died,” Mulder said harshly, moving in on his suspect.

“And it would’ve been your fault! You’d receive the death penalty, I guarantee you.

You’d be tried and convicted as a terrorist and a traitor to your country. No one died

because my partner and I got there on time. Don’t think for a minute that your

friends won’t try something again, and this time the FBI may not be there to stop

them. A third of the city. Innocent people, Mr. Ibrahim. Is that what you want?”

“You have no clue what I want.”

“You want a chance. And I can tell you right now, the route you’re going will

obliterate that chance.”

The boy was silent.

“Come on, Jason, you’ve grown up here, you’ve gone to school with the same people

you’re targeting here. Do you really think your high school classmates deserve to

die?”

“Sometimes people have to die for—”

“What about this guy?” Mulder pulled a picture of a boy around Jason’s age out of his

pocket, and put it on the table. “Do you know who this is?”

Jason shook his head.

“This is Tom Haggerty, a former classmate of yours, and one of my boss’s friends.

He died from the amoeba infection, a little more than a week ago. He went to school

with you, Jason. You never saw him before?”

“Maybe…maybe in the hallways.”

“He’s dead because of that amoeba. If you tell me where you got it, we can stop

others from dying. And we’ll mention that you helped us on our report. That’ll help

you when you go to trial, Jason.”

Jason remained silent.

“You remember your friend, Ryan Colgate?” Mulder pulled another picture out of a

file on the desk, and set it in front of Jason. “The man that covered for you during

your shift, while you were in the basement of The Fraternity, and then drove off to

the water treatment plant to commit suicide? He’s dead, Jason. He blew himself up.

But you knew that. Did you also know that it was he and an engineer that worked for

the plant that conspired to infect a third of the water in the city? They would have

killed that many people. Did you think Ryan was capable of that?”

Jason still didn’t say anything.

“I can stop this, Jason. You just need to give me something. Tell me where you

were getting the amoeba.”

The boy was silent for a few more minutes, and Mulder was about to get up and walk

out when he said, “There’s this weird thing…in the Everglades. It’s like quicksand,

but it isn’t…and you put a cooler with some animal brains in it…and then you walk

away, and it crawls in. And then you divide it up between the water coolers, and no

one knows anything. I did it. I took the amoeba from the Everglades and put it in

the water supply. We tested it on a few campers at first, and then the big move was

putting it in the water treatment facility’s supply.” He looked up from his hands, and

into Mulder’s eyes. “Are they going to execute me, Mr. Mulder?”

He was clearly scared, and Scully could see he was very near tears. Mulder decided

to still play the bad cop as he stood up and said, “I’ll see what I can do to prevent

that from happening, Mr. Ibrahim. And we’ll be back.”

Scully was the first to speak as soon as the door shut behind them. “There’s no way

he’s seen the amoeba, Mulder. It’s microscopic!”

“What if it’s not? What if somehow it’s mutated to become large enough for these

people to use for their testing of their biological warfare?”

She shook her head. “It isn’t possible.”

“I think it’s worth checking out.”

“And how would we find out exactly where it is?”

“Go back and ask him,” Mulder said simply. “And when we find it, we’ll call a Hazmat

team and get it out of the Everglades.”

“We’re not going in with anything but a Hazmat suit,” Scully warned him. “And I’m

not spending the night in the Everglades—we won’t see anything, anyway. We’ll go

in the morning.”

Mulder seemed displeased, but he relented. “We need to get this organized,

anyway,” he said.

“I’m going to get down to the autopsy bay to check on those bodies you sent there

earlier this evening.”

He nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll get the Hazmat team organized and get Jason to give

us directions. See if I can convince the Sheriff to release him to come with us.”

“That’s not gonna happen.”

“I can dream.”

She rolled her eyes, and departed. Mulder went to go find the Sheriff. In a few

hours, it would be daylight and they would head into the Everglades.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

LONG PINE KEY CAMPGROUND

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FL

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2007

0630

A Hazmat team led Scully, Mulder, Jason, and half a dozen guards into the

Everglades. They were escorted by the park rangers who warned them of any

dangers they might face as they hiked. And everyone had a Hazmat suit on. They

walked for fifteen minutes before Jason stopped before a pit, and stared at it with a

stunned look on his face. “It’s gone,” he said.

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other. “What do you mean, gone?” Scully asked.

“I mean it isn’t here.”

“Hey! What’s that?” they heard, and saw a member of the Hazmat team take off in

a run. His teammates followed him, and naturally the rest of the party brought up

the rear. Mulder accelerated his running as much as he could with the bulky suit,

trying to get to the front and see whatever the Hazmat man had seen.

Then he spotted it as well, and they all came to a dead stop. “Scully, come here!”

Mulder demanded. His voice had that excited quality to it that told his partner that

he had found something incredible. And when she saw it, she gasped as well.

As large as a building, and right before their eyes, was a greenish-brown blob. It

resembled exactly what they had all identified in elementary school as an amoeba

from their science books, complete with the food and digestive vacuoles, the visible

nucleus, and contractive vacuole, but it was huge.

clip_image008

And now it was stopped in its tracks, as if it were about to go after one of them.

They all had their guns pointed at it the second they realized what it was. But it

didn’t make a move, and it didn’t attempt to eat them. Jason whispered to Scully,

“It never left its hole…”

“It probably knows it’s being threatened,” Scully said quietly, more to Mulder than to

Jason. “The fact that it ran from us suggests it has a survival instinct.”

Mulder didn’t get the chance to reply. The creature before them began dividing.

They saw the vacuoles divide first, and the nucleus became two nuclei, and then the

entire creature divided into two. It continued the process. “My God, this is

macroscopic mitosis,” Scully said, amazed.

Mulder shook his head. “I think we’d better get out of here.”

“I’m with him,” a nearby officer said, and the Hazmat team seemed to agree. They

backed away slowly, just as the two became four, and the four became eight.

As they broke into a run, Mulder heard the distinct sound of a chopper running

overhead. He looked up, and then at the Hazmat team. “Did you guys call for a

chopper?”

The Hazmat leader shook his head. “No, it’s not ours. It’s not yours?”

“No,” Scully said. They had stopped now, near a campground clearing. The mucky

ground beneath their feet made it hard to run, and they had lost sight of the

amoeba. Then they all saw the helicopter lower over the forest, and begin to pour

something all over the Everglades.

“What’s it doing?” Detective Harris demanded. “What’s going on?”

“They’re exterminating it,” Scully said quietly into her microphone. Mulder turned to

her. “They’re eliminating it from the Everglades.”

“Who is ‘they’?” Harris asked, shoving Jason out of his way to confront her.

“Some old friends,” Mulder answered for her, his voice seeping with bitterness. He

pushed the handcuffed nineteen-year-old in front of him, and then led the way

toward the exit of the Everglades. When they were back up on the path he looked

up and saw the helicopter again. “God DAMN it!” he screamed. “They’re destroying

it! All of it!”

“They’ve just exterminated one of the most unique organisms on the planet,

Mulder,” Scully said quietly.

The stress in her voice was evident, and Mulder’s expression betrayed his disgust

and rage. “They’ll stop at nothing. Bastards.” He shoved Jason forward again, and

angrily walked after him.

“No, you’re wrong,” Jason said, and turned around. Mulder was about to spin him

back, and force him to walk, but he interjected. “Whoever ‘they’ are, they just did

everyone a favor. Eliminating the source of all this is the best possible outcome.”

Mulder and Scully didn’t respond to that. They just exited the Everglades.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

MIAMI, FL

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2007

1800

Mulder and Scully sat and awaited their flight in isolated chairs in the corner of their

terminal’s waiting area. It was Scully who spoke first. “I can’t believe they destroyed

it.”

“You confirmed the chemical yourself, Scully. They poured the closest thing we have

to a cure on the entire Everglades area.”

“But something like that…I’d hate to think it was a unique organism.”

“I’d rather not think there might be more of those things out there.”

“Well, of course I don’t want anyone else to die, but the opportunity to study that

thing, Mulder…and they just took it away from us. Not just from us—from the world.

The world will never be able to study that macroscopic amoeba.”

“Don’t be so sure. These X-files tend to propagate. And I’ve got a feeling this

amoeba was more intelligent than people gave it credit for.”

“What makes you say that?”

“A feeling,” he stated.

She sighed. “I think the only thing we can be sure of is that nothing is certain in this

case.”

“One thing is certain, Scully. Someone had plans to use that amoeba for biological

warfare, whether in the military or for organized crime.”

“Just what we needed. A brain-sucking amoeba used for biological warfare, and

domestic terrorism,” Scully said wryly.

“At least The Fraternity doesn’t have to worry about its members declaring war with

a macroscopic unicellular organism anymore,” Mulder said with a slight smile.

They didn’t speak for a moment, but then Scully asked, “There’s another hour until

our flight takes off, Mulder. Let’s go get something to eat.”

“I’m all for that.” They stood up, picked up their bags, and headed for the Pizza Hut

across the terminal. Neither one noticed the tall, mysterious man speaking into his

headset.

“They’re about to depart, in about an hour. We can begin.”

“Excellent,” a deep voice said on the other line. “Meet me at the lab in one hour. We

have a Hazmat suit waiting for you.”

The man tapped his Bluetooth off, and walked out of the terminal.

End

1

Paratio Parasitus by Starfleetofficer1

Turkey Trot

Title: Turkey Trot

Author: Vickie Moseley

Summary: Can an old dog learn new tricks?

Category: Holiday fic, X

Rating: for everyone

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended and that goes for yahoo news (see

notes at end)

Written for Virtual Season 15, two weeks exclusive.

Archive: yes

Thank you, Lisa for beta and Donna for patience. May your turkeys never dry out.

3605 N Street NW

Washington, DC

November 18, 2007

4:30 pm

“Yeah, well it can’t be helped.”

Scully tucked a strand of hair behind her left ear as she held the phone at her right

ear with her shoulder.

“No, I understand completely, Mom. Chicken pox is chicken pox, there is no easy

way to get around it.”

Mulder had been ignoring the call, listening to the football game but at the words

‘chicken pox’, he sat forward and openly eavesdropped.

“No, you tell Tara not to worry, we’ll be fine. Sure. No, I don’t think we’ll let the

Gunmen know that we’re by ourselves for Thanksgiving this year.”

He stood up, slicing his index finger across his throat in a vicious manner, indicating

that he was not going to subject himself to Frohike’s culinary experimentation again.

“Well, that case of food poisoning last time was pretty hard on Mulder. Besides,

maybe I’ll make him take me to some bed and breakfast in the mountains. Yeah,

just the two of us.” She tilted her head and gave him a saucy smile. “That does

sound nice, doesn’t it? Well, kisses to the pox-riddled from Auntie Dana and I’ll call

you later if we do end up going out of town. We love you, too, Mom. Bye.”

Mulder had been hanging on every word and when his partner finally hung up the

phone, he shot her a worried look. “What’s going on?”

“Well, Thanksgiving is a bust this year. Both Matt and Claire have come down with

chicken pox. They’ll be pretty miserable for a week at least.”

“Chicken pox,” Mulder mused aloud. “How did they both come down with it — they

don’t even go to the same school?”

“Kid down the street. The whole neighborhood is under quarantine. And Mom is

staying over to help Tara out.”

“So, it’s just you and me for Thanksgiving, huh?” Mulder asked, stepping over to

where Scully sat on the sofa and pulling her up into his arms. “I can think of lots of

things to do with a turkey baster, Scully.”

“I’m sure you could, Mulder, but I think a nice four-poster bed in a quaint little

country inn overlooking some spectacular scenery is more what I had in mind.”

“You leave this one to me. I have the perfect destination. I just have to do a little

research and I’ll make all the arrangements,” he assured her.

She cocked her head and frowned. “Some place nice, Mulder. I want nothing that

has the word ‘save’ in the name.”

He dutifully ran his index finger over his heart. “Cross my heart and hope to die,

stick a needle in my eye,” he quoted. “I won’t even look at places that have less

than 600 thread count sheets.”

She nodded. “OK. I’ll leave it all up to you.”

FBI Headquarters

November 21, 2007

11:45 am

“So that’s your explanation, Agent Mulder? Field mice?”

“Yes sir,” Scully responded before he could open his mouth and get them stuck in

another long explanation of the reasons he took this case. “In the transformer.

What Agent Mulder originally thought might have been telekinetic force was actually

just an electrical arc from the transformer — ”

“–That was caused when some field mice chewed through the insulation,” Mulder

finished.

Skinner nodded his head and closed the file. “Well, good work. And might I

commend you on the lack of medical costs associated with this investigation.”

Scully hid her smile behind her hand but Mulder frowned at the dig. “Well, sir, if

that’s all . . . ”

“Oh, yes, you two have requested the afternoon off. Going out of town for the

holiday?”

“Just a little R&R, sir,” Mulder said as he rose from his chair and followed Scully to

the door.

“Just be careful. I’ll see you on Monday, bright and early.”

“Happy Thanksgiving, sir,” Scully said for both of them.

They rushed over to the townhouse to change their clothes and grab their packed

suitcases. In less than an hour they were locking the door behind them and tossing

the cases in the trunk of the car.

“Mulder, will you tell me where we’re going now that we’re on the road?” Scully

asked pointedly.

He grinned at her. “The Rose. A little B and B in Elk County, Pennsylvania, my love.

And we’re in the Sungold Suite. Each suite is named after a particular rose and the

decor is in that rose’s color. From the brochure, the Sungold Suite is — ”

“Yellow,” she said with a smile and a nod.

“Very good Agent Scully. Remind me to put you in for Agent of the Year,” he teased.

“The brochure is in the glove compartment if you want to look. It also has the

directions, so keep it handy.”

She pulled the slick brochure out of the compartment and opened it on her lap. After

a few moments, she turned to him with a look of pure awe. “Mulder, how in the

world did you find this place? It overlooks the mountains, it’s absolutely gorgeous —

“Internet, my love. And the pictures don’t do it justice, according to the owner when

I made the reservations. He FedEx-ed the brochure down so I could see it. I did

good?”

She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You did very good. And you will be

handsomely rewarded,” she told him with a wink.

“Oh yeah,” he sighed happily.

They arrived a little before 4:30. The sun was sinking low and had just dipped

behind the mountaintop, casting the world in shadows. The trees on the hillside and

along the drive, maple, sweet gum and oak, were ablaze with the colors of the

rainbow. Near the three-story clapboard structure was a fall garden of mums,

accented with bales of hay and pumpkins.

“Mulder, you are getting an _extra_ special reward for this,” Scully murmured as she

pressed another kiss to his cheek. He grinned like a Cheshire cat as he pulled their

suitcases from the trunk.

A little bell on the door signaled their arrival. A woman in her early 60s stepped into

the foyer, wiping her hands on a green and white striped dishtowel.

“You must be the Mulders,” she said with a warm smile. “I’m Hannah Morgan. I

believe you spoke to my husband Harold on the phone.”

“Yes, Mrs. Morgan,” Mulder said politely. “I’m Fox Mulder and this is — ”

“Dana,” Scully said, stepping forward to shake the woman’s now dry hand.

“Fox and Dana, how nice that you decided to spend Thanksgiving with us,” Hannah

said with such sincerity that Scully was touched. “Now, let’s get you registered.

Have to keep the bean counters happy,” she said with a wink.

She showed them over to an antique secretary and pulled out an equally ancient

hotel register. Scully’s eyes widened.

“Oh, this is just for show. I have a Mac Book Pro in the office,” Hannah assured her.

“But I think this old book was here when we bought the place and it’s nice to keep all

our guests names in.”

Scully quickly entered their names and their address while Mulder handed Hannah

his Visa card. She ran the card through a reader that was secreted in one of the

secretary’s many drawers and then handed the slip and the card back to him. He

signed the slip and returned the card to his wallet.

“Now, let me see if I can get Harold out of the basement long enough to help you

with your bags.”

“Oh, that’s all right, Mrs. Morgan. I have them,” Mulder assured her.

“Now Fox, please call me Hannah. We’re all family here. And if you’re sure you can

manage, I’ll show you up to your room.”

The two agents trailed after her up the curved staircase to a second floor, then up

again to the third. Hannah led them down the hallway to a door on the east side of

the house. “You’ll get the morning sun, but please feel free to pull the shades if you

want a little extra time in the morning,” she directed.

She opened the door with an old skeleton key on a metal fob, which looked like it

had once been in similar service in a hotel from decades gone by. Mulder ushered

Scully into the room first and she took a few steps then stopped in the middle of the

room.

The walls were the palest yellow, with a border near the ceiling of cream and yellow

roses trimmed in blue. The four-poster bed dominated the room, but didn’t

overcrowd it. The bedspread was satin, in a slightly darker shade of yellow. The

door for the bathroom was open and Scully spied a claw footed tub and pedestal

sink.

In the room, the dressing table was dark oak, as was the armoire that was situated

between the two double-hung windows. Sheer panels were the only window

dressing and the china blue shades were up, allowing a view of a mountaintop and

above it, the nearly full moon. When she looked down out the window she could see

the rose garden that spread out from the back of the house now frosted with

moonlight. There was a path and walkways and thanks to the mild fall, some of the

roses were still in bloom.

“It’s breathtaking,” Scully sighed. Mulder was still standing by the door, admiring his

partner more than he had noticed the room. She smiled at him.

“I did good?” he asked with obvious pride.

“You did good,” she assured him. They both startled when Hannah cleared her

throat behind them.

“Dinner’s on your own tonight, I’m making preparations for tomorrow, but town is

only 15 minutes up the road and there’s a nice little steakhouse just a few blocks in.

Just stay on the state route, you’ll come right to it. It’s called the Angus. Oh, and

they have vegetarian dishes,” she added quickly. “But tomorrow, Harold and I will

have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for all our guests,” she beamed. “Well, I’ll let

you two get settled in. Please make yourselves at home.” She smiled at them again

and left, closing the door behind her.

“You are amazing,” Scully said, walking over to her partner and encircling his waist,

laying her hand on his chest.

“Nah, you’re just easy to please,” he teased and tipped her head up so he could kiss

her. “Are you really hungry?”

“Not for steak,” she whispered, catching his eye. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him

greedily.

“Who needs food, right?” he asked but it was entirely rhetorical for his partner’s

dainty fingers were already hard at work divesting him of his clothing.

They ended up not going out again that night and were ‘too busy’ in the morning to

bother with breakfast as well, so the next time the vacationing agents surfaced was

at noon for the Thanksgiving feast. Hannah had obviously enlisted the help of a

caterer for some of the dishes, because the breakfront in the dining room and an

additional 8-foot long table set against the windows were both groaning from the

multitude of warming trays and dishes. Harold made his appearance, cutting slices

of the 24 lb turkey and the accompanying whole ham and standing rib roast. Mulder

made the comment to his partner that he wished he had two plates, one for meat

and the other for everything else. She rolled her eyes but managed to fill her own

plate to overflowing.

There were four other couples staying at the house so with the Morgans, there were

an even dozen for dinner. Names were exchanged and Harold led the table in a non-

denominational grace before everyone grew silent except for the tinkling of silver on

china, and the occasional request to pass the bottomless gravy boat that was making

the rounds.

An hour and a half later, Mulder was half passed out in front of the 48-inch flat panel

television in the parlor, sharing a sofa with two other men who were in similar states

of near unconsciousness. Scully kicked his foot and he blearily cracked open one

eye.

“Hey,” she said, nudging him over just enough so that she could perch on the arm of

the sofa. “What quarter is it?”

“Scully, I don’t even know what game we’re watching,” he admitted, pulling her

down into his lap.

“If you’re that sleepy, why don’t we go upstairs and take a nap?” she suggested.

“Are you trying to kill me this weekend,” he nuzzled into her ear. She giggled and

hit him on the chest.

“Mulder, I meant to _sleep_,” she whispered back.

“Not a bad idea, since I didn’t seem to get much sleep last night or this morning,” he

said in a normal tone of voice that earned him another slap to the chest.

“Gentlemen, Happy Thanksgiving,” he said as he peeled himself off the sofa cushion.

There were mumbled groans that seemed to convey returned sentiments.

The nap lasted an hour and a half and there was sleeping involved. But when Mulder

awoke alone he felt the humid air and could smell the undeniable fragrance of

Scully’s favorite bubble bath. He smiled because it had been one he picked for her

and it pleased him to no end that she liked it so much.

He groaned as he tugged the satin sheets and then stumbled out of the bed. He

wandered in to the bath and smiled before letting out a jaw-cracking yawn. “Got

room in there for another?”

“Another what,” she replied with a tilt of her head. She knew exactly how it affected

him when her hair was up in a clip and the loose strands curled from the steam

rising off the bath water.

“Another turkey,” he replied, stripping quickly and waiting for her to scoot forward in

the water so that he could slip behind her. When he was settled, she leaned back

into his arms and sighed.

“I didn’t think you had it in you, Mulder,” she said happily.

“No, Scully, I think that’s the soap,” he quipped, though he had a pretty good idea

that she wasn’t talking about his recent bout of stamina.

“No,” she said seriously and turned to look at him over her shoulder. “This weekend.

We’re in this beautiful inn, we’ve eaten wonderful food, we’ve drank wine, we’ve

made love — ”

“That last part I plan on doing again — in the almost immediate future,” he

interjected.

“And in all of this — the last 24 hours, not one X file!” she finished, settling back into

his arms. “I’m proud of you, Mulder. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

“Oh, for that, — you are going to pay, G-woman,” he growled playfully. “Pay and

pay good!”

“Bring. It. On,” she challenged and he happily complied.

Friday dawned crisp but cloudy. After a wonderful breakfast of Belgian waffles with

apple compote, Mulder found Scully in the living room by the fire, curled up with a

book.

“Hey, want to take a walk?” he asked, leaning casually against the fireplace mantel.

Scully looked out the window behind the sofa where she was sitting. She turned

back to him with a frown. “It looks cold. And seems like it might rain.”

“We can be back the minute the first drop hits,” he assured her. “And you brought a

sweater as well as your coat. We’ll bundle up.”

She laid her book beside her and crossed her arms. “Mulder, why are you so intent

on going for a walk?”

“Hey, we ate all that food yesterday. I thought it might feel good to walk some of it

off.”

“Uh huh,” she replied, not believing him for a moment. Just when it looked like she

was going to object, she picked up her book, replaced her bookmark, and then held

out her hand so he could help her up.

“We’re going?” he asked, confused.

“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” she answered. “Give me a couple of minutes to get

my boots on.”

She didn’t say a word when he ushered her out to the car. She did shoot him a look

as she buckled her seat belt, but he said nothing. After a short drive, he pulled into

a parking lot for a state conservation area.

“Mulder, how did you know this was even here?” she asked.

“Harold told me. He said there were some nice hiking trails through these woods.”

“Woods,” Scully repeated ominously. “We’re going on a walk through the woods.”

“Scully, just because we’re in a wooded area — ”

“Mulder, could we just get on with this. Because I’m pretty sure there is more to this

than a simple walk in the woods.”

Mulder tactfully avoided her eyes and led the way over to the trailhead.

The forest thickened within just a few yards and they found themselves in a stand of

oak and maple. The path was gentle for a while before they came to the first valley,

when the walking got a little more difficult. Still, the rain held off, the hills shielded

them from the wind and the forest was truly beautiful, even as the evidence of fall

colors crunched beneath their feet.

They trudged up a hillside, Scully giving Mulder a hard look when he offered her a

hand over a large fallen tree, when Mulder veered off the marked path and onto

what appeared nothing more than a deer trail. Scully’s suspicions grew with each

step. The forest was thicker here, lots of fallen branches and piles of dead leaves.

With each step she expected to step into a nest of unhappy creatures, perhaps even

snakes. She shivered and glared at Mulder’s back as he forged on blithefully

unaware.

“Mulder, you seem to have a destination,” Scully said, panting lightly as she jumped

over another fallen tree trunk.

“Harold gave me some general directions,” he replied over his shoulder. “There’s a

really pretty overlook not far from here.”

“Overlook,” she muttered as she struggled to keep up with his much longer strides.

It was another quarter of a mile when Mulder held up his hand to slow their

progress.

“This is the overlook?” Scully queried, leaning around her partner to look at the

scenery beyond.

“Sort of,” Mulder said cryptically. He looked around a moment as if trying to

triangulate his position. Suddenly, he bounded over to a tree and crowed. “Scully,

you gotta see this!”

Rolling her eyes, she made her way over to him with a minimum of jumping. “It’s a

tree, Mulder,” she said in disgust. “And there are a few million all around here.”

“Scully, look where I’m pointing,” he commanded. About 5 feet off the ground there

appeared a slash mark on the bark of the tree.

“I’m seeing it, but I don’t know what I’m looking at,” she admitted.

“Evidence, Scully. That’s evidence!” Mulder told her happily.

“Of global warming?” she shot back sarcastically.

“Of Bigfoot!” he corrected her, dancing around the tree, kicking the leaves as if

looking for more indications of recent activity.

“Mulder — you dragged me all that way — ” She stopped suddenly and glared at

him. “You brought me all the way to Pennsylvania to hunt Bigfoot?” she accused.

“Now, Scully, it’s a really nice inn and we had a great day yesterday,” he countered

hastily.

“You did! You came here to hunt Bigfoot!” she shouted, not caring that her words

were echoing off the surrounding hills.

“But Scully, I did bring you to a nice Bed and Breakfast, I did play the dutiful

significant other — ”

That got him a well-timed raised eyebrow and a glare that veritably dripped icicles.

“Not that I didn’t want to be the dutiful significant — ” The rest of his apology was

said to her back as Scully turned on her heel and stomped back down the trail.

“Scully! Scully wait a minute!”

He had to hustle to catch up with her. When he grabbed her arm, she almost broke

his wrist pushing his hand off. He stood there while she glared at him.

“Scully,” he said quietly, meekly, with as much sincerity as he could muster.

As if ordained by on high, the clouds opened up and a cold rain started to fall.

“Bigfoot,” she repeated, crossing her arms. The rain was starting to get heavy and

her hair was sticking to her face, streams of water running off her chin.

“He’s been sighted Scully. Right here, in Elk County, Pennsylvania. It just seemed

too perfect. You wanted a nice quiet hideaway for Thanksgiving and I found this

place — ”

“Mulder, did it ever occur to you to _ask_ me if I wanted to go to Pennsylvania and

hunt for Bigfoot?” she growled.

“And you’re going to stand there and tell me that you’d agree to come out here and

hunt Bigfoot on our Thanksgiving weekend?” he snorted.

“Here we are,” she countered. “Except now it’s raining cats and dogs and I’m royally

pissed at you!”

Thunder and lightning punctuated her statement.

“Scully, I know you’re pissed at me, but I think we need to find some shelter,”

Mulder shouted at the thunder continued to roll around the hilltops.

“Sure, fine, whatever,” she exclaimed, throwing up her arms. “Maybe Mrs. Bigfoot

will invite us in for Thanksgiving leftovers!”

“I think I saw some rocks off this way — maybe there’s a cave near here,” Mulder

said, deftly sidestepping his partner’s snide comment.

A bolt of lightning struck a tree not more than 100 feet away when Mulder finally

found the rocks and as luck would have it, a small cave. Taking her hand, he led

them into the damp interior.

It wasn’t much more than a ledge cave carved out of the solid rock hillside, but it

was relatively dry and out of the elements. Mulder pulled his leather jacket off his

shoulders and draped it over Scully’s back. She glared at him, but accepted the

offered jacket.

“Might as well get comfortable, we’ll probably be here a while,” Mulder said, finding

himself a nice rock to sit against.

“Bigfoot,” he heard her mutter again. “Honestly.” The rest of her mumbling was

drowned out by another clap and roll of thunder.

“Scully, it really was just a whim. It was a nice day — ”

“Mulder, it was overcast and windy,” she countered.

“And I thought it would be a — ”

“Say it and die, Mulder,” she growled. “I swear to God, if the words ‘nice trip to the

forest’ cross your lips — ”

“Scully, what’s this?” he asked, interrupting her in mid-threat.

He was holding something in his hand. In the dim light of the cave, she could only

imagine what his twelve-year-old mental self had discovered. “I don’t know, Mulder,

and I really don’t care.”

“I think . . . are those teeth marks?” he asked, levering up to his feet and coming

over to squat next to her on the other side of the cave.

“Probably. Probably bear,” she said, not looking at the small bone he held in his

hand.

“Scully, admittedly I’m not an expert here, but doesn’t that look kinda human?”

He was practically sticking it under her nose when she finally looked down at the

bone. Taking it from him to examine it more closely, she wrinkled her nose in

distaste.

“Mulder, some hunter probably used this cave before we found it. We are in a state

conservation area,” she pointed out reasonably.

“There’s no sign of a fire,” he told her.

“Guess it’s a hunter who likes steak tartar,” she shrugged and dropped the bone to

the ground.

He moved back to ‘his’ half of the cave, kicking at the soft dirt of the floor. “Scully,

there are other bones over here,” he said slowly.

“I wouldn’t doubt it. It’s a nice cave. I’m sure we aren’t the first, human or animal,

to discover it,” she replied. “I think the storm is finally moving on. We might be

able to make it back to the car,” she suggested. When he didn’t reply, she looked

over at him. “Mulder, did you hear me?”

“There are more of those slash marks we found on the tree over here,” he stated,

pointing to the cave wall.

“Mulder? The car? I’d like to get out of here before the next cloudburst,” she

prodded.

“You go ahead, I want to check this out,” he answered absently.

“Go ahead? We’re at least a mile from the parking lot,” she countered. “What are

you looking at now?”

“More bones, Scully. And this one looks sorta — ” His voice trailed off as he held up

a human skull.

“Oh my God!” Scully gasped as she walked over to examine the newest find.

“Mulder, this is an adult skull. Look, the wisdom teeth have been extracted, but

there was a break in the jaw bone to do it.”

Mulder paled at her casual observation. “I think there’re more remains here.”

“We need to get a forensics team up here immediately. There’s not telling what

we’ve stumbled on. This could even be a decades old murder.”

“You think they’re that old?” he asked, chewing his lip and looking out at the

diminishing rainfall.

“Well, without carbon testing it’s impossible to tell. But I don’t think they’re newer

than ten years.”

Mulder stepped over to the opening and pulled out his cell phone. “No service.

You’re right, Scully. We need to get back to the car.”

“Do you remember the way back?” she asked.

He stepped out of the cave and looked around. “Uh, yeah. Didn’t we . . . ” He

frowned and turned in a half circle. “Boy, it looks different without the lightning.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “OK, let’s just think a minute.” She walked a few feet from

the cave chewing on her bottom lip. “Doesn’t that tree look familiar?”

He glared at her and shook his head.

“Well, let’s do this. Are you wearing a tee shirt under your sweater?”

“Yeah,” he said warily.

“Tear off a piece so we can mark the cave. At least we’ll know which one it is in case

we get turned around.”

“Good thinking. Sure you weren’t an Indian Guide,” he grinned at her. He pulled up

his sweater and ripped a ten-inch scrap of material off his undershirt. “Glad I didn’t

wear my Knicks shirt this morning,” he said, handing her the white strip of cotton

material.

She tied it to one of the branches of the tree nearest the cave opening. “OK, which

way?” she asked, crossing her arms.

He thought about it for a good two minutes. “That way,” he said confidently.

They’d walked for fifteen minutes when Mulder held up his hand. She started to

object when he shushed her. “Look over there,” he whispered, pointing to

something off in the distance to their right.

On another rise, far enough away that it was just a glimpse, there appeared to be a

large animal. It was crouched on the ground, foraging through the leaves. Then

suddenly it stood up on two legs and ran off into the deeper woods.

Mulder grinned at his partner’s astonished stare. “Scully, that was him! That was

Bigfoot!” he whispered excitedly.

“Yeah, and he was headed in the direction of our cave,” Scully pointed out dubiously.

“You think — those bones . . . ”

“I think we better find the parking lot. And fast,” she told him, taking the lead and

picking up the pace.

They slipped and slid down the hills and scrambled up the hills and by the time they

arrived at the parking lot, both agents were covered in mud, wet to the bone and

exhausted. Mulder tried his cell phone again, this time getting service. The local

sheriff’s department requested that they stay in the area and just as he was putting

the phone away, the skies opened up again, drenching them once more.

He looked at his partner over the hood of the car. She was sopping wet, her hair

sticking to her face. But she had the same expression she wore over a decade ago

in a rain-deluged cemetery in Oregon. And he couldn’t remember her ever looking

more beautiful.

“C’mon, Scully. Let’s get in the car till the Sheriff arrives,” he said with a gentle

smile.

“If we get in the car right now, Mulder, it will cost us a fortune to have the car

detailed when we get back home,” she said, crossing her arms defiantly.

“I’ll pay it, gladly, if we can avoid hypothermia and pneumonia.” He opened the door

and waved her inside.

Once in the car, Mulder started the engine and cranked the heater up to high. The

blast of cold air made them both shiver, and Mulder pulled Scully into his arms

rubbing her shoulders until the warmth started to flow.

“Scully, I’m sorry if you think I deceived you,” he said softly in her ear.

“It’s just that sometimes I wonder if you’ll ever grow up, Mulder,” she said quietly.

“I’m not a grown up?” he asked, slightly offended.

“No, Mulder — you are the quintessential Peter Pan. Meteorites in Washington,

Bigfoot in Pennsylvania — you’re still sneaking around playing hooky. The only

problem is you aren’t skipping school — you’re skipping real life.” She turned so that

she was looking right at him. “You’re skipping our life.”

His eyes widened at her accusation. “Scully! That is so untrue,” he objected. “Look

at this weekend. I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t with me. I wanted to find

Bigfoot, I’ll be the first to admit that, but I wanted to find him with you and only

you.”

“Whether I wanted to find him or not, right?” she asked, her expression showing her

own feelings on the matter.

“I guess . . . I just assumed you’d go along with it once we were on the trail,” he

said with sudden realization. “I blew it, didn’t I?”

She took his hand, brought it to her lips and lightly kissed his knuckles. “Mulder, I

knew what I was getting into with you. You’re a work in progress. Doesn’t mean I

can’t point out your flaws from time to time. Also doesn’t mean I would be

anywhere else.”

“So you still love me?” he asked with a boyish twinkle to his eyes.

“Forever and always,” she answered, leaning over to kiss him. When she pulled

back, she wiped a smear of mud off his cheek.

He leaned forward to capture her lips when there was a loud tapping on his window.

Three hours later

Scully pulled into the parking space outside the inn and cut the engine. She turned

to her partner and then turned back to look out the windshield.

“Don’t feel bad, Scully. Anyone could have made that mistake,” Mulder assured her.

“I just would like to know what’s so impossible about the fact that we saw Bigfoot?”

“They were county cops, Scully. Lack of imagination is a job requirement.”

“But I’m a scientist, Mulder. I gave them a totally reasonable statement and they

laughed at me!”

“I know, I know,” he consoled. “Hey, let’s go upstairs and scrape all the mud off

each other and then spend the rest of the evening in that big claw footed tub?”

She looked over at him and smiled. “Just another day in our real life, huh?”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. Would you?” he asked.

She shook her head. “C’mon Mulder. Race you to the tub.”

the end

End Note: Yahoo news had a brief report of a Bigfoot sighting in Elk County

Pennsylvania. It’s so close to DC that I couldn’t resist. Happy Turkey Day everyone!

13

Turkey Trot by Vickie Moseley

Impact

15x03_title

Title: Impact

Author: Vickie Moseley and Martin Ross

Summary: When Mulder is offered a mens to keep Scully safe, will he follow the devil to hell and back?

Rating: Everyone

Category: X, MRS, SA, MA

Written for Virtual Season 15, two weeks exclusive.

Author’s notes: Thanks to Truthwebothknow for artowrk and beta!

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Prologue

Gas-N-Go

Mt. Vernon, WA

Nov. 13, 2007

10:45 pm Pacific Time

As Eric LaPortierre would tell his buds later, his first thought was they’d found out about the weed. Scott Massey was cool when it came to scoring some righteous chronic or a couple floor seats when Fallout Boy was in Seattle at the Paramount or over at the Tacoma Dome, but he bore the dreaded Mark of the Puss, and was known to fold under pressure.

“He’s lyin’, Dude, I mean Lady!” Eric choked as the short one flopped her ID on the counter between the ginseng supplements and the Teriyaki Chicken Jerky. He’d played it cool when the three suits cruised through the sliding door, the dudes peeling out respectively toward the porn mags and the now-graying SuperFranks and the chick closing in on Eric. He’d made them as cops the moment they came in, though they looked kinda like those guys, Will Smith and the ancient dude from that alien movie. Or maybe Secret Service — maybe Bush was in town, wanted a photo op with some working dude to get his Nielsen ratings or whatever up. That’s all he needed — Scott bopping in with a baggieful of bambalacha while Dubya’s rapping about the Middle East (Eric hoped not — he was totally hopeless when it came to geology).

Now, as he read (or rather, mouthed) the three letters on the Short Fed’s ID, Eric fought the instinct to hurl all over the FBI dwarf. Or midget – dwarves were the ones with the big heads, right? That brainstem Scott. They found the ganja in the wheel well of Scott’s van, and he’d narced him out. Fucking brainstem.

“I mean, how can I help you?” Eric managed, grinning as if his bladder were about to release. “We got Morleys two for one.”

“The videos,” the little chick demanded.

“Oh, man, you shoulda come in earlier, Dude, I mean, Lady. Shit goes real quick on Friday nights.” Eric glanced behind him at the meager DVD rack. “We got the Passion of the Christ left — it’s kinda hard to understand, but the ending really rocks . . .”

“The. Security. Videos.” The fed leaned in, looking like that evil Species babe. Actually, Eric realized, she was kind of a MILF — he’d had a jones for redheads ever since Tracy Carhartt’d gone submarine hunting with him behind the minimart the previous Saturday. “I need everything you’ve got for the last six hours. Everything.”

“It’s all, like, digital now,” Eric stated proudly, his confidence returning. “The tape thing blew up when Dwight on the hoot owl shift spilled a Zima all over it. Mr. Bhattan bought this totally extreme digital system with the money he saved by firing Dwight’s ass. . .”

“The videos,” Agent MILF growled. She looked like she might pull out a Magnum and bust a cap in him. Eric thought it was kind of hot.

“Hey, man, lady, whatever.” Eric practically knocked over the Doritos rack stumbling to the tiny corridor that housed the johns and Mr. Bhattan’s broom closet/office. He felt the woman’s heat signature trail him into the cramped command center. The clerk wiggled the mouse, and the Dancing SuperBurrito vanished. “My bro, he’s with the Geek Squad at the Best Buy near the mall. He set all this shit up. It is really wicked cool.” Eric’s finger paused over the left mouse button, and he looked up at the FBI babe. “Oh, shit. Mr. Bhattan’d probably want me to get some kinda warrant, like on Law and Order? He’d probably be pretty pissed if I didn’t at least ask, you know?”

To his astonishment, she smiled. “Eric?”

Eric’s jaw dropped. “How’d you know my name? Am I like in some kinda federal database or something?”

The agent leaned over and tapped his chest. The boy swallowed, the hair under his ponytail rising. Then he glanced down at his ID badge. “Oh. Duh. Yeah.”

“Eric?” the redhead repeated gently. “If you’d like, we can call your employer. It’s, what, only 10:48 p.m. I’m sure he won’t mind coming down. Or if it’s more convenient, we could drive over to Mr. Bhattan’s house and ask him personally. My colleagues could follow us.”

“Us?” Eric performed an instant inventory of his ’98 Tracer – Hawthorne Heights CDs, backup SuperStop vest, Cool Ranch Doritos, secret stash of fat boys in the driver’s door pocket… “Hey, you know what? I don’t guess Mr. Bhattan would care if I cooperated with you guys. I mean, he’s a real patriotic dude, you know? What do you wanna see?”

The agent nodded curtly. “Two men. Both in their thirties. They might have been arguing.”

Eric squinted. His head bobbed excitedly. “Yeah, yeah. It was about 9:30. They were bitchin’ at each other the whole time. The one guy was all, like, ‘Let’s go, hurry up, c’mon.’ The other one, the one with the big nose, he was like taking forever at the CornNuts.”

“CornNuts,” the agent murmured triumphantly.

“Yeah. The one dude kept sayin, ‘Just pick one.’ My gaydar went off like immediately. I think the one with the CornNuts was like the chick, you know?”

The redhead blinked. “Can you punch up the video around that time? The store and the parking lot?”

“No prob.” Eric’s eyes widened. “These dudes like serial killers?”

“Eric.”

“The video. Roger.”

Five minutes later, they watched two men enter the minimart in grainy black-and- white. The man the agent knew as Alex Krycek beelined to the soda case on the back wall. The other man, in clear view of the security camera, walked back to the restrooms, returning a few minutes later. He then strolled to the snack aisle, where, indeed, he honed in on the SuperStop’s selection of giant toasted corn kernels.

Krycek emerged with a pair of colas, mouthed something obviously peevish at his CornNut-obsessed friend, who showed him the hand. Krycek began to pace until his companion made a selection. The snackaholic dumped three bags on the counter before Eric – Regular, BBQ, and Chile-Lime, the agent assumed – and dug out his wallet. The transaction was completed, the man lingered for a second or two of smalltalk with Eric, Krycek turned heel and stalked out, and the customer soon followed, CornNuts in hand. Eric waved, and retrieved a magazine from under the counter.

“You know, it ain’t the way I swing, but they did make kind of a nice couple,” Eric suggested in real time.

“‘Big Uns,'” Scully read, squinting at the screen. Eric punched a key, and the desktop reappeared. “OK, punch up the parking lot. Same timeframe.”

Eric’s head bobbed, and he set to work, eager to please the new star of his adolescent fantasies for the next few weeks.

“Agent?”

The redhead turned. The larger of her two escorts was in the doorway, a paper towel fluttering in his hand.

“I, uh, had to, you know…,” the male agent explained with a slight stammer. “Well, anyway, this was sitting on the sink in the john.”

She grabbed the towel from his fingers and flipped it over. “‘Don’t follow us — I’ll explain everything later. Love, M.'”

“M,” the male agent pondered. “Hey, that’d be Agent Mul—”

Agent MILF’s head whipped up. Her colleague backed up a step. “That’s a reasonable assumption.”

“So, umm, what do you think? Ransom note?”

“Harbinger of death,” Special Agent Dana Scully growled. “I’m going to kill him.”

“Oh, wow,” Eric whispered.

 

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Georgetown University Track

November 13, 2007

Earlier that morning

It was going to be a glorious day in the District. The sky in the east was giving off a deep purple glow and the streetlights were just beginning to blink out when Mulder made his way to the track. In this quiet hour, before the campus managed to roll out of bed, he had full use of the facility and still only had a couple of blocks to go back to grab a shower and maybe catch a glimpse of his partner as she went about getting ready for the day.

She’d strangle him in his sleep if she knew how often he timed his runs so that he was just getting in the duplex as she was turning off the water and stepping out of the shower dripping wet. She wouldn’t mind that he was still coming up with fantasies that involved both of them naked, but she did object to the blast of cold air when he abruptly entered the steam-filled bathroom pretending complete innocence in his motives.

Going on four years of co-habitation and they still had it going on.

He smiled as he did a few stretches. He had a definite bounce to his step that had become more pronounced in the past few weeks. He would never admit that it had anything to do with his continued weekly sessions with that black ops psychiatrist Manville. Mulder put down his recent good humor to the demise of one of their more nefarious enemies, Charles Scully.

Now that Charlie was out of the picture, Mulder felt they were getting somewhere against the conspiracy to keep the American public in the dark about alien involvement in world affairs. Scully even seemed to be taking her brother’s death better than he had feared. One night just a week ago she had confided that Charlie had been dead for many years as far as she was concerned. Her biggest worry was her mother — now having lost three of her children. He had assured his partner that they would make certain Maggie had the time to grieve, but also that she would never be alone.

Mulder walked over to the track and popped a few vertebra in his neck. He started out at a slow and steady pace, gradually gaining speed. Before long, he was well into a sprint, doing a four and a half minute mile with ease. He dropped back to a jog and continued for another mile before ratcheting up to a sprint again.

He had been doing this routine for so long he no longer even bothered to count the laps around the track. It was all automatic, allowing his mind to concentrate on whatever it chose.

The holidays were coming up and he knew that would be a hard time for Maggie. The trip to the summerhouse had given him an idea. He was thinking that maybe they could go on a cruise, the whole Scully clan — what was left of it. Disney cruise lines were advertising every other commercial during football games. He had the money, it was a shame not to use it on something every one needed.

He made a mental note to call a travel agent and find out what dates were available.

He should also find out when Matty was out of school for winter break. Then he had to go dress shopping. Surely he could find a little red number like the dress Scully wore in his last ‘adventure’ on a cruise ship, the ill-fated voyage on the luxury liner Queen Anne. Maybe he could have the dress made. Maybe this time he could end the night peeling that dress off her silky pale shoulders rather than nursing a bruised jaw and taking a dip in the ocean. Maybe this time he could end up spending at least some of the mornings in bed with Scully rather than in ICU.

But there were the kids to consider, too. A cruise ship was fun for adults, but this was a family vacation. Matty and Claire had never been to Disney World, at least to his knowledge. Matty would love Space Mountain and he could see Claire’s face light up when she got to meet her favorite princess, Ariel. Oh yes, the perfect vacation for all of them. He was making his turn, his mind on the Magic Kingdom and the trip he and Scully had made to Florida five years ago when he noticed that he was no longer alone. Another runner had joined him on the track.

Mulder casually noted that the guy — for he had a lean, male body — wore a hooded sweatshirt that hid his face from view. There was a bit of a nip to the dawn breeze, but Mulder didn’t mind the cool air when he was running in the morning. Still, he decided to keep his distance, just in case this was an early morning mugging attempt. His gun was in the lockbox in the nightstand by his side of their bed, but if he had to, he could fight barehanded.

‘Bringing knuckles to a gunfight?’ his little Jiminy Cricket voice asked derisively. He was constantly amazed that when his little voice spoke to him, it always sounded like Scully. No, he wasn’t about to get involved in anything dangerous while running unarmed. Besides, he reminded himself, there were security cameras at both ends of the track. They were being watched. If it looked like trouble, the campus cops would be there in a flash. He relaxed a bit and broke out into another sprint, passing the stranger on one of the turns without a second glance. They ran for about another half hour, Mulder passing the stranger every time he would kick up to a sprint, then keeping half a track distance when he was jogging.

The alarm on Mulder’s watch chimed, telling him it was time to head home for his shower and Scully’s impromptu peep show. He jogged over to the bleachers where his water bottle and sweatshirt were waiting.

Gulping down three-fourths of the 32 ounce bottle and dumping the remaining liquid over his head, Mulder wiped his face on the corner of his shirt and pulled the sweatshirt on. The other runner was jogging over to the bleachers. As he approached, Mulder froze as he recognized the face. It was Alex Krycek.

 

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Krycek nodded to Mulder as if they were casual acquaintances. He pulled his own bottle of water from a gym bag a few yards down from where Mulder was standing and downed the contents in a matter of seconds. “Great day for a run,” he said calmly, wiping the sweat from his face. “What were you doing there — five minute miles?”

“Four and a half,” Mulder ground out. “What are you doing, Krycek? Are you following me? What do you want?”

Alex smiled brightly. “Settle down, Mulder. You aren’t a kid anymore. Too much stress and you’ll blow a gasket. Oh, wait, you’re seeing a shrink now, aren’t you?”

Mulder glared at the former agent for all of a minute, then wordless turned to leave. Krycek caught up with him easily.

“Sorry, hit a nerve, did I? Hey, everybody’s on Prozac these days, Mulder. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Then why don’t you go home and overdose on it,” Mulder suggested with a bitter smile.

“Ah, that’s no way to talk to an old friend.”

“You aren’t an old friend, Krycek. If you think you are, you really are delusional. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going home.”

“To the little wifey?” Krycek sneered. Mulder halted and turned to face him. “Sorry. I know you’re a bit touchy about that, too. But then why buy the cow when you get the milk — ”

Mulder’s fist shot out before Krycek could finish his sentence. The punched knocked the Russian back a few feet, but he stayed standing. “Nice right hook, Mulder,” he said, dabbing his bloody lip.

“What the hell do you want, Krycek. Or are you finally so far down the food chain that all you’re given to do is harass me?”

Krycek laughed out loud. “Mulder, lose the ‘ball and chain’ for a day and meet me at the lock house on the C&O canal.”

Mulder shook his head in bemusement. “You are seriously out of your mind, Krycek. I wouldn’t meet you anywhere unless it was to escort you through the gates of Hell.”

“Nah, that’s more your partner’s style. At least that’s what’s out on the grapevine. Stood by and watched her brother stung to death by a few hundred bees. Not that she didn’t do us a favor, mind you, but man — that was cold! I guess that nickname Ice Queen was for more than just the bedroom — ”

Mulder’s fist came up again, but this time Krycek was able to block him. “Pax, pax. Don’t defame the redhead. I get it. But Mulder, aren’t you even curious what I want to tell you?”

“If I said no, will you go away?”

“Here. Read this and then give me your answer.” Krycek dug through the pocket of his hoodie and pulled out a newspaper clipping.

