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Good Night

Cover

TITLE: Good-Night

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8

AUTHOR: Rocketman

RATING: PG-13

CLASSIFICATION: X, M/S UST

ARCHIVING: Two weeks after first appearance, OK to

Gossamer, Xemplary and Ephemeral. All others please

ask.

SPOILERS: NONE

DISCLAIMERS: Mulder and Scully belong to CC, 1013, and Fox.

No infringement is intended, no money is being made.

Written for the I Made This Productions Virtual Season

Eight. Places are real, events are not.

SUMMARY: The cemetery is dark. A child’s cry echoes across

the tombstones, originating from below the ground. She has

been buried alive. Her premature burial opens the coffin on

a conspiracy of grave proportions, revealing the

machinations of a man who will stop at nothing to create a

cure for the black oil virus. Mulder and Scully stumble

blindly for answers as the Consortium eliminates its

mistakes.

My deepest gratitude to XochiLuvr, for a critical and

sharp beta-read, and for the support I never deserved.

=====

Clorinda Haywood

St Bartholomew’s, Edgbaston, England

Epitaph

Warm summer sun shine kindly here:

Warm summer wind blow softly here:

Green sod above lie light, lie light:

Good-night, Dear Heart : good-night, good-night.

=====

Prologue

9:39 p.m.

August 11, 2000

Colma Necropolis, CA

The summer sun was late in setting, forcing the lateness

of his arrival. He wasn’t sure if many kids got their kicks

by haunting cemeteries at night, but he knew his time was

short. The backpack was heavier than he had anticipated.

The walking stick caught on a flat headstone and he

tripped forward, managing to keep himself from falling, but

scraping his knuckles against the statue of an angel. He

hissed in a breath and sucked on the angry red wound,

wincing with the sting of it. Shuffling forward again, he

blew out a long breath and shook his head.

At least it wasn’t hot, he told himself. The breeze was

skittish, tumbling over tombstones and mausoleums, and the

night was leaching cool air from the dead. Consulting his

directions once again, the hiker turned left along a small

row and counted the plots as he moved. Four, five, six, and

then a sharp right.

He sighed. Poor baby girl. She was going to be scared to

death — no pun intended, he added mentally, glancing

around guiltily. It was just after twilight, when a

grieving man could swear the cemetery was giving off

darkness to the sky rather than the night falling upon the

earth. The hiker was presently in the shadows of two large

trees and hunched along the cover of the child’s family

plot. She had some affluent relatives. Her own stone was

two feet high and still the bright white of newness.

Kneeling to the ground, he propped his walking stick

against the tombstone and shrugged off the backpack. His

breathing sounded too loud in his ears, but there were no

longer any mourners in this section of the cemetery. The

zipper caught on the edge of the bag, and he growled as he

ripped it free, tugging ferociously in his haste.

He was rather close to panic. If they caught him here,

doing this…

Best not to think. Concentrate.

The battery-powered drill tumbled from the bag and clinked

too loudly against a neighboring headstone. He winced but

plunged his fist into the bag once more, coming up with

three lengths of three foot metal pipe. His hands were too

sweaty. He was going to fumble this if he didn’t calm down.

Keep it simple. Concentrate.

He pulled out a schematic from his left front pocket,

unfolding it carefully and laying it out along the brown-

tinted new sod, still loose in places. The coffin was here,

he thought, pointing out the place on the map, outlined in

a dark green. The lid of her coffin was about six inches

thick, padding and all, and her shoulder should be…

He marked the exact spot with a knife, digging into the

sod through the paper. Once a good sized chunk revealed his

target area, the hiker quickly folded the paper back up,

but put it into the backpack and not his pocket. He would

need to burn this later.

Wiping the trickling sweat from his eyebrows, the hiker

attached one length of pipe to the hollow drill bit, and

then he attached that to the drill itself. The diameter of

the pipe was about the size of a hole for a doorknob; it

looked ridiculously large to him now. Licking his lips, he

rose to his feet for a better angle, then jammed the pipe

into the place he had marked.

The hiker paused for a moment, glancing around, then

closed his eyes. The drill sounded like the gates of Hell

itself had come crashing down, but he only winced and kept

drilling. The pipe slid into the ground, down, down into

the resting place of the child.

This was taking too long, too long.

He unlocked the first pipe from the drill, allowing four

inches to remain above the slightly damp grass. Then he

locked the second pipe onto the drill bit and slipped the

free end over the exposed pipe. It slid on easily and he

smiled crookedly. Easy, easy? this wasn’t easy. He was

risking his life, digging into graves.

He nearly choked when he heard a car coming.

The darkness was absolute now. Somehow, the night had

fallen over the cemetery and he hadn’t noticed at all. The

car was creeping along the lane, but it stopped far from

him and he breathed out, returning to his drilling. It was

at the third and final pipe when he heard the change: the

pipe had hit the outside of the coffin now, it seemed to

shriek painfully in the darkness.

God, oh, God, please.

And then a puff of noise and he stopped the turning motion

of the drill to gently prod through the layers of lace and

trim and padding that the girl’s coffin contained. His

muscles were so tense that he could feel tiny tremors

racing through his jaw and exploding against his skull. He

unlocked the last pipe from the drill and bit, and both

slipped through his sweaty nervous fingers. He could hear

voices now.

A camera flash.

Oh God, no! He was screwed, he was really screwed. If

someone got a picture…

The hiker fumbled in the bag, looking for the bottle and

needle, but then he remembered he hadn’t shoved the dirt

out yet.

Growling curses under his breath, he grabbed his walking

stick and pulled the pipe up a bit. He slowly threaded the

stick through, shoving the dirt down the pipe, and

hopefully, God, hopefully, spilling the dirt harmlessly

inside. If he had calculated wrong … off a few inches and

the dirt would be covering her eyes and nose and mouth.

Stop thinking. Concentrate.

Clenching the stick tightly, he pushed the bit all the way

through, then hit something soft, pliant, yet firm.

Please, God, let that be her shoulder. If it was her eye…

He shivered as he quickly yanked the stick back up through

the pipe. Grabbing the end of his former walking stick, the

hiker taped a small tube down its length, then attached the

needle and serum to one end, connecting it to the tube. The

release pump attached firmly on his end, and the stick went

slowly back down the pipe.

Voices. Flashes of a camera.

A woman. God, please.

He hit that same soft, pliant hardness, and at his

perfectly vertical angle, the hiker took a deep breath and

jammed the needle down into the skin. He hoped it was skin.

He hoped.

Wiping his sweaty hands on his pants, he tried to block

out the darkness and the two voices getting closer and

closer to him. Please not yet. There was him and the little

girl down there and he had to do this. He had to do this.

Three pumps to prime the injection. He could hear his

heart beating overly loud in the dark, feel his hands

trembling with cramps from his tight, clawed grasp on the

stick. His breath came in tight gasps as time dragged away,

then the spit and hiss of pressure pushing down, down, down

the tube and forcing chemicals through the needle just as

it sunk in.

=====

10:13 p.m. August 11, 2000

Colma Necropolis

It was dark and thinly damp. A tattered sky misted rain

and dewed the grass. When he stepped onto the soft, almost

spongy ground of the park, he could almost taste the decay.

The arched gates of the cemetery rose before him like rusty

trap doors and he licked his lips, frowning.

He hated doing this in the dark. He hated looking over his

shoulder every five seconds for the guards or the

caretaker, but he couldn’t help his nervousness. It wasn’t

like what they were doing was illegal, but sometimes it got

to him.

“Johnny, come here for a second!”

John glanced to his wife and sighed, but dutifully

followed her into the cemetery. The darkness was like a

green veil over their eyes, the ground was sloping and

humped with stones and monuments. It was warm for a late

summer night, and the wind from the bay was sharp when it

fluttered over them. He could make out the Gothic-like

angels and shepherds, the dark stones, the knobs of grass

covering the dead.

It was so dark. So dark. Like a tight blanket around

everything, around his eyes and suffocating all common

sense. His pictures when they came out, they were good,

spooky and frightening, just like the graveyard here. He

slowly turned with a practiced photographer’s eye. He could

get some good shots of Joe DiMaggio’s tomb tonight, maybe

even Wyatt Earp, and sell them down in the Haight for five

bucks. Tourists were suckers for freaky things from the

Haight.

Terra’s hand was warm when she reached for the paper and

the charcoal, her fingers sliding past his with possession.

He jiggled the camera in one hand and adjusted the lens

manually, not leaving it to the whims of automatic focus.

The glowering tombstone was crumbling and dingy white in

the darkness, like a tooth jutting from an old man’s mouth,

single and spooky.

“Did you get it?” she whispered.

“Hold on,” he muttered and snapped the picture, squinting.

“Okay,” she said and kneeled next to the marker, spreading

the thin paper over the engraved letters with precision.

She rubbed the charcoal lightly and quickly and the words

came up in bold white amidst the black of the pencil.

“Matthew Arnold,” she muttered. “Wonder if he’s any

relation to the British poet and critic?”

“Right. And he’s buried here in our friendly neighborhood

graveyard.”

“Died 1932. Oh, too bad. This is an old one. I don’t see

any of the earthquake graves, though.”

“They’re over there,” John said and pointed to the

southern section of the cemetery. The graves from the 1908

San Francisco Earthquake were marked with bright yellow

ribbons and the survivors all got together on the

anniversary date at five in the morning to remember. Their

reunion was getting smaller with each passing year.

A whisper of wind brought a noise to John’s ears and he

paused, still and breathless in the night. The moon was

darkened by storm clouds and the earth was warm beneath his

shoes. He gripped the camera tighter and glanced around,

listening.

The faint cry came to him again and he felt his blood

freeze.

“Terra! Did you hear that?”

“Almost finished, John.”

“No. No, stop.”

He grabbed her arm and hoisted her to her feet, pulling

her into his side. His dark eyes seemed to reflect the dark

of the night around them and she shivered, pushing a strand

of brown curly hair behind her ear.

“What?” she hissed.

“Listen.”

The sound was continuous now, a wail almost, heart rending

and so cliched for a cemetery at night. But thoughts of

cliches vanished as he stood there listening, hearing that

frail sound reverberate around the granite and marble

markers and deep into his bones.

“It sounds like a child,” Terra said, and moved forward.

“What are you doing?” he hissed, and grabbed for her.

“No. It’s just a little kid. Probably lost and afraid.”

She began stepping through the rows of graves, treading

over the bodies of the dead with faultless steps and

precise movements. He didn’t understand how she could be so

relaxed, so intent on finding what was making that cry.

“Terra, I think we should go.”

She had stopped at one of the markers, her hands were

trembling and he could hear the paper fluttering with the

tremors.

“Oh, God,” she whispered and he saw a blur detach from the

shadows of bush and race for her.

“Terra!” he screamed and ran forward.

The dark shadow of a man pushed into him solid and hard

and he felt the sting of something sharp in his thigh, and

then the ground was meeting the back of his head. He heard

the man running off and scrambled to his feet, groggily

shaking the blur from his vision. His head thumped hard

with the blood and adrenaline and he crawled to where Terra

was sprawled on a granite marker.

“Ter?” he whispered and put a hand to her cheek.

She groaned and pushed herself up with her scratched

palms, wincing.

“Who the hell was that?” she said and angrily swiped at

the grass stains on her jeans.

“I don’t know,” he said and pulled her to stand.

He rocked slightly on his heels with his panting breaths;

her hand was still warm against his but her rubbings were

ripped and fluttering in the wind that lifted from the bay.

John turned and hunted for his camera, cursing the man

who’d barreled into them both.

Grass was lodged firmly in the shutter case, but the lens

didn’t seem to be cracked and the automatic focus still

worked. He sighed with relief and glanced up at his wife.

“You hear it?” she said.

Her face was intent and still again, her breaths

controlled to minimize the noise.

“No.”

But he did, just then. It was less frightening and more

heartbreaking.

“It is a kid,” he said and crept up next to her, hearing a

muted cry just below his breathing.

She started forward again, but he held back, still shaken

up by the sudden attack. He could hear it still, the

faintness of it like the kid was far, far away. He wondered

if the blur that had attacked them had something to do with

the crying.

She stopped.

“Here.”

“Where?”

“This is where that man came from. He was behind the

bushes, at this grave.”

“Yes, but where is the sound coming from?”

“Here, Johnny. I said that.”

“There? But…”

“Come here, come here,” she said and motioned him forward.

He moved through the graves, being careful not to step

where he thought the ground covered a body, unlike her

methodical and direct walk through the dead. He could still

hear it, and when he came to where she was, he knew she was

right.

The ground was fresh with dew, the soil sparkled like tiny

diamonds. A mound of earth covered the grave abnormally,

and the dirt was loose and freshly dug.

“Is it a ghost?” he whispered.

Her mouth puckered and she dropped to her knees to inspect

the tombstone.

“It’s a little girl’s grave. Madison Hall. Born in 1994.

Died … died two days ago.”

John looked down at the grave, but he could still hear the

sound of the girl’s crying through the ground. Through the

ground, like…

“Oh, God,” Terra said. “Oh, God, she’s alive under there!”

Her face came to look at his, their eyes met across the

darkness.

“She’s alive?”

John glanced down to the loose sod that stained his jeans

with wet dew and dark soil. He blinked, then cautiously

touched it with a shaking hand.

“Madison?” Terra yelled.

Shocked from the reverie of it, John grabbed her arm and

hissed at her.

“What are you doing?”

“John, she’s been buried alive!”

They both blinked, thrown by the reality of it, then began

to dig furiously, their fingers scraping through the soil

and the wetness. He could hear his ragged breath just above

the sounds of the sobbing and at some frightening point, he

couldn’t hear it any longer.

“No, no, we need help,” he whispered. “Terra, go call 911.

Call the police, anybody!”

She jerked to her feet and ran for the cemetery entrance,

hurtling over tombstones and markers as if the ghosts

themselves were spurring her on.

John kept digging, the darkness of the night spread over

his maniacal movements like a cloak.

The only sounds were his breath and the dirt scraping

through his fingers.

=====

Act I

August 13, 2000 2:37 p.m. Colma Necropolis

Dana Scully fingered the photocopied newspaper article in

her hands with a sigh and stepped from the taxi cab into

the light of a summer California day. Hillside Boulevard

fell away in a long hill of marble and lawn and memorials

and she heard the cab creak as she slammed the door. The

driver sped off before she had fully moved away, and she

frowned to herself.

“Scully.”

She glanced up to see Mulder pacing himself as he loped

down the hill. His tie flapped in the breeze coming in from

the ocean or perhaps the bay, and the smell of salt water

and concrete came with him.

“Mulder.”

“Is your mom feeling better?”

Scully flushed and nodded.

“What are we doing here?” she asked, shading her eyes with

a hand.

“Did you know that operating a cemetery is illegal in San

Francisco?”

“No, aren’t there two cemeteries in the city, now?”

She leaned slightly to the left to look around him,

wondering at the absolute stillness of the place.

“Well, yes, but they don’t take any more … ah, bodies.

San Francisco bought all this land out here because things

were getting crowded. Colma is a necropolis.”

“A city for the dead?”

“All the city’s cemeteries moved here: Eternal Home,

Golden Hills, Olivet Memorial. Wyatt Earp is buried in the

Hills of Eternity. His tombstone has been stolen so many

times, they had to finally set it in concrete. Hugh

O’Brien, the actor, offered a $500 reward for its return in

1957.”

She glanced up at him, eyes slanted with silent laughter.

“Wyatt Earp? Still have some of those childhood OK Corral

fantasies, Mulder?”

He tossed her one of those absurd grins and turned back

around to the cemetery sloping up before them. His back was

broad and dark against the outline of the sun, and the

varied memorials offered a backdrop of bizarre reality in

the golden dusk.

“Did you read the article?” he finally said.

“Yes.”

“This is the Holy Cross Cemetery, where the couple was

attacked, and then afterwards they found the little girl.”

He turned around to look at her.

“Buried alive, Mulder?” she asked gently.

He nodded, squinting his eyes at her, then looking back to

the graveyard. The fence was made of stone and wrought

iron, with ivy growing thickly all over. The wall rose as

the street fell, creating a flat surface for the dead to be

interred.

He started for the gate, expecting her to be behind him,

as she always was. With a brief rebellion, Scully stayed

rooted to the sloping sidewalk, staring at his back, then

she sighed and followed him into the relative cool of the

shady park.

Huge twisting oaks grew thick and dark, with occasional

palm trees that had been planted by the bereaved and the

little fuchsia trees that brightened the graves with a

flowering cheer. Elaborate meditation circles were clipped

into the grass with jade bushes and cinerarias.

High class Catholic graveyard, Scully thought to herself.

A huge gaping hole of dark dirt marred the beauty of the

place and she followed Mulder over to its side, slipping a

little in the damp grass with her heels sinking slightly.

He moved away so she could peer into the hole, then raised

his eyebrows at her.

“So what are we doing here, Mulder?”

“The girl the Kesslers found, Madison Hall, is now at the

hospital, being kept for tests, but seems to be whole and

healthy.”

Scully only raised her eyebrow.

“They thought she was dead, Scully. The family buried her.

The doctor signed her death certificate. What do you say to

that?”

“I’m glad they didn’t have her cremated,” she muttered.

He glanced to her with mock-sickened shock, as if amused

at this new wicked Scully who had come to meet him.

“How did this happen, Mulder?”

“Her family thought she was possessed.”

She glanced up at him through slitted eyes, blinking out

the brightness of the day and the absurdity of his claim.

“Possessed?”

“Yes. They called the Catholic church and asked them to

perform an exorcism. The priest there wouldn’t do it, so

they went to the Grace Episcopal church.”

“And they buried her?” she asked, trying to hurry along

his tale.

“No. They performed an exorcism. And they said it seemed

to work. She stopped being violent, but she slept all day

long, and was wide awake at night. Then she slipped into a

coma and died. Well, they thought she died.”

“Her family … called you?”

He shook his head and took the article from her fingers.

It was limp and soft from her handling it on the plane, on

the cab ride through the crowded, dangerously hilly streets

of San Francisco and then down to the City of Colma, south

of the bay city. She had asked to drive through the city;

she had wanted to see San Francisco one innocent time

before the case took over her perceptions of the place.

“This article was emailed to me, Scully. From an

untraceable account.”

She frowned and looked over the side of the empty grave,

down into its cool, dark depths.

“Someone’s giving you clues?”

“Looks like. And I only get clues, Scully, when there’s

something more going on.”

She looked up at him finally, the sarcasm, the

exasperation gone.

“Here we go again.”

Across the large expanse of green was an old and pitted

mausoleum, and a shadow seemed to grow from the side of the

monolith. In the midst of sunlight and marble, this dark

figure watched the pair of agents with calm serenity and

keen intelligence. His shoulders were hunched slightly, but

he made no attempt to hide his presence or his interest.

Had either Mulder or Scully, perceiving someone was

watching them, looked up and across to the low, long house

of the dead, they would have most clearly seen the man.

However, his dark features and dark clothes and blank

average face would neither have interested them nor allowed

them to recognize him at a later date.

He was content to watch.

For now.

=====

5:39 p.m. August 13, 2000

John and Terra Kessler’s home

Pine Street, San Francisco

The apartment buildings on Pine Street were crowded close

and tight, like stiff old men hunched together in line

outside a soup kitchen. The Victorian architecture was

limited by the space available, but the windows had opulent

and gaudy moldings, with ledges and trims in a riot of

colors. It was one of those cities were pink and red

collided and no one really noticed.

The Kesslers lived on the second floor front apartment, so

the FBI agents were heard outside before they actually rang

the bell. John, who had been people watching at one of the

three windows in their front bedroom, called to Terra to

buzz them in.

His wife stepped around the corner from the kitchen,

bringing her into the small hall that led to their

apartment door, then buzzed the agents in. She unlocked the

door and opened it a crack, then took two steps back into

the living room. The entire apartment had a fraction of the

space most people would have paying the same rent in

another city.

She sank down on the futon they used as a couch and guest

bed, and turned the television off. John slipped into the

living room and tapped her head as he passed. She smiled

faintly and sighed.

They could hear the agents walking up the narrow, creaking

stairs, the soft murmur of their voices carrying through

the slightly musty smell of summer in San Francisco. Terra

leaned back against the futon and listened to John pour

himself a glass of green tea from their plastic pitcher.

The windows were all open and a bay breeze meandered from

their bedroom into the living room. It caressed her over-

heated skin and made her eyes drift shut.

“Hello?”

She jumped up at the sound and went to open the door,

letting in the two agents.

“Mrs. Kessler?”

“Call me Terra. You’re the one I talked to on the phone

yesterday?”

Mulder nodded and introduced himself and his partner as

the woman led them into the small, tight living room. It

was dwarfed by their black suits and serious looks, but

John appeared from the kitchen with tea for everyone and

the agents seemed to relax.

“This is my husband John,” Terra explained, taking a glass

from him and smiling.

He sat down on the floor next to the television and the

agents took the lumpy futon. Terra was left with the wicker

arm chair, which made her taller than everyone else in the

room. The agents looked somewhat ridiculous in the

cramped apartment, their knees coming to their chests on

the low futon.

“Do you mind answering some questions?” Agent Scully

started.

“No, go ahead.”

Scully opened her notebook and balanced it precariously on

one knee. She could feel Mulder’s elbow digging painfully

into her side as he shifted for more room. She glanced up

at the Kesslers.

John was quiet and one of those dark, handsome types,

Scully immediately noticed. He sipped his tea and watched

his wife talk with Mulder; if he offered any details, he

did so infrequently. He looked cool and calm and brooding

at the same time. She could see that rebel and good girl

attraction in their relationship, but they’d been married

for seven years and seemed steady and strong.

“So, when this, uh, dark blur, rushed you …?”

Mulder gestured at Terra to complete the details.

“Oh, well, I saw him first, bent over in the bushes. I

thought it was a kid getting sick. Gross. And we’d been

hearing this weird noise, just the kind you expect in

graveyards, you know?”

She grinned and sipped at the tea for a moment, pausing in

the narrative.

“So I’m standing a little ways away from John and the

darkness sort of rippled, and he was a lot bigger than any

kid getting sick. I know I screamed. He scared me. And then

he knocked me down and I heard John coming up behind me.”

“And then it ran into me as well,” John added, with his

slow cool eyes and beatnik rhythm.

“Did the person say anything? Do anything afterwards?”

Scully asked.

“Don’t know,” John replied. “I went to see if Terra was

hurt, and by that time the thing was gone.”

“Thing?” Mulder said, tilting his head.

“Whatever it was. I went to get my camera and that’s when

Terra heard the sound again.”

“Yeah. It sounded so frightened.”

“It made you afraid?” Scully asked.

Terra turned her head to look at Scully, frowning.

“No. The girl, it was a little girl down there … she

sounded frightened. In my mind, I connected her crying with

whatever that man had been doing. I went back to where he’d

been bending over or hiding and that crying was coming from

the grave.”

“It took us a moment to realize the girl was alive. And

then Terra ran off to call 911 from the pay phones outside

the Colma Museum while I dug.”

“Did you dig her up or did the firemen?”

“The firemen. When they came I’d only gotten a foot or

two. They had shovels, and eventually one of those machines

…”

“A backhoe?” Mulder supplied.

“Something like that. It’d been in the caretaker’s shed.

They had to break the lock, I think. We stayed until they

got her out. I couldn’t go home knowing that girl was still

under there.”

Scully nodded and turned to Mulder, indicating that she

had no more questions. But her partner was looking

speculatively out the window and he idly put the tea to his

lips and sipped.

“How much do those photos of yours sell for, John?”

Scully was surprised at the question but John just gave a

grim smile while the ice clinked against his glass.

“Usually five dollars. The cemetery probably has some kind

of rights over them, huh?”

“Probably,” Mulder said, noncommittal.

Scully knew he didn’t mean the comment as an accusation,

but the husband and

wife looked nervous.

“Have there been a lot of child deaths here recently?”

Mulder asked.

John frowned and took a long draught of the tea. He looked

exhausted, and Scully could understand the trauma of their

discovery that night. Dark circles looped under his already

dark eyes and sallowed his skin. She wondered if he was

getting any sleep at night, or if nightmares kept him up.

“Actually,” Terra said softly. “I remember there being

something about a small outbreak at a school near here. One

of those private schools. Catholic, I think, but I don’t

remember which one. I don’t think that any children died,

but some of them caught one of those old-fashioned

diseases.”

“Old-fashioned?” Scully inquired, raising her eyebrow.

Terra smiled and shook her head. “Old-fashioned. Like

polio or whooping cough or smallpox. Something all the

children died from in the frontier days. But not now, and

certainly not in this country. That’s why there was a news

story about it.”

“Smallpox?” Mulder said, leaning forward. The movement

caused his knees to jut out awkwardly and his right leg

smacked into Scully’s. She stilled him and smiled at Terra

as the woman shrugged at Mulder’s question.

“Well, thanks. You have our number, should you remember

anything, or need our help.”

“Yes, thanks,” Terra replied and stood as the agents

pushed off the futon. John got to his feet slowly and

steadied himself against the wall, sipping the tea again.

His glass was nearly empty.

Mulder and Scully left more quietly than they had arrived;

the near darkness of the setting sun made them hushed and

the information they’d gathered tumbled around in their

minds. Their rental car was parked two blocks over and on a

hill, but Scully followed Mulder in silence, suffering in

her high heels.

=======

7 p.m. August 13, 2000

St. Francis Memorial Hospital Room 223

“We appreciate allowing us to interview you so late

tonight,” Scully said politely, nodding to the couple as

they clutched things: plastic chair, each other, hands,

their daughter.

They seemed nervous and edgy, their faces lined with

something akin to horror or possibly relief, and their

movements belied the icy anger churning through their blood.

“They said she was … gone. They told us that. Are you

going to prosecute them?” Kris said in a tight, nearly

angry voice.

“Prosecute?” Mulder said, surprised at their closely

guarded faces.

“The … doctors, all of them said she … It’s been a

very frightening and horrible … I don’t want this to

happen to anyone else, and they caused such grief … You

don’t know what it’s like to lose a child.”

“Mrs. Hall, right now no one is being brought up on

charges. But we are here to keep this tragedy from

occurring again.”

Kris seemed barely holding together her fragmented control.

She glanced to her husband, then squeezed her 6-year-old

daughter tighter. The girl, growing petulant from all the

cuddling and attention, pushed on her mother’s shoulder and

shrank back into the hospital bed. She looked thin and

wispy, as if a ghost.

Mulder smiled softly at her and she looked at him with

wide, almost frightened eyes. She was shyly fingering the

edge of the white hospital sheet, glancing up at him

occasionally only to hide her face again.

“Well, what can we help you with? We’re so grateful to God

for this miracle. Talitha cumi: Little girl, get up. We

know the power, we know it for sure now,” Kris said and

stroked the top of her child’s head.

Scully glanced around the private room and noticed the

many lighted candles, the pictures of Christ’s Agony, the

Holy Cross tacked to the wall, saints’ icons displayed on

the bed tray, and the rosary hanging like an ornament from

the bed railing. Their miracle might have been equal to

their faith.

She knew the story the couple spoke of: Jairus’ daughter

was sick and so the official went to Jesus seeking healing

for his child. Jesus was stopped along the way, so that

when he arrived at the house, the women were weeping

outside and said it was too late for him, that the girl was

dead. But Christ went into their house and took only her

parents and a few disciples with him into the girl’s

bedroom. In order to heal her, he spoke in Aramaic, saying,

“Talitha cumi.” Literally, “Little girl, arise.” And the

child woke as if from sleep and asked for food and water.

“Do you mind,” Mulder was asking as Scully began paying

attention again. “We’d like to ask Madison some questions

by herself.”

“She’s been frightened terribly by all this.”

“Can I see your badge?” Madison said softly, leaning

forward to tug on Mulder’s jacket.

They room was stunned for an instant, but Mulder pulled

out his badge and flipped it open for her.

clip_image001

She traced the

outlines with her

fingers, then

glanced up at the

man before her,

sighing softly.

“I can talk, Mommy,”

she said, although she

was looking at Mulder.

“Well … okay, baby.

Daddy and I will be

right outside. You

don’t have to answer

any questions you

don’t want to. Isn’t that right, Agent Mulder?”

“That’s right, Madison. Just what you feel comfortable

with.”

Scully watched as the parents left, quite anxiously glancing

behind them — Dave Hall as silent and stoic as before.

When they had clicked the door shut, Madison crawled to

the side of the bed and rested her head against the sheets.

She fingered the badge again and sighed.

“There was an angel with me down there.”

Scully quirked an eyebrow at Mulder but answered the girl

herself.

“Did the angel help you to not be scared?”

“The angel woke me up. He was not white. He was very dark

and I only heard his voice.”

“Well,” Scully said very gently, “it was very dark where

you were. Could that have made it hard to see him?”

“Well, yes. That’s what I mean. Angels glow, but my angel

didn’t glow.”

Mulder chewed on his lip and touched the girl’s knee.

“What did he say to you, Madison?”

“He told me he woked me up. When I woked up and it was

dark down there, I started to cry a little bit, but he told

it was okay. He said he was getting me out of there.”

“Was that John, Madison? The man who found you?”

“No, no. John’s got a very low smooth voice. Have you met

him? He’s got a low smooth voice.”

Scully smiled at that description and stroked the girl’s hair,

smoothing a stray dark wisp. The hospital gown shifted and

dropped off her shoulder; Scully pulled it back up gently, but

not before noticing a large bruise.

“You’re very right, Madison. If John’s voice is low and

smooth, how did your angel’s voice sound?”

“Far away. Like when Micah and I talk through tin cans.

It’s so cool.”

“Micah is your friend?”

“Yup. He lives next door to me, and we both go to Sacred

Heart Cathedral. I’m six and I’m going into first grade

next year.”

She pushed away from the bed and went to the window.

Scully noticed that her enthusiasm was flagged by the

trauma; she seemed to struggle to move fluidly. Madison

touched the pane of glass and her fingers made smeared

prints.

“At home, I have a tin can next to my bed and we can talk

back and forth — even when we’re supposed to be in bed.”

She looked back to Scully and gave her a sly smile. Scully

came towards her and looked out the window, then leaned

against the sill to see the girl’s face. The gown was again

slipping off her shoulder, revealing the purple mottled

skin.

“When Micah and I were sick, we talked when we were

supposed to be resting.”

“Micah was sick too?” Mulder said, leaning forward in the

chair.

“Yes, but he got better.” Madison looked back towards the

bed, but she leaned so heavily against the window that

Scully had a feeling she was too tired to move. She picked

the little girl up and cradled her close as she moved back

to the hospital bed, placing Madison on top of the twisted

sheets.

Scully sat down on the bed next to the girl and brushed

her dark hair from her face. “So, Madison, is that what the

voice sounded like? Far away like the tin cans?”

“Yup. He was very nice. But then he stopped talking to me

and I got afraid and cried again.”

“And that’s when John and Terra found you.”

She nodded and bunched the white sheets with her thin

fingers.

“They digged me up, but the angel woked me up.”

Mulder looked at Scully over the girl’s head, the

questions in his eyes matching hers exactly.

Who was this angel who had awoken the sleeping girl, and

was he also the dark blur who had raced at John and Terra?

Mulder laid his hand on Madison’s shoulder and the girl

winced, dipping away.

Scully frowned and her fingers curled along the bed.

“Can I look at your shoulder, Madison?”

The girl glanced up and nodded, tugging down the hospital

gown so that her right shoulder was exposed. The bruise was

about the size of a dollar coin, maybe larger, and seemed

to form a ring right below her collarbone. Scully carefully

touched the sensitive area, then leaned down to see it

closer.

A needle mark.

Blinking uncomprehendingly, Scully glanced up at Mulder.

She opened her mouth, then stopped and looked once more to

the little girl.

“I bet that hurts, doesn’t it?” she said sympathetically.

“Yeah.”

“It should be better in a few days.”

Scully quickly pulled Mulder to the side and licked her

lips, her eyes worried and her mind hesitant to explore

this new revelation.

“She has a puncture wound on her shoulder, Mulder,” she

hissed, her eyebrows raised in concern and disbelief.

“In the middle of that bruise?”

“Yes. I’m going to go find her doctor and see if we can

get a tox screen done on Madison. They might even have some

samples of blood from when she first came in. You can

finish up with the parents.”

With that, Scully was slipping out the door. Mulder turned

back to the little girl and sighed.

Angels and shadowy things, needle marks and premature

burials — and still, his informant had remained unseen and

unheard since that first furtive email.

======

Act II

5:35 am August 14, 2000

Beresford Hotel Room 329

The third floor smelled like mold. He told himself that

was why he couldn’t sleep. The real reason, he had a

feeling, was because of the two agents that slept four

doors down from him. He couldn’t believe that FBI agents

would choose a cheap place like this for their

accommodations, but it was just his luck.

Thankfully, he’d heard that the little girl had been

brought up safely, without any injuries. He had gone

yesterday to the hospital to see her but she was being

watched over by her parents; he hadn’t felt comfortable in

coming closer. It had been a foolish thing to do anyway. As

he’d left through the garage entrance, there were three men

glancing suspiciously up the stairwell.

He’d been stupid from the beginning. Thinking he could do

this on his own.

The girl was still alive. No sleeping sickness, thanks to

him.

But the FBI agents. They were going to dig around, they

were going to look for things, they were going to find him

and then he was dead. Dead.

He should leave. But there were men looking for him, men

much more deadly than the agents sleeping peacefully not a

floor away from him. Airports were covered, trains, buses;

he knew the drill — that had been him not two months ago.

Doing what he was told because he had once believed that

this was right.

He was stupid. The ignorance didn’t excuse what he’d done,

and saving that little girl didn’t repay the debt he owed.

But there was something about death that was ultimately

very real, and very frightening enough to make him want to

escape, to run, if only to live the rest of his life in

fear.

Pathetic, but he had always been one of those kind. He had

about four hundred dollars left of the cash he’d taken from

the joint bank account with his wife. *God forgive me,

she’s very likely dead.* And that was going to run out soon

and he’d be on the street. That might be better, but he was

going to fade out without effecting any kind of change.

That’s what made him want to weep. For decades this had

gone on, and there had always been men like himself who had

managed to save one life, but lost a thousand more. He

would die, he would either be shot by the men hunting him

or he would kill himself, but he would die.

And nothing would change. The world would keep on turning

vainly around the sun while the men beneath it plotted

horrible and cataclysmic things.

What the hell. He was a dead man.

=====

5:55 a.m. August 14, 2000

Beresford Hotel Room 335

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

They paused — Scully sitting up straight and still on the

bed, laptop balanced on her knees, while Mulder was

slouched moodily into the chair, his finger hovering over

the mute button on the remote.

Suddenly, he gave her a sly grin and she smiled back. The

tension flowed smoothly and quickly from anger and

frustration to something like amusement. She brushed her

hair back with an impatient hand; he tossed the remote onto

the bed and stood up. She was just beginning her argument

again.

“If bees had attacked these kids at Sacred Heart

Cathedral, there would be something…”

“It doesn’t have to be bees, Scully.”

She stilled and his hand brushed the top of her bare

shoulder. A sleeveless shirt in a San Francisco summer and

he was trying very hard not to notice.

“What else then? Why change the mode of attack now?”

“They’re ruined — burned. How many are left? We know

Cancer Man is still out there. You take what you can get.

Sacred Heart’s absence records indicates that a great many

of these children were out of school for a two-day period.”

“Kids get sick. Kids give other kids what they got sick

with. It doesn’t mean they’ve been infected with the black

oil!”

He shook his head and peered at the laptop over her

shoulder. Her bare skin was a bright distraction at the

edge of his vision but he ignored it.

“Keep looking, Scully. There’s got to be something on

Sacred Heart Cathedral.”

He noticed that she merely shook her head and kept

searching through the FBI database. She had dark circles

under her eyes and she was still in her pajamas, but

neither of them had been able to sleep. He had stolen into

her room earlier that morning, searching for something.

Maybe her.

Mulder worked his fingers around his temples, pressing

deeply to ease the building pressure behind his skull.

“Maybe these kids … I can’t figure this out. What makes

Madison Hall so different? Why did she get so sick?”

“It’s obvious now that Madison was simply in a coma, and

not dead as others had thought.”

“A wannabe Juliet?” Mulder tossed to her.

She glanced up, ice in her eyes. A whirring of her

computer made her glance down in surprise.

“Oh.”

He took two strides and was at her side. “What ‘oh’?”

“A local pharmaceutical company gave the children of

Sacred Heart free immunization shots.”

“For what? MMR, boosters?”

She shook her head. “I think hepatitis. There has been

some recent outbreaks in Memphis and other cities. I didn’t

know it was a problem here.”

“Free hepatitis shots? Did Madison Hall happen to be

absent that day?”

Scully’s eyes slid up from the screen to meet his, and

Mulder felt a strange chill crawl up his neck and lodge

in his brain like a whisper. He didn’t like the answers

they were finding.

“The records you requested from the school are on the

table,” she said. Mulder was at the table in seconds,

flipping through the sheaves of papers and racing his eyes

across the words. Somehow, he knew what the answer was

before he found it.

“She was absent. She missed that day of school. She was

the only one.”

“She’s been the only kid to get so deathly sick as well.

Her friend, Micah, was sick but he recovered.”

Mulder was surprised that she had acknowledged that point,

but it was a fact. A solid, provable fact. No other child

had exhibited such severe symptoms as Madison Hall, and no

other child had been buried alive.

“I think those immunization shots were for more than

hepatitis,” Mulder said. “And somehow, all these kids were

exposed to the alien virus in some form — this time not by

bees — and Madison nearly died.”

“But … but she was in a coma. She was very, very sick,

Mulder. I can accept what you’re saying, but what I don’t

understand is how she woke up. How could she have possibly

gotten better on her own if she missed getting innoculated?”

He was grinning at her despite her frustration, grinning

because she had accepted it — maybe not the origins of

that virus, but she was beginning to believe. Impulsively,

he pushed away a stray hair from where it had caught and

clung to her lips, then squeezed her bare shoulder.

“Put on your blackest clothes, Scully. We’re going to call

on the dead.”

=====

7:08 a.m. August 14, 2000

Colma Necropolis

She shivered again and crossed her arms as Mulder led the

way from their car to the grassy sloping hill of the

cemetery. The sun was just beginning to lighten the sky

with a chilled warmth, and Scully could hear birds calling

in urgent and reproaching tones. She idly wondered whether

the birds were warning her and Mulder or merely acting out

their role in nature.

“What are we doing, Mulder?” she asked again, knowing full

well that he wouldn’t answer her until it was most

convenient to him.

“Discovering the real origins of this deus ex machina.”

“What?” she said, bewildered. Latin, she thought

automatically. Something about gods and machines.

“It’s a term in the theater — when the conflict is

resolved through some outside force: the gods decide to

save the hero, the prince grants a pardon, the girl is

miraculously raised from the dead.”

She nodded. “So, we’re looking for evidence of the Shadow

Man?”

He shot her an unamused half-grin, then shook his head.

“It’s too early for obscure comedy, Scully.”

