Category Archives: Season 18

Aevum

poster

UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

prisoner

The detainee was led in thick, black wrist shackles down the catwalk’s metal grating, as he had been led so many times in the past.  Too many to count.  His emaciated form was barely recognizable to those who knew him “before.”

Any medical professional would have read starvation in his sunken blue eyes and thinning red hair, bulging stomach, and skeletal appearance.  Any trained psychologist could scan his body language as he trudged along and conclude that his spirit had been broken: The detainee was submissive, resigned to his fate, hopeless.

But if anyone had cared to establish prolonged eye contact, to truly search his soul, they would have seen a depth of intelligence, a breadth of spirit, and a capacity for love that transcended his situation.  They would have spied the very embodiment of hope.  Thankfully for him, no one had done that.  If they had, they probably would have thwarted his plan.

The young man in the white lab coat led him into the lab, accompanied by two guards, as per protocol.  It was late at night, and it was unusual to perform experiments of this sort at this hour.  But the guards didn’t question it.

One of the men stayed outside the lab and the other entered, standing as a sentinel by the door.  The young man’s face was obscured by the dim lighting in the lab.  He looked up, as if expecting the motion sensor to flick the lights on, but when it didn’t, he frowned and said, “We’re going to need light for this procedure.  Can you radio down to Engineering and ask them to come up and take a look at this?”

The guard nodded and pulled his radio from his shoulder to do just that.  Meanwhile, in the dark, the young man led the prisoner to the surgical table, helping him onto it and instructing him, “Lie back.  We’ll start just as soon as we have some light.”

The starving prisoner had very little strength to support his own frame, especially not with his hands cuffed.  He fell back onto the surgical table with a thud, and the experimenter proceeded to strap his legs into the X-like extensions of the surgical table.  He uncuffed his hands and strapped them in next, and then brought a dome to the prisoner.  He placed the transparent object over the red-haired man’s head, and began attaching electrodes through the holes in the dome and onto his forehead.  Then, while it was still dark, the young man surreptitiously placed a remote in the prisoner’s hand.

“Engineering should be here any minute, Sir,” the guard said.

The experimenter nodded.  “Excellent.”  He glanced at his prisoner, and through the dim lighting in the room, he caught the man’s barely perceptible smile.  He glanced at his watch, which illuminated 11:21 p.m. at the motion of his wrist.  “Then we can begin.”

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MULDER & SCULLY’S DUPLEX

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, MAY 15, 2013

2230

“I’m beat,” Scully said as she dumped her carry-on on the bed and flopped down next to it.  The agents had just returned from a case in rural Illinois after a five-hour flight delay.

Mulder heaved his suitcase into their closet and plucked Scully’s from the bed. “Skinner said he had a case for us in the morning, too.”

“So much for Hump Day,” Scully said, already half-asleep.  The Illinois sheriff had caught them only that morning in their quaintly no-frills hotel room, what seemed like a year ago now, and, regarding their state at the time, had offered that tongue-in-cheek observation about Wednesdays.

Despite his fatigue, Mulder chuckled and said, “Well, it could still be arranged.”  As he came back toward the bed, he plopped down next to Scully and said into her ear, “And I promise the rest of the week will seem like a breeze.”

She smiled and kissed him, but then forced herself to get up and get undressed.

Mulder soon followed, and the two climbed into bed not long thereafter.  They embraced one another gently, with the mood changing suddenly as Mulder inhaled sharply and rolled onto his back.  He began staring at the ceiling.

“Mulder?”

“Something weird…I don’t know…”

He was silent for a few moments, and Scully finally pressed him.  “Can you describe it?”

He shook his head.  “I don’t know.  It’s almost like I just saw…a flash of…memories.”

“A flashback?”

“No,” he said quickly.  “Not like that.  Not like anything I’ve ever experienced before.  Except…”

When he didn’t provide the expected information, Scully turned onto her side and looked into his eyes.  “I know that look, Mulder, and whatever it is that you’re trying to protect me from, I want you to stop it.  Tell me what’s going on.”

There was pain in his eyes as he finally brought himself to look at her and admit, “The last time I experienced something like that was…Egypt.”

Her concerned look remained steady as they both thought about the possible consequences.  Strughold had ‘ghosted’ Mulder eight years ago, and by injecting him with the black oil virus, activated within him an ability to communicate with the ancient life forms that mankind had for over a century burned for fuel.  The result was knowledge of things incomprehensible.  A repository of information and wisdom and answers from which Mulder never wanted to separate himself.  But it was Scully’s decision to essentially defibrillate his brain that had brought him back from what would have been certain death.

“What were the memories?” Scully asked him, her voice soft and slightly pensive.

Mulder shook his head.  “They were flashes.  I barely got it all — it was a lot.  Something about Andrew.  And what happened in the woods three years ago, with the Ally.”

“Skinner’s son Andrew?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Were these…good memories?  Or bad?”

He shook his head.  “A combination.”

The worry over what this meant gnawed at both of them.  Since the events in Egypt, Strughold had engaged in a series of seemingly unrelated schemes that pointed to, what? Some type of…world domination?  Mind control?  The erasure of human willpower?  He had some involvement in a mysterious scheme involving the training and control of pythons in inner city Detroit, which had resulted in the death of an innocent 8-year-old girl despite Mulder’s best efforts.  Strughold had some interest in the control of a powerful, ancient weapon, the Bari Trasadi, which had the capability to reduce entire cities to a cloud of dust.  However, his involvement with that infernal device was confirmed only by Mulder’s memory of seeing him in the basement of a Pakistani hospital while the agent was clinging to life by a thread.

The old Nazi’s inexplicable projects had seemingly diminished in frequency over the past few years, and Mulder and Scully had enjoyed almost three years without many wars or rumors of wars.

Until now.

They were silent for a moment, until Scully finally rubbed Mulder’s arm and said, “Well…why don’t we try to go to sleep?  We can talk about what this might mean in the morning… I don’t think we’re going to solve this tonight.”

He nodded in agreement, and gave her a kiss of gratitude.  Then the two began the effort to get to sleep.  They finally drifted off about twenty minutes after 11. As he passed into REM sleep, Mulder twitched slightly at a blip, an image of dark places and violence that failed to register in his depleted consciousness.

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MULDER & SCULLY’S DUPLEX

GEORGETOWN, DC

SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2015

0934

Mulder awoke slowly at first, the alarm clock’s blue LED coming into focus.  Then his eyes shot open and he swung his legs over the bed.  “Shit.  We’re late.  We overslept — we must have forgotten to set the alarm.  Scully–” he turned to her, still sleeping, and immediately noticed that her hair was different than it was when they went to bed.  It was longer, and a lighter color.  He shook his head.  What the hell?

“Scully!  It’s 9:30, we’re late.”

She rolled over, and said groggily, “‘s Saturday, Mulder.  I’ll get up in a minute.”

“What are you talking about?  It’s Thursday.  Skinner had that case for us — he wanted to see us this morning at 10.”  He stood up, draped the covers back over his side of the bed, and proceeded to nearly fall on his face after tripping over a pair of men’s size 12 tennis shoes.

“Dammit,” he said, and looked back.  They were brand new, and lay next to the box they came in.  He didn’t remember buying them.  He did, however, spot a smartphone on the dresser, and decided to settle the debate as to what day it was.  He plucked it up, disregarding the fact that he had never seen it before and assuming that Scully must have purchased it.

It was a Samsung Galaxy S6, with an enormous screen and the latest Android operating system.  Luckily, it operated roughly like his old S3.  He spotted the weather widget on the homepage, and it confirmed that it was indeed May 16, but it said Saturday.  “What’s going on here?” he muttered, and rubbed his eyes.

“You forgot what day it was?”

“I guess… I really could have sworn Skinner said tomorrow.”

“Maybe he said Monday,” Scully suggested.  “We were back late last night — you probably just forgot it was Friday.”

He shook his head.  But then he remembered Sheriff LaTraub’s words in Illinois after he walked into the hotel room that he and Scully had shared the previous night.  His photographic memory — and the joke he had made with Scully last night–didn’t let him forget.

“Most feds we’ve had here since my grandma thought she saw Dillinger eating meatloaf at the Main Street Diner. Just another boring Tuesday in the sticks, huh?”

Before Mulder could react, the sheriff pushed past into the room. Scully, bent over the bedside table, yelped and sprinted into the bathroom as Latraub turned discreetly toward the wall.

“Was gonna wish you a happy Hump Day,” the lawman murmured. “But I see I’m a little late.”

“How can it be Saturday?” he asked, and rubbed his forehead in confusion.  It was then that he saw Scully’s face.  She was obviously the same Scully…but different.  Older?  She definitely looked different.  And so did several other things.  To his right, he noticed that their 32″ HD LCD television had been replaced with a far thinner 40″, mounted to the wall instead of atop the dresser.  He spun, and stared at it.  Then he saw the shoes again, and a brand new suitcase sticking out of their closet.

“Are you okay, Mulder?” Scully asked, and got up slowly, approaching to him with a concerned expression.

“What year is it?” he asked somewhat abruptly, almost in a demanding way.

The worry deepened in her brow and she said as she took his elbow supportively, “2015.  Did you hit your head?  Talk to me, Mulder, what’s going on?”

“2015?” his eyes widened.  Memories of cases dealing with time travel and the alternate universe flooded back to him.  He staggered slightly and made his way back to the bed, where he sat down gingerly, with Scully at his side.

amnesia

“What year did you think it was?” she asked carefully.

He didn’t answer her question.  Instead, he demanded, “What happened yesterday?”

“We flew in from Florida after the Jacobs case.”

“Tell me about the Jacobs case,” he ordered her.

“You don’t remember it?  What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Just tell me about the Jacobs case,” he insisted.

“Lyndon Jacobs was a serial killer who murdered his victims by performing surgery on them.  He believed he was taking out stomach tumors.  He killed blonde-haired, blue-eyed, middle-aged women this way… he thought he was saving his mother.  We were called because of our joint study on serial killers with medical delusions and their connection to the black market medical industry.”

Mulder shook his head.  He didn’t remember any such study, but if this was truly 2015, he would have missed it entirely.  “That doesn’t sound like an X-file.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” she pressed him.

He looked at her hesitantly, and said, “I don’t know if this is amnesia or time travel, Scully…I’m not sure what’s happening to me.  Last night, I told you I felt…a flash of memories.  Like in Egypt.  It scared us both.” He took her hand. “Last night, for me…it was 2013.”

She nodded, her caring, concerned expression not wavering.  It was almost as if she had expected him to say something like that.  “Okay,” she said, her tone strong.  “Okay, we’re going to figure out what’s happened.  It’s probably not…time travel…” she kept her tone non-judgmental and slow, as she would if he had a head injury. “Because otherwise, why would I remember you being right here at my side for the past two years?”

He nodded slowly.  “So…a brain problem, then?  Something’s medically wrong with my brain?”

“We’re going to find out,” she promised him.  “How are you feeling?  Do you have a headache?  Are you in any pain?”

He shook his head.  “No.  I feel fine.”

“You said last night you had a flash of…memories?”

“Yeah, but that was in 2013.  Don’t you remember?  We had just gotten back from the case in Peterson County, Illinois.  The genius kid that turned his sea monkey gene splicing experiment into a designer drug?  The plane was delayed five hours.  We got home and were exhausted…Skinner wanted to see us at 10 the following morning.  It was a Wednesday.  We were about to go to sleep, and then I had the…whatever it was.  You said we’d try to figure it out in the morning.”

It seemed to come back to Scully slowly, as it was a distant memory for her.  She nodded.  “And that’s the last thing you remember.”

He nodded, beginning to mirror her worried expression. “And you’re telling me that happened two years ago and I have no memory of anything that happened afterward.”

“You don’t remember our last case.”

“No.  Was I injured in the last two years?”

“No,” she said, her tone something between awe and surprise.  “The last two years have been very quiet.”

“Did we retire?” he asked, almost as a joke.

She managed a small smile.  “We’ve had fewer X-files lately.  The drawdown in work led Skinner to assign us to this one-year study of the medical black market — kind of a way to dig into the dead end of Strughold’s medical laboratories we discovered after the Detroit case.  We managed to raid all of the labs that showed up on the map afterward, but they’d all been closed down months previously.  We haven’t found the child that pacifier belonged to, but we know they’re keeping at least one detainee, probably more.  We haven’t made a whole lot of headway, but we published our results last year and ever since, we’ve been pulled regularly as a resource by the BSU.  We’ve had maybe…half…the number of X-files we would normally get.”

He nodded.  “I don’t remember any of it, Scully.  I remember Wednesday, May 15, 2013, like it was yesterday.  It was yesterday for me.”

She stood up and began inspecting his head, but found no bumps or bruises.  “Wait here, don’t stand up yet.”  She left and returned with a penlight, and she checked his pupils’ reactivity and eye tracking.  She clicked the pen light off and said, “Look straight at me…now, tell me how many fingers I’m holding up.”  She tested his peripheral vision by flashing various numbers here, there, and everywhere.  She then said, “I’m going to do a reflex test, see if your nervous system is affected.”  When his reflexes tested out, she checked him for a possible stroke by asking him to smile, hold his hands out, and close his eyes, and perform a heel drop test.  Everything checked out.  “Okay,” she said, and stood straight in front of him, all business.  “I’m going to make you an appointment with a neurologist I know…he’s excellent.  He’s the best I know.  He’ll do some tests and we’ll get to the bottom of this…amnesia or whatever, okay?”

Mulder nodded, his worried expression never leaving his face.

Scully reached over and took his hand.  “We’re going to solve this, Mulder.  I promise you, there’s an explanation, and we’ll find it.”

He nodded again.  Then he stood and embraced her, his mind spinning with this mystery, but trying to take solace in the fact that whatever had happened, Scully was still here with him, in his arms, standing by his side and willing to devote all she had to solving this case.

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GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER

GEORGETOWN, DC

SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2015

1530

“So how do you know this guy?” Mulder asked Scully as they sat waiting for Dr. Brent Picardo to return to their exam room.

“We reconnected last December at a Neurological Science conference I attended just before Christmas.  We had lunch to discuss his latest breakthrough work on Alzheimer Disease, and our recently published study on the black market medical industry,” Scully answered casually, sounding a little distracted.  Her mind was running through the possibilities of what could be afflicting her partner.

A slightly playful smile crept onto Mulder’s face as he probed, “Reconnected?”

She broke her gaze at Picardo’s poster of the human brain, and met Mulder’s eyes.  She realized after a moment that he was trying to feign jealousy.  She managed to return his smile and said, “We dated when we were in medical school, but it only lasted a week.”

“I see,” he said, the smile playing at his lips.

“Mulder, he’s very good, and it was really kind of him to squeeze us in on his day off.”

“Really kind,” Mulder echoed her words, and she rolled her eyes.

She was about to respond to his suggestion when the door opened.  Picardo entered with an air of calm he had crafted from years of dealing with terrified patients and their families.  “Mr. Mulder, Dana, thank you both for waiting.”

“Just Mulder, remember, Brent?” Mulder said, purposely placing a bit of emphasis on Picardo’s first name.  Scully shot him an annoyed glance.

Picardo didn’t seem to notice.  “Of course.  Mulder.  I’ll remember that.  We have some results–others we’ll have to wait for.  But I can tell you right now what Mulder doesn’t have.  You haven’t had a stroke.  You don’t have a brain tumor — my rush order on that CT scan was read by Radiology about five minutes ago.  You don’t appear to have had a seizure or have a seizure disorder.  I’ve got to study your results more extensively, but in the memory testing, you don’t have any problem forming new memories.

“Your short term memory is better than average — actually, among the best I’ve ever tested.  We’ll see over the next few weeks how your long term memory is.  We can’t jump the gun on that.  The blood panel will come back in the next couple of hours, and we’ll know if you have any pathogens or toxins in your system.

“To be honest, though, this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Most of the time, amnesia fits into a category of anterograde amnesia, which is when a person can recall past events with perfect clarity but can’t form new memories…which you can…or it’s retrograde amnesia, which is when you can’t recall anything that happened before a certain time.  That fits you better, but it’s usually not such a specific point of recall as it is in your case.  You’re not an alcoholic so we’re not dealing with Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Psychosis.  You’ve had no major trauma recently, and your brain shows no damage from trauma on our scans.”

“Could a past injury be causing this now?” Scully asked.  “He has a pretty extensive medical history, including brain surgery that was performed by a…black market…operation, in 2000.”

He shrugged.  “Honestly, Dana, I’m a pioneer in this field and I can tell you that we don’t fully understand the brain yet.  The illegal surgery might have something to do with it.  It might not.  That we didn’t even detect any abnormalities from it tells me that it’s less likely the cause.”

They nodded, dissatisfied but still grateful to know that it wasn’t the litany of other things Picardo had listed.

“What’s the likelihood of my memory returning?” Mulder asked.

“Since I’m not sure what we’re dealing with yet, I can’t answer that,” the doctor told him.  “But I can tell you that in most cases of memory loss, without an underlying progressive pathology like Alzheimer’s or a brain tumor, memory does return, if not completely, after the cause is discovered and resolved.  For instance, in traumatic amnesia, memory of the traumatic event can return in pieces years after the event.  Or in the case of transient global amnesia, the ability to form memories returns hours or days after the initial memory loss incident.”

Mulder nodded.

“One abnormality I did notice, Mulder, was during the memory testing we did with MRI and EEG monitoring.  The MRI picked up brain activity that I’ve honestly never seen before.  Something is going on, but your results were clear of pathology.  You performed every short term memory task with perfection, and in the long term memory recall testing, aside from the last 2 years, your memory recollection was also above average.  Now…we know from recent studies in gender identity disorders that MRIs show different white matter patterns for men and women.  We know that men and women think differently about different things, and we know that brain structure can even vary in individuals.  So this is nothing to be alarmed about…it’s just that this particular patterning is not something I typically see.”

“How would you characterize it?” Scully asked.

“Not pathological,” he said quickly.  “But simply…abnormal.  Mulder uses his brain, I suppose, differently than most people.  It could have to do with the illegal surgery, and the way his brain healed, but I doubt that because it was close enough to normal to not indicate any remapping that you’d see after a typical traumatic brain injury.  I think it’s probably the way Mulder’s brain developed throughout his life.  It could have something to do with this memory loss, but I sincerely doubt it.  If he’s gotten through 54 years without it being a problem till now, I suppose it’s possible but it’s highly unlikely that it would suddenly cause some form of severe, acute, atypical retrograde amnesia.”

They both nodded, but exchanged a glance that spoke volumes.  They knew their history.  There was a very real possibility that something from the past was now haunting them.

“So,” Picardo said as he pushed away from the office counter, “what I recommend is that you go home, take it easy for the next 24 to 48 hours — we’ll call you with the rest of the test results.  See if your memory returns in that time, and if it doesn’t, and the rest of your tests come up clear, then we’ll monitor it.  We’ll do regular memory testing to see if you’re retaining everything from this point onward, and see if we’re dealing with a progressive or stagnant illness.  I’ll also give you a referral for a colleague of mine.  Dr. Kenya Menier.  She’s a neurologist in with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.  She’s a leading researcher on memory loss…she might have some ideas.”

They nodded again.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t give you something more concrete.  But it’s almost better that I couldn’t–the things I ruled out today, you really don’t want.”

“Thank you, Brent.  Thanks for taking time out of your day to see us like this,” Scully said.

“It was no problem.”  He shook Mulder’s hand, and then Scully’s.  “Let’s stay in touch on this.”

They left the office and headed to the car, Mulder’s expression almost unreadable.  When Mulder started the engine, Scully placed her hand on his forearm and asked, “Are you okay?”

“Heh,” he chuckled sarcastically, and looked straight ahead.  “No one seems to know the answer to that.”

“Brent is just one doctor.  And it’s good that he was able to rule out so much.  Maybe Dr. Menier will have the solution if he doesn’t.”

“Maybe.”

“I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be for you.”

“It’s just–” Suddenly, and without explanation, Mulder was no longer in the car.  He found himself lifting his chest from a grated floor.  He was wearing not the athletic pants and golf shirt he had thrown on that Saturday morning, but dirtied jeans and a filthy t-shirt—rags, really.  He was in some kind of…factory?  The lighting was dim, with red emergency lights lining the hallway next to a gargantuan machine of some kind.  Mulder wasn’t an engineer, but he thought the massive machine was some kind of engine or power generator.

He looked around, desperate for some answers.  Directly above him, on another grated catwalk hallway like the one beneath him but narrower, he saw the black marks of an explosion.  His ears were ringing a bit, but who could tell over all the noise of the motor?  Maybe that was why he fell — he had jumped.  But when had he jumped?  What day was this?  What year was this?

“Agent Mulder!” he heard a desperate cry, and his head spun.  Andrew?  He took off running as fast as he could down the catwalk, and then as suddenly as all of this started, he felt his body jolt like he had just exited from a near-sleep state in a boring meeting, and he looked over at Scully.

They were in the car.  He looked down at his clothes.  Athletic pants and a golf shirt.  And the new shoes.  It was 2015.  Saturday, May 16, 2015.  They had just been to the neurologist’s office.

“Mulder?  What just happened?”

“I…remembered something.”

“That’s great!” She looked enthusiastic.  “What was it?”

He described the memory to her briefly, and her face grew troubled.

“Do you remember this?  Or anything like it?”

She shook her head.  “No…I’m not sure what that was.”

He pursed his lips.  “Well…maybe Andrew knows.  We should contact him.”  When she closed her eyes, Mulder already knew what she was going to say.  He was silent for a moment, but finally asked, “When?”

“Last October.”

“How?”

She shook her head.  “They still don’t know.  He had just started Catholic seminary.  They found him in his room…autopsies showed no apparent cause of death.  It looked like brain function just…ceased.”

He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.  “How’s Skinner?”

“Not good.  He believes there were other forces at work…and has launched his own private, personal investigation, unauthorized by the FBI.”

“We’re helping?”

“As we can,” she confirmed.  “Andrew’s journal entries leading up to his death were filled with feelings of foreboding.  Like a great evil was coming to the country.  He predicted mass starvation, death, wars, and calamities. He believed that he would not get through seminary before it all came to pass.  Now…speaking as a doctor…a feeling of impending doom is common among individuals who are about to suffer heart attacks–”

“But you said there was no apparent physical cause of death.”

“I performed a second autopsy at Skinner’s request and confirmed that, yes, he was a perfectly healthy 25-year-old man.  There’s no apparent physical cause of death.”

“This can’t be a coincidence,” Mulder told her.  “Andrew was part of what I felt last night–I mean, two years ago last night.  And just now…this vision, or whatever it was.”

“I agree, it seems like the two are related…”

“How likely do you think it is that I contracted Dhenge Fever and suffered memory loss versus this being tied to Strughold, Andrew, and colonization?  And the Ally?”

“We haven’t heard from them in five years.”

“They were part of what I felt last night. Well, my last night. You know what I mean…”

She nodded.  Part of her really wanted to believe everything he was saying, because it would mean that he didn’t have some debilitating, progressive memory disease.  It would mean she wouldn’t watch her lover slip away slowly over the next several years until he was a shell of his former self–something she had not been willing to fully consider but that had been nagging at the back of her mind since this morning.  If Strughold was responsible for this, and Mulder was not sick, as strange as it seemed, Scully would actually be thrilled.

“I think we should tell Skinner.”

“I agree,” Scully said.  “He’s going to have to know eventually.  But Mulder…know that this is not the same man you, well, that you remember.  He’s heartbroken…you’re going to bring up an extremely sensitive topic. He’s become almost obsessed with this personal investigation of his.”

Mulder managed a small smirk as he said, “Sounds like we might understand each other better than ever.”

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SKINNER’S HOME

ALEXANDRIA, VA

SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2015

1730

Assistant Director Walter Skinner’s bedroom had been transformed into some combination of a 1980s crime drama and an episode of CSI:Cyber, plus a bed.  The wall that once held a seascape now was nearly covered with a giant map of the world, dotted with plastic thumb tacks and strips of post-it-notes.  On the other side of the room, across from the uncharacteristically unmade bed, three desks had been pushed together to span the entire length of the wall.  Five large computer monitors were hooked up to two laptops and an iPad.  A 3 TB external hard drive sat on the desks as well.  The bedroom door was closed and dead-bolted with two newly installed locks.

Scully had called earlier that afternoon and said that they needed to talk, so Skinner invited his agents over for dinner to discuss whatever was troubling her and the latest developments in his personal investigation.

The Italian place around the corner, Illianos, was going to deliver dinner any moment.  And his agents would arrive soon, as well.  Skinner was hunched over his desk, fingering through a pdf document on his iPad that Byers had sent over.  It was 300 pages long and would probably take all night to read, but it was the complete collection of field notes from a physician who had worked with Dr. Nicholas Braden in 1972.  The madman’s coworker had dropped off the map, but the Lone Gunmen had recently found him accomplishing neuropsychology studies for a private lab in Luxemburg.  The field notes were from his latest studies on the brain waves of 300 patients with sleep disorders.

The doorbell rang.  His security monitor immediately came on and the Illianos delivery man’s bored-looking face stared back at him.  He sighed.  Dr. Korsakoff’s work would have to wait.  Lasagna and his agents were beckoning.

After Skinner threw the two deadbolts and unlocked the door handle, he closed the door behind him and re-engaged all locks, placing the key back in his pocket.  He jogged down the stairs and checked the other monitors around the house to ensure the delivery man didn’t have an unwanted friend hiding in the bushes.  Then he unlocked the door and opened it just enough to pay the guy and take the food.  Mulder and Scully arrived as he was setting it out on the table in the kitchen.

Skinner gathered the pile of mail from the table.  He had yet to go through it, and some of it was two weeks old.  He hadn’t been eating at the table, anyway.  He took the mail to the base of his stairs and placed the pile on the first step, then answered the door just as the bell rang again. “Sorry to keep you waiting, come in,” he hurried them in, and closed and locked the door behind them.  “I got caught up reading something Byers just sent over.  Dinner’s on the table.  Come in.”

skinner-grieving

Mulder immediately noticed a difference.  It was like talking to a different man than he remembered — which was, of course, to be expected, given the loss of his son.  This man was hesitant, almost nervous.  He was preoccupied, and there was a profound sadness and palpable loneliness, as soon as they walked in the door.  Skinner was like an alternate version of himself.  Mulder couldn’t help but wonder, in the back of his mind, if this was indeed an alternate reality even closer to their own than the one initially discovered at Glas-Glo Industries.  And then, of course, there’s the possibility that you do have some degenerative disease.  After all, isn’t the paranormal explanation exactly the thing you’d run to first, when it’s actually cancer or something?  Isn’t that exactly where you’d hide?

But he wouldn’t voice that opinion.  The hope in Scully’s eyes when he’d proposed his theory that this dealt with Andrew and Strughold and the Ally had been the best thing he’d seen since he woke up this morning.  He wouldn’t take that from her.

“Tell me what’s going on,” Skinner said, gesturing for them to sit down at the table.

Mulder opened his mouth to begin, but Scully jumped in.  “He can’t remember the last two years.  He woke up this morning thinking in earnest that it was May 16, 2013.  And he remembered May 15, 2013 with absolute clarity, like it really was yesterday.”

Skinner nodded and frowned in concern.  “Did you hit your head?” he asked.

Mulder shook his head.  “And I went to a neurologist this afternoon who confirmed it’s not any of the common medical conditions that might cause amnesia.”

“Let’s eat, and we can talk more about this.”  Skinner popped the top from his food, and then folded his hands and bowed his head.  Mulder paused awkwardly — he had never seen the Assistant Director pray over his food.  When he looked over at Scully, he was surprised to see her do the same.  It seemed more had changed in two years than he thought.

He respectfully waited for them to finish, and popped the lid on his entree only after Scully had.  They ate straight out of the aluminum trays in which the take-out Italian had arrived.  The lasagna was delicious, and Mulder ate it with the plasticware from Illianos and washed it down with tap water the AD had given to him in a plastic cup from Denny’s.  Apparently there were no clean dishes.

“So you said you went to the doctor and they don’t know what it is?” Skinner asked, concern tinging his voice but veiled by a seemingly constant preoccupied tone.

Mulder nodded, and Scully spoke again.  “One of the best neurologists in the area…probably even in the country, ran a battery of tests and was able to rule out just about everything that could cause acute amnesia.  His blood tests came back negative — there’s no toxin in his system.  The scans all showed normal brain function and no tumor.”

“Not exactly normal,” Mulder said.  “He said my brain waves were different than most people’s, but that it wasn’t pathological.”

Skinner looked between them and asked, “Brain waves?  Did they do any neuropsychology tests?”

Scully was surprised.  “As a matter of fact, they did.  The neurologist used an MRI and an EEG to track his brain activity while he performed a number of tasks, some of them more psychological than physiological.  Why?”

Skinner quickly swallowed the lasagna he was chewing and said, “Byers was able to track down Korsakoff.  He’s working on a sleep study with another neuropsychologist in Luxemburg.  Byers obtained 300 pages of field notes, most of it beyond my comprehension.  Maybe you could take a look at it?”

Scully nodded.  “Of course,” she said, hesitantly, and then steered the conversation back to Mulder. “We’re wondering if maybe Mulder’s amnesia doesn’t have as much of a medical cause as it does a…” she struggled to find the right words, that wouldn’t put him off.

“Paranormal one,” Mulder finished for her.

Skinner didn’t seem that interested.  He took another bite of lasagna.  “Why?” he asked when his mouth wasn’t that full.  He still seemed to Mulder to be perpetually distracted.

“Because…I’ve had two visions.  Once yesterday – er, May 15, 2013.  Scully remembers it, but nothing ever came of it.  The second, I had this afternoon.  I think it might have been the same vision, but the first time, it was accelerated beyond my ability to truly understand what was happening, except for a few general concepts.  The second time, it was much clearer.”

“And what was this vision?” Skinner asked, and took a drink of water to wash down the lasagna.

Mulder didn’t feel comfortable saying it.  This man was not quite a stranger, but he certainly knew him less than Scully did.

“Both times, he’s mentioned Andrew, Walter,” Scully said gently.

Now they had his full attention. “What did you see?  Tell me every detail,” the AD demanded.

Skinner’s lasagna grew cold as Mulder did his best to recall every single detail.  When he was finished, Skinner asked, “Do you think if we got a sketch artist to help you could recreate what you saw?  On a computer model, maybe?  Then we could run it through recognition software and find out what kind of motor it was, and what kind of facility it was…at least three levels, right?”

Mulder nodded.

“This is the biggest lead we’ve had,” he said, and stood, heading for the stairs.

“Walter, where are you going?” Scully asked, almost tiredly.

“I need to go upstairs and get a recorder so he can repeat what he said, just in case he forgets it again,” he said from halfway up the stairs.

When he was out of earshot, Mulder glanced at Scully and then at the stairs.  “Do you believe in this investigation of his?”  It was a question he probably should have asked in the car, or earlier in the day.

Scully closed her eyes briefly and then looked at Mulder, daring to say very quietly, “I hope for his sake that it’s worth believing in.”

He came back down the stairs at that point, and placed an old recorder on the table.  “If you don’t mind repeating everything again, Mulder…”

“Of course not, Sir,” he said, and began again.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

2321

Running.

His feet pounded the metal with a clanging loud enough to wake the dead.  His breath came in desperate gasps.  How long had he been running?

CLANG CLANG CLANG!

Pounding along, his joints aching…it felt like he had been running for hours but he knew he hadn’t.  He knew the soreness in his muscles was not endurance pain and the shortness of breath in his lungs was not from long distance running.  The facility just wasn’t that big.

The precious package in his arms was silent but provided warmth and comfort to him amongst the red emergency lights in this cold, unfeeling place.  The child was alive.  The heat of small, flushed cheeks against his bare chest confirmed that, and he held the blanket tighter to the babe.  This was the perfect age, the perfect time, to make his escape.

The catwalk was old and made him nervous.  Would it give way before they got out?

CLANG CLANG CLANG!

The desperate breathing continued.  The feeling of exhaustion threatening to overwhelm him, and he cursed the fact that he had been tied to a bed or kept in a tiny cage for months on end, leading to muscle atrophy, reduced lung capacity, and an overall lack of fitness.

“STOP!” someone roared, and he continued, his latest gasps coming out almost in sobs.  He had to clear the generator in the next few seconds.  He had to–if he didn’t, it would all be over faster than it began.

A shot rang out.  A bullet whizzed past his head as he neared the generator.  “IDIOT!  You’ll hit the child!” a furious man boomed.

CLANG CLANG CLANG!  Almost there.  Almost there…

Suddenly, a figure stepped out from behind the bend in the wall up ahead.  And he froze in his tracks.  Alex Krycek extended his gun, seemingly aiming right at him.  But which Alex Krycek was this?

He found out in an instant as what would have been a point-blank shot to his face whizzed by him and impacted one of the men behind him.  And he dove for the generator, clinging desperately to the swaddled bundle in his arms.

He crashed down onto the metal grating, his bare arms tearing open as they hit the unfiled burs of the industrial flooring.  The babe squealed in fear and possibly pain, and the hum of the generator promptly stopped.

The lighting disappeared.  The flooring was rusted and as he lifted his head to look in front of him, where Alex Krycek should have stood, he saw that there was nothing there.  Indeed, all three stories of the catwalk had been destroyed by some enormous horizontal impact — like a large machine had fallen into them.  He found himself staring into the black nothingness of the abandoned building.

He struggled to his feet, breathing heavily.  His chest heaved in and out, and he spun around, looking at where he had ended up.

The building was largely destroyed — the generator gone, the open abyss of the building leaving a haunting presence in its place.  The catwalk he was on thankfully still had a ladder a little way’s down, in the direction he had come.  He made his way carefully toward it, bobbing the baby up and down for comfort.  “‘S okay, little one.  It’s gonna be okay,” he reassured him.

He managed to hold the baby in one hand and climb down the ladder, sliding his free hand along the rusted sides instead of trying to cling to the rungs.  It creaked and groaned as he descended onto the next level of the catwalk, which led to another ladder.  Again, another careful descent, and he was finally on solid ground.  The concrete was covered in rat feces and muddy puddles from a leaking roof.  The light of a street lamp barely made it through a crack in the wall, and he carefully stepped over fallen plaster and debris to reach the rusted metal door at the other end of the building.

He stepped out into the open, and realized immediately that he wouldn’t be welcome here.  With red hair and pale skin, his bare chest exposing his emaciated form not ready for fighting, he was a target in this neighborhood which had clearly gone downhill.  The street was lined with boarded up, condemned houses and shops that made the place he had just exited seem like gentrification.

As he was walking rather quickly down the street, scanning the place for activity and not seeing a soul, he heard a voice behind him that made him freeze for the second time in minutes.  “Wait up.”

He turned, and saw Alex Krycek yet again.

“You made it through?” he asked.  It would have been a stupid question, if he wasn’t trying to figure out who, exactly, he was dealing with.

“Don’t worry, I’m not him.  There’s a Metro station about three blocks from here.”

He nodded, and began walking again.

“You should probably put on a shirt.”

“I need to get to my sister.”

“Take my jacket before we get on the subway.  So people don’t think you came from a prison camp.”

“I almost wish I did,” he said, and stopped walking just long enough to take Krycek’s offered jacket and slip it over his bare chest, then zip it.  Krycek handed the baby back to him, his PD badge now clearly displayed.  They resumed walking, and encountered no one on the way to the Metro.

They made their way down and bought tickets at the electronic kiosk.  Then the Metro came, and they boarded the green line.  They were the only ones on the train, because this was the very last stop on the line.  The train came in and went out again toward DC.

They sat in the back of the train and Krycek shielded his companion by allowing him the window seat.

The train started to move. “Do you think we actually did it?”

Krycek shook his head.  “I don’t know, Charlie.  I hope so.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

MULDER & SCULLY’S DUPLEX

GEORGETOWN, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0103

Mulder had the same dream again–running along the grate, trying to get to Andrew, whose voice was clearly yelling his name, calling for him…

And then the doorbell rang.  He sat up, a sense of foreboding building in his chest as he grabbed his gun from his nightstand.

Scully, beside him, did the same.  She glanced over at him and he studied her for just a moment, illuminated by the street light.  It streamed through the blinds in small, dim streaks, exposing the apprehension on his partner’s face.

“Wonder who that could be at this hour,” Mulder said in an almost humorous tone as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up in his boxer shorts and t-shirt.  It was obvious to both of them that whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.

They went down together, Scully hiding in the family room adjacent to the front door and Mulder looking through the peep hole first.  His eyes widened, and the grip on his gun tightened.

Then he looked again.

Krycek was holding up a PD badge.  But he was next to…someone he never thought he would see again.  Mulder looked back at Scully, who was hunkered down behind the cover of the couch, just in case.

krycek-and-charlie-front-porch

His hesitation concerned her.  “Who is it?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “You’ll never believe it…”

“Try me.  Mulder, are we in danger or not?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Well make up your mind,” she hissed.  “They’re right outside.  What are we doing?  Who are they?”

“It’s Krycek–but he’s got a PD badge.  I think he’s from the alternate universe…and they’ve got a baby with them.”  He purposely left out Charlie’s name.  Mentioning it would not earn him any points.

“And who else?”

He adjusted his grip on his gun.  “Scully, I think he must be from the other universe.  He’s not who you think he is.’

Who else is outside our door?” she demanded in an urgent whisper.

“Charlie.”

Rage flashed in her eyes for a brief moment and she was lost for words.  Eight years ago, she had been forced to shoot her brother Charlie when he was about to release killer bees into an entire fair of innocent civilians.  He died as a result.  He had a hand in Mulder’s ‘ghosting’ and had been working with Strughold before his death.  Given Charlie’s crimes, Scully’s anger had not even slightly abated.

The doorbell rang again.

“Are we going to let them in?” Mulder asked her, leaving the decision up to her.  “I think they’re from the other universe, Scully.  I don’t think they’re the same people we think they are.”

She looked like she wanted to answer differently, but finally, she nodded her head just before the doorbell rang yet again.  Mulder opened the door, his gun behind his back.  He scanned the area for others, in case this was some kind of trick.

“Are you going to let us in?” Krycek asked, and pointed to his badge.  “You know who I am.”

Mulder didn’t say anything, but did step aside and allow them to enter.

Scully’s weapon was leveled at the pair, and Charlie didn’t look entirely surprised.

“I know who you think I am.  I’m not him.  He’s dead.”

Her jaw clenched.

“Look, I know we’re not your two favorite people in this universe,” Krycek offered.  “But we need your help.  That’s why we came.  And we wouldn’t have rung the doorbell if we didn’t think you would willingly listen.”

“Who’s the baby?” Mulder found his voice.

“It’s a long story,” Charlie said.  “Let’s move to a room without windows.  We can talk about it there.”

XXX

Shortly thereafter, the baby was asleep on the guest room bed while the adults gathered in the adjoining study to talk.  It was the only room without windows.

“We’ve come to enlist your help,” Charlie explained.  “I don’t know whether you’ll remember this or not, but not long ago, the entire planet was in danger of being invaded by extraterrestrial conquerors.”

“We’re familiar with Colonization,” Mulder said.  “We thought it was supposed to happen in 2012.”

He nodded.  “It was.  There are two things you need to know before you can fully understand why it didn’t happen.  The first is why this planet is a target at all.”  He looked between them. “Do you have any ideas?”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other, and despite the serious circumstances, Mulder stated, “It becomes less and less apparent every time you watch a reality TV program.”

Charlie didn’t seem to get the joke.  He shook his head.  “The reason is the same reason why colonization was able to be delayed.  The same reason why Gibson Praise and Andrew Madden have the abilities they do.”

“What do you know about Andrew Madden?” Scully demanded.

Charlie was a bit surprised.  “That…he’s Walter Skinner’s son in at least two realities and that he has the ability to be in two places at once.  Or at least, so it seems.”

“He also passed away,” Mulder told him.  “Of unknown causes.  Last October.”

Charlie appeared angry, but Krycek didn’t look surprised or fazed.  “Damn it,” Scully’s brother swore, and then asked, “And Gibson Praise?”

“Last I checked, he was alive and well,” Scully said.  “It was last month that he emailed me.”

“Okay,” he said, and nodded.  “Okay.  In short, the reason for both of these boys’ abilities and for the delay of colonization…and the reason why Earth is a target…is that this planet is a hot spot for rips in the space-time continuum.”

Scully raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“It’s true,” Krycek said, as if his word would actually change their opinions.  “It’s the reason why you’ve been able to contact the alternate reality twice in the same lifetime.  It’s the reason for the majority of the crazy cases you investigate.  Think about it.  How much of what you’ve investigated could be explained by distortions of space and time?”

Mulder folded his arms.  “I think that kind of a claim needs some evidence.”

“Bellefleur, Oregon,” Krycek said.  “You lost nine minutes, didn’t you?”

Scully glanced at their nemesis’ look-alike suspiciously and asked, “If you came from the other reality, where you’re a police detective and Mulder is a professor, then how do you know about our cases?”

“It’s a long story,” he explained.  “But part of it has to do with why we’re here together.”

Charlie nodded. “I’m your brother, in the other universe,” he told Scully.  “But we’ve spent some time in this particular reality.  Me especially.  Strughold has held me prisoner for the past five years in this world.”

“Strughold captured you from the other reality and brought you here?” Scully asked, perplexed.  Though that did explain why Charlie looked like a survivor from Buchenwald.  “Why?”

“Partially because of my involvement in a military study involving people like Gibson Praise and Andrew Madden.  In the other reality, Dana, I’m a neurosurgeon, but I was recruited by the Navy to study those who demonstrate, for lack of better terms, clairvoyant abilities.  At first, I was glad to help with the experiments — the subjects were all willing, and the research was cutting edge.  I was learning things about the human mind that I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest speculation as a medical student.

“But then, as the experiments progressed, I began to realize what the program was all about.  They weren’t just studying those who naturally exhibited these abilities.  They had plans to alter minds to activate this ability in individuals they believed were capable of being switched on like machines.  And most of those subjects were children, whose parents provided consent but only because they didn’t understand the true nature of the experiments.”

“So how did Strughold even know about the alternate universe where you were involved in this?  And how did he capture you?”

“He’s known about the rips in the space-time continuum for years,” Krycek said.  “His plan was to find the right rip that would take him back in time, preferably to a time before the Syndicate ever formed or humanity ever started launching defenses against Colonization.”

“But that’s not what happened.  He found he couldn’t control the rips.  He thought he could, but his contraption failed, and he fell forward instead of backward, and … I suppose “sideways” as well, into our universe,” Charlie explained.  “He was trying to use something in 2010 in your time line called the Bari Trasadi.  It’s a–”

“We know what it is,” Mulder said immediately.  “We were involved in his attempts to use it.  I saw him…or at least I think I did.  I was barely conscious at the time.”

“Did you ever recover the device?” Charlie asked.