“Meteor shower in Peru results in illness and death,” Mulder read aloud. He handed the clipping back to Krycek. “Old news. I saw this weeks ago. When the locals went looking they found the rock and a bunch of them got sick. Later, the public health officials were giving some party line that the illnesses weren’t related to the meteorites. It all died down till recently. Some of your comrades are going down there to retrieve the rocks.”

“A waste of time. The black ops boys retrieval unit has been to Peru and gone by now. There’s nothing left to find in the Andes. But Mulder. That wasn’t the only meteor shower. There’s been another one. Recently.”

That was enough to make Mulder stand up straighter. “Latin America?”

Krycek smiled. “Meet me at 10 — Lock house, C&O canal. And remember, this party is strictly stag. Don’t bring the missus.”

Mulder turned, then started back. It was worth being late to the office if he could start the day by kicking Krycek’s ass. But the Russian was already half way across the field, and the Georgetown U. cross-country team was taking their morning conditioning run. The double agent was lost in the crowd.

With a little less enthusiasm than when he’d arrived at the track, but his mind going a mile a minute, Mulder headed back home.

Act 1 scene 2

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

7:35 am

She was coming down the stairs as he entered the duplex. “You’re going to be late,” she told him, eyebrow raised at his tardiness.

“I’ll be quick,” he vowed and bounded up the steps two at a time. He stripped off his wet running clothes, dropped them in the hamper and stepped into the shower. The water was still running warm and he scrubbed himself down before stepping out again.

While shaving he considered telling Scully about the run in with Krycek. He thought about it all the time he was pulling on his clothes in the bedroom and by the time he was finishing the Windsor knot at his collar and brushing imaginary lint off his suit jacket shoulder he’d decided honesty was the best policy.

He found her in the kitchen, buttering a freshly toasted bagel. She nodded to his cup of coffee and handed him the bagel. “Eat up fast.”

“Scully, I wanted to talk — ”

“Oh, I almost forget to tell you — I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon at 12:30.”

He had taken a big bite of the bagel, but her words stopped him cold. He had to choke down the mouthful of food.

“I’m sorry, Mulder. What were you going to say?” she asked when she noticed he had visibly paled at her announcement.

“Doctor?” he inquired finding no moisture in his suddenly tight throat. “What doctor?”

“Zuckerman, my oncologist. It’s time for my yearly check up. It won’t take long.” All the wind went out of his sails and he slumped against the counter. Her yearly check up. A once a year reminder that they were living on borrowed time. There was no cure for cancer — even the medical community euphemistically called it ‘remission’. He had to swallow twice to get the words out of his mouth. “Do you, uh, do you want me to go with you?”

“Mulder, that’s silly,” she said casually, as she put away the butter and the remaining bagels. “Why should the two of us miss work? It’s just a check up. Don’t look so worried.” She turned back to face him. “What were you saying before? You want to talk?”

There was no way he was going to mention Krycek at any time during the conversation — it would be like tempting fate. “Yeah,” he flubbed, scrambling for some reasonable subject matter. ” — um, about vacations. We can talk about it later.”

“Oh, all right. Well, I’m going to get my briefcase; I left it in the office upstairs. Meet you out at the car.” She reached up and kissed the side of his mouth, wiping away her lipstick with her thumb. “Ummn, buttery,” she grinned at him. “Hurry and eat so we can miss the traffic jam.”

He stood there for a full minute, eyes closed, just trying to remember to breathe. Finally, looking at the toasted bread in his hand with disgust, he dropped it in the garbage and headed out the back door.

FBI Headquarters

9:05 am

He was sifting through his morning emails when the call came through. Scully grabbed the phone before he had a chance, but he was pretty sure by her clipped reply what the caller had wanted.

“Skinner?”

“In five,” she replied.

“Five minutes to get up there? Either this is one important case or I screwed up the expense report again,” he muttered, pulling on his suit jacket.

“If it’s the latter, you’re also doing the dishes for the next week,” she informed him with a glare.

“No mas, no mas,” he pleaded with hands raised in surrender and followed her out the door to the elevator.

The elevator was crowded and it stopped at every floor, so they were pushing the time limit when they entered the Assistant Director’s outer office. Kim, his assistant, looked up and smiled at them.

“Relax, Agent Mulder. The expense report went through budget,” she said with a grin. Mulder ducked his head in acknowledgement and Scully rolled her eyes at him. “But you have to wait a minute. He just took a call from the Director.”

“Thanks,” Mulder said for both of them and they settled in on the couch. Mulder was jiggling his leg, crossing it and uncrossing it in nervous anticipation.

Finally, Scully’s hand landed not too softly on his kneecap and he jerked his head up to look at her.

“Mulder, please. You’re shaking the couch,” she whispered.

“Sorry,” he replied.

“What is wrong with you? Kim just as much as told us this isn’t a chewing out. You act like you’re preparing for bad news.”

How could he tell her that was exactly what he was doing? Except he wasn’t expecting the bad news to come from their boss. For some reason, he was worried sick about her appointment and no amount of mental reassurance could convince him it was needless. “Sorry, nervous energy,” he covered.

“Did something happen at the track today?” she asked, her head tilted so that the light from the hallway cast glimmers off her hair. He was about to speak, to tell her everything when the door to Skinner’s inner office opened and the man motioned them in.

They took their normal seats in front of Skinner’s desk. Before they’d even had a chance to address him, the Assistant Director slid a file folder across the polished surface. “This one has your names all over it,” he said with a scowl.

Mulder picked up the folder and flipped it open. After just a few moments of reading, he looked up in disbelief. “Exsanguinated hogs?” he asked disdainfully.

“And one farmer,” Skinner pointed out, adjusting the knot of his tie as if it were suddenly too tight.

“Sir — this . . . this defies description,” Mulder exclaimed, shaking his head.

“Mulder, if they can exsanguinate cows — ” Scully said with a shrug.

“Is April coming a bit early this year, Sir?” Mulder shot over to Skinner with a glare.

“Agent, I understand your . . . skepticism. But the fact remains that the local sheriff has requested our assistance — ”

” . . . and the field office in Springfield just couldn’t wait to pawn this off on DC,” Mulder sneered.

“Mulder, you have made it quite clear that exsanguination of farm animals with concurrent deaths of a human or humans falls under the jurisdiction of the X Files Division. Now, if you want to start cherry picking — ”

“Cherry picking!” Mulder retorted. “Fine, we’ll take it,” he said with a heavy sigh.

“Good,” Skinner said and glanced at his watch. “Your flight leaves Dulles at 12:30.”

Mulder shot a quick look at Scully, who shot him a look back. “Sir, is it essential that both of us travel to Illinois — together?” Mulder asked with more respect than he’d exhibited during the entire meeting.

“Is there a problem?” Skinner asked.

“Sir, I have an appointment this afternoon,” Scully explained. “My annual check up.”

Skinner sucked in a breath. “Oh, uh, of course you don’t want to miss that, Agent Scully. I see no reason for both of you to go out to Normal today. Agent Mulder, you can go out and assess the situation. If further investigation is warranted,” he said over Mulder’s snort, “you can call Agent Scully to join you.”

“Thank you, Sir. I appreciate your leniency,” Scully said quietly.

“Not a problem,” Skinner said, becoming deeply engrossed in a paper he’d pulled out of his inbox. “You’re both dismissed.”

Scully had to run to catch up with Mulder’s longer legs. “Hey,” she said, when he finally stopped at the elevator doors.

“Hey,” he replied, pulling on his bottom lip.

“Mulder, are you OK?” she asked tenderly, her hand on his arm.

He shot a look around them, they weren’t alone. He smiled down at her and patted her hand, then gently removed it from his arm. “I’m fine, Scully,” he said with a wan smile. He checked his watch before she could speak. “Look, I’m going to run by the house, pick up my bag and maybe be on time for a flight for once. I’ll take a cab to the airport — you keep the car for your appointment.”

“Yeah, sure,” she said hesitantly. When the elevator doors opened, she was pleased that everyone on the car got off and they were the only two people to enter. She waited for the doors to close before pulling him down in a quick kiss. “Have a safe flight.”

He got off at the main floor lobby. “Call me after your appointment,” he said and stepped off the elevator, then waved goodbye as the doors closed again. She couldn’t help but notice he was wearing his panic face.

C&O Canal National Park

Lock House

10:00

Mulder was chewing on a sunflower seed, watching the cyclists and joggers run passed him in the sunshine. The breeze was gentle, but still held the nip of fall he’d felt early that morning. He wasn’t surprised when he heard rustling of leaves behind him.

“‘Bout time, I was ready to head for home,” he told Krycek. “You have ten minutes. Talk.”

Krycek smirked. “I can do better than that. Here, read for yourself.” He handed the agent a thick manila folder.

Mulder pulled out a few of the clippings, skimming them quickly. “Anyone who came into contact with the meteorites became sick,” he recited. “One death, reportedly connected to the meteorites,” he flipped to another clipping. “Whoa,” he said, slowing down and reading more closely. He looked over at Krycek. “Spontaneous combustion?”

“An isolated case,” Krycek said dismissively. “Check the charts toward the back. Mulder rocked his head from side to side in annoyance. He found some pages that looked like translations of medical records. “Wait a minute — ” He narrowed his eyes and glared at the other man. “Is this your idea of a joke?”

Krycek shook his head. “I was skeptical at first, too. But I’ve been down there, Mulder. I’ve spoken to people. People who were sick before they encountered the meteorites came away cured. Look here,” he directed, flipping to a page near the back of the folder and handing it over to Mulder. “Read this one.”

“Nasopharengeal cancer — complete remission,” Mulder said aloud. He snapped the folder shut and handed it back to Krycek. “This is a load of crap, and you know it.”

“Mulder, why would I bother — this is too easy to check out,” the Russian reasoned.

“Look, there are cases, dozens of cases of illness and disorders that are vastly improved — most of the time they are cured! Think what this could mean!”

“It’s means you’re more of a fool than even I am,” Mulder sneered and started to walk away.

“Infertility — cured. Cancer — cured. All with just a touch of a rock from outer space. Can you really walk away from this, Mulder? Can you afford to walk away?”

“I can. I am,” Mulder said over his shoulder.

Krycek ran to catch up to him, slapping the folder in the crook of his arm. “And how is Agent Scully these days, Mulder?” he asked with a knowing look. At Mulder’s gapping silence, he continued. “There’s a phone number on that folder. Read the rest of the contents. Think about it. When you’re ready, call me. But remember, these things have a way of disappearing — sometimes right when you need them the most.”

Office of Dr. Omar Hofnagle, DVM

Normal, Illinois

10:36 a.m.

“Of course, the big money around McLean County’s in labradoodles and Persians — yuppie toys,” Dr. Omar Hofnagle admitted witheringly, leading Mulder toward his exam room. Mulder had decided a veterinary autopsy might provide a quicker lead than waiting for the county M.E. to schedule the late Ken Jenks, but a half-hour with the garrulous practitioner had him longing for a triple post-mortem in Scully’s cozy abattoir.

“Cloying, snipping, whining organisms. Don’t care for their pets, either,” Hofnagle cackled, and Mulder joined politely in, wondering vaguely where the vet kept whatever he used to put down horses. “Now, this is what I got into the business for,” Hofnagle continued, pushing into the austere cinder block room. A huge hog, bristly and cyanotic, lay on his side on a brushed steel table. Hofnagle slapped an inelastic ham. “Large animal practice – the meat and potatoes of veterinary science. Feeding the planet, keeping America’s farmers rolling…”

“As well as my bowels,” Mulder interrupted cheerfully. “Dr. Hofnagle, how about we discuss the other gray meat here? What killed Porky?”

Hofnagle stared at Mulder, then pondered the chow at Guantanamo and shook it off. “Well, as I’m sure you know, like the rest of the brood, as well as poor old Ken Jenks, she was exsanguinated. You ever seen anything like this?”

“Not around here. You know, the ancient Romans practiced a sacrifice called the suovetaurilia, in which a pig, a ram, and a bull were sacrificed to the deity Mars to purify the land.”

“Don’t know any ancient Romans around these parts,” the doctor grunted uncertainly. “And it was just the hogs. And Ken.”

Mulder shrugged. “Well, if it was that easy, you’d’ve called in an anthropologist, am I right? How about unusual phenomena. Any odd aerial sightings in the area? Electronic signals disrupted. Crop damage or, ah, strange configurations?”

Hofnagle’s jowls drooped. “Strange what?”

“Configurations. You know, uh, unusual, um, patterns…”

“Crop circles?” Hofnagle yelped. “Jet lag must have caught up with a vengeance, son. You think aliens did this?”

“Probably just wishful thinking. Was there a particular point of entry for the exsanguination?”

“Yup. Carotid, throat. It was like all chewed up. Same with the others. Except Ken — well, I don’t know about him — coroner wouldn’t let me get my hands, er, consult with him. And I can tell you, these porkers weren’t bled out by any Martians. Unless they shop at Sears. There were very clear tooling marks. Killer hacked away at the neck probably to cover whatever he used to suck out the blood.”

“You sure?” Mulder asked with a tinge of regret.

“Bet your ass,” Hofnagle sniffed. “Got eight seasons of CSU:Vegas on DVD.”

“You always deal with Jenks when he had a problem?”

“Jenny Romine, kid from U of I, my assistant, would do his herd health stuff the last few months. Maury Letrobe, my other assistant, took care of the Jenks’ dogs. Lab and a poodle. A poodle, for God’s sake,” he huffed.

“I’d like to talk to them, if they’re around.”

The vet crossed his arms. “Have to give you their cells. Jenny’s out at some state agroterrorism seminar down in Springfield, and it’s Maury’s day off. Real do-gooder – – volunteers at the Miller Park Zoo three times a week. I had to spend my time spaying kitties and weighing Pomeranians, guess I’d want something with some fangs and claws.”

“It’s not always what it’s cracked up to be,” Mulder sighed.

Miller Park Zoo

Bloomington, Illinois

11:02 p.m.

“Wildlife preservation,” Frieda Orenoski rhapsodized. “It’s the essence of veterinary science, the reason I do this.”

Frieda Orenoski was the physiological yin to Omar Hofnagle’s yang – muscular, leathery, and tanned, and if the bumper stickers on the sexagenarian zoo vet’s computer were any indication, no meat had ever leaked onto her potatoes. The Vietnamese potbellied pig in her embrace looked up at Mulder with a seemingly triumphant look in his eye, as if he could smell the rib tips the agent had wolfed after leaving Hofnagle.

“That’s great,” Mulder nodded insincerely as he dodged a group of tots beelining for Miller Park’s alpha pygmy goat. Once the porcine mutilations turned out to be of human origin, his fascination with the case had waned. “So, basically, Maurice Letrobe isn’t here.”

“Not for weeks now,” Frieda murmured. “He just started showing up late, then not showing at all. It was a shame – he was a real asset to the zoo. A lot of the volunteers are drawn to the mammals, to the furry, ‘cute’ creatures. If he hadn’t devoted his life to coddling pampered, inbred canines and felines, he could have been a brilliant herpetologist. No fear, but just the right amount of respect for the reptile temperament.”

Mulder started to compose his departure. “So, you got a number where I can reach him?”

Frieda released the swollen pig reluctantly and stood. “I have his app in the office. This way.”

Mulder nodded, reaching absently down to scratch the pig’s rough scalp. The feral oinker screamed, scuttling back into his stall.

“It’s the barbecue,” Frieda explained. “I could smell the stink of meat on you. Hey, great day out, eh?”

Normal Garden Apartments

Normal, Illinois

11:35 p.m.

Jennifer Romine apparently was hop scotching across the countryside, cutting a swatch through the local livestock, and Mulder gave up after three tries on her cell. Maury Letrobe lived near the Illinois State University campus, in a well-worn apartment complex on a tree-lined side street. Mulder figured the vet assistant had tired of his double-Doolitlean duties, but kept the cover of his zoo gig to keep his schedule at Hofnagle’s clinic light. As Mulder had expected, Letrobe’s voicemail had picked up a dozen times during the agent’s drive.

Apartment 8 was on the third floor. The door of Apartment 6 shook with L’il Kim, and Mulder could perceive the arduous cries of off-campus afternoon delight within Apartment 7, but 8 was silent. Mulder sighed and started to turn, when the smell hit him. Musty, organic, with a metallic edge. It was familiar – Mulder flashed on a dozen federal labs and, curiously, Woolworth’s.

Rats, he thought, not out of frustration but with a sense of deductive revelation. Mulder began to review his lock-picking options.

Kenneth & Karen Jenks Farm

RR2, Bloomington, Illinois

12:21 p.m.

“I have to believe it was Satanists,” Karen Jenks murmured as she settled into the armchair opposite Mulder. Outside the living room window, County Road 1500 North separated a scrubby front lawn from low, verdant rows of soybeans. “What they did to Kenny, to those poor animals.”

“Has there been a lot of that kind of activity around here?” Mulder inquired, gently fending off Karen’s affably deranged poodle. The weary widow shook her head absently. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere, miles outside town. The Rowans down the way had some kids set up a meth lab in their old barn, and the teenagers like to drag race on the county roads Saturday nights. Who knows? Anyway. How can I help you, Agent?”

Mulder glanced at the photos on the mantle of the Jenks’ utilitarian fireplace – lanky, handsome Ken in his seed cap, leaning out the cab of his John Deere as Karen leaned on his leg. Ken and his fellow producers flanking some ag secretary three or four appointments back. Karen holding a black-and-white creature with wide black eyes – a Madagascar lemur, Mulder recalled — outside a fenced enclosure.

“You and your husband visit Africa?” he inquired.

Karen frowned, then followed his eyes to the mantle. “Heavens. No. I’m a booster at the zoo, in town. Gets boring, sometimes, helping Ken with the hogs and doing the grain marketing.”

“I can imagine,” Mulder said. He was interrupted by the sound of tires on gravel outside. A dirt-crusted F10 pickup pulled to a stop next to an aluminum Morton building, and a lean, bearded young man jumped out. The boy stopped next to Mulder’s rental car, and he hesitated before mounting the porch.

“Hmm,” Karen said, her frown returning. “That’s…That’s the boy who works for our vet. Dr. Hofnagle’s probably sending one of his wife’s casseroles. I’m up to my butt in casseroles. Pardon me, I better see what he wants.” The farmer’s wife practically lunged for the door. Mulder followed, and when Maury Letrobe materialized in the doorway, the assistant vet glanced anxiously at her. He was a cerebrally outdoorsy man, the cuffs of his jeans dyed with red soil, his fingers clean but calloused.

“Uh,” he began articulately. “Hi, um, Mrs. Jenks. Sorry about Mr. Jenks.”

“Thank you, uh, Maury, right?” Karen stumbled artfully. “I appreciate your coming over.”

Maury blinked. “Uh, sure. Where is she?”

“She?”

“Um, Maggie. You left a message she’d been throwing up.”

“Wow,” Mulder breathed behind Karen. “A vet who makes doggie calls. Things sure are different here in the Heartland.”

“Well,” Maurice smiled.

“Well, why don’t you come in, Maurice?” Mulder continued. “I think you and Mrs. Jenks, and I have a lot to talk about.”

“Talk?” Maurice sputtered. “About what?”

Mrs. Jenks’ hand went to her eyes.

“About Karen milking your snake,” Mulder suggested. “Both figuratively and literally.”

**

“Why disguise a murder as a weirder murder?” Mulder posed as the widow and the vet settled in. “Once I realized we weren’t dealing with aliens or vampires or ancient Romans, the question became, why set up such an implausible murder scenario? Why exsanguinatie not only the victim but also a flock of pigs?”

“Herd,” Maurice muttered.

Mulder waved it away. “I think Mrs. Jenks got bored out here on the farm and got her groove on with the studly young veterinary assistance who handled her puppies. That’s why you both volunteered at the zoo – that was your rendezvous. Tuesdays with Maury. ‘Til you two retired to Maury’s musty love nest. Just you two and the rats.”

“Rats?” Maury whispered.

“Yeah, you could use, oh, maybe a few hundred pine tree fresheners in that little Love Shack of yours. The place was redolent with rodents. And there’s only one reason you’d stockpile the vermin. For food. Snake food. Frieda the Zookeeper was very impressed with your herpetological skills.” Mulder checked the driveway, then turned back to the dumbstruck couple.

“That red dirt on your jeans,” he continued. “You pick that up in Sedona, Arizona? There’s a company that sells tee-shirts dyed with it. And I’ll bet red dirt isn’t all you brought back from the desert. I found a passel of rattlers in your apartment. Along with boas and a few dozen other serpentine species. He taught you, didn’t he, Karen?”

Karen stared at the agent.

“He taught you to handle snakes, didn’t he? Maybe how to milk their venom, too. Maury didn’t realize he was handing you a way out of your marriage. You decided to get rid of Ken. Out in the country here, it wouldn’t be so strange for a farmer to get bitten by a snake. What did you do – set one loose in the hog pen at feeding time? Or extract some venom to inject into his system? And then you discovered some of your rattlers had flown the coop, right, Maury? Maybe Karen’d suggested she wouldn’t mind shedding her hubby. Except she didn’t realize the cops might be suspicious if they found Mr. Jenks pumped full of Western diamondback venom. Rattlesnake venom is a hematoxin – a bloodborne poison. You got out here too late – you couldn’t get rid of the body, so you had to remove the blood from the scene. Bet if we search the machine shop out there, we’ll find a pump or a vacuum with traces of Ken’s blood and venom in it.”

“You should’ve called me,” Maury chided.

“I did it for us, Baby,” Karen responded.

The room fell silent as Maury looked to Karen. Karen glanced at Mulder, then back at her boyfriend, who nodded.

“You kids are so transparent,” Mulder sighed. He reached into his jacket and withdrew his phone. Flipping it open, Mulder displayed the lit screen. Two heads turned as gravel crunched outside and two McLean County Sheriff’s units pulled aside Maury’s F-10.

“My partner says I’m not a team player,” Mulder admitted, rising. “But I like to think I’m capable of growth.”

McLean County Sheriff’s Department

Bloomington, Illinois

12:54 p.m.

“I am just really truly sorry about this,” Deputy Janine Crewson said for the eighth time, setting a paper bag and a waxed cup on the interview table. “This new system’s crashed three times since we got it last week. But the IT guy thinks we’ll have her up and running in no time. Then we can clean up the paperwork and get you over to the Holiday Inn.”

“Oh, boy,” Mulder forced a grin as he plucked at the bag.

The blonde deputy paused. “Oh, yeah, and there was a little mix-up with supper. The guy at Subpreme Sandwiches screwed up your order and gave you the Voracious Vegan instead of the Sicilian Mob o’Meat.”

“Ah.” Mulder looked up, stricken.

“So, OK then. Bon appetit.” The deputy vanished, leaving the agent to his vegetation.

Mulder tore into a mouthful of romaine and zucchini and reached into his briefcase for Krycek’s report. Five minutes later, the sandwich was gone and Mulder’s stomach was roiling as if he’d eaten half a Vietnamese potbellied pig with a side of pygmy goat. The contents of the thick file were, quite simply, earthshaking. Metastatic cancers chased into remission. The effects of catastrophic stroke reversed. Even a final stage AIDS patient scrubbed completely of the virus.

It was fantastic, a tale out of Michael Crichton by way of Stephen King. But the documentation appeared kosher, and somehow, Mulder knew Krycek was not leading him down a blind alley. Burping up a cloud of eggplant, he reached into his jacket pocket.

“Took you so long?” Krycek demanded before Mulder could ID himself.

“OK, you smug son-of-a-bitch,” Mulder grumbled. “It’s no Danielle Steel, but I have to admit it’s pretty compelling reading.”

“Lambert Airport, St. Louis. American Airlines. One business class ticket for an Oliver Wendell Douglas, in honor of your brilliant agricultural sleuthing. Great job with the pigs, Spooky.”

Omniscient bastard. “Bite me, Krycek.”

Krycek laughed nastily, and the line went dead. The interview room door edged open. “Hey, we’re back up,” Deputy Crewson sang. “We’ll have you in a room in no time.”

“Nice offer,” Mulder said. “But I need a ride to the airport.”

Lambert Airport

St. Louis, Mo.

2:13 p.m.

“Enjoy your wanding?” Krycek smirked from his post outside Starbucks as Mulder emerged from the security checkpoint, stuffing metal back into his pockets. Mulder regarded his nemesis balefully. “I could use my pull with Homeland Security to get you a cavity search.”

“Domestic life’s dulled your repartee, Skippy. C’mon.”

At the AA gate, they found a pair of seats away from the scattering of businessmen, seniors, and fashionably grungy kids seeking pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest.

“There was another landfall, near Seattle,” Krycek informed Mulder. “It came in under the radar, but I know a guy in Tacoma has a small observatory.”

“I’ve got one testicle lower than the other,” Mulder commiserated. “I’m sure the scene’s been trampled by several hundred grad students who’ve never been laid.”

“This one fell off the coast. Island’s uninhabited.”

“Great,” Mulder sighed. “Well, at least Scully’ll be happy. Angelina was my original desert island choice.”

Krycek leaned back, glanced at Paris Hilton on CNN. “How is your far better half?”

“She’ll be delighted you asked. She’s OK, I guess. Still coming to grips with Charlie’s death.”

Krycek sneered. “Yeah, we’re all kind of broken up about the little shit. I were her, my only regret would be not pulling the trigger herself.”

“She’s not built like you, Krycek,” Mulder said.

“Yeah, that didn’t escape my attention. Though, sometimes, I wonder about you. Jesus, Mulder, we’re both getting too old for this shit. It’s never going to happen for me, but you’ve found the exit door. Maybe you ought to think about taking it, settling down.”

“Krycek,” Mulder yawned, “I think I liked you better when you were a vicious, sociopathic psycho.”

Act II

“You made the right decision,” Krycek said smugly.

“Let’s get one thing straight — I still consider you a traitor and a son of a bitch. And if I find out this is a wild goose chase I will happily beat the shit out of you and leave you behind to die. Are we clear on this?” Mulder sneered.

“Crystal,” Krycek answered bluntly.

Mulder glanced up at the boarding lounge announcement board and saw their destination. “Seattle,” he said casually.

“That’s as far as we’re going by plane,” Krycek explained. As he was about to continue, the announcement was made to begin boarding. They shuffled to the line, dutifully handed over their boarding passes, walked the long jet way that always reminded Mulder of a giant, metal and carpet umbilical cord and with very little difficulty found their row.

“You were saying,” Mulder prodded when they had settled into their seats. “It’s an island off the coast of Washington. Technically, it’s United States waterway. It’s uninhabited, unless you happen to count sea lions and some endangered bird species. It’s also volcanic and fairly active, even for that region. We’ll drive to the coast and rent a boat.”

“You honestly think I would trust you to steer me to an uninhabited island?” Mulder asked dubiously. “Why can’t we charter a plane?”

“No landing strip,” Krycek replied.

“What makes you so sure that’s where the meteorites landed?”

Krycek smiled. “I have friends in high places. Haven’t you ever heard of ‘Google Earth’, Mulder?”

Mulder frowned his displeasure.

“Look, the tracking stations got a pretty clear path of the trajectory and there were some hot spots on the island reported from the satellite pictures that night.”

“Hot spots on a volcano. Imagine my shock,” Mulder deadpanned.

“You know, you chose to come along, Mulder. I’m just the guide dog here. Seems to me you could have stayed home with the little ‘almost-wife’. While we’re on the subject, why haven’t you two pumped out a few Junior G-kids by now? Isn’t that what guys your age do — settle down and start a dynasty?”

“Shut the fuck up, Krycek,” Mulder growled.

“Oooh, touchy. The old six-shooter loaded with blanks, Mulder? Or is the problem with the missus?”

“Tossing you in a lava flow is looking pretty damned good from where I’m sitting,” Mulder said in a low, threatening voice around a mouthful of teeth for the benefit of the flight attendant serving drinks in the row ahead of them.

Krycek grinned and then feigned a yawn. “Look, once we get there we’ll be going non-stop. I suggest you make the most of this flight and get some shut eye.”

Mulder was still fuming as he closed his eyes against the rays of sunlight bouncing off the infinitesimal little cracks in the airplane window’s Plexiglas. But somehow, sleep found him.

He dreamed he was pulling into their parking space behind the duplex. He grabbed his briefcase out of the backseat and slammed the door. It must have been some kind of signal because the back door to the kitchen opened and a tiny girl, no more than four or five came running down the back steps.

“Daddy, Daddy, come see what I made!” the girl cried happily as she flung herself into Mulder’s arms.

Mulder dropped the briefcase to the ground and accepted the hugs and kisses, returning them in kind. “What did you make today?” he asked with a grin.

The child squirmed to be put down and grabbed his hand, tugging him forward. “I made a picture for your wall at work — where you put all the ‘portant papers,” she said proudly.

A young woman, college-aged, was standing in the kitchen, wiping her hands.

Mulder felt certain he had never seen her before but somehow she was familiar. “Sorry Mr. M. She got away from me.”

“That’s OK, Dani,” he replied.

“Dinner’s in the oven, the Squirt and I already set the table and if it’s OK with you, I need to head out. Class tonight.”

“Sure, sure,” he said with a nod of his head.

The little girl returned to the kitchen and handed him a piece of white card stock paper. She beamed up at him as he looked at the picture. It was a stick figure man with brown hair and glasses, and a little girl with flowers in her hand standing in a park with trees. There were square shaped boxes on the ground by their feet.

Above their heads were clouds and on one of the clouds was a stick figure woman with red hair smiling down on them.

“See, Daddy. I made Mommy smiling down on us from heaven.”

Mulder woke with a start, tears streaming down his face. He swallowed several times until he could feel his heart rate slow from its pounding beat in his ears. He chewed on his lip and stared out at the clouds, wiping the moisture from his face.

There would be no more sleep for him, not till they found those meteorites.

Act II scene 2

SeaTac International Airport

3:35 pm

One thing Mulder always appreciated about flying west was that at least it saved time. They had left St. Louis a little after one, they arrived in Seattle twenty minutes after three. At 3:30 they were standing at the Lariat counter using Mulder’s credit card to sign for a Jeep Cherokee to take them to the coast.

“The consortium doesn’t pay you?” Mulder asked derisively as he stuffed the card back in his wallet.

“Oh, like you’re going to fill out an expense report for this one,” Krycek snorted.

“You haven’t even turned on your cell phone since we left the plane. What’s the matter? Afraid your partner might tell you to get your ass home?”

“You drive,” Mulder said tossing Krycek the keys, ignoring the man completely. In the passenger seat of the car, he leaned back and stared out the window, not allowing himself to fall asleep again.

Finally, he could stand the silence no long. “What’s in this for you, Krycek?” he demanded. “What are you getting out of this?”

The Russian smiled. “Fame. Glory. A shit load of cash.”

Mulder continued to glare at him, not satisfied with the glib answer.

“What do you want from me, Mulder? You already have a low opinion of me. If I were to tell you that maybe I just want to see if this is manna from heaven – the way to cure the coming plague, would you believe me? No. So why bother?” He turned his attention back to the road.

“I just don’t get you,” Mulder said with a heavy sigh. “You kill, you steal, you double deal on a dime and yet you think you’re so noble.”

“Oh, and you’re so different,” Krycek snorted.

“I’ve never killed anyone in cold blood,” Mulder sneered, eyes narrowed.

“No. You just let them die in your wake,” Krycek shot back. “Or drag them along in the darkness. Which is the greater crime, my friend? A quick death or a slow, painful one?”

“Just drive,” Mulder ordered.

“That’s what I’m doin’,” the other man snarled.

They were approaching the coast and Mulder could smell the salty tang of the ocean ahead of them. Krycek pulled the car into a gas station convenience store. “We should get some food, the island doesn’t have a McDonald’s franchise,” he noted sourly.

Mulder pulled himself out of the car and headed for the store. Hours on the plane and now at least an hour in the car was making his back ache. When had he gotten so old that he couldn’t ride for days at a time?

A small bell chimed as he pushed open the door. He looked over at the attendant, a skinny kid in his early twenties. At his meaningful glance around the kid pointed to an alcove in the corner. “Restrooms are over there,” he said with a forced smile.

Mulder glanced behind him. Krycek was busy with gassing up the car. He walked toward the restrooms and quietly pulled out his cell phone, turning it on. It beeped and chirped and then chirped again. On the third chirp he looked down. Searching for network. It continued to search for network. Mulder sighed. They were too far away from a cell tower. He shut the offending object down a little more forcefully than the owners manual instructed and shoved it into his pocket again.

He stood in the bathroom, considering his options. Spying the paper towel dispenser next to the sink, he reached into his suit jacket pocket and extracted a pen. He pulled off a decent sized sheet of paper and composed his note to Scully. He knew his partner. If he hadn’t called in by dinnertime out east, there would be hell to pay.

Leaving the restroom with the paper towel note lying folded in half at the back of the sink, he wandered over to the snack foods selection. A quick glance told him that he was right in camera range. If Scully saw that he wasn’t bound and gagged, that he was free to move around, maybe it would alleviate some of her worry.

He didn’t bother to hide his identity at any point in the process of considering and finally picking a snack. Krycek had entered the store from getting the gas and was anxious to leave. Mulder ignored him and finally selected bags of corn nuts, even when sunflower seeds were within easy reach. He hoped she remembered his propensity to get sick on corn nuts. He hoped she’d see it as a warning.

By utilizing his credit card all along the trip he had no doubt that his partner would be able to follow their trail with her eyes blindfolded and both hands tied behind her back. The problem was, he didn’t want her going out to that island — not until he knew if this whole little escapade was a trap. He’d find the meteorites and bring one back to her. He patted the pocket that contained the evidence bag he’d thought to pack after he met with Krycek at the canal. Whatever they found would be safe in it.

“It’s not Au Bon Pain, for crissakes,” Krycek growled.

 

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“I got it,” Mulder said, fighting the urge to look up at the security camera. He sauntered over to the counter and laid the snacks down to be scanned. Paying with his credit card again, he smiled at the young man behind the counter, gathered the three bags and followed Krycek out to the car. He glanced at his watch. It was just a little before 5 pm.

“It’s going to be dark when we get there,” Mulder noted.

“I have GPS and we can get some flashlights,” Krycek replied. “If we wait, they’ll be gone,” he said again.

“I know, I know. I just don’t know if we want to spend the night on that island.”

“We can stay on the boat. We’re night fishing, remember?”

Mulder shrugged and settled in, watching the northwest coastline scenery whiz by.

Oak Harbor, WA

5:45 pm

Krycek pulled up to a parking space next to a weathered clapboard building proclaiming ‘boats for rent’. He looked over at Mulder and nodded out the passenger side window. “There’s a fishing and supply store across the way. Go get some rope, some flares, a couple of flashlights — ”

“A helicopter?” Mulder added hopefully.

Krycek rolled his eyes. “Meet me back here in thirty minutes.”

Mulder hauled himself out of the car and strolled across the parking lot and the little street. The harbor was fairly busy for the time of evening, and he saw many people carrying fishing gear and tackle toward the long boardwalk. He nodded to a few as he opened the door of the sporting goods store.

It didn’t take him long to gather supplies. He found an inexpensive day pack to hold all the gear and some energy bars and bottles of water were tossed in at the last minute. Again, his ‘Scully voice’ at the back of his mind was telling him to also pack a couple of the mylar blankets they had on racks at the check out counter, so he snagged two of them. All in all, he was better equipped than they usually were when they went out into the wilds together.

Mulder chewed on a hangnail as the clerk wearily scanned his items. God, how did he get himself in this mess? He knew Krycek was possibly the last person on the planet he should trust. Whatever happened to ‘trust no one’? He could hear Scully saying that as plain as day. But didn’t she go off with old Smokey once, when the stakes were high enough?

“That’ll be $143.59,” the clerk said. Mulder bit his lip hard. This trip was costing him a fortune. He handed over his Visa and signed the slip. The transaction over, he put everything in the day pack and hoisted it on his back then headed out the door to meet Krycek.

His companion was standing outside the boat rental, waiting for him. “You forgot your corn nuts,” he said blandly as he handed the snacks to Mulder. Mulder cringed slightly, but took off his pack and stuffed the bags in the one of the outer pockets.

“Do we have a boat?” Mulder asked, shouldering the pack again.

“Over there. The Gillian Ann. He’s gassing it up right now.” Krycek led the way over to where several fishing boats were moored. Theirs was an older model, but looked sea worthy. “Can you handle a boat?”

Mulder eyed the small vessel warily. “In a pinch,” he said. He thanked his lucky stars that his Scully voice had also reminded him to pick up some Dramamine while at the sporting goods store. A seasickness patch would have been preferable, but he would have to make do.

“Let’s cast off,” Krycek said with a resigned shrug.

As they made their way out of the harbor, the sun sank into the water, casting a beautiful orange path that Mulder, had he been feeling more fanciful, could have considered a yellow brick road. As it was, the light of the dying sun only stayed with them for a short time and as the shoreline disappeared, the gathering gloom increased.

The new moon gave off no light, but the stars were outstanding. The little boat sped along the mostly small waves, Krycek proving to be an able seaman from what little Mulder could ascertain. The Dramamine was doing a passable job of keeping the agent’s stomach contents in the correct place, but the downside was the sleepiness that was quickly becoming a problem. He sat down on one of the benches along the side of the boat and leaned back to find the constellations just to keep himself awake.

 

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It was so beautiful out on the water as the stars took command of the night sky without the glaring intrusion of the moon to steal their glory. He thought about how Scully would love to just sit there on that little boat, looking up at the stars. They didn’t get enough time to do things like that — just sit and look up at the night sky.

When they did have a night outside it usually involved a stake out or an ill-fated trip to the forest. So where was his beloved when he was soaking up the galactic panorama? Chasing his sorry ass across the continent, more than likely.

What was he going to say to her when he returned? How could he possible explain this latest ditch? The very reminder of the word caused him to cringe physically. He hadn’t ditched his partner in a good long while — at least not since they’d started cohabitating. Did it count as a ditch if he left her a note? Admittedly, the fact that the note was deposited on the sink of a men’s room in a gas station convenience store probably somewhat diminished its intrinsic value, but it was a note, nonetheless.

Mulder sighed. What was he really doing out here? Why in the world had he agreed to accompany one of their worst enemies on a fool’s errand? Rocks couldn’t cure people! Scully would be the first one to howl in derision at such a claim. If he were to mention that he was trying to cure her infertility — he could imagine how uncomfortable sleeping in the tiny unheated garage for the rest of the winter was going to be.

They had options. Scully had viable ova in storage, he had sperm — at some point in the not too distant future he could envision them preparing a nursery, going to childbirth classes, maybe even hiring a baby nurse. No, probably not. They would probably have to depend on Maggie or even the gunmen, assuming they could be trained to diaper a baby.

Now he was just being ridiculous!

No, it wasn’t even the fertility that was scaring him into running all the way across the country with a dangerous man. It was that damned appointment she’d had with her oncologist. Annual check up — that was a supreme joke. Who were they kidding? If the chip that he’d found had caused her remission, any change would mean death. There would be no cure, no last minute reprieve. Either it functioned as required or it didn’t. There was no warranty, no service contract. It was not returnable.

If her remission was a miracle, as he felt she truly believed, they didn’t really need a yearly reminder of the horror they had once lived through. But if, as the third possible option, the cancer had simply gone into hiding and was even now poising to make a reappearance . . . that was what he truly feared. If there was still a dark, evil presence in her blood cells that could turn on her in a heartbeat — he was more than willing to go to the ends of the earth and beyond to find a way to keep that evil from gaining control again.

That was why he was sailing across the starlit water with a sworn enemy. That was why he was willing to risk life and limb. If there was a chance that these rocks from the heavens had the power to keep Scully with him, healthy, whole, for as long as he could — nothing and no one would stop him from finding those rocks and bringing them home.

Act III Scene 1

FBI Headquarters

Washington DC

Same Day

2:15 pm Eastern Time

Scully juggled her purse, the brown paper sack and the grande mocha cappuccino as she struggled to get the right key into the lock on the office door. Where was Mulder when she needed an extra pair of hands? But then, since Mulder wasn’t around, she had the office all to herself, including the turkey Rueben with fat free 1000 Island and extra kraut presently residing in its deli bag and about to slip from her fingers.

She loved her partner with all her heart, but there were times, like when he was stealing bites from her lunch, or launching pencils at the ceiling tiles, or whining and shining those puppy dog eyes at her so that she would cave in and do the latest bureaucratic bullshit paper work that she wondered if maybe all the articles warning about office romances weren’t on to something after all.

But then again, hadn’t she was told him she wouldn’t change a thing, flukemen included?

The doctor’s office had been busy, as were most oncologists. The nurse had been apologetic, as usual. When Zuckerman arrived, he was looking slightly harried but smiled affectionately at her. “Ah, my little miracle,” he said, shaking her offered hand. “How are you feeling, Dana?”

“Great,” she told him, and it still amazed her that her words had never been truer. It had been ten years almost to the day since her remission from the cancer that was at one time a death sentence. Ten years and so much had happened. She found and lost a daughter, her partner had found and lost his sister. Perhaps the most important event happened quietly, in his apartment six years ago when they finally stopped tap-dancing around their relationship. There had been high peaks and low valleys in those ten years but again, she wouldn’t have traded them for the world.

“Well, we need to run the battery of tests, as always, but if I had to make a guess by just looking at you, I’d say we’re in for pretty much the same news we always get every year. Why don’t you change into that gown and I’ll call Stephanie in to take you down to x-ray.”

It had been over in the blink of an eye. Then came the difficult part. Because the blood work took time and the x-rays had to be read by the radiologist, she was left to dress and go back to the office to await final word on the results.

“Dana, you go relax — make that partner take you to a nice late lunch. Where is he? He’s usually in here complaining about the selection of magazines in the waiting room,” Stephanie asked as Dana finished dressing and was about to head for the door.

“We had a case come up at the last minute. He’s out in Illinois, but I expect him home tonight.”

“Well, then make him take you to a nice late dinner,” Stephanie countered. “Dr. Zuckerman will call with the results about 5. Should he call you at home?”

“Yes, thanks,” Scully confided. “I’ll be at home after 5:30. You have the number on my chart.”

“I see it here,” Stephanie nodded. “Well, have some fun.”

Once she was at the office, expense reports and end of the year vehicle reports were the last things she wanted to deal with. She sat down at the phone and listened intently to her voicemails. When she got to the one from Mulder, she sighed. He had a lead on the murder, he was going out to interview two possible suspects, yes he had back up. He might be late. The man could actually turn a molehill into a mountain. And now that meant he probably wouldn’t be home that night after all.

It was silly, and she was the first to admit that, but she needed to hear his voice, to speak to him. These yearly appointments always dredged up bad memories and she just needed Mulder’s often-humorous off-the-cuff report from the field to sweep the bad feelings away. She quickly dialed his cell phone. It rang directly to his voice mail.

She frowned at the receiver in her hand. That was odd. Mulder had just purchased a new cell phone and had been pleased at how long the battery was lasting. Unless he forgot to turn it on after he got off the plane at Bloomington-Normal. But that didn’t figure because he’d called her to leave the voicemail message. It didn’t make her feel any less uneasy to realize that she was probably over- reacting. She picked up the phone again and this time dialed the McLean County Sheriff’s Department. It was picked up almost immediately.

It was a relatively short conversation. The Deputy who answered was quick to inform Scully that her partner had been taken to the airport just an hour before.

That confused her a little, but she thanked the young woman and hung up. So maybe he decided not to stay and look into the case. That meant there was a good chance he was on a plane back home and his phone was off while he was in the air. She dialed his number again, this time leaving a message that she would be home after five and to call her as soon as he landed.

She hung up the phone and looked over at the reports she had planned to complete. Suddenly, that idea had lost all its original charm, if it had any. She remembered a sample she had taken to the lab a few days before and decided to go up and check on the analysis. She didn’t feel like sitting in a quiet empty office for the rest of the afternoon.

FBI Headquarters

Forensics Lab

6:05 pm Eastern Time

Scully chuckled at the joke one of the lab techs had just told on another pair of agents and glanced at her watch. It was after 6! She’d told Zuckerman’s office to call her at home and she’d told Mulder she’d be at home after 5. She could have missed both phone calls! She hurriedly made her goodbyes and almost knocked a few people down in her haste to get to the basement.

On a whim, she looked at the phone, but there was no message waiting indicated. She sighed and grabbed her purse, briefcase and jacket and headed out to the parking garage.

Sewer construction barricades and rush hour traffic were in full force and it took her nearly 20 minutes to get to the bridge across Rock Creek Park and then another 15 minutes to get to N street. By the time she pulled into the their parking space behind the duplex, it was nearly 6:45. She closed her eyes and shook her head. Knowing Mulder, when he couldn’t reach her at home he would either keep calling her cell phone or grab a cab.

She stuck her hand in her pocket as she ran up the back steps and pulled out her cell phone. No missed calls, no messages. That was odd, but it was possible that Mulder either had found a ride home or that his flight was delayed. She opened the door to the kitchen and made her way to the front of the house and the stairs to the second floor. When she got to their bedroom, she picked up the phone and found that Zuckerman’s office had called.

“I usually don’t leave a message but it seemed cruel to make you wait till tomorrow for the results, Dana,” she heard the oncologist’s message on their voicemail. “Everything checked out fine. You are fit as a fiddle. So I guess I won’t be seeing you again until next November. Hope you and Agent Mulder enjoy the holidays and if you need anything from our office just let us know. Take care and see you next year.”

The utter relief she experienced was nearly overwhelming. Scully sat on the edge of the bed and let a few errant tears of reprieve slide down her cheeks before wiping them away hastily. She let out a big breath and smiled. She couldn’t wait to tell Mulder. She knew he’d been worried as well and from the looks of him that morning after she’d reminded him of the appointment, he wouldn’t want to wait to hear the good news.

She tried his cell phone again as she changed into some soft fleece sweats and her slippers. Later, once he was home, she planned on an evening spent with the two of them ensconced in the big claw foot tub with a platter of cheese and crackers and a bottle of wine for sustenance. The fantasy playing through her mind caused a larger grin on her face that turned to a frown when she got her partner’s voicemail again.

“Mulder, where are you? Look, I know you were worried, but there’s good news. I just heard from Zuckerman’s office and the results are all great. I’m still in remission, no sign of the cancer. I’m planning a little celebration for two if you’re up for it after your big ‘pig’ adventure. Call me as soon as you get this, I’ll be waiting. Love you.” She clicked off the phone and decided to make herself a salad to tide her over until she heard from him.

3605 N Street

Georgetown, DC

7:30 pm Eastern Time

She knew it was stupid, but she couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling she had. She glanced at the clock on the DVR and bit her lip. Picking up the cordless phone in the living room, she dialed the office.

“Federal Bureau of Investigation, how can I direct your call?” the voice answered.

She recognized the voice instantly. “Corrine, hi, this is Agent Scully. Do you know if Kim Cook, AD Skinner’s assistant has left for the day?”

“Oh, hi, Agent Scully. I don’t think so, calls are still being taken at their office. I think all the A.D.s are working on the budget supplemental. Let me connect you.”

In a few beeps, she was on the line to Kim. “Hi, Kim, it’s Dana. I know this sounds silly, but can you tell me what airlines Mulder flew out to Illinois on this morning? He hasn’t turned up and I just wondered if he was stranded on a runway somewhere.”

“Sure, Dana. He’s on United to Chicago’s O’Hare and then United Express to Bloomington-Normal. Return flights are the same, but his ticket was opened ended, as always.”

“Thanks, Kim. I’ll try to track him down that way.”

“If you can’t find him, you know where to call,” Kim said breezily.

“I’m sure it won’t be necessary to call out the troops, but thanks, Kim.”

She switchhooked the phone and dialed the airlines from memory. “Hello, this is Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI, badge number JTT0331613. I’m trying to locate a passenger — Fox W. Mulder. He should have been on a flight from Bloomington, Illinois to Washington, DC tonight. Yes, I’ll hold.”

It only took a moment for the airline service representative to come back on the line. “You have no passenger listed on any flight to Washington, DC by that name,” Scully repeated slowly, the thought chasing around in her mind. “Could you check and see if that name shows up on any flight this afternoon or evening? Thank you.”

In a moment, the person returned. “He left Bloomington-Normal for St. Louis Lambert but then you have no record of him?” Scully reiterated what she’d just been told. “Is it possible for you to access Lambert Airport and tell me if a Fox Mulder was listed for any flight out of that airport this evening?”

It took a little longer, but the answer did not please Scully. “None whatsoever,” she said evenly. “Thank you, you’ve been very helpful.” She hung up the phone; her earlier good mood now completely vanished. “Damn him! When I find him, I’ll kill him myself!” She dialed the Hoover Building operator one more time. “Corrine, please put me into Assistant Director Skinner. I’m afraid we have a situation.”

Skinner was on the phone in a heartbeat. “Scully, what’s the emergency? Are you at the hospital?”

“No, sir, nothing like that — at least not yet. Sir, I can’t find Mulder. I got a voicemail from him this afternoon telling me that he was intending to stay out in Illinois a little longer than expected, but when I couldn’t get him on his cell phone, I called the Sheriff’s department. They told me they’d put him on a plane for home early afternoon. He should have arrived by now so I called Kim and checked the airlines. They show Mulder going to St. Louis but then he just disappears. He’s not listed on any flight into DC tonight.” She stopped talking long enough to pull much needed air into her lungs.

“Scully, it’s only a little after 8. The airlines probably just made a mistake or Mulder got a flight that diverted him to another airport before making it back here.”

“Sir, I thought of that. I specifically asked if he had been on _any_ flight out of Lambert International. They have no record of him leaving the airport.”

“Even so, mistakes are pretty common with those on line passenger lists, Scully. We really need to wait to see the actual passenger manifest from the flight crew to make a solid determination. Now I’m in the middle of a budget meeting, and God knows I’d love to be doing something else right now but I really think it’s premature. If you haven’t heard from Mulder by midnight, give me a call and we’ll see what we can find out. Until then, I really have to get back to this damned meeting.”

“Yes sir,” Scully said reluctantly. “I’m sorry I interrupted — ”

“Scully, it’s not a problem. Given Mulder’s past actions, I can understand your concern. But I think it might resolve itself if we just give it a little time.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” she said dully. “I’ll call you if I hear from him.”

“And I’ll call you if you haven’t called me. The way this is going, I’ll still be crunching numbers at the witching hour. Try not to worry, Dana.”

“Yes, sir. I will.”

She chewed on her lip again, thinking. Mulder had been acting funny all morning, but she’d assumed it was because of her appointment. Still, he’d acted like he wanted to talk to her when he got back from his run.

The little warning bells went off in her mind. How often had Mulder stumbled on an informant while taking his morning run? Too many times to count. And from past experience, she knew that Georgetown U. had installed security cameras at the track and bleachers. She ran upstairs to change into something a little more decorous than sweats and hurried out the door.

Georgetown University Campus Security

8:30 pm Eastern Time

“Agent Scully — something up?” asked the senior security guard when she presented her credentials to the guard at the desk. She’d become acquainted with most of the campus police since she and Mulder had moved to the neighborhood.

“Officer Zickus, hello. I was wondering if I could view your tape of the track this morning? I’m just looking for the time between 6:30 and 7 am.”

“Sure. Got it right over here.” Zickus pulled up a file on his computer monitor.

“Starting at 6:25 am,” he told her and clicked a few keys. The monitor was now a sharp and crisp image of the GU track. In the distance, she could clearly make out her partner with his usual gait and grace. But then another person came into the frame wearing a hoodie and keeping his face averted from the range of the camera. In a few moments, Mulder loped over to the bleachers for his cool down and some water. The other person made his way over as well. She watched as Mulder glanced warily at the other man, but continued with his cool down. Then, the other man moved closer to Mulder and they talked for a few moments. Mulder obviously wasn’t pleased with the direction of the conversation and started to leave a couple of times.

Finally, the other man said something and turned just enough to get his face into the camera’s range.

It was clearly Alex Krycek.

“Thanks, Officer Zickus. I’ve seen enough,” Scully said tersely.

“Do you want a copy of this?” Zickus asked.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” she replied, softening her tone. In a moment she had a shiny CD-Rom version of her partner’s morning encounter in one hand, her cell phone in the other and she was halfway to her car.

“Kim, tell AD Skinner that I’m on my way into the office. And let him know it’s time to call out the hounds.”

Act III scene 2

Unidentified island

36 miles north of Puget Sound, Washington

11:07 p.m. Pacific Time

“I see the cabana right there,” Mulder considered. “The tennis court would look great over by that volcanic outcropping. Oh, or maybe that volcanic outcropping. The pool would have to be aboveground, of course, unless you brought a few blocks of C-4.”

“Hey, Dane Cook,” Krycek snapped. “Shut the fuck up and help me unload this shit.” The “island” was little more that a rocky projection, the pinnacle of what Mulder recognized as a stratovolcano, composed of many layers of hardened lava and volcanic ash. Same as Mount Rainier. Given Krycek’s receptivity to his observations on Washington’s topography, seismic activity, and marine species, Mulder hadn’t shared that geological insight. Perhaps the Sasquatch discussion had been the last straw – that had been when Krycek had thrown Mulder’s cap into the inlet.

Mulder pulled his backpack from the boat and grunted as he strapped it on. “Well, at least it’s a small haystack, relative to Rhode Island.”

“Roughly 2.54 square miles,” Krycek noted. “If you can cut the schtick and the geektalk, we might be able to wrap this up by sunup.”

“Well, then, let’s rock-and-roll,” Mulder suggested, surveying the landscape of petrified magma. “Well, rock, anyway.”

Krycek hefted the ropes and equipment, then led the way.

**

After three hours of scouring the monotonous topography with Krycek’s modified Sigma SD10, Mulder had broken out the Yahoo and Cornnuts. The “hot mirror” had been removed from the digital camera to convert it to a heat-sensing monitor, but the sophisticated gadget had yet to read a heat signature amid the igneous nooks and crannies.

“Your buddy was positive about this?” Mulder inquired through a mouthful of chocolate grit. “He wouldn’t’ve decided to snag the rock for himself, would he? There is a growing black market for meteors, you know. Collectors flock to village markets in Mauritania to find falls harvested from the Sahara. I heard of a French drug dealer who got busted trying to round up a crew to ‘liberate’ a few of the choicer pieces from the London Natural History Museum. Maybe the temptation was just too great for your pal.”

Krycek chugged a Red Bull and set the can on the slab next to his natural throne. “My ‘pal’ once watched me systematically rupture every vertebra in the spine of a Yemeni arms dealer before castrating him with a Sears vice grip. I don’t think a few bucks off eBay would be worth pissing me off.”

Mulder popped the last oversized kernel. “You are a natural-born storyteller, Alex. I’ll bring the s’mores the next time. Let’s go.”

 

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Krycek’s original timetable had proven overly optimistic, even with minimal schtick. By 2 a.m. PST, they’d scoured only half the island’s surface. It was slow-going, passing the halogen torch and the Sigma back and forth as they scanned every quadrant.

“What’s the game plan?” Mulder finally broke the dark silence. “I mean, once we find the Miracle Meteor? This thing would be worth millions, maybe billions if its curative properties could be analyzed and replicated. You getting a finder’s fee from the Little Sisters of Charity?”

For a second, the shadow behind the glaring halogen spot was mute. “I know some people with the World Health Organization. People. . . people Marita trusted. People who wanted the same things she wanted. They’ll know what to do with this.”

Mulder turned back to the screen on the back of the Sigma, proceeding slowly. “It was rough, losing her, wasn’t it? You loved her, didn’t you?”

“Just focus on the mission, Mulder.”

“You may be an assassin, a thief, a liar, but you’re still human. You tried to help her save the world, save all of us.”

“Stop. Just stop.”

“Krycek, there’s nothing wrong with deali—Whoa, shit.”

“Stop, Mulder,” Krycek repeated, more urgently.

“No. I’ve got it,” Mulder breathed, eyes fixed on the slightly fluctuating glow in the viewfinder. “The meteor – I’ve got it. Your buddy might’ve been a little off, though – it’s a lot smaller than I imagined.”

“Mulder,” Krycek barked. “I said stop, damn it.”

Taken aback, Mulder looked up, blinking into the halogen beam. Krycek aimed the light toward his “partner’s” boots. A jagged lip of volcanic stone gaped two inches from Mulder’s toes. Mulder stared over the precipice into the inky darkness that seemed to last forever.

“Oh, yeah, stop,” Mulder nodded.

**

“You know,” Mulder began, “The day they had the Bureau rappelling finals at Quantico, I had just a scorching hangover. . .”

“Just focus, Mulder,” Krycek sighed ten feet below him. “There’s only about 25 feet to go. Remember, your right hand is the brake hand. . .”

“Oops.”

Krycek froze. “What did you say?”

“Oops. This thing. . .”

“What thing? Mulder?”

“The, uh, clippy thing, you know, that the rope goes through. . .”

“The carabiner. What about the carabiner? What the hell did you do, Mulder?”

“Nothing. Nothing really. The rope just seemed a little stuck, and I kind of adjusted – – ”

The rest was drowned out by the ominous sound of polyester Dacron slipping through leather and boots scuffing against rock. Shards and dirt showered into Krycek’s face as he glanced up. They were followed by Mulder. Krycek’s legs flailed as the agent’s bulk propelled them down the side of the crater.

 

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“Wuff,” Mulder grunted as they hit the stone floor. Krycek regained his grip in the last 10 feet, slowing their momentum, but the wind was still knocked out of him with the impact.

“Krycek,” the agent moaned after a few moments. Silence. “Jesus, Krycek.”

“Get,” Krycek finally whispered. “The. Fuck. Off of me.”

Mulder rolled off. Krycek cricked his neck and tested his limbs.

“And I always hoped it would be Scully on top,” the mercenary groaned.

Mulder climbed woozily to his feet. “You okay?”

“Nothing broken. Got a warm feeling in my shoulder, though…”

Mulder located the torch and then his pack. The Sigma was intact – the agent turned it on and pointed at the prone Krycek. He smiled. “Meteor at two o’clock.”

Krycek rolled to his feet, his aches and bruises forgotten. “Get the light on it.”

A halogen spot hit a softball-sized chunk of space junk, half-embedded in the stone. Krycek instinctively reached for the meteor, then yelped as his finger made contact. “You’re going to barbecue your good hand, Krycek — it’s still hot,” Mulder warned. “Allow me.” Propping the torch against a rock, he searched his pack, coming out with what looked like a night deposit bag. “Lead-lined,” he informed Krycek. “Didn’t know what kind of alien artifacts I might find in Normal.” Mulder slipped the bag over his hand and began to wiggle the exposed meteor. Finally, it worked free, and Mulder zipped it into the pouch. “Make up for falling on you?” he asked Krycek.

Krycek snatched the bag from Mulder’s fingers. “Not even close. Let’s get a few more pieces and get the fuck out of here. And this time, I’m on top.”

**

Gas-N-Go MiniMart

Mt. Vernon, WA

10:45 pm Pacific Time

Scully looked over at Eric and suppressed the urge to blow the living crap out of the gangly loser. Gaydar indeed. But the scrap of paper in her hand, affectionately signed ‘Love, M.’ had been the straw that broke the camel’s back and buried the poor beast under five hundred feet of hard-packed ice and snow. She closed her eyes as she crumbled the paper in her hand.

“Should we update AD Skinner?” Agent Mason asked fearfully. Scully could only assume that even this rather moronic new agent could smell the brimstone in the air.

“Yes,” she hissed. “And I want a copy of those tapes,” she growled back at Eric.

The poor guy looked like he was about to faint dead away — or get to the offending Mens’ room a little too late.

“Yessir, er, Ma’am, I mean,” he stuttered and hurried to find a blank disk in the battered Office Max special particle board desk. “Mulder used his credit card here,” Scully said, looking through the receipts of the days purchases in Eric’s cash drawer. She pulled out a receipt with her partner’s distinctive scrawl across the bottom.

“Maybe he’s leaving those as clues,” Mason suggested and got a dagger glare for his trouble.

“Agent Scully, a man matching Agent Mulder’s description was spotted about an hour ago at a sporting goods store at the docks in Oak Harbor — it’s just down the road from here,” Agent Grady said, pocketing his cell phone.

“Let’s get over there,” Scully said with a huff. “Any word on that helicopter?”

Grady shook his head. “No word yet. The Washington State Police said they’d call us as soon as possible.”

“As soon as possible,” Scully repeated through gritted teeth. “Why aren’t I surprised,” she muttered. “OK, well, keep on them.” As they ran out to the bucar, she kept running over what they’d learned. Mulder and Krycek were still together. They appeared to be headed to the coast — but for what? It had better not be a three-hour cruise, she cursed mentally.

It was a short ride to Oak Harbor. After reviewing the sporting goods stores surveillance tapes and determining that it was indeed Mulder who had purchased camping supplies and bottled water, the three agents canvassed the local businesses. It was a hit on the first door — a boat rental outfit that had just rented a small fishing boat to Mr. A. Arntzen, matching Krycek’s description to a tee. The old man who owned the rental fleet even commented that he wondered how the man was going to dock the boat with an artificial arm, but Mr. Arntzen had assured him that he had a friend traveling with him that could help when the time came.

“Did Mr. Arntzen say where they might be headed,” Scully asked, trying to keep a handle on her aggravation and worry.

“Oh, I know exactly where they’re headed. Know where they are right now, s’matter of fact,” the old man said with a straggle-tooth smile. “My son-in-law talked me into equipping all my boats with trackers. C’mon over t’here. I can show you rights where they be.”

Scully felt like she had just been handed a gift. The monitor was the most sophisticated object in the old rental store. It showed three blips out on the open water of the harbor.

“That. That right there. That be your men,” the old man said confidently, pointing a blip that was cruising far away from land.

“Where are they headed?” asked Mason. “They aren’t going to the open ocean, are they?”

Scully’s heart dropped but she kept her fears to herself. “No, no. There are plenty of little islands out that direction. Just little speed bumps, we call ’em. This is volcano country, son, even tho most of ’em are dead now — there are still a couple that pop up every time we have a good shake,” the old man assured. “They’re all too little to be any good to anybody, but sometimes you can get a good catch off’n ’em.”

“Somehow I don’t think this is a fishing expedition,” Scully mused aloud. “At least not the kind you’re talking about.” She turned to Mason, who was looking all too eager to please. “Contact the state police and see if they can get us a chopper. We might be able to catch up with them.”

“Don’t think so,” the old man replied before the young agent could answer. “Lookie over here.” An old computer monitor sat on a desk in the back of the room showing weather radar. “Storms coming in. I doubt you’ll get anybody to go out unless you can show that it’s an emergency. Then you’ll have to get the Coast Guard to do it.”

Scully pulled out her cell phone and lifted her eyes to the ceiling, seeking reinforcement. “Sir,” she said. “Do you have any contacts in the Coast Guard?”

Act IV

Unidentified island

2:45 am

The journey back up the crater wall was far more uneventful, though Mulder’s heart was pounding as Krycek hauled him over the lip. Then, as Mulder planted his boots on terra firma, Krycek dropped to his knees, grasping his shoulder. Mulder seized the halogen torch and directed the beam; Krycek’s face was white, covered in sweat.

“Jesus,” Mulder gasped. “What happened?”

“How do you feel?” Krycek croaked, struggling for his footing.

“How are you? Is it cardiac?”

“Mulder, answer me. You OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Tell me. You think it’s a heart attack?”

“It’s not like that,” Krycek snapped. “I feel…disoriented, and there’s a tingling, like an electrical current traveling through my arms and legs.” He pushed to his feet, wobbled, and landed flat on his ass.

Mulder peered back down into the crater. “It’s the meteor, Krycek – some kind of radiation or electromagnetic force.” He yanked the leaded bag from his pack. “I’m getting rid of this shit. We have to get out of here. Now.” Mulder hefted the parcel.

“No!” Krycek shouted even as the pain contorted his face. “You’re OK. It’s just ’cause I touched it. You’re OK; you’re safe. The rock’s secure. You’ve read the reports – you know what you have. It’s what we’ve fought for. What Marita died for. You did this for Scully, admit it. That’s the real reason you came to this godforsaken place, isn’t it?”

Mulder stared at Krycek, then at the bag and all the possibilities it represented. He looked to the star-littered sky, then stuffed the bag back into his pack. “OK,” he sighed. “Looks like I’m going to get that exercise Scully’s been ragging me to do. You ain’t heavy, bro, or at least I hope not.”

“That won’t be…Oh, fuck.” Krycek dropped back to the stone floor. It took Mulder nearly five minutes to wrestle Krycek into a fireman’s carry. He staggered away from the crater, his one-time sworn nemesis over his shoulders. “Mulder,” Krycek said gently as they retreated.

“Yeah.”

“You tell anybody about this, I will track you to the ends of this planet and feed you your own spleen.”

“Shucks. A Red Lobster gift card would be just fine.”

**

“What do you think this thing is, anyway?” Krycek groaned. He’d vomited a half-mile back, and the tingling in his shoulder was growing worse.

“I don’t know,” Mulder puffed, readjusting his parcel’s weight. “The electromagnetic spectrum is divided into electrical energy, radio waves, microwaves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. That’s what we know about. Theoretically, there are other forces to either end of the spectrum that we can’t see, that may not operate under our physical laws. Maybe this meteor’s imbued with one of those forces. Maybe that force causes a realignment of molecules, matter, restoring order to chaos. Cancer, AIDS, tissue damage – it’s all physical chaos, matter out of order. Perhaps, like Scott Bakula, this meteor was sent to put right what once was wrong.”

Krycek hacked and muttered something.

“What?” Mulder prompted.

“I said, sorry I fucking asked.”

As Mulder’s back screamed and his knees threatened to lock, he hauled Krycek over a rise and stared out over the tranquil inlet.

“We’re hooooome,” the agent announced. Then the earth and Mulder parted ways. As the island heaved, the agent toppled, feeling his ankle twist and something pop inside his leg. Krycek rolled a dozen feet. “Earthquake,” Mulder whispered as the pain overtook him and a second wave hit.

**

The chopper landed with a thump of the tires, but the shaking continued long after the blades had slowed to a gentle whirl. The second round of shaking threatened to knock Scully off her perch on the bench in the back.

“I better get this bird back up in the air before we’re in the drink,” shouted the pilot, who fired up the engine again.

“No! Wait! I’m getting out here.”

“Look, Agent, um, whatever — you can’t get out here! We’re in the middle of an earthquake!” the Coast Guard officer sitting next to Scully said, grabbing her sleeve as the chopper rose in the air.

“My partner is down there! We _have_ to find him,” Scully screamed over the roar the rotors. “Land this thing now!”

“The shakin’ will be over in a just a few minutes,” the officer said calmly. “Besides, there’s no telling what damage this quake is doing around here. It would be better to look for them from the air.”

“But it’s still dark, we’ll miss them,” Scully yelled in return.

“They’ll hear us. If they need rescue, surely they thought to bring some flares.”

Scully’s eyes flew wide and she dug through her pocket. As luck would have it, she’d requested a copy of the charge slip Mulder had signed at the sporting goods store.

She pulled out her flashlight and scanned the items. Her chin dropped to her chest as the dread hit her right in the stomach. “No. They didn’t think to buy flares,” she said loudly.

It was all too much. The frantic cross country search, the storm, the earthquake. It seemed every force of nature was conspiring against her to keep her away from her partner.

“Ma’am, you got a call on the radio,” the co-pilot said, interrupting her thoughts.

“Says it’s urgent.”

“A call?” She accepted the co-pilot’s headphones and put them on her ears. “This is Agent Scully, how can I help you?”

“It’s us helping you, Dana,” came the quick reply.

“Byers? Is that you?” she asked. “I couldn’t get you guys. I left a message hours ago.”

“Sorry. We were on the roof checking out 17P/Holmes. Langly thinks it’s actually a spaceship. You’re message said Mulder was missing?”

“Yeah, he is. I’m in Washington State. Look, remember the watch I gave Mulder a few weeks ago for his birthday?” she asked.

“The one with the global positioning chip in it?” Byers replied. “Sure. We have coordinates as of an hour ago and then everything got wiggy.”

“It’s the transmission here, I’m sure,” Scully answered. “We just had an earthquake.”

“Electromagnetic fields, no doubt. But here, Scully, at least this can get you closer.”

He rattled off the coordinates as she scribbled them on the back of the sporting goods store receipt.”

“Byers, I take back every thing I was thinking when I got your answering machine earlier.”

“We aim to please.”

“Tell the others I really appreciate this — and the suggestion for the watch. Where are they, anyway?”

“Still up on the roof. There were a couple of girls who live across the alley on their roof and last I saw Langly was trying to rig up a gangplank. I’m here in case we need to call 9-1-1.”

“Good thought. Well, tell them thanks and thank you for calling.”

“Just find him, Scully. Hope he’s in better shape than when we fished him out of the ocean or when we got him out of Egypt.”

“Me, too,” she said. “Over and out.” She handed the radio headset back to the co- pilot and the coordinates to the pilot. “He was at this location an hour ago.”

“Gives us a place to start,” the pilot said with a nod.

They were just up in the air and circling toward the coordinates when Scully saw shadows moving in the beam of the choppers lights. “Wait, turn around! Back there — that rise! Shine the light over there!” she shouted to the pilot. The light caressed the rocks for a moment before falling on two figures, crumpled on the ground. One of the figures raised his hand to shield his eyes from the bright light of the chopper before dropping his arm and falling forward face first on the rocks.

“Get the gurneys ready,” Scully said tersely the officer with her. “Looks like our next stop is the nearest trauma center.”

 

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Oak Harbor Medical Center

Nov. 14, 2007

8:15 am Pacific Time

Scully had paced the same patch of flooring so many times she almost expected to find a groove in the tiles. Her bottom lip was raw from where she’d been biting it.

Once more she glanced up at the double doors leading to the trauma area, fully expecting nothing but the steel gray barrier between herself and her partner. But this time, luck was with her.

 

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“Ms. Scully?” The man standing in the open doors looked like he’d been on his feet at least as long as Scully, but he smiled at her anyway. “I’m Greg Moser, the resident assigned to your partner’s case.” The freckled young man with the bright shock of red hair couldn’t have been a day over 24. Scully drew in a breath and reached out to accept his offered handshake.

“It’s Agent Scully, or Dr. Scully,” she amended. Might as well establish the alpha female position as soon as possible, she mused silently.

“Oh, uh, sorry. OK, well, you’re here with Mr. Krycek . . .”

“Actually, I’m with Mr. Mulder. Mr. Krycek is . . . well I don’t think there is any one here for him,” Scully corrected. She knew full well how bitchy she sounded, but after the hell she’d been put through in the last 24 hours, she wasn’t going to give that rat bastard a heartbeat of compassion.

“Oh, OK, I see. So, uh, Mr. Mulder,” Moser said, flipping to the other chart in his hand. “Yes, here we have it. Um, we x-rayed his ankle — good news on that. It’s sprained, not broken. It’s pretty badly sprained and I’m prescribing crutches for the next two weeks. I know that’s longer than usual, but I think he’s going to need them. And I have a script for painkillers. But for today, I’d like to keep him under observation.”

“Observation? For a sprained ankle?” she objected.

“To be perfectly honest, the poor guy is just exhausted. We thought he was unconscious when he was brought in, but he responds to painful stimuli. He’s just beat. I figured a day to sleep it off might help. We can admit him now, release him at 7 am tomorrow and still come in under the 24-hour rule. Shouldn’t be a problem with your insurance. Then you two can fly home tomorrow. How does that sound?”

Scully sighed. It made sense, even if she really didn’t want to spend another minute in the Pacific Northwest. “I guess that will be fine,” she said wearily. “May I see my partner?”

“They’re wheeling him up to his room. He’ll be there in about ten minutes. He’s in 213, just off the elevators. Why don’t you give them a minute to get him settled in – – maybe grab a cup of coffee or some breakfast? Cafeteria’s just down the hall there.”

She nodded dully. Coffee — it sounded like heaven. Breakfast? When was the last time food passed her lips? She’d been hoping for wine and cheese last night — Shaking her head she started down the hallway. Before she got more than a few steps, her overactive guilt complex got the better of her.

“Dr. Moser? How is Mr. Krycek?” she asked timidly.

Moser smiled. “He’ll be right as rain. We were afraid we were dealing with radiation poisoning, but that didn’t pan out. Just a little virus, from what I could tell in his blood work. He’ll be up and running in no time.”

“Great,” she said flatly and turned to find that mythical cup of coffee.

Epilogue

Dulles International Airport

Nov. 16, 2007

11:21 am ET

Mulder adjusted the crutches under his arms and tried to catch up with his partner. Scully was gracefully doing a slalom of construction barricades that eternally littered the concourse, but he was certain her haste had more to do with her desire to get as much distance between them as possible.

He’d screwed the pooch and she was making sure he knew it.

When Mulder had come to at the hospital in Oak Harbor, Scully had been at his bedside, like always. She’d kissed him, tears still drying on her cheeks. She told him how much she loved him. And then, as only a true natural red head possibly could, she let him have it with both barrels. Somewhere in her nearly hour-long tirade, she managed to slip in that her recent medical test showed she was still very much in remission. After that, he sort of zoned out on her and didn’t listen that closely. It didn’t slow her down and only seemed to make her all the more zealous in her attack on his stupidity, as she called it. When the dust settled, she stopped talking to him all together, except when in the presence of his doctor or when telling him what flight number they were on and the gate they were using. It had been a long flight home.

His ankle was killing him. He was still peeved that Krycek had mysteriously disappeared from the hospital, but he’d expected that. At least Mulder was still in possession of the rock, tucked safely in the lead lined evidence bag in his backpack. He dutifully followed her out of the airport and into the short-term lot. She shot him a glare that froze his heart when she was charged the hourly rate for what had amounted to four days of parking. He mentally noted that he would have to start doing all the laundry unless he wanted to find she’d starched his boxers and shrank his socks.

As they headed in to the city, she took an exit he wasn’t expecting. “Aren’t we going home?” he ventured meekly.

“We’re putting this whole nasty business to rest — once and for all,” she informed him with a growl. After that he kept his own counsel until he saw they were entering the Hoover’s parking garage.

He quickly hobbled after her as she skirted agents and elevators and made her way to the Bureau labs. In minutes, she’d secured the pouch in an air-tight containment box and using the special gloves, she opened it. Slowly, she poured the contents into a waiting clear glass dish. Instead of the rock Mulder knew he’d place in the pouch, only copious amounts of sludge plopped out onto the dish. After watching Scully make more slides than he thought imaginable, he crawled over to a lab stool and waited. The thud of a shelf of papers hitting the counter woke him from a doze.

“Volcanic ash and sea salt,” she said grimly.

“What?” he asked, wiping sleep from his eyes. Damn those painkillers, he was tired all the time when he took them. “What are you saying, Scully?”

“I’m saying that your ‘Mars Rock’ is nothing more than very earthly volcanic ash and sea salt. Would make wonderful exfoliate for your feet, but it definitely isn’t going to cure anyone of cancer,” she said evenly.

He flipped through the pages, but couldn’t make heads nor tails of what he was seeing. “Scully — volcanic ash and sea salt wouldn’t make someone sick. You saw Krycek — you said his doctor thought he had been exposed to some kind of radiation.”

“But that isn’t what they found, Mulder. It was a virus. Now if you want to speculate on the origin of that virus — ”

“Scully, the rock he landed on was at the bottom of a crater,” Mulder objected. He picked up his crutches and painfully made his way over to the glass cube holding his find. “This isn’t the same stuff I put in there, Scully. He switched it. Somehow he must have switched pouches with me.”

Scully sighed and put her hand on his shoulder, turning him toward her. “Mulder, stop it. You were duped. Let it go.”

“Scully, he took it — ”

“Mulder, we don’t need it,” she said plainly. “I’m fine and it’s been ten years. Whatever cured me, whether it was the chip or a miracle or maybe even just your belief in me — it’s working. Stop looking for a cure, Mulder. I have my cure, right here.” She pulled him to her and kissed him tenderly on the lips. “C’mon. Let’s get you home so you can rest that ankle.”

“Will you lie down with me in our nice warm bed?” he whispered in her ear. For the first time in days she smiled at him. “Sure, Mulder. You know I always like the view from the top.”

Cascades Motor Lodge

30 miles outside Cheney, WA

The shower cut off and in just a few minutes, the door opened allowing steam to puff into the small bedroom. Alex Krycek emerged, toweling his hair roughly — with his newly growing left arm. Flexing the fingers of his left hand for the first time in eleven years he smiled. “Thanks, Mulder. I owe you one.”

the end.

 

1

Impact by Vickie Moseley & Martin Ross

Matty’s Big Adventure

Title: Matty’s Big Adventure

Author: Vickie Moseley

Summary: Trick or treating will never be the same for Matthew Scully. Written for Virtual Season 15 Halloween Special.

Category: X, VS15

Rating: general audience

Two weeks exclusive with VS15.

Disclaimer: no copyright infringement intended.

Author’s Notes: Big Thanks to Lisa for quick beta!

Matty’s Big Adventure

Maggie Scully’s residence

Baltimore, MD

October 20, 2007

“The water was up to my armpits, it was smelly and icky and slimey. I kept trying to get hold, but I couldn’t. Finally, when I was able to get the lever pulled, the gate came crashing down and sliced the flukeman in half!”

Matt Scully’s eyes were as big as saucers as he sat in rapt attention, listening to his favorite ‘uncle’ regale him with past exploits.

“Did you drown, Uncle Fox?” the ten-year old asked anxiously.

“Well, if I’d drowned, I wouldn’t be here right now, would I, sport,” Mulder replied, ruffling the boy’s reddish brown hair.

“Wow, you’ve seen everything, Uncle Fox,” Matt whispered in awe.

“May I remind Uncle ‘Fox’ that he was not alone in all his endeavors,” Scully intoned from the dining room. “. . . and there is a large bag of trash with his name on it waiting for him in the kitchen,” she added, arms crossed and a bemused expression dancing in her eyes.

“Duty calls, sport,” Mulder sighed and pulled himself off the sofa to go do his ‘manly’ duties. As he passed his partner she lightly jabbed at his arm.

“Uncle Fox now, is it?” she asked quietly, so the young man in the living room couldn’t overhear.

“He told me the kids at school thought it was weird to call your uncle by his last name. I told him it was OK to call me Fox.”

“Everybody on the planet,” she muttered, eyes toward the ceiling. “Except me.”

“Hey, you can call me Fox,” he crooned low in her ear. At her challenging look he smiled and leaned into nuzzle her neck. “In the bedroom, up against the wall in the hallway, when we’re using the dining room table for purposes other than holding plates and silverware …”

“Garbage. Under the sink. Now!” she commanded, pushing him away and holding back her smile. She smacked him on the flank has he sauntered into the kitchen.

“So, I don’t know what to do,” Tara was saying to Maggie as he approached the sink and was pulling out the trash basket secreted beneath it.

“She’s frightened by anyone in a mask?” Maggie asked. “Oh, Fox, could you take the recycle bin out, too?”

“Sure, Mom. It’s in the pantry?”

“Yes, thank you.” She turned back to her daughter-in-law. “Well, if she gets that frightened, you can’t take her out with you on Halloween.”

“I know, but that means no trick or treating for Matty,” Tara replied.

“Oh dear. He’s had his costume picked out since Memorial Day,” Maggie said mournfully. “He’s not going to be happy about this.”

Mulder stopped trying to juggle both the bag of trash and the blue plastic recycle bin. “Why can’t Matty go trick or treating?”

“Claire has developed a deep fear of all things Halloween. We were in the pharmacy the other day and she was running over to the toys section, like she always does. They had a display of this life-sized animatronic zombie — he removes his own head. Well, it makes a growling noise and she looked up, saw the head go up — I’m afraid we sent some of the pharmacy customers into cardiac arrest with her blood-curdling screams. I had to take her out of the store and couldn’t even go back inside to buy the gallon of milk I had gone there to get.”

“Oh boy. That’s rough. Poor little pumpkin,” Mulder sighed. “But hey, why can’t Dana and I take Matty trick or treating?”

“Um, Mulder,” his partner said from the doorway. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” At his very blank expression she tilted her head. “I’m on the opening panel at the forensics seminar in Boston October 30 through November 1 — and you promised to stay out of trouble this year.”

He rolled his eyes upward. “Scully, how much trouble could I get into with a 10 year old boy trick or treating?”

All three women turned and stared at him with equally disbelieving expressions.

“Ah, c’mon now! I’m not that bad!” he exclaimed.

“Fox, what about the Halloween you were bitten by a black widow spider in your own home?” Maggie asked.

“Or the Halloween you guys were headed back home after a case and ran into a kidnapping — that was an overnight stay at the hospital as I remember,” Tara added.

“I was treated and released,” he objected.

“And then there was last year at the old sanitarium in Louisville,” Maggie said, shaking her finger at both her daughter and her partner.

“Hey, that was Dana in the hospital, I was — ”

“Treated and released,” both Maggie and Tara said mockingly in unison.

“Tara, you don’t trust me with your son?” he implored. His hurt expression spoke volumes.

The young woman sighed. “Mulder, I trust you with my son’s very life. It’s you I’m worried about.”

“It’s pretty hard to get into too much trouble in this neighborhood, Tara,” Maggie finally admitted. “If they stay in this subdivision, maybe they can go to the mall afterward. Quite a few of the restaurants have free kids meals for children who come in dressed in costume. It can be a ‘boys night out’.”

“It’s supposed to be cold that night, too,” Mulder added. “You don’t expect Mom to walk all over town in the cold.”

“Dana, what do you think?” Tara asked, chewing on her bottom lip.

“Yeah, ‘Mom’, can I go trick or treating with Matty,” Mulder asked, arms folded, thoroughly disgusted that no one seemed to be treating him as an adult.

Scully huffed a breath. “Oh, all right. I guess I can trust you to go around the neighborhood and gather candy. But Mulder, you will bring your cell phone and if you see anything suspicious — ”

“Call the police!” Maggie, Tara and Scully said in unison.

Mulder hefted the garbage bag and recycle bin again. “I get absolutely no respect in this family,” he grumbled as he made his way out the door.

Halloween Night

5:45 pm

Matty was bouncing on the balls of his feet, watching out the window of his grandmother’s living room. He let out a whoop when he saw the red SUV pull into the driveway. “Uncle Fox is here, Grandma, Uncle Fox is here!”

“I see that, Matthew. Now come here so I can try your cape on you.” The boy ran over to her chair and stood at attention as she fastened a flowing black cape about his shoulders. “There, much better now that I shortened it. It won’t drag on the ground or trip you when you’re walking. Do you have your flashlight?”

“Right here,” announced the short ‘Count Dracula’ as he dug through his black silk treats bag and brought forth a small flashlight. “Mom says it’s just like the ones Auntie Dana and Uncle Fox use,” he said proudly.

“Use or lose?” Mulder quipped as he came in the front door. “Hey, I thought I was picking up Matty Scully here. All I see is a vampire.”

“It’s me, Uncle Fox!” Matty exclaimed excitedly, and somewhat mumbled. “I just have on fake teeth and blood on my chin.”

“The transformation is remarkable,” Mulder noted, smiling with approval.

“Costume adjustments are complete,” Maggie said with a wink. “I think you’re ready to go.”

“So I’m to take him back home to Tara, right? That was the plan last time I talked to her, but it keeps changing.”

“Oh, yes, well, actually, come back here after you finish the neighborhood. We’re to take him ‘out of costume’ and then if you don’t mind, you can drop him off on your way home. I had to keep his cape over here this week because any time little Claire sees it she becomes hysterical,” Maggie told him.

“She’ll get over it. By next year she’ll be out there with Matty and the rest of the kids,” Mulder assured her, but he still wondered. Maybe the events of the balloonfest had affected the little four-year old more than anyone had considered.

Willows of the Lake Subdivision

Halloween night

7:30 pm

“Hey, Mattster, what say we call it a night, huh, sport?” Mulder pleaded as he studied his watch.

“Uncle Fox — there’s a whole ‘nother block left,” Matthew whined back.

“Yeah, but it’s gettin’ pretty cold out here. I can see my breath.” Not to mention, not feel my toes, Mulder thought ruefully. “I promised your Aunt Dana I’d be home when she called at 9.”

“You got your cell phone,” Matty replied, rushing off to another house with the porch light on. Mulder stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and stamped his feet. His ears were tingling from the cold. Frost bite. That would piss Scully off to no end and likewise, he would never hear the end of it, either. He sighed deeply as Matty returned from yet another candy bonanza.

“Butterfingers — the big ones!” the boy crowed. “Grandma’s neighborhood is the bestest!”

“Yup, I think you’re right there. But Matt, your bag’s startin’ to bulge at the seams.”

“I gotta get enough for me and Claire,” the boy replied reasonably. “Jest ‘coz she’s scared of the masks don’t mean she wants to miss out on the candy. I promised her half of everything I get — except the Snickers, of course. I’m keepin’ those.”

“Oh, of course,” Mulder answered, trying hard to hide his amusement.

“But she gets all the gummy bears. ‘Specially the girly ones.”

“Absolutely,” Mulder agreed. “The girly ones taste funny, anyway.” The sarcastic tone to his voice was completely lost on the ambitious 10-year old.

Finally, they came to the end of the block. Mulder heaved a relieved sigh. “Well, that’s that. Let’s head back to Grandma’s house — ”

“Wait, Uncle Fox! There’s another house,” Matty objected.

All Mulder could make out was the dense growth of trees that marked the end of the subdivision. “Matt, that’s just part of the forest preserve,” Mulder pointed out.

“No, see the driveway?” Matt said, motioning toward a gravel path. “And look — you can see the lights through the trees. It even has a mailbox!” Sure enough, a mailbox stood quiet sentry next to the path.

“Matt, that house has to be a quarter of a mile down that road. I really doubt they’re expecting any trick or treaters,” Mulder reasoned.

“That’s always where you get the most stuff, Uncle Fox,” Matty countered. “See, the people who live in those kinda houses buy all this stuff and then no kids come. So if any kid does show up, they give ’em tons of candy! It’s like those guys in California — the gold diggers!”

“Prospectors,” Mulder corrected, stifling a chuckle.

The path was pockmarked and it made walking treacherous, but Matty insisted on holding the flashlight. A couple of times Mulder worried that a twisted ankle might be added to the impending doom of frost bite, but he managed to stay on his feet.

It was quiet in amongst the trees. The leaves rustled and blew in the wind, creating little dust devils that pranced before them. Halfway to the house, Matt’s bag grew too heavy and Mulder ended up carrying it the rest of the way.

“You stand here, Uncle Fox,” Matty informed the agent and even went so far as to physically position him at the end of a long broken sidewalk.

“You sure you want me so far back?” Mulder asked with concern.

From a pocket of his jeans, Matty withdrew another smaller plastic trick or treat bag. “Yeah, I’m sure,” he said with a smile. “The idea is that I don’t want ’em to see my treat bag is full,” he explained, with infallible 10-year old logic.

“Oh, got it,” Mulder agreed with a bemused grin. “Go on, it’s cold and this is the last house — no negotiation. Right?”

“Oh, OK,” the boy agreed reluctantly.

“Go on,” Mulder encouraged, waving toward the front porch of the old house.

Mulder regarded the house closely. It had been a beauty in its day, but that day was long past. The two-story house had all the intricate gingerbread molding of truly fine craftsmanship, but now the clapboard was worn and detaching in places. The roof of the porch sagged precariously and the Victorian style porch light was missing one of its panes of glass, showing the naked bulb inside. The agent couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it was a ‘real nice fixer upper’ that had come on hard times due to the current housing market and tight credit.

Still, the doorbell worked. Mulder could hear it plainly all the way at the end of the sidewalk. After a few seconds of waiting, the door opened. Mulder could only see shadows, but he could plainly see Matthew holding out his empty treat bag and nodding with anticipation.

Suddenly, the unthinkable happened. Mulder watched in horror as Matty stepped into the house and the door slammed shut behind him.

Bad, this is bad, the agent’s instincts screamed at him as he ran up the sidewalk. The concrete was more precarious than the road leading up to the house and Mulder tripped on a large cement ‘iceberg’, dropping to his knees hard. He groaned and grabbed his ankle, looking back at the house.

“Matty! Matt, come out, sport — we have to get going!” Mulder yelled, hoping his voice didn’t sound as desperate as he was feeling. He didn’t want to scare the boy if there was no danger, but he wanted whoever was in the house to know for certain that an adult was nearby and in control.

“Matt, c’mon!” Mulder shouted again. He scrambled to his feet, ankle protesting all the way and pounded up the steps to the porch. Reaching the door, he latched onto the doorknob and turned it hard. Nothing happened, the door was locked. He hammered on the doorbell and threw his shoulder against the door. Solid oak, nicely aged, resisted his efforts and bruised his upper arm.

He pounded on the door, now frantically. He could hear nothing inside the old house, no footsteps, no talking. “Matty, if you can hear me, yell!” he directed through the slim crack where the door met the molding. “Matty, it’s OK, sport. I’ll get you out of there.”

Mulder moved quickly over to the big picture window next to the door. With little thought, he brought his elbow up and jammed it into the pane of glass. The window shattered, sending a cascade of dirty shards down his pants leg. Mulder hit a few more panes until he had enough room to squeeze through. His leg caught on the saber-like shards embedded in the glazing, but he took no notice.

Inside the house was absolutely still. He shined his light around the room to find only dustcovers on the furniture and a thick coating of cobwebs in the archways. Running over to the door, he flashed the light to his feet. There were no footprints by the door except those he made as he turned around.

Matty and whoever had answered the door had vanished.

The lady at the door was pretty — as pretty as his own mom. She smiled at Matthew. “Oh, my, at last. Come in, come in,” she beaconed. “I had put the candy bowl away, I was afraid I wasn’t getting any trick or treaters this year.”

“It’s our last house,” Matty explained with a shrug.

“Well, I hope it’s the best one,” the lady smiled brighter.

While she was away getting the candy, Matty looked around. The house was really nice. It was old filled with lots of neat stuff. Antiques, his grandma would call them. He didn’t see a television or any toys, so he guessed the lady didn’t have kids.

She was gone quite a while and Matty’s curiosity got the better of him. He walked over to a long table and looked at all the stuff there. He realized he was wrong; she did have toys — just not ones that I had ever been allowed to play with. There were old style trucks, one that said ‘milk’ on the side and had doors that opened in the back. He could see little wooden bottles packed in tiny boxes inside the truck. There was a fire truck, but it wasn’t the neon green of the Fairfield Fire Department. This one was red and had horses in front!

“You can pick that up, if you like,” the lady said from behind him. It startled Matty and he twisted around, almost dropping his bag. “It’s OK. I don’t mind if you look at them.”

“This is really cool,” Matty said appraising the collection. “What’s this one?” he asked, picking up a car unlike any he’d ever seen.

“That’s a Studs Bearcat,” the woman said proudly. “That was his favorite,” she added with a big smile.

“You have a kid?” Matty asked.

“Oh, yes. I have a son. But he’s not with me now,” she said wistfully. “I hope he gets to come home soon.”

“Oh, divorced,” Matty reasoned.

The woman laughed. “Oh, no, nothing like that. He just got older and moved away.”

“He’s a grown up!” Matty exclaimed, proud he had figured it out.

“Yes, something like that,” the woman said sadly. She looked toward the staircase that led to the upper floor. “Would you like to see his room? I’ve kept it just as it was when he was your age.”

“Sure,” Matty agreed willingly. All thought of his uncle outside had completely disappeared from his mind.

Mulder opened the door easily from the inside and stepped out onto the porch. It hit him. Time to call for back up. He grabbed his cell and punched 9-1-1.

No service.

He cursed loudly and dropped the useless piece of technology back in his pocket. His mind told him to go back to the subdivision, find a house and call for help. But his heart wouldn’t let him leave. He knew Matt was somewhere in that house.

He stood on the porch for several heartbeats, glaring at the broken sidewalk and the path beyond. Go get help — it’s what Scully would tell him to do.

No, that wasn’t entirely true. There had been plenty of times when they’d been in danger that Scully was the one to forego leaving for trying to save his sorry ass.

His decision made, he turned back around and entered the house. Matthew was there, somewhere. He just had to find him.

The bottom floor held nothing of interest. There was a sofa and a few tables in the parlor, a dining room that held a long table but no chairs and a kitchen that seriously needed updating.

He found a small bathroom off the kitchen but the sink was hanging off the wall and the medicine cabinet was missing, leaving an unsightly hole and exposed studs.

Everywhere he went he found no footprints, no sign that anyone had been in the house for years. His worry gnawed at him as he finally climbed the stairs to the second story.

“Wow!” Matty exclaimed as the lady opened the door to the room at the far end of the long upstairs hallway. “Is that a real train set?”

“Um hum,” the woman smiled and nodded. “Lionel’s finest,” she said proudly.

“Does it work?” Matty asked, still in awe.

The train set ran the length of one wall and stood on a platform that was as wide as a twin bed. It contained several sets of tracks and all around the tracks were small villages and pastoral scenes. There was even a river with a bridge.

“Sure it works,” she said calmly. She walked over to the platform and flipped a switch under the table. Two of the trains sprang to life, chugging along the tracks. They were headed in the opposite directions so that they passed one another twice as the looped around the platform universe.

“This is great! Man, I wish I had one like this,” Matty said with glee. “Hey, is that a draw bridge?”

“Why, yes it is,” the woman answered. “Would you like to work it?”

Matty licked his lips. “Yeah, sure,” he said timidly. She took his hand and led him to the far end of the platform where there was a series of toggles.

“You push this up when you want the bridge to go up and then when the train approaches, you push it back down,” she instructed. She gave it a quick test and he nodded that he understood.

“This is way cool. Wait till I tell Uncle Fox about this!” Matty said happily. Suddenly, his young face took on a panic stricken look. “Oh gosh! Uncle Fox! I left him outside!”

“It’s OK, I’m sure he’s still waiting for you, dear,” the woman said soothingly. “It’s cold out there. How about we go down to the kitchen and fix your uncle a nice cup of cocoa?”

“I don’ know,” Matty said fearfully, biting his lip.

“It’s awful cold,” she prodded. “It would warm you both up on your walk back to the main road.”

“But he’s been waiting so long already,” Matty said worriedly.

“Then he’ll definitely need something to warm him up, right?” countered the woman.

Matty couldn’t argue with that logic. “OK, I guess. But we need to hurry,” he admonished.

“I’ll do my best.”

“Cocoa only takes a minute forty in the microwave,” Matty said casually as they walked back down the steps.

“Well, it takes a little longer on the stove, but I’m sure we’ll have it in a jiffy,” she answered kindly.

The stairs creaked noisily, shattering his already jagged nerves. Mulder stopped in mid step and steadied himself with a hand against the railing. When he lifted it, his fingers came away coated with years of neglect. The wall to his right was marred at precise intervals with bright colored squares of the original wall paper, places once covered with framed pictures of loved ones, he had no doubt.

The top step sagged under his foot and he held his breath, hoping it would hold his weight. It did and he was able to ascend to the hallway. There were three doors on one side of the hall, four on the other, but one was narrow and appeared to be nothing more than a closet or a pantry. He tried each door in turn, shining his flashlight into the rooms.

There wasn’t a stick of furniture in the upstairs until he reached the last door in the hall. Opening this door, he found a platform — too long for a bed and too wide to be a suitable dining table. It was crudely made of bare two by fours and he wondered at its purpose. He was about to leave the room and go back down stairs when a hand landed on his shoulder, causing him to drop his flashlight.

“May I ask what you’re doing here?” came a voice from the darkness. The hand remained on his shoulder, but Mulder reached down and it released him so he could pick up his light. When he stood up again, and directed the light toward the other person, he found himself staring at a man at least twice his age.

“Again, may I ask what you’re doing here?” the man inquired.

“I’m looking for my nephew,” Mulder said tersely. “He was trick or treating and someone in this house has hidden him here.”

The man looked Mulder up and down and sighed. “It’s all right. She’ll let him go in a bit.” The old man turned and left the room with Mulder standing dumbstruck behind him.

Mulder quickly gain his senses. “Wait a minute! You know who has Matthew?”

The man kept walking down the hall to the steps. “Ay-yup,” he answered.

“Who? Where is he? It’s a federal offense to kidnap — ”

“Hey, nobody said anything about kidnapping,” the old man intoned with a shake of his head. “She wouldn’t hurt a soul. She’s jest showin’ him around.”

“Showing him — ” Mulder sputtered. “Look, I think you better explain yourself. I’m a Special Agent with the FBI and I demand to know — ”

They had reached the bottom of the stairs and the old man look at Mulder with abject pity. “Won’t do ya no good, being from the FBI. She’ll let him go in a bit. You jest gotta calm down and wait fer her to be done.”

“If she harms a hair on that boy’s head — you are an accomplice and you’ll go down!” Mulder shouted. “I will see you all the way to the prison gates!”

“Calm down, calm down,” the old man chastised him. “She wouldn’t hurt him! I know her.”

“Who is she?” Mulder bit out through tightly gritted teeth.

“She’s my mother,” the old man sighed.

In the kitchen, Matty was staring wide-eyed at the woman by the stove. “Gee, you make cocoa just like my grandma,” he told the woman.

She smiled down at him and reached out to ruffle his hair, then dropped her hand before touching him with a bittersweet expression on her face. “My son loves his cocoa,” she said and turned quickly, hiding her face. She cleared her throat before speaking again. “Would you mind getting the cups? They’re in the cupboard over there, next to the ice box.”

“What’s the ice box?” Matty asked, confused.

“Oh, sorry, it’s there, the big machine over there — ” She was pointing to a very old style refrigerator.

“Wow, does this thing still work?” Matty asked. “Where’s the water and ice part?”

She shook her head with amusement. “The water is here in the sink and the ice is in the top of the ice box,” she explained patiently.

“Huh,” Matty grunted. But after a moment, he found the cupboard and the cups. “Three?” he asked.

“Oh, no, thank you. Just two. One for you and one for your uncle.”

Matty brought the cups over to the counter next to the stove.

“So, is your father in the war?” the woman asked, stirring the pan of warming milk and chocolate powder and sugar.

“No, my dad died,” Matty said quietly.

“Your mom — ” The woman coughed and started again. “Is your mom still living?” she asked, though her voice was strained.

“Oh, yeah, sure. My little sister is scared of Halloween. So my Uncle Fox is taking me around.”

“That’s very nice of your uncle, to take you trick or treating. Would you like marshmallows in your cocoa?” she asked. When Matty wasn’t looking she quickly wiped at the corner of her eye.

“I would. Uncle Fox likes ’em but sometimes Aunt Dana won’t let him have ’em. She makes sure he doesn’t eat too much fat and sugar.”

The woman laughed. “Well that is a woman’s job, to take care of her family.” Carefully, she poured the hot liquid from the pan into the mugs and then reached into a canister at the back of the counter and pulled out four fat, fluffy marshmallows, dropping two in each cup. “There you go,” she said. “Can you carry them without spilling?”

“Sure, I’m good at that,” Matty assured her. “Thanks, uh, — hey, what’s your name anyway?”

“Helen,” she said. “My name is Helen.”

“Oh, mine’s Matt,” he replied with a nod. “Well, I better get going. Uncle Fox is probably wondering where I am.”

“Matt, before you leave, I forgot to give you your treat! Here, let me get it from the pantry.” She stepped over to a small room off the kitchen and returned with a little paper bag just like the ones Matty had for his lunch bag. “I’ll just slip it in your pocket so you don’t have so much to carry.”

“Thanks, Helen,” he smiled up at her.

“Can you find your way out? I have to clean up the pan,” she explained, nodding toward the sink.

“Sure.” Matt cautiously moved to the door of the kitchen, mindful of the precious cocoa in his hands. He stopped at the door. “Hey, um, Helen? Happy Halloween!”

She smiled at him, and this time he saw the tear tracks in her eyes. “Happy Halloween, Matt. And if you see my son, please tell him I love him.”

“Yeah, sure,” Matty said, a little confused. “No problem.” He turned then and walked to the door of the house. He was just trying to figure out how to hold both cups and open the door when the door opened on its own. On the front porch were his uncle and a really old man.

“Hi, Uncle Fox! Look what the nice lady made for us!” Matty exclaimed, nodding down at the cups.

“Matthew!” Mulder gasped, almost causing the boy to spill the cocoa. He took the cups, put them on the ground and then hugged the boy for all he was worth. “Matty, you scared me. Please, don’t ever do that again! I was so afraid — if anything were to ever happen to you — ”

“It’s OK, Uncle Fox. Helen wouldn’t hurt me. She’s nice. You’ll like her. C’mon, you can meet her.” The boy turned back to the doorway to enter the house but stopped, stunned. Where there had once been a warm and welcoming home there was now nothing but darkness and cobwebs. “Hey, wait a minute!” he demanded. “Where did the insides of the house go?”

“I think you have something you wanted to explain,” Mulder sneered at the old man.

9:00 pm

“So Helen was a ghost?” Matty asked as they walked back toward Maggie’s house.

Mulder pulled on his lip. “I guess you could call her that, yes,” he admitted.

“But she wasn’t scary and she let me play with the trains and she made us cocoa with marshmallows,” Matty pointed out, shaking his head.

There was nothing Mulder could say to that. They walked for several moments in silence.

“It this what you and Aunt Dana do all the time, Uncle Fox?” the boy piped up as they approached the block where Maggie’s house stood warm and inviting, the porch light still gleaming in the darkness.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Mulder replied. “Does it scare you?”

Matty thought about that for a minute. “Nope, not really.” Then he looked up at Mulder and smiled. “She was really nice, Uncle Fox. And the house was really cool. I think she was just lonely for her little boy.”

“Well, she died when he was pretty young. Mr. Andrews said she died suddenly when he was ten years old. So I guess maybe you reminded her a little of her own little boy.”

“She wanted me to tell him that she loves him. I forgot to do that,” Matty said and started back toward the woods.

Mulder caught his cape and tugged him back beside him. “I’m pretty sure he knows that, sport.”

Matty nodded. “Like I know my dad still loves me,” he said wisely.

“So, what are we going to tell your mom and grandma?” Mulder asked.

“Just that we found some neat houses and lost track of time,” Matty said with a firm nod. “I don’t think they could handle the real story.”

“Me neither, sport. It’ll be our little secret.”

the end

Haunted

Title: Haunted

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Summary: Mulder is trapped in a ‘haunted house’ on Halloween.
Written for the VS.

Category: X-file, Mulder in peril, Scully in peril

Rating: PG-13

Two weeks exclusive with VS15.

Disclaimer: no copyright infringement intended.

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BASEMENT OFFICE

WASHINGTON, DC

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

1400

“Mulder, why are we here?” Scully asked with a sigh, staring up at the pencils embedded in the ceiling as she leaned back in her chair.

“Because there have been reports of unexplained phenomena in this particular house, in the suburban neighborhood just outside—”

“I’ve listened to that explanation for the past hour and a half,” Scully said, sitting up straight now and looking him in the eye. “And I fail to see how we have any real evidence of an X-file here. What we have is a children’s newspaper article—something you picked up entirely by chance, that is most likely made up to scare their friends at school.”

“The Hillside Elementary School’s newspaper won awards for its credibility,” Mulder said. “They reported on Presidential elections, the stock market, current affairs…not to mention a highly developed video game review section and comic page.”

“They’re eight years old.”

“Some of them are ten,” Mulder said. He put the child’s article down on his desk, and stood up. “Scully, the evidence presented in their article may sound juvenile but it all checks out. It doesn’t matter if their writing style is childish—they’re children! It doesn’t mean they aren’t credible. I’ve checked out every sighting they mentioned in the article, and they were all established with the local police.”

“A local police office in Hillside, Virginia, that has less to do than Andy Griffith.”

“Come on, Scully, it’s worth checking out.”

“It’s Halloween.”

“And you’re already here, so why not go trick-or-treating with me?”

She gave him a ‘look’.

“Like you said, it’s Halloween! Let’s have a little fun with it!”

She stood up, and sighed. “Mulder, I swear, if I didn’t love you I’d have killed you by now.”

“I knew you’d see my side of it,” Mulder said cheerfully, apparently ignoring her implied threat. He stood up and grabbed his coat, and started out the door.

Scully reluctantly followed, and said, “If this turns out like the last haunted house, Mulder, it won’t matter if I love you. I will shoot you.”

Mulder looked behind him, and smirked. “I thought you didn’t want it to turn out like last time.”

She rolled her eyes, and barged in front of him. He grinned, and followed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

HILLSIDE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

HILLSIDE, VA

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

1430

Walking through the halls, the agents were bombarded by a stream of giggling eight-year-olds in the third grade section of the school. One little boy tripped and Mulder feared he would be stampeded by his classmates, so he helped the third-grader to his feet. The thanks he got was a screeching cry, “Stranger! Stranger! Help! He’s got me, help!”

Mulder let the little boy go, and a teacher ran out into the hallway. The kids made way for the adult, who looked like she was about to punch Mulder.

The agents quickly drew their badges. “We’re here with the FBI,” Scully said before the woman could ask. “And we’re investigating suspicious activity near 435 Westbury Street.”

“A little girl named Ashley Burns wrote a detailed article on the subject, and we were wondering if we could speak to her about her sources.”

The teacher looked taken aback. “Um…of course. She’s in my class. I hope you understand that the ‘suspicious activity’ is nothing more than teenagers playing pranks around that area.”

“Yes, we’ve considered that option,” Scully said, aiming a pointed glance at Mulder.

Mulder quickly covered his tracks. “But in the event that it wasn’t teenagers, and illegal activity has been occurring in the location, we need to investigate,” he said.

The woman nodded comprehensively and led them into her classroom. A bell rang, and the little children ran toward their classrooms to take their seats. “I’m Pam Wells, by the way,” the teacher said.

“Agent Mulder, and this is Agent Scully,” Mulder said.

”Pleased to meet you,” Pam told them, and approached a little girl sitting at a desk. “Ashley, these people are here from the FBI. They’re interested in your newspaper article.”

The little girl’s eyes grew wide. “Did I break any rules?” she asked.

“No, Ashley, we just had a few questions,” Mulder said kindly. “Want to step out into the hallway?”

Ashley nodded cautiously, and Scully offered her hand to the fearful girl. When Ashley took it, they moved into the hallway and could hear the classroom explode with chatter as soon as they were gone. The door shut behind them, and Ashley looked up inquisitively.

“We understand you checked out the Westbury house, for your newspaper article,” Scully said. “We were just wondering how you made sure all the things you put in the article were true. Could you tell us that?”

“I talked to the police,” Ashley said, “And I brought them a big list of things that people had seen. I wanted to make sure everything I wrote had a police record, ‘cause people report things like that. And they had records of everything. So I put it all in my article.”

“Could you tell us if you’ve ever seen any of the things you’d written about?”

“I saw the lights going on and off, and I knew the house was contempted, so no one lived there.”

“Condemned,” Mulder corrected with a small smile. “Do you live near the haunted house?”

“I live about two blocks away. I ride my bike down there all the time.”

Mulder nodded, his facial expression still passive and non-threatening. “So I’ll bet your friends and you sometimes want to go inside, huh?”

“Sometimes we dare each other, but no one’s actually done it. The sign on the front says you can get in a lot of trouble if you cross the fence. But a lot of teenagers have come really close. Most of them were arrested.”

“They were arrested right away? Before they got into the house?” Scully asked.

Ashley nodded. “The police sit right around the corner, and sometimes right out front. If anyone goes near it, they arrest them. That’s why not many kids make it past the back yard fence. And no one goes in the front. That’s just dumb.”

Scully looked perplexed, but Mulder spoke before she could voice any concerns about the story. “So you’ve probably heard a bunch of stories about that haunted house, huh?”

Ashley nodded.

“Would you share some of them?”

She looked uncomfortable for a moment, before saying, “It’s just supposed to be a Hillside thing. That’s what the grown-ups told us when they told us all the stories. That’s how the story starts. ‘You can’t tell anyone outside Hillside.’”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other. “We’ve got special permission to hear things like that, Ashley,” Scully said. “FBI agents are like police officers—you can tell them things you wouldn’t tell other people.”

“So I won’t get in trouble?” Ashley asked.

“You won’t get in trouble, I promise,” Mulder said.

“Okay,” Ashley started, hesitating for a moment. “I’ll tell it just like my parents told me. Twenty-five years ago, before I was born, a man in Hillside went crazy. He got a chain saw and started hacking people up with it, just like in the movies only for real. They tried to catch him, but he got away. He ran into the forest.” She shuddered a bit. “And then ten years later, some people say they saw him. They say he met somebody outside the forest who led him straight to the contempted—condemned—house. But when the police went and searched it, they said no one was there. Still, every night, the lights come on for a bit and then go out. The doors open up and close by themselves. One minute you’ll see a window closed, and the next it’s open again. The yard’s unkempt and overgrown and messed up, and the ivy’s about to take over the house, but no one dares go near it. ‘Cause if you do, the crazy man will get his chainsaw and hack you up. It’s not a person in there—it’s his ghost. And that’s why it’s haunted.”

Mulder and Scully were quiet for a moment. “And why aren’t you allowed to tell people that live outside Hillside?” Mulder asked.

“Because, that’s how the story starts,” Ashley explained. “It’s a Hillside secret. Not even the real estate office tells people about it. That’s what my dad says.”

“Ashley, what’s the house like on Halloween night? Is it very busy, with police all around it? Or is it kind of quiet?” Scully asked.

“There are two more cars than usual on Halloween. It’s kinda something all the kids go and stare at, until they’re told to move away. It’s kinda cool, like that. But we don’t want to get hacked up or something. So only stupid teenagers go past the fence in the backyard.”

“Thank you, Ashley, you’ve been very helpful,” Mulder said. “And I’m very glad you wrote that article.”

Ashley shrugged. “It was just a school project.”

“We’ll let you go back to your classroom now. Thanks for helping us out,” Scully said. Ashley smiled and went back into the classroom, leaving Mulder and Scully alone in the hallway.

“Well, I think it’s fairly obvious what’s going on here,” Scully said.

“Yes, I do too,” Mulder said, and started walking.

“I’m afraid to ask, Mulder,” Scully stated.

”Don’t worry, I don’t think this is a ghost, or an X-file,” Mulder stated.

Scully stopped in her tracks. “You don’t?”

“No, of course not. It’s pretty obvious what’s really happening.”

“Well…why don’t you enlighten me?”

“The chainsaw man—whatever his name is, we’ll have to look that up—he’s being harbored in the house by the police. Clearly it’s their own little secret. We’ve just got to get a warrant to go in and drag him out.”

Scully smiled, and looked down as she started walking.

“What?” Mulder asked. “You don’t think he exists, do you, Scully?”

“It’s a child’s tale, Mulder. And that house is condemned—a very attractive thing for children. It makes sense that there would be a police presence, especially on Halloween. Imagine what would happen if one of those kids went in there, and fell through the floor?”

“Explain the lights, then. And the windows.”

“Kids imagine things all the time. They love ghost stories, and you yourself admit that this is not a ghost.”

“Not a ghost. A fugitive,” Mulder said.

“A fugitive we’ve never heard of? A fugitive that is guilty of a violent killing spree with a chainsaw, from twenty-five years ago, that we haven’t heard of?”

“It’s possible. We don’t know every serial killer who’s ever walked the Earth.”

“But this is Virginia,” Scully argued, opening the front door to the school. “It’s too close to home. We would at least remember it from the nightly news. You would definitely remember something like that.”

“I was in England, and you were in college, and please tell me you didn’t watch the nightly news every day at college.”

“No,” she admitted reluctantly, “But I would’ve heard about something like this. It would have been all over American news everywhere.”

“I doubt it. If he only killed two people and it was contained to Virginia, it would have been a brief story on one or two nights of the week, and people may have mentioned it in casual conversation, but it wouldn’t have been big. We’ll find out, though.”

“Where are we going?”

“Back to the office. I want to look a few things up before we head to that house for the night.”

“For the—Mulder, we can’t spend Halloween night in a condemned house!”

“Why not? Sounds perfect to me.”

“We don’t even have a warrant, or backup, or…what are you planning on doing? Waiting for the chainsaw man to come home from the grocery store?”

“I doubt he leaves very often.”

They climbed into their car, and Mulder started the engine. “Mulder, I want you to do me a favor,” Scully said.

“Ooooh, Scully, I thought you’d never ask,” Mulder said with a mischievous grin.

Scully rolled her eyes, and ignored the comment. “I want you to promise me you aren’t going to ditch me and go in there by yourself. If we’re going in, we’re going in together, and we’re doing it with backup and a warrant. If there is a chance that this chainsaw maniac is in there, then the police are obviously trying to protect him and we’ll be working against a madman and the locals.”

“I think we can dish out more reserves than little Hillside can,” Mulder said nonchalantly. “I’m not worried. But okay. I won’t go in alone. And we’ll approach the maniac with extreme caution.” He didn’t voice his happiness that Scully was acknowledging the maniac’s existence with so little argument. He didn’t want to spoil the moment.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

435 WESTBURY ST

HILLSIDE, VA

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

1800

Trick-or-treating had started in the tiny town. It was less than a mile across, but the kids were in every square meter they could occupy. They ran around happily, ready to start their candy-collection, or T.Ping and egging in some cases.

Mulder and Scully walked down the street, having parked a few blocks away, and surveyed the police presence casually. They noticed three cars, one hidden and two visible. The only way in seemed to be through the back. They had federal agents ready to move in and surround the place the minute they had confirmation of the suspect’s presence. The agents also had orders to detain any police officers who might try to resist the apprehension of the suspect.

What they had found at their office was disturbing. There was indeed a chainsaw maniac twenty-five years ago that no one had caught. No body had ever been found after the final chase that forced the killer’s car into the forest, and caused the vehicle to explode in a ball of fire. But no charred human remains had been sited, even after a careful inspection.

What was even more disturbing was Mulder’s discovery of the nearly successful cover-up that took place directly afterward. The maniac was the police chief’s younger brother. Mulder and Scully didn’t even bother talking to the man. From witness testimony, and what they pieced together, they had enough for a warrant. And surprisingly enough, Mulder had found a contingent of field agents willing to be his backup.

The one snag was that the house was, indeed, condemned and they had no idea about the infrastructure. They weren’t sure if they were walking into a booby trap or rotted floorboards from the moment they entered. So they had no choice but to enter carefully.

The police presence made that very difficult. Since they were operating under the radar, in a completely FBI-sanctioned mission to discover if the local police really were concealing a fugitive from the federal government, they had clearance to detain anyone who resisted. But that, naturally, would undermine the nature of their mission. If the occupant inside was alerted to their presence, there was a chance he could make a run for it.

Mulder spotted a hole in the woods right behind the house. “See that clearing?” he pointed.

“Yeah, I see it. Are we moving in that way?”

“We should try,” Mulder said. They were both wearing concealable GoldFlex vests under their shirts, which allowed them to look like they were wearing normal clothing, thanks to the nanotechnology. They carried their weapons in their holsters, but their jackets covered them up. Whenever someone would look in their direction, Mulder would grab Scully’s hand so they looked like a normal, civilian couple. And considering her reaction to the necessary but comfortable contact, Mulder wished people would look in their direction a little more often.

They were able to sneak through a few backyards to get to the woods behind the Westbury Street house, and saw the policeman guarding the door in the back. “Damn,” Mulder said, and swung back around the trunk of a tree, dropping to his butt as he leaned against it.

Scully sighed. “We’ve gotta create a diversion,” she said.

Mulder nodded, and spoke into his radio. “This is Agent Mulder,” he said on the secured channel. “Requesting diversion for a single officer guarding the back door.”

“Copy,” came the reply, and a moment later, some firecrackers were set off in the backyard of the house next door. The policeman rolled his eyes, and walked away from his post. “Hey!” Mulder and Scully heard him yell. “Hey, you kids, get out of there! Where are you? Where’d you go? Yeah, that’s right, leave before I call your parents!”

They took that as their opportunity to enter in the back door. They did so as quickly and quietly as possible, drawing their weapons and opening the creaky door carefully. They shut it once inside, and began scouting out the house.

It was full of cobwebs. There wasn’t a spot they could walk in without getting one on their face, arms, or hands. The dust was piled so high that Mulder felt like he was walking on sand, and he knew no one had been in this house for at least a decade. He was beginning to feel a little discouraged, when Scully gasped.

Mulder quickly made his way through the rotting wood-paneled house and reached her location. “What’s wrong?” He asked, gun extended in front of him.

“Mulder, look at this,” she said, looking curiously at the kitchen counter.

Mulder lowered his weapon slightly and glanced at the counter. There wasn’t a speck of dust on it. It was rotting, like the rest of the house, but there was no dust.

“Odd,” he said.

“Extremely. I think you may be right—there could be someone living here.”

“Then how did he get to the kitchen? There are no footprints in the dust.”

“I have no idea,” Scully said, shaking her head.

“Maybe he really is a ghost.”

She rolled her eyes. “You take the upstairs. I’ll see if there’s a basement.”

He nodded, and extended his weapon again.

“Be careful on the stairs,” she told him.

He listened, and tried each step before putting his full weight on it. Before he knew it, though, he was on the second floor of the tiny house, and encountered nothing more than more dust, and some vacant rooms. The hinges on the doors had rusted completely, and every door had fallen off. Mulder was surprised that such decay occurred in such a short amount of time—the house had been abandoned and condemned since 1967, but it had lasted 102 years prior to that. Perhaps it had just been in existence for too long.

Mulder heard a noise, and turned his head and his gun instantly. He walked carefully into the room from which it came, holding his weapon and flashlight straight out in front of him in a cross-hand position.

The second he entered the room, though, he felt something heavy come down on top of him and he collapsed, as the world faded.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

435 WESTBURY ST

HILLSIDE, VA

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

1830

Mulder awoke handcuffed to a very rusty pipe, sitting on the ground. He looked around, and wished he could rub his aching head. He didn’t see anyone, and so he called, “Scully! Scully, I need help!”

“Shut up, or I’m gonna have to do something you’re not gonna like,” a voice said. Then a man emerged from the closet. He wore all black, looked to be in his late fifties, and carried a chainsaw in his hand. He matched the picture of the police chief’s younger brother.

“Mulder?” Scully called, and they heard her mount the creaky steps.

“Sorry ‘bout this,” the man said with a wicked smile, and stomped once on the floorboard he was standing on. Suddenly, everything began shaking, and there was an enormous crash. Mulder heard Scully scream.

“Scully!” He called, panicked, as he struggled against the handcuffs. “Scully! What did you do to her, you bastard?!”

The man rolled his eyes. “Oh, please, stop your whining. She’s not dead. Just buried.”

“You son of a bitch, I’ll—”

“Not from this position, you won’t,” the man said, stepping out of reach of Mulder’s low kick and stomping on the floorboard in one motion. The floor directly beneath Mulder caved at that moment, and the agent dropped downward, only to be stopped by his hands, secured on the rusty pipe. He cried out in agony, and hung there painfully, half supported by the piece of floorboard sticking against his back, and half by his now bloody wrists.

“I’m gonna enjoy this,” the maniac said with a nasty grin, and started up his chainsaw.

XXXX

One story below them, Scully was half-buried by collapsed floorboards. Her upper body was exposed though, and when she came to, she groaned in pain and tried to extricate herself. She found she couldn’t. She tapped her hand against the radio in her ear, and said, “Request backup, request backup, move in immediately! Move in!” Then she placed her hand on her head, and felt the sticky liquid that could only be blood.

She tried again to extricate herself just as she heard the sound of sirens and commotion outside. This time, she was able to wiggle most of her lower body free. It took her a few more moments, but she was fueled by adrenaline and the ever-present, urgent screams from upstairs. She knew Mulder was in trouble. They had found their killer.

She knew the sixth step was barely accessible, but the upper half of the stairs were still intact, and she had to get up there quickly. She found her gun and picked it up with a bloodied hand, holstered it, and climbed on top of the unstable rubble. She leapt for the sixth stair, scraping her hands and nearly falling off in the process. She gripped the rotting floorboards and pulled with all her might, thinking only of Mulder and what could be causing those horrified screams. Images of chainsaws descending on her partner were ever-present in her mind.

She hauled her leg up to the sixth stair and rolled into a position where she could get to her knees, and climb the rest of the way up. She nearly fell off twice when the boards started to give way, but she made it up the short flight and half dove, half stumbled, into the room where the screams were coming.

Drawing her weapon as she entered the room, she quickly assessed the situation. Mulder was hanging by his hands from a rusty pipe—one that would likely break soon. He was unable to pull himself up, quite obviously, as at least one of his arms had to be already dislocated. And from his position, Scully could tell that the floorboards from the collapsed floor were likely sticking into his back, if not penetrating it.

She pointed her weapon at the older man standing over her partner with a running chainsaw. Its blade was far too close to his skin for her comfort. “Turn it off and drop it, now,” Scully yelled.

“Scully—” Mulder cried in pain, looking at her with…concern? How could he be concerned about her when he was the one hanging by his wrists from a rusty pipe?

“I ain’t stoppin’ for no one. This is my first kill in—”

Before he could continue, and just as he lowered the chainsaw so it was level with Mulder’s midsection, Scully put a bullet in his temple. He dropped to the side, the chainsaw falling on top of him and slicing his own midsection open. Scully shot the machine, after quickly scanning for a battery and making sure she wouldn’t blow them to kingdom come by shooting a gas tank. When the chainsaw ceased running, she ran over to Mulder.

“Scully, my God…” Mulder panted.

“I know, Mulder, I’m gonna get you out of here.”

“No—I’m okay—”

“You’re not okay,” Scully said. That much was obvious by his labored speech and profuse sweating. She assessed his position, and after quickly determining that he didn’t have any broken bones, she asked, “Do you think you can bring your legs up if I supported your torso?”

He squinted in pain, and nodded. “Scully, please…let someone else—you’re hurt.”

“I’m fine, Mulder,” Scully said.

Mulder shook his head. “Your ear,” he said, before he couldn’t help but cringe in agony, and yell out at the pain.

Scully reached her hand up to her ear, where she felt a flap of skin clearly open and bleeding profusely. She still didn’t feel it, but she knew she would soon. She could only imagine how it might look. “It’s okay, Mulder,” she said quickly. She hugged his torso tightly, trying to support it and alleviate some stress from his arms. He cried out in pain, and she said, “Pull your legs up. Come on, you have to try, Mulder. I know it hurts, just try, damn it!”

Mulder yelled the entire time he was attempting to get his legs out, and by the time he managed to raise one knee so that it was level with the floor, a fireman walked in with a paramedic not far behind.

“We can take over, Ma’am,” the fireman said. “Alright, Sir, we’re gonna get you out of there. Don’t worry.”

“I’m a medical doctor,” Scully explained. “And I’m his partner. Let me help—I’ve already assessed his condition.”

“You need some help yourself, Ma’am,” the paramedic said.

“I don’t think he has any broken bones,” Scully said quickly, ignoring their protest. She watched as the fireman supported Mulder’s back on a short backboard, and alleviated some of the stress from the jagged floorboards digging into his back. “He can move his legs. You just need to pull him out slightly. One or both shoulders might be dislocated, be careful—” she tried to say, but the two of them were already on their way to extricating Mulder. They had him out fairly quickly, and they cut the handcuffs off of him and loaded him on a portable stretcher.

“We’re gonna have to get him out the window,” the paramedic said. “We can’t navigate that staircase.”

“Absolutely agreed,” the fireman said. “We’ll get the chopper over here,” he stated, and radioed it in. It wasn’t long before the chopper arrived, and they broke the window open.

During the exchange, Scully’s eyes wondered from Mulder’s form to the suspect lying dead on the floor. She couldn’t believe what she saw next.

The man rose, grabbed his chainsaw, and before Scully could even get a shot off, walked through the walls.

Only a few seconds after that, she collapsed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GEORGETOWN MEDICAL CENTER

GEORGETOWN, VA

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

2000

Scully entered Mulder’s room with a bandage around her head, over her ear. The ear wound hadn’t caused any nerve damage, and had required nineteen stitches but had otherwise been superficial.

But she had gone into shock and had only woken up after receiving blood and being hooked up to an IV. She now traveled, as was hospital policy, in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse.

Mulder’s left shoulder had been dislocated, but his right was just strained. Both wrists were bandaged and his left arm was in a sling, but he was otherwise no worse for wear. He was expected to be released that night, while they wanted to keep Scully overnight for observation.

“Hey,” Mulder said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and getting up to meet her. “I can take it from here,” he said to the nurse.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but I can’t let you do that,” the nurse stated.

Mulder rolled his eyes. “I should’ve been the one to come see you, Scully,” he said as they walked back to his bed together. He held her hand once he had climbed up onto the bed, and she smiled at him. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, Mulder. They’re just keeping me for observation.”

“I’m sorry to make you come over here. You really shouldn’t be out of bed.”

“Tell me about it,” the nurse said.

“Do you think you can give us a few minutes alone?” Scully asked the nurse.

The woman rolled her eyes. “If you get out of that wheelchair, it better be to get into a bed.”

“Oh, so that’s how this hospital operates,” Mulder said with a grin. “I don’t think we’ll have trouble following those instructions.”

The nurse muttered something about ‘need to retire’ before she left.

Scully chuckled at Mulder, and smiled tiredly at him. “How’s your arm?”

“It’s okay. It’ll be fine. Scully, you’re never going to guess what the police found when they searched the house.”

Scully eyed him suspiciously, and he continued. “Nothing. Not a trace of him anywhere, Scully. You shot him. I saw you shoot him. I saw him fall—but he’s not there. Someone must have stolen the body. They’re gonna want to question you, when you feel up to it. Did you see anything after I was loaded onto the helicopter?”

Scully hesitated, and looked down. “You have to understand, Mulder, I had a concussion, I was in shock…I was probably delirious.”

“What did you see?” he asked excitedly.

She looked up at him, and smiled slightly. He’s gonna have a field day with this. “I saw him get up and walk through the wall. But it was a concussion-induced image, it means nothing—”

“It proves he was really a ghost,” Mulder said.

“No, Mulder, it proves that someone stole the body and I couldn’t process the information.”

Mulder frowned. “Who would want to steal the body, Scully? And how would they get it through the wall?”

“I don’t know, but it’s the only viable explanation. If he really was a ghost, then why would he have fallen when I shot him?”

Still frowning in thought, the agent let go of Scully’s hand. He rotated his right shoulder carefully, and shook his head. “Maybe he didn’t want anyone to know about his existence.”

“And why would that be?”

“He’s a ghost. I don’t know why they do what they do, what motivation they could possibly have. And let’s hope I don’t find out anytime soon.”

Scully smiled. “Yes, let’s hope for that.” She reached out for his hand again, and gave it a squeeze.

“Thanks for what you did in there, Scully.”

“No problem,” Scully said, meeting his eyes and starting to smirk. “But now you owe me one.”

Mulder laughed. “Always, Scully. Always.”

The Anubis Phylogeny

Title1

VIRTUAL SEASON X – 15

SEASON PREMIERE

AUTHOR: Virtual Season X Producers CATEGORY: X-File RATING: PG-13 ARTWORK: VS Producers DISCLAIMER: Characters herein owned by Twentieth Century FOX, 1013 Productions &  Chris Carter. No copyright infringement intended. SUMMARY: Mulder & Scully investigate bee attacks.

Banner1

THE ANUBIS PHYLOGENY

by The Virtual Season X Producers

PROLOGUE

Egypt, Thebes

West Bank of the Nile

Mortuary Temple of King Hatshepsut

Deir el-Bahri, “The Holy of Holies”

1469 B.C.

“Yes, *Mother*,” the young, dark man-child sneeringly answered the woman who was standing with her back to him.  He watched expectantly as her back tensed visibly through her gauzy shirt. Her hand slid from its place on the newly inscribed passages on a cool granite wall in the Hall of Annals.  It was, to his dislike, her ever-growing Mortuary Temple, Deir el-Bahri, in the cliffs overlooking the Temple of Amun-Ra.

She turned to look down at her young nephew, stepson and stepbrother, co-regent and lesser Pharaoh. She noted the spark of defiance in his eyes yet again.  Her kohl-darkened eyes widened slightly and blazed in anger at him, as they had done so many times before in his short lifetime.

The boy, Thutmose III, held the gaze defiantly for a moment, then cast his eyes down, in obeisance of his co-regent and “rightfully” crowned Pharaoh.

“You continue to question *MY* right to the Throne?” she hissed quietly, like a deadly spitting cobra; her tone was angry, her eyes never blinking. “*I* am King and Pharaoh of the North and South; the Horus of Gold; Conqueror of All Lands; the Mighty One!”

The woman was dressed in traditional opulent Egyptian Royal regalia with the pharaohnic nemes headdress, which gently draped her feminine shoulders. The entire effect was finished by a pleated kilt, beaded belt and a bull’s tail between her legs, all of which were clearly emblems of *male* Egyptian Royalty.

Lapis, carnelian, faience, ebony and other precious gems adorned and glittered from the large, heavy gold collar of honeybees she favored so and stroked with her other hand, as she was wont to do.

Hatshepsut composed herself, took a step toward Thutmose, raised her free hand and laid it gently upon his dark cheek.

“Why do you continue to question, My son?” Hatshepsut asked of the man who would have been King.

Thutmose almost had to bite his tongue to keep from speaking words she would find heretical in the extreme.

When her Father, Thutmose I had journeyed to the Underworld, the Temple priests of Amun-Ra had demanded that she, Hatshepsitu, step aside and allow her half-brother, Thutmose II to rule as Pharaoh.  Hatshepsitu had mightily attempted to discredit her half-brother by announcing that Thutmose II was only the son of Mutnefert, a concubine, and therefore Royal Blood was passed through *only* to her.

She had known that all societies, including Egypt, were matrilineal, meaning any inheritances, including the power of the Throne of Both Lands, was passed through the *female* line.

There was *no* disputing Hatshepsitu’s female ancestral line to her Ethiopian grandmother, Queen Nefertari-Aahmes.  However, when faced with either compromise or probable civil war, she chose compromise… and had agreed, instead, to marry her half-brother, Thutmose II.

Her then husband had let Hatshepsitu handle all the businesses of the Two Lands, and she obviously had grown to crave power.  His aunt/stepmother/step-sister, upon the death 13 years later, of her weak and sickly husband and half-brother, had surprised the Temple priests by her proclamation shortly following.

She had stunned all of Upper and Lower Egypt by announcing that she, Hatshepsitu, had *not*, after all, been the daughter of Thutmose I, but had ascended the throne as Pharaoh.

Thutmose had been a babe, still at his wet nurse’s breast, when his Father had begun his own journey to the Underworld. He had, therefore, necessarily grown up under his aunt/stepmother’s tutelage … and gradual deception.  Despite Hatshepsut’s exceedingly successful reign, a reign that had brought peace and prosperity to the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt, Thutmose was resentful. The Temple priests of Amun-Ra had gradually fueled the fire of his resentment.

But, Thutmose had not suffered; in fact, he had thrived.  He had been carefully tutored in all the arts of writing, mathematics, painting papyrus scenes, games and strategy, weaponry and war, and even bee keeping, by Royal teachers, scribes, Temple Priests, generals and others who had been appointed to look after him.

When he had come of age, Hatshepsitu should have stepped aside as regent, and Thutmose would have then rightfully ascended the Throne. He was, after all, the direct descendant of his splendid, almighty and powerful Grandfather, Thutmose the First, the Living Horus, who was now, in the Underworld with his Father, ruling as the Great Osiris.

Hatshepsitu, however, had stopped such ascension, declared herself a *man*, by direction and adoration of her Father, Thutmose I and changed her name to its male equivalent, “Hatshepsut”.

For all intents and purposes, she had taken away the young man’s Throne.

Thutmose knew *he* was the rightful heir, though his aunt/stepmother had “convinced” the Priests otherwise.  As there were no other male heirs, Hatshepsitu had simply and strategically moved into position herself, and when the time came, she took that position.

“You are still young, My son; you do not understand the ways of our Lands; our traditions.”  Hatshepsut looked him in the eye. “Have you forgotten? I am of virgin birth, the Son of God Amun and My Mother, Ahmose. The great God Amun appeared to My Mother in a flood of light and perfume, and by Immaculate Conception, this great union produced a baby boy …Myself.”

Hatshepsut’s hand slipped down to take his and, gently, she lead the all but mute young man further into the as-yet unfinished Hall of Annals in her Mortuary Temple. “Do you not see the Truth in the words written here, immortalized for all to see? They speak of My greatness and My deeds?” she demanded of him.

Thutmose’s eyes were still downcast and she gently ordered him to look to the exquisiteinscriptions carved and painted into the walls around them.

“There!” Hatshepsut pointed to a mural, depicting her birth, showing her glorious and Godly conception and birth in intricate and painstaking detail. “Does that not tell the Truth to you, My son? And there!” She pointed to another scene, showing Hatshepsut with her coronation name, “Ma’at-ka-Ra,” and the title “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” in Royal cartouches.

“Yes, my … *King*,” Thutmose looked, not for the first time, considering the scenes both blasphemous and obscene. For no woman could be Pharaoh, yet his aunt/stepmother had attained just that Crown.  She had usurped him from his rightful Throne. She never called him by his coronation name, but insisted that even he call her, in public and in private, “King,” her coronation name of “Ma’at-ka-Ra”, which meant “Truth is the genius of the Sun-God,” or “Hatshepsut” … never Queen Hatshepsitu or God’s Wife.  Rarely did she allow him to call her “Mother.”

The priests could do nothing about it; the Lands had thrived and grown rich under her rule.  Grain stores were full, cattle and livestock were fat, the Royal hives were heavier than ever with honey, items were exported and imported, and, frankly, taken when needed.  The Pharaoh had also seemed unusually concerned as to the welfare of the slaves under her reign, and, as such, life was easier for all concerned.  Tributes of gold to King Hatshepsut were measured by bushels, not ingots. Silver, an even more precious metal, also came to her in tributes of almost incalculable proportions.

The peoples of Both Lands, Upper and Lower Egypt, and the land of Punt, were happy, well fed and lacked for nothing.  Yes, there had been few campaigns against minor enemies’ encroachments, and Hatshepsut herself had lead Egypt’s armies as Supreme Lord Horus, Pharaoh Hatshepsut, and had been completely successful.

Yet, Thutmose seethed inwardly, as did many of the Temple priests of Amun-Ra, who could not, in truth, abide a woman as Pharaoh.  Unfortunately, as Hatshepsut had been so crowned, there was no rescinding the Double Crown. It was her title for life and it had become clear that she who was truly his aunt, stepsister and stepmother, would never willingly give up the Throne to him, even though he had been given the title of co-regent or co-Pharaoh.

Thutmose had absolutely no say in matters of state or even of his own future.  Not seeing the anger in Thutmose’s eyes, Hatshepshut gazed lovingly at Deir el-Bahri, her splendid Mortuary Temple in the cliffs looking down upon the less colossal Temple of Amun-Ra.

Reading one of the inscriptions, she reminded him, “I am the Living Horus, My son. I am HE. I am Pharaoh.” Again, she pointed to a lavishly decorated colonnade and read it to him, not for the first time.  “‘One sails upstream on the great green river, starting the journey well to God’s land.  Putting to land in peace in the land of Punt. By order spoken by the Lord of the Gods, Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, foremost of the temple of Karnak, to bring Him marvels from all foreign lands.’ *I* have done these things, My son; none other!”

Hatshepsut continued reading of her own accomplishments to the internal displeasure of Thutmose. Even at his young age, he had begun to learn the arts of deception himself; he pretended to listen to his stepmother, the King/Pharaoh.  Thutmose stood straight, pretending to listen, eyes watchful under the flickering oil lamps.  This was nothing more than another intentional impression upon him of her power over Both Lands, Upper and Lower Egypt, and, more importantly, a reminder of where *he* stood in the scheme of things: As long as King Hatshepsut lived Thutmose would never ascend the throne, as rightly he should have.

To the boy, the two of them seemed to stand there for a millennia, however, her pointed lessons were finished not soon enough.  Thutmose’s expression changed to one of intense interest as he heard her begin reciting, as she had so many times before, how wondrous she, King Hatshepsut, in fact was.  This invariably heralded the end of his lesson, at least for now.

“This is … the great temple of million of years, the temple of Amun of Djeser-Djeseru at His outstanding place of the first time.” Hatshupset turned to look at the boy. “My name is Ma’at-ka-Ra meaning ‘Truth is the Life Force of the Sun-God.’ I *am* the Living Horus; I *am* the She-Horus of fine gold. *I* am the Sun-God who rules, and that Truth is within Me.” Hatshepsut again stroked the honeybees on her collar with one hand and reached out to stroke his face. “Now, go on. Your tutors await, do they not?”

“Yes, my *King*,” Thutmose knelt, bowed his head, and kissed her gold ring with her Royal cartouches on the feminine hand held out to him.  Daringly, he glanced up at her; she smiled faintly then nodded dismissively at him.  Thutmose took to his sandaled feet and hurried out of the Temple.  The boy almost ran down the Avenue of Sphinxes. He could not bear to look at them, for they all bore the image of the false Living God and Pharaoh, Hatshepsut.  He was nearly blinded by the flash of electrum that shone so brightly under the midday sun.  Electrum crowned the pyramidal tops of the two tallest granite obelisks in the Two Lands and the Land of Punt. They were of beautiful rose granite and had been commissioned and dedicated to the Temple of Amun-Ra.

As they were taller than the Temple, the ceiling had to be removed and reshaped to accommodate them.  Anyone looking up at the Temple of Amun-Ra would see the obelisks’ glorious righteousness, which pointed directly above them, to the Mortuary Temple of Ma’at-ka-Ra Hatshepsut.

Thutmose hated the obelisks as he hated his aunt. They were a constant reminder of his aunt’s usurped power.  He hurried to the boat that would carry him across the Nile to the Royal tent past the reeds on the East bank, where his tutors awaited.  Today he would learn the secrets of *bity*, the Royal honeybees.

The new Chief Priest of the Temple of Amun-Ra was said to have added some magic, perhaps an incantation, but something of great import to the honeybees.  Whatever the magic, it was said to make them infinitely more important than merely for their honey and wax.  The new Chief Priest was also said to know new and secret incantations and terrifying curses and spells learned from one particularly clever alien priest.  The alien priest had been a slave brought to them from somewhere in the Land of Punt. The Chief Priest was said to have absorbed the *ka*, the soul of the alien priest and that the two became one.

Thutmose smiled. Perhaps something of the new honeybees would make him Pharaoh.  Having dismissed her nephew/stepson, Hatshepsut continued to examine the fine work created by her architect. “The boy is trouble,” a familiar, deep voice spoke to Hatshepsut and she turned to see the shadow of her dark, sun-favored architect, Senemut approaching in the flickering light of the oil lamps.

He knelt in front of his Pharaoh, took the hand offered, kissed it and caught the scent of her perfumed dark skin. Glancing up at her, he turned her hand gently and let his tongue taste the skin of her wrist.

Hatshepsut took a deep breath and pulled him to his feet, allowing him to wrap his arms around her.  “He can do nothing; he has no power. I am the Truth. I am the Power.”

Senemut buried his face in her neck, enjoying her scent. “I worry for You. I do not trust Thutmose … nor do I trust many of the priests of Amun-Ra, of which he curries constant favor.”

Hatshepsut leaned her head to accommodate his attentions. “You worry needlessly, My Beloved,” Hatshepsut kissed him deeply. “He can do nothing.”  Her hand, grasped in his, lay against the glittering gold collar of honeybees as they kissed.

Thutankhamen

West Bank of the Nile

Secret Unknown

Somewhere Near the Valley of the

Kings and the Valley of the Queens

1458 B.C.

The screams continued for sometime from within as Thutmose watched his stonemasons seal the remote and secretive tomb.  Sweat rolled from their bodies in the midst of their hurried toil; fear fueled their work.  They had witnessed their Pharaoh Hatshepsut and *his* consort, Senemut, mummified alive. Their heads, however, had not been wrapped.

They had watched in horror as the Anubis Priest of Amun-Ra, who was said to be an amalgam of a priest alien to Upper and Lower Egypt, strange and frightening with spells and incantations never seen before, had performed an obscene parody of the holy Opening Of The Mouth Ceremony.

They knew their King and “His” consort’s *ka*, or soul, would never reach the Underworld, and they would forever be damned.  Wearing the ceremonial black and gold Anubis headdress, God of the Death and the Underworld, he *was* the Anubis.  He had then leaned over the two tightly bound forms and poured, from the Anubis’ Own Mouth, unfamiliar black oil onto their faces.

The horror was magnified when an incantation, spoken by the Anubis, caused the oil to take on the form of vermin and then crawl  into the Pharaoh’s and her Chief Steward’s eyes, nose and mouth.

Before the last stone was placed, Thutmose Himself stepped forward with a small mud-lined basket. He removed the lid and placed the top of the basket carefully into the hole, then slapped the basket several times.

All heard the obvious buzzing of angry bees as they flew into the tomb. Thutmose then pushed the entire basket through the hole. The screaming from within was renewed with an overwhelmingly frightening intensity that caused a chill of overwhelming fear amidst the stonemasons under the hot Egyptian sun.  Thutmose turned and called to the head stonemason. The man looked into Thutmose’s eyes and recoiled in horror as he witnessed the same black, oily film, as had poured forth from the Anubis, swimming madly in the new Pharaoh’s eyes.

“Let it be done!” Thutmose exclaimed, and the man looked away, hurriedly instructing his men in placing the final stone.  As it was levered into place, they heard a distinctly female scream of sheer terror, more chilling than anything they had ever before heard. However, they knew they dared not hesitate and so continued with their labors.  When finished to Thutmose’s satisfaction, the former Pharaoh and her consort had been hidden for all time.

The sounds within the tomb, masked by solid rock had ceased, and the stonemasons knelt in obeisance to their new Pharaoh, the Living Horus of Gold, Thutmose III. Their eyes were downcast, as proscribed in the presence of the Living Horus, and so they did not see Thutmose, eyes swirling with the black oil, turn to the Anubis and nod to him, then walk away.

A crunching in the gravel near him made the chief stonemason look up in time to see the Anubis remove from his robe a sparkling wand of electrum. As the Anubis spake a curse and an incantation, fire like lightning leapt from the wand. One after another of his stonemasons caught fire as easily as incense offerings in the Temple.  Their screams were horrible and terrifying to hear. The chief stonemason took to his feet to escape, but the Anubis was much faster. The stonemason found himself taken by the throat, hoisted into the air where his feet dangled far from the ground.  The Anubis held him up for a moment, and then carelessly tossed him onto the pyre of burning, writhing and screaming bodies.

To the stonemason’s eternal horror, the Anubis leaned over him, removed his ceremonial headdress … and the stonemason saw honeybees angrily swarming on his face. The Priest, however, smiled and touched him with his wand of electrum. A spark of fire and agony shot through his body as first his clothing caught flame and then his skin.

The stonemason’s last view, as he writhed and screamed in agony, was that of the Priest’s eyes as they filled with the black oil and swirled, as a purely evil and more than alien smile pulled at his face.

“The Truth is in *me*!” he laughed and walked away from the stench of burning flesh.

Pharoah

Grand Prairie, Texas

Interstate 30

East of the South Entrance of D/FW Airport,

Heading Toward Dallas

8:45 a.m., CST

July 8, 2005

“Fucking ass jerkwad airlines.” The mumbled invectives had come naturally and often from the mouth of Benjamin F. Cearley, III, J.D. He’d been an attorney, a fucking card-carrying Dallas and Texas Bar Association Member, and he’d been fucking well entitled to swear all he damned fucking well wanted. Regardless of which fucking judge cited him for stupid jerkass contempt.

He hadn’t been called “Benjamin Fucking Cearley” by his peers, clients and opposing counsel for nothing.  As if the flight hadn’t been bad enough. God, his fucking law firm had gotten so damned friggin’ cheap, they wouldn’t let their senior partners — oh, no! Sorry, *NOW* the “name” jerk-off partners had gone Polically Cor-fucking-rect! The senior SHAREHOLDERS had to fly shitty BUSINESS class instead of First. Hell.

He had been better than Business Class and he’d known it.  “Fucking coach class no ones!” Cearley snarled under his breath, furious at those who’d upgraded to Business. He hadn’t been able to finish his damned brief due to all the fucking jerkwad morons around him talking incessantly. He’d been driving 85 mph, and even faster, in his brand new Onyx Black Lexus, trying to get back to Dallas to get the fucking brief filed with the shithead court clerk before the Fucking Honorable Judge Joseph Kendle had a fucking bench warrant served on him.

Cearley did NOT give a single flying flip if he got pulled over. *LET* the fucking Texas State Troopers, the jerkbutt Arlington cops, the pansy-ass Grand Prairie “POH-leece” and the totally inept and corrupt crappy Dallas pigs fucking stop him. He hadn’t cared if they’d given him a ticket! He’d been a litigator for 24 years, by fuck and he’d always gotten out of every ticket.  Enough money and the wheel was greased with shit. On the damned Delta flight, he’d had the everlasting, overwhelming fucking joy of an annoying asshole of a flight attendant.  Naturally. Cearley barely ever noticed anyone beneath him, unless it was a stacked fuckable secretary — or a stacked fuckable flight attendant — upon whom he could make moves. Let ’em fuckin’ sue him. He’d been sued before for sexual harassment. Seven times, in fact. It was always settled out of fucking court by the Firm on his behalf.

Ha!

Cearley had known after the second time he could get away with freakin’ hell! Unfortunately for him, *his* flight attendant wasn’t stacked at all. *His* flight attendant was *male.* And a weird-ass looking male at that. He’d had a fucking insincere, oily smile (which had been unnerving, if Cearley had been honest with himself), fucking Bozo red hair and shocking blue eyes. And a cute little Delta nametag identifying him as “Charles”; a sure sign to Cearley the guy had been fucking gay. The guy had creeped Cearley out, the way he’d stared, but he’d also needed his usual booze for the flight, so he’d tipped the jerkshit weirdo heavily to bring him double-malt scotch and stay the hell out of his fucking face.

Besides, he’d known he could bury the hefty tip in some other poor fucking client’s “miscellaneous” bills.  At the luggage carousel, naturally, only *his* suitcases had come up missing! He’d nearly burst an aneurysm over that.  Cearley had smiled remembering how he’d raised bloody fucking hell with Delta’s Lost and Found. No way was he leaving fucking D/FW without his damned luggage! So, Cearley had stood around, bellowed at the top of his lungs, repeatedly flashed his bar card and handed out dozens of business cards — and cheerfully threatened lawsuits up everyone’s privates and then some.

The lawyer continued with that until some *big* higher-up fucker from Delta had come to escort him to their cutesy Executive Lounge — fucking food and drink on the house — while that *big* someone had gone to sort out the fucking problem. He’d ordered everything available to eat, hadn’t touched it — intentionally wasting it, but had boozed it up even more. He’d then checked in with and chewed out his fucking secretary’s shapely ass until she’d cried.  He’d smiled again thinking of that.  Cearley had taken the redeye so he could be back *in* the fucking office *before* rush hour, but he’d still been in the Executive Lounge three hours later … outlining on a legal pad, with his Mont Blanc pen, exactly how he’d sue fucking Delta for all his fucking mental distress and his expensive fucking clothing.

He’d smiled his own oily smile at that, then the smile had disappeared when he’d remembered the fucking Delta employee who had appeared out of freakin’ nowhere with his bags.

He’d done a double-take because the guy, in a regular Delta employee uniform, had appeared in the shitty Executive Lounge, with an unnerving smile on his face, fucking Bozo red hair, startling blue eyes and “Charlie” emblazoned on his Delta nametag.

Cearley had almost asked the guy if he had a fucking twin brother, but then it had occurred to him, what kind of fucking moron mother would name twin boys “Charles” and “Charlie”– unless she was a fucking stupid East Texas redneck?  He’d just grabbed his bags and took off, leaving this other also obviously gay Charlie standing there smiling weirdly and eating his fucking dust. Cearley had blown past the Grand Prairie city limits and into Dallas when it had hit him. “Oh fucking shit hell!” he screamed at no one and everyone around him.

Cearley had remembered he had to stop at Southern Gas & Oxygen Supply Company, one of his Firm’s more lucrative clients, to have papers signed by the owners. Southern Gas had been planning, for quite a while, to move out of the I-30/I-35 downtown Dallas industrial corridor, where they could expand their business. And Cearley had been working with one of the Firm’s younger “baby” dirt lawyers to get all the fucking filings ready for Southern’s real estate acquisitions and move. “Crap! Shit! Fuck! I don’t have fucking time for this jerk-off shit!” Cearley had been red-faced by this time and had barely remembered to exit onto I-35 instead of taking I-30 through the Canyon into downtown Dallas, where his Firm, Wenford Segram & Menck P.C., was located.

The green Mercury Sable he’d nearly sideswiped had swerved onto the shoulder, nearly hitting the guard rail, horn blaring all the way, as Cearley had shot the driver a most definitive middle finger.  At the same time, he was thinking about what a dipwad jerkbutt of a laugh Wenford was, what a bizarro Segram was — always off in Tibet communing with fucking monks — and Menck, who’d retired to London but kindly *allowed* the Firm to keep his name — for a hefty fee.

One day, one of those names would be gone and the Firm’s name would fucking start with “Cearley.”

While thinking about that, he’d watched the road with one eye and dug through the papers in his briefcase in the passenger seat next to him. Cearley had been swerving all over the interstate, alternately barely correcting his driving and shooting the bird to everyone else who’d had the fucking nerve to honk at him.

“Shit! There it is!” Cearley had yelled in satisfaction, grabbing the papers in his right hand as he zipped around in front of and barely missed clipping the front end of a Peterbilt carrying a tanker full of some highly flammable liquid.  He shot the long-hauler the finger when the driver’s air horns blasted him, and made his exit.

“Aw fuck!” He’d been ready to pull out what was left of his bad comb-over when he’d hit the red light at the end of the exit ramp.  Cearley had looked both ways, intending to run the light when he heard it: a mechanical- like buzzing that had caused him to stomp on the brakes. He’d just sat and listened for a moment. “What the hairy freakin’ fuck now?” he cursed, looking at the dashboard of his brand new Lexus, as if it held the key to the mysteries of the universe. It had been a brand new fucking Lexus! Nothing should’ve been wrong with it! Like any moron who knew nothing about cars and what makes them run, Cearley had hit the dash — hard — with both fists and the buzzing had stopped. Cearley’s nasty, lawyerish smile returned.

*Nothing* — not even a lemon Lexus would stop Benjamin Fucking Cearley, III. He’d already instantly decided to sue the dealership over that using the “Texas Lemon Law” statutes.

The light had turned green, and, without looking either way, Cearley hit the gas and, a few moments later, was pulling into Southern Gas’s parking lot, stopping excruciatingly close to a palette of several hundred tanks full of whatever the fuck it was they sold there. “Sir!” a voice had called to him as he’d gotten out of his Lexus, a handful of legal papers clutched in his right hand. The lawyer had whirled around to find a guy in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, greasy and dirty, approaching him from behind his car. “What the fuck do *you* want, shithead?”

The young man, who couldn’t have been more than 18 years old, had stopped momentarily and blinked at the words and the sour face in front of him before stuttering on. “S-sir, y-you’re parked too c-close to the p-palettes,” he’d motioned to the tanks that had been located less than a foot from where he’d parked his Lexus.

“S-so th-the h-hell wh-what?” Cearley had snarled, clearly making fun of his disability.

“W-well, sir,” the young man had tried again, “th-those are acet-acetylene t-tanks … and th-they’re highly fl-flammable. It w-would b-be b-better if you’d m-move your c-car f- further b-back.”

Cearley had then smiled threateningly and approached the kid like Santa Anna’s troops on the Alamo. “I’m *not* moving my fucking Lexus for fucking *anyone*! Sure the hell *NOT* the fuck *you*! And if there’s a fucking mark on it when I come back,” he’d stopped to notice the kid’s name patch–”Bob”– clearly sewn on his uniform, “‘Bubba,’ there’ll be fucking hell to pay!”

The boy had taken a few steps back from him as he’d slammed the papers onto the trunk of the expensive, fully equipped black  Lexus, and Cearley’s attention had then been instantly drawn away from the annoying employee and back to his vehicular status symbol.  That mechanical buzzing had come back — but the fucking ignition had been turned off!  “Oh what the fucking hell now?!” he’d screamed, grabbed the papers and had used his remote to open the trunk.

Cearley had leaned in to look around, as if he’d known what the hell he was looking for, and had been surprised when something flew into his face.  He’d jerked back from the open trunk as another few things flew out at him. “FUCKING BEES?” He’d yelled in disbelief. He’d already automatically started deciding about billable hours in suing shitty Delta *and* fucking D/FW Airport for this when he’d seen the first bee.

Thomas & Kitt represented Delta and he’d been turned down for his first job there.  Benjamin Fucking Cearley, III, J.D. *always* remembered a grudge, and he’d recognized this as his chance.  Unfortunately for Benjamin Fucking Cearley, one of those bees had chosen that exact moment to fly up his nose, and another into his mouth. Hundreds of others had suddenly swarmed out of his trunk and onto him.  Cearley had dropped the papers, which had scattered with the wind, and he had been twisting and turning, batting madly at the furry little fucking things that were invading his clothing and bodily orifices, and began stinging him in a mad flurry. “FUCKING HELP ME, YOU ASSHOLE!” he’d managed to get out, one eye still barely clear enough to see that “Bubba,” wide-eyed, had run away at the exact moment that Cearley had fallen to the side, knocking a large, fully-charged acetylene tank into another.

The domino effect had been instantaneous, but Cearley hadn’t noticed. He’d been too involved in smashing bees and hurling invectives into the hot Texas July morning.  Bubba had run directly for the gas company’s office when he saw the spark of tank hitting tank and, moments later, a loud speaker on the lot came to life, a voice loudly and stringently advising *everyone* to evacuate the premises *immediately*. Cearley, however, hadn’t heard *that* over the buzzing that had been, quite literally, in his ears. He wouldn’t have been able to evacuate anywhere anyway, other than in his pants, which he had.

He’d been caught up in his own fucking drama and had fallen on top of some large but squat acetylene tanks that had been fully-charged only hours before and were on the burning and exploding palette.  Blood, bees and stingers clogging his throat, he had been skyrocketed in a ball of flame, gas and black smoke over a thousand feet into the blue skies of Dallas, Texas by several dozen acetylene tanks which had exploded all at once, taking his brand new Onyx Black Lexus with them.

The final thoughts that had gone through Benjamin Fucking Cearley, III’s fucking disbelieving mind as he and his brand new Armani suit, his bad comb-over and flesh caught fire and burned, was figuring out to which fucking client/matter number he’d fucking charge and fucking pad his fucking jerkwad billable hours for this fucking shit-ass disaster.

Delta Flight 1013

In Route to JFK International Airport

March 6, 2006

Two vaporous streams followed in the wake of the mighty white Boeing 767 as it soared thirty-five thousand feet above land through the bluer than blue sky. A thing of beauty, it was mankind’s answer to the birds in the sky, and statistically the safest mode of transport.

Having flown her life’s maximum mileage quota, this was Delta flight 1013’s final trip before being retired.  All she had to do was make it the final few miles to JFK International Airport in good ol’ rainy New York City. Of course the two hundred and ten passengers inside the fuselage of the metallic bird had no way of appreciating its splendor, even if they’d cared enough to be remotely interested.  However, one person in particular, sat alone in silence at the back of the plane, and was even less enthralled than everyone else…In fact, her constant fidgeting and nervous glances toward the “underfloor” cargo bay door were enough to give away the apprehension and unhappiness she felt at being on this flight at all.

*Just breathe, Glynder — nothing’s gonna happen. Besides, this is your last one with them, remember!*

The air stewardess closed her eyes as the mantra repeated itself over and over in her mind, and then reached a hand up to comb through her curly hair.  Just as it was 1013’s retiring journey, this was Glynder Innamo’s last day working for Delta.  She’d been trying to get a transfer to a different airline for months due to the grueling hours she was expected to work and her general dissatisfaction at the unsanitary (if not unsafe) conditions of a majority of the airplanes, but no available vacancies had been offered in her direction.

And then the large unmarked, undocumented crates had started to appear several weeks ago, which in turn had become her sole responsibility to keep guard over; crates that no one except the pilot and herself should know of, nor should any living soul ask questions about.

Innamo had kept watch of more than a dozen of the mysterious cargo boxes in that time, but there was something about this particular one that made her more agitated than normal.

Then again, the encounter with the red-haired man before boarding had commenced probably hadn’t helped put her mind at ease.

“Today’s ‘package’ is a *very* special one, Mrs. Innamo,” the man she knew only as ‘The Client’ had huffed out, handing over the white envelope that customarily contained her under-the-counter payment (though usually delivered by the Captain).

She’d been divorced for four years this Christmas, but she hadn’t dared to correct the guy as he’d cast a cautious glance over his shoulder and then turned back, pushing his sunglasses back up onto the bridge of his nose.

“You *must* protect it at all costs — no one can get near it or disturb it,” he’d continued in a much firmer tone. “I don’t think I need to elaborate on how imperative it is that it reaches its destination, do I, Mrs. Innamo?”

She snapped out of her thoughts with an involuntary shudder as the image of the holstered Glock he’d gestured toward underneath the left side flap of his jacket remained in her memory.

*One more and then they can stick their crates up in an even darker and smaller crevice than the cargo bay,* Glynder muttered to herself, pulling the envelope from her uniform pocket and reading the paper that had been inside instead of a bundle of fifty-dollar bills.

Transfer papers for guaranteed employment with American Airlines. “One more.”

A hum, deep and low, charged the air with an incomprehensible electrical pulse as it increased in intensity and slowly neared the aircraft.

Plane

Slowly closed in on its target.

“Michael! Stop bouncing about in your seat!” one of the flight-fearing passengers scolded, checking for the billionth time that her seatbelt was secured before turning to grab her young son’s arm.

“But I wanna watch the black cloud, Mommy — it’s dancing!” came the whined response.

“‘Black cloud’? Honestly, how many times do I have to tell you to stop telling such tall tales? Now sit still and be quiet until we land.”

The bespectacled six year old stared longingly at the small window for a moment longer before bucking the courage up to try convince his mother that he wasn’t lying. “There is a black cloud though, Mommy…” he sniffed, tugging at her arm. “It keeps gettin’ bigger an’ bigger an’ swaying left and right…I think it wants us to watch it cos it’s coming up to us…”

Flustered and desperate for the landing gear to hit tarmac as soon as humanly possible, the woman shook her head and leaned over her son’s lap to look out through the porthole. “Honestly, when your father hears what’s been coming out of your…” Her voice died in her throat as her mouth fell agape. “What in hell…”

“Jim, we’re picking up some strange activity on our radar.”

Lifting his gaze from the control panel, Captain James Koombs glanced at the flashing green blip the co-pilot was pointing to. “How far away?”

“Two hundred feet directly below us and climbing.”

Koombs frowned in confusion and concentration briefly before shifting back in his seat and adjusting his headset.

Something dark deep down in his gut knew exactly what that was, but he was fighting desperately not to imagine it or let the fear take him over. “JFK Tower, this is Delta-1013. We’re reading an abnormal object in very close proximity to us. Can you please confirm?  Over.”

There was silence and then a long burst of static, but no voices of air traffic controllers replying to the request.

Several switches were flipped and then Koombs tried again, “JFK, this is Delta Airlines flight ten-thirteen. Do you read?”

More static.

Before either man had chance to speak, the cockpit began to resonate with a low hum, just barely audible above the noise of the plane’s engines.  The co-pilot, Nathan White, searched the instruments in front of him for any indication of what the disturbance might be, while his friend in the pilot’s seat fumbled with the radio. “This is Delta 10–”

Suddenly, something hit against the windshield. Koombs looked up sharply and then slowly rose to his feet to closely examine the small black mark splattered on the glass. “Oh God…” he choked to himself, wiping a hand across his suddenly dry mouth. “They’re … They’re here to save their queen and brothers…”

As the deep noise grew in volume, Glynder Innamo frowned and quickly stood up. She’d never heard anything like this before, and the way her seat had started to furiously vibrate was a little unnerving (well, maybe just a tad arousing as well, but now really wasn’t the time to be feeling that, and that fact alone added to her nervousness).

After shooting a brief, cursory glance at the cargo hold door yet again, the stewardess turned to face the small window on her left. When she looked out, all she could see was a thick, waving sea of black rising toward the underside of the plane and, more importantly, the wing-mounted engines.

And then Innamo remembered that she actually *had* heard something like this sound, oscillating the thick atmosphere on one of those shows about swarms of killer bees attacking people that they kept repeating on the Discovery Channel. Like an arm of a drowning person breaking the surface and reaching for the heavens, a long chain of bees shot out from the tide and up toward the window — completely blanketing it to obstruct her view.

Innamo quickly backed away in sheer terror, but the plane violently tilted to one side at the same time, and she lost her footing, hitting her head against the seat behind her on the way down.

As her world faded to black, the sound of panicking fellow crew members in the galley and screaming passengers further down the plane echoed in her ears, only slightly superseded by that of thousands of bee stingers frantically chipping away at the window.

Plane2

Co-Pilot White struggled, hands shaking, to buckle his safety belt as the aircraft rolled from side to side and back again. Despite the fact that there was something outside trying to force them down, he couldn’t stop thinking about Koombs’s cryptic comment and if it meant the Captain had any involvement in the events that were now unfurling.

“Sir, what–”

“I don’t…” Koombs paused momentarily to consider the depths and complexity of the lie he was weaving. Clearing his throat, hoping that would be enough to mask the slight tremor in his voice, he quickly finished, “I don’t know. “All I *do* know is that there’s something flying far too close for comfort to our engines and… and either we get out of its path or it fucks off … otherwise I don’t think we’re gonna be able to keep this bird in the sky.”

As if on cue, one of the large turbine engines sputtered to a stop for ninety seconds, jerking the aircraft with a knee-jarring jolt before rendering it completely out of control. In the cargo hold, the mounting desperation of the entrapped insects in the unmarked crate (which had reached fever pitch by now) had been enough to rattle the box free from the straps securing it in place. But, the tailspin the plane had suddenly pitched downward and nose-dived into caused it and a dozen other freight cases to slam against each other and release their contents in an explosion of clothes, countless unimportant accessories … and at least a thousand angry bees — the latter of which immediately headed for the ventilation ducts.

The fight to control the plane was futile as the pilot and co-pilot tried frantically to regain command of the nearly-tumbling aircraft, until the dead engine inexplicably choked back to life, waging its own war against the bugs that were insistent on clogging the compressor’s fan blades.

“Tower, dammit, answer! May day! May day! We’re going down! I repeat, we’re going down!”

Mocking static echoed over the radio. About one hundred lights flashed and alarms beeped to indicate that they were in trouble, just in case they weren’t aware already.

Meanwhile, at the rear of the jet, Innamo was regaining consciousness as the second engine kicked in, sending the craft spinning in the opposite direction. Unable to grasp her bearings, she instinctively crawled on her stomach to the seat behind her. She was about to hoist herself up onto it when she heard the tapping at the window. Her head turned and she paused in mid-rise. She snatched in a breath.

Time slowed almost to a halt.

The cracks in the double plexiglass panes grew longer, snaking purposefully toward all sides of the frame under the pressure of the bees’ relentless attack. A droplet of blood from Innamo’s head injury plopped onto the upholstery of the chair. And before even a split second had passed, the window gave way, sucking shattered plexiglass and anything else not secured throughout the entire cabin into the blue wilderness….

Including the air stewardess.

Long, varnished nails clawed hopelessly at the cushion and armrests as time spiraled back at break-neck speed to normal with a sonic boom. No struggle could win against the vacuum created by the different air pressure, though, and Innamo’s body flew at the hole where the window had been. Her head and slender shoulders went through with ease, but her stomach stopped her from going any further.

Icier than arctic cold wind tore at her skin. Tiny shards of sharp plexiglass burrowed into her abdomen. Legs kicked desperately for only a handful of heartbeats, and then before the barrage of bee stings had time to register or her silent scream was able to catch up with the plummeting plane, Glynder Innamo lost consciousness again, but this time forever, as air had been sucked from her lungs.

Without a real understanding as to what was happening behind them, passengers screamed as papers, iPods and other objects flew past and impacted them, frantically fumbled with their safety belts and clung tightly to whoever was in the seat next to them — whether they knew that person or not.

Overhead compartments randomly popped open, spewing out their contents and causing numerous bags to strike some of the panicking passengers. The sudden change in cabin pressure caused the automatic release of the oxygen masks, and corybantic hands reached to put them on — some not noticing the insects concealed inside the airlines until it was too late.

It didn’t take long for the bees outside to break through more of the failing windows along both sides of the fuselage. And just four minutes after the anomaly had appeared on 1013’s radar, the plane impacted with the ground eleven miles short of its destination, instantly killing anyone who hadn’t already died slowly and painfully at the mercy of the Africanized bees.

ACT I

Ada, Iowa

October 1, 2007

1:32 p.m.

Todd Grossbeck took a deep breath, and suddenly was transported 15 years into the past, into the Wisconsin countryside. The day was hot, humid, dusty, and sweat dripped from Todd’s long, narrow nose. He was in heaven. He rose to his feet beside the shoulder-high corn, corking the seemingly empty vial as he surveyed the ridged waves of green extending nearly to the horizon.

The Ada elevators rose from the emerald sea like a trio of steel ships. This was Todd’s element — he’d been confined in Washington more and more since 9/11 and the “takeover,” as he thought of it. He’d leapt at the opportunity to return to the Heartland, to a life lived slower, among straightforward people. Even so, Todd had been in public service long enough to know no place, no Eden, was safe from the darkness. He’d kept his suspicions to himself, perhaps out of reluctance to tarnish this Eden. Besides, Dr. Berenbaum had been through enough without being dragged into his thus far ungrounded theorizing. Todd was uncertain what his next step would be. His research at the Extension office had intensified his conviction that what had been happening was no natural occurrence. But the only solid evidence he had were some slight chemical anomalies and some Internet printouts.

The insistent buzzing prompted the scientist to scan first the azure skies and then the gravel ribbon of road bordering the fields. The buzzing intensified, and he felt a slight breeze as a dark shape orbited his ear lobe. “What the–?” Todd mumbled. Then he felt a sharp pain at the juncture of his neck and collarbone, and he slapped at the source of his torment.

It was all wrong — the sound, the feel. He dropped to his knee, rubbing his inflamed skin. He found the body a few feet away, but as he carefully plucked it from the grass and examined it, his eyes widened. Then his throat slammed shut and he rolled onto the grass, gasping for oxygen. Todd knew the symptoms of anaphylaxis only too well, but this was impossible. As his eyes blurred with tears, he heard the crunch of gravel that hopefully signaled salvation. Stat, Shelley, Todd willed.

From the blocky silhouette against the Iowa sky, Todd knew instantly it wasn’t his assistant. His fingers stretched toward the man, but the stranger ignored him, instead inspecting the ground around him. Todd emitted an animal plea as the man bent, retrieved the object he’d been studying only a minute earlier, and marched briskly back to his vehicle. The sound of flying gravel was the last thing Todd heard as the Darkness descended…

“Hold on, Todd,” Shelley Bluth begged as the ambulance sped past farmhouses and equipment dealerships. She was covered in her colleague’s blood — after the epinephrine kicked in, she’d been forced to perform a field tracheotomy with a Bic pen. The EMTs showed up moments later, and the regional hospital was 20 minutes away.

The USDA technician jumped as iron fingers grasped her wrists. “Oh, God, Todd, just lay back,” she whimpered.

The hole in Todd’s windpipe bubbled as he gurgled. “Catsssss…”

“Please, Todd, please…”

His nails dug in. Shelley yelped.

“Catssssoooooo…”

“I can’t…”

Todd’s eyes suddenly lost focus, and he fell back on the gurney. The med tech set to work on him, ignoring Shelley’s anguished sobs.

Superior Court

Fairfax County, Virginia

October 1, 2007

2:42 a.m.

F.B.I. Special Agent Dana Scully took her seat in the second row, right behind the defense counsel’s table. Assistant Director Walter Skinner glanced over at her and nodded. Her partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder must have heard her shoes on the highly polished wooden floor, or smelled her perfume because he turned just enough to flash her a smile from his seat next to his attorney.

Her only thought was of a bumper sticker she’d recently seen on a beat up antique VW Beetle — ‘Where are we going and why are we in this hand basket?’ They had been working quietly through the afternoon just two days previous when a call came down from Skinner’s assistant, requesting their immediate presence.

They’d arrived at their superior’s office to find the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Deputy with a subpoena, which he promptly handed to Mulder before tipping his hat and leaving the room. Mulder was being sued. Not only sued, but was facing possible criminal charges resulting from his high speed chase of Agent Mark Giltner through the streets of Georgetown and on both the I-395 and I-95 expressways. His court appearance was set for two days hence because it was to be determined if Agent Mulder was a danger to himself and others.

Mulder had joked about it at home that night. He even suggested that this time she could save them the trouble and just tie him to their bed, but she had seen the haunted look in his eyes.

Mulder wasn’t much for proving his sanity on his best days and he’d just come off a pretty horrendous case. They’d managed to sort out the hurt feelings between them, but he was still slightly raw around the edges and she hated to see him saddled with more stress he didn’t need.

Besides, it was his turn to write up the quarterly reports and she was not going to let him use the ‘locked up in an insane asylum’ excuse again. He’d used up his one time pass several years ago.

The hearing — at least Scully was pleased to see it was not being called an “arraignment”–was to determine what, if anything, the court should do to ensure the safety of the citizens of Fairfax County around and in dealings with Agent Fox Mulder.

Among the witnesses was Mrs. Helen Wertmer, the owner of the BMW that Mulder cut off as he pursued Giltner onto the on ramp of the I-395. Her car ended up ‘t-boning’ another vehicle resulting in minor injuries to herself and the other driver.

Mr. Clarence ‘Bud’ Gaston, the owner/operator of the Yellow Freight truck maintained that his rig sustained damage when Mulder’s car forced him off the road and into the cement barriers along the side of the expressway. There were three Fairfax County Deputies also present who had pursued Agents Mulder and Giltner for their approximately 20 mile chase, at speeds far exceeding the posted 65 miles per hour.

When all the witnesses had testified, the judge, an imposing white haired woman with a look of pure steel, called upon Mulder.

“Mr. Mulder, what do you have to say for yourself?” Judge Crowder asked sternly.

At a nod from his attorney, Mulder rose from his chair. “Your Honor, I was merely performing my duties as a sworn officer with the U.S. Department of Justice,” he said evenly.

Judge Crowder peered at him from over her wire rimmed glasses. “Mr. Mulder, according to the deposition taken of your superior, Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner, you were officially suspended from you duties at the time the chase took place.”

Mulder drew in a breath. “Your Honor, I was under suspension at the time. But the suspect–”

“That would be Agent Giltner?” Crowder interrupted.

“Yes, ma’am, Giltner, the suspect had just been seen leaving my place of residence and I believe he was directly related to the death of a Georgetown University student–”

“Yes, I see by your initial statement that you believe Mr. Giltner played some part in the ‘suicide by police’ of a hostage taker and possible bomber, a young man named Jason Arman.”

“He was not a bomber,” Mulder growled. “He was a young man with information about a possible conspiracy–”

“Would that be the global conspiracy that you refer to repeatedly in your statement, Mr. Mulder? Something about health food additives and murder?” the Judge asked.

“Look, I know it sounds crazy, but there was a conspiracy to poison health food products. It goes back to a church, the Church of the Red Museum–”

“Mr. Mulder,” the Judge tapped her gavel to get his attention. “We are not here to listen to conspiracy theories about granola bars and power water. We are here to determine if you are fit to carry a loaded weapon and interact with society. And from what I’ve just heard, I believe I need outside expertise to help me make my decision. I am hereby remanding you over for psychiatric evaluation. I further order that you be placed on administrative leave from your position with the Federal Bureau of Investigation until such time as I have made a final determination of your fitness for duty.”

“You can’t do that!” Mulder shouted, slamming his fist on the table.

“I can, Mr. Mulder, and I just did,” Crowder hissed, her face a stone mask. “You will report to Dr. Wallace Manville tomorrow for your initial assessment. I expect Dr. Manville’s evaluation to take no more than two weeks time–”

“Two weeks!” Mulder howled, all the while his attorney was pulling on his arm to get him to settle down. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever–”

“Two weeks!” Crowder shouted over Mulder’s tirade, pounding her gavel again. “And Counselor, I suggest you subdue your client before I order in-patient involuntary evaluation!”

Scully pushed past Mulder’s attorney to stand by his side. “Mulder, don’t make it worse,” she pleaded, her hand on his arm. He deflated like a spent balloon and fell back, landing in his chair.

“Two weeks, Scully. What the hell am I going to do for two weeks?” he whispered, anguish looming in his eyes.

“Prove that you’re as sane as any of us,” she said softly. “But you’ll have to do that from home.”

“This hearing is adjourned,” the Judge called out, slamming her gavel once.

Denver International Airport

Denver, Colorado

October 1, 2007

3:54 p.m.

Spender could’ve killed for a smoke.

The Russian mother on the aisle (Spender had romantically dubbed her Natasha) had stolidly studied her Cyrillic romance novel for the entire trip from Los Angeles as her tyke babbled in some bolshevik dialect and periodically craned across Spender for a view of the cumulus cloud cover.

Spender hadn’t killed a Russian for more than 22 years — that had taken nearly nine months, and Yuri Andropov’s death had gone down publicly as renal failure — and he’d calmly pretended to watch “The Office” on the overhead monitor as he savored the memory.

As Spender headed for the connecting gate, buffeted by tourists and businessmen making love to their Blackberries, he caressed the half-empty pack of Morleys in his jacket pocket. The corners of his lips twitched into a beatific Giaconda smile as he spotted the glass enclosure beyond McDonald’s. He and his nicotine “addicted” ilk had been relegated to these airtight cells, like anachronistic exhibits for the scornful passing masses. He was amused by their disdain — his true sins would keep an entire monastery of confessors busy until the end of recorded time.

“OUT OF ORDER.” Spender stared blankly at the placard.

“Air system.” Spender turned. A huge, cueball-bald security guard shrugged. “Sorry, Chief,” the sentry rasped. “Air system went down a couple days ago, and the guy hasn’t been out yet to service it.

The Cigarette-Smoking Man forced a mournful smile. “That’s all right. I have plenty of time. There’s one on Concourse F, right?”

“Whole freakin’ system’s down. I’m dyin’ for a Morley myself, you know.” The guard peered around for someone to take it out on, then wandered off.

Spender sighed, then spotted the airport bar across the way. “Cheers”– the breezy retro script beckoned. Where everybody knew your name.

The irony was irresistible, and he negotiated a group of Japanese sightseers and an obese mother haranguing her offspring. Good old Yankee capitalist guilt mongering — no wonder Communism crumbled, given the likes of Natasha and her babbling babushka.

Spender’s irritation began to subside as he settled three stools away from a fiberglass simulacron of Norm Peterson, frozen perpetually in his request for a fresh head on his beer.

Two seats away, a rumpled businessman meditated over a clean, no-bullshit highball half-filled with amber liquid. On the monitors above the rectangular bar, Ted Danson bantered inaudibly with an incredulous Shelly Long.

Spender had seen the franchised watering hole many times coming through numerous terminals, silently lamenting a society that was rapidly deteriorating into a pop culture amusement park.

Then, one long Sunday night at The Watergate, as he waited for a particularly crucial call from a compatriot at the UN, he ordered up a New York strip, stretched out, and, for lack of alternative entertainment, channel-surfed his way up the dial. Spender bypassed CNN and MSNBC — fairy tales concocted to mask global machinations that would loosen the bowels of most common men.

Contemporary sports left Spender cold, reality programming made him despair for the future of the planet, and Tony Soprano was a sentimentalized amateur who wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in any efficient criminal operation.

He was on the verge of opting for brooding silence when raucous canned laughter erupted from the set. It was a “Cheers” marathon, and although Spender’d always viewed this kind of sitcom drivel as one of the lower achievements of his species, it seemed a tolerable enough alternative to the hum of the air conditioning.

By the time he’d reduced his meal to a potato husk and a pool of blood and broth (Spender fancied a special circle of Hell for those who left their fat for the busboy and calibrated their carbs by an atomic clock), he had been sucked into Sam and Diane’s universe of proletarian camaraderie and Dostoyevskian tomfoolery.

It made no difference that this was fiction, played out on a soundstage by performers who likely would never deign to dive into a bowl of picked-over peanuts in some congested Beantown bar. Spender had been touched by something fundamental, something that flickered within the dead coals of his soul, something revelatory and bracing and poignant. The mailman Cliff’s incessantly ludicrous trivia, the waitress Carla’s razor-honed jibes at her friends and patrons, innkeeper Sam’s lunkheadedly loving counsel to all who entered his bar — such things had no place in the cold, faithless vacuum of Spender’s universe.

And for the first time, Spender suspected his existence was all the more empty for the absence of banal chatter and wasted moments of trivial reflection. He had decades ago cast his lot, and left his life’s path littered with bodies and ashes. There was no returning to a world where other tired souls might trumpet his name as he entered the room or inquire after his daily trials and tribulations. But Spender’s spirit lightened slightly when the call came and he was informed his mission had temporarily been scrubbed (he found the high-profile pyrotechnics of the princess’ later Parisian “accident” garish and excessive). And he soon thereafter bought the entire “Cheers” oeuvre on VHS — and subsequently, on DVD.

Spender ordered a Scotch. As the alcohol burned pleasantly down his ravaged esophagus, his fingers closed around his Morleys and the cool metal of his lighter.

“Whoa, don’t even think about it.”

The cigarette stopped an inch from Spender’s lips, and he turned to the rumpled man two stools away.

“Not that I care,” the middle-aged traveler grinned, waving toward the “Thanks For Not Smoking” sign bolted to a post behind the bar. “Gave ’em up myself a year ago — wife forced the issue. But sometimes when I’m on the road like this, I find some little bar near the tracks and just soak up all the secondhand fumes I can get. Joints like that are getting tougher to find, though, with all these smoking ordinances and statutes and everything, I mean, New York City Council’s outlawed trans fats, for God’s sake. Chicago, it’s illegal to serve goose liver pate.” The stranger held up his glass. “Next thing you know, they’ll be coming after this. Damned Nazis.”

Spender laughed harshly, and the man regarded him strangely. “I’m sorry,” Spender smiled. “It’s just, well…” He displayed the lighter, and his fellow traveler gasped. Engraved on the silver case was an eagle, wings spread, roosting atop a wreath of oak leaves. The wreath encircled a familiar, insidious symbol. A broken cross, its arms bent at right angles.

CSM

“Jesus,” the rumpled man whispered. “That thing real?”

Spender turned the lighter.

“‘Zum Herr Wolff — Mein mutiger adler. Liebe, Eva,'” the man stumbled.

“‘To Herr Wolff — My courageous eagle. Love, Eva,'” Spender supplied. “An inside joke. He often used the alias Herr Wolff in the ’20s for security reasons, and she adopted it as a term of endearment.”

“Who–? Oh, shit, Eva. Eva Braun? That thing didn’t belong to–?”

Spender smiled. Until a few months ago, he’d kept this little icebreaker at the cabin, in a lockbox with other souvenirs of his travels. But some impulse — perhaps the recklessness that came with age and resignation, perhaps pride in the deed that had led to its acquisition, perhaps a mere reminder of the influence he once had yielded — had led him to keep the lighter close to him.

This was, however, the first time he’d shared its existence with others.

It had been nearly 30 years ago.

The Frenchman himself had dispatched Spender to the old monster’s compound in Paraguay. The Austrian had been a paranoid madman in the ’40s; the intervening decades and enforced idleness reportedly had loosened his tongue, and the Consortium’s members feared what might roll from it in a weak moment.

The Austrian’s mind may have been fading, but his memory was long, and the old Nazi had never entirely trusted the disfigured ex-Resistance fighter. But he seemed inexplicably fond of Spender, to the Cigarette Smoking Man’s well-concealed horror.

True to Internet legend, the former chancellor was a vegetarian, a virtual teetotaler, and an avid non-smoker — he had launched a fervent anti-tobacco campaign across Germany, and had awarded gold watches to several associates who had quit.

After an evening sans meat, liquor, and nicotine and replete with demented ramblings about the Jew Conspiracy and the prospective Fourth Reich’s impending role in purging “the mongrels from the stars,” Spender was all too happy to carry out his assignment.

As he prepared to flee The Austrian’s compound for a local tavern and a pack of Morleys, Spender as an afterthought returned to the parlor where the Nazi lay dead of an apparent embolism and helped himself to the silver lighter the clean-living old swine had kept solely out of love for his wartime mistress.

“Where in the hell did you get this thing?”

The rumpled man’s voice was tinged with disgust and, Spender thought, a tinge of fear. He was amused by the man’s reaction to this inanimate object, this curiously useless keepsake of a genocidal beast, but he’d already overindulged his dark sense of humor, at potentially significant risk.

“Ebay,” Spender murmured. “May I buy you another drink, friend?”

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport

St. Louis, Missouri

6:31 p.m.

“No, no, no,” the cabbie, a stout African, insisted. “This is a smoking-free environment. You cannot do this in here.”

Spender nodded as the Arch came into view, and, again, pocketed Hitler’s lighter. The cigarette, he left between his lips. Angry eyes flashed in the rearview mirror, and the cabbie goosed the gas.

Adam’s Mark Hotel

20 Minutes Later

The downtown Adam’s Mark was teeming with suits and polo shirts emblazoned with the names of pharmaceutical firms, agricultural conglomerates, and government agencies. Spender caught snatches of English, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, and a dozen Arabic and African dialects as he wove through the lobby.

He glanced at the banner hung behind the registration desk–”BIO/07: The Structure of Tomorrow”– and wondered why The Frenchman had selected such a mob scene for their meeting.

The wait at the elevator bank was interminable, and on the way to 23, Spender endured an animated dialogue between two biotech lawyers about “proof of concept” and FDA approvals. Again, he massaged the crumpled pack in his jacket. The door to 2318 opened before Spender could rap a second time. Krycek smirked. “They’ve been waiting for you,” the younger man murmured. “I need a drink.”

Spender took a breath as Krycek receded down the hall and quietly closed the door behind him.

The Frenchman nodded, smiling dryly as he warmed his omnipresent brandy with both hands. A bespectacled Asian rose from an armchair next to the Scarred Man, eyeing Spender anxiously and, the Cigarette Smoking Man noted, with apparent  disappointment. “Hello, my friend,” The Frenchman called warmly. “Mr. Arai, this is our friend, Mr. Spender.”

Arai’s head bobbed quickly, and Spender bowed slightly. The man clearly was nervous, perhaps desperate. Spender looked to The Frenchman.

“Please help yourself to some palinka, Mr. Spender. It’s a bracing Romanian plum brandy — I was delighted to find it available here in, how do they say, the Heartland?”

“I’m fine,” Spender murmured.

The Scarred Man shrugged. “Mr. Arai is the senior vice president of agricultural products with Katsuhiru. He is attending the biotechnology conference downstairs, in fact is delivering a key address on some subject of acute scientific interest, I am sure.”

Spender dropped onto the couch at the mention of the corporate dynasty. Arai stared unbelievingly at the seemingly serene Frenchman. The Scarred Man glanced at his pensive guests and sighed.

“Yes,” he breathed. “Well. My friend, we once again require your inestimable services. I will allow Mr. Arai to apprise you of the unpleasantries that have arisen.”

Spender looked up at the Japanese executive.

“It is bad,” Arai announced. “It is very bad.”

Spender leaned back into the cushions, his hand seeking the comfort of the cool vintage lighter and his Morleys.

“Please sir,” Arai grunted apologetically. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t.”

Spender hesitated, his eyes never leaving Arai. After a minute, he left the pack of Morleys in his pocket, let his hand drop and leaned back in an intentionally casual attitude, waiting to hear the “very bad” news.

ACT II

Office of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C.

October 2, 2007

10:25 a.m.

The creature was roughly the size of a border collie, its thorax was covered with downy bristles, its abdomen encircled by ebony stripes, its wings incongruously delicate and veined. Two out-sized compound eyes shone with an inky intensity. The agent stared into the alien orbs with something akin to affection.

“Apis mellifera,” the Fed announced, lingering a second over the image projected onto the wall of the basement office. “The Western honeybee. Subspecies have emerged across the globe, and they are perhaps the world’s most economically crucial organisms.”

The insect disappeared, to be replaced with rolling fields of corn. In quick succession, the agent displayed slides of Midwest wheat fields, Chinese apple orchards, French rapeseed plots, and Colombian coffee plantations.

The agent’s eyes glinted with the passion of science — a passion that had pushed colleagues away, which had led to this virtual exile to the hinterlands of the agency.

“The Western honeybee is essential to pollination — an important step in the reproduction of seed plants. The insect transfers pollen grains — the plant’s male gametes — to the plant carpel, the structure that contains the ovule — the female gamete.”

“Whew, and you haven’t even bought me dinner yet,” Agent Mulder murmured before his host could continue. Agent Berenbaum tapped the projector remote against her chin with a faintly disapproving smile.

“The bottom line,” the former USDA entomologist sighed, “Is that the Western honeybee is key to global agriculture and food production. New York’s apple crop alone requires roughly 30,000 hives of bees for pollination per year; Maine’s blueberry crop uses nearly 50,000 hives.  Bees are also brought to commercial plantings of cucumbers, squash, melons, strawberries, and many other crops. Close to a million bees are trucked to California’s almond orchards every season. Altogether, bee pollination is important to at least 90 flowering crops.  And, as I’m sure you’ve read, Fox, something is killing Apis mellifera. Tens of thousands of colonies have been lost in 35 states — it’s a very real threat to commercial U.S. beekeepers and fruit, grain, and oilseed producers.”

Mulder leaned back in Dr. Berenbaum’s chair, appraising the scientist/investigator. “And why, if I may ask, does this concern Homeland Security?”

He’d met Bambi Berenbaum more than a decade ago, during the investigation of an inexplicable — and to date, unexplained — cockroach infestation in Massachusetts. Mulder had instantly been mesmerized by Bambi’s physical charms and her unflappable intellectual curiosity (well, maybe a bit more by the former than the latter). But it wasn’t to be: At the conclusion of the case, Bambi wound up with, and eventually wed, internationally renowned roboticist Alexander Ivanov.

Then 9/11 happened. Dr. Berenbaum was shipped off with most of her colleagues at Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services to Homeland Security. The APHIS folk suddenly found themselves in some fairly intense company, but while most simply retreated into the lab, Bambi attacked her new duties with a renewed zeal and an iron will.

That zeal produced a 435-page guidance document on the potential use of invasive invertebrate species by terrorist factions bent on bringing down a major U.S. economic/trade sector.

Bambi asked some hard questions about several recent incidents such as the Asian longhorn beetle’s Midwest bingefest and the varroa mite’s intensified assault on the Western honeybee population.

While she drove home the point that her theories about infestation as a terrorist weapon were strictly speculative, a Washington Post writer having a slow news day fell onto a copy of her treatise and published selected excerpts under the banner “Bush’s war on terror gone buggy?”

Dr. Berenbaum consequently became the Jerry McGuire of DHS, albeit in classic D.C. fashion: She was shipped downstairs to larger quarters with a promotion that would virtually guarantee her future invisibility. Once again, Bambi adapted like a predatory diving beetle to her lucrative “setback,” and when the economic dynamics of “colony collapse disorder” began to sink in, her bosses sent her back into the field to solve the mystery of the imperiled pollinators.

Bambi sighed. “The department publicly minimized my paper on invasive agroterrorism, but some of the black helicopter types — no offense, Fox.”

“None taken,” Mulder grinned weakly.

“Some of my colleagues on the investigative side believe there’s something more to colony collapse than some new viral strain, varroa mite gone wild, or some kind of environmental mutagen. I guess I’m beginning to think there may be some basis for their concerns.”

Mulder studied her wordlessly. Bambi misinterpreted his silent appraisal as an invitation to amplify her suspicions.

“One of my team, an environmental scientist named Todd Grossbeck, has been analyzing soil, water, and air quality across the Western Corn Belt, looking at possible environmental factors affecting native mellifera populations. A week ago, Todd told me he’d detected what he called ‘a nearly insignificant anomaly’ in a couple of the ambient air samples. He’d wouldn’t go into any details — said he wanted to do a little more testing and research first.”

“Research? He give you any hints?”

Bambi’s expression darkened. “Nothing. He was very tightlipped, very adamant. As if he didn’t want to put his neck out until he knew he was on solid ground. These DHS types don’t exactly worship us pure science types, and he saw what happened to me.”

“You think he may be onto something. But what do you want me to do? Lean on him, threaten him with a long weekend at Guantanamo if he doesn’t spill?”

“He’s dead.”

Mulder sat up, Bambi’s stricken expression now registering fully.

“Todd and his crew were in Eastern Iowa, sampling some soybean plots. One of the technicians ran into town to buy fresh batteries for some of his gear. When she came back, she found Todd seizing. He was flushed, and there was a puddle of vomitus nearby, so Shelley — the tech — guessed anaphylaxis. She had an epi pen, and she administered it while she called 911. But it was too late — he coded in the ambulance before they could get him to the closest regional hospital. They found what appears to be a small sting wound on his forearm.”

“What appears to be–”

“That’s why I called you. They’re shipping Todd’s body back in a day or two, and I want a full, detailed autopsy. Not the superficial P.M. the local coroner did.”

Then it dawned. “Scully.”

“And you,” Bambi emphasized. “There may be some elements to this that require your unorthodox perspective.”

“Ah. I knew crazy would pay off someday.” Mulder grew serious. “Look, Bambi, I’m happy to help any way I can, but, really, this is a stretch even for me. Anaphylactic shock, in a field probably chock full of hymenoptera? Not exactly an exotic Malaysian blowgun dart tipped with curare.”

Bambi nodded calmly, then moved around her desk, slipped the top drawer open, and pulled out what appeared to be a portrait-sized photo. “Todd was a former student of mine, a Minnesota farm kid with a fascination for bugs. When he was nine, in fact, he went exploring on a neighbor’s farm. The neighbor was a custom pollinator, couple hundred hives on his place. Well, Todd got a little overexuberant in his explorations and knocked over a colony. He told me he sustained at least three dozen stings and came out with ‘a red face and a redder ass after his dad got done with him.’  This is Todd — it was his favorite photo.”

The thin, auburn-haired boy was grinning from ear to ear. In fact, the grin was nearly all that could be seen on Todd Grossbeck’s face. The rest was covered with a thick, yellow-and-black swarm of what Mulder could only surmise to be Western honeybees.

FBI Headquarters

Basement Office

X-Files Division

Scully strode into the office to find her partner rifling through the file drawers. “Mulder? What are you doing here?”

Mulder turned abruptly at the sound of her voice, pulling the file he’d been looking for from the drawer and slamming it shut. “Research,” was the only word he could come up with as he faced her.

Her radar indicated he was up to something, “Research on what?” she asked him hesitantly.

“Bees,” he told her as he stepped over to the desk and picked up a folder, handing it to her.

Scully gave him another skeptical look and flipped open the folder wincing immediately at the autopsy photo of Todd’s face.

“That’s Todd Grossbeck, environmental scientist, he worked for Homeland Security,” Mulder told her.

She glanced through the preliminary findings attached to the photo and then looked up at her partner. “Says here he died from anaphylactic shock. That’s not uncommon, Mulder. What’s your interest in this?”

“Just something a friend asked me to look into.”

Always wary of Mulder’s ‘friends,’ she questioned him, “A friend?”

“An entomologist, Dr. Berenbaum…”

Scully ran the name through her memory, “Bambi?” she exclaimed before he could utter another word.

Mulder gave her a sheepish grin. He’d been quite taken by the attractive brunette back then. Bambi, on the other hand evidently didn’t feel the same way. “She married Ivanov by the way,” he admitted.

“Her loss,” she replied straight-faced. Mulder chuckled.

“Todd had no allergy,” Mulder told her, growing serious again. “Grossbeck headed a team investigating this “colony collapse” in the honeybee population. They were working fields out in Iowa when he was ‘attacked’. He never made it to the hospital. In her last conversation with him, Bambi said he thought he might be on to something but wouldn’t give her the details until he was certain.”

“She thinks someone killed him?” Scully surmised.

Mulder studied his partner, “She thinks, and I quote, ‘There may be some elements to this that require my unorthodox perspective.'”

“And you, of course, agree.”

Mulder handed her the X-File he had extracted from the drawer and motioned for her to sit down. “That is a case I investigated back in 1997,” he started to tell her as she flipped open the folder. “It started out as an investigation in the death of a postal worker, one Jane Brody who was stung to death by a swarm of bees in an employee bathroom and whose body later disappeared from the morgue. It turned into what I believe was a cover-up of some sort of experiment gone wrong. You can add the death of an entomologist, a teacher, and several children at J.F.K. Elementary School in Payson, South Carolina who were also attacked by bees to the list as well as the murder of a Desmond, Virginia detective,” he finished. He wasn’t about to add the part about Skinner’s involvement and his own debauchery in covering that up.

“Where was…? She started to ask why she had no recollection of the case until the date on the folder caught her eye. Dying from cancer, she answered for herself. Mulder watched the recognition spread across her face but said nothing. “You think this might be related?” she finally ascertained.

“It has the same buzz to it, yes,” he concurred watching the subtle grin spread across his partner’s lips. “But I’m washing my hands of it. Bambi’s having Todd’s body sent down here. She asked if you would do a full, detailed autopsy — and go from there.”

Scully was puzzled by his about-face, “You sound like you’re passing the buck, Mulder.”

“I have the feeling this is gonna require some field work,” Mulder made a motion like his arm was chained to the desk. “I desperately want to get back in the field and if that doesn’t happen soon I’m gonna gnaw my arm off. So for now I need to be a good dog. You don’t need me to work this case, Scully. Do the preliminary, Skinner will okay the 302.”

Office of Wallace Manville, Ph.D.

Avenue W.

Washington, D.C.

11:00 a.m.

“Agent Mulder?”

Mulder looked up at the towering psychologist poised in the inner office doorway, tossing the Architectural Digest onto the doctor’s otherwise immaculate reception room table.

“Thank God. Your magazine selection sucks. I’d think neurotics and narcissists would like People.”

Dr. Manville nodded soberly. “Less Bauhaus, more Brangelina. Duly noted. Please, come in, Agent.”

Manville’s office was spare. A selection of psychological texts and journals lined the wall behind an outsized mahogany desk clear of either work or personal paraphernalia.

A pair of caramel leather club chairs were centered with mathematical precision in the center of a mirror-buffed hardwood floor, and a quartet of framed degrees were the only adornments on the doctor’s matte burgundy walls.

Manville

“Have a seat,” Manville invited.

Mulder smirked, glanced at both chairs, and settled into the soft leather. Manville lowered himself gracefully, positioning a yellow legal pad in his lap. The doctor’s mineral eyes nearly matched his close-cropped gray hair and mustache, and his lips were molded into a superficially pleasant smile.

“Did I choose correctly?” Mulder asked dryly.

Manville’s smile expanded a micrometer, and he nodded curtly. “I suppose. That is my customary chair, as I assume you’ve deduced. There is only one clock in the office, and it can be seen only from my chair — clockwatching tends to inhibit the therapeutic process.”

Mulder arched an eyebrow in an acquired gesture. “And here I always thought it was a post-doctoral control trip. Yeah, I saw the clock, but I also see you’re a southpaw — the right arm of the chair is more worn than the left, because you’re constantly jotting perceptive little observations and Freudian scribbles on your Pad of Secrets. Plus, I think I spot some sweat stains on the other chair there.”

Manville’s colorless eyes narrowed even as his smile held. “You sound almost like… well, no matter.” The therapist settled back in the patient chair. “I was told you work in Behavioral Sciences — you’re what, a profiler, they call it on TV? Oxford, I understand. Very facile deductive and intuitive sense. I met one of your colleagues years ago — same agile facilities. I also understand you have some strong issues with authority. So, yes, I suppose you made the correct choice.”

Mulder feigned a pained expression. “Want me to let you know when our fifty minutes is up?”

“Thirty — this is merely an intake session. And thanks, but I’ll manage.” Manville nodded to a point behind Mulder. The agent grinned questioningly and craned around the back of the chair. A stylish clock face was reflected in the glass encasing Manville’s Stanford doctoral diploma.

Mulder’s grin widened, then vanished as he turned back to the psychologist. Manville shrugged. “I can’t very well label the ‘shrink’s throne,’ can I? And, as you know, I field many Bureau referrals, so I’m certainly used to relinquishing my chair on occasion.”

“Touche’. So I’m not even a particularly special prick.”

Manville’s smile ratcheted back to its default setting. “I cited your authority issues. Possessing a strong force of will, a critical worldview — that doesn’t define one as a prick. The exercise of that will, the extent to which cynicism obscures that worldview — I think you’ll find that that’s what separates the pricks from the pack. And, actually, I believe we’ve established your particularly specialized pedigree and abilities.”

Mulder crossed his leg. “Everybody’s special, so, therefore, nobody’s special.”

“We keep this up,” Manville mused, “and we won’t have time for perceptive observations and Freudian jottings. I assume you’ve had a few personal encounters with the psychiatric profession.”

Mulder’s grin froze. “You’ve got my dossier, right? Spooky Mulder? Babbles on about extraterrestrial abductions, global conspiracies, boogeymen under every bed and monsters among us? Obsessed with resurrecting his ‘dead’ baby sister? I’ve been having close encounters with your compatriots since I was 12 — survivor’s guilt because Samantha was taken and I wasn’t; repressed memories about the night she was taken; traumatic delusions about the true nature of my sister’s disappearance. One guy kept asking me about my ‘relationship’ with Samantha: What kind of ‘games’ did we play? Did my Mom or Dad ever ‘interact’ with me in an ‘appropriate’ manner? Luckily, I had a solid alibi, and Dad quickly shipped me off to another shaman. I’ve been hypnotized, had disco lights flashed in my face, been shot up with ketamine, and even had one guy try to drain some demons from my brain with an electric drill.”

“Charlie Goldstein,” Manville murmured. “I read his papers on regression therapy. Posthumously, of course. Goldstein had some fascinating, if flawed, theories.”

“He actually wasn’t such a bad guy. I liked him a lot better than the one who kept telling me I needed a cathartic cry.” Mulder responded. “In short, don’t expect many Judd Hirsch-Timothy Hutton moments from our time together. I’m sure there are folks out there who need to be fucked up far worse than me, so why don’t we just make a new hole in your schedule?”

“If it aids at all in our therapeutic relationship,” Manville told him coolly, “I might remind you your director insists I sign off on your emotional and mental soundness if you’re to remain on active Bureau duty.”

Mulder was silent for a moment. “Perceptive observation. Remind me later to draw a little Freudian jotting for you. By the way, who was the profiler? The other disturbed fibbie? Guess that’s probably classified, right?”

“Not at all,” Manville smiled. “She wasn’t a patient. I was, ah, consulted, in the investigation of a former associate. But no matter. For your own amusement, why don’t you tell me a little about your work. What do you do with the Bureau?”

Mulder glanced at the clock behind Manville’s head. “Sorry, Doc, but I believe our time’s about up.”

ACT III

Katsuhiru Inc.

Yokohama, Japan

1951

Humility was a concept foreign to Shindo Katsuhiru. He had captained one of the most feared and respected of Japan’s Zaibatsu — the huge family conglomerates that had virtually controlled the nation’s economy until the Occupation. Shindo was as a god to his underlings and a demon to those who dared challenge his dominance.

After the Zaibatsu were dismantled, Katsuhiru was one of the first of the major public corporations to emerge amid Japan’s “economic miracle” of the post-Occupation era. Shindo and his oldest son Endo — a prewar Oxford graduate who had embraced the Western business model — had recognized in the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the raw power science offered, and acquired with ruthless efficiency new holdings in pharmaceuticals, electronics, agriculture, and electrical generation.

Shindo Katsuhiru bowed only with his hips, his peers and enemies alike said (outside Shindo’s presence). Humility was anathema — a despised weakness, a superfluous emotion. But today, Shindo was humble in the presence of his diminutive, seemingly unassuming guest. The man bowed gravely to Shindo and his son, and Shindo dipped deeply, eyes momentarily closed.

This modest, bespectacled man, like Shindo, was a survivor, a modern ronin who looked only forward. After the war, the Americans sought to try him as a war criminal, but MacArthur intervened on his behalf, understanding he was an essential symbol of Japan’s cohesion and continuity.

Further, Shindo’s guest was a man of science. In his special laboratory in Tokyo, he continued to indulge his love of marine biology and, in fact, had described dozens of species of jellyfish previously unknown to zoologists.

He had published numerous scholarly papers under his personal name — a name only a select few used in his presence.

“Hirohito-san, you honor us,” Shindo murmured, ushering the Emperor into a lush office that could have belonged to a Madison Avenue executive if not for his sumi-e paintings and Kotaro Takamura sculptures. This had been Endo’s influence — the younger man had wisely understood commercial dominance would be Japan’s ultimate victory over the West.

“My good friend,” Hirohito smiled, “you honor me with your indulgence.”

“We are your servants, my son and I,” Shindo nodded. “Please, sit. I ordered a lovely plum wine for your visit. Would you join me?”

“It would be my pleasure.” Endo nodded to his father and stepped into the hallway. Shindo nodded to his son who bowed and stepped into the hallway.

“He is a reflection of his father,” Hirohito noted. “Katsuhiru is a major force in restoring our global power, and that is what brings me here. The fate of Japan, perhaps of this world, may rest in your hands.”

Shindo’s brows rose. His friend was not given to melodrama.

“Please,” the corporate magnate entreated. “Tell me how I may be of service to you, to my country.”

Emperor Hirohito placed his hands on his knees and sighed. “My friend, you may think I am a madman by the time I have completed my tale.”

Once plum brandy had been served, with all the traditional Japanese customs observed, Hirohito began.

Sometime later, Shindo and his son glanced at each other as Hirohito concluded his fantastic account.

“We have documentation, tissue samples — you are to have access to all, if, of course, you agree to assist us.”

Endo began to speak. This arcane tale of Nazis, otherworldly creatures, and Hitler’s bizarre experimentation…

His father’s hand stayed his skepticism. “There is no question of our loyalty, Hirohito-san,” Shindo said. “But how can Katsuhiru assist you?”

The Emperor templed his fingers. “Adolph Hitler was an insane monster, and his efforts to deal with this threat were equally insane and monstrous. Sound science is the key to safeguarding our planet. Our new American ‘friends’ agree — they are working with some of Hitler’s more, shall we say, rational scientists? Meanwhile, I am placing my faith in Katsuhiru’s considerable scientific acumen. I have been authorized to provide you with virtually unlimited resources.”

“To what?” Endo inquired, suppressing the incredulity in his voice. “To develop a weapon?”

Hirohito smiled gravely. “Ah, yes. In a manner.”

Adam’s Mark Hotel

St. Louis, Missouri

Present Day

Mr. Arai drained his brandy thirstily. “They named it ‘Project Anubis,'” he whispered.

“The Egyptian God of the Dead,” Spender murmured. The Japanese scientist turned to him, eyes wide. “Anubis was, more precisely, the guardian of the dead, before Osiris, in the Old Kingdom, who was the Conductor of Souls in the Underworld and protected them on their journey to the Afterlife in the West.”

“I am told it was their joke,” Mr. Arai nodded. “They meant to guide … them, all of them … to the underworld, to hell. And because the Egyptians were masters of apiculture.”

“Bees?”

Mr. Arai jumped at Spender’s inquiry. “Bees, yes, Mr. Spender.”

The Cigarette Smoking Man’s brow rose. “What’s happening now, the disappearance of the bees. This is your doing?”

Mr. Arai looked to the silent, immobile Frenchman, who nodded once. He poured himself another healthy dose of palinka. “The Emperor asked Mr. Katsuhiru to devise a weapon. More specifically, to make the Earth itself a weapon. To make it an inhospitable environment for … for them.”

Spender hooked an arm over the back of the hotel couch, and his lined face suddenly broke into a broad, grim smile that might have chilled the marrow of the jackal-headed Anubis. It all came home now — Strughold and his massive colonies along the Nile, the smallpox incident nearly a decade ago, the dead bee he had delivered to the Elders.

He laughed — a nicotine-scarred rasp. “Brilliant. Your honorable predecessor fell upon the perfect Trojan horse, the ideal vehicle for his biological weapon.”

“Yes, yes.” Mr. Arai’s dark expression brightened. The irony in Spender’s voice was totally lost on him. “Subspecies of the Western honeybee have developed on nearly every continent. They are virtually omnipresent. Originally, they were to be bred with Africanized species to bring out their aggressive tendencies, and genetically modified with a DNA- specific virus fatal only to … the others.”

“But that would be merely the start,” the Frenchman spoke up. “The magnificent minds at Katsuhiru postulated a virus that could be incorporated into and alter the genetic structure of any organism, flora or fauna. These bees were to be the ‘Anubites’ — the servants of Anubis, the emissaries of death.”

“Through pollination, they would inoculate the planet’s crops, the world’s vegetation. Meat, eggs, milk — all would become deadly. Earth would become a virtual Rappaccini’s garden of death.”

Spender finally sipped his brandy. “Very ambitious. And you’ve perfected this virus?”

“We believe so,” Mr. Arai said. “We’ve worked for decades, eliminated hundreds of possibilities. The transgenics team finished years ago — Katsuhiru actually completed mapping the bee genome 10 years before the Honey Bee Genome Sequencing Consortium was formed in 2001. Of course, we were unable to seek the Nobel Prize.” The scientist laughed nervously.

The Frenchman smiled indulgently; Spender peered curiously over his brandy.

“Yes, well,” Mr. Arai continued, “We have successfully bred several generations of transgenic carrier bees, and our field tests of inoculated corn, orchard fruit, and almonds have been highly gratifying.”

“I assume, of course,” Spender drawled, “that you have anticipated the possibility of viral mutation, of foodborne allergies within the general populace. We wouldn’t want any collateral deaths, would we?”

The Frenchman sighed, shaking his broad, bald head with amusement. Mr. Arai glanced at the carpet, guilt etched into every facial feature. “We have developed a vaccine,” he mumbled. “And an antidote.”

Spender smiled darkly, his faith in humanity intact. “As a gift to the world, of course.”

The Frenchman spared Mr. Arai. “Please, continue, my friend.”

“Yes. We are, of course, several generations, perhaps a few years, away from producing a ‘manageable’ population of the ‘Anubites,’ as you call them,” Arai continued. “Until this time comes, we are replicating strictly sterile bees with a self-terminating gene. The average worker bee lives one to four months. Our Anubites have a lifespan of less than 20 days, to minimize potential damage in the inconceivable event of an accidental environmental release.”

“Owing to the urgency with which I was summoned, I assume the inconceivable has occurred ?” Spender mused.

Mr. Arai was silent for a moment. “Several colonies disappeared seven months ago. They were being transported by truck from our labs near Nagano to the port at Yokohama, for shipment to Africa, per Mr. Strughold’s orders. The truck — which was camouflaged as an electronic supply vehicle — was ambushed and the driver and our three-man security crew murdered. The colonies — several hundred thousand bees — simply vanished.”

“An insider,” Spender grunted.

“It would seem so, but every member of the Anubis team has been thoroughly investigated and exonerated. We began to hope that perhaps the theft was merely a coincidence — a brutal hijacking — and that the hijackers would destroy the bees as worthless. At the worst, we were hopeful the Anubites would terminate before they could do any true harm. But then, two very disturbing developments emerged,” Arai stated grimly.

“The first was the outbreak in Kentucky, five months ago. We had an agent within your CDC. The symptomology, it was identical to that of the strain we had incorporated into the stolen Anubites. The outbreak appeared to be isolated, but it was clear that at least some of the bees had survived despite their genetic reprogramming.”

“Clearly,” Spender sighed. “And this second development?”

Mr. Arai looked at this moment as though he would gladly have taken the honorable exit preferred by many of his Japanese ancestors. “Despite this … setback, we had continued our research. But then, a few weeks ago, one of our scientists discovered … something in one of the colonies.”

“Allow me to venture a guess,” Spender requested pleasantly. “The innate biological imperative to survive kicked in, overriding your technology. The will of nature, the obstinacy of life, whatever you wish to call it. You found eggs.”

Somewhere, far below, an angry cab horn sounded, breaking the silence that descended on the plush hotel room. Mr. Arai snapped back to Earth as he heard a metallic snap, like a shell dropping into a chamber.

Spender fired Hitler’s lighter, and applied the flame to the Morley between his withered lips. The lines about his eyes and mouth relaxed as he took in the first foul, lethal fumes that always served to reassure of him of some measure of free will.

Office of Wallace Manville, Ph.D.

Avenue W.

Washington, D.C.

11:00 a.m.

Manville eased into the guest chair without acknowledging the inverted clock superimposed over his Stanford credentials.

Mulder dropped into Manville’s chair without spilling a drop of the Grande Caramel Macchiato that had made him a fashionable — and premeditative — five minutes late. If the therapist had noted his tardiness, he failed to acknowledge it, as well.

“Being as it’s our first full session, why don’t you begin?” Manville invited. “Maybe you can offer me some insight into what you’d like to get out of all this. Plus, I’m fairly certain it’ll prove infinitely more fascinating.”

Mulder nodded, squinting at the vaulted ceiling. “Hmm, so you want to know what? What’s eating me?”

Manville waited, pen hand at ease over his pad.

“Where to start…” Mulder murmured. “My relationship with Dad? Little clichéd, right? Mom? Little too Freudian, huh? How about my strong issues with authority? Whoops, sorry — now I’m just cannibalizing you.”

“Ah.” The psychiatrist’s eyes smiled. “Obviously, you’ve seen my ‘dossier,’ as well. While I’m frankly curious to plumb the depths of your anthropophagic wordplay, we’re not here to amuse me. That’s merely a fortunate byproduct. If I may ask, when did you start the background check? After our first session? Or before?”

“Let’s say I narrowed the parameters after our initial discussion. I already knew you were a honcho in the trade — top of your class, a half-dozen reasonably scholarly books to your credit. Of course, the few of your tight, uh, mouthed colleagues I could talk to wouldn’t say much about you. Professional curtseying. Sorry, courtesy.”

Manville’s mustache crimped at the corners, not out of vanity but in the fortunate byproduct of amusement.

Mulder nestled into supple leather. “But when you told me you’d worked with another BSU agent on a case involving a professional cohort, it rang a bell. I found out you’d done a psych residency in Baltimore back in the ’80s.”

“And that I was on staff with the estimable Dr. Hannibal Lecter, thus the subtle references to cannibalism.”

“Braise and snarf a coworker’s liver, you kinda get labeled for life. The tipoff is when you mentioned the investigating agent was a ‘she.'” Mulder smiled disingenuously. “Glass ceiling’s a little higher today, but back when Buffalo Bill was grinnin’ and skinnin’ and Hannibal the Cannibal was chewing up the scenery, there weren’t too many equal opportunity profilers.  The Buffalo Bill case put Special Agent Clarice Starling on the map, and when she disappeared a few years ago, nobody was sure whether Lecter sliced and diced her or whether she and Hannibal the Cannibal had registered at Bloomingdale’s. What do you think?”

Manville shrugged casually. “I talked to her for a half-hour two decades ago. I recall she was driven, intense, definitely a Type A. I remember detecting a distinctly southern patois and a blue-collar sensibility and servility. Agent Starling was intent on inspecting the seams of that glass ceiling until she found an entry point.   At least that was my impression. At the same time, I could sense her empathy with Dr. Lecter’s alleged victims as well as a grudging admiration for the doctor’s intelligence and intuition.”

“But you don’t remember anything much about her, huh? And ‘alleged’? Sounds almost like you’re a member of the Lecter Fan Club, yourself.” Mulder deadpanned.

“He was a brilliant man with brilliant insights. From what I remember, of course. Baltimore General was a huge institution, and Dr. Lecter and I were part of a huge psych staff. We interacted, of course,” Manville shrugged imperceptibly, “but no more than any other doctor and resident. I recall he was charming, tactful when the situation warranted, reverting to near savagery when someone screwed up. But I really spent very little time in his personal company. I told Agent Starling as much. But I’m assuming you already know that. You share many traits with Agent Starling.”

Mulder frowned, glanced at the clock behind Manville’s head. In fact, he had sought out Starling’s field report, only to find it had been sealed along with most of her subsequent casefiles after she’d dropped off the face of the earth. He couldn’t very well have pushed Skinner for access under the current circumstances. But for some reason, Manville had practically waved Lecter in front of his nose.

“Any further inquiries?” Manville smiled solicitously, glancing at his Stanford diploma. He nodded at Mulder’s silence. “Lecter’s a fascinating character. Sorry I couldn’t provide you with any intriguing insights. Let’s talk about you for awhile, Agent Mulder. I understand you and your partner — Agent Scully? -– share a very unusual bond. For the Bureau, that is. How would you say that dynamic affects your professional rapport?”

Mulder froze. The paper cup in his fingers crimped slightly — the sole giveaway that Manville had hit a nerve. His fingers relaxed, and he smiled tightly.

“This ain’t about Scully,” the agent drawled in his best ‘Dr. Phil.’ Manville smiled back, indulgently, and Mulder flushed. “Look, Doc, any perceived quirks in my recent behavior aren’t the product of sexual tension or romantic angst.”

“Interesting, though, that you’d raise the topic. You are experiencing some? Angst?”

“Agent Scully does not figure into this.” Mulder’s eyes were pure, unblinking steel. “You wanna get into my fucked-up childhood or my latent UFOria or whatever demented delusions they’ve told you I suffer from, knock yourself out. Leave Scully out of it.”

Manville didn’t break eye contact, but he shifted deliberately into a more laconic pose in his chair, one side of his mustache quirking into a bit of a smirk. The condescending reaction hit its mark, as intended — Mulder’s hand was now shaking slightly as he reigned in his growing temper.

“If there are issues in your relationship with Agent Scully — and, given your history, your recent violence, your past, your sister and your parents’ lack of support and love, I suspect there is — then a certain, ah, lack of function wouldn’t be out of the realm,” Manville suggested in a perfectly even voice, nodding meaningfully at Mulder’s lap. “I could prescribe something to help, well, allay any symptoms that may distract us from addressing root issues. Something potent, something blue?”

“WHAT?” Mulder roared, his macchiato dropping to the hardwood, his other hand white- knuckling the arm of the chair. Manville appeared not to notice the mocha tributary trickling toward his loafered foot.

“If you don’t care for the pharmaceutical approach, I often recommend that clients whose needs aren’t being met interpersonally by their partners to take matters into their own hands, if you catch my drift. Self-pleasure could help take the edge off, or at least take it down a few notches. Or, even better, I could recommend some manual exercises for Agent Scully…”

Mulder, red-faced and miles beyond furious, exploded from his chair, splattering his spilled latte onto Manville’s cuff.

The doctor looked up dispassionately as Mulder thundered across the few feet between them. His critical composure stopped Mulder short inches away. The agent blinked, struggling to control his rage, then slumped back into Manville’s chair.

“Well,” Manville murmured. “We can come back to this later. Meanwhile, could you tell me who you believe to be discussing your ‘demented delusions’ with me? This ‘they’ you mentioned…?”

Avenue W.

Washington, D.C.

12:10 p.m.

Ironically, after swabbing Mulder’s spilled macchiato — he’d allowed it to pool like a moat between himself and his patient for the remainder of the session — Manville quickly polished his notes, checked his office e-mail, locked up, and set out for his own Grande Macchiato. The day outside his brownstone advertised everything that was great about living in D.C., or at least in Northwest. A gentle Mid-Atlantic breeze swept unseasonably warm currents about him as he negotiated joggers, browsers, tourists, and suits momentarily suspending their pursuit of dollars and power.

The cherry trees lining the avenue left a colorful fall dandruff on the narrow sidewalks. Somewhere down the way, Manville could hear the sounds of cool jazz wafting from a bistro or boutique.

Manville had his choice of three neighborhood Starbucks; like flukes, they appeared to proliferate wherever the environment was suitable. His associate had specified the one wedged between a feminist bookshop and a Moroccan café. A half-block up, he could see him at a curbside table, consulting his watch. A smile played at Manville’s lips. “Evan,” Manville murmured, lightly touching his “friend”‘s shoulder. Evan Pym looked up before the psychologist’s fingers reached the lightweight gabardine; a lifetime of stealth and suspicion had honed his senses and reflexes.

“Wally. You’re looking good.”

“As do you,” Manville mused. “Be right back.”

“No worries,” Evan smiled tightly, nodding toward a cup of steaming night-black expresso.

“Two sugars, I recalled.”

Manville sighed, and pulled out a chair. “I was thinking of being a bit more adventurous today, but no matter. How is Rachael?”

“As obstreperous as ever. Jen?”

“She’s well,” Manville said, sipping his robust brew as he maintained eye contact over the rim.

Evan laughed, shaking his head. “So much for the small-talk, eh? All right, then.” He swished his own half-cup. “Productive morning?”

“Reasonably.”

“Good,” Pym said. “How is our boy Mulder?”

**

Mulder likely couldn’t have explained, even to himself, why he’d abruptly made the decision to stalk his counselor. He’d left the session angry and disoriented, and he’d stopped into a nearby comic book shop to cool off over some Spidey and Ghost Rider. He emerged to see Wallace Manville strolling in the opposite direction.

Manville’s past relationship with the ravenous Dr. Lecter had intrigued Mulder’s interest, but as the agent considered his fencing match with the therapist, a more fascinating picture began to form. He found himself profiling his counselor before he realized it.

Glib and superficially charming, manipulative, grandiose. A lack of shame or empathy. Classic sociopathy. Control was an essential cover for the sociopath’s pathological lies and repressed rage. That rage had been Lecter’s initial undoing, until he regained the upper hand.

Mulder followed, until, three blocks later, the doctor turned into one of D.C.’s ubiquitous Starbucks. The dapper man seated on the sidewalk obviously was waiting for Manville — a steaming cup awaited the sociopathic shrink. The man turned as Manville placed a hand on his shoulder, and Mulder froze.

“Shit,” Mulder whispered.

  1. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building

Washington, D.C.

2:14 p.m.

Skinner glanced at the clock on his militarily ordered desk.

“It’s been roughly 72 hours,” the assistant director informed Mulder. “I commend you for hanging in.”

“This guy’s seriously twisted,” Mulder insisted. “Manville’s practically a textbook sociopath — he studied under Hannibal Lecter, for God’s sake. He was morbidly interested in my sex life. Or Scully’s sex life. Well, I guess, our sex life. He actually suggested I should, Scully should, you know…”

Skinner grimaced at Mulder’s attempted gesture. “Agent Mulder, I understand counseling isn’t a pleasant experience. No one enjoys plumbing their psyche with a stranger. I’d suggest you suck it up, expose your soft underbelly, and put this behind you. Or, in the alternative, use this as constructive opportunity.”

“C’mon, this is horseshit, and you know it!” Mulder snapped.

Skinner’s fist came down on the blotter, and his eyes suddenly blazed. The deputy director then blinked, took a deep breath, and leaned back in his leather chair. He patted a sheaf of folders on the corner of his desk.

“Since last year’s little ‘episode’ in Egypt, you’ve nearly gotten yourself sliced and diced trying to single-handedly apprehend a serial killer while on disability leave. Without consulting the NYPD detective you were supposed to be working with, you chased an armed suspect through a busy tourist area and almost got your head blown off. And then you assaulted a fellow agent and walked off the job. If it hasn’t yet penetrated, Agent, we have a problem here.”

“I’m fine,” Mulder muttered. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

“You assume it’s you I’m worried about,” Skinner sighed. “Look, bottom line, Agent Mulder: If you ever want back in the field — and I mean *ever* — you’re going to have to poke around in whatever dark holes Dr. Manville digs for you. Forget about the court — I’m not putting Scully and everyone else in your orbit in jeopardy. Pull it together, Agent. That’s all.”

Mulder’s mouth moved, then closed.

“That’s all,” Skinner repeated.

Mulder stumbled out of the office, slumping against the hallway wall. He’d effed it up royally — Manville was universally revered among his colleagues and without access to Starling’s files, there was little chance of Mulder confirming his suspicions about his true relationship with Lecter.

But if those suspicions were valid, where did Evan Pym fit in? Mulder had withheld that tidbit from Skinner for the deputy director’s own protection.

At least until he could figure out how Manville was connected to the National Security Agency’s head of covert operations…

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

The darkened house at first gave her pause until she noticed the lamp glow coming from the study upstairs that in the end was where she found her partner. He was seated at the desk, glaring viciously at the screen of his laptop. Two beer bottles sat in a pool of perspiration on the top of the desk off to his right. Aside from the flash of a glance when she entered the room he gave no acknowledgement to her presence. His body language told her everything. It had not been a pleasant day.

Scully slipped out of her shoes and walked silently behind her partner. Leaning over him, she hefted the lager that still glistened with sweat and took a healthy swallow somewhat enjoying the beer’s bitter taste and allowing the cold liquid to recharge her.

“You could have gotten your own,” Mulder commented, not taking his eyes off the screen of the laptop.

Scully set the beer back down and put her hands on his shoulders. She could feel the tension radiate off him. His shoulder muscles were as tight as knots. He wasn’t handling the suspension well, he wasn’t handling the court mandated therapy well and most of all, he wasn’t handling what he perceived was the opinion of everyone around him that all this was for his own good. She started to knead his tight muscles gently and leaned down to give him a gentle kiss on the cheek. “Bad day?”

“You have no fucking idea…”

“Mulder, whether you approve of it or not,” she tried to console him, continuing to massage his shoulders. “If you want to keep your job, you have to give Manville a chance.”

He started to relax into her ministrations. “Your hands are wasted on dead people, Scully. God, that feels good.”

Scully continued to work at the tension radiating from her partner. He tilted his head from side to side as her slender fingers eased up his neck.

“You know, I’d really like to know who recommended this crackpot,” he told her, clicking enter as Scully watched a site for the infamous Hannibal Lecter materialize on the screen. “Would you believe Manville was on the staff with Lecter? And they think *I* need therapy. I followed him after our session, Scully.”

“Mulder…”

“The man met Evan Pym for coffee, there’s something seriously twisted in that relationship.”

“Mulder, he was recommended by the Bureau,” she replied despite the chill that information he just mentioned gave her. She worked her hands up his neck as he bent his head forward to allow her access. “I don’t think at this point you have much choice.”

“Of course I have no choice. Don’t you get it? I’ve never had a choice. I feel like I’ve regressed a decade. Nothing’s really changed.”

“They’re still out to get you,” Scully surmised. “What happened today?”

Mulder pulled away from her and swiveled the chair around to face his partner. “My shrink had the audacity to suggest that my violent tendencies could be due to some ‘sexual tension’. That there could be some unresolved issues between us that are resulting in my inability to get it up.  He even suggested a little Viagra and if that didn’t help, maybe I should take matters into my own hands…” Mulder reached over and slammed the lid down on the laptop. “He has no idea that in my ‘younger days’ I was a pro at that.”

Scully bit her lip. She could understand her partner’s irritation at the question of his manhood, but it was really, really hard for her to keep a straight face as he rambled on. It didn’t take Mulder long to catch on.

“What?”

“I’m sorry…” she told him, covering her smirk with the fingers of her right hand.

“You think it’s funny?” Mulder asked, starting to smirk along with her.

“I just think you’re blowing it out of proportion,” she answered, not realizing what she had said until the grin spread across her partner’s face.

“You want me to answer that or not?”

“I don’t think so, no.”

“You know, Manville also said he could recommend some ‘techniques’ for you to try…” he then told her with a suggestive wiggle of eyebrows.

“Mulder, stop,” Scully stepped toward her partner and squatted down as the grin faded from his face. She took his hands into hers and looked up at him. “There’s nothing wrong with your manhood,” she reassured him. “But I do think there’s some truth in what you just said, about feeling like you’ve regressed a decade. You’re beginning to remind me of that impulsive, reckless, somewhat paranoid man I worked with back then. And it frightens me because I don’t understand why you feel you need to resort to those tactics again. Skinner’s worried about you, I’m worried about you. You’re not alone in this Mulder, not anymore,” she finished with a squeeze of his hand.

Mulder did know what was causing his rash behavior of late. An urgency he couldn’t explain was growing within him, gnawing away at his sanity. It was more than a hunch; the incident on the plane, Todd Grossbeck’s death, both brought back memories of something he’d seen before.

Was this the beginnings of a new threat or the end of something that had been playing out since then?

For now he’d keep it to himself.

“I’m okay, Scully,” Mulder reassured her, pulling his hand from hers and gently reaching out to tuck her hair behind her right ear. “And I don’t need this Hannibal wannabe to certify that,” he finished.

Scully studied her partner for a moment as she stood up. She knew he hated the impersonalization of going through therapy and then an idea stuck her. “Mulder, when was the last time you did something impulsive…?” When a puzzled looked crossed her partner’s face, she corrected herself. “I mean for yourself? Did you find a car yet?”

“I hear Ford is bringing back the Taurus…” he answered jokingly.

“Will you do me a favor? Just take a day for yourself, go car shopping.” She had a feeling she would hate herself later for what she was about to say but she made the commitment anyway. “Buy whatever you heart desires.”

Stunned by what she had just suggested, Mulder studied his practical partner for a long moment. Grabbing her wrists he raised her arms slightly and turned her to the right, feigning a look behind her. “You — look like my partner, what’s the catch?” He finally asked.

Not surprised by his summation, a soft grin spread across Scully’s face. “There is no catch, Mulder. I booked myself on a flight out to Iowa tomorrow and I’ll probably stop in Kentucky too. I spoke to a Deputy Warren earlier today about another incident involving bees there several months ago. He has someone he thinks I should talk to.”

Mulder’s eyes lit up, “Another death?”

“Yes, but you’ve taught me well, I need to be able to put the pieces together.”

Mulder gave her a pursed-lipped smile in acknowledgement. “But you’re gonna leave the nut case at home…”

A look of compassion spread across Scully’s face, “You’re off the clock, remember?” she told him, softly running her fingers through the hair above his left ear as he leaned into the caress.

“Never stopped me before…”

“Mulder,” she sighed. “Despite your suspicions about the man, give Manville a chance, if not for the Bureau, if not for the family, then for yourself.” Their eyes met as she grabbed his cold beer from the top of the desk and turned away; bending over to pick up the shoes she had kicked off when she’d entered the room. “And if he questions your manhood again,” she continued, raising and turning to meet his eyes with a subtle smirk. Scully’s voice dropped to an even deeper, more sultry alto. “You tell him I can assure him, there’s *NO* problem there.”

The innuendo and expression on her face were not lost on him — far from it -– but he couldn’t stop over-analyzing everything that had happened since the court hearing. He didn’t think Scully was able to fully appreciate how much not being able to be out in the field, or watch her back was killing him… how much being talked down to like an impotent puppy, by somebody who had a shady connection to a psychopathic cannibal, was slowly driving him insane.

He gave the laptop another cursory glance, listening to his partner’s footfalls echo down the hall as she made her way downstairs to the kitchen. Mulder thought back to the outburst he’d had at Manville’s office.

Had the therapist jotted *that* down in his little report? Had he noted that bringing up the subject of the partners’ relationship had seemingly been the trigger for it?

Skinner had inferred that Scully was in danger unless he got his act together… was that what they *all* thought? That he would hurt Scully?

Did she think that, too?

“Dammit…”

She was standing at the sink with her head lowered when he quietly entered the kitchen. The tap was needlessly running water into the sink; the empty beer bottles deposited and forgotten on one of the countertops instead of in the trash receptacle. He took a step closer, outstretching a hand to touch her shoulder but then letting it fall back down by his side.

*If not for the Bureau, if not for the family, then for yourself.*

As she’d said the words upstairs he could’ve sworn he’d seen the plea in her eyes, heard the need in her voice: ‘Please, do this for me…’ but he hadn’t pulled her up on it -– too busily wrapped up in his own world of secret theories, hunches and anger. Dana sensed her partner’s presence but remained silent and refused to turn around. He was shutting her out, and she couldn’t stop feeling that the light-hearted banter they’d shared upstairs and been a little strained.

After all they’d been through over the years, that was the scariest thing about all of this, and if the sessions with Manville were only worsening his mood swings, she didn’t know what else there was left to help. Part of her dreaded what he might have regressed to by the time she returned from Kentucky.

“Scully…” His voice was hesitant and low as he began to speak and nervously moved his weight from one foot to the other. “I just don’t see why I should have to share our private business with a guy who could turn out to be even crazier than me, for all anyone knows, just because the FBI thinks it’ll cure me of whatever delusions I may have. I don’t like some stranger trying to pick holes in our relationship that don’t even exist.”

“…Maybe they do…” she sighed, almost to herself.

Mulder’s mouth fell open and he was about to ask what the hell that was supposed to mean when she slowly turned to face him, her eyes boring into his very soul.

“I know how helpless you feel and I understand why you feel so unwilling to let anyone in, but you can’t keep locking *me* out, Mulder,” she continued, folding both arms across her chest.

“When I was ill and was advised to see Karen Kosseff at the Bureau, she brought up about how much I relied on you, or asked if I felt the need to prove myself to you in some way … if I had a fear of failing you for some reason … and I shied away from the questions — scared to explore how you or our partnership was influencing my decisions every day myself, let alone with a stranger. Of course, I came to realize how much I depended on you and the rest is history,” Scully smiled, “But my point is that *that’s* what therapists are employed to do — to make you talk about every contributing factor in your life, especially the ones you don’t feel comfortable discussing, so that the root of your problem can be unearthed. You *do* have a choice in this, Mulder, to co-operate with this guy and stop yourself regressing another ten years or spiral out of control.”

That caught his attention. “I’d…I’d never hurt you…”

She frowned, puzzled, as if he’d just said the most ludicrous thing she’d ever heard. “I know that. Who told you — ?”

“Everybody’s treating me like a volcano that’s about to erupt, and with Manville surmising that I might be suffering from some form of sexual tension…”

“Mulder, my only concern is that you’re holding back. I know when you’re up to something and when you’re lying, and I know as I look in your eyes now that there’s something you’re not telling me,” she told him. “Manville’s there to push you for as much  information as he feels necessary, but I’m here to just listen and I need to know that you can still trust me enough to share without the need for coaxing.” One of her hands reached to cup his cheek once again.

He let out a resigned sigh and rested against her palm. The fact she didn’t fear him was enough to help him relax, and he felt whatever was feasting on his sanity melt away a little. “Make the most of this free time,” Scully finished, stepping closer so that their bodies were almost pressed together, her caress never leaving his face. “Buy a car or whatever floats your boat, get some chores done around here, watch some of those videos that aren’t yours while I’m not here … have fun and prove the FBI wrong. If you hold back from Manville, he’s gonna have no choice but to report that you’re not fit to be carrying a gun, so talk to him…” Scully felt the bulge in his pants begin to press insistently against her abdomen, and she couldn’t hide the smile from her face.

Her fingers danced down his neck and then gently stroked across his covered chest.

“Humor him. If he brings up about your manhood again, jokingly ask if he’s propositioning you.”

“Then he’ll think I’m gay!” Mulder protested with a pseudo-pout.

Dana let out a snort of laughter and rested her head against Mulder’s shoulder for a moment as she struggled to get her composure back in check. “Okay, okay … so maybe not that, but you know what I mean,” she smiled, looking back up into his eyes. This was more like it. This was the ground and atmosphere they were more familiar with. It hadn’t been like this, truly, between them for longer than they’d let themselves believe, but there was that electricity that they needed to survive, and, as Mulder smiled, he felt himself drawn toward his partner’s lips.

The feeling was mutual, and with both hands possessively covering his chest, Scully lifted up onto tiptoe so that their mouths could lock in a passionate kiss. They didn’t part for several minutes, lost so deeply in the fire and desire of each other that time had become a non-existent entity and instinct had taken over.

Mulder’s t-shirt fell onto the floor before either of them knew what was happening; neither consciously realizing that they had to have broken the kiss at some point to lift it over his head.

Scully took a step back and hungrily studied his toned abs, and stunned herself with the next words that rolled out of her mouth:

“I need to get some paperwork sorted before my flight out from Dulles tomorrow, Mulder…”

Her tall partner half-naked and clearly highly aroused in front of her stood silent for several minutes, his eyes examining her from head to toe from behind hooded eyes, before lunging forward to scoop her up into his strong arms.

“I may be ‘off the clock’, but this is *my* time and *you’re* on it,” he stated matter-of- factly as he turned and made his way to the staircase, not letting go of Scully for an instant.  “Iowa and Bambi and whoever the fuck else needs your expertise can wait until I’m — I mean *we’re* done.”

“Mul-der,” she intoned in the familiar cautionary tone, despite knowing full well that she could never deprive this from either of them, her body promising that if she cut this short now before it had been satisfied it would definitely hate her for an eternity.

When he glanced down at her with a longing that would drive anyone insane, all other words of rationalism died in her throat.

“Please don’t say you’re trying to stop me from proving my manhood’s still in working order,” he groaned, a flicker of doubt passing across his features.

“No,” Scully assured with a nod of her head. “I … I just wanted to ask a question that’s more important than anything Dr. Manville will put to you.”

Mulder paused in his tracks, just five feet away from the bedroom door. “I love you more than words or therapy will ever be able to express,” he vowed sincerely.

“Well, thank you and ditto, but that wasn’t it.”

“What — ?”

“Her name is ‘Bambi’?”

He let out an animalistic growl and set her down on her feet in the hallway, unable to wait the ten seconds it would take to carry her to their bed before devouring her mouth again and caressing every square inch of her.

Once up the stairs, every part of his hard, half-naked body pushed Scully against the wall, and, as their lips met yet again, four frenzied hands rushed to tear off her clothing and — finally! — his tight, confining jeans and boxers.

Suddenly he paused, and pulled his mouth away from hers, looking down at her with that haunted look back in his eyes.

“Mulder?” When he didn’t reply, she tried again. “Mulder?”

“I don’t wanna lose you,” he confessed, resting his sweaty forehead against hers. “I know we’ve had a rough patch lately and there’s been all this shit with the hearing, but … I’m not crazy and … and I’m trying to work this out, honestly. I just wish they’d let me get back to working with you.”

Stroking her hands up his muscular back and then down along his arms, Scully shook her head and promised, “You’ll never lose me, no matter how crazy you might get. I’ve put up with you this long, haven’t I?”

They both chuckled in unison.

“Just be you, jump through whatever mind-numbing hoops they put in front of you, and remember that I’m always here for you … or at least try to be good when I’m not.” At his smile, they made the rest of the way to the large bed and fell onto it in a pile of twisted, sweaty limbs, bees and creepy therapists and unfair judges far from their minds until much, much later.

ACT IV

Dulles International Airport

Washington, D.C.

October 3, 2007

Scully sat in the lounge area, reading through the file folders yet again. Her flight to Des Moines was delayed and that gave her plenty to time to go over her autopsy findings. Unfortunately, it didn’t ensure that she would understand completely everything she’d discovered.

She thought about what she did know. Dr. Berenbaum’s assertion that Todd Grossbeck had not died of anaphylactic shock was incorrect. After going over the body with a fine tooth comb and sending a small lake of samples down to the lab, it was determined that Mr. Grossbeck had indeed died of anaphylactic shock — but not of bee venom. Scully had found no trace of bee venom anywhere in the body. However, she found near overdose levels of the drug Omalizumab — an asthma medicine recently given a black box warning by the FDA because of the incidence of anaphylactic shock in first time users. Mr. Grossbeck’s medical history showed no sign of asthma, nor had his doctor ever prescribed an asthma drug for him.

In short, Mr. Grossbeck was murdered. But the question remained, why would a field researcher studying insects in Iowa cornfields be targeted for murder? Unless, Dr. Bambi was on to something — something big. When Mulder had first mentioned her name, Scully’s immediate reaction was to sniff the air for possible foul odors.

The onslaught of olfactory memories from that time was so strong — but then so were the original odors themselves.

She could remember Dr. Bambi, as Scully would always think of her — holding the golf umbrella and talking dialogue from The Planet of the Apes with the wheel-chair bound robotics researcher.

Smart might be sexy, but more often than not it was just plain weird.

Shaking her head, she read over the files again and prepared herself to enter the Hawkeye State.

National Agricultural Statistic Service

  1. S. Department of Agriculture

Des Moines, Iowa

Shelley Bluth nervously crumpled the napkin in her hand. “I don’t know what else I can tell you,” she sighed. “I mean, I did everything I could to save him. We were just too far out in the field.”

Scully looked up at the middle-aged woman and gave her a faint smile. “From what I was able to determine, there really was nothing you could have done to save him, Ms. Bluth. I understand you were the one who performed the tracheotomy,” she added gently. “You did everything humanly possible.”

“But he still died,” Shelley said, wiping at her eye with the napkin. “Todd was — he was one of a kind, ya know. We really miss him around here. He was always telling bee jokes.” She chuffed a brief laugh.

“I know there wasn’t much time, but did Mr. Grossbeck — Todd — say anything to you about what he was looking for in that field?”

“That’s the thing. I don’t know. Todd has been doing all kinds of field samples and such — but he hasn’t really said. He’s been real secretive about it. I figured he was looking into colony collapse at first. Bees are just — well, dying. And we don’t really know the cause.”

She sat there, her eyes focusing on something in the distance. “I’m almost positive cats aren’t involved,” she said, more to herself than to Scully.

“Excuse me?” Scully asked, trying to get the woman’s attention.

“Cats. I’m pretty sure cats have nothing to do with colony collapse.” Shelley shrugged. “It’s just something Todd said in the ambulance. Cats suing.”

“Cats suing?” Scully repeated.

“Yeah. As in a legal proceeding. But to tell the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a case. I mean sometimes old people make their pets their sole beneficiaries, but I don’t think the cats can sue anyone.”

“No, I’m not sure they can, either,” Scully said, straining to keep from shaking the woman by her shoulders. “Did Todd leave any notes, reports … a field journal, maybe, that might give us some clues?”

“His laptop. He took it with him to the field that day. I think it’s here somewhere. Give me a minute.”

Shelley returned to the conference room with a soft-sided laptop computer case. “It was his baby. I found it in the car when we went back — after Todd … ” She teared up again and looked away before regaining her composure. “I just packed it up and brought it back here. We’ll probably do a data dump, scrub the hard drive and pass it along to the next researcher.”

Scully booted the computer up, noticing it was password protected. “Would you know his password?” she asked.

Shelley smiled. “We sort of share a password in this office. Here, allow me.” She pulled the computer toward her and typed a few keystrokes. “Most of us keep our research on the network, but Todd always said he preferred to keep it on the C drive. Whoa — this is weird.”

“Something wrong?” Scully asked.

“I guess the IT guys got to it already. The hard drive has been wiped clean.” Shelley sighed. “But that’s kind of weird since I found it right where I put it, under his desk. You’d think they would have put it in the store room so that someone else could use it.”

Scully tired very hard to hide her disappointment.

“Of course, he probably kept backups at the Extension Office,” Shelley mused.

“The Extension Office?” Scully repeated.

“Yes. The University of Iowa Extension Office. It’s just a couple of blocks from here. Todd had an office there with a desktop computer. He would have kept back up files for everything on his laptop. One of our researchers had a fatal crash with his data and after that, everyone kept backups squirreled away. You can’t be too careful!”

University of Iowa Extension Office

Des Moines, Iowa

By the time she got to the Extension Office, Scully was almost shaking with excitement. If Todd Grossbeck’s research had been cleaned off his hard drive in one place, would they have already wiped it clean from his backup? It was what they usually found, when she and Mulder came this close to finding the truth.

Mulder.

She had called him from the Des Moines airport to tell him that she arrived safely. The blue funk he’d been in after the court hearing had been lifting. She missed him terribly. She missed him on this case, she missed his teasing and she missed the closeness. Until recently, in the privacy of their bedroom, he’d been so wrapped up in himself lately that she’d felt shut out.

Before, they’d still talked, they’d still touched, they occasionally made love, but not as often and she’d missed that.

*Good Lord,* she mused, *I sound like a wife of 25 years.*

But the memory of his sweet, tender loving the night before she left had brought them closer together, in more than just the physical sense. There was something about him the next morning … it was as if his blue funk was floating away and he seemed to want to *actively* seek ways to be rid of it. Scully smiled. He’d sure forgotten about it that night!

Forcibly, she turned her mind away from the sweaty sheen on her partner’s gorgeous skin. The Extension Office was a busy place. A Four-H group was meeting after school to get ready for an upcoming bake sale. A seniors group was in the auditorium listening to someone from the state securities regulator tell them how to avoid investment and financial fraud.

By the time she got to the suite of offices that Todd Grossbeck frequented it was nearing 4:30 p.m. — quitting time.

“I guess it’s okay if you look. I mean, you’re the guys we’re supposed to call if we suspect terrorist activity, right?” asked the office manager, who had introduced herself as Myona. “Todd used the back office when he was here.”

She led the way through a maze of half walls forming cubicles until she came to a barren area, devoid of all personal effects. It contained a desktop computer, a battered HP 800 Series Deskjet printer, a telephone and one desk chair.

“Thank you, Myona. I’ll call you if I need anything else.” Scully set to work, booting up the computer. Unfortunately, this one was password protected.

She was ready to call for the office manager when she noticed a small flip style desk calendar from a local printing store. Scribbled in pencil in one of the empty squares for the month of October was the word ‘colony’.

Biting her lip, she typed the word into the computer. The screen changed, showing a field of sunflowers with hundreds of bees flying around. All the requisite icons were now showing as well.

“Bingo,” she smiled. Quickly finding the icon for ‘Documents,’ she pulled up his files.

After an hour of searching through various reports to the higher ups in D.C., she was beginning to get frustrated. Then inspiration hit. Knowing how her own partner did his research, she logged onto the internet and pulled up Todd’s recent history. After a short Google search she discovered a treasure trove of sites – – including an advanced search for the words ‘hymenoptera,’ ‘insecticide’ and ‘Katsuhiru.’

“Cat sue,” Scully murmured to herself. Quickly, she printed off what she found and stuffed it in her briefcase. Firing off a quick email from her own account to Chuck Burks, to ask him to look into the Japanese company, she logged off the computer and headed out to catch a cab to the airport and Kentucky.

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

October 3, 2007

With the Starling Files secured in the Bureau’s vault, Mulder was forced to merge onto the Lakeshore Drive of the Information Superhighway. Three hours of Googling later, he’d depleted nearly a full color cartridge, developed a throbbing headache, and compiled hundreds of pages on the life and times of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Hannibal the Cannibal’s former associate, Wallace Manville.

Manville had surfaced only twice in the media coverage of Lecter’s 12 Baltimore-era victims during the ’70s.

In 1975, after FBI Special Investigator Will Graham apprehended Lecter, before becoming No. 13, Manville was among several physicians and staffers at Baltimore City Hospital interviewed about the discovery that their colleague had a taste for yet the ‘other white meat.’

“The few times I interacted with Dr. Lecter, I found him an acutely brilliant diagnostician with somewhat passive-aggressive people skills,” Mulder’s counselor told The Baltimore Sun. “But our interaction was minimal.”

Manville’s other appearance in the spotlight was a few weeks later, when it was reported that the psychologist had once counseled Benjamin Raspail, a mediocre flautist with the Baltimore Philharmonic and Lecter’s final victim (found in two installments, minus pancreas and thymus).

Manville declined comment on ethical grounds, except to characterize his acquaintance with Raspail as brief and unproductive, and the sidebar apparently ended there.

Manville left Baltimore City in 1976. His next web reference, in 1984, was a paper in the American Journal of Psychology, on the correlation between sociopolitical orientation and social alienation.

As a profiler, Mulder found the article — which dissected the terrorist psyche — fascinating. But it offered little insight into what Mulder was certain would prove Manville’s psychopathy. The doctor had set up shop in D.C., where, according to a 2002 feature in Newsweek, he was specializing in addressing federal burnout — the mental and emotional ravages of military leadership, law enforcement, and international diplomacy. Manville also contributed his share of pro bono psychotherapy — the Sunday Post profiled his work with the city’s recovering addicts and the homeless. Manville was a brilliant and compassionate caregiver, a humanitarian.

Mulder surfed into deeper waters.

An hour later, it bobbed to the surface like a bloated, amorphous cadaver. Manville was a volunteer counselor with Soul Support, a non-profit rehab center based in the Southeast. Soul Support had popped up twice in the headlines recently — two clients, both repeat customers at the center, had been found strangled and partially disfigured in their homes.

“What’s the Bureau’s interest in this?” Lt. Stewart Hedger demanded five seconds into Mulder’s call. The cop had surrendered jurisdiction to Mulder and Scully on a few previous occasions and, as a result, was not the moderator of the X-Files’ fan blog.

“You might’ve heard I got a little smackdown from the Bureau a few weeks ago,” Mulder murmured, offering Hedger a little gratification. Hedger grunted once, Mulder thought cheerfully, and he proceeded. “They’ve got me tracking cold files, potential interstate serial stuff, and I came across your druggie murders. They sound a little like three homicides in Oregon a year ago. A lot of these hardcore addicts, they’re transients, and I just wanted to see if the M.O. fits.”

Of course, the M.O. wouldn’t fit. Mulder wouldn’t send a fellow cop sniffing down a cold trail, especially when a double-murderer was out there. And if Manville was implicated, he didn’t want Hedger poking around in the Northwest.

Hedger described the two crimes: Both victims, systems full of crack, garroted from behind. Both apartment doors unlocked, no sign of a struggle. At first, the DCPD had suspected a disgruntled dealer, but the 22-year-old prostitute and the 36-year-old fast food purveyor shopped their rock from different suppliers.

“So no leads?” Mulder asked finally.

Hedger was defensive. “Second murder was only four days ago. We’re working with the shrink at the rehab center the vics frequented — if the tight-assed director there’ll ease up on her ‘professional ethics’ a little.”

“Got a friend does a little volunteer work down there,” Mulder lied. “The shrink — would that be Wally Manville?”

Hedger grunted. Twice. “Wally. Didn’t seem much like a Wally to me.”

“Oh, there’s a lot more to Wally than meets the eye.”

Soul Support

Washington, D.C.

3:47 p.m.

“I don’t care if you’re John Himmler Ashcroft himself,” Francine Roeburt growled across the counter. The volunteer who’d summoned Soul Support’s executive director scowled in solidarity.

“Look, I’m just helping the DCPD out on this,” Mulder implored, holstering his ID. “Two of your clients are dead. I just want to help get to the truth.”

Roeburt’s nostrils flared. “Right. Two dead addicts are at the top of your list. Look, Agent Mulder … I work with these people every day with shoestring resources and nearly non-existent public support. These people have learned to trust no one — not even themselves. I’ve managed to win some of that trust, and I’m not betraying it for the sake of whatever your agenda really is. Good day.”

“Please,” Mulder stammered, feeling the last shreds of control slipping away. “I just want to know what Dr. Manville may have learned about the victims.”

“He is finishing up–” the volunteer began.

Roeburt fixed her with a glare.  “Dr. Manville has another client in a few minutes, and I’d appreciate your not disrupting them. Now, unless you’ve got some kind of warrant or you’re invoking the Patriot Act or something, I’ll ask you to leave us to our work.” Roeburt pivoted and disappeared into a hallway beyond the reception area.

The volunteer glanced after her, then nervously eyed Mulder, and then returned to her PC. The agent sighed and turned. The waiting room was desolate and untidy, with magazines scattered over several mismatched tables. A single person — clearly Manville’s four o’clock – – was seated at the far end of the former dress shop showroom, absorbed in a People.

Mulder smiled at Roeburt’s inadvertent breach and crossed the worn carpet.

“Hey,” he greeted the rail-thin blonde. Two blue-rimmed eyes peered up, then returned to the magazine. “You don’t have a smoke on you?”

“Go fuck yourself,” the woman muttered without breaking eye contact with Tom and Katie.

“Wow,” Mulder grinned. “You’re the second person in three days who’s recommended that to me. Seriously, got that smoke?”

The blonde sighed, shook her head, and foraged into her battered denim purse. She tamped out a Morley and handed it to the agent.

“Thanks. Fox.”

She looked up incredulously. “What, you stuck back in the disco era, or is it just the coke?”

“No, no — my name is Fox.”

“No shit. Gwen.”

“You here to see Wally?” Mulder jerked his head toward the closed door on the opposite wall.

“No, I’m waiting for a pedicure.”

“I’ve been seeing him for a couple months. Weird dude.”

“He’s okay,” Gwen shrugged. “For a shrink, at lea–”

“Ms. Huffman? Dr. Manville’s ready for you.” Roebert’s voice was terse, slightly shrill.

Mulder turned; the director’s face was stone, her eyes blazing.

“Thanks for the smoke, Gwen,” he murmured, rising. “Remember — just say no.”

The gaunt girl surrendered a dry, sad smile. “Ain’t worked so far.”

Meador, Kentucky

October 4, 2007

10:07 a.m.

“Gotta warn you,” Deputy Warren Hostedt grunted as he steered his unit over the rocks and ruts beyond Esther Paterson’s rakishly angled mailbox. “Essie’s just a touch, umm, enthusiastic in her faith.”

Scully nearly jumped. The puddle-jump from Iowa to Kentucky had seemed like a transcontinental odyssey, and she felt gritty, fuzzy, and off her game. Further, these were the first words the Woodridge County deputy had spoken during the 20 minute ride, and Scully pondered why he only now was sharing this insight into the Widow Paterson’s psyche.

A pride of barn cats swarmed from the scabrous porch, which hung precariously from the scabrous Paterson homestead. Rather than caressing Scully’s calves, the felines padded warily around her shoes, a feral gleam in their eyes.

A screen door opened plaintively, and Scully could see Hostedt’s profile was on the mark. Esther Paterson was wardrobe by K-Mart, attitude and demeanor straight out of the darker reaches of the Old Testament. She could have been anywhere between 35 and 55.

Patterson

The widow nodded to Hostedt, then inspected her redheaded visitor, Scully perceived with non-too-vague disapproval. “I don’t understand this, Deputy,” Paterson said tonelessly.

“Ray was taken home, along with the rest. That’s what those federal doctors–” she regarded Scully, “– your people — said. What’s this got to do with the law?” Scully stepped forward. “Mrs. Paterson, we have some reason to believe your husband, your neighbors, may have been the victims of, well, of suspicious activity.”

Paterson smiled. It was a scornful, pitying thing. “You mean terrorists or something? Here in Woodridge County? Deputy, you and this young lady are barking right up the wrong tree. It was God’s work. His way. Not for me to question, much less you two.”

Scully frowned. “Mrs. Paterson, why do you say that? That it was God’s work?”

Paterson looked beyond the pair, at the harvested rows that extended to the rural horizon. Then her eyes locked onto Scully’s. “They compassed me about like bees: they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.”

“Psalms,” Scully murmured after a beat. Paterson blinked, and she reexamined her visitor. The agent’s heart was pounding.

“Haven’t seen a wild bee for months in these parts,” Paterson related as a matted tabby rumbled at her feet. “‘Cept the ones they trucked in to pollinate the crops, and even they were dying off. That’s how I knew it was God’s hand at work.”

“You saw bees?”

“Heard ’em. I was in the kitchen, fixing Ray’s lunch for the field, when I heard it. The buzzing. Thousands of them, must’ve been. I looked out the window, and I saw a dark cloud. Except it wasn’t a cloud.”

Scully’s heart was now pounding, but she kept her peace. Paterson looked to the now-clear Kentucky sky. “It was a sign, for sure. And it was foretold.”

“Foretold?” the deputy drawled.

“By God’s messenger,” Paterson nodded. “Missionary stopped by that morning — nice, good-looking young fellow. Was worried about the farmers, about the bees. Told me it was a sign of the coming darkness. We talked about the Egyptians and the Hebrews — how they tended the bees. How honey was the precious food of God. How the ancients compared the bees to the swarming pagan armies. That Psalms, he quoted that to me. He knew.”

Scully glanced at the deputy, who chewed the inside of his mouth. “This man. Do you think you could identify him? What was his name?”

Paterson snapped back to Earth. “That was months ago, Miss. Scruggs, maybe, Stubbs?”

She smiled, knowingly at a spot below Scully’s collarbone. “You think he was one of your terrorists? A messenger from Allah? You go ahead, see you can track him down. You might be surprised to find who his Master truly is.”

The cross around Scully’s neck suddenly felt hot, heavy…

Louisville International Airport

Louisville, Kentucky

4:21 p.m.

“Oceanic Air Flight 3256, with service to Washington, D.C., has been delayed by technical problems,” a honeyed Kentucky voice rippled over the terminal PA. “A crew is checking out the jet now, and we hope we’ll be able to announce a new time of departure soon…”

The delay barely registered with Scully, whose manicured fingertips played over the keys of her laptop. The businessman two seats away had quit trying to chat her up and was now focused on a group of giggling coeds at the next gate, and she finally was able to plug in the Interpol Database password and satisfy the gnawing intuition that had bothered her all the way to the airport.

Her memory of the press surrounding the Japanese heist was vague — it had been a one-day wonder. But in the post-9/11 era, any armed hijacking of a seemingly innocuous computer parts shipment on a public highway sparked a flurry of inter-jurisdictional inquiry and speculation, and one small detail of the Japanese investigatory report rung a bell. Scully now scanned the full, translated report, and exhaled. The man who’d rented the car left inexplicably at the scene of the hijacking, clean of prints or other forensic evidence, had used what had turned out to be a bogus credit card under the name ‘William Stubb.’

Feeling mingled exhilaration and dread, Scully opened a second window and pulled up the Google engine.

Stubb’s team had commandeered a Sumitasha Electronics truck — Scully typed ‘Sumitasha’ and a second name into the search window. Only a few dozen results materialized, as Scully had expected.

If what she suspected was true, this wouldn’t be a widely-known piece of data. The first entry was a blog maintained by a self-proclaimed “anarchist” who decried continued corporate consolidation and monopoly in the industrialized nations.

He railed at the merger of U.S. biotech and crop companies, EU food conglomerates, and Japanese tech firms. The activist’s chief Pacific Rim target had over the past 20 years consumed dozens of smaller companies in genetics, pharmaceuticals, food processing, and consumer electronics.

Dedicated, nay, fanatical, research had revealed Sumitasha was a subsidiary of a holding company of yet another subsidiary of an LLC owned by one of Japan’s largest megacorps, Katsuhiru.

Seconds later, Scully stared at a Google map of Nagano, Japan — home to Sumitasha’s distribution center. As well as to Katsuhiru’s major research “campus.” It couldn’t be a coincidence.

Scully pulled her cell-phone from her handbag, consulted the directory, and punched in a number known only to law enforcement. She was spared the usual litany of electronic prompts, transfers, and banal hold music.

“Federal Bureau of Investigation Dana Scully, badge number JTTO331613. I need to trace a possible series of charges made in Japan. Cardholder name S-T-U-B-B, first name William…”

ACT V

Dulles International Airport

Washington, D.C.

Scully was searching for her keys while juggling both her laptop and suitcase when her phone rang. Dropping the suitcase, she reached in her pocket. “Yes, I am home, Mulder and this better be good,” she growled.

“Agent Scully?” came the responding voice.

“Oh, sorry. Yes, this is Agent Scully. How can I help you?”

“Agent Scully, I don’t know if you remember me. My name is Bambi Ivanov. You might remember my maiden name — Berenbaum.”

“Dr. Berenbaum, yes, I remember you. You recently asked my partner to look into some things for you.”

“Yes, I did. Fox told me he was on leave — I hadn’t heard. But he said it was all right for me to contact you. Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“No, uh, not at all. I was just getting in. Frankly there are some things I would like to talk over with you. Can we meet somewhere?”

“How about the botanical gardens on the Mall? Say in an hour?” Bambi replied.

“Make it an hour and a half — I still have to get to D.C. from Dulles,” Scully sighed.

“Oh, yes, construction season is still in full swing. Fine then. I’ll see you in an hour and a half.”

Between the construction and the traffic, Scully had no time to spare. She pulled into a parking garage near the Capitol Mall and hurried over to the botanical gardens. She saw Dr. Berenbaum standing by the entrance. As Scully approached her, the entomologist looked up and smiled. “Hello. You made it,” she said cheerfully, extending her hand.

Scully returned the greeting firmly. “Just barely. I was glad you called. I found out some things in Iowa and Kentucky. Maybe you can give me some information.”

Bambi smiled. “I must admit, I really didn’t expect much when Fox said you would be taking over the investigation. I sort of thought he was giving me the brush off. I guess I should have known better. I mean, after the incident in Miller’s Grove.”

Scully nodded ruefully. “I loved that coat,” she murmured. “Yes, Miller’s Grove. But I found out some information on a Japanese company by the name of–”

“OUCH!” Berenbaum slapped at the back of her neck. “Sorry. Something just bit … ”

Before Scully could react, Bambi’s eyes rolled back in her head and she dropped to the ground. Acting fast, Scully dropped down beside the fallen scientist and checked her breathing and pulse.

It wasn’t until she pulled back the woman’s eyelids to check for dilation that she recoiled in horror.

Swimming in Berenbaum’s unseeing eyes were pools of black oil.

Northeast Georgetown Medical Center

Critical Intensive Care Unit

Mulder burst through the doors to the CICU. He did a quick examination of his surroundings. Scully had quarantined Dr. Bernbaum in a private ICU unit. Through the condensation on the windows he noted the intubation and vital monitoring equipment surrounding the woman. “Jesus”, he whispered to himself.

As his eyes scanned the rest of the floor he finally spotted his partner conferring with several nurses at the end of the hall. She glanced in his direction and stepped away from her conversation to meet him in front of Bambi’s room.

“How is she doing?” he asked noting the weariness in her face even in the dim light as she approached him.

She shook her head rather glumly and his heart sank. Bambi had asked for his assistance and he’d handed her off to his partner partly because of the situation he found himself in but more so because she was the scientist, she had the expertise to follow that was being woven by an ever-increasing trail of related incidents. Didn’t mean he still didn’t feel responsible for the entomologist’s current condition.

“There’s no sign of anaphylactic shock here, what we’re seeing is a breakdown of bodily functions…”

“Caused by what?” Mulder asked the concern evident in his voice.

“By another organism, I think…” Scully glanced warily around them and then pulled Mulder into an adjacent lab room and closed the door.

“Something we’ve both seen before, Mulder,” she told him in a hushed tone. “Something is turning her own body against her. I think that once again we’re looking at a pathogen being carried by the bees that stung her, perhaps the same thing that killed Todd Grossbeck.”

She watched her partner’s eyes grow large with the information and its implication.

“The same virus that affected you?”

“I don’t know yet. But based on what I know about what happened to me, I’ve had them lower the temperature in the room and have her under a cooling blanket to inhibit the advancement of the pathogen.” Scully told him, looking in at Dr. Berenbaum. “It’s just a stop-gap measure, until I can isolate the cause and determine a course of treatment — I don’t know what else to do,” she admitted. “Without knowing what exactly it is we are dealing with here there isn’t much we can do.”

Hospital

Scully shook her head almost hopelessly, “There’s fasciculation and rhabdonyolysis in the muscle tissue, she’s oliguric, her platelet count is very low and we’re having a hard time keeping her BP up. I’m hesitant to start her on pressors but I may not have a choice.”

Mulder shook his head, eyebrows raised, indicating he needed a translation of all the medical jargon. Scully pursed her lips, trying to simplifying it all in her mind. “Symptoms one would see … more like in a neurotoxic venomous snake bite victim, or a combination of venomous snake bites, not someone exposed to a viral pathogen,” Scully sighed, turning to look across the hall into the unit. “I’m sorry, I know she’s a friend of yours but we’re running out of time. We’re dealing with something here we know very little about.”

“A virus? An *alien* virus?” Mulder concurred.

“It — could be, yes, but that’s not exactly something we can bring up here is it?” she whispered glancing through the glass door behind her partner out into the IC unit.

Mulder’s mind raced through the possibilities. “What about a vaccine? There — there must be some — some…” he stammered and then sighed in frustration. “We’re looking at bees carrying a virus again aren’t we?”

Before Scully could answer, he continued. “Bambi said Grossbeck was trying to communicate something to his co-workers when he died, ‘catsu’ or something like that. Katsuhiru, it has to be. Todd *was* on to something and someone murdered him to cover that up. What’s this guy’s name you mentioned? Stubbs?”

“Mulder, wait,” Scully reached out to touch her partner’s arm. “If you’re right and this Stubbs is trying to cover his tracks, why would he be leaving such an obvious trail?”

She could almost see the wheels turning in Mulder’s head. “Katsuhiru, the Gunmen traced all that scanner data back to them. They have their hands into high tech everything from pharmaceuticals to robotics. The guys were certain Katsuhiru was involved in what Jason Arman was trying to uncover, someone killed him too, remember?”

Oh, God, the incident at the college last spring, the direct cause for Mulder’s suspension. “Maybe we’re not dealing with Katsuhiru here,” he continued. “Maybe this is someone trying to sabotage their plan, that’s why he’s leaving the trail, to wave it in their face.”

It made sense in a way, Scully thought to herself, but did she run with Mulder’s investigative logic or use her expertise here and try and save the woman lying across the hall? Trying to play both sides of the partnership was exhausting, she sighed.

“God, I’m sorry, Scully,” Mulder reached out to pull his partner into a welcoming embrace.  “You look exhausted,” he told her softly.

Scully nodded wearily in his arms, acknowledging Mulder’s concern and then pulled back.  “Mulder, vaccines are created as a preventative measure, like a flu vaccine is designed to prevent you from getting the flu. I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not where we need to go here.’

“Scully, just — just listen for a minute and correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t some vaccines created with antibodies from someone who has survived an infection or is a, a — carrier?”

“They can be, yes.”

“So…,” Mulder reached out to place his hands on her shoulders. “I think we can safely say that what’s flowing through my veins isn’t exactly one hundred percent human — that fact goes all the way back to Dead Horse, Alaska…”

“No, Mulder. If — and I say *if* this is a virus, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the markers in your DNA from your exposure would be a match.”

“Isn’t that what his lab is for?” He asked, as he watched his partner roll her eyes in frustration.

“Scully. Listen to me for a minute, will you, please?” Mulder turned away from her and motioned to the chair behind them. “Sit down for minute, you look like you’re about to fall down.”

“Mulder, if I sit down, I’ll never get back up and we don’t have time for that.”

Mulder pursed his lips and nodded in agreement. “All right, just listen then,” he raised his eyebrows hoping to get her to agree.

“What?”

“You know, that my involvement in the X-Files was a very personal one. Yes, I thought it would further my investigations into the paranormal but more importantly I thought that these cases would lead me to understand what my Father had been involved in. Why his career took a one-eighty somewhere around my twelfth birthday and why he did what he did to his family and why it ultimately cost him his life,” he began to explain.

“Mulder, I know this is weighing heavy on you right now with the therapy you’re going through…”

He shook his head, “Let me finish, Okay?” He seemed calmer than she’d expected him to be.

She nodded for him to go on.

“We both know my Dad was a reluctant member of the Consortium. As our friend ‘Smokey’ so eloquently informed me, Dad eventually tried to step away from the group when he objected to their methods,” Mulder told her. “But more importantly, he wanted to expose their plans. The same crusade you and I have been on for the past, what — decade? That cost him my sister and ultimately destroyed our family. Whatever I may think of his actions, Scully, he was still my Father. And after all that’s been said and done, I honestly believe he did everything because *HE* thought it was the right thing to do. You and I have spent *years* trying to undo that work and now I’m not so sure that was the right path to take.”

Abhorred by what she thought he was suggesting Scully gaped at him, “You’re saying we should have been helping them instead of trying to destroy them?” Mulder, their methods…”

“No, no,” he raised his hands to reassure her. “I’m not saying that I support his involvement and I’m certainly not condoning their methods. But think about it, Scully. My Father realized in the beginning that the Consortium’s plan was *not* for shall we say — ‘the greater good of mankind.’ I don’t deny what my Father was a part of, but while his fellow members were all willing to side with the invading force hoping to save themselves, Dad and a rag-tag group of followers tried to take another route by finding a way to fight them by developing a vaccine. I guess you could say he got out-voted. All these years we’ve spent trying to expose the atrocities these men have been involved in haven’t gotten us anywhere, really; it’s still going on. You know it was well as I do, Scully,”

Mulder held her shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. “Jason Arman, Todd, Bambi are just more evidence to add to the meaningless pile we already have. We need to find another way.”

Scully still looked at him wearily.

“I had a vaccine, Scully. I used it on you,” he smiled imploringly, and squeezed her right shoulder gently. “All I’m saying is that I think my Father had the right idea. You said it yourself, ‘How many lives can we save?’ Maybe that’s where our investigation should be focused.”

Scully still wasn’t sure she agreed with his logic.

These men, this new group of butchers who’d emerged from the rubble of the Consortium’s demise were just as barbaric, if not more so. Mulder was proof of that. Sensing her confusion, Mulder pursed his lips and nodded. “Scully, this war isn’t going to be waged in the desert half a world away, it’s going to be fought right here,” he motioned around the small lab they were standing in. “Maybe *my* destiny, if there is such a thing, isn’t to stop what my Father began, maybe it’s to help him *finish* it.” He searched her face looking for acceptance. “You’re the scientist, Scully: Find us an answer.”

Scully studied her partner’s beloved face. If one were to believe in fate or destiny, she would be willing to accept that that is what had brought the two of them together all those years ago. But Mulder believed in free will, in the choices that determined the course of their lives. She had chosen long ago to follow this man’s passion if for no other reason than she thought he was right.

“You’re serious about this aren’t you?” Scully asked him.

Mulder unbuttoned his right cuff and started to roll up his sleeve. “How much do you need?”

Scully reached out to stop him. “Mulder, trying to isolate the exact elements in your blood, if there even are any, doesn’t happen overnight. We haven’t even determined what we’re up against here. And — and what about this Katsuhiru?  They may very well be involved in some legitimate research but someone could be using it against them. We need to find out why. If this is a toxin in the bee venom it’s possible it’s not a result of the research but something this saboteur has created and its effects could be catastrophic.”

“All the more reason you need to find a cure, isn’t it?” Mulder insisted.

“Yes, of course,” she agreed. “But what I’m saying is that it might not be viral, perhaps we should be looking at anti-venom treatments instead.”

“Horse serum? It’s created the same way isn’t it? From the blood of horses exposed to snake venom?”

Scully smiled at the absurdity of his comment, “You’re not a horse, Mulder.”

“I’d carry you anywhere, Scully,” he told her along with a horrible excuse for a horse whinny and then watched her smile back at his attempt to lighten the mood. Mulder took her by the arm and lead her into a nearby room, fully equipped with tools for drawing blood. Happy he’d made her smile, he gave her a closed lipped grin, “Look, either way, it’s a place to start, isn’t it? In the meantime I think there’s another possibility,” he told her as he finished rolling his sleeve above his elbow.

Scully shook her head. “And that would be?”

“Krycek.”

“Krycek? How does he fit into this if you can even find him?”

“The vaccine I used on you in Antarctica. The man that gave it to me, he knew my Father. I think at one time, he was a part of his ‘rebel force’. He got this vaccine from someone else, though,” Mulder mused aloud. “The Russians I think, more specifically, Krycek. I was one of their test subjects as you well know. I’m sure what they used on me was an earlier version of that same vaccine. If we can get our hands on it maybe all it needs are some — finishing touches.”

Mulder sat down on a nearby stool and put his elbow on the counter, extending his arm as if he was some sort of sacrificial offering.

The argument was over.

Scully grabbed what she needed and swabbed her partner’s arm.

**

She stood studying the two vials of her partner’s blood in the empty lab. No amount of conjecture on her part would convince him otherwise and so to appease him she’d drawn his blood and then sent him on his way.

She couldn’t deny that he had in fact survived several exposures to what they had termed an “alien” virus. And she couldn’t deny that finding a cure was of the utmost importance.  But to her knowledge, Mulder had never been stung. If this was a pathogen or toxin related to the bee stings, perhaps the more logical place to look was in herself.

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

He hated leaving Scully at the hospital without answers, but there was nothing he could do there. He got in the car and made his way back to their home, taking the stairs two at a time to his office.

Mulder sat at his computer, staring at the inquiry line of the search engine. What should he type in there? Conspiracies R Us? Double-agents for Hire? Should he look up Alex K on Facebook?

It was so much easier when all he had to do was put a couple of strips of masking tape in the shape of an X on his living room window.

The little mail icon popped up on his bottom toolbar. Undoubtedly Frohike, looking for a quick game of Halo 3 — the pirated version. He shook his head, determined to ignore it, but on impulse he logged into his email account.

One piece of mail. Back before he cohabited with Scully, the porn spam alone took up 25 messages every time he logged on, but not any more. He really had been domesticated. Shaking his head again, he opened it even though the sender’s identity was blocked.

“TIDAL BASIN BY THE STREET 30 MIN.”

The header showed that the message had been sent just three minutes before. “Well, that was easy. And no messy, sticky residue to clean off the glass,” he mumbled as he reached behind him for his jacket and logged off the computer.

There was a chill autumn wind off the tidal basin making it easy to forget that the days were still seeing the low 80s.

Mulder leaned on the railing and looked across the water to the now glowing Jefferson Memorial. A quick glance at his watch showed that his contact was running late.

“How’s the mental health patient today?” a voice growled behind him.

Mulder spun around, hand on his hip — where his weapon should have rested. Krycek smiled evilly. “Well, at least the justice system works on occasion. Nice to see they took your toys away before shuffling you off to the nuthouse.”

“I’m strictly outpatient, Krycek. Unlike you, who is just homeless,” Mulder shot back.

“Funny. Real funny,” the Russian bantered casually, stepping forward to mimic Mulder’s stance at the rail. “So, I hear you got a lady friend in trouble.”

“What do you know about it?” Mulder hissed.

“Very little, actually,” Krycek said with a shrug.

“Oh, and I’m supposed to believe that,” Mulder scoffed.

“Despite our reputation, my associates don’t have their fingers in every tragedy that happens, Mulder.”

“Yeah, well this one happens to have your fingerprints all over it,” Mulder sneered. “But that’s not why I was looking for you.”

“Oh, really? You mean you’re after something other than ‘The Truth’?” Krycek snorted.

“I want the vaccine. The vaccine I was given in the gulag. The vaccine I used on Scully in Antarctica.”

Krycek chuckled bitterly. “And I’m supposed to be the North American distributor?”

“You have access to the vaccine! You used it on Marita before it all went to hell at El Rico!” Mulder yelled.

Krycek reached out with his good arm and grabbed Mulder by the collar, pressing him painfully against the railing. “Don’t you mention her name, you son of a bitch!” he spat out.

They glared at each other for several heartbeats before Krycek released his hold.

“I don’t have the vaccine,” Krycek admitted. “Besides, the vaccine we had wouldn’t work on this virus.”

“How do you know?” Mulder demanded. “You said you weren’t part of this tragedy.”

“Look, we didn’t cause it, but we have a pretty good idea what happened. And you aren’t going to find the vaccine you’re looking for because it doesn’t exist. Not yet, at least.”

“Then Dr. Berenbaum dies,” Mulder snarled. “I don’t accept that.”

“Well, you’re more than welcome to take that up with your shrink, Mulder,” Krycek said breezily. “Don’t go looking for the vaccine. Look for whoever let this plague loose on the planet. It will be time better spent.” He patted Mulder on the arm and disappeared into the darkening night.

As the Russian double agent blended into the shadows, Mulder pulled out his phone.

“Scully? How’s she doing?”

“I have her stabilized, Mulder. That’s about all I can tell you. Dr. Ivanov is here, he’s with her right now.”

“How much time do we have?”

“We’re doing the best that we can,” Scully told him, but he heard the desperation in her voice.

“Scully, Krycek contacted me,” Mulder said after a moment of silence.

“Did he have the vaccine?” she asked hopefully.

“No, at least he said he didn’t,” he replied. “Scully, how much time to you think she has?”

“Look, Mulder, I can’t tell you. But you can’t be worrying about this. Let me handle it. I have an idea, based on something you said earlier. Let me look into it,” Scully encouraged him. “For now, you need to stay out of this. If Skinner catches word that you’re actively working on a case that he approved for me–”

“– my ass is grass,” he answered mournfully.

“Succinctly put. And for the record, I like your ass as it is.”

“Duly noted,” he said, smiling. “Okay, I guess I have to leave this in your very capable hands. But Scully, if you need *anything*–”

“I know where you live, Mulder. Don’t worry. You’ll be the first one I call. Now, why don’t you go home and try to get some rest? I’m going to crash here tonight in the residents’ lounge, just in case I’m needed.”

“I understand. G’night, Scully. Get some sleep, you’ve been running all over the country.”

“And this is different from my usual schedule how?” she teased.

“Just get some sleep. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mulder. I’ll call you tomorrow … or if there are any changes.”

Mulder disconnected the call and started for his car. If he couldn’t help Scully, maybe he could put the time in to figure out how to help himself out of the mess he was in.

Maryland University Hospital

Baltimore, Maryland

10:03 a.m.

“Hardly knew him?” Raymond Johnson barked, carefully dumping a containerful of sharps into a biomed barrel. “Bullshit.”

The trip from D.C. to Baltimore had been slightly over an hour — short enough to pass under his beleaguered partner’s radar screen if he didn’t surrender to the lunchtime temptation of a plateful of crab cakes.

A flash of the good ol’ fibbie ID and a few rumblings about Hannibal Lecter had the administrator scrambling to help.

Within a half-hour, Mulder had been introduced to one of the teaching hospital’s eldest employees.

Ray Johnson had been a young orderly when Dr. Lecter was “practicing” in the Psych Department, and his job description was the same three decades later. Johnson wheeled the barrel out of the bustling ER and headed toward Radiology, Mulder in tow. “Now, normally, back in the day, I never much noticed the comings and goings of the doctors and nurses.” The wheels stopped rolling momentarily, and the orderly flashed a rakish smile then continued.

“Well, guess I noticed some of the nurses, hear what I’m saying? Dr. Lecter, though, he was different. Gimme the time of day whenever we crossed paths, asked ’bout my kids, the like. Could tell he was genuinely interested, but the man still gave me the willies. Like I was a lab rat — like we all were to him. My instincts, maybe I shoulda went to doctor school, huh? Anyway, Dr. Manville, he and Lecter got real tight. See them all the time in the cafeteria, in the halls. Boy didn’t seem like the kiss-ass type to me, but if he followed Lecter around any closer, they’da had to remove his nose from Lecter’s ass by Caesarian, you know?”

Mulder perked. “Did they act furtive, secretive? Like maybe they were plotting something?”

“Actually, the doc seemed kinda, oh, guess you’d say amused by the boy. They’d be talking it up, and I’d see Lecter check his watch real subtle-like or kinda smirk at Manville,” Johnson seemed to be looking inwardly for a moment, his eyes losing focus. “When they came and took Lecter away after he tried to carve up your guy, I started wondering maybe was Manville involved in any of that psycho shit. You can imagine, it wasn’t any too smart for a young brother like myself to mention such thoughts to the professional staff. But when Manville left kinda sudden-like few years later, I wondered even more. Then time passed, my wife took off on me, and I just sorta quit wondering.”

Johnson stopped short of a hazmat-placarded door, raising a gray brow. “You got something on him? Think maybe he killed somebody, sliced and diced ’em? Maybe Doc Lecter gave him an appetite?”

“Nothing that dramatic — just a background check,” Mulder lied — sort of.

“Mm,” the orderly grunted, pushing ahead. “Figures. Way things are going these days, man’s probably up for some cabinet post.”

Baltimore Police Department

Detective Division

11:43 a.m.

Will Graham had lived in what Mulder hoped to be peaceful isolation over the decades since his traumatic encounters with Hannibal the Cannibal and Francis Dolarhyde, a serial killer dubbed the “Tooth Fairy” whom Lecter had supplied with Graham’s home address.

Graham, disfigured and emotionally shattered, had divorced himself entirely from the Bureau — none of his former colleagues, still on the job or retired, would or could provide Mulder with a number or address. He couldn’t afford to push it with the brass. Beyond that, Mulder wasn’t inclined to force ex-Agent Graham to re-explore those darker recesses for the sake of his own thus far “unfounded” suspicions.

A few agents Mulder had contacted who’d worked the Lecter case said they’d had little memory of Wallace Manville, though one, now engaged in apprehending marlin off the East Florida coast, grew distant and monosyllabic when Mulder mentioned his court-assigned counselor.

Frederick Chilton had been Chief of Staff at the Chesapeake State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where Lecter had been serving one of his nine consecutive life terms. Chilton had disappeared shortly after the Buffalo Bill case, following Lecter’s grisly escape, most likely a victim of the good doctor.

Lecter remained out there, in the world. Special Agent Clarice Starling had vanished apparently into the ether. Which had left Mulder with vague memories and loose ends. Raymond Johnson’s revelations thus excited and emboldened the agent.

“You know, I checked up on you,” Detective Phil Crosetti grinned, with a hint of gotcha in his nicotine-etched voice. “My late cousin Steve — God rest him — used to work Homicide with some ex-hippie flake, John Munch, who had some kinda run-in with you back in ’89. Your buddies put the clamps on the case for some reason, and all Munch would ever say was you’d been caught in some kinda uncomfortable situation.”

Mulder flashed on his first meeting with the Lone Gunmen and the embarrassing predicament that had brought he and Detective Munch together.

He’d worked one subsequent investigation with Munch, who, fortunately for Mulder, was indeed a “flake” who’d never asked any questions about the Susanne Modeski case.

Mulder had returned to the harried Baltimore squadroom and Crosetti’s wrapper-littered blotter.

Crosetti was a short but portly detective in his early sixties, probably close to turning in his papers. His pin-striped suit was loud and roughly 20 years out of date, and his unibrow matched his suspiciously jet-black comb-over. Crosetti sat back, savoring his guest’s awkward silence, then cackled. “Aw, shit, Agent, I’m just yankin’ you. Us guys down here in the bowels like to have a little fun with you spit-and-polish college boys when we can. But me? I got a cabin up in Mass waitin’ for me in about two months, so I’m in a real obligin’ mood. What can I do you for?”

Mulder relaxed. “Like I told you on the phone, we’re taking a look back at the Lecter case. There were some irregularities–”

“Don’t give a rat’s ass,” Crosetti sang cheerfully, grunting over his desk top for a thick battered manila folder. “That’s about everything from the ’75 case, one where Hannibal the Cannibal almost handed your boy Graham his own chittlins. Everybody wanted a piece of the Chesapeake Ripper case at the time, and when Graham tripped to Lecter, we got left out on the curb holding our dicks. But I worked the scene while they were patching up Graham, before the feds swarmed in, and we took enough souvenirs to keep the memory warm. Photographically, of course — what’s the saying? Leave nothin’ but footprints, take nothin’ but snapshots?”

Mulder winced at the blood spattered across Lecter’s otherwise aesthetically sterile office. Ironically, on the wall behind the doctor’s desk was a gruesome depiction of a man impaled with a selection of knives, daggers, and other deadly implements. A thick, ink-stained finger tapped the unfortunate man.

“That’s what tipped him, Graham, that is,” Crosetti noted. “‘The Wound Man.’ It was a drawin’ in some old medical journal in the 1500s or somethin’. Your guy saw it hangin’ in Lecter’s office and realized it matched the wounds in one of the Ripper’s victims. Pretty sharp, huh?”

Mulder stared at the yellowing crime scene photo with a mounting sense of déjà vu.

“I’d say take a picture,” Crosetti mused, “but you already got one.”

Mulder smiled and slipped the photo back into the file. “Just that I’ve seen that drawing before.”

To be precise, on the wall of Dr. Wallace Manville’s Washington office, to the immediate left of Manville’s much-vaunted, highly reflective doctoral degree.

Mulder handed the detective the envelope he’d convinced Hedger to surrender the previous afternoon. “I’ve got a few pictures I’d like you to look at, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, I don’t give a rat’s ass.” Crosetti sighed as he slipped the DCPD 8X10s from the envelope. “Shit. I was hopin’ for Angelina Jolie. This one of those two junkies got whacked down your way?”

“Yeah.”

“Only just the two so far? I mean, you guys aren’t necessarily thinkin’ serial yet, right?” The detective asked. “Could be a pissed-off dealer, some mutual lowlife friend, who knows. Sloppy job, though — took a little too much off the side, don’tcha think?”

“The ears were taken in both cases. Nice, surgical cuts, which isn’t as easy as you might think.”

“Jesus, I never thought that much about it, but shit, now I probably will. Thanks, Agent.”

Mulder chuckled. “That look like anything the Ripper ever did?”

Crosetti’s standard-issue chair creaked as he looked to the ceiling for his misplaced memories. “Well, you know, Hannibal the Cannibal was more into organ meat. No, I don’t think so. M.E.’s office would be able to print you a deluxe set, maybe even some wallet- size.”

“That’s okay,” Mulder assured him hastily, jacketing the grisly photo.

“Suitcherself,” Crosseti shrugged. “But you need anything else, feel free. Not like they’re gonna can me for letting you take a peek — I’ll just tell ’em you threatened to Gitmo my ass or somethin’. Not like I’d have to, the number of bodies I could dig up. ‘Sides–”

“You don’t give a rat’s ass.”

“Hey, you ain’t so dumb for a fed.”

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

4:06 p.m.

Mulder froze just inside the front door, one hand on the knob, the other on his key. Scully looked up from her laptop, glasses perched at half-mast. She cracked her neck as she regarded him with mild curiosity.

“You’re home early,” Mulder smiled, nonchalantly. “You’d called, I could’ve had a pitcher of appletinis ready.”

“Baby, you’re the greatest,” Scully grinned, obviously happy to see her partner back from his previous funk. She patted a couple of entomology texts on the counter beside her. “Just doing some research at this stage. Did you happen to know the queen bee may mate with up to 17 drones over a one- to two-day period of mating flights?”

“Talk about your mile-high club. Look, if you’re trying to hint for some afternoon delight, I think we’ve still got a bottle of honey in the pantry, and I could make some buzzing noises.”

“I think my head is buzzing already, thanks.”

“Any word on Dr. Berenbaum?”

She frowned. “I called the hospital about a half hour ago. Still no change in her condition. They’re giving her a new treatment I suggested, we’ll see if it does the trick.”

Scully leaned back, hooking an elbow over her chair back. “So what did the man of leisure do today?”

Mulder bee-lined for the fridge. He emerged with a Sam Adams. “Aah, just talked to a friend of a friend, looked at some art, had a little seafood…”

“That place with the you-know in, oh, you-know-where?” Scully murmured, distracted by something on her monitor.

“My guess is no. Why, you want to grab some thingies there tonight?”

Scully glanced up guiltily, pushing her chair back. “Mulder, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to get back — Skinner wants to have a strategy briefing with the DHS and USDA liaisons. I’m probably going to be there most of the night. This attack on an employee of the Department of Homeland Security has everyone freaked. I’m sorry.”

“I’m just a widow to the Bureau,” Mulder lamented pitifully, then smiled at her. “It’s okay. Maybe I’ll round up the guys, have a Pampered Chef party, see what paranoid skullduggery Frohike’s up to.”

“I feel better already,” Scully said, heading for the bathroom. “Gonna take a shower, then I’m out of here.”

“Okay,” Mulder called. He listened for the sound of rushing water, then unsheathed his cell phone and punched in a programmed number.

On the way back to town, Hedger’d called with the cell phone records for Tonya Ray and Maurice Felton.

Tonya had received a number of calls from her “manager” and, most likely, some johns she’d serviced on a freelance basis. The rest had been from the Soul Support offices and Dr. Wallace Manville.

Felton had fewer “friends”– only Burger Palace, Soul Support, and Manville had appeared on the fry technician’s call log.

“Dalai Lama Pizza. We’ll make you one with everything?”

“I’ll take an extra-small, with a side of Byers and Langly,” Mulder told Frohike. “What’s on the agenda tonight?”

“‘Dr. Who’ marathon from New Zealand, if Langly can hit the right satellite. Why, what’s up? We gonna stake out your friend, Dr. Evil?”

“No,” Mulder said defensively. “Scully’s working late, and I was thinking we could just take the van out and hit the town a little. Oh, and maybe you could bring the night vision goggles, a parabolic mike, some Doritos?”

“So we’re staking out Dr. Evil?”

“He may show up later. Or not at all tonight. In fact, he may not show up for several nights.”

“A moment, please.” Frohike clamped a palm over the phone. “Hey, you guys wanna go on a stakeout? Mulder says there could be a serial killer.” Mulder heard excited voices. “Okay, they’re down with it.”

“Game on, then.” Mulder folded the phone as Scully padded into the room, spilling over her towel, to Mulder’s delight.

“Who was that, your little friends?” she asked.

“Actually, I was wondering jus’ now if you’d like to meet my l’il frien’,” Mulder growled in his best Tony Montana.

The towel dropped to the floor. Scully turned, bent slowly to retrieve it, and swirled it over her head before tossing it onto the couch. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to get debriefed before my briefing. Just be sure and write everything down for Dr. Manville.”

Residence of Alta Jason

Washington, D.C.

9:23 p.m.

“Quit hoggin’ the rinds, Byers,” Langly groused, snatching the half-bag of cracklings from his bright-eyed colleague.

“Chicharrones,” Frohike amended haughtily from beside Mulder, adjusting the gain on the parabolic mike the boys had souped up for a hot Saturday night outside a Bulgarian embassy party. “Pig skin’s gone ethnic chic, pinche guay.”

“Bese mi asno,” Langly responded snarkily. “I watch Telemundo, too, El Chupacabra.”

“Boys,” Mulder intervened. “Don’t make me pull this van over. Oh, right, forgot. Pass the Cheetos.”

They’d been camped out in the rust-bucket Econoline for nearly a half-hour outside Alta Jason’s scabrous apartment building, rigging the surveillance gear and bickering over the cache of high-carb snacks they’d hauled along.

“Ah, Mulder?” Byers began. “I don’t mean to get ahead of ourselves, myself, but what precisely do we do if your psycho psychiatrist shows up? If you’re right, he has killed two people already.”

Mulder displayed his cell phone as he watched a woman in a ball cap and a baggy T lugging two grocery bags up the street. “DCPD on speed dial. I move in, with the locals right on my heels.”

The Gunmen glanced at each other. Frohike shrugged.

“What?” Mulder demanded. “Look, we’re just lacking a little concrete evidence here. But I can feel it — Manville’s going to make a move, if not tonight, then soon. I know it may sound a little paranoid…”

“Hey, dude, paranoid’s what we do,” Langly assured his friend. Then he frowned and adjusted his headphones. “We got game, guys.” He flipped a toggle. “Yeah, yeah, it’s me.” Alta sounded irritable, groggy. Just up from a nap, Mulder guessed, or just up. “God, you shitting me? I had enough of this bullshit yesterday. I’m clean right now, okay?”

Mulder straightened. “Okay, okay…”

The signal hissed as Alta sighed aggrievedly. “Oh, fuck. All right, come on up. Just don’t trip over the crackheads out front. Yeah, later.”

“That must be him,” Mulder breathed excitedly as the bag lady climbed the apartment house steps.

“What’s this dude’s motive, by the way?” Langly inquired.

“Hannibal Lecter started as a revenge killer who systematically killed the looters who’d murdered and cannibalized his sister during World War II,” Mulder started. “Then he appeared to graduate to a sort of Nietzschean/Darwinian ethic — his victims included a billionaire pedophile and a number of patients who ‘annoyed’ him. Weak, ignorant people who refused to recognize their insignificance.” Mulder licked cheese powder from his fingers. “What if Manville became Lecter’s protégé? He’s brilliant, enjoys playing head games with his patients. What if Manville volunteered at Soul Support solely to prey on the people he despised — the weak, the undisciplined?”

“And the mutilations?” Byers asked.

Mulder shrugged. It was, admittedly, the weakest link in his theory. “He took their ears because, in his darkly whimsical view, they were superfluous, unnecessary. They wouldn’t listen — not to family, not to the cops or the courts, and especially not to him. That would offend Manville.”

“So you’d recommend counseling, then?” Frohike rumbled dryly, popping another Red Bull.

Mulder’s carefully aimed Cheeto left an orange caste mark on the head Gunman’s head.

“Hey, Mulder,” Byers called. “This your guy?”

Mulder peered out the tinted window. Manville was wearing jeans, a logoless sweatshirt, a khaki windbreaker, and cheap running shoes, and he’d adopted a slouching, furtive posture aimed at reinforcing his street camo. But the height, the bearing, the aquiline nose… Mulder felt an exhilaration he hadn’t experienced in months.

“Game on, Dog,” he murmured.

“C’mon,” Byers sighed aggrievedly. “We’ve gone through this a dozen times. The Soviets replace Oswald with Alek, Alek hacks Kennedy, and lets himself get busted. Ruby then takes him out for the love of Mama Russia, and they did the old switcheroo. That’s why they IDed the remains as Oswald. Bada bing.”

“Bada bullshit,” Langly squeaked, his angular features awash in the glow of his laptop. “You think they just did a Copperfield, slipped him out of a secret pocket and into the coffin. You think they’d let the body out of their sight?”

“Who? LBJ’s FBI?”

Langley threw his hands in the air. “Oh, Jesus, not that again.”

“Shit.”

The pair turned to Frohike, who was staring slack-jawed at his souped-up, bootleg

“Blackberry.”

“Dude, you look like you heard they’re doing a sequel to ‘Daredevil’,” Langly said.

“My buddy in NSA IT. Mulder said Dr. Evil was hanging out with Evan Pym — you know, the black ops creep — so I asked him to do some intel. Turns out Frasier Crane was Dr. Strangelove.”

“He was a spook?” Byers breathed.

“Get Mulder,” Frohike ordered. Langly fumbled for the cell phone. That’s when harsh halogen light exploded into the van and the Gunmen found themselves suddenly peering down a quartet of gun barrels.

Mulder took the concrete steps two at a time, heart banging, his fingers teasing the butt of his weapon.

He’d hit Alta’s apartment just a minute or two after Manville — plenty of time for the psychotic shrink to smooth-talk her into a position of vulnerability. He’d have the weapon on him — there’d have been no reason to dispose of it. Manville would have thoroughly sanitized it, but the tooling marks — hell, his possession of the surgical instrument alone — would make the case. Mulder had contemplated calling Hedger, Skinner, but his credibility with law enforcement wasn’t riding really high these days. But the second he reached Alta’s floor, he’d signal the guys, and the cavalry would arrive to take Manville off his hands.

The junkie lived on the fourth floor, and Mulder sprinted up the worn wooden stairs practically without a sound. He plucked his phone from his jeans as he rounded the fourth floor landing.

“Agent Mulder,” Dr. Manville greeted, smiling, leveling a nine millimeter pistol at the bridge of Mulder’s nose. Rap pounded from down the hall, through Alta’s open door, but Manville’s tone was calm, sonorous.

Detective

“Please,” the doctor said, removing the phone from Mulder’s fingers. “Join us. You see,” Manville murmured, gesturing Mulder toward the open door, “Ms. Jason is a hardcore recidivist, much like Tonya Ray or Maurice Felton. Recovery is a remote — to some views, a hopeless — prospect.”

Mulder glanced back as he advanced slowly. “So, what, you surgically remove her from society? For what? The greater good?”

“Agent Mulder, you have a brilliant forensic mind. To have arrived here so quickly is, frankly, astonishing. But there’s much you don’t know. I’m going to ask you to remain silent, or the consequences could be dire. Do you understand?”

“I’m not going to allow that girl–”

“Hey! What the fuck?”

The slurred cry slashed into Mulder’s protest, and the agent froze, perplexed, as Manville moved past him.

“Agent! Now!” Manville barked harshly, and Mulder came to life, seizing the sidearm the doctor had curiously failed to confiscate.

The first thing the agent saw as he rushed through the doorway was Alta Jason on the floor before a nappy couch, palms before her face in a sluggish defensive posture. Manville had dropped into a crouch, his gun extended in both hands.

Between them, a figure brandished a long, glistening steel blade and a hypodermic needle at the cowering girl. The killer’s props — two grocery bags and a Senators cap — lay discarded nearby.

Alta’s assailant moved forward, oblivious to the therapist and his baffled FBI patient.

“Francine.” Manville called to the serial killer in an even but stern voice. Soul Support’s executive director wheeled, eyes wide and, strangely, irritated.

“Wallace?” Blade gripped in her iron fist, Francine Roeburt, Director of Soul Support, peered past the casual psychiatrist. “And what is *he* doing here?”

“There’s no purpose to this, Francine,” Manville suggested. “The police will connect that weapon to Tonya and Maurice’s deaths, and I’m quite certain your alibis for both — if you have alibis — will easily be broken. You’re not an experienced criminal, and your objective is now moot.”

Mulder kept his tongue with monumental difficulty.

Roeburt’s lips tightened, and her eyes were bright with fury. “How in the world did you work this out?”

“Well, obviously, there was the coincidence of Tonya and Maurice being my clients. That led Agent Mulder to suspect me, and, eventually, led me to you. I analyzed why my clients might have been targeted,” Manville explained almost melodically, “And I realized Agent Mulder had fallen onto the essence of the case. I’m assigned what he called the ‘hardcases’– the recidivist addicts, the near hopeless cases. The clients we’re least likely to hail as success stories. This was about percentages, wasn’t it, Francine? Tonya, Maurice, Alta — they tarnish the image of hope and redemption the media, the congressional appropriators, our donors expect. It was about improving the percentages, wasn’t it?”

Roeburt’s hiss chilled Mulder. “It was about the clients, Wallace, the clients! The ones we can bring back from the brink, the ones who choose life.” She jabbed the blade at Alta Jason, who whimpered. “Look at her. Her appointment was at, what, three today? and she’s already high! She’s a threat to every one of our clients who has a chance. So were Ray and Felton. They tap valuable resources and risk crucial funding!”

“Is that why you docked them, Francine?”

“Docked?” Mulder whispered.

Manville’s gun hand remained steady as his head turned microscopically. “In 17th Century England, even in 18th Century America, criminals were branded or docked through removal of the ears or other anatomical parts. I checked your circum vitae, Francine, and discovered your dual masters were in social work and forensic anthropology.  Beyond your more pragmatic motivation, you wanted to mark your victims, let the world know their shame.” For the first time, Mulder heard sadness seep into Manville’s words.  “Unfortunately, Francine, the world will know only what you’ve done. Please hand me the scalpel, and perhaps we can spare Soul Support some measure of destructive media coverage.”