She had the sudden urge to roll her eyes at him, but of

course, she didn’t do that. Instead, she walked on just a

little behind him, following him up the slope to the rows

of graves and family plots. She glanced out across the

relatively flat expanse of green grass, black and white

marble, and grey granite. The view was interrupted by the

four trees on this plot of land, each skinny and daintily

shading the deceased, and then the bright yellow police

tape, undulating, like thin fingers of the sun, in a slight

breeze.

Even if Mulder did not have the way to Madison Hall’s

former burial plot memorized, it would not have been a

difficult thing to find, not with the flapping yellow tape.

Scully winced at the discord it caused on a landscape that

was vainly trying to remain peaceful and serene. She felt

her blood crawl as they came closer, until finally she was

shivering again and they were at the edge of the grave.

“What are we looking for?” she asked, trying to hide her

discomfort.

“Ah … I’m not sure yet.”

She glanced up at Mulder’s grim, yet somewhat amused eyes.

This was just like him. She no longer questioned.

“Scully, mind jumping in the hole?”

She frowned ferociously and glanced down into the gaping

darkness of the grave. She looked up again, over to where

the coffin lay beside the large hole; the ropes used to

pull it up were still threaded around its short length.

“Why me?” she asked, glancing suspiciously back to Mulder.

“Because it’s over eight feet, and while I’m certainly

taller than you, it would be difficult for me to get back

out. However, I can easily pull you back out of there.”

She sighed at the logic of his answer: had Mulder gone in

there, he would be unable to simply scramble back out, and

she wouldn’t be strong enough to pull him out.

“All right.”

“Wait,” he said, “Let me help you — it’s a long jump.”

She scowled at him. “I wasn’t about to just jump down

there, Mulder.”

He smiled winningly and grabbed her waist, then dropped

his hands. “How should we do this?”

Scully was glad she’d changed into jeans and a t-shirt:

dirt stains like this were not going to wash out easily.

“Here, I’ll sit on the edge and sort of slide in, while

you hold on to my hands and lower me the rest of the way.”

It was awkward, but she ended up sliding on her back

against the side of the grave while Mulder’s large fingers

were wrapped around her wrists, letting her down slowly.

She had still not touched bottom when Mulder’s chest came

to meet the ground at the side, so she instructed him to

let her go carefully.

“No way, Scully. If I can’t reach you, then I can’t pull

you back out.”

“There’s rope around the coffin. You can use that. I’m all

right.”

Sweat was rolling into his eyes as he held on tightly, but

he saw the ropes wound around the coffin and licked his

lips. He wondered if he was bruising her wrists. This might

have been a stupid idea.

“Okay. I’m going to slowly let you go.”

He let go of one wrist first, his fingers sliding through

hers in a last touch that made him nervous, then he

released her other wrist, finally easing the stress on his

shoulder joints. She wasn’t heavy, but his arms ached now.

He laid there for a moment, waiting for her to say

something.

“Scully?”

“I’m okay. The bottom was about six inches below my feet.

What do you want me to look for?”

Mulder pulled his arms out of the dark hole and glanced to

the slowly rising sun, whose rays had not yet made it high

enough to pierce the grave. He dug a hand into his pocket

and came out with a flashlight.

“I’m going to drop the flashlight down to you. Look for

anything … that’s not dirt, I guess.”

He eased the flashlight down the hole, then dropped it. He

heard it clunk into hard packed dirt and then her fingers

scrambling over it.

“Mulder, you have a reason for coming out here and

dropping me down a grave, don’t you?”

She sounded a tad angry and then the flashlight came on

and he could see her staring up at him, lips pursed and

eyebrow arched.

“Of course. I think our mystery man left something behind.

In fact, I’m fairly certain he did.”

“Why’s that?”

Mulder smiled at their positions; he lying on his stomach

talking to her down a hole.

“And, Mulder, my neck’s starting to get a crick, so make

your explanation fast.”

He grinned at that and propped his chin on his fists.

“Well … in that case. Here are my reasons. One, the

Kesslers evidently interrupted the Shadow Man, as you call

him.”

“Why do you say that?”

“If we stop for explanations, your neck’s going to be

killing you.”

“Okay, okay, get on with it.”

“And two, Madison heard voices very clearly. Enough to

know that John’s voice was low and smooth, that her angel’s

voice was different. Why is that? She was in a coffin with

about eight feet of dirt on top of her.”

“Ah … and her angel, if he’s really no angel, must have

gotten some kind of medicine down to her. She had an

injection mark on her shoulder, Mulder, but she was woken

up before the men raised her out of the grave.”

Mulder smiled. “Precisely.”

“Okay, so let me start looking.”

Mulder cocked his head to the side, then nodded, and

Scully looked around at the dark dank hole. She could hear

her partner scramble back from the edge,and then begin

inspecting the coffin. It was very startling how clear

sounds came to her through the opening to the sky, how

distinct the noises Mulder made unthreading the rope or

opening the lid of the coffin were down where she was. For

Madison to have heard those voices, there must have been a

hole to the outside, to the night air and the living.

“Hey, Scully?”

“Yeah?”

“There’s a hole in the coffin.”

=====

Act III

8:13 a.m. August 14, 2000 San Francisco Police Dept. #57

After changing from their muddy jeans and shirts, they

took a taxi to the police station, feeling ridiculous in

her suit jacket and skirt when the temperature was reaching

the hundreds and women in bikini tops were threading

through the crowded sidewalks in all their golden glory.

She wondered if their motel had a pool; a nice cool swim

with Mulder would be the kind of relaxation she needed.

Scully smiled to herself and tugged at her jacket as the

cab pulled to a stop outside station house 57.

Mulder led her around to the back elevators, where they

rode up to the fifth floor in relative silence. Her fingers

were raw and aching from where the rope had slid through

her hands, and she knew that her partner’s shoulders had to

be sore from pulling her up. But the evidence they had in

plastic bags was enough to warrant filing it with the SFPD.

A drill bit, about the size of the hole in the coffin, two

lengths of three foot pipe bent by the backhoe, and

definite prints on both. Obviously, the Shadow Man had been

interrupted in his resurrection of Madison Hall and had

left behind objects that could implicate him in…

Scully paused in her train of thought. Implicate him in

what? The Shadow Man hadn’t murdered anyone, and he hadn’t

even endangered the little girl’s life — on the contrary,

he had most likely saved her.

“Mulder, what exactly is the crime in this case?” she said

hesitantly, watching his hand spell out the long lines of

his signature. The evidence was placed in double bags and

labeled with a neat, secretary’s hand, and then put in

lockers with a case file code. Mulder was then given the

receipts even as he tried to answer her question.

“I think it’s plainly obvious that government testing is

still going on, Scully.”

“To us, Mulder,” she hissed and pulled him into a short

hallway away from the milling police officers. “Maybe to us

this is obvious. But we have no evidence whatsoever that

testing is occurring.”

“Madison Hall is plenty of evidence.”

Scully shook her head. “No, she isn’t Mulder. She’s a

little girl who got very sick, and then was discovered

alive and well. There’s no hard physical proof.”

“The pharmaceutical company that sponsored the shots…”

“I looked. They’re completely legitimate. And they have a

good reputation for customer satisfaction, which means that

it would be difficult to cast any shadows of doubt on their

intentions.”

“Well … Scully, you know this is happening. We can’t

just let it go because you don’t see tangible proof. No one

in this organization is going to connect the dots for you!”

She leaned away from him, shocked and slightly hurt. But

instead of turning away, she merely fought harder.

“Proof, Mulder. No one will be punished if we don’t have

proof. It’s been our constant problem all these years, and

you know it. If we had proof of any of this, the men

responsible would be in jail.”

He turned away from her angrily, moving to leave the

police department. She was partly right, and he knew that,

but he was also disgusted with her attitude. Couldn’t

she just back him up for once?

“Mulder,” she said softly. “It’s not that I don’t agree

with you. I think you’re right; I think they’ve tested

their cure for this on these kids, and then released the

bees. Or whatever the carriers were. I know this is what

happened. But no one else is going to believe us.”

His shoulders slumped and he turned back to her, looking

as if he didn’t understand her words.

“Believe us?” he said, and she wondered if her words had

shocked him.

“No one is going to believe us. Just like I didn’t believe

it before. Until it happened to me, until I saw it with my

own eyes. We need proof.”

“Proof,” he repeated, looking dazed. She was beginning to

think he had never known of her faith in him.

“You know, Mulder, there’s a saying: Innocent until proven

guilty. I believe that’s what the justice system would need

to convict these people — proof.”

He shot her a long, slow smile, as if guessing that she

was kidding with him. He walked up to her and grabbed her

waist, darting down to kiss her lips, quickly and lightly.

“Thanks,” he said and stepped away from her.

Shocked, she opened her mouth to say something, anything,

to this sudden public display, but a police officer

appeared at Mulder’s shoulder.

“Uh, agents? Your Shadow Man has confessed. He’s in the

detention room.”

=====

9:34 a.m.

Holding Room C

“As my partner would say, we don’t have enough solid

evidence to convict you, Mr. Fitz, other than your

testimony. These days, that’s easily renounced.”

James Fitz shook his head and glanced warily to the glass

mirror. He wasn’t an idiot; he had seen enough cop shows to

know there were police officers, maybe more FBI agents

behind it. He had to do this, they had to put him away for

awhile. Lock him up where none of *them* could get to him.

At least, he didn’t think they could. Surely…

Surely their power didn’t reach this far.

He looked back to Agent Mulder and shrugged. “It’s all I

have. I wasn’t expecting to turn myself in for crimes

against humanity.”

Agent Scully glanced to him with a frown, then to the

report before her. His ‘confession’ was all typed out

there, neatly and in such precision, despite his rambling

and his fear and the attack of conscience he had when he

was giving it.

Some of it he had made up to get the officers to pay

attention to him.

“So, you’re willing to testify that this drug company,

Sharf-Appen, sponsored the immunization, but had no

knowledge of the contents of the medicine given?”

“Yes, right. It was all the institute.”

“And this institute is…?”

Agent Scully looked up at him and he sighed. He’d been

asked this question four times.

“The Center for Antiviral Drug Design, which is located at

UCSF.”

“University of California is part of this conspiracy to…”

“No. No, I didn’t say that. The institute isn’t entirely

corrupt. The part that is associated with the university

doesn’t know anything. It’s like the left hand doesn’t know

what the right hand is doing.”

“So what is the right hand doing, Mr. Fitz?”

“Experimenting on children. Senior citizens. Whomever they

can.”

“For what purpose?”

Fitz thought Agent Mulder’s face looked like a

thundercloud, as if he were ready to storm on the people

responsible, hurling down lightning and rain like he was

some Roman god. The atrocities that had been done upset him

as well, but Fitz was too tired of running, of being

afraid, that the horrors done to children just didn’t have

the same affect as before.

“How did you learn of these experiments?” Agent Scully

said, cleanly taking over for her partner.

“I was involved. I’m a scientist. All this sneaking around

is too hard — that’s why I turned myself in.”

Fitz winced at this near-truth and covered his mouth with

his hand, rubbing his chin with shaking fingers. This

wasn’t going as well as he had expected. He thought they’d

be glad to have his information, that they would

immediately go arrest those more responsible than he. And

he’d be safe.

“How were you involved?”

“Preparing the project. That’s what he called it. The

project.”

“Who called it that?” Agent Scully jumped in, eager now.

“The man. He’s old … we all took orders from him. But he

didn’t really deal with us directly. Just in the shadows

most of the time. I … I was always … he has power. He

could…”

Fitz stopped. There was no use at all. How could he

explain to them what he knew about this man? About the

darkness that surrounded him.

“Did he smoke?”

Fitz looked up. “Yes. He was always with this man, Allan,

who he had healed with the technology we were trying to

perfect. Allan used to be really sick. He had lung cancer

and miraculously, he was well again. Mr. Walker, the man

who smoked, he always lugged Allan around, trying to

motivate us.”

“Motivate you for what?” Agent Mulder asked, frowning.

“I guess for the job. I mean, *I* knew what we were doing

was wrong in some ways, but seeing Allan well again — it

made me stop questioning.”

Fitz sighed and rubbed his temples. “He’s gonna kill me.”

“Why do you think that?”

He looked up at the male agent, shaking his head. If the

man didn’t understand, there was no way he could explain

it. The power behind the old man was enough to keep him

cowed and doing the job. It still kept him cowed, but now

he just couldn’t do the job anymore. He had to stop. *It*

had to stop.

“He’ll kill me. It’s only a matter of time.”

=====

10:13 a.m. August 14, 2000

SFPD

Mulder was still shaking his head over James Fitz’s

explanation of Madison’s resurrection. The extreme

attention to detail that this kind of plan must have

involved baffled him. He wondered why Fitz had chosen that

time to rebel against his captors, to once more be on the

side of good. Fitz was the epitome of the absent-minded

professor: fumbling manner, intelligence without much

common sense, and not a very careful observer.

Fitz had told them that he hadn’t known what the Center

for Antiviral Drug Design was doing with the tailor-made

antivirus he had worked on for ten years. All he had known

was that there was a new disease, a lethal disease with

certain attributes, and unexplainable behaviors. Even

though all the scientists were on a ‘need-to-know’ basis,

the information they did know about the alien virus was

very extensive.

Mulder was surprised they had lived this long, that some

rebel alien force hadn’t wiped them out or the project

leaders hadn’t long ago decided to eliminate evidence.

“Do you think that the old man Fitz talks about is Cancer

Man, Mulder?”

He glanced up to see his partner heading towards him; she

had just finished the long interrogation of James Fitz

while he had run down some minor details. He smiled briefly

at her and sighed.

“Ah, finally, a woman who thinks like I do,” he retorted,

tapping her shoulder. “It seems too close to be

coincidence.”

They were standing in the far corner of the large

conference room on the fifth floor, Mulder able to see

right down the hallway to the interrogation room she had

just come from. The observation room, which connected to

the holding room by the two-way mirror was a little to the

left of his vision. Both doors were closed now, and Scully

again came into focus next to him.

She brushed off his comment and continued with her train

of thought. “Do you think he’s right, Mulder? That it’s

over now?”

“His story checks out, Scully. The center, or institute as

he calls it, does have a contract with the Department of

Defense to produce certain Antiviral drugs. Of course, I

wasn’t given the names, but I talked to Byers and asked him

to run it down for me, if he could.”

“Mulder, that information is very closely guarded. If they

do manage to hack into something like that, there’s going

to be all kinds of traps.”

“I know,” Mulder said, shrugging. “I told him as much. I

think Frohike is aching for a challenge ever since that

video game fiasco.”

He leaned against the small desk that SFPD had allotted

them, the computer at his back making a tired humming

noise. Scully stood just off to his right, her hip pressed

against the desktop. He realized that her stance gave her

the impression of standing up straight, while his just made

him look sloppy and exhausted.

But he *was* exhausted. He hadn’t been able to sleep much

the night before, and then he’d gone into her motel room to

discuss the case at four in the morning. After that, they’d

searched the little girl’s grave, thoroughly interrogated a

suspect, and it was only 10:30. He was needing a second

wind desperately.

The beige and blue color scheme of the fifth floor was

making him sluggish, and he had stared at the computer for

at least as long as he’d talked to Fitz in the holding

room. Mulder rubbed his eyes and felt a shadow pass over

his face. He glanced up.

“But do you think it’s over here, Mulder? That they’ve run

their tests and seen that the drugs work, and they’ll

disappear?”

He noticed she was leaning in rather close to him, so he

hooked a finger in her suit jacket pocket and tugged

playfully. She frowned and pulled away, resting against

the desk.

“I think they’ll disappear, but I don’t think this is

over,” he said finally. “In fact, it feels very unfinished.

Lots of loose ends. That’s not like them at all.”

“Fitz thinks they’re going to kill him.”

Mulder turned a pale face towards her once more, rubbing

his jaw.

“He’s definitely a loose end.”

She nodded and glanced warily to the holding room, chewing

thoughtfully on her lower lip. In a sudden fit, she jumped

up and made her way down the hall towards it, Mulder

following behind her, his thoughts running in the same vein

as her own.

When they reached the door, it was locked. Their eyes met.

“What?” Mulder hissed and rattled the knob. “It’s not

supposed to lock *us* out.”

Scully ran around to the observation room adjoining it,

leaving Mulder to find a key for the door. Stepping into

the room, she noticed immediately that Fitz was facing away

from her, his hands in his lap and his head tilted forward.

She couldn’t tell if he was being remorseful … or already

dead.

Outside, she heard Mulder berating an officer about the

key to the room, and the bewildered answer in the negative.

She turned and peered out of the open door to see Mulder

searching through a key ring, his hands frantic in his

haste.

A scraping wrench of the chair caused her to turn and look

at Fitz again, in time to see his body spasm and blood spew

from his mouth and splatter the wall like a modern art

painting. She froze, her instincts telling her to run, run

far, but she could not even speak.

Seizures wracked the man’s small frame for a full minute,

and then he vomited his intestines.

She prayed he was dead.

“Mulder!”

“Scully, I’ve got the key.”

“No! No, don’t open the door, Mulder.”

She hurried into the hallway, yanking the keys from his

fingers just as he pulled them away from the lock.

“Scully?”

“He’s been infected.”

“With what?” Mulder said, his face going into that shocked

and panicked blankness that she knew so well in him. She

knew it too well.

“I don’t know. But I think he’s dead. Or will be soon.”

She tugged on Mulder’s hand and he followed her into the

observation room.

“Oh, my God. They found him. I don’t know how, but they

found him.”

Scully shivered. “What were you saying about loose ends?”

Mulder grabbed her arm and dragged her from the room, she

stumbling after him and pulling her arm back.

“Scully, Madison Hall.”

“What? What are you talking…”

“Madison Hall is the only loose end left. We’ve got to get

over there right now.”

Scully glanced once more to the closed holding room door,

and then shook her head.

“You start without me, Mulder. I have to call the

paramedics, the CDC, get this contained just in case its

airborne. I don’t know what they injected him with, but it

could be anything. They have the entire arsenal of the

institute behind them.”

Mulder nodded. “See if you can get the security tapes as

well … maybe we can find out who did this to him. Someone

had to have seen a cop or detective enter that room and

maybe inject Fitz with something.”

Scully watched him hurry down the hallway, his tie

flapping behind him as he ran for the elevators. She was

partially in shock after this, not having expected

something so violent and final to happen to their only

witness. And their only proof of hard evidence.

She frowned and pulled out her cellular phone, herding

people away from the door and the sight of the man’s guts

splayed along the opposite wall in vivid reds and purples

and pinks. She was about to call the CDC for a containment

and clean up team, when she remembered.

Madison’s blood tests were due back that morning. And

while these men were tying up their loose ends, or rather,

obliterating the loose ends completely, those tests could

be solid proof of experiments. Madison’s blood contained

both the disease and the antivirus; those results were

crucial.

=====

10:58 a.m.

Hall Residence

Mulder was surprised they had released Madison Hall from

the hospital so soon, but the nurse he had talked with on

the phone had alluded to a fight between her parents and

the doctors. He could understand though. The girl wasn’t

sick any longer and all the doctors did was order more

tests. So when the taxi pulled up to her house, he was

pleasantly surprised to find her outside helping her

parents with their car.

As he paid the driver, Mulder watched the little girl

deliberately soak herself with the hose and then run around

the car, splattering the sides with sudsy water and her

smiles. Her parents seemed to be indulging her today, and

he hated to intrude on their family moment. Madison’s

bright purple swimsuit was an odd spot of brightness in the

horror of this case.

“Mrs. Hall?” he said loudly, to be heard over the spray of

water and the bass line of some song on the radio. The heat

was oppressive and he wiped his hand across his forehead,

regretting the suit. His jacket was back at the station

house, draped over a chair. He wondered if Scully would

remember to bring it with her when she caught up to him.

“Oh, Agent Mulder. How are you?”

Mulder nodded to the still tense woman and fondly patted

Madison’s head when she came to inspect him.

“Not so good, Mrs. Hall. Can I talk to you and your

husband alone?”

The blind fear that raced explosively across her face made

Mulder wonder what was going on in this family.

“Uh, actually, I’d rather not…” she said softly, and her

tone seemed desperate. She dropped the hose to the sidewalk

and rubbed her forehead. Finding some new strength, she

called to her husband and he came over to sit next to her

on the front steps, rubbing her back. Madison continued to

dance around the car in time to the music tumbling from the

portable stereo.

“Is this okay?” Kris said, and her words were low and

defeated.

“It’s not ideal, but it will work. Can you tell me your

reasons for taking Madison out of the hospital?”

Kris bit her lip and shook her head fiercely. “No reason.”

She should have made up some kind of excuse, elaborate or

not. Her terse reply told Mulder for certain that something

had happened, that they had been threatened into keeping

silent for some reason.

Dave seemed to recognize this and he shook his head. “We

just wanted to get out of there, Agent Mulder. You

understand that, right?”

Mulder nodded slowly, thinking quickly.

“Hey Madison!” he called then, and she came prancing over to

him, her face no longer the ghost white as it was at the

hospital but a gleaming healthy pink.

“Yup?” she said and grabbed his hand, swinging it and

hanging on to him.

“Madison, don’t pull on Agent Mulder,” her mother chided.

“Madison, do you remember the day all the other kids got

the shots at school?”

“Yes. I stayed home.”

“Why did you stay home, were you sick?” Mulder asked

softly, bending down to look into her face.

“No, Momma made me.”

=====

11:28 a.m. SFPD

“What do you mean the results have already been picked

up?” Scully shouted, one hand pressed against her ear so

she could hear the medical technician’s voice on the other

end.

The CDC had completely taken over the fifth floor, and

after all the officers and personnel had been thoroughly

decontaminated, herself included, she had gotten a long-

winded and cruel lecture for letting Mulder run out of the

building. She knew that Mulder was not infected, and she

had tried to explain her theory, but no one was listening.

She had just now gotten a chance to call the lab.

“Agent Scully, the woman who came in showed proper

identification and had the right to take the test results.

There’s nothing we can do about it.”

“What was her name?” Scully asked, with a sinking feeling.

“Kris Hall. The girl’s mother.”

=====

11:28 a.m. Hall residence

They were still outside, the water still running and the

suds a little flat, the music loud and tinny sounding, but

Madison was inside the house, in her room. Her parents

still sat on the stoop, Mulder towering over them, but now

he knew and understand more than he did before.

They were talking outside because they claimed their house

was bugged, and the running water and the loud music were

good at covering whatever they might say. Dave and Kris had

been washing the car as a pretext for discussing their

options; they were considering running away.

Mulder wondered bitterly if his parents had ever done this

— recognized the trouble they were in and held secret

conversations while their children were oblivious to the

danger. Somehow, he didn’t think so. He wasn’t sure his

mother knew that much about the project, and his father

hadn’t cared that much for keeping him out of trouble.

Dave had told him the long, miserable story of their

involvement with the project, of the man in the shadows who

had proved his power to Dave by healing a co-worker after

long months of illness. Mulder was sure the ‘kind’ old man

was Cancer Man, the same man that James Fitz had seen.

Eight years before, Dave Hall had been a contract worker,

a specialist in computer imaging but not making much money

because he was hired only for occasional jobs by Bay Area

companies. One of those companies was the Center for

Antiviral Drug Design, and his work was so good that he was

noticed by Cancer Man, who called himself Mr. Walker.

“He healed a man, my co-worker Allan, who had cancer. He

and his wife would come by the offices, telling everyone

that Mr. Walker had healed him. It impressed me. It also

kind of scared me,” Dave said.

Mulder looked to Kris, who was angrily and shamefully

looking at the concrete underneath her feet. She seemed

defeated.

“He told me that he knew that Kris and I were having

trouble getting pregnant, and he knew we didn’t have much

money at all. Not enough to live in San Francisco. He

offered to sponsor us as candidates for a new kind of

fertilization method. He said it was the same kind of

research that had made Allan well again.”

“Just out of the blue like that?” Mulder asked.

“No, no. This was after I’d been there a year I think. He

also said not to worry about money, because I’d have the

imaging job permanently. He was being generous, I thought.

He talked and acted like he was my father, like he was

looking out for me. The institute doesn’t have a need for a

full time design imaging operator, but he was promising me

a place in his company.”

“So he offered you a permanent job and money and a chance

to have the child you always wanted?” Mulder said softly.

Dave nodded. “We talked it over and eventually agreed to

it. It was a new method, he said, and just approved by the

government. He said it was a pet project of his. We soon

discovered that this project was a lot more than just

helping women get pregnant.”

He elaborated on some of the details, about how they had

gotten slowly sucked into allowing tests and other things

on their child, a little girl whose ‘grandfather’ was

always there watching. Dave explained that recently, the

tests had made Madison come home crying and they just

couldn’t allow it any longer. So they had kept her home

from school, the private school paid for by Cancer Man, on

the day the other kids were to have shots.

“And that’s how this all happened. I don’t know what

exactly they’ve done to her, but she’s … not like other

kids. She’s very special. We just wanted to keep her safe.”

This was sounding a lot like what he and Scully had

discovered about Emily Sims, about the tests she was

subjected to and her adopted mother’s fight to keep her

child away from the doctors. He wondered how many of these

children existed.

Mulder sighed just as his cellular trilled anxiously from

his pocket.

“Excuse me,” he said and turned to answer the phone.

“Mulder.”

“Mulder, it’s me.”

“Where are you?” he said, looking at his watch.

“On my way. Listen, Mrs. Hall took the blood test results.

You have to be careful.”

“Don’t worry. They’ve kind of confessed.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain when you get here. I’m at their home.

Madison was released from the hospital. Do you know what

killed James Fitz?”

“Not yet. The CDC is all over the place. They want you to

come in and get checked out.”

“Did you tell them I wasn’t infected?”

A sigh came over the line. “I tried. Look, I’ve got to let

you go, Mulder.”

“All right. I’ll be here.”

She hung up and he shook his head, sliding his phone back

into his pocket.

When he turned around, he felt the hard press of a gun to

his neck and saw the fearful, sickened faces of the Halls

before him.

“Walk inside the house,” came a cool and precise woman’s

voice, and Mulder knew there was a lot more to this than he

had been told.

It was Marita.

=====

11:35 a.m.

Hall residence

Madison looked like she was either going to run screaming

out of the room or break down in sobs. Mulder knew the

feeling. She was held tightly by Marita, her hand pale and

bloodless in the woman’s grip. The little girl was barely

moving, her eyes wide and frightened and locked on Mulder.

Kris Hall was openly sobbing for her child, leaning into

her husband and crying entreaties to the cold Marita.

Mulder had bound her and her husband with duct tape while

Marita held the gun on the little girl; he had done the job

right. He didn’t need the two of them trying to be heroes.

Slowly, he stood up again, then laid the tape on the end

table next to the couch where the girl’s parents were

sitting. Madison was staring up at him as if he were

betraying her, and Mulder softly shook his head.

“Why is she so important, Marita?”

The perpetually calm woman merely looked at him. “Stalling

for time, Agent Mulder?”

Mulder opened his mouth to deny it, then shook his head.

She was clever and not prone to making many mistakes. She

had nearly died once, he knew that much, and she was not

willing to take the stupid chances any longer. She had

learned a lot from Cancer Man and Krycek. Krycek…

“Did Krycek put you up to this?”

“Poor Krycek. He has no idea whose side he should be on,”

she said softly, and knelt down next to the little girl.

“Madison, please go over there with Agent Mulder.”

The child ran to him, and buried her head into his legs.

He sank to his knees and hugged her tightly, trying to calm

her down. Mulder realized that by placing Madison with him,

he could not very well rush Marita. Not without risking the

girl’s life. Marita was very smart in this game.

“Why don’t you just let the family go, Marita? And then

you and Cancer Man get off clean and easy,” Mulder said

soothingly.

“You don’t understand the game any longer, Agent Mulder.”

“So explain it to me,” he said, hoping that when Scully

arrived, she would provide enough of a distraction to let

him take Marita down.

“This isn’t just colonization anymore, this is war. And we

need all the weapons we can get.”

Mulder held Madison tighter in his arms, certain that he

was not about to let this little girl go. He had lost too

many children to them.

“Why is she a weapon? A child isn’t a weapon.”

Marita was busy doing something with the laptop computer

she had brought in with her; it was plugged into the wall

outlet beside the couch, where she could keep an eye on

both the parents and Mulder and the girl. Her back was to

the front door, and Mulder could see outside through the

curtains on the front picture window.

“She’s a step in a long staircase, Agent Mulder. Just as

your sister was a step, as Gibson Praise was a step, as you

were a step. We have moved beyond mere telepathy, beyond

limited physical and mental abilities.”

“But Madison doesn’t display these abilities. She’s not

telepathic.”

“Not yet,” Marita said and cast a bitter look to the

Halls. “Her parents interrupted the program we had her on.

She’s more important to us than anyone else, Mr. Mulder,

for precisely the reasons you said. She was not born with

these abilities.”

Mulder felt the blood drain from his face.

“She’s valuable because she’s proof that with a minimal

amount of genetic tampering, humans can *grow* the

necessary abilities. Humans can adapt into hybrids. And

survive the colonization.”

Madison was crying softly into Mulder’s shirt and he had

not noticed until now. He didn’t know what to do, but rub

her back and awkwardly smooth down her hair.

“Someone will be here to pick us up shortly, Agent Mulder.”

“What? Why am I going?”

“Like I said, you’re a step in this great staircase to the

stars. You’re a portion of our Tower of Babel, and we’re

going to need you.”

Mulder shook his head, refusing to believe that

colonization could be so close, that Cancer Man’s

horrendous plots could still be going on, despite the fire

at El Rico, and despite the many losses the project had

taken. It was more extensive and far-reaching than he had

initially assumed.

And they needed him.

His phone began to ring.

=====

11:41 a.m.

Hall residence

When the taxi pulled up in front of the Hall’s small

house, Scully had a feeling that something was dreadfully

wrong. It looked deserted, as if the entire family had

dropped everything and run. The stereo was outside and

blaring Backstreet boys or some similar pop group, and the

water was creating a river of the driveway. No one was

around.

She paid the taxi driver and checked the address again,

then walked dutifully up the sidewalk. She peeked into the

garage first, but saw no signs of life. She pulled out her

weapon and checked to make sure the safety was on, then

kept it at her side as she walked back to the front.

There were curtains pulled over the front windows, but she

could detect hazy outlines through their white silk layers.

It looked like they were talking, on the couch or

something, but it stilled seemed very odd to her. Things in

the air just seemed out of place, and besides that, Mulder

was not answering his cell phone.

She walked back to the side of the house, not wanting to

be seen on the street, or from the house, just in case. She

pulled out her cellular and called Mulder again. After five

rings without an answer, she assumed the worst and headed

back to the front again.

Weapon drawn, she climbed the front steps and licked her

lips. There was no storm door, only the old wooden portal

that looked as if it had weathered far fiercer storms than

the ones she was imagining. She put her hand to the knob

and took a deep breath, then shoved it open.

Dark. She couldn’t see.

“Scully, get down!”

Mulder!

She dropped and felt something hot and terrible tearing

into her. Then the explosions of sound that meant shots

were being fired at her. The darkness was more than just

lack of sunlight, it was enveloping her in a thick fog of

confusion. She rolled to the side, grunting when she hit a

wall, but feeling relatively little.

“Scully!”

“Here…” she whispered and moved to pull herself up.

When she had banged open the door and come in, weapon

drawn and ready, Mulder had tackled Marita, yelling for

Scully to drop to the floor. Marita had gotten off three

shots before he had wrestled the gun from her, managing to

knock her unconscious as he did so.

He had never punched a woman in the mouth before. It felt

vaguely dishonorable, but he was worried more about Scully.

She was crumpled against the wall, her weapon loose in her

fingers.

“Scully?” he said, hoping to hear her answer him. He

grabbed the duct tape from the end table and quickly ripped

off a long piece, fitting it tightly around Marita’s

wrists. He then jumped up and ran to Scully, his hands

shaking.

“Scully?” he said and lifted her upper body into his lap,

looking for blood.

She moved against him, then hissed in a breath.

“Mulder … Mulder, stop!”

He moved away, and saw that her thigh and shoulder had

been grazed by bullets, and her face was growing rapidly

pale. His trembling fingers grabbed for his cell phone and

called for paramedics and the police, then loosened her

suit jacket to staunch the flow of blood.

“I’m okay,” she said and winced as she tried to lean

against the wall in the entryway. “They almost missed me.”

“Scully…”

“Really, I’m okay,” she said, but gritted her teeth.

He frowned, but ran to the Halls and ripped the tape from

their wrists. Madison crashed over his legs and climbed

onto the couch with her parents, receiving a desperate

embrace. Mulder extracted himself and rushed back to Scully.

She was slumping down, her eyes closed as if in

concentration. He cradled her head, helping her stay

upright along the wall, then brushed his bloodied fingers

over her cheek. She smiled brokenly at him.

“I’m okay.”

He leaned down and kissed her lips very softly. “Looks

painful,” he whispered.

She curled her lips and clutched his shirt with her good

hand, shaking her head.

“Only you…”

Mulder gave her the best smile he could and glanced up to

the Halls, watching them cradle their daughter in relief.

He heard the sounds of squealing tires and glanced through

the thin gauzy curtains to the road in front of the house.

A car was speeding away just as three police cars with

their lights on lumbered up the street, an ambulance coming

in fast behind them.

“Looks like her ride left her,” Mulder said and moved to

open the front door.

The sun shone in brightly from overhead, hot and thick in

the air. The heavy rays illuminated the dark red stain of

Scully’s blood and the white blonde hair of Marita

Covarrubias. Mulder wondered if it was truly over now, or

if he would always be following the wake of the project as

it sped through the waters of the world.

=====

Epilogue

1:07 a.m. August 15, 2000

Saint Francis Memorial Hospital

Consciousness dashed into her like a cold ocean wave; she

was drowning in unfamiliar sounds and feelings and

impressions. She ached, she wanted to cry, she couldn’t

feel her hand at first, her leg felt thick and swollen and

dead.

She turned her head to the side, fighting tears of

frustration and pain and… and…

“Mulder?”

It was one in the morning, she could tell from his watch,

and he was crouching next to her hospital bed, fearful of

waking her. Too late.

“Mulder, what are you doing?”

“Marita is gone. Looks like her ride *didn’t* leave her.

She was in the hospital’s security ward, but someone got

her out. There’s a man on the security tapes, coming in to

see her. . .I think it’s Cancer Man.”

“Cancer Man got her out?” Scully asked, feeling sore and

confused and tired.

Mulder nodded grimly and pulled a chair up to her bedside,

taking her hand between his two warm palms. He looked out

of breath and just as exhausted as she felt.

“What about Madison? She could be in trouble again.”

“I sincerely hope not. Her family decided to enter Witness

Protection. The city is charging the institute with about

six hundred counts of criminal negligence, voluntary

attempted manslaughter, and some others. One for each child

from Madison’s school. Her family will testify.”

Scully nodded. The feeling of needing to cry had passed

for the moment; it was only the pain and the grogginess of

waking up in darkness and fear. Mulder’s hands felt

calming, but sweaty.

“Did you discover what killed Fitz?” she asked, looking

toward the window and the dark night beyond it.

“Yeah. The autopsy showed strains of the ebola virus, in a

mutated form. The CDC found out that Fitz had been working

on this prior to his death, so it’s being assumed that he

contracted the disease at work.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Scully said, disgusted. “He didn’t…”

“Well,” Mulder said softly, smoothing a piece of hair

along her forehead. “We know that, and the CDC probably

even knows that, but the city wants to quiet this aspect of

the case. They can’t have people afraid that ebola is going

around.”

“Yes but…” she sighed again and looked back to the

window. “Cancer Man has escaped prosecution, I don’t doubt.”

“Yeah. They can’t even issue a warrant for his arrest,

since there’s no record of a Mr. Walker, and the people who

work at the institute are mostly innocent. Nothing’s going

to change, really, but at least this is better than before.”

Scully sighed and closed her eyes.

“Oh. You probably want to get some rest.”

She shook her head and tugged on his hand as he attempted

to leave.

“No, not yet.”

He looked at her for a long moment, then sat back down and

leaned in close. She smiled softly at him and glanced down

to her thickly-bandaged leg.

“Any surgery?” she said softly.

He shook his head. “Just stitches. For both. You were

lucky — the bullets only scraped past you.”

She licked her lips. “Still hurts.”

He laughed and leaned forward to kiss her forehead very

gently.

“I’m sure it does. You’ve got a massive bruise on that

shoulder.”

Her smile unfurled slowly from her lips, causing her

entire countenance to transform, almost magically. He

grinned back and couldn’t help pressing a kiss to that

smiling mouth. Scully brought her hand up to caress his

cheek, and when he pulled back, her eyes were closed.

“Sleep, Scully,” he whispered and leaned back in the

plastic, scratchy chair to keep his silent vigil.

The darkness was relieved by a full orange moon peeking in

through the hospital room window. It framed the bed and

bathed Scully’s face in fiery fingers, soft and delicate as

she slept.

“Goodnight,” Mulder whispered, and the room and the moon

seemed to echo it around him.

=====

end adios RM

Imperial Violet

Cover

Imperial Violet

by Khyber

khyber@home.com

CLASSIFICATION: X, UST.

RATING: R-ish for medical ooginess, plenty o’ language and

mature subject matter.

SUMMARY: A fairly routine autopsy by Scully and a fellow pathologist

puts them at risk when they uncover a very nasty surprise. Mulder and

the Gunmen, very concerned for Scully, must try to find out what the

“surprise” is — exactly — and what they can do to counter it.

SPOILERS: This is a “Season Eight” episode; everything up

to “Je Souhaite” is fair game.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: This is for the questions that don’t have

any answers, the midnight glances and the topless dancers…

WEBSITE: This story will initially be available on the

Virtual Season Eight website at http://www.i-made-this.com;

it will also be available after August 15, along with the

rest of my work, at http://www.alanna.net/Khyber.

* * *

District of Columbia Coroner

2:27 p.m., August 4, 2000

The man was tall, broad, with a bit of a belly and styled

grey hair. He moved gracefully, even heavily gowned,

quickly and silently over the floor of the autopsy bay. The

woman was a foot shorter than him, red hair pulled severely

back. She was sudden and precise when she moved, her

actions larger than she was. The third person in the bay

did not move at all, had not moved for some time. Empty

sockets, deeply yellowed cheekbones, teeth grinned up from

a vile greyish-brown morass that surrounded and clung to

the skeleton. Bits of it still hung on in recognisable

patterns, revealing that it had, at some point, been flesh.

They look around it, look over it, probe at it with shining

instruments and blades.

The woman backs away from the table slowly, her eyes

flicking from the table to the older man. He waves towards

the back of the room, behind her. She turns and moves

quickly, pulling open a cabinet under the large steel sink.

Outside, for once in his otherwise generally

undistinguished life, Keith Menzies is on the ball. His

fifteenth day on the job, and something cool finally

happens. The seminar was only a week ago, and he remembers

where everything is.

Keith already has the hall taped off by the time they get

there with the air pump. The tape’s yellow, wider than his

hand, and it says BIOHAZARD.

