Title - Return of the Ova
Author - Zuffy
E-mail - zuffynuffy@yahoo.com
Rating - PG -13
Category - Mulder/Scully relationship
Spoilers - Christmas Carol, Emily, FTF
Timing - when Mulder and Scully are still working for Kersh
Keywords - MSR, conspiracy
Summary - Mulder rescues Scully's ova, but then what?
Archive - Yes, but keep my name on it and let me know, please.
Written - Essentially rewritten December 1999.

DISCLAIMER: Yes, I am aware that the characters of Agent Fox Mulder, Agent Dana Scully, A.D. Kersh 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. Just havin' some fun here.

The Return of the Ova

The phone rang and rang again in the dark room. The sleeping figure under the covers stirred slowly, groaned, checked the clock--3:15--and picked up the receiver.

"Scully." With luck it will be a wrong number, she thought.

"Scully, it's me. I know it's late…"

"It's not late, Mulder, it's early."

"I know it's early, but can I come over?"

She checked the time again. "Now?"

"Yeah, now."

"Mulder, can't this wait a few hours until normal people are awake?"

"I really want to tell you about this now."

She sighed. His voice betrayed too much excitement to allow for normal hours or "normal people." He'd been gone inexplicably for days. Maybe this would be a way to find out exactly what he'd been up to. She slapped the porcelain base of her bedside lamp and worked her fingers up to the switch. A forty watt bulb shed a small pool of light across the bed and she lay back until her eyes adjusted.

"Sure, ok, as long as I'm already up. How soon will you be here?"

"I'm in the car right now. Say 5 minutes, give or take 4."

In the car, she thought. Most likely he's parked around the corner. If experience was a teacher, then he'd at least give her time to comb her hair.

By the time his knock came, she had washed her face, donned her white terry robe, and put on a pot of coffee. She showed him in with a flourish of her arm. "My life is your life, Agent Mulder. What can I do for you this morning?" She stressed 'morning' with a little more sarcasm than she had intended, but he breezed in with a smile that said something unusual was afoot. She hoped he didn't have plane tickets tucked in his pocket.

"You're still in your pajamas, Scully."

She raised an eyebrow. "I've made some coffee. Come in the kitchen and you can tell me all about this."

Dropping his leather jacket on a chair, Mulder followed her, her bare feet silent against the floor and his athletic shoes squeaking slightly in her wake. As she got two cobalt blue mugs out of the cupboard, he hung at her elbow, hovering close as he often did. She smiled to herself as he reached around her to close the cupboard door and then nudged her hip while sweeping a stray crumb off the counter. Probably tickets to Mars, she thought.

She put the mugs on the table but he scooped them up. "Living room," he said smiling down at her. "I've got living room quality news."

He's never this happy, she thought, something really extreme has happened. She flashed him a small smile of her own, tilting her head to one side. "OK, Mulder, let's go sit on the couch and you can tell me about this before you burst."

Tucking her chilly feet under her robe, she settled against the cushions in the corner. Mulder arranged the two steaming cups on the table, then sat close, his leg touching hers. She shifted a little but didn't break contact.

"Scully, I've got great news. I didn't want to get your hopes up, so I kept this a secret. But we did it."


"We, that is the Lone Gunman and I with a little extra help, recovered your ova."

She closed her eyes. The word "ova" precipitated a flood of unwelcome images: abduction, sterilization, Emily, a small casket in the church, and a chill that wouldn't disappear. Her fingers went automatically to the cross she had given away and then with great sadness, taken back. When she opened her eyes, her partner was searching her face. She squeezed his hand.

"Mulder, you never stop surprising me. How…how did you get them? You must have taken enormous risks. I can't even believe the Allentown clinic was still there."

"The clinic was there all right. We staged a little raid last year and found that the storage room had been cleaned out. The tanks I saw with the clones. Gone too."

"Last year? And you didn't tell me? I thought we agreed about no secret projects. No hiding things from your partner." An edge crept into her voice as it always did when she sensed she was being shielded, when someone tried to block her view of the ugly and the shocking and the terrifying. He could have told her before, and she would have…

His voice broke into her thoughts. "I'm sorry. I know this is about your life, but I couldn't stand reminding you of what they'd done unless, unless I could do something myself. I thought maybe you were trying to forget. You didn't talk about it."

She looked down at her lap. "I couldn't think of anything rational to say." His touch on her arm brought her face back up to his.

"Anyhow, we were lucky that the government was involved in this charade since every damn expense had to be documented. Byers was able to hack into the records of the military's central accounting office and find the shipping invoices. We tracked the materials to a place in West Virginia."

"So that's where you've been the last couple days?"

"Did you miss me?"

It was amazing how he could ignore each and every rule. "Kersh missed you. I told him you were doing some surveillance for that asphalt fraud case in Chicago."

"Ooooh. Good one. I'm lucky to have a partner who lies so well."

"You're lucky to have a partner, Mulder."

His look said, I'm lucky to have you.

"So, the four of you rode into Anytown, West Virginia, and…?"

"Well, remember Kurt Crawford in Allentown?"

She nodded.

"I ran into him, or one of him, and he agreed to help. You know, they really are sincere about wanting to free their 'mothers,' as they put it."

She winced. Hastily, he continued, "Anyway, we had some fun getting around the electronic defenses, but with Kurt's help we were able to find your, uh, your vials. Packed them up tight and got out."

"They're in your car now?"

"No, Frohike has them."

The irony. Melvin Frohike sitting in some dark corner of the Gunmen's hideout, guarding her fertility. Make that former fertility. "I don't know what to say. Do you mean that those people can't manipulate me any more? No more hybrid experiments?"

"As far as we can tell, we got all of them. They're safe now."

Funny images danced through her head. Little ova with faces and tiny limbs. She was a doctor, she knew better than this. "It's funny to hear you talk that way, as though they were little beings."

"They are, Scully, or could be."

"It doesn't matter, Mulder. I'm just glad to be out of their control. Can you imagine what it's like to have your potential children at their mercy." She looked into his eyes and held his gaze. "Yes, I'm sure you do." She sank back on the couch and pulled her robe tighter.

Mulder picked up his mug of coffee and watched her intently. "Scully, I mean it. We worked it out carefully. The technicians, the clones who worked there, gave us the precise information about storage. We got the right equipment so we could stabilize them at the exact temperature. Some may still be viable. No guarantees, but if you wanted a baby, you could probably do it."


"I know this is something you want."


"It's up to you, now. It's under your control. You can make whatever decision you want, whenever."

It was impossible not to smile at his intensity. "Mulder, this is the most incredible gift anyone has ever given me. But it's not a decision I can just 'make.'"

"Yes, it is. If this is something you want. You could flip through the book and pick from the hunkiest med school students in a four state area."