Roeburt smiled, abruptly, serenely. “If it’s all over, Wallace, then I believe I’ll leave the world somewhat better for it.”

She lunged at Alta, and Manville’s finger tensed on the trigger. The girl shrieked, burrowing toward the couch, but the sound of her fear was smothered by a sharp explosion.

Francine Roeburt stumbled forward, onto the couch, hugging her bloody hand, her face contorted in hate.

Manville turned, regarding Mulder. The agent holstered his newly fired weapon. “Thank you, for Francine’s sake. I intended to kill her.”

Mulder smiled uncertainly. “Call it professional courtesy.”

Alta Jason’s Apartment

30 Minutes Later

“He was a spook,” Frohike told Mulder. “Well, a consulting spook, at least.”

Hedger had gone along with Manville’s suspicions, but had been thrown a curve when Mulder had trailed Roeburt and the doctor into the apartment building. His men had quickly contained the Gunmen, and stormed the apartment as soon as they’d heard the shot.

“Turns out the doc was onto Lecter before you guys,” the head Gunman continued as he watched the EMTs preparing Roeburt for transport. “That’s why he spent so much time with Hannibal the Cannibal — he was trying to size him up. The hospital administrator laughed him off when he suggested his top shrink was, what’s the clinical term? A raving kookaburra.”

“Yeah,” Mulder nodded. “I think that’s it.”

“But after you guys nabbed Lecter, the NSA caught wind of Manville’s diagnosis and offered him a sweet deal to come work for your uncle. Profiling terrorists, sizing up potential moles, that kind of thing.”

“Prospect must have fascinated him,” Mulder mused. “He wrote a couple papers on the terrorist psyche.”

“Well, the romance apparently was short-lived, ’cause Manville parted company with Pym on reportedly unfriendly terms. Must’ve known where the bodies were, though — nobody’s bothered him since he set up practice here.”

Mulder regarded his diminutive friend, who’d hung around after Hedger’d dismissed a shaky Byers and a defiant Langly. “Why didn’t you tell me you were doing your own background check?”

Frohike slapped the agent on the arm. “Had to watch your ass, buddy. You seem to be having some trouble finding it lately. Manana.”

Mulder blinked, and then grinned as the Gunman disappeared down the hall. He found Manville whispering with Hedger. The cop looked up, expression neutral.

“You stay available, Agent, hear?” Hedger grunted, turning to attend to his bleeding murderer.

“There’s a man,” Mulder murmured, “who’s seen one two many private eye flicks.”

“He’s actually quite astute, in a linear fashion,” Manville suggested.

“Jesus, don’t get all drippy and sentimental on me.” Mulder paused. “Why’d you let me make such a colossal ass of myself?”

“Colossal’s something of an overstatement.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me? About the NSA, about Lecter?”

“Agent Mulder, from what I’ve learned, people have been trying to lead you to the truth –their version of it — for most of your life. If I was to win your trust, you had to discover the truth for yourself, without my influence. I trusted your profiler’s skills.”

“Yeah,” Mulder chuckled sourly. “They came in really handy. My buddy the paranoiac beat me to the punch.”

“In and of itself a useful revelation,” Manville said.

“Just one thing,” Mulder ventured. “Why were you sharing a cappuccino with Evan Pym? I thought you guys were splits.”

“Somehow, Evan knew I’d been assigned to your case. He’s apparently taken quite an interest in you, in your work. He inquired as to your welfare, especially of late.”

“What did you tell him?”

The doctor smiled. “I simply suggested the same course of stress relief I recommended to you in our first session.”

Mulder stood transfixed for a second, then grinned broadly and trailed Manville into the bedroom.

Alta sat rocking in the center of her dingy flowered bedspread. The doctor was almost to the bed before the girl looked up with red-rimmed, unfocused eyes. She grinned.

“Well, shit,” Alta murmured, low and with astonishing clarity, considering her obvious condition. “House calls better not cost extra, Doc. I’m kinda tapped out, you can’t tell. Unless…” The addict’s smile disappeared as she patted the mattress beside her. Then, she glimpsed Mulder. “Okay, sure, both of you, then.”

Manville shook his head slightly. “I believe that would create a very complex problem in professional ethics. And Agent Mulder isn’t that enthusiastic for my company as it is.”

Something sparked in Alta’s eyes, and she stared off, toward the wall. “Then you’re not much fucking use, then, are you? Fuck off, Doc, and take ‘Fox’ and the storm troopers with you.”

“Hey,” Mulder protested, gently. “You’d be dead right now–”

She came off the mattress, breathing raggedly as she came nose to chest with Manville. “I guess I would be, wouldn’t I?  Fuck you very much, Doc. Now, find the fucking door.”

Manville nodded matter-of-factly, turned, and motioned Mulder toward the door.

“GET…THE…FUCK…OUT!!!” Alta screamed, panting, as the bedroom door splintered into its jamb.

“Lieutenant,” Manville called over her continued curses. “If there’s a possibility of leaving an officer — a female officer — for the evening?”

Hedger’s brow rose as he jerked his head toward the door. “You worried about her welfare, I’ve got a nice safe place she could depressurize overnight.”

Manville shook his head curtly, politely rejecting Hedger’s consultation. “I believe Ms. Jason would be far better served in her own environment tonight.”

The cop sighed. “You got the degree. Officer…”

“I’m sure she’ll see things differently tomorrow,” Mulder offered in the hallway.

As the therapist turned, Mulder met Wallace Manville for the first time. Manville smiled warmly, a touch of sadness in his mineral eyes.

“I’m going to break a cardinal rule of psychotherapy here, but I believe I can trust your confidence,” the doctor said. “Alta is the product — perhaps I should say the consequence — of a dysfunctional upbringing. An indifferent, emotionally abusive stepfather; a weak, co-dependent mother who enabled his cruel behavior toward herself, Alta, and Alta’s younger half-sister. Considerably younger, I should note.  By 14, Alta was already promiscuous, a problem drinker, half-addicted to pot, popping ritalin she purchased from an attention deficit classmate. Unfortunately, not an uncommon profile in Alta’s neighborhood. On her 15th birthday, while her mother was downstairs washing the evening dishes, Alta’s stepfather made an overtly sexual overture toward her. Alta’s half-sister, in the next room, heard the altercation that ensued and called for her mother. Mothers and daughters moved out that night.”

Mulder glanced back at Alta Jason’s apartment sadly as Manville continued with his discourse.

“Alta’s stepfather had been the family breadwinner — her mother was forced to take an apartment in an even more marginal neighborhood. The mother’s combined stress, depression, and misplaced resentment toward Alta led to a further breakdown of the family model, and, half out of economic necessity, half as a form of subconscious punishment, she left Alta’s half-sister in Alta’s care during the evenings while she ‘socialized.’ The police say the man down the hall — meth dealer, incidentally — left his door ajar to run some product down to a customer on the street. Alta’s half-sister was bored — that’s what Alta surmises — and saw the dogs in the open doorway. Her father had kept the family retriever when his wife left, and I suppose her nine-year-old’s curiosity got the better of her. I don’t know that you’ve ever seen what a pitbull can do to a child, much less two.”

Mulder closed his eyes.

“The upshot is, when the police were able to get an ID on the girl, they found Alta on the couch three doors away. She’d downed a half-bottle of Wild Turkey, and had managed to sleep through the entire episode.”

“No wonder,” Mulder managed, glancing back at the apartment door.

Manville followed his gaze. “Alta has been virtually paralyzed in that moment for the past eight years. In our sessions, she constantly relives it, pondering how she might have influenced the outcomes differently, how she might have saved her sister from a horrific death that might never have occurred if she hadn’t somehow attracted her stepfather’s unwanted attentions. The loss of her sibling has driven Alta to obsessive self-recrimination.”

Mulder’s eyes slowly opened. The hallway was suddenly silent.

“And every attempt to retrieve Alta from this abyss of self-flagellation only drives her into its depths. She resents those who would ‘save’ her. It amplifies her feelings of weakness, her powerlessness to save her sister.”

Mulder stared at Manville.

“Interestingly enough, Francine lost her brother, as well, several years ago. To cocaine — cardiac failure, to be precise. It’s what motivated her to help the addicted, to launch Soul Support. She allowed nothing to interfere with her mission, her obsession, if you will — not even the lives of those she set out to rescue.” Manville told him, hardly blinking. “Guilt can paralyze; it can distort. And misplaced guilt? Even worse — there’s no palpable, rational blame upon which to grasp. And until we can learn to pull ourselves out of that pit, we can’t accept the support…the strength…of others. Not even those we love.”

Suddenly, Mulder remembered to breathe. He swallowed repeatedly. “Skinner. What did…what did he tell you?”

Manville smiled, rising. “Very little, actually. Enough. But I’m exhausted, and I’m certain my wife is wondering what I’ve been up to. We can discuss this later. Let’s see how you see things tomorrow.”

Mulder nodded mutely until Manville’s blurred figure disappeared down the hall. He jumped as his cellphone echoed through the corridor. The agent fumbled it from his pocket, but the caller ID was illegible. His thumb found the correct key. “Mulder?” Scully yawned. “Tried to get you earlier, three or four times. I was beginning to worry … Mulder? Are you all right?”

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut, and took a slow, silent breath. His eyes opened, and he eased his grip on the phone.

“No worries,” Mulder laughed. “I’ll be a little late, okay? Don’t wait up.” He thumbed the phone off as if he were defusing a bomb.

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

7:03 a.m.

Mulder dropped the scoop back into the Folger’s canister, scrambling for the counter before the second ring could interrupt Scully’s slumber. If Scully had been alarmed or agitated by his misadventure the night before — or the misadventures leading up to it — she’d covered masterfully. She’d been solicitous, with few questions, but both Mulder and Scully quickly pled exhaustion and pledged to share intelligence the next morning. After the revelations of the previous evening, Mulder had been none too eager for the debriefing.

“Yeah,” he panted into the phone.

“Have you had your morning coffee yet, Agent Mulder?”

Manville’s affable calmness took Mulder by surprise. He dropped onto a stool. “You tell me.”

A soft affirmative chuckle. “Very good. I was wondering if you might like to get together. After last night’s excitement, perhaps you may have some additional questions or concerns?”

“Wow, sounds like a stone hoot.”

“I believe there’s a Starbuck’s a block from your apartment?”

“I believe there’s a Starbuck’s at the base of the Marianas Trench at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, but yeah, that’s right.”

“Of course, if you have other, more pressing business…”

Mulder glanced toward the darkened bedroom. “Gotta shower — grab me an apricot scone.”

Starbuck’s

Georgetown

7:51 a.m.

“I’m okay,” Mulder assured Manville, dunking his scone in his Grande Ubora. “Really.”

“Of course,” Manville toasted, smiling. Despite the hour, the doctor was groomed and dressed for a briefing in the Oval Office.

The doctor astutely surveyed the morning throng of cramming students and suits hardwired into their blackberries. “I wonder what Herman Melville would have made of all this. You’re aware the chain was started by an English teacher, a history teacher, and a writer? Who would have imagined Melville’s work would come to be associated with overpriced coffee and oversized muffins?”

Mulder brushed a few crumbs from his Stewie Griffith T-shirt. “They make a mean Great White Chocolate Mocha, though. You know, Scully’s dad was a big Melville buff — Navy man, called Scully Starbuck. She called him Ahab, that give you any idea who wore the deck shoes in that family? Shit, who am I to judge? My Dad was like something out of Dickens. Whoops, did I just trip the meter?”

“I’ll bill the Bureau. Besides, I thought I’d attempt to satisfy your curiosity today,” Manville offered. “You must have a number of questions. And I wanted to let you know: If my background is of concern to you, I’ll support your attorney’s request to assign another counselor.”

A slow smile formed on Mulder’s lips. “Actually, the fact you have a license to kill is kind of a point in your favor.”

“Had,” Manville said, gently. “And I never precisely pulled the trigger on anyone.”

Mulder glanced at the young baristas toiling behind the counter, then turned back to the psychiatrist. “I want back in the field, but I don’t want Scully or Skinner to worry about whether I have their back.”

Manville nodded.

“And maybe you could help me with a little problem Scully’s having. Wait, I’ll save you the trouble — ‘I thought I already was.'”

“Well, as we are off the clock…”

Manville followed Mulder’s tale of bees and biological weapons intently.

The story sounded fantastic enough even with Mulder’s omission of Nazis and extraterrestrials, but the therapist nodded and sipped his coffee unperturbed, as if his patient were discussing a particularly long and complex staff meeting. As Mulder concluded with Scully’s discovery of the Virginia paper trail, Manville leaned back, templing his fingers.

“I’d agree our man is personally motivated, and most likely is working alone or with a cell of similarly motivated individuals,” the doctor murmured. “His actions are simultaneously calculated and reckless, and opportunistic — in at least the Texas and Kentucky incidents. It would seem he was not so much testing his weapon as he was flexing his muscles, testing his power. He has a grandiose image of himself, but is at the same time subconsciously insecure about his own significance.”

“Obviously,” Mulder snorted. “Any guy who’d call himself ‘Stubb’ can’t be totally sure of himself.”

Manville smirked, then frowned. “Stubb. That’s the alias?”

“Yeah. Why?”

The doctor raised a finger in a silencing gesture. “Wait … No. It’s too coincidental…”

“What is?”

“‘Stubb’. It’s the name of a fictional character. In Moby Dick.”

Mulder released his cup and leaned forward.

“Starbuck was Captain Ahab’s first mate,” Manville elaborated. “Stubb was the second mate.”

“Shit,” Mulder whispered.

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

9:12 a.m.

“Where’ve you been?” Scully asked as Mulder shoved the door open, key still dangling from the lock. Her tone was casual — not suspicious, but curious, with a trace of concern.

“I tried to call–”

Scully tugged at her robe. “I let it roll over to the machine. Too bushed — I just got up. Why didn’t you leave a message?”

Mulder dropped onto the arm of the couch. His pale face was grave as he looked at her.

“Scully … I think Charlie’s involved in this.”

Scully’s coffee mug nearly tipped in her fingers. Instinctively, she caught herself. “My Char..? Him? In my case?”

Mulder related Manville’s Melvillean observation.

Scully set her coffee aside and dropped into Mulder’s armchair, pulling a blanket around herself, clasping her hands.

“Stubb. I was so wrapped up in the investigation, with your…?” Her voice trailed off. “But why? There’s no reason to this. Why would they do something so public, so senseless?”

“I don’t think there’s any ‘they,’ Scully,” Mulder said gently. “I think Charlie’s gone rogue. I can only imagine how Strughold and the others reacted to his screw-up last summer. I think it broke him, sent him over the edge.” A shadow crossed his face at the memory of his own ordeal. “I think this is all about revenge. Against them. Against the world.”

Scully’s jaw set, and something cold and primal glinted in her eyes. “Against *me*.”

She stood there for a moment, thinking. “But you said Krycek didn’t know anything about it.”

“Yeah, and then he told me to ‘find the man’ responsible for setting these bees loose. Scully, if Charlie went rogue–”

“Oh, god,” Scully moaned. “Oh, Mulder, this … this is …”

“I know. I know,” he agreed. “So, what do you want to do?”

“We have no proof to give to Skinner–” She was interrupted by the ringing of the phone.

They both lunged for it, but Scully came up the winner. “Scully.”

Mulder waited, while Scully muttered a string of ‘uh huhs’ and ended with a ‘yes, thank you’.

After disconnecting and putting the phone back on its charger, she tossed off the blanket. “That was the hospital. I have to get over there. Bambi’s out of her coma.”

Mulder blinked in surprise and quickly followed her up to the bedroom. “The new treatment — Scully, what did you give her?”

She was already pulling clothes out of the closet. “Oh, um, you were right, Mulder. It was something like a horse serum.”

“So, uh, who was the ‘horse’,” he asked, pleased with himself.

“Me.” Before he could react, she was in the bathroom. He followed right after her.

“What do you mean — you?”

“It’s pretty simple, actually. We did try your blood. I synthesized it and was about to administer it, but I thought about it and decided against it. Then I decided to try a sample of my blood. Mulder, remember, I was the one stung by the bee — not you.”

“Well, yeah, I guess …”

She stepped out of the shower, toweling her hair. “So, my blood worked.”

“Can we–”

“Synthesize it? To some extent. But so far, everyone affected has died before treatment has been available. If we can get to someone fast enough now… ”

“I don’t like the idea of you being a laboratory, Scully. I mean–”

“If we stop the release of the bees, it won’t be necessary.” She was drying her hair and turned around to kiss him. “It might have been my blood, Mulder, but it was your idea. Thank you.”

He caught her hand before she could hurry off. “Scully, about Charlie …”

“He has to be stopped. Once and for all.” She kissed him on the lips. “Gotta go. Why don’t you shower and we can figure out our next move. Oh, did Manville release you for duty?”

“Um, in a manner of speaking. Yeah, yeah, he did.” Mulder made a note to call the psychiatrist the minute Scully was out of hearing range, just to make sure.

Northeast Georgetown Medical Center

Her old friend and colleague Dr. Daly was there to meet her at the CICU. “Dana, I don’t know what you did — but it did the trick! Dr. Berenbaum’s cultures are vastly improved over two days ago. She awake, she’s breathing on her own — if I didn’t know you, I’d say her recovery was once in a lifetime!”

Scully blushed at the effusive praise and looked through the window of the room where Bambi was looking tired, but onsiderably improved.

Her husband, Dr. Ivanov, was smiling at her and holding her hand. At Scully’s knock, they both looked toward the door.

“Hey,” Scully said. “Glad to see you’re feeling better.”

Dr. Ivanov picked up his voice synthesizer and put it to his throat. “Dr. Scully, how can we ever repay you?”

Scully smiled again. “No repayment necessary. As I remember, you were both a great deal of help to us a few years back. Consider this just returning the favor.”

“Did you find it? What killed Todd? The bees?” Bambi asked hoarsely. Ivanov tried to shush her but she batted weakly at his hand. “I was attacked too, wasn’t I?”

“Yes, I’m afraid you were,” Scully admitted, standing near the bed. “But what I can’t figure out was why no one else on the Mall was affected. Was there anyone else around, someone nearby?”

“There was a man,” Bambi said, her brow furrowed in thought. “About your partner’s height and weight — red hair, cut short …”

Scully froze. “What was he wearing?”

“A uniform of some kind. I thought he must have worked for the garden. He bumped into me just before I saw you on the sidewalk.”

“Did he happen to have a name tag on his uniform? Did you see it?” Scully asked, sounding more desperate than she wanted.

Bambi bit her lip in concentration. “Stull … Stubb … something like that. I was going to ask him what time the garden closes but when I turned around he was gone.”

Their talk was obviously tiring out the recovering patient, so Scully took her leave. On the way out of the hospital, her phone rang. She glanced down and recognized a University of Maryland prefix.

“Scully,” she answered.

“Dana, this is Chuck. I got that email you sent me looking for anything I could find out about that Japanese corporation — Katsuhiru Inc.” Burks told her excitedly. “You won’t believe this, but we got a guy here in the engineering department on sabbatical from Yokohoma, did an internship with these dudes back in the late ’90s.”

“What did he tell you, Chuck?” she asked anxiously.

“Well, seems these guys were into some weird stuff. Did a lot of work with insect populations — but it was all very hush hush, if you know what I mean.” Chuck almost whispered at this point. “He didn’t actually get to see any research, but there were acres of hives near the plant. He saw something once — on an interior storage room. He said it said something about ‘Anubis’. He said it had something to do with the bees.”

“That’s good, Chuck, real good. Thanks!”

“Hey, any time, Dana! How’s Mulder doing with the shrink-man? Can this Special Agent be saved?”

“I hope so, Chuck. God knows I don’t want to do this without him.” Scully told him in confidence, worry evident in her voice.

“Well, I’ll think good thoughts your way.” Chuck told her, sounding enthusiastic, as always. “Good luck, Dana. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“I will, Chuck — we owe you. Oh,” she said shortly. “Look, I’ve got another call. Thanks again, Chuck.” She hit the receive button and answered again. “Scully.”

“Dana, hi, I thought I’d never find you,” Maggie Scully’s voice sounded over the phone line. “I’ve been leaving messages for a couple of days.”

“Oh, sorry, Mom. I’ve been on a case.”

“Yes, that’s what Fox said when I just talked to him.”

“Was there something important that you needed to talk about with me?” Scully asked as she was getting into her car.

“Well, yes. You remember the Balloonfest here in Baltimore. It starts today. Tara and I are taking the kids out to see the lift off,” Maggie informed her. “Matty wants to go up in one of the static line balloons and you know how Tara is afraid of heights. We were wondering if you and Fox might join us.”

“Balloonfest? Didn’t we used to go to that every year?” Scully asked absently.

“Yes, we did. When he was in port and able to go with us, Ahab loved to see the looks on your faces. We went every year.” Maggie laughed. “Well, every year until the year Charlie got stung by that wasp. Then we sort of skipped it. But Matty and Claire have never been and this time I bought plenty of Cutter insect repellent–”

It instantly clicked into place.

She knew where Charlie would strike next. “Look, Mom, I have to go. Don’t go to the festival! Please!”

“Dana, I … hear you. … by a … tower. … you back.”

“Mom! Mom, can you hear me? *Mom!*” When the line went dead, she cursed loudly, trying to get the key into the ignition.

Her phone rang again and she answered it frantically. “Mom!”

“Scully, no, it’s me,” came Mulder’s surprised voice. “Scully, Mom and Tara are taking the kids to a balloonfest–”

“Mulder,” Scully interrupted, “*That’s it!* Don’t you see? Charlie is the one who released the bee that stung Dr. Berenbaum! *She remembered him!* This festival in Baltimore — that’s where he’s going! Mulder — Charlie was stung at that very festival when we were kids. We have to stop him!”

“Scully, you have the car,” Mulder reminded her regretfully, worry etching his voice.

“If I come by to pick you up–”

“No, no … don’t worry about me, Scully. I’ll call the guys. You just get out there,” Mulder told her gravely. “I’ll get hold of Skinner and get some back up for you.”

“Mulder, we don’t know for certain–”

“Don’t doubt yourself now, Scully,” Mulder encouraged her, knowing how hard this whole ordeal was going to be for her. “If your gut is telling you Charlie’s there, then that’s where he’ll be. Just … please, be careful. You know what he’s capable of doing…”

Scully closed her eyes for a moment, thinking about her remaining family; her Mom and sister-in-law — innocently taking two small fatherless children for some cotton candy and to see colorful hot air balloons on a beautiful fall day. “I know he won’t hesitate to kill me or Mom and Tara and the kids. I understand that, Mulder,” Scully acknowledged gravely. “Look, Mulder, I have a quick stop to make on the way there, but I should be there in a little over an hour.”

“And I’ll be right behind you, G-Woman.” Mulder said, and then after a beat he added, “I love you, with all my heart.”

“I love you too, G-man.” Scully disconnected the line and then quickly dialed another number.

“Chuck, it’s Dana — there’s one more thing I need from you …”

Baltimore Balloon Extravaganza

4:35 p.m.

The day was perfect, a light breeze and unseasonably warm temperatures just brushing 80 degrees. The parking lot was crowded with cars and Scully flashed her badge several times to get past the gates.

Once parked and out of the car, she stopped at the information booth for a convenient map of the festival.

The festival was laid out in a large field. There were about 30 or so hot air balloons in the staging area being slowly inflated for lift off. Then, further away was a compact concession area with several tents and trailers selling everything and anything deep-fried or on a stick. In the far end of the area was a playground of giant balloon slides, moonwalks, clowns and face-painting, children’s games, crafts, pony rides, and a petting zoo, which was, unfortunately upwind of the concession area. Scully scanned the festival grounds, looking for her Mother — or her brother.

She spotted Tara’s blonde hair above the sea of toddlers at the petting zoo and was headed that way when a flash of red hair caught her eye.

Fair

The red hair belonged to a uniformed man with a hand truck holding two canisters of what appeared to be carbon dioxide for soda pop. He was making his way into one of the closed tents.

That alone was distinctly odd because the map showed no soda dispensers in that direction. Scully turned quickly and followed him, then hesitated for a moment as she saw him stop, look around and enter the tent.

Her heart was pounding because she was certain he’d seen her as she was barely 50 feet away, but apparently he hadn’t. Perhaps he was just not expecting to see her there.

That would definitely work to her advantage. Trying to forget who he was, Scully called up all her courage, Mulder’s love, honor and support, which she felt surrounding her, and her F.B.I. status and training.

Charlie was bending over one of the canisters, prying it open when Dana furtively entered the tent, gun drawn.

“Stop right there,” she growled, disengaging the safety on her automatic. “Move away from the canisters, Charlie.”

Fair2

Charlie looked up in surprise, then a feral grin spread across his face. “Hey! Well, look who’s here! My Big Sis! Long time no see? Hey, Dana, how’s the ole man? I heard they’re fitting him for a straight-jacket. You might have to go find another dick to swallow.”

Dana didn’t blink and she purposefully disassociated her relationship with the man and forced herself to remember who he had become. Not to mention the untold numbers he could murder with the horrors held in those tanks.

“Charlie, get away from that canister, *NOW*!” she repeated more forcefully.

He smiled at her, shaking his head, his hands still continuing to work at the canister. Charlie’s blue eyes glittered at her and she wondered, briefly, if she was seeing true madness or if he had just, somehow, turned out to be truly evil. “You know, I always knew it would come down to this,” Charlie snarled. “Is it worth it, Dana? Is that prick of a partner of yours worth it? To die like this? Wouldn’t you rather live –be part of something bigger–”

“Killing innocent people? Killing innocent *children*? What’s in it for you, Charlie?” Dana asked. “Tell me, *why*?”

“Fame,” he replied with a shrug, then a slight frown, his fingers continuing to twist a valve on the canister. “Well, … okay, maybe not so much the fame.” The smile was back on his face as quickly as it had gone. “How about money, Sis? The Japanese are really itching to get their babies back.” He rapped the canister with the knuckles of one hand and it was then that she heard the buzz. “This brief but highly effective demonstration will be all I need to convince them to give me big bucks. After that, I can just fade away — retire, if you will.”

“*I won’t*. Now, please, for Mom’s sake, will you come peacefully?” Dana’s voice was even, though she felt like she was begging.

For a split second a shadow passed over Charlie’s face. Then he narrowed his eyes and glared. “No. Not for Mom, not for you, not for Billy-Boy’s little brats — not for *anybody*.”

With a quick flip of his hand, Charlie tossed a piece of protective netting over his head.

The other hand loosened the bolt on the canister, the valve released and the mechanism popped off.

To Dana Scully’s horror, her little brother had released the bees. Without hesitation, a single shot rang out from Scully’s gun, the round hitting her brother right at the shoulder — exactly where she’d hit her partner over a decade before.

The impact knocked Charlie backwards and down into the dirt, along with the canister which was dispersing furious bees entirely too fast. Blood was pulsing from the wound.

Charlie looked first shocked and then stricken as reality began to set in; it took a moment for the pain to catch up to the event.

Charlie Scully looked up at his Big Sis in complete and total disbelief as he screamed and writhed in pain.

The bees, already hyper-excited by their sudden release from captivity, swarmed and attacked the nearest moving object — Charlie.

Dana watched sadly as dozens and dozens of the more-ferocious-than-usual insects burrowed into the gap in the protective fabric left by the bullet hole, stinging the man viciously.

Charlie

Terrible as it was, Dana could not look away from the sight. This was not the Charlie she’d played Cowboys and Indians with as a kid. He hadn’t play softball with her either.

He wasn’t the Charlie who she had adored and whom she thought had adored her.

This wasn’t Charlie Scully: This was a monster.

Tears welled in her eyes, but Scully adamantly refused to let them fall.

Within minutes, men in full protective Hazmat suits converged on the tent, careful to keep the flaps down. Scully was pushed toward a corner where she was pulled through the tent flaps, into a makeshift containment unit.

“Scully!” Mulder called, running over to her.

She turned at the sound of his voice and their eyes met. Mulder wasn’t certain what he was seeing in her eyes. He wanted to put his arms around her but he couldn’t.

They were separated by translucent plastic protective sheeting. “Scully, are you alright — were you stung?” he asked frantically.

She shook her head listlessly. “No. I’m fine. Mulder, Charlie’s–”

As she spoke, other men in protective gear were carrying out her brother’s body in a black body bag.

“Mulder, please — get Mom, Tara and the kids out of here.” Scully pleaded. “I don’t want them to see–”

Mulder nodded somberly. “They’re taking you to Bethesda, Scully. I’ll meet you there,” he assured her, reaching out his hand to touch hers through the plastic.

“I’ll see you soon, Mulder,” she assured him, feeling the warmth of his skin through the heavy gauge plastic.

Bethesda Naval Hospital

9:45 p.m.

Scully trudged down the hallway to the waiting room to find her partner sprawled on one of the sofas watching Sports Center.

“Hey,” she said, kicking Mulder’s foot.

He jumped to his feet, turned and instantly took her into his arms, holding her tight, reveling in the feel of her arms around him again. “Scully,” he whispered, kissing the crown of her head, then each eyelid, a temple and then her lips in frantic succession. “I was *so* worried. What took so long?”

“They ran a full battery of tests, Mulder,” she explained casually, then sighed. “I told them repeatedly that I wasn’t stung, and if I had been stung it would have affected me much sooner — but you know the military.”

He nodded and pulled her down to sit closely next to him. They sat in silence for a few moments, reconnecting. Mulder stroked her mussed hair, then he pulled her to him and gently kissed her lips.

When they pulled apart, their heads were bowed, eyes closed, foreheads resting against each other’s.

“So, I assume they were able to evacuate the festival?” Scully finally asked softly.

Mulder nodded slightly, then leaned back to look at her. “And they eradicated the bees,” he offered. “I talked to the M.E. Charlie had over 40 stingers, most of them right at his shoulder. You shot him, Scully.” His voice was gentle and he pulled her yet closer.

“He didn’t leave me any choice, Mulder. He would have opened the tent flaps and released the bees. I couldn’t let Matty and Claire–” She choked on her words, tears finally rolling down her cheeks, and allowed him to pull her head down to his chest where he stroked her hair.

“What I don’t understand,” Mulder stated softly, “is how you managed to avoid being stung. Scully, there were *hundreds* of bees in that tent.”

From her position at his shoulder she chuffed a laugh. “LSDM,” she said, though it was considerably muffled.

“‘Scuse me?” he asked.

She raised her head a fraction, just so that he could hear her clearly. “LSDM. Remember? Franklin County, Pennsylvania? Ed Funsch?”

“*That* LSDM? Scully, how? Why?” Mulder was astonished, blinking at her. “I knew I’d have to be careful of the bees. Since kevlar wouldn’t stop them, I stopped by U of Maryland on the way out to the festival–”

“So, do I need to keep all weapons away from you and not let you near any clock towers for a while?” he teased softly.

She shook her head slowly, her bottom lip suddenly trembling and she looked him in the eye, naked pain radiating from hers. “Mom. I have to tell her–”

“I, uh, I knew you would want her to know as soon as possible, Scully. Besides, she had to I.D. the body.” Mulder explained as kindly as he could.

“Oh God, no …” Tears flowed from her eyes anew. “Is she … oh God, Mulder — will she ever forgive me?”

He pulled her close and kissed her forehead. “I told her the whole story, Scully. At least this, the most recent part of it anyway. How Charlie was about to release a deadly and violent strain of bees on everyone at the festival. She understood what you did and why.” He leaned down to kiss her softly and looked at her closely. “Scully, I think she feels there’s nothing to forgive.”

Scully said nothing, only buried her face in the crook of Mulder’s neck, held on to him with everything she had … and cried her heart out for the little red headed boy of her childhood, *her* ‘Baby Charlie’, with the bright blue eyes and freckled cheeks…

EPILOGUE

Quonochautaug, Rhode Island

One Week Later

Scully pulled Tara’s van into the gravel driveway of the summer house. They had been on the road most of the day.

Claire, bless her heart, had conked out in the backseat next to her grandmother several hours ago and Scully noted that even the slowing of the vehicle didn’t awaken her.

“This is it?” Matthew exclaimed with a note of disappointment in his voice as he climbed from the rear seat and over Maggie to peer out the front windshield between her and Tara. Looking out the windshield with him, even Scully had to admit that the cottage was showing its age.

She wondered who had chosen the drab brown color so many years ago. Now that the amenities inside were highly improved they would have to do some updating of the exterior, but that could wait until next summer.

Scully ruffled her nephew’s hair, “I know it doesn’t look like much from here, but I think you’re going to like it here.”

“Why are we here again?” he asked as he stumbled back into his seat.

Scully wondered that herself. This was Mulder’s idea.

A weekend at the cottage, a much-needed escape from reality she thought as she caught her Mother’s reflection in the rear-view mirror. The past week had been hard. Mulder had come up here earlier in the week alone. He called yesterday to remind her to tell everyone to bring “old clothes” but wouldn’t commit to the reason for their necessity. Her partner’s new toy was parked in the driveway. When he’d told her he’d bought a ‘hybrid’ she’d had the momentary vision of the two of them cruising through the Virginia countryside in a cute little Prius.

That was until he’d pulled in with the Saturn SUV. A ‘family’ car? Complete with the additional rear seats. His priorities were obviously changing.

Parked in from of the SUV was a well-worn pickup truck with the name “R.J. Construction” stenciled on its door.

What was Mulder up to now?

“We’re here for a weekend ‘get-away’, Matthew, it’s like a mini-vacation,” Maggie told him catching her daughter’s eye in the mirror. Scully saw the sadness in her Mother’s face. “Well, come on everyone, let’s see if we can find Mulder,” she announced, releasing her seatbelt and opening the door.

After opening the rear hatch and distributing luggage to everyone, they headed for the cottage.

There was still no sigh of her partner.

‘Do not worry’, she thought to herself, unlocking the front door and letting everyone in. The breeze off the water behind the cottage greeted them immediately from the open French doors across the back of the room.

Mulder had to be somewhere.

“Mulder, we’re here!” Scully called.

After several more calls and no response she ended up at the back door with her hands on her hips, “Well, guess I’ll have to go hunt him down,” she told the rest of the group. “Matthew, why don’t you search the house, I’ll look outside.”

Tara nodded and patted Maggie on the shoulder, motioning her to follow, “We’ll go get the rest of the stuff from the car,” she said, grabbing her daughter’s hand.

Sliding the screen door open, Scully stepped out onto the patio. A pizza box and four empty beer bottles sat on the table.

After circling the house and still finding no sign of Mulder, she gave up and pulled out her cell phone and hit #1.

It took three rings but he finally answered. “Where are you, Scully?” was the greeting she got.

“That’s the question I was about to ask you! I’m standing on the patio, where are you, Mulder?”

“Walk toward the trees and down the hill. And Scully, could you bring me a clean T-shirt?”

It was hard to hear him, it sounded like a power saw in the background. “What are you doing?” she tried to ask him.

“Just come on down, you’ll see.”

“Come down where?” she mumbled to herself suddenly realizing she’d never been beyond the edge of the patio. As she turned to go back into the house to get Mulder a shirt, Matthew bounded up.

“I can’t find him anywhere, Aunt Dana, but there’s this cool loft up there,” he told her, pointing to the roof. “Do you think I can sleep up there?”

“We’ll see,” she answered knowing that was a decision Tara would have to make. “I’m going on an adventure to find Mulder, you want to come with me?”

“Where?”

“I don’t really know, that’s why it’s an adventure,” she smiled back at him.

After digging through the extra bag of clothes Mulder had asked her to bring and getting Tara, Claire and Maggie settled, armed with his t-shirt, Scully and Matthew headed out to find her partner.

Beyond the line of trees, the property dropped off in a gentle hill. To their left were stone steps that started down toward the beach ending at what appeared to be a large shed. New lumber was stacked in a pile in front of the building and several boards were leaning against its right side on a newly constructed walkway. When the sound of the power saw started up again, she and Matthew followed the steps down to investigate. Matthew immediately headed around the back of the structure on the boardwalk. As Scully followed him around the back of the building, a nice size deck that overlooked the bay came into view. It was hot for early October and she found the breeze off the water refreshing.

“Mulder?” Scully called once again.

“Down here! Look down over the railing!”

Scully turned at the sound of Mulder’s voice and looked over the railing that surrounded the walkway.

Mulder was standing below her looking up with a big grin on his sweaty face, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses.

“Come on down,” he told them motioning toward the stairs that led down from the deck she and Matthew were standing on. Matthew bounded off in front of her. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, she realized that the building wasn’t a shed, it was a boathouse. Two big doors opened over the water that went in underneath the structure.

The new dock Mulder was standing on went out about twenty feet or so into the water. Matthew gave Mulder a high-five as he passed him and then wandered out onto the dock to where another man was working.

Scully just stood and observed her partner. His newly-tanned face and arms glistened with sweat, curling the edges of his hair and soaking the neckline of the t-shirt he was wearing. He had on khaki shorts and sneakers. An old leather tool belt sat low on his hips. He held a big nail gun in his right hand.

He could have been a pin-up for a male F.B.I. calendar, Scully thought, if there were such a thing. Too bad there wasn’t.

“Do you have a license to carry that thing?” she quipped motioning to the big gun.

Mulder chuckled and set the nail gun down behind him. The back of his t-shirt was also damp with sweat.

As he turned around he pulled the damp shirt off over his head and then proceeded to wipe the sweat off his face with it, reaching out to take the clean one from her while she winced at his ministrations.

As he struggled to pull the shirt on over his damp skin, Scully tugged on his tool belt. “And here I was being sarcastic when I told you I was going to buy you one of these things.”

“This one doesn’t have a pocket for a laser pointer though,” he replied, smiling at the memory. “It’s not mine, my grandfather was a carpenter; the shed is still full of his stuff,” he confessed motioning toward the upper half of the boathouse.

“So, What do you think?” he asked her. Scully looked around her. The boathouse was old and weathered but the decking and dock had been expertly crafted. “You did this?”

“Hey, if you’re takin’ a break here, I’m gonna put your nephew to work,” the man who had been working out on the dock came up and tapped Mulder on the arm. “He does good work doesn’t he?” he addressed Scully.

“Actully, *he* did it,” Mulder corrected, motioning to the other man. “I’m the go-for. Scully, this is R.J. …”

“Of R.J. Construction?”

“Ray Jassick,” R.J. corrected, reaching out to shake Scully’s hand. “An old beach friend from way too many summers ago.”

“Nice to meet you.”

R.J. was probably Mulder’s age but not quite as tall, with dusty blond hair, blue eyes and a carpenter’s tan. She could imagine them as two boys on the beach in their youth.

Someone obviously had a talent, she thought looking around at the project. “Mulder, you’ve been keeping things from me,” she joked. “I’m impressed.”

“Can I stay and help, Aunt Dana? Please?” Matthew called from the end of the dock.

“He’s okay, I could use another pair of hands,” R.J. replied with a smirk at Scully’s look of concern.

Mulder turned to look at his friend feigning a hurt expression. “We’re almost done for today, we’ll be up in what…” he glanced over at R.J. “Half an hour?”

Scully studied the three of them and then smiled an acknowledgement before turning to head back up to the house, “Well, then, I guess us ‘women folk’ will see about supper.”

Summer House

Just before Sunrise, The Next Day

The following morning they all found out the necessity for the old clothes. After an early breakfast, Mulder had put them all to work painting the newly refurbished  boathouse while he and RJ finished up the dock.

Weary by the end of the day, dinner had been a cookout and by the time they had washed up the dishes, it was almost dusk.

While Tara had gone off to try and wash the paint from her daughter’s exterior Scully decided to search out the boys.

Both Mulder and Matthew had disappeared shortly after clearing the table. Scully had thought they were up to something together until she spotted Matty engaged in some covert apple picking on the far side of the cottage. “Do you know…” she started to ask snagging one of the juicy fruits for herself.

“Uncle Mulder’s down on the dock,” Matty garbled out between bites. His fingers were already sticky with juice prohibiting any chance he had of keeping his dessert a secret.

“These are really yummy, aren’t they?” Scully smiled at him. “Why don’t you go in the house and get a basket from Grandma and fill it for the rest of us?”

While Matty headed back to the house, she started off across the yard and down the stairs to the boathouse.

Mulder was exactly where Matty had said he was, sitting on the end of the dock. He turned at the sound of her footsteps on the wooden surface and smiled a guilty smile. The sky beyond him was already turning a rosy purple, the first stars of the evening were appearing here and there and the calm water reflected the colors and points of light on its shimmering surface.

It really was beautiful.

“You reserve this show all for yourself or do you want to share?” Scully asked as she sat down next to him.

“Sorry, I should have told you I was coming down here,” he didn’t sound regretful.

“It’s okay, you were easy to find. I had help from my Junior Agent,” she told him, her lip curling in a gentle smile as she put her arm through his.

“Matty?”

“He’s always watching you, Mulder, even if you don’t realize it.” She studied his profile in the waning light as he smiled thoughtfully at her comment.

The glow from the sunset warmed his features but she could still see the effects time had made on his handsome face in the lines around his eyes as he squinted into the fading sunlight.

There was something on his mind.

She looked around them at the fruits of their labors, the old boathouse looked sharp with its new coat of paint and new dock.

Mulder turned to follow her gaze. “You do good work, too. All we need is the boat,” he told her.

“You get seasick, Mulder,” she chuckled.

“This isn’t a sea, Scully, it’s a lake. Besides, they have drugs for that.”

“The drugs that make you loopy? That’s just what I need, a First Mate who’s stoned.”

“Sometimes a little break from reality isn’t all that bad,” he told her, his voice taking on a serious tone as he gazed out across the water. She waited him out. “I always loved this place, Scully,” he finally confided.

“I know.”

He turned to look at her somewhat puzzled, “How do you know?”

“Because you kept it,” she told him matter of fact. “Of all the properties your family had, you kept this one. I know what happened here Mulder, but you must have had a reason for wanting to keep it.”

He smiled then and pulled her to him until she was nestled against his side, her head on his right shoulder. “This place belonged to my grandparents. Sam and I were here from the 4th of July until Labor Day, every summer,” he started to tell her, his voice soft against her hair. “This was our whole world then. There wasn’t anything your imagination couldn’t conjure up. Who would have thought we’d grow up to find there really were monsters out to get you?”

Scully slipped her hand into her partner’s and squeezed his fingers gently.

He looked down at their entwined fingers. “This is all going to come to a head one day. And I can’t help but think it’s going to be sooner than any of us thought.”

“What do you mean?” She hated the way he was turning the conversation. It was too beautiful and peaceful here to be talking of doom and gloom.

“The apocalypse, colonization, global warming, the coming elections, the latest winner of ‘Dancing with the Stars’, Simon Cowell repatriating, you name it,” he rambled. “X, whoever he really was, once told me I’d only win the war if I picked the right battles. I often wonder if he was talking about the ones you and I are trying to win or my own personal ones. How can I know?”

Scully pulled away from him not really knowing if he was serious and turned to look him in the eye. “I know you still have things that haunt you Mulder, so do I. But I think you already answered that. This little project, it’s a way of putting the past behind you for good. Taking a personal heartache and turning it into something new and wonderful for those you love. I want to thank you, for all of us,” she watched Mulder swallow hard at her words. “And as for those other battles, we have our own weapon now, science, the Truth … *our* Truth is in there, Mulder. I pray to God each and every day that we never have to, but now we know how we can turn and make a stand.”

She leaned in, trying to read his expression as he contemplated her words. The purplish- pink sky had given way to a deep cerulean blue and the stars had made their appearance in abundance across the heavens above them giving her a sense of the continuum of all things.

*A weapon*, Mulder thought to himself, carefully concocted from the years of manipulation to his partner’s DNA.

How could he have known all those years ago when Scully stepped into his office that she would ultimately be the weapon to win the war?  Perhaps he had picked the right battle after all. Mulder looked down at his partner and squeezed her close. “You okay?”

She nodded into his shoulder. “Yes,” she whispered. “I wish I understood, he was my little brother — I wish I knew why he did…”

“Don’t, Scully,” Mulder cautioned. “Don’t spend the rest of your life trying to figure out someone else. I know what that’s like; it’s no way to live.” Scully slid her arm behind her partner and hugged him tightly in return. She was so glad to hear him say that.

They were quiet for a few moments enjoying the sights and sounds of the night: the water lapping gently against the dock, the light breeze rippling the fall leaves and the ever- changing colors of the darkening sky.

“How’s Mom?” he finally asked quietly.

“Sad. Confused. Mulder, I couldn’t — I didn’t tell her everything that Charlie had done, but I did tell her some of it. She knows he was in a very dark place to be able to hurt all those people. I think … I hope she doesn’t blame me for his death.” He tipped her chin up to look into her eyes. “Do you? Do you blame yourself, Scully?”

She didn’t answer, just turned her head to watch the sun finally sink below the horizon.

“It will be okay,” he promised and kissed her temple near her ear.

Scully kissed his stubbled cheek, then looked up and found the North Star.

As Ahab had taught when she was a little girl, she closed her eyes and made a wish on the North Star — that the man she loved was right.

The District Club

Washington, D.C.

Date and Time Unknown

“He was a colossally, grandiosely, messianically small man,” Strughold murmured into his single-malt scotch as the oxblood leather creaked under him.

It was the most profound eulogy Charlie Scully would receive. Charlie’s obvious complicity in Bill’s death, in Mulder’s abduction and ordeal, had snuffed any vestigial feelings Maggie and Dana might have still subconsciously harbored.

Had he somehow survived his final encounter with his sister, he would never have survived the trip to whatever black hole the government had designed for him. Charlie would never dwell in the pantheon of the world’s most virulent terrorists and megalomaniacs — few would ever know of the Anubis progeny and how close the unbalanced young man had come to unleashing a new and potentially terminal plague on the planet.

Given the alternatives, Katsuhiru had “admitted” the theft years ago of several lots of its targeted hymenopteran insecticide, presumably by developing world black marketers.  The company had abandoned the program for fear its negligence would become public. The U.S. government would keep mum; Katsuhiru ultimately would pay billions in worldwide damages, and in turn would protect the secrets of the Consortium and the fate, for better or worse, of the world.

The Scarred Man waved a wrinkled hand. “The blame, my friend, is not yours alone. We should have attended to him a year ago, after the fiasco in Egypt. Young Charles was fixated on Agent Scully, on proving his significance to her, to his dead father. I failed to fully perceive his weakness. Ah well, peu importe. It is no matter. We must move on.” The Frenchman lifted his snifter of Calvados from the teak console at his elbow. “Do you remember, my friend, so many years ago? You and I, we put aside our differences for the sake of humanity, and you offered a toast. ‘Resistance is futile…'”

Strughold regarded his friend curiously, then smiled as he hefted his glass. “‘…but resignation is fatal,'” the Scarred Man concluded.

Strughold sipped his scotch, then rose. “Indeed, we must continue. We have no option but to persevere. Until tomorrow, my friend.”

“Oui, tout a fait.”

As the German boarded the club elevator for the lobby, the Frenchman’s eyes narrowed. He felt no surprise — he had suspected for some time. He felt little loss — despite their common bond, their familiarity, the Scarred Man had never lost sight of the atrocities Strughold had committed in the name of his race and how he himself had thrown in with the devil to save his species.

“Resistance is futile,” the Frenchman amended to the empty room, “but futility is our sole claim to salvation.”

Hotel Bellefontaine

Washington, D.C.

Strughold tossed his suit jacket onto the chaise next to the amply and lavishly stocked minibar and consulted the phone for messages. Of course, there were none: Charles Scully was considered Strughold’s failure, and his colleagues at least temporarily would distance themselves. At the same time, they recognized he was an even more formidable adversary than ally, and would soon be forgiven, if never completely forgotten.

Decades of research, of planning, of hoping gone — obliterated by the mad ego of a tiny man.

It was the sad, inevitable story of the species — worlds lost for the sake of petty gratifications and small-minded bigotries.

Conrad Strughold had known this, even as he did the foul bidding of that snarling, spitting cur Hitler.

Even after he threw in with the Frenchman — a sworn enemy of the Reich — the German  knew he would betray them all without pause. He was a survivor.

Strughold’s harsh laughter filled the room. He crossed the thick pile of the suite to the 19th story window, glancing briefly at the sprawling constellation of Washington at night before tugging the curtains closed.

Charles had performed admirably — Strughold had played his hatred for his sister, for the Consortium, for the race that in his fevered mind had reviled him, failed to reckon his power.

Strughold had not even been required to leave a trail for Mulder and Scully — Charlie’s puerile ego had done the work for him.

Strughold had merely to trust in Charles’ essential humanity. As he had with the frightened men who cowered in their clubroom. As he had with the servile executives and scientists at Katsuhiru.

As he had with the German, so many years ago. His own weakness had led him to an ignominious and anonymous death.

“Strughold” knew no weakness, though he had suffered a moment of uncertainty earlier, with the Frenchman. He was not a stupid man. He would bear watching, but he was manageable.

“Strughold” stepped into the lavatory and peered into the wall-length mirror.

The blood seemingly drained from his skin as his lips receded and his eyes swelled into two huge, black, slanted orbs. His thick, calloused fingers telescoped into long, facile appendages.

He stared at the face in the silvered glass. His face.

His “true” face.

Soon, the creature known as Strughold mused. Soon, this world would know his true face.

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THE END

The Anubus Phylogeny by VS Producers