“No, we assumed it was destroyed, but we did recover a laptop with alien script on it.  Something we were never able to translate,” Scully said.

“The way the Bari Trasadi works is to displace objects through space and time.  The dust is actually imported from someplace in the future or past, and fills the space where the target used to be before the weapon was fired.  It’s an ancient device, alien in nature, and Strughold somehow got a hold of it — apparently through this event you two were involved in — and was going to use it to try to transport himself into the past.  Instead, he transported himself into the future, into our reality, through a rip in the space-time continuum.  That’s where he kidnapped me.  In 2015, in my universe.  Then he used a stable rip in Detroit, near the site where one of his labs used to be, to transport me and that baby back to 2011, in your universe.”

“Where did the baby come from?” Scully asked.  “Why is he important to Strughold’s plan?”

Charlie hesitated for a moment, and then looked at Krycek, who nodded.  “You have to tell them.”

The neurosurgeon folded his hands and leaned in.  “His time of origin — his birthdate — is complicated.  He was born five months from now, in October 2015.  But when we traveled back through time, to 2011, he retained his age.  He grew to be about four years old, and Strughold experimented on him in the meantime.  But I managed to escape, just by myself, to go back in time to 2011, where he was still a baby.  I kidnapped him and traveled forward, and literally undid everything Strughold had accomplished for the past four years.”

Mulder and Scully looked skeptical, but Scully still nodded and said, “And whose baby is he?  Why is he important?”  Mulder detected the fear in her voice, and realized that it didn’t take a rocket scientist — or a medical doctor with a penchant for physics — to realize that there were only so many reasons why her alternate’s brother would be bringing the baby to their condo at one in the morning.

“He’s yours,” Charlie said, as if he was bracing himself for impact.

“You mean, he’s theirs.  Not ours.  He’s your universe’s baby,” Mulder said immediately, almost protectively.  He knew how hard it was on Scully when their counterparts’ child found her way over to this universe, even for a time.  He didn’t want her to go through that pain again, and knew from the look in her eye that this was exactly what she feared.

But Charlie shook his head.  “No.  That baby never belonged in my universe, or in 2015.  He was born sometime in the future, but you two no longer exist in that timeline.  Well…you do,” he nodded to Mulder.  “But only if we retain what we’ve done, and avoid Strughold’s attempts to speed colonization.”

Scully’s eyes snapped to Mulder’s, and she shook her head.  “No — I want a DNA test, I need some proof.  You can’t expect me to just accept—”

“There’s no time for this,” Krycek said urgently.  “Whether you believe he’s yours or not doesn’t matter.”

“Why tell us at all, then?” Mulder insisted, his tone accusatory and almost threatening.  He wanted to reach over to Scully and hold her hand, but he was still trying to gauge this situation and figure out whether he needed his hands free for his firearm.  Something about Krycek made him uneasy, even with the reassurance that he was a detective from the other universe.

“Because if you’re going to protect him, you should know who he is,” Charlie answered, his soft, caring voice diffusing some of the anger in the room.  “Fox has a unique neural net — a connection of neurons in his brain — that enable him to experience mental jumps in time and space.  He has the same skills as many clairvoyants, but they aren’t as easily controlled, and they’re directly tied to extraterrestrial chemicals,” Charlie explained.  “Fox’s exposure to those chemicals in the past has led to jumps through space and time.  I think you both acknowledge this.”

“I’m sure no one told you, but in this universe, I like to be called Mulder,” the agent said, as if it were significant to this conversation of quantum shifts and alternate realities.

Charlie acknowledged with a nod, and continued his clinical explanation. “Most clairvoyants only experience mental jumps in space and time.  Their consciousness goes, but they stay here.  It’s near instantaneous and they come right back, because their consciousness is tied to their bodies.  The energy basically has to snap back to its origin like a rubber band.  It’s only long enough for them to perceive thoughts and images that their brains then process once they’re sent back here.  It’s suspected that everyone does this occasionally–hence a sense of recurrent deja vu in some people, the belief in others that they are reincarnated due to extremely specific memories from past lives, or even couples who draw very close to one another being able to mind-read.  It’s not that unusual.  What is unusual is that true clairvoyants can do this at will, and most people cannot.  But what this child can do is entirely different.  He can physically jump universes, or times, or both.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged a skeptical glance, and Mulder challenged, “Assuming the child actually has this ability, why do you think that means that he’s ours?”

Scully added defensively, “Just because you think Mulder’s exhibited a similar ability in the past is no reason to conclude we’re genetically related.”

Charlie was about to defend his assertion when Krycek cut in.  “We need to speed this along.  Strughold made this baby from Scully’s eggs and a manufactured artificial sperm from Mulder’s DNA.  He needed Mulder’s DNA because of his abilities, and Scully’s eggs because of her physiology.  This baby has the ability to move through space and time at will, or at least he will once he comes of age.”

Scully closed her eyes, and Mulder reached for her hand.  After what seemed an eternal silence, he looked up at Krycek and said, “We need a DNA test.  We can’t accept this until you provide some concrete proof.”

“We can test his DNA later,” Charlie said with a nod.   “We’re dealing with a very time-sensitive situation.”

Scully looked up, pulled her hand away from Mulder’s and met Charlie’s eyes.  “Just…answer this question.  How do you know this child can physically jump through space and time, if what you’re saying is true?  Are you saying Strughold experimented on him for his first four years of life?” she asked, her hands clasped together as she leaned forward in Mulder’s office chair.

“Strughold was almost done with the testing after four years,” Charlie answered, “He was able to confirm that the boy went back physically because of the Bari Trasadi.  Strughold still has the machine.  He taught your son to use it — you have to be physically present to use the thing in any place and time.  And that’s what he did.”

“What did he do?  What did he transport forward in time?”  Mulder asked.

“Oil,” Krycek answered for Charlie. “And lots of it.  The intelligent, alien, take over your body kind.”

“And this is what you claim you reversed,” Scully said, looking at her alternate’s brother. “You claim you went back to 2011 and stole the baby,” she continued still not daring to refer to him as their son, “and then you jumped forward, while he was still a baby, which changed space and time.  Colonization never happened because the black oil virus never arrived to infect the human population.”

“What about the other aliens?  The shapeshifters?  The supersoldiers?  How did you avert their invasion?” Mulder demanded.

“That’s more complicated,” Krycek answered.  “They’re still planning to colonize, but they can’t land without an infected population, and they certainly can’t land when everyone’s mining their major cities with magnetite.”

“Didn’t they already have enough black oil in 2015 to infect the human population?” Mulder asked.  “Why go back in time?”

Krycek actually smiled.  It was a little creepy.

“Have you heard of an alien race called the Ally?” Charlie asked. “At least, that’s what they told us to call them in our universe.”

Mulder and Scully both vigorously nodded their heads.  “Yes.  They’re a sort of telepathic alien species.  We had first contact with them in 2010.  I thought they might have some relation to Jeremiah Smith,” Mulder stated.  He didn’t mention the fact that the Ally seemed to play at least some role in whatever was happening with his brain.

Charlie nodded.  “The Ally are extremely powerful because they can already move, at least mentally, through space and time.  They also seem beneficent.  At least they seem to want to stop the Colonists from taking over any more worlds.  They’re able to telepathically connect with any intelligent being.  And as you might have figured out…at least some strains of the black oil virus are sentient.”

“So you’re saying…the Ally somehow brainwashed the black oil of the future?  So Strughold needed the black oil of the past?”

“Brainwash is the wrong word.  It was more of a negotiation resulting in a mutual agreement,” Charlie explained. “All the Ally did was make more information available to the black oil.”

Krycek stood and walked to the door.  “You know everything you need to know.  Now we’re wasting time.  Throw some clothes on and let’s get out of here.”

“Where are we going?” Scully asked.

We aren’t going anywhere together.  We’re leaving the baby with you,” Krycek told her as Charlie stood.  “And we need Mulder to come with us.  We’re going back to our universe.  We have unfinished business there.  You, on the other hand, need to get out of here.  Get in your car and drive as fast as you can to the address we give you.  It’s in Nevada.”

“That’s all the way across the country,” Mulder protested.

“Exactly,” Krycek addressed Scully instead of her partner.  “Take the kid to the address we give you, and he’ll be safe.  At least for a time.  Before you leave, you’ll want to swing by Georgetown University and pick up Gibson Praise.  You’ll need him with you on this.  If everything goes according to plan, those are the only instructions you’ll need.”

“Pack for a couple of days, Mulder,” Charlie told him before he headed down the hallway after Krycek.

“Wait,” Mulder stood.  “You haven’t given us any reason to trust you.”

“You’re right,” Charlie said, stepping back into the threshold.  “I haven’t.”  He stared at them for a moment, and allowed them to glance at each other.  “Make a decision now, because we don’t have a lot of time.”

Mulder looked into Scully’s worried eyes, and allowed his to dart quickly over to Charlie, just to communicate to the neurosurgeon that they needed a moment alone.  Charlie wisely left the threshold and Scully took Mulder’s hand.

“I don’t know what to think,” she confessed to him.

He nodded.  “I’m in the same place you are, but what they said makes sense.  It does tie everything we’ve seen together…and it makes sense out of what I’m going through.”

“I just don’t want to fall into another of Krycek’s traps.  How do we really know he’s from the other universe?  He seems more like our Krycek than theirs.”

Mulder nodded. “I wouldn’t put it past him.  But he’s making sense.  And I definitely don’t think this Charlie is our Charlie.”

She looked down, and then let her head fall against his chest.  He embraced her, and they stayed like that for a moment before she pulled away and said, “Be careful.”

He smiled.  “Always.”  Then he leaned in and kissed her.  Their embrace was gentle and caring, but communicated between both of them the danger into which they were about to enter.   They fully acknowledged this could be the last time they saw each other.  Such a moment had happened so many times before in their relationship that it almost seemed like a routine.  Their minds entered a ‘mode’ in which they knew this could be it, and were willing to take that risk because they knew the other was in the exact same emotional space.  It was a mutual understanding, akin more to two soldiers entering battle than two lovers departing.

Moments later, they were both downstairs, ready to leave with duffel bags and Scully holding a sleeping infant in her arms.  Before Krycek opened the door to the garage, Scully stopped him.  “Wait…you’ve told me almost everything about this child except for his name.”

Charlie was the one who answered. “Strughold didn’t name him.  He just called him by his number — Experiment 2026.  It’s up to you.  I’m sure whatever you come up with, it’ll be fine.”

A bit awkwardly, Scully nodded and followed Krycek out of their kitchen and into their attached garage.  The two agents separated as they went to their respective cars.  Mulder gave Scully one last embrace and a thoughtful gaze at the baby.  He kissed her quickly on the cheek and tried to break the mood between them by saying, in his characteristic deadpan, “Go to Vegas, Baby.”

Scully managed a smile, and said, “I’ll get back here as soon as I can.”

“I’ll do the same.  I love you.”

She closed her eyes, and seemed to hold the baby tighter to her chest.  Then she nodded, and forced herself to say, “I’ll see you soon.”

“Don’t buy a car seat with your credit card,” Krycek warned her, breaking the moment between them.  “Use cash.  In fact, don’t buy anything with your credit card.”

“I have enough cash for the trip,” she stated, and Mulder realized she had probably taken their emergency stash.  That was, after all, what it was for.

He nodded in approval, and opened the driver’s side door of Mulder’s car as Scully situated the sleeping infant in a laundry basket that she belted to the back seat.  It was the best she could do before she got to a Walmart.  Krycek beckoned Mulder to the driver’s seat of his car.  “Let’s go.”

“I’m driving,” the agent insisted somewhat irritably, and pushed his way past Krycek and into the driver’s seat.

The two cars pulled out of the driveway, and Scully stared at Mulder’s license plate and the little dent on the right rear bumper of his SUV as he turned left and drove away from their duplex.  She had been increasingly annoyed with the ugly old SUV for months, and was looking forward to getting a new car.  Now, as she turned right, she forced herself not to wonder if she’d ever see that little dent in the bumper again.

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MULDER’S CAR

ARLINGTON, VA

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0200

As Mulder took directions from Krycek that would take them very close to the Cemetery, he thought about all his two companions had told him and now had numerous questions swimming around in his mind.

“Charlie,” he summoned the neurosurgeon’s attention in the back seat, “you said this child is the only one who can physically move through space and time at will, and that everyone else with clairvoyance can only do so mentally.”

“That’s right, for the most part,” Charlie said.

“So explain to me how you supposedly went back in time to 2011 to kidnap him from Strughold, then brought him forward to 2015.”

“When I went back to 2011, my consciousness inhabited my body from that time period.  I didn’t physically travel backward.”

“So the child is actually the same child from 2011, but you’re just inhabiting the body of Charlie from 2015?”

“No.  I mentally traveled backward, but I physically traveled forward.  There is no more Charlie from 2015 in this universe.”

That explains why he’s not a zombie, Mulder thought.  Though the idea of disembodied consciousness traveling through time and space to inhabit a body from the future did explain some zombie phenomena.  He put aside the X-file implications and focused on the matter at hand. “So how did you do it?  And why isn’t Strughold going to do the exact same thing?”

“The reason I was able to do it was because of Andrew Madden.”

Mulder nearly stopped the car.  His eyes shot to the rear view mirror.  “What do you mean?” he demanded.

“I can’t scientifically explain it.  The closest I can come has to do with prime number theory and quantum mechanics — the idea that all matter can be manipulated by sound waves, or music, which is essentially just the way our brains perceive a mathematical equation.”

“In English,” the agent ordered.

“Turn left at the stop light,” Krycek instructed, sounding rather bored from the passenger’s seat.

As Mulder turned, Charlie tried to find words to describe the indescribable.  If only he had gone into physics instead of neurosurgery.  “I mentioned that most clairvoyants can manipulate time and space to send their consciousness forward or backward or sideways, though they’re not aware they’re doing it.  It’s instantaneous and their brains process whatever they see after they’ve already returned to their own minds.  Well, Andrew Madden has a different kind of clairvoyance that I can’t explain with neuroscience.”

“You’re saying he can send his body forward or backward or sideways, without being aware he’s doing it.  His consciousness is shared between two bodies?”

“Matter can’t be created or destroyed, so I can’t explain how he does it.  The matter needs to come from somewhere.”

“And you’re saying he was able to somehow do this for you, to send you through time with the child.”

“I suppose he was.  Like matter being sent forward or backward, with the Bari Trasadi, but without being replaced with dust from the other location.  I don’t honestly know what he did.  I know that he showed up in 2013, in the other timeline before I destroyed it by going backward. Strughold was just starting to teach the child how to use the Bari Trasadi.  I was being held prisoner.  He worked at the facility for almost two full years, and I never knew who he was until after the child was able to finally go back with the Bari Trasadi and return with the oil.  Then he introduced himself as Walter Skinner’s son, and explained that he had similar abilities to my own previous subjects, but that he was able to be in two places at once.”

“So he was a scientist,” Mulder clarified.  It sounded like Andrew Madden was actually from the other universe.  But 2013 was the last thing Mulder remembered, so it occurred to him that maybe Andrew was the reason he had jumped forward.

“A very bright one.  He explained he knew about my plan — my initial plan, not the one we eventually derived together.”

“Take this next right,” Krycek ordered, and looked out the window as they exited Jefferson Boulevard onto Marshall Drive, right next to Arlington National Cemetery.

“What was your initial plan?”

“It doesn’t matter, it was suicide.  It never would have worked.”

“So Andrew had a different plan?”

“Yes.  He helped me activate the areas of my brain that would send my consciousness backward —essentially, perform my own experiment on myself.  And once I was back in my body from 2011, I could kidnap the baby, and he was somehow able to come with me.”

“You’re saying he could travel through time and space.”

“Yes,” he affirmed, and continued, “And he was able to be right there in the lab with my unconscious body, in 2015, and also physically come back with me to 2011.  He and Alex Krycek are the reason I was able to jump forward with the infant.”

“But how did you jump forward?”

“Pull up here.  This is it,” Krycek said, and pointed to the Marine Corps War Memorial.

Mulder drove the car up to the memorial but couldn’t get too close, because the path surrounding the monument allowed only foot traffic.  “What are we doing here?”

“It’s a rip in the space-time continuum.  It leads to the other universe — our universe,” Charlie explained.

“If that’s true, then why hasn’t some tourist accidentally fallen in?” Mulder challenged as he parked the car.

“No, don’t stop here.  Drive up onto the curb and on the grass.  Through there,” Krycek said, and pointed.  “About twenty feet from that tree.”

“You want me to drive through this rip?”

“Yes.  And to answer your question, the reason no tourist has randomly fallen in is because they don’t last that long.  This one is only here for the next…” he looked at his watch.  “Twenty-three minutes.”

“Then how are we going to get back?” Mulder asked.

“We’ll catch the next train,” the ‘detective’ said as he pointed to the magical space in between two trees, just outside the foot path for the memorial.  “Drive.”

Mulder groaned as he drove his SUV onto the grass and toward the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima.

driving-into-the-singularity

“Drive slowly.  This has to be exact.  About a hundred feet from here, dead on,” Krycek ordered.

“You still haven’t told me how you jumped forward,” the agent told Charlie as they slowly approached the monument.

“It’s even more complicated than what I did tell you.  Suffice it to say, there’s a machine.  And when it’s turned on, it causes rips in the space-time continuum, just like this one.  I don’t totally understand it myself.  I just know it wasn’t intentional — it’s not what it was originally designed to do.  But we discovered what it does, and we took advantage of it.”

“Right…about…here,” Krycek said, looking at his phone.

“You can obviously detect these rips…” Mulder said. “Better tech than last time.”

Krycek didn’t comment.  Seconds later, they were looking at the same memorial, but the scenery around them had changed.  A tree was a little further to the right.  A bench had appeared where there was none before.  The biggest change, though, was that when they turned around to get back on the road, Mulder’s headlights illuminated a police squad car.

“Shit,” Mulder said, and Charlie groaned.

“It’s okay, take it easy,” Krycek said, and pulled his badge out.  Sure enough, the squad car’s lights did go on, and Mulder pulled over to the side.  “Leave the FBI badge out of this,” Krycek advised him.  “Let me handle it.”

A moment later, a Metro PD officer approached Mulder’s window and he responded by depressing the button only enough that the window descended about a third of the way.  He didn’t say anything by way of greeting.  The officer spoke first.  “Good evening, Sir.  Out for a late night spin?”

“Yes, Sir,” Mulder answered politely.

“Been drinking tonight?”

“No, Sir,” the agent’s answer was simple.

“You know why I pulled you over?”

Mulder didn’t answer, which of course made the officer uncomfortable.  The man was young, probably in his late twenties, and looked suspiciously at Charlie’s obscured form in the back for a moment before moving his eyes back to Mulder.

“You were driving on the grass.  Did you know you were on the grass?”

“Yes, Sir,” Mulder answered.

“Can I see your license and registration?”

“Officer, I believe I can clear some of this up,” Krycek piped up, and held up his badge in a slow, smooth motion so as not to startle the man.  “Detective Alex Krycek, Metro PD.”

“Sir,” the officer said immediately, in surprise.  “I wasn’t aware anyone from our department was going to be in this area tonight.”

“I could say the same thing to you,” Krycek shot back, polite professionalism never leaving his tone.

“I’m participating in a joint effort with the Arlington PD during third shift, Sir,” the young officer said.

“Then you should probably get back to it.  But good catch—we have civvie plates so of course you suspected us.  Just leave us to our business and we’ll leave you to yours, and we’ll forget this ever happened.  You didn’t already call it in, did you?”

“I’m afraid I did, Sir,” the officer stated.

“Then write it up as a verbal warning, and let us be on our way.  I promise you we’ll stay off the grass from here on out.”

“Yes, Sir.  I’m sorry to interrupt, Sir.  Should I notify the others that you’ll be operating in the area?”

“Our business is done here.  We’ll be out of this area for the rest of the shift.  Have a good night.”

“You too, Sir.”

Mulder rolled the window up as the cop went back to his car.  He glanced over at Krycek and actually complimented, “Smooth.”

“Let’s get out of here,” the “detective” said in brusque reply.

“Where are we going?” Mulder asked.

“To my office,” Krycek said.  “We need to track down Andrew Madden.”

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SCULLY’S CAR

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0200

Scully drove toward the university and pulled the car into a convenience store about a block from Gibson’s apartment.  Retrieving her cell phone from her jacket pocket, she dialed the young man’s number.  Young man.  Gibson was in the third year of his doctoral studies and teaching three classes.  He was Professor Praise now and few even recognized him as the chess prodigy of his childhood days.

Gibson answered on the second ring.  “How far away are you?” he asked before she could even get out a greeting.

“A block, block and a half,” she replied, instinctively knowing she needed to keep her answers short and cryptic.

“Meet me at the birthday place, fifteen minutes.  Drive by once and then pull around to the big tree,” he instructed.  “Are we on the same page?”

“I guess we are now,” Scully huffed.  She quickly disconnected the call and put the car into gear, checking for traffic, possible tails and anything out of the ordinary.  While glancing in the rearview mirror, she spared a moment to observe the baby, sleeping quietly in the basket.  She tried to remember the pictures in her mother’s massive scrapbook collection, searching for any resemblance to her much younger self, but realized that endeavor would have to wait for a more opportune time.

The ‘birthday place’ was a dive pizza parlor that Mulder had discovered not far from the Georgetown campus.  It served New York style pizza, the owner yelled at you if you asked for a knife and fork, and had one kind of beer on tap, Bud Lite, but it was now their favorite spot for Gibson’s birthday.  In the summer, there was outdoor seating, of a fashion, on an old, dilapidated picnic table beneath a huge oak tree at the back of the off-street parking lot.

She drove around the neighborhood for the allotted fifteen minutes, trying very hard to look like she was not just killing time.  Finally, she drove past the pizza place once, then went around the block and drove down the alley to enter the parking lot from the back.  Gibson stepped out from behind the oak tree and jumped into the car.

scully-gibson

“Take the 88,” he advised.  “Let’s not stop until we’re in Maryland.”

“I need supplies,” Scully said, eyeing the road as she got them on the interstate that ran through that part of the District.

Gibson glanced in the backseat and nodded.  “But it will be safer for everyone if we don’t go shopping inside DC,” he explained.

“Gibson, do you know what’s going on?” Scully demanded.  At his pained expression, she softened her tone.  “This is somewhat upsetting.  Sorry if I’m sounding a bit unhinged at the moment.”

The young man snorted a laugh.  “I’m sure!  Not something you expect to be told — not just that your significant other is a father of a child he never knew about, but that you’re a mother of the same child.”  He’d cut right to the heart of the matter, as always.  “You don’t have to worry, you know.  About Mulder I mean,” he added.

“He’s having these . . .”

“Dreams?  Not really dreams, actually.  It’s like, well, not to get all SyFy channel on you, but it’s like a rift in dimensions.”

Scully chewed the inside of her cheek.  “You’re getting confused as to which one of us you’re talking to,” she deadpanned.

“I know it’s hard for you to swallow, Scully.  Believe me, I could sense your frustration before you even called me.  And I can’t tell you exactly how I know what I know, but I do know that this is big, bigger than anything else you’ve dealt with.  And I know how vital it is that you believe it, or it just might blow up in your face.  All of our faces, for that matter.”

“Help me, then, Gibson,” she said through gritted teeth.  “Is this Krycek really from another dimension?”

Gibson chewed on his lip.  “I . . . I’m not sure.  I think he is.  I don’t get the same vibe from him that I got from ‘our’ Krycek.  But I’m not entirely certain.”

“How about Ch — the man claiming he’s my brother?”  She couldn’t bring herself to mention her brother’s name right now.  The wounds were still too deep; the betrayal, the lies…she could forgive Bill his stubbornness, but she could never forgive Charles.

Gibson looked over at her.  “He’s real, just not the one from this dimen — ”  He didn’t have a chance to finish that sentence when he jerked his head and stared out the back window.  “Scully,” he said anxiously.

“What?  What is it?” she responded, checking her side mirrors.  Suddenly the driver behind her turned on his brights and nearly blinded her in the glare from her mirror.  “Damn!” she cursed, and started to accelerate.  “There’s an exit ahead,” she said, glancing at Gibson.  “I’ll pull off — ”

“NO!” he all but yelled at her.  “No, it’s a trap.  Keep on this road.”

“Gibson, we’re on an interstate,” Scully chided.

“Hey, how long did OJ manage to stay driving?  Don’t get off now.”  He pulled out his cell phone and quickly dialed a number.  “Do you know who this is?”  There was a pause.  “I’m with someone, two someones, actually, and we’re in trouble.  I’ll text you our route.”  He pulled the phone away from his ear long enough to text the route.  Then he put the phone back to his ear and said, “You have it.”  The call ended and Gibson told her, “Stay on this road.  Help’s on the way.”

“We’re in a congested area,” she warned.

“But it’s late,” Gibson nodded to the digital display on the dash.  “It’s well after 1.  Not much traffic.”

“But there’s a hospital just up the road.  The shifts will be changing.  People will be getting off work,” Scully pointed out.  “And now there’s another car,” she added quietly.

“Can you make them out?” Gibson asked.

“SUVs.  Black.  Just what you’d expect.  How did they –?”

“They must have been waiting for you.  There could be any number of ways.  They might even have a tracker in your vehicle.”

“Damn it,” Scully cursed.  “Gibson, who did you call?”

“An old friend,” he said with a smile.  Just then, Scully heard the unmistakable sound of a police siren.

The black SUVs accelerated.

“Don’t let them sandwich us,” Gibson said in an urgent tone.

Scully accelerated in response.  Both hands gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, and she stole a glance at her mirrors briefly before sharply cutting around a slower vehicle in the middle lane, and accelerating even more.  The siren grew closer, but Scully realized with relief that the law enforcement vehicle was tailing her would-be assailants, not her.

“I think we might have some hel—”

She didn’t finish her sentence before their car was slammed from the side.  Out of nowhere, an SUV had managed to roll up beside her.  She kept control of the car and braked sharply, allowing the offending vehicle to zoom forward for a moment just as it was trying to swerve into her for a second time and force them off the road.  The maneuver caused the SUV to veer into her lane, and anticipating such, Scully turned sharply around it and accelerated again.  A cop car sped past the offending SUV and managed to get into a protective position, right behind her, sirens wailing.  And now there were two more law enforcement vehicles on the road, catching up.

“Scully, punch the accelerator!” Gibson yelled suddenly, and she didn’t hesitate.

Just as the tires squealed and the vehicle lurched forward at its maximum acceleration, one of the black SUVs slammed into the cop car behind them, sending it hurtling off of the road and into a ditch.

There was another vehicle on the road up ahead, and Scully quickly switched lanes to avoid it.  Another black SUV had caught up to her, but the police were still on their tail.  One squad car made the mistake of trying to force the much larger car off the road.  Gibson watched it crumple like an accordion as it was sandwiched between the SUV behind and the one it had tried to impact.

“One SUV down,” he reported.  “Two more to go.”

Just then, another black SUV sped up the on-ramp beside them, but Scully was relieved to see that it had lights and sirens.  More backup had arrived.

The closest assailing vehicle drew up beside them, and Scully barely caught a glimpse of a passenger emerging through the sun roof with an M16.  “Gibson!” she called in alarm, but his head already was down.

Gunfire would have shattered her rear windshield if the law enforcement SUV hadn’t slammed its brakes and veered behind her at the last second, causing the assailant to lose his weapon and fall ungracefully back inside the car.  The offending vehicle was forced out of the lane, and struggled to keep control.  It swerved at just the wrong time, and a cop car sideswiped it violently, flipping it onto its side and ejecting the would-be shooter from his position in the vehicle.

The last SUV was gaining on them, though, even as the new law enforcement SUV sped away from the crash, to intercept.  One squad car remained behind at the crash while the other zoomed ahead to back up the lead.

The vehicle behind her flashed its brights, preventing either of them from spotting the passenger roll his window down and extend an Uzi.

“Sharp right!  Sharp right!” Gibson yelled, and ducked again.  Scully wasted no time, and veered into the middle lane just in time to have the shots miss their rear windshield.  She ducked instinctively as she heard the unmistakable sound of automatic weapons fire.  Another barrage of shots erupted as Scully swerved like a drunk driver.  They escaped unscathed.  On the third round, a shot punctured their rear passenger tire, and they ended up lurching sharply to the side of the road.  As soon as Scully hit the gravel at such an incredibly unsafe speed, they careened into a tailspin.  The car spun violently until the driver’s rear side slammed into the guardrail, and ended their high speed journey with the explosion of airbags all around.

Meanwhile, the remaining black SUV attempted to get away, but the pursuing SUV with lights and sirens was finally able to hit it at just the right angle to force it off the road, and into the same ditch as Scully’s vehicle, but a few hundred yards ahead.  In the distance, a brief firefight ensued.  Gibson could see Skinner using his slightly damaged SUV for cover as he exchanged fire with the driver.

Then, unexpectedly, the offending SUV erupted in a tremendous ball of fire, shrapnel propelled violently in every direction.  Skinner ducked behind his vehicle until it was over, somewhat in surprise that the hit men would rather blow themselves up than be arrested.  But there would be time to analyze their actions later.  Another two black SUVs pulled up at that moment with lights and sirens—they were FBI, not with the attackers.  His backup had arrived.

Skinner ran to Scully’s disabled car, his gun still firmly in his hand.  “Scully!” he shouted.  He pried open the door and found the agent conscious, but battling a quickly deflating airbag.  “Here, let me help you,” he directed.

“Get the baby!  Get the baby out!” Scully ordered, her voice frantic.

“He’s fine,” Gibson assured her from his position next to her.  His airbag deflated faster than hers and he was already half in the backseat.  The baby had been crying, but as soon as Gibson picked him up, he magically quieted and stared at him, wide-eyed.  “It’s OK, little one.  We’re all fine,” Gibson cooed.  The baby blinked and blew a spit bubble back at him.

By the time everyone was out of the car, Skinner was directing the agents around the crime scene.  Scully hefted the baby on one hip and surveyed the wreckage.  Skinner spotted her and walked over to her.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded, visibly shaken.  Her eyes were dilated and her hands shaking, but she was unscathed.

“We have to get you out of here,” Skinner told her.  “The press will be here any minute, and I don’t want your picture in the papers.”

“The car,” she noted, her car now quite inoperable.

“We’ll take one of those,” he assured her, and pointed to one of the newly arrived Bureau cars.

“We were on our way to pick up a car seat,” Scully said, her voice still shaking.  She was calming down quickly, but in the back of her mind, she realized she had previously been in near panic over the baby’s welfare.

Skinner nodded.  “Gibson, come with me,” he said, and Skinner left her side to run over to one of the DCPD squad cars.  She saw him say something to the officer who nodded and went around to the trunk of the car.  In minutes Skinner returned, carrying a child safety seat and a generic shopping bag.  “All District cars carry them for traffic accidents and emergencies,” he told her.  “C’mon, let’s go.  Agent!” he called, and the Special Agent on scene turned his head.  “I need your vehicle.  Get mine back to the Bureau.”  The man nodded, and gestured toward his Bureau car without question.

Scully looked into the bag Skinner had given her, discovering a package of baby supplies with the familiar red cross on the label.  She followed her superior to the car.  “What about Gibson?” she asked when the young man didn’t follow them, but remained nearby the agents who had arrived.

Skinner looked at her and shook his head.  “Scully, Gibson is a good friend and he wants to help, but he’s not much use in a firefight.  I instructed Elmore to take him home.  You are going with me.  You need protection.”

“Sir, I can’t expect you — ”

“Save it, Agent.  This is now a witness protection operation.  I’m going to personally see that you’re taken somewhere safe, both of you.”

“We were told to pick up Gibson because we’d need him on the way,” she argued, aware that Skinner had no earthly idea where they were going.

“It’s too dangerous.  I’m not going to put a civilian at risk, considering the resources these people have.  Stop arguing with me, Scully.  Get in the car.”

“I need to get to Mulder,” she said sternly.

“I’m not sure that’s the ideal definition of getting you to safety, but that was my plan.  Now please, get in the car so we can get on our way.”

“We need to head west,” she said, and opened the back door.

Skinner waited while she secured the baby in the car seat.  Then he got in the driver’s seat and pulled out on the highway.  They traveled in silence for a few moments before the assistant director finally spoke.  “Is . . . he?  She?  All right?”

“He doesn’t appear to be hurt, Sir,” Scully assured him.  “He’s falling asleep.”

“Good, good.”  Silence again.  He glanced over at her a few times before he asked, “So, uh, Agent . . . ”

Scully sighed.  “It’s a long story.  And Mulder should be here for most of it.  But basically, we were visited last night by two unexpected guests — Alex Krycek and . . . my brother, Charles.”

Skinner’s jaw tightened, but to his credit, he said nothing.

“They weren’t alone.  They had — ” she stopped and looked back at the baby in the carseat.  “This little one was with them.  Charles told us a story and I’m not sure how much I believe it, but with the problems Mulder was having . . . to be honest, it made as much sense as anything else I’ve heard or seen.”  Scully drew in another breath.  “Mulder’s amnesia, it might be related to interdimensional travel.”

“Interdimensional?” Skinner asked, non-plussed.

“Yes.  And possibly time travel, as well.  It’s very confusing but there is one person we’re sure is involved.”  At Skinner’s questioning glance, Scully spoke.  “Strughold.”

“Where is Mulder now?” Skinner asked.

“With Charles and Krycek.  They told us Strughold is trying to get the baby.  Mulder went with them and I was taking the baby to Nevada.  My hope is that they’ll meet us there.”

“Scully, who is this baby?  Where are his parents?”

Scully looked out the windshield and chewed on her lip.  “If Charles and Krycek are to be believed,” she said, ignoring Skinner’s snort, “the baby is mine.  And Mulder’s.”

“Yours.  Together,” Skinner said, not bothering to hide his incredulity.  “Scully, I’ve known you both for a long time and it would very much surprise me if—”

“The baby is ours, Sir,” she said, and he fell silent.  “I wasn’t sure until now.  During what just happened…I became certain.  I don’t know how I’m so certain, but I am.  And it’s not only possible that we could have a child together — and not know about him — but in light of my stolen ova and my late daughter Emily, it’s entirely plausible.”

“Scully, I . . . I don’t know what to say.  Krycek — how could you believe him . . . and your brother?  Your dead brother Charles?  The one who was going to murder hundreds of — ”

“Sir, it wasn’t ‘our’ Krycek.  It was the Krycek from — from a parallel dimension.  The one we’ve experienced on a couple of occasions.  As for Charles, he claimed to be from a different dimension, too.  I know it’s far-fetched, but how is it any different than anything else we’ve seen?” Scully said with a tired sigh followed by a prolonged yawn.

“Regardless, if we’re going to Nevada, you should try to get some sleep.  Take his example,” he said, nodding at the reflection of the baby in the rearview mirror.  “By the way, what’s his name?”

Scully licked her lips in her discomfort.  “He, uh, he doesn’t have one — yet.  I guess that’s up to Mulder and me.”

Skinner sighed heavily.  He glanced over at his tired agent, and then returned his gaze to the road.  “Get some sleep, Scully.  That’s an order.”

And without her consent, she fell into a deep yet troubled sleep.

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DC METRO PD OFFICE

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0230

The three entered the police department precinct office with Krycek in the lead.  He immediately walked over to the front desk, where a uniform was leading a drunk man in handcuffs past a locked door into the booking area.  “Hey, how’s it going tonight?” Krycek asked the receptionist.

The woman was probably in her mid-thirties, and by the looks of things, she had not had an easy night.  She looked half asleep, and there was a fairly recent stain on the front of her uniform shirt.  “Alex, I didn’t know you were working tonight,” she said, and gave him a somewhat forced smile as she glanced at his companions.  “Who are your friends?”

“I’m doing a little overtime — they’re just some acquaintances,” he said smoothly. “I said I’d check something out for them — do you think you could grab me a list of the visitors from about 10 p.m. to midnight?”

“Sure, I can do that.”  He stood relatively close to her as she logged into her system, and then took a step back once she was searching.  He leaned on the counter and glanced over her shoulder through the glass that fronted the precinct’s main floor.  He managed to catch someone’s eye who waved, and he beckoned for them to come out into the waiting area.

Charlie glanced around at some of the characters seated in the precinct office at this time of night, but Mulder was watching Krycek.  Something about his behavior set off his profiling “spidey senses.”

Krycek’s coworker approached and said, “Alex, I thought you went home.  What are you doing here?”

“I’m checking something out for some friends.  Would you mind going to my office and grabbing the manila folder off my desk?  It should be to the left of the computer.  At least that’s where I think I left it.”

“Sure thing.  But I’m swamped.  I only have a minute and then I’m supposed to head to a scene.  If you need anything else, ask Jack.”

“Will do.  Thanks, man.”

“No problem.”

“Okay,” the receptionist said.  “Here’s the list.” She turned her computer monitor so he could see.  He glanced at it, but his eyes darted between what she showed him and the man he had sent back to his ‘office’.  He saw him round the corner, and then disappear.  Then he focused on the screen.  “No — none of them are on it.  Thanks, anyway, Sadie.”

“Yeah, not a big deal,” she said, and looked curiously at Mulder and Charlie.

It was another couple of moments before Krycek’s friend returned with a manila envelope.  “This is all I could find, and it wasn’t on your desk, it was on your shelf.”

“I might have put it in my file drawer after all. Sorry to hassle you.”

“No problem, but I have to take off.  See you later, Alex.”

Krycek caught the door as the man turned and left.  “I’ll just be a minute,” he said to Mulder and Charlie.  Mulder gave him a somewhat amused nod.

A silent half-hour later, Krycek returned and said, “I’ve got what we need.  Let’s take off.”

“See you later, Alex,” Sadie said from the desk, just as two officers entered with a belligerent, screaming man who was probably mentally unstable.

Krycek waved and led his two companions out of the precinct.  As they walked to Mulder’s car, Mulder held Krycek back with a hand on his shoulder.  Charlie turned when the two stopped, and the agent nodded to him.  “Go ahead, Charlie. I just have a question for Krycek.”

The neurosurgeon disappeared into the car, and Krycek turned to Mulder.  “What is it?  We don’t have a lot of time.”

“I want to know what your game is.  Why are you impersonating your alternate?”

The double-agent’s eye twitched slightly.

“You’re trying to figure out whether you should deny it or ask me how I discovered you, to buy some time to think of an excuse to tell me.  Who are you working for this time?” Mulder demanded.

Krycek said nothing, and Mulder rolled his eyes.

“You figured out the receptionist’s username and password when she did the visitor search for you.  You had to send that detective in to get something for you because you had no idea where your office was and didn’t want to look like a fool wandering around the precinct floor.  You didn’t call anyone by name.  Cut the crap, I know who you actually are.  Where is the real detective, and why do you really need Andrew Madden in this universe?”

“Look, Mulder, you might not believe me, but everything I’ve told you so far has been true.  Everything Charlie has told you is true.  The only reason why I need to be a detective instead of myself is because of Charlie.  It’s the only way he’ll trust me.  We had some…prior misunderstandings.”

“But he trusts the detective.  So he must know him.”

“He met him years ago — I don’t know how, exactly.  He recognized me right away when I met him in the other timeline — before he stole the child.  I followed him back to 2011.  To help him.  I’m probably the only reason why your son and Charlie survived the escape attempt.”

Mulder studied Krycek’s face, but knew he would glean very little from it.  “So where’s the detective?  Is he still alive?”

“He’s probably in his bed, sleeping.”

“You’re lucky he wasn’t working this shift or you might have run into him.”

“I took the chance.”

“Did you find out where Andrew Madden lives?”

“Yeah.  It was easy enough — he’s Skinner’s son in this universe, too.  He lives with his dad.  He’s a surgical tech for a pediatric neurosurgery unit at Georgetown Medical.  He’s fingerprinted because he works with kids.”

“Perfect,” Mulder said.  “Let’s go.”

“Just like that?  You trust me?”

“Hell, no,” the agent stated as he made his way to the driver’s side door.  “But Skinner’s home, and he already knows all of us — or our alternates, anyway.  He’ll answer the door.  He’ll listen to us.  He’ll wake up Andrew and we’ll get the show on the road.” He paused before he opened his door.  “But understand this, Krycek.  I won’t hesitate to kill you if you double-cross us.”

“I figured,” Krycek stated.  “I’m on your side, Mulder.”

“You’re on your side,” Mulder corrected him.  “You always have been.  I just hope whoever you’re working for has convinced you that your side isn’t Strughold’s side.”

With that, he opened the driver’s side door and got in the car.  The three headed to Captain Skinner’s home.

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CAPTAIN SKINNER’S HOME

ALEXANDRIA, VA

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0330

Mulder thought it was interesting that Skinner’s alternate chose to live in the exact same place as AD Skinner.  This universe was remarkably similar to their own, with a few noticeable changes.  Mulder fumbled with a confusing traffic light with two arrows pointing in opposite directions before turning onto the drive that would take them to the Captain’s house.

“Alex, you probably know the Captain the best of the three of us,” Charlie said.  “You should do the talking.”

Krycek was about to respond when suddenly, they heard a shrieking noise coming out of the sky.  Mulder ducked down to see what was happening above the windshield and just as he did, everything went black.

The echo of the shrieking and Charlie’s words still resounded in his head as he turned his body frantically, trying to get his bearings.  The world was black—nothingness surrounded him.  No light.  No sound.  He couldn’t even see his own body.  He could feel that it was still there—he moved his hand to touch his chest and felt his shirt.  It was the only verification that he still existed.

He felt no support under his feet, but he didn’t feel like he was falling, either.  This had happened only once before, years ago, when he and Scully traveled to the International Space Station on a mission arranged and directed by U.S. Navy Captain Charles Scully.

There, they had discovered a ship orbiting the Earth — the same alien ship Scully had discovered fifteen years ago, when Mulder had experienced his first “clairvoyant” episode.

“Hello?” He felt the vibration of his vocal cords, but couldn’t hear his own voice.  It was very disconcerting.

Then, suddenly, he heard noises—faint, but familiar.  He realized he was hearing his own dream, or vision, but in slow motion.  Light flashed around him, and he blinked and flinched in surprise.  The next time it happened, he caught a glimpse of what it was showing him.  Running.  The metal catwalk.  The next flash showed a glimpse of the machine.  And then he heard Andrew’s voice.  “Agent Mulder!” the young man cried, but it was slow and muffled, as if he was hearing it through a thick wall.

The world seemed to snap like a rubber band, and he found himself ducking in the car again, the SUV swerving into the wrong lane of traffic.  Mulder quickly moved back to the right, and shook his head.  The whistling was gone, replaced with a tremendous fire illuminating the night sky just blocks from their location.

“Shit!  That was a missile!” Charlie swore.

“Two guesses as to whose house it hit,” Krycek said, and pointed.  “Come on, Mulder, drive!  We have to see if there are any survivors.”

Mulder was in something of a shocked daze, but he managed to drive the car around the corner.  They could all hear sirens wailing in the distance.  If a missile got this close to DC airspace without interception, they all knew there would soon be a massive response in this area from every federal agency and military branch available.

“We have to move fast,” Charlie stated the obvious.

But there wasn’t really anywhere to go.  Debris littered the street, blocking their way to what remained of Skinner’s house.  The second floor was completely gone, replaced with shards of wood and plaster.  The exterior frame of the first floor was intact, but the entire second floor had caved in after the explosion, leaving a crater in the center of the house.  No one could have possibly survived.

“Let’s verify that Skinner was home,” Krycek said, and before Mulder or Charlie could argue with him to be reasonable, he was out of the car and running toward the house.  Mulder put the car in park and got out, running after him.  Charlie wasn’t far behind.

7-captain-skinner-house-bombing

The house was on fire, with smoke rising rapidly.  The three men paused just outside the blast radius, scanning the surroundings for any signs of life.

“One car,” Krycek said, and pointed to the burning vehicle in the driveway.  “Not two.  One.”

Neighbors began to gather in cautious curiosity.  “Hey!” one man yelled.  “What happened here?  Did you see anything?”

“Must have been a gas leak,” Krycek answered the civilian.  “I can smell it, can’t you?”

“Come on,” Mulder made eye contact with the “detective.”  “Let’s get out of here—we don’t want to crowd this area.”

They were about to make their exit when some woman screamed and pointed.  “Someone’s in there!  Oh my God!”

They spun fast enough to get whiplash, and followed her finger by the light of the flames to where she pointed.  Just inside the cratered house, in the front window, one could see a figure moving.  Mulder sprinted toward it, knowing they had very little time and that whoever launched that missile could very well have also flown a drone overhead to confirm the kill.  They had to get Skinner out of there before anyone realized he had survived.

Mulder plucked a rock from the yard and hurled it as hard as he could at the front window, shattering it on impact.  “Come on!” He screamed to who he hoped was Captain Walter Skinner.  The man didn’t argue, but stumbled toward the front window as quickly as he could.

Mulder, Krycek, and Charlie helped him through the window, and it was Charlie who immediately noticed that the neighbors were now recording the entire thing on their smartphones.  “Shit,” he whispered.  It would likely be on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter — or this universe’s equivalent — within minutes.

“We have to go!” Krycek said gruffly, and hurried the dazed and confused Skinner along his destroyed front lawn and down the street until they got to Mulder’s SUV.  He unceremoniously opened the back door and shoved the Captain in, and then the three men took off with tires squealing on the asphalt.

“What…who…” Skinner began to ask, and squinted, filthy fingers holding his head.

“Your house was hit by a missile,” Mulder told him as he drove down the back roads and tried to find roads with tree cover.

“Who…who launched a missile at my house?” Skinner demanded, sounding simultaneously angry, hurt, and confused.

“We need to know if Andrew was home,” Krycek told him, and spun around in his seat in the front.  Charlie, in the back seat next to Skinner, began examining the Captain for injuries.

“No…no, he was out.  He’s at a uh…some retreat, I think, with some friends.”

“Where?” Mulder demanded.  “Where were they going, do you know?”

“Something with the Church.  Uh…I don’t remember…” the Captain said, blinking.

“Look up at the car light,” Charlie said as he turned on the back seat ceiling light.  “I’m going to check your pupil reactivity.  Okay?” He moved his hand over the man’s eyes and studied his pupils.  “Equal and reactive.  Walter, do you remember if you hit your head?”

Skinner shook his head.  “No, I didn’t hit my head. I was in the basement when it happened. Who are you?”

“It’s me.  Charlie.  We met at…” Charlie paused.  He realized that the last time Walter saw him would have been more than ten years ago, at Dana and Fox’s Christmas party.  Even if he had erased the last five years of his captivity from history, he still wasn’t in this universe, making any new history.  He had effectively wiped himself out of the universe for the past five years.  “We met at Dana and Fox’s Christmas party a long time ago—I was only in town for a little bit.  I’m Dana’s brother.”

“Oh…” Skinner said, and shook his head in confusion at the absurdity of the situation.

“Try to think hard,” Krycek said.  “Sir.”

“About what?” Skinner asked, and turned in bewilderment to his underling.

“Where Andrew was going,” the ‘detective’ answered.  “Think hard, we need to get to him.”

“The people who took out your house are still after Andrew.  In fact, he was probably the target in the first place,” Mulder said as he made an illegal right turn onto a side street, narrowly avoiding an accident.  He had no idea right turns were illegal without an arrow in this universe, but was quickly educated by someone’s angry hand gesture.

“Why would they be after Andrew?” Skinner asked.  His voice was starting to shake, communicating to Charlie that he was coming down from an adrenaline high.

“It’s complicated,” Krycek told him.  “But it’s extremely important we stop these guys before they can harm Andrew.”

“I think…he was uh…” Skinner stumbled over his words, and seemed momentarily distracted with something out the window. “It was out in Maryland…um…Faulkner, I think.”

“What’s it called?” Krycek asked, and pulled out his phone.

“I don’t know…I think it started with an ‘L’…” Skinner said helplessly.

Krycek shook his head.  “I have no signal here, I can’t look it up.”

Your phone doesn’t work in this universe, Krycek, Mulder thought.  Because you’re not from here.  How long ‘til Charlie figures that out?  “Walter, do you have your phone with you?”

Skinner dug into his pajama pants pockets, and shook his head. “No, I left it on my night stand.  I just went to the basement to get batteries for the smoke alarm…it started beeping.”

Mulder tried the nav system on the SUV, and it miraculously was able to interface with some GPS satellite somewhere, and get a signal in the alternate universe.  Krycek took over the controls so Mulder could drive.  He searched for establishments with ‘Retreat’ in their name located in Faulkner, MD, and came up with one.  “Loyola Catholic Retreat?”

“That’s it,” Skinner said.

“It’s an hour south of here on the other side of the Potomac,” Krycek reported to Mulder.

“Find me a tunnel,” Mulder ordered.  “We have to switch cars.”  Sorry, Scully.  I know how much you liked this SUV…

“On it.”

“Why haven’t they bombed this car?” Skinner asked.  “If they bombed my house then they have to know we got into this car and drove away.”

They were quiet for a moment.  Charlie was the first to speak.  “They need one of us,” he stated.

Two guesses as to which one that is, Mulder thought bitterly as Krycek glanced sideways at him.

“Why?” Skinner demanded, the anger beginning to level the shakiness in his voice.  “What do they want?”

“Captain, you may not believe it,” Krycek stated as he turned around and faced Skinner, “But they want world domination.”

“And they had to bomb my house to get it?” the older man asked, completely bewildered.

“The best way we can keep Andrew safe is to get him in the same place as Mulder,” Charlie said.

“Got a tunnel on the way.  We’ll have to go past Andrews Air Force Base, though.”

“That’s okay.  Let’s just hope he doesn’t have the balls to launch a missile at a U.S. military establishment,” Mulder commented.

Krycek made a noise that was halfway between a snort and a grunt, and Mulder wasn’t sure what to think of that.  He figured Strughold was willing to destroy a lot more than a few Pakistani villages and a slum of Detroit in his quest.  He just hoped WWIII didn’t break out before they got to Andrew and, perhaps more importantly, back to Scully.

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SKINNER’S BUREAU CAR

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0400

Within an hour-and-a-half, they were far outside the District of Columbia and starting to see the broad expanse of piedmont that was the Maryland countryside.  Skinner glanced at the clock on the dashboard and then at his agent.

They passed an oasis, and Skinner switched lanes to pass a semi.  Just then, the baby stirred and began to cry.  The cry immediately awoke Scully, who turned around to look at him in concern.

“We just passed a stop, too,” Skinner commented.  “Next exit is probably in a couple of miles.  What do you think he needs, fed or changed?”

“Neither, Sir,” Scully’s voice was wrought with worry and she was wide awake.  Suddenly the baby began to cough in between his cries.  “He’s having trouble breathing.”

Skinner’s eyes shot from the windshield to the rear view mirror, and then over to Scully.  “What do you need?”

“You’re going to have to pull over so I can examine him.”

The assistant director pursed his lips in dissatisfaction. “Okay, but bring him into the front seat and examine him on your lap.  We have to keep moving.”

Scully turned on the dome light as Skinner made his way to the shoulder.

“Stay inside, don’t go out.  Just climb back there and do whatever you have to do to get him up here,” he ordered.

She obeyed, and was able to collect the distressed child and awkwardly climb back into the front seat.  Without waiting for Scully to put her seatbelt on, Skinner took off again while the baby’s cries came in short gasps, interspersed with coughing.

After several moments of Scully examining the infant’s chest, holding him carefully to try to open his airway, and examining his fingers, toes, lips, and eyes, Skinner couldn’t take it anymore.  “What’s wrong with him?  Do you think his lungs are underdeveloped?”

“No, he’s too old for that,” she rejected.  “I don’t know what the cause is, but it’s getting worse.  I need an ambulance.”

“No.  Absolutely not.  We can’t risk a 911 call.  Whoever’s after you will know your location immediately.  If you—“

“Sir, he’s using his accessory muscles to breathe, he’s got intercostal retractions, it won’t be long before he’s cyanotic — my child is in respiratory distress and he needs oxygen at the very least, possibly positive pressure ventilation.  I don’t care how you get an ambulance but you will get an ambulance for me in the next five minutes or—”

“Okay,” Skinner agreed, breaking off her frantic tirade.  “Okay,” he said again as he reached into his pocket.  “I have an idea.  Just…do whatever you have to do to care for him until then.  I think we can probably get you an ambulance in the next ten minutes.”  He swiped his smartphone screen and accessed his contact list.

“Five minutes,” she insisted, her helpless gaze never leaving the baby’s face.

“I’ll do my best,” Skinner said, and initiated a call.

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LOYOLA CATHOLIC RETREAT

FAULKNER, MD

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0435

It was a 2014 Chelsea Fusion.  Apparently, that was a luxury sedan in this universe.  Sleek black, leather interior, with a GPS and an on-board phone.  Its owner had been left perplexed and extremely irritated when Krycek flashed his badge and demanded the man exit the vehicle and turn it over for their “official” use.  He wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea of using Mulder’s beat-up SUV to make it back home.   But he accepted the offer as his only option, which was a wise position for a wealthy person with a lot to lose, faced with multiple armed men, at least one of whom had a badge.  Just before he got into the old SUV, he commented that it was so old he didn’t even recognize the model.

“You realize we may have condemned that man to death,” Skinner commented as they drove away.

“Strughold won’t hit the SUV.  He thinks Mulder’s inside,” Krycek said.

They exited the tunnel and made their way to the Catholic retreat.  They encountered very little traffic along the way.

“Okay, Captain, what’s Andrew’s number?” Krycek asked, accessing the car’s phone.  As he plugged in the information, he told Skinner, “Tell him to meet us out in front.  We’re going to have to pull him into this car and take off as quickly as possible.”

Skinner nodded.

Andrew answered the phone, and surprisingly sounded wide awake.  “Dad?”

It occurred to Mulder that despite the fact that his universe’s Andrew was also adopted, he never called his father “Dad.”  It also occurred to him that there was no way Andrew in this universe could have known that it was Skinner calling.  The CID would have displayed the name of the car’s owner.

Skinner didn’t seem to notice.  “Andrew, I need you to do something for me.”

“Where should I meet you?”

It was truly as though he already knew what was about to happen.  “In the front of the retreat, so we won’t have to go past any gates or anything that could slow us down,” Skinner said firmly.  “And try to stay inside if you can.”

“There’s a building that connects with a land bridge to the front of the retreat.  I’ll use that, just as soon as I get there from here.”

“Where is ‘here’?” Mulder asked.

“My cabin.  Who are you?”

“A friend of your father’s,” Mulder answered briefly.  “We’ll see you in about ten minutes.”

“I’ll be waiting.”  And he hung up.

They were silent for a moment, and then Mulder eyed the rear view mirror and asked, “He knows, doesn’t he?”

Skinner hesitated for a moment, and then nodded.  “Probably.”

“Good,” Charlie responded. “That means natural talent transcends universes.   He’ll be able to help us.”

“What’s the plan after we pick him up?” Mulder asked.

“We have to get to the testing site, and if it’s shut down because of the reset I caused, then we’ll have to find one of Strughold’s labs,” Charlie said.  “Preferably one that still has electricity.”

“You mean Strughold set them up in both universes?  How do we know which one is still active?  Especially if you foiled his plans five years ago?” Mulder asked him.

Charlie was about to answer, when Krycek cut in.  “Leave that to me.”

Mulder glanced in the rear view mirror for a moment, and saw Charlie’s troubled expression as he stared at the back of Krycek’s head.

Captain Skinner looked between the men and said, completely confused, “Fox, I never thought you of all people would get wrapped up in something like this.  Does Dana know what’s going on?  Is she safe, or is she in danger too?”

Mulder thought about his answer for a moment, and the possible consequences.   It was important that they get Andrew secured in this car before Captain Skinner changed his mind about wanting to help them.  “It’s a long story.  Dana is safe for now, I hope.”

Skinner accepted that answer with a begrudging nod, realizing that more answers could be had at a later time.

They arrived within five miles of the retreat without incident, and Mulder asked them, “How do we want to do this?  Just drive by and hope he doesn’t try to take out the retreat with a missile?”

“Strughold probably doesn’t know where we are yet,” Krycek said.  “The faster we get there, the better.  And we’ll need to change cars again.”

Five minutes later, they swung by the front of the beautiful, picturesque retreat on the east of the Potomac.  Rolling hills and a quaint, well-lit log cabin visitor center greeted them with yellow-colored LED’s illuminating a welcome sign.  Andrew seemingly appeared out of nowhere near the visitor’s center, and opened the door while the car was still moving.  He squeezed into the back seat and they took off as quickly as they had arrived.

They were silent at first, except for Krycek’s brief directions for Mulder.  They had to get to this universe’s equivalent of that industrial plant.  Finally, Andrew spoke.  “I understand what we’re doing.”

Skinner looked at his son expectantly.

The twenty-seven-year-old met his father’s gaze with almost sad eyes.  “It’s what I’ve been talking about for months, Dad.”

The police captain shook his head.  “Andrew…I never doubted you knew something was about to happen…but please just explain it to me.”

8-captain-skinner-and-andrew

Mulder, Krycek, and Charlie all seemed to realize that this conversation was a continuation of a previous one, for which they were not present.  But based on what Mulder had put together, he understood perhaps better than either of his companions exactly what this universe’s Andrew was saying.

“If I do this…it might change everything.  I might not come back.”

“Andrew, what is going on?  Please, just explain it to me.  This is more than a general disenchantment with the world — you are clearly involved in something…” he looked at the other occupants of the car, “you’re all clearly involved in something complicated.”  Skinner looked back at Andrew.  “I trust you.  I just want to understand.”

Andrew smiled.  “Dad, if I could explain it fully in a meaningful way, I promise I would.  I was born with a special ability.  And so was…another person.  Very much like me.  And we’ve been in communication with each other.  And I know exactly what I need to do, to help save this world.  It sounds ridiculous,” he glanced out the window briefly, before turning back to Skinner.  “But it’s going to take both of us to do it.  He’s trapped, but if we work together, it’s possible he might be able to go home.  I want him to be able to do that.”

Skinner nodded slowly. “So this is a rescue mission.  Well, if you need resources, I can promise my own force,” he said, though from his tone, it seemed like he already knew his force would be wholly inadequate to the task.

“Thank you,” Mulder said, anyway.

Andrew spoke again.  “Dad, I’ll be protected by God.  Whatever happens is in His hands now.”

Captain Skinner clenched his jaw slightly, and forced himself to nod.  He could only pray his son was right.

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SKINNER’S BUREAU CAR

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0425

“Walter, he’s cyanotic.”

Skinner looked over briefly and punched the accelerator, as if that would help the situation.  He could tell Scully’s was near panic, her maternal instincts and medical expertise colliding.

It had been a lot longer than five minutes.  Scully had been monitoring the infant’s brachial pulse and rate of respirations as they continued driving.

“We’re getting there, just hang on,” Byers’ voice said through the speaker on Skinner’s phone.

Suddenly, a large Mercedes ambulance merged onto the highway, and its lights and sirens blasted.

“This is you?” Skinner demanded.

“One top-of-the-line ambulance for delivery.  Hot and ready,” Langly said cheerfully.

“What are the paramedics inside going to do?” the assistant director asked.  He switched into the far right lane and slowed down.

“Are you sure it’s equipped with pediatric airway management supplies?” Scully demanded before Langly could answer.

“It’s got everything you might need, Scully,” Byers promised.

“Who are the paramedics inside and do they have any idea that we’re going to commandeer the vehicle?” Skinner insisted.

“Well…they don’t know they’re about to be commandeered, exactly,” Frohike explained.

“What did you tell them?” the assistant director growled as they pulled into the shoulder and slowed to a stop.  The ambulance followed suit behind them.

“We hacked into their dispatch system and sent them instructions to intercept your vehicle and follow it off the road, then we patched their radio through to ours and made sure they thought they had answered dispatch.  They still don’t know they’re disconnected,” Byers broke the news to them.

“Great.  Now I’m going to have to hold a couple of paramedics at gunpoint and steal their vehicle,” Skinner’s tone was only mildly dissatisfied, as if he was dealing with a minor inconvenience.

“It might be better if we could convince them to surrender the ambulance willingly.  Then we wouldn’t have a hundred state troopers on our tail,” Scully protested.

“We’re got you covered, Skin-man,” Langly said.  “They’re gonna get instructions to leave the ambulance for you and take the Bureau car back to their station.  Just pull your badge and tell them you and Doctor Scully need the ambulance for some top secret government stuff.  They’ll call it in to dispatch to verify and we’ll send the instructions back.”

Skinner nodded.  If it didn’t work, there were more drastic measures they could take.

The baby gasped and coughed again, and Scully went for the door handle.  “I need in that ambulance now.”

“Just let me go first,” Skinner quickly exited before she could leap out.  “Stay here,” he ordered her firmly, and slammed the driver’s-side door.

Scully anxiously watched the side-view mirror as Skinner walked toward the two paramedics.  A brief negotiation took place.  She saw one paramedic use his radio to check with dispatch, and the other head back to the vehicle momentarily.  It seemed like all was going quite smoothly.

Without warning, the paramedic closest to the ambulance pulled a weapon.  “Shit!” Scully exclaimed in horror as she watched the man take a shot at Skinner.  Skinner seemingly anticipated what was about to happen.  He rolled out of the way before the man fired, but on the shoulder of a major highway, there was no cover.  The assistant director pulled his gun and started shooting back, running for the ambulance.  The unarmed paramedic was hopelessly confused and frozen in place momentarily, which was long enough for Skinner to realize he was not also a bad guy.  The assistant director tackled the younger man to the ground before he could be hit.  “Stay down!” he growled, and then crouched low, trying to use the ambulance for cover.

The gunman took a blind shot from behind the bus, and instead of hitting Skinner, it plunked into the Bureau car’s rear tire.  Skinner ducked down, aimed at the gunman’s feet from under the vehicle, and succeeded in taking the man down.  He bolted around and pressed his back against the side of the ambulance.  The man was yelling in pain, so he was conscious, but Skinner wasn’t sure if he was still armed.  Peering around the driver’s side rear end to see the man on the ground, he spotted the gun in his hand just in time to withdraw.  Another shot rang out, this one taking out the ambulance’s rear turn signal light and missing Skinner by inches.

“FBI!  Drop your weapon!” Skinner bellowed, and the paramedic fired at the ambulance bumper.  The assistant director realized at that moment that he was trying to take out the gas tank.  “Shit,” he swore, and took a deep breath. In one fluid motion, he pushed himself off from the side of the ambulance, rounded the corner, and landed two shots in the paramedic’s chest.  He felt his left arm sting, and stumbled back slightly, but paid it no mind.

He ran over to the now-unconscious medic and kicked the man’s weapon away from him.  Then he bent down to take his pulse.

“D…did you kill him?” his partner stuttered, making his way over to Skinner.

“I don’t know, I’m not getting a pulse,” the assistant director stated.  He looked up to see Scully running toward them, the baby in her arms.  He clenched his jaw in frustration at this situation and turned to the medic.  “Look, you stay here and see to him.  We need this ambulance immediately.”

The medic was now down on his knees, ripping open his partner’s shirt to assess the damage and start CPR.  “No, I need your help!  Get me the jump bag and the AED—we’re going to treat him or he’s going to die.”

“I don’t have time to argue with you,” Skinner stated firmly.  He opened the back of the ambulance, and Scully climbed in.  “I’m taking this ambulance.”

“If you leave me here with him without any way to treat him, you’ll have killed him!” the paramedic argued, and applied his hands to his partner’s chest.  He began compressions.  “Get me the AED!” he yelled.

But Skinner didn’t even respond.  “Scully, are you good to go?”

Scully was now digging through bulkhead compartments, looking for airway supplies.  “Yeah,” she said absently, and then did a double-take.  “Sir, you were grazed.”

Skinner glanced over at his right arm, found nothing, and then looked to his left arm to see a growing red stain on his sleeve.  “Damn it.”  He climbed into the ambulance and found some gauze and a sterile dressing.  “I’ll stop the blood flow and then I’m getting us out of here.”

“Let me do it, it’ll be faster,” Scully said, and put the baby down on the gurney.  It was a sloppy job, but it only took seconds for her to secure the pad on Skinner’s shoulder.  “Go,” she ordered her boss without even thinking about it.  Then she ripped open the pediatric airway kit she had found in the compartment.  She plugged the O2 supply in and had the nonrebreather mask over the infant’s face before Skinner slammed the ambulance bay doors shut.  She could only pray she wouldn’t have to switch him to a bag valve mask.

9-baby-in-distress

As they pulled away, Scully applied an SpO2 monitor and saw that the little guy was only at about 89% saturation.

“How’s he doing?” Skinner yelled back.

“It’s too early to tell.   I need a few minutes to monitor his oxygen saturation,” she replied.  “How’s your arm?”

“It’s fine,” came the dismissive response.  “Get everything you need to treat him and be prepared to abandon this ambulance in the next ten minutes.”

“What?  Sir—“

“Scully, they obviously know where we are,” his tone was thoroughly annoyed.  “They know what ambulance we have.  They sent that guy to kill us.  They knew about our plan early enough to hack the Lone Gunmen.  They hacked the Lone Gunmen.  Think about that for a minute.  We can’t use this vehicle for long.”

“Where do you propose we go?”

“I have an idea,” he said ambiguously.

Scully watched as the SpO2 monitor reported the infant’s pulse increasing and his saturation improving.  She closed her eyes in relief, and then pulled the pediatric trauma bag out from its compartment.  She opened it and began the task of stocking it with anything she thought they might need to treat her son.

Suddenly, something sparkled in the corner of her eye, and her gaze shot from the go bag to the baby.  He stared wide-eyed at something unseen as he was surrounded with pinpricks of light blinking in and out of existence.  As suddenly as the phenomenon seemed to start, the tiny raindrops of light seemed to evaporate into the air, and all returned to normal.

Scully breathed.  She didn’t realize she had been paralyzed, either by her own terror that something was about to harm her child, or by some otherworldly, unseen force.  Regardless, she could move now.  She practically fell onto the gurney next to the infant, and enveloped him in her arms.  Holding him there, she closed her eyes and reassured herself that he was safe.  Her chest had been clenched with sheer panic, and now was beginning to calm.  Her hands shook as she rocked her baby gently.

Hours ago, she had not even known of his existence.  And now, she was a basket case.  You’re just tired, she told herself, but she knew it wasn’t true.  She had formed an unshakable bond with this little boy.  She would do anything for him.

She gazed out the rear window of the ambulance, and thought, Let’s hope I don’t have to.

 

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INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0600

The building was nestled in a run-down neighborhood similar to the one in Mulder’s universe.  However, the building itself looked almost as if it had been recently renovated.  Amid the boarded-up shops and burnt-out houses, the building’s giant steel doors were new, and a security light was on outside.  Yet there were no cars in the parking lot.

“What do you think?” Charlie asked anyone willing to answer. “Inhabited or not?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Krycek said.  “Either way, it’s the safest place we could possibly be.  He won’t strike here.”

Mulder looked skeptical.  “It seems this would be the first place he’d strike, if we have to be here to thwart his plan.”

The double agent shook his head.  “You don’t understand.  Just pull as close to that side door as possible.  When we’re in, I’ll explain everything I understand.  And Charlie can pick up the slack.”

It was a quick journey inside the building.  Mulder shot the lock on the door and they gained easy access.  It strangely had power, but was completely empty.  It looked like a plant of some sort, with a giant machine in the center, and three stories of catwalks surrounding it.  The shadow of the machine fell upon them.  The other side of the building was illuminated by a bright light that stood in contrast with the dim lighting of the rest of the facility.  Mulder instantly recognized the creepy solitude of this industrial complex.  This was in his visions.

10-big-giant-thing-1

“This place is not from this universe,” Charlie commented, and nodded toward a television monitor on the wall.  “We don’t have ‘Sony’ here unless I missed something while I was gone,” he said, pronouncing it incorrectly as ‘Sawny.’

“So what, the two switched?  And the one in my universe…” Mulder started.

“Came from here,” Charlie finished.  “Which is what you’d expect when he builds two in the exact same spot in these two universes.  Especially given what that does,” he indicated the machine. “It moves people forwards, backwards, and sideways.  It’s not surprising that when we activated it to rescue the child, it didn’t just move us sideways.”

Skinner looked terribly confused, but was quiet.

“It generates temporal hot spots,” Krycek explained.  “The three catwalk structures are to access them wherever they show up, because no one can seem to narrow that down to a specific enough location.”

“Strughold built this thing?” Muder asked, walking toward it.  He appraised the massive motor attached to the machine, and thought that it looked like it belonged in a Navy vessel.

“No, well, not alone,” Charlie stated.  He said nothing more.

“Can you operate it?” Mulder asked.

“To a point.  But we’re not going to be using it.  It sends people forwards, backwards, and sideways.  We don’t want to do any of that,” Charlie stated.  He appraised Mulder and Andrew.  “We want to send you two to another dimension, using Andrew’s ability.  And if this building is really the one I came from, then it shouldn’t be hard to resume my research.  My lab is over there,” he pointed to the second level, in the center of a catwalk, directly where Mulder saw himself in his vision.  “Let’s go.”

They climbed the stairs along the side, neglecting to use the vertical ladders that gave direct access to the catwalk.  “If this place is from my world, why didn’t the people who work here also get sent here?”

“I think they probably did,” Charlie admitted.

“I think I know they did,” Krycek stated, and Skinner bristled at that.

“Then where are they?” the police captain demanded.

Charlie’s face was grim as he opened the door to his lab, and saw what he expected to see.  Two guards on the ground, dead.

Mulder instantly drew his weapon, but Krycek placed his hand on the agent’s forearm and said, “Take it easy.  They’re all dead.”

“How do you know that?” Skinner and Mulder asked simultaneously.

Charlie walked over to a guard and turned him over, inspecting his eyes immediately.  He nodded, as if expecting to find what he saw.

“Because that’s what Strughold does when an operation fails,” Krycek stated. “Permanent severance. What’d you find, doc?”

“Bilateral petechial hemorrhaging, nose bleed, and ear canal bleeding, indicative of a massive, acute subarachnoid hemorrhage.  I’d have to use an opthalmoscope to confirm, but there are no other apparent injuries.”

“If he killed these men somehow…remotely…what’s to stop him from doing that to us?” Skinner asked.

“Because he needs us,” Andrew answered, and glanced at Mulder.  “He’s dedicated to finishing his plan.”

Mulder looked at Andrew, and suddenly put something together.  “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”

“Not in person,” Andrew stated.

Charlie nodded toward an experimental table outfitted with restraints, and said, “We’ll send you one at a time.”

“Wait a second, I need to get a better understanding of what this plan is,” Mulder stated.  “You haven’t been exactly forthcoming with explanation.”

Krycek jumped in before Charlie could answer.  “Andrew’s been working with Charlie since Charlie started his research.”

“Is that true?” Skinner interrupted to ask his son, and Andrew said quickly, “Not in person.”

Krycek continued.  “He was the one who sent Charlie back to 2011 to steal that baby and that put a hold on Strughold’s research for long enough for us to get here and try to close down these portals before he can send the invasion force.”

“That’s the plan,” Charlie stated.  “Strughold is sending an invasion force through portals just like the ones opened by that machine.  But he doesn’t plan to act until he can get the black oil from the past.  Invasion won’t work unless his populace is docile.  That’s why he wants the child, or you, or Andrew—because he needs your natural abilities to go back and replace the black oil of the present.”

“And you’re hoping we can do what?” Mulder asked, sounding skeptical of this entire plan.

“Open a portal prematurely.  And then we can close it, effectively trapping the invasion force in limbo —ending the threat to this world, permanently,” Charlie finished.

“You want us to invite the alien invasion force,” the agent murmured, as if Charlie had suggested he hop the White House fence in broad daylight, and try to gain access to the President.  “You’re asking us to sign all our death warrants.”

“You don’t have to physically do anything.  This is all part of your clairvoyant ability — Andrew, you can explain this, can’t you?”

Andrew shook his head.  “Not really, no.”  Charlie gave him a pained look, and Andrew elaborated, “Look, I’m a surgical tech for a pediatric neurosurgeon.  You taught me everything I know about your research.  I can vouch for the fact that there is another dimension — a place where minds and bodies are in ‘limbo’ — and you can be trapped there.  I know that for a fact.  But I don’t know how any of this works, or whether we’ll be able to contact the…invaders.”  He looked to Mulder.  “I know it sounds crazy.  But I also know this machine works,” he indicated the dome-shaped machine hanging over the table.  “And that it only seems to work when I want it to.”

Mulder glanced between the two neuroscientists, and then at Skinner, who looked completely baffled, as if he were trying to decide if this was all a hokey dream.

Scully, you’re going to kill me for this, he thought.  He could almost hear her voice in his head now, telling him not to subject himself to any strange medical procedures.  But in spite of that, something else within him told him that this was the culmination of a lifetime of work.  The opportunity to end the threat to Earth…how could he pass that up?  At length, he nodded.  “Okay.  We’ll try it.”

Andrew stepped over to the table, and laid down on top of the straps.  “I’ll go first,” he said as Charlie pulled a dome-shaped machine down from its hanging position on a mechanical arm above the bed.  “And then I’ll help Mulder get there.”

Mulder nodded, and folded his arms uncomfortably.  Skinner pursed his lips and said, before the dome completely surrounded his son’s head, “Andrew—”

Charlie paused, and Andrew lifted his head off the table, meeting his father’s eyes.

Skinner closed the distance between them and placed his hand on Andrew’s shoulder.  “Be careful.”

Andrew nodded, and smiled before resting his head back down on the table, and allowing Charlie to place the dome over Andrew’s skull.  He began fishing electrodes through and sticking them onto Andrew’s scalp, pressing them down with a wooden dowel so the gel adhered firmly.

Then Charlie placed a remote in Andrew’s hand, and said, “When you’re ready.”

Andrew nodded, and closed his eyes.  They all waited.  Several moments passed, and none of them dared to make a sound, for fear of distracting Andrew.

Finally, Krycek shifted his weight and glanced outside the window on the door, making sure they were still alone.  Mulder frowned, and was the first one to speak.  “Maybe—”

It was dark.  Blackness surrounded him again, and he was in mid-sentence.  He felt his vocal cords move against his throat, but no sound emerged.  He was enshrouded in the velvety black of this dimension, devoid of sight, sound, and feeling, floating in nothingness.

And he heard a noise.  Yelling…

It was getting louder.

“Agent Mulder!”

Andrew…

He slammed down onto the grate, feeling the vibration of the full activation of the massive machine to his right.  He was back in this vision again.

His sight swam like an image underwater, and he struggled to rise.  He was wearing the same clothes he had worn before in this vision—filthy jeans and a t-shirt, and he realized for the first time that they were the clothes he had put on before leaving the house, after Krycek and Charlie came to their door.

So this is the future?

“Agent Mulder!” he heard Andrew cry, and wanted to reach him…but he couldn’t.  He couldn’t see the young man, but that wasn’t the real reason why he didn’t try to save Walter’s son from whatever peril he was in…

He felt a tug at his consciousness.  An irresistible pull.  In his mind’s eye, he could picture a tiny hand reaching down to him for help.  Longing for his presence, needing him to be there.  He had to leave.  He could not abandon the little soul to whom that hand belonged.

“Mulder!  NO!”

Andrew wasn’t calling for Mulder to save him.  He was calling to save Mulder.

But Mulder had made up his mind.  He reached out, subconsciously, to that little hand reaching down to him, and he snapped back into the black nothingness from which he had come.

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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

Just as quickly as he had latched onto that tiny hand reaching down to him in his subconscious, it was snatched away from him, and he slammed down hard onto an unforgiving floor.  He grunted at the impact, and looked around.

It was linoleum flooring; a cell.  A single bed with restraints.  A toilet in the corner.  A slot in the door through which food could be sent.  No sign of Andrew.  No sign of who that hand belonged to.

He stood, saw that he still had his weapon, and drew it.  The closer he got to the door, the less opaque the wall to his cell became.  It changed to completely transparent when he was next to it, whereas from the bed, it looked solid.

Through the transparent structure, he could see across the hall into the other cells.  And he immediately saw Andrew, strapped down to a bed so securely that it was doubtful he could move a muscle.  He was catheterized and had an IV drip. Electrodes attached to his skull monitored his brain activity on two massive monitors behind him.

Mulder noticed the bed moving.  It angled upward and to the side slightly, moving Andrew into a new position, before stopping.  He imagined this bed prevented blood clots by doing so.  He tried to get Andrew’s attention.

But it was to no avail.  The young man stared straight ahead with dead eyes.

Mulder tried the cell door.  It was locked, unsurprisingly, but it was worth the attempt. Occam’s Razor, after all.

There was an abrupt thud, and Mulder spun around, then lowered his gun.  There lay Andrew — wearing the same clothes Mulder had seen him in just moments before.  The agent shook his head and looked between the two, finally making the connection.

“That’s my universe’s Andrew in there, isn’t it?  And you’ve been communicating with each other?”

Andrew nodded, and looked around.  This was all wrong.  This was not where they were supposed to end up, at all.  His expression grim, he stood, and said, “Agent Mulder, we’re in trouble.”

“I kind of gathered that.  Where are we?”

“This is Strughold’s place.  And…it’s 2013.”

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AMBULANCE

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0500

In the depths of some invisible pool, surrounded by an infinite blackness, Scully floated.  She was lost…not just separated from everything and everyone she knew by lightyears, but also by what felt like eons.  Trapped somewhere on the edge of time and space, so far from the present, in both the future and past.

She was not frightened.  She felt no panic growing in the pit of her stomach.  No sense of dread weighing her down.  Despite being as far as one could possibly be from another human being, at that moment, she felt closer to Mulder.  She couldn’t explain how, but she could feel his presence.  A presence she had yearned for with an unmatched desperation and longing.  She had never been so heartsick over anything as she had in these last two years.  And now…to be only inches closer…even if she couldn’t see him, or feel him, or hear him. It was like a drop of water quenching her thirst.

“Scully!  Scully, wake up!”

Her eyes snapped open.  She blinked, and her eyes darted around.  “Sir…”

“Scully, are you okay?  Can you stand?”

She tried to get her bearings.  “Where am I?  What’s going on?”

He slung a bag over his shoulder, and picked up an infant with an oxygen mask on his face.  “Come on.  We have to get moving.”

“What’s happening?” she asked groggily, and struggled to stand.  He assisted her by pulling her arm, and then made his way out of the back of the ambulance.  “Sir, what happened?”

He turned.  “Do you really not remember anything?  This is just like Mulder, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Scully protested.  “What about Mulder?  Did you find him?”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” he asked as he hopped down, somehow maintaining his balance with the baby and the bag.  He then reached up with his free hand to help Scully, but she climbed down without assistance.

“I uh…” she seemed to struggle to find her last memory.  “I uh…I just got back from the Jacobs case.”

“Yesterday evening.”

“I guess.  What day is it?”

“It’s Sunday now, but we haven’t slept all evening, Scully.  We’re on the run from Strughold.  Twice now he’s sent men to kill you and your child.”

“My…my what?

Skinner turned, as if he needed to decide if she was actually serious.  He quickly decided she was, and turned around again, and continued leading her to the edge of a nature trail.  “It’s a long story.  One that I don’t even understand.”

“Sir, do you somehow think that this little baby is—”

“I don’t know what to believe.  But I know less than a half hour ago, you were sure of it.”

“What?  I told you this?  What happened to me?”

“I don’t honestly know.  One minute you were treating him, and by the time I pulled over and opened the back, you were passed out.  At first I thought you were just sleeping, but when I couldn’t rouse you I got worried.”

Scully frowned in confusion, and forced herself to put one foot in front of the other on the pitch-black nature trail, illuminated only by the scarce moonlight through the trees.  It occurred to her after a moment to reach into her pocket and withdraw her cell phone.   She turned on the flashlight app, and Skinner immediately turned around and ordered, “No!  Turn that off!”

She obeyed.

“I know where I’m going.”

They were silent for a moment.  Some animal made a noise and Skinner’s head snapped to the side.  The fingers of a gentle breeze brushed through the leaves on the trees.  Crickets chirped softly.

“Walter… Are we going to find Mulder?”

Scully’s question sounded almost like a hopeful plea.  There was something about the way she asked it that made the hair on the back of Skinner’s neck bristle.  “Not at the moment.  But eventually, yes.  Once this blows over.  I’m sure he’s working on resolving whatever it is that Krycek and Charlie came to discuss with you earlier this evening.”

“What?”

He sighed.  “Mulder and you apparently had visitors from the other universe this morning.  They explained something — which I don’t understand, myself — and then Mulder went with them.”

“Sir, Mulder’s been gone for two years.”

Skinner spun.  Through the dim moonlight, she could barely make out the worry lines on his forehead.   He paused for a moment, considering his next words carefully.  “Where did he go?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out for the past two years.  You’ve been helping me.  I’ve been searching endlessly.  Walter, we’ve been looking for him together.  Until…Andrew, of course.”

The assistant director’s fist clenched and he squinted in momentary agony. “I…think I have a theory…as to what is going on here.”

Scully shook her head.  “That makes one of us.”

“I think multiple realities are transecting.  I don’t even want to speculate why, or how.  But yesterday you came to me and said that Mulder woke up without his memories from the past two years.  You took him to a neurologist, and he found nothing wrong with him.  Beyond what you would expect would be wrong with Mulder.”

Scully didn’t smile at his dark attempt at humor.

“But then Krycek and Charlie showed up from the other universe.  They had this baby with them—a baby they insist is yours, and Mulder’s.  And now you think Mulder’s been gone for the past two years.  Scully, you once explained to me that for every possible outcome, a universe is created.  That there are infinite versions of the universe out there.”

“And you think they’re transecting.”

“It’s the only thing I can think would explain what’s going on.”

Scully’s next question underscored her willingness to accept his explanation without further question.  “How is Strughold involved?”

“I have no idea.  You knew more than I did, but you didn’t get a chance to fully explain before the baby started having breathing problems.”

“And now I’m…from another universe.  Or reality.”

“I don’t know,” Skinner admitted.  “I just know we can find refuge in these woods.”

“Where are we, Walter?”

“We’re near the spot where the Ally met Mulder six years ago.  My hope is that they’ll protect us from Strughold until this thing blows over.  I don’t think we’re going to be able to get to Nevada without being run off the road.”

She nodded, though he couldn’t see her behind him.  It was a lot to take in, but the reality of their situation didn’t allow for an emotional reaction.  As Scully looked up briefly at the starry sky, they left the trail and began trudging through the woods.

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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

The last thing he remembered was talking with Andrew — the alternate universe’s Andrew.  They had been in a cell together.  Then…gas?  Had gas flooded the room?

His vision was blurry, and his memory even fuzzier.

He was strapped down, fully immobilized.  Someone had catheterized him, and given him an IV.  An NG tube was inserted through his nose and down into his gastrointestinal tract.  He couldn’t see past the opaque wall of the prison cell or turn his head, but he could hear a motor to his right.  It only ran for few seconds, then stopped.  It’s 2013, he barely recalled.

“Mulder,” he heard Andrew’s voice in his head, and immediately recognized him as his universe’s Andrew.  He wasn’t sure how, but he did.

He couldn’t move his jaw, but he could answer in his mind.  It seemed his abilities were amplified now, so that they came naturally.

“What’s going on, Andrew?” he asked.

The young man’s answer, or perhaps the sincerity with which he said it, sent chills down Mulder’s spine.  “We’re in purgatory.”

Mulder didn’t respond at first.  He strained his eyes to get a look at the room, but nothing defining was within his field of view.

“Where are you?” the agent demanded, as if he could launch a rescue operation from his current position.

“Next to you.  In the bed beside yours.”

“Where’s your alternate?”

“He’s gone.  He was sent back to his universe.”

Mulder realized that it should be impossible for both Andrews to be in the same dimension together.  They had learned that from serial killer Ed Lukesh.  But Andrew had the capability of being in two places at once.  Why didn’t that ability prevent him from being pushed away?

Suddenly, Mulder’s bed turned.  The motor tilted the bed slightly, so his body weight was redistributed.  The mattress also shifted.  “Andrew, how long have you been here?”

“I don’t know,” the young man responded.  “There’s no way to keep track of time.  But I think several weeks, at least.  Though…in a way it feels like years.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

Mulder could feel the young man’s pained emotions as he stated, “Watching Walter at my funeral…”

Mulder closed his eyes.  It was probably October 2013.  Right after Andrew ‘died.’

“How did you get here?  How did we get here?”

Andrew seemed to pause and think, as if the few weeks he was here had erased the sequence of events from his memory.  “I came here to stop him.  You…chose to come here.  And the other Andrew followed you.  Until the rift destabilized.”

“That’s impossible.  We were supposed to be trying to access some other dimension—we were trying to find a way to open a portal and prompt the invasion force to come.  And then close it down while they were in transit.”

“The Ally was going to help you, too.  But you chose another path.

It occurred to Mulder that since both Andrews were probably in communication with each other, this might be an opportunity to gain intelligence.  “How much do you know about Strughold’s plan?  And about Charlie Scully?”

“I know this is going to sound insane, Mulder, but I’m not in control of my abilities.  I never have been.  When there’s a stressful situation, sometimes my abilities are turned on.  Otherwise, I’m just a normal guy.  I was about to start seminary.  I was going to become a priest.  I didn’t know who Strughold was or what his plan was—but I did know he was evil.  And that he was in communication with alien life.  That the Ally is against him.  And that he’s keeping me here to try to tap my ability.  Because only people like us can work his ancient machine.  But that so far, it hasn’t worked.  And I’ve talked with my alternate—I guided him through a situation…or he guided me…I’m not sure…everything blends together.”

