Title: Aftermath 3

Author: Zuffy

Email: zuffynuffy@yahoo.com

Rating: PG-13

Category: Adventure, some MSR

Spoilers: Biogenesis

Keywords: mytharc

Summary: Mulder's illness worsens as he and Scully each try to find the mystery of the artifact and the truth about the alien invasion

Written: August 1999

Archive: Yes, but keep my name and email on it, please

Disclaimer: Of course Chris Carter has plans for Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, and the X-Files. They are, I admit, his property, and that of 1013 Productions, and Fox. But six months is too long. Herewith my version. Many hours poured into this; not a cent earned.

 

Aftermath3

By Zuffy

 

Aftermath 3 is a continuation of Biogenesis; it is also a continuation of the earlier installments Aftermath 1 and 2. Both of those followed One Son. If you haven't read the earlier stories and don't have time to, click here for a quick summary of the points that figure into Aftermath 3. On with the show.

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

Dulles Airport, Tuesday afternoon

Scully walked slowly up the jetway, the strap of her overnight case weighing on her right shoulder. The crowd of passengers arriving with her from Paris shuffled toward passport control to queue behind those just in from London and Frankfurt. She stepped to one side, shrugged the black leather carryall to the floor and fished around in her purse for passport and badge. Her watch still registered Abidjan time, four hours ahead, two flights ago, and how long had it been since she'd slept soundly? Hours in airline seats left an ache in her back and stiffness in her neck from the awkward business of napping upright. Napping with the last days pressing against her mind: the frantic rush to follow every rumor about Merkmallen, to talk with anyone who'd seen the artifact, to test whatever shadowy magic someone might offer. The trip to the beach beyond Sassandra where the artifacts had been found. Two hundred kilometers bouncing and sweating in an old Fiat with a driver who lacked any conventional notion of lanes or signals or passing zones. Maybe she shouldn't have emphasized her need for speed quite so strongly. What she most wanted now was to sink into a hot bath then roll into bed and sleep for two days. No, she corrected herself, what she most wanted was to go back to the hospital and see Mulder.

Worry about him was a low drone that she could never escape. That she didn't try to escape. She'd left him in Diana's control, left him when no one else would go to bat, left him because they both believed that only the truth about the artifact could save him. He'd screamed her name. One moment the hospital monitor showed him moving aimlessly around the bare cell and then he suddenly stared straight through the camera lens, screaming her name, as though he could see her as clearly as she saw him. Hopped up on barbiturates rather than deadened by them. Too violent to test. Too violent for anyone to approach. Anyone but her. Would they let her in to see him this time? Let's see them stop me, she muttered to herself.

She picked up her bag and pushed gently past the other travelers, working her way to the front on the excuse of official business. The confined hall was hot and humid from the breath of a thousand travelers; she closed her eyes and for a second she was back in Merkmallen's dimly lit office, the shutters drawn against the heat. His Bible lay open to Genesis, the page sliced at the exact line that Hosteen had translated on another fragment of the artifact. Impossible coincidence. Merkmallen must've arranged the evidence. Somehow. How could he have known? Through Sandoz? It didn't make sense. That's what Merkmallen's colleagues at the University had said. Nothing made sense. They praised his science even as they disparaged his talk of invaders from Mars. His assistant, a diffident young man with tattooing scars on his cheeks, took her to his lab with its cages of monkeys. His tearful secretary'd given her a sheaf of articles, but without a good French dictionary she couldn't hope to make sense of the technical discussions of primate biology. The secretary'd handed over his files about the artifact, too, but warned that it was bad magic and invoked some god under her breath. Scully reached the front of the line. She flashed her badge at the Immigration officer and hurried out of international arrivals.

Two o'clock in Washington. She stopped to set her watch, and looked around for the taxi sign. Once she got Mulder out, he'd be okay, she promised herself. Get him out of their control and put him somewhere where she could protect him until she figured out his illness. But how could she tell him the mysteries she'd found, so hard to describe, so impossible to believe? He'd surely race ahead with one of his wild theories and she'd have to rein him in, point out the demands of logic and science. He'd challenged her to prove him wrong, but the--she stumbled over the word, even in her private thoughts--the ship she'd seen threw all her theories into doubt. He'd jump on that, he'd see her weakness right away. He'd push her and tell her that her science was wrong. They'd fight and in the end… in the end he'd know that she was the one who believed in him and did something about it.

From behind, someone called her name and she turned to see Skinner jogging down the concourse. Gray suit and red tie, wingtips, glasses and neatly trimmed hair. He looked the same as he had at the hospital, when she'd called him a liar. Nothing'd changed that estimate.

"Agent Scully." He was slightly out of breath. "How did you get out of Customs so quickly?"

She shrugged. Here was the man she'd gradually come to trust almost as much as she trusted her partner, only to find him spying on them. Obviously he'd had her recent movements tracked if he showed up almost to the minute of her arrival.

"Sir?"

"I hope you had a pleasant flight."

She nodded at the cliche, wondering why he'd come all the way out to Dulles to meet her. "I'm afraid I'm not up to reporting just yet. I was on my way to see Mulder." She shifted the weight of the bag on her shoulder and turned to leave. Skinner put his hand lightly on her arm. "Scully, I'm afraid there's more bad news. Agent Mulder's missing."

"Missing?" Her voice rose. "He was in a padded cell, in a secure psychiatric wing. He wasn't in control of himself. How could he possibly be missing?"

"He was being transferred…"

"Being transferred?"

Skinner took a breath. "He…Three days ago, I gave orders that he be transferred to Bethesda. I thought he'd be better served in a government facility."

She put down her bag and allowed her anger to creep into her voice. Was this why he'd authorized her trip? To see her out of town chasing red herrings when the real prize was right here? "In a military facility, sir? I'm not following."

He looked around at the crowd and his eyes paused at a young couple lingering by the door. When they picked up their bags, he turned back to Scully. "I didn't *trust the doctor in charge. I didn't know why Agent Fowley'd taken him to that hospital. It wasn't the closest."

She raised an eyebrow at the suggestion. "And did she explain?"

"She said she knew the doctor, some big mucky muck she'd known in graduate school. Felt he was the best in psychiatric care. Mulder worsened after you left." He swallowed, eyes down and she wondered if he, too, was thinking of her angry charge against him. "He seemed to be having fits, and then he'd go almost catatonic. I kept thinking the medication might be making him worse. I feared it might be intentional. I couldn't protect him there. After a couple days I arranged a transfer by military ambulance--but he broke away."

She looked past Skinner's shoulder down the length of the terminal at the transient crowds, all buzz and movement, purpose and destination. Her partner'd been coherent when he got away, she told herself, he *must've been coherent. He saw his chance and knew he had to take it. Unless… unless someone'd tricked him. Diana was still thick in this. Did Mulder realize that at last? Did he finally see where her loyalties were? But why had he called her that night? Skinner's voice filtered back in, "Whatever happened to him, Agent, has made him exceptionally strong. He overpowered two attendants and a marine guard…" Exceptional strength, she said to herself. We've seen this before. "… and be assured that we have a team out trying to reconstruct his path. I'm looking into the possibility that… that someone may've picked him up. Possibly even engineered it." He paused for an answer, but getting none, put his hand on her arm. "Scully?"

"You are aware of Agent Fowley's movements?"

"Yes, she's under round-the-clock surveillance. He's had no contact with her."

She bit down on her lower lip. Or so you tell me, she thought. They stood in silence. Skinner's stare registered almost as a physical pressure, probing to find her emotions, gauge her plans. Scully looked down at her hands, rubbing the fingers one at a time. Skinner continued, "I will say that we were right to worry about the doctor. He's disappeared now, like Mulder."

"Or with Mulder. What about Barnes? He killed once for the artifact. Is he in custody?"

"No. No, we didn't have enough to hold him. He's been warned to stay in town. I've…" he looked out at the line of people waiting for cabs. "I've detailed a man to watch him."

"You searched for the object?"

"Yes. Visual and Geiger counter. Nothing. A little residual radiation in the lab and at his apartment. Most likely it was there. Gone now."

More evidence evaporates. Another suspect evades arrest. Is this just random incompetence? Or do we have someone tipping off the heavies.? She sighed and turned away.

"Scully, please, if you manage to find out anything about Mulder's whereabouts, let me know. But no one else."

She looked back at him blankly. He continued, "I know some things are hard to understand right now. But please trust me. You and I want the same thing."

"In that case, sir, I'd like to have Agent Mulder's medical records."

He shoved his hands in his pants pockets and surveyed the crowds again. A thin film of sweat shone on his head. "I'm not sure I can do that. They… they may've disappeared with him."

"Sir, if you ordered the transfer, I'm confident you can get access to the records. Now, if I may be excused, I've quite a lot to catch up on." She picked up her bag and walked away, pointedly ignoring his offer of a ride.

Skinner walked over to the windows and watched Scully flash her badge to get priority for a cab. The driver hopped out of the car, but she'd already tossed her bags into the backseat. Even in the shadows of the taxi lane, he could see her lean forward to give the man instructions. The cab took off. In all that time, she hadn't glanced backwards. Skinner took out his cell phone, punched in eleven digits and waited while it rang. Finally, there was a click at the other end.

"Yeah?"

"She's on her way into town. She knows Mulder's gone."

"Upset?"

"Yeah, well, aren't we all?"

"What'd she find?"

"She wasn't in a talking mood. I'll find out later."

"Make sure you do."

A click signaled the end of the conversation. Skinner folded his phone and jammed it back inside his suit pocket.

Tuesday, 4 p.m.

The cab dropped Scully at FBI headquarters. In the basement, she unlocked the door to Mulder's office, their office, and flipped on the light. The air had a slightly musty taste from being closed up for the past week, and a slight hint of something else. Cleaning lady, she told herself and shrugged off her anxiety. She put her bags down next to his desk and walked slowly around the office looking for any sign that Mulder had been back. She tried to remember exactly how they had left the room. What had been out and what put away? The overhead projector was where she had positioned it for Chuck's visit. The transparency of the artifact still lay on the machine. She picked it up and blew the dust off. Better put this away, she thought. It's evidence now.

On the table sat the article Chuck had brought about Barnes -- "Been there, debunked that." Been there, debunked that. The phrase still made Scully uneasy, knowing how well that description might fit her. Except, how much had she debunked, after all? She certainly hadn't found anything in Africa. Nothing to prove Mulder wrong, as he had challenged her. Nothing really to prove him right either. Not unequivocally. Not according to her standards of evidence. Twice around the room and she could find no sign of a visit from Mulder or of any coded message. She returned to his desk and pulled out the chair. There on the seat was a package, a padded mailing envelope, sealed, without name, address, or other mark.

A box of latex gloves stood on the nearest filing cabinet. She pulled out a pair and slipped them on. Bomb squad be damned, she thought, and picked up the package. The bubble wrap inside prevented her from feeling any small odd lines or shapes. She took a small knife from the desk drawer and slit open the flat side of the package, as a surgeon might. First the paper, then the plastic backing, finally, still alert for wires, the inner bubble surface. Inside, a video. She lifted it from its wrapping and turned it over. Unlabeled. Surveillance of their office? she wondered. That didn't make sense. Something from Mulder? Her heart beating faster, she walked across the room and plugged in the video player and television. She ejected the tape already in the player, a program about Brown Mountain lights that Mulder had watched before their unfortunate trip to North Carolina. The mysterious gift slid into place. It started with static snow and Scully looked around for the remote. The sound came on suddenly, loud, the sound of breathing. She turned around quickly to see the grainy image of a woman removing her bra as she leaned over a man lying in bed. He was on his side, his back to the camera. Oh great, she thought, a new video for Mulder. I should've known. She held out the remote to flick it off when the woman's profile caught her attention. She looked more closely, disbelieving her eyes. The woman raised her face and looked directly at the camera, before turning back to the bed. Diana. Without a doubt. She spoke to the man and prodded him, smiling at him now, her breasts hanging free. She nudged him over gently urging him to make room, pulled the sheet and blanket down, and crawled in next to him. The man--it was Mulder, Scully told herself, it had to be--now seemed to awaken as the woman--Scully forced herself to say Diana-- reached around to embrace him against her nakedness.

"I don't think you'd enjoy the rest of it."

Scully started at the sound of a voice, the same voice she had just heard on the video. She hit the stop button and turned to meet her visitor. "I don't suppose I would. Did you leave this for me?"

"No, but I knew it'd been left. I thought I might get here in time."

So you kept a key to this office? Scully wondered. What else've you done in here? "Is there a point to this?"

Diana swept her hair back over her shoulders and crossed her arms. Scully thought she was sneering. "I'm sorry, Dana, I had no idea Fox and I were being taped."

"You expect me to believe that?"

"Think about it, Dana. Take off your blinders and think about it. Why would I want to secretly tape someone I happen to love? Why would I let anyone else do it?"

"You tell me, Diana. I suppose it depends on who that anyone else is. Since you are probably working for them, it makes perfect sense to me."

Diana looked past her to the now darkened television, "I know you hate me and I know it's because of the way you feel about Fox. But we want the same thing, Dana. You're working against his interests if you undercut me."

The words gave Scully pause; Skinner had insisted the same a few hours earlier. We want the same thing. You and me and her and him and who knows who else. We all believe, we're all in this together. A veritable lovefest. "And what is this 'same thing,' Diana? What is it that puts us on the same side?"

"To return Fox to health. To find Samantha for him. To end the experiments. To stop the invasion."

"Sounds like you've got a full plate. Don't let me get in the way." She ejected the video from the machine and put it back in the envelope.

"I can't do it alone. Neither can you. We *have to work together, Dana. There's no other choice."

"Like we did in Arizona? No, thank you."

"You don't understand what happened." Diana stepped closer to Scully, lifting her shoulders as if to emphasize a five or six inch difference in height. "Who do you think made sure you got away? Don't you find it strange there wasn't a guard posted? Wasn't it odd that you just waltzed out with Krycek?"

"Then what was the charade all about, Diana? Why have me captured? Why have the implant removed? Sorry, Diana. I'm not buying." Scully walked around to the far side of the desk. Unlatching her carry-all, she continued, "Tell me about what I saw at the hospital, Diana. How did he end up howling mad?"

"He called me. He was barely coherent. I, I managed to get him home. I needed to calm him. You know I'm a psychologist, but his situation... I don't think I've seen anything like it."

"Nice therapeutic style. Is it your standard?" Scully noted to herself how haggard Diana looked and felt a little guilty at the pleasure she took in the observation. "Look, Diana. I don't believe you. For one thing, if he trusted you he would have told you his theory right from the start. The little seduction masquerade would have been unnecessary."

"That wasn't about information, Dana."

"Right. I have a lot to do. If you're so intent on helping me, maybe you can tell me where Mulder is."

"I don't know. I'm not sure who abducted him." Diana ran her finger across the nameplate tracing out Fox Mulder. "I think I was Skinner. You can't trust him. He's got alliances you don't understand."

"And you do? So tell me about them."

Diana shook her head. " I'm still trying to untangle it myself. All I know is that the A.D. serves another master." She stepped around the side of the desk and reached out. "Look, I'd like the tape. It does you no good. Let's just get rid of it."

Scully stuffed it in her carry-all and calculated how quickly she could get to the door. Diana took another step closer. "I need the tape, Dana."

"This is evidence. It will be handled properly."

"It's evidence of nothing." Diana gripped her arm firmly. Seems awfully desperate, Scully told herself. Whatever was on this tape merited closer inspection. No matter what. Scully lifted her arm slowly, pulling back from Diana, testing her willingness to make a scene. Diana let go, but turned to shut the door.

A knock interrupted their stand-off. Walter Skinner leaned into the room. "Agent Scully, may I have a word with you in my office? Do you have your travel receipts?"

She nodded, "We've just finished here. After you, Diana," she added, gesturing to the open door. Diana nodded curtly at Skinner and headed for the stairs. Scully waited until the sound of her heels faded out and then locked the office. She'd have to ask Skinner to change the locks. He could do that much for them.

The elevator opened on the fourth floor and they walked in silence to the Assistant Director's office. His secretary looked up with what Scully took to be anxiety. Or suspicion. Skinner cleared his throat and Scully turned back to him. How many other times, Scully asked herself, had Skinner held the door for her just like this? She looked around his office, desk, two chairs for partners, a conference table, bookshelves, the flag in the corner. Another one mounted in the bookcase. Allegiance to the idea of democracy and a free society. Where did that start and finish these days? When had the need for secrecy usurped the public's right to know? For that matter, she thought with a grimace, was her own record completely clear? Skinner had already reached his chair and settled in, arms leaning on his desk. The expression on his face was neutral as he waited for her. She sat across from him and stared back with what she hoped was an equally neutral air. How many times had they looked at each other across this desk, natural allies and adversaries at the same time? How many times had they really understood each other's feelings? Scully had thought a lot about a conversation she had had with him some months back when he had fallen suddenly and mysteriously ill. He had told her then that their quest should have been his. That he wished he hadn't played it safe. That he had been a better ally. Where was that Walter Skinner now, she wondered. When did he become the Walter Skinner who put a surveillance camera in their office? Wherever their real ally had gone, and why, she could not risk trusting the man who now sat in front of her.

She put her carry-all on the chair next to her, Mulder's chair, pulled out a manila folder, and handed it to him. He placed it atop another folder just in front of him, opened it and slowly sorted through tickets and receipts, making a small joke her spending 10,000 francs on dinner. Finally, he closed the folder. "It appears that everything here is in order, Agent Scully, just as I always expect from you." He slid the folder back at her, leaving an empty spot in front of him. She looked at him, perplexed, then grabbed the two folders together and quickly slipped them into her case.

"Agent, please remember, my intent has always been to do what would most help you and Agent Mulder. Now go home and get some sleep."

She nodded and left the room.

 

The previous Saturday, 5 a.m.

The sound of frantic knocking woke Frohike out of a sound sleep. As he felt his way to the front door, he grumbled that if there were justice one of his fellow paranoiacs might have heard it, too. The video surveillance showed a disheveled and frightened-looking man. Fox Mulder? He pounded again looking right into the camera. Scully had called them days before to tell of Mulder's hospitalization. She had asked them to check her apartment and his for surveillance, but then she disappeared and shortly thereafter, so had he. Frohike had suggested to his colleagues that perhaps the ever-resourceful Agent Scully had spirited her partner away from danger. But the bedraggled looking man outside his door was alone and looked as if his escape had been anything but friendly. Frohike fumbled with the multiple locks and opened the door . Mulder collapsed into the apartment, his face in pain.

"My God, what happened to you?"

Langley had emerged from his bedroom and helped Frohike lift Mulder onto a chair. He was breathing hard, eyes closed. His friends took in his odd attire: a hospital gown, baggy jeans, athletic shoes with no socks. His stubble was mixed with dust and a streak of grease. Byers went to get some water while his companions waited for Mulder to speak.

"It's quiet in here," he said finally.

They looked at each other. Byers spoke up from the side of the room, "No more than usual."

"No, the voices are gone."

"Voices?" The note of apprehension in Frohike's voice was clear. "What voices? Agent Scully said you were ill…"

"Ill, yeah, ill."

"So what gives?"

"I, I started hearing things. An echoey sound at first. Like pounding. The more people were around the louder it was. All jumbled together. Then I getting ideas. Words coming into my head. Like voices. Telepathy."

"You're reading minds?" He looked at his companions. "Clean it up guys. Mulder is gonna read our minds."

Mulder smiled weakly. "Thanks, but it's quiet in here." He looked around at his three friends. "No thoughts to read, I guess. I always wondered about that."

"Yeah, well, maybe we just guard ours a little better." Langley tapped his temples. "Mental firewall, the first line of defense."

"Interesting idea, but no go." Mulder picked up a remote from the table and began hitting buttons at random. "I wonder if it's the equipment. Disrupting messages. Electrical interference. Whatever." He sat back and closed his eyes.

Langley sat down next to him. "Incidentally, Mulder, nice threads."

Without opening his eyes, he answered, "That's quite a compliment coming from you. Courtesy of one of the attendants. Didn't like his shirt, though."

"I've got a clean Deadhead shirt you can borrow. Vintage. You have to promise not to get shot in it."

Byers leaned in. "Excuse me for raising the question, but *are there people coming after you?"

Mulder opened an eye. "I'm sure there are. Sorry. Do you want me to leave?"

Frohike shook his head. "Look, you can crash downstairs. No one will know you're here. You need any medical attention, we're your guys."

"Not you." He closed his eyes again and his breathing slowed. "Have you spoken to Scully?"

"She called last week to tell us you were in the psycho ward. But we haven't been able to reach her since."

"She's not at home?"

"Not at home. Not at work. She was at your place, but then she left."

"My place?"

"Yeah, she hacked into your computer…"

"That's our girl," said Langley.

"It was when she called us," said Byers. She wanted to know how to tell whether someone had accessed your files after you got sick."

He opened one eye. "Had they?"

"She didn't say. She seemed in a hurry."

"Did she say she was going somewhere?"

"She didn't say anything. She sounded really spooked. Spooky. You've ruined that lovely lady, Mulder." Frohike shook his head.

Mulder smiled despite himself. "She can't keep me safe. I don't think she understands how deep this is."

"How deep is it, Mulder?"

He grabbed his ear and leaned over in pain. "If she shows up, don't tell her I'm here. Everything depends on what's in my head just them. I don't want her to see me if it's going to put her in more danger."

Frohike looked at his companions as Mulder seemed gradually to shake loose whatever had perturbed him. "What if she asks us?"

"Lie." He closed his eyes and the sounds died out. In the silence his own thoughts come crowding back in, clamoring for his attention. Scully, missing. He had known she would go after the artifact. He knew that she would be relentless in her quest for answers. But others knew that, too. They would do anything to stop her -- or to get the information from her. Even people they trusted…he trusted. She trusted no one but him. And right now that trust did her no good.

Tuesday, 8 p.m.

The phone rang in a lavishly decorated apartment. On the fourth ring a woman emerged from the bathroom, her head wrapped in a towel. She checked the caller id, but the incoming number had been suppressed.

"Hello," she answered with a trace of caution in her voice.

"There you are, Diana." He never identified himself, never even said 'it's me.' The simple assumption was that she would always know. "So, have you located Mulder yet?"

"No, but I'm getting closer."

"I hope I can rely on that. From what I understand, Mr. Mulder has had, let us say, a mind-opening experience."

"Who told you that?"

"It hardly matters. We both know the importance of securing his presence here. I had counted on you to use your special influence," he paused and she could taste him taking a drag on his cigarette, "to bring him around. That's what we always understood."

"There's no problem there." She switched the phone to her left hand and walked to the window. The Potomac curved below, the afternoon sun sparkling and dappling the water.

"Well, there's not much time. I certainly hope your particular charms still hold sway over him. Alex thinks his tastes may have changed."
Bastard, she thought.  So Krycek had his fingers in this. "Not in the least. Fox called me, didn't he?  He trusts me. How would Alex know what Fox likes?"  

"Don't underestimate Alex. He's a smart boy. Understands the players and the stakes. Knows what it takes."

"He freed Dana."

"Alex plays his own game. He hates me, but he needs me. Sooner or later his gambles pay off. Might pay off big if Agent Scully trusts him."

There was another pause and Diana could hear the hum of a conversation at the other end.  She pictured him with his hand over the phone and wondered who was there.  Where was he, she wondered? Arizona?  His voice returned, unflappable as always, "As I was saying, You just have to keep an eye on Alex.  He's like me. More than my own son ever was."

Or me? She wondered. Diana bristled at the implied comparison. "I got Fox to a place where we could watch him. Had Dr. Hayes been more vigilant, no one would have been allowed to remove him from the ward. Not until we were ready."

"Well, I think it would have been a good idea to be prepared, to be ready to seize him had anyone else attempted to move him. Planning is of the essence, my dear. Strategize all possible plays."

Diana opened the desk drawer and pulled out a half empty package of Morleys. She shook one out and held it between her fingers, "I believe Dana Scully might be willing to help. She's quite fierce about him, and if she sees there's no alternative…"

"Well, we've always known about her, what shall we call it, Diana, her loyalty? But she's never exerted her control over him as she might. Not like you, my dear…" Diana's mind drifted back to the bedroom in his apartment. "…never work with you, I'm afraid. But I'm not sure that really matters. She always seems to be able to find him. Who knows, she might get sloppy in her zeal for her partner. I can count on you, can't I?"

Diana nodded and hung up. The cigarette stuck slightly to her fingers.

Tuesday, 9 p.m.

The knock was softer and the image on the monitor was clearly that of Dana Scully.

"I need your help," she said into the mike by the door.

Frohike undid the locks and stepped back so she could enter. Her face was red; it appeared sunburned but perhaps it was just flushed. He was about to tell her about Mulder, but remembered his odd request. "Mulder's in trouble," she said.

He nodded. "What else is new?"

"I mean it. He's disappeared. I think he's been kidnapped."

"From the hospital? Maybe he got away."

"I'd like to hope so. But he hasn't left me any message. He always finds a way. I'm afraid this illness of his has made him valuable to someone." She waved the video at him. "I found this at the office. I'm hoping it will give me a clue."

"Sure." Frohike held out his hand for the cassette.

Scully shook her head, "I'd like to scan this myself. In private. Have you got another VCR?"

"Private?"

"I just need to see this by myself." Her eyes darted around the room -- computer monitors, a television, and bank of miscellaneous and home-built electronic gadgetry. "Away from surveillance. Just by myself. Please."

Frohike nodded, "Langley has the best set up, but you'll probably be more comfortable in Byers' room. Unless you're into black light." She didn't react so he pulled out a chair for her and went off down the hall to find his colleague. The two men reappeared a few minutes later, Byers pulling on a sports jacket. He took in the serious look on Scully's face and the white knuckles of the hand holding the video. Nothing was said. He led her back to his room and turned on the equipment. "Do you need my help?"

She looked around. The tidy room was exactly as she would have expected. Black veneer furniture fit precisely into the space. A reading lamp cast a soft glow on the bed, blanket pulled up neatly over the pillows. A slight indentation showed where he had been sitting, probably reading the Tom Clancy novel lying on the bedside table. Centered on the dresser was a candid photo of the blond woman she had met that once in Las Vegas--wide-eyed, maybe a little anxious but still strikingly good-looking. The papers on the desk were piled neatly to the side with some sort of old electrical gadget serving as a paperweight. A small television was positioned on the bookcase, the VCR parked below. She wondered idly what Langley's room was like.

"Agent Scully?'

She pulled herself out of her thoughts. "Just headphones. I need headphones. To try to make out what they're saying." Byers opened a drawer of his desk and pulled out a pair and plugged them into the set for her. "Thank you. I'm sorry for disturbing you, but I…"

"Agent Scully, about M…" Frohike had followed Byers into the room and now put his hand on his arm to stop him. The two men watched her as she settled into the chair. "Please," she said, "No interruptions. I need to see this through the end." They nodded, more in response to the urgency in her voice that to any rational understanding of her anxiety. She watched as they left the room and waited until she heard the click of the latch.

She turned the cassette over in her hand and traced the path of the tape with her finger. It started here and wound through here, around and around and around, taking her where exactly? She wanted to smash it open against the edge of the desk, pull the ribbon out and twist it and knot it so no one would ever be able to see the scene unfold. She wanted, above all, not to see it herself, not to see Diana, half-naked, curl up against her partner. Not see him respond to the seduction. Not even to see her attempt. There was no good in watching it. Only a small hope, a very small hope, that the tape might provide a clue to what happened to him. Something that Diana might have hinted or let slip. Some gesture or action. Some little thing that would allow Scully to find him and bring him back. Was that why some unknown person had smuggled it to her? Or was it to drive her and Mulder apart? Someone who knew how suspicious she was of Diana, someone who bet on her jealousy? This is not about me, she whispered to herself, then pushed the tape into the machine and hit *Play*.

The tape began where she had stopped it. A half-naked Diana slid into bed next to Mulder. He stirred at her touch and groaned. Scully strained to hear what Diana said. Soothing words, from the tone. All right, better now, make you feel better, I'm here. She heard her partner say Scully, once, twice. Diana again, insisting on her own presence. Scully watched her begin tugging at Mulder's shirt, pulling it up so she could lie against his chest. She stroked and rubbed him as she started to quiz him, "Fox, what happened to you?" Her mouth against his neck, his ear, too soft to hear. He groaned again and put his hands to his head. He said her name, Diana. She continued coaxing, "Something extraordinary happened to you, Fox. Something other people wouldn't understand." She rubbed her hand down his side and up his back, once, twice, three times. Sitting up, she rolled him onto his back and propped herself over him. She took his hands to stroke them against her body, coaxing him and continuing the soft murmur of her questions. Her back was to the camera now, her words directed away from the surveillance. Scully rewound the tape to catch the meaning, and failing, rewound again. Each time her eyes met the image of Diana guiding Mulder's hands over her body and then letting go so that his hands might continue their exploration on their own.

The ache in her throat made Scully conscious of each breath. She willed herself to turn away from the screen, keep her eyes down, deny her mind the painful drama, forbid her brain from jumping ahead. Thank you for coming, Diana had said at the hospital. He was asking for you last night. Asking like this? Moaning her name while Diana tried to manipulate him? Scully kept her left hand on the headset, pressing it against her ear. In her right, she gripped the remote. The words finally came through. "What artifact, Fox? Do you have it here?" His only answer was to groan again and let his hands fall back to the bed. "Scully," he finally said. At her name, Scully's eyes involuntarily darted back to the screen. She watched as Diana leaped at the hint. "Scully has it? Where is she?" He repeated the name, Scully, and shook his head back and forth, eyes tightly closed in pain. Diana leaned forward to kiss him, but Mulder's agitation increased. He put a hand over his face, blocking her. She leaned back still straddling and stroking his body, continuing her murmurs, "I'm here, I love you. I'll take care of you. Just tell me what's wrong. Hold me." Mulder had propped himself up on his elbow, muttering something low, choppy, and incoherent. Scully rewound, again straining to hear the sounds. She heard him repeat the word "not," but nothing else came together. She rewound again and turned up the volume slightly, but still got more murmur than sense. A third try. Mulder's words: noise, hear. The question repeated. Then, Scully, betray, truth, came though, but not connected. She slid her finger to the rewind button when she suddenly felt a hand gentle on her arm. She fumbled with the remote and spun around to confront the intruder, anger rising and tears suddenly washing into her eyes for the humiliation of the tape.

"Scully." He said her name softly. "How did you get this?" A simple question. She thought he might put his arm around her, but he squatted down next to her chair and looked at the image frozen on the screen. "So she taped it." His voice was flat.

"Mulder, I…Are you...how did you get here? Are you okay? Your head?" She stroked his forehead, acutely conscious of him after the scenes she had been watching on tape.

"She gave you this?" He pointed to the screen.

"I don't know. I don't think she did. She did try to take it from me."

"Diana," he said, putting his head back and closing his eyes. She searched his face looking for some clue to his thoughts. Why did he call that woman? How long could some deep part of him believe in her?

"Mulder, the sounds. Do you still hear them?"

"No. Yes, a little. Not like before. Watch the rest."

"No, Mulder, I don't want to. You disappeared. I thought I might get a clue about what happened to you… Where she might have taken you. I'm sorry. That's the only reason I would play it."

"Watch it." His voice insisted.

"Mulder, I don't…" The sadness on his face stopped her as he reached across to rub her tears away with his thumb. She turned back to the set and hit play once again. Diana rose from the bed and stripped off her skirt and stockings before crawling in again. On film, Mulder had become more agitated and her efforts to control him got more forceful. She was holding him down now, no longer stroking, tying to rivet his attention on her and her questions. "Fox, where is Dana? I'll find her, I can help. I think I know where the artifact might be." No response but Mulder gripping his head as he rolled it back and forth on the pillow. "She's trying to hide the truth, Fox. We can find it together." Suddenly, he sat up, pushing Diana off onto her side.

Scully felt his hand tighten on her arm.

The shouting started. Scully fumbled for the controls and dimmed the volume. Mulder was continuing to call her name. He picked up a pillow and pressed it against Diana's chest. "You lying bitch. "If I tell you where she is, you'll take her. Just like the last time."

"Fox," Diana appeared rattled but was struggling to get control, "Fox, she may be in danger. I can help. Like before. Remember, we tried to save her before."

It didn't work. "You…no…a trap..." He held his head again, eyes squeezed shut.

She took advantage of his pain to slide off the bed. She was backing toward the door. He swung his legs to the floor and in three steps had her. "Abduction. You ordered it! You ordered the tests."

"Fox, don't be ridiculous." She had moved to the side, out of the range of the camera. Mulder followed in the same direction. The screen was still. Only the voices continued the conflict. "Abductions, tests, I never had anything to do with that. You're confused. I, I was trying to solve abductions. Remember? I told you about it." Suddenly she shot back into the camera's range and fumbled in her purse, open on Mulder's dresser.

"No, no. You lied. You. Smokey. You…" He wobbled as he came into view and she turned quickly, jabbing something into him. He collapsed onto the floor. Scully moved to turn the tape off, but Mulder caught her hand. "No, let it run. I want to know what happened."

It was quiet on screen now. Diana leaned over to check Mulder's pulse. Apparently satisfied, she stepped over him. She walked out of the line of the camera and her voice could be heard softly offscreen. Scully guessed that she was phoning for someone to pick them up.

Mulder reached around and hit the stop button.

"I didn't call her, Scully. I called you. She came."

"But that would mean…"

"Yeah, either her or someone else. You said she tried to get the tape?"

"Yes. She came by the office just after I found it."

"In my office."

"Yes. At first she tried to convince me that we had to work together…"

"You didn't buy that."

"Mulder, you know what I think of her. I'm sorry."

"What happened then?"

"Skinner dropped by the office and I left with him."

"Skinner." It was an exclamation, but there was a question in his voice as well.

"It doesn't make sense. Someone made this tape, gave it to me, told her. Who would gain from that?"

"I don't know." He got up and sat on Byers' bed.

"Your head seems better. Are you still hearing the noise?"

"The noise is better." He shook his head. "I think, I *think the electronics here interfere with the noise. Block it. It's bad in a crowd. Or when people say one thing and mean another."

Gibson's words, Scully thought. The very phrase the little boy had used when she was guarding him at the motel. People who say one thing and mean another. "How long have you been here?"

"A day, a couple days. Who knows? I am so tired. Outside it's as though a hundred people are competing to live in my head. It feels like someone is pressing my eyeballs out from the inside." He rubbed his hand across his face as if to wipe away the memory of the pain.

She put down the remote and went to sit next to him. Side by side, feeling his shoulder relax a little against hers, she waited for him to continue. "She was telling me things, but I heard her other voice, Scully, about you. About getting rid of you. I think she ordered your abduction."

"How could she? She didn't know me."

"I don't know. She must have ordered other abductions, too. But yours. Specifically yours. Because you were helping me."

"How do you know this?"

"I just knew. It was in her mind. She was plotting. Plotting and remembering. She's not finished."

"You can really read people's thoughts? Like Gibson?" Her eyes widened as she took in his face, now transformed into an object of wonder.

He shook his head. "It didn't seem to make Gibson sick. I don't know."

"Can you read my thoughts."

"I'm trying not to."

"They're not bad, Mulder."

"But they're yours." He took her hand and rubbed it between his. "It's what you *say to me that counts. The thoughts you trust me with. That's what's always mattered."

She inhaled and let her breath out slowly. What of the thoughts I don't trust myself with, she wondered. The ones I'm afraid to turn over and examine. She squeezed his hand and felt tears returning to her eyes. "Mulder, will you be safe here? I haven't finished what you asked me to do."

"What did you find? Did you locate Sandoz? Albert?"

"Sandoz is dead. Shot by someone after I left him. He told me he had another part of the artifact, but it wasn't found on his body."

"What did it say? More verses?"

"No. He thought it was the human genome. Part of the human genome…"

"Scully, you know what that means."

"No, I don't." She struggled against his belief. "I don't know if it's a fake or a record or a recipe. These are all possibilities. They would mean different things. But it's gone now as are the other pieces."

"Barnes had them. He took them from Merkmallen when he killed him."

"That makes sense, but do you know where Barnes is?"

"I was following him at the University when the sounds…. That's just before, that." He pointed at the video recorder. "Where did you go when you left the hospital?"

"You did know I was there?"

"Yes, didn't you hear me warn you?"

"I did, I did. How did you know I was there?'

He shook his head. "Where did you go?"

"I went back to where the artifacts came from."

"Africa?"

"I went to Ivory Coast. They showed me where they had been found, washed up on the beach."

"Were there more?"

"There was something. I don't know what. It…I don't know if it was real."

"What? What was real?"

"I don't know. It was buried in the sand. There were more glyphs."

"Did you bring it back?"

"No, it was too big."

"Was it a ship, Scully?"

She raised her head sharply. "No, Mulder." Her tone was insistent. "That's not possible. There was no ship. It was…I don't know what it really was."

He closed his eyes in pain and leaned back on the bed. He rubbed his ear and groaned. "You conceded that life might have come from outside earth."

"I conceded the theory. But even then, Mulder, we're talking about microbes, microscopic organisms, bits of RNA or DNA, not creatures with advanced intelligence and elaborate technology."

He lay back, eyes closed tightly, not speaking. She felt a tightness around her lungs as she watched him, wanting to reach out and soothe him. She could offer the caress of her hand, but not the balm of certainty, knowledge, belief. She couldn't leap in and tell him yes, it was a ship. They're here and our quest is at an end. She forced herself to think of Gibson and his brain scans, that odd section of the brain lit up, overactive, engaged in some nonhuman yet all-too-human activity. Some part of them in us. But we are not them. She leaned over, closer to his ear. "Mulder, even if there was a ship, it wouldn't necessarily mean answers… Or we might not like the answers."

She pushed his hair back off his forehead, looking at the tension on his face. It was like he had been in the elevator during his first attack…as though her spoken voice wasn't reaching him. She picked up the edge of the blanket and tried to cover him as best she could, and turned to leave the room. His voice called to her softly, "It's there, Scully, whether or not you believe it. Your science isn't ready for the truth." She sat back down on the bed next to him but his eyes were closed.

Tuesday 10 p.m.

After she was sure Mulder had fallen asleep, Scully returned to the room she had labeled mission control on her first visit to the Gunmen. She could never have guessed back then that she would come to regard the three paranoid conspiracy freaks as the most reliable people she knew. They were sitting around the table now, watching a video monitor of the scene outside their bunker. Cars were parked along both sides of the dimly lit street. Langley pointed to the screen. "There's someone in that car. They arrived shortly after you, Agent Scully."

She sat down on the extra chair and watched. "How do you know?" Frohike flipped a switch and the scene went green. Inside the car were two large red blobs. The man at the near side rested his arm on the open window. It glowed redder than the rest of the scene.

"Who's following you?"

"It could be anyone. I seem to have a lot of enemies right now."

"Yeah, Mulder, too."

"Especially Mulder." Being here with him made his mental dislocation all too real for her. How could he manage under the stress of a thousand voices? But if he had to stay here, how could he be himself if denied the chance to follow his quest?

"How's he doing?"

"He collapsed again. I think he's asleep. Sorry, Byers. Looks like we've deprived you of a decent night's rest." Frohike got up and disappeared through a doorway. He came back a minute later with a cup of coffee. "Here," he said, "you'll need this."

"Thanks. My body tells me it's 2 or 3 in the morning. I'm surprised I'm even halfway coherent."

Frohike switched the camera back to normal vision. "Where did you go anyway? Mulder was worried about you."

"Africa. Ivory Coast. I went back to where the original artifact was found. Did Mulder tell you about that?"

Langley jumped into the conversation. "Yeah, so what's the connection to what happened to Mulder? He said something about magic words casting a spell on him. Has he been smoking something?"

Scully smiled at him. She could not have put Mulder's theory any better than that herself. Magic words that affected him because his name fit into a magic square. How could Mulder possibly believe that? "Well, there's the magic spell angle, but I think it's more likely to be a physical cause. He seems to be hearing voices in his head. I can't see how the sight of glyphs would trigger that. He didn't know what the glyphs said when he saw them,"

Byers said, "Unless there was some preconscious recognition…"

Scully laughed, "You sound just like him."

Byers looked a little sheepish. "He and I were talking earlier. You don't buy the possibility? What if recognition were hard-wired?"

"No, the capacity to decipher symbols is hard-wired into the brain, but actually reading them is learned. Besides, he didn't know their meaning. It would have to be their very existence… I can't imagine there's a basis for it."

"Wait. Maybe not words as words, but maybe it's the symbols. Or their arrangement."

"Their arrangement?"

"Yes. Stick with me Agent Scully. I know this is going to sound weird, but I've been thinking about it a lot. The arrangement makes a kind of design of dark and light and maybe the pattern is analogous to a fractal." She had never seen Byers so animated.

"It doesn't look like a fractal."

"No, I mean figuratively, in the sense that fractals contain information within information, descending and transforming patterns that still conform to certain rules. Step back from it until the design blurs. That's the next level. And if we could see the original artifact, we might find the edges of the figures melt into more designs, more information, like a fractal."

"I'm still not following."

"Mulder said there was some Bible verse on the piece of artifact he saw."

"Yes, that's right. And on another piece there was a fragment of the human genomic code." And what was on the piece I saw at the beach, she wondered. She hadn't had time even to memorize the glyphs. Her hands had slid over it, tingling at the flawless smooth surface. Warm from the tropical waters. Or warm from something else. The sensation had been quick. The fragment had slipped beneath the sand as the ship emerged. What had it said?

"Well, there, that's what I'm getting at," Byers continued. "Why fragments of information? What good is that except decoration? If I'm right, the rest of the information is buried within the design somehow. How else would they get the whole genome on a small object. I think the artifact is the key, not the treasure chest."

"It could just be a fake. A elaborate hoax."

"Granted. Granted that it could be a fake." He nodded his head several times and put his up palms out as if to stop a volley. "There's always that. But why? Why so elaborate? Why on some remote beach in Ghana?"

"Ivory Coast."

"Right. Besides, if we jump to the conclusion that it's a fake, we may lose a valuable clue. I mean what if Mulder had encountered these glyphs some other time and the artifact awoke what he knew of their meaning? That recognition could have triggered something in his brain and caused…caused whatever it is that is going on."

Scully stared off in the direction of where Mulder was now sleeping. He *had seen these symbols before. On that disk, the one Kenneth Soonax had been killed for. But how would that experience cause this one? Out of his belief in aliens? "If you're right, I'm not sure what we could do for him. I have to proceed on my hunch that he was poisoned somehow."

"But by whom, Scully?" Byers pressed his point. "Who would *want to have Mulder reading minds? Who does that help?"

``Frohike broke in. "Do you mean he's operating under a hallucinogen?"

Scully looked from one to the other. "No, I don't think he's imagining anything. I think he's really picking up thoughts."

"How?"

"I don't know how. None of this really makes any sense to me. But I'd like to move him out of here and do some tests. Take some blood samples. I wish I'd had the sense to bring my kit. If we can identify a specific agent, we may be able to counteract it."

"What about our friends outside?" Frohike had gravitated to the door to double-check the locks. He turned one deadbolt that had somehow missed previous inspection.

"That's a problem."

"And where will you take him?"

"That's the other problem. I'm not sure there's anyone I can trust."

"What about Skinner?"

"No, he's in it somehow. Mulder has come too close to the truth this time."

Wednesday, 7 a.m.

Scully went into the office early and waited for Cabrini. She had already looked over Mulder's medical tests but found nothing significant in the results: the column of numbers transforming themselves in her mind to the silhouette of a generic healthy man. The abstract image resolving itself rapidly into her mind's image of Mulder: strong, vigorous, alert, sharp. But that wasn't the man she had seen last night. She scrutinized the numbers more closely. Hemoglobin normal, even a little high; white count normal; chemical composition and tox scan normal beyond the drugs they recorded on the chart. Time and dose of what they officially gave him. She turned the page for details. Odd, she thought. The tox scan was perfunctory. Where were the tests for amphetamines or LSD or the other street drugs that might account for his bizarre behavior? Did they skip the tests because they *knew he wasn't hallucinating or was there something they were hiding? Something they didn't want recorded. Maybe the truth, for example.

The brain scan was altogether more interesting. She put it up on the light box and scrutinized the pattern of colors. Dr. Hayes had been right; there was activity in a section of the brain normally inactive. She was sure it was the same location they had seen when they tested Gibson. With any luck Cabrini would be able to find a copy of Gibson's scan.

She turned on her laptop and sat back to wait for it to load. Mulder believed in the ship, all right. Without evidence. Here she had seen it and felt it. She had stood right there and saw how the water had receded, rushing out like a sudden low tide, sun shining off the silver metal and everything so quiet. The water made no sounds and the seabirds went suddenly silent. And just as quickly the waters surged back in, washing the ship into shadow. The waters had churned up around her ankles and soaked the hem of her dress. When she looked behind her, all the fishermen had disappeared.

It had been a moment of shuddering awe, but she couldn't stop thinking that they were the victims of some elaborate hoax. It had happened again and again. He believed. She worried. He saw gifts of the truth. She saw orchestrated lies. What part of his brain made it possible for him to have such faith and caused her to doubt? If they lit up their brains side by side would they throw off different colors, his red and orange, hers blue and green? Would there be some gap in hers where his glowed bright, and darkness in his where hers pulsed with activity? Cabrini walked in and she rose to meet him.

"Morning, Agent Scully. Assistant Director Skinner told me you'd probably be here."

She smiled tightly. "Perhaps you can confirm my reading of these tests." Cabrini looked over Mulder's numbers, but could see not any anomaly she had missed. Handing her the charts, he headed into the side room and came back a few moments later with a small tray from the refrigerator. "AD Skinner said these were related to the case you were working on. Are there tests you want to run?"

Scully stared at the tray, her mouth open in surprise. Skinner had obtained three vials of Mulder's blood. "I do have a theory," she said, and spelled out the tests she wanted him to run on the 100 cc of blood available. If need be, she thought, she could stop by the Gunmen's and draw another sample, mindful that each visit and each phone call increased the risk that someone would figure out he was there. Until she could keep him safe, she'd have to stay away.

Cabrini disappeared to run his tests and Scully settled in with her laptop and a pile of journals to follow a hunch. Late that afternoon, she began typing her report: "Subject shows signs of unusual activity in a typically inactive part of the brain, popularly labeled 'the God module.' Function of this area is not established. Similar activity reported in another subject. In both cases, subjects report sensation of 'hearing voices' or being able to read others' thoughts. Such sensation has been externally tested on earlier subject, but…" But what, she thought. Gibson had passed all of Diana's tests, which still seemed a little like glorified parlour tricks to Scully. He anticipated what was on Scully's own mind, but this didn't convince her that he was reading her thoughts in a physical way. "…but question remains about physically documented activity in cortex, viewed in brain scans." What would cause this area to become active? Gibson claimed always to have heard the voices; not so with Mulder. It was so sudden. Overwhelming. A wave that was washing him away from her. Her fingers tapped nervously on the keys. "Recent research on the brain shows regenerative capacity scientists previously said was impossible." Debunk the scientists, she thought. Received wisdom into the trash can again. "It has now been demonstrated that the brain and spinal column possess stem cells, capable of generating more specialized cells in the nervous system. Possible hypothesis: something has stimulated production of stem cells to grow into neurons reaching into the GM area. Alternative: something has stimulated creation of synapses between already existing cells providing access to this area of brain. Third possibility: subject is delusional and apparent ability to read thoughts is illusory."

Scully leaned back in the chair and stared at her hypotheses. Mulder's scans had shown no sign of tumor; thank goodness for that. If only she had a baseline scan of his brain, she'd know a lot more. Maybe his brain activity had always been a little unusual. It would explain a lot about him. Still, she realized, she was accepting the possibility -- the *possibility -- that Mulder had suddenly become telepathic. How easy it was to swallow such thinking uncritically. She shook her head as if to remind herself that she had to stick to standards. He'd always had terrific intuition, his mind tumbling ahead, proclaiming with certainty things that would never have occurred to her, his imagination leaping and playing, having fun in a way she couldn't imitate. He'd guessed right about the ship, but that could have been lucky. He was right a lot of the time, but he was wrong, too. Easy enough to forget that. He'd had an uncanny ability to sense her thinking almost from the first day. She smiled at the memory. Well, sometimes. Other times he was as dense about her as any man she'd ever known. So what was different now? He believed he was reading thoughts. He'd never claimed that before, never seriously. He had read Diana's mind. He finally saw the truth inside her, the truth he never wanted to hear from Scully. That was only a small relief, though. Whatever was happening to him was an attack, a danger. He knew that just as she did. If only she could explain it, maybe she could help him.

"If," she said aloud, "if something had happened to open the brain, then what was it?" What would cause the cells to express new proteins, why might the stem cells start cranking out new cells? She opened her copy of Nature to a dog-eared page and skimmed through the text once again. The authors had ventured off into speculations about the therapeutic possibilities of the stem cells, but not one paragraph about how the cells might start reproducing spontaneously. The only ideas she came up with herself seemed as outlandish as anything Mulder might suggest. Perhaps he had been injected with something, perhaps with those very stem cells from someone else. But from whom? From Gibson? From the purported alien fetus? Or it could be some other chemical reaction duplicating the surge of developmental hormones in the fetal stage. It made scientific sense that there was a biological cause to what happened. Substance A generated response B. But who would do it and why? Or maybe he was right. Maybe it was the glyphs. Maybe the sight of them set off some jumbled chaotic reaction in his brain, crossed some wires that should have stayed apart. No, it made no sense. Every time she thought of the inscription and of what she had found in Africa her mind seemed to run into a wall and she could not force her way past it.

Wednesday, 8 p.m.

It was late when she finally closed the books and turned off the computer. Her eyes burned and she fished around in her bag to see if she had any drops. No luck. Cabrini had left hours ago, promising her some results in the morning. The sounds in the building had gradually died out and footsteps were rare now. Mulder had once suggested getting a cot for the office and she had forbidden it, afraid that he would forego what little outside life he had. Now she wished she hadn't been so rigid.

Her watch said 8:10. That meant what in Abidjan. 12:10? Something like that. No time for jet lag. She put the pharmacological encyclopedia back on the shelf. The medical journals she had checked out from the library went into Cabrini's office for safekeeping. She slipped the articles that Merkmallen's secretary had given her back into her briefcase, unread. Time enough for monkeys later, she thought. When I have the luxury of time again. Her cell phone rang. For a second she harboured the certainty that it was Mulder.

"Scully."

"It's Frohike."

"What's up?"

"We've had a little action we didn't count on."

"What?" She stood up and looked around to make sure she had all her things. "Is Mulder okay? Does he need me?"

"After you left, we had an unpleasant visit."

"Who, what happened?" She broke in too impatient for him to say.

"I don't know who. They were rough, trashed things up, and…"

"Mulder."

"Yeah, they took Mulder with them."

"What state was he in?"

"Mulder? Fighting. But there were three of them. The jabbed something into him."

Oh, no, not again. Not something to destroy his will or cloud his mind. Not something to increase the panic and pain. She was pulling on her jacket, switching the phone from hand to hand. "I'll be right there."

"Scully, Scully, slow down. It won't do any good. They trashed the place. I'm calling from a pay phone."

"Trashed it?"

"Yeah, we have a lot of work to do."

"How are Byers and Langley?"

"Byers is ok. Langley's at DC General being treated for a concussion."

"Did you get this on videotape?"

"As I said, they trashed the place."

"It doesn't matter. I know who's behind this."

"If I can help, Agent Scully…"

"Not yet…"

Scully headed for the elevators. Half the lights in the hallway had been turned off and the Exit signs glowed at the stairwells. Most of the staff had left hours earlier. She looked down the hall and saw a lone figure walk toward her, then turn off to the left. For a second she thought she recognized his gait, but it was just a flash. A glimpse too quick. Too dim. Behind her, the bell signaled the elevator. She got in, punched 4, and hit 'Close Door' with her fist, as though the force of her will would get her there more quickly. She hoped that he would be there. She had no illusions at this point, no expectation of the old camaraderie and trust. But whatever his game, she didn't think it involved harm to Mulder. He had given her his medical records, after all. And the blood samples. That had to mean something. He had tried to keep Diana off the case back in the hospital corridor. He lied to Diana, too. On whose instructions?

The door to Skinner's secretary's office was locked, so with only a second's hesitation, she knocked on other door, the one that led directly from his office to the hallway. She looked to her right and left. It was silent and empty. Not even a distant echo. Everyone was off someplace, leading a life that must make more sense than hers. She was about to knock a second time when the door opened slightly and Skinner's eyes scanned her face.

"Agent Scully. I thought you'd have gone home for the evening."

"I was working late, sir, on Mulder's ailment." She took a deep breath under his stare. From inside, she thought she detected a faint click.

"Excuse me," he said, opening the door wider. " Come in."

She entered his office and looked around. She found herself smelling the air, an old habit from the days when the Smoking Man seemed so often in Skinner's office. She hadn't done that lately, but here she was talking in a slightly deep breath tasting it for evidence.

"Have you anything to report?" Skinner had walked around to his chair and began stacking the papers spread across his desk. Scully sat in her usual place. It didn't feel warm, so she reached across to put her case on the second chair and ran her hand across the seat. It was impossible to tell, also impossible now to move to the other chair without calling attention to her suspicions.

"Is there anything to report, Agent Scully?"

"Report?"

"About Mulder's ailment."

"Oh," she shook her head. "Sorry. No, no, there's nothing yet. I can't find evidence of what's causing his disruption." She paused before going on. "Sir, he's disappeared, been abducted."

"I told you that at the airport." He looked concerned and she could tell that he was scrutinizing her face for signs of fatigue or illness.

"No, I mean, he's been abducted again."

"So you found him?"

"Yes, I did. But apparently I was followed and a little while ago, some men broke in and removed him."

"I had asked that you alert me if you found him, Agent Scully. The reason for that was to offer him precisely the kind of protection that would have prevented this." He looked at her sternly and she squirmed a little under his gaze.

"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't think I was in a position to take that risk"

He turned away from her and walked to his windows. The blinds were still half open and the lights of the city shone outside. He pulled the chain to close them, one set and then the other. Still, he stood with his back to her, his hands resting against the wooden credenza. "You have to trust someone, Agent Scully. You can't do this alone. Don't you understand that?"

Scully stared at his back, imagining tense shoulder muscles under the shirt. She wished she could see the emotions on his face…if indeed this stoic man let them show, even to himself. Quietly, she began, "Sir, you said once, that you wished you had made our quest…" she remembered his intensity as they had talked at the hospital months ago when he was so mysteriously ill. His face had ached with the regret of a dying man who had played the game well and now suddenly realized that he had been in the wrong sport altogether. Sitting here now, next to the vacant chair of her partner, she teetered at the edge of trust. If only the A.D. would tell why he had backed off from that heartfelt admission. As she hesitated a faint sound of shoe on metal came from the room next door. She stood at once and gathered her case. "There *is someone else on this case, isn't there, sir?" And she left by the door she had entered without looking back

Skinner sat back down. He pulled a handkerchief from the jacket he had slung over the back of the chair, took off his glasses and wiped them slowly. The outer door to his secretary's office clicked as it closed and he knew that Krycek would not be back this evening.

Thursday, 7 a.m.

Mulder came to in darkness, without illumination to see where unconsciousness ended and consciousness began. Rather, he heard that he was awake and knew from the sounds in his head that sleep had been replaced by the hum and drone and buzz that now caged him in his world. The noise crumbled into bits and resolved itself into name-calling and laughter. He could feel a blindfold against his eyes but when he tried to lift his hands, he found them cuffed down. His arms were bruised from fighting. He'd done well, he thought, but they didn't fight fair. Too many of them. It had hurt his head, it was so confusing to have all their thoughts on him. And then blackness. Now this. The air was stuffy and smelled unmistakably of mildew. This wasn't the hospital anymore, he told himself, then chiding <<brilliant deduction.>> Where had they taken him? Only one person, he thought. He squirmed around rubbing his head up and down against the bed, hoping to dislodge the cloth bit by bit. Gradually it slid up and he could see a bluish light off to his right in the otherwise dark room. His eyes adjusted their focus. Television. Cartoons. Someone watching television.

That person spoke without emotion. "So, you're awake."

Gibson. He had found him. Someone had brought him to Gibson. "Gibson, what are you doing here?"

The boy rose and walked around the table to the old metal bed. He stood looking somberly down at Mulder. "I guess I could ask you the same thing. It doesn't seem very lucky for either of us." He pulled the blindfold off the rest of the way and crumpled it onto the bed.

"No, it doesn't. But how did you get here? And where are we?'

"We're in a basement in Washington, D.C. At least someplace where we get the Washington stations. A man brought me here."

"Who? The same man who brought me?"

"No, the thugs brought you. I don't know the other man's name. He's careful not to think about himself."

"What does he think about, Gibson?"

"You, mostly. And your partner. And that other woman. He has you now, so maybe he'll think more about them." Gibson's hair was badly cut and his glasses were taped at the bridge. The light was too dim to see whether the hair now covered the scars from surgery. Mulder remembered that Scully had tried to reassure him that all was well, but Gibson had known that she thought them butchers. Poor Scully. Deprived of her ability to comfort. Gibson's skin looked pasty, but that could have been an effect of the dim blue light of the television. His striped t-shirt looked a size too small.

"What is he thinking about my partner, about Agent Scully?"

Gibson had shifted his attention to a cereal commercial, so Mulder raised his voice, "You wish she had come, don't you? I know you like her better."

Gibson looked back at Mulder, the expression on his face unchanged. "So, they did it to you, too," Gibson said.

"Did what?"

"Mind-reading. You'll see that it's not so much fun. They'll probably want to experiment on you, too, now." Experiments, Mulder remembered. They cut Gibson's skull open to probe his brain. They hadn't destroyed his ability to read thoughts, but they could have. They might still, if it served their purposes. The pain in Mulder's ears now stretched across his forehead, a band stretched tight just above his eyes. His mouth was dry and the corner of his mouth cracked and raw. He ran his tongue along his lips, but the gesture provided no relief. He flexed his legs and his arms as far as he could. He was sore from the fight and felt an all-over ache from something he couldn't identify. A drug? He asked himself. He was drugged? When? How long ago? How would Scully find him?

Commercials over, Gibson returned to his place in front of the set. Mulder lay back and listened for a few moments to the one-liners the characters were trading. Racy language for cartoons, he thought. Whatever happened to Donald Duck? His mind turned back to what had just happened to him, to the scene at the Gunmen's when the intruders had arrived and blew the door off the hinges…. He had heard it as a commotion, the sound of things breaking and of murderous thoughts. He had come out of his hiding place before they could beat or shoot his friends. When he stumbled through the door, he had tripped over Langley. They grabbed him. Hoods over their faces. Not that he'd recognize them anyway. There seemed to be an endless supply of interchangeable thugs.

That was it. That was all he remembered. Scully. Where was Scully? Did she know what had happened to him? Were they after her now? She should leave him behind, but there was no place to go anymore. No one to protect her. He wanted her safe. Instead, she was out there someplace, searching for a truth she wasn't ready to believe. Searching for it for him. He had seen it in her mind; her memory had flooded his mind unbidden. The way the ship emerged from the sea and sank back into the depths again. The feel of the warm metal against her hand. Her terror at the thought of believing and her unwillingness to trust her eyes. She was closer to the truth than he was now, if only she let herself see.

Mulder looked back in Gibson's direction. He wasn't picking up many thoughts, but there was an odd pressure building in his head. Atonal music grew louder and softer. Definitely not the tv. It hurt again. It hurt across the back of his jaw. He wanted Gibson's secrets, the secrets that Gibson might not even realize he had. A commercial for action figures came on.

"Hey, Gibson. That's why you watch tv, isn't it? To block the voices."

"No, I watch tv because I like it."

"Okay, look, I need your help. What does the man think about my partner? Has he captured her, too?"

"I don't think so. He thinks she's going to help him."

"My partner? Dana? The redhead? He thinks *she will help him?"

Gibson had come back to stand at the side of the bed. "He thinks your partner will have to help him. She'll know what she has to do."

Mulder let his head drop back against the mattress… How would they threaten her? With him? The hum crescendoed and faded.

"Are they still experimenting on you? What happens here?"

"Here? Nothing. This man took me from the experiment people."

"Is it the smoking man who keeps you here?"

"No. One of his friends. He hates the aliens."

"Hates them? Are you sure?"

He nodded. The cartoons came on and he turned back to watch the screen.

"Wait. Look, Gibson. Can you talk to them? The grays?"

"I can hear where they are. Or when they tell me something. Mostly I can't understand their thoughts. They aren't like us."

"What happened in the reactor? Was the creature there? It didn't attack you. Do you know why?"

"It wanted me to help it escape. I was too afraid to laugh. They took it away."

"Away where?"

"I suppose they shot it. That's what they were thinking about."

"But the aliens," Mulder stumbled a little over the word, a little to his surprise, "they communicate by thoughts. Like you, Gibson. What does it sound like when you hear them?"

"Why are you so interested in them?"

"They have answers, Gibson. The answers I need."

"You're very gullible, aren't you, Agent Mulder."

"What do you mean?"

"Not everyone tells you the truth."

"Who do you mean?"

"You know."

 

Thursday, 7 a.m.

Scully awoke the next morning feeling exhausted, the mark of a night spent in dreams of futility. Slowly she remembered. Mulder was gone again. Ill, in pain, possibly delusional. Taken this time. Taken by persons unknown but easily imagined. Valuable to someone. But how? As he was? Or "corrected" in some awful way? But gone again, leaving her more alone than she had ever felt.

She rolled onto her back and looked up at the ceiling. The Gunmen's quarters had been trashed. It would be days if not weeks before they could help her. Skinner was involved in some game she did not understand, secretly meeting with persons unknown in his office. Someone who could get through security. Someone powerful. Gibson and Cassandra were missing still. Sandoz was dead. Merkmallen was dead. Barnes had murdered him--she was sure Mulder was right--but there wasn't enough evidence to hold him. In any case Merkmallen's artifact had disappeared. Albert Hosteen was near death. Was that because of the artifact, too?

The artifact. Most likely a nice bit of fakery, but to what purpose? Why would someone set up an elaborate deception stretching from Africa to the American Southwest. If it was a fraud. She recalled a dream about the ship. It was covered with drawings like the artifact. The Smoking Man was there with Diana. They stood at the edge of the water, the half-submerged ship right in front of them. He was telling Diana all about how they had built it and sunk it in this place. The two of them laughed at people who believed in aliens. Others were laughing, too, but Scully couldn't see their faces. Then Mulder climbed out of the ship, and without a word disappeared into the sea. Scully was screaming for him and then suddenly everyone was gone and she was in the desert, alone. That's when she woke up.

The ship was just another charade, she thought. Engineered to lead them off the track. The evidence disappearing once again so that they could never be sure. And if it was not a fraud, then… It wasn't possible, she told herself. The artifact. How did it work exactly? Is that why it disappeared? So people couldn't find the little chip inside that made it spin? What if…? Her mind balked at that point.

She rose from bed and opened the blinds expecting the weather to match her gloom. Bright sunlight spread across the floor. She closed them again, unready for an onslaught of cheer. Everyone was gone or lost in one way or another. She had only herself and her science. Only her science to try to save Mulder, and how tentative it seemed.

She stopped in the basement office as soon as she reached the Bureau. To her disappointment, her key turned easily. It probably required six layers of bureaucracy to change the locks, she muttered, and that was in emergencies. She needed to go through the papers in Mulder's desk before someone else with a key could remove them. The doorknob was slightly sticky and she tried to remember if it had been so the last time she touched it. Diana. When she came then or had she been back? Scully closed the door behind her and took in the office, newly decorated--"feathered" Mulder had said--and she pictured him here, settled in with all his odd clippings and little souvenirs. At one point, before the fire, he even had a picture of the two of them posted among the news of UFOs, mutants, and murders. She'd wondered about it, but he never said and she never asked.

She walked carefully around the room, looking for signs that anything had been disturbed, not in hope, this time, but in apprehension. Ending again at Mulder's desk, she bent down to the surface level and tried to gauge whether dust had settled evenly in the past two days. There was no trace of fresh disturbance. She sat in his chair and pulled open the drawers one at a time, removing folders on sightings of alien ships and studies of organic materials found in meteorites. She was sure he had a folder of clippings about telepathy, but it wasn't where she thought he'd have kept it

In the center drawer, she found a little stash of fortune cookie fortunes. She spread them across the desk and flattened them one at a time. "Your work is your joy." Didn't that peg it? she thought. "Your principles mean more to you than any money or success." Hmmmm. He should frame that one. "Pray for what you want. Work for what you need." Pray? Mulder? Maybe that's what his hope was, really. A prayer for salvation. She went through the others one at a time, wondering if he saved all his fortunes or only those that pleased him. Mixed in, she saw, was neatly clipped slip of yellow paper, written in his hand. She smoothed it out. "Nothing happens in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it." She ran the familiar words through her mind. Why had he written down that comment and why did he keep it here in his desk? she wondered. Had this little bit of paper survived the fire? Had he written it since? Keeping that one message aside, she swept the fortunes back into his drawer and shut it softly. "…what we know of it." Had Mulder simply crossed the line into a nature which she neither knew nor imagined?

Cabrini was already in the lab when she arrived, logging test results into the computer.

"Agent Scully, I was hoping you'd be in this morning."

"Have you found something?"

"Yes, but I'm not sure if it's what you're looking for. There wasn't much I could do with the blood sample; there wasn't enough for more than a few tests. In addition to the barbiturates, I did find trace of the anesthetic doperidol. Couldn't do a whole tox scan on that little sample, but I checked what might have knocked him out. One of those anesthetics in a high dose."

His chart had told her about the barbiturates, presumably administered at the hospital or in the ambulance. But the other. Was it what Diana had hit him with or was someone else involved? It had to be Diana. The doctors never would have administered barbiturates after doperidol. Didn't Diana realize what she was doing? "What about the protein I asked you to check?"

"Yes, interesting guess, Agent. I'd be fascinated to know how you knew to ask for that one. The level in the blood was several times normal. What does that mean, do you think?"

"I'm really not sure. It's one of the proteins cells manufacture in reaction to stress. That's all I really know." She opened her briefcase and began hunting among the articles she had photocopied the day before. She trusted Cabrini as far as she knew him, but dare not tell him of her suspicions, medical or otherwise. The numbers he handed her seemed much higher than a normal stress reaction. Could a flood of proteins have triggered changes in the brain? Or were they instead a reaction to the brain disorder? She became aware that Cabrini was still talking.

"So after that, I did a little research." He punched some instructions into the computer and pointed to the screen. "The protein level is several times normal. It appears that this reaction can be caused by stress, as you said, by viruses, and possibly by other factors. Usually, the rise is temporary. If we could test again…"

Scully bent over to look at the numbers on the screen. She scrolled down as she talked, keeping her eyes away from Cabrini. "Viruses. Of course, good thinking on your part…A virus. Something…" She stopped herself. Something unknown. What was the standard test for a virus that carried extraterrestrial DNA? They sure hadn't covered that in med school. "But… Well, unfortunately I can't get any other blood samples right now."

"Is the patient still with us?"

"Yes, yes. It's not a murder case. He's just not…"

"…not available?"

"Yes, that's it."

"Well, it's a shame. There's one other thing. There was a little blood left, and I, well, I hope you'll approve, I checked it for those odd carbon clusters…"

Scully chilled at his words, suddenly as cold as if she had been plunged into ice.. Why had she not thought of it? Was she unconsciously afraid to consider that he had been poisoned like Skinner or injected with a likely-fatal vaccine? She hoped her voice did not betray her uneasiness. "Good thinking. And what did you find…"

"Well, and remember, I didn't have much to work with, I thought I found some. They were more like those vaccine samples than the ones you showed me from the other man. But they were there, all right."

"Were they active?"

Cabrini was engrossed in his notes and did not meet her eyes. "No, actually, I didn't see any activity. Of course, some other substance may be necessary to catalyze their activity. Or perhaps the stress reaction disabled them. It's quite a remarkable puzzle when you think about it. You always seem to have the most interesting cases, Agent Scully. None of the other agents I work with are so lucky."

Scully winced at his words. "I'd be reluctant to trust the results of that without another trial. The sample could be contaminated, don't you think?"

"Never seen this substance before. I don't see how it could be a contaminant."

It was inescapable now: his illness was intentional. Her hypothesis about his having been injected or exposed, deliberately was the correct one. Why Mulder? Find the motive, find the answer. Detection 101. Was it to give Mulder power? Or to shut him down? Or to make his powers available to someone else? Is that what happened to Skinner? Scully recalled the surveillance picture she and Mulder had shown the Assistant Director. He had refused to recognize the man they thought had delivered the poison. Mulder's fits had started in the crowded elevator. Had someone attacked him then, in front of her? She took off her jacket and pushed up a sleeve of her blouse. "Cabrini, I want you to check my blood, too."

Thursday, 9 a.m.

It was getting worse. She had denied it for a long time, but now it was clearly worse. She put out her cigarette, flicking it slightly with her thumb to release it from her fingers. The green-shaded lamp threw a pool of light across the desk. Her hands shook a little as she opened top right drawer to take out a sheet of her stationery, cream with her name embossed across the top: Diana Fowley. The tackiness on her fingers left a small stain in the upper corner. She took a pen out of the center drawer and sat forward wondering how to start.

"Dear Fox." Well, that was the simple part. Now what? He had been so enraged at her, so irrational. Someone had clearly tipped him off. Who had known about her role in the abductions? Dana was behind this somehow, she was sure of it.

"Dear Fox." Somehow if she could get him to understand, he would forgive. That was the challenge. Make him understand. Make him see. Get past the doubts and insinuations that his so-called partner had planted. Make him feel they had a chance together. He loved her once. She'd left and that had hurt him, but she'd had no choice really. He was loyal. And sympathetic. He would come to her once he learned everything that had been done to her. He still had feelings. Hadn't he kissed her that afternoon? Hadn't he planned to save her? Besides, she had what he needed. She could get him his sister. Tell him the secrets he wanted to know. Show him that it wasn't his fault. He wouldn't say no to that. Not to the things that he had always wanted. And he'd know who to thank. Who, in the end, turned back to him. And he would give her what she needed. He'd find a way to fix this. He wouldn't let her die. There was too much between them.

"Dear Fox, When this reaches you, I hope you will find it in your heart to read to the end. My actions may have seemed incomprehensible to you because we are caught in a situation beyond the imagination. Beyond the ordinary imagination, though not beyond yours. I have always tried to act with love and I'm sorry if I could not always explain my intentions to you." A letter is better than in person, she reassured herself. He can't react. Can't argue. Slowly, he'll see the terrible logic of her situation. He'll believe.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock, now repeated, and then by the sound of a key in the lock. She flipped the paper over and turned off the desk lamp. He was the only one with a key. Why hadn't he told her he was coming? She rose to meet him as the door opened.

"Oh, you're here," he said with a small smile. "I didn't get an answer and thought you might be out. Maybe that you were with our Mr. Mulder."

She pulled the belt on her robe tight and led him over to the sofa. "When did you get in?"

"I came straight from the airport. One of my men called yesterday. Seems like Alex has got hold of the artifact. The one Mulder seems to be looking for. Thought I'd stop by and find out what you know."

"Alex hasn't been in touch with me at all. Haven't even seen him in weeks."

"Ah. Well, I'm disappointed to hear that. On something this important I thought you might be working together."

"I don't know where he is and I haven't been able to reach him. He doesn't seem to want to be found. As you said, he plays his own game."

"I see. Well, that's no reason to lose sight of him, Diana. I thought I could count on you to know where Alex is. Perhaps you don't realize the importance of finding Mulder."

"Look, I found Mulder in the first place. Arranged for restraining him in the hospital. Kept Dana Scully away from him for almost a week. Since then I've followed her. I've had her apartment wired and tapped into her phone. I have a man in the Bureau keeping an eye on her. I can get into her network files. When she so much as dreams of Mulder I know about it. Okay?"

"Not okay, actually. It may be that when she finds him, he'll stay with her."

Diana shook her head. "No, she's fixated on him. Not the reverse." CSM raised his eyebrow but said nothing. "Well, when has he chosen her over me?"

"I'm well aware of your considerable charms, my dear." His eyes ran up and down her body. "But there's no time to dally." He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a pack of Morleys. The ashtray on the coffee table already held two half-smoked butts. He held out the package to her. "I see you've returned to the fold."

She took a cigarette from the package and waited for him to light it. Her hand was shaking again and she rested it against the top of the sofa so he wouldn't see. "You have to help me."

"I thought you were helping me."

"You have to help me with my…" What was the word? Problem? Condition? Illness? Side effect? "…my…"

"The vaccine? I wish I could do more than we already have. It was experimental. We never hid that. Our scientists worked to overcome it, to reduce the corrosive effects. Unfortunately, the best minds are gone now."

"You have to help. There's something you can do."

"Unfortunately, not for the moment. We thought we were saving you. You were our hope. You and the other girls. The first humans to be saved from the colonization. Ready to produce a new generation." He leaned back against the sofa and blew out a stream of smoke. His expression was calm, not indifferent but not upset either.

"Take me to them, then. They're healers. They can make it right again."

"I can't do that, Diana. Not right now. It would blow the whole game if they knew about the vaccine. And this time they wouldn't bother to save us."

"I thought there was something special between us."

"There is, Diana. There's only one other woman I've loved as much as you. But I can't sacrifice everything we've worked for. Besides, it won't be much longer. You'll see."

He stubbed out his cigarette and took the pack out of his jacket. Finding it empty, he crumpled it and pitched it onto the table. "It's been difficult these past months. You know that. It's why I asked you to monitor Mulder and Scully. Capitalize on his trust in you when necessary. Now it appears that our allies have moved up the timetable for colonization. If Mulder is reading minds…"

My God, she thought, that's what this is about?

"…then we need him if we are going to survive. We've always known that they might not adhere to our agreements, but now it is vital that someone have access to their plans. I see no alternative. He's the key to our survival. I trust you will do as I have asked." He rose and looked around at the expensive furnishings, the gilt mirror, the small collection of Japanese figurines on the side table, and a blank sheet of paper on the desk. Then he walked out of the apartment, closing the door behind him. Diana went over to her desk, picked up the letter, and crumpled it into a tight ball.

Thursday 9 a.m.

The strange sounds had exhausted him. The pain and pressure were a physical reaction to sounds he seemed to hear without them being present in the air. Gibson seemed unaware of the noise as he sat at the television, one cartoon following the next, a frantic laugh track erupting every few seconds. Mulder knew Gibson had not wanted to tell him about the alien voices or about the presence of the grays. He could sense the boy's racing heart and a flash of panic whenever he tried to get him to talk about them. Gibson knew the truth and feared it.

The closer he got, he thought, the more confusing they were. Once he had believed that knowing the truth about EBEs would somehow restore his sister to him and explain the tragedy of his life. Now he wavered about who they were and why they had come. Scully -- Scully of all people! -- had discovered that humans carried alien DNA. She might not believe his answers, but she always asked his questions. She had saved him. Scully. He repeated her name to himself, calling up her face and voice. Scully. They had disagreed about what the DNA meant. She was baffled, he was convinced that truths about human nature could be traced to a race we refused to believe in. The stubborn human belief in our own uniqueness had allowed a small conspiracy of men to broker the fate of the planet. He had yearned to talk with Scully that night when she had called him from New Mexico. He had wanted to take her hands and convince her that the artifact would open our knowledge and transform her science. Instead, they had fought and Diana had stood back calculating her gain. He wanted to tell Scully that, too.

Tired. So tired. Hungry and nauseated at the same time, the thought of food churning his stomach. So dark. So much darkness out there. The sounds were coming from darkness. He could sense it within the light from the television. A darkness settling over him. Calling to him. Pulling him down to them. They are us. Be part of them. In their darkness he would find his truths. In perfect darkness he would know what he needed to know. In darkness he would be able to tell Scully. She would be there, too. And in darkness she would believe. She would bring warmth to his darkness. When he had seen her at the Gunmen's, the warmth flooded his mind. Even as she denied what he knew, her warmth crept into every corner of him and he had welcomed it. But first, darkness. He needed to go to darkness and then she would believe.

He closed his eyes and let it absorb him. He stood at the edge of an abyss. He could feel the openness of it before him; the sounds called him forward. The void held answers and certainty. The sounds resolved in his mind, the cacophony shifting into patterns turning out and back in on themselves. Not in human harmonies but a matrix and a swirling pattern, colors masquerading in sound. No instrument he recognized, yet as familiar as the sound of his own voice. His own voice broken into its individual notes and woven back together. From outside and from within him the sound merged back and called him. It was his own heart and soul in the music. His own heart and soul calling him. He needed to find the darkness where the truth in the sound would come to him. Just a step into the abyss.

"Mr. Mulder, Mr. Mulder. Wake up! Please wake up. Don't let them do it. Stop. Wake up."

Mulder opened his eyes to see a panicked Gibson shaking his shoulder. "Wake up. Don't let them show you that."

"Show me what?" His voice was heavy; it felt cumbersome to speak. Shadows masked his vision except at the very center; they hovered around the edges of Gibson's anxious face.

"You know. You saw it."

Saw it? Saw nothing, he told himself. A bad dream and no wonder. He took a couple deep breaths and convinced himself that he was completely awake. A loud grumbling sound slid into his consciousness. Gibson turned away from him to watch the door. The overhead light went on, a bare bulb in the middle of the ceiling. Mulder squinted against the sudden light. The lock snapped open and a man entered carrying a tray of food. Mulder propped himself up on his elbow to watch the tall, muscular stranger move across the room and put plates on a table behind Gibson. The man stopped to watch the animated characters chase each other around the screen, adding his snorting laugh to the noise. The light reflected a little off his head, and Mulder ran through images in his memory to locate the man. As if sensing Mulder's interest, he turned and walked over the bed. A sour smell of unwashed clothes emanated from him and his hands felt slightly clammy as he held Mulder's arm down to test the restraints. Without speaking, he walked back to the door.

"Hey," Mulder said. "How about letting me up. I need to hit the john. C'mon. Give a guy a break."

The man stopped and turned to stare at him briefly before exiting. The light went out and the sound of a key in the lock finished the visit.

"What does a guy have to do to get room service here?"

Gibson had opened a can of cola and was gulping it down. He poked a finger at whatever was on the plate. "Him? He doesn't do anything except bring stuff and hit people. The other man will come later."

"The one who thinks about Agent Scully."

"And about the other woman." Gibson was afraid of her, too, Mulder was sure of that now.

The odd music had receded now and disorganized itself, like a loud pain behind his ear. He wanted Scully to come. If she were here she would stop the sounds, he told himself. No. No, she had no solutions for him. She was out there right now, trying to decipher something for which she had no tools. Searching for an answer different from his. She thought the artifact was a fake. He knew it had opened a door to let the noise in. It had triggered something, like a tripwire. Sending him down a path with an uncertain end -- from noises to voices and now the dark music. All because of his name? His father's name, his sister's name? Some fate seeking out a Mulder? Any Mulder? Or this Mulder?

Ffffffft. A screech, rising and falling, like a badly tuned clarinet. Sounds fracturing and churning in the stomach. All this noise must be out there all the time, he thought, electrical impulses scattering faintly from everyone's brains. A perpetual assault of stimuli. Just no way to decode it, so it flies on by like dog whistles and ultraviolet light. That's what it was. The artifact was like those decoder rings. He'd begged his mother to buy Sugar Pops for him so he could get the secret decoder ring. He'd been old enough to know better, but after Samantha's abduction he wanted anything that might give him a clue. He still did.

He lay back and tried to relax his muscles to loosen the pain. He had to keep control of his mind. That was the key. Think, he told himself. Keep thinking. Maybe the whole mess was just a conventional mystery. They had solved X-Files before. You started at the beginning. You looked for a motive. What was the beginning? Someone had directed him onto this case. Skinner. And Skinner put someone else on the case, too. Someone was taking orders from Skinner or someone was giving them. Yes. Someone was giving orders. That's why Skinner had acted so oddly. He wanted to deal with his own danger. It had happened before. The Smoking Man had been behind it then. Was Smokey back? Or Smokey and Krycek together? Krycek had been behind Skinner's odd illness. What was the point?

Okay, Scully, he told himself, I'm on the case. There's no need to buy into too much hocus pocus here. We have villains and tools. Motive, then. The voices in his head were part of a plan. It wasn't his name, it was him. Fox Mulder. He was the target. He could have been named anything and it still would have been him. They knew him. They wanted him back.

The artifact was still at the heart of it though, and if he wanted to regain himself, he needed to find the artifact. Scully had run off in search of it even though she didn't believe. She didn't believe, but somehow she knew. Accept what you know, Scully. God, I wish I could send you thoughts. Please know what I'm thinking. Believe me, just this once. Believe. There was no escape without belief. He wanted Scully to accept that.

 

Thursday, 11 a.m.

The light went back on and the door opened a second time. Mulder lifted his head to watch Krycek as he advanced across the room, hands in the pockets of his leather jacket.

"Well, Agent Mulder, so nice of you to join us. Enjoying the company, Gibson?"

"So it's you, Krycek. Why am I not surprised? Cut the crap, and let me out of here." He lifted his arms and tugged at the restraints to make his point. Amusement. Krycek was amused, he sensed.

"I'd expect a little more courtesy, given your position."

"You've had your revenge, now take off these cuffs."

"Or what, Mulder? What exactly do you intend to do to me." He pulled a key ring from the pocket of his jeans. He walked over to the table and spun a chair around on one leg. Placing it at Mulder's side, he sat down, leaned back and crossed his leg, ankle to knee. "This isn't about revenge, Mulder, much as I wish it were."

"I thought you were a take-no-prisoners guy, Krycek."

"I'll let you up after you understand."

"Why should I trust anything you say?"

"I'm not looking for your flimsy trust, Mulder. How far has that gotten you? What I want is your self-interest."

"Yeah. Like your interest and mine will ever coincide. I want to know which side is yours, just so I can avoid it." He turned his face away before squeezing his eyes shut against the pain. He wasn't about to let Krycek see his distress. He got Skinner, Mulder said to himself. He's not getting me.

"Maybe it'd be better if you started thinking about this logically, Mulder. I think you'll do the rest by yourself."

Mulder focused on Krycek's face, trying to call up his mind-reading powers. But all he heard was a gloating satisfaction at his capture. Krycek's plan was hidden from him. "Let me up from here for a minute, ok. I can't concentrate. Your little helper wouldn't let me go to the john."

Krycek nodded, unlocked Mulder's left wrist, and cuffed it to his right before releasing the latter. He pointed out the bathroom, a closet sized room without a door.

"C'mon Krycek, undo the cuffs or you're going to have to hold me yourself."

Krycek released him and Mulder stumbled a little walking across the small room. He grabbed onto the foot of the bed for support, his muscles weak from inactivity and his head dizzy. He breathed deeply to discipline his body. Not in front of Krycek, he repeated silently. No weakness in front of him or he'll seize it at once. No weakness. A minute later, Mulder returned to the bed, rubbing his wrists.

"Back they go, Mulder or my little helper comes in from the hall."

Mulder let himself be cuffed on one side while he continued to probe Krycek's mind. He was picking up serious worry now. "Okay, what's your angle on this, Krycek? Am I going to smell the Morleys soon?"

"Look, Mulder. I can't always be picky about my allies. There's a war on and there aren't many sides to choose from."

"Yeah, well you sure picked well. Why weren't you out there with the others? It ruined my day when your name wasn't on the list."

"You still don't get it? The old man's friends misfigured. Thought they could outsmart everybody. They didn't figure on another race."

"The faceless ones? The ones who've been torching people?"

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend. You've heard that one."

"Nice way to seal a friendship."

"Damn it, at least they're free. They're here to stop the colonists. So what if they get a little rough?"

"And we put ourselves at their mercy instead? Are you sure you've thought this through?" Mulder remembered all too vividly that Scully had been on the bridge. She had come close to incineration herself, far too close for him to consider the so-called rebels as potential allies. The agony burned into the charred remains of the others was still fresh in his mind.

Krycek tipped back in the chair and put his hands behind his head. The image before Mulder's eyes suddenly splintered into shards as though someone had thrown a rock through a window. Krycek had the artifact, he was sure of it. Hidden. Some terrible scheme in his mind, he was sure… Poison? Krycek was struggling to keep his thoughts away, Mulder knew. Only a word now and then slipped through the buzz of crisis in Krycek's mind.

"There's the vaccine, Krycek. I thought that was your defense."

"Yeah, the vaccine. Maybe we could inoculate a couple hundred people. A thousand. What are we going to do? Move to a cave and watch the invasion on tv? Then what?"

He leaned forward now, elbows on his knees, hands pressed just below his lip. "So tell me. You've been chasing them for a decade. What's the answer?"

"The truth has been suppressed, Krycek, thanks to you and yours. Worse yet, it's been altered, turned into doom for everybody. If we expose the conspiracy, people will be willing to resist. The collaborators will be removed. Without the help of Smokey, no one takes over…"

"For Christ's sake, Mulder, we're way past the power of the truth, if it ever had any. I told you the real fucking truth. We're rushing toward annihilation. A little publicity isn't going to stop this. All we'd get is panic. That's the one thing the old man is right about. Go on now, I'm still waiting for your answers."

Mulder's head was throbbing. Krycek's voice pounded inside, bouncing off the inside of his skull. Krycek's emotions were flooding his head: hate, fear, anger, death. He's ready to kill, Mulder realized. He wants me to kill for him. "We can't execute them, if that's what you're thinking. We can't just wipe them out. They hold the secrets we need. Scully found that we all have alien DNA. It's in us. We come from them. If we understand that we can use it to make sense of…to make sense of all the things that don't make sense."

"Make sense of your X-Files? Is that what you're telling me? That's truth about the past. If we don't do something about the present there's not going to be any past to worry about."

"Destroy the aliens?"

"The dawn breaks! Yeah, we destroy them. Or we get them to destroy each other. I don't give a damn which one it is."

"How does that advance us? What we need to know?"

"It doesn't advance us, Mulder. It saves us. Don't you get it? Otherwise they wipe us out."

"God, Krycek! We find we are not alone in this universe only to destroy. We have a chance to look at the very nature of life and we kill. Destroy it without learning from it…" They stared at each other. Mulder leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling. Darkness. Death. His mind ranged back to the alien ship, buried under the ice. The horror was too great for him to comprehend at the time, so he had acted without allowing himself to think. A giant freezer full of specimens. Each specimen a human host slowly being turned to jelly by a creature gestating within. The overlap between their DNA and ours making us the perfect nourishment for their procreation. And then they broke screaming from the bodies, the sound of them beyond pain and fear. Scully had been there. His need to save her had saved him as well. How are these creatures…us? he asked himself.

The amusement had returned to Krycek's face. "You busy looking for morality? Forget it."

"My sister…"

"Is this still about your sister? Is she really the be-all and end-all? Are you ready to have a holocaust on your conscience…I'm giving you a way not to freeze this time, Mulder."

"And if we destroy ourselves in the process? If they are in us, if they gave us life, how do you know that destroying them won't destroy us." Another memory pushed its way forward. Deep Throat had told him that every captured E.B.E. was supposed to be terminated. Mulder had been sickened. The evidence suppressed. Knowledge siphoned off by a few men for their own ends, supposedly for humankind but soon corrupted by the power and secrecy of the project. He wasn't going to do it. Not destroy.

"It's a risk we take, Mulder. Because the other options are worse. After ten years don't you know that? What have you learned of them? Their nature? For God's sake, if we went public what would you DO?"

Mulder lay back, the hum rising in his brain, threatening to drive out his thoughts. He turned back to Krycek and gestured as through there were a switch on his head. "You turn this on? You turn it off? Why me?" Krycek had done this. There was no longer any question. Like Skinner. Not like Skinner.

"You believe in them, Mulder. I need someone who believes. Let's not worry about that just now. Look, Mulder, the black oil is their life force, but I think I have the product that will make it their death force. A little alteration in the molecular structure does the trick."

"You're with Smokey in this?"

"The old man? Nah, he and his friends…" Diana's face flashed through Mulder's mind. Was that from Krycek, he asked himself. "…are running scared. Rushing to get on board before it's too late. Their heads are so clouded they couldn't even see that enemies had penetrated their inner circle." He shook his head. "No, not them. Anyway, opposition was purely hypothetical until a little miracle fell into my hands." He paused for effect.

"The artifact."

"Yeah. Now I just need the rest of the pieces. Pieces I believe your partner controls."

"She'll never work with you, Krycek."

"Well, that's not the issue. I know she'll work with you. If she believes that putting the artifact back together will cure you, nothing will stop her. And then you step right into their world. A giant step for mankind, huh, Mulder? A chance to check out the mysteries for yourself."

A pain shot straight through his head and the black oil seemed to be oozing out of his very brain to fill his eyes and ears. Krycek's mouth continued to move but no sounds came out. Slowly the pain receded and sounds filtered back in. Krycek was unlocking the cuffs. "…safer here than outside. So think about it. Stay here and watch cartoons with Gibson until I get back and we'll talk some more." Krycek left, slamming the door behind him.

Without turning, Gibson said, "He's probably right, you know."

 

Thursday noon

Walter Skinner looked around at the lunch crowd starting to arrive. He'd secured his own spot a half an hour and a double scotch ago. The Hilton on upper Massachusetts Avenue seemed like a good place to avoid people from the Bureau. Still, he scanned the new arrivals, ready to duck out at the first familiar face. It was getting noisy now and he had to concentrate to lose himself in his own thoughts. A man sat on the stool next to him and bumped hips. Skinner threw him a sideways glance, but the nudge appeared to have been unintentional. The man's attention was on the bartender. Skinner squirmed a little on his stool to break contact. Ever since his "accident" months before he had become paranoid. Any random jostle or bump set off the alarms. Touch. Illness. Death. He felt like he was on patrol in Vietnam again: behind every fern a potential attacker, in every crowd an ambush. He raised a finger to the bartender and tapped his glass.

Still, he told himself, it's not too noisy to try to weigh and balance things. He looked at his hands. The veins looked normal, slightly prominent, but that befitted a man who had been active, who could use his hands when he needed to. He turned them over and checked his wrists. Everything looked fine. Everything looked fine because nothing was fine. He had allowed himself to fall into Krycek's trap. When he'd been ill, when he recovered, he had told himself there was a line he wasn't going to cross. There was a point that he would stand and defend, not deliver the sacrificial victims that Krycek and the men behind him would surely demand. He knew that that was why Krycek had brought him back from death, and he knew the demand would be made. Well, look how well he'd done, he told himself. First request and he delivers Mulder straight into their trap. Could he have been any more stupid? Innocuous enough, he had told himself. Just one little compromise to keep living. A surveillance camera. And then another little request. Give Mulder a case with some UFO wackos. That was easy to justify; Mulder would want the case. He was our UFO man, no one more qualified. Skinner hadn't anticipated that a simple murder case could precipitate the drastic illness and disappearance of Mulder and the hostile anger of his partner. But he should have seen it. He should have known that anything Krycek set up in was bound to mean disaster.

Scully had shown betrayal in her eyes. He'd read total dismay at his treachery. She desperately needed an ally. And what had he done? He threw her little crumbs. Hints. Things he thought he could get away with. Told her she could trust him. Tried to give Mulder a chance to escape, but he hadn't tried hard enough. Hadn't taken the risks to make sure Mulder had a place to go. So that had backfired, too. After that, Scully hadn't given him the chance he needed to protect Mulder. Who could blame her? Now Krycek was pumping him to know what Scully was finding. Lucky for her she wasn't talking. He'd probably have coughed up those secrets, too. Damn it.

The bartender brought the Chivas back and poured another measure. Skinner pushed his empty glass away and wrapped his hands around the new one, soaking up the coolness of the icy drink. Hell, he'd been making compromises his whole life, only he hadn't realized it. He had always believed that following the rules, enforcing the law, respecting superiors would preserve justice and guarantee order. Didn't realize what Mulder was talking about when he insisted on his crackpot notions of "right," rules or no rules. And then Mulder bared the corruption, bit by bit. Corruption so deep it was hard to imagine its limits. Now it was Skinner's turn. He would have to face up to doing what was right or there wouldn't be any 'right' anymore. He wouldn't take the next step Krycek demanded. He'd find a way to protect Scully, to help her. Easy enough to say sitting here, he told himself. He needed a plan. If he was going to defy a death threat, he'd damn well better have some kind of plan. He'd faced his end twice and wasn't particularly keen to meet it again. But if he did, he'd better achieve something in return. He picked up his glass and took a large swallow. It burned a little going down.

 

Thursday 4 p.m.

Scully thanked Cabrini for his help and carefully packed up every piece of paper related to the tests he had run on Mulder. One sheet, the newest, had the results of her own blood test. The vaccine or anti-serum or poison, however it could best be classed, was in her blood, too. Like Mulder's, it appeared to be inactive. Appeared to be only because it wasn't actively building walls or eating away at her cells. She sighed. Sometime, when she had a chance to think, she would have to find out what other tests might be run on the properties of the material. Perhaps there was something in it that might say whether it was extraterrestrial, she told herself. Perhaps something would provide a remedy. She knew better than to think that there was a cure for every disease, that everything could be fixed. Some things couldn't be repaired, reversed, made whole again. But she wasn't going to stop until she was sure there was no recourse.

As she was putting the papers back into her case, she noticed the folder Merkmallen's secretary had given her, the one she had warned Scully was "bad magic." She took it out and undid the clasp. Inside was a journal, a composition book really, with a black and white marbled cover and the word "Cahier" framed in the center. The edges of the book were a little soiled and the black cloth binding along the spine had begun to peel away in one spot. Scully ran her hand over it and sat down to see what it might tell her.

The journal opened to where Merkmallen had inserted some loose papers. There were two or three receipts on flimsy paper, a photograph taken at the beach, a hand-sketched map, and several folded emails. She opened these first. They were from Sandoz, dated over a two week period. Sandoz responding, apparently to an earlier email from Merkmallen: "20th of March. Solomon, Remarkable news! Thank you for the fax. The resemblance is amazing. Did I tell you that I have located a translator for mine? May I send the fax on to him? Hope to have it deciphered soon. Stephen Sandoz. P.S. Monkeys are still well." Two days later: "Solomon, I should have said before. My friends identified the writing as an Indian language named Cree. How odd that you should find it in West Africa. The piece I received earlier (the one in the news item you read) was said to come from the southwest. I can't prove that, of course. I have been unable to trace the person who sent it to me. Stephen." A week passed: "I received your account of the odd behavior of the object. At this point, it would seem vital to authenticate it. Can you bring it here? I will wire funds from my grant. Let me know what you think the airfare will be. Stephen." Finally, "Solomon, My translator is amazed at the words on the artifact. Just as I had anticipated, this remarkable object is going to reveal the mysteries of human existence. The key to our fate. I look forward to your arrival on Friday. Stephen."

Scully looked up from the correspondence. The two men had been on a first name basis and Sandoz had paid Merkmallen's airfare. Clearly they already knew each other somehow, from before the artifact. She refolded the emails and picked up the photo. It was a color shot, 10 cm by 15, roughly. In the foreground lay the beach, footprints in the damp sand, the reach of the waves just beyond the range of the camera. Something metallic-looking lay next to a rock. A hand was pointing in from the side, hovering over the object. Scully tilted it in the light to try to make out the markings, but a sort of milky blur over the object obscured its surface. A second photo was stuck to the back. She pulled it loose. The photographer had stood up on the dunes above the beach. The sun was in front of him, she supposed, that's what accounted for the bright flash of light across the top of the photo. Two fishermen on the beach stood in the midst of their nets, pointing out to sea. In the middle of the scene hung an odd silver shape glinting in the sun. The edges of the object, what she knew Mulder would instantly label a ship, were sharp and clear, not blurred with motion. The sea underneath was calm.

Scully sighed. It all seemed to add up to so much or so little. The photos could be real or faked. The milky blur and sun scald were either an effect of the radiation or a way of doctoring the photos. The stillness of the ship was either the miracle of alien technology or a tip-off to the forgery. If the print was legitimate, there was still too little detail to know whether the illusive ship was what she had seen, or had thought she'd seen. She couldn't even tell if it was the same location. Most likely, they were all the victims of a deception to unknown purposes.

She flipped back to the beginning of the journal and started scanning the pages, gradually accustoming her eyes to Merkmallen's handwriting. The term SIDA kept coming up, always in capital letters. It seemed familiar, but her memory failed to yield the meaning. Finally, she pulled the folder of Merkmallen's articles from her case and flipped through the titles. SIDA. AIDS. Merkmallen was conducting AIDS research on monkeys. That's what his colleagues had been trying to explain to her. "Monkeys, of course," she said aloud. Sandoz had had monkeys in his lab as well. Was that the connection?

&#9;She turned now to the last entries in the journal and began working her way back to just before the time of the emails. She translated as she went:

13 Mars: Telephone from Laurent at the station in Tia National Park. Monkeys agitated. Keepers unable to calm them down. No sign of predators. Monkeys appear well otherwise.

14 Mars: Laurent called again, 7:00. One monkey dead. Others remain agitated. Refuse to eat or groom. Began blood tests, urine, and stools. Possible contagion.

14 Mars: Arrived at station 4 pm. One more dead. No anomalous results beyond the usual. Search for evidence must be done. Help from Sandoz? Djeny reports villagers speaking of visitation of the dead. Plane reported to have fallen in the sea. A UFO? Laurent says some workers have refused to come to station.

15 Mars: Drove to site of reported crash off coast. Villagers refused to take me to the beach. Fishermen said to be ill. Chief gave me object with strange writing and asked me to take it away. The village believes it carries a curse from angry ancestors. The object felt warm and hummed slightly. Strange drawings incised but surface perfectly smooth. A work of perfect artistry. The symbols are like none I have ever seen.

16 Mars: Email Sandoz to warn of disease among the monkeys. Two more have died. We must institute quarantine. Dr. Gbagbo arrives today to examine the animals.

16 Mars: Sandoz responded, no sign of illness. Check when his animals were shipped. He promises to monitor them.

17 Mars: Field station reports that sounds of monkeys have disappeared at southern edge of the Park. No bodies. Dr. Gbagbo mystified by the illness. I took the strange object into the station this morning and monkeys were frenzied. I have now removed it to Abidjan with me. Sandoz will be able to tell me more.

17 Mars: Blood tests returned from the field station. Strange clusters probably the result of contamination, but Dr. …

Scully turned the page, only to find that several sheets had been ripped from the journal. The remainder of the book was blank, save some rough sketches of the glyphs on the last page.

She closed the journal, and slid it into her briefcase. If anything, Merkmallen's notes had made the situation murkier than before. Sandoz and Merkmallen shared monkeys from the same location in addition to an interest in extraterrestrials. They each had pieces of the artifact, but presumably found in distant locations. Merkmallen reported the odd behavior of the monkeys around the time of a possible UFO sighting, but there was nothing in his journal to tie to indicate it was more than a coincidence. After all, the monkeys might simply have picked up the anxiety of their keepers. That sort of thing had happened before. Above all, neither Sandoz nor Merkmallen seemed to have felt any odd effects of the artifact. Why not? Why only Mulder? Why no one else who had seen or held it? Why not her or Skinner or Chuck or Hosteen?

Hosteen.

He had spent more time with the glyphs than anyone else. Maybe he might be able to tell her. She got on the phone and arranged a flight to Albuquerque in a little over an hour. Just enough time to get to the airport, she told herself as she grabbed her briefcase and headed out the door.

Friday, 9 a.m.

Scully pulled into the parking lane at Gallup Memorial Hospital and took a ticket from the automatic dispenser. The striped gate rose and she drove up and down the rows until she found a spot toward the rear of the lot. The hospital was low and modern, but in the traditional stucco style of the Southwest. Inside, the coolness of the lobby contrasted with the warmth of the sun outside. A young man at the information desk directed her to the surgical ward where Albert Hosteen had been moved. She hurried along the corridor, hoping that she would be allowed to see him. Surgical. Had his condition worsened, she worried. Her impatience mounted as she waited for the supervising nurse to fill out medication orders. The woman looked Scully over carefully and wordlessly. Just as Scully was about to reach for her badge, the woman nodded and directed her to room 624. The room was halfway down the hall. Stationed outside the door was the nurse she had met on her previous visit.

"You were here before, weren't you? I'm afraid Mr. Hosteen's condition is no better, Miss…"

"Dr. Scully. Dana Scully." She put out her hand but the nurse ignored her. "If you are not family," here she paused, "I am reluctant to let you visit. As a doctor, you surely understand the importance of conserving his strength."

Scully looked in through the open door and met Albert Hosteen's eyes. He raised his hand and beckoned to her. The nurse put her hand on Scully's arm. "Ten minutes. I really can't permit more than that."

Scully smiled at Albert as she walked around to the chair on the far side of the bed. He struggled a little to sit up and Scully grabbed an extra pillow from the foot of the bed to place behind him. He nodded in thanks. "They told me you came before. I knew you would come back."

"How are you feeling?" She reached out to touch his hand, but pulled back, uncertain whether the gesture was appropriate. He was thinner than she remembered and seemed much older. His hair had fallen out, only a few strands held in place by his headband. Friends or family had brought healing dolls, lined up alongside an incongruous mylar balloon with Mickey Mouse's face.

He followed her eyes and smiled. "My grandson is a fan. He's the only one who doesn't know. I need to finish my business here first before I can go to my fathers."

"Your business?"

"With your partner."

"You have business with Mulder?'

He nodded and pointed behind her. She spun around, but saw that he was gesturing only at the pitcher of water on the windowsill. "Please," he said. She filled his glass halfway, her hand still shaking from her misapprehension. Hosteen drank and handed the glass back to her. "I know that Dr. Sandoz is dead. Someone killed him for the secrets he and I learned. Now I must pass those secrets on to the fbi man before I die."

"Agent Mulder is ill."

"From the magic?"

"I…I don't know. I think he may have been poisoned."

"What is his illness?"

"I don't know exactly. He said he was hearing voices in his head . It didn't seem possible, but he, he knew things…"

Hosteen nodded. "It is the power of the words."

"Which words?"

Hosteen didn't answer. It seemed to her that he was waiting for her to pronounce it herself, to commit herself to the explanation. She continued, hesitantly, "The inscription?"

"There is magic in the signs. That is part of the secret."

"No. You see he got ill before he even knew what they said."

"It is not the meaning that is important. It is the symbols themselves. To look upon them is to look upon a mysterious power. For one who believes…they may remove a man's senses."

Should she dispute his conviction? There were, she knew, documented cases of people being driven mad or frightened to death by symbols, but that was because the meaning was known to them. And many cultures believed in talismans and icons able to heal. Didn't you have to know what the magic was in order for it to work. Even if Mulder had seen the glyphs once before, the context had been quite different. Why should they provoke insanity? But he wasn't insane, she reminded herself. Some odd connections in his brain had suddenly been switched on, that's all. An awakening? No, no. That makes no sense. She became aware of the silence between her and Hosteen. His face was pale and drawn, but his eyes were focused on her sharply.

"My partner believes there is life elsewhere in the universe and he also believes the artifact is extraterrestrial. But are you suggesting that his mere belief in the origin of the artifact would cause his illness?" Mulder would see the logic of that idea. He would see logic where none existed.

Hosteen watched her face, as her eyes drifted to the wall behind his head. Finally, he reached out and touched her hand. "This is hard for you, I see. But every religion has its holy objects. Your own religion does. You wear a cross. Your church has incantations and prayers. Holy words have power. The Word was first. Words create."

Her hand went involuntarily to the cross hanging around her neck. Logos. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was made flesh. But not literally.

"You do not want to believe in the magic. It is like when the white man came. My ancestors did not want to believe in magic we did not understand. Our medicine men said it would harm us. They said the trickster brought his writing to make us forget our own past. Then we tried to learn it ourselves, but it was too late and the magic was too powerful. Words were in that magic, too."

"But the artifact is written in your script? Why? Have they have been here before? They brought the writing? Or they took it?"

"I can't answer your questions. I can only read what you give me. I do not know the writers. They have not spoken to me."

"Do you believe they are gods?"

"All I know is the power of their words. I don't know if they are gods or devils."

The nurse reappeared at the door, a stethoscope hanging around her neck. She put down a small a tray with a syringe and glass vial next to the sink and signaled Scully by tapping on her watch. Scully rose from her chair alongside the bed and reached for Hosteen's hand. "One last thing," she asked. "Do you know what is on the other fragment?"

"Dr. Sandoz said it was a secret code. It tells us what is in all men. Not in their spirit, but what your scientists say is inside the body. Dr. Sandoz was very excited by it."

"I see. He told me something similar, just before…" Someone had shot him while he was on the phone to her. She could still hear the it. Someone knew where he was because of her. "Albert. It's good to see you. I'll give Agent Mulder your message as soon as I can find him. He'll come. I promise."

"Thank you. I don't know how to help you. I only know that you need to find the magic that ends the magic."

Scully walked slowly down the hall. Whatever the meaning of the words, the artifact was clearly radioactive. She wished the nurse had allowed her to read his chart. What sort of cancer did he have and when did the symptoms appear? It seemed far-fetched that it could have developed so rapidly from contact with the mysterious object, but still that seemed more plausible than what amounted to a curse.

Outside, the freshly tarred asphalt of the parking lot shimmered as she made her way to the rental Taurus. She opened the door and stood back to let the heat escape while she stood in the sun, shading her eyes. The breeze blew dust in her hair and left a film like ash on her jacket. Byers thought the words were some sort of self-contained document, words written inside words. Hosteen believed in the abstract magic of the symbols, good or bad. Chuck said Mulder's name might fit in some magic square that triggered the potency of the artifact. Sandoz thought it spelled out our fate. Mulder himself thought something in his experience predisposed him to react to the writing. Barnes said the whole thing was a fake which would mean the words had no power whatsoever, but he still killed for it. She herself believed that someone had given her partner a drug that had triggered a transformation in his brain. But who would do that? she kept asking. And why? She got in the car and fanned herself with her hand, keys jangling. Keys. The artifact is a key. A code. Two codes. One for the spirit. One for the body. And a key to Mulder's brain somehow. Could the key lock the door again or, like Pandora's box, were the demons now out?

Friday, 10 p.m.

Krycek unlocked the door and entered the basement room. He tossed his keys in the air, caught them, and pocketed them in his jacket "Well, Mulder. Come to your senses yet?"

Only after speaking did Krycek notice Gibson by the bedside where Mulder lay breathing heavily but otherwise motionless. When he approached, he saw that Mulder's hair was wet with sweat and the dampness had formed patches on his t-shirt as well. Gibson seemed more irritating than usual, standing right next to Mulder with his glasses askew and that goofy look on his face. As this thought passed through Krycek's mind, Gibson looked up at him with his defiant stare.

"Wake him up. Gibson. I need to talk."

"He doesn't want to wake up."

"What are you talking about? Just wake him up. I've got to move you soon."

"They're trying to take him. He's afraid."

"Nobody's trying to take anyone. No one knows you're here."

"In his head."

"In his head. Christ, Gibson. What's wrong with you? It's called a nightmare. Haven't you ever had one?" Krycek shook Mulder's arm roughly. His body twitched slightly, but his eyes remained closed.

"Are you two up to something? You wake him for me, Gibson."

"I can't. They're pulling him in. They're putting stuff in his head." Gibson's voice had risen and he had grabbed the edge of Krycek's jacket.

"Who? Pull him where?"

"Into their mind. His head is all dark. Make it stop. You did this. Make it stop," Gibson whined. "Make it stop."

"I didn't do *this, Gibson. He's no good to me this way. The stuff didn't have this effect before."

"Are you going to do this to me, too?"

Gibson's terror was beginning to affect Krycek. He needed Mulder if his plan was to succeed. He was the only one Krycek could get to deliver the altered oil. What if Mulder succumbed to this stuff, he worried. The scientist who had synthesized the oil was dead, destroyed by the rebels, unable to advise him. "Hey Mulder, wake up." Krycek picked up a coke can from the table and filled it with water from the sink. He splashed a little on Mulder's face, then muttered, "what the hell" under his breath and dumped the whole can over his head. Mulder's eyes fluttered and closed again.

"What happened here, Gibson? What's going on in there?"

"I told you, he feels like something black is being poured over his brain. He wants to come back, but it hurts too much."

Gibson turned back Mulder, now moaning and throwing his head from side to side. "He wants his partner. That might help."

"That's not the plan, Gibson." Mulder was stirring now. His eyes flew open and he looked around the room frantically. Seeing Krycek, he lay back again.

"It's not his partner, it's the artifact that'll bring him out of this. Just keep him awake or something. I'll be back."

Krycek slammed the door behind him and returned a few seconds later. Ignoring Mulder, who was now sitting up with his head in his hands, Krycek grabbed Gibson's arm and dragged him across the room.

"You know where his partner lives? Where she works?"

Gibson stared at him steadily, not answering. Krycek wanted to slap him across the face. "I'll take that as a yes. If you don't know, play your little mind-reading game over there." He pointed at Mulder. "Here." He took a key off the ring. "In an emergency, you go to her. Get it? Let him go, if you have to. But only in an emergency. It's not safe for him out there. Or for you. They're still looking for you. Dr. Frankenstein and his friends. Got that?" Gibson winced at the name. Mulder was drinking a glass of water and seemed totally oblivious to them. "Look Gibson. Neither of us has got any choice right now. Just remember, I took you away from the experiments."

 

Saturday, 2 a.m.

Scully's eyes flew open. "Mulder." She spoke aloud, then dropped her voice to a whisper. "Mulder, are you here?"

She could just make out the familiar shapes of her bedroom furniture in the streetlight filtering through her blinds. Nothing moved. No one stepped forward from the dark corners. She reached over to turn on the lamp, then stopped. Who knew what kind of danger he was in?

"Mulder, where are you?" She had heard his voice clearly, saying her name, trying to wake her up. The memory of his touch lingered on her shoulder and through her hair. His fingers had been cool; the sensation was startling. She sat on the edge of the bed for a second and thought. It was probably a dream. One of those odd experiences in the REM cycle when the brain's imaginings take on astonishing reality even as the body is paralyzed. But she hadn't been paralyzed; wakening seemed instant. She hadn't been sleeping deeply.

"Where are you?" She opened the bathroom and walked into the darkness feeling for his presence. No one. In the closet and dark corners of the room. Under the bed.

She hurried into the living room and got her small flashlight from her briefcase. Her worry mounted; if he had not stepped forward then something terrible and strange was going on. She moved cautiously into the kitchen, where the light over the stove provided dim illumination. Exchanging her flashlight for her gun, she opened the service door to the hall. "Hey," she whispered loudly. There was no response.

Scully went back to the living room and looked around slowly. She was sure he was nearby, but possibly not in the apartment. It felt as though he was watching her, wanting to tell her something when it was safe. Putting down her weapon, she went into the bedroom for jeans, a black jacket and a pair of shoes.

She picked up her weapon again and shoved her keys into her pocket. The door locked behind her as she slipped into the hallway. She squinted slightly in the light. There was a low rumble of bass coming from down the hall where a young man had moved in recently. She had seen him only once, but he always seemed to be at home playing his U2 and REM day and night. The light was out at his end of the corridor. There were no other sounds.

Down the hall and out the door. She kept her back close against the wall to maintain the greatest range of vision. The outdoor lamp was flickering; she felt exposed in its uncertain light. She slipped down into the bushes, calling softly not with his name, but with "Are you here?" and "Hey." It would be just her luck if some peeping Tom were out tonight, she thought.

She returned to her apartment, confused now. Outside she had not had the same sense of his presence. Inside, it had been almost as though she could smell him, not with her nose but with some other sense. Or maybe it was more tactile, as though he were right next to her, his shadow weighing across her body. She sighed, beginning to think that it had been a dream after all, a product of her febrile anxiety. She carried her gun into her bedroom and lay it on the night table. The jeans and jacket went over a chair, the sneakers kicked into a corner. She flopped back on the bed and felt the crinkle of paper underneath her. She froze. There had been no paper there before. No breeze to blow a scrap across the room, no scrap -- she was quite sure -- to be blown.

She rose and picked up the sheet, a single sheet, and carried it out to the living room where she had left the flashlight. Turning its beam on the paper she saw more glyphs. Part of the artifact. She looked it over carefully. The shape was different and the characters didn't seem exactly in the same order. It was new. Someone had left her a copy of another segment of the artifact. She looked around the room in wonder and terror. Is it you? Can you hear my thoughts? What have they done to you?

Scully crawled back in bed, too agitated to fall back to sleep. Someone had been in her apartment, yet there was no sign that anyone had entered. Her mind raced with possibilities, trying to imagine how Mulder might have communicated with her, but rejecting each in turn as outlandish. In the silence of the moment, she realized that her neighbor's stereo was no longer on, no longer sending a steady base beat into her room. She sat bolt upright in bed, and threw off her covers. Broadcast. Piping sounds in. She got down on the floor and began searching for a device, a speaker, wires, anything. She crawled along the floor, unscrewing an outlet along the way and tugging up the edges of her carpet. Behind her dresser, against the wall, she found it. With her nail scissors, she clipped the wire and dropped the miniature device into an envelope. She knew who was probably behind this; she just didn't know why.

Saturday, 10 a.m.

The knock on the office door was a formality, the handle turning before she could respond. Scully turned around in her chair and nodded at her boss. Even on Saturday, he was dressed in suit and tie, his face freshly shaven, his eyes showing something between suspicion and skepticism, as they always did. "I was hoping you would come in, sir."

"Your message said you had found something important."

"Yes, I did."

"I assume this is about Agent Mulder."

"Only indirectly. This is what I found." She pulled an envelope out of her bag and shook the contents into her hand.. Skinner took it from her and held it in the light.

"Appears to be an electronic device. Why is it important?"

"It is a miniature speaker. I found it in my bedroom, last night. After I woke up, certain that I had heard Agent Mulder's voice."

"And no Mulder, I presume. No anyone else either, I presume" She arched an eyebrow at him. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it the way it sounded. So you think his voice was recorded and fed into your room. By whom?"

"The speaker is of government manufacture. It was produced by a military contractor to high specifications. Despite its small size, it can produce accurate reproduction of sound at levels comfortably audible in a normal room. Without distortion."

"Nice feat. So you think…"

"I think the people, or the person, responsible for bugging this office and his apartment were responsible for this, too. I was hoping you might enlighten me as to purpose." She knew that Skinner would see the implication of her words immediately.

"Agent Scully, you are mistaken in thinking…"

"You didn't order our office bugged?"

"There are compromises I've had to make, sometimes, that I don't expect you to understand."

"Spying on your own agents? I thought we had a greater level of trust."

"Trust is not the issue here. I wasn't able to refuse. But I assure you I know nothing of bugging either of your apartments."

"We were set up, weren't we? Mulder was targeted for this. I'm beginning to guess how it was done. This was no random attack. But you understand that already." Scully had allowed her anger to take over her voice, even though she'd told herself to keep it neutral, to avoid another confrontation. She breathed in and out once, deeply. "All I really care about right now is your knowledge of Mulder's whereabouts."

"I have given you as much help as I can, told you as much…"

"It's well and good to maintain your effectiveness in the Bureau. But aren't we past the point of credibility upstairs, sir. Mulder's life is at stake."

"You don't understand the limits on what I can do, and I am in no position to explain them to you."

"Unless you can explain, then I have no recourse but to follow my own hunches, sir, about the other person on this case. The one you seem to be cooperating with."

"You are out of order, Agent Scully."

He turned and walked to the door, then stopped and came back to her. "I didn't plant the device in your apartment. But I think I know who did."

"Then who?"

"I'll handle this my own way."

"You can't deal with the devil, Director."

"I know. I tried it once."

The door opened and Cabrini pulled up just short of colliding with Skinner. "Sir?"

"I was just checking with Agent Scully about the results. I wish we had more to go on."

 

Saturday 10am

Alex Krycek rapped on the apartment door. He looked up and down the hall where carriage lights outside each apartment provided discreet illumination. The carpet was beige and, from the look of it, recently cleaned. The doorman downstairs had looked Krycek up and down before he let him pass through to the elevators. Finding a gum wrapper in the right pocket of his jacket, he balled it up and flicked it down the hall. "Take that," he said. A few seconds later he saw the light through the peephole dim. Barnes opened the door but made no move to invite his visitor in.

"You would do well to be hospitable, Dr. Barnes. A word from me and you're in prison."

"Big man."

Krycek grinned. Barnes stepped back and made room for him to enter. The walls were hung with tribal weavings in bold geometrics and photos of Barnes on his travels. Krycek stopped to peer at one grouping, silently naming the places he recognized: the pyramids in Egypt, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, several places identifiably African, and one in the Middle East. The minaret in the last shot seemed familiar, but he wasn't well enough traveled to be certain of its location. Barnes was shaking hands or holding up objects of one sort or another in most of the photos. On the adjacent wall was another photo, somewhat larger, that posed him with a man holding up the shroud of Turin. The rugs on the floor looked Turkish, and those hung on the wall were Navaho, he was pretty sure. It looked like Barnes had a busy schedule, a much-stamped passport, and a well-stocked bank account. He looked around at the comfortable leather furniture and the carved wooden tables. His host had not invited him to sit, but he took the chair across from the television, assuming it was Barnes' favorite. Barnes' frown told Krycek he had guessed correctly.

"Nice digs for a biologist," Krycek said as he scraped a fingernail along the leather arm of the chair. He licked his finger and rubbed it over the abraded spot. "Aren't you going to offer me something to drink?"

"This isn't a social call, is it, Mr. Krycek?"

"I guess not. I guess not. It's time for us to move into the next stage of our friendship, Mr. Barnes." He sneered slightly. "Sorry, *Doctor Barnes. Let's talk a little about work with Dr. Sandoz."

Barnes snorted. "We did not work together. At cross-purposes is more like it."

"And that's why you impersonated him and killed his visitor?"

"Certainly not. Whatever evidence you claim to have would never stand up in court."

"You're not quite sure of that, are you?"

"Stephen had dubious connections to people of suspect sanity. Not to suggest that his own sanity was beyond question. Who knows what sort of illegal activities he might have been involved in. What sort of people were mixed up in his life…. I'm sure my lawyer would have no trouble drawing attention…"

"But Dr. Barnes, tell me. Everyone has crazy colleagues. It's part of the game. That's not why you got rid of Merkmallen. You wanted that artifact. You know what it does, don't you?"

"What it *purports to do, you mean. Yes, I've learned a little since Stephen's death. What's that thing to you, anyway?"

"It's a key element in a struggle of cosmic proportions. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? That's why I've allowed you to remain free. To continue your research into what you well know to be true. Now you can share it with me."

"You're as batty as Sandoz."

Krycek shot up from the chair and pulled Barnes' arm behind him. "I don't pretend to understand everything. But at least I have the sense to distinguish reality from delusions. You are going to help me finish the puzzle."

"So, if you have the object, you win." He tugged his hand free of Krycek's grasp.

"Yeah, something like that. You can start by telling me about Sandoz's research. Not the Mars stuff. The monkeys."

"The monkeys? Well, Mr. Krycek. I'm surprised that interests you. You don't seem like the scientific type."

"Just talk."

"The monkeys. Stephen was using them for research on immune disorders. He was part of the great AIDS research machine. Not that he ever contributed very much, spending all his time off hunting for little green men."

"What did the little green men have to do with the monkeys?"

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing."

"Nothing. I see. Nothing. That's very informative. Now, how about telling me where the mother ship is. You found that out, too, didn't you, on your little trips around the world." He waved his hand at the photos. "Tell me now or come with me."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I see. Well, then there's someone I want you to talk to. Sooner or later you are going to tell me what you know." Krycek drew his gun from his jacket pocket and aimed it at Barnes. At that moment, a door to the dining room opened and C.G.B. Spender walked into the room.

"Good work, Alex. It's a source of great comfort to me that you have this mysterious object in your possession. I'm confident that it will be useful to us." He removed a package of Morleys from his suit, stripped off the plastic wrap and crumpled it onto the floor. Without hurry, he took one cigarette from the package, lit it, and inhaled. "Dr. Barnes and I were having a little talk before you arrived. Dr. Barnes has been a friend of mine for a long time." He looked smug and Krycek supposed he saw this as one of his little triumphs. "You didn't realize that? I'm sorry. Remind me to keep you better informed in the future." He took a long drag on his cigarette and blew a stream of smoke into the air. "Maybe you should keep me better informed, too."

"What is this about, Spender?"

"Dr. Barnes has done a valuable service in debunking people who get a little too close to the truth. He's always able to make them look a little foolish. Question their integrity. Provide counterfacts. Fortunately there are a few of us who can make sure the right information gets to where it will be most useful."

"Okay, then Spender. Tell me what the next step is." Krycek engaged the safety and put his gun away. "If you know the answers already, then we are 'way ahead."

"Yes, I guess we are. Am I to understand that you have Mr. Mulder?" Krycek looked at him with surprise again. "How convenient. He's just the person I was hoping would join us. Why don't we go get him now?"

 

 

Saturday, 3 p.m.

Mulder stood in front of the door to his apartment and slapped the pockets of his jeans. No keys. Of course, what was he thinking? he said to himself. How could he forget he had no keys. He leaned up against the door, fatigue washing over him. It was so easy to close his eyes, but when he did the darkness tugged at him, trying to turn him inside out and pull him down inside. He grabbed the doorknob, determined to shake it loose and force his way in, but it turned easily. Cautiously, he pushed the door open, reaching instinctively for the gun he no longer had. The apartment was dim. The blinds were closed and the lights were off. A narrow shaft of sunlight filtered in through a slat twisted in the wrong direction; he could see dust particles floating in the light. Behind his eyes flashed another scene of things floating in light beams.

The drawers of the desk were open, evidence of a hasty search. Mulder picked up the papers scattered on the floor and piled them on the desk without bothering to put them in any kind of order. The pens and pencils he pushed back into the drawer. He tugged at the blinds a little to let in more light. Outside, a black car drove by and three girls walked along the sidewalk, their arms around each other. It was quiet except for the hum that rose and fell, somehow speaking to his subconscious mind. He was meant to go to them, he knew that, but also knew it could not happen. It was where he'd find his answers, he told himself. That's where the truth was. The truth. They'd fix the voices. He'd be home and they'd fix the voices. No, no, he corrected himself, it was a trap. Scully, where was Scully? She'd know if it was a trap. He leaned a hand on the desk, until his dizziness passed. After a deep breath, he started digging in the drawers. Where had they put his cell phone? It had to be somewhere. He couldn't talk to Scully without his phone. He couldn't leave now. Not without Scully. Where was the damn phone?

"Fox."

He turned, startled. Had he left the door open? A woman silhouetted in the doorway advanced through his dimly lit entry and into the living room. She looked like his sister, like every permutation of his grown-up sister he had ever met. Her brown hair hung in waves, pulled back from her face with a loose ribbon. A black dress hung loosely from her shoulders, the fabric shimmering slightly where the light hit it. Her skin was smooth, unlined, without make-up. She smiled, sadly, he thought, before speaking..

"Fox, it's me, Samantha." Her voice was low and soothing.

"Sam?"

"You're surprised? Of course, you are. I came to get you." She touched his hand and he grasped hers firmly.

"Where have you…? Get me? Where are we going?"

"I'm taking you to a safe place. Where we'll be protected."

Mulder was puzzled. Protected from what, he wanted to ask. Protected by whom? He didn't trust anyone to protect her. No one ever had. "But, Sam, you're here, you're free… We don't have to…" A sudden pain arced from one temple to the other and he grabbed his head. Samantha pulled her hand away and rubbed her fingers across his forehead. The pain ceased. Mulder opened his eyes and looked at her in astonishment. Even the memory of the pain was fading from his mind.

"Fox, please, we have to go to them. We'll be safe there. Dad set it up this way. He always told me he wanted you to save me, but if you couldn't, I was to save you."

"Save me? When, when did he say this?"

"After I was taken from home. When I was living with the other girls and felt afraid. He came by and tried to explain. Fox, he never wanted to send me away. He never wanted to choose."

Her voice calmed him, as did the gentle motion of her thumb over his hand. Calm, he felt calm now. So tired. Sleepy. It was hard to think. Hard to remember his questions. The photo. Mulder recalled the photo he had seen at the base, Samantha and other girls in the foreground, a shadowy man behind them. "Sam, is it really you?"

"Of course. This is me, I promise. I'm sorry you've been misled. It was all part of a plan. A hope. It was to make things better, Fox. We've both had to sacrifice so much, just so things can come out right. But now it's over." She waited patiently through his silence. "You doubt me, don't you, Fox?"

"How can I know for sure it's you?" Must rest. Must let go. The hum had returned to his head.

"Ask me something. Anything. About when we were kids. Something only you and I know."

"Okay, let me think." Kids. So long ago. Was there a past out there somewhere that he could trust? He looked around the room for something that might jog a memory that only the two of them shared. So hard to think. Something about summer, maybe. Something secret they used to do in summer. Or something about their mother. Something he could believe. But anything she would know her clones would know, too. The memories would be given to every knock-off of the original.

"Fox? Fox, let me tell you how it felt when it happened."

They'd all know that, too, he thought, they'd all have learned the script. Memories would have been copied along with the body. Pain started at the roof of his mouth and spread backwards, swelling, gagging him, making him gasp for breath.

Samantha continued, seemingly unperturbed. "Let me tell you what I saw and how they stopped you from helping me. I know you wanted to help me. You wanted to protect me. Fox, I saw what happened. Do you remember?" She ran her hand over his lips and the pain stopped again. "Listen to me. They can preserve human consciousness. It's what Dad wanted."

He knew it for sure. It wasn't her. His real sister wouldn't pull him in like this. Why now? Why save him now? Because they wanted to stop him. There was something he was too close to learning. She had taken her hand away and the pain was back. He coughed, seeking to break loose of it. Darkness welled up at the edges of his vision.

"Take my hand. Don't you feel the tie between us?" He shook his head, looking down at the floor. The calm was starting to spread through his body again, but now he tried to fight it. Samantha continued. "Do I need to cut myself to prove it, Fox? I will. I'll show you later. But we have to hurry before it's too late."

"Too late? Too late for what? What are they planning." Scully would know. She would know how to test Samantha. What evidence would prove it.

Sam stood right under him, caressing his hand and trying to catch his eyes. He refused to meet her gaze. "Fox, it has to happen. It has been written. We need to go now." She pulled on his hand.

"No, wait. Scully. I need my phone. We have to get Scully."

"No, Fox, she's not in the plan."

"Can't go then." He tried to shake his hand loose of her. He jerked it back then up, throwing it into the air where she was too short to follow. She braced one hand against his chest, reaching up to grab his arm.

"Fox, stop. Take my hand. This isn't a game. We have to leave."

He pulled back again and threw his arms in circles, denying her a grip. "No! Can't go without…"

"Mulder?"

The voice startled him. He turned away from his sister to look back at the entryway. Scully closed the door and hurried over, her heels accelerating across the floor. "Mulder, you're alive." She grabbed both of his arms and pressed her face against his chest. "He said you'd be here. Thank God. Now we need to go."

"Go where?" He was breathing hard. She pulled back to look him over carefully. He knew she would notice the redness of his eyes and the tremor of his hands. The chafing around his wrists told her he'd been cuffed. A large bruise on his arm was starting to fade at the edges from purple to greenish-yellow. His shirt was stained with something red and he hadn't shaved in several days.

Her inspection complete, and the results readable in her frown, she continued. "We'll go somewhere where you'll be safe until we can counteract whatever's making you sick."

He stepped back from her and looked around the room. "Where's Sam?"

"Samantha?"

"She was here. She was here just a second ago. Until you walked in. Where is she? Did she leave? Did you make her leave?" His voice rose in frustration and Scully put her hand against his cheek to try to calm him. "Mulder, no one was here when I arrived. You were alone. Shouting. With your hands flailing in the air…"

"She was here, Scully. Right where you're standing now. She wanted me to go with her."

"Mulder, sit down. You're not well. It doesn't look like you've been sleeping. Your temperature…" She pulled him over to the couch and guided him down. His arms were hot and his forehead slightly damp. "You have a fever. Has someone been drugging you?"

"Scully, you have to believe me. I'm not hallucinating. It's not a drug or anything else. She was here. I heard her, saw her, felt her. She was telling me…"

She stroked his cheek and dropped her voice to a soothing tone. "Okay, Mulder, it's okay. What was she telling you?"

He closed his eyes for a moment, then focused on her. Was it Scully, he asked himself. Was it really her or would she suddenly disappear like Samantha? Her face seemed pale and tired. He could see that she was trying to hide her worry from him. He closed his eyes and opened them. She was still there. He ran his hand through her hair and then leaned against her to smell it. Everything was so familiar. Brain damage, she was worried about brain damage with words he didn't recognize. This had to be her. Had to be Scully. He breathed out and coughed a little.

"She was telling me that I had to go with her. That she had come to get me."

"Mulder, you can't go there. You know that. It's a trap."

"I have to, she came for me. You come, too."

"No, listen. Do you want to go?"

"I have to. Please don't make me go alone."

"Why, why do you have to? Fight against this, Mulder."

"I don't know. It's in my head. I have to be there."

"She put it there?"

"No, no she didn't have any thoughts, but..." He rubbed his eyes slowly, trying to remember what she sounded like. "That's odd. She didn't have any thoughts."

Scully put her arm halfway across his back. He continued, "I couldn't read her mind. It was quiet. Just her voice and her hand." He turned his own hand over and back, marveling that it was unmarked by the encounter.

"Listen, Mulder. Listen to me. I know what it felt like. The same thing happened to me."

Mulder turned to scrutinize her face. What could she mean? Her thoughts weren't about his sister. "You saw Samantha?"

"Not Samantha. You. A couple nights ago, I woke, sure you were in my room. You called my name, you touched my shoulder, I think. I could *feel your presence. But when I searched for you, you weren't there. It was as though you were just past my reach. It wasn't a dream, I know that."

He nodded. "Not a dream."

"Then I found this." She opened her purse and pulled out the envelope with the miniature device. "Look at this. A small high-powered speaker. High fidelity, high volume. Military specs. Planted in my room, under my dresser, a wire going through the wall to the next apartment."

He turned the device over in his hand and rubbed his thumb across the slightly pebbled surface. "You're saying there's a speaker like this here? No, Scully, she was real, not just a voice. I saw her."

"And then she disappeared like that."

"When you arrived." He examined the speaker more closely and noted the slight marks on the side where someone had pried it open. "You're saying that it was a subliminal suggestion to the exhausted or sleeping brain? That maybe we had been prepared for suggestion in some way?" He slipped the device in his pocket, then got up and pulled his bookcase away from the wall adjoining the next apartment. "It would have to be over here." He dropped to his knees and coughed a little at the dust. His fingers ran along the edge of the baseboard and probed a gap in the flooring.

"Wait, Mulder, maybe not. I've been thinking about it. That speaker is Scully evidence, isn't it? Exactly what someone would plant to give me the simple, obvious answer. But I don't think that's what happened. You *were there with me. I felt it."

"I dream of you, Scully, but that doesn't make me there." Her smile flitted through his mind. He had stood up now and was assessing at the heating vent near the ceiling where he and Scully had inserted a video camera not many months before.

"Not at all? You haven't been in my apartment at all. A trance maybe?"

"No. The sounds in my head, pulling were me down to something inside me. A truth, Scully. But so hard. It was all I could do to make my way here."

"Are there voices now?"

He nodded. "Not voices, just a sound pulling me. Painful. Hard to concentrate. Like they want my mind. Absorb it. Samantha said…" His shoulders slumped and voice slowed. "I can't fight it forever. I just want to rest." He returned to the couch and sat down heavily next to her. She stroked her hand across his forehead.

"Can you tell where it's coming from?"

He shook his head.

"Just listen to my voice, Mulder. Keep thinking. Take my thoughts if you have to. Concentrate on me. I'll tell you something else. I had my neighbor investigated. There was nothing in that apartment to incriminate him."

"They'd have cleaned it up."

"I thought so, too. More Scully reasoning: absence of evidence is still evidence."

"That sounds more like Mulder reasoning."

"Well, you know…"

They sat for a few moments in companionable silence. The street noise filtered upstairs, an occasional car going by and the faint sound of someone shouting. The music in his head had faded.

"There was another thing, Mulder. Something I found on my bed."

He looked at her quizzically.

"It was a picture of the artifact."

"Krycek has the artifact, Scully. Hidden somewhere."

"No, I mean another piece. It was a different shape and a couple of glyphs I hadn't seen except…. Except on the beach. Mulder, what do you think it means?"

"So it was like I was actually there. And left something for you?" He took in her face: eyes, mouth, cheeks and eyes again. She colored slightly under his gaze. Closing his eyes, he breathed out and leaned his head back against the wall. He was calm and his forehead uncreased. "You really do believe that, don't you?

"I have to believe it," she continued. "You brought it to me. A clue. That meant you trusted me to make the right decision." She touched his hand to bring him back. "But could it happen? What was it, some kind of hypnotism, power of suggestion? Something planted in the mind before, triggered by a voice?"

"More like it was superimposed realities. That's why I couldn't hear her thoughts."

She stared at him. "This isn't making sense. You mean Samantha?"

"Like transparencies, Scully. Like in your medical books. Here's the skeleton, then we overlay the nerves, then the circulatory system, then the organs and muscles. Isn't that the way it goes?"

"More or less. But reality isn't a transparency, Mulder."

"Why not? That's exactly what it is, a picture. It's just that they are able to take one picture and transpose it over another. Or take it away. They take a slice of reality, a thin cut of electrons and deposit them on another sheet of time and superimpose them where they want."

"No, that would violate the physical laws of time and space. It's impossible."

"No, it's beautiful. That's how it works. That's how they've been able to trick us. That's how I saw Samantha. That's how the ship you saw appeared and disappeared. Right?"

"Mulder." She closed her eyes. She couldn't follow. He sensed her confusion, but that was all right. She'd figure it out later; she'd see some way that it worked and would explain it to him in terms he couldn't understand. He was sure of it now. Sure that this was one of the aliens' tricks. It made them seem much more powerful than they were.

"Look, if you weren't in my apartment, how could they put you there? How could they create your transparency?"

"Good point. It would mean, it would mean they had to take a slice of me from time. I would have to be under their control, and my image came back to you."

"From the future."

"Yeah," he whispered. A ripple of her anger washed through his mind. She hated the thought. He knew she wanted to fight it just because she hated it.

"No. No. That would mean that they take you. That means the whole thing's a trap, Mulder. They're using me to draw you in. Look, we need to turn off those sounds. It doesn't make sense quite yet, but we'll go someplace safe and…"

He felt calm now that he knew what was going to happen. "There's no time. It's like a beacon, Scully. They keep pulling…"

"The Gunmen are working on that. They're working on some kind of jammer, like the way the electronics muted the voices. There's time."

"No, I see it now. I've been programmed. They've decided."

"No, come with me. I think I figured out what's causing this. It seems like a synthetic version of the black oil, something like we found in Skinner's blood. Made by humans, Mulder. By plain old humans. I just have to work out a few more things. Come on, up. Let's get you cleaned up a bit." She pulled him to his feet and led him into the bedroom. He looked around at the disarray, sheets pulled off the bed, papers strewn around the floor, a hole in the wall where the camera must have been. Scully was pulling out drawers, grabbing shirts and pants. "Go wash your face. You'll feel better. And grab your shaving things. We'll take care of that beard later. Is your suitcase in this closet?" She opened the door and pulled it off the top shelf. Turning, she saw that he was dazed, looking through her. "Never mind, we'll clean you up later." She walked into the bathroom and grabbed his toothbrush and razor quickly. He hadn't moved when she emerged. "Okay, Mulder. We're leaving now. You're going to be okay."

His eyes were flat and unfocussed. The noise was back in his head, resolved again into a melody of sorts, unknown yet clear in its intent. A new sound, full of fear, was pushing its way in. "I have to go. The pull. You can't believe how it pulls."

She hugged him to her and he wrapped his arms around her with his face in her hair. "No, Mulder, you don't."

"I'm afraid he does."

Scully turned at the sound of the voice. Diana stood at the bedroom door, a gun pointed at Scully. "How cozy. Thanks for helping me find him, Dana. I told you we needed to work together." Fear was coming from Diana. A wave of anger layered with fear. He knew her face, the same as always, no not the same. Her hair was pulled back carelessly and she wore no make-up. Or wore it badly. Her skin was pale and slightly tinged with green. Desperate. She was ready to kill, but not him. Mulder turned to his partner, his mind racing. Not Scully. Don't touch her.

"I owe you both an apology, I suppose. I didn't realize there was anything between you. Not that it would have mattered. So much pointless emotion." Scully pulled back a little from Mulder and looked up at his face. He was staring at Diana with the same dazed expression he'd had a minute before. There was a tear in the corner of his eye and Scully reached up to wipe it away with her fingers. She thought at him, Is she real? Do you hear her? He nodded, without the heart to tell her what Diana wanted.

Diana's voice broke in. "Put your gun down on the floor, Dana. We've reached the end of the charade. You never believed in any of this, anyway. Maybe you should exit stage right."

Scully took her weapon out of her rear holster and lowered it to the ground, not breaking eye contact with Diana. She rose just as slowly and took Mulder's arm. He could feel her touch on his skin and hear her call him inside his head. She wasn't leaving. Something else, she was thinking something else but he couldn't hear it. The sounds blared from Diana, notes resolving into images of Scully dead. He gripped Scully's hand and squeezed until he heard a little snap of pain from her. Diana continued. "Reading her thoughts or mine, Fox? It doesn't matter. It's time for you to come with me. We can help each other in the only way that really matters. You save me. I give you what you want. What you have always wanted. I'll tell you what happened to your sister. To me. And why it had to happen. It's not what it seems."

Mulder ached. She had been in the photo with his sister. Right in the middle of the lies. His eyes regained their focus and he spoke slowly, stumbling a little over the words. "You've always known? And you never said? All those times when I was angry and depressed. But why…" …why tell me now when I am slipping into darkness, he wanted to scream. Scully's hand steadied his thoughts, her anger calming his. "Okay, Diana. Tell me. Make it good again."

"No, first you come with me, because I need you, too. The vaccine is destroying me. It'll destroy you, too, but me first. They're healers, Fox. They can fix it. But first I have to take you to Spender."

"Spender?"

"Yes, he needs you to listen to our alien buddies. He won't seek my cure unless he has you."

"You're with Smokey?"

"Smokey. Yeah, if you want to call him that. I had no choice, Fox. I did the only rational thing. They took me just before Samantha. I was fifteen. When they started testing the women, I was there. I held their hands while the doctors, the so-called doctors, probed, drilled, stuck things in, and took things out. I sat with the women afterwards and listened to their tears. They ruined them; they weren't going to do that to me. Not once they understood what I could give them. The men -- Spender and the others -- sometimes watched the tests, too. I saw their hunger when they looked at the girls, naked on the table. I knew what was in their minds. So, I made friends. Spender liked me. A lot. He kept me away from the knives. Self-preservation. Mankind's highest ambition." She tossed her purse onto the bed. "Don't pity me. I've gotten whatever I want up to now and it's going to stay that way. Get me a cigarette, Fox."

Mulder looked down at the purse, but it blurred out of focus and transformed into a gaping hole, the abyss lying within. He breathed in sharply and looked back at her, not comprehending why she had brought this omen to him. Diana flexed her fingers around the gun and re-set her aim. Scully put her palms up and said, "I'll do it, Diana. He's not well. You can see that, can't you?" She reached in and pulled out a lighter and the pack of Morelys. Shaking one out, she lit it in her mouth and handed it to Diana. The smell went straight to Mulder's brain: Cancerman is here. He grabbed Scully's arm again. Scully pulled the rumpled blanket out of the way and helped him sit. Turning back to Diana, she said calmly, "Maybe you were right in the first place. With what you know, we can stop them if we work together. Put an end to the conspiracy and the projects."

"Stop them? No. That's not what this is about, Dana. The truth is not what Fox has always thought. Not the powerful alien colonizers you've been threatened with over and over. It's much more cunning than that. It wasn't so much fear of the aliens that made Spender's group into their lackeys. Without the project, there wasn't an invincible threat, nothing that couldn't be fought off with a reasonable loss of life. No, it wasn't the promise of survival. It was the promise of immortality. That's what's driven this from the beginning. Immortality. Hard to say no. Only you have to survive to stay immortal and that's where Fox solves my problem." She waved Scully back from the bed and away from the door, and shook Mulder's shoulder. The music had become a pounding, each slam of the hammer a point of light behind his eyes. Done. Done. Done. Gone. Gone. Gone. That's what it sounded like.

"Get up, Fox. You come with me. They want you there. They'll save me then. Save you, too. We think we humans have life and death powers with our little weapons." She waved her revolver around without taking it too far from her target. "All we really have is the power of death. Sooner rather than later. That's all. They have the *real power of life and death. The power to prolong life almost indefinitely. There are few things that will kill them, that they can't heal. Come with me. Help me and you'll have immortality, too. Bring Dana if you want. You'll never have to watch her die. She won't have to watch you die. But if you say no, she dies now."

Diana's voice had faded out after the name of his partner. Dana. Bring Dana. Bring Scully. No. Dead. Scully dead. He looked around frantically and saw her standing behind him. So much fear in the room. It held his chest and made it hard to breathe. He could smell Diana's fear, sour and bitter. And fear for Scully. His fear.

Scully stepped forward. "The noise in his head is confusing him. Let me try." Slowly, keeping an eye on Diana's weapon, she crawled onto the bed behind him and leaned close to his ear. "Mulder, I'm here. Can you hear me?" He nodded. He heard her voice and he heard the sounds from her head. She wanted him to wake up. She had stopped speaking but her voice continued. Concentrate on me. Focus on me, Mulder. Keep thinking. I'll go with you. We'll find a way to get away from her. We can still solve this. You don't have to surrender.

Her warmth was in his head, pushing back the sounds, and his eyes regained their focus. Concentrate. Don't surrender. Don't surrender. "You can't come with me, Scully." Please understand, he wanted to say. She'll kill you if you do. I see it, Scully. He tried to resist the thoughts Diana seemed to be directing to him. Her lies and contradictions. She lies even in her head, he told himself. Focus. Focus on Scully. "Help me. Stay behind and help me. Like you were doing."

She thought at him, the artifact. I have to put it back together.

"Yes. You find the best way. I think that's the message of the dream."

"It wasn't a dream, Mulder."

He smiled and she kissed him on the forehead.

Diana stepped forward and took his arm, "Come on, Fox. We have a date."

Fifteen minutes later.
Dana Scully sat on the leather couch turning her weapon over and over in her hand. It was useless as a means to get what she wanted -- to save her partner. Even if she had tried to shoot Diana, it wouldn't have saved him. Nothing would work until she did as Hosteen said. Abandon her science and find the magic. Her thoughts were broken by a knock at the door. Walter Skinner hesitated a second and walked in, holding the hand of Gibson Praise.

"He said you'd be here." He looked around. "Where's Mulder? Did you find him?"

She nodded and put her gun back in her holster. "Found him and lost him again. I let him go with Diana."

"Diana. I would think that's the last person…"

"She is. But I still can't help him. I need the artifact or all our efforts, everything, will be for nothing."

"I think I can help you there, Agent Scully. I know who has the artifact."

End of section