* * *

Scully voice-over:

“Within days of infection, patients suffer from soaring

temperature and excruciating muscular pain. The throat is

so sore that swallowing anything becomes intolerable. The

connective tissue liquifies. The skin becomes like soft

bread—it can be spread apart with the fingers, blood oozing

out. Victims choke as the sloughed-off surfaces of their

tongues and throats slide into their windpipes. Every body

orifice bleeds. Even the eyeballs fill with blood. Ebola is

the perfect parasite…”

* * *

i m p e r i a l v i o l e t

by Khyber

* * *

6:22 p.m., August 4

Fox Mulder played the tape again.

It was the seventh time, but it was all they were letting

him have. He’d seen her, up and moving, in the theatre

adjacent to the autopsy bay. They’d moved him out then,

pushing him into the hall as they set up some kind of

inflatable plastic airlock around the double doors that

offered entry to both rooms.

BIOHAZARD

Tape stretched across the doors, roll the tape, no one

gets out of here alive.

BIOHAZARD

(click)

“Oh, eew.”

The man’s voice was sophisticated, theatrical, a guy who

tells great dry jokes.

“Oh, my God.”

He heard Scully take a deep breath before she continued.

“Um, do you want to start?”

The man cleared his throat. Ten seconds of silence, a

suggestion of footsteps.

“Dana, will you excuse me for a minute?”

“Sure, go ahead, I’ll do the visual.”

Too cool, too professional. She has everything turned

off, he thought.

“No, I’m just going to swear. Holy fucking sweet shit

popsicle.”

Mulder imagined her eyebrow lifting at that. Through the

tape he could feel the air in the room cleared by the silly

vulgarity of it. The man cleared his throat and continued.

“Okay, better now… uh, victim is identified as Maria

Calias, age 24, this is based on a prior identification,

there are… uh, no, no identification is possible from a

visual exam. Sorry, Dr. Owen Purcell, assistant coroner,

District of Columbia, assisted by Dr. Dana Scully, Federal

Bureau of investigation. Cause of death is listed as a

self-inflicted gunshot wound, it is… I can’t tell from what

I can see right now. Partially …obscured… skeletal remains

appear to be an adult female, indeterminate age, again, no

identifying features. Body is in what may be an unusually

advanced state of decay not consistent with time of death

approximately fifteen days ago and burial eleven days ago.

Body was disinterred late yesterday on order of DC police.

Skeletal remains are surrounded by what may be… yeah, there

appears to be hair and some skin tissue in there… oh,

Christ, give me a minute here.”

Scully murmured something, then coughed once. When she

spoke, taking over from Dr. Purcell, her voice was cold and

slightly shaky.

“There has been extensive necrosis which appears to have

attacked connective tissues, causing what appears to have

been a massive sloughing of soft and muscle tissues, and,

uh, advanced decay as previously observed. Internal organs

appear to have…”

Mulder heard her swallow hard.

“…more or less disintegrated. There is damage to the

detached lower mandible, which is consistent with a high-

velocity projectile. Owen, it’s going to be very difficult

to do the necessary work on this, I don’t think we’re going

to get any reliable samples of anything.”

Clattering sounds, metal on metal. Instruments on a tray.

“I’m going to try to recover the mandible and some, oh,

who the hell am I kidding, Dana, do you see anything that

looks like skin here?”

Scully murmuring something, sounding disappointed. More

clattering.

“Dana, step away from the table, as far as you can.” The

man’s voice is nervous but strong.

“What…?”

“Now. Get over by the cleanup station.”

“Owen, what the hell…”

“Just DO IT!”

He hit rewind. One more time, four minutes of Scully’s

voice.

“Agent Mulder, we’ve got the line established.” His head

jerked up and he started to move. The young man suppressed

a swear as Mulder nearly bowled him over. He hadn’t been

allowed in this far yet. Scully and the other doctor were

in an autopsy theatre attached to the one in which they;d

been working on Maria Calias. The only way in our out was

through the first theatre. Mulder was conscious of the

whirring of huge fans. The glass was obviously to assist in

lectures (or identification of corpses, don’t think that

Mulder) and they had insisted on wiring a handset into the

PA system. (don’t think about why they want that, either…)

Scully is on the other side of the glass. The intercom is

against the wall beside the window, and he walks to the far

end of the glass, as far as the cable will allow, so he can

see her as they speak.

“Scully, are you all right?”

She looks around for some reason.

“For the time being, yes. We’re operating on the

assumption that the anteroom here is clean, so we

established a temporary airlock in order to…”

“Scully.”

“Owen was right, about the haemorrhagic fever, there’s

evidence of unusual bacterial activity as well. We don’t

have the equipment in here to try and isolate a virus, but

the CDC is going to take our smaples when they can

establish a proper…”

Mulder’s heart leapt into his throat. Haemorrhagic fever.

Yellow fever. Dengue fever. Scully’s voice temporarily

faded.

Marburg.

Ebola.

He heard Scully swallow loudly, ready to launch into

another discussion of unusual bacterial activity.

“Scully.”

Goddamn, Mulder, for once in your life that came out

right, he thought. Warm, caring, touching, not at all like

the liquid nitrogen ripping around in his veins.

She exhaled heavily, making the tiny mike buzz.

“Okay, I’m scared.”

She has her forehead pressed against the wall, and her

eyes closed.

“It’s going to be okay, ba-… Scully, it’s going to be okay.”

“If it is a virus of some kind,” she said quietly, “the

chances of our having been infected are pretty small. No

virus should maintain activity under those circumstances.

This is just a very sensible precaution under the

circumstances.”

Scully *never* repeats her big words. Her inner scientist

is on autopilot.

“What do you want for dinner?”

“What?”

She looks up at me through the glass like I’m crazy.

“Yeah. If you don’t put in a takeout order soon, they’re

going to slide hospital food under the door. What do you

want?”

Half a smile.

“You’re crazy, you know that?”

Mission accomplished.

“Come on, hurry up.”

“Mulder, tomorrow I am probably going to be hit with a

megadose of antibiotics and antivirals that will kill

everything in my digestive tract. We’ll probably go with

meal replacements. What? Okay…”

The older man has come up behind her. He has glasses, nice

hair. He gives me a weirdly royal wave, wiggling his

fingers.

“What?”

“Agent Mulder? It’s Mulder, right? This is Owen Purcell,”

he drew out his l’s, “the person who’s trapped in here with

your lovely partner for the night. Dana’s out of her head

with hunger. Her stomach is making terrifying sounds. I

fear for my life. Bring us barbecued ribs, preferably from

Nate’s. With everything, and whatever the cheesecake

special is. I’m guessing she has a weakness for cheesecake.”

“Um, I’ll see what I can do…”

* * *

2:28 a.m., August 5

“My temperature’s still normal,” Owen said, stepping out

of the tiny restroom. They’d been very lucky that the

autopsy theatre had a (very small) change facility

attached. “Urine sample looks normal. Good to see you’re

getting as much sleep as I am.”

“What are you doing up?” Scully asked. It was a silly

question. She had made a brave attempt to sleep on a

stainless steel counter. Owen had been trying it in a chair

with just as much luck as she had. They were stuck until

approximately nine AM, apparently, while everything

necessary to remove Maria Calias from the autopsy theatre

next door was assembled. No one had come out and told them

as much, but Scully knew that since no one had come

marching in to rescue them, that they were heading for a

stint in isolation as well.

“Guy watching.”

Scully snorted good-naturedly. On their line to the

outside, they could talk to any one of a number of

stunningly charisma-free emergency personnel who called her

ma’am.

“Anything to see at two-thirty in the morning?” she asked.

“Really cute brunet crashed on a gurney down the hall

there. Great eyes, nice buns… bad haircut.” Owen seemed

like quite possibly the best brunch companion in the

world—charming, a fount of bizarre trivia, wickedly funny,

and outrageously gay. They bumped into each other over

dead bodies, as Owen put it, two or three times a year.

“I thought I told him to go home.”

“He didn’t listen.”

“He would if I was out there to kick his buns.” Scully

placed her hands on the lab counter and smiled. “He usually

sleeps on the couch.”

Owen walked over to the microscope. He had a few hastily

prepared slides there. Scully didn’t remember him working

on anything, and realised she must have slept at some point.

“You know, I think I may have something here. I don’t know

if it’s good, but it’s something.”

Following the older man, Dana blinked hard, trying to

loosen her contact lenses, and peered into the viewer.

“Is this a bacterial infection? It looks like a bacterial

spore. Or is it some kind of… no, it’s definitely a

bacterium…”

“It’s a bacterium, all right. Not one I recognise, but

that’s not exactly my forte. But look at the structures in

it…”

Dana squinted. There was too much to see, too much

structure to it.

“Help me out here, I know it’s wrong but I don’t know how.”

“I think somebody’s hitching a ride in there. I bet those

structures in there are viral colonies.” He leaned against

the counter. “Evolution is devilishly clever that way. The

problem with all the really good virii, like Marburg or

Ebola, is that they’re too virulent for their own good,

they kill their host so quickly that unless it’s highly

mobile it will infect, at best, its local population. And

they survive very, very poorly outside a host.”

“You think the bacterium is a transit mechanism?”

Owen shrugged.

“It wouldn’t be unheard of. It’s a pretty unlucky

coincidence, though, if that’s a version of Ebola or

something. Actually, my latest theory based on poor Ms.

Calias’ remains is that we might be looking at some sort of

new variation on syphilis.”

“How transmissible would it be?”

Dana congratulated herself on how calm she sounded when

she said that.

“Well, at this point I’d be optimistic for us. That’s a

big bacterium, and it’s a spore so it’s comparatively

dormant and non-permeable. I think under the right

circumstances–close physical contact, large-scale dry

inhalation–it could be pretty transmissible, but not in

this environment. It’s survivable, however, which is the

big thing. Anthrax spores can stay viable for years under

the right conditions. That’s about all I know for the

moment, I’m not inclined to try and incubate any of the

little bastards with the facility we have here. I will

happily leave that to CDC.” He switched off the

microscope’s light. He looked out the glass window again.

“Good partner.”

Scully smiled and let her chin drop to her chest.

“How long?” Owen asked, sitting backwards on the rolling

lab chair.

“Seven years.” The older man began to smile, and she

quickly corrected herself, or corrected him, or simply

corrected. “No, no, not, it’s not like that.”

“Like what?”

“He’s my partner.”

“That’s what *we* say, dear.”

“You know what I mean.”

“What’s the first thing you want to do when you get out of

here?”

“Find out what happened to Maria Calias.”

“You are such a liar.” He chuckled as she began to open

her mouth to protest. “Unless, of course, you mean that

one or both of you prefers the sunny side of the street.”

Scully had to smile. Owen’s persistent good nature was far

more contagious than anything that could hide in a lab.

“Don’t ask yourself why you’re letting me rib you, it’s

three in the morning, a general amnesty is in effect.” Owen

crossed his arms on the back of the chair and rested his

chin on top of them. “Peter and I had eleven years, most of

them good. He was a political animal, worked for one of

those lobby firms, then did some activist work once he

started getting sick. I guess it’s good that he’s gone now,

I don’t think he could stomach campaigning for Al Gore.”

“When did you lose him?”

“Early in ’98. Just after all that ice melted.” He smiled.

“I know what your… your partner is out there thinking right

now. He’s holding every memory he has of you, like a

thousand jewels, and he would trade all of them for one

more.”

“Owen…”

“If you think I’m wrong, correct me.”

Scully sighed, very deeply, her shoulders rising and

falling with a hitch in the end as her breath left her.

“That’s why I’m so damn funny in these situations, after

all. Nobody does gallows humour like AIDS patients. And the

best part of it is, I can steal all their material and they

won’t sue me.”

“Ohhhhh, boy.” Scully slid down into a sitting position on

the floor, drawing her knees up to her chest. Her mouth

twitched, the corners edging down. She couldn’t decide

whether open or closed eyes were better, and they seemed

very inclined to water either way.

“I’m sorry Dana, I plead for three AM amnesty. I stick my

nose in people’s lives. Go ahead. I’m going to bawl myself

in a few seconds.” Owen sighed heavily once. “Don’t worry,

we’re getting out of this, but it’s good to have these

times anyway.”

* * *

8:37 a.m., August 5

They’re on the phone now. They give great phone. No silly

greetings, just resuming an ongoing conversation.

“I’m fine so far,” she says. Naturally, he must have asked

how she was. “Starting to feel a little sick from the

antibiotics. Owen is pretty sure we’re not infected with

anything at this point, though we may have found a serious

public health threat.”

Owen may have overstated his confidence, he thought to

himself, but he did so under the terms of the 3 a.m.

amnesty.

“No, I didn’t get that far into the file. I saw the part

about the tox screen. Was she in Africa recently?”

Ah, they’re onto The Matter At Hand. I’m glad I wasn’t

one of the poor CDC people who had to figure out how to re-

bag poor Ms. Calias last night. They’d have needed a

spatula. My stomach lurches from a combination of memory

and broad-spectrum antibiotics, and I console myself with

the fact that Dana turned a lovely translucent green colour

over the table and she’s actually a pathologist, so I

should be pretty proud of not woofing my cookies.

“Where was the last place she spent any time?”

He says a few words and she chews at her lip. Dead end,

obviously. Mulder nods his head down the hall. When she

speaks again, her voice is quieter.

“Great, I’m going to star in a remake of E.T…” She’s not

smiling, but she’s thinking about it, maybe a little bit. I

walk out of range so I can’t hear them.

* * *

X-Files Office, FBI Headquarters,

11:22 a.m. August 8

Detective Brandy Wiseman saw a tall man standing in front

of a desk in a dimly lit, very strangely decorated office.

Who the hell works in the basement, anyway? He was good-

looking, brunet, tired and harried. His shirt and slacks

were rumpled and his collar was open. His arms were crossed

on his chest, and she sensed that he had just been chewing

his thumbnail when he looked up at her, seeming startled.

He almost lurches towards her as she stands in the doorway.

“Detective, thanks for coming down here on such short

notice. I need to know everything you can tell me about

Maria Calias. You were the one who ordered the autopsy?”

“Agent…. Mulder, right? Brandy Wiseman, DC Police. It’s

not a problem, I’m just really sorry that whatever happened

in the autopsy… happened. If we’d had any idea there was

a public health threat, we never would have ordered the

disinterment.”

“I know, I know. I just need to know everything.” Change

‘harried’ to ‘haunted’, Brandy thought. No ring. He was

either a boyfriend, or one of those investigators who gets

something in his teeth and just can’t let go, even if it’s

not his job.

“Gravestone stuff, she was 24, former airline stewardess,

originally from Miami.” Brandy realised that she wasn’t

going to be invited to sit down, since it wasn’t occurring

to Mulder to do so himself. “We think she might have been a

part-time working girl. We were interested in here because

she’s associated with a guy named Tyrell Robinson. He owns

a couple of clubs in DC and Miami and produces porn flicks.

As one law enforcement official to another, we’re pretty

sure that he’s hooked up some local gang types with one of

his connections in the Miami drug trade, and they’ve

started bringing coke into DC and Baltimore.”

“You said she was a stewardess,” Mulder interjected. “Do

you know if she’d travelled recently?”

“Former stewardess. She was in Miami with Robinson pretty

regularly.”

“Can we bring Robinson in?”

“Good luck. He’s real smart. Even with the coke, he’s not

handling anything himself, he just arranges the meetings

between the guys here and his friends in Miami, and he

gets, I dunno, a fucking consultancy fee or something. He

won’t do us any favours even if we’re jsut asking him about

Calias’ vacations.”

“Did you question him when Calias died?”

Wiseman felt herself almost blushing.

“This is gonna sound so stupid, Agent Mulder. No, we

didn’t. I was… I was on vacation. Violent Crimes was on

the scene, they had a 24 year old club girl who looked like

she’d done a whole bunch of blow and said goodbye cruel

world. It’s not what you’d call immediately suspicious so

they just filed it. I don’t think they even did a real

autopsy, just a tox screen to find out that she was indeed

high as a kite when she pulled the trigger. She’d been in

the ground a week before anyone in Narcotics knew she was

dead. I found out in a frickin’ interoffice email.”

“You think she might have been murdered?”

“I don’t know. To be a hundred percent honest I ordered

the disinterment mostly to make sure, and to let Robinson

know we’re interested in his ass. I was way out on a limb

because the prosecutor’s office has gotten burned on him

once already. We tried running a sting in one of his clubs

eight months ago and it didn’t go… as planned. He had

pretty decent grounds to sue.”

“So you don’t think he’s going to talk to us now.”

Mulder’s voice was hard.

“We know he’s in Miami right now. He scooted the second we

did the disinterment. We’re trying to find him. We’re also

looking for his gang contacts in DC, but guys like that

don’t exactly hang out at precincts.” Wiseman studied the

floor. The carpet was pretty new, considering that the

office was rammed into a corner of the basement. Aw, shit,

she thought. May as well just suck it up and say it.

“Agent Mulder… I’m sorry, this is the way it works

sometimes. All I can say is that it’s damn fucking bad luck

and I am so sorry this is happening to your partner, and it

might not be happening if we’d been on the ball. But we

will do everything, I mean everything, to find out anything

that might help. If there is anything I can do, just let

me know.”

Mulder was looking right past her. She could tell that he

was trying to find a good way to get her to leave, and took

her own initiative to do so.

“How are Dr. Scully and Dr. Purcell?” she asked, stopping

in the doorway.

“They’ve moved them to quarantine at Bethesda Naval

Hospital. We don’t know anything else.”

* * *

Bethesda Naval Hospital – Quarantine Facility

4:58 p.m. August 5

They’ve got her in an isolation room, complete with an

airlock. No VCR, so I brought her books, and a pair of 10-

pound dumbbells. I was immensely reassured by hearing a

doctor explain to an orderly that no, it’s fine to put

things *in*, just make sure nothing gets *out*. It’s like a

fucking zoo. Scully has curtains on her side of the glass.

“Is there anything going on at the office?” she asks. The

sound is unusually good, not metallic. It’s Scully’s voice,

timbre and undertone intact, not Scully-over-wire.

“Nothing urgent.” Leave it to Scully. She’s the girl in

the bubble, and she’s pretending to be professional. “I’m

saving up a nice juicy Wisconsin cattle mutilation, though.”

“For investigation, or for the barbecue?”

“No, seriously, there’s nothing happening. Skinner sends

his love.”

“Really.”

“Well, he said something about getting our money’s worth

on our health insurance. He said it very warmly, though.”

“Mulder, I know, I look like hell. Stop staring. I’m on a

course of antibiotics that are busy killing everything in

my body. I think they’re going to be feeding me pablum and

enzyme pills for dinner.”

“I could sneak in more ribs.”

“I’d end up redecorating the room, from both ends.”

I snort. Scully makes one rude joke every three months,

usually to do with bodily functions. Must be a minor

complex from growing up with brothers.

She handles inactivity well, better than me. It’s the

fact that it’s forced which is driving her nuts, especially

when she feels fine for the time being and the reason she’s

here is to see if she stays that way. It’s a difficult

balancing act between hanging around and driving her nuts,

and taking off and suddenly being stuck with the horrible

feeling that she might be lonely–that is, if Scully ever

admitted that such a feeling existed. The CDC doctors,

probably for some dim, psychologically-motivated reason,

aren’t telling her anything regarding the results of the

tests they’re running on her and Owen. Owen, for his part,

reassured me that there would be a lot more tests happening

if there had been bad news off the early ones.

“Did they tell you anything about Calias?” she asks.

“Just that they checked every hospital in Miami, DC, and

Baltimore, and there weren’t any cases that came even close

to that.”

“Did they check the original autopsy? Where’s the

pathologist who did it? They might have been exposed too.”

Okay, scratch the part about handling inactivity well.

“I already asked. Nobody could give me a straight answer.

They didn’t do much of an autopsy since it looked like an

open-and-shut suicide.”

Scully looks at me pointedly, and very seriously.

“That’s the truth, Scully. I don’t know anything you

don’t.” Her face changed, and she shook her head.

“Sorry, Mulder. I’ve got a little too much time to myself

here. On that note, mind if I go change?” I brought her

clothes, too, jeans and t-shirts and a couple of sweaters.

And, of course, underwear, which I definitely didn’t fondle

as I packed it.

“Sure,” I say. She hangs up and rummages through the

athletic bag, then walks towards the bathroom. As she

glances back at me I make a disappointed face, which gets

an exasperated look. Good enough for now.

* * *

Offices of “The Lone Gunman”

7:21 p.m., August 5

I always expect the place to smell but it doesn’t. The

industrial-size air conditioners take care of that, along

with keeping the servers and routers and niblicks and

portable holes cool. “What’s that?” They’re all looking at

the computer screen, then at me, then at each other, then

back to the screen. Screen, me, each other, screen, and

repeat.

“Scully’s files, Langly responds. “There were some images

attached but we couldn’t reconstruct them.” Byers rolls his

chair forward, looking helpful.

“I’ll tell you right now, we have no idea what exactly the

files say. I’ve got a friend coming over to take a look at

them later tonight.”

I lean out of the orange-tinted light of the room into the

fluorescent-and-blue of the computer bench.

“From Bethesda?” I ask. They call it “Echelon At-Home”.

They tried to explain the joke, but some conspiracies are

too kooky even for me. What it amounts to is that with a

little warning, they can set themselves up to capture every

piece of data that flows into or out of any point on the

internet, and filter it if necessary. I’m still not

entirely sure if that makes me more or less comfortable

than the National Security Agency doing it. You would think

that bureaucracy would make the process inefficient. You

can accuse these guys of a lot of things, including

numerous sins against fashion and interior design, but

inefficiency isn’t one of them.

“Yeah, but you’re going to love this part.” Langly began.

Langly’s cold, except when he’s talking about music.

“Somebody emailed these out of the hospital, encrypted. One

copy went to a DOD firewall server, no idea where it was

going from there. Could be any US military or DOD network

anywhere in the world. The other went to a biotechnology

company in Virginia.”

Mel rolls his chair up then. I think they practice this

shit.

“You’re gonna love this even more,” Mel says with a

pervert’s grin, “the company’s public webpage talks about

doing work on bioherbicides that specifically target drug

crops. Who’s paying the contract? US Army, plus the DEA.”

“Narcs.” Langly grumbled.

“And for the piece de resistance…” Byers this time, they

HAVE to practice this… “they’re a division of Roush.”

My blood’s running cold an average of three times a day

now.

“About all we can get from the files right now is that

they’re relating it to something called ‘Imperial Violet’,

which we can assume is a code name,” Byers said.

That’s another. Mel hands me a printed web page.

“It was mailed to a guy named Glen Roth, looks like

they’ve only got the one facility and he’s there. Here’s

the address.”

Kennock, Virginia. Nothing on the East Coast is that far.

I can be there tonight. I fold it roughly, ramming it into

my jacket pocket. Mel puts a hand on my elbow.

“Whoa, cowboy. What are you going to do when you get there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Business hours or after?” Langly asks. He’s starting to

smile, his teeth glinting blue from the monitors.

“Definitely after.”

Mel gives an evil-goblin chuckle.

“Well, shit, come into the playroom here. The webpage said

it was a GMP facility, right? That means cardlocks…”

* * *

Annapolis, Maryland

11:32 p.m., August 5

“Lisa says this makes it totally awesome.

Chad was pretty convinced of the awesomeness of the entire

situation. Liz had been all over him at the bar, and

flashed him across the hood of his Beetle, as if he needed

any further proof she wasn’t wearing a bra. Hooray for

boobies, man. Nothing but mammaries. She’d pulledoff her

baby-t as soon as they’d gotten in the door of his room,

pushing his head playfully away from her chest as she sat

cross-legged in the middle of the floor. Topless in

cutoffs, man, he loved that. This time he was gonna tongue

her navel ring for sure. It was just too fucking sexy. Liz

dug her compact out of her little purse

“Feeling brave?” Man, she could be bad. He fucking loved

that. She took a little green vial, like some kind of Body

Shop thing, out of her back pocket, and popped the compact

open. From the vial, she dumped a tiny pile of white

powder. Chad laughed

“No waaaaay…

“Oh yeah,” she said. “Wanna play?

“Fuck, yeah…” He pulled his shirt over his head and sat

down across from her. Man, he should have borrowed Mike’s

digital camera tonight, this was getting too awesome

“Oh shit, I don’t have a straw…” she giggled. Chad dug

out his wallet, pulling out a twenty

“Here.

“Shit, it’s, like, retro-80’s night…” she laughed as she

rolled it into a tight tube

“I’m thinking Boogie Nights.” Liz looked up at him and

winked in response as she lifted the little mirror up in

front of her. He nipples were totally hard, poking out at

him. “Aren’t you supposed to make lines?”

“I’m a fucking…” (sniff) “…rebel,” Liz said, blinking

widely.

“Punk fucking rock,” Chad said as she handed him the

compact. What the fuck, man, everybody tries the shit once.

* * *

Bethesda Naval Hospital – Quarantine Facility

12:30 a.m., August 6

Call me baby, Mulder, don’t ever do it where anyone can

hear it. Baby makes me feel like someone I’m not sure I can

be. No one with “Doctor” in front of her name is ever

called baby, maybe I feel like a waitress with a pushup bra

somewhere hot and Southern, San Diego somewhere besides my

high school yearbook, with a muscle car and an ex-husband

who might be out on parole. Small and tight, redhead, fast

and crazy. Baby who slips polaroids of herself naked,

thighs spread and breasts offered, to her boyfriends. Maybe

baby has a man who mows the lawn, maybe has a lawn, knows

how to make a hamburger if the need for one arose,

barbeque, press a cold can of beer to the back of her neck,

to her chest. Keep calling me baby when we’re alone, make

me feel like the bad magic woman in a seventies song, with

sweat and tequila and secrets.

Dana rolled over, deciding the adjectival construction

“hot and bothered” was probably fairly accurate to describe

her current state. Bad, bad thoughts, dangerous thoughts,

sweet on your tongue. Relationships with your partner are

definitely too complicated, things not to be fucked with.

Would it be bad to just fuck him, just once, one lousy

time, could that hurt? And even if it did hurt, a little,

at the beginning, it would only be for a minute or so until

she got used to it…

Her hand dropped off the edge of the mattress and she

couldn’t figure out why. Why is the bed so narrow? The

sheets feel weird, where…

Dana sprung completely awake. Hospital, Bethesda,

isolation. Her breath felt rough and warm in her throat,

and he sinuses felt full. I’m running a fever, she thought.

Not a lot. Three degrees at the most, but still a fever.

The small, subdued light outside the inner door of the

little hospital room clicked on. She didn’t recognise the

nurse, but that wasn’t exactly a surprise. The voice was

female, sounding rather young.

“I noticed you were awake anyway… we can get this part of

the course on time.” The girl did know one thing, Dana

thought, which was not to use the weird glove box by the

bed. It made everything just too bizarre and demeaning. The

small airlock, one door on each side and the size of a

shoebox, hissed. She also didn’t say anything to the

effect of ‘You were humping the mattress anyway, so I

figured I’d interrupt you’, which Dana thought also spoke

well to the young woman’s nascent professionalism.

Dana rolled herself out of bed and strode to the warm pool

of yellowish light. Something felt wrong, she thought,

aside from her skittish sleep. I’m running a fever, she

realised. A hundred degrees at the most, but still a fever.

Jesus, I hope this is secondary. She palmed the two

monstrous yellow tablets, and picked up the small cup of

water. “Thanks.” God, the girl was so young, could she

honestly be a nurse? She looked nineteen, fresh and

ponytailed, but strong, with a worked-out neck above her

greens.

“Have a good night,” the girl said.

The pills caught in her throat, suprisingly powdery. She

looked in the tiny paper cup they had been in. There was a

faint dusting of yellow powder from them.

(Should have thought of that before you swallowed.)

Dana carefully folded and flattened the paper, trapping

the remnant of powder inside. From the small table beside

the bed she picked up an unread paperback that Mulder had

brought her that afternoon, tucking the flattened cup

inside the front cover. No, that might look suspicious. She

inserted it randomly, like a bookmark.

(Great, I may be infected with hyper-Ebola from Mars, and

the only mental states I can summon are non-specifically

horny, and paranoid. What am I, Mulder? Mulder has messed

my mind up. I should call Mulder. Where’s my phone?)

She sat down heavily on the bed. Something felt wrong,

wrong wrong, buzzy like a bee. Rapid and thready, like a…

* * *

Kennock, Virginia 11:54 p.m. August 5

The woods which used to nestle around Kennock had been

recently and ruthlessly paved to make way for an unending

line of Home Depots and Denny’ses. Denn-i.

The “Innovation Place Research Park” was a large trapezoid

of gold-tinted glass and brown stone, a small plot of test

fields stretching north behind it into the darkness.

Probably breeding better tobacco. Mulder tested the double

glass doors at the front of the building, and was surprised

as a security guard met him there.

“Hi, can I help you?”

Might as well go for broke, he thought.

“Yeah… my name’s Glen Roth, I work up in MTI. I’m going

to Toronto tomorrow and I forgot all the stuff for my

laptop.”

Lucky break, he told himself. Glen Roth doesn’t work late

enough for the night guard to know him. The young man

stepped aside, allowing Mulder in.

“I hope you got your access card, because I don’t have any

for up there.”

“No, it’s fine, I’ve got mine. Do I sign in…” No, no, no…

Mulder thought.

“Nah, don’t worry about it. You gonna be long?”

“Shouldn’t be too long.”

“I’ll be over there at the desk, just let me know when

you’re going.”

Mulder jogged up the curved staircase at the side of the

atrium. When he reached the mezzanine that looked out over

the entryway, the guard had gone back to his textbooks. MTI

was on the second floor, according to the Gunmen–in fact,

there it was, a single door decorated with a cut glass

logo. MTI-INTELLIGENE, second line ‘DIVISION OF ROUSH

BIOTECHNOLOGIES’. The main door had no cardlock. He looked

down the branching hallway and saw several more unmarked

doors with readers. Slipping down the hall, Mulder began to

rummage in the laptop case he was carrying, pulling out a

cell-phone-sized console with a broad cable that linked it

to a metal plate about the size of a business card. He laid

it on the floor and pulled the spidery headset out of the

case, plugging it into his cellphone and dialing with one

hand.

“Okay, I’m here,” he said, aligning the tiny mike close to

his mouth.

“You know this bit,” Frohike whispered into his ear.

“Enter, slide, run.”

“Yeah…” Mulder pressed the “enter” key on the console.

There were seven other buttons, none of which had been

explained to him. Who makes this stuff, anyway, he wondered-

-this was not a Gunmen homebuild. He ran the metal card

down the door’s reader.

“What colour you got on the unit?”

“Flashing green… steady green.”

“Okay, that should be it, run it again, don’t close the

door.” Mulder slid the metal card again, and the reader

clicked, its light turning green. He turned the door’s

handle, gathering up the laptop case as it opened.

“I’m in.” He stuffed the unit back in the laptop case,

holding the door open with his foot.

“Look around, is there a console by the door?” Mulder

scanned the wall.

“No, I don’t see anything,” he said, reaching for the

lightswitch panel.

“Suckers. Was there a guard at the door?”

“Downstairs, yeah.”

“Human’s always the weakest link,” said Langly. He

imagined them all sitting there, all with matching

headphones.

“I’m gonna look for Roth’s office, or cube… are you guys

ready over there?”

“Dude, we’re so ready. You know how to say ‘fuck the

pigs’ in Portuguese?”

3ILLO

“I don’t wanna know…” Mulder said, and stuck his head

into the first cube. No obvious names. Married picture,

youngish couple, baby picture. Poster of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Size 4 pink sneakers under the desk. No. Second cube.

Stack of incomprehensible printouts, photocopies of stock

option certificates pinned to the wall. McDonald’s nametag

saying “DONNA”, movie poster for “Elizabeth”. No. Third

cube… nothing, nothing, neat, family picture–Palm trees.

Mom, Dad, son in an Air Force uniform, pretty daughter in

her teens.

Whoa, US Air Force uniform, and the family’s African-

American. Mulder hadn’t seen a black person in upper-middle-

class upwardly-mobile upward-looking Kennock, Virginia

yet. Nothing in the cube except the pic of his family. The

guy’s here temporarily. He pulled out his cell phone and

sat down in what he hoped was Glen Roth’s chair, laying the

laptop case beside him on the desk.

“Talk about weak human links, Langly, Roth is a 50-year

old black man.”

“Maybe the guard saw your soul shining through. You on his

terminal?”

“Yeah, it’s even on.” Mulder clicked on the monitor.

“Shit, it wants a login.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Frohike said. “Does it say

anything on the computer, are there any stickers, plates,

anything?”

“Hang on…. Yeah, geez, right in front of me. There’s a

plate on the computer that says ‘Escher4′.”

“Escher4. I can’t believe these guys,” Frohike snorted.

“Hey, let’s run the Internet and Intranet servers on one

big NT network. Pinheads. Yeah, we’re getting it.”

Mulder heard Langly crow something about “soft and chewy

on the inside.” he looked up from inside the cube. As he

did so, he saw an AMEX bill on the top shelf, with a home

address.

“Okay, what am I supposed to look for again?”

The line rattled and clicked. Mulder was surprised by an

unfamiliar female voice, and his momentary hesitation about

pocketing the credit-card bill slipped away from him.

“Hi. Lab space. Can you see any lab space?”

“Who is this?”

“I’m their doctor.”

“What T-shirt is Langly wearing right now?” Mulder stood

and looked nervously towards the door.

“Rage Against the Machine, Evil Empire. Wow, you’re as

bad as they are.” Good enough, Mulder thought. At the far

end of the room was a glass-fronted door. He saw lockers

inside.

“There’s a change room or something down at one end here.”

Mulder strode quickly down. That door was unlocked. He

flicked on the fluorescent lights. “Yeah, there’s a lab

through here. There’s a cardlock on the door.” His voice

echoed in the small change room.

“What kind of door is it?”

“Into the lab? Looks like a regular door with a big window.”

“What do you smell? Do you hear anything?”

“Nothing, I don’t smell anything, it’s quiet, same as the

office.”

“What’s on the floor?”

“Tiles.”

“Is there the usual grout between them, the rough stuff?”

the female voice asked. Mulder knelt down.

“No… it’s… hang on, this is all one piece, the tiles are

fake.”

“Can you see into the lab?” Mulder noticed a light panel.

He flicked two switches. Lights in the lab came on.

“Yeah. Benches on either side… equipment… there’s a

freezer, some microscopes, some, uh, I don’t know what this

stuff is. Two computer workstations. Wait, there’s another

door on the other side, there’s a room inside the lab.”

“Can you see another cardlock on the door?”

“Yeah, I can’t see into the room, though.”

“If you’re game to go into this first lab, it might help.”

The second card reader yielded as easily as the first one

had. Mulder reminded himself not to leave his Bureau credit

card lying around the Gunmen’s offices. He swapped the card

unit for the digital camera. He took quick snaps of each

side of the lab as he approached the second door.

“This one, this smaller sub-lab, looks secure, there’s

some kind of a lip on the floor, it looks like the door to

a fridge. I hear a whirring, a fan sound.” He peered into

the small window in the door. “There’s a bench in there,

and a freezer. Some more equipment, another workstation.

It’s got a plastic shell on the keyboard.”

“You’re not in there, are you?” The woman’s voice was

urgent.

“No, no, I’m looking through a window.”

“Don’t go in there. Take all the pictures you can. What?

Hang on.” There was a rustling as a headphone was

exchanged, and Langly came back on the line. “Mulder, we

found out where that other email went.”

“Where?”

“Fort Detrick, Maryland. The US Army Medical Research

Institute of Infectious Diseases.”

“Oh, shit.”

* * *

2:42 a.m., August 6

“Scully, it’s me… I’m on the road. No real reason to call,

just kind of hoping… I don’t know, in case you get to a

phone and check your messages. I hope you’re all right.

That sounds so trivial. I need to believe you’re all right,

that you’re… that you’re fine. I’ll come to Bethesda the

second I get back.”

* * *

Bethesda Naval Hospital

10:20 a.m., August 6

“Her temperature is over a hundred and four, and her blood

pressure is very high. Dr. Purcell has the same symptoms

although generally less severe. He’s conscious and mobile

and Dr. Scully isn’t. We’re not certain why.”

They hadn’t let him see her this time. Hadn’t even let him

down the hall. Skinner was here, which was a bad fucking

sign. Mulder didn’t have anything to say to him.

“If it’s any consolation, Fox…”

(I even made my parents call me Mulder)

“…the symptoms aren’t consistent with a bacterial or

viral infection.’ the faceless doctor said in an

infuriatingly helpful, friendly, my name’s John, tone.

‘They’re both on some pretty extreme antibiotic regimens

that aren’t well-documented. This may just be a side effect

of that.”

Mulder found himself walking down the stairs, skipping the

elevator, down and outside.

“Mulder, where are you going?” Skinner’s hand fell on his

shoulder. Mulder jerked it off, quickly, harshly.

“I’m checking something out.”

“Mulder, this is a medical issue. It’s bad goddamn luck.

Leave the investigating to the people who understand it.”

“Yeah, well, it’s gotta come from somewhere.” Skinner

stayed on the landing between the second and third floor,

hands on his hips. Short echoes clattered down the walls.

“Mulder, what if she needs you here…?”

* * *

MTI Bioprocess Limited, Kennock, Virginia 4:38 p.m.,

August 6

“Mr. Roth?” The man had been waiting outside the doors of

the building, sifting through the departing employees. He

spoke from behind Roth, too close to be entirely friendly.

“Yes?”

“Could you come with me, please, I’d like to ask you a few

questions.” Roth looked around the parking lot, not

answering, swallowing tightly. The man behind him moved

even closer, flashed a badge beside Roth’s face.

“Mr. Roth, I mean Right. Now.”

“All right,” Roth whispered. “My car’s this way.” He noted

that the man with the badge was tall, with short hair, grim

and exhausted-looking. “Can I see your ID again, please?”

Mulder held up his badge over the roof of the car. Roth

nodded, and he got into the sedan. Mulder swung into the

passenger seat, closing the door quietly. The black man’s

shoulders sank. “Look, I know right now that you’re not

cleared for this.”

“Dana Scully is my partner,” Mulder said, his voice like

black ice.

“I don’t know how it got deployed. It was an option. An

experimental option. We’ve never produced more than a

hundred grams of spores, to prove it could be done.”

“You mean Imperial Violet.”

“Yeah, that’s what we call it, all right,” Roth said,

folding his dark hands in his lap.

“What is it?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

(click)

“I think you can.” Roth smelled metallic oil, which

reminded him of his trumpet in grade seven rather than any

gun he’d ever held. He felt Mulder’s gun beside his head,

felt its gravitational field.

“She’s going to be all right. I made sure of it.” The pull

was heavier, though he couldn’t see it Roth knew the muzzle

was bigger than his head.

“She’s getting sicker. So’s Dr. Purcell.”

“No, they’re not. It’s the bacteriopha… it’s the cure.

It’s very aggressive. It has to be. Violet works very

quickly.” The gun didn’t move, but Mulder was quiet. Roth

continued. “It… it was an accident. It has to be. We

didn’t deploy it. That’s why I sent them the cure. I don’t

want anyone to die. It’s just research. It’s just an

option.” Roth felt the pull of the gun weakening slightly.

“I’m telling you the truth, man. I’m a scientist. I’m not

going to let any more people die from an experiment.”

Mulder dropped the gun and replaced it in his shoulder

holster in one motion. Roth continued.

“Look. I didn’t tell you this. And you didn’t hold a

fucking gun to my head. It’s in our best interests to not

have had this conversation.”

Mulder nodded and opened the door of the car, preparing to

leave. Roth spoke quickly.

“I need to know something for myself, even though this is

probably not a good question to ask a man with a gun.”

“Yeah?” Mulder stopped with one foot on the pavement.

“Does your partner… does she do any drugs? This is

really important. Between you and me.”

“No.”

Mulder watched Roth’s eyes narrow.

“She’ll be all right, I swear,” the man said.

* * *

7:30 a.m., August 8

Skinner had driven him home sometime the previous evening.

Mulder vaguely remembered being herded out, put in the

passenger seat of his own car. He had constructed a vigil

temple in the waiting lounge, surrounded by empty cola cans

and the scent of his unwashed body. Sheer persistence would

bring Scully, or news of Scully, to him.

In retrospect, considering the force with which he had

bounced one doctor off the wall the previous afternoon, it

was surprising they had allowed him to stay.

Scully’s voice horrified him that morning when he realised

he had answered the phone while still sleeping, taking

seconds for his half-conscious mind to register. If he was

hearing scully, here, something must be terribly,

terribly…

“Scully? You’re… what’s going on…?”

“I’m being released, apparently.” Her voice sounded

perfect, actually, wonderfully, vaguely irritated. He

imagined her looking over her shoulder with faintly

disguised suspicion. “Can you meet me at my apartment?”

“No, no, stay there, I’ll come get you. Are you, are you

okay?” He sat up.

“I’ll tell you about it when you get here.”

“Okay, I’ll be right there.

* * *

8:40 a.m., August 8

Mulder pulled out of the maze of Bethesda’s parking lot.

Scully had literally been waiting outside the front door, a

large plastic bag beside her. She allowed him to embrace

her, only wrinkling her nose slightly. He had thrust the

upper half of his body under the shower before leaving his

apartment, but was now closing on four days in the same

pair of pants. Scully looked back, somewhat nervously, as

they pulled away.

“Something really strange is going on here,” she said.

“I know. You first.”

She turned forward again.

“It’s… what day is it, Thursday? Sunday night I was

sick. I don’t know what was wrong. I was running a high

fever and… was getting dissociative. As soon as that

happened, they gave me a dose of something different from

the antibiotics we’d been on, or I’d been on. Then I was

unconscious until yesterday evening. I wake up, they tell

me that I’m fine, I hadn’t been infected with anything, and

my symptoms were an allergic reaction to the antibiotics.”

“And they just released you?”

“This is totally irregular,” she shook her head. “Even if

there’s no sign of infection, with an unknown pathogen they

should be keeping us in isolation for another week at

least.”

“Did they tell you anything about Calias?”

“No. They didn’t even say if they’d determined what the

bacterium that Owen and I found was, or if was a pathogen,

or anything.” Scully worried at the seam on the armrest on

her door.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

“I’m fine. Completely fine.” Her mouth tightened in

frustration.

“How’s Owen?”

“I found out they released him yesterday evening. Same

explanation.”

“Can you get a hold of him? The Gunmen have a friend you

both should talk to.”

She nodded. Later. He noticed that she was in similar

shape to him, her hair unwashed, poorly directed. In the

hero-world, if we lived on TV, we would shower togther, he

thought. Her head would fit under my chin as she pressed

her back to my chest and the water beat on our faces, my

arms around her body. Maybe the fact that he couldn’t even

form a single word that would pass his lips in that

situation indicated how far it was from reality. The image,

the feeling, snaked away from him.

“Mulder… when I was unconscious, did they let you see me?”

“No. They wouldn’t let me near the ward.”

“I don’t remember very clearly, but the the staff around

me seemed wrong somehow. They were too young, and they

acted strangely. I think they were probably military.”

* * *

Defense Intelligence Agency – Bolling AFB,

Washington D.C.

10:34 a.m., August 9

DIA headquarters had been built in a very short time,

considered finished, and neglected since. Outside it was

still holding up, an imposing block of silver-grey tiles.

Inside, weird black-and-red wall panels spoke to bad design

ideas of the 70s, and hideous beige carpet whispered three

decades of spilled coffee and half-assed janitorial

efforts.

“Glen, we have this under control. It’s being cleaned up

as we speak. We’ve deployed the bacteriophages to every

reported case or possible case.”

It is an established fact in the US intelligence community

that meeting rooms are small, crammed with mismatched

chairs and unused video equipment bought with year-end

budget surpluses. Light comes from glaring fluorescent

tubes directly overhead, or poorly conceived fixtures on

the walls. White skin turns green, brown skin grey-black.

“What the fuck do you mean, under control? Five. Five

cases of Violet in three separate infections. In DC, for

God’s sake. Is this from Dittrich? How the hell did it get

here?”

Roth is angry, and there is sweat on his forehead. A white

man in a uniform is uncomfortable, trying to calm him.

Another white man, khakis and a denim shirt, does not

respond. He does not know Roth, but called him by his first

name when he entered the room.

“Look, we’re not sure,” Uniform says.

“Where did you deploy it? Why, for Christ’s sake? It was a

goddamn experiment!”

Khakis speaks up.

“Glen, we are not in the policy community. We were asked

for options. We gave them what we had.”

“You bastards. You fucking bastards.”

“Narcofinance is moving up on the list again, Glen,”

Khakis answers, not insulted. “Bin Laden and everybody else

in Afghanistan, the Pakistani nuclear program. They needed

a zero-risk strategy. No American lives, no American arms.”

“Some zero-risk,” Roth says. His anger is dissipating,

scattering across the front of an unstoppable machine.

“We had to test it to make sure that’s what we were

getting,” Uniform looks apologetic as he speaks. “We did a

pilot-scale production run at Dittrich and deployed it in a

remote area of Peru where we had access. I don’t know how

the processed material got here. Dumb luck. We were told

that area was mainly domestic consumption.”

“How many ‘domestics’ did Violet kill in Peru?” Roth asks.

“It was a successful deployment.”

* * *

Dana Scully’s Apartment

9:40 p.m., August 9

“The bodies have already been moved to the CDC in

Atlanta,” Scully said, “but I’ve got copies of most of the

documentation. I’m perfectly willing to take a pass on the

slides if you are.” Mulder nodded assent, and looked over

Scully’s shoulder as she began paging through the folders.

He had explained his limited investigation into the

possible connection to Tyrell Robinson. He had returned to

DC, but Wiseman was having difficulty convincing the

prosecutor’s office to even let her bring him in for

questioning.

“Chad Peters and Elizabeth Langan, both 21, of Annapolis.

They were brought into emergency by Peters’ roommate

yesterday morning. Both were unconscious, suffering from

extremely high fevers… they were both recorded over 107.

The team in the ER reported skin discoloration and

haemorrhaging , and placed them in isolation. Toxicology

screen indicated, besides the presence of a significant

haemorrhagic fever of unknown type and origin, that they’d

both used cocaine within the past two or three days, but

there’s nothing else. They were both dead within six hours.”

“Who were they in contact with?” Mulder asked quietly.

“Peters’ roommate said they’d gone out to a bar on the

night of the 5th and left early, about 1030. They both went

to classes at U of Maryland the next afternoon. I don’t

know who’s acted on that, if anyone has.” Scully shifted in

the chair at her kitchen table, pulling off her glasses and

laying them beside the folder.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, Mulder,” she said. “Unaccountably fine.” She

turned sideways in the chair, and leaned against the back.

Her shoulder pressed against Mulder’s abdomen, and she

leaned her head sideways to rest against the tip of his

breastbone. “So… Frohike told me you did something very

illegal.”

“Yeah.” She felt his voice vibrate through her, warming

her cheek.

“Did Glen Roth talk to you willingly?”

“No.”

She was silent for ten, fifteen seconds, turning her face

upwards to look at him.

“I don’t know what I’d do either.”

“You did, remember?” Mulder rubbed two fingers across his

hairline. Scully smiled faintly, her head nodding forward.

Ball caps and bandages.

“Yeah, I did.” Her head moved against him, almost

nuzzling, almost intentional. “I was so afraid. Not afraid

of any disease. After they gave me whatever they gave me,

it was so quick. It was like being back in the hallway,

feeling myself slipping away. I was terrified.”

“I know,” he whispered. “God, do I know.” His hand stayed

near her hair, brushing across the top of her ear, staying

there, stroking her absently. “You start wondering, how

often can this kind of thing happen.”

The pause was long, allowing for a mutually agreed change

of mood.

“With this kind of luck, we should start buying lottery

tickets,” Scully said with a sly tinge in her voice.

“They’d probably spontaneously combust.”

“That’s impossible, Mulder.”

Hero-Mulder would kiss you now, he thought, and we would

fade to black. They hung suspended in that moment, unable

to proceed, unable to conclude. She stayed in that

position, never breaking the one-contact rule. If bodies

touched, hands could not, hands could not do what saints

could not do. A suitable amount of time passed, in which

thoughts passed in her mind as they did in his and she

rose, beginning to clear mugs from the table.

* * *

Offices of “The Lone Gunman”

10:45 a.m., August 10

“Make yourselves at home…” Frohike said. He motioned over

to their former electronics lab. The workbenches had been

cleared off, and there was different equipment on them.

Mulder recognised some of it from his recent covert visit

to MTI. “We’re thinking of going into biotechs since the

bottom fell out of dot.coms.”

Scully started. Owen was in the makeshift lab area with a

woman in denim overalls, taking turns over what appeared to

be a small, high-powered microscope.

“Look at the tail structure on that bad boy,” the woman

said, moving away from the eyepiece and allowing the older

man to look.

“Oh, Jesus, that’s Ebola,” Owen said.

“Or something pretty similar,” the woman replied. “It’s a

filovirus, anyway. It’s also pretty dormant-looking, which

is a good sign.”

“I didn’t think rotaviruses formed spores. I didn’t think

ANY virus formed spores.”

“They don’t, normally. It seems to be hitching a ride

inside this bacterium, just like you said…. Oops, sorry,

bein’ rude.” The woman spun around on her chair. She was in

her early thirties, bright-eyed, pretty, with shoulder-

length mauve-coloured hair and a pierced nose. “Hi Dana,

I’m Marie, we were on the phone.” Marie had cheerfully

called Scully at home the previous day and announced that

she needed ‘some of your pee.’ “Come on, doctor talk. I’m

done with your pee.”

Scully was a little taken aback. There was a tiny silver

daisy in Marie’s nose, with a smiling face in its centre.

“Uhh, That’s good to know. Owen, what are you doing here?”

“And babe, you are a very lucky girl. Come look at these.”

Marie tugged her in one direction as Owen eased himself

out of the slightly confined space.

“Fox called me yesterday and put me in touch with Marie.

We’ve been puttering…”

Scully withheld judgement for the moment. She noticed a

rumpled pile of blankets in the corner of the lab area, and

a pile of Tintin books. She had a nasty feeling the expert

consultant slept there.

* * *

Mulder looked back over his shoulder at the makeshift

microbiology lab and its mauve-haired mistress.

“So… where did you guys find her, anyway…?”

“She was on the net, had the right kind of friends. Don’t

ask her too many questions or you’ll just get scared. Her

kung-fu is good, but she left a big bottle of clozapine in

the john.”

Mulder whistled. Clozapine was a powerful drug used to

treat symptoms of schizophrenia.

“Anyway, here’s the deal,” Frohike shrugged. “We rifled

some classified Congressional allocations databases, where

you tend to find code names. Only a few members of Congress

ever really find out what they mean, but the agencies

responsible and the amounts are identified.”

“The Stealth Fighter was in there as Have Blue back in

1979,” Langly offered.

“No Imperial Violet. But… we did see Imperial Purple,

from 1989, and Imperial Indigo, from 1992,” Frohike

continued. “No details, but they were both joint programs

between the DEA and the US Army.”

Langly offered Mulder a printout with the codenames, along

with two dozen others, highlighted in blue marker.

“We weren’t talking a lot of money, either. A couple of

mil, so it obviously wasn’t a missile or aircraft or

anything. Marie said that’d be enough to run a lab-scale

microbiology project.”

“The databases only went up to 1998, so we may just be

missing the most recent development,” Byers said.

“Imperial Violet,”Mulder said.

“Bingo,” Frohike leered.

“Teenagers who are aesthetically pleasing, in other words,

fly…”Langly murmured to no one in particular.

“What?”

“Forget it, Mel,” Langly said.

“Scully and I had a little luck on Glen Roth. He’s former

Army, a microbiologist. He’s published stuff on defence

against biological warfare agents, and he’s got a lot of

connections to Ft. Detrick and the Dugway Proving Ground in

Nevada.”

“Oh, baby,” Langly whistled. “Official testing grounds of

the United States’ biological warfare programs.”

“Yeah, when they weren’t just dumping it on New York or

Atlanta,” Frohike said.

* * *

“I have never seen anything like these little guys, only

heard about them. You see this?” Marie waved Scully close

to the microscope. The woman smelled like cigarette smoke

and sandalwood.

“Is that a bacteriophage?” Scully asked.

“An engineered bacteriophage. It kills the bacteria and

releases an antigen which spurs production of an antibody

unique to Ebola-wanna-be here. Your samples and tests were

full of these little guys. It’s a perfect system, and

somebody built it this way.” Marie sounded as if she was

reciting from a hidden teleprompter.

“Are you sure?”

“In evolutionary terms, it’s counterintuitive, so yeah.

The bacteria/virus combination is actually less

transmissible under most circumstances, but more

pathogenic, than the filovirus or bacteria on its own. And

there’s no reason for the bacteria to be there, except to

give the filovirus a ride. The filovirus will kill the host

long before the bacteria does. That’s pretty much the only

way it could transmit from host to host, is from bacterial

colonies on a corpse. That’s how you picked it up.”

“So it’s a weapon.” Scully said slowly.

“I don’t know… it kills horribly, not efficiently,” Marie

said. “There’s sort of a chicken, egg problem with it. It

can be transmitted from a corpse to a new host, sometimes,

but the initial infection will have to be accomplished

somehow.”

“Some kind of initial attack…” Mulder interjected.

Scully hadn’t seen him joining the discussion.

“Yeah, probably with some sort of aerosol powder or

liquid. Which brings up something else…” Marie shuffled

through a second stack of papers. “If we read the records

from Glen Roth’s computer right, it even has a built-in

weakness. It’s vulnerable to alkalis, a five per cent

bleach solution would kill it in seconds. But, it’s

*incredibly* resistant to acids.”

“So you could pack it in some sort of acidic medium… that

would increase the possibility of it infecting an organism

that was exposed to it,” Scully mused.

“Yah, if it attacks the respiratory or lung tissues.”

“Mulder, if we want to operate on the idea that someone

would spread this deliberately, I think I may have

something here.”

“What ?” he stood very close to her, closer perhaps than

was necessary even in the confined lab space.

“The two college kids in Annapolis. They both had used

cocaine at some point in the past week.”

“Right.”

“The original tox screen, done from the first autopsy on

Maria Calias. She appeared to be a regular user, and had a

high level of cocaine in her bloodstream.”

Mulder nodded. He knew he was supposed to pick up on

something, but wasn’t entirely sure what it was.

“It’s a genetically engineered organism with an extremely

high resistance to acidic environments,” Marie said.

“Powder cocaine is very acidic. It could be packed in

cocaine and survive.”

“And guaranteed infection… respiratory tissues,” Mulder

nodded more deeply.

“I think a ‘war on drugs’ joke would be pretty tasteless

right now,” Frohike said. The Gunmen had gradually followed

Mulder over to the lab area. Byers spoke up.

“Can I speculate for a moment here?” he began. Scully

reflected that no one ever interrupted their right to

speculate, no matter how crazy the results might be.

“Processing cocaine, getting the coca from the plant,

involves acidic processes.”

“Right,” Marie said. Byers continued.

“This may be intended to target the people who produce it,

not the people who use it. If it was dusted or sprayed on

coca plants, the people who farm and process the cocaine

would become ill. Aside from killing them, the

psychological impact would be tremendous.”

Mulder concentrated on a spot on the workbench.

“Scully…” he began, not lifting his eyes. “Roth asked me,

he said it was important, he asked me if you used any

drugs.” Scully showed no reaction. Byers and Frohike’s eyes

met for a moment.

“It kinds of fits the pattern. Typical US establishment

hypocrisy. Target the supply, don’t admit there’s a demand,

” Langly said bitterly. Marie cleared her throat.

“Well, there’s one other thing that’s kinda important.”

She held up the tiny folded pill cup that Dana had hidden

three nights earlier in the isolation unit. “This is how

the bacteriophages were delivered. They’re basically freeze

dried in an inert media. Think Sea Monkeys. When you got

these, you were cured, intentionally, by somebody who knew

exactly what you might have been infected with.”

“Turn it on, turn it off. Make sure the US ‘military

advisors’ have their shots.” Frohike nodded.

“What do we do?” Langly asked.

“Roth said it must be an accident,” Mulder began. “What if

they used it in Colombia or something, tested it, and it’s

found its way up here?”

“If Roth didn’t know how you contracted the disease…”

Marie trailed off.

“Either way, Maria Calias is the first victim.” Scully

said. “If we’re going to act on this theory that cocaine

was the initial infectious mechanism, we can assume her

source goes back to… what was the name, Mulder?”

“Tyrell Robinson. I’d better call Detective Wiseman. I

don’t think we can let him avoid answering questions much

longer…”

* * *

Anacostia Washington, D.C.

11:22 a.m., August 10

“They’re good folks,” the woman said, peeking around him

just above his elbow, her face beside his police shoulder

flash. “Both got jobs, take good care of the kids, not like

some people around here. That’s why I called the police, I

ain’t seen them in three, four days, they ain’t gone to

work, and when I knocked on the door this morning they

didn’t answer.”

“Hopefully they’re just on vacation or something. It’s

good you’re keeping an eye open, though.” The policeman

knocked on the door again, more firmly this time. “Mr.

Willard? Mrs. Willard?” the old black woman at his side

sniffed.

“Well, someone sure has to.”

“Miz Watley, you maybe want to just wait down the steps

there?” He tested the doorknob, finding it unlocked,

cracking the front door open. Something was wrong in there,

his senses helpfully told him, to match the tightening in

his belly. There was a foul, sewer stench, no sound of

television, no radio, no air conditioning. The air that

wafted out of the slightly opened front door was hot. He

peeked in.

“Mrs Willard…? Mr… oh, Jesus…”

He walked quickly down the front steps, manfully holding

his face still and his cornflakes down. He put his hand on

the old woman’s shoulder.

“Miz Watley, please come wait at the car here… I think I

better call an ambulance…”

“Oh, dear…”

* * *

D.C. Metropolitan Police Headquarters \

1:24 p.m., August 10

Tyrell Robinson was a tall, well-built black man, his head

shaved smooth, his suit jacket cut smoother. He’d greeted

Detective Wiseman with a handshake, like he was coming for

lunch, but became steadily more concerned when he saw

Mulder and Scully’s badges. As they steered him towards one

of the questioning areas, he pulled up short and got out

his cell phone.

“Robin, it’s Tyrell, I’m down at Metro and they refuse to

tell me what’s up. I’ll wait here for you, call me if

you’re tied up.” He flipped his tiny phone closed.

“Wiseman, that was Robin Witkowski, you remember Robin? I

thought you would. If you so much as breathe at me the

wrong way, Robin is gonna spend a lot of my money busting

you, and your boss, and your boss’s boss, and by the time

it all rolls downhill, you will be a security guard at a 7-

11. Are we understood?”

“Put it away, Robinson, Shaft busted punks like you,

remember? The Feds are asking you the questions. Not me.”

Robinson held up both his hands and stopped walking just

outside the interrogation room.

“I think maybe I better just wait for Robin. I hope she’s

not playing golf or we could be here a while.”

Mulder looked at the police detective, who began to sigh

with resignation before the FBI agent began to speak.

“Detective Wiseman, maybe… maybe you could wait outside.”

She turned on her heel, cursing over her shoulder.

“Okay, fine, whatever, as long as he fucking co-operates.”

“Is that better?” Scully asked, arching an eyebrow at

Robinson.

“That depends what you want with me,” he answered,

casually seating himself, leaning back in the chair with

his legs crossed. “By the way, I don’t smoke, so I hope

neither of you intends to start.”

“Mr. Robinson,” Scully walked a path just out of

Robinson’s line of sight, her arms crossed in front of her,

forcing the black man to either lose sight of her or turn

his head. He was very cool, concentrating on Mulder instead.

Mulder wondered how serious Scully was. In the summer of

1998, in a carefully ignored interrogation, she had walked

behind a member of Arizona’s Copperhead Militia the same

way. The next thing anyone in the room knew, the chair had

been pulled over backwards, and Scully had the heel of her

shoe planted on the man’s xiphoid process. Where the fuck

is the bomb, asshole, she screamed. She refused to discuss

it later.

“Maria Calias and seven other people in the DC area were

all infected with an extremely severe disease, a form of

haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola,” she began. “There are

probably more cases we know don’t about yet. It’s

preliminary, but it appears that people are being infected

through cocaine.”

“You’re talking to the wrong guy.” Robinson lost, and

Mulder saw it. He tried, very casually, to look over his

shoulder to find her, and Scully noticed. She glanced at

Mulder, just barely, and he moved directly in front on

Robinson.

“Maria was the first known case,” Mulder said. “I don’t

think we’re talking to the wrong guy. Now, you have

probably not done anything illegal, but we need to find and

isolate the drug shipment that these people have been

infected from.”

“That would imply I had done something illegal.” Robinson

was a smart man, and what would be called a ‘cool customer’

by the cops. But he’d been broken, watching Mulder and

Scully circling him. His voice was slightly higher-pitched

now. Mulder continued.

“Mr. Robinson, there could be lives at stake here.

Depending on how many people have used coke from this

shipment, a lot of lives. It’s possible that someone may

have infected this shipment of drugs intentionally in order

to target users or people who handled the drug.”

“Yeah, I wonder who’d do a thing like that.”

“The FBI is prepared to guarantee you immunity.” Scully’s

eyes narrowed at Mulder.

“Is the FBI prepared to write that down?”

“If you’re prepared to co-operate fully.” Mulder said.

Scully stayed behind Robinson now, not to unnerve him, but

so the man wouldn’t see her reaction to Mulder’s sudden

offer.

“I won’t sign anything without my lawyer.”

“Find your lawyer, we might be short of time.”

As Robinson pulled his cell out, Scully’s rang. She walked

over to the corner of the room, talking quietly.

“Mulder, something’s happening.” Robinson spoke quickly in

the background. Scully slipped out of the room into the

hallway, and Mulder followed her, closing the door behind

him.

“That was Owen. There were four more cases brought into an

emergency clinic in Anacostia,” she said. “A couple were

DOA and two young children with extreme fevers. Fifteen

minutes after the ambulance arrived some kind of military

unit showed up and took custody of the whole clinic.”

“We’ve got it nailed, Scully. Robinson’s gonna talk. We’d

better call Skinner and get a HAZMAT team ready to go with

us.”

Scully looked through the one-way glass into the room.

Robinson knew what it was, of course, and was looking right

back at them as he made his call.

“Mulder, are you entirely comfortable going ahead with

this?” Scully’s mouth was drawn so tightly it almost

disappeared.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“This is pretty thin, Mulder. New pathogens enter the

environment all the time. West Nile in New York last

summer, for example.”

And you hate, hate hate lettings scumbags go, for any

reason, he thought. Something, somewhere, has to stay black

and white, doesn’t it Scully baby.

“Regardless of how Maria Calias may have been infected,

someone knew exactly how to cure you when you were

infected. Someone who works on military biological warfare

programs. What more do you want?”

“I don’t know. I just have some doubts that we’ve followed

proper scientific method in our investigations. I don’t

know how trustworthy we can consider Marie’s conclusions,

and neither Owen nor I are really experts in this kind of

material. I mean, she had academic qualifications, but I’m

not a psychologist and she struck me as…”

Mulder looked pained.

“Scully, don’t do this now. Don’t give me this knee-jerk

over-rationalisation.”

“I’m just suggesting that before we start making immunity

pledges to drug dealers that we might want to consider all

the options.”

“Have we discovered any other options?”

“No, but we’ve been pretty directed so far.” Mulder didn’t

respond. Scully stared at the floor. “I’m only going along

with this because there may be lives at stake and it’s all

we have.”

“You know better, Scully.” Her posture made it clear that

she was not going back into the interrogation room. Mulder

sighed, and went back in, closing the door behind him.

“Robin Witkowski, registered member of the Maryland bar,

will be here in twenty minutes,” Robinson said. He

chuckled. “Yeah, I sure wonder who’d do a thing like that.”

* * *

Robinson had a couple of names, an address, phone numbers.

Wiseman left the room as he talked, swearing a blue streak.

He knew where the cocaine was probably stored, when it had

come into the country, from where, and in what quantity.

Scully was silent in the car as they drove across town,

hooking up partway along the I-95 with three white vans and

two sedans. Skinner was in one of them.

“If you’re going in, I’m going.” Mulder said.

“Mulder, I’m medically and operationally qualified, and in

all likelihood immune to anything that might be in the

house.”

“Fine, you can protect me.”

“Mulder, don’t make this into some kind of macho thing.”

“It’s exactly the opposite, Scully. I spent a couple of

days on the other side of the glass from you and I’m not

doing it again. It scares me too much.”

The house was an unassuming bungalow east of the river, in

a neighbourhood where one would have to exercise a certain

degree of discretion. A Lexus sat in the driveway.

“Gee, that’s not a giveaway at all,” Mulder murmured.

There was no sign that any occupants of the house were

aware of the rapidly deploying police presence. They parked

down the block. Scully inhaled and exhaled deeply once

before she got out of the car, and met his eyes. The

argument was over, temporarily or permanently he wasn’t

certain. There were more important matters at hand.

* * *

Mulder placed a gloved hand on the doorknob, twisting it

once. The door cracked open a notch. Periscopes through

each external window had revealed nothing, nor roused any

response from inside.

Several policemen had, however, noticed the smell.

“Okay, it’s unlocked.” Scully’s voice crackled in his ear,

unnecessary for him, necessary for the response team

audience. As they passed the car in the driveway, she had

noticed it was filmed with a week’s worth of dust. She took

up a position opposite the door as Mulder hoisted the

decontaminant spray unit. He grinned at her through the

transparent mask of the light blue NBC suit as he tested

it, sending a small squirt of chemical-laced water against

the outside wall of the house.

“Wet T-shirt night…?”

She pushed the door with one heavily booted foot. It

swung open slowly, and she looked into the entryway of the

apartment. She held a modified Glock pistol, the trigger

guard vastly enlarged for gloved hands.

“Mulder, take a look at this…”

The walls were streaked with whitish deposits that had

collected along the baseboards and stained the carpet in

dried pools. He saw patterns that looked like something had

drained down from high on the walls.

“What the hell…?”

Scully knelt down, brushing her glove along the baseboard

with one hand as she kept her pistol pointed down the short

hallway with the other.

“Mulder, someone’s been here. Someone sprayed

decontaminant foam all over this room.” She rose, walked

down the entryway. The living room was decorated in water

stains and deposits of dried white foam, scummed over the

leather couch and the big-screen TV. A blue plastic

tarpaulin covered a La-Z-Boy in the far corner of the room.

Something was under the tarp, something that had sloughed a

vile grey-brown pile of itself onto the floor beneath the

chair. It was crusted in the whitish residue that covered

the walls and floor. Mulder lay down the spray unit.

“You want to look?” He peeked down the hallway on the

left, into the bathroom. There was another blue tarp

covering something half in, half out of the bathtub.

“There’s another in here.” Scully saw him wincing inside

his mask, and he abortively reached up to try and run his

hand through his hair.

“There were supposed to be two men in here, right?” Scully

asked the command unit.

“That’s correct,” the voice crackled back.

“We have two bodies, probably several days old… can we

get an evidence team up here immediately?” Scully stood in

the middle of the living room, placing the pistol in the

kangaroo pouch on the front of the suit. “The scene has

been disturbed, and we may want to start considering this a

criminal investigation… danger of contagion is probably

minimal, the scene has already been decontaminated by

unknown parties.”

“Scully, Mulder, it’s me.” Skinner’s voice crackled inside

their suits.

“What is it, sir?” Scully replied.

“I’m pulling you out of there… apparently this stopped

being a DC police or FBI matter about a half an hour ago.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Mulder snarled.

“Mulder, the Army is down here. Please come out before

they come in.”

* * *

FBI Headquarters, Office of Assistant Director Skinner

9:30 a.m., August 21

“We’re here to apologise, officially, to Dr. Scully for

the, uh, inconvenience she suffered as a result of the

accident, and express our thanks to Agent Mulder and Dr

Scully for their excellent work in locating the

contaminated material.”

Mulder looked at Skinner incredulously. The two men who

had introduced themselves as representatives of the

Department of Defense were so colourless as to be almost

translucent. Skinner had what Mulder though of as the shit-

or-go-blind look, a man who knew he couldn’t win no matter

how the situation unfolded.

“When is the inquiry into this matter going to be held?”

Scully said coldly.

“Thanks for asking that, Doctor,” oozed Paleface One. “I’m

very pleased to inform you that the inquiry has been

completed, as of last Friday.”

“Completed,” she said neutrally. Mulder made a strangled

noise.

“Yes, and the inquiry produced no less than one hundred

and twelve recommendations for improvements in handling

protocols for potentially toxic biological materials in US

Army research facilities. As well, new guidelines will be

developed for the use of genetically engineered simulant

organisms.” Paleface One turned to Paleface Two. Scully

later reflected that if she didn’t have the intense urge to

kick them in the groin, she would have not even have been

able to recall what gender they were. Paleface Two looked

at her with Understanding Smile Number Fourteen.

“It’s my duty, in which I take some pride, in to inform

you that the tribunal in charge of the inquiry ruled that

you, Dr. Scully, be provided with monetary compensation in

the amount of one hundred and fourteen thousand dollars, on

various grounds. The ruling on this matter is here, as is

the cheque.” He slid a manila envelope across the front of

Skinner’s desk.

“What’s the finding of the inquiry?” Skinner asked.

“There was an accidental release of a non-lethal organism

designed to simulate possible biological warfare agents

from a US Army research facility. The organism was not

stable, and once removed from the controlled environment,

it mutated into a lethal agent similar to those which it

was designed to simulate. The release was not noted.

Systems failed. Processes that we planned and never tested

failed. Mistakes were made, serious ones. We erred

terribly, and innocent people were harmed. The tribunal’s

findings are completely public.”

Mulder marvelled at how the representative could speak in

the boxes that would be pulled out and highlighted for a

newspaper article.

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” he spat. “Imperial

Violet acted just like you wanted it to.”

“We have no record of a program by that name. The agent

released was a simulant which we refer to as L-142.”

Skinner interrupted Mulder’s followup, staring him down.

“Where are the tribunal’s findings?”

“They’re being delivered to your office this afternoon,”

simpered Paleface Two. “We decided to only send one copy,

as it comprises something in the neighbourhood of six

thousand pages plus another two thousand of annexes. The

executive summary is in your folders there, it basically

reads as I told you, plus some charts, and the compensation

recommendations.”

“What if I want to refuse the compensation?” Scully said

icily.

“It is quite generous, under the circumstances. I don’t

think you want to take us to court for more.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“The inquiry is completed, and has been accepted by DoD.

It won’t be reopened, not even for the FBI.” One paused.

“Unless you have some evidence of criminal wrongdoing.”

“What would you say if I said I’ve spoken to Glen Roth?”

Mulder ventured. “And that I’ve been inside the lab at MTI

Bioprocess?”

“I’m not familiar with either of those…” Two shook its

head at One, who made a shrugging motion.

“We have specimens of a genetically-engineered bacterium

which acts as a host to viral colonies, and a bacteriophage

specifically engineered to destroy it, which match files

recovered from MTI Bioprocess.”

“How did you get access to those files, Agent Mulder?” One

asked, its voice layered with insinuation.

“We’d be very interested to examine those specimens,

actually.” Two feigned interest with almost human facility.

“Are those the mutated strain of L-142? It’s unfortunate

that all stocks of the simulant have been destroyed, it

would have been useful for comparison purposes.”

Mulder snorted and leaned back in his chair, shaking his

head at Skinner. Scully had slipped open the manila

envelope, and was scanning the document detailing what

exactly she was being compensated for.

“This is incorrect. I wasn’t administered these drugs,”

she said. “I had a full blood workup done privately after

my release from Bethesda. None of these were in my system.”

“The records at Bethesda are quite clear,” one of the DoD

representatives replied. “It is… a premier institution.”

Mulder noticed that Scully had left a small white envelope

untouched. “Now. If you don’t mind, we have to be going. If

you have any questions about the tribunal’s findings, when

they arrive, you can contact the Department.”

“I’m sure that’ll be very productive.” Mulder nodded and

smiled.

Ten minutes later, Mulder stalked the limited space

available in the basement office. His hands ran through his

hair, planted themselves on his hips.

“I’m going to try to find Roth. He has to be somewhere.”

The address he’d discovered in the MTI offices, when he

went to visit it, was recently vacated. Very recently.

“I bet you can’t find him.” Scully said, her voice low.

She leaned against the desk, fingering the envelope she had

been given.

“I should take you up on it.” He chuckled, nodding at the

cheque. “You’re buying lunch.”

“I’m not keeping this, Mulder.” She placed it carefully in

their “out” box. “What are you doing now?”

“Cattle mutilation?”

“Not before lunch.”

* * *

Cafe Browse, Alexandria, VA

11:20 a.m., August 26

She’d let Owen talk her into the Belgian waffles with

strawberries, but eventually dug in her heels, insisting on

yogurt instead of whipped cream. She had initially been

looking at mango-berry kascha something-or-other, and Owen

intervened passionately, arguing that Western culinary

traditions did certain things right, and that being allowed

to have dessert for breakfast on occasion was one of them.

“You took the money.”

Her voice was flat, carefully non-accusing, an

observation. Owen examined a piece of blueberry pancake on

his fork, and shrugged.

“I may as well get something out of it. For a few days

there, after the thrill wore off, I was afraid I was going

to get a bullet in the head.”

“Do you believe their explanation?”

Scully realised that came out wrong. Too challenging, too

accusatory. Question the issue, not the person. Owen knew

that she knew, silently accepting her unspoken apology.

“I don’t know. We didn’t have much to work with, you and

Marie and I, did we? And we were… you know, the people

around us, Fox, your friends… they think a certain way.

Maybe we tried too hard to construct what we wanted to see.

Their explanation, the official one, makes sense. Why

manufacture a conspiracy when you can explain everything

away by stupidity? I’m a firm believer in stupidity.”

“You don’t believe that.”

“Does it matter? I’m alive, I paid off my house and I’m

redoing my kitchen. I have dead people to cut open. I

have choir practice. I have other things to do, Dana.”

Owen laid down his fork and knife, looking out over the

railing of the patio. “It suits what I want to believe. If

we saw what we think I saw, I don’t want to know. I don’t

need to know. I see enough things every day that make me

want to stand up and yell and engage in mass defenestration

without worrying about government conspiracies, too.”

Scully looked out into the street as well. A beautiful,

sunny Sunday morning. She tried to avoid squinting in the

light, to take in all of it. On the opposite sidewalk, a

street kid playing guitar laughed as a ponytailed blonde

woman walked past him.

“I can’t, Owen. It’s what I do. Some things… someone…

I’ve learned that I have to believe what I see in front of

me. It’s become the guiding principle of my life. Sometimes

it means accepting things that are brutal, common

knowledge. And sometimes it means things that I can’t even

begin to explain.”

“Take a piece of advice from a chatty, sentimental old

fag?” They looked at each other across the table again.

“Yes.”

Owen picked up his untouched glass of orange juice,

raising it to Scully as if in a toast.

“Every day. It’s all precious. It’s such a cliché but it’s

so true. He was terrible at squeezing orange juice. You’d

get a glass full of seeds. I can’t drink the stuff anymore

because I can’t feel them tapping against my teeth.”

He set the glass down, still untouched.

“Oh, and take the goddamn money.” Owen waved his hand

dismissively. “I can recommend a large number of fine

charities, some of which give very funky gifts. Or buy

yourself a car or something. They’re just going to buy a

bomb with it otherwise.”

Dana Scully walked home around noon, her eyes open to the

sunlight, allowing her mind to wander wherever it chose to

go.

* * *

Epilogue

The Peruvian Air Force, such as it was, had better things

to do that night than intercept the lumbering cargo

aircraft as it droned across the border from Colombia. If

it had come close enough, an observer would see a slightly

darker, familiar star-and-bar against the grey-green

pattern on the wing. In this part of the world, such

markings, and their connotations of manifest destiny,

guaranteed immunity.

Under one wing, between two thundering propellers, a

streamlined tank hung, its underside marked with dozens of

tiny ports. Moonlight gave a faint luminescence to the

yellow powder as it streamed out behind the aircraft,

scattering over the dark hills below.

* * *

April 3, 2000 – July 16, 2000

“They call me Khyber, I’m awriter in black

Put your mouse on the button and send feedback…”

-“Canadian Badass” khyber@home.com

Pepper

Cover

TITLE: Pepper

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8

AUTHOR: David Hearne

RATING: PG

CLASSIFICATION: X, H

SPOILERS: NONE

DISCLAIMERS: “The X-Files” belong to Chris Carter.

“Werewolves of London” was done by Warren Zevon. “Bad Moon

Rising” was written by John Fogerty and performed by

Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Cowpoke” was originally done

by Stan Jones and “Three Days” was written by Willie

Nelson. (The versions I’m thinking of here are the ones

sung by Don Walser. If you ever listen to Walser, then you

will know why they call country music white people’s soul.)

“Right” or Wrong” was originally done by Bob Wills (“The

best damn fiddle player in the world” — Merle Haggard) and

the Texas Playboys.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate a

werewolf in a small Alabama town. Along the way they

encounter a deadly werewolf hunter and the best chili in

the South.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

TEASER

“Goddammit, that’s hot!”

Kevin Cross, having lunch in the Chili Heaven diner,

cursed as he reached for a glass of water.

He wasn’t as loud as he could have been. Mr. Cross’s

throat had suddenly gone tight and hoarse. He felt like the

skin was being torn off the roof of his mouth. Still, it

was loud enough to capture the attention of the other

customers in Chili Heaven. Some took note of Kevin’s LL

Bean sweater and expensive jogging shoes. They grinned,

knowing a Yankee tourist just had a run-in with Vic

Franklin’s own brand of chili.

Mr. Cross did not feel so amused, though. After draining

his glass of water in one gulp, he yelled, “Where the hell

is that waitress?” His head swiveled around until he found

Geena Sawyer. She had just taken an order and was taking it

back to the kitchen. Mr. Cross’s angry look froze her in

her tracks.

“Come here,” he growled, motioning her to come over. She

did, feeling tense. “Now, Kevin, don’t make too much of a

fuss,” his wife Patricia said.

“Hush,” Mr. Cross told her, then looked at Geena and

pointed at a bowl on his table. Inside the bowl was a

steaming mix of sauce, beans, peppers and onions as red as

the customer’s face. “What is this?” he demanded.

“It’s…it’s what you ordered,” Geena stuttered.

“‘It’s wut you or-DERED,'” Mr. Cross shot back, mimicking

Geena’s accent. “And just what did I order?”

“You ordered hot chili,” Geena said, confused as to where

this was going.

“That’s right. Hot chili. But not something that was going

to fry my taste buds!”

“Oh. Well…maybe you ought to let it cool down…”

“Let it cool down…” Mr. Cross gave his wife a mean

smile, making her compliant in his amazement at this

ignorance. Mrs. Cross gave a tight smile in return, though

she was getting nervous by the looks of the other

customers.

“That’s a brilliant idea. Let it cool down. I never would

have thought of that. Of course, here’s another brilliant

idea. You could warn your customer about how damn hot your

chili really is! Or maybe this diner could serve some that

wouldn’t strip the paint off a battleship!”

“Is there a problem here?”

Mr. Cross turned and looked up. Way up. Vic Franklin was

standing by his table — a big man dressed in a cook’s

apron. He regarded the northern tourist calmly, but it was

like the calmness of a grey sky. You didn’t want to risk

the thunderclap of one of those weighty hands.

At first, Mr. Cross was struck dumb. Then he thought,

Hell! I’ve stood up to senators and captains of industry!

No way am I going to get intimidated by some redneck cook!

“Are you the owner of this place?” he snapped.

“Yes, I am, sir,” the big man said. “Vic Franklin is the

name.” Then he gave Cross the kind of smile that would have

taken the meanness out of most men. Not in this case,

though.

“Well, I want to know where you get off trying to feed

poison to your customers!”

“It’s the food everybody eats here,” Vic said in a calm

voice, indicating the customers in the diner. Mrs. Cross

saw men nod their John Deere caps at Vic and the women

shook their curly hair at her husband’s rudeness. She never

tried to correct her husband, but she often wondered if her

sweetie-pie should take it down a notch. Just a little bit.

“I don’t care what people eat around here! Where I come

from, restaurants don’t try to burn off the tongues of

their customers.”

“Well, sir…what’s important is that you feel at home

here. That’s why Chili Heaven is offering any choice of the

menu to you, free of charge.”

“You better,” the northerner said sullenly. “So, give me

the damn menu again. And this time, I want to know…”

“Of course, sir. Or course.”

Vic turned to the regular customers who were regarding Mr.

Cross with disdain. He gave them all a smile. Nothing to

worry about, folks. It’s all over now. They returned to

their own meals and conversations, confident that Vic had

taken care of this annoying Yankee.

After Mr. Cross ordered a bowl of soup (“At room

temperature, you understand me?”) and was assured that it

would be at his table immediately, Vic guided Geena with a

soft touch towards the counter. “I’m sorry, Mr. Franklin,”

she said, getting close to tears. “I didn’t mean to…”

“Shh. It’s okay. Don’t worry. Next time, however, make

sure the customer knows how we cook things around here.”

Geena nodded, rubbing at a moist eye.

“That’s probably the first time you ever met a Yankee,

right?”

“Uh…well…”

“We get more of them coming through Pepper than where you

used to live. Most of them are nice people. Really. It’s

just that…every once in awhile…well, after you live in

Pepper for a couple more months, you’ll get used to the

occasional sumbitch who wanders through.”

“I hope so. Thanks.”

“Why don’t you go sit in the back for a minute, okay?”

“Okay,” she sniffed.

“It’ll be all right,” Vic assured her as she left for the

employee bathroom.

For one person in the diner, however, it was not all

right. He had been watching the whole scene through the

window between the kitchen and the dining area. He saw the

tears in the eyes of the pretty waitress and decided to do

something about it, by God.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sitting in the bathroom of his hotel room, Mr. Cross

concluded this was the worst vacation he ever had. Goddamn

Alabama, he thought. Goddamn the whole South. We oughtta

just saw it off and let it float to…

“Grrrrr.”

The sound made Cross’s sphincter close up like a zipper.

He could feel his back turn as cold as the toilet lid

against his back. His eyes darted left and right, trying to

find the source of that growl.

Then he heard another sound. Above him.

He looked up and saw one of the ceiling tiles being pried

off its frame. The dark interior of the vent was exposed.

As he sat there and shivered, someone poked their head out

of the new hole.

Someone with golden eyes.

Fangs, white and sharp.

Dark, taut skin. And more hair than you would expect to

see on a human face.

“Grrrr,” it said.

Mr. Cross screamed in terror then tried to escape for the

door. The pants around his ankles tripped him up and he

landed head-first on the bathtub rim.

Watching TV, Mrs. Cross heard the growl, scream and thunk.

She ran to the front desk. She convinced the desk clerk to

take off his stereo headphones and go with her to the room.

He unlocked the bathroom and found Mr. Cross unconscious,

bleeding from his forehead, and his naked buttocks exposed

to the world.

No one heard the person who crawled through the vents to

the outside, chuckling.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

But the hairy harasser had no idea what chain of events

his prank would cause.

Cross was a lobbyist for business interests in

Connecticut. Upon returning home, he told a Connecticut

senator of his experience in Pepper, Alabama. This same

senator related the story to a friend in the FBI, adding

“Mr. Cross is a dear friend of mine and any assistance you

can give in this matter would be appreciated.” The

senator’s friend in the FBI wondered what the hell could he

do for Mr. Cross anyway.

Then he remembered the X-Files.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT ONE

“I have to tell you this from the get-go — one word of

this leaks out to the press and they’ll find your bodies

floating in the Potomac. Understand?”

Agent Fox Mulder wasn’t sure if Cross was speaking in

metaphors. He decided to just nod his head and say, “I

understand, Mr. Cross.”

Mr. Cross glared at Dana Scully. “What about her? Can she

keep her mouth shut?”

Agent Scully was about to demonstrate her strong

inclination not to keep her mouth shut when Mulder said,

“My partner knows how to keep a confidence.” He dare not

turn to face her at that moment.

“Good.” Cross let out a thick sigh. “This whole damn thing

is a pain in the ass. I didn’t know where else to turn

except…” He looked around at the basement office of the X-

Files as if it was a dead skunk. “…here.”

Mulder ignored the slight. “I understand you had an

unusual experience down in Alabama.”

“You can bet your big nose on it,” Cross replied, then

described what he saw in the hotel bathroom.

“Uh, Mr. Cross,” Scully said. “Are you sure this wasn’t

some kind of animal? A bear or a…”

“Of course, I’m not sure. You think I would be here if I

WAS sure? You think I want to be here?”

“Well…”

“If this story got out…if people heard me talking

about…I don’t know…”

“A creature of unknown origin?” Mulder suggested.

“Whatever. That’s not the sort of reputation I want.”

“Then…why are you here?” Scully asked.

“Because no one tries to scare Kevin Cross,” the lobbyist

said in a low voice. “No one.”

Doesn’t sound like somebody *tried*, Scully thought.

Somebody had a roaring success.

“Those cracker cops down in Pepper aren’t worth a

thimbleful of urine. I want you two to go down there and

find me whoever or whatever it was. I don’t care if it was

some punk kid in a Halloween mask. I want him found and I

want him dealt with.”

“We’ll find the culprit, Mr. Cross,” Mulder said. “We can

assure you of that.”

“I don’t want assurances. I want some damn results.” With

that, the Connecticut Yankee left the office.

“We better get him back here,” Scully said.

“And why is that?” Mulder asked.

“Because there is a small part of his butt you didn’t kiss.”

Mulder leaned back in his chair and regarded his partner

with a tight smile. “Aren’t you the one who is always

telling me to be a little more conciliatory?”

“Yeah, but don’t get down on bended knee.”

Standing up, Mulder said, “Trust me, Scully, I was very

tempted to give Mr. Cross a one-fingered salute. But I want

this case.”

“Why?”

“Because if he is willing to come to us, then he

definitely saw something unusual.” Mulder went over to the

coat rack and got his coat. “Let’s go home and pack. Then

we’re off to Pepper, Alabama.”

“And just what exactly do you think we are going to find

there?”

Mulder gave Scully an innocent expression as he put on his

coat. “What makes you think I have any set theories at this

time?”

He walked out the door. From the hallway, Scully heard him

sing, “He’s the hairy-headed gent who ran amuck in Kent…”

“Oh, Lord,” she said, shaking her head.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Around the time Mulder and Scully were starting on their

trip to Pepper, Mr. Cross received a visitor in his home.

One night, he had enough of his wife kicking him in her

sleep. He left the bedroom for the kitchen, grumbling about

Mrs. Cross and her unclipped toenails.

To reach the kitchen and a late-night snack, he had to go

through the den. As he reached for the light switch…

“Evenin’, Mr. Cross.”

The voice was low-key yet didn’t promise much care for the

owner of the house. Mr. Cross’s body became so rigid that

you could have broken your foot kicking him. He stared into

the dark room. Seeing nothing, his hand touched the light

switch.

“Keep the light off, Mr. Cross. Feels real nice here in

the dark.”

Mr. Cross forced his hand away from the switch. He cleared

his throat and tried to incite the voice whose volume had

cowed many a reporter and White House intern. “Who are

you?” he demanded, not sounding quite as outraged as he

wanted.

“Somebody offerin’ to do a job for you. I heard about what

happened to you in Pepper.”

“Who told you about that?” Now, Mr. Cross sounded suitably

mad. “Was it that pretty boy FBI agent?”

“I don’t know nothin’ about the FBI. It was just a story I

picked up. You’ll be surprised by what you can hear as long

as you keep your ears open.”

Cross’s eyes were getting used to the darkness. He managed

to pinpoint his visitor sitting in a chair. The man was

wearing — of all things — a cowboy hat.

“Well, so you heard,” Kevin said. “What of it?”

“What you saw in Pepper…it didn’t look human, didn’t it?”

Figuring that it would not be a good idea to lie here,

Cross responded, “No. It didn’t.”

“So, if it ain’t human, then killin’ it wouldn’t be a

crime now, would it?”

“Is that what you’re proposing?”

“That’s what I can promise.”

Cross snorted. “What are you supposed to be? Some kind of

cowboy assassin?”

The visitor reached down and struck a match on the leg of

Mr. Cross’s $600 chair. The flame rose to his face and the

cigar in his lips.

“Reckon I am,” the visitor told Cross and looked at him

with a craggy, weathered face. It was brown as leather

except for four pale, long marks across his left cheek.

Stubble coated his face, defying any razor to cut them off.

And the eyes…

If anything could make hell freeze over, it would be a

wind as cold as those eyes.

That’s when Kevin Cross decided to speak only when spoken

to.

Smoke seemed to caress the visitor’s lips before it

dissolved into the air. The visitor whipped the match and

its flame vanished.

“OK. For $5,000, I’ll go down to Alabama and take care of

things. What do you say?”

“Well…I…I’m not sure. I mean, this…this thing didn’t

attack me. It just…”

“It just left you on the floor of a bathroom with your ass

bared for the whole world to see.”

*Hey,* Cross thought. *It did. It humiliated me. By what

right could it do that? And like this guy says, if it’s not

human…*

“All right. You got yourself a deal. But you only get paid

once the job is done.”

“That’s the way I do things. I also get paid in cash.

Think you can manage that?”

“No problem.”

“Then it’s settled.” The visitor stood up. My god, he’s

tall! Cross thought.

“I’ll be lettin’ myself out,” the visitor drawled and

turned to a door.

“Wait a minute,” Cross said. “I will need to see some

proof that you’ve done…”

The lobbyist didn’t need to see the eyes. He could feel

them pointing at him.

“You’ll get the proof,” the visitor said. “When I come

back with the bastard’s head.”

Those were his last words as he left with only the smell

of tobacco to indicate he was ever in the room. Outside, a

motorcycle’s engine rumbled. Patricia Cross was awoken by

the sound. She went to the window and saw a blur of black

metal pass her house. Her stomach turned cold for some

reason as the cycle’s rider drove off.

Off to Alabama.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jill Henriksen, chief of police of Pepper, was trying to

get a local resident out of a tree when she met FBI Agents

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. The man up in the tree was

Lonnie Dodds. Every once and a while, Jack would anger his

wife over something which prompted Mrs. Dodds to chase

after Lonnie with the closest available blunt instrument.

This, in turn, prompted Lonnie to climb up a tree in his

front yard. The tree was good protection against his wife

because she was scared of heights.

Chief Henriksen got the call from a Dodds’ neighbor about

this latest installment in the Dodds’ continuing squabble.

As usual, Henriksen sighed. The hard part was not calming

down Mrs. Dodds. The hard part was talking Mr. Dodds out of

the tree.

“I ain’t coming down. No, sirree!”

“Lonnie, we go through this every month. And, like I keep

telling you, Beatrice is not going to kill you.”

“You didn’t see the look in her eye, Chief! She’s out for

blood this time!”

Henriksen sighed. “Well, why is she so mad at you?”

“Beats me! I just said something about her legs!”

“What…did you say about her legs?”

“Said that they looked like big lumps of cookie dough!

Now, are you going to handcuff her or what?”

Henriksen closed her eyes, fighting the temptation to

throw rocks at Lonnie. Then she heard a car come to a halt

in the street. She opened her eyes and saw a rental car

park behind her squad vehicle. The surface of the rental

car was covered with the dust of the back roads leading to

Pepper.

Two people got out of the car. One of them was a tall man

whose dark suit was showing a tinge of perspiration. She

noted he was a good-looking guy with full lips and a

muscular body. With him was a woman, also in a dark suit,

who seemed unaffected by the heat. She had an attractive

face and red hair that was darker than Henriksen’s own

auburn locks. They both looked very serious.

Henriksen suspected that they were involved in law

enforcement themselves. They just had the look. She also

had a bad feeling about what they wanted.

“Sheriff Henriksen?” the man asked.

“That’s me.”

The man pulled out a wallet and exposed the identification

card inside. “Fox Mulder, FBI. This is my partner, Dana

Scully. There is a matter we would wish to discuss with

you.”

“All right. Let’s get out of this heat first.”

“Uh…you seem to have a situation here,” Scully said,

indicating the tree.

“Ah, don’t worry about him. He can nest for a bit. Come on.”

The three of them got back into the rental car — Mulder

and Henriksen in the front and Scully in the back. Mulder

breathed a sigh of relief to feel the car’s A/C.

“I know,” Henriksen said. “Good chili weather, though.”

Huh? Mulder thought. Why would you eat chili in…

“What’s this about?” Henriksen asked.

“We’re investigating an incident that occurred at the

local hotel,” Mulder told her. “One involving Mr. Kevin

Cross.”

“Hmm. Yeah, I think I remember that one. Mr. Cross claimed

he got attacked by something.”

“Claimed? You don’t believe him?”

“Well, he wasn’t attacked. The only damage that got done

to him was what he did himself.”

“But you do think something was in the bathroom, right?”

Henriksen paused, then said, “Yeah. Something.”

“Something,” Scully echoed.

Henriksen turned around and looked straight into Scully’s

searching gaze. “He wasn’t exactly clear on all the

details.”

“What do you think it was?” Mulder asked.

The chief of police turned back to Mulder and shrugged.

“Sounded like an animal. Some possum that got caught in the

vents.”

“From Mr. Cross’s descriptions, it sounded more…human.”

Henriksen looked at Mulder’s intense eyes and said,

“Pardon me for asking, but why is the FBI so interested in

this?”

She heard Scully squirm slightly on her seat. With a firm,

deadpan expression, Mulder said, “We are investigating any

possible paranormal connections to this event.”

“You wanna boil it down for me, Agent Mulder?”

“It’s likely that Mr. Cross saw a werewolf.”

Henriksen slowly ran her tongue over her teeth, then she

said, “It’s also likely that Mr. Cross is just making up

stories because he’s embarrassed over tripping and knocking

himself out.”

“Well, Mr. Cross isn’t using the term ‘werewolf.’ That’s

just my personal conclusion. However, he insists that he

was threatened by some unknown being.”

“Say he was. What does he want done about it?”

Before Mulder could answer, Henriksen said, “‘Scuse me a

moment” and rushed out of the car. She had seen Mrs. Dodds

heading for the tree with a pile of rocks in her arms.

“That’s a good question,” Scully asked. “What would you do

with a werewolf?”

“Well, what would you do? Suppose there was a human being

capable of transmorgifying…”

“Transmorgifying?”

“Changed. Shifted. Went all bow-wow. Whatever. Wouldn’t

such a person be fascinating from a scientific viewpoint?”

“I still have yet to reach the point of accepting such a

person’s existence.”

“Because science hasn’t accepted it or because Mr. Cross

is such a moron?”

“Ah…a bit of both, actually.”

“Mr. Cross’s personality defects aside, I get the feeling

that we have an important mystery to solve here. Two, in

fact.”

“What’s the second?”

“Who in the name of God would eat chili in this weather?”

Chief Henriksen returned to the car, having calmed Mrs.

Dodds. “As far as I’m concerned,” she said. “this

investigation is done with. However…if you folks want to

sniff around, be my guest. Call me up if you need any help.”

“We appreciate it, Chief,” Mulder replied. “Actually,

there is one thing you can help us with. Did Mr. Cross have

contact with anybody here in Pepper?”

For a moment, Henriksen was quiet. Then she said, “There

was a little fracas at a diner here. Mr. Cross got worked

up over the quality of his service.”

“What diner is that?”

After Henriksen gave the agents directions to Chili

Heaven, she watched the rental car drive off, feeling a

little guilty. She didn’t like being the one to point them

towards Vic Franklin. On the other hand, Mulder and Scully

would have found out about that little incident. Nor did

she like having to lie.

‘Course, she wasn’t exactly telling the whole truth, either.

“HELLLLP!”

Henriksen spun towards the tree. Mrs. Dodds was leaning a

ladder against it. She had also brought a shovel with her.

Apparently, she was getting over her fear of heights.

Henriksen sighed, hoping there weren’t any more problems

in her future.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Fear was left in his wake like tailpipe exhaust. Families

stopped their sing-a-longs of “There was an old lady…”

when he roared by with his portable radio blaring.

“I see the bad moon arising…I see trouble on the way.”

Trucks slowed down for him. Highway patrolmen looked the

other way when he broke the speed limit.

“I see earthquakes and lightning…I see bad times today.”

A gang of Hell’s Angels on their bikes tried to intimidate

him, but one look from his cold eyes made them take the

first exit off the highway.

“Don’t go around tonight…Well, it’s bound to take your

life.”

He continued his way south.

“There’s a bad moon on the rise…”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“I’m sad, but I’m happy…I’m rich but I’m broke…I’m a

carefree, free-riding, drifting cowpoke…”

The singer let off a wolf-like yodel as if he was a

thousand miles into the desert instead of in a recording

studio. This yodel greeted Mulder and Scully through stereo

speakers as they entered Chili Heaven. Underneath their

feet was a symmetrical design of blue and yellow squares.

Open windows and electric fans served as air-conditioning

which didn’t exactly fight the heat well, but none of the

customers seemed to mind. They just kept shoveling in the

chili — chili in bowls, chili sandwiches, chili on toast,

chili tortillas, chili pizzas. On the walls were photos of

singers (Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Sister Rose Maddox,

Merle Haggard, Don Walser), cowboys (Roy Rogers, John

Wayne, Lash LaRue) and great empty spaces (Monument Valley,

the Grand Canyon). Also on display in glass cases were

peppers the size of kittens and bottles full of red, thick

sauce.

A scent flew up Mulder’s nostrils. He smelled tomatoes and

onions, garlic and beef, chicken and beans with habanero

peppers bringing up the rear like the tanks of an army

convoy. It created a warm, sensual feeling in his nose as

if a sauna was bubbling inside.

“Mmmmm,” he said.

Before Scully could ask him to explain that comment, a

pretty young woman with dark curly hair walked up to them.

She was dressed in a pink blouse and skirt with the name

“GEENA” sewn into it. A paper and pad were tucked away in

her apron. “Hi, there,” she said with a smile. “Take a

seat, folks.”

The smile went away as Mulder took out his federal ID,

saying, “Actually, we’re here for other reasons than

eating.” Of course, eating would be a pretty good reason,

he thought as the scent of chili danced over his sinuses.

After introducing himself and Scully, Mulder said, “We’re

looking into an incident that took place in the Pepper

Hotel. A man named Kevin Cross got a bad fright from

something he saw.”

“Oh…yeah,” Geena said, twisting her hands together

behind her back.

“We understand that there was a little incident involving

him here as well.”

“That was nothing,” Geena said quickly. “Nothing at all.”

“What was it exactly?” Scully asked.

Geena’s attempt at an answer was interrupted by the

appearance of a tall man in his early twenties. He had a

handsome and appealing face, but his long body moved in an

awkward fashion. He came across as someone caught between

the clumsiness of adolescence and the strength of adulthood.

He marched up to them, with his long hair in a bound

ponytail and wearing an apron splattered with chili sauce.

Mulder felt an odd urge to lick the apron. “Is there a

problem…” he started to say, then tripped over a

customer’s foot protruding into the aisle. He stumbled for

a few feet, flailing his arms. Just as he reached Geena’s

side, he straightened himself up. “Is there a problem

here?” he asked, as if nothing had happened.

“It’s all right, Dale,” Geena assured him.

“Are you sure?” Dale asked in a low voice, looking at

Mulder and Scully with suspicion. In fact, quite a few of

the customers in Chili Heaven were watching the Yankees in

their territory.

“They’re FBI agents,” Geena told him, knotting her hands

tighter together.

“Oh.” For a few moments, Dale shuffled on his feet. Then

he looked at Geena’s nervous face and straightened himself

out again. “Well, what do you want with Geena?” he asked

defiantly.

“We were asking her about Kevin Cross,” Scully replied.

Dale’s head sunk towards his shoulders as if he was

tucking it in like a turtle. “You…you want to ask her

about that?”

“We can talk to you about it instead,” Mulder said in an

easy-going voice. “Would you like that?”

“Uh…”

“Dale! Geena!”

All heads turned to the big man standing at the kitchen

door.

“You two get back to work,” the big man said. “I’ll answer

the questions of these folks.”

Geena nodded, then ran off to a table while taking out her

pad and paper. Dale looked at her protectively and the FBI

agents scornfully before going to the kitchen.

The big man walked towards Mulder and Scully, growing

larger in their sight with each step. Don’t eat us, Mulder

found himself thinking.

Then he stopped before them, smiled in a very sincere way

and said, “I’m Vic Franklin. I’m the owner of this place.

Care to sit down?” He indicated an empty table. Scully

thanked him and they all sat at the table.

“So…what can I do for you?”

After Mulder explained who they were and why they were in

Pepper, Vic said, “Oh. That. Well, there was a little

incident. Mr. Cross got a tad burned on his chili and he

lost his temper. Nothing to worry about.”

“How specifically did he lose his temper?” Scully asked.

Vic glanced at the young woman taking orders. “He yelled

at Geena over there.”

“I imagine Dale didn’t like that very much,” Mulder

observed.

Vic looked straight at Mulder. “I didn’t care for it much

either. What are you implying, Agent Mulder?”

Scully decided to step in. “Mr. Franklin, it is obvious

that Dale feels affectionate toward Geena.”

“Work with a pretty woman every day and you’re bound to

feel ‘affectionate.'” Vic lifted an eyebrow. “Don’t you

think so, Agent Mulder?”

Mulder pretended to be interested in the formica table.

Scully cleared her throat and said, “The question is —

would he feel protective enough to play a trick on Mr.

Cross?”

Vic rested his enormous arms on the table. “Dale doesn’t

just work for me. He’s my son. My adopted son. I can tell

you right now — that boy has a good heart and he wouldn’t

hurt a single living thing in this world.”

“That’s not exactly an answer to my question,” Scully said

in her best diplomatic voice.

While he tried to think up a better one, Vic noticed

Mulder’s nose was tilted up and his nostrils were flaring.

“Smell something you like?” he asked.

“Um…well, yes, to tell the truth.”

Vic showed that disarming smile of his, then stood up.

“Let me go get you a bowl,” he said. “On the house.” The

cook left before Mulder could decline the offer (which he

didn’t want to do anyway.)

“Thanks a lot, Mulder,” Scully muttered.

“Oh, come on, I’m not going to be bought off with a bowl

of chili.”

“So, you think that something is being covered up here,

too?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Mulder, Dale Franklin has ‘Most Likely Suspect’ written

all over his forehead.”

“Most likely to be suspected of what?”

Scully opened her mouth, then closed it. She tried opening

it again, but failed. During that silence, Vic returned

with a bowl of chili. Even from a distance, you could tell

that it was hot. Steam billowed from it like white smoke

from a forest fire. “Here you go, Agent Mulder,” he said,

placing it before the agent.

Scully and Mulder looked down at the bowl. It looked back

up at them with a brown-and-red face. Scully found herself

inching back. Mulder continued to stare, expecting the

chili to start bubbling like some prehistoric tar pit.

“You’re gonna just look at it or are you gonna have a

bite?” Vic asked.

Mulder picked up a spoon. He looked around him, noticing

that most of the customers were watching him now. He took a

breath, filled his spoon with meat and beans and peppers,

lifted the spoon to his mouth and granted it entry. The

spoon was stuck in, then slipped out clean.

Mulder was rock still for a moment.

Then his eyes widened. He parted his lips, trying to get

cooling air into his mouth. His jaw and teeth moved like

naked feet over bare glass. Scully saw sweat forming under

his hairline. She almost got out her cellular phone to call

911 when Mulder swallowed the chili, formed a fist around

the spoon, slammed the fist on the table and shouted,

“Damn, that’s good!”

Vic nodded in satisfaction. The other customers chuckled

and returned to their own volcanic meals. Scully rolled her

eyes.

“Looks like you’re a man who appreciates hot food,”

Franklin observed.

“It comes out of living in England for three years. The

only thing warm over there is the beer.” Mulder shoveled up

another spoonful of steaming chili and aimed it towards his

partner. “Scully, you have to try this…”

“Mulder, keep that away from me.”

He turned to Vic and shrugged. “My partner is on a health

food kick. Frankly, I would just as soon sprinkle salt on

some cardboard and devour that as compared to the stuff she

chews on.”

Before Scully could raise an objection, Vic said, “Well,

you won’t find none of that here in Pepper. I ain’t the

only person who can cook up a mean bowl of chili. In fact,

we’re having our annual Chili Festival within a week.”

“A chili festival? Here?” Mulder looked like a kid at

Disneyworld.

“Mm-hmm. ‘Course, I imagine you folks will be finished

with your work by then.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. Sometimes, these

investigations can drag themselves out.” Mulder turned to

Scully with a grin. “Isn’t that right?”

Scully felt a sudden need to shove Mulder’s face into the

bowl of chili.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“You like Icees?”

“Wh-what?”

“I said, do you like Icees, kid?”

The seventeen-year-old cashier clerk trembled.

“Um…yeah…yeah, I guess” was his answer. Terror had

overcome him just like everybody else the moment this man

had walked into the convenience store. The customers froze

to the ground, beer, jerky and cans of soda in their hands.

They prayed that this tall man in a long, dusty coat

wouldn’t turn his attention to them.

“I like ’em a lot,” the man said, his voice making the

nearest approximation of kindness that it could. “I like

the taste of ’em, all cold and sweet. Hell, I even like

lookin’ at ’em. Somethin’ about seeing that colored mush

pressin’ against the plastic top…it jus’ makes my day.”

The man walked towards the counter. The only sounds that

could be heard in the store were the thumping of the man’s

leather boots and the change jangling in the clerk’s pants.

With the little bit of clarity he had left, the clerk

noticed that the man’s belt had a huge silver buckle with

the words “BORN TO HUNT” inscribed on it. He also took note

of the set of long teeth attached to the belt. Their number

was many. They sort of looked like animal teeth, but no

animal the clerk could recognize.

The man stopped before the counter. He stared at the clerk.

He raised a hand.

A handful of quarters fell onto the counter. They sounded

like a ghost dragging his chains.

The man nodded and then left the store, sipping his Icee.

Everyone finally let out their breath when they heard his

motorcycle roar off.

The man threw away an empty red-and-blue cup as he crossed

the border of West Virginia, still southbound.

Still bound for Pepper, Alabama.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT TWO

Vic Franklin was preparing his special pot of chili for

the festival when Chief Henriksen came to visit his house.

She just walked right in, having been there several times

before. She found Vic in the kitchen.

“Evening, Jill,” he said.

“Evening, Vic,” he said. “Is Dale about?”

“Nope. He went out to the movies with Geena.”

“Ah. Finally got up the courage to ask her out, I see.

‘Bout time. He’s been mooning over her ever since she moved

to Pepper.”

Vic added a chopped-up bell pepper to a simmering pot.

“So, what do you want to talk to him about?” he asked.

Jill gave him a look askance.

“Right. Dumb question.”

Jill sat down in a chair, straddling it backwards. “It

doesn’t sit right with me to be hiding things from the FBI.”

“I didn’t think it would. But we agreed a long time ago

that to keep quiet about Dale was for the best.”

“And if the FBI finds out the truth?”

“Don’t worry about that. Agent Mulder has gotten more

interested in the Chili Festival than in our little

mystery. The man has spent two days here and I’ve been

assured that he knows no more than when he first came.”

“It ain’t Mulder I’m worried about. It’s Scully. She’s

been asking questions and running a lot of fancy tests. She

might not be so inclined to believe in…certain things,

but she knows something’s up.”

“Hmmm,” Vic commented as he cut an onion into paper-thin

slices.

“It would really help if Dale keeps a low profile.”

“He knows that. He knows because you and I made sure he

knows.”

“Yeah, but a full moon is coming up tomorrow night, Vic.

Other nights, he can decide to change or not. Under a full

moon, it just happens. And he gets all…antsy.”

“I’ll make sure he stays under lock and key.”

Jill watched Vic’s expert hands slid the onion slices into

the chili. “Okay,” she said. “I know you’re a man of your

word, Vic.” She stood up. “I’ll leave you to your cooking.”

“Leaving right now?” Vic’s voice and face had a little bit

of urgency in them. He held up a spoon covered in red

sauce. “It’s almost done. Would you like a taste?”

A smile curled up the mouth of Chief Jill Henriksen.

“Yeah. I would like a taste.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Movies arrived at the Pepper Cinema five or six months

after their initial release. Or, in the case of “Tank,”

fifteen years.

On the movie screen, James Cromwell headed for the door of

the police station, grumbling and bitching about the horn

blowing outside. His anger turned to shock when he opened

the door and found the turret gun of a Sherman tank looking

him in the eye. Sitting on top of the tank, James Garner

smiled down at Cromwell and said, “I do believe I have you

covered.”

The audience laughed, including Geena. She noticed that

Dale wasn’t laughing, though. He just sat in his chair,

looking moody. She leaned over next to him and whispered,

“You okay?”

“I’m okay,” he whispered back. “The movie’s crap, that’s

all.”

“Why, what’s wrong with it?”

“Come on, Geena. It’s another of those Hollywood movies

which act as if the South is full of nothing but evil

rednecks.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I think Garner’s character

is a Southerner.”

“Think so?”

“Who else would threaten a police deputy with a tank?”

Dale gave Geena a pained smile. She picked another kernel

of chili-powdered popcorn out of their box and chewed on it

while looking at him. He kept his attention on the screen,

avoiding her eyes.

“Uh, Dale?”

“Yeah?”

“I know I’ve only lived here in Pepper for a few months

and…every town has its secrets that the folks there don’t

necessarily want to share with new-comers but…”

“What is it?”

“It was you, wasn’t it? You snuck into that hotel room and

gave Cross a scare.”

Dale made no response for a few seconds. Then he nodded,

still looking at the screen.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

He cleared his throat and said, “I wanted to.”

“It may get you into a lot of trouble.”

Dale turned to Geena. As he did, his elbow hit the box of

popcorn on her knee. Red popcorn scattered all over the

theater floor. “Sorry, sorry,” Dale moaned to her and the

theatergoers turning to look.

“It’s okay,” Geena assured him as she brushed chili powder

off her leg. “No problem.”

“No, it’s…” Dale clenched his fists and looked down at

the floor. “I always mess everything up! I always…”

Geena placed a hand on Dale’s shoulder. “Dale, it’s all

right. Everything’s all right.”

Dale looked at her hand. He almost reached up to touch it,

but stopped himself.

Geena smiled and squeezed him once on the shoulder before

letting go. “Don’t worry about anything, okay? Just relax

and watch the movie.”

He nodded and turned his head back to the screen.

After a few moments, Geena cleared her throat and said,

“Uh, Dale?”

“Yeah?”

“What exactly did you do to Mr. Cross?”

“Uh…not much. Just…put on a Halloween mask and went

‘boo.'”

“Ah.” She didn’t follow up after that.

On the screen, James Garner drove his tank through the jail.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Scully was sitting in a hotel room at the Pepper Hotel and

looking over her case notes while gunfire came from the

hotel room connecting to hers.

“Bang! Bang! Boom!”

That was Mulder watching a western on the television next

door. He was shouting back at the screen, getting into the

on-screen action.

“Bang! Bang!”

Scully sighed. Mulder had been this endearing ever since

they arrived in Pepper. Over the past few days, he had been

sampling spicy meat and hobnobbing with the locals. Getting

into conversations with the customers at the general store

or old people sitting on their front porches, he would talk

about fishing, how to grow a good pepper and the various

town legends. In a way, it was charming. She had never seen

Mulder so relaxed, so casual in his manners.

On the other hand, he and Scully *did* have a case to

solve. “I’m working on it, Scully,” he insisted. “I’m

getting to know the local legends, seeing if there are any

substantiated sightings of a werewolf.”

“So have you found any?”

“Not yet. Hey, have you tried Mrs. Tower’s chili yet? She

does this great thing with cheese…”

Well, *someone* had to do some actual work. Scully was

expecting to get a report tomorrow about some hair samples.

She had collected them from the hotel room Cross stayed in

and sent them off to an FBI lab. Maybe they would get some

information that would haul Mulder off his butt.

“Bang! Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!”

Scully closed her eyes and shook her head.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

In the night, he rode alone on the highways. In the night,

the roar of his motorcycle scattered birds from the trees.

In the night, his cycle’s glaring head lamp swam through

the darkness like a white shark just under the water’s

surface. In the night, the cool wind rushed against his hot

brow. In the night, the long teeth clicked on his belt. In

the night, he crossed the Alabama border.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“‘Course, I remember when there weren’t no road between

Main Street and Edison Lake.”

“That so?”

“Yes, sir. Used to be a long, long walk. Now with the

road, it don’t take no time at all. Tellin’ ya, there ain’t

nothing better than a good swim in Edison Lake on a hot day

like this.”

“‘Specially when you’ve had yourself a couple of bowls of

chili.”

“Oh, yeah, boy. Or something worse. I remember when I was

enough of a durn fool to eat a whole habanero pepper at

once.”

“Not a pleasant experience, huh?”

“Wellll…I got to know every inch of my stomach, let me

tell ya.”

Mulder and the three old men laughed. Their laughter was

cut short when Mulder heard his name called out in a sharp

voice. He turned to see Scully looking at him with her

fists on her hips. She had tracked him down here to the

general store where he had been chatting with the elderly

locals (over a few styrofoam cups of chili, of course.)

“Uh, excuse me a moment,” Mulder said, then walked up to

Scully standing in the warm morning sun.

“I thought I might find you here,” Scully said in a low

voice.

“Sorry. I guess I should have…”

“You left without leaving a message. I woke up to find you

gone.”

“Sorry, again. I got up early to have breakfast.”

Scully looked down at the cup in Mulder’s hand. “Is that

your breakfast?”

“No, I had eggs at the hotel.”

Scully looked up at him.

“Well, eggs with chili.”

“Mulder, are you going to need a stomach pump before this

case is over?”

“It’ll be worth it,” Mulder said with a grin and dipped

into the cup with a plastic spoon.

“Well, while you were talking with the boys, I got a call

from the lab.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

Mulder shoved the spoon in his mouth and chewed while

looking at Scully.

“Are you interested?” Scully asked, feeling a heat that

had nothing to do with the sun.

“Yeah, sure,” Mulder mumbled through masticated beans.

“At first, the lab thought the hairs belonged to a human.

Then they identified them as dog hairs. Now they’re not

sure.”

Mulder swallowed and said, “Hmm.” He spooned another bite

of chili into his mouth. After getting no more of a

response than that, Scully clenched her fists tighter and

said, “Don’t you have anything to say about that?”

“The lab report is inconclusive, Scully. It’s hard to add

anything to that.”

Scully took the cup from Mulder’s hand and sniffed it.

“What?” Mulder said.

“I don’t know what’s responsible for this little

personality change, Mulder. Maybe it’s the heat or all the

chili, but the Mulder I’m familiar with would jump in and

say we have evidence of a werewolf.”

“Well,” Mulder replied, twirling the spoon in his hand,

“the Scully I know would reprimand the Mulder you know for

making such assumptions on the basis of an inconclusive lab

report.”

“That may be. But both the Mulder I know and the Scully

you know have to make a report on their progress to

Assistant Director Skinner. And the Skinner we both know

does not like the idea of his agents lounging about general

stores and soaking in the local color while burning up

their stomachs with chili peppers.”

Mulder stopped twirling the spoon. “Okay. Then what would

the Mulder you know be doing at this point?”

“Well…considering that there is going to be a full moon

tonight, he would propose that we stake out the home of Vic

and Dale Franklin.”

“Hmmm. I’m not sure. The Mulder I know would be wary of

proposing such a thing to the Scully he knows because it

would imply he thinks Dale Franklin is a werewolf. And the

Scully I know is dismissive of such ideas.”

“Possibly. But the Scully he knows is not completely

closed-off to extreme possibilities as he should notice

after all these years. Furthermore, she does suspect Dale

Franklin is involved in this matter and would like to find

out why.”

“Hmmm. Maybe we don’t know these people that well after

all.”

Scully handed back the cup. “Just eat your damn chili,

Mulder.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

When he saw the sign that read “PEPPER, ALABAMA — CHILI

CENTER OF THE WORLD,” he pulled over to the side. The

silence after he shut off his engine was as eerie as its

roar. He looked at the sign, then up at the sky. The

position of the sun revealed the time to be just after

noon. He lowered his head and just sat still on the cycle

while a single bead of sweat rolled off his nose.

Then he pulled his motorcycle off the road and into the

shade of a tree. He sat down at the base of the tree,

pulled out a harmonica, closed his eyes and began to blow.

He played a tune he once heard from a blind man in New

Orleans, wailing away in an alley as dark as his own sight.

He waited for the full moon to rise.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT THREE

“Do you think you’re gonna need the handcuffs, Dale?”

Dale Franklin sat on his bed, knees pressed against his

chest as he rocked slowly back and forth.

“Well?”

“I…I don’t think so.”

Vic Franklin regarded his adopted son for a moment, then

said, “Okay, Dale. If that’s what you think. The door will

be kept locked, though.”

Dale nodded.