"No, tempting as that sounds, it doesn't work that way for me. It's not a decision that *I* can make. Not alone."

"If you wanted to…"

"Mulder, I'm too old-fashioned. Even if the baby was conceived in somebody's lab under bright fluorescent lights, I'd want it to spring from the love between me and the father. And we'd both have to commit to the child. I… I don't think I could do it by myself. No hunks from the face book."

Surely he knew that about me, she thought, sipping her coffee. Mulder was rolling a coaster along the edge of the table. When it slipped from under his finger, he bent down to retrieve it, and said, "Still, you have a chance if you choose a guy wisely. I imagine that you'll have strict standards. Mathematical models. The most rational criteria. A careful scientific selection." He put on his most serious face as he turned back to her.

"Or maybe not so scientific," she laughed, grateful that he had lightened the mood.

"Well, what will you be looking for?"

"Mulder, it's 3 a.m."

"Almost 4. Come on. You won't be able to sleep anyway."

"I haven't ever thought about this."

"You haven't? Never? Now who's lying to her partner?"

Mulder was never at a loss for a way to tease. Sometimes it grated, but he was at his best tonight, bursting with energy. The liberation of the ova was obviously a great triumph in his mind and this once she wouldn't deny him the fun of one of his games.

"C'mon, Scully, your credibility is at stake."

"OK, you win. I'll rise to the bait. What was the question?"

"Standards. What are the standards for this hypothetical father? Remember: nature *plus* nurture."

"Ummmm, hypothetical you say." She took another sip of coffee. It was only fair to tease back. "First, he has to be tall, dark, and handsome."

"Always a good place to start." He nodded as though he had just been convinced of something important.

"Smart, I think, but not conventional. No one by-the-book." She wrinkled her nose, "someone with a crazy imagination. Well, not crazy. Wrong word."

"Lunatic? Demented? Insane?" He made a silly face.

"More like extravagant. Original."

He leaned close and whispered, "Bizarre. Erratic."

She pulled back with surprise, "Erotic??"

He jumped at her misunderstanding. "*That* would be lots of fun." They broke out laughing together, then sat in silence. He ran a hand through her hair. Scully continued to muse, seemingly oblivious to his touch.

"Ummmm, what else? Integrity. Passion. Oh, and I can't forget caring. A really caring nature."

"The pool's narrowing down fast, Scully. A lunatic with manners."

"You're twisting my words."

"Yeah, but politely."

She smiled at him again, wondering whether he had intended the conversation to head in this direction. Well, he *had* asked the question.

"Oh," she sat up straighter, "I've forgotten the most important thing. He has to have a high tolerance for being second-guessed."

"That's not really a guy thing, Scully." His hand stroked her neck.

"Surely there are a few men..."

"A handful, maybe."

"Just one would do."

"Just one? That might be possible."

He put his arm around her and pulled her close. They relaxed in the comfortable warmth of their adjoining bodies and she allowed herself to rest her head on his chest and give in to the hour.


"Yeah?" she mumbled.

"If I got the call?"



She ran her hand over his shirt. "I know. I just can't digest this right now. I haven't figured out my life." A little reluctantly she pulled away.

"Yeah," he responded quietly, trying to tug her back.

"I can't give up our work, Mulder."

"Would you have to?"

"It would give them too much leverage. I couldn't put a child's life at risk. They still own us."

"If you left, you could have the child."

"Even if I picked one of those hunky med students in the specimen drawer, don't you think they'd still try to use me against you?"

"Unless we broke completely with a big public fight."

"And no further contact."


Scully leaned her head against his chest again. "No."

He hugged her back. "We'll figure this one out."

They sat without speaking enveloped in the quiet of the night. No noise from the outside world intruded: no radio from the neighbors' flat, no planes overhead, no conversations at the front door of the building, only a rare passing car or truck. Scully looked around the apartment she called home, lit softly by her one floor lamp. A flowered sofa and chair, pictures of her family on the bookshelves, stereo equipment an old boyfriend had chosen for her six or seven years before, a six-drawer desk, 333 megahertz computer, stacks of medical journals. Comfort on one side, work on the other. It wasn't hard to calculate which part got more use. More a hideout than a real home, she thought. Her chance for a real home had been lost when Duane Barry hauled her to the top of Skyland Mountain where she was drugged and loaded onto a helicopter only to awaken under bright lights and the whine of pneumatic drills. Her memories were interrupted as Mulder stirred against her, leaning back to lie down the length of the couch and pulling her on top of him. She stiffened a little. "Mulder, what are you doing?"

"It's late. I just want to hold you while you sleep. Maybe I could sleep, too. That's all."

"I'm not really a couch sleeper."

He closed his eyes and began rubbing her back, slowly in a circle at just the spot that always ached after hours in the autopsy bay or an evening at the computer. Well, she thought with an audible sigh, why not? Apparently they had just confessed their feelings to each other, admitted something they had never dared approach. How had that happened exactly? But there was no denying that it *had* happened. Was there?

"Look," she said softly. "We can lie on the bed. Just like this but without worrying about falling off."

"I'm not worried," he mumbled.

"I am. Come on. Up."

Reluctantly, he struggled to sit and she moved off him. She gave him her hand. "It's ok. Come on."

He followed her obediently into her room. She took off her robe and hung it in the closet, smoothing her pajamas as she approached the bed. He took off his shoes and socks, started to unzip his jeans, then stopped and pulled the little tab back to the top. They stood on opposite sides of the bed breathing quickly and looking at each other cautiously in the soft glow of her lamp. Scully moved first, switching off the light, then pulling down the covers and climbing in. "Mulder?" The light leaking in from the streetlights was too dim to reveal the expression on his face. Finally, he sighed and climbed in next to her. She pulled the covers over them and he took her in his arms. Pressed up against his chest, she could hear his heart racing as fast as hers. His scent--the scent of hard work and long drives and conquered fear, the scent of his empathy for her--smelled not at all out of place mixed with the familiar whiff of perfume and soap. Why hadn't she expected that, she wondered sleepily? He slipped his hand under her shirt and rubbed her back again. Pressing his mouth up against her ear, he whispered, "I dream all the time about holding you while we sleep. And when I wake up, my arms are always empty."

His confession stunned her. How long had he felt this way? How could she have not known? As she pondered what to say, his breathing slowed and he apparently drifted into sleep. He's probably been up for days.


It was light when she awoke. The thought flashed through her mind that she had had a remarkable, vivid dream, the sort of dream she rarely allowed herself. But sheets were disheveled and when she surreptitiously buried her nose in the second pillow, it smelled of Mulder. Had the daylight forced him to run from the truths of the darkness? If they were truths.

His open gym bag sat by the window. A pair of jeans lay bunched on top and an open kit of toiletries stuck up at an angle. Surely he hadn't carried it when he stopped by to give her his momentous news. That would have prompted an acerbic comment, after all. So he must have gone out and come back? Probably the bag had been in the car. That meant he came to her straight from West Virginia. Of course. That's exactly what he'd do. She rolled out of bed and glanced in the bathroom. Damp towels heaped on the toilet seat, a razor on the edge of the sink, and a smear across the mirror where someone had wiped away the steam. Just follow the trail of clues, she thought. Living room? Had he moved to the couch, unaccustomed to the comforts of a bed? She opened the door and stepped out, expecting to see his long arms and legs sprawled across her sofa and his leather jacket draped over his chest. But the couch was vacant, and the ping of the microwave sounded from the kitchen. She found him there, watering the basil and oregano and thyme she kept on the windowsill over the sink. His back was to her as he trickled water into the pots then with a finger wiped off the dirt that seeped out the bottom.


He turned and his smile quickened her breath again. "Coffee?" he said, lifting the same cobalt mug they'd used in the night. "I have to admit I did the lazy thing and reheated what you made. Anything under three days old counts as fresh at my place."

Smiling back at him, she said, "Reheated is fine. I thought you'd sleep longer."

"I woke up with you in my arms. I didn't want to risk waking up a second time alone."

Her insides seemed to be levitating and she was suddenly aware of standing before him barefoot in a thin pair of pajamas. You're not sixteen, she told herself. He expects an intelligent reply. This man is your partner, your friend, your colleague. You will go to work tomorrow and act like normal adults. You had a special moment together, that's all. He needed it and so did you. Tell him. Tell him that. But her brain had disconnected from her vocal chords.

He lifted the coffee pot to pour a second cup, but paused at her silence, then took her hand and rubbed it slowly. "How come we can argue and fight all the time and even march out on each other, yet remain absolutely certain that at the end of the day, we will be fast friends and partners. But a little affection frightens us into thinking that our friendship is the most fragile thing in the world. Right now, Scully, I am terrified."

His face said that he was waiting for, hoping for, a positive sign, some signal that she wanted what he wanted, but her brain and mouth still refused to communicate. Finally he released her hand. "I'm sorry about last night if I pushed too hard. I really am. I thought, well, maybe I assumed things I shouldn't have."

His apology broke through her mental block. "No, no. No, don't apologize. I wanted to say, just now, when you spoke, but couldn't find any words, I mean I couldn't find any words, just that...that," she took a breath, "Mulder, next time wake me with you so I can know that feeling, too."

Scully looked down--what a stupid thing to say, she told herself--then forced herself to meet his gaze and twitch up the corners of her mouth. She put her hand flat against his t-shirt, hoping that simple touch might substitute for things she could not say. Fighting tears, she missed the way strain lifted from his face as he gathered her in.


The last pancakes were growing cold when Mulder brought up the ova again. "There's more I didn't tell you last night. We, uh, we still need to test your DNA against to make sure that the ova we got are yours. I have no doubt that they anticipated our moves and might have switched them. I just have to hope Kurt knew what was what."

She sagged a little at the news.

"I'm sorry. I could have done this from FBI samples of your DNA, but I really do want to honor the no secrets promise. As much as I can."

"Mulder, I…"

"It'll be okay. I promise. Let's just do this today. I extracted a sample from one of the vials, we can take it into the office this morning. It'll be quieter on a Sunday and maybe no one will bother us. Anyway, the sooner we know the better."

She nodded. "What if they mixed together ova from different women to prevent anyone from knowing…" she fumbled for the next word.

"I don't think they'd do that..."

She ground the last bit of pancake on her plate into mush. "No, you're right, they wouldn't. They're tracking their little lab rats. They need to know the pedigree of their little *projects.*" She stood and grabbed both plates, carrying them to the sink and turning on the hot water so high that it splashed against her shirt. "I don't think they can afford to mix them up," she continued. "They have to know who's who."

The need to double-check the ova at been at the back of her mind all along, but she had allowed herself to rejoice at her release from the conspiracy's bondage. Now the little cloud of gloom was back. Were there other things that Mulder wasn't telling her?

She jumped at his hand on her shoulder and he spoke up to be heard over the water. "We might as well come up with a genetic sample for you here. I assume you don't want anyone at the Bureau to know that you're a party to this."

"Of course. I should have thought of that," she said, shaking her hands off. "Let me find something I can bleed on." The lower drawer was full of towels and other kitchen linens; she pulled out a stained white napkin. "Think this is convincing 'evidence'?"

"Yeah. Why not? I'll rip it a little first. Give it more of a history."

Biting and tearing at it, he followed her into the living room where she pulled a small sterile lancet out of her medical kit and made a quick cut on the inside of her arm. The blood spread slowly across the worn fibers to create a quarter-sized spot of bright red on the cloth her partner touched to her arm. "That should do it," he said as the wound stopped oozing and she applied a butterfly to the cut. "Think we need a story to explain the spaghetti strains alongside the blood?"

Mulder cleared his bag out of her room and flopped down on her couch with an old science journal featuring an article on newly discovered planetary systems. "You have to stay on top of this stuff, Scully," were his words as she closed her bedroom door. The spot just occupied by his things looked suddenly vacant. In the bathroom, she wiped up the water that had collected around the sink and rinsed a few errant whiskers down the drain. Don't be ridiculous, she told herself; now we have to return to our real lives.

She shook a black pants suit free of its plastic covering and dressed quickly. A dab of red lipstick and they were heading out to Mulder's car. On the drive in, they didn't speak much, only a few words about the pleasant spell of warm weather. Traffic was sparse and block after block of office buildings quiet as they made their way along K Street toward Bureau. At a red light, a father and two children dashed across the street heading to the White House or perhaps the Mall. How had a normal life of home and children had become an unreal fantasy, she wondered, possible to imagine only when sleep-deprived, while conspiracies of evil men breeding hybrid clones had become the hard and fast reality by which her life was governed? They pulled into the garage at ten and Mulder removed a small packet from his bag.

"Here. Maybe you'd like to take charge of this."

Inside a small brown interoffice envelope was a small plastic evidence bag, sealed. The label carried the cryptic code of the case number and crime scene location that Mulder must have created on the sly and documented into the system. His ruse was careful, elaborate, and orchestrated long in advance. In secret. All to protect what was sealed in a small stainless cylinder within the bag. She turned the packet over in her hand, feeling a surge of nausea. "It was always a little abstract, Mulder. Holding this bit of myself…no one is supposed to hold this." He put his arm around her, a quick squeeze despite the security cameras.

They headed for the elevators and rode to the 7th floor, hoping to catch one of the more sympathetic technicians on duty. Mulder gave her a quick thumbs-up when they opened the office door to find Tim Brackett deep into a creased X-Men comic book.

"Slow morning, Brackett?" Mulder greeted him.

"As a matter of fact, it is. What can I do for you?" Brackett swung his legs off the desk, tossing his reading material onto a pile of computer and auto magazines. Out in the lab itself, Brackett and his colleagues kept the benches and equipment immaculate, but here in their shared office they made themselves at home with a small wood-grain refrigerator, a Mr. Coffee with a stained pot, a scuffed black boombox, and a pile of U2, R.E.M., and Live.

"We have some genetic specimens we'd like tested for identity. In that container are reportedly some ova and this is a blood sample from, uh, someone involved. Can you do a match?"

"Sure, no problemo. Must be an unusual case, Agent Mulder. You don't often find ova at the scene of the crime."

Scully handed him the evidence bag and turned away to look out the window, certain that in other circumstances she would see the humor of his remark. Mulder responded. "It is an intriguing case. But it's what we have to go on now."

"Must be. Rape?"

"No, it's not something I can..."

"Oh, then, one of those fertility clinics where the doctor turns out to be Dad?"

"You're getting closer."

"Wow. Aren't those guys something? Don't know whether the money angle or the ego trip is more interesting. This one been in the papers? I keeping imagining Mom and Dad's surprise when junior pops out looking like…"

Scully turned and caught Mulder's concerned glance as the technician started to ramble. "Look," Mulder interrupted, "how soon will you have the results?"

"Oh, a day, maybe two. This a rush?"

"Yeah, if you could. We can't make a move until we know for certain."

"Sure. Should I call you?"

"Yeah, here's my cell number." He took a card from inside his jacket pocket. "Call me as soon as you find out."

Scully stepped in front of her partner. In a low, flat voice, she said, "Actually since I'm the lead agent here, it would be better if you called me."

Brackett looked from one to the other, then at the business card in his hand. Mulder lifted it neatly away. "Agent Scully's right. Do you have her number?"


Hand to her elbow, he guided her out of the lab and down the long corridor toward the elevators. "Scully, don't you think…"

"No, as you said, Mulder, this is my life. I want to know first what the results are. Good or bad."

He blew out a breath. "Fine, okay. You'll tell me right away, won't you? Remember our agreement: no secrets from your partner."

She looked down, smiling, and shook her head. "Right, Mulder, no secrets. I'll tell you as soon as I hear."


"Actually, I have to catch up on some work. If you could just drop me at home."

"Sure, some other time then."

She showed up an hour late on Monday morning. Half the night had been spent with her medical journals, searching for articles on frozen embryos and in vitro fertilization, before she finally fell asleep on the couch at 3, missing the 6 a.m. buzz of her alarm.

"You look a little tired. You don't need to be here today." He leaned over her desk, speaking softly.

"I need to work. Anything to keep my mind focused."

"Hard to focus on the junk we've been getting. Care to go check some defective manhole covers? And I hear that the Safeway in my neighborhood has been fudging the date stamps."

She gave him the barest smile as she pulled a sheaf of papers from the drawer. "A good day to catch up on filing, Mulder. Not as much fun as manhole covers, but grisly if we fall behind. Don't be surprised if Kersh stops by to check up on you."

"I beat him here by five minutes."


"He expressed great delight in my presence, Scully. It's nice to be so popular with one's boss. You might want to take some pointers for future reference."

"Noted, Mulder."

The light tone of his banter didn't match the expression on his face whenever she glanced up from the reports and witness transcripts in her pile and met his eyes. Out in the bullpen, they didn't dare talk about anything that really mattered. As it was, Agent Norris across the aisle looked up whenever Mulder made a joke and scanned their desks every time he walked by. Mulder had resorted to sending Scully cryptic emails which they both deleted as quickly as they could, hoping that the messenger electrons would scatter before they might be saved as damning evidence of unconventional thoughts.

Filing was a mechanical task, one that should have been handled by an assistant, but Kersh insisted that they do it themselves. Scully had taken over Mulder's share just to have a full day of busy work. At the edge of her vision, her partner fidgeted. Every five or ten minutes, it seemed, he rose to get a cup of coffee or buy a candy bar or fetch a book from the library, but he was quickly back tapping his pencil on the edge of the desk or humming off-key under his breath. She wanted to send him off to investigate one of the odd phenomena he had dug out of Spender's trash or clipped from the papers, but he would surely refuse to budge from her side. Part of her was warmed by his attention. Another resented the concern, as though she couldn't handle her own emotions.

About four in the afternoon, her cell phone rang. She and Mulder exchanged glances, but she turned to the side when she answered it.
"Scully." Pause "You do. Thanks for the speed. Yeah. Yeah. What degree of certainty is this? Ok. That's about as close to 100% as we can get, isn't it? Yeah, ok. This is exactly what we need. No, well, I hope it stays out of the papers. Of course. I'll deliver the news to him personally."

She folded her phone gently and slipped it back into her pocket. "Case closed." She said softly. "The results were positive."

"Excellent news. I'd say this calls for a celebration. Coffee's on me, Agent Scully." A huge smile was trying to break through his serious office face as he grabbed their coats. "Not machine brew. Let's live it up."

Agent Norris looked up from the spreadsheet on his screen and then lifted his sleeve to glance at his watch. Mulder rolled his eyes at Scully and picked up her briefcase. Just as she was locking the drawers, her desk phone rang. Answering it, she raised an eyebrow then shook her head.

"Yes, sir. Yes, of course. Now? Certainly. Yes, he's right here at his desk." She put down the phone,. "So much for a little hooky. Kersh wants to see us. A new case, Mulder."

"Something particularly tedious must have drifted across his desk. Any guesses?"

"I'd rather not waste any energy in anticipation." She slid her coat off her arms and folded it over her chair.

Kersh's secretary led them to the assistant director's door with a casual swing of the hips and a smile in Mulder's direction. A.D. Kersh looked up from his papers as the two agents walked across the room and stood in front of him. "I have a case that I think will challenge you two. There's been a break-in at a federal facility in West Virginia. I'd like you to get to the bottom of it."

"What kind of facility, sir?" Mulder shifted to an at-attention stance, arms behind him.

"Biological. Run by the military."

"Toxic stuff? Weapons?"

"Couldn't say. There's no warning here that you need protective gear." He tapped a single piece of paper that he pushed across the desk. "You can get the file from my secretary on the way out. The rest you'll learn when you get there. I've been told that the security breach is considered significant, so everyone is eager to clear this up. It would be preferable if you left this evening, though early tomorrow would do."

"Who are the other agents on the case?" Scully asked.

"For the moment, it's just you two. A couple of agents from the Wheeling office started the investigation but didn't come up with much. Given your reputed detection skills, I assume I can count on you to solve this one. The FBI doesn't like to let the military down. But then you understand that rivalry well enough."

He opened a drawer, pulled out a file and began reading. Scully shrugged at Mulder and gestured toward the door with her head. As they walked out, Kersh added, "Agents, I trust you will watch expenses."

In the hallway, Mulder's face seemed full of amusement and Scully put a cautionary finger to her lips. All he said was "We're still entitled to our coffee."

Only when they reached Bean Counter did they speak again. Insisting on a table in a back corner, Mulder positioned himself to watch new arrivals. Scully spoke first, stirring milk into the promised coffee. "This is a real mess, Mulder."

"Why do you say that? It'll give us a chance to explore the facility. Maybe we can learn the real inside deal on what's happening there. Figure out how to shut down those wretched experiments." Anger lurked just below the surface.

"Mulder, it's also a chance to fail at our assignment or end up with you in prison. There are a lot of people waiting for you to screw up. It's every damn thing these days. You saw what's-his-name look at his watch."

"Yeah, well, they'll have to wait a little longer." He stared off toward the front of the restaurant at the sound of two men entering and bantering with the hostess. Scully waited until he turned his attention back to her.

"Why did Kersh suddenly decide to give us a meaty case, Mulder? You think this is a coincidence?"

"No, of course it's not. I just wonder who gave him his orders."

"We can both make a pretty good guess. What do you think they already know?" She was breaking her teacake into little pieces

"Let's not worry about that for now. Maybe they've got nothing to go on. If the intruders were smart, of course."

"And lucky."

"Yeah, maybe lucky, too. We can always hope our colleagues from Wheeling messed up the scene."


Early the next afternoon, Mulder and Scully pulled into Mt. Jenkins, West Virginia in their rented Taurus. Mulder pulled over to the side of the main street and with considerable flourish consulted a map before driving to the facility, located in the rolling hills to the east of town. The guard had been advised of their visit and the facility's director, Dr. Joseph Dylan, met them at the entry to the main building, a one-story, flat-roofed cement structure with streaks of rust trickling down from the corners of the windows. A short man, bald on top but with gray-blond hair hanging down to his collar in back, the director was dressed in a well-cut navy suit and striped rep tie. He glanced at his watch, a Rolex or close imitation, as he pushed open the door to admit them and headed off down the hall, throwing back the comment, "It's about time someone from Washington started to take this seriously."

After that introduction, it was surprising that he wanted to talk more about the projects at the facility than about the break-in. With obvious enthusiasm about his research into hormonal disorders, he gave them a quick tour of the labs avoiding what lay behind the biohazard warnings on the doors at the end of the hall. He boasted that his work had raised the success rate of in vitro fertilization and decreased the percentage of deformed embryos. The military had, he assured them, made enormous scientific advances so that their discoveries about reproductive function would soon help preserve endangered species. After an hour inspecting rats, looking through microscopes, and watching Dylan tumble scribble out the chain of reproductive hormones, Mulder reminded him of the need to discuss the break-in.

"Ah, yes. Well, I went over all this with the other agents. Have you digested their findings?"

"We'd like to start fresh, get our own take before we compare notes with them," Mulder said. "We're more likely to come up with some answers if we have a chance to inspect the evidence without being influenced by what others have already concluded."

Scully glanced up at her partner, intrigued to hear this particular reasoning from him, but she turned back to her notepad under Dylan's scrutiny. The director turned his attention back to Mulder. "Yes, well, I suppose you have your methods, just as we have ours. Rigor gets shortchanged in society today. I think it is a great virtue to maintain strict attention to procedures."

"Indeed it is. About the break-in," Mulder reminded him, pointing to the locked doors.

Dylan zipped his security card through the lock and pushed open one of the thick beige metal doors. Beyond, the corridor stretched fifty yards. Their steps echoed noisily, ringing off the walls of heavy duty scrubbable tile. Decontamination showers, exhaust fans, protective clothing on hooks, emergency alarms, lowered blinds blocking views into the labs, yellow and black radiation warnings screwed into the walls; they were prepared for serious biological hazards, Scully thought. Mulder stopped in front of the third door on the left and squatted down to rub his fingers along several scuff marks gouged into the floor. The door frame had suffered a large dent and he wiped his handkerchief across the spot where the paint was deeply scratched.

"Incompetent movers." Dylan said. "It's fortunate they didn't damage the equipment when we transferred here. I was at my wits' end…"

"I'd like to see this lab," Mulder said.

"It wasn't involved in the break-in."

"We don't know that for sure." He folded his handkerchief carefully into his pocket, then jiggled the handle. Dylan stepped forward with the key. Swinging the door open, he said, "See? Nothing of relevance."

Mulder stepped forward and groped for the light switch. The bright overhead lamps revealed a room immaculately clean and virtually empty. Mulder toed a couple more gouge marks leading to the center of the room, then put out the lights and closed the door softly. "I take your point, doctor."

Three doors farther down they reached the lab housing the main freezer. "The intruders seem to have been surprisingly sophisticated," Dylan volunteered as he led them to the back of the room. "The biohazard area is protected with state-of-the-art electronics to prevent theft and accidents. The attackers circumvented the security locks and shut down the surveillance cameras. You've heard how every sound is amplified along here, yet no one heard anything. Eventually, they found our storage freezer and made off with our experimental samples." He handed each of them an orange parka and opened the door to a dimly lit space ten by ten, lined with stainless steel drawers and cabinet doors like an arctic safe deposit vault.

"Samples of what?" Mulder asked.

"Human tissue."

"Any specific kind?"

"Ova, to be specific."

"This entire room is full of human ova?"

"No, of course not. This is our central storage area for all the labs. What they took were samples of ova, the product of a long and may I say rather painstaking collection process."

Scully shivered and rubbed her forehead. Mulder glanced at her, but continued to question the scientist.

"Did they take equipment, too? I'm wondering whether they needed a truck or vehicle someone might have remembered."

"No, I think not. They just took the samples, all in small vials." He pulled a ring of keys from his pocket and opened one of the drawers. Inside was another steel container. Dylan checked the thermometer on the outside, then removed the lid to reveal a rack of vials standing within. "They could stuff a hundred of these in a small bag. Of
course, they'd need a special freezer to keep them cold."

"How many did they take?"

"Exactly seventy-two. They cleaned out several sample drawers and dumped a large number of other vials on the floor, effectively destroying the material within. Vandalism is something that I cannot condone, particularly with the intent to disrupt scientific progress."
Scully looked up from her note-taking and tried to read Mulder's face. He hadn't told her about destroying the other samples. Were there other secrets, too? Turning to Dr. Dylan, she said, "You speculated that the thieves may have had a freezer. If they did, that would mean they wanted to maintain the samples. Do you have any sense of possible motive? Is there some financial gain to be made?"

"I suppose there could be. A lot of people are desperate for babies, as you know. Could be that someone is selling these to a fertility clinic, but I don't know how much they would be worth." He secured the lid on the container, slid it back into the drawer and locked it.

"Any other market?" Mulder jumped back in. "Other experimenters?"

"Again, could be. Still, most researchers keep meticulous records. scientific experimentation isn't useful unless you keep track of the data on donors and so forth. A large number of factors need to be controlled or observed. There are protocols to be followed. Everyone knows the rules."

"If the samples are kept cold, are they still viable?"

"If maintained properly, and here you would be assuming some very sophisticated thieves, they would still be useful for experimentation. Yes."

"Are they still viable?" Mulder pushed his point. "To fertilize."

"Oh, you meant for fertilization? Well, I suppose as I said before…"

"Is that what your experiments involve?"

"Fertilization? Surely you know it would be unethical to fertilize eggs for experimental purposes."

"You haven't answered my question."

"Our experiments do not involve illegal activities, Mr. Mulder. This is a federal facility. Our hope is to understand the reproductive function more accurately."

"There is money to be made in creating tissue that can be patented. Ova would seem to be the perfect place to start engineering…"

"I repeat, we are doing nothing of the sort." His voice rose in anger. "I trust you have seen enough of this freezer?" He let his guests precede him out of the cold room, then shut and locked the door.

When Dylan's back was turned, Scully squeezed Mulder's arm quickly through the thickness of the padded jacket. He lowered his voice to a more detached tone. "I'm not challenging the legality of your work, but you are certainly aware of groups that would oppose research on embryos."

"What Agent Mulder is suggesting, sir, is that someone may be trying to disrupt your experiments for political reasons."

"Sabotage pure and simple? I suppose that could be. But we haven't had threats or anything of that sort. We've got rivals out there, but we try to keep it clean. Even swap samples now and then." He smiled coolly at them both as he took off his parka and hung it back on the wall.

The lab was well-appointed with newly installed benches and fresh plaster around the ventilation ducts. Scully traced her hand through the dust from installation of new cabinets and rubbed it between her fingers. Like the boxes and crates of new equipment, the dust was tangible evidence of the importance of the Dylan's enterprise. Whatever work was planned had liberal financial backing. Priority. Priority work on women's biology? Led by men whose careers hung on correcting women's reproductive problems? Had the world changed so much since her days in med school when breast cancer tests were run on men? Scully spoke quietly, avoiding eye contract with Mulder or Dr. Dylan. "Have you notified the women whose… whose tissue was taken?"

"No. No point in trying. These women are all deceased. Gives us a little freer hand, you might say, in our work. No personal sensitivities to worry about."

Dylan ushered them out of the restricted area and invited them into his office for coffee. The walls boasted diplomas and medical certification and a Distinguished Service Award from the Federal Emergency Management Administration. An elegant old walnut desk took up the center of the floor. On top was a sleek black phone, several silver picture frames turned away from the visitors' line of sight, and an small stack of papers held down with a clear glass globe encasing what Scully recognized as a human gland.

"Ah, Agent," he said picking it up and twisting it around," do you recognize this? It was a gift from my staff for my last birthday. Helps to have a sense of objectivity about the human machine, don't you think?"

"Pituitary," she said under her breath to Mulder. "Produces gonadotropin, one of the hormones that regulates reproduction."

"Very good, Agent. You listen well. I'm impressed." Dylan picked up a mug of coffee and handed it to Scully. "But back to the matter at hand. You can see the whole affair was rather sophisticated. Have I given you any ideas? Your friends from Wheeling didn't come up with much."

"With so little material evidence, it's hard to promise much in the way of results," Mulder responded. "We may be able to help you beef up security here, but I'm a little pessimistic about catching the perpetrators. Did you give copies of the records on the stolen ova to our colleagues?"

"No. The records are a mess. They broke into our computer system, hacked I guess I should say, and took down our server and the back-up drive. We are trying to work from paper, but it is not very satisfactory."

"We'd like to have copies of what you have on paper, and then a copy of whatever you reconstitute."

"Is that really necessary? There is quite a lot of documentation, none of it really relevant to this theft." He perched on the edge of his desk and wiped a bit of dust off his shoe.

"We will judge that. Agent Scully is right: we need to have a clearer fix on motive. There are a number of possible angles."

"Wait," she said, putting her coffee down on a small side table. "If the samples were stolen and someone else used them. Would we be able to find out? Would we be able to get a lead that way?"

"It's hard to imagine. Even if we could get all the records straightened out, it's unlikely that others would be announcing the genetic make-up of their material. Privacy and all. Everyone's supposed to observe confidentiality for human subjects. Protects them and us." A knock sounded at the door and a tall blond woman stepped just inside the office. Dylan put his mug back on the desk. "I'm afraid I have another meeting…"

"Agent Scully and I need to go over our notes and see if this leads us anywhere. Can we see you again in the morning? We'll need to interview your staff as well. Could you make sure they are here tomorrow?"

"Of course. I'm here by 8. Just tell Roseann to find me."

"Why's the military doing fertility research anyway, Mulder?" Scully had been silent since they left the facility, but now took her note pad from her bag and began flipping through the pages. "I thought that's why we have the National Institutes of Health."

"I think we both know the answer to that."

"No, I mean the official reason. How do they get away with it? Who approves their money and equipment year in, year out? How is it justified?"

"National security, I suppose. Survival of the American gene pool, if there is such a thing." He looked over at his partner who had slipped on her reading glasses and was jotting notes on her pad. "These things aren't hard to hide in somebody's budget, Scully. The facility goes in some important congressman's district, then you put an ambitious guy like Dylan in there, talking the talk. I doubt anyone looks too closely."

"What was in the other drawers?"

"Kurt said they were empty. The alien tissues haven't been transferred from Maryland yet. Did you notice the scuff marks in the floor?"

"Yeah, what was that?"

"Tanks. I bet analysis of the grit and paint I wiped up will show those are fresh marks. Tanks moved *out* of a new facility rather than in."

"Taking them out before we investigate."

"Yeah. We glanced in there that night. The room was full of stuff then. It's all probably somewhere on the grounds, maybe in basement storage. If we can get back in…" Mulder flipped on the turn signal at a Holiday Inn.

"This is where we have reservations?"

"Yeah, not bad for a change, wouldn't you agree?" He grinned at her.

"Let's drive on, Mulder. I don't want to stay here."

He raised his eyebrows but Scully turned away. The Holiday Inn passed into the rearview mirror. Slowly, the rest of the commercial strip followed suit, a mile of fast food restaurants, discount malls, and gas stations.

"You have an alternative in mind?" he finally asked.

"We'll know it when we see it."

Three miles further along, after the asphalt parking lots had given way to weed-filled fields and then scrubby trees filling in abandoned hard-scrabble farmland, Scully pointed to a sign announcing The Hollow Haven Motel: Vacancy. "I think that's our place, Mulder." Mulder pulled into a drive leading to a single low building, dark brown cedar-shingle with ten or twelve orange doors paired off and picture windows showing water-stained linings of the drapes inside. Around the office window a string of Christmas lights blinked on and off. A faded sign announced, "Telephones. Free TV." Three older sedans and a black pick-up were parked farther along the row of rooms.

"What gives, Scully? Trying to keep the accountants happy?"

"I can't shake the feeling that we're being set-up and surveilled. If we don't want to have to watch ourselves at every moment, best to go off track."

Mulder's face reflected her own apprehensions and a little amusement as well. "On the other hand, Scully, they'd know this is just our kind of place." He got out of the car, then leaned back in, "I'll try to upgrade to a suite."

The plastic tag said 7 and the key itself looked like a copy made at the local dime store if such places still existed. The knob wobbled as she jiggled the key, pushed open the door, and flipped on the light. Mulder had already disappeared into number 8. Rough cedar planking gave the room a fake cabin-in-the woods look. The furniture was authentic pine logs, the varnish aged to an orange tint, with faded green plaid cushions on the easy chair and a bedspread to match. If the rug was threadbare at least it was clean and there were extra towels in the bathroom. The knock came quickly. "Scully, are you decent?"

She opened the door from her side and walked back to the bed where she had thrown her bag. "I haven't even had time to take my coat off. Can't get more decent than this."

"Wasn't sure that clerk was paying any attention, so I'm glad to see he gave us connecting rooms." He walked around to the head of the bed and straightened the black and white photo of Niagara Falls. "Same fine frontier look that I have. If the bed doesn't sink under the weight of that suitcase, we can count on a good night's sleep."

She raised her eyebrow at him. A man who has raised innuendo to an art form, she reminded herself. "I just need to hang things up. You can check the springs if you like."

"Think I will," he said, flopping down and propping himself on his elbows. She started to take off her coat, but he stopped her saying, "Leave it on. Let's go for a walk when you're done with the housekeeping."

Behind the motel a path cut uphill into the woods. Mulder pointed the way and Scully took the lead, wishing he'd given her time to put on her running shoes. The path appeared reasonably well-traveled; the ground was packed hard and errant branches had been bent back or broken off. They walked in silence until they came to a tumbled stone wall of what had once been a house or small barn. Scully brushed off the surface dirt and sat down.

"Any idea yet what we're going to do?" she asked.

"Not yet. I can't quite see how we can fail gracefully *or* succeed. What about you?"

"I haven't really been concentrating on the evidence, I guess. I took all those notes on autopilot."

"I could tell. What were you thinking about, Scully? What did you feel back there?"

"What I felt won't get us anywhere." She stretched out her hands and rubbed the palms over her leg.

Mulder covered her right hand with his and squeezed it. "I think you should say it. You looked like you needed a stiff drink after a few minutes with the upstanding Dr. Dylan, man of science." She pulled back from him, wrapping her arms around herself and remembering a chill that had nothing to do with the freezer. Her partner watched her for a minute, then continued. "If you want to shake those demons, Scully, I'll just listen. Can you trust me?"

The air in the forest was fresh-tasting and cool with the smell of damp earth and pine. A breeze rustled leaves far overhead but at ground level the air was still. No sounds of passing cars penetrated the curtain of trees and even the chipmunks and squirrels had fallen silent -- nothing to distract from what was churning inside her. She glanced sideways at Mulder for just an instant. "Feelings? Exactly what you'd expect, I guess. Anger about what happened to me. Anger about those other women. All deceased. You heard that didn't you?" He nodded solemnly. "As though there's no crime in carrying on those experiments once the victim is gone. Not even to mention the unspeakable way in which they died." She toed a stone and kicked it to the other side of the path where it landed with a faint crinkle in a pile of dead leaves. "Confidentiality, human subjects, experimental protocols, standards, painstaking collection process, for God's sake…. Talking in circles around the fact that we… we…we were stripped of our ova. The ability to create life was torn from us. How is that different from rape? It was blasphemous, Mulder. All these tenets of science, distorted, degraded. I felt corrupted as a woman and as a scientist."

It all came out in a rush. Mulder nodded again in agreement trying to absorb the strength of her reactions.

"Fear. I felt afraid, not for me but for the other women, their families, the 'products' of their research. Where is the good or the meaning in any of this?"

He grazed her hand lightly. "I wish I had answers for you, Scully."

"There's more, Mulder. I'm also afraid of what you're not telling me."

"What makes you think I'm holding back?"

"You're still protecting me."

"Isn't it clear that I have been a dismal failure at protecting you?" He smiled at her but she wasn't biting.

"There's something else, I'm sure of it. I don't need shielding. I need the truth, like you."

"Maybe we all need protection sometimes."

"Is that what you want, Mulder? Do you want to be protected?"

"From what?"

"From truths that hurt? Samantha? Your mother? Your father?"

He picked up a stick and began jabbing the ground. After the fourth jab, it broke and he threw it off into the scrub on the other side of the trail. "What do you want to know?"

"No secrets. What is that other thing you've been carrying around?" The anger had left her voice, and she was speaking softly, almost soothingly. His hands were knotted tightly together; she reached over and touched his face. "I have to know."

"There's a possibility that they have already created more Emilys."

"That's occurred to me. That's not what you're hiding." She looked at him steadily and it was his turn to look away.

"Speculations are not fact, Scully. It's not hiding."

"It's hiding when you believe them. Tell me."

"Maybe I'm trying to protect myself, Scully." Her eyes began to fill with tears. She blinked them back and waited. He lifted his arm as if to put it around her, then let it fall back, brushing his hand through his hair, then kneading the back of his neck. "It haunts me that we didn't steal the ova soon enough." His voice dropped to a whisper. "When I went to the rest home in San Diego where the embryos were being implanted in the old women, I found another tube with your name."

"And?" She held her hands to her face in a prayerful gesture, anticipating bad news.

"I destroyed it. There may have been others. I didn't have time…"

"What was in the tube?"

"It was tiny but recognizable. What they created." He paused but there was no response from his partner. "I didn't want you to know that. I didn't see any point."

"Was it alive?"

"I assumed it was."

She rubbed her forehead and her eyes. "You destroyed something no one has a right to destroy, Mulder."

"Something that no one has a right to create. Not like that. It was created to die, to suffer, to forward someone's agenda. That's not what you wanted for Emily, was it?"

"You know I didn't. But still…"

"Please don't abandon me on this. I don't want to lose you because of what I had to do."

She paused a long while and when she started to speak her voice shook. "It was, it still is, so hard for me to reconcile what Emily looked like, felt like, sounded like, with what I knew her to be. Whatever they created her from, she was human and alive and deserved to live. And she was mine."

He rubbed his hand along the short bit of wall between his leg and hers. "We can't rely on our usual categories to understand these things, Scully. They defy our normal thinking. Our normal values. What we might do in any other circumstances."

"But feelings don't bend in that rational way. It's so hard not to think of them as children, as people. To wrench our procreation from us and turn it into something we must hate and destroy. Is there anything more debasing, Mulder? Is there any worse way to twist us?"

The woods had suddenly darkened as the sun slipped behind the hills, and in the fading light a flock of birds rose cawing into the sky. "We'd better get back, Mulder." She rose and brushed off her coat. He put his arm lightly around her shoulder and they headed down to the motel.

She turned the knob and opened the door slowly. It scraped over a bump in the carpet and she stopped to listen to her partner breathing. Three steps across the room and she lowered herself to the floor, pulling her knees up to her chest to keep warm. Her nightgown provided no protection against the cool of the night as she sat leaning back against the side of the bed.

"Scully? That you?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

"No, it's ok. Good thing I smelled your perfume before I remembered where I left my gun."

"I guess this is silly of me. Couldn't stay asleep."

"Guess I'm restless, too." He rolled over to the edge of the bed next to her.

"There's too much churning through my head. I thought I might feel..." she stopped to search for what she meant, "…calmer if I just sat here." I'm *not* asking for protection, she told herself. Or help. Just a little understanding.

"Is it those experiments?"

"Yeah, and what you told me about California."

"I'm sorry, Scully. They were twisted aberrations. I didn't think of them as anything else."

"I know. You did the right thing, Mulder. Were there any more at the facility here?"

"None. I don't think they'd gotten everything set up again. I told you, the tanks we saw were empty." He reached down and rubbed his hand along the top of her shoulder. "It's cold on the floor. Come up here."

She remained sitting but she was breathing faster. Isn't this why you came in? she asked herself. Reaching up to put her hand on his, she responded in a husky voice, "We're tempting fate, Mulder."

"Everything we do tempts fate in one way or another. C'mon. We could both use some collegial warmth. No debauchery, I promise." He shifted over and held the covers up.

"I'm not kidding. We could get reprimanded and split up for fraternizing."

He sighed and rolled back to the edge of the bed. "Scully, I assure you, their imaginations lapped us long ago. C'mon. Your skin is getting goosebumpy." He enfolded her upper arm in his hand and stroked her with his thumb. She tipped her head back wishing she could see his face. "Okay, let me get my weapon."

"My promise not good enough for you?"

Standing up now, she leaned over and tousled his hair. "We'll see about that."

When she returned a minute later, she locked the door, and put her gun on the bedside table. He held the sheets for her to slide in beside him and pulled her arm across his bare chest as she curled against his side. She inhaled sharply, then steadied her breathing.

"Say, Scully. Shouldn't this moment come after some kind of courtship ritual, you know, where I spread my tail feathers and warble while you feign indifference?"

"I think we've been doing that."

He laughed and hugged her tighter. "Can I take back my promise about debauchery?"

She rubbed her hand across his cheek. "Soon, Mulder, soon."

After checking out of the motel the next morning, they drove into Wheeling to speak to the agents who had opened the investigation, Brad Clayton and Alex Phillips. A short woman with a buzz cut showed Mulder and Scully into a small windowless conference room, then paused at the door to look them over before leaving with a soft click of the latch. The bulletin board held a copy of OSHA regulations and instructions explaining how to find out about toxic substances in the workplace. An anti-discrimation statement had yellowed with age and curled at the lower corner. Scully read through the statements twice, her back turned to Mulder who was tapping out some impatient internal rhythm on the table.

"Friendly folk, Scully. How long before we walk out?"

"Can't do that, Mulder. Kersh's probably broadcast our reputations ahead of time. You saw that look. Besides, it's only been fifteen minutes."

"Fifteen more, tops. And that's only to please you."

It wasn't the first time they had been kept waiting as a message, and Scully kept watch on Mulder's mounting irritation at the game of status and importance. His refusal to play had been one of the first things she admired in him, once she saw that his failure to conform grew out of an implacable commitment to truth and not out of some wish for self-destruction. Still, his impatience might easily spill over into anger or a deliberate taunt, so when "her" extra fifteen minutes were up, she tapped him on the arm and motioned to leave. As Mulder reached for the doorknob, a tall man in rolled-up shirtsleeves walked in, carrying a mug of coffee. His blond mustache drooped around the corners of an extraordinarily small mouth, barely wider than his nose. His eyes, pale blue, almost aquamarine, seemed to pinch the bridge of his nose.

"No one get you anything?" he said with a little raise of the eyebrows.


"I'll see to that. I'm Phillips, Clayton will be along in a second. Coffee okay? FBI's finest brew."

Phillips disappeared without waiting for an answer and reappeared with his partner, a shorter, younger man whose middle was already beginning to stretch his pale blue shirt against the buttons. Clayton carried two styrofoam cups of coffee, a bulging manila folder under his arm, and a pen in his mouth.

Mulder and Scully introduced themselves, and Clayton began spreading papers out on the table, providing a running commentary to each stage of evidence gathering. Fingerprints, footprints, security films all came up negative. The staff had been interviewed; background checks begun. No one noticed anything unusual until the raiders were long gone. No leads of substance had turned up.

Phillips stood back silently, hands on hips, the entire time his partner narrated their activities and passed his data sheets, photos, and notes to Mulder and Scully. "Well, Agents," he said as Clayton finished, "I guess you're here to tell us that we missed what's plainly in front of our faces. That's why you collect the big bucks at headquarters and we're out here in hill country."

"Nothing of the sort. Looks like you've examined things pretty carefully." Mulder ran his finger over a picture of the freezer room as it had been found, with drawers pulled out and vials spilled across the floor. "Dr. Dylan called this vandalism."

"Frankly, Agent Mulder, we don't quite understand why we were pulled off this case. I'll put our solve rate against any team at headquarters and that's without fancy support and other perks." He glanced over at Scully. "So you better be bringing some pretty fancy expertise to this case if you intend to wow us natives."

"Agent Mulder and I have had some experience in domestic terrorism," she carefully avoided her partner's eyes, "and that may have been a factor. Our AD handed us this assignment two days ago without much in the way of guidance. What can you tell us about the center itself?"

Phillips turned and looked at her more closely, shifting his eyes from her badