Date: November 1, 1998

Subject: Title Agents of Change: Return from Antarctica

Author Jessica Lackaff

E-mail tashtego23@hotmail.com

Rating PG

Category MSR, post-FTF

Spoilers FTF

Keywords - Mulder/Scully

Summary Mulder rescues Scully from the alien ship, but they must then try to find their way back to 'civilization'

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Agent Fox Mulder and Agent Dana Scully and such other references of the copyrighted X-files are the sole property of its creator, Chris Carter, and its owners, 1013 Productions, and FOX television, a unit of 20th Century Fox, Inc. No copyright infringement is intended.

Agents of Change: Return from Antarctica

"Well, I dreamed I saw the silver spaceship flying in the yellow haze of the sun..." --Neil Young After the Goldrush

"Queequeg was a native of Kokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are." --Herman Melville Moby Dick

Russian Pole of Relative Inaccessibility

The snow tractor is a letdown after the spaceship. It looks like the primitive conveyance of an unrefined technology until Mulder remembers the Roswell incident. If one subscribes to this theory, the prodigious technological leap the world has taken in the second half of the 20th Century is entirely due to knowledge gleaned from the UFO that crashed in New Mexico in 1947. Fiber optics, night vision, and the silicon microchip are all attributed to this source. If that is the case, Mulder thinks, then this tractor might owe some of its heritage to beings from the stars. He feels a rush of optimism as he digs through the back, unearthing the fuel containers. The tractor is well equipped with fuel drums, tools, winches and blow torches, but lacks food and extra clothing, which he was in too much of a hurry to collect at the base camp. Ten minutes after landing at Little America in an LC-130 Hercules, he was tearing away toward the South Pole, the small civilization behind him obliterated in his mirrors by a fume of snow.

In the cab Scully is shivering hard, despite the blasting heater. Mulder swings around the horrendous crater left by the ship until he finds the crimped tracks left by those fleeing the ice station, their Sno-Cats' treads weaving across the plain in the direction he had first come. They too must beheading for the Pole. Navigating will be easy enough, with their tracks to follow. The sun scintillates in the sky and the bank of clouds is behind them. Scully looks ridiculously diminutive in the huge parka. She doesn't believe him when he says they are in Antarctica.

"You know any other places that look like this?" he asks.

"But how did I get here? Mulder, this is the bottom of the world!"

"It sure is."

"But this is worse than the Arctic!" she wails.

He supposes she is remembering the worm. "We'll be out of here soon, he says decisively, rubbing his unshaven jaw.

They stop in the lee of an ice cliff long enough for Mulder to strip to the waist, giving her his long underwear to put on under her coat. "It's a little sweaty, but at least it's warm," he says happily. He has her back, and just to see her serious little face again raises his spirits immeasurably.

While she is changing he climbs out and pees in the snow, making a mental list of all the things he wishes he had brought: blankets, whiskey, hot packs, food, clothes, thermos, stove. Scully checks her frostbite in the rearview mirror. Superficial congelation, erythema caloricum...nothing serious. Mulder fills a plastic bag with snow, knots the end, and places it over the defroster vent to melt. He digs around in the glove compartment.

"Ha!" he says suddenly, holding up a metal hip flask. "You'd better have some of this."

"Alcohol isn't good for hypothermia," Scully says. "It's a depressant to the system."

"But you're warm now," He looks at her sternly. "This is for shock."

Scully is too tired to argue. Mulder unscrews the cap and gives it a sniff. "I'll test the waters, so to speak." He tosses back a shot and hands her the flask.

Scully takes a healthy snort and shudders convulsively. It takes the taste of the green slime out of her throat. She has another for the road. She leans her head back and gazes out the passenger window. The air is turning pink. She sees an unbelievably world, a sea frozen in mid-sway, white hot to the eyes. Mile after mile, and not a bird, not an insect. Mulder turns. "Scully, you're drunk!"

"No, I'm not." She sits up straighter. She's so warm and relaxed, it's hard to move.

"God, you have the tolerance of a flea."

She ignores this, turning her glowing mind to the last events she can remember. Mulder catching her as she was born, gushing blindly forth in a tsunami of fluid. Lying on the icy floor as his hands clothed her, as he filled her painful lungs with his breath. She dips her chin down inside the collar of her coat to catch the scent from his shirt. It is a wanton gesture, but she does not care. She feels secure for the first time in days.

"Does anything live out here?" she asks.

"Not much."

"Come on, Mulder, not even an Abominable Snowman?"

"There are no Yeti in the Southern Hemisphere," he says, as though everyone knows this. "I think the only creature out here is the wingless fly."

She scans the horizons, the endless swales of ice, brilliant as splintered mirrors. The sky presses down around them, baleful as kismet.

"And us," she says.

"And us."

She has much to think about, but the beauty of the place absorbs her; she merely rides, watching. The sky, now touched with color. Intense Fox, forcing the tractor to maintain top speed. His eyes are burning, when he glances at her. A small shaft of sunlight falls upon her hand. She is pure sensation, soaking up every vibration of the terrain they pass over, observing sastrugiand sundogs, watching streamers of snow spin off the top of a dune. They pass a grove of tall ice splinters that pierce the sky. She imagines him driving all the way out here, not knowing what condition he would find her in, even if he would find her...

When the triple sunset appears Mulder glances over at her expression. Wordlessly he lets the tractor crunch to a halt.

They stand on a white plain, not so much watching the sunset as standing inside it. The air around them sifts with colors--garnet, wine, cherry'; periwinkle blue shifting into honey. The sunset is replicated three times in the sky, layer upon layer of color. Dana knows it is a trick of light refraction and the low angle of the sun's rays in that hemisphere, but it seems like something more to her, an unprecedented gift of time. Her lost nine minutes, handed back to her wrapped in a miasma of vermilion, tangerine, and cobalt.

When the sky segues into violet they turn and walk the 200 yards back to the snow tractor in silence. Never, for the rest of their lives, does either of them ever speak of that moment.

Darkness changes the atmosphere inside the tractor's cab. It becomes a small world of warmth purring through the sub-zero wilderness. Amber lights glow from the dashboard. There is a chummy feeling, the bonding of survivalists. Mulder takes the sleeve of her parka and pulls her closer.

"Come on, I'll let you steer." He finds a frozen candy bar and tries to get her to eat some. "The Norwegians beat the British to the South Pole because they had sled dogs and hot chocolate. The British brought ponies and tea."

"Your point being?"

"Sled dogs are snuggly and cocoa cheers you up. Ponies can't take the cold and caffeine dehydrates you. You have to eat, Scully. It's been days."

Scully tries to comply. Somewhere out there in the dark, Scott and his men all perished. She shivers, and Mulder slips his arm around her. He is thinking of the British expedition, too. "Scott never realized how close he came to the mothership."

She raises her head slowly. "Is that what you think that was?"

"Two hundred and fifty thousand years ago this place was tropical. Think about that, Scully. Then the Earth shifted on its axis and the continent came under perpetual winter. Every year another layer of ice and snow, piling up. There are huge mountains here that are almost completely buried! That ship had been there awhile. Thousands of years, I'd say. With soundings, core samples and measurements, we could find out how long ago it landed there. Do you realize what that means?"

Scully has some idea, but it is not what she wants to discuss. "What happened to me?" she asks slowly. "How did I get in here?"

There is silence as he frames his words. "You went into shock from a bee sting. My phone was tapped, and when I called 911 THEY came and took you first. They must have flown you down here. You were inside the ship, in a tube, suspended in solution. I was given a vaccine that reversed the effect of the virus the bee was carrying."

She faintly remembers being transported. She recalls the fireman she autopsied, his edematous flesh, and shifts uncomfortably. "We're following the tracks of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, aren't we?"

Mulder raises his eyebrow in surprise. "Good guess." He looks sulky at the mention. "He had some kind of field station set up on the ice cap. I saw him, Scully. He let them do that to you." "You've had a craniotomy. What happened?" She had noticed it when they were sitting in the snow, catching their breath.

"Subdural hematoma. When they took you I caught a piece of lead."

"Mulder...you should be in the hospital! How's your vision?" He shrugs, barely listening. They arrive on a plateau where the wind is skirling. The tracks they have been following are obliterated. Mulder hesitates, swinging the tractor from side to side, looking for any sign of the trail. He fiddles with the Global Positioning Satellite monitor. It will slow them down to have to navigate across untested ground, but there are only a few hours of darkness this time of year; once the sun comes up they should be able to move fairly quickly. Scully takes charge of the GPS monitor and helps watch the terrain ahead. Mulder thinks distractedly: 'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--', swerving around a huge chunk of ice. The tracks chatter over ridges of snow. 'I took the one less traveled by--'. They roar through the bitter night.

Forty minutes later, the tractor hits a bump and drops two feet straight down. Mulder feels it in the small of his back. He accelerates forward and encounters something solid. He hits reverse and they rock backwards, the tractor bucking to a standstill. They are canted at an angle. Snowflakes charge at the windshield between the slashes of the wiper blades. The engine judders spasmodically and dies. "And that has made all the difference," Mulder mutters. He whacks the dash. "Guess I should have let you drive."

He throws open his door and leaps down on the running board. Glancing down, he sees one of his feet swinging out over black space and just checks himself by grabbing the door. Scalp prickling, he hauls himself back inside and sits perfectly still.

"What? What is it?" Scully asks.

"We're over a crevasse."

Scully swipes at the condensation on her window and cups her hands to peer outside. At first she sees only snow, swirling down, light as air. For a moment she imagines the perfect crystalline structure of a snowflake under magnification. Then suddenly she sees it: from directly beneath her shoots a dark chasm, the snowflakes floating down into it and out of sight. She feels an elevator-like drop in her stomach; afraid to move, she turns her head slowly. They sit in silence for fifteen minutes. The ice beneath them creaks. Stress points in the tractor's steel groan. The engine ticks. Wind swirls in Mulder's open door, sucking out the heat. Their headlights blaze against a knot of ice chunks. A ruby glow from the dashboard touches the straight lines of Mulder's profile. He steadies his breathing. He tries to calculate how wide the chasm is, how long the tractor is, how much of them is still supported by snow.

"Maybe we can climb back along the side," he says.

"No, Mulder, don't try it! Don't move!" she begs. She feels that this huge machine, all these tons of steel, is about to plunge them down into the hole.

"If it starts to go, get down on the floor and brace yourself. Maybe it will get hung up without falling too far."

"Oh, Jesus," Scully says fervently. Her teeth are chattering. "Mulder, I have a real fear of falling!"

"God damn it, so does everybody!" He pounds the steering wheel. The reverberations run down the steering column and into his knee. He wishes he hadn't yelled at her, but does not apologize. With a deep breath, he leans out of the door and grabs the side of the tractor. He edges a few feet along the track, but runs out of handholds. The dark pit is still below him and he cannot see the bank. A gout of wind punches his side. He loses his nerve and crawls back up into the cab. Scully grabs his vest and heaves him inside. She leans over him and shuts the door. Mulder pants with exertion and fear.

"Could you see how much of us is on solid ground?"

He shakes his head. Too dark. Moving gingerly, he crawls over her and shines a flashlight out the passenger door. Green glass walls reflect the light back at him, sea-water walls that taper downward, curving out of sight. The fissure's caustic hell-breath gusts in his face. He closes the door delicately. "I'm going to break the windshield and we'll climb out over the hood."

Scully grabs his arm. "I've thought of that. We can't take the chance of jarring it loose. Look, we'll try the radio. We only have two and a half more hours until it gets light. Maybe then we'll be able to see what the best course would be."

Mulder reaches over and kills the headlights. He is afraid to start the motor again. "Think we can do without the heater?"

"We're starting out pretty warm; we have a good chance."

They have no luck with the radio. Ionospheric disturbance caused by the Aurora Australis is interfering. Mulder finds some sleeping bags behind the seat. He unzips them, murmuring comfortingly as he tucks in her feet." You're a cheap date...a little Jose Cuervo and a candy bar and you hop right in the sack..."

Scully is shivering and he hastens to lie down behind her and pull her close. He is filled with dread, that they will fall, that she will get too cold, and sick with the knowledge that it is all his fault. He has to keep her talking, keep their minds off their predicament. Even if they could get out of the tractor, they wouldn't last an hour in the cold. With the wind chill factor it must be twenty below. Scully sits up. "...feel sick," she says. She leans out the passenger door and retches. Mulder grips the back of her coat. He gives her a sip of water from the plastic bag, crunchy with a rime of ice. He rubs her feet. He searches his pockets, finding her gold cross and warming it in his hands before putting it on her. She feels it warming slowly against her skin and thinks about jumping molecules.

They lie on the narrow seat, listening to the creaks of the settling tractor. The wind shoulders against the vehicle like a grizzly dismantling a trapper's shack. Scully tries to keep her breathing even. It occurs to her that she is better equipped to face death than Mulder is, because of her illness. His courage touches her. He is trembling even as he holds her, soothingly stroking her hair. Then she thinks: No! She is not ready to die. Now, more than ever, she wants fiercely to live. She wants to sort everything out, to tell Mulder everything she feels, to deal with the man who shot him. She will confront the Cancer Man. She and Mulder will get to the bottom of the conspiracy. They will find his sister.

Mulder says: "It's funny when a human understands the repercussions of gravity."

"Funny ha ha or funny ironic?"

"Faced with the chance of falling, people without even the faintest grasp of physics are suddenly experts of the laws of gravity."

"Are you going somewhere with this?"

"Scully, is my proximity engendering a wash of emotion?"

"I'm in no mood for your special brand of levity," she says.

"Neither am I," Mulder sighs.

"They say fear is a sign of intelligence."

"Then I'm awful damn smart," Mulder growls. He looks up through the windshield suddenly and sees the Southern Cross. It is the first time he has ever seen the constellation, but he recognizes it instantly. The cloud cover has parted, opening a window to outer space. Mulder peers up into it with a sense of homecoming, as though he peers into his own soul.

His sister has never seen the Southern Cross. Fox and Samantha, climbing out onto the garage roof at night. Smell of warm tar. He carries binoculars, she drags a useless telescope. "How many are there?" "I don't know." "Millions?" "Billions."

He sighs. Precariously close to death, the elements of life flash all about him, touching in their simplicity.

"Scully, if we get through this, you can call me 'Fox'."

"Thanks very much, but I'm quite accustomed to 'Mulder'," Scully says coldly. She wonders why she feels insulted. Everyone else, it seems, gets to call him that but her. It feels strange to be quarrelling when they are pressed so close together, his warmth against her back, one of his long legs thrown over hers, his hand up inside her parka rubbing her tummy. She feels the percussion of his heart. She knows the inside of the human body so well that she can picture his heart beating, the web of his circulatory system, the gentle expansion of the lungs. It is annoying that intoning his first name gives her such a feeling of reverence, of a spell being lifted, of sunlight inching into an overgrown temple.

He wishes he had tried to make her happier, this woman who vindicates his life. He should have got her a desk. Imperceptibly, so she won't notice, he kisses the top of her head. If this is the last thing I do, at least it is meaningful, he thinks. He sees that his singular fanaticism has blocked the way to as many truths as it has unearthed. With her in his arms the path toward change feels easy, but he knows it will be a tricky course. He has turned his psychological insight upon himself often enough to have no delusions about his private idiosyncrasies. He has lain with an angel and supped with the Devil. God, he is such a Faustian head case!

Out of the blue, Scully recalls what was going down in the corridor of Mulder's apartment building before the bee stung her. She sits up with a jerk, displacing the sleeping bags, and taking a deep breath of biting air. Her lungs are not quite clear, and she coughs.

Mulder deplores the disturbance of the status quo.

She looks down into his face, but it is so dark that she cannot see into his eyes. She sits for a time, staring at the Aurora, gathering her thoughts. Mulder waits patiently. When she lays back down, she is shivering so hard that he holds her tightly, afraid that she will shake the tractor loose and send them plummeting down into the gash in the ice. For some reason, she reminds him of the ship they saw rifting through the cumulus--a thing born o a beautiful, unimaginable technology, a streak of pure energy, an entity connecting him to distant, brilliant realities.

Unchallenged, the cold enters their bastion with an insidious creep. Mulder is tireless, massaging her, shaking her when she gets too sleepy. He forces her to talk, even as she feels herself drifting, her head roaring. Slowly, she recites the Greek alphabet and the table of Chemical Elements. "Boron! You forgot 'boron'. Come on!" he coaches. He is worried to distraction about her. He knows her feet are too cold. His watch has frozen. Either the night is far longer than he had calculated, or time is passing with excruciating slowness. The aurora, pink and green, undulates in the sky, adding to the general feeling of unreality. Mulder has moments of dislocation--he is driving on through the night, he is rising in the spaceship, not left behind, earth bound, but ascending to the stars. He is sleeping on his couch at home, warm, and the morning light is just beginning to come through the window...

He snaps awake, horrified at himself. Dawn is fracturing the cloud cover. How long has he been asleep? He has neglected Scully. He has let her freeze.

Then Scully sits up and a ray of sunlight strikes her, spiking her cerise hair with gold. She looks like a star gone supernova. Mulder lies bushwhacked, forgetting to answer when she speaks to him.

The tractor is straddling the crevasse at an angle, so that the passenger door is only five feet from the bank behind them. Mulder prepares to make the climb back to solid ground. In daylight the crevasse looks worse, a bottomless black chasm gaping directly beneath them. Mulder opens the door and stalls, adjusting his gloves. He takes a deep breath and then turns back to her. "Give me something for luck?" He asks.

"What, like a ribbon from my bodice?" Scully asks levelly. " Mulder, the concept of luck is a superstition on which people blame the consequences of their actions. You make your own luck and everything that happens is your fault, unless conditions determine otherwise."

Mulder holds up his hand. "That's it. Perfect," he says, without a trace of sarcasm. He looks faintly relieved. She sees determination flash across his countenance, and he slips out of the cab and out of her line of vision as smoothly as the shadow of a bird. ****************************************************

Agents of Change: Part II

Back on solid footing Mulder goes directly to the back of the tractor and finds a rope. He ties one end of it to himself and throws the other end to Scully. He holds his breath watching her climb down onto the metal track, buts he crawls back quickly toward him, gaining solid ground without a hitch. Mulder finds a shovel and begins moving snow, making a downhill grade behind the tractor. Scully rummages through the contents of the back of the tractor and unloads the winches.

"Look at this, Mulder!" she says suddenly. She has found some plastic explosives, used for taking seismic readings.

He looks interested. "What do you know about explosives, Scully?"

"No more than from messing around with fireworks as a kid."

They examine the tractor from all angles. Mulder renews his digging and Scully sets up a winch, anchoring it to an erupting chunk of ice. It is impossible to tell how much pressure the block can take. Mulder has removed a considerable amount of snow from under the rear tracks, so that they are unsupported. Scully helps by melting snow with a blowtorch. They have created a slope behind the tractor, so that if it was rocked back, it might slide a few feet from the crevasse.

Then Mulder fills his pockets with explosives and a detonator, and climbs up on the tractor's roof. Scully watches in silence. She wishes he had roped up. His wet boots squeak on the bright yellow paint. He slides down over the windshield and dismounts on the other side of the fissure. She watches as he digs in the snow under the front bumper with his hands. He knows little about explosives; he is guessing at distances and amounts. Finally, he has the charge set, the detonator set in it, and covers it with snow, backing up as he unrolls the wires. He gives her a couple of baseball signals. Scully engages the electric winch, which is attached to the back bumper. As it goes taut Mulder depresses the plunger, detonating the explosives. There is a huge CRACK of sound and the tractor leaps in the air. As it is falling, the winch comes into play, yanking it backwards. When the cloud of powdery snow settles Scully sees that the tractor is back on solid ground, only the front of its treads extending over the crevasse. With a tearing feeling, she realizes that Mulder is on the other side. She cannot see him. Suddenly, with a whoop, he arises from a snow bank where the concussion knocked him. He stands looking across at her for a moment, and then points into the sun, indicating that he will walk along the crevasse until he can find a way to cross it. As he sets off at a jog the whiteness of the sky and land absorb him, before the distance has a chance to. Watching him leave, straining her eyes, Scully clings to the fact that white is all the colors of the spectrum, the opposite of emptiness.

Dana Scully sits on the metal cleats of the track, heating water in an enamel bowl with a blowtorch. Mulder never comes back. The hole in the ozone layer is directly over Antarctica; she keeps her hood pulled down to avoid sunburn, but is grateful for the warm rays on her back. She is full of warm water, she is resting, her heart beating slow, her eyes heavy. She imagines Mulder in various perilous scenarios: immobilized with a broken leg; wandering snow blind; falling 30 feet into an abyss; being savaged by a polar bear. She runs through every possibility without ever touching on the one she hopes will come true: that he will return in one piece. Polar bears are only in the Arctic; she throws one in for good measure. She peeks out from the fur of her hood at the frosty, glittering desolation. The air is so dry here there aren't even bacteria to keep her company. The place is not so much a presence as an absence, a void which swallows. She is nowhere, and going fast. She might sit here until she freezes to death, bit by bit, each cell swelling with ice until it ruptures. She can imagine the process. She remembers Clyde Bruckman's promise that she will not die. But did he really mean that? Was he just being nice?

Without Mulder, it's hard to go on. She remembers the way he looked when she was dying. To move on without him is inconceivable. Is she expected to go through life partnerless? She recollects with surprise that she has engineered her own transfer away from him. After the way he has come down here to release her from the ice, her action feels downright like betrayal. What must he think of her? If she leaves, his next partner might be Agent Fowley.

This thought puts her into the slow spin of the green-eyed monster. She is confused by the intensity of her feelings. She has no hold on Mulder. What is her connection to him, anyway, but a long history of disagreeing over cases and driving around in cars? A lot of sitting around in motel rooms. Calling each other in the middle of the night. Constant arguing, endless criticisms. Consideration and support. Her skepticism, Mulder's obsessiveness. A mutual desire for the truth, a common search for knowledge. She has no personal claim to him, but she needs to tell him that she does owe him something, contrary to what he said. For he has shown her a fascinating, nebulous world that has taxed the limits of her beliefs and forced her to rethink her position in science, in nature, in the Cosmos. She is grateful to him for opening this door. He has expanded the world for her.

Scully cannot take the loneliness of the place a moment more. Determinedly, she packs up the tools and approaches the front of the tractor. She has to walk precariously close to the edge of the precipice to climb up in the cab. Sitting in the driver's seat, all she can see is the crevasse, gaping in front of her. She slips the gears into reverse, so that if the tractor jolts upon ignition it will go backward. The motor turns over and roars to life. Scully closes her eyes in terror. They are moving, they are falling. She lets her foot off the clutch and they surge backwards, the crevasse rolling away. She stomps on the gas and nails a chunk of ice hard, denting up the back. She hits her chin on the steering wheel, tears of relief starting in her eyes. It takes her five minutes to get the thing turned around. She drives parallel to the chasm, 20 yards away from it, moving slowly, half standing to see through the windshield. The heater starts to warm up. She has never driven anything this big. It handles like a Hovercraft.

When she sees Mulder she assumes he is a mirage. He pauses when he sees the tractor bearing down upon him. It takes her a minute to figure out how to stop it. Scully opens the window and leans out like a trucker, grinning foolishly. She wants to jump down and sideswipe him like a puppy. Mulder smiles too, though he is caked with snow and looks exhausted. "Cold enough for ya?" he calls, as though they are two farmers meeting on a fence line.

The American base at the South Pole is covered by a huge metal geodesic dome. Colorful international flags snap in the wind. The voices of Huskies ring, clear as Christmas bells. Mulder pulls up with a flourish in front of a young meteorologist who is draining a pan of noodles in the snow. Before they disembark Mulder passes her his sidearm. "Scully, I concede to your marksmanship." She slips it in the pocket of her coat.

In the infirmary the doctor, a grayish, sepulchral individual, looks so unhealthy himself that she doubts his credentials. They are ensconced in Abba: 'Dancing Queen'. Mulder sticks his head out of a neighboring cubicle and rolls his eyes. Scully snorts. Her thawing feet are in agony, the music is too loud. The doctor has all the social advancement and subtle wit of a paramecium in a mud puddle. He has coerced her out of her parka and is working on her long underwear. Suddenly she has endured all she can of Dr. Jekyll's probing. She commandeers his stethoscope and checks out both herself and Mulder. When the uproar over that dies down, they sit on a table with their feet in buckets of cold water, going through the agony of recirculation. Her feet are remarkably free of frostbite. Mulder has his eyes closed and the ends of the stethoscope in his ears, he is listening to his own heartbeat. It seems to be putting him to sleep. She looks down at her own hands clasping the edge of the table and feels a strange sense of victory; the people and creatures and elements that would do her harm have all failed, and she has triumphed simply by surviving.