“You gonna need anything before I do that? More food?”

“Nah, I’m okay.”

“Well, then…guess all I gotta say is…”

“Dad, are you disappointed in me?”

Dale only called Vic “Dad” in tense moments so the older

man had to take this very seriously. “Son…I wish you

hadn’t pulled that prank of yours. Not to say that fella

wasn’t askin’ for it, but it has made things a little

difficult for us.”

“I’m sorry.”

Vic smiled. He walked over to his son and rubbed him on a

head with hair getting longer by the second. “You’re a good

young man, Dale. I haven’t seen you do anything to change

that.”

Dale’s left foot bounced on the mattress as Vic rubbed his

head. “Thanks,” Dale said.

“Well…good night, son.”

With that, Vic left the room and locked the door. Dale

looked around his room. There were no windows but he could

just feel the sun lowering to the horizon.

He turned to the pillow and reached underneath it. He

pulled out a key.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Scully had put a ban on chili while she and Mulder were on

stakeout. However, the sound of his chewing might have been

a welcome reprieve from the silence of the first hour of

their watch on the Franklin house.

Finally, Mulder said, “Are you disappointed in me?”

Scully considered that question, then said, “I’m…a

little surprised. I didn’t expect you to go all Mayberry on

me.”

Mulder smiled a little. “Sorry.”

“Well…it hasn’t been all bad. In a way, it’s nice to see

you relaxed.”

“I have been, haven’t I?” Mulder looked around at the

street and the widely-spaced houses dwelling on it. “I

don’t know why. I just got into the rhythm of this town.

Maybe I need a place like this in my life. If I were to

retire…yeah, this is where I would live.”

“To top it all off, it might have a werewolf living in it.”

“Oh, so you *do* believe…”

“I’m just getting inside your motivation, Mulder.”

“Hmm. Well, I don’t believe there is a werewolf living

here.”

“And why is that?”

“Because if there was one, a lot of people in Pepper would

have noticed. Not much escapes the residents here. I’ve

talked with a lot of them and none of them has ever seen

something resembling a werewolf. There have been reports of

a five-legged pig and rumors that Mrs. Charleston does some

disreputable things with voodoo charms, but no werewolf

sightings. Now, unless there is some massive conspiracy of

silence, I would have to say that there is no such creature

inhabiting this…”

“Mulder, look.”

He did. And he saw a man crawling down the drainpipe from

the second story of the Franklin house. Even from a

distance and in the darkness, they could make out long hair

covering his body, the protruding shoulders and the tail

wagging and sticking through a hole in his pants.

Mulder said, “Is that…Dale?”

Four feet above the ground, the man slipped and fell into

the bushes.

“I think it is,” Scully said.

The man emerged from the bushes, looked left and right

down the street and then took off in the opposite direction

from Mulder and Scully.

“Mulder, we should…” Scully started to say just as

Mulder turned the ignition key, yanked the gear out of park

and stomped on the gas pedal — practically at the same

time.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

After covering up his motorcycle and unpacking the right

equipment, Silver entered the town of Pepper on foot. For

such a big man, he moved with amazing speed and little

noise. He was like the shadow of a hawk.

The sparse landscape of Pepper might as well have been a

jungle. He found every form of cover to use — trees and

alleys and parked trucks. He saw everything without being

seen.

He waited for a sign; a hint; a track left by his quarry.

He didn’t expect it to see it running down the streets,

tripping over garbage cans and crashing into mailboxes. Nor

did he expect to see a car chasing after it. The quarry

moved with great speed, but its clumsiness was giving the

car an edge. Soon, the car’s driver would catch up with him.

Well, Silver thought, I just will have to deal with all of

them.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

As they always did on warm nights, Mr. and Mrs. McDonald

sat on the front porch of their house.

“Hot night,” Mr. McDonald said.

“Yep,” Mrs. McDonald replied.

“Good night for chili.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Say, look at that. There goes Dale Franklin. Must have

gotten out of the house.”

“They never can keep him inside when there’s a full moon

out.”

“Yep, that sure is a fact.”

“Who’s driving that car chasin’ after him?”

“Uh…yes, I do believe that’s Agent Mulder. And Agent

Scully is with him.”

“Oh, they’re such a nice-looking couple.”

“Yeah, well, reckon that the cat is out of the bag now.

Looks like they’re gainin’ on Dale there. That boy can sure

run fast, though…”

“What was that?”

“Huh?’

“I thought I saw somebody else pass by.”

“Hell, I didn’t see nothin’. Think your eyes are just

playin’ tricks on you, honey lamb.”

“Could be. Could be.”

There was a brief pause.

“Sure is hot tonight.”

“Yep.”

clip_image002

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The hairy creature put up quite a chase despite his

frequent stumbling. However, his legs couldn’t keep him

ahead of a car forever. That’s why he left the street for

the Chili Heaven diner. The creature took such an abrupt

turn that Mulder drove the car right past the diner and had

to make a screeching U-turn. By the time he reached the

diner’s parking lot, the creature had unlocked the front

door, ducked inside and locked up the diner.

Mulder burst from the car and ran up to the front door

with Scully trying to keep up. Lowered shades kept them

from seeing inside the diner.

“I know you’re in there, Dale!” he shouted as he banged on

the door. “Come on out!”

“Mulder…”

“Open this damn door!”

“Mulder, would you settle down?”

“Not until this door is opened!”

“Now, wait a moment! We don’t know what we’re dealing with.”

“I do,” a voice said.

They turned and saw him standing at the far end of the

parking lot — tall and cold-eyed. They could also make out

the silver flash of guns in the shadow of his jacket.

“I’ll be takin’ it from here,” the tall man informed the

two agents. He walked across the parking lot, his stride

recalling the unstoppable motion of a tank. It wouldn’t

have been a good idea to get in his way.

That’s just what Mulder did, though.

“Uh…sir,” he said, moving to intercept the tall man. “I

don’t know who you are, but my partner and I would

appreciate it if you would allow us to…”

A moment after the man’s hand grabbed Mulder by the shirt,

the FBI agent felt his feet leave the ground. They stayed

off the ground during the time it took him to fly through

the air and collide with his rental car. Then he dropped

back to the ground and moaned.

Witnessing this flight made Scully freeze for a split-

second in shock. Then she yanked her gun from her holster

and said, “Fre–”

Before she could complete the word and raise her gun to

shoulder’s height, one of the man’s guns was pointing at

her. She looked down the barrel of a gleaming Colt .45 as

the man thumbed the hammer back as easily as breathing.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with you or your friend there,” he

said. “Just step aside and let me do my business. But if

either you or the fella try something…”

Scully realized that she had only a few seconds to make a

decision. On principle, she couldn’t step aside.

Principle would kill her, though.

Mulder could draw his own gun, but this man’s quickness

was inhuman. It was quite possible he could draw his second

gun and shoot Mulder while popping a bullet between her own

eyes.

So, this was the choice. Stepping aside would be wrong.

Not stepping aside could be…*would* be deadly.

We need a little help here, Scully thought.

That’s when she heard the siren.

The tall man heard it as well. His head turned just an

inch to the right; just enough to see a police car heading

their way, its red-and-blue lights swinging through the

darkness.

That’s when Scully jerked her gun all the way up. It’s

also when Mulder ignored his pain and drew out his own

piece.

Those cold eyes turned back to Scully. His eyes shifted to

Mulder. Still keeping his gun raised, he regarded the

weapons pointing at him not with fear but as if they were

annoying problems to solve. He wasn’t sure what to do and

he didn’t like it.

More problems developed when the police car halted outside

the diner. Police Chief Jill Henriksen and a young

patrolman jumped outside with their own guns out. “You

point your hands skywards, mister!” Henriksen ordered.

The tall man turned his head towards her. The red-and-blue

lights flashed over his still face and his gun was still

pointing at Scully.

“Do it now!” the chief of police ordered.

Three full seconds went by and the only thing that moved

were the lights swiveling on the patrol car.

Then, with the slowness of running tree sap, the tall man

raised his arms into the air.

“This just ain’t my night,” he said.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Nothing was said until Vic Franklin arrived. At least,

nothing was said out loud. Mulder’s eyes were alight with

an anger directed towards Henriksen. Even though the chief

of police took the anger in stride, Scully kept looking

between the two and wondering if it would be necessary to

be referee.

And in the back seat of the police car, the tall man sat

in silence with his wrists cuffed. He didn’t look angry or

upset. He had the attitude of a man waiting for a bus.

“Where is he?” Vic said as he got out of his pick-up truck.

Henriksen motioned with her head to the diner. Without

giving a look at anybody else, Vic strode up to diner’s

front door and pounded on it. “Dale, it’s me!” he called

out. “Now, am I going to have come in there or are you

going to be a man and come out by yourself?”

There was no sound from the diner.

“I’m still waiting for an answer, boy.”

The diner was silent for a moment longer.

Then the front door unlocked and the creature stepped

outside with shoulders hunched. Even though his hair was

all over his body, his teeth longer and his eyes yellow, he

was unmistakeably Dale Franklin. He made a whimpering sound

like a dog begging for scraps.

“Don’t you give me none of that,” Vic said. “You are in a

lot more trouble with me than you were a few hours ago.

Now, get into the truck and stay there.”

With his tail drooping, Dale sunk into the passenger seat

of his father’s truck.

Scully turned to Mulder and said, “Now, am I supposed to

say ‘told you so’ or are you?”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT FOUR

The next morning, Mulder entered Chili Heaven in a foul

mood. The sound of the banging front door and the jangling

bell caught the attention of every diner. The angry look on

the agent’s face kept their attention.

“All right,” he said. “No more crap. I’m going to ask a

question and I want an answer *now*.”

Vic Franklin emerged from the kitchen. “Agent Mulder, this

is not a good…”

“Shut up,” Mulder growled. Much to everybody’s surprise,

the large cook did just that.

“I’ve been talking with you people and eating with you and

I’ve been doing it in the belief you didn’t have any

secrets to hide,” Mulder continued. “Well, it turns out you

did have a little secret, after all.”

“Mulder…” Vic started to say.

“Shut UP!” Mulder glared at the diners. “The question is —

how many of you knew about it? How many of you knew that

Dale Franklin was a werewolf?”

For a long time, the only sound was the chili sizzling in

the kitchen.

Then, with a sheepish expression on his face, one of the

diners lifted a hand.

Another diner with an equally sheepish expression raised

her hand.

This was followed by another and another. Hands sprouted

up like leaves in a fast-motion nature film. It wasn’t long

before nearly every hand was raised.

The last diner with his hand down insisted, “Well, I

didn’t know.”

“Yeah, you do, Joe,” the diner sitting next to him said.

“I told you last week, remember?”

Joe thought about it, then said, “Oh, yeah.” He raised his

hand.

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” Mulder muttered as the hands went

back down. “That’s just dandy. The whole lot of you were in

it. All of you were keeping secrets from the Yankee.”

Vic said, “Mulder, this is not the best place to discuss

this.”

“Is that so? Well, let me tell you something — this is

the perfect place to discuss it. Because I would like to

know why is it a whole town is trying to hide the fact that

your son is a damn werewolf!”

“He’s a what?”

The voice came from the back of the diner. Mulder turned

to see Geena Sawyer who had just emerged from the bathroom.

“He’s a…what?” she repeated, disbelief contorting her

face.

Mulder looked at her. Then he turned to Vic. The cook

closed his eyes and sighed.

Mulder suddenly felt very stupid. “Oh, uh,” he said to

Geena as he cringed. “You…you didn’t know?”

Geena remained stuck in her spot for a long moment, her

mouth hanging open. Then she ran out of the diner.

“Thank *you*, Agent Mulder,” Vic said.

“Sorry. Sorry, everyone.”

The diners shook their heads and turned away from him.

Mulder felt lower than a slug’s underwear.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Silver kept looking to the left and to the right, shifting

his eyes slowly. He regarded the cement walls around him

like they were great mounds of excrement.

His eyes finally stopped in the direction of the woman in

front of him. “I don’t feel right inside here,” he said to

Agent Scully. “It ain’t natural.”

“And it’s natural to want to kill people?” Scully asked,

putting on her best interrogator’s face. It wasn’t easy.

Even though the man in the cell was sitting down, he still

looked taller than she was. The coldness in his eyes seemed

capable of freezing the iron bars between them. Even with

his guns stashed away, he appeared as dangerous as any

person she ever encountered.

“You saw that thing last night,” Silver replied in a quiet

voice. “It weren’t no human being.”

“Dale Franklin — despite his odd biology — is very much

a human being.”

“That boy is an animal. And a dangerous one.”

“I haven’t seen any proof that he is. You, on the other

hand, assaulted my partner and stuck a gun in my face.”

Silver shrugged. “Told you to get out of the way.”

Scully looked the tall man over. “You’ve killed before,

haven’t you?”

“Practice makes perfect, I guess.”

“I don’t think you are doing this out of moral

indignation, though. I think you’ve been paid.”

“Let’s just say…I got my reasons.”

“And we’ve got even better ones to keep you locked up,

so,” she reached over and tapped one of the bars. “you’d

better get used to this.”

With that, Scully left. Silver was quiet for a few

seconds, then murmured, “Nope. I don’t think I will.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Three days filled with pain and sorrow…yesterday, today

and tomorrow…”

The music of the stereo greeted Geena at the door along

with Dale. “What are you doing here?” Dale asked in

surprise. “Shouldn’t you be at the diner?”

“Shouldn’t you?”

Dale looked down. “I’m…I’m being punished.”

“For what exactly?”

“It’s kind of between me and Vic.”

“Does it have something to do with being a werewolf?”

Dale slowly lifted his head. He looked into the eyes of

Geena. She seemed to be wavering between anger and wonder.

“We have a few things to talk about, don’t you think?” she

said.

Dale nodded.

“May I come in?”

Dale hesitated, then stepped aside. Geena entered the

house. The door was closed. The two of them walked to the

living room and sat down on a sofa, three feet between them.

“I can understand why you would be careful about who you

told,” Geena said. “But…why couldn’t I have known?”

Dale leaned back and closed his eyes. “And what would you

have thought about me if I had told you?”

“You want to know what I’m thinking right now?”

Dale cleared his throat and said, “Okay.”

“I’m…kind of confused, as you might imagine. And it’s

not just that…this wasn’t exactly what I expected. It’s

that when I think of werewolves, I think of flesh-eating

monsters.” She tilted her head. “Or is that just the movies

again?”

Dale smiled, but didn’t open his eyes. “I ain’t never ate

anybody. God, I ain’t never been in a fight, either.”

“I believe you.”

Dale opened his eyes and turned his head to Geena.

“You’re the sweetest person I’ve ever met, Dale. I

couldn’t believe you would hurt anybody.”

“So why are you confused?”

“I’m confused because…I know I should feel scared. But I

don’t.” She lifted an eyebrow. “I do feel a little annoyed

that you didn’t tell me…”

“Sorry.”

“But mostly I just feel relieved.”

“Relieved?”

Geena moved across the sofa to Dale. Their legs touched.

She reached out and held his hand.

“Yeah,” she said. “‘Cause now I know all about you. And

there’s nothing I don’t like.”

She smiled. Looking very surprised, Dale smiled back.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Chief Henriksen and Scully came to Chili Heaven. They

convened in the kitchen with Mulder and Vic. Surrounded

with a heady smell that meshed with their clothing, they

discussed their little dilemma.

“We have a little dilemma here,” Scully observed.

“I can see that,” Vic said.

“Agent Mulder and I came here to investigate what happened

to Kevin Cross. We have found the cause. It’s

quite…unusual, but this is the truth we came to find. The

question now is — do we tell anybody about it?”

“That’s really your and Mulder’s call, ain’t it?”

Henriksen drawled.

“Maybe. But I would like to know why you have hidden

Dale’s secret for so long.”

Henriksen looked to Vic. He took a breath and said, “I

found Dale in the woods when he was two years old. It has

always been my fear that he would have to go back to those

woods. You saw that evil son-of-a-bitch with the .45 last

night. That’s the sort of thing Dale can expect if the

world knows who he is.”

“This town has accepted him,” Scully said. “Why couldn’t

the world?”

“Pepper is just a tiny piece of the world, Agent Scully. I

wouldn’t want to lay the burden of achieving that kind of

acceptance on anybody.”

Scully nodded, but she still looked doubtful.

“Are you worried about Dale being a threat?” Henriksen

said. “‘Cause I can assure you that he ain’t.”

“I’m inclined to agree. However, there seemed to be some

trouble with him last night.”

Vic sighed. “Most of the time, Dale can control the change

‘cept on nights with a full moon. When that happens…

well…you ever had a dog get out of the house and you had

to go chasing after it around the neighborhood?”

“Yes.”

“That’s what it’s like with Dale. He gets all wound-up and

he just has to roam around. It’s a natural instinct with

him. Not to say, he ain’t in trouble with me over last

night.”

“I see.”

“So…what do you think, Agent Scully?”

“I’m inclined…to let this matter slide.”

“What about Mr. Cross?”

“Him, I have my own problems with. I strongly suspect that

the bounty hunter in your jail was hired by someone. Mr.

Cross heads my list.”

“So you’re saying…”

Scully mimed locking her lips with a key.

“Okay. What about you, Agent Mulder? You’ve been pretty

quiet.”

“Hell, I’m afraid to open my big mouth again.”

“Oh, that wadn’t your fault. Geena moved here about five

months ago. We should have told her about Dale’s secret,

but he insisted that no one tell her. I think he was afraid

about what she might think. What I want to know now is what

you think.”

Mulder put his hands in his pockets and stared at a point

over Vic’s shoulder. “It’s rare…it’s very rare that I

ever find concrete evidence of paranormal phenomena like

Dale Franklin. In a way, I’ve been waiting my whole life to

meet him. Knowledge of his existence would go a long way to

validating my work in the eyes of others.”

Mulder focused his eyes on Vic. “But I couldn’t do that to

him. I couldn’t put him or your town under that kind of

scrutiny.”

“So, you’re saying…?”

Mulder made the same ‘locked-lip” motion as Scully.

“Okay, then,” Henriksen said. “So, it’s over right?”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

In his cell, Silver waited for the night.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mulder was stretched across his bed in his hotel room when

someone knocked. “Come in,” he said in a flat voice.

Scully entered. She looked at Mulder’s solemn face, then

said, “I just talked with Skinner. He can’t find any

evidence on his end that Cross had any contact with Silver.”

“Hm. Well, we have Silver. It shouldn’t be too hard to

draw a line to Cross.”

“I hope so.” She paused, then said, “You okay, Mulder?”

“I’m…oh, I don’t know.”

“Are you disappointed that you found a werewolf and you

can’t tell anybody about it?”

“Actually…no. That’s not it.”

Scully sat down on the bed. “What, then?”

“For the past few days, I really felt close to the people

of this town. I felt like they had welcomed me.”

“Well, they did, Mulder.”

“Maybe. But then I find out they were hiding something

from me. Just like most of the people I’ve met in life.”

“It wasn’t just you. Geena didn’t know, either.”

“Oh, don’t remind me of that. But I wish they had told me.”

“Mulder…for what it’s worth…I would say these people

did welcome you. It’s just that this was an uncertain

situation. They weren’t sure if you would keep their

confidence. A long time ago, they would have been right to

be suspicious.”

He looked at her. “What do you mean by that?”

“Meaning, the Mulder I first met years ago would not have

hesitated to expose Dale’s secret. But I think he’s learned

a few things since then.”

“Think so?”

Scully smiled and nodded. Mulder thought about what she

said, then told her, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“There’s something else bothering me, though.”

“What’s that?”

“The Chili Festival is tomorrow. But now we’re going to

have head back to D.C.”

“No, we’re not.”

“We’re not?”

“I told Skinner that we have a few things to wrap up here.

You’ll still be in Pepper by tomorrow.”

Mulder tilted his head to the side and said, “Why are you

so nice to me, Scully?”

“Someone has to be.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Night came.

Another full moon was on the rise.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“I would like to make a phone call.”

Officer Harry Lane was not crazy about the idea of being

left alone at the jailhouse with…with…that *person* in

the cell. He was looking forward to being relieved by Chief

Henriksen in a few minutes when Silver spoke up.

“Uh…what?”

“I’m entitled to a phone call. I would like to make it now.”

Lane’s mouth twitched. He wasn’t keen about letting his

tall prisoner out of his cell. On the other hand, if

Henriksen came and found out that he hadn’t allowed him to

get his phone call, then she might chew him out for not

following procedure…

“All right. But you keep ten feet away from me at all time.”

“Ten feet?”

Lane swallowed and nodded. Silver seemed to contemplate

the whole notion of ten feet; measuring it; calculating it.

“Whatever you say, officer,” he said.

Lane undid the strap on his holster. It took him a few

moments to find the right key to the cell door. Keeping his

eyes on Silver, he unlocked the door and stepped back.

Silver stood up.

He walked to the cell door.

He stopped there and looked at Lane. The officer pointed

and said, “The phone is that way.”

“Thank you,” Silver responded, turned and starting

walking. Lane followed behind him, his hand touching his

gun.

With ten feet precisely between him and Silver.

Silver halted before a phone attached to the wall. His

massive hand picked up the receiver and pressed against one

brown ear. He dialed a number while Lane watched him.

Silver waited.

Eventually, he heard, “The time is seven-thirteen.”

He hung up the phone. Then he turned to Lane.

“Draw,” he said.

Lane blinked. “What?”

“Draw.”

Those cold eyes stared right in the officer’s. They were

daring him — testing him. Lane took note of the ten feet

of distance.

He pulled out his gun and pointed it at Silver, but slowly

as a man stirring taffy.

Silver frowned. “No, no. Draw like you mean it, son.”

Lane put his gun back into his holster. He now felt an

urge to measure up to this man. Despite the coldness in

Silver’s eyes, you knew that he represented some kind of

standard. Lane wanted to show just how quick his own hand

was.

He whipped out the gun, raising it up to a point level

with Silver’s chest.

Silver nodded. “Good. You’re fast, son.”

Lane found himself smiling as he inserted the gun back

into the holster.

He stopped smiling when Silver charged him.

The officer *was* fast on the draw. Unfortunately, as

Silver said after he cleared the ten feet in a blink of an

eye, grabbed Lane’s gun hand, yanked it in a direction away

from him and pushed Lane against the wall with a force that

turned the officer’s back into one mass of pain, “You ain’t

fast enough, though.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Chief Henriksen was no fool. When she entered the

jailhouse with coffee and a dish of chili, she knew

something was wrong. She didn’t have to call out Lane’s

name for a second time before she pulled out her gun and

swept her eyes around her, looking for an escaped prisoner.

It didn’t help her, though. She never saw Silver coming.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

As has already been noted, Vic Franklin was a big man. And

he wasn’t a man you should casually challenge to a fight.

Those who had done so ended up noticing just how blue the

sky was.

Silver did nothing casual, though. And all it had taken to

track the Franklins down was a quick run through the phone

book.

Vic was putting the finishing touches on his special chili

for the festival. This year, his secret weapon was a pepper

which hadn’t even gotten a name yet. It was a hybrid

imported to him from El Salvador and promised to be an

interesting ingredient, to say the least.

He managed to hear Silver’s approach and turn to see him

coming. He also managed to stay on his feet for twelve

seconds which was way longer than most people lasted

against the werewolf hunter.

After Vic dropped to the floor, Silver stepped over his

unmoving body and smelled the contents of a boiling pot. He

dipped a ladle into it and had a mouthful of the chili.

“Nice,” he commented. Then he set about writing a note.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mulder had stopped by the Franklin house to get first

crack at Vic’s festival chili. When he saw the open door

and the absence of a pickup truck in the driveway, his

instincts went to red alert. They were confirmed when he

entered the house and found the note.

As he read the note, he heard someone else entering the

house. It was Geena and Dale; that is to say, Dale with

hair and fangs. The two of them had been out for a walk.

“What’s going on?” Geena asked as Dale sniffed the kitchen

and whimpered.

Mulder took a breath and said, “Silver has taken Vic. He’s

holding him hostage in exchange for Dale.”

Geena looked sick. Dale lifted his head and started to howl.

“Dale? Dale! Calm down!”

“Easy, Dale,” Geena told the werewolf as she rubbed his

back. “We’ll get your father back. You’ll see.”

Dale dropped down to all fours and whimpered as Geena

continued to stroke his fur. As she worked at keeping him

calm, Mulder went to another room and called up Scully. He

told her about what happened and strongly recommended

sending an ambulance to the jailhouse.

When the ambulance arrived, Henriksen and Lane were found

tied up. Silver’s guns were missing from the cabinet used

for evidence storage. Both the chief and her subordinate

had broken arms.

“They’re not in any shape to help us,” Scully told Mulder

after she called him back. “The ball is in our court.”

They were both silent for a minute as they thought.

“Scully?”

“Yes?”

“I’m afraid there’s only one way to handle this situation.”

“How’s that?”

“We’ve got to do it old school.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A cool wind blew through the trees, but it did nothing to

alleviate the heat. It was like a drop of water given to a

man crawling through the desert. Of course, the heat rarely

bothered someone like Silver.

It did tonight, though. He could feel sweat leaking out

from under his hair and running through his beard stubble

to drop onto the leaves at his feet. Still, he took it in

stride and maintained his concentration on the unconscious

man tied to the “WELCOME TO PEPPER” sign by the road.

He sat in the woods.

He waited.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mulder and Scully drove to the edge of the town — the

place where Silver’s note ordered them to bring Dale. The

werewolf wasn’t with them, though.

“If we take this guy on together, then we have a chance,”

Mulder said.

“You mean, a better chance than no chance.”

Mulder paused, then said, “Yeah.”

They continued on in silence, the headlights of the car

pressing against the dark road.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A weird sound rumbled in Silver’s stomach. Damn, he

thought. What was in that chili? I only had a mouthful of

it, but it sure ain’t sittin’ well.

However, this remained a minor concern. His attention was

focused on the car which had just stopped on the long,

empty road going past the road sign. It stopped twenty feet

away from the sign. The headlights illuminated the bloody

face of Vic Franklin.

The two FBI agents stepped out. They had taken off their

jackets, exposing their holsters to sight. The expressions

on their faces were grim and curiously familiar to Silver.

The male agent looked around and called out, “Silver!”

“Where’s the werewolf?” Silver responded, his location

impossible to discern in the cover of shadows.

“He’s not here. It’s just you and us.”

“That ain’t what I wanted.”

The two agents exchanged a look — one last confirmation

of some agreement — and then the male agent said, “Here’s

what we want, Silver. We’re calling you out.”

Silver really wasn’t expecting that. He rubbed away a drop

of sweat that had gotten into his eye and said, “What’s

that again?”

“You heard him,” the female agent said in a quiet voice.

“Come on out.”

“I ain’t in the mood for tricks,” Silver growled.

“No tricks,” the male agent said. “Like I said…it’s just

you…and us.”

Silver did a quick scan of the area. His sharp eyes could

detect no one –no back-up, nobody waiting in the trees, no

snipers, no one except for the two agents.

Well, hell.

“Is this what you two really want?” he asked.

“Come on out, Silver,” the female agent said. “I don’t

know how many times we have to say it.”

The cold-eyed cowboy rubbed his chin. It’s been a long

time, he thought. Could be interesting.

He stood up and walked towards the road.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mulder and Scully felt their legs turn weak as the

werewolf hunter stepped out of the forest. They both

resisted an urge to take another look at each other, but

they didn’t dare turn away from this man.

With a casual yet heavy stride, Silver walked to the

center of the road. As he did, Scully and Mulder spread out

to opposite sides. To win, Silver would have to fire at two

angles at the same time while not looking directly at

either one of them as the headlights of the car blazed in

his face.

It was very likely that he would succeed.

They stood on the road, forming a triangle with the yellow

line down the middle. All of them were sweating, but it

only seemed to bother the agents. The moisture ran down

Silver’s face like a stream over a rock.

No one and nothing moved. Not a single animal was nearby.

There wasn’t even a breeze blowing.

Is it now? Is it now? This was the question repeating in

the minds of the agents. Was it time to draw the guns? Who

was going to do it first? Was it going to be Silver or

Mulder or Scully? Another second went by to allow the next

one to arrive, full of a silence as awful as the dread of

mortality.

Then the silence was broken by a large growl. At first,

Mulder thought Dale had come despite the agent’s orders.

Silver’s hands moved.

Scully and Mulder went for their guns, their minds

narrowed by panic towards this one action, their whole will

involved in the twisting of shoulders and the clenching of

fingers, the only two thoughts in their heads being a loud

cry of “SHOOT HIM! SHOOT HIM!” and a whispered good-bye to

their partner.

Their guns went up. They aimed.

Silver fell down.

For a brief moment, they wondered if the other had

actually done it; that their partner had outdrawn the

fastest cowboy in the world. In the next moment, they

realized that neither of them had fired.

Yet Silver was in a lot of pain. He was moaning and

rolling on the black pavement. He clutched his stomach as

if it had just exploded.

Mulder and Scully looked at each other. Then they slowly

walked towards the groaning hunter, guns still pointing at

him. They stood over him and saw a face which had become a

nice shade of green. They looked at each other again.

Mulder said, “I ain’t complainin’.” As he relieved Silver

of his Colts and put the handcuffs on him, Scully untied

Vic. The cook was banged up, but was in no medical danger.

Upon awakening, Vic saw Silver and said, “What’s with him?”

“You bastard!” Silver hissed at him. “You poisoned me!”

“‘Scuse me?”

“That…goddamn chili…I only had one bite, but look what

it’s…”

Silver’s words were overcome by a moan as he curled his

legs up against his stomach.

Everybody was puzzled. How could one bite of chili wreck a

man? Then they found Silver’s motorcycle and his supplies

wrapped up in green duffel bag.

“Hell, no wonder he got so sick,” Vic declared. “Look at

what he’s got to eat here. Granola bars, bananas,

yogurt…the boy is a damn tofu-eater.”

Mulder shook his head and said, “I knew he was evil, but

this…”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

EPILOGUE

Silver was later sent to a high-security prison. Also sent

was Kevin Cross. A key to his conviction was the testimony

of Mrs. Cross who identified Silver as a visitor to her

house. She came to this decision to testify after her

husband told her, “Dammit, woman, we both could go down if

you don’t keep your mouth shut!”

She frowned and answered, “What do you mean ‘we,’ kemo

sabe?”

Cross admitted to hiring Silver, but he insisted that was

only because Dale Franklin wasn’t even human.

Agent Mulder made a public statement on this matter. “A

werewolf? Wow. Is that what he believes? Guess it takes all

kinds to make a world.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

There was a large gathering in the public square of the

small town. A large orange-and-red banner there welcomed

people to the “16TH ANNUAL PEPPER CHILI FESTIVAL.” Other

signs read, “Friends don’t let friends eat tofu” and “If

there’s no chili in heaven, I’m not going!” It was a hot

day but nobody seemed to mind. Both young and old laughed

and played baseball and raced their horses, remembering

festivals of days gone by.

Cooks arranged a hundred fiery pots on benches and stands

with a vast quantity of beer and lemonade on standby. The

smells pulled in the festival-goers like ropes and tongues

were being put to the test and stomachs filled to capacity.

The music blaring from the speakers was old-fashioned

Texas swing. (“Right or wrong…I’ll always need you…”)

Many couples in their best clothes or in frayed jeans were

dancing. One couple was a tall cook dancing with an out-of-

uniform cop with her arm in a sling. Nearby, a young man

and woman danced together, looking happy even though the

man kept stepping on her foot.

Standing at the edge of the dance floor was a red-haired

woman and a brown-haired man who was trying to get the

woman to eat something.

“Come on, Scully, try it,” he said as he stuck a spoon

toward her face.

“Mulder, I…”

“You’re at a chili festival and you’re not going to have a

little bit of the wares? Please. For me.”

Scully sighed and opened her mouth. Mulder dipped the

spoon in the bowl and pulled it out.

She held the spoon’s contents in her mouth for a moment.

Then her face tightened. She swallowed as if it was the

most difficult task in the world, then shoved a bottle of

soda into her mouth and drank down half of it.

“Good, huh?” Mulder said.

She gave him a look. He just smiled.

Then she smiled, too.

They both looked at the dance floor. “Right or wrong,” the

singer crooned. “I’m still in love with you…”

Mulder opened and closed his mouth several times before he

could say, “Um…”

“Yes?” Scully responded.

“Would you like to…would you…”

“Yes, Mulder?”

“I mean, if you don’t want to, it’s fine, but…but would

you like…”

At this point, Henriksen and Vic passed by. The chief of

police eyed them and said, “Oh, will you two go ahead and

dance already?”

Mulder and Scully looked into each other’s eyes. He put

his spoon and dish of chili down on the grass and held up

an arm. She set down her soda and took her partner’s

proffered arm. They walked onto the dance floor and found

their own spot. They danced more slowly than the others,

bodies close and swaying.

With a bigger smile than ever before, Mulder asked,

“Aren’t you glad when we have a happy ending?”

Scully replied, “I love it when we have an ending.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Osmosis

Cover

TITLE: Osmosis

AUTHOR: Michelle Kiefer

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Fairhaven, RI

Quikmart

July 9, 2000, 10:30 PM

“Would you look at the pair on Miss September,” Kevin Smalls

uttered under his breath. His boss didn’t like him reading the

new magazines between customers, but Kevin couldn’t resist

the temptation to flip through the glossy pages. He kept the

Playboy on the shelf under the counter, out of the view of any

customers.

He watched a slightly drunk woman trying to dispense her

Freezee drink and grimaced when she spilled half of it on

the floor which now would be sticky for days.

She was no Miss September, but the lush curves revealed by

the snug fitting red shorts and striped top were as close as Kevin

could hope to come on a Sunday night in Fairhaven. The woman

weaved over to the register and slid a five dollar bill across the

counter.

“Hey, do I hafta pay for the whole thing? I only got half a

cup here.” Her speech was slightly slurred, and Kevin wondered

if she was driving.

“Nah, I’ll charge you half,” Kevin said, and he noticed that her

top was cut low enough to see the white skin below the tan line on her

chest. He snuck a peak at Miss September’s ample breasts and wide

spread legs under the counter as he handed the woman her change.

“Thanks,” she said as her red lips closed around the straw, and her

flushed cheeks hollowed, drawing up the thick liquid.

As he stroked the magazine under the counter, Kevin’s sweaty hand

stuck to the shiny paper bearing Miss September’s naked image,

smearing the ink a bit. Damn. He’d have to buy the magazine now.

He watched the woman drift out the door, staggering a bit as she

walked across the parking lot and down the street. Well, at least she

didn’t seem to be driving. He looked down at the linoleum and saw

the trail of her cherry red footprints leading from the Freezee

machine to

the door and decided he’d better mop the floor before the next

customer came in and tracked more sticky syrup around.

Kevin shifted cartons of cigarettes and snack food out of the way

to reach the mop and bucket at the back of the storeroom. As

he watched the running water fill the pail, he didn’t hear the jingle

of the bell announcing the entry of a customer. He poured a little

detergent into the water and swished it around. Dragging the mop

behind him, he returned to the main room.

He didn’t notice the two men in front of the magazine rack until

he had begun to mop the spilled drink. As soon as they turned

to face him, he knew he was in serious trouble. Kevin’s eyes grew

round as he stared at the large gun held by the taller of the two

men. The eyes revealed by the holes in the ski masks were hard

and cold, and Kevin dropped the mop with a clatter.

“Open the register,” the taller of the two said. His voice

seemed unnaturally loud in the quiet store as the men advanced

on Kevin. The smaller man pushed the gun into Kevin’s ribs and

grasped his arm tight enough to leave bruises. The pail of

water was overturned in the scuffle as they moved behind the

counter.

Once Kevin had opened the register, he felt a sharp explosion of

pain as the gun struck the back of his head. He was unconscious

immediately and did not feel the heavy boot as it connected with

his jaw and then with his ribs.

“Here, loser, you can look at this when you wake up,” the gunman said

as he dropped the Playboy magazine on Kevin’s back.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Act 1

Fairhaven, RI

Applecroft Nursing Facility

July 10, 2000, 10:00 AM

The woman, advancing down the hall past Wendy Clarke, had

that look on her face. No matter how careful a convalescent

hospital was about hygiene, a faint odor always seems to hang in

the air. Wendy was immune to the smell by now, but she could

usually tell from the expressions on visitors’ faces that even

Applecroft had not escaped this fate.

Wendy shrugged and rounded the corner to pick up fresh

sheets and towels from the linen closet. She smiled at Karen

Phillips, her head nurse, as she stopped at the nurses’ station.

“Wendy, are you going in to Mr. Giaquinto now?” Karen asked

as she looked over a chart. At Wendy’s nod, she said, “It looks

like he has a pressure sore just starting on his left hip.”

“I’ll be sure to put some Duoderm on it,” Wendy responded.

“How did he seem this morning?”

“He’s having increased difficulty breathing, Wendy. Before

he lost his ability to speak, he was very clear about not wanting

to be intubated.” Karen’s eyes were kind as she studied Wendy’s

face, and her voice was filled with concern.

“I know.” Wendy busied herself arranging the bedding in

an effort to keep her voice even. She had felt herself become

closer and closer to her patient. She knew this wasn’t

wise, but Wendy followed her heart over her head.

“I know how fond you are of Mr. Giaquinto, Wendy. It’s

so hard with ALS patients. Be careful about getting too

attached.”

Wendy nodded her head and approached Mr. Giaquinto’s

room. Too late, she thought, for detachment.

“Hi, Mr. G., How’s it going today?” Wendy managed to make

her voice as cheerful as she could.

*Fly me to the moon and let me sing among the stars*

“Oh, we’ve got some Sinatra happening today.”

*Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars. Yes,

Wendy, today is a Sinatra day.*

“Good, I like those days. It’s time for your bath, okay?”

Wendy began to assemble the things she needed for the

bed bath, filling a basin with warm water from the sink.

“I saw on the visitor log that your daughter was by last

night.” Wendy liked to keep a steady stream of conversation

going during patient care, even with patients who couldn’t

speak.

Technically, Mr. Giaquinto couldn’t speak. At least not to

anyone else. But she had been hearing his voice in her

head since the first day he was admitted. His condition had

become too advanced for his family to continue caring

for him at home. He had been at Applecroft for eight

months.

Looking back, Wendy was amazed that she hadn’t been

more shocked the first time his thoughts had sounded in

her mind, as clearly as if he had spoken aloud.

*Yeah, Donna came by with some new pictures of my

grandkids. See them there on the wall?*

“Oh, yeah. I’ll take a good look at them later.”

*Hey, you changed your hair color. I like it.*

“Yeah, I got tired of the yellow. I thought this was kind

of cool.” Wendy’s short fluffy hair had been the color

of marshmallow Peeps before she’d dyed it the shade of

cherry Koolaid.

*You know, Wendy, you miss the strangest things when

you can’t have them anymore.*

“What do you miss, Mr. G.?” Wendy tucked a towel under

Mr. Giaquinto’s side to keep the bedding dry as she gently

washed his arm.

*I miss taking a long, hot bath on a stormy night, being nice

and warm and hearing the wind outside. I miss taking a big

bite of crusty bread. I miss laughing out loud.*

Wendy turned to rinse the washcloth so Mr. Giaquito wouldn’t

see her blink back tears. When she turned back, she had

regained her composure.

-=-=-=-=-=-

July 10, 2000 5:10 PM

Wendy shifted her backpack to a more comfortable position

on her shoulder as she walked down the corridor to Mr.

Giaquinto’s room, entering to speak with him briefly.

“I’m heading out for the night, Mr. G. See you tomorrow,”

she said as she touched his arm lightly. “Hey, no Sinatra

this afternoon?”

*Wendy, I have to tell you something important.* The voice

in her head sounded shaken.

-=-=-=-=-

Fairhaven, RI

Fairhaven Police Station

July 11, 2000 1:30 PM

No matter what town they were located in, all police stations

smelled the same. Mulder took a deep breath of burned coffee,

stale sweat, and varnish as they approached the front desk and

asked for Chief McGarry.

“Mulder, how did we end up here?” Scully asked as she

leaned against the wall.

“You remember, Scully. We flew into the airport at

Providence and drove down I95,” he said with mock

innocence.

“Let me rephrase that. How is a series of armed robberies an

X-File, Mulder?”

She looked tired, and he thought that her cranky mood was

probably due to back to back autopsies yesterday and the

endless paperwork they generated.

Mulder had barely gotten his mouth open to answer when

McGarry found them. The officer’s no-nonsense demeanor

and iron gray hair combined with his unlined face made

it difficult for Mulder to guess his age.

“Agents Mulder and Scully?” the man asked, his speech

clipped. “I’m George McGarry.”

McGarry extended his hand, first to Mulder and then to

Scully and escorted them through the busy police station to an

interview room. Through the one-way mirror, Mulder

could see a young woman seated at the table.

“Chief McGarry, I was just about to tell my partner that

you have a witness who claims to have gotten information

on the robberies from an unusual source,” Mulder said,

glancing down at Scully.

“Unusual is right. Wendy Clarke is an aide in a nursing home.

She claims that one of her patients told her about the last

robbery and knew where they were going to hit next,” McGarry

said, indicating the woman in the interview room.

“Perhaps the patient knows the gunmen,” Scully observed.

“The patient has Lou Gehrig’s disease and can’t speak,

Agent Scully. Wendy says she hears his thoughts in her

head.” McGarry wore a look on his face that was even more

skeptical than Scully’s.

“I take it the information she gave was accurate,” Scully said.

“She had details about the convenience store hit that we

hadn’t released to the newspapers. The clerk was found with

a Playboy magazine spread out over him, and a bucket of water

had been overturned. She described all of that and said they

were going to hit Grossman’s Pharmacy the next night.”

“And the pharmacy was hit?” Mulder prompted.

“Yeah, just as she said. This is the ninth armed robbery in this

area. Nobody was hurt in the first six, but the last three have

shown an escalation in violence. Kevin Smalls, the clerk at the

Quikmart, still hasn’t regained consciousness, and his doctors are

worried about brain damage. Last night the gunmen shot and killed

the pharmacist. My first reaction was that Wendy Clarke must be

involved somehow; maybe knew the gunmen.”

“I take it you don’t consider her a suspect,” Scully prompted.

“Eyewitness accounts from all the robberies are pretty consistent

with two gunmen. She was working during several of them. As for

knowing the gunmen, so far we haven’t turned up any evidence.”

McGarry opened the door and allowed Mulder and Scully to precede

him in.

“Wendy, thank you for coming down again. This is Agent Mulder and

Agent Scully from the FBI.” McGarry sat down at the far end of the

table, leaving Mulder and Scully to sit opposite Wendy.

Mulder could only imagine what Scully was thinking as he took in

Wendy’s appearance. The bright orange tank top emblazoned with a

yellow rubber ducky clashed wildly with her candy apple red hair.

He wondered idly if the small hoop that pierced her eyebrow was

as painful as it looked. He could see a tattoo depicting a half moon

on her lightly freckled shoulder and another of a rose peeking out

of the curved neckline of her top.

“I understand that the patient who told you about the robberies is

suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, Wendy. That he ‘speaks’ to

you,” Scully began while Mulder sat back to observe.

“Giaquinto has end stage ALS. They’re all surprised that he

hangs on–his breathing is more and more labored.”

Mulder noticed that Wendy had tears in her eyes and that her front

teeth overlapped a bit. Maybe orthodontia hadn’t been an option

when she was growing up.

“But he speaks to you. Does he use a computer or some kind of

blinking method?” Scully had an intent expression, falling just short

of

skepticism. A couple of years ago, the skepticism would have been

obvious. Wendy shook her head.

“No, nothing like that. Listen, I know this sounds crazy, but I hear

him

in my head. I always talk to the patients, even the comatose ones and

those who can’t speak. Imagine my surprise when this one spoke

back.” Her hands fidgeted nervously on the table; the bright blue

nail polish shiny under the overhead lighting.

“What do you two talk about?” Mulder broke in.

“We shoot the breeze. You know, small talk. He teases me

about my boyfriend, and he tells me about his family. He sings

sometimes–he’s pretty good.” She flashed a tiny smile at that

thought.

“Why does he tease you about your boyfriend?” Mulder asked.

“He says that Ded’s a bum.” Wendy hitched a sandaled foot up

onto the seat of her chair and played with the torn edge of her jeans.

“Ded?” Scully asked, sounding incredulous.

“His name is really Dwayne, but he hates it. Dwayne Earl

Davis. D.E.D.,” Wendy said as she pulled a thread from the

fringe.

Mulder noticed that she had silver rings around several

of her toes and wondered if they were uncomfortable.

“So your patient told you about the holdups,” Scully prompted.

“Oh yeah. So anyway, Monday night, Mr. G. was really upset.

He said he had been having dreams and he could see things and

hear things. Terrible things.”

“He saw the crimes in his dreams?” Scully asked, the tiniest bit

of disbelief showing. Mulder was surprised that she had gotten this

far in the interview before it crept out.

“Yeah, he could see the kid in the convenience store–could

see a man wearing a ski mask hit him with the gun and then

kick him over and over. He said he could actually hear the

kid’s ribs crack.” Her hand flew up to cover her mouth.

McGarry poured a glass of water from a thermal pitcher

and slid it down to Wendy.

“Mr G. said he could hear them talk about robbing the

pharmacy. They were excited about getting drugs as well

as money.”

“So you called the police,” Scully offered.

“Mr. G. was so upset. He insisted I come down here right

then.” Her wide brown eyes traveled first to Scully and

then to Mulder. He tried in vain to find evidence of deceit

in her intense gaze and wondered what Scully thought

about her.

“Has Mr. Giaquinto had any further dreams?” Mulder asked.

“He was real quiet this morning. I think he was exhausted.

He said that he had dreamed about them again, but they

were all spacy and stuff this time.” Wendy eased her foot

back to the floor and swung her backpack onto her shoulder

as she stood. “Listen, I’m working a split shift today. I have

to get back to work now.”

“Wendy, I’d like you to call me if Mr. Giaquinto tells you

anything further,” Mulder instructed as he handed her his

business card. She tucked the card into her jeans pocket and

left the room. Scully eyes followed Wendy’s retreating

form.

“That boyfriend she mentioned, Ded–what do you know

about him?” Scully asked McGarry after Wendy had closed

the door behind her.

“Dwayne Earl Davis–quite a piece of work. He’s done time

for car theft and possession of drugs. Out of work right now,

living off Wendy.”

“Is he a suspect?” Mulder asked.

“We haven’t been able to tie him to any evidence, but he

certainly has a lot of time on his hands,” McGarry offered.

“Well, he already has the traditional three names of a serial

killer,” Mulder suggested with a hint of sarcasm. “I understand

that the pharmacist was not alone in the store at the time of the

holdup.”

“No, a pharmacy technician was there, as well–Lisa Fedak.

They roughed her up pretty badly.”

-=-=-=-=-=-

July 11, 2000 3:45 PM

Mulder tossed his jacket onto the back seat of the rental car

and loosened his tie in deference to the July heat. Hoping

that her sleeveless shell wasn’t too wrinkled, Scully slipped her

suit jacket off and sent it sailing on top of Mulder’s.

“You really buy this whole telepathic thought thing, Mulder?”

Scully asked as she turned the air conditioning on full blast.

“I know her appearance was a little bizarre, but the girl

seemed sincere.” Mulder glanced her way before he pulled

the car away from the curb. “You think she’s involved?”

“I don’t think we know enough about her to make that

determination. Yet.” Scully adjusted the air vents to get

the maximum benefit from the cooling air. “I’d like to

know more about that boyfriend.”

They spent the rest of the drive to the Fedak residence in

companionable silence. Scully enjoyed the opportunity

to observe Mulder’s tanned forearms as he steered the car

through the small town streets. For more than seven years

he had been folding his sleeves back, and by now she could

map every inch of well-toned muscle.

They pulled into the driveway of a nicely maintained

colonial home, and walked up a brick path lined by a riot

of flowers. The pleasant looking middle-aged woman

who answered the door was duly impressed with

their identification and escorted them through the foyer.

She left them in the living room and went to call her daughter.

Judging from the décor, Scully thought that Mrs. Fedak probably

subscribed to Country Home magazine. Family portraits were

gathered on an oak sofa table. Scully picked up a framed prom photo

featuring a radiant young woman with long blonde hair.

She winced inwardly as Lisa Fedak came into the

room. Judging from her pictures, the college student would

normally be a very pretty girl, but contusions and swelling

left her face a nightmarish mask.

“Miss Fedak, thank you so much for talking to us. I know

this has been very traumatic,” Mulder said as Lisa moved

stiffly to the sofa.

Watching Lisa lower herself gingerly to the red and white

checked cushions, Scully guessed that the girl’s clothing

hid more bruises. Though the day was hot, Lisa was dressed

in a long-sleeved shirt and knit leggings.

Scully was unfortunately quite familiar with camouflage

dressing. Unwelcome memories of last winter’s events flooded

back, reminding her of a time when she had dressed in the dark

to avoid looking at her own bruises. Scully stuffed the memory

of Donnie Pfaster back in the little box in her mind and turned her

attention to the interview.

“Lisa, can you tell us what happened last night?” Scully asked as

she sat down next to Lisa on the sofa. Mulder lowered himself

onto a blue pinstriped armchair.

“It was almost closing time, and I was straightening up the

counter, shelving the bottles of pills…stuff like that. I wasn’t

watching the door, and Mr. Grossman was in the back room

when two men came in. They had masks over their faces and

long coats on, even though it’s July.” Lisa spoke carefully,

her mouth painfully swollen.

“Were the men armed?” Mulder asked, his voice calm and even.

“Yeah, they both had guns. The smaller man had a really big

one. He told Mr. Grossman to fill a bag with drugs…he wanted

Percocet and stuff like that. He got really mad at Mr. Grossman

when he told the guy that they were locked in the safe, and he hit

Mr. Grossman on the side of the head and made his ear bleed.

While Mr. Grossman got the drugs out of the safe, the taller guy

came over to me.” Lisa looked down at her hands as they twisted

together in her lap.

“What happened then, Lisa?” Scully prompted.

“The big one told me to open the cash register. When I didn’t

do it fast enough, he punched me. I could see his eyes through

the holes in the mask, and he seemed to get off on that. He

knocked me down and kicked me over and over. All the time,

he kept looking over at the small guy. It was like he was trying

to impress him or something.

“Then he grabbed a box of condoms from a display on the counter and

said they would test them out and I better take off my clothes. He

said,

‘Good thing we got a big box here.’ The little one came over then and

lifted my shirt up with the end of his gun.” A sob shook Lisa, but

she

forced herself to go on.

“Mr. Grossman had been kind of out of it from when they hit him,

but he got up then and came over and tried to stop them. And…and

then the shorter one turned and shot him. I don’t know if they were

afraid that somebody might have heard the gun, or what, but they

cleaned out the register and left. They didn’t touch me after that.”

Mrs. Fedak had been moving around in the kitchen, perhaps having

heard the story more times than she could handle. She returned to

the living room as Lisa’s voice became more agitated.

“There was so much blood. I couldn’t tell if Mr. Grossman was

still breathing, but I held his hand until the police and the

paramedics came. I tried to talk to him, but I don’t think he

could hear me.” The last words were spoken in a hush; telling

her story had taken all the strength that Lisa possessed. She

appeared to collapse into herself, growing smaller as she sat on

the couch.

Mrs. Fedak sat next to her daughter and pulled her into an

embrace. The look that Mrs. Fedak gave Mulder and Scully told

them that the interview was over. If Mulder had further questions,

he kept them to himself, but handed Lisa his card with instructions

to call if she remembered anything further.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Fairhaven, RI

Applecroft Nursing Facility

July 11, 2000 6:00 PM

The days had long since passed since Sam Giaquinto had

cursed God. Being filled with hate and anger was simply

too exhausting, and after a while, he had to let it go. Perhaps

that pleased God, because not long after Sam had made his peace,

God had sent him Wendy. He wasn’t sure how Wendy was able

to hear him, and maybe it wasn’t wise to question a miracle.

He recalled the days when the doctors didn’t know why glasses

of water slipped out of his fingers and why his legs had seemed

to forget how to climb stairs, and all he could remember was the

feeling of dread that hung over him. Even before the doctors made

their diagnosis and his family understood the enormity of the

situation, he had known that it was bad. Very bad.

It hadn’t been easy, as each little bit of independence had

been torn out of his stiffened, useless fingers. Dignity became

a thing of the past until finally, he could do nothing for himself,

control nothing in his life. That’s when the cursing started.

How ironic that by then, no one could hear him shouting.

His daughter, Donna, had done her best for him, visiting as

often as she could. Her life was busy with a job and three

kids, and he saw how tired she was when she came in the

evenings, bearing books to read to him and photos of the kids.

She looked so much like her mother, gone now these ten years.

Sam felt a wave of impatience to cross that last barrier and

see his sweet Annie once again.

He was torn now, between wanting that release and this

urgency he felt for something he couldn’t quite put his

finger on. Hell, he couldn’t put his finger anywhere,

anymore. He couldn’t even scratch his nose.

“How you doing, Mr. G?” Wendy called from the door.

He couldn’t see her from the position he was in, so she

walked around until she was in his field of vision. He

wished he could smile.

*I can’t kick.*

“You’re a riot, Mr. G. Any more dreams?” Her voice was

casual, but her eyes looked worried.

*Nothing since this morning. It’s like the dreams

are sleeping. Like the people in the dreams are asleep.*

“That almost sounds like a song. Did Sinatra sing any dream

songs?” Her teasing tone was light, and he knew she was trying

to keep him from remembering the violence and blood from

his frightening vision. He hadn’t felt much like singing.

*If you are but a dream, I hope I never waken*

*It’s more than I could bear to find that I’m forsaken.*

“That’s pretty. I don’t think I ever heard it before.”

*Frank had a song for any occasion. That’s a real oldie.*

He still felt this agitation, despite her attempt at diversion.

How strange to feel like you are jumping out of your skin,

and still be unable to command so much as one muscle.

“I had to go back to the police station this afternoon. Two FBI

agents asked me about your dreams.” She ran a hand through

her fluffy hair, leaving the lollipop red strands in spiky clumps.

*I wish I knew why I was having them. I keep feeling like I’m

supposed to do something. Did the FBI people listen to you?*

“One of them did. I think they’re from some special unit that

deals with weird stuff.”

At the sound of footsteps in the hall, Wendy grew quiet.

“Daddy?”

Wendy turned to the visitor at the door. “Hi, Donna. Your

Dad’s having a good day. I was just on my way out.”

Wendy looked into his eyes. “Good night, Mr. G.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=

Act 2

Fairhaven, RI

452 Weaver Street.

July 11, 2000 6:50 PM

“The neighbors are really going to be pissed,” Wendy thought to

herself as she walked along the sidewalk. Motley Crue reverberated

through the open windows of the ramshackle cottage. Crossing

the parched, overgrown lawn, she climbed the steps to the sagging

porch.

The front door was open in hopes of catching a breeze, but the

July air was hot and still. Wendy stepped over piles of clothing

and dropped her backpack onto the threadbare sofa. She turned off

the stereo and gathered up the empty pizza box and as many of the

empty beer cans as she could carry. She dumped them into the

garbage pail on the porch and returned to the living room.

“Hey, I was listenin’ to that. Why’d you turn it off?” Ded asked

from the kitchen doorway. Leaning against the doorjamb, he

popped the top on a beer and took a long pull before handing her

the can.

Her eyes locked with his as she brought the beer can up

to her lips and drank the rest down. Somehow, the air around

Ded always had the feel of an impending lightning storm.

Wendy had always been attracted to bad boys, and with Ded, she

had struck pay dirt. His only ambition in life was to be a rock

star, and though he had the right image, he lacked talent beyond

smoldering looks and sex appeal.

Ded’s jeans hung precariously low on his narrow hips as he walked

to the stereo and turned the music up. Long hair trailed halfway

down his bare back, partly obscuring the tattoo of a snake that

slithered across his shoulders. He tossed a defiant little smile

in her direction.

“Jeez Ded, I had enough of the police today. I don’t want the

neighbors to call them,” Wendy said as she flipped the switch

off.

“Why the hell did you go there, anyway? They’re gonna think

you’re nuts and lock you up in the looney bin,” Ded jeered. “Oh

yeah, they’re really gonna believe a old sick guy told you that

stuff.”

“Just drop it, okay?” Wendy muttered as she walked into the tiny

bedroom and began stripping out of her uniform. Ded never had

understood how she felt about the patients she worked with. In

his eyes, she did nothing but empty bedpans and wash old people’s

butts. Funny thing was, he had no problem spending the money

she made washing those butts.

As she pulled the yellow scrub top over her head, she noticed an

object on the bed. “Hey, where’d this guitar come from?” she

called out.

Ded followed her into the bedroom and picked up the shiny

new guitar.

“I bought it. What’d you think? Santa come early?” He

grinned at her and began to pick out a few chords.

“What the hell did you use for money? You sure haven’t been

helping me with the rent around here,” Wendy said, trying not

to wince at Ded’s fumbling attempt at music.

“A guy owed me some money. He paid me back today.” Wendy

noticed that he deftly sidestepped the issue of helping with the

rent. She wondered sometimes why she let him take advantage of

her. He rarely worked, never helped her with the rent or bought

groceries, and he left the house a mess. Her friends thought she was

either crazy or stupid, and she sometimes wondered if they were right.

“You know, you could buy some groceries once in a while, or

put something on the electric bill, or…”

Further suggestions were cut off by Ded’s lips pressing against hers.

His hands pulled her hips toward him, while his tongue parted her

lips.

Despite his lack of dexterity with the guitar, Ded’s true talents were

shown as he unfastened her bra with one hand, and reached around

to cup her breasts. His hands were at once gentle and insistent as

they

stroked her sensitive skin. Though she tried hard to keep her mind on

the subject of household help, a tiny gasp of pleasure escaped her

lips

at his touch.

They stumbled back toward the bed, Ded kissing her neck and jaw,

and his hands tugging the elastic waist of her uniform pants down

over her hips. His kisses became deeper, more intense, and he

continued the slow, almost reverent caresses.

“Oh yeah,” she thought. “This is why I don’t kick him out.”

-=-=-=-=-=-

Fairhaven, RI

SleepTight Motel

July 11, 2000 10:30 PM

The heat of the day had not dissipated after the sun had gone

down, and the air remained still and humid. As he walked

toward the deserted motel pool, Mulder could almost feel

the weight of the moist air pressing down on his skin.

He reached around the chain link fence to open the latch

and pushed the gate open. Draping a towel over the end

of the gate to keep it from locking behind him, he padded

barefoot across the pool deck.

The cement felt warm under his feet, as if it had retained the

sun’s heat long after darkness fell. Mulder pulled his t-shirt

over his head and dropped in onto a lounge chair, then walked

around the pool to the far end. The surface of the water

glittered under a lone spotlight.

As he stood with his toes over the edge of the deep end,

Mulder could almost see a cloud of chlorine float above the

surface of the water. It was peaceful here, the only sounds,

the hum of the pool filter and the occasional ‘zzzztttt’ of

an unfortunate mosquito caught by a bug zapper.

Mulder swung his arms back from his shoulders and

felt a pleasant ache as tired muscles stretched. The

afternoon had been spent visiting crime scenes and plotting

their locations on a map. Mulder had been looking for

geographic patterns and had found the businesses hit were

within three towns and all were located on busy thoroughfares.

He and Scully had shared a pleasant if uninspired fast food

supper while they studied the police reports from the

previous holdups. There was very little forensic evidence to

work with. No usable fingerprints had been recovered at any

of the crime scenes. In fact, the only evidence was the empty

shell casing from the pharmacy holdup and the misshapen .22

caliber bullet taken from the body of the pharmacist.

In a pattern developed years ago, Scully reviewed medical

information from the three violent cases, and Mulder looked

for nuances in the behavior of the gunmen. Eyewitness

accounts varied somewhat, but showed fairly consistent

behavior by the two gunmen.

Profiling often left him too keyed up to sleep, resulting in a

long night of channel surfing and motel room ceiling inspection.

Now, contemplating the turquoise surface of the pool, he hoped

to unwind enough to be able to sleep tonight.

A cautious person would check the temperature of the water

in the pool. Such a person would step in carefully at

the shallow end. But Mulder dove into the deep end headfirst.

Arching his back, he sliced seal-like through the water. He

broke the surface, and shook his head sending a spray of

droplets in an arc.

The cold water felt good against his neck and shoulders,

releasing some of the stiffness he had felt after hours bent

over police reports. Mulder floated on his back and looked

up at the stars. Even after all the years, all the disappointments,

the stars held fascination for him. He wondered if he would

ever uncover the secrets hidden by their cold light.

The squeak of the gate brought a smile to Mulder’s face.

He flipped around to watch Scully cross the pool deck

and stand at the rim of the shallow end. Mirroring his

movements of minutes ago, she pressed her arms back

at the shoulders in a stretch.

“Is this a private party or can anyone join in?” Scully

quipped as she dipped a toe into the water. Her black

one piece suit showed off curves normally hidden

under linen and gabardine. Mulder grinned at the sight of

so much pale skin. These late night swims were rapidly

becoming the best part of being on the road.

They had begun to spend more and more time together

outside of work, both in DC and when they traveled. In

typical Mulder and Scully fashion, they hadn’t discussed

the changes to their relationship at all.

And so, the occasional quick supper after work had become

dinner three nights a week. Invented Saturday work projects

had been replaced by purely recreational activities. Afternoons

spent at Orioles games stretched into Saturday nights at the

movies.

They had always had an unwritten code of conduct when

traveling out of town: time spent together in the evenings

had to be work related. Was this rule Scully’s attempt at

keeping some semblance of a separate existence, or was it

his own defense mechanism at work, his need to keep

others at a distance? Maybe it was a little of both.

But somewhere along the way, the code of conduct had been

discarded like unneeded training wheels on a child’s first

two-wheeler. Now, they found themselves taking a walk or

having a drink together in the evenings on the road and, more

and more often, meeting at the motel pool to relax.

Scully carefully made her way down the pool steps, slowly

acclimating herself to the temperature of the water. He

watched with fascination as inch by inch, the pale skin of

her legs disappeared beneath the water. He heard her utter a tiny

gasp as the cold water reached her torso. She glided across

the length of the pool, outstretched arms floating on the surface

of the water.

“It’s easier if you just take the plunge and jump in,” he

observed as she came toward him.

“Not my style, Mulder,” she said with a tiny shiver as

she became accustomed to the pool temperature.

Her breasts were partially covered by the water, pearly

skin revealed above the edge of her swimsuit, dappled by

the reflected light. He found this enormously distracting. He

was glad that a swimsuit was not normal business attire

or he would get very little work done.

“I want to go to the nursing home in the morning. I want to

see Wendy with the Lou Gehrig patient,” he said as he moved

his arms in the water so he could watch the little waves lap against

her.

“Mulder, you can’t seriously think that a man who can’t move,

can’t talk, and hasn’t left his hospital room in months, has access

to pertinent information on these crimes. It’s almost as crazy as

this girl claiming to hear his thoughts.”

“I don’t find the idea of hearing someone’s thoughts as crazy

as I used to.” His voice had an edge to it that he hadn’t intended,

but he still found himself haunted by the events of his illness,

though nearly a year had passed. “You think she’s in on this

crime spree?”

He saw memories of last fall reflected in her eyes. Her

expression softened, and she reached out to touch his arm,

sliding her hand up and over his shoulder to rest at the back

of his neck. The intimacy of the gesture made him breathless.

She seemed to hesitate for a moment and dropped her hand.

“No. No, I don’t think she’s an accomplice. I have to admit, I

found her sincere. You know, she reminded me a little of a

young Melissa.” Scully laughed, the sound echoing off the

surface of the water. “Melissa had that kind of freedom about

her, that same offbeat quality. My sister was a bit of a Cindy

Lauper wannabe, back in the 80s. One summer, she dyed her hair

purple. I thought Dad was going to burst a blood vessel.”

“Well, I can see how you might have an affinity for Wendy.

After all, you’re both redheads,” he said with a chuckle.

“Although, I’m not sure if her hair is natural.”

Her response came in the form of a plume of water splashing up

to hit his face. Blinking the water out of his eyes, he flashed her

an evil grin. Though she tried to maneuver out of his reach, he

managed to unbalance her for a dunking. For a moment, he

was afraid she would be annoyed, but when she got to her

feet, she was laughing. His heart beat a little faster at the sight

of her, face glistening with water; the droplets clinging to her

eyelashes like diamonds.

“No matter how her hair got to be that rather remarkable

shade, I don’t think she is a party to the crimes.” She

skimmed the wet hair back from her face, the glossy

waves appearing as if they had been carved from mahogany.

“But you think Wendy’s connected somehow,” he said.

“I think she might know who the gunmen are. Maybe someone

close to her is involved and this wild story seemed to be the

safest way to bring in the police. If her boyfriend is one

of the gunmen, she could be afraid of him.”

“I don’t think he’s involved in this, Scully.”

“Mulder, he has a criminal record. I think we should question

him tomorrow.”

“He’s too old, Scully. According to his record, Dwayne Earl

Davis is 25. I believe the gunmen are much younger–probably

teenagers,” he said, decisively.

“Why do you think they’re young?” she asked. Her voice

conveyed curiosity but not skepticism. Profiling was one area

of his expertise that he knew she never doubted. No matter how

unbelievable she found his paranormal theories, she always

seemed to respect his psychological assessments.

“The gunmen are impulsive, opportunistic. In almost every

hold up, besides the cash stolen, they took items that caught

their attention. They hold up a liquor store, and after the

owner empties the cash register, they take several cases of

beer, even though it would slow their getaway,” he said as he

raised his legs to float on his back.

“If we are to believe Wendy’s patient, they planned to take

drugs from the pharmacy stickup. They aren’t that impulsive.”

“Granted, they planned the drugs, but the aborted rape of

the clerk was sparked by a display of condoms. Completely

opportunistic action. I think the reason these crimes have

been difficult to solve is that the gunmen are not typical

criminals. I don’t think they have records; they’re

probably very mainstream kids and they blend back into

the high school scene.” Mulder’s serious tone contrasted

with his lounging posture in the water.

“That’s so frightening. This kind of behavior is

becoming more and more common with the young.”

“I think they began the robberies out of boredom; easy

money was a bonus for them. Out on summer vacation,

they have time on their hands. During the school year,

these kids might enjoy some status among their classmates,

and they miss that in the summer. What concerns me is the

escalating violence. The pattern changed after the seventh

robbery. The assault in that crime seemed almost accidental,

as if the situation got out of hand.”

“But something changed after that,” she prompted.

“The last two crimes show a distinct change: the violence was

deliberate, and it’s becoming more the focus of the perpetrators.

I think the control they feel when hurting people is the real

payoff now. They’re getting high on the power.” He watched

a shiver pass through her at his last words.

“You think it’s going to get worse,” she said, softly.

“I think we’re gonna see a real bloodbath if we can’t

stop them. According to Wendy, they’re still mellow

from the drugs they stole from the pharmacy. That’s

why they’re quiet tonight. I’m worried about when they

come down from that high. That need for violence is

going to peak.”

-=-=-=-=-=–

Fairhaven, RI

Denny’s Restaurant

July 12, 2000 8:30 AM

Scully sipped her coffee and peered out the smudged window

at the parking lot between the restaurant and the SleepTight

Motel. She watched Mulder pick his way around the puddles,

executing an agile leap over a particularly large one.

It had rained late the night before, a noisy thunderstorm waking

her around 3 AM. She had lain awake for a while, listening to

the low murmur of Mulder’s TV in the next room. She’d

hoped that the late night swim would have relaxed Mulder

enough to sleep. Perhaps he had fallen asleep with the TV on.

Her craving for caffeine had driven Scully to the restaurant

to order breakfast for them while Mulder called McGarry

with his profile. She wondered how the chief had reacted

to the information.

Scully now looked up to see Mulder striding down the aisle

toward her. His grim expression suggested that McGarry

had been less than open to the idea that teenagers were

responsible for the crimes. With a quick smile, Mulder slid

into the booth across from her and righted the cup that sat

overturned on the saucer.

“Did you order?” he asked, as Scully poured him a cup of

coffee from the carafe the waitress had left for them.

“Yes, your order for ‘Moons Over My Hammy’ has been

placed. I bet you decided to get that just so I’d have to say

‘my hammy’ when I ordered for you,” she replied.

“I only wish I could have been here to see it.” He grinned

at her as he poured a dollop of cream into his coffee.

“So, what did McGarry say?” she asked.

“He was less than thrilled, but I think it was more a case of

not wanting to believe teenagers could be involved rather than

general stubbornness.”

“Mulder, if these kids don’t have records or disciplinary

problems, they’re going to be hard to find.”

“I advised McGarry to check with any recreation

programs, talk to the counselors. They may have heard

rumors around town. Kids rarely can keep quiet–they

need to impress their peers. They’ll be bragging.”

Mulder became quiet as the waitress brought their breakfast.

She set the heavy tray down on an empty table, and with a

flourish, delivered Mulder’s plate laden with eggs and ham.

She set Scully’s single scrambled egg and dry wheat toast down

with somewhat less enthusiasm.

“Glad you decided to live a little,” he teased his partner after

the waitress left.

She opened a foil packet of jam and carefully spread a minute

amount on her toast. “Just eat your moons and hammy, Mulder

and don’t worry about me.”

Scully refilled her coffee cup and nibbled a piece of

toast. It certainly wasn’t fair that every calorie showed on her

petite frame. It was even less fair that Mulder could eat like

a stevedore and stay thin.

“I called Applecroft, and the head nurse there said we could

come by this morning,” he said, spearing an obscenely tempting

chunk of ham. If he noticed her wistful eyes tracking the fork

to his mouth, he wisely refrained from comment.

“Mulder, I still want to interview this Dwayne Davis. Just

in case our suspect is an impulsive adult.”

He nodded without comment and they finished eating.

The rain had reduced the July heat only marginally, and

after breakfast, they again shed jackets for the drive to

Applecroft. Mulder donned his sunglasses before starting

the ignition.

Scully gazed out the car window as they drove past a white

painted gazebo set among the trees on the town green. It seemed

impossible that the ugly stain of violence could touch this place.

She wondered what simmering anger Fairhaven’s quaint New

England charm might be hiding.

“This facility has an excellent reputation for nursing the

chronically ill,” Scully said as Mulder pulled the car into

a parking spot. Applecroft was a new structure built to

blend in with the colonial style buildings nearby. Well-

tended flower beds graced the front lawn, and a vine covered

arbor could be seen on the side of the structure.

The temperature in the atrium style lobby was wonderfully

cool after the July heat. The clerk at the information

desk directed them to the proper ward, and they went in

search of Karen Phillips, Wendy’s head nurse.

They soon found a nametag bearing the correct name worn

by a petite woman at the nurse’s station. The nurse looked

up from a pile of paperwork and smiled. “You must be the

people from the FBI,” she said pleasantly.

Sometimes, Scully hated that she and Mulder were so easily

pegged as federal agents. They certainly didn’t look like typical

nursing home visitors in their dark suits. Well, perhaps they

might look like typical visitors at the DOD nursing home.

After the standard introductions, Karen led them to a small

employee lounge and offered them coffee.

“I should caution you that this stuff is strong enough to

give you palpitations,” she said with a wry smile. Both

Mulder and Scully deferred on the liquid stimulation, but

Karen poured herself a rather thick cup of coffee and sat

down at the table.

“How long has Wendy Clarke been an aide here?” Scully

asked as she and Mulder took seats facing Karen.

“She’s been here almost two years. You know, I’ve never

seen a more compassionate worker. She’s incredible with

the patients.” Karen took a sip of her coffee and grimaced.

“I think this stuff is worse than usual.”

“Did you know that Wendy claims she can hear one of

the patient’s thoughts?” Mulder asked.

“Mr. Giaquinto. I didn’t know about it until Wendy went to

the police. I don’t know…maybe it’s wishful thinking on her

part. ALS is such a tragedy–an active mind trapped in a

body that’s gradually shutting down. I know Wendy is very

close to him,” Karen replied thoughtfully.

“So you think she’s imagining it?” Scully questioned. Mulder

shifted in his chair, and she could sense his irritation.

“I don’t know. Of course it sounds ridiculous. But I swear,

if anyone could hear his thoughts, it would be Wendy. She

has a gift for compassion.”

“She sounds special,” Mulder offered.

“I’ve encouraged her to enter the nursing program at the state

college, but money has been a bit of a problem for her. Wendy’s

been on her own since she was a teenager. She doesn’t talk about

it much, but she grew up in and out of foster care.”

“I understand that Wendy is on duty this morning. Could we

see her with Mr. Giaquinto?” Mulder asked.

“I’ll page her. He’s having a good day…well, a good day

under the circumstances.”

-=-=-=-=-=–

Being paged to the nurse’s station always made Wendy

apprehensive. As she approached it, she noticed the man

and woman FBI agents talking to Karen. This did nothing

to alleviate her nervousness.

“Wendy, Agents Mulder and Scully would like to meet Mr.

Giaquinto,” Karen informed her.

Her thoughts drifted back to the police station and how

uncomfortable she had felt during her interview. The tall,

dark guy seemed nice, but his eyes were sad. Wendy thought

he was good looking, too, but probably too normal for her taste.

The woman scared her. Wendy had noticed an edge to her

voice yesterday and she had looked so stern and serious.

Agent Scully looked just as imposing this morning.

How the heck did these two get along?

“Sure. I’ll show you the way,” Wendy said as she led the

two agents down the hall, hearing the woman’s

high heels click-clack behind her. When they arrived at

Mr.G’s room, Wendy preceded the agents. She wanted to

prepare Mr. G for visitors and to get an idea of his condition.

“Hi, Mr. G. Do you remember the FBI agents I told you about?

They came to see you,” she said as she moved around the bed

into his field of vision. Turning slightly toward the agents, she

asked them, “Can you come around this way, so he can see you?”

They did as she asked, moving to stand behind and a little

to the left of Wendy. She wondered what they saw when they

looked at Mr. G. Did they just see an old man whose face was

frozen in a perpetually surprised expression? Was he more than

contracted limbs and labored, rattling breathing to them?

“Good morning, sir,” Agent Mulder said, gently. “We’d like to

ask you a few questions.”

*Go ahead, I’m not going anywhere.*

“He says, go ahead and ask your questions,” Wendy translated,

with a tiny smile. Mr. G. was clearly enjoying this. Some people

saw patients like Mr. G as lumps of flesh, not having feelings or

consciousness. Even medical workers sometimes forgot that a

person was still inside the shell. She was glad that Agent Mulder

saw Mr. G. as a whole being.

Mulder cleared his throat and came forward a step.

“Do you recognize the people in the dreams?”

*I saw the men only once, in the first dream. They had masks on,

but I could see them hit that boy and kick him over and over.

After that, I only heard them talking. I don’t know why I can’t

see them now.*

Wendy conveyed the message. She tried to figure out what

the agents were thinking, but their faces were expressionless.

“Have you had any more dreams, sir? Have you heard them

talk anymore?”

*I heard them, but they sounded drugged. They mumbled a lot,

but I couldn’t make any words out. I feel like this is important

somehow, but I can’t figure out what it all means.*

Wendy again translated the message. She tried to repeat Mr. G’s

words as accurately as possible. She felt like one of those

sign language people who appeared in the corner of the TV

screen on public television.

Wendy turned her head to observe the two FBI agents. The

woman gave the man a look that Wendy couldn’t read, but

Agent Mulder seemed to understand it just fine. He nodded

his head slightly as Agent Scully pursed her lips and folded

her arms over her chest. Wendy couldn’t quite grasp what had

just happened, but it seemed that some kind of conversation

had occurred.

*These two make a cute couple*

“He says you make a cute couple,” she said, turning to watch

their reaction. The man hid a smile and looked at his feet, and

the woman blushed furiously. Wendy was glad that Agent Scully’s

cool exterior had been cracked just a little.

*They remind me of me and Annie. One look from her, and I knew

whether I was in the doghouse or king of the castle.*

“Wendy, we need you to check with Mr.Giaquinto as often as

possible in case he has another dream. Sir, if you could let us

know if you hear anything else, anything at all.”

*You’ll be the first to know. Wendy, I got a feeling that

this guy is in the doghouse more than he’s the king of the castle.

Frank had a song, kind of reminds me of these two.*

“You’ve got a song?” Wendy asked, delighted that Mr. G. was

strong enough today to remember a song. She caught a look

of confusion pass between the two FBI agents.

*All or nothing at all. Half a love, never appealed to me.

If your heart, never could yield to me, then I’d rather

have nothing at all*

“He’s singing to you. He’s singing ‘All or Nothing At All.’ It’s

one of his favorites. You should be honored,” Wendy said turning

to them. She couldn’t read their reactions to this, but they both

seemed very self-conscious. There was a whole lot of shuffling

and throat clearing as the agents said good-bye and left the room.

*Oh yeah, they’re crazy about each other.*

“You think so Mr. G.?” Wendy asked. “They seemed kind of

awkward with each other.”

*Trust me on this one.*

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

He could tell by the sound of her footsteps that Scully was

annoyed. Funny how that was one of his best indicators.

Sometimes he could name that tune in four notes.

He wondered if he and Scully were so transparent that even

the tall, dark haired woman they passed in the hall could tell

their story. No, the grim, worried look on the woman’s round

face showed him her mind was occupied with the sad details

of visiting the very sick.

They got all the way to the car before Scully spoke.

“You bought all that?” She asked impatiently. “I thought

surely when you saw the condition that man was in you’d

know he couldn’t be the source of your information.”

“You thought that was an act?” He squinted against the bright

sunlight as he braced a hand against the roof of the car, pulling

away quickly as the hot metal seared his palm.

“Mulder, I think either that girl is delusional, wishing so hard that

a patient she is fond of can communicate with her; or she’s using

this as an elaborate ruse to feed us information while concealing

her connection.” Her voice had that calm, rational sound that

made him want to scream.

“Why is this so much harder to believe than anything else we’ve

seen?” He felt his voice rise and willed himself to keep his tone

normal.

“Okay. For the sake of argument, this man has dreams that tell

him about these crimes and the girl can hear him speak. Why?

Why now and not at the beginning of the crime spree? Why

could he see one robbery before and now only hear voices?”

He could tell from the way she stood, hands on hips, that she wasn’t

buying the idea at all, but wanted to hear his explanation.

“I think he’s having these dreams for a reason. Somehow, he

needed to see the convenience store holdup, to understand what he

was dreaming. Maybe he only hears the words now because that’s

all he needs. Either that, or as his condition grows worse he

has less and less energy.” He watched her face closely to see

if her position was weakening. Nope. Not a fraction.

“Why him?” she asked. “Why not a cop? Why a poor dying

man who has to communicate through someone else?”

“I don’t know. Somehow the information is important to him.

I think Wendy is so empathic that she can hear the voice trapped

in that body. I think that her mind is so receptive, and his need to

communicate so great, that his thoughts bleed into her consciousness.

Sort of like osmosis.” Mulder noticed Scully’s expression changed so

slightly that he would have missed it had he not been so focused on

her. Her mind had opened a tiny measure. He smiled

inside. The rest was a matter of time.

“I still want to see Dwayne Davis,” she said.

He nodded. “No problem.”

-=-=-=-=-=–

McGarry had provided them with Davis’s address, a small

house he shared with Wendy, and it didn’t take long to see that

Weaver Street was what people used to call “the wrong side of

the tracks.” A couple of miles from the Norman Rockwell center

of Fairhaven, with its tree shaded town green and its white

steepled churches, the houses got smaller and the paint got

flakier and the lawns got browner.

452 Weaver was one of the more unkempt cottages on the

rundown street. A rusted out Chevy Impala sat in the

overgrown grass by a front porch that seemed to list

to the left. They climbed uneven steps, and Scully’s heel

got wedged into a split in the wood of the porch. She caught

Mulder’s smile, which he immediately stifled, while he

knocked on the door.

She was still standing, lopsided, holding her shoe and

inspecting a scrape on the leather heel when a shirtless,

long-haired man appeared at the screen door. Mulder

failed to hide a chuckle as she hopped, stork-like, and

slipped her foot into the shoe. She resisted the urge to

bring her heel down on his instep to wipe that smile off

his admittedly remarkable mouth.

“Dwayne Davis?” Scully asked. “I’m Agent Scully, and

this is Agent Mulder, with the FBI. May we speak with

you?”

Ded didn’t reply, but he held the screen door open to

admit them. The interior of the small house was as

dark as a cave after the bright sunlight outside. As

her eyes adjusted to the light, Scully looked around

the cluttered, shabby room.

“Is this about my airhead girlfriend?” Davis said as

he crossed the room, swaggering slightly and gesturing

to the swayback sofa, offering them a seat. Mulder

lowered himself to the cushions, bobbing up quickly.

“Spring has sprung,” he whispered to her as he sat back

down a little closer to Scully.

“Mr. Davis, are you aware that Ms. Clarke has given

the police information on the armed robberies in

town?” Scully asked.

Though it was late morning, Davis still had a crease down

his cheek from the wrinkle in his pillow. His dark hair hung

in a tangle, well past his shoulders.

“Yeah,” Davis replied. “Told me some crazy story

about a sick guy at the home having dreams and telling

her about them.” He spoke in a lazy drawl, as if the

act of speaking required more effort than he wanted

to expend.

Davis stood, thumbs hooked into the waistband of

his jeans, and eyed Scully. The jeans rode so low on

his hips that Scully could see the definition between

his pelvis and hipbone. His bare chest was tanned

and tattooed, and he seemed to be trying to distract

her. Liquid brown eyes seemed to be fixated on her

mouth, and he gave her a knowing smile. Was he

hiding something, or was impressing women so

ingrained that he did it unconsciously?

Unfortunately for Davis, Scully had long since

developed coping mechanisms for dealing with

highly sexed men. She needed that protection just

to keep from forgetting her train of thought around

Mulder.

Those resistance skills were becoming less effective

with her partner, but they worked just fine on a rock star

poseur like Dwayne Earl Davis. She cut a look to her

partner to check his reaction to Davis. Mulder seemed

mildly amused, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

“You doubt her story, Mr. Davis?” Scully asked.

“Are you aware of any other way she might have

known the details of these crimes?” She watched

Davis idly scratch his flat, tanned belly.

“Listen, she didn’t have nothin’ to do with those

holdups. She wouldn’t…she’s not like that.” Davis

spoke with more energy than the agents had seen

him expend thus far. He picked up an open beer can

from the cigarette-scarred coffee table and took a

long gulp.

“Do *you* know anything about these robberies, Mr.

Davis?” Scully’s voice had the cool, detached

sound that she worked so hard to achieve. She

watched his face carefully, to see if she had struck

a nerve.

“I don’t know nothing about any robberies. Hell, I

don’t even own a gun. You think I had something

to do with this?”

“Not at all, Mr. Davis. We just wanted your take

on Wendy and the information she provided the

police,” Scully replied.

-=-=-=-=-=–

As he watched her stride toward the car, Mulder

could practically see the wheels turning under the

smooth cap of penny bright hair. Scully was tallying

the facts, figuring out the angles and finding that

the unlikely was becoming more and more plausible.

He still expected some resistance. He expected it and

somewhere deep down, he liked it. No matter how

frustrated he got when she balked at his ideas, there

was something incredibly satisfying about that moment

when she trembled on the edge of belief and toppled over

into the pool of extreme possibilities.

“You think he had anything to do with the robberies?”

he asked.

“I don’t know. There isn’t any evidence that he’s involved

and nothing to exclude him, either. I don’t know–the man

doesn’t seem to have ambition for much of anything,” she

replied as she opened the car door. “I’m still not ruling

him out.”

They returned to the police station to check in with McGarry.

The trip back reversed the urban blight back to quaint

prosperity as the lawns got greener and the houses got larger.

McGarry looked frustrated when they found him at his

desk, phone cradled on his shoulder, ordering lunch from

a local deli.

“You two want sandwiches?” he asked when he looked

up. Taking their orders, he waved off their offers to pay.

“Before you ask, I had no luck with the town rec program.”

“It’s going to be harder to track them down with school

out for the summer. With so little forensic evidence

available from these crimes, the information Wendy has

been able to provide is really all we have to go on,” Mulder

said, as he sat down across from McGarry.

Mulder absorbed the chief’s sour reaction to his statement

and reflected that after turning the tide of Scully’s disbelief,

the rest would be a piece of cake. He glanced at citations

and awards that graced the walls and helped to define the

occupant of this space. The chief’s office was small

and cluttered; sports memorabilia vied for desk space with

family photos.

Their sandwiches arrived, and after sorting out the turkey

on rye and the pastrami, the three of them settled down to

an amiable lunch. Mulder had just taken a sizable bite of

his sandwich when his cell phone rang. After hurriedly

chewing and swallowing, he answered to find Wendy

on the line. Mr. Giaquinto had had another dream.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Act 3

Wickham, RI

Loveshack Video Store

July 12, 2000 11:45 PM

“Ooohh, yeah. Mmmm, right there. Oh god, yes, yes, YES!”

If she had to listen to one more manufactured moan or fake

orgasm, Scully was going to shoot out the ceiling-mounted

VCR. To say she hated the turn this case had taken would

be an understatement of epic proportions.

She simply didn’t know where to look. Everywhere her

eyes lit, she spotted another naked form. Mulder, however,

seemed right at home. In fact, Mulder was smiling more than

he had in weeks.

He had barely been able to keep the laughter from his

voice when he suggested they stakeout the adult video

store that the voices in Mr. Giaquinto’s dream had said

would be hit next.

Loveshack Video was located in Wickham, a somewhat

larger town than Fairhaven, and home to the businesses

hit in four of the nine armed robberies. Loveshack’s

proprietor, Louis Bernaski, was in his fifties and looked

far too much like Scully’s Uncle Mike for her comfort.

“I’ll check. No, I’m sorry, ‘Campus Sluts’ is rented, but I

do have a copy of ‘Naughty Co-eds.’ It’s got Jewel

De Nyle and Holly Cumlightly in it. Yeah, but we’re

closing in fifteen minutes.”

It was very unnerving to have a man who looked like her

favorite uncle rattling off porn titles. The entire night had

been miserable. Scully doubted there was enough hot

water back at the motel to make her feel clean again.

“Mulder, I don’t know how you ever talked me into this

stake out on the basis of a tip from that poor sick man.”

Her voice had taken on a tone that could be described as

bitchy, and she made no attempt to soften it.

“It makes perfect sense, Scully. What could be more

inviting to a young guy? It’s every boy’s dream.”

“Why is it that ‘boys’ never grow up when it comes

to this stuff? I swear, I haven’t seen you this happy in

months. You look like you’ve gone to heaven.”

“Scully, I told you, I don’t watch those videos that

weren’t mine anymore,” Mulder said with sincerity.

“Be that as it may, this is just about the worst stakeout

I can remember. I think it’s worse than the one at that

strip club last year.” Her feet hurt. She wished she

hadn’t worn heels since she had been standing at this

spot for four hours and she had yet to see any signs of

suspicious activity–other than grown men with fetishes

for such videos.

The kevlar vest she wore was uncomfortable, chafing

around her hips. Bulletproof vests were seldom available

in a small enough size to fit her properly, and this one hung

too low and was more of a kevlar “tunic” than a vest. Her

blouse was wet with perspiration under the heavy material.

“I don’t understand why you’re so miserable.

This place is pretty nice by industry standards,” he

said with a wicked grin.

“Mulder, this ‘industry’ is grossly demeaning to women.

I won’t even address the issue of treating women like

a collection of body parts,” she hissed back. “Not to

mention the shameless pandering to the male ego.”

“Oooohhhh…Yeah, like that…Harder. HARDER!

Give it to me good. You’re sooooo big.”

“I rest my case,” she said emphatically. Yes, she was

going to shoot out that damn VCR.

She and Mulder had chosen their position behind a metal

rack of videotapes because it offered the best view of the front

door. Unfortunately, their position also offered a fine view

of the videos themselves, and she was developing an unhealthy

curiosity about one titled “The Oral Office” featuring Monica

Lewdinsky.

McGarry had coordinated with the Wickham PD, and there

were officers stationed in the shadows at the edge of

the parking lot. Mulder had predicted that the gunmen

would strike no later than 10 PM, since none of the other

crimes had taken place later than that.

Yet here they stood, minutes from the midnight closing time,

and nothing was happening. The peak of excitement was a

middle-aged customer who nearly died of embarrassment

when he rounded the end of the video rack and spotted Scully,

arms crossed, giving him a stern look his wife would have

appreciated.

The walkie-talkie that was perched on the shelf between

“Sweet Cheeks” and “Little Oral Annie” crackled into life.

“Agents, if it’s okay with you, we’re going to check out

now. Doesn’t look like your tip panned out.” The officer

sounded both tired and bored.

“Okay. It’s unlikely we’ll see any action, now. I think the

owner wants to close up anyway,” Mulder said, sounding

disappointed. How tragic. The stakeout from hell was

over.

Scully watched Bernaski make his rounds, straightening

out the video boxes, counting the money in the cash

register. Later, she would curse herself for letting her

guard down, for letting herself be distracted by her

annoyance over the location of the stakeout.

Bernaski had stuffed the bills from the day’s take into

a brown canvas bank bag when the door opened and

two men filled the entrance. Ski masks, long black

coats, and gloved hands effectively disguised their

identities.

Some part of Scully’s mind wondered how stifling the

extra clothes were on this hot night. She would think,

later, how strange that the idea had crossed her mind

at all.

“Hand over the money, now,” the taller of the two men

said. His voice was deep, but Scully couldn’t tell if he

was young or not. Bernaski stood frozen behind the

cash register, the money bag clutched in white knuckled

fingers. The two men had not yet seen the agents, whose

eyes silently discussed the options.

She and Mulder pulled their weapons and came around

opposite sides of the metal rack. As the two gunmen

caught sight of the agents, they froze, guns drawn, eyes

darting in agitation and panic.

“Federal agent! Put down your weapon!” Scully shouted.

The taller man lowered his gun a few inches, but didn’t

drop it.

“Put it down and no one has to get hurt here,” Mulder

said, his voice calm and even.

Time seemed to stop and stretch out like chewing gum stuck

to the sole of a shoe. Scully could hear the pulse drumming

in her ears, and in what seemed like a single beat of her heart,

she heard a gunshot. Mulder cried out and fell, knocking video

boxes to the floor. Time sped back up and she sprang

forward as if she were stepping out of suspended animation.

Scully fired. Then dodging gunfire, she gave chase, but the gunmen

scrambled out the door and into a dark, late model car, and peeled

out. She made a mental note of the license plate number and yanked

the cell phone from her pocket and dialed 911.

“This is Special Agent Dana Scully of the FBI. I have an

officer down at Loveshack Videos in Wickham. I need police

backup and EMTs. Two suspects, traveling southbound on

Rt 10. Toyota Camry, black or dark blue, license number

TRT194.”

Anger warred with fear in her as she ran back to check on

Mulder, cell phone still at her ear. She could hear the

dispatcher relaying the information.

She found Mulder sprawled amid the lurid pictures on

the boxes, Bernaski hovering nearby and looking like he was

going to be sick. She pushed the trembling storeowner aside.

Mulder had taken a bullet in his side, at the waist, but

thankfully far enough over to have missed his kidney. His

vest hadn’t fit him properly either, falling short on his

lanky frame. The bullet had caught him below the bottom

edge of the protective material. With a word to the dispatcher,

she laid the phone on the blood-splattered floor. Her fingers

trembled as she worked the straps and pushed the heavy

vest aside.

His white shirt was dark with blood that was also seeping

into the waistband of his slacks. He was conscious; his

eyes open but unfocused. She felt for a pulse at his neck

and was relieved to feel it fast but strong.

Reaching for the phone, now slippery in her blood covered hand,

she spoke again to the dispatcher who wanted details on

Mulder’s condition.

“Gunshot wound — lower right quadrant.” She tried to keep

her voice even. When she had finished giving the dispatcher

Mulder’s medical information, she handed the phone to

Bernaski.

Scully unbuckled Mulder’s belt and slid the zipper of his

slacks down a few inches. The dark slacks material was

already saturated with blood and becoming stiff. She pushed

his shirt up and out of her way.

“Hey all you had to do was ask, Scully,” Mulder quipped, his

voice too weak for her liking. “This place must have turned

you on, after all.”

“Yeah, Mulder. This place finally got to me,” she replied as

she felt behind him for an exit wound. Finding none, she

inspected the entry wound and applied pressure. His

skin felt warm and sticky with blood under her hand.

“Should have brought you to one of these places years ago,”

he mumbled. He was beginning to shiver, and she asked

Bernaski for a blanket or sweater. The store owner went

into a storage room and came back, covering Mulder

with a wool jacket.

“It’s okay, it’s okay. You’re gonna be okay,” she said as

she brushed the hair back from his forehead with her free

hand. She meant it. He was going to hurt a lot, but

barring complications, the wound wasn’t that serious.

But serious or not, Mulder was going into shock, teeth

chattering, shaking like a wet dog. He had lost a lot

of blood, and she closed her eyes in relief when she heard

the sirens in the distance.

The door burst open with police and emergency personnel,

and she was both grateful to relinquish control and annoyed

to be recast as a supporting character. The stretcher bumped

over the threshold as EMTs pushed through with their

equipment. She was moved aside and found herself facing

a Wickham police officer. He appeared to be barely

18, but Scully figured he was probably older than that.

Scully gave the officer her report on what had transpired, eyes

never moving from the emergency personnel as they worked on

Mulder. She watched the application of the oxygen mask and

heard them recite Mulder’s vitals over the phone to the hospital.

When Mulder had been transferred to the gurney and the EMTs

prepared to transport him to the hospital, she moved to follow.

The look she gave the officer as he asked another question

must have frozen him to his core because he hastily suggested

they continue at the hospital.

Her “don’t mess with me” look served her well again, when

she approached the ambulance, explaining that she was both

a doctor and Agent Mulder’s partner. The driver allowed

her to scramble up into the ambulance before he slammed the

doors.

Perching on the narrow bench that ran along the side, she

found Mulder’s hand under the blanket. He squeezed her

fingers, bringing a smile to her lips. She sought his eyes

above the oxygen mask, and could see that he was in

pain now that the shock was wearing off.

Mulder was mumbling something, and she lifted the

oxygen mask briefly to hear him.

“Can’t figure why they showed up so late.” His voice

was no more than a whisper, and she had to lean over

to hear him.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure it out later,” she

said, and he nodded and closed his eyes. Continuing

the forward momentum, she pressed a kiss to his forehead.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Wickham, RI

Wickham Community Hospital

July 13, 2000 2:45 AM

George McGarry stood in the doorway of the hospital

waiting room balancing two very hot cups of coffee in

his hands. He watched Agent Scully stand at the double

doors that led to the surgical center. Her face appeared

calm, but her arms were wrapped around her middle, as

if she was afraid she might fly apart.

“Agent Scully,” he said, hoping not to startle her. She

turned to him and he noticed that her blouse was stained red.

He silently handed her a paper cup full of hot coffee. Looking

at her fingers cradling the cup, he could still see traces of

blood, embedded in the creases of her knuckles and under

her nails.

She trembled a little and he could see that she was exhausted,

the adrenaline high of the emergency having deserted her.

He drew her over to the sofa in the cluster of waiting room

furniture. She followed without comment and sank down

gratefully.

“How’s he doing?” McGarry asked, elbows braced on

his knees, hands clasped around his own cup of coffee. He

knew that she was a doctor, but couldn’t remember how he

had found out. Maybe Agent Mulder had mentioned it.

McGarry wondered if it was harder to sit and wait when you

knew what might be going wrong behind those double doors.

“He’s still in surgery. A doctor came out a few minutes

ago. They removed the bullet and cauterized some blood

vessels. He should be in recovery soon. The doctor said

he’s going to be all right.” She rested her head against the

wall behind the sofa and closed her eyes.

“We ran the tag number you got from the car. Turns out it

was stolen earlier this evening and abandoned a few streets

from the video store. You think your partner is right?

That these are kids?” She opened her eyes at his question.

“It’s hard to tell. The voice I heard was deep, but my

godson sounded like an adult at 12. I couldn’t see

anything but their eyes. Yeah, they could be kids,” she

replied.

Pulling the plastic tab from the lid, she sipped the

coffee. McGarry reflected that she looked like she

could use a stiff drink.

“You know, I’ve known a lot of the teenagers around

here since they were babies. This is a pretty small place.

I hate to think that I might know these kids, know

their parents.” McGarry studied the backs of his hands.

The sound of the double doors being pushed open roused

Agent Scully like an alarm bell and she sat forward

anxiously. A surgeon, still dressed in blood stained scrubs

came into the waiting area and wearily sat beside Scully.

“He came through like a trooper. They’re bringing

him up to recovery now,” the doctor said. “Scarring

shouldn’t be very extensive.”

“Can I see him?” Scully asked. She was smiling, and

McGarry was stunned for a moment by the force of

her beauty. He wondered how Agent Mulder kept his

hands off her.

“For a few minutes. He’ll be out for hours, Dr. Scully.

Why don’t you get some sleep; it’s past 3 AM. I’ll be

sure you get the bullet for any ballistics testing.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Wickham, RI

Wickham Community Hospital

July 13, 2000 9:50 AM

The problem with hospitals was that they all smelled the same.

When you woke up in one, it was hard to place which one you

were in. Oh yeah. Rhode Island. Mulder felt as if he was wrapped

in cotton, and some of it had gotten inside his mouth. His side

burned, but in an oddly dull way.

He had surfaced a few times since surgery, but only now did he

feel awake enough to do more than look around for Scully and

fall back asleep. For some reason, he couldn’t remember if she

had been there or not earlier.

He thought it might be morning, by the look of the sunlight

streaming through the window. Turning his head slightly,

he saw Scully, asleep in a chair with her head back and her

mouth open. He knew she would hate being seen in such an

undignified position. She looked tired, and he wondered how

long she had been waiting for him to wake up.

He worried that her neck was going to hurt, but he wasn’t

sure whether she needed rest more than she would benefit

from a position change. He decided he wanted to hear her

voice too much to wait, and he softly called her name.

“You’re awake,” she said, sitting forward and massaging

the back of her neck. She graced him with the radiant smile

that made waking up in the hospital almost worth it.

“What time is it?” he rasped. His throat was dry, as it usually

was from anesthesia. Scully seemed to know without his asking

that he was thirsty. She poured water into a cup and brought

the straw close to his mouth. He took a long drink and coughed,

feeling a sharp pull in his side.

“Easy, take it slow. It’s almost 10:00,” she said. “How do you

feel?” She put the cup down on the bed stand and took his

hand, her thumb stroking his knuckles.

“I must be on the good stuff,” he said, glancing at the PCA pump

on the side of his bed. “I don’t feel much of anything–as long as

I don’t cough. Or move.”

“I called the nursing home, Mulder. Mr. Giaquinto took a turn

for the worse,” she said. Her voice held such sadness that he

wondered if she was troubled by more than this news.

“You must be tired,” he said.

“I’m fine. Mulder…I’m so sorry.” Her words were just a

whisper.

“You didn’t shoot me, Scully. Well, not this time,” he quipped,

trying to make her smile. It didn’t work.

“Mulder, if I hadn’t been distracted…”

“Believe me, of the two of us, you were probably less

distracted. It happened. It wasn’t anybody’s fault,

except the guy who pulled the trigger.” He wasn’t sure

if she believed him. Her fingers were gently threading

through his hair in an absentminded way, and he

hoped she wouldn’t stop. The soft movements were

incredibly soothing, and he found himself unable to keep

his eyes open.

-=-=-=-=-=-=–

If her stomach rumbled any louder, she was going to wake

Mulder. She’d missed lunch and now it was nearly time for

dinner. She could hear the food carts in the distance and

knew that soon the thumping and bumping of tray delivery

would wake him.

Mulder had spent the day sleeping off and on. For most of

the morning, she had napped along with him, trying to make

up for her lost night’s rest. Her back was going to remind her

tomorrow that chairs are not really for sleeping.

McGarry had stopped by Mulder’s hospital room around

lunch time to report that the ballistics tests on the shell casing

recovered from the video store matched the pattern of the shell

found at the site of the pharmacy shooting. More .22 caliber

casings had been recovered outside the video store door, and

ballistics showed they had come from two different guns.

She’d gone to see Mr. Giaquinto at Applecroft, while Mulder

slept during the afternoon. She wasn’t sure when it had happened,

but the whole concept of prophetic dreams and telepathic

conversations had begun to sound almost reasonable. Mulder

would be insufferable over this victory. If she told him.

What she had found at Applecroft had been heart-wrenching.

Mr. Giaquinto struggled for every breath, a wet rattling sound

signifying the end was near. Wendy had been holding the dying

man’s hand, speaking softly to him. She’d looked up and smiled

when Scully entered the room.

It no longer mattered where visitors stood, as the patient was no

longer able to focus his eyes. Scully walked to the other side of

the bed and laid a gentle hand on Mr. Giaquinto’s arm.

“How is Agent Mulder?” Wendy had asked with concern. Scully

wondered how she had heard about the video store shooting.

“He’s going to be fine. There was no internal damage; he

should be up and around in a little while,” Scully answered.

Scully looked down at Mr. Giaquinto and then back up

at Wendy in silent query. The girl shook her head slightly

and then glanced toward the door.

“His daughter went to get a sandwich. She’s been here

since last night,” Wendy said, looking up at Scully.

Tears pooled on the girl’s lower lashes, and she blinked

them back.

“Has he been talking at all?” Scully asked, her voice low.

“He’s praying right now,” Wendy said in a choked whisper.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee.”

“Blessed art thou, and blessed is the fruit of thy

womb, Jesus,” Scully continued, her own voice soft.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now,

and at the hour of our death,” the two women completed

the prayer, their voices punctuated by the labored breathing

of the man between them. “Amen.”

Feeling ghoulish, Scully asked Wendy to call her if Mr.

Giaquinto spoke about another robbery. Wendy nodded

and took her card.

Scully had returned to the hospital to find Mulder out of bed.

He had taken a walk with the help of two nurses, and she was

surprised when he greeted her in the hall. They made quite an

entourage: the nurses, an IV pole, PCA pump, and Mulder

shuffling along. She fought back a grin at his bare legs and his

big feet, squeezed into a pair of hospital slippers.

Unfortunately, Mulder had pushed himself by walking too far

and had arrived, gray-faced, back at his bed. She knew he

was frustrated by illness and injury, hating to feel less than

one hundred percent. By the time he was settled back against

his pillows, he was grimacing and quickly fell into an

exhausted sleep.

Now the food service cart rattled closer to the doorway,

and finally, as she had predicted, Mulder struggled awake. He

still looked very drained and picked at his dinner with little

energy. Scully was so hungry that even hospital food

was appealing, and when the food service technician offered

her an extra meal, she gratefully thanked him.

Mulder looked so weary that she was tempted to offer to

help him with his meal, but she knew he would be

embarrassed if she tried. He had managed a few bites of

chicken and rice and eaten his dinner roll when Wendy

appeared breathless in the doorway.

“He had another dream,” she gasped . “I could barely

hear him, but he said they were going back to the Quikmart

tonight. I don’t know if it’s too late.”

Scully tried to calm her, pouring her a paper cup of water.

It was almost unbelievable that the man who lay so close

to death had been able to communicate at all. What might

have been even more unbelievable was that Scully was

actually entertaining the idea of acting on the information.

Scully looked at Mulder and back at Wendy and knew

what she needed to do. Pulling out her cell phone, she

called McGarry and told the chief to meet her at the

convenience store.

McGarry argued that the gunmen hadn’t repeated a holdup

location in all ten crimes. Scully realized somewhere in her

mind that this was exactly the logic she would have tossed

at Mulder under similar circumstances.

“They’re returning to where they felt in control. They

were thrown by what happened at the video store–by the

stakeout,” Mulder said, listening to her half of the

conversation and figuring out the rest. She nodded

at him and repeated the theory to McGarry. The Chief

finally agreed to meet her at the Quikmart.

She watched Mulder flip the covers back and

gingerly move his body in an attempt to get out of

bed. She shot him a stern look, yet he continued to

swing his legs over the mattress. His face

lost what little color he had, and a groan escaped

him. He kept one arm wrapped around his middle.

“Mulder, you can’t be serious. You’re not in any

condition to come with me.” Though her mind was

hurtling ahead to what she needed to do, Scully tried

to keep her voice gentle.

“Scully, I think I have a better idea now of the

interaction between the suspects. I need to come

with you,” he pleaded, concern evident in his voice.

“Mulder, you’re going to have to let me go and do

this. You can barely walk–you know you’d be a

liability.”

It hurt her deep inside to see the impact of her words.

It was hard to be forced to stay behind, knowing that

someone you love was walking into danger. She knew

he was being torn apart by feelings of helplessness and

frustration. She knew exactly how he felt.

“You need to understand the power dynamics between

these two.” His expression told her that he was resigning

himself to the reality of his body’s limitations. He allowed

her to help him move his legs back onto the bed, and she

surprised them both by stroking his leg, feeling the soft hair

under her hand.

“So tell me,” she said, locking her eyes with his.

“The shorter one is top dog, he was the shooter in two

robberies. He’s pumped up on the violence. The

taller one is more passive. He’ll be the weak link if

you have to negotiate. Without the dominant one,

he’ll fold.” His voice was filled with urgency.

Scully nodded at his assessment of the suspects. She

hoped she would get the chance to use his advice.

She remembered watching him negotiate with

desperate people, amazed as his ability to use his

instincts and humanity to resolve a crisis.

“I’ll remember and I promise that I’ll be careful.”

Leaning forward, she pressed a kiss to his

lips and turned to leave the room. As she walked

quickly to the door, she noticed Wendy standing,

mouth open in amazement. Scully had completely

forgotten that she and Mulder weren’t alone in the

room.

She called McGarry again en route to the

convenience store and advised him not to use his

siren. Something kept nagging at the recesses of

her mind, telling her to approach the store as if the

suspects were inside already. She couldn’t explain

her rationale to McGarry, since she had no more than

a feeling. A pricking of her thumbs.

They arranged to park out of sight of the storefront.

McGarry approached her, his face grim, and handed

her a bulletproof vest which matched the one he was

wearing. This vest seemed even larger than the

one she had worn last night. A squad car with two

additional officers pulled up quietly behind McGarry’s

vehicle.

They crossed the parking lot as far out of view of

the windows as possible, approaching with extreme

caution. Scully could see part of the interior of the

store through the front windows as she paused a few

feet away.

A woman stood inside, her face in profile, and Scully saw

a look of such terror in her eyes that she knew in an

instant that her gut feeling had been correct and the

gunmen were already there. McGarry instructed one

of the two officers to stay at the front of the store and

the other to accompany them to the back of the store.

Circling around the building, the trio discovered that

the back door was ajar. A small pile of cigarette butts

gave testimony to an employee’s carelessness.

Inching the door open, they cautiously entered. Scully

could see a magic-markered sign on the door “Keep

door locked at all times” and reflected on the irony that

this slip up might save lives.

They passed through a storeroom, carefully avoiding

cartons and boxes, and they listened at the partially open door

into the convenience store. Harsh voices shouted demands,

and frightened ones placated and begged. Scully gauged

from the level of sound that the gunmen were near the front

of the store.

Wishing she had a better idea of the mini-mart’s layout, but

knowing the risks involved in waiting longer, she looked at

McGarry behind her. If it were Mulder, she would be able

to predict his actions, but McGarry was an unknown entity

to her. He nodded once, though, and she pushed the door

open a little farther.

Moving forward silently, Scully and the two men approached

the front of the store with weapons drawn. What they found

reminded Scully of a historical tableau gone wrong.

Three customers and the store clerk knelt by a display of

bottled water, held at gunpoint by the two men. The clerk’s

nose was bleeding, and his mouth was swollen. The air

seemed to crackle with the terror of the victims and the

agitation of the two men.

If last night’s encounter with the gunmen had moved in slow

motion, the next few minutes moved at fast forward. McGarry’s

elbow brushed a rack of potato chips, causing a bag to rustle and

catch the attention of the two men.

“Drop your weapons!” Scully shouted. As he had last night, the

taller man seemed to hesitate. The smaller one played true to

form as well and began firing, almost wildly. Scully heard a

bullet pass close to her head, shattering the glass dairy case behind

her.

McGarry fired his weapon, and the shorter man dropped to the floor.

The taller one dropped his gun and raised his hands, just as Mulder

had predicted he would when his more forceful compatriot was

felled.

It seemed like seconds later when more officers arrived. Scully

crossed to the downed man and felt for a pulse.

“He’s dead,” she announced as she removed his mask. The face

that greeted her was smooth and slightly rounded. He was little

more than a child. McGarry gasped, and Scully saw recognition

in his eyes.

One of the officers had cuffed the taller gunman and removed his

mask, revealing another teenager. Scully wondered if either of them

was old enough to drive. The taller boy was clearly terrified as he

swiped at tear-stained cheeks with his cuffed wrists.

The sound of sobbing caught Scully’s attention, and she looked

at the group of traumatized victims. One woman seemed familiar,

and Scully tried to place her.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Fairhaven, RI

452 Weaver Street

July 14, 2000 1:00 AM

“Where the hell is that bitch?” Ded muttered as he watched

a drop of condensation slide down his beer can. It fell on his

bare stomach with a tiny splash. She’d been gone all the damn

day, not even coming home to cook dinner.

What could possibly be so important at the nursing home to

keep her there this long? People got old and then they died.

End of story. All she did was make herself miserable by

getting too attached to those people.

He finished the beer and tossed the empty can into the

wastebasket. If she were home, he’d tell her to bring him

another beer. Now he’d have to get off the bed to get another

one himself. It was just as well she wasn’t home, he thought.

She’d be bitching at him for playing loud music and drinking

beer all night. Let her stay wherever the hell she was. To

emphasize the point, he released a sizable belch.

The sudden silence from the stereo in the living room

startled him. He must not have heard the door open over

the sound of Def Leopard. He could hear the rustle of

paper and, to his disbelief, the mellow strains of an

orchestra and an old time singer.

*I should have saved those leftover dreams,

Funny, but here’s that rainy day.*

Pushing himself off the bed and striding to the living

room, he saw Wendy standing at the stereo. He opened

his mouth to make a rude comment, but when she turned,

he saw her face was wet with tears. The comment he had

in mind caught in his throat; the song continued its

plaintive tune.

*Here’s that rainy day, they told me about,

And I laughed at the thought that it might turn out this way.*

“He’s dead?” Ded asked, his voice gentler than he might

have thought possible. Wendy nodded her head and

said nothing as her eyes searched him. He had a feeling

that this was a test.

When Ded was in high school, well, before he dropped out,

he’d had a teacher who used to talk about “life’s tests.” The old

biddy used to say that life gave you tests all the time that

you couldn’t study for. She used to say that the measure

of a person was how he handled the test.

She had told her students that when you found a wallet on the

street, when you saw somebody being hurt, you were being

given a choice. You could do the right thing or the wrong thing.

You could take the easy way out or put yourself on the line. It

was a choice, a test of what you were made of. At the time, he’d

figured she was senile.

Wendy’s breath hitched in a sob, and Ded found himself

walking hesitantly to her. His arm went around her shoulders,

feeling awkward, as if the arm belonged to someone else.

Wendy seemed confused by his lack of sarcasm. She stood

stiffly, as if afraid to relax into the embrace. Finally, sorrow

and exhaustion won out, and she leaned into him. Ded kissed

the top of her head and hoped he wouldn’t screw up the test.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Wickham, RI

Wickham Community Hospital

July 14, 2000 10 AM

The real danger in being hospitalized was the tendency to

get hooked on daytime TV. Mulder tried to decide between

Rosie and Oprah, flipping between them with the remote.

He wished Scully would come, or at least call him. He

knew she was safe, that the holdup had been foiled. He

knew that McGarry had killed one of the suspects. She had

told him all that over the phone last night, but he still

wanted to see for himself that she was whole and well.

She’d been tied up most of the evening, questioning the

surviving gunman, dealing with the complicated aftermath

of a violent situation. She had said she was worried about

McGarry, that the officer had recognized the teenager he

had shot.

He had tried to wait up for her, but exhaustion and pain had

finally taken their toll, and he’d fallen heavily asleep. A note

taped to his IV pole with surgical tape gave evidence that

she had come by after he had dropped off. He had the

paper towel with the words “See you in the morning”

propped up against his water pitcher.

“Well, you’re looking a lot better,” Scully said from the

doorway, a white paper sack in her hand. She looked tired,

and he wondered how much sleep she had gotten in the last

48 hours.

“I feel better. My goal for the day is to get to the bathroom

and back in less than an hour.”

Dropping the paper sack on the bedstand, she climbed up

to sit next to him on the bed. He felt a twinge in his side

when the mattress dipped and tried not to show his pain.

It was a small price to pay to have her hip nestled against

his thigh. She was dressed casually in khaki shorts and

a white t-shirt, and the expanse of bare leg was definitely

cheering him up.

“You were right, Mulder. They were kids. Trevor Bennett

was 16, and Jason Dolan was only 15. Both of them were

good students, active in sports, popular. Families are

well off. We questioned Bennett last night. He said it started

as a joke, that he and Dolan were bored. He was definitely

a follower, just as you thought. Dolan was the dominant one.”

She sighed softly.

“McGarry had to shoot him,” he said, and she nodded.

“He was so upset, Mulder. He knew the kid. He’d

coached Dolan’s Little League team,” she said.

“It was a justified shooting. I told him that, but I don’t

know if it helped.”

“He had no alternative. Violence was their drug of

choice. More people were going to die unless they

were stopped.” He rested his hand on her hip and

looked into her eyes. He could tell that there was

more bothering her, but he’d have to wait until

she was ready.

“I found out why they hit the video store so late,” she

said, shaking her head ruefully. “Dolan had to go to

a family dinner.”

“I can picture this kid at dinner with Grandma, making

plans to shoot up the adult video store later. What the hell

is this world coming to?” he smirked.

“Mulder, there’s something else,” she said. “I thought

one of the victims looked familiar. I realized later that

we had seen her at Applecroft. Turns out she’s Mr.

Giaquinto’s daughter.”

“I called the nursing home his morning. Mr. Giaquinto

died around 9 o’clock last night,” he said.

She was silent for many seconds while she processed what

he had told her. “Mulder, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I

think his daughter is the reason Mr. Giaquinto was having

the dreams. I think he was given the information,

somehow, as a way to stop the bloodshed before his

daughter was killed.”

He grinned at her, and reached up to feel her forehead.

“Nope, no fever.”

“Very funny. I’m serious–she’d been at the hospital

all day but went home to feed her kids, stopping at the

convenience store on the way. She’d never been there

before, but she was in a hurry. Mulder, it’s like she was

on a collision course with those boys.”

“Wendy said the doctors couldn’t understand how he was

clinging to life. He must have died minutes after

McGarry shot Dolan,” he said. Her eyes still seemed

troubled. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” she replied, “I saw your doctor when I came

in. He says you can go home in a day or so.”

“Can’t be too soon for me. I don’t know how much

Jerry Springer I can take,” he said, pointing to the TV.

“Hey Scully, what’s in the bag?”

“Oh, I almost forgot,” she said as she reached into it

and removed a pint of ice cream.

“Ice cream in the morning! What’s gotten into you, these

days, Scully?” he said, with a grin.

“Mulder, it’s already 92 degrees out there and they say

it could hit 100. We’re gonna miss our swim tonight, so

I thought we could cool off this way instead.”

He touched his heavily bandaged midsection and winced.

“Believe me, I wish I was able to swim tonight. I’m going

to miss it.”

She pulled two plastic spoons from the bag and handed

him one. Removing the lid from the carton, she held

it between them.

“Butter pecan. Go on, try some,” she suggested, dipping

her spoon into the carton. She moaned softly as she savored

the icy treat, and he thought it was possibly the sexiest thing

he had ever seen. It was almost worth getting shot to have

Scully sit on his bed and share a pint of ice cream.

He laid a hand over hers on the carton, ostensibly to

steady the pint so he could spoon out a taste. It

reminded him of summers past, salt air and sunburned

shoulders. He turned the carton slightly so he could

see the label.

“Newport Creamery!” he said, delighted. “We used

to get this in the summer when I was a kid. How

did you know?”

“Must have picked it up by osmosis,” she smiled.

End Osmosis

Authors notes: I had a lot of help with technical details on

this story. I would like to thank Suzanne Bickerstaffe for her

help with medical information and beta work; Tracy Griff and

Luvmulder for their help with law enforcement questions. I am

also endebted to Laura Savadow and Clarissa Schoen for support

and expecially to Kestabrook for beta reading, suggestions and

general wonderfulness.

Lyrics for the wonderful Sinatra songs are from the Sinatra

Songbook—

http://www.vex.net/~buff/sinatra/song_index.html

I have no personal experience with Amyotryophic

Lateral Sclerosis and got a lot of information from

this wonderful site–

http://www.lougehrigsdisease.net/