“What situation?” Mulder demanded.

“Charlie Scully…he was a prisoner.  Like us.  Strughold was doing experiments on him for…years.  I know that isn’t possible—I know it doesn’t make any sense.  But honestly, it’s like it happened yesterday.  He was a prisoner for four or five years, kept either in a cage or strapped to one of these beds for months at a time.  And there was a boy…a little boy.  Four, maybe five years old.  He was going to destroy the world.  So…my alternate…or I…was with Charlie.  As a scientist, working for Strughold.  I’ve never been a scientist, Mulder.  But I knew things about neuroscience—I understood how Charlie’s machine worked.  And so I hooked him up to it, and together we went back years in the past.  We went back to when that boy was a baby, and we stole that child.  And then he escaped…and I was here.”

Mulder would have nodded if he could.  It was starting to come together, though he wasn’t sure exactly how the alternate Andrew had ended up back in his universe, safe and sound, if he was most certainly the one who had helped Charlie.  The alternate Andrew was a neurosurgery tech, after all.  Unless…the two were exchanging minds, and memories.  Could that explain his entire ability to be in two places at once?  He was not creating matter, after all, but he and his alternate became, temporarily, of one mind?  And were able to traverse space and time to materialize in two places at once, but unified in thought?  If his alternate died, would Andrew lose his ability?

It was an interesting theory, but it was not one that Mulder could afford to explain at the moment.  “What does Strughold do to us here?”

“Nothing.  He leaves us here, to rot.”

Mulder was surprised.  It didn’t make any sense.

“Well, nothing physically.  Mulder, I’ve never been so mentally exhausted in my life.  He will leave your body in this awful hell, and he’ll tax your mind until it almost breaks.”

Suddenly, a loudspeaker clicked on.  Mulder recognized the horrid voice immediately.  “Agent Mulder.”

Strughold’s emotionless tone caused the agent to shiver.

“This is the last you’ll hear from me in quite some time.  For the next year or so, I’ll be collecting data on your brain waves.  At that point, I’ll probably have enough data to begin to manipulate your abilities remotely.  Then we’ll try the Bari Trasadi again.  It’s so good to have you with us again.  Goodbye for now, Agent Mulder.”

Mulder didn’t say anything, but realized at that moment that his best chance for success in contacting the invasion force might lie in this vile man whose voice he heard on the speaker above him.  He had to learn how to probe Strughold’s mind.

The speaker clicked off, and the door suddenly opened.  Mulder couldn’t see who came in, but the footsteps were soft and lightweight.  He smelled perfume.  A woman?

Without saying anything, she injected something into his IV, and he felt the cool texture of the liquid joining his blood.  Within seconds, he felt very woozy, and his vision swam.  Then he was out.

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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

There were two worlds.  One hell, and one heaven. 

Hell was stagnant.  Motionless.  Timeless.  Without sensation, without feeling.  Blackness or incomprehensible shapes.  Any attempt to move was thwarted.  It was maddening.  It was eternal.

Heaven was dynamic.  He and Scully, working cases together.  They weren’t all X-files…no, Skinner had given them a new assignment.  So they could track down Strughold’s medical laboratories, and try to find the detainee, and the child.  They worked on a special project, investigating the black market medical industry, consulting with the behavioral science unit.  They attended Matt’s birthday party, and Mulder began teaching the teen how to drive.  They spent Christmas at Maggie’s house, and invited Skinner as he had nowhere to go, and no family to turn to in his time of grief.

Every so often, he was loosed from his bonds, tubes, and wires, and left in a drug-induced stupor on the floor of a holding cell, with Andrew.  Weeks of ‘exercise’ followed, in which he built up the strength his muscles had lost, and ate increasingly solid food after being weaned off the NG tube.  But once he had regained his strength, he would be heavily drugged again, and placed into the restraints for another eternity.

And he’d re-enter the euphoric dream where everything was normal.  Where he lived out his life with Scully, and the two solved cases, and took vacations, and spent time with family. 

Which life was real?  Were they both real?  How long would he be consigned to this purgatory?

These questions only stayed in his mind for a short while, because as soon as he started questioning his dual existence, his mind seeped into an inky blackness, and Scully and normalcy were snatched away from him.  So he was content to cling to that distant dream world of peace and prosperity, as long as was possible.

So he stayed, for some undetermined length of time, until he became aware of another.

It was not only he and Andrew in this situation.  There was another.  A presence.  A kind, gentle, innocent, soul.  A simple mind.  It was not well-defined, and it was always distant, just out of reach.  But several times, when he was ‘recovering’ in the cell after weeks of immobilization, he sensed it.  Not it.  Her.

Her presence grew as time went on.  She seemed stronger, mentally.  He couldn’t read her thoughts, at least not in the same way he and both Andrews could communicate with each other.  Nor could Andrew sense her presence at all.  But Mulder knew she was there.  And she knew he was there.

A tiny hand.  Reaching out for him. 

He would not let go.

11-mulder-in-psychic-purgatory

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INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0700

An hour had passed.  Sunlight streamed through the windows of the complex, and Krycek and Skinner stood guard outside while Charlie monitored his equipment inside.  At one point, Krycek opened the door and asked his companion, “How long is this expected to take?”

“It’s hard to tell.  The machine detects their brain activity even when they aren’t here…it’s an effect of having an open portal nearby.  It’s like they’re tethered to this location.  But I’m not getting any change in the intensity of the signal.  They may be stuck in one location…”

“Do you know where they went, exactly?”

“They would have been mentally drawn toward the closest extraterrestrial life.  At least, Mulder would have.  That’s how his clairvoyance works.  It’s why Strughold wants him.”

“What if they were drawn right to Strughold, and they’re now captive?”

Charlie shook his head.  “It’s a possibility, especially given Andrew’s readings.”  He pointed to the EEG, where he said, “These p-waves are indicative of stress.  But Mulder…” he switched screens.  “His patterns are completely normal.  If they were drawn right to Strughold, they might be able to overpower him together, and use him to find out how to lure the invasion force into the wormhole.  We just need to stand ready to shut that machine down as soon as I get a signal that someone or something large is coming through.”

Krycek nodded.  “Okay, well, keep us updated.  I don’t want to be the last person to find out if ships start coming through a spot in the middle of this complex.”

“I’ll let you know when I know something,” Charlie promised.

Krycek closed the door, and Captain Skinner walked toward him across the catwalk, holding Krycek’s backup gun.  Somehow, despite the fact that he was still wearing his pajamas, the police captain managed to look intimidating.  “Still quiet.  No sign of anyone.  What do you think the chances are that this guy will send a missile right through this building and take out our entire operation?”  he asked.

Krycek shook his head.  “No way.  That machine is his only chance of completing his mission.  He’ll never strike this place.  There’s nowhere safer in either universe.”

Skinner still seemed a bit puzzled by that answer, but he was starting to put the pieces together, however unbelievable the story was.  He gazed at the humming machine for a moment before looking back at Krycek and asking, “You’re not my detective, are you?”

The double agent smiled.  He made eye contact with the captain as he said, very simply, “No.”

The older man nodded, and folded his arms, squinting slightly.  It struck Krycek how similar his mannerisms were to AD Skinner’s.  “Then who are you people?  And why have you chosen this world to stage this…conflict?”

“It doesn’t matter where this battle happens, Captain.  This world or mine.  It’ll affect both of us.  Temporal rips are everywhere.  It’d be just a matter of time before Strughold’s forces conquer one world and move onto the next.”

Skinner frowned.  “It’s just…a lot to take in.”

“You don’t have to believe me.  You just have to guard the place to protect your son.”

The captain nodded.  After glancing at the machine again, he walked away, toward the other end of the complex to keep an eye on the outside.

Once he was out of range, Krycek took out a cell phone from his jacket pocket.  He held the power button in and when the phone came online, he pressed the menu button just once.  It automatically made a call.

Before putting it to his ear, he walked around the corner, out of Skinner’s view.

“Are they in position?” a familiar voice asked him from the other end.  He could almost imagine Spender taking a long drag on his cigarette after he spoke.

“They’re out of sight.  I can’t confirm their position,” Krycek answered.

“Are you alone?”

“One of theirs is with us.  Skinner’s alternate.”

“He shouldn’t present a problem.  Find a way to deal with him, and proceed as planned.”

“Understood,” Krycek said, and ended the call.

Just then, a tremendous boom shook the entire complex.  It felt like a terrible but extremely short earthquake.  The machine in the center of the room began to whir and chug with intensity.  Krycek rounded the corner of the catwalk and looked around for Skinner.  He saw the police captain nowhere.

Charlie opened the door to the lab and demanded, “What’s going on?  The machine’s readings went completely off the charts.”

The building shook, and they heard the sound of steel buckling above them.

Krycek shook his head.  “I have no idea.”

Suddenly, a wail erupted in the distance, and they heard sirens.  Krycek immediately recognized the frequency and tone as his own world’s.  And Charlie immediately recognized that it was not his.

The neurosurgeon’s eyes widened, and he said, “We’re back in the other universe.”

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NEAR SHENENDOAH PARK

VIRGINIA

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0700

“I think this was close to where the Ally came,” Scully said, and spotted a faded, frayed bit of caution tape still tied to a nearby tree.

“Good.  My navigation skills haven’t been atrophied by sitting behind a desk for too long.  Let’s take a break.”  He put the bag down and sat on a log.  The baby was fast asleep.

“Let me check on him.  If he was having breathing problems before, someone should make sure he’s adequately perfused now.”  The sun was up now, but it was low on the horizon and hidden behind the trees.  She was still able to see the SpO2 monitor unassisted.  “He’s at 98%.  This is good.”

“Do you have any idea what might have been wrong with him before?”

She shook her head.  “I don’t remember what symptoms he was having.  I obviously saw an oxygen saturation bad enough to put him on a nonrebreather, but not bad enough to use more drastic measures.  What did I put in this bag?” she asked aloud, and unzipped it.  She inspected the contents, and said, “It looks like I was mostly concerned about maintaining his airway.  That must have been the only concern.”

Skinner was silent while Scully walked over to another log and sat down.  She sighed and looked up at the morning sky.  “How long do we wait here?  We should weigh the risks of staying in one spot versus encountering the Ally.”

“I want to give it no more than a half hour,” Skinner stated.  “That’s about how long it took to get us the ambulance, and that’s how long it took for Strughold to track down where we were.”

“And what’s the plan if they don’t come?”

“We leave.  We’ll exit through the north end of the park and break into a car, and start heading west again.”

She nodded in agreement.

“Why don’t you try to get some sleep, Scully?” Skinner offered.

“Why don’t I take him instead, and you can get some sleep?  You’ve been driving all night, from what you said.  I think it’s your turn.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but she was already up, reaching out to take the baby.

“No more than fifteen minutes,” he ordered.  “Then wake me up.”

“I’ll give you twenty,” she said, and looked at her watch.  “The longer you argue the less sleep you’ll get.”

He rolled his eyes, and slid down onto the ground to use the log as a pillow.  “Fifteen minutes,” he muttered as he closed his eyes.

She smirked, and picked up the bag that contained the oxygen supply.  She walked back over to the other log with the sleeping baby, and sat back down.  Gazing at his peaceful face in an errant ray of morning light breaking through the trees, she felt a warm feeling begin to grow in her chest.  She found that she couldn’t shift her eyes—she was glued to the sight of this little one sleeping in her arms.

She was only a minute into this wondrous reverie when she noticed the baby’s face was brighter—everything was.  She expected that the sun had just peeked above the tree line, but when she looked up, she nearly stumbled off the log.  She scrambled up and hissed, “Walter!  Wake up!”

Skinner was up in an instant, and drew his weapon.  Above them was a huge, cylindrical, glowing ship.  It was the same ship Mulder had claimed he had seen the Ally use.  But there was no communication forthcoming.

12-ship-arrives

“What do we do, Scully?  How do we communicate with them?” Skinner asked urgently.

Scully was about to answer, but she felt a growing sense of dread in the pit of her stomach.  It was accelerating in intensity, until she almost felt like she had watched a close relative die.  “I…don’t think that’s the Ally,” she said, and slowly knelt to place the baby gently on the ground, to free her hands so she could draw her weapon.

As soon as she had done so, the baby began to gasp again.  She looked down in horror, and saw his lips turn blue.  He was using his intercostal muscles to breathe.  “He’s in respiratory distress… Walter, help me!”

She dropped to her knees and quickly opened the bag.

“What can I do?” he asked, and put his gun down on the ground, looking desperately between the ship and the baby.

“Get the bag valve mask out of the bag, replace the oxygen line!” She ordered, and tore the mask off the baby’s face.  After taking his pulse, she began to give him two-finger CPR.  “Get the mask, get the mask!”

“Is this it?” Skinner asked helplessly, holding up what he thought was the object Scully was talking about.  She nodded, and took it from him with her free hand.  “Hold it over his nose and mouth like this.  Get a seal, you want to use both hands—no, actually, you take over, do compressions.  Two fingers, center of his chest, just like this.”  She switched roles with him, more confident in her own ability to get a good seal over the mask and apply the appropriate amount of pressure when squeezing the bag.

“What’s causing this?” the assistant director asked as he pumped the little chest with his index and middle finger.

“Children decompensate quickly.  They’re fine and then they’re really not fine,” Scully explained absently.  “He’s obviously got some kind of respiratory illness.  I don’t know what.  We might have to intubate him if we can’t get his pulse back up.  I’m going to put the AED on him just in case.”

Abruptly, the baby was surrounded by sparkles of light.  Blinking pinpricks of static energy, or glittering raindrops that evaporated immediately after coming into existence.  The light grew in intensity and the prickling increased in frequency until Skinner withdrew his hand sharply.  “Ow!” he exclaimed, and revealed a burn.

Scully watched in horror as the baby’s form began to fade from view. “No…no!” she protested helplessly, and soon he was invisible, shrouded behind the brilliance of trillions of tiny points of light.  “No!” Scully stood, and looked up at the glowing cylinder in the sky.  “No, damn it, you can’t have him!” she screamed frantically.  Skinner physically held her back as she prepared to launch herself in some illogical direction, as if she was going to fight the otherworldly thing that loomed above them.  And then the light surrounding the tiny form on the ground began to dissipate, and she collapsed to her knees beside what should have been her baby.  “No!” Her hands scrambled the dirt and leaves on the ground, preparing to dig for him.

“Scully, stop!” Skinner exclaimed, and dropped to his knees beside her.  “They took him!”

“No!” She protested in agony, her voice cracking with a sob.  “No, he’ll die…” she wailed, and Skinner enveloped her in his arms, holding her head to his chest.  “Please, no!”

“We’ll get him back,” he told her firmly as he held her close.  “I promise you, Scully.  We’ll get him back.”

13-losing-the-baby

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INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0715

Captain Jonah Wales of the Metro PD pulled his squad car up to the base near the staging area at the front of the complex in one of the shadier parts of DC.  He stepped out just as a chunk of concrete fell from the roof and crashed to smithereens on the ground below.  “What’ve we got?” he asked his acting incident commander, Lt. Yuri Thoranov.  Wales would now assume command, according to the incident command structure of hostage situations.

“Sir, we have one hostile in the building.  Possible detonation of an explosive device caused this unusual cratering phenomenon,” the puzzled man indicated the wavelike form of the concrete surrounding the building.  “The hostile claims to have a hostage and an explosive device.  He insists on speaking with an FBI assistant director and an FBI special agent.”

“Structural integrity of the building?” Wales demanded.

“Destabilizing rapidly, Sir,” a very young-looking woman in tactical gear answered.

“Who are you?” Wales asked her.

“Sergeant James, Sir.  Safety officer on scene.”

“James, how much experience do you have with ordinance detonation?”

“Three tours in Iraq, Sir.  Explosives Ordinance Disposal Technician.”

He nodded.  She had instantly earned his respect, even though he had never met her before.  “All right.  In your opinion, how long before the building comes down?”

“Barring another explosive detonation, I would say it could last several hours.  Possibly until tonight.  I recommend we bring in an engineer to assess the foundational damage.”

“Thoranov, call in Fire Investigation.  Get an engineer to assess this building and determine how long we have before it comes down.  Have him coordinate with…James?”

She confirmed her name with a nod.

“Have him coordinate with James here.  Before you do that—“ he caught the lieutenant as he was about to pull out his radio, “I want to know about this UNSUB.  What do we know about him?  Who did he want to speak with?”

“I have it written down here, Sir,” Thoranov said, and produced an iPad with some hastily assembled notes.  “The responding officer took this down.  He hasn’t identified himself and we don’t have a visual yet.  Hostage Rescue is working on it.  He named these two individuals, though.”

“FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner and Special Agent Dana Scully.”  He summoned an officer nearby. “Okay.  Hey—you’re running Logistics?”

The young officer with the Logistics vest nodded, and walked over to Wales.  “Yes, Sir.”

He shoved the iPad at the young man.  “Figure out if these people are real, and if so, get in contact with them ASAP.”

“Yes, Sir,” the officer said with a nod, and returned to the logistics station on the base.

Wales placed his hands on his hips, and surveyed the building.  This was a hell of a way to start his morning.

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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

Anger.  Piercing anger that penetrated his consciousness and drove darkness into his bones.  He didn’t have to wonder where it came from.

He was sitting on the edge of the bed in his cell, wearing the same jeans and t-shirt he had worn for…months?  Years?  Decades?  He couldn’t see Andrew.  He wasn’t sure where the young man was.  Usually, during these ‘recovery’ periods, they were together in this tiny cell.  They had grown quite close, and Mulder found himself missing Andrew’s presence.

But this insidious roar of fury snapped him out of whatever self-pity he was experiencing, and he stood, reflexively wanting to defend himself.  Of course, there wasn’t much he could do in his condition.  He was down twenty pounds, at least, and most of that was lost muscle mass.  Every time he stood, he experienced orthostatic hypotension, and saw stars in his vision.  His reflexes were damaged, and his balance was horrible.  But still, he stumbled toward the wall, and it became transparent, allowing him to catch a glimpse of where Andrew was.

AD Skinner’s son was strapped to adjacent beds across the hallway.  The anger intensified in Mulder’s head, until it condensed into an infinitesimal sphere of hatred, manifesting finally as a tremendous, piercing shriek.

It only grew in volume and intensity, driving Mulder to clutch his head with both hands and fall to his knees in utter agony.  Across the hall, Andrew was seizing violently against his restraints.

Mulder’s vision grayed, then blackened, but instead of seeing nothingness, he saw another room.  A room like this one, with a tiny child in it, backing herself into a corner in terror of her captor.  Her fear began to replace the anger, and Mulder realized it wasn’t Strughold making that high-pitched, deafening, mind-imploding cry.  It was this child.  It was her fear emanating from her, manifesting itself like an ice pick through his eye.

14-charlotte-shrieking-telepathically

She reached with both arms into his consciousness, desperate for refuge, begging for Mulder to save her with tears of terror streaming down her cheeks.  Her petrified outreach to him impaled his heart and he found himself latched onto her consciousness, clinging to her protectively, because it was the only thing he could do.

But Strughold was physically alone with her, and his fury was mounting.  Mulder’s subconscious vision panned to the bed, where EEG wires laid, and a computer monitor flashed random images in rapid succession.  The lights in the room flickered intensely, and the windows were buckling, bowing inward.  The objects in the room began to shift toward Strughold.

His eyes turned inky black, and he held out one hand, stilling the objects in the room as he fixed his gaze on this child—the object of his fury.

Her eyes shot away from his, though, and toward an object on a table nearby.  Mulder’s vision panned again, and he gasped, even through the pain of her telepathic shrieking.  It was the Bari Trasadi.

In a split second, Strughold took out a gun, and aimed it at the child.

“NO!!!” Mulder’s voice reverberated through the telepathic scene as he screamed both aloud and in his head.  That one word summoned more mental strength than should have been possible.  His mind was suddenly clear, and with fists clenched, he arose from his kneeling position.  His declaration was ‘loud’ enough to jerk Andrew out of his seizing state, and leave him limp in his restraints.  The wall to his own cell bowed outward, as if his energy was too much for it to hold.

Even Strughold paused.  The fury running through everyone’s mind was momentarily extinguished, replaced with surprise and intrigue.

Mulder pounded the side of his fist into the wall as hard as he could and cried with desperation, “I’ll do it!  Use me!  Use me, you bastard!  LEAVE HER ALONE!” The anger evident in his plea rivaled that of his nemesis.  Even the child seemed slightly frightened by Mulder’s wave of uncontrolled, sheer rage.

And Strughold left the girl’s room.

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NEAR SHENENDOAH PARK

VIRGINIA

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0730

Scully’s cell phone rang.  The sound of the high-pitched, vibrating tone sliced through her silent agony, and she withdrew from Skinner’s arms.  They had been kneeling in silence for what had to be ten minutes now, Scully’s heartbroken frame clinging to him like he was her last connection to anything familiar.

But now, apparently, someone was calling, and reality set in that they were still very much in danger, and should be on the run.  She didn’t recognize the number, and hesitated before accepting the call.  “Agent Scully,” she answered, her voice slightly hoarse.

“Agent Scully, this is Officer Styles with Metro PD.  I’m the Logistics coordinator working with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.  We have a situation in downtown DC.  There’s a hostile who has taken at least two hostages inside an unstable warehouse building, and he’s demanding to speak with you and an assistant director named Walter Skinner.”

“What?” Scully asked, shaking her head.  What else could go wrong today?  “Who is he?”

“We don’t have a positive identification for him yet, Ma’am, but we just got a visual.  I can email or text you his picture.”

“Do that.”

“Do you have hostage negotiation experience?” the young officer asked.

“Yes, but I’m not currently in a position to—“ Scully was interrupted by the sound of her phone receiving a text.  “Hang on, let me look at this picture.”

She pulled the phone away from her ear and opened her message.  Krycek’s face stared back at her, and she rolled her eyes.  Of course.

“—the HRT leader is requesting your presence, Ma’am.  I’m sure you could check with your superior officer and—“

“I’ll be down,” Scully cut the young man off.  “And so will Assistant Director Skinner.”

“We’ve been unable to reach the assistant director, Ma’am.”

“I can reach him,” she said.  “He’s my superior officer.”

“Oh.  How soon do you think you and the assistant director might be able to be on site?”

Scully sighed.  “It’s going to be four hours,” she said.  “Maybe a little less.”

“Ma’am, that’s a very long time.  Is there any way you could get here faster?  If not, we could patch you through to him digitally.”

“No.  I need to be on site.  Buy me four hours.”

“The safety officer on site is saying that the building might not last that long.”

“Then find a way to make it last that long.  Call me if you need anything else.”  Scully ended the call.

Skinner gave her an inquiring glance, and she explained, “Krycek’s taking hostages in downtown DC.”

“Of course he is,” the assistant director muttered snarkily, and stood.  “He’s asking to speak with us?”

“Yeah.  Why isn’t your phone on?”

“Strughold found us through my call to the Lone Gunmen.  I assumed it was compromised and turned it off.  You should turn yours off, too.  Come on, let’s go.”

He abandoned the bag of supplies and began walking toward the north end of the park.

“The ambulance is south, Walter,” Scully protested.

“And it’s possible Strughold has it surrounded right now.  Let’s go.  There will be a car parked in the north lot near the camp ground.  We’ll steal that and head back.  Plus, the north lot is closer than the ambulance.”

She sighed, and looked down at the bag.  Seeing the bag valve mask on the ground next to the empty spot where her baby should have been, she felt her heart wrench with emotion.  She forced herself to compartmentalize it, and followed Skinner out of the woods.
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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

Surrounded in the technicolor world that was the Bari Trasadi, where he had been once before, he marveled at the incredible detail of the universe.  Not just his world, but other planets like it.  He could again see the awesome reality of infinite grains of sand on worlds without number.

Unlike his first time using this machine, however, he was not delirious.  He had been tortured for two years this time.  But his mind was clearer than ever.  He knew exactly what he had to do to save his family and the world. 

He could feel the child’s presence in his mind.  Both children were with him.  The baby boy and the four-year-old girl.  In the Bari Trasadi, he could see the intricate details of their minds.  In real time, he saw their neurons firing impulses, their developing brains absorbing and learning.  It was a wonderful sight to behold.

He could see every molecule in their bodies.  He could see Andrew and himself in the same manner, as well.  But most importantly, he could see Strughold, and the ship in which they all shared the same artificial atmosphere.  He could behold every particle of substance within this small space. 

15-mulder-bari-trasadi

And he could relegate it to the same oblivion occupied by all things targeted by the ancient weapon of Great Tragedy.  Though he initially felt some apprehension at this thought, he was reassured by some other force, some greater telepath than he, that this was the only way.  And that they would be watched over.  A feeling of warmth enveloped him, and he recognized the Ally’s presence.  Far from this being a Great Tragedy, it would be one of the most just actions ever performed by man.

Mulder closed his mind around the children and Andrew, encasing them and protecting them from the ensuing discharge of pure temporal energy.  And then without hesitation, he fired.

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INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

1100

Five hours.  It was too long to wait.  It was only a matter of time before SWAT or HRT stormed this building.  When that happened, Captain Skinner and he could only hold off the grunts for so long.  Krycek had said from the beginning that this mission was time-sensitive.  He meant it.  Now, more than ever.

He already had the order from Spender.  Mulder and Andrew’s success was immaterial to the success of the overall mission.  They had opened this portal, and that was all he needed.

He approached the machine, not quite stepping over that threshold on the catwalk that would certainly transport him to the other universe again.  He held a spherical object he had recovered from a box on the first floor of the complex.  The door opened behind him, and he whirled on Charlie, pointing his gun directly at the surgeon.

They made eye contact for a moment, Charlie finally realizing who he was actually dealing with.  Who he had been dealing with all along.  “If you throw that mine, you’ll permanently disable the ability to move between universes. We’ll both be stranded here forever,” Charlie told him, studying his eyes.  Part of him was praying that he was wrong, and that this really was Detective Krycek, and not the double-agent he had overheard while he was a prisoner, making plans to destroy the portal between worlds.

“That doesn’t concern me,” Krycek said. “I’m already home.”

I should have known, he thought.  Why didn’t I see it before?

“Get back in the lab,” the double-agent ordered him, and waved his gun in that direction.  “Now.”

“I’m not going to stop you,” Charlie told him, his voice strangely resolute.  “What you’re doing is…it makes sense.  It’s well worth the sacrifice.”

“I’m glad you agree,” Krycek said.  “But forgive me if I don’t trust you.  Get back in the lab.”

Charlie nodded once, thinking that perhaps he didn’t want to witness the moment that an entire alien species was eradicated from the universe.  “I’ll…I’ll go monitor the machine.  You might end up bringing the building down.  You realize that?”

“There’s no other way to ensure this planet is never colonized.  You know that, and I know that.”  He nodded toward the door, and Charlie obeyed finally.

At the exact moment that Krycek threw the deadly mine, Mulder, Andrew, and a young child seemed to materialize from nowhere in various locations along the catwalk.

The machine in the center of the room buckled inward, its metal walls imploding in on itself.  Krycek looked desperately at the machine and then at the party that had just appeared, and yelled, “RUN!”

They wasted no time.  Andrew and Krycek escaped quickly, but the little girl had materialized behind the others. The machine exploded in a blue, emanating sphere of energy.  The catwalk buckled, just as the engine erupted in a second firework of black and orange.

Above and below them, catwalks were destabilizing, and Mulder grabbed the petrified child and ran.  Even as his tired legs pounded the grating beneath him, he knew he would not make it in time.  Andrew ran toward them, and the catwalk destabilized again under Mulder’s feet, shifting almost at a twenty degree angle, downward.  Metal screeched, groaned, and scraped as it gave way.

Summoning all of his energy in one last desperate act, Mulder threw the screaming four-year-old child as hard and high as he could.  A tremendous SNAP broke the last weld on the catwalk, and the agent tumbled downward feet-first into a heap of collapsing metal and smoldering shrapnel.

Andrew collapsed backward against the grating with the four-year-old in his arms, hugging her like the precious cargo that, in a more cosmic sense, she was.  He looked downward and screamed, “Agent Mulder!”

But there was no answer.  Meanwhile, the building’s foundation began to shake.  Plaster fell from the ceiling, and cracks emanated from where the machine used to sit in the center.

XXX

Outside, a stolen 1998 Honda Civic pulled onto the scene.  A badge was flashed and Assistant Director Walter Skinner and Agent Dana Scully gained access immediately.  They wasted no time, rushing toward the building as it buckled and creaked in protest of the massive explosion that had just taken place.

16-scully-at-hostage-crisis

“You can’t go in there!” Captain Wales yelled, grabbing Skinner’s arm before he got far.  “I don’t care who you are, that building’s coming down!”

“Mulder is in there!” Scully yelled.

Skinner spun to stare at her.

“I don’t know how I know, but I know he’s in there, Walter.”

The assistant director nodded once, immediately accepting what she said as Gospel.  He turned and found the HRT commander.  “You!  Come over here!” he ordered.

“Yes, Sir!” the man said as he jogged over.  “Are you AD Skinner and Agent Scully?”

“Yes,” Skinner answered quickly.  “Can you get us into that building?”

“That building is unstable.  My safety officer says no one should go within ten feet of it, not even Rescue at this point,” Wales argued.

Skinner ignored him, and stared expectantly at the HRT commander.

“I agree with the Captain, Sir, that building is no longer suitable for occupation.  We’ve withdrawn from all operations.”

An ear-piercing shriek erupted as metal scraped against metal and another support began to buckle.

“I’ve got an agent in there,” Skinner told the commander.  “I need to get him out.  I’m ordering you to resume rescue operations.”

“We can’t just walk right into an active hostage situation,” Wales said. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you can’t waltz onto this scene and—”

“Can you get me in there or do I need to find someone who can?” the assistant director bellowed at the beleaguered hostage rescue team leader.

The man pursed his lips and finally nodded.  “Okay, Sir.  We’ll take volunteers from the Rescue team if Captain Wales will allow it.  We’ll go in for five minutes.  That’s it.”

Wales reluctantly nodded his agreement, and Scully ran over to the HRT staging area.  She resisted the urge to take complete command of the situation, and allowed the team’s commander to announce to them what was happening.  Wales sent a Rescue team over to them, and soon they had twelve people ready to move in.

“The hostile isn’t an unknown factor,” Skinner briefed them quickly as they walked toward the collapsing structure.  “Agent Scully and I are acquainted with him.  He’s an ex-operative.  He probably won’t fire on us, but there are no guarantees.  Don’t let him out of your sight, but don’t treat him as a priority here.  We need to get our agent out.”

“He’s a Caucasian male, fifty-four years old.  He’s got brown hair.  He’s 6’1”, weighs about 190 lbs.  His name is Agent Mulder,” Scully told them.

“Got it, Ma’am.  Anything else we should know about him or anyone else who might be in the building?”

“No.  Let’s move in before this thing comes down,” she responded.

“Samuels, Koller, take the west side entrance.  Robinson, Kim, Yaj, take the east.  Everyone else, you’re with us.  Simple search and extraction.  If the hostile engages, fire back but extracting the hostages is the priority.  If he runs, they’ve set up a perimeter, he won’t get far.  If we cannot secure the hostages in five minutes we will withdraw.  Ready?”

A chorus of ‘Yes, sir’s’ followed the HRT commander’s orders.  “Move in!  Go, go, go!”

Scully and Skinner hung back with the less heavily-armed PD Rescue team and let the HRT go in first.  Krycek did not fire on them when they entered, which told Scully that the hostage scenario was probably just a way to buy them some time in this building to complete whatever they were doing.

She stepped inside, and was taken aback at the sight in the center of the room.  A giant…vortex?…in space; a swirling, multi-colored spectacle of light…growing smaller by the second.  Twisted metal lined the walls, embedded in a pile of wreckage on the floor.  A fire had started at the base of the wreckage, or perhaps it was burning itself out.  Either way, the PD Rescue team had brought an industrial extinguisher and immediately got to work.

There were no hostiles in sight, but up on the catwalk, Scully immediately recognized a face she didn’t think she’d ever see again.  “Andrew,” she breathed.

Skinner muscled past her and stared through the smoke and twisting space to look upon what Scully saw.  He stood paralyzed, not quite believing it.

“Walter!  Dana!” the young man called, and stood on the unsteady catwalk.  It creaked underneath him.  It was then that Scully noticed a small child beside him, and Charlie came into view shortly afterward.

“Mulder’s down there!” Andrew yelled, and pointed to the pile of wreckage.  Scully’s stomach somersaulted.

“Where’s the hostage taker, son?” the HRT commander demanded from his position on the ground level.

“I don’t know where he went,” Charlie answered for Andrew.  “He’s not here anymore, he left!”

Five of the HRT members began digging through the wreckage.  Walter ran to the corner of the warehouse, where a two-story ladder on wheels was positioned against the wall.

“Help me with this!” he yelled, and Scully ran to his aid.  Mulder was trapped under the smoldering wreckage, but there was little she could do about it until the HRT managed to cut through the worst of it.  But she could save this little child, and Andrew.

Skinner and Scully awkwardly manhandled the wheeled contraption to the catwalk, and it was barely tall enough.  For some reason, an inner drive seemed to propel Scully up that ladder and toward this sobbing little girl with dark hair and hazel eyes.  She reached her arms upward, and Andrew passed the child down to the agent.  Skinner was right behind her, and said, “I’ll take her.” He then handed her to a member of the Rescue team who was at the foot of the ladder, and he ran out of the building.

Andrew climbed over the railing and dropped down to the ladder, and then quickly descended the rest of the way, right into Skinner’s waiting arms.  They embraced tightly, allowing themselves only a moment to ensure that the other was indeed real, and not a hallucination.  Then the building shook violently, and a support creaked in protest.  Charlie nearly fell from the catwalk on his way over the railing.

“Go, get out of here!” Scully turned and yelled to Skinner and Andrew.  She did her best to steady the ladder at the ground level as Charlie nearly stumbled on his way down.

“The building’s coming down!  If you can’t get through that thing in the next minute, leave it!” the HRT leader screamed to his man with the saw.

“We have to go!  Come on, let’s go!” one of the Rescue team members yelled to Scully, but she refused to budge, and shook his arms off of her shoulders.  “Mulder’s going to need a doctor — I’m a doctor.  You go!”

On the far end of the building, a metal support caved and a wall crumbled, taking plaster and rebar with it and filling the room with a massive cloud of smoke and dust.  The singularity was almost a pinprick of light in the center of the room now.

The saw shut off, and the HRT member yelled, “I’m through!”

“Pull, pull, pull!” another man yelled, and six strong rescue workers ripped twisted metal from the top of the pile, exposing Mulder’s face.

Scully wanted to climb in right there, but one of the PD Rescue workers held her back.  “Let me go first, I’ll take his pulse and report back to you.  That metal’s sharp and I’ve got the turnout gear.”

Another hideous shriek erupted from a metal support, this one closer to them.

“One minute!  One minute and we’re out!” the HRT commander seemed to reassess his original estimate, now that they had found Mulder.

The saw was re-engaged, and parts of the catwalk separated easily further down the pile.  The PD Rescue worker in turnout gear turned back to Scully after having his fingers on Mulder’s neck for far too long, and finally nodded.  She nearly let out a sob of relief.

“We freed his legs!” someone yelled.  “I need a clamp, we’re gonna bend this metal back and pull him out!”

Just then, sparkles of light caught Scully’s eye.  She turned, and saw tiny spots growing in frequency and intensity on the filthy ground next to her.  Her eyes grew wide and she squatted down, looking desperately between the rescue attempt and the miracle about to happen at her feet.

Her hands hovered above the specks of light as they became a solidified, intense glow, and then dimmed in intensity until their opaque brilliance was replaced with the sight of her infant son.  She let out something between a sob and a surprised exclamation of joy, scooping him up and holding him close to her chest.  As she looked up, the rescue workers were pulling an unconscious Mulder out and onto a backboard for a rapid extraction.

“Evacuate!  Evacuate!” The HRT commander boomed, and the team hurried out of the building as another metal beam creaked in protest.

They moved to the perimeter, Scully heading straight for the ambulance at Mulder’s side.

Skinner appeared suddenly, and held out his arms.  “Scully, let me take the baby.  You can work on Mulder.”

She absently handed the infant to her superior, and climbed into the ambulance with the paramedics.  “I’m a doctor, and I know this man’s history well,” she quickly qualified herself as the leader of this operation.  “You take C-spine,” she ordered one of them.  “You,” she turned to the other, “get him hooked up to an EKG to get his vitals.  He’s breathing and he’s got a pulse, but stand by with the AED,” she ordered.  “Get me a nonrebreather at 15 liters per minute.  I’m going to do a rapid trauma assessment.”

The medics’ practiced hands moved to action, and Scully assessed no apparent head trauma.  Miraculously, the catwalk support beams had formed something of a cocoon to protect him from the brunt of the wreckage.  She detected at least one cracked rib and demanded, “What’s his BP?”

“100/70, Ma’am,” the paramedic reported.

“That’s low for him—let’s watch it.  He might be bleeding internally.”

“Heart rate is 100,” the medic continued.  “SpO2 at 97% on nonrebreather.”

“He’s not in shock yet, then,” Scully concluded, and detected no pelvis fracture.  However, she got down to his legs and immediately detected a break.  “Shit.  Closed fracture of the left femur…” she reported, and performed a quick test on his knee to determine if he had also torn a ligament.  “Damn it.  ACL and probably the PCL are out.”  She moved further down, and reported, “No obvious fracture to the tibia or the foot.  Okay, get a collar on him,” she ordered the medic not holding C-spine.  “Still, treat it like a suspected spinal fracture, because we don’t know what we can’t see.  Let’s get a splint on this leg.  Watch his vitals — with a rib and femur fracture he could very easily go into shock.  Start an IV; we need to get his fluids up.”

She tried to reassure herself that he was stable, and in much better condition than she thought he would be.  Though he looked completely emaciated, with muscle wasting and a hint of possible Kwashiorkor’s malnourishment, his vitals were remarkably good, and his injuries were not devastating. Not for Mulder’s medical history, anyway.

“We’re five minutes out from the hospital.  Do you want to make the call in to the ER?” one of the medics asked her as he applied the collar.

“Yeah, hand me the radio when you make the connection.  What ambulance is this?  How do you identify yourselves?”

“Just say we’re W-200.”

She was completely professional, without a hint of emotion in her voice as she stated into the headset, “ED, this is Dr. Dana Scully with W-200, five minutes out with a 54-year-old male, chief complaint of crush injuries to the lower left femur and knee.  At least one broken rib on the left side.  Vitals are slowly dropping with BP 95/65, heart rate 110, SpO2 95% with O2 therapy,” she read the monitor, “Have a trauma surgery team standing by; I suspect he may go into shock.”

She heard an affirmative reply and handed the headset back to the medic.  “You got that IV in?” she demanded.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“0.9% Saline drip,” she ordered.  “Let’s try to get that BP back up.”  She unconsciously rubbed Mulder’s shoulder, and felt her stomach twist as she felt little muscle.  He was mostly skin and bones.  “Hang in there, Mulder,” she said softly.

Soon, they pulled into the ambulance bay at the ER.  The doors were swung open, and she hopped out ahead of the gurney.  She gave the run-down to the yellow-gowned ER staff waiting for them at the entrance.  When she was finished, one doctor asked, “Any head trauma?”

“We need a portable CT to confirm, but I don’t think so,” Scully responded.  “His vitals are dropping — we need to find out where the bleed is.”

“Any possible toxins, drugs, any pertinent medications or conditions we should know about, allergies?” the physician on call asked.

“I don’t know about possible toxins — he was kept somewhere and he looks severely malnourished.  Possible Kwashiorkor’s — I felt abdominal distension but saw no signs of a hematoma in that area.  No allergies to medication, no pertinent medical conditions, no current prescription medications.  He’s an FBI agent—he’s my partner,” she added the last briefly, as a last minute thought.

“Blood type?”

“O negative,” Scully answered.

“Closed femur fracture and knee trauma, possible cranial or cervical trauma, possible thoracic trauma.  Let’s get a portable CT and X-ray.  I want a CBC and blood panel, drug screen, BGL reading, abdominal ultrasound.  Call the blood bank; get some O negative up here.  Call Ortho, we need a consult on this leg.  Have trauma surgery standing by in case radiology finds something,” the physician ordered.  “Dr. Scully, you are welcome to stay.  Would you like to stick around or wait in the waiting area?”

“I’ll stay, thank you,” she responded.

“Then you need to gown up, please,” he said with an air of authority and practice that was not overbearing, but definitely let Scully know who was in command of this operation.

She obeyed, and was soon dressed with the appropriate personal protective equipment.

“BP is 90/60, heart rate is 120, SpO2 down to 93%.  Pulse is weak and thready,” a nurse reported.

“Crap.  Where the heck is radiology?  Give him 20 cc’s of Epi,” the physician ordered the nurse. “Switch to positive pressure ventilation.”

They pulled his nonrebreather mask off and applied a bag valve mask instead.  Just then, radiology came in with the portable CT, x-ray, and ultrasound.  The bedside radiographs didn’t take long, and the results were uploaded onto the computer nearby.  Scully’s eyes were glued to each screen as the physician flipped through them and said, “I’m not seeing any cranial or cervical trauma.”

“No, it looks clear,” Scully agreed.

“No apparent hemorrhage in the thoracic cavity. This all looks good to me.”

“What’s that?” the agent asked, and pointed to what she thought looked abnormal.

“It could be a bone fragment, you’re right, but it’s nowhere near the vital organs.  Could have come from the rib fracture.  We’ll engage trauma surgery when they come down here.  Now let’s take a look at that leg — I think we’ll find our bleed there.”

Scully nodded, trying to sound calm as she said, apprehensively, “Probably.”

He switched screens, and scrolled through a few images.  “Okay, definitely a compound, lower shaft, spiral fracture to the left femur.”

“I agree,” Scully stated. “I’m still not seeing a bleed.”

“Let’s switch to contrast…and…yep.  There you have it.” He turned around and asked, “Hey, did the surgical team say they were coming?”

“We paged them,” the nurse said.

“Call again.  This guy needs to get up there ASAP.  The fracture nicked his femoral artery.”

“Vitals are back to 100/65, SpO2 at 96%, heart rate 105,” another nurse reported.

“I’ll take it.  Get me a—”

“Sorry we’re late, what’s the run-down on this patient?” a woman asked as she entered the trauma suite.  She brought with her a small contingent of med students on their surgical rotation.

The physician on call pulled up Mulder’s CT and x-ray images and began giving a history.  He ended with, “Dr. Scully here is his FBI partner, and she’s been lending a hand.”

“This is a patient we immediately book an OR for,” the woman told her students.  “We’re going to make the call up to the floor and have them ready to receive us.  His vitals are stable for the moment but he’s been shocky so we’re going to keep an eye out for that.  Mr. Raju, now that he’s a surgical candidate, what might we want to do to his intravenous fluid intake?”

“Switch him from 0.9% saline to a Ringer’s Lactaid solution?”

“Are you asking me or telling me, Mr. Raju?”

Scully rolled her eyes, unwilling to put up with this delay in Mulder’s care.  “I’ll call up to the OR and let them know,” she offered, but the ER physician was already at the phone.

Despite the fact that it felt like hours to Scully, the surgical team prepped Mulder and brought him up to the OR in a matter of minutes.  She was not invited to scrub in, so she found herself relegated to the waiting room.  If it had seemed like a long wait before, it became an eternity now.  But he was back.  After two years of dreaming of his return, it had finally happened.  And her baby had been returned to her.  And Skinner’s son was back.  And Charlie…

She didn’t know what to think about that.  Who was he?  Was he the same person who had tried to kill thousands of people?  Who had arranged for Mulder’s capture and torture?  Who had done Strughold’s bidding?

She leaned back in the chair, her arms folded, her head against the wall behind her.  She was exhausted.  It didn’t take long before she drifted off.

XXX

“Dana,” Walter’s voice awoke her suddenly, and she sharply inhaled, her eyes darting around in alarm.  “Sorry to startle you.  Are you okay?  Any word on Mulder?”

She looked up at her superior, holding her baby in his arms with Andrew at his side.  “No…,” she answered, and rubbed her eyes.  “No, how long have I been asleep?” she glanced at her phone, but it wasn’t on.  She realized she’d never turned it back on since the hostage situation.

“I’m not sure; we just got here,” he answered, and sat down.  “He’s been sleeping pretty consistently since he reappeared,” he indicated the baby, and handed him to her.

She accepted him readily into her arms, and stared at Skinner’s son.  “Andrew…where were you?  How did Mulder find you?”

“We were held together for the past two years in one of Strughold’s facilities. It was…pretty bad there,” he responded.  “Walter was about to check me into the ER to get an IV — he thinks I’m dehydrated and malnourished.  I wanted to see you first.”

She looked confused.  “Did you say two years?”

“It fits with why you thought he was gone for the past two years,” Skinner offered.  “Obviously in whatever reality they were just in, he was.”  In the Assistant Director’s confusion about this situation, his explanation ended up sounding like one of Yoda’s prophecies to Scully.

“I never said Mulder was gone for two years,” Scully responded, shaking her head. “Did I?  I mean, I have memories of us working cases together.  I remember the past two years.  They happened.  How could Mulder have been…” Her voice trailed off, and she studied Andrew’s figure.  He was severely underweight, just like Mulder.  What if he was telling the truth?  Would Mulder awaken with no memory of the past two years, but instead of the amnesia he had experienced two days ago, he would recall whatever hell Andrew had just been through?

“I’m going to get him down to the ER.  Scully, keep us updated.  Turn your phone on.”

“But what if Strughold—”

“He’s gone,” Andrew promised her.  “Mulder destroyed him.”

There was something about the way he said “destroyed” that made her realize that there truly was no possibility of his return.  He was gone.  He was finally gone.

Skinner and his son stood, though Andrew’s weaker frame nearly stumbled and his father had to catch him.  “Come on, let’s go,” the assistant director ordered, and led the young man away.

“Thank you,” Scully called after him, and he turned and nodded with a brief smile.

As she prepared to continue to endure an endless wait, she turned her gaze down to her sleeping baby.  He had already experienced such a rough start.  They weren’t sure when his birthday was, or if it even existed in this universe, but that didn’t make him any less hers.  Any less theirs. 

Suddenly, her thoughts turned to the little girl that had been there in the warehouse.  Where was she?  She wished she had asked Skinner and Andrew before they left.  The logical answer was that Social Services had been called as soon as the child was medically examined and cleared.  But that wasn’t good enough for Scully.  She pulled her phone out, and turned it on again.  She reflected as the logo spun and the operating system started up that if she could figure out where the girl was before Mulder was out of surgery, she would actually leave the hospital and go to pick her up.  Never before had anything motivated her to abandon her bedside vigil for Mulder.

She looked down again at her son, and a warm feeling blossomed in her chest.  She hadn’t gained just one child over the past twenty-four hours.  She’d gained two.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

EPILOGUE

MULDER AND SCULLY’S DUPLEX

GEORGETOWN, DC

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2016

1100

The doorbell rang, and Mulder arose from the couch.  A Christmas tree adorned their family room, with a little village underneath and a train looping continuously around a track.  A five-year-old girl sat mesmerized, watching it go ‘round and ‘round, her imagination taking her to a faraway land where that little village existed.  Her twenty-month-old brother banged blocks together across the floor, and Mulder stepped over him to get to the door.  The bell rang again.

“Who is it?” Scully asked from her loft study above.  She was reading patient care reports, even though it was her day off.

“Not sure yet,” Mulder answered.  He looked out the peep hole and frowned, but opened the door.  A young-looking man with blonde hair and a cheap suit stood on their porch.  Mulder wondered in annoyance if he had seen the “No Soliciting” sign.  “Can I help you?”

“Agent Mulder—I mean, Mr. Mulder—I’m Agent Clawson with the FBI.”  He showed his badge.  “May I come in?”

“Sure,” Mulder’s reply was just a bit unfriendly, but he did step aside and grant the young man entrance.

“Mr. Mulder, I don’t mean to intrude on your family time on a Sunday, so close to Christmas, so I’ll make my stay brief.  Is there any way Dr. Scully is at home?”

Mulder could feel Scully rolling her eyes on the loft above them.  “Yes,” she nonetheless answered, sparing him the undesirable task of anticipating her response.

“If I could speak to both of you, that’d be great.”

clawson

She descended the stairs, and when she rounded the corner, she spotted little eyes peeking from behind the couch.  “Charlotte, you and Walter keep playing.  We’re going to talk in the kitchen.”

“Okay, Mommy,” the five-year-old answered.

“I’ll keep this brief, I promise,” Clawson said.  He followed Mulder into the kitchen.

“Can we offer you anything?  Water?”

“No, Dr. Scully, I’m fine, thanks.”  With that, the three sat down at the table.  “I’m coming here personally instead of calling or sending an email.  I’d like to request a meeting with the two of you and Assistant Director Skinner.”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other.

He pulled his phone out, and accessed something.  “Two months ago, a couple died when their Ford Fusion crashed into their house.  The thing was, it crashed into the second story, fifteen feet off the ground.  Their backyard is twenty feet long with an eight-foot wall.”  He showed them his phone screen, which displayed a crime scene photo of a black, 2014 Ford Fusion embedded in the second-story rear wall of the family’s home.  “On Thanksgiving Day, a pool appeared in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  Simultaneously, Mr. and Mrs. Roland of Las Vegas awoke to find a giant hole in their backyard.”  He showed them two more pictures, this time of a pool that had seemingly relocated from its suburban location to a much more rural one.  “Two and a half weeks ago, a man rescued his two-year-old from falling four stories from an escalator in Water Tower Plaza in Chicago.  This is security footage, and the speed hasn’t been altered.”  He displayed a video that showed a man levitating, it seemed, to slow his descent as he caught his child in mid-air.

Scully watched Mulder’s expression carefully.  He showed no outward sign of excitement, but she could see a spark in his eye.

“Given the fact that these events have not stopped since you two managed to close the rift in time and space that was causing these events to happen in the first place, Assistant Director Skinner believes he has the evidence necessary to justify re-opening the X-files division.”

“So…what, he wants us back?  Why didn’t he just call?” Mulder asked.  They saw Skinner and Andrew regularly.  They had named their son after him.  They had just seen each other the other day, and he had made no mention of this.  Mulder had to wonder why.

Suddenly, Scully’s phone vibrated.  She turned on the screen and saw a message from Skinner.  ‘Expect an Agent Bryce Clawson.  Eager guy wants to pitch an idea.  Let me know if you hate it, and I’ll make him leave you alone.  He can be trusted.’  She showed it to Mulder, and he smirked.

The man had probably rushed over minutes after getting the OK from Skinner, which the Assistant Director likely gave over the phone, on a Sunday, from home, days before a major holiday.  That would be the only reason the text had arrived after Clawson had already rung the doorbell.

“Mr. Mulder, I’ve been assigned as the lead agent on the X-files, and the expectation is that the division is going to grow.  But I don’t have the expertise I need to truly understand these cases and these phenomena.  I can’t run this division if I don’t understand what I’m looking at.  I spoke with AD Skinner, and he at first said that you two didn’t want to be bothered anymore…but he eventually agreed to a meeting where we would discuss a possible consulting role.  If you two were interested.”

“A consulting role,” Scully repeated.

“Tell me, Clawson, was it?” Mulder asked, and the young man nodded.  “What do you think is causing these phenomena?”

“With the rift closed, I honestly don’t know.  But my first thought would be that the actual closing of the rift might have created a ripple effect in space and time, and if we go looking for them, we’d be able to find more of these events over the past year and a half or so.  Also, there’s the possibility that there’s another rift, at which point the planet might be threatened again by the Colonists.  Even though Strughold was destroyed, there might be others, like the Shapeshifters, for instance, who are unaccounted for.”

The corner of Mulder’s mouth twitched.  This man was well-informed, and obviously was willing to suspend disbelief and consider all possibilities.  Scully knew Mulder’s interest was piqued, but apparently the former agent had one final test.

“I think I have it on pretty good authority that the alien threat is eradicated, at least for a while.  Charlotte, sweetie, come over here, please.”

The little five-year-old happily trotted over, and climbed up on her daddy’s lap.  “Hi,” she greeted Agent Clawson.

“Hi,” their guest drawled, a bit confused.

“Charlotte, do you remember how we talked about the Special Things that happened on the ship, and how we can only talk to certain people about the Special Things?”

She nodded.  “Other people get scared or worried or confused,” she said.

“That’s right,” Mulder encouraged her.  “Agent Clawson is one of the people we can talk to about the Special Things.  He knows most of the story,” he explained, and she grinned in excitement.  “But he doesn’t know what happened to the other aliens after the bad alien died.”

“Oh, I can tell him that,” Charlotte said cheerfully.

“Go ahead.  Tell him what happened.”

“After Daddy made the Bari Trasadi get rid of the bad alien’s ship, the bad man went away to the dark place forever.  He can never get out.  He’s stuck there.  And the other aliens were going to come here, but they only wanted to come here because of the big rip in space.  And since Krycek closed the big rip in space forever, then the other aliens knew they wouldn’t get what they wanted here,” she explained.

“And…what did they want here?” Clawson asked, dumbfounded and incredibly intrigued by this little girl.

“They want to send their ships everywhere.  But they can’t do that if the big rip is gone.”

“Agent Clawson is worried that little rips might bring the aliens back.  What do you think, Charlotte?  Do they want to come back?”

“No, not for little rips,” she said.  “They’re not big enough to do what they wanted.”

“What did they want to do?”

“Take over and kill everyone,” she said simply.  “They wanted to send their ships everyplace.  But if the rips are little, they can’t send their ships through them.  They’ll go someplace else.”

Clawson adjusted his posture on his chair and studied Charlotte’s mesmerizing hazel eyes.  “Can you talk to them, Charlotte?”

She smiled and nodded.  “Yep.  But not unless they’re here.  They’re too far away now.   Walter can, too, but he doesn’t understand what they think yet.”

“Walter…Skinner?”

“No, our son,” Scully said.  She was a little displeased that Mulder thought it prudent to trust this man with such private information about their children.  But, then again, Skinner had vouched for him.

Clawson seemed to consider his next words carefully.  Mulder realized he probably wanted to ask whether Mulder and Scully had these seemingly supernatural powers as well, if both of their children did.  But he thought better of it, and instead asked, “So, will you meet with myself and AD Skinner?”

“When is this meeting?” Scully asked.  “I have a work schedule.”

“Well, it would be at your convenience, but I was thinking about the 23rd or the 24th.”

“You can get your mom to watch the kids,” Mulder suggested.

He’s caught the bug, Scully realized.  She hadn’t seen him so energetic and eager since they retired.  She could hardly say no to that.

At Scully’s somewhat reluctant nod, Clawson stood with a victorious smile.  “Thank you so much for your time.  I’ll set up a Doodle to coordinate schedules and hammer down a time.  Can I get your contact info?”

“Sure, let me know when you’re ready, and then I’ll take yours as well,” Mulder said.  He readily gave away both of their email addresses, and then opened up his address book to create a new contact.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Clawson said, and smiled. “Just pull up your barcode scanner.”  Mulder fumbled for a moment with his menu, finding his barcode scanner.  Clawson held out his phone, and when Mulder scanned the QR code on Clawson’s screen, the young agent’s contact information instantly downloaded into a newly-created contact.  “It’s called BoBL,” he explained.  As they walked to the front door, Clawson said, “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to working with you.”

He stuck out his hand, and Mulder shook it first.  “I’m sure this will be a mutually beneficial relationship.”

“Let’s just take this one step at a time,” Scully responded as she shook his hand, but Mulder knew that tone.  She was already in, too.  “Thanks for coming.  We’ll see you in a few days.”

When he left, Mulder looked to Scully, and she simply laughed.  “Mulder, you look like a kid in a pet shop.”

“Can we keep him, Scully?  Can we, can we, please?” he joked.

She rolled her eyes.  “I have a job.  I can’t consult for the FBI and work a 10 hour shift five days a week.”

He took her hand, and led her into the family room.  Charlotte walked alongside them, their thoughts enough to keep her interested and quiet while they spoke.  It was one benefit to having a semi-telepathic child.  She had little use for television when her parents’ emotions and the occasional errant thought provided hours of entertainment.  She sat on the family room floor, cross-legged, and watched them like most children watched cartoons.

“Scully, since we retired…have you been happy?  Really happy?”

“No, not like before,” Charlotte answered for her, and Scully turned to her five-year-old.

“What did we talk about?” her mother scolded.

“Oops.  I’m sorry, Mommy.  I can listen but not answer for you.”

“If you can’t, then you’ll go to your room so we can’t hear your answers and we can have a real conversation.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mommy,” she said, and sat on her hands.

Mulder smirked.  “The kid speaks the truth.”

Scully sighed.

“What’s making you reluctant?” he asked her, and took her hand.  “I want what you want.  But you have to explain to me why you aren’t jumping at this chance.  I thought we retired because there were no more X-files.”

“Mulder, we retired because we had an infant and a four-year-old overnight.  And now we have a toddler and a five-year-old.  It’s not that much different.”

“No,” he agreed.  “But…”

“You’ve never been satisfied,” she answered for him.

“No — that isn’t the right word.  I’ve never been…intrigued.  Scully…” he paused, mulling his next words carefully.  Charlotte sat impatiently, rocking back and forth and fidgeting.  Walter continued to construct a tower of blocks near the Christmas tree, oblivious to the conversation.

“I was lost for two years.  I wasn’t, but I was.  Then, I came back and everything was different. My entire life’s work — our life’s work — was done.  I have more now than I ever thought I could have.  I’m the richest man alive.  I just…I want to be intellectually stimulated.  I want a puzzle to figure out.  And…I think you want that, too.”

She studied his eyes.  Mulder’s experiences from 2013-2015 were a bit of a mystery.  He remembered both realities — both the memories he’d lost for a time, of working cases with Scully, and continuing normal life, and the memory of being tortured for two straight years.  His body bore the marks of that harsher reality, suffering significant malnourishment.  But no one recalled his disappearance except for Andrew.

Even in the past year and a half, Mulder had remained a man caught between two worlds.  Feeling he should continue his work, when there was no work to continue.  Being forced to transition to being a father overnight was taxing.  Despite his infinite love for his children, there were days when Scully could tell he was really struggling with not having somewhere to go in the morning.

And now, the opportunity to fix that deficit had fallen right onto their lap.  What was holding Scully back?  She even had to ask herself that question.

“She’s afraid you’ll get hurt, Daddy!” Charlotte blurted out impatiently, and then immediately looked like she had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.  “Sorry!  I’m sorry!  I’ll go up to my room.”  She scurried up the stairs.

Scully let out an exhausted and somewhat embarrassed chuckle.

“You know I’m past the age limit for field agents.  If anything, they’d send you out.”

She nodded.

“I’m going to be careful.  I promise.”

With a laugh, she rebutted, “You’ve said that before.”

He simply smirked.

“Mulder…it’s not just a fear that you’ll get hurt…” she glanced over at Walter.  “If we do this, they’ll become targets, too.”

“I doubt it, with Strughold out of the picture.”

“But Krycek isn’t.  And neither is Spender,” she countered.  “And chances are, they’re bored in retirement, too.”

He laughed at that.

“When he was taken, it was like a piece of me went with him.  I didn’t even have proof that he was mine, but I knew, and his loss was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced.  If he hadn’t sent himself back, I know I wouldn’t be the same, Mulder.”

Charlotte had told them the baby was lost in space and time when Mulder closed the rift, instead of being sent back with everyone else.  He had found his own way back, through an innate “scent,” per se, of Scully’s presence.  He had found her as a single pinprick of light in an infinite expanse of darkness, and he had used his ability to send himself back into her arms.

Mulder understood her worry that something could forcibly take these two precious children from them.  And they were worth a lot more than his sense of intrigue.  “I think they’ll be safe,” he told her.

“How can you say that?” she argued.  “You have no idea what Krycek or Spender might try to do—”

“For what purpose?  Strughold’s dead.  The galactic power struggle is over.  All that’s left is…science.”

He purposely chose to characterize it as something that fascinated her.  She knew it, and she smiled in response.  “Okay, Mulder.” She took his hands in hers.  “Let’s keep searching.  Let’s keep looking for answers.  Let’s find the truth.  Together.”

He grinned, and pulled her into a hug.  Then, with a boyish enthusiasm, he whispered in her ear, “The Truth is Out There.”

17-ending

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Slainte

Slainte

SLANTE’

By Martin Ross & StarfleetOfficer1

Category: Casefile; humor.

Rating: R for language, graphic descriptions

E-mail: rossprag@fgi.net

Three dead mobsters, three impossible crimes, an ex-genie, and a human luck magnet. When Mulder and Scully luck onto the case, they learn to be careful what they wish for.

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Ballou’s

Chicago, Illinois

1:23 a.m.

It happened as Terry Fitzcarren was about to turn into Ballou’s for the evening’s final brew.

Initially, Terry thought he’d been blindsided. Stars had blossomed in his head, like they had after that piece of low Irish shit Joe Hannahan kicked him upside the skull with those heavy biker boots he wore to look macho. All because Terry’d been caught putting it to Joe’s little sister, what’s-her-name. But here, Terry had felt no collision of hardened, steel-reinforced leather against his temple, no jaw-slamming jolt as baseball bat or tire iron encountered tissue and bone.

Then there was the blinding light. Terry had heard of folks who’d seen such a light as they hovered between life and death, had listened vaguely to the priests yammer on about the illuminating glory of God. Long before he could legally buy his first pint, Terry had known the Miranda-Escobedo warning far better than The Lord’s Prayer or his Hail Mary’s. He discounted the possibility St. Peter was awaiting him with a Harp’s.

Even if he believed in such things as angels that looked like Roma Downey (like to polish her halo, mused Terry, whose only contact with angels was semi-comatose and out of remote range in front of the Hallmark Channel), Ellen Fitzcarren’s youngest long since had recognized any posthumous trip he was taking was going to be straight to the furnace room.

Terry’s eyes began to clear, and he realized he was standing in the middle of some field, maybe downstate, some freakin’ cornfield or whatever the hell they grew out in Redneckville. They must’ve hit me real good to get me from the edge of the Loop all the way out to the sticks without me coming to, he reflected, surveying the scenery around him. The trees looked funny; the air was strange, made him feel dizzy.

Terry felt something scurry over his soft leather wop loafer, which by the way had been pretty effed-up by the boggy soil on which he’d been standing. He looked down, yelped, and jumped about six times higher than he’d ever managed in that prick Coach Jacobs’ eighth grade P.E. class. The thing that had trespassed on Terry’s shoe scuttled off under a bush that didn’t look like nothing ever grew in the old neighborhood.

“Fuckin’ shit,” Terry breathed, checking all around him for more of the crab-sized cock-a-roaches. They must’ve taken him somewhere like Florida or California or some other primitive hellhole. It was kind of hot, he thought, and just like that, a cool shadow fell over the young man.

He glanced up at the too-blue sky to see if some rain was moving in. That would seriously fuck up his new shoes.

Instead of clouds, however, Terry Fitzcarren saw teeth, lots of them, and the wet, black hole behind them…

“Fuckin’ shit,” Terry reiterated. Considering his blood alcohol count, it was a reasonably eloquent assessment.

Congo Region

Africa

2:12 p.m. the following day

Sir Kenneth Rees-Petrie nearly ran his Rover into the corner anchor of the main research tent, then barely remembered to put the battered vehicle into park. He barked his chin on said stake as he stumbled toward the open flap.

Meadors and the students were huddled around the large worktable at the tent’s center, watching intently as D’Onofrio, one of the Americans hired under the Royal Academy grant, scraped and brushed at the domed object before him.

“This is it?” Rees-Petrie rasped, nudging his way through the group. No one asked how his permit negotiations had gone at the capital, how the turbulent plane trip back to camp had been. For once, the knighted and eccentrically garrulous paleontologist wasn’t center stage, and for once, he didn’t care. “You found this where now?”

“Grid 12-D,” Meadors murmured, as if afraid to disturb the object before him. “Where we uncovered the Megalosaurus jawbone.”

Rees-Petrie reached for the worktable to steady himself. “That can’t conceivably be–”

“But it is,” stated D’Onofrio, who’d never once allowed the scientist to finish a sentence, and who reveled in some “musical” group misspelled Phish. “And there was no sign of geological shift. You carbon date this fucker, I’m betting he’s gonna match the jawbone. And from the dinosaur shit we found in the vicinity and the scratches I’ve found on the temples, he might’ve been killed by the same jawbone.”

Rees-Petrie was too stunned either to chide D’Onofrio for his utterly inexcusable language or his identification of coprolites as “dinosaur shit.” “This is entirely insane. It not only would predate Leakey’s findings by eons, but it defies all known theories of saurian and mammalian evolution.” The scientist stopped dead and leaned in, coming nearly nose-to-occipital with his crew’s find. “Bloody hell. This is Homo sapiens.”

D’Onofrio grinned as Meadors frowned anxiously. “That’s why we didn’t dare give you details over the radio, Kenny. You can even see rudimentary evidence of modern dental work. But this skull undeniably came from the same Jurassic strata as the Megalosaurus remains.”

“Show him the other,” urged D’Onofrio, like some oversized, shaggy five-year-old playing doctor. “You are gonna fucking LOVE this.”

Rees-Petrie finally glared disapproval at his student, but he fell back into a trance as Meadors unwrapped a previously ignored parcel a few inches from the human skull which had rested impossibly for hundreds of centuries under the African topography.

It was a small metal disk, in remarkably good shape and clearly machine-tooled. Rees-Petrie gawped. “No, you didn’t find this…”

“Right by the skull,” D’Onofrio crowed. “It’s a watch – I mean, the back of a watch. I’d say solid gold. Maybe a Rolodex. Get it under the lamp – here, you’ll need a magnifier.”

Rees-Petrie snatched the glass from the impertinent Yank and squinted at the hieroglyphics inscribed on the back of the acid-cleaned disk.

“To Terence Fitzcarren, with, with…” the paleontologist recited, awestruck.

“I think it’s ‘love,’” Meadors ventured. “’With love and best wishes from Uncle Liam.’ Kenneth? Kenneth, you don’t look at all well.”

“He’s fucking stroking out,” D’Onofrio yelled, and the last terrifying sight Rees-Petrie saw before darkness descended was the hairy giant lunging to perform CPR…

The Breath of Cork

Chicago, IL

10:12 a.m. two weeks later

“Shit!”

Jenn glanced up warily almost as the obscenity escaped her lips. She gasped the oath’s twin blasphemy — Cragan O’Mara was grinning at her from his booth under the Guinness mirror. He’d finished his huge Irish breakfast — hard to believe such the old pixie could put away such a feast before noon, harder still to conceive of the octogenarian surviving on a daily diet of Irish bacon, fried eggs, grease-bloated black-and-tan puddings, and plumply lethal sausage links. Actually, Jenn was uncertain eightysomething might not be on the shy side. She wouldn’t have been surprised to find he’d shared a pint or two with the young James Joyce. Or started the Potato Famine his own self with a nod of his liver-spotted brow.

“And what would so dismay such a lovely lass as yourself in the dawning hours of such a fine day?” O’Mara murmured, his Trib limp in his leathery claws. His dialogue was straight out of ‘40s-era Hollywood, too. B’gosh and begorrah and gimme an effing break, Jenn moaned silently.

“Nah, just all the crap in the news today,” she smiled in a valiant attempt at nonchalance. “You know, same old same old.”

To her true dismay, the old “gent” rose and hobbled across the battered planks to the bar. Jenn found herself transfixed: He’d managed somehow to maintain eye contact the entire time, like an ancient mongoose hypnotizing a cobra. Except he was the cobra, too. A cobra hypnotizing a deer in the headlights? Formulating metaphors had never been Jenn’s strongest point. She cursed Kelli, who’d asked Jenn to sub a couple mornings so she could hit Atlantic City with her latest slab of man-beef. Cragan O’Mara was always Ballou’s solitary customer before the 11 a.m. barflies started drifting in.

“And so what is distressing me dear girl this a.m.?” Yellow-nailed fingers turned the folded Sun-Times she’d spread on the bartop. “Ah yes, I saw something about this. I wonder if this fella’s any kin to our poor absent Terry.” O’Mara chuckled, like a crow pondering a fresh strip of rodent carrion. “A curious affair, all right. But I’d scarcely imagine this should be anything to bother your pretty head about, Jenn, me dear.”

Something seemed to pass through his mineral eyes, made them brighter, sharper. Jenn unconsciously backed a step, banging her tailbone against a Harp tap. Then, it all fell into place as she recalled a certain last call a few weeks before.

“Just got me thinking about Terry, is all.” Jenn shrugged, “You know, how he just vanished without a trace. One of the guys said he saw him outside, you know, outside the bar, the night before he went missing.”

“And what would you make of that, dear girl?” O’Mara inquired, eyes dancing. “No doubt ran into one of his crowd. Or, more’s the like, ran afoul. Terence McCarren was always a bad sort, rough piece of work. Fine young gal like yourself shouldn’t concern herself about such a bad penny. Sure, and he’ll show up in some form or another.”

“Sure,” Jenn stammered.

O’Mara squinted for a moment, the grin vanishing. Then he cackled; Jenn jumped. “All right then. Guess I’ll be off with myself. Give Timmy my regards. And may the–”

“Bye, Mr. O’Mara,” Jenn interrupted, blithely. “Take care.”

The elfin Irishman nodded, smiling now in an altogether different manner. “Right. Right. Top of the morning.”

As soon as O’Mara shut the sun and the Tuesday morning traffic back outside, Jenn fumbled her Samsung from her bag under the bar. She nearly dropped the cheap phone in the ice bin before she could punch in the D.C. area code.

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Washington, D.C.

2 p.m.

“You must’ve read about the archeological find a couple weeks back in Africa. The body, the watch?”

Scully nodded cautiously. Terry Fitzcarren had been a low-echelon Chicago hood and enforcer, nephew of Liam Fitzcarren, head of Chicago’s Irish mob. He’d been reported missing the night after he’d been seen celebrating some suspiciously cryptic accomplishment, probably related to his uncle’s organization.

Then he turns up the next day under several layers of dirt and rock, known associates T. Rex and Brachiosaurus. Jurassic Park IV: Married to the Mob. It had been all over the papers, the media alternately alleging a colossal scientific fraud (Scully’s pet theory), gross incompetence (Oops, misplaced my mobster), or a massive criminal conspiracy (Hey pal, how’d you like to be sleeping with the Icthyosaurs).

Scully chased thoughts of mobsters and monsters from her mind. Mulder was sniffing at the edge of a new case just as she was trying to clear the decks for the reunion. Aunt Deborah’d guilted her into this Joycean trek into the Great Midwest to reconnect with a bunch of third-degree relatives Scully recalled dimly at best.

Wait. Chicago. Had Scully not missed her morning Americano Grande because of Mulder’s dallying, the dawn would have come earlier.

“Mulder,” she murmured frostily. “You are not leaving me alone with these people to go chasing sociopathic hoodlums, no matter how tempting.”

“Well, somehow, because this lad was with one of the Chitown outfits, Organized Crime got stuck with the case,” Mulder continued. “Case, ha. Closest thing we’ve got to a suspect is Fitzcarren had a run-in with one of Tony Caprano’s boys a month or so ago. You remember, big player in the western burbs?”

“Doesn’t sound like Caprano’s style, though,” Scully frowned. “Doesn’t sound like anyone’s style. And ‘we’ don’t have a case.”

“Which is what brings us to today’s presentation,” Mulder said hopefully.

“We have a 4:45 flight. And why can’t you learn PowerPoint, like everyone else?”

“When Gates gets the bugs out. See, there’re two things the press doesn’t know. Number one, the archaeological team in the Congo found some gouges in Fitzcarren’s ribs that seem to indicate…”

“Yes?”

“Ah, that Fitzcarren was gnawed to death by something big – bigger than anything walking around either Michigan Avenue or the Congo, except maybe Rosie O’Donnell.”

Scully’s brows rose. “Number two?” she asked slowly.

Mulder chewed at the inside of his cheek. “Well, there may be a couple of related homicides.”

“Related to this?” his partner asked, incredulously. “How?”

“Hold onto your popcorn,” Mulder breathed, fooling with switches.

**

“Richard ‘The Swordfish’ Fraternelli,” Mulder narrated as the first slide displayed a man. Or what had been one, Scully observed, grimacing. Looked more like Richard “The Flounder.” “He was one of Caprano’s collectors, about as low on the totem pole as you can get. He was supposed to meet some of the boys in Flatbush for dinner, wound up falling in the middle of the street in front of the restaurant, punched a three-foot-deep hole in the asphalt. Nothing on the block was more than four stories, and the coroner insists Fraternelli fell from a height of at least 30,000 feet. So we start looking for a helicopter, maybe one of the competing families wants to send a message to Tony, air mail. It was easy to find out – you know how tight they’re watching big-city airspace after 9-11. No chopper, no Cessna, no ultralights, not even any kids flying a kite in the area.”

Mulder clicked the projector remote. Another obviously mobbed-up man appeared onscreen, festooned with too much gold jewelry and wearing an expensive polo shirt and khakis. A tall drink was on the patio table next to the man’s chaise lounge. The man’s face looked like a Texas beef brisket about halfway through the grilling process.

“Jesus,” Scully exhaled. “He looks like he lost three rounds with a Radar Range.”

“Ramon DeColta, runner for one of the Venezuelan cocaine families, runs the Cook County franchise. His brains were cooked inside his skull. Eyeballs were like a couple of Swedish meatballs. And get this. We asked maybe did somebody do a job on him with a blowtorch, maybe one of those gas heat blowers. M.E. says no, this was radiation.”

“Nuclear?”

Mulder smiled sadly and hopelessly. “Solar, Scully. Solar.”

“What the hell—”

“Probably what he said, too,” Mulder empathized.

“Mulder, this is fascinating – I won’t deny your adolescent wonder. However, we are officially on P.T. in roughly three hours. In 24 hours, we will be in the warm bosom of Clan Scully – you no doubt playing World of Warcraft with the kids, me being interrogated about why you and I haven’t enjoyed the sacred sacrament and started churning out mini-Mulders. I won’t candy-coat it: It will be 72 hours of Gaelic-American purgatory, and if we escape with our souls intact, we will be all the stronger for it. But you will stay away from all mobsters – Irish or Italian – and certainly from Venezuelian drug kingpins. My Great-Uncle Francis should be grim and frightening enough for you. Is this registering, Mulder?”

Mulder nodded as he flourished a pink phone slip. “And then there’s this. It came in while you were with Skinner. Remember that case down in Florida? The Great Mouthless Storage Manager, your invisible slacker?”

Scully’s pale Irish skin lightened a shade. “No.”

Mulder grinned, folding his arms and nodding sharply with a blink. “Seems our favorite ex-djinn’s working a tap in Terry Fitzcarren’s former stomping grounds. She thinks she may know what happened to these people. I guess even after you lose the touch, you never lose the Eye.”

“Mulder, please. . .”

“It’s like kismet, fate, Scully. C’mon, lass; come leprechaun-hunting with me.”

O’Hare International Airport

Chicago

11: 10 p.m.

“I don’t want a pickup,” Scully said through her teeth for the fifth time. “I don’t like pickups, I can’t parallel park a pickup, I don’t want to haul some monster truck through Chicago rush hour traffic.”

The girl hadn’t yet broken contact with her computer screen. “You know, you’re really getting a great deal on the Sonora,” the clerk droned in a thick Chicago accent. “Normally, you’d haveta pay an extra $20 a day, but we got this special runnin’…”

“You’re not listening,” Scully growled, glaring at Mulder peering at the parade of bags, totes, and trucks circling the carousels. “I don’t want a Sonora.” She flopped her ID on the counter, as she had at Reagan when the airline tried to bump her. “I was supposed to get a Bureau car, but they’re all booked up, so I need a nice economy sedan, a Fusion, even a Yugo, if you have one. But I don’t want a pickup.”

The clerk’s fingers had been playing her keyboard during his entire discourse. Now she looked up for the first time with a beaming smile. “Jesus, you’re in luck. We gotta Dodge Grand Caravan.”

Scully’s right hand twitched toward her jacket, where her shoulder holster would’ve been if she hadn’t packed it.

“You want the insurance?” the clerk inquired.

Scully shook her head wearily. “I feel lucky.”

**

“Lemme get this straight,” Scully said slowly. “You gave away our room?”

“Nooo,” the impeccably dressed desk clerk responded patiently. “You failed to request a late check-in, and we have four, no, five, major conventions in this borough alone this week.”

Mulder had disappeared seconds after Scully queued up at the registration desk. “I have a confirmation number,” Scully complained. “I’m FBI, you’ve got that on your computer.”

“I sympathize,” the balding young man offered, a sympathetic look momentarily flitting across his pink face. “However, you failed to request a late check-in, and we were forced to offer your room to someone else.”

She pursed her lips momentarily before asking testily, “What else do you have? I just need a place to crash. Anything.”

“Well, we have one VIP suite open, but of course…”

“I’ll take it.”

“But it’s $350 a night.”

“Gimme the key.” Years of chasing other-dimensional entities and shape-shifting aliens and flukemen or man-flukes or whatever had rendered Scully immune to Bureau bean counters. And after said years of mind-bendingly unusual travel expenses, she doubted Skinner would lean too hard on her about Mulder raiding the hotel’s minibar and watching a few naughty nurse movies on Spectravision.

“But, ma’am, we like to keep the VIP suites open for, well, visiting VIPs…”

“How about VAPs?” Scully asked with a dangerous smile.

“What?”

“Very Armed People? Do you have a policy for them?”

“Need any help with your bags?”

“They got lost at the airport,” Scully informed him, slumping against the desk. “Just give me a 5 a.m. wake-up call.”

“Will do.” A phone warbled at the clerk’s elbow. He grabbed the handset. “Yeah? Oh…Oh. Oh, my. Yeah. Do that.” The desk clerk cradled the phone and looked nervously at the disheveled agent. “You have a Dodge Grand Caravan? It seems the attendant had a little accident in the parking garage. You know, those things are terrible for getting around in The Loop.”

“All set?” Mulder chirped as Scully’s trigger finger trembled. “I made a couple calls, and we’re all set for a meeting with the departed Mr. Fitzcarren’s Uncle Liam three hours before we have to be at Scullyfest 2011. Luck of the Irish, huh?”

“Erin go eff yourself,” Scully muttered, reaching for a luggage handle.

Chicago

9:21 a.m.

“Accommodations OK, guys?” Det. First Class Danny von Flanagan asked as they cruised past a seemingly interminable string of row houses, pizzerias, delis, groceries, industrial supply houses, and more row houses.

“Yeah, fantastic,” Mulder beamed. “They screwed up and we scored the Donny Trump suite. Little late night partying going on next door, but Scully straightened ‘em out. You know, after awhile. Right, Stallone?”

“Huh?” Scully grunted, head snapping up. “So what do we know about this McCarren?”

Von Flanagan shook his head. “Liam’s a smart one – hides under a few dozen layers of phony paper, cardboard businesses, straw men, and an Irish brogue so thick he could serve it up hot with some soda bread and green beer. He’s fourth generation Chicagoan, so when he’s alone, he probably sounds more like Elliott Ness than Father Flanagan, but he likes the image of a lovable but dangerous character.

“Nephew Terry settled for dangerous. Five assaults, two with intent, on his sheet, all kicked by his uncle and the family consigliere, a sharp old coot who’s been with the family since Eisenhower. Stupid kid, always wanted to throw gas on the fire. Not surprising he bought it young.”

“Little more surprising he bought it getting mauled by Barney’s tougher cousin,” Mulder suggested.

“Hmm,” von Flanagan murmured.

**

The Breath of Cork, a brick-fronted pub wedged between a women’s boutique and an insurance office, was Liam Fitzcarren’s base of operations. The almost impossibly deep room beyond the solid wood door was dark, comfortable, and permeated not unpleasantly with the smell of yeast, hops, and whiskey. Though it was early in the morning, a couple of guys in street department coveralls hurled darts and traded obscene observations about an unidentified female coworker.

Liam Fitzcarren was ensconced in a rear booth, a steaming cup of black coffee sending plumes to the stamped tin ceiling. On the bench across from him was an ancient man, bushy white hair neatly combed in waves, eyebrows like restless wooly worms, an expensive but vintage three-piece suit draping smoothly over his skeletal shoulders.

“My sympathies on your nephew’s death,” von Flanagan offered with nary a breath of irony, scooting in next to the old man.

Liam nodded, a small smile on his face. “Ah, that’s very kind of you, Detective. What I like about the boy – we may not often see eye to eye, but always a gentleman, he.”

The senior man smiled in kind.

“Mr. Fitzcarren, Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, from D.C. They investigate, um, unusual cases.”

Liam glanced over and extended a clean and exquisitely manicured hand. Mulder pumped it once. “And an unusual case it is, too, eh?”

“That’s an understatement,” Mulder said neutrally. He glanced at the old man. “And you are…?”

The gentleman smiled, the Mona Lisa number. “Cragan O’Mara, sir. A pleasure, I’m certain. I’m what you might call the family retainer, though I’m quite afraid I don’t retain as much as I used to.”

Von Flanagan snorted cheerfully. “Stow the blarney, Cragan. Mr. O’Mara here is either one of the most skilled attorneys in the five boroughs, or one of the luckiest.”

“I’d prefer to believe the former, but my honor forces me to confess to the latter,” O’Mara chuckled.

It was an immodest pass at modesty, but it was the elderly lawyer’s odd tone that brought Scully to attention.

“So,” Fitzcarren interjected, “I’m always happy to help my federal government in time of need, especially if we can find the son-of-a-bitch killed poor Terry.”

“You told Homicide the last you saw your nephew was right here, night he disappeared,” von Flanagan said, happy to be done with the amenities.

“That’s correct. My associates and I were celebrating a legal victory.”

“Any problems? Arguments between your nephew and anybody?”

Fitzcarren shook his head impatiently. “I’m sure you’ve already had a look at Terry’s sheet, and you know the boy has a touch of Irish temper.”

Von Flanagan’s eyebrows rose. “You’re a master of understatement today.”

Fitzcarren’s eyes narrowed, and Scully started to cough, but Cragan O’Mara cackled. “Come now, Liam. You and I both know the boy was no candidate for sainthood or even altar boy. But no, Detective, the evening proceeded without major conflict.”

“Major conflict?” Mulder inquired.

O’Mara’s blue eyes twinkled, and the agent could swear they became clearer. “What a perceptive fellow, this one. All right, Agent, you caught me in a sloppily constructed web of mendacity. The boy had a mouth on him, and little respect for his elders or betters. Liam, unclench that granite chin of yours. Friends, family, and associates alike, we’d come to ignore young Terry’s excesses. He was going a bit heavy on his drink, and one of the boys observed as how his consumption might lead him to an early demise. Terry took personal umbrage at this, but beyond a little bluster and crowing, no physical harm came to either party.”

“And who was the other party?” Scully asked blankly.

“That would be me, as a matter of fact,” O’Mara smiled. “I suppose I should know better than to try to staunch the foolish fervor of the young.”

“You think Cragan here bludgeoned Terry, booked the two of ‘em on a flight to darkest Africa, and put him to sleep with the dinosaurs?” Fitzcarren sneered. “And in case you should, I’ve got a dozen men plus William at the bar will tell you Cragan was with us ‘til the joint closed.”

“Nobody’s accusing anybody,” von Flanagan assured the mobster. “We want what you want, Liam – the guy that killed your nephew. You know of anyone in any of the other families that would have a reason to kill Terry?”

“Those fuck–, pardon my French, Johnny,” Fitzcarren said. “Those Capranos – you know the boy had a run-in with one of those hoodlums a few years back.”

Mulder suppressed a smile at the irony of Fitzcarren’s indictment. “You know Richard Fraternelli? Used to work for the Caprano organization?”

“Guy ripped a hole in the sidewalk in front of that eye-talian restaurant? Yeah, the arrogant smartass actually came in here looking for a job after Tony Caprano let him go. I told him politely to perform an unnatural act upon himself.”

“I was a bit more circumspect,” O’Mara added, unnecessarily. Almost purposefully unnecessarily, Scully thought.

Mulder persisted. “Ramon DeColta?”

Fitzcarren’s eyes flicked to his attorney, who sat smiling and motionless, and shook his head. Must’ve had business dealings, Scully concluded. But how would Fitzcarren jockey DeColta under a giant magnifying glass, like an ant ready for broiling?

“I’m afraid you’ve exhausted my supply of insight,” Fitzcarren said, rising. “Cragan and I have a meeting down at City Hall, a zoning issue, so we’ll say our goodbyes now. You want, William will set you up. My tab, William,” the mobster shouted to the bar as O’Mara slid carefully from the booth. The attorney’s expensive wingtips gleamed in contrast to his vintage suit and the surroundings.

“You mind if we ask William a few questions?” Mulder asked.

Fitzcarren grinned sadly. “Last I knew, William answers questions without authorization from myself or any other man. William, you help these fellows as a favor to Terry, hear? Anything you remember, right?”

The burly bartender nodded once. Fitzcarren nodded with finality, O’Mara with amiable courtesy, and von Flanagan with confusion. Mulder blinked his farewell.