Scully stands in the icy wind talking to the Scandinavian pilot who will fly them to New Zealand. They are waiting for Mulder, conditions are good and the pilot is anxious to take off. The wind flicks coffee out of his paper cup. Scully hurries back inside to look for Mulder. She can't find him, and is about to go back out when she stops outside a storage room. She hears Mulder's voice, speaking urgently. She pushes the door lightly and it swings open. A tall thin man has Mulder cornered against a row of shelves, a gun pressed into his stomach. Mulder has a bruise along the side of his jaw. The man turns his head, glancing at her dismissively. "Go on, get out of here!" he barks.

Scully is pure speed, a mercurial blur of adrenaline and collected rage, her right hand coming up under his jaw with Mulder's weapon--the crunch of contact--then a low kidney punch with her other fist, one foot simultaneously hooking his leg, and he is dropping, kicking out, falling. She closes her eyes to block the flash from his discharging weapon, but it never comes. In tandem she and Mulder go down on him with their full weight, jerking back on his arms, flicking his gun away. The man grunts, once, but stays silent. Scully scrambles for some duct tape and they truss him well, hands and feet. Mulder rolls him over--they are both panting--and tapes him to the floor.

She flicks back her hair. "Did he hurt you?"

"Christ, Scully, you came out of NOWHERE!" Mulder gives her an admiring look. He plants his foot on the man's chest. "You planted the bomb in Dallas, didn't you? You spied on me and Dr. Kurtzweil. You waited here to kill me, incase I made it back." The tall man stares sullenly back at him. He has a narrow, hard face and a colorless crew cut. He breathes calmly, watching Mulder with only mild interest. Scully sees that he will not talk in a million years.

"We're on international soil here, we don't have the jurisdiction to arrest him."

"Then we'll kill him."

"We can't fight them this way, Mulder. Just walk away from him. We're going to miss our flight."

"You're wrong, Scully. We have to fight them any way we can."

"It won't solve anything. Come on, let's go." She propels Mulder to the door, turning back as he is leaving.

She bends over the man on the floor. "Go near him again, and I'll hose you, you son of a bitch!" she hisses. She must be insane, threatening an assassin they are setting free.

As she straightens she sees Mulder watching her around the door. Out in the hallway he bumps her with his shoulder. "You're really kicking ass today, aren't you, Scully?"

Mulder is still tense on the flight out. He is certain now that Kurtzweil is dead. The altruistic demise of the Well-Manicured Man plagues him. He feels unfamiliar pride, knowing that his father wanted him on the path he has taken, no matter how tilted the playing field has become. He is prepared to resume his search for the truth, building on the ruins of everything he has lost. He has Scully beside him, and that is a lot. Together, they have been to the ends of the earth.

Scully has a twinge of happiness, looking out the window down at penguins on the pack ice. She is aware that he wants to touch her, and also that he won't. "If you sit in the dark imagining that you're looking up at the sun, your pupils will involuntarily expand. That's what life with you is like," she says reflectively.

He's looking at her, trying to read her.

"Mulder, the way things go with you, it's hard to tell what's real, or what's imagined. You're the sun that may or may not exist. You're like someone in a parallel Universe, existing in synchronous time, causing reflexes without being present."

He looks concerned. "Is that a bad thing, Scully?"

She turns her clear gaze upon him, amused. She's still wearing his rolled-up snow pants, but after a hot shower and something to eat the lucence is back in her vivid eyes. "I wouldn't miss it for a second," she confesses. Then, with the Midnight Sun warm on her cheek she falls asleep, and he watches as she dreams her way over glaciers and sea mounts, and the McMurdo Sound, the South Indian Basin, and the Tasman Sea. ****************************************_

With thanks to Robert Frost, Alistair McLean's 'Night without End', several books on Antarctica, and of course our long-suffering heroes.

story by Starbuck _____________________________