“May you find what you’re looking for, and may it be what you seek, Agent Mulder,” O’Mara murmured. The crime boss and the lawyer took their leave, opening a blinding hole of outdoor light that sealed tight on their heels.

“What was that, Mulder?” von Flanagan demanded. “It was almost like the old man was trying to make a point. To you. And did you have to come on so strong with Fitzcarren? I have to keep my relationships solid in this town.”

“Let’s talk to the barkeep,” Mulder suggested, striding to the long expanse of dark wood. William placed a white towel and a newly polished stein on the bar. He looked to von Flanagan as if he’d been stamped out of that mold all Chicago bartenders used to pop out of before mixing frozen, syrupy cocktails had become the trend. “William…?”

“Healy,” he said. “Wha’ can I help you with?”

“The night Terry Fitzcarren disappeared, was there any trouble?”

“’Bout like Mr. Fitzcarren said,” Healy murmured. He smiled slightly. “Gotta keep your ears open and your mouth shut, kinda heavy clientele we get here. Terry always went through his belligerent drunk stage early in the evening, and if he didn’t get socked, or he didn’t sock somebody, or one a’ Mr. Fitzcarren’s boys didn’t sock somebody for him, Terry’d usually mellow into a whiny mope by ten or so. How his uncle won’t trust him with more of the business, how the chicks today are all lezzies ‘cause he can’t get laid, how the world’s just generally screwin’ him over.”

“Didn’t like him much, huh?” von Flanagan asked.

William shrugged. “You make your own luck, ‘cept Terry never wanted to waste the energy to do it. That night, he’d got all pissed off ‘cause one of the guys was ragging him how he was gonna drink and smoke himself into a early grave. He starts rantin’ and waving his arms, tellin’ everybody how he’s gonna outlive us all. The old man finally shut him up.”

“Cragan?”

“Yeah, he just smiles at Terry, that shit-eatin’ smile he’s got, and says, ‘May you live to be the oldest man in this room.’ He’s always spoutin’ some corny old Irish toast or blessing or some such crap. Well, Terry didn’t have enough brain cells left by that point to come up with anything, so he just staggered out.” William chuckled at the memory.

“Do you remember the night Richard Fraternelli came in here?” Mulder changed tracks.

William frowned for a second. “Didn’t get his name, but that must’ve been the Italian guy came in. See, we usually don’t get anybody in here from any farther south than Oak Lawn, so he stood out. Plus, he got a little, ah, loud. Seems he blamed some falling out he’d had with his boss on Mr. Fitzcarren.”

Looking for a job, Scully reflected. “Did it get physical?”

“Nah, the guy was a little shit-faced, but he knew not to fuck with Mr. Fitzcarren or the boys. He started talking kinda loud, like you do when you wanna punch somebody but you know better? Well, Mr. Fitzcarren just talked him down quiet-like, and suggested he go home to dry out. Even asked if I’d call the guy a cab, and Cragan sent him on his way with some more genuine Irish folk shit.”

“OK. Ramon DeColta.”

William didn’t seem to lose his composure, but his eyes shut down. “Nah, don’t ring a bell.”

“Doesn’t ring a bell, huh?” Mulder smiled. “I’d have thought DeColta would’ve ‘stood out.’”

“Mighta been off that night,” the bartender suggested. “Yeah, Jen, she was subbing for me.”

“Yeah. Look, William, I’m not going to start talking about bringing in health inspectors and checking to see if your license covers after-hours, ‘cause I’m sure you or Fitzcarren or whoever’s paid off the appropriate municipal officials,” von Flanagan said pleasantly but purposefully. “But if I start looking at this bar, your ownership papers, any illegal activity taking place on these premises, and Mr. Fitzcarren finds out it was you who brought all this federal heat down on him, I don’t think he’s going to bring out the good whiskey for your wake.” He paused. “We’re not looking to burn Fitzcarren,” he added, swallowing a “for now.” “We just want to know why DeColta came in here.”

William paused a beat, and then sighed. “OK, but you gotta keep this confidential. All I’m gonna say is DeColta and Mr. Fitzcarren were discussing a business deal, and Mr. Fitzcarren didn’t like DeColta’s terms. There were a few what-you-call ‘veiled threats’, and DeColta and his guys left. No guns, no problems, OK? That’s it.”

Mulder waited, but William had turned into a Stonehenge lawn ornament. “OK,” the agent said, pushing off the bar. von Flanagan sprinted after him into the sunlight, only to find him standing on the sidewalk, transfixed. Scully exited shortly thereafter.

“Mulder?” she inquired, walking up to him after a quick glance at von Flanagan. “Hey, you all right?”

“Ah, I was just thinking about the ‘killings,’ if that’s what we want to call them.”

Von Flanatan gave him a skeptical look. “Jesus, Mulder, you’ve been acting spooky ever since we left headquarters.”

“I’m fine,” Mulder smiled, half at the old nickname. “Look, the two things the victims have in common is Liam Fitzcarren and this bar. But what could that mean? I mean, Terry was part of the organization, part of the family. And how did a bunch of mobsters pull off three such bizarro murders? I’m sure they’ve got the money, but how do you hire the muscle to stick a giant, seemingly extinct carnivore on one man, drop a second one on the street out of thin air, and fry a third with solar radiation?”

He looked over at von Flanagan, who was staring incredulously at him. “Unless that’s how you Windy City guys roll,” Mulder added with a lazy grin.

Cicero, Illinois

10:17 a.m.

“He did something to him, that mick flauta de hijo,” Rosarita DeColta spat as she set a plate of sugar-dusted pastries before the agents and quickly crossed herself. “I just know it. Those criminals killed my Ramon.”

Standing in an apron in the spacious living room of her son’s luxuriously ill-gotten home, wearing a doubtlessly extravagant diamond necklace and a designer housedress, Ramon DeColta’s mother seemed unaware of the irony of her indictment of the Fitzcarrens. The universal battle cry of the doting mother – “He’s a good boy.”

“How do you think they might’ve done that?” Scully asked patiently.

“How do I know?” the fashionable, gray-haired senora snapped. “Prob’ly one of those satellite laser beams I seen on the TV. Those Fitzcarrens, they got loads of money, the Capranos, too. Everybody’s getting’ all high-tech, with the Internet and the cell phones and the fax machines. Maybe they figure it’s cheaper just to buy some surplus killer satellite than to pay out all that money on hitmen.”

“Uh, we’ll look into that,” Mulder suggested.

Rosarito’s eyes narrowed. “You think I’m muy loco , a little crazy, huh? Well, let me tell you, Mr. Bigshot Federal Cop, you grow up like I did in one of the villages a thousand miles from the nearest indoor bathroom, you’d know there are loco things going on around us every day you can’t even see if you had Superman’s x-ray glasses…”

Mulder started to correct her on the superheroic inaccuracy, but she was on a roll.

“My papa, he saw the chupacabra at our window one night, waiting to snatch my sister from her bed. One time, I saw my dead uncle digging in our garden – just like that boy in the movie.” She crossed herself once more, whether for the dead uncle, herself, or Haley Joel Osment, Mulder didn’t know.

“You, ah, found the body, right?” he ventured.

Rosarita turned gray and back to Maybelline pink. “It was as if they’d barbecued him alive. I could hear his skin crackling, like frying meat. And he just kept screaming, as if the devil himself would take him. I didn’t tell those pinchi policia, those dumb cops, but that’s how I knew it was those criminals who were always bugging my Ramon.”

The report hadn’t mentioned DeColta saying anything before he died. “What did he scream?” Mulder asked.

Despite the horrific circumstances, she had their attention now, and she crossed her fleshy arms with satisfaction. “Omerta.”

**

“Omerta,” Scully murmured as von Flanagan calmly dodged a vintage Lincoln pulling an abrupt three-lane change across the exit from 290 into the business district. Scully grabbed the dash and waited for her heart to return to a normal rhythm. “The mafia code of loyalty. DeColta betrayed somebody in one of the families, or they betrayed him.”

“Yeah, but wait,” Mulder said as the cop screeched to a halt to allow a jaywalking homeless man to pass. The man grinned toothlessly and flipped the agents off. “DeColta was a Venezuelan. Why would he have used an Italian mob term like that?”

Scully shrugged. “Maybe he was trying to say an Italian mobster had killed him. One of Caprano’s guys, perhaps.”

“I don’t buy it. He’s being fried alive, probably going out of his mind. Why would he be that roundabout about who killed him? If it was one of Caprano’s guys, why not yell, ‘Caprano’? I mean, it’s not like the hitter matters; Caprano put out the hit. If it was a hit. And the same for Fitzcarren. I mean, if it was a hit. Oh, crap, I don’t know what I mean.”

The assistant district attorney von Flanagan had recommended Mulder meet was a tall, thin, Lincolnesque man named McCoy, who’d recently left the New York DA’s office to take a post in Cook County. He was now located in one of the high rise buildings off of Chicago Avenue. They parked and entered the lobby, rode the elevator to the fifth floor, and walked into the cubicle land. McCoy was burning the late night oil at his desk, and his serious demeanor gave way to a dry smile as he considered the Fitzcarrens.

“Extraordinarily lucky,” McCoy said. “We’ve had them up on a few local charges, trying to make something stick long enough to put Liam away, but something would always break in his favor. Some juror we had pegged to convict him would choke on a piece of hot dog, a crucial piece of evidence would just vanish from police inventory, the jury would fly against all logic and just cut Liam loose. Incredible luck. The same was true of his father, Seamus, and, I heard, his grandfather, too. Cragan’s been representing the family for nearly 50 years.”

“What about this Cragan guy? The lawyer,” Mulder asked. “He must be really good, huh?”

McCoy started to nod, then frowned. “You know, not really, when I think about it. As I recall, he’s not particularly adept with case law, and his closings are based more on colorful cultural aphorisms and appeals to sentiment than on the facts of the case. Half the time lately, he’ll just stop in the middle of a motion, like he’s lost the thread of what he’s thinking. Of course, he’s somewhere between 80 and 150. It’s amazing he’s had such an impressive win record.”

“Amazing,” Scully moaned unconsciously. She was getting an uneasily familiar feeling…

**

“Agent Scully?” Patel’s low voice crackled over the speaker of Scully’s iPhone. The young man had taken second seat to Scully as the X-Files’ forensic specialist of choice. “It’s me. I had a look at your victims, and I can honestly say I am totally at a loss. I ran the bite marks on Fitzcarren’s body against every animal large enough to have inflicted the injury, and nothing even came close. Except some fossil teeth I examined at Georgetown University.

“Fraternelli’s injuries were more, ah, conventional: He actually appears to have died of cardiac failure, which is common enough in fall victims. But, given the condition of his body, I could find no evidence of him struggling or having been restrained in any way, which I might have expected if he’d been taken on an evening helicopter ride.”

“No helicopters were up anywhere near that part of town,” von Flanagan supplied, swerving smoothly around a cursing Chicago cabbie. “That’s been confirmed – 9/11, the threats to the Sears Tower.”

“As for DeColta, he had suffered injuries that might be consistent with one who’d spent his summer about two planets closer to the sun. I checked to see if the burns might’ve been caused by radioactive exposure, but he exhibited no other physiological symptoms of radiation poisoning. In short, Agent, you are up the creek without benefit of forensic insight.”

“Thanks, anyway,” Scully sighed, clicking off. She glanced at her watch. “Detective, can you drop us off at the station? I have a family, er, thing we need to get to.”

“That reminds me,” Mulder ventured. “I seem to have forgot to pack that 30-year-old whiskey for Great Uncle Francis.”

“Argh,” Scully stated.

**

“Dana!” the old man’s ancient eyes looked even more sunken in his skull because they were shaded from the sun by his enormous eyebrows.

“Uncle Francis,” Scully greeted with a suitably polite smile, trying not to wince as she got close enough to hug the man who smelled like his diaper probably needed changed.

The elderly Scully turned to Mulder and asked with a frown, “And who are you?”

“This is Mulder—you met him before, Uncle Francis,” she replied, hoping she didn’t sound too annoyed.

“What kind of a name is Mulder? And where’s the whiskey?”

“Um—“ Mulder started, but was rescued by Maggie, Tara, Matt, and Claire, who rushed outside the giant suburban home as soon as they realized Mulder and Scully were there.

“Fox! Dana!” Maggie called as if she hadn’t seen them in ages. They lived close to each other—in fact, they were considering inviting Maggie to live next door in the duplex. It was recently vacant and they wanted to make sure she had help when she needed it.

“Why is it you have to travel a few hundred miles to be excited to see someone?” Scully asked rhetorically so only Mulder could hear, but then put on a bright face for her immediate family as they approached.

There was kissing and hugging, and Mulder and Matt high-fived. Then they started back toward the house, and on their way to the porch, Francis backhanded Mulder across his arm and asked, “Who are you again?”

“Dana! And Fox!” Someone yelled, and Mulder wasn’t sure whether he should turn or duck.

A very large woman in her fifties bustled over, nearly knocking down two rowdy red-headed children fighting over a Nintendo DS. She held out her arms and waved her hands at her wrists. Scully wasn’t sure whether she was fake-crying or waving them to hug her, but the agent smiled politely and said, “It’s nice to see you again.”

Mulder glanced at her, questioningly, but she pointedly didn’t look at him. “My God, you look like you’ve lost weight,” she said, but didn’t give Scully a chance to respond as she enveloped her in a hug, and pulled Mulder in too. “So when’s the wedding date?”

Mulder laughed nervously. “There’s not a…”

“We’re not sure,” Scully answered with a half-smile.

“Well, don’t you live together in Bethesda?”

“Georgetown,” Mulder corrected, and promptly received an elbow in his side.

“Oh, you’ll have to give me your address so I can send you baked things. I love to bake,” she said with a grin. “What do you like to eat? You look like a man who can eat.”

“I—“

“He’s watching his weight,” Scully answered, falsely apologetic, and grabbed one of the kids nearby to rescue them from this situation. “Aedan, how’s school?’

“Good, I guess,” the six-year-old answered, and then said with sudden excitement, “You know what I did yesterday? I put a piece of a stick in Jessie’s backpack ‘cause it looked like a turd.” He giggled. “’Cause it looked like a *turd*,” he repeated, making sure they understood why it was hilarious.

“That’s very commendable,” Mulder said kindly, and the child beamed as Scully shot him an angry look.

The woman was now gone, and so her ploy had worked. She had gone on to talk to someone else in the exquisite but crowded house. “Who was that?” Mulder asked her.

She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. “No idea.”

“Okay. Well, I’m gonna go check out the hors d’ oerves.”

“Mulder, don’t you dare leave me here—“ he was gone too quickly for Scully to catch him. “Dammit,” she whispered, and little Aedan giggled and said, “Ooooooh! Aunt Dana said a bad word!”

Scully rolled her eyes but managed to smile. “Go play with your cousins, Aedan,” she told him kindly and sighed in relief as he ran off. But she was instantly sorry, because when Great Aunt Kathleen saw that she wasn’t talking to anyone, she promptly approached her and offered a hug, and the most popular question of the afternoon. “When’s the wedding date, dear?”

Meanwhile Mulder was telling stories of mothmen and flukemen and man-eating amoebas to a group of previously bored college and high-school-aged Scully’s.

“That’s amazing, man,” a sixteen-year-old hipster with red hair told him.

Mulder nodded his agreement.

“But you ever seen a Prince concert while you’re high?” the young rapper wannabe asked with a smirk. “Now *that* is truly amazing.”

The other kids stared at him and Mulder chuckled. “Can’t say I have, but I have seen an intelligent octopus used as a weapon before. And I wasn’t high.”

“*Sick*” one of the college-aged boys declared.

“What are you folks talking about over here?” an older voice asked, and Mulder turned around to see a middle aged man approach. He didn’t know who he was, but he said, “Just talking about what I do for a living. I’m Mulder—Scully—Dana’s partner.” He fumbled with his title.

“Mulder? That’s a strange name. I’m Don. Jessie’s husband,” he said, and pointed to someone Mulder didn’t know with his unoccupied hand.

Mulder nodded politely and some of the kids dispersed, sensing the ‘cool’ factor drop now that a mature adult had apparently entered the picture.

“So you’re her partner? Are the two of you going to tie the knot?”

It was about an hour later when Maggie brought out cookies and Mulder snagged three that he spotted a familiar face in the crowd. Scully nearly bumped into him from behind. “Mulder! There you are. I’m going to kill you.”

“Scully—look over there.”

“I can’t see over there. People are too tall. What is it?”

“Cragan O’Mara.”

Scully’s face changed from perpetual annoyance to shock. “What’s he doing here?”

“Let’s go find out.”

He stuffed one of the cookies in his mouth and handed the other two back to Scully. He nearly ran into that woman who had originally greeted him. She turned to see who had bumped her, and was now staring Mulder straight in the face. “Watching your weight?” she asked after a moment’s pause.

Mulder’s mouth was full, so Scully simply said, “It’s the high-carb diet,” as she pushed him forward in the sea of Scully’s. But by the time they reached where Mulder had previously seen O’Mara, he was gone. “Excuse me,” Mulder asked, and swallowed the last of the cookie as he tapped the shoulder of some woman he didn’t recognize, “Excuse me. Have you seen the man who was standing right here a moment ago? Old fellow, older suit?”

She smiled and said, “Hi, Dana. Good to see you again. You must be Fox. It’s nice to meet you. And yes, I did see Cragan. He was just here—he’s a delightful man, isn’t he? I’m sure he’ll want to catch you before he goes. He was just leaving.”

“Sally, do you remember how we’re related to him?” Scully asked brightly.

Sally paused, then frowned. “As a matter of fact…I don’t. Isn’t that terrible? I guess with a family this big, though…”

Mulder frowned. “Thanks for your help, Sally. Good to meet you.”

He spotted O’Mara by the door, then, and said, “There! Scully, come on.” He nearly dragged his partner by the wrist, leading her to the front door. But again, he lost sight of O’Mara and then he was gone. “Mulder!” Don from the yard suddenly rescued himself from a conversation with Francis, and clapped Mulder on the shoulder. “Hey, have you seen Cragan around here? You know who I’m talking about?”

“Actually, we were looking for him too,” Scully said.

“We just made a bet and I owe him $10,” Don said. He shook his head. “But he disappeared before I could give it to him. I guess with this many people in the room…”

“Do you remember how your wife is related to him?” Mulder asked.

Don laughed. “I’m lucky if I remember what my wife *looks* like with this many Irish people in the room. Sorry,” he said, and shook his head.

“That’s okay. Thanks,” Scully replied, and turned to Mulder. “Think we should—“her phone interrupted her, and she immediately answered it. “Scully. Oh, no, it’s no problem. No, really. Oh? Okay. Where? Mulder and I will be there in about thirty minutes. Thanks.”

Mulder gave her an inquisitive look.

“That was von Flanagan. Apparently there’s a woman named Jen who says she has important information regarding the case. She wants us to meet her in a coffee shop on Michigan Avenue. We should get on the road if we want to beat rush hour.”

Mulder laughed. “You just want to get out of—“ he received a prompt elbow in the side as Scully’s mother approached from behind.

“Fox, Dana! Come on into the kitchen—Tara wants to know if you’re going to have time to set up some video games for Matt and the other kids.”

Scully gave her an apologetic expression. “Sorry, Mom, but we have to take off. We just got a call.”

Maggie’s face fell, but then she perked up. “You’ll be by later, right?”

“Absolutely,” Mulder said, and gave her a hug. “Try not to suffocate in here.”

She laughed and slapped him on the shoulder playfully, then gave her daughter a hug. “Be careful driving. It’s supposed to snow. But they said it’s going to be a wet snow, so it shouldn’t be too bad until it starts to freeze. Oh! Before I forget—Cragan had to leave, but he asked me to give you this.” She handed them a small folded Post-it note.

Mulder took it and read, “May the roof over your heads be as well thatched as the couple inside is well matched.”

Maggie burst into laughter. “See, even *he* knows you two better than you do.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Scully said with a smile and a jesting eye roll.

When they were on their way in the car, Scully turned to Mulder and said with a nearly crazy smile that really turned him on, “So Mulder, when’s the wedding date?”

___________

“Ah,” Jen smirked. “You brought the little woman. And by little woman—-”

“Wassup?” Mulder interjected, seizing Scully and guiding her into the chair across from the retired djinn. The Michigan Avenue coffee shop was packed as the Chicago nightlife roared outside. Jen had commandeered the window table that afforded her the best seat for the human parade of which she’d never tired. She smiled sweetly at Scully; Scully fired back with an equal serving of strychnine-laced saccharine.

“Serious bad mojo in the workplace.” Jen sipped at her Kono Caramel Macchiato and sighed blissfully. “Haven’t felt this kind of vibe off anyone since Mussolini asked me to make him immortal. For a guy who always made the trains run on time, he sure didn’t see that one coming back to bite his Fascist ass. You know his middle name was Andrea? I always thought maybe he was overcompensating—-”

“You called?” Scully murmured.

“Sure. Fine. Whatever. There’s this old dude, probably a few centuries older than me. . .”

“Cragan O’Mara,” Mulder supplied. “Already had the pleasure.”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Wow. You have wised up. Anyway, I think he’s cleaning up Chicago’s surplus douchebag population, though I can’t figure out how Liam Fitzcarren’s brain-deficient kid fits in.”

“You think O’Mara’s a leprechaun,” Scully said.

“Oh, please, of course not. There’s no such thing. Said the genie to the first fed ever to autopsy an invisible man.” Gen turned to Mulder. “I was working the stick a few weeks ago when Old Man Fitzcarren told that South American drug dude — DeColta — in no uncertain terms he wasn’t interested in doing business with him. Then DeColta turns to the goon that came in with him and said somethin in Spanish that didn’t sound very complimentary. They grab their coats, and Cragan, who’s been grinning the whole time, says to DeColta, now, lemme see… Yeah. ‘May the sun shine warmly on your face.’ Something like that. Blarney bullshit. Or so I thought.”

“And what did Mr. O’Mara tell Richard the Swordfish when he came in to leverage Liam?” Mulder inquired, clearly exhilarated. “No, wait; lemme guess. ‘May the road rise up to meet you.’”

Jen smiled serenely, embracing her mug with black-nailed fingers. Then the smile dropped away. “William’d told me what Cragan said to Terry the night he went missing, but I didn’t put it together ‘til yesterday morning, when I read about what happened to him. My poker face seems to have disappeared with the mystical powers, and I could tell Cragan could tell I knew. Must be some kind of fraternity between preternatural entities. I thought for a second he was going to toast my continued weight loss or wish me into the cornfield or something, but he just hobbled out. I think he may just be biding his time, though, and I figured you’d be the only guy, well, open enough to the possibility.”

“The possibility one of Chicago’s oldest and worst octogenarian lawyers is a leprechaun?” Scully squeaked. “Listen to yourself.”

“Still an absolute joy, huh?” Jen sighed. Mulder shrugged.

“”All three of the vics talked to Liam Fitzcarren shortly before they died, and they weren’t exactly pleasant encounters,” Mulder explained to his partner patiently. “All three encounters were in Fitzcarren’s favorite bar. And this lawyer, Cragan O’Mara, was in the vicinity each time.

“Then we got the murder methods, if you wanna call them that. O’Mara tells the first vic, ‘May the road rise up to meet you,’ and sure enough, it does, so to speak. The second time, it’s another old Irish saying: ‘May the sun shine warmly on your face.’ Next day, the victim gets a sunburn a tanker truck full of No. 400 sunblock wouldn’t have stopped.”

“Mulder…”

“No, Scully, wait. The third guy, Fitzcarren, the one sleeping with the dinosaurs, he gets a little soused, starts mouthing off. This old shyster tells him, ‘May you live to be the oldest man in the room.’ Now, where those scientists found Fitzcarren, wouldn’t that make him the oldest man in existence? Of course, I don’t think the kid’s uncle would’ve had anything to do with his murder, so that means the lawyer’s working on his own. At least in the last murder.”

“Mulder,” Scully said, this time more quietly but firmly. “This is like saying Tinkerbell jolted Fitzcarren with her magic wand, or accusing the Big Bad Wolf of huffing and puffing and, well, you know what I mean. A leprechaun?”

“When DeColta got fried, he kept yelling something,” Mulder persisted. “His mom thought he was screaming, ‘Omerta!’ Probably’d been around mobsters too long. What if he was shouting, ‘O’Mara!’? His mom’s a superstitious old broad: What if DeColta realized Cragan O’Mara had put a curse on him at the bar?”

“I thought those old Irish toasts were supposed to be blessings. A leprechaun?”

Mulder sat up. “This O’Mara, he’s been working for three generations of the Fitzcarren family, for a half-century. He’s not a particularly great lawyer, but he always manages to get Fitzcarren off. And there’s his shoes.”

“His shoes,” Scully finally intoned.

“Bear with me for a minute. I surfed up some stuff about leprechauns on the web. The word came from the Irish ‘leith phroyan,’ which means ‘one shoemaker.’ Quote: ‘Their clothing is never extravagant. Their footwear, however, is a source of pride, and every leprechaun possesses the very finest he can make. O’Mara was wearing this suit that looks like he bought it for Harry Truman’s inauguration, but you should’ve seen his shoes. They were gorgeous, like some kinda work of art or something.”

“Mulder…”

“Look, the British Isles have always been what, kind of mystical, right. OK, now, don’t most folk legends and superstitions have some sort of basis in reality? People started eating kosher because the pork back then was full of worms and the shellfish would rip you up from the inside. Now it’s a religious practice.”

“So much for Shaw’s Crab House tomorrow night,” Scully said. “Mulder, I could understand if their were some sort of scientific rationale for this. But magic, John? Leprechauns?”

“What would a leprechaun be, Monica? I mean, if there was such a thing? Maybe some kind of genetic fluke or something? Maybe from ‘way back or something, some race or culture that’s been breeding true for centuries.”

“You’re saying you think this ‘leprechaun’ is some kind of psychokinetic genetic mutant? What you’re talking about is the ability to move a human being through time, to control the power of the sun.”

“Like he’s so damned special,” Jen muttered.

**

It wasn’t long into their conversation that the phone rang, and von Flanagan informed them that they had another lead. A building in Cicero, used as a law office, had apparently employed all of the Fitzcarren’s at one time or another, and since Terry met his end, it had mysteriously popped up on Google searches as ‘Chicago’s first mobster house, home to Fitzcarren.’ It was too good to refuse, especially considering there was one employee who had left years ago, but whose name was on the building contract: Cragan O’Mara.

Neither Mulder nor Scully took much notice of the man in front of a central pipeline exposed in the wall of the lobby, tinkering with the temperature controls through a remote connection coming from the boiler in the basement.

They instead got on the elevator at the receptionist’s direction and traveled to the top floor, where the storage lockers were kept. They planned to go through lots and lots of files.

The receptionist at the 10th floor was more than happy to show them the files, but told them how to let themselves out and explained that she was leaving for the day. There was no one else left on the floor. The 10th floor was more like a warehouse with a bathroom and a desk. Rows and rows of filing cabinets lined the massive open space.

“Odd…I always thought the 10th floor was reserved for the boss,” Scully commented as they walked to the building’s files to confirm the Google article that identified O’Mara as the original owner.

“In this building, it’s the 9th floor,” Mulder stated. “I read that on the elevator. It’s a penthouse too, so it looks like the current ‘boss’ lives there part of the time. We need to determine if Terry Fitzcarren might have worked here before he died. I’m willing to bet that something here will solve this case.”

Scully raised an eyebrow as she opened the top drawer and extracted a building plan. “Mulder, that’s an enormous leap you’ve made.”

He stopped, and stepped back before opening the building plan he held in his hand. “Scully, don’t you ever get tired of having the same argument? I mean, we tend to repeat ourselves. Why don’t we just jump to the part where I say that’s it’s not so fantastic, and you say—”

“Shhh,” she held up her hand.

He was silent for a moment, and then asked, “What?”

“Do you hear water running?”

He shrugged. “It’s probably the old pipes in this building and the radiators. Everything here is ancient.”

She frowned at that explanation, but opened her building plan. “Now *that’s* interesting. Mulder, this floor was built to be waterproof. The roof is triple reinforced with the same techniques used in nineteenth century cargo ships at the dawn of the industrial age. It’s old technology but it works. No wonder O’Mara keeps his files up here.”

“Lower humidity and watertight environment. There’s probably enough paper trails and fuzzy math in here to make a politician’s head spin,” Mulder quipped, and glanced at the rows and rows of files as he opened his building plan. “But it’s well-shielded fuzzy math.”

“This is amazing,” Scully ignored him as she put her building plan back and extracted another, and then another. “This entire floor is built to be watertight, fireproof, and earthquake resistant. It acts as a lightning rod for the rest of the building. And this was all done in 1896.”

“But nothing to confirm that O’Mara was the builder.”

“O’Mara couldn’t possibly have been alive in 1896,” Scully said in her typical skeptical tone, but Mulder looked away for a moment and began walking toward the sound of the running water.

“So now you definitely hear that too,” Scully stated.

“Yeah, it’s kind of odd…it sounds too loud to be basic building piping and…” he touched the door to the receptionist area, then looked behind him in alarm. “Scully, this door is vibrating.”

He then suddenly looked down, noticing something wrong around his feet. They were getting wet. He realized that the waterproof seal on the door had broken, and that water was now leaking in at an alarming rate. “Uh-oh,” he said, and ran from the door just as the hinges began rocking violently. He pushed Scully to the far end of the room and said, “It looks like we’re about to get wet.”

Scully’s expression was one of alarm, but it changed to utter shock when the door burst open, wood from the frame splintering in a small explosion around the site while water gushed in at the doorknob level. It quickly dissipated to fill up the room to their ankles, and it was rising.

“Let’s get to the stairwell!” Scully exclaimed, and they ran through the thick, clear water to the staircase by the elevators. It was locked down. “Why is this locked?!” She yelled, getting ready to kick it.

Mulder held her back. “That’s not going to help. Come on, we need to find out the root cause and stop this from getting any worse.”

When they began looking, it didn’t take them long. The bathroom was clearly the source, based on the sound and the flow of the water. The toilet and sink pipes were in the process of severely overflowing, gushing water out at gallons per minute. The pressure was threatening to buckle the system and cause an explosion.

“This is too dangerous to work on—we need to find a way out of here,” Scully told him. The water was now rising to their knee level.

“There should be another staircase…” Mulder said, and grabbed Scully’s hand as he waded through the water. The cold liquid that surrounded them splashed up and they were quickly getting soaked. Scully’s teeth begin to chatter.

They ran around the massive floor but found nothing that resembled a way out. The tenth floor had no windows—it was part of the plan to make the place hurricane proof. They looked around desperately, and then Mulder said, “Go try and save some of O’Mara’s personal files.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to try to break out of here the only other way,” he said, and began wading through the water toward the fire ax on the wall. Scully watched him for a moment before rushing away herself, trying to find O’Mara’s personal file cabinet in the rows of endless flooding files.

Meanwhile Mulder grabbed a chair and stood on it, wobbling as it was almost completely under water now, and wielded the axe at the angled roof overhead. It was backbreaking work, swinging an axe upwards and not chopping off one’s foot or leg in the process.

**

While Mulder and Scully’s drama played out inside the building, Henry Weems, a local Chicago handyman, had been called to assist the man working on the main boiler pipes.

He had worked with Mulder and Scully before, on a case involving quite a lot of luck and the fortunate outcome of a mobster dead and a little boy the recipient of his liver. Having now knowledge of their location in the building or their dire situation, though, Henry decided that now was a good time to have a snack as he stood in front of the broken zone valve and assessed the problem.

He pulled out a box of St. Patrick’s Day cookies, sugar cookies in the shape of four-leaf-clovers with green sprinkles on top, and ate one as the original plumber looked on, annoyed. “I think you’ve got a zone valve isolation problem,” Henry assessed as he squatted down and proceeded to finish his cookie. “Yes, actually, that’s precisely what’s going on. This zone valve is reading that it’s disconnected from the rest of the system.” He stood. As he did so, sprinkles fell into the crack between the boiler pipe lead and the boiler below. The sprinkles almost immediately attracted a mouse that the building janitor had been trying to catch for weeks.

The mouse sniffed and then ate the sprinkles, which occupied him for just long enough for him to be in the correct location so that when Henry threw the switch and isolated that zone valve, the pipe he rested on began to retain the heat that would have been dissipated through the rest of the system. The sprinkles were gobbled up as the mouse heated up. He leapt off of the hot pipe and scampered away, but on his way down he fell painfully onto the boiler operating switch, tripping it and causing the boiler to gurgle and then chug to a stop.

Of course, with ingress still occurring, the water was not being pumped out and the pipes began to swell under the pressure. It ruptured, exploding the weak point of the pipe outward and puncturing the pipe next to it. Water began to gush out and into the basement, effectively draining the system.

All of this was unbeknownst to Henry, who finished the last of his St. Patrick’s Day cookies and mock saluted to the plumber, who stared dumbfounded at the system. All lights indicated that floors 1-9 were the correct temperature now, which meant his job was done. He closed up the panel and walked toward the locker area to prepare to go home.

**

“Mulder!” Scully yelled, unable to keep her head above the water anymore. She felt her partner’s arm around her as he dropped the axe into the water in favor of grabbing her. He pulled her close to him and helped her grab onto an I-beam secured in the ceiling.

“I think their roof is as well thatched…as we are appropriately matched,” Mulder quipped, and he blew bubbles as his face went underwater for a moment. Scully’s face hugged the ceiling, her arms quivering from the cold and the task of holding herself up.

She chuckled, and looked over to him. This was a desperate situation—one of the most desperate they had been in. They could not get out, and the water was still rising.

“I’m sorry, Dana,” he said over the sound of the rushing water, and didn’t look at her.

“Oh, please,” Scully shot back at him, and smiled. “You have nothing to be sorry about, partner,” her words were labored, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold herself up much longer. But that wasn’t the only reason why Mulder didn’t smile back. There was something about the way she said it…some twinge of regret laced in his voice that he wasn’t about to bring up in what looked like their last moments on planet Earth.

Suddenly, the water stopped rising. Then it began going down. Slowly but surely, the water was draining. Vents in the floor opened up and allowed the water to fall back into the piping system that carried it to the boiler. The basement was flooding, but Mulder and Scully didn’t know that.

“Don’t let go of that rod,” Mulder said.

Scully chuckled. “That’s what she said?” she asked, her arms and voice shaking violently at this point.

He laughed back this time, his voice shaking also from the labor of holding themselves up. There was no guarantee that they wouldn’t be swept into something sharp or deadly, so they had to hang on until they could see where they would land. The water went down far enough that a filing cabinet was visible beneath them, on its side. It was just the right height to assist their drop to the ground. Scully easily dropped on top of it, denting it slightly, and then gingerly stepped off.

Mulder, however, dropped and missed it completely, somehow, landing awkwardly on the soaked carpeting. Scully rushed over, but he held up his hand. “I’m okay. I’m just glad I didn’t fall through the floor.”

Scully sighed. “Now we just have to find a way out of here.”

As suddenly as the water began draining, von Flanagan burst through the stairwell door. “There you two are!” he exclaimed. Three uniformed officers were behind him, weapons drawn just in case. “Been tryin’ to call you for the past hour now.” He stopped, and looked around at the devastated storage floor. “What the hell happened here?”

**

“Ah, so good to see you lovely children again,” Cragan O’Mara exulted as the agents and his favorite barmaid/djinn walked into the den.

“I’m going to kick his lucky charms,” Mulder announced.

Scully waved him back as she closed the pocket doors between them and the assembled Scully clan. “Mr. O’Mara, I think we could make a solid case for attempted murder here — we’ll find the man who tampered with the pipes in your building, and I can’t imagine he or Liam Fitzcarren will be willing to take the heat for you. By now, I have to wonder if Fitzcarren doesn’t have some suspicion you had something to do with his nephew’s death. His man William doesn’t seem altogether trustworthy.”

“Well, dear Liam’ll have to send one of his boys to have done with me,” Cragan grinned. “You see, I am no longer in the Fitzcarrens’ employ.”

“What’s that mean?” Mulder muttered. “Don’t tell me he let you just walk out.”

“Liam knows I still have considerable influence,” Cragan murmured, spurring a chill up Mulder’s spine. “In fact, I wished him all the best. ‘May you be full to burstin’ with good fortune and health,’ I told him.”

“Jesus,” Mulder whispered.

Scully pressed on. “I have to know something, Mr. O’Mara. If what my partner believes about you is true, you could have found a far more creative and untraceable way to kill us.”

“Kill you?” Cragan sounded genuinely wounded. “Dear Dana. I knew fate would intervene well before you and your beloved would perish. I can read luck like a gypsy reads the tea leaves. Kill you? Heaven forefend.”

Scully started to protest, then stopped to consider. “Wait a minute. You wanted us to catch you?”

“And you’ve done so, admirably, my dear. I am now totally and utterly in your debt.”

“Took you long enough to work that one out,” Jen snorted. Cragan favored her with a bemused glint.

“I suspected you were a special girl,” the leprechaun nodded. “Only one with a special imagination would have suspected a feeble old gentleman such as myself could singlehandedly three tough customers like Terry and Mr. Fraternelli and Senor DeColta. But you’re no longer special, are you, Lass?”

“Quit loving the job,” Jen shrugged. “That’s what happened with you, isn’t it?”

Cragan templed his fingers and leaned comfortably back into his buttery leather chair. “More than a century I been doing for the Fitzcarrens and their sorry lot. A deal with the devil to save my kin.

“You’ve no doubt heard of the great troubles, when the blight took the potato crop? Well, one day I come home from a morning of wood-gathering to find this odd sort helpin’ himself to my secret store of Irish whisky. I’m ready to finish him right there, and he asks me, ‘How would you like to find your larder forever filled with potatoes?’”

Mulder turned to Jen. “Jeez — a bagful of turnips, a larder full of spuds? You guys really know how to haggle.”

“Had to be there,” the djinn sighed.

“At any rate, folks was dying all around us — I’d just buried my kid brother Joseph — and in my half-starved desperation, I couldna turn down the odd man’s offer. I think you’ve already guessed the rest. I believe the poor fella was wantin’ out of his contract and saw a willing mark.

Cragan’s eyes grew distant. “Like any foolish young hooligan, I tried to turn my newfound abilities to coin. And I was doing quite well for myself down to the village pub and the taverns roundabout. Until I ran afoul of a fearsome sort named Seamus Fitzcarren. He’d accumulated quite a name for himself with suspect enterprises, and he was headed to the States to expand his holdings, so to speak. Fitzcarren was a cruel man but quite an imaginative one, much like our fine Mr. Mulder here. He knew there was but one way I could transform the meager assortment in my hand into a winning pot, and there he had me. I was compelled into his service — it’s like a natural force, a law of physics for me and my kind.

“New York turned out to be a far more ‘provincial’ environment in which to ply the criminal trades, and Seamus decided my skills might be best employed in the courts. I was sent to Harvard on the Fitzcarrens’ dime, under the threat of what would happen to my people should I decide to strike out on my own. When old Seamus died of some bad rotgut in ’32, the eldest boy Sean inherited my services, followed by his ill-begotten spawn Liam in 1974.”

“That’s an impressive resume,” Mulder smirked. “What finally happened, they take away your health plan?”

Cragan glanced sympathetically at Scully. “He’s quite the flippant one, isn’t he? I think perhaps we can have a more constructive conversation if your mister were to enjoy a plate and a game of Frisbee outside.”

“Hey,” Mulder growled.

“Mulder, a few moments,” Scully requested calmly, regarding Cragan O’Mara curiously.

“Hah?”

“Humor me, OK?”

Mulder muttered a distinctly non-Gaelic oath and shoved the French doors open. The dusty door track blunted the drama of his attempted slam.

“Ah, and could you join Mr. Mulder, as well, dear Jen?” Cragan smiled.

The former djinn planted her stylish boots. “I used to practice the trade, Old Man. She needs some experienced representation to make sure her head doesn’t pop off or she grows a third boob.”

“How fanciful,” O’Mara sighed. “I didn’t lure myself into Dana’s trap just to pull some mischievous leprechaun antics. Go, child. And you needn’t worry about Liam and his lot any more.”

“It’s OK,” Scully assured Jen. “I trust him.”

“Your wake,” Jen breathed, following Mulder into the familial din.

“Now,” Scully said when they were alone. “I have a feeling I know what you’re about to tell me. I have to warn you, though — a pot of gold would be tough to explain to the IRS.”

Cragan cackled. “You’re havin’ me on, Dana. I’m sure you know it doesn’t work that way. I just want you to ponder, for a moment, what fortunes might lie before you.

“Y’see, I’ve trucked with swine for the better part of my misbegotten existence. Watched men like Seamus Fitzcarren and his brood swill the best liquor, bed the finest women, line their pockets with gold mined from the blood of others. I’ve aided, abetted, and stood by mutely, as they’ve widowed wives and orphaned daughters and pumped poison into the veins of unhappy children.

“Heaven knows, I’m no longer a spiritual man — I quit the Holy Communion decades ago. But from time to time, I’m left to wonder how in God’s begotten world men the likes of Liam Fitzcarren and Ramon DeColta are allowed to sip from the gilded cup of Life whilst good, pure souls such as yourself are forced to endure a litany of tragedy and loss even the great Mr. Joyce could never have created.”

Scully was silent, still.

“It’s seemed a hard road, hasn’t it, Dear?” Cragan now murmured, eyes filled with empathy and love. “Every turn a path down blind alleys and graveyards, every answer riddled with thornier questions. Mr. Frost’s road less taken has led you into darkness and despair.”

She could hear herself breathing, feeling the dull thud of her soul-weary heart. “Please,” she rasped.

“But there’s good news, Dana, my precious. I have one last bit of fortune stored up, and I’d as soon see it spent for one such as yourself. A pitiful attempt at penitence, as it were. Take a second, child, and look out there.”

Scully followed Cragan’s withered finger toward the open bay window, where her collected kin laughed and feasted and tumbled and embraced on the expansive lawn. Mulder sulked under a hard maple, staring toward her; Jen was sampling a foam plate of berries.

“What are you saying?” Scully croaked.

“Look,” Cragan repeated, and she turned back to the window. And gasped.

A burly crew-cut man in a Navy sweatshirt had a smaller, meeker version of himself in a headlock. The smaller man broke free and punched the hulk in the shoulder. The pair laughed, and a pretty thirty-something woman peeled off from a nearby cluster to see what the joke was. Tara soon joined Bill, Charlie, and Melissa Scully, distributing freshly grilled Chicago dogs.

A petite redheaded child dashed past the group as Scully reeled back against a wing chair. Wetness stung at Scully’s eyes as her lips twitched in elated disbelief. She glanced at Cragan O’Mara, who nodded benignly, and turned back to the window.

Scully’s eyes widened as a somehow-almost-familiar man — handsome, rough-edged, graying at the temples — scooped her from her sneakered feet, sending her into gales of giggles. Tom Colton whirled the girl about, stopping abruptly as his eyes locked with Scully’s.

And then, in a gesture that nearly stilled Scully’s heart altogether, her old Academy buddy brought two fingers to his lips. He puckered and, as she blinked at the glint of the gold band on his second finger, released a kiss aimed directly at the woman on the other side of the glass. Scully grabbed for the drapes, but her trembling fingers could not will the image away.

“No,” she cried harshly. Tugging at the thick fabric for support, Scully searched the yard for Mulder, for some handhold in reality. He’d vanished — no, he’d just. . .ceased.

“The fork in the road,” Cragan’s voice cooed behind her. “You found it again, girl. You found your way.”

“Where’s Mulder?”

“He’s down the road, attending to his own business. He has no place on this path. But you know that, don’t you, girl?”

Scully swallowed air and, gathering herself, tore the curtains shut. She turned to the ancient man in the antique suit and fine shoes. “No,” she said, her voice regaining timbre.

Cragan nodded once, the wrinkles at his eyes deepening in, what, pleasure. “So be it. Your choice, dear. Sorry I couldn’t be of service to you.”

Scully swiped at her eyes, laughed weakly. “I think perhaps you have been. And I suspect you know that.”

“Silly girl. So, what, are we to clamp on the irons now?”

Scully frowned as she peered down at the homicidal elf. “I have to ask. Why? I mean, why now? What made you turn against your mast– against Fitzcarren?”

Cragan grinned bleakly. “The Fitzcarrens had a powerful hold over me these many years — the life of those I held most dear. But the blessing and curse of immortality is that time cures all. Last month, I received a letter notifying me that Ned O’Mara had been struck dead by a taxicab in the streets of Ulster. And thus ended the O’Mara bloodline. And any lasting obligation to Liam Fitzcarren. Well, shall we go now?”

Scully shook her head. “I don’t even know how we’d make a case against you. I’m not even sure we could hold on to you.”

“It’s a dilemma.”

Scully nodded sternly. “I hate to belabor a cliché, but don’t leave town.” She turned and started for the door, then paused. Scully considered and turned back to Cragan O’Mara with a sad, final smile and a parting sentiment.

The old man stared at the agent for a second, then broke into a broad, peaceful grin. His gray-green eyes glistened.

“God bless you, dear girl,” Cragan whispered. “God bless you.”

**

“I said, no souvenirs,” Scully chided as Mulder unsuccessfully attempted an end move behind her.

Her partner grinned guiltily and brought the object of his guilt from behind his back.

“Tell me that isn’t the whiskey Don and Jessie gave Uncle Francis,” Scully sighed. She shrugged and smiled with a bit of her “cousin” Cragan’s mischief. “Put the hotel towel back, though – wrap it in the Trib.”

Mulder nodded happily and located the Sports section. “So you ever going to tell me what happened with you and the old bastard? The tickets still say we’re flying coach, so apparently, the pot of gold was off the table.”

Before Scully could respond, Mulder’s Droid sounded, tuned for the occasion to the Dexy’s Midnight Runners rendition of “C’Mon, Irene.” He punched up the speaker.

“Know you two are headed to O’Hare,” von Flanagan grunted without prelude, “but we got an interesting little development thought you’d want to know about. Liam Fitzcarren blew up.”

Mulder dropped the mummified booze on the bedspread. “Car bomb.”

“You weren’t listening. Liam Fitzcarren blew up. Beat cop found his Towne Car parked in front of Cragan O’Mara’s place about three hours ago. Two of Fitzcarren’s crew inside with what was left of their boss. One had Fitzcarren’s index finger driven into his forehead. The other, well, I can’t even do it justice. Fitzcarren hisself is a permanent part of the upholstery, the dashboard, the roof liner. M.E. hopes to ID him with the teeth he left embedded in the windshield.”

“Imaginative interpretation,” Mulder murmured respectfully.

“Figure William the Barkeep ratted out O’Mara, and Liam and the boys decided to do a little elder abuse. Punchline was on them. When we went up to grill old Cragan, we found him in his bed, laid out like Finnegan at his wake, a shit-eatin’ grin on his wrinkled old puss. He beat ‘em to the punch, M.E. says by at least an hour or two.”

Mulder glanced warily at Scully, who was somewhere else.

“Anyway, not your worry, but I thought you’d like to know what you’d be missing.” von Flanagan breathed. “Say hey to Barack for me.”

“Yeah,” Mulder mumbled as he ended the call. After a beat, or ten, he turned to Scully. “I thought this was supposed to be your wish.”

“Your friend taught me long ago the importance of being careful about what I wished for,” she smiled, faintly. “I have what I want, even if I don’t always know what that is. I simply gave an old man what he couldn’t do for himself. He is family, after all. I think. Maybe.”

“Scully, what did you tell him, my ear to God’s?”

Scully took a deep breath and folded a sweater for the trip home. “‘May you be in Heaven,’” she recited, “‘an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.’ My new Donna Karan suit arrives in D.C. soaked in whiskey and you may meet a similar fate.”

*end

The Guests

the guests poster

The Guests

By Martin Ross

Category: Holiday, historical

Rating: PG-13 for violence

Summary: Christmas 1957: Cold War waged on, Hollywood’s Master of Suspense was riding on a tide of box office success, and a pair of unlikely conspirators were about to experience a key shift in the battle for Man’s survival.

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and their colleagues in skullduggery were created by Chris Carter. Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, and their colleagues in good-natured deception are portrayed here in fictional (?) form.

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Los Angeles

1957

“Do you enjoy a good riddle?” Hitchcock asked Cary Grant.

“Not after three of these,” the actor mused, swirling his ebbing gin martini. “But I’ll bite.”

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Grant was one of the few actors the famed director had ever loved or respected, and amid this pack of narcissistic method actors and Hollywooden artistes and beatniks, Hitch had clung to the former Archibald Leach like the lifeboat of his 1944 melodrama.

The pair had conspired on the flagstone patio of the Southern California bungalow Hitch and Alma had rented for the winter. For his own part, the graying matinee idol had played a Hitchcockian game of cat-and-mouse all evening to avoid Ian Fleming, a middle-aged writer of exotic potboilers who’d been after Grant to play his womanizing, martini-swilling spyboy – a character for whom he reportedly had been the model.

Grant had been hip-deep in Hitchcock’s latest, North by Northwest, and was beginning to tire of contrived cloak-and-dagger hokum – even the refined hokum Hitchcock so effortlessly turned out. Of late, he’d entertained retiring from the film scene, though he hadn’t yet dropped that one on Sir Alfred. Hitchcock. His friend was only beginning to rally from the loss of Grace Kelly, who’d two years before surrendered the mantle of Hitchcock Blonde for a seat at the throne of Monaco.

“The two gentlemen by the bandstand, to the left of Mr. Welles,” Hitchcock intoned, staring into the brightly lit bungalow as if it were the sprawling screen of Graumann’s Chinese. “What would you make of them?”

Grant blinked away the effects of his third martini and considered the two tuxedoed men. The shorter, plump gentleman immediately caught the eye: The left side of his deeply-lined face was horribly disfigured, a long bone-white trench extending from his jowl across his sagging eye into his receding hairline. The scarred man was somber despite the Yuletide revelry of the occasion; he murmured out of the side of his mouth to the taller, distinguished, mustachioed man beside him.

“I’d assume those are wartime injuries,” Grant ventured. “From his age, I’d guess they were sustained during the last great war, and from the way he holds his cigarette – a Gauloise, by the way – I’d surmise the gentleman is of French extraction.”

Hitchcock smiled approvingly.

“The cut of that tux tells me he’s a man of some means and impeccable taste. He could easily have those scars erased, but he chooses not to. He wears them with pride, as a badge of honor. French Resistance, perhaps? What was that short you did for the Information Ministry during the War? Aventure Malgache? I assume that’s how you met this curious man, and how he comes to be spending Christmas Eve with the Master of Suspense.”

Hitchcock winced slightly at the tired PR moniker. “Or you’ve been chatting up Alma, with whom I spotted you earlier this evening. Indeed, Monsieur Belmonde is a guest of honor, a man of great fortitude.”

Grant grinned. “The Great Detective exposed. And the other gentleman?”

“Ah, and there lies our riddle,” Hitchcock murmured. “Allegedly, our new friend is Lucien Cuenot, cousin to our intrepid Monsieur Belmonde. A Parisian importer, as the story goes.”

“Of course, you don’t find that story plausible.”

“Actually, I find it quite tantalizing — the type of gambit for which a writer or director of the darker arts hungers.”

Grant reconsidered the pair huddling in Orson Welles’ not inconsiderable shadow. “I have to admit, my fascination is not piqued.”

Hitchcock smiled. “I conversed briefly with Monsieur Cuenot over hors d’oevres. A charming, fiercely intelligent man who is a complete and utter imposter. A highly competent one, I must acknowledge. However, the study of drama and character tune one’s ear to even the slightest nuance of dialect and accent. He is as French as you are a wheat farmer from the Nebraska plains. Specifically, he is as French as a Stuttgart swine farmer.

“Further, his choice of pseudonym is both audacious and telling. His ‘namesake,’ Lucien Cuenot, was a frequently neglected French scientist in the field of genetics. He helped demonstrated that the principle of Mendelism — a concept of which I have not the slightest knowledge nor interest — applied to animals as well as to plants. A middle-aged German masquerading as a brilliant but obscure French geneticist — obviously, a man of ferocious ego and a bent toward science. And where have we seen that before?”

Grant was into the game now. “And who would we cast? Walter Slezak? George Sanders? The inimitable Mr. Welles?”

“The audience would spot him within the first five minutes and flee for the exits. Louis Jourdan or Jacques Tati, perhaps. But that is quite beside the point. It’s an irresistible riddle. Why would a man of Monsieur Belmonde’s ironclad convictions, bearing the marks of Gestapo torture, traffic with a Nazi?”

Washington

2012

Scully surveyed the trio sprawled before her, hypnotized by the electronic images dancing in the darkness of the Lone Gunmen’s offices. Underneath a loop of green tinsel – Frohike’s sole concession to the yuletide season – Jimmy Stewart was disheveled and distraught.

“Cool Ranch me,” Melvin Frohike mumbled.

Mulder fired the foil bag at the conspiracy buff. “Trade you the Tacos at Midnight.”

“Shhh,” Byers scolded.

Scully sighed. “When you asked me if I liked Jimmy Stewart on Christmas Eve, I simply assumed…”

“Shhh,” Mulder and the Gunmen hissed in unison. Her partner turned lazily. “Vertigo’s Hitchcock’s greatest film, and this is a studio master. A studio master. Well, a copy, anyway.”

“It’s a Christmas miracle,” Scully proclaimed. “Not to mention a breach of intellectual property law and several federal statutes. Wait, Byers – I don’t want to know. Plausible deniability.”

“Kim Novak,” Frohike murmured dreamily. “What a dame.”

“I thought you guys had some earthshaking discovery for us. Mulder and I are heading out for my mom’s in, oh, about nine hours.”

“Langly’s still working on the images,” Byers noted, pausing Kim Novak in mid-air. We’re talking about a video transfer from a badly deteriorated reel of Super 8 film that sat in some no-name actor’s basement for nearly 50 years.”

“Lucky thing that guy in Fresno found the footage at an estate sale, and put it on eBay before some Hollywood collector caught on,” Frohike said, sweeping ranch powder from his stained Stephen Hawking tee. “Langley’s a closet Orson Welles freak. Has every piece of film the big man made, including Citizen Kane in five languages. The fact the film was taken at Alfred Hitchcock’s 1957 Christmas party is icing on the cake. And that put us in the mood to revisit Hitch’s Technicolor period.”

“We’re going to revisit some of my worst periods if we don’t skip to the main feature pretty quickly,” Scully warned.

Byers and Frohike looked to Mulder. Mulder shrugged, glanced imploringly at his partner, and finished his last Dorito.

**

“He is watching us again,” Conrad Strughold, AKA Lucien Cuenot, murmured, pretending to admire Marilyn Monroe’s admirable attributes.

Belmonde accepted a fresh snifter of brandy from Santa — one of a crew of Hitchcock-hired actor/waiters — with a gracious nod. “You assumed none of this vapid Hollywood mob would ever have heard of Cuenot,” he murmured in his native tongue. “Your Nietzschean sense of hubris will prove your undoing, my ‘cousin.’”

“Ah,” Strughold grunted with a nearly flawless Gallic accent. “These preening fools are absorbed in a world of romantic fantasy. We are men of science, Man’s greatest hope of salvation. We are of no consequence or interest to these professional imposters. If they had any idea of the real drama unfolding about them. Forgive me if I enjoy a small joke at their expense.”

The Scarred Man smiled grimly. “A small joke. Had Cuenot but known what he would help unleash on the world. At the hands of your monstrous Mengele.”

“Mengele was short-sighted. So concerned with elevating his ‘master race’ to superhumanity that he couldn’t be bothered with the future of our species.”

“And you, mon frère, were his top student, eh?”

“Indeed. And please do not forget that you’ve thrown in with the devil.” Strughold patted his colleague’s shoulder. “But there is no value in exhuming past grievances. I am concerned about the Englishman, however.”

“He is a storyteller, a fantasist,” Belmonde dismissed. “Why did you insist on such a public meeting?”

“Where better to discuss the salvation of the planet than in the bowels of Man’s foolish vanity? Herr Hitchcock – pardon, Monsieur Hitchcock – would appreciate the irony, no?”

**

“You know, Orson Welles died the same day as Yul Brynner,” Langley observed as the huge .mp4 file processed. “They were both in The Battle of Neretva, a 1969 Yugoslavian flick about Slavic partisans in World War II. Supposedly it was a heart attack, but Welles was cremated against his wishes. I always wondered if, somehow, the Yugoslav secret police…”

“On your own time, Geek Squad,” Scully snapped, peering at the monitor. “Let’s see what couldn’t wait until after the last egg nog.”

“95, 96, 98 percent,” Byers counted anxiously. He sighed in relief as the file finished rendering.

“Houston, the Eagle has landed,” Langley announced. The Gunmen cackled. “Like THAT really happened. OK, and here we are…”

A Quicktime window popped onto the screen, and within seconds, a grainy video began to unreel. It was, indeed, the graying Orson Welles, destined a year later for renewed acclaim in A Touch of Evil and eventually for jug wine commercials and voiceovers for the Muppets and Bugs Bunny. He grinned briefly for the camera, raising his cocktail and moving out of frame.

“I am blown away,” Scully breathed.

“Critics,” Langly muttered. “Welles is but a supporting player in this featurette. Look to the left – no, not Santa. The two distinctly non-Hollywood types – they guy with the Zorro scar and his BFF.”

Four heads nearly touched, then Mulder pulled sharply back.

“What the f—” Scully whispered.

**

“Katsuhiru is up to something,” Strughold informed the Scarred Man as they moved into the lavishly paneled den of Sir Alfred’s rental. “Something beyond the syndicate’s agenda. Hirohito has visited the family’s offices repeatedly, and one of Japan’s leading entomologists, Matsui Yonishi, also a frequent visitor to the Katsuhiru offices, committed a particularly gruesome act of hari-kari, leaving behind his wife, three children, and four grandchildren. Our contact informs me Matsui had become depressed, occupied in the past few months, for no apparent reason. We suspect this may have been related to Katsuhiru’s ‘project.’”

“The Japanese, they have always been somewhat ‘independent,’ no?” Belmonde rumbled, concerned. “You don’t believe they have developed a liaison with—”

“I do not know what to believe,” Strughold shrugged, absently touching the now-divided Motherland on a huge marble globe. “I know that we must uncover whatever it is they are up to. If it is a threat, we must neutralize it. If they are operating on their own agenda, we must bring them back into the fold.”

“Good evening.”

Strughold and Belmonde turned abruptly. The pudgy little man smiled angelically and moved toward the shelves.

“A thousand apologies, gentlemen,” Hitchcock murmured, stretching to retrieve a faded volume. “The enchanting Miss Hepburn inquired about a first edition Tolstoy I acquired in my travels. I trust you are enjoying our holiday gala.”

“Oui,” Strughold smiled, closing the six feet between them and pulling War and Peace from the shelf. He towered above the director. “Here you are.”

“Thank you,” Hitchcock beamed. “I shall dispatch one of our jolly elves to deliver some liquid refreshment.”

“Please do not worry yourself,” the Scarred Man bowed graciously. “My cousin and I were merely discussing a family matter. We shall rejoin the festivities momentarily.”

“Family love is messy, clinging, and of an annoying and repetitive pattern, like bad wallpaper,” the portly director nodded.

Strughold smiled. “Well stated, my friend. Thank you for your hospitality.”

Hitchcock bowed and disappeared into the corridor.

The Scarred Man frowned. “The quotation is familiar, but I cannot place the originator.”

“Friedrich Nietzsche,” Strughold murmured, still smiling. “He is a man of playful wiles.”

“As you said, he is a man of romantic fantasy,” Belmonde responded emphatically. “Whatever suspicion he may entertain is the product of a fertile imagination, and soon he will tire of this matter. We have issues of far graver significance to ponder.”

**

“Strughold,” Mulder whispered.

Conrad Strughold was an odd piece of the mounting puzzle Mulder and Scully had been assembling for more than a decade, all jagged edges and subtle curves that appeared to fit nowhere. What was known – at least to global police and intelligence agencies and more fanatical History Channel devotees – was that Strughold was an apprentice, quite possibly a favored protégé, of Josef Mengele, the SS’ notorious “Angel of Death.”

However, while Mengele earned his place in the annals of atrocity through crude and sadistically calloused human experimentation and voodoo genetic theory, his charge reportedly was more intrigued by the subtleties of heredity and the chromosomal structure. And, according to the few available historical accounts, far less infected with the rabid bloodlust of his “mentor.” Though scientists wouldn’t identify the double helix of DNA until 1953, opening the way for use of genetic markers and biotechnology, some suggested that in a different world, Stughold might have helped father modern genetic engineering.

As it was, Conrad Strughold vanished about a year before Mengele had fled for South America, leaving behind nary a scrap of research or speculation. Over the next several decades, a few blurred and suspect photos emerged, a few mysterious deaths, an isolated strand of scientific data that suggested Strughold’s theories, but the former Nazi “doctor” successfully evaded detection or apprehension.

Langly, lenses opaque in the monitor’s glow, nodded gleefully. “I ran facial recognition on old photos of Mengele’s merry gang of Nazi psychos and those video files from your informant. It’s definitely the scary old bastard. What was he doing at Hitch’s crib?”

“How about the other man, the Phantom of the Opera?” Byers queried.

“Dude, that’s where it really gets freaky-deaky,” Langly exalted. “Adrian Belmonde was one of the heroes of the French Resistance back in WW 2.0, wasted more Nazis than Captain America and Indiana Jones combined. Until the Gestapo captured Belmonde and gave him that permanent dimple you see there. I googled up our little Christmas rave, and I found out on a Hitchcock-centric blog that Belmonde was one of the guests of honor. Hitch had wrapped Vertigo and was working with MGM on North by Northwest, and Belmonde happened to be in L.A. meeting with Paramount about a movie about his Resistance years. Never got made. Question is, what’s a righteous dude like Belmonde doing with a Nazi scumbag like Strughold?”

Scully had fallen silent and contemplative. “It opens three major possibilities,” she now murmured. “One, Strughold was not entirely the ‘scumbag’ history recounts. At some point, the enormity of his deeds weighing unbearably upon him, he fell into league with Belmonde and the French Resistance. I find that theory implausible – even if Belmonde could accept Strughold’s penitence out of convenience, I can’t imagine our scarred friend could stomach a long-term friendship with a fascist mass murderer.”

“Two. Belmonde was not quite the ‘righteous dude’ history purports him to be. He was, what, a Nazi sympathizer? A double agent? What was his agenda? Even if Belmonde’s repeated heroism and pain at the hands of the Nazis were all part of some elaborate ruse, again, why would a man remembered as a virtual saint risk associating with an infamously evil fugitive. It doesn’t wash.

“That brings us to a third hypothesis,” Scully sighed, peering at the grainy, festive, perplexing image on Langly’s monitor. “Strughold, a scientist in good standing with one of the most unspeakably monstrous cabals in history, was allied with Belmonde, a man who had devoted his life to destroying that evil. What brings two such men together, and sustains such an unholy alliance?”

Frohike’s gnomish face darkened even in the dual glow of the computer screen and Christmas lights. “Shit.”

“A common enemy,” Mulder finally supplied.

“And a pretty fucking scary one,” Langly suggested.

**

Between a few snifters of Sir Alfred’s finest Armagnac brandy and a carol-fueled atmosphere of holiday festivity, Belmonde finally was able to enjoy the party, though he continued to track his “cousin’s” movements around the huge living room. Strughold seemed to have given up on his obsession with Hitchcock, and the former Nazi was now basking in his deception.

Indeed, worthy of the Master of Suspense, the Scarred Man mused as Strughold charmed the charming Doris Day by the buffet. If the wholesome actress but knew she was nibbling hors d’oevres with a monster who’d once assisted that monster Mengele in the “surgical” theater. If the pretty blonde had been privy to Strughold’s periodic postwar “housecleaning” – the quiet acts of homicidal expediency Belmonde had been forced to tolerate in the interest of the species. Their interest, he shuddered.

The murder of a Hollywood giant, a popular figure like Hitchcock would rouse a firestorm of attention. It could destroy the little they’d managed to accomplish over the past nearly 15 years. It could mean the death of them all. All over the death of a whimsical, foolish old man no doubt conjuring his next box office smash.

Belmonde chuckled at his use of the American vernacular. He might have enjoyed his travels in America – the people in general were warm and appreciative of their liberty, the scenery breathtaking, the food delightful if a bit heavy — if not for the grave nature of his life’s business. And, of course, his constant travel companion.

The Scarred Man politely gestured for another Armagnac.

**

“In fact, some in the Catholic Church continue to argue Hitler was possessed by the devil,” Prof. Henry Jones Jr. grinned crookedly. “I think they underestimate what mankind can do all on his own, without any demonic help.”

“Indeed. Madmen all.” ‘Monsieur Cuenot’ winced, secretly delighted he’d managed to pull the wool over the renowned archaeologist. Strughold had recognized the celebrated relic hunter/adventurer from an item in the L.A. paper – Dr. Jones recently had helped foil a Soviet plot to appropriate hidden Vatican treasures for the glory of Mother Russia. Jones was just the type of challenge Strughold relished, and Belmonde’s earlier chidings had only emboldened him to toy with Hitchcock’s guests.

It didn’t hurt that he agreed wholeheartedly with Dr. Jones’ assessment of his former colleagues in the Reich. Madmen all. The very idea that these grandiose, cerebrally bankrupt fools were superior, that the human species could be segregated and ranked by race, ethnology, and belief system. Mass homicide and goose-stepping jingoism.

Not that Strughold by any means could be called a humanist. Jews, Christians, Nazis, communists – all part of the same parade of greed, neuroses, sadism, and superstition. Men like Alan Desper, the jackal Mengele, were ripe as they say for the picking. Strughold had accumulated knowledge and power through their scientific fumblings. If he were a spiritual man, he might have seen the hand of cosmic fate or God preparing him for that night in 1943, the battle he now waged with Belmonde and the others.

Belmonde, now, was quite another story. He believed. In the better nature of humanity. In the essential justice of the universe. In the common good. Belmonde was not weak – Strughold recognized and grudgingly admired the ferocity with which the Frenchman fought for his fellow Man. He was merely misguided, misdirected, a romantic.

“Supposedly, Hitler hired Erik Jan Hanussen, a quack clairvoyant, to help him hone his ‘special skills,’” Jones barked derisively. “Mind control, crowd domination. The little hyena never realized that when people have no hope and a head full of rage, they’ll listen to any maniac holding out what looks like a life vest.”

“I understand Der Fuhrer was obsessed with finding the Holy Grail.”

“I, ah, I think I read that somewhere, too,” Jones murmured cautiously. “He thought, somehow, that tapping into the essence of everything holy would empower his unholy ambitions.”

“Holy?” Strughold chuckled despite himself. “You are a man of science. You believe in such concepts? Holiness, moral evil?”

The archaeological grinned. “I’ve looked them both in the face, including Der Fuhrer. He was actually a lot runtier than they said. No, good and evil are as real as the periodic table and the cells that make you and I what we are. You don’t believe that, even after what your cousin and yourself went through in the War?”

Strughold shrugged sheepishly. Time to pull back. “You see such horrors, it can shake your confidence in humanity, in the basic precepts of good and evil, in God. Please forgive me — on this, of all nights…”

Jones shook his head. “Maybe we both could use a little more Christmas ‘spirit.’ Let me buy you one of Sir Alfred’s fine cognacs.”

“Professor Jones?” The lanky man wobbled behind the archaeologist; Strughold could smell the distillery fumes. “Orson says you can help settle something.”

Jones grinned back at Strughold. “Sure, pal.”

“He says that War of the Worlds thing he did on the radio wasn’t any show – that the Martians were for real, and the Army made him cover it up. Thatsh horseshit, you should pardon my language.”

“And you don’t believe him?” Jones played along, winking at the “Frenchman.”

“He says,” the lush leaned in. “He says they’re still here.”

Jones forced his face into an expression of grave anxiety. “Just how much did Mr. Welles tell you?”

The drunk back-pedaled. Gene Kelly deftly danced out of his orbit. “Whaddya mean?”

“How much did Mr. Welles reveal about the Martian invasion of Grovers Mills?”

“Hey, whoa, Jones. We was just horsin’ around, and you knowin’ all about kinda ghosts and goblins and the like, I thought you might…”

Jones leaned in; Strughold suppressed a grin. “Listen, friend. It would be in the interest of your continued health to forget anything Orson Welles said tonight. I’m going to have a little chat with our talented friend right now and remind him of his federal confidentiality oath.”

“Jeez, buddy, jeez.” The tall man had gone pale, his reddened cheeks the only chromatic counterpoint. Jones cackled and grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Relax, friend,” the scientist assured him. “Orson’s up to his old tricks, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to play along. We all know there’s no such thing as Martians, right? Right, M’sieur Cuenot?”

“Of course not,” Strughold smiled.

“I better get my friend a fresh Scotch,” Jones said, patting the drunk’s arm. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Cuenot.”

“Yes, yes,” Strughold bowed as Jones and his “friend” retreated toward the bar. And that’s when he spotted Santa Claus.

Santa’s eyes locked directly on Strughold’s, and the faux Frenchman realized St. Nick had been studying him. Strughold’s brow arched. Santa nodded abruptly, the ball on his velvet cap bobbing.

Strughold felt a sudden sense of anxiety and something else – an old feeling, like sonar or the kind of sixth sense that little madman Hitler had claimed to possess. They were here, and trying to find the door into his mind.

He jumped unconsciously as Santa appeared at his elbow.

“Dr. Strughold?” the jolly elf rumbled. “Let’s talk.”

**

“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch,” Thurl Ravenscroft scolded the bogus Santa as he plotted the theft of Whoville’s accumulated gifts.

“I thought we were done,” Scully muttered, glaring as Mulder and Frohike glanced reluctantly up from the screen. Jimmy Stewart had had his spiritual epiphany, Charlie Brown and Linus had saved a tree, and the boys had moved on to the Seussian classic as Byers and Langly plugged away a few yards away.

“There’s nothing we can do,” Mulder whined. “We’re onto something huge, Scully – I can feel it. Strughold was in league with Belmonde. One of the good guys. Because of the Desper connection, the way he’s constantly sabotaged whatever progress we’ve made, my assumption had been Strughold was working with the others. Now, I don’t know. What if, somehow, he’s actually fighting the invading force?”

“The invading force?” Scully said. “Mulder, maybe you better ease up on the eggnog.”

“Sorry – Frohike made me watch Santa vs. The Martians. That Pia Isadora was always one the cinema’s great forgotten treasures. My point, Scully, is that maybe Strughold has an agenda beyond our comprehension. Maybe one not even Belmonde realized.” Mulder rose, loosing a snowfall of Cheetos dust. “Hey, Langly, whattaya got there?”

“Chill, bro,” the Gunmen grumbled. “Only that I can’t find any record of Belmonde’s death. I’ve hacked every major world database, and the last thing I found was some 1967 Look piece on old resistance fighters with a photo of the old dude.”

“In ’67, Belmonde would have been, oh, 49,” Frohike calculated. “He’d be pushing the century mark by now. He’s got to have cacked.”

“Not everybody subsists on a diet of cheese puffs and Red Bull,” Scully chided. “Look, let’s pack it up for tonight and start fresh on the weekend. I’ve got two dishes to prepare and Mulder’s gifts to rewrap.”

“It’s the thought that counts,” Mulder offered.

“Oh, there was a thought involved?”

Mulder nodded toward the furtive green ghoul on the screen. “Guy was an amateur,” he told Frohike, who expelled Dew through his nostrils.

“Humbug,” Scully growled.

**

Santa and Strughold found a quiet spot under a palm in the sprawling backyard. The mythical elf was an absurd figure, festive in appearance, sardonically grim in demeanor.

“My friend,” Strughold began. “You somehow have mistaken me for this doctor, this Strughold. Lucien Cuenot. And you would be?”

“Don’t you recognize me?” Santa asked calmly. Strughold continued to resist the force nudging at his thoughts. “Dr. Strughold? Let’s not play games.”

The former Nazi was silent. Then Strughold nodded. “Why are we here?”

“Curiosity, let us say. You’ve been up to something, haven’t you? You and your friends. You know you cannot win – that’s why I’m here. You cannot win.”

A smile formed on Strughold’s somber face. “Then why don’t you simply finish me now?”

Santa shook his head. His eyes were deeply rimmed pools. “I am not you. You and your kind murdered with ease, wiped out entire families with the wave of a hand. The story of mankind – death and horror. I am not you. Your fate will be far worse.”

Strughold again nodded. His fingers had been submerged in his jacket, wrapped around a cool cylindrical object, one he’d appropriated from one of Them in a South American jungle eight years ago. It was the only sure way of killing Them, short of a rocket attack.

Now, his hand emerged in a single smooth arc; he raised the weapon and buried the pick-like blade in Santa’s chest. Velvet and padding melted away at the force of Strughold’s blow, and “Santa’s” costume darkened. The elf dropped to his knees, a look of mingled astonishment and terror sparking in his eyes above the beard.

“Bóg pomaga mnie,” Santa whispered.

Strughold froze, ice forming in his chest. He had mastered a dozen languages over the years in his quest for knowledge. Polish, as it happened, was not one of them, but he’d heard the phrase often enough, in the camps, in the labs.

God help me.

“I knew it was you the minute I saw you,” Santa rasped with a ghastly smile. “It was fate, taking this job, winding up in the same room with you. The chance to avenge my Sofia, the others you butchered. Well. At least I’ll see her soon enough.”

Blood leaked from his lips – red blood – and the man fell forward into the grass. Strughold scrabbled to his feet, considering his options. The Hollywood Hills were less than a quarter-mile away – would a drop from the heights obscure the deep stab wound? Better yet – Los Angeles was known for its criminal violence, for its young toughs. A common street robbery, Santa Claus found exsanguinated by dawn’s light. The slavering California press would love it.

Getting the body to the car would be the challenge. The rental coupe had been valet-parked, and he’d first have to locate it. Then drag the cumbersome corpse past all these people. This gaudy red suit would not help.

Yes, first order of business was to disguise the body by removing its disguise. Strughold dragged Santa into a nearby thicket and tugged at the bloodstained jacket. The waiter/elf had worn a T-shirt under his costume; Strughold glanced briefly at the tattoo with which his mad colleagues had branded the unfortunate man.

“It would appear you have a curious predicament.”

Strughold looked up, reaching instinctively for the Mauser he’d kept in his cumberbund. A short, portly bald man stepped carefully through the foliage.

Hitchcock smiled. “Good evening.”

**

Laughter and libidinous murmurs erupted near the house, and Strughold was forced to shelve his immediate plan. He nonetheless pulled the weapon from its makeshift holster.

“I assume this gentleman is deceased?” Hitchcock inquired, examining the corpse from a respectful distance. “This is going to play havoc with the caterers.” Strughold did not speak. “You must pardon me. Gallows humor is my weakness. Yours, apparently, is an inclination toward homicide.

“I didn’t mean to intrude, but you present a fascinating conundrum. First, Monsieur Belmonde appears on my doorstep with an unannounced German posing as his Gallic cousin. Then you abruptly leave the celebration in the company of one of my waiters. I must confess, I’ve been monitoring your movements throughout the evening. Oh, and by the way, you just missed an absolutely smashing rendition of ‘Silver Bells’ by Miss Doris Day.”

“You are quite insane,” Strughold marveled.

“No, I am not,” Hitchcock concluded after a moment’s reflection. “I am reasonably confident you won’t discharge that horrid weapon within earshot of my guests. Though I suppose you might possess a stray garrote on your person. But let us temporarily abandon the unpleasant topic of my violent death. As a man who has made a career of the macabre, I find this all quite tantalizing. How did you intend on disposing of our unfortunate S. Claus?”

Strughold shrugged. This absurdist discussion would give him time to consider how best to murder the little director. “A staged robbery in an alleyway or on the docks. I was reasonably certain you and your celebrated friends would not miss one waiter within a troupe of anonymous Santas. I would guess the service you hired is not unaccustomed to the help simply, how do your gangster films put it? Taking a powder?”

“Yes,” Hitchcock beamed. “Delightful. But how in the world did plan to you remove St. Nick from the premises without attracting unwelcome attention?”

“I suppose a distraction of some sort would have been required.”

“And your companion, Monsieur Belmonde. Is he aware of your rather un-Christmaslike conduct this evening?”

“He will not be pleased by this development, though he was concerned I was instead inclined toward eliminating you.”

Hitchcock grimaced. “I’m afraid my surveillance technique leaves much to be desired. Oh. I nearly forgot. Motive.”

“What?”

“Your motive. Why would you impale this seemingly benign icon of the yuletide season, Mr.…?”

“Strughold.” It hardly mattered. Hitchcock would not leave here alive. “I suppose fear would best describe my motive. As it would turn out, somewhat displaced fear.”

“Displaced? I assume your fear was of exposure. Yes, I spotted the markings on your friend’s arm. They are unfortunately too familiar. He recognized you, and threatened to divulge your past political affiliations. In your place, I would find that prospect utterly bone-chilling. But you now believe your fear to have been displaced?”

Strughold was growing tired of this eccentric little man. “I pray this won’t offend you, but you know nothing of real fear.”

“You might be surprised. By the way, as you’ve been kind enough to reveal yourself to me, I should reciprocate, Dr. Strughold. Allow me to show you my true face.”

Strughold brought the mauser up, but “Hitchcock” was faster. The little man wrenched the weapon from the Nazi’s grasp even as his features melted and he grew to tower over Strughold.

“No,” Strughold choked.

“This is the real fear you spoke of?” “Hitchcock” asked. Except he now spoke in a guttural Germanic accent…

**

“Where were you?” the Scarred Man demanded as his “cousin” reappeared at his side. “I was afraid you had foolishly decided to follow through…”

Strughold sighed. “You were right. There is no use in losing our heads, eh? He is a foolish old man who will likely forget the both of us by morning tea. But I must take my leave. Tell them those ‘pigs in the blanket’ hors d’oevres made me nauseous.”

Belmonde nodded, appearing somewhat relieved. “I will remain. Somehow, I am in need of some holiday cheer and human comfort.”

“Of course,” “Monsieur Cuenot” nodded curtly.

**

“You guys leaving already?” Langly whined, peering from around his monitor.

Scully nodded as she shrugged into her coat. “I persuaded Mulder to celebrate Christmas while it’s still Christmas. He’ll be back to play after he unwraps his toys and awakens from his turkey-induced coma.”

The gangly geek leapt up. “Hold up, dudes.” He disappeared briefly into the darkness beyond the Gunmen’s bank of technology and emerged with a pair of parcels brightly wrapped as if by a drunken lemur with a jumbo roll of tape.

Frohike and Byers beamed as their partner made the presentation. “Me and the guys wanted to get you something special. You’re like our best buds, and we appreciate you guys keeping us looped.”

“I’m going to burst into girlish tears,” Mulder suggested, nonetheless ripping greedily into his gift. Seconds later, paper covered the floor and Mulder stared mutely at the object in his hands. “Oh. My. God.”

“Just came in — full-spectrum, 10-megapixel camcorder,” Frohike grinned. “High-def, 1080p, tricked out with UV and IR sensitivity. For the ghost hunter who has everything. Scully?”

Scully smiled, sighing, and more carefully worked her parcel open. It was flat, an inch thick, roughly 8 by 11. She nudged the wrappings aside and gasped.

“Mulder,” she whispered, staring into the grainy, smiling face of Captain William Scully, who was accepting a respectful embrace from President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on what appeared to be the deck of a naval carrier. The framed image blurred before Scully’s eyes. “I have no words–”

“It was after the Cuban Blockade in ’62,” Byers related gently. “An archivist at the Naval Academy owed us a big one. We thought you’d like it–”

Scully wrapped the Gunmen in a fierce and prolonged embrace before he could complete the sentiment.

**

“It appears your notorious guest is taking flight,” Grant smirked, turning from the patio doors. “Shall I give chase?”

Hitchcock had been staring off into the Hollywood Hills. Now he returned to his friend. “Oh, Monsieur Belmonde’s cousin. I had quite forgotten about him.”

“This insidious war criminal simply slipped your mind?”

“As you so obviously have surmised, I was having a bit of sport with you.” Hitchcock paused. “You must admit, it was an intriguing concept. At least, it might have been a few years ago. I fear today’s jaded audience requires something a bit more, ah, visceral than sinister Germans and cocktail parties and wisecracking, square-jawed heroes. Oh, I beg your pardon.”

“Not at all, old man,” Cary Grant grinned, absently rubbing his own cleft chin. “I find myself gradually being replaced by gargantuan tarantulas and teenage werewolves and Elvis Presley’s pelvic region. Perhaps I should sprout an extra few appendages or some new facial hair.”

“Alfred.”

The reproving tone shook the pair from their whimsical reverie. Alma Hitchcock was a tiny woman, shoulder-high to her creative and marital collaborator, but the party’s backlighting cast a formidable shadow across the patio stones.

“Yes, dear heart,” Hitchcock murmured with merely a hint of irony.

“We have a houseful of guests, and you two have been huddling out here all evening like a pair of conspiratorial schoolboys. It’s extremely rude.”

Hitchcock looked to Grant, who shrugged. The little director sighed.

“Besides,” Lady Hitchcock continued. “You need to ride herd on your disreputable chums — I believe Orson’s a bit full to the gills with Christmas cheer. He swears he spotted you cavorting about in the wood behind the house.”

“Come along, then,” Grant urged genially. “Best fetch him a black coffee or the next thing you know, the old boy will start seeing Martians in the bougainvillea.”

*end

Kachina

Kachina poster

Kachina

By Martin Ross

Rating: R for language, graphic language

Spoilers: Travelers, The Unnatural, Desperatus (S17), and the series Medium

Summary: Science and spiritualism clash in the suburban Southwest as Mulder, Scully, and the father of the X-Files investigate a Halloween night haunting and a phantom with an insatiable hunger.

Disclaimer: As always, Mulder and Scully owe their existence to Chris Carter. The fictional version of Alison Dubois and Lee Scanlon are the inspiration of Glenn Gordon Caron.

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Village Palms

Gilbert, Arizona

6:56 p.m.

October 31

“Dude who lived here, he was some kinda mad scientist, like Doc Ock or The Lizard,” the Amazing Spiderman began. His pre-adolescent voice was tinged with the reverence that had been encoded into tale spinners from the time of the shamans through Poe, Shelley, Lovecraft, Bradbury, King, Abrams.

No campfires or roaring hearths here — the Villa Palms HOA had banned fire pits, bonfires, or even use of rocket-style fireworks since ’92, and the snowbirds had flocked here to get away from hearths and snowplows and black ice. The squeals and peals of childish laughter invaded the somber Halloween night.

But Spiderman had all that was required of a crackling good ghost story: a tapestry of vague accounts and half-truths, and a susceptible victim.

“You’re fulla shit,” the Mighty Thor sneered. Maybe not the perfect victim, but as good as one might expect in this age of CGI zombies and teen vampires and Al Qaeda.

Spiderman breathed loudly through his nose holes — his folks had popped for the cheap dollar store knockoff. “My Dad told me. Dude worked for some big drug company in Phoenix but got his ass canned for some secret experiment or something. This was his grandpa’s place, and he moved in after the old guy cracked. Then the scientist guy had like this freak accident, and HE died. Then the strange shit started happening. People started seeing weird lights, hearing creepy noises. And then the ghost showed up.”

Thor frowned, or at least appeared to under his Marvel-licensed mask. “So this was the scientist guy, or the old dude, the grandpa?”

“Jeez, I dunno,” Spiderman squeaked. Then he rallied. “Prolly the old guy. Prolly killed the scientist guy out of revenge or some shit.”

“You suck at this, Dude,” Thor informed his web-slinging friend. “My Uncle Ramon told me the same crap and I almost pissed myself. You suck. Plus, we been here for 20 minutes, and I want some blood sugar, dude.”

The Amazing Spiderman, AKA mild-mannered fifth-grader Troy Brackman, ripped his mask away and wiped the accumulated sweat from his brow. “What-ever, Dude. Prolly all BS, anyway.”

Thor, a failing math scholar known to the mortals as Eric Valdez, popped to his feet, grabbing the 100 percent recyclable Fine Foods tote bag his mom had supplied for the evening’s swag. Troy sighed, disgusted by his unimaginative, candy-grubbing colleague, and trudged down the bougainvillea-lined sidewalk after him.

Then, out of some atavistic impulse, he turned slowly back to 127, stared into the black window embedded in the mauve stucco.

“What were you doing, Dude?” Eric demanded as his friend emerged stiff-legged from the darkness, mask back in place.

“You’re right, it’s BS,” Troy mumbled. “C’mon. Let’s score some munchies. Move.”

“What’s your damage?” Eric mumbled back, catching only the merest hint of urine-soaked lycra-polyester as his friend brushed past.

***

The shadow flitted among the pines of the incongruously named Village Palms, staying well beyond the visual orbit of the clustered children and fussing parents.

It seldom strayed beyond 127 between feedings. Something within screamed the dangers of venturing forth like this, but another voice, primeval, demanding, voracious, was louder.

It had to be fed.

**

The battered hunter pushed through his pain up the grassy slope, his long white coat flapping at his sides. Dark glasses obscured his eyes, though she knew, somehow, that they were filled with fear and determination.

As The Hunter limped onto the flat, wide mesa, he spotted his prey. It was a shadow, at first, hovering and darting at its fresh kill. The bulky carcass on the smooth, lined stone flopped in a chilling rigor; a white cross lie nearby, spattered with its owner’s blood.

The Hunter drew his weapon – a thin, tubular spear that shone even in the gray twilight of the mesa. The creature perceived the presence of danger and lit on the hard ground. It’s slitted eyes were soulless but sentient. It’s ebony proboscis twitched, the Hunter thought, in a sort of predatory amusement. It was garbed in ceremonial raiments, and a feather fluttered on the windless plain.

It regarded The Hunter with what may have been pity or fury, both, or neither.

“It is my nature,” the creature cried.

Alison Dubois jumped, the legal text flopping to the living room rug, adrenalin coursing familiarly through her veins. Her disoriented eyes instinctively sought Joe. Then she remembered. Alison gathered her class notes with a sigh, stacked them neatly on the coffee table, fumbled for her Diet Pepsi.

“When’s dinner?”

Alison grinned sheepishly up at Bridgette. “How long was I out?”

Her daughter smiled crookedly. “Not long, but you’ve been studying so hard and I could tell you were, uh, busy. I didn’t want to wake you. Was it a bad one?”

“On a scale of one to 10?” Alison teased. Her features darkened momentarily as she placed a palm on the cushion beside her.

Bridgette plopped onto the opposite cushion. “OK, spill. Then let’s get dinner on the road.”

**

While Arthur Dales had taken his FBI “retirement” earlier than most, The Job had profoundly influenced — some might say shattered — both his world view and belief system.

Christmas thus meant little beyond unruly consumerist mobs and Jimmy Stewart (Arthur enjoyed It’s a Wonderful Life as an entertaining if somewhat mawkish treatise on multiversal existence). Easter meant fewer Sunday crowds at Denny’s — a mixed blessing for the nomadic Dales, who regarded the chain as a cultural touchstone wherever he set down temporary roots. Thanksgiving offered a rare opportunity for overindulgence and secular communion — if he happened at that point to be in D.C. and Fox and Dana were free in or New Mexico with his brother, the other Arthur Dales, who was always free.

But Halloween? That was altogether another story — a story that demanded to be shared with a stiff Scotch rather than smores and cocoa. Dales had peeped behind too many curtains, ventured into too many locked and shuttered rooms, gazed into too many tortured and alien souls. Arthur Dales was not a superstitious man, but the very notion of merchandising monstrosity, selling the supernatural at everyday discount prices, seemed, well, foolhardy at best and severely delusional at the very least. Like texting and driving without headlights.

Further, it was only 6:30, and Dales already had encountered five Romneys and an equal number of Obamas — a sight all the more chilling to the politically jaded ex-fed. Jaded, reclusive, agnostic, perhaps, but Arthur Dales was no partisan misanthropist: He’d distributed an equal number of Snickers to each Republican, Democrat, superhero, faux-Kardashian, and phantasm that darkened his door.

Rudolf Llargas’ door, that is. The ex-agent and the cultural anthropologist had consulted over a possible case of Albanian vampirism back in ’51; the two had revived their acquaintance at a San Diego Barnes and Noble, where Llargas was hawking his latest book on shamanism among modern tribal clusters. Llargas had settled just outside Phoenix in affluent Gilbert (the 2008 recession and a lucrative gig consulting with the Syfy network had been kind to Rudy), and the 93-year-old scientist was seeking a reliable house sitter while he trolled for Inuit spirits in British Canada. Dales was ready to ditch his drafty trailer for a few months, and the prospect of poring over Llargas’ dense library was merely the icing atop a full fridge and Dish Network.

“And who might you be?” the redheaded octogenarian beamed as he proffered a handful of chocolate, caramel, and peanuts toward the diminutive politico on his arched stoop.

“Mmph,” Romneystiltskin shrugged as he adjusted his rubber mask. “Dunno. I asked Mom to let me be Ironman, but Daddy said this was more, more original. Whatever that means. I don’t even know who I am.”

“A not uncommon human condition,” Dales mused. The boy stood mutely, and the ex-agent apologetically dumped a half-dozen Snickers into his waiting bag. What we selfishly and unthinkingly inflict on our young, Dales reflected as the dejected Halloweener slouched down his walk.

The shrieks broke Dales contemplation, and his FBI reflexes immediately kicked in. Grabbing an aboriginal talking stick from a stand by the front door, he rushed toward the source of the terrified shouts, near the communal trash and recycling bins. A knot of children were clustered on the lawn of the currently vacant 158, some sobbing, others attempting to calm or console them, a few gathered in a tight circle around what appeared to be a Viking.

“What on Earth happened here?” Dales breathed, reaching for his cell phone even as he nudged the trick-or-treaters away from the victim. Or body, he amended with a familiar chill.

“It was him, it,” a teen voice stammered. The boy wore a red-and-blue bodysuit criss-crossed with webs. “It attacked them, the kids. We tried to stop him, it, whatever, and it grabbed Eric.”

Dales checked the fallen Eric’s pulse. Weak but there. He punched 9-1-1 into the phone as adults approached from several directions.

“Yes, we have an assault victim here at the Village Palms in Gilbert,” Dales told the dispatcher. “Near the corner of Saguaro and Sands. There may be some traumatized kids here, too. I will.” The old man pocketed the phone. “You said it?”

Spiderman blinked as he realized Dales was addressing him. “Yeah, yeah. Is he gonna be OK?”

“I certainly hope so. Who attacked your friend? Who attacked the children?”

The boy, Troy, glanced about, suddenly self-conscious. He kneeled next to Dales and leaned in.

“The ghost,” Troy whispered. “The one in 127.”

“It must’ve been those punks,” a harsh voice rasped as Dales processed Troy’s statement. It was Hank, the authoritarian president of the HOA — just what the situation needed. Hank viewed Dales with suspicion. He had investigated evicting him under Rudy’s lease agreement but could find no statute forbidding free houseguests. Hank also was no fan of cultural diversity, and Dales cut him off.

“I think it’s a bit early to reach any conclusions,” the ex-agent cautioned. “The police should be here any minute.”

“Who’d mug a bunch of kids?” Hank bellowed.

“Mug?” Dales frowned.

“Yeah, Artie. Look around.”

Dales scanned the lawn. Disney princesses peered dismally into empty bags; empty plastic pumpkins and ripped paper sacks littered the landscape.

“Stealing candy from children,” Hank rumbled. “Now I seen it all.”

Dales fumbled the phone from his pants and dialed a pre-programmed number.

**

The sheriff’s detective was a former Phoenix cop named Scanlon — a burly, tieless bull in a cheap blazer who strangely enough zeroed in on Dales.

“You know none of the kids claim to have seen their attacker, right?” Scanlon said as Dales handed him a cup of black coffee. Scanlon remained standing amid Rudy’s cluttered talismen, totems, and texts. “You were the first on the scene last night. You didn’t see anybody, I take it, or you would’ve told the officers.”

“I arrived unfortunately too late,” Dales lamented from the kitchenette, squirting honey into his green tea.

“Your neighbor, Hank Brewer, he says you’re a very outspoken individual.”

Dales smirked. “Oh, I doubt seriously those were his words.”

Scanlon grinned. “He said you were a know-it-all, an overeducated blowhard.”

“Well,” Dales shrugged, settling into his armchair.

“Yeah, that was my take on Mr. Brewer, too. Here’s the thing, Mr. Dales. Folks get along pretty well out here, but there are the occasional cultural and economic frictions. Your Mr. Brewer is fairly shall we say riled about this situation, and I don’t want to see another Trayvon Martin scenario develop if he mobilizes the neighborhood watch. The sooner I can clear this case, the better for everyone.

“Now, what strikes me as curious is that for an opinionated man such as yourself, you’ve been a little shy on opinions about last night’s attack. I did a little research on you, and I could use your perspective, Agent Dales. What’re you holding back?”

Dales sighed, sipped his tea. “Heard any good local ghost stories lately?”

Scanlon settled on the arm of Rudy’s leather couch. That was all. Dales, for once surprised, set his cup on a Smithsonian coaster, and told the tale of the late Peter Crews, the strange disappearance of his father, Frederic Crews, and the unusual occurrences associated with Unit 127.

“And you think there may be something to this?” Scanlon grunted simply as Dales concluded with the events of Oct. 31, 2012.

“Detective, I have no idea. Last night’s mishap may have been no more than an opportunistic crime or a despicable act of violence. But at the risk of sounding like a feeble old fool, I’ve seen too many inexplicable things in this life to discount any avenue of investigation, no matter how improbable.” Dales took a breath. “In fact, last night, I contacted a dear old friend at the Bureau who specializes in just these sorts of things.”

Lee Scanlon smiled. “Agent Mulder called me this morning — he and his partner are supposed to get into Sky Harbor at 1:30. We worked a case a few years back — like you put it, one of those sorts of things. See, I have a dear friend, too — one who likes a good ghost story. I’ll look into this 127 thing, even though there’s a wrinkle there, too. You watch much reality TV, Mr. Dales?”

“I’ve never found much reality on TV,” Dales apologized. “I do enjoy 30 Rock.”

“Well, Unit 127’s about to be a star. Ever heard of Phantom Flip? It’s on FanTC, the sci-fi network. They find a haunted house or hotel, do some rehab, roust whatever evil spirits are there or figure out how to market ’em, and help the owner unload the place. Yeah, I know. But Pete Crews’ sister, realtor from LA, sold the producers on looking at Unit 127. Your buddy Brewer hates the idea, but the HOA board outvoted him, probably to piss him off.”

Dales was warmed by the notion.

Unit 127

Village Palms

Gilbert, Arizona

2:23 p.m.

“Yeah, yeah,” Seth Moritz nodded eagerly, peering about the darkened interior of Unit 127. His girth cast odd shadows in the light of a trio of studio floods set up by the Phantom Flip crew — his eyes glowed red on the monitors behind the camera. “I am definitely picking up something here.”

The paranormal investigator, who normally scouted the locations before the color consultants, carpenters, and exorcists were brought in, paused before the mission-style entertainment center and indicated the room’s sole decorative touch — a small, primitive-looking figure dressed in leathers and feathers.

“The kokopelli is an important spiritual totem for many Southwest Indian tribes,” he explained for the at-home audience. “They represent the natural and supernatural spirits that pervade Native American culture. I’m getting a really strong sensation here…”

“Yeah, I’m getting that too,” a dry voice interrupted. “But your cameras are blocking the way to the toilet.”

“Alright, CUT!!” the show’s director hollered. The nose-ringed troll turned on the suited couple behind him — no doubt a couple of lost Mormon bible-thumpers. “This is a hot set, asshole. Can’t you read?”

“I’m a Harvard grad and an FBI agent, so I can both spell and explain Schrodinger’s Cat in the original Pig Latin,” Fox Mulder boasted, stepping over a tangle of coaxial cables. His petite redhead companion rolled her eyes and flashed Bureau ID.

“Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder,” she purred. “We’re investigating an attack that occurred in this neighborhood last night, and we have reason to believe this unit might be involved.”

“Kachina,” Mulder blurted.

“Gesundheit?” Moritz smirked. “You got a problem, Chief? Non-believer, right?”

“If only,” Scully sighed.

“A kokopelli is a fertility deity and a trickster god, which explains half the baby mamas at WalMart. What you’re holding there is a kachina, a spirit being venerated by the Hopi and other Southwest Pueblo cultures. There are more than 400 different ones, each personifying a different animal, plant, entity, location, or idea, and each conveying its own power over nature or the cosmos. A kokopelli is one type of kachina. From the feathers and beak, what you got there is some kind of bird spirit. Let’s test my hypothesis — hold it over your head.”

“What do you want from us?” the director hissed.

“Veracity, respect for ancient cultures and folkways, and I know I could go for a Dr. Pepper,” Mulder replied. “In the absence of that, I really just need to know if any of your crew was over here last night? A trick-or-treater saw something moving inside the house, right before the attack.”

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“It wasn’t the boy who wound up in the hospital, was it?” Moritz inquired, his snark now replaced by what appeared to be genuine concern. “Is the kid OK?”

“Eric Valdez. He’s stable,” Scully reported. They’d dropped in on the still-shaken, battered, but coherent Valdez straight from the airport.

“He sustained some very unusual injuries,” Mulder added, drawing a glare from his partner. “Extensive ecchymosis — severe subcutaneous bruising — over most of his upper body. It looks like something–”

“Someone,” Scully amended.

“– applied intense, vigorous pressure to the boy.”

“Shiatsu with intent,” a cameraman chortled.

“Shut the fuck up,” Moritz snapped. “What are you saying here, Agent?”

“Just because you don’t know a kachina from a hole in a butte doesn’t mean you haven’t had some experience with paranormal phenomena,” Mulder said. “I read your first couple of books — not entirely lame. You ever heard of anything like this?”

Moritz eyed the agent for a moment, seemingly waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump from behind a couch. “Well, it sounds like some kind of poltergeist event. We had a case in Rhode Island, a teacher who reported being bitten, pinched, and struck from behind by some invisible force. Turned out about three months after the shoot that he’d been molesting students for more than 20 years, one a junior high kid who’d killed himself. That might explain last night.”

“Explain what?” the director demanded, now more intrigued than peeved.

“Ghosts normally are associated with a place, often the place where they died,” Mulder related. “Poltergeists are troubled spirits associated with a specific person. If this house is haunted, it would be unusual for the ghost to have attacked those kids nearly a half-block away. On the other hand, why would a poltergeist have attacked a small child or even one of the two teenagers who tried to intervene? Where’s the karma, dude?

“Of course, children are often present or the target in poltergeist attacks — William Roll at the University of West Georgia suggested poltergeist phenomena might actually be a result of unconscious psychokinesis by the kids themselves. I’ll check to see if any of the victims had any kind of neurological symptoms or epilepsy.” Mulder paused, pondered. “You ever heard of a poltergeist with a sweet tooth, Moritz?”

“The stolen candy? The cop, Scanlon, told me before telling me to get lost. Poltergeists manipulate objects, damage them. But steal them? That’s a new one.”

“You know,” the director drawled, “this whole Halloween poltergeist thing is a lot cooler than this haunted condo shit. Agent, how would you like to do a guest shot?”

Mulder perked. “Absolutely and unequivocally not,” Scully stated. “We need to look around. Would you and your crew mind taking five or whatever it is you do?”

The director started to cite his rights under the Constitution and the FCC, but Moritz cut him off. “Fish tacos and mescal on me, everybody,” the ghosthunter offered, clapping an arm over the director’s narrow shoulders. “Mulder, if I can help, you know where to find me.”

“Who you gonna call?” Mulder called after his new buddy.

Scully flipped on the overhead fixture and surveyed the bungalow. A spartan home for father-and-son bachelors, furnished on a corporate researcher’s salary and with a corporate researcher’s flair. Modern American IKEA, a flatscreen of a somewhat obscure but outstanding make, a lack of any real personal presence beyond the lonely kachina.

The bedroom beyond made the living/dining room seem like Snoop’s crib by comparison: A double bed was crammed against the outside wall along with an IKEA bedside stand and a Walmart lamp. The rest of the space was open, empty, rugless. Mulder made a mental note.

The kitchen fridge was empty, powered down presumably by the sister. The cupboards were equally bare, except for a space next to the oven, where a few dozen bottles of Aquafina were lined up with mathematical precision. Mulder hefted a bottle.

“Seal’s broken on all these bottles, but they’re all full,” he observed. “This place has been empty for seven months, and no dust on any of these bottles.” Mulder examined the beverage, then kneeled before the open pantry. “Or refilled.”

“Mulder,” Scully warned as her partner unscrewed the cap and put the bottle to his lips. “Why don’t we let the lab analyze those, rather than relying on your fine palate?”

“Oh, yeah,” he nodded.

Superstition Parkway Hampton Inn

Mesa, Arizona

6:30 p.m.

“Ready?” Mulder called.

“If you mean dinner, give me a few,” Scully said. “If you mean that pre-meal coitus you suggested on the way here, absolutely not.”

Mulder sighed, glanced into the bathroom. “Yoicks. No hurry.”

Scully offered an unpleasant suggestion as to how Mulder might occupy his wait. “You still think Crews’ death might’ve been suicide?”

Her partner fell back onto the bedspread, then hastily kicked off his shoes. “A guardrail on Highway 101 might’ve seemed his best option. Crews had been canned by Biodigm just a few months before, and he had an elderly, mentally incapacitated father to care for. I’m sure that couldn’t have been easy, given his economics and the family dynamic.”

“You going to give me some of that Grade A profiling you’re supposed to be so good at?”

Mulder returned Scully’s earlier recommendation. “Frederic Crews was something of the Audubon of the latter 20th Century — major environmentalist in the ‘60s, before Al Gore was cool. Catalogued every bird and mammal in the Southwest. Not a Greenpeace radical or anything, but he used to pop up from time to time on PBS or the evening news, warning about the impending death of the planet, Man’s reckless fascination with technology. It seemed curious his son would be working for Biodigm – Big Technology.”

“Sons rebel against their fathers,” Scully noted. “Or so I’ve heard. Maybe Crews was new-generation green, wanted to save the planet through Science.”

“Peter Crews worked for Biodigm’s consumer products division – sports drinks and retail nutraceuticals. Or did. He crashed his Honda a few months after losing his job, and his dad disappeared by the time the cops could come looking for him. Ironic considering Frederic’s health seemed to be on the upswing – neighbors said he’d taken to biking around the subdivision, even doing a few laps in the community pool.”

Scully emerged from the bathroom in T-shirt and jeans. “So we’ve got a highway fatality or vehicular suicide, a mentally impaired old man who probably just wandered off to die in the desert, the theft of what, maybe 50 pounds of Reese’s Pieces and Twizzlers. I could be wrong, but does this really rise to the occasion of a federal investigation?”

Mulder sat up. “I couldn’t just tell Arthur no.”

“Try again, Mulder.” Scully plucked her purse from the hotel desk. “It was the children. After what happened last year in Detroit, that little girl Kisha…”

Mulder grinned, shook his head, and set off in search of his loafers. “All this amateur psychoanalysis is making me hungry. Let’s roll.”

“Yeah,” Scully muttered. “Let’s roll.”

Unit 127

Village Palms

Gilbert, Arizona

8:54 p.m.

Moritz had begged off mas margaritas with Riis and the crew – he’d frankly begun to tire of the whole hip, cynical, soul-calloused bunch. Besides, he had something more important to pursue tonight than ratings, a fan base, or some suntanned Arizona tail.

The FBI guy had gotten him thinking, and over the lunch break, he’d surfed the Crewses, father and son. Peter’s accident wasn’t hard to locate in the Phoenix Sun archives, and the scientist’s bio was still up on a long-forgotten page for a long-forgotten conference on a best-forgotten topic. Then, out of injured vestigial pride, Moritz had hit a few dozen Native American and Southwest art gallery sites. On one of the Hopi sites, he’d struck gold.

The ghost hunter scanned the darkened neighborhood as he slipped the spare key into the door of Unit 27, though he had unconditional permission to enter the premises. He felt furtive and fearful and more excited than he had since abandoning research and authorship for the fleeting glories of cable TV. If his hypothesis were true, this would blow the hinges off Agent Mulder’s mind.

Moritz bypassed the light switch and trained his mag beam about the spare Crews living room. It landed on a bizarre figure with slitted eyes, a long needlelike proboscis, a feathered headdress, and a leather breechcloth. He moved rapidly across the tiled floor and stared down at the kachina, heart banging in his chest.

Then he caught it. It sounded at first like an appliance or the AC kicking on, but the whirring persisted.

And drew closer. And generated a breeze as a shadow blurred past Moritz’ left ear.

The mag light clattered on the floor, revealing a rapidly moving shadow play on the wall behind the couch. Moritz rasped in nervous relief – a moth, a bird or bat flying past the window. He glanced up at the closed blinds. And back at the spotlight above the leather sofa. The shadow theater had stopped, along with the whirring.

And then, it had him. The room blurred and whirled and jolted before his eyes as he felt bones and ligaments, tendons, and organs tortured and torn.

“Yooooooooouuuuuuuu,” it hissed, as though through an industrial fan. “Whooooareyouwhadoyouwannnnnnnfrommmmeeeee—”

It ended abruptly as Moritz dropped to the tiles, head cracking and lolling unnaturally on the bag of glass that was now his neck. The whirring resumed and retreated; a door slammed.

And in his lucid dying moments, Moritz dragged his broken body toward the only light in the room – a reflection of the patio window on a television screen…

**

“Perp broke his neck and several bones besides, probably some internal damage, too,” Scanlon whistled as the assistant ME zipped Moritz into a body bag. Scully eyed Mulder, who looked on guiltily. “Wouldn’t beat yourself, Agent. Guy’s curiosity just got the best of him.”

“I underestimated him,” Mulder admitted. “He knew there was something here –- the real thing.”

“Probably a real squatter,” Scanlon grunted as he rose to his feet. “It happens a lot out here. The snowbirds blow in and out from the Midwest, Canada, wherever, leave these places unattended for months. Sometimes, a yard guy, some dude they picked up at the Loews to put in some new counters makes himself a spare key for a rainy day. Could be your friend and his crew disrupted somebody’s illicit domestic bliss.”

“With this kind of violence?” Scully said. “You saw the bruising, the condition of his clothes.”

Scanlon shrugged. “I know, I know — the homicidal drifter’s kind of a cliché. But outside the movies, how many poltergeists you ever encountered that would do a job like this on a guy?” The cop grinned crookedly. “Jesus, this is becoming like old home week.”

“I’m beginning to think this wasn’t a supernatural encounter at all,” Mulder said, surprising Scully. “There’s something human but not quite human about all this. I don’t suppose Moritz managed to pick up any trace?”

“When they process him,” Scanlon promised. “He did try to fight back, unsuccessfully I might add. Billings? Hand me the doll.”

A rotund tech tossed a large evidence bag across the room. Scanlon snagged it, displayed its contents to Mulder. The agent studied the kachina that had occupied Peter Crews’ entertainment center.

“Moritz grabbed it during the struggle, tried to beat his attacker,” Scanlon suggested. For the sake of the milling forensic crew, he did not mention Alison Dubois’ identification via smartphone of the kachina as the predatory demon/spirit of her recent dreams and Moritz as the kachina’s meat.

For years, Dubois had worked for Manny at the DA’s office as an unofficial, and then official, psychic consultant. She’d helped Lee clear dozens of homicides and missing person cases, and the unassuming housewife had gradually broken through his tough, agnostic shell. Alison had retired from law enforcement following the death of her husband, Joe, to study law with some support and financial aid from her former boss.

Then she’d called out of the blue following the 10 o’clock news account of Moritz’ death. Moritz had been a minor celeb, and she immediately recognized his file portrait. The meaning Hunter and the Kachina remained a mystery – if only Alison dreamed along more linear lines…

“Nope,” Mulder grunted, waking Lee from his meditations. “The figure’s intact – no damage or blood. I think Moritz grabbed the kachina after the fight, after the killer fled. This isn’t a weapon, Scanlon. I think it’s a clue. And you’re wrong about beating myself up. It’s my fault he died.”

**

“That’s ludicrous, Fox,” Arthur Dales protested, placing a plate of Oreos before the agents. Scully snatched a cookie while continuing to scan the huge volume on the patio table.

“I taunted Moritz about his cultural knowledge, not realizing he actually cared about what he did,” Mulder murmured. “He must have researched kachinas to make sure he was accurate, and probably to see if there might be any supernatural connection between it and the ‘haunting.’ I could have told him kachinas were gifts, educational gifts, not supernatural talismans or spiritual icons. But he managed to ID Crews’ figure, and it has something to do with this case. Moritz wanted to leave me a clue – a dying clue – that would point to his killer. I guess I taught him.”

“Less recrimination,” Scully admonished sharply through a mouthful of crumbs, “and more reading. Mr. Dales’ landlord must have a dozen books just on kachinas.”

Chastened, Mulder dug in, poring over plates filled with exotic, outrageous, and occasionally fearsome figures. As he toiled, an insectile buzzing dopplered nearby, and Mulder swatted the air. The buzzing intensified, and he ducked.

“Relax, Fox,” Dales chuckled. “It’s one of our more common urban neighbors, at least at this time of year.” His ginger-haired head jerked toward a long cylinder handing above the patio rail. The transparent tube was a quarter filled with what resembled cherry Kool-Aid and glued to a broad, red plastic base. The base flared into four appendages, and above one a tiny bird hovered. It appeared to be a sausage-like creature with a long, needle-like beak, but then Mulder made out a pair of wings vibrating in a gray blur against the sun.

“They’re a beloved part of the ecosystem here – almost everyone has a feeder,” Dales informed him. “Which reminds me – sugar water’s getting low.” The aged agent creaked to his feet. “Can I get you two something more to wet your beaks?”

Mulder did not respond. Instead, he flipped back through his book, glanced back at the syrup-sipping bird, and then tapped excitedly at a color plate that dominated the center spread of Rudy’s text. Dales’ knee popped as he leaned over Mulder’s shoulder.

“I will be good and thoroughly damned,” stated the father of the X-Files.

Biodigm Technologies

Chandler, Arizona

2:35 p.m.

“Hummingbirds,” Craig Van Alston echoed, a tight, sardonic grin on his thin lips. His gray eyes didn’t join in the joke, and Mulder grinned back. The young CEO’s mock amusement faded.

“Two for flinching,” Mulder murmured. “I take it from your attempt to lighten the mood that hummingbirds are a sensitive issue around Biodigm. But I find them wicked awesome, so we’ll indulge me for a few minutes.

“Hummingbirds are among the smallest of our feathered bros -– the bee hummingbird is only five centimeters from beak to tail feathers. They can hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wings 12–80 times per second, and their the only bird that can fly backwards. Thanks to their high metabolism, they can fly at speeds up to 35 mph. To conserve energy while they sleep or when food’s scarce, they can go into a hibernation-like state where their metabolic rate is one-fifteenth of their normal rate.

“Birds generally have the lowest genome size of any vertebrate — about half as much genetic yumminess as us. Larger genomes mean larger cells, and that means lousy gas exchange and more sluggish metabolism. Birds need mega-super metabolism to fly, and hummingbirds? Fuhgeddaboutit. How am I doing so far?”

“I’m beginning to regain my sense of mental superiority,” Van Alston purred. “But you’ve got the general gist of it.”

Mulder fist-pumped. Scully sighed. Mulder shrugged. “And smaller genomes mean easier gene-mapping. And once you have the map, you unlock the secrets of gene expression — how to turn on one trait and turn off another. Genetic engineers have looked at fish species for potential cold tolerance in crops. My guess is, you guys wanted to unlock the secrets of mega-super metabolism. My paranoid brain immediately went to genetically enhanced super soldiers, but I guess miracle weight loss is probably more plausible and profitable.”

“You no doubt tracked down our federal permit request,” Van Alston breathed.

“Hummingbirds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which forbids their capture or possession. EPA and Fish and Wildlife turned Biodigm down flat. So you put one of your offshore research teams on the job. Greenpeace caught wind of it, so Project Hummer (Scully winced) became part of the Internet record. Was that why you shut it down?”

Van Alston glared briefly at Mulder, then collapsed back into his chair. “It was a stupid idea all along. The Dominican team recommended termination one month in. We moved on.”

“But Crews didn’t,” Mulder ventured. “Did he? Your permit app was five years ago. The Greenpeace protest was four. Crews kept working on the project from home, right? What happened? Materials start disappearing from your labs?”

Van Alston nodded. “Small stuff. Plus, Crews started slacking, lost his focus on primary projects. I knew his father was ill, and I offered him paid leave to address the problem. He became agitated, said everything was fine.”

“He needed your resources. There was something else, though, right?”

Van Alston glanced out his window, toward the mountains. “I went to his house out in Gilbert, to talk to him personally. He obviously wanted to be rid of me quickly, but as his supervisor, he felt obliged to offer me some coffee. And while Crews was in the kitchen, I heard it coming from behind the closed bedroom door. At first, I thought it was electronic, but you live out here long enough, you recognize it instantly. The idiot had a hummingbird — scratch that, it had to be a dozen or more hummingbirds. In his house.

“Can you imagine the fallout? One of our primary researchers experimenting with protected wildlife after being expressly prohibited by the Feds? Jesus, the greens would crucify us in the media. EPA would fine us into oblivion. Crews could’ve brought us all down. I played dumb, then fired his ass a week later, pleading poor performance. Which, fortunately, was all too true.”

“At which point, Crews became a free agent,” Mulder supplied. “But that is isn’t the full story, is it, Mr. Van Alston? Crews took a little something on his way out the door, didn’t he? And you didn’t see fit to report it to the CDC or Homeland Security.”

“My God,” Scully gasped. “Of course. Crews didn’t have the at-home lab resources or funding necessary for gene transfer. He’d have had to use old-school technology. Recombinant DNA. Biological vectors.” She turned to Mulder. “Crews needed a carrier that could easily encode new genes and transfer them into a foreign organism.” Scully swiveled, horrified, back to Van Alston. “You let him just walk out of here with a virus?”

“It slipped through before we could cancel Crews’ clearances,” Van Alston sputtered. “We suspect he’d taken it weeks before, as an insurance policy. Besides, it was a proprietary, benign virus — we’d disabled its ability to replicate within an outside organism. There was never any public health threat.”

“Knew there had to be an explanation,” Mulder smiled. “Once Crews had his little accident a few months later, you saw no need to sully his memory. Or to expose Biodigm’s big giant security breach and subsequent violation of, oh, say, about a million jillion federal statutes.”

Van Alston began to speak, then gulped like a fish seeking oxygenated water.

“Well-stated,” Mulder nodded. “I’d have probably never caught on if Crews hadn’t had a spark of sentiment under all that scientific detachment.” He turned to Scully. “That hummingbird kachina in Crews’ apartment? It wasn’t about faith or cultural enrichment or home décor. It was about hope.”

**

“What are we dealing with here?” Scully demanded as Mulder unlocked the rental. “Do we need to get the CDC in on this?”

“Naw,” Mulder drawled as he scanned the scrub surrounding the suburban business park. “The experiment died with Peter Crews, but it was a success. The virus did its job.” He climbed inside the sedan; Scully jerked open the passenger door.

“And what job was that?”

Mulder held up a finger as he thumb-dialed on his iPhone screen. “Yeah, Lee? You get anything back on those bottles from the Crews kitchen? Uh, huh, what I thought. What? No, later. Hows about you and the guys go trick-or- treating with us tonight? Kevlar’s optional but probably advised. No, don’t know yet — gotta make a few calls. I will. Think you can make it? Great, great.”

“Wanna let me into the loop, Mulder?” Scully murmured as he ended the call.

Mulder started the engine. “I need a Yellow Pages and some green tea. Know anybody in town who can help us?”

Uncle Jeff’s Storage

Mesa, Arizona

3:23 p.m.

“All I’m sayin’ is, the owner decides to sue or call the ACLU or somethin’, I’m puttin’ it on you,” the day manager growled, jamming his master key into the padlock of Locker 555. Mulder suspected this was not Uncle Jeff.

“We’ll fully indemnify you against liability,” Scully pledged, nudging her sunglasses over her head. Mulder grunted as he lifted the bay door, gripping his sidearm tightly. He entered cautiously, then yanked a small-gauge chain dangling from the locker’s low ceiling.

“Christ,” the manager gasped. “Crews was buildin’ his own goddamn landfill.”

The locker was filed with bottles and cans of every description – depleted energy drinks, dead soldier sodas of every brand and flavor, juice boxes and jugs, and, Mulder observed with a note of nausea, a few dozen empties bearing the image of the newer, more politically correct Aunt Jemima. He nodded triumphantly.

“I’ll bet we check the local minimarts and groceries, we find out shoplifting’s at an all-time high,” Mulder told Scully. “After Scanlon told me about the 10 or 20 gallons of special sugar water in the Crewses’ pantry, I figured this was what we’d find.”

Beyond the sea of detritus, he could make out 12-packs, 24-packs, shrink-wrapped cases. And beyond that, a bench filled with Pyrex, ampules, and related paraphernalia.

“This isn’t a dumpster,” the manager squeaked, tugging a cellphone from his jeans. “I gotta call Jeff.”

“Put it away,” Scully ordered. “What is this, Mulder?”

“Survival,” her partner marveled.

**

“See that?” Mulder suddenly exclaimed, tapping the monitor.

Scully and the manager leaned in together. They’d grown bleary examining the last week’s security videos amid the subtle scents of pizza and cannabis residue, but now both felt the exhilaration of the hunt.

“Madre mio,” the manager whispered.

“My God,” Scully echoed.

Mulder grinned. “I thought it was a technical glitch at first – the camera covers the corridor but not this bay itself. Then I saw the shadows shift as the locker door opened.”

Scully squinted in an attempt to bring some sense to the shape now frozen before the storage bay. “Mulder, please tell me that’s not a ghost.”

“Better,” Mulder breathed.

Uncle Jeff’s Storage

Mesa, Arizona

9:10 p.m.

“Ready for story time?” Mulder inquired. The battery-operated lantern cast his face in a macabre glow, and Arthur Dales felt a childlike spark of exhilaration.

“Always,” Dales grinned. Scully silently sipped her thermos cup of green tea as they nestled among the moving blankets that had been installed in the vacant locker.

“It’s a story of a son’s love for his father — a father who was like a god to him. A god of science.”

It was a story familiar to both Scully and Dales, and even if Mulder did not consciously see its relevance, the agent and the old man exchanged a fleeting glance.

“Frederic Crews devoted his life to observing and documenting nature’s wonders. Peter grew up wanting to know what made them tick. As Frederic’s health deteriorated, as his systems began to falter and his bones grew brittle, Peter’s quest became personal.

“Then the hummingbird project fell into his lap, like a gift. Biodigm wanted a hot new consumer line, but Peter soon saw a way to jump start his father’s life. If he could boost Frederic’s metabolism, he might slow the oxidation of age, speed his father’s regeneration and revitalization.

“Peter probably hoped to steer the company toward his theoretical therapy, but then, Biodigm and EPA pulled the plug. He watched as his miracle — his dad’s miracle — got shipped out of the country. Peter couldn’t follow his dream — he had an ailing father to see to. Then, to his horror, Biodigm pulled the plug again, this time on the whole project.

“So he did what he had to — Peter rebooted his research. He had an ample supply of genetic stock flitting around his backdoor, and Frederic was probably delighted to see his son take an interest in Nature beyond the cellular level.”

Mulder was silent for a moment.

“Then, the project became an obsession. Frederic was fading fast, and Peter’s actual work started slipping. Hank may have started snooping around, Frederic might’ve started asking questions. Maybe Peter just didn’t want to risk playing with exotic viruses around the neighbor folk. He rented the storage unit next door to continue his work in privacy.

“Who knows how Peter managed to give his dad the gene treatments. Probably convinced him they were conventional meds. But they started working — Frederic began feeling peppier, stronger as the new DNA blended into his chromosomal wiring. He started biking, hiking, rediscovering the world his old body had been forced to leave behind.”

“Do you think so?” Dales prodded gently.

Mulder shook his head. “It’s what I’d like to believe. Frederic Crews was well into a state of full-blown dementia by the time Biodigm fired Peter. Frederic’s doctor confirmed it, and the day Van Alston visited Crews, he heard him on the patio, muttering of all things about hummingbird migratory and mating habits.

“Rather than reenergizing or revitalizing his father, I think Peter’s therapy eventually pushed him into a fresh new hellish existence of mindless energy, mental and emotional chaos, a never-ending hunger that couldn’t be satisfied. Like a hummingbird flitting perpetually from feeder to flower to feeder, doomed to burning out without a constant infusion of sugar and carbohydrates.”

“Then Crews dies, and he’s left to survive on his own,” Scully murmured. “What a nightmare.”

“Peter had stockpiled enough sugar water and soda for a few weeks, but the money was running low and I think Frederic sensed something was wrong.”

“Peter had realized what he’d done, what he’d done to his father,” Dales said hollowly. “What he’d created.”

“Lee got back to me on the contents of those bottles in Crews’ kitchen. Water laced with high fructose corn syrup and enough insecticide to kill every palmetto bug on the block. Peter was determined to correct his mistake, to end his father’s misery.

“But he hadn’t counted on the unintended side effects of his home-style genetic engineering. Frederic not only metabolized the equivalent of a few pounds of sugar each day — his system rapidly metabolized and eliminated the poisons he drank by the gallon. But I suspect he knew what his son had tried to do. Peter would have been smarter merely to cut off Frederic’s sugar supply — the old man would have quickly crashed and simply shut down.

“That may actually have been what Peter Crews had in mind when he drove to his death. He was headed toward the mountains, maybe the desert. Or maybe that guardrail was the plan all along.”

Scully inhaled sharply. “Frederic was in the car. Peter was going to kill him.”

“Or leave him to die in the wilderness. Peter loved his father, but he was a coward. He couldn’t bear to let Nature take its own course or allow his father to simply…end. He’d created a monster, but he couldn’t simply destroy it. And that was his fatal, final mistake.

“Frederic had become a mindless, probably soulless machine, focused solely on survival. My guess is he commandeered his son’s car and steered it into that guardrail. Peter died quickly, but Frederic’s superpowered metabolism buffered the shock, helped him shake off any immediate pain. He left Peter on the highway and just went home.”

“Forty miles?” Scully demanded. Then it dawned. “The heightened metabolism wasn’t all Crews transferred to his father. Frederic’s homing instinct led him back to Village Palms.”

“Where he’s been ‘nesting’ ever since,” Dales shuddered. “Venturing out at night to get his fix.”

“Haunting the neighborhood, until Moritz and his people invaded the nest,” Mulder smiled grimly. “Halloween was simply too tempting for Frederic — truckloads of sugar, no minimart or supermarket cameras, like taking, well, you know where I’m going. Eric Valdez got in the way of Frederic’s food supply and almost died for it.”

“And poor Moritz failed to realize just whose nest he was invading,” Dales shook his head.

Silence fell over the trio, broken only as Mulder’s radio crackled.

“We got movement,” Lee Scanlon reported briskly. Knowing how easily Frederic Crews could evade video detection, Scanlon had salted the storage facility with a battery of motion sensors. The old man was onsite.

Mulder peered at the video feed on his laptop. Crews’ locker was the next one over, and the deserted bays flickered under the agent’s watch.

“The eagle has landed,” he finally signaled, entranced by the ghostly figure that entered the frame and gelled quickly before Locker 555. Frederic Crews was a wraith, a virtual skeleton draped in dollar store rags no doubt lifted on one of his nocturnal hunts. The corrugated metal locker door slid up and then down as Crews blurred and disappeared. Mulder and Scully snapped up their automatic weapons.

“He’s in,” Mulder growled into his mike as he wrenched the bay door open. A dozen tactical officers emerged from a dozen lockers along the graveled aisle, taking aim simultaneously at the gate to Locker 555. Scanlon nodded as Mulder dropped to his knees and snapped a fresh padlock in place. The agent stood and waved vigorously toward the shadows to the east.

A diesel engine coughed into life, and a pair of high-beams illuminated the armed cadre. Scanlon, Scully, and Mulder backed away as the pallet-laden forklift trundled into view. The gate to 555 jerked repeatedly, and the metal vibrated as the creature inside realized his plight.

The forklift lurched to a halt before 554, reversed and turned in an arc. It moved forward, and the stacked pallets slammed into place, effectively sealing 555.

“What do we do now?” Dales had materialized at Mulder’s elbow.

“See that vent on the roof?” Scanlon shouted over the dying forklift engine. “We pump enough gas in there to put our canary to sleep for the next two days.”

“Presuming that works,” Scully stated flatly. She paused. “What IS that?”

The muffled whir became a high-frequency buzz, punctuated by the impact of flesh and bone on galvanized steel, cinder blocks, and concrete. Frederick Crews began to shriek and warble — except it wasn’t warbling. Mulder could make out lengthy torrents of obscenity and insanity.

“I hear the caged bird sing,” Arthur Dales paraphrased Maya Angelou. “God help us all.”

Dos Saguaro Cafe

Gilbert, Arizona

Two days later

Scully reappeared at the table. When the call came in from University of Phoenix Hospital, she’d quietly slipped away so as not to break the mood of their pre-flight lunch. As the last of the platters was being cleared and the chip basket was reduced to wicker and tortilla dust, Arthur Dales concluded his tale of General Douglas MacArthur and a Filipino curse. Mulder was rapt, and Alison Dubois nearly did a spit-take at the punchline.

The trio fell silent as their solemn fourth reached the table.

“Frederic Crews was declared at 1:07 p.m. today after suffering a third major cardiac episode,” Scully announced. Alison glanced into her tea; Dales nodded thoughtfully. “The M.E. won’t complete the post-mortem until at least tonight, but the head attending suggests Crews had experienced extensive internal damages and organ shutdown as a result of his heightened metabolism and advanced age. Skinner, of course, has ordered all blood and tissue samples sealed and shipped to Quantico.”

Mulder had listened mutely, a curious half-smile on his face. “Just two days in ‘captivity.’ Crews Senior – the old Crews Senior — might have appreciated the irony.”

“A shame Crews Junior wouldn’t have,” Dales lamented, leaning back into the shade provided by one of the two towering cacti that framed the restaurant patio. “Would I appear in the slightest insensitive if I felt a tinge disappointed in being deprived of my ghost story?”

“Moritz would understand.” Mulder hefted his horchata. “To our intrepid ghost hunter and his sacrifice in the name of discovery.”

Dales clinked glasses heartily, then raised his for a followup toast. “To the tellers of uncanny tales, the keepers of unknown histories, those who love a ripping good story and those who weave – and sometimes embroider – them.” The old man winked.

Alison, who’d fallen silent, now beamed and lifted her tea. “Hear, hear.”

**

Alison made her departure with hugs and best wishes and a vague excuse about Marie and the optometrist. Seeing Mulder and Scully again had revived memories of the traumatic events involving the young man Adam, but it also had resurrected good memories — of her conversations on the mind and soul with Mulder, of the ties she’d woven over the years working with Lee and District Attorney Devalos and the other good people who sought only justice and/or the truth, even when they were divergent roads. She could feel Joe’s approving presence and the assurance of an eventual reunion of their souls.

The day’s heat felt good on Alison’s palms as she took the wheel, and she paused before slipping the key into the SUV’s ignition.

“He’s out of pain now,” Alison told the middle-aged man in her passenger’s seat.

“The pain I inflicted on him,” Peter Crews observed calmly. “And on that boy and Moritz. I know. And he knows he wasn’t to blame, that he couldn’t control the impulses I coded into him.”

“You shouldn’t be too rough on yourself, either,” Alison advised despite the consequences of Crews’ misguided actions. “It’s impossible sometimes to let go, to just accept and move on alone. Believe me, I know.”

Crews smiled. “I know. Now.”

Alison nodded, turned the key, and glanced to find the scientist gone. She crimped the wheel.

“If you only knew, Mr. Dales,” Alison sighed with a secretive grin. “If you only knew.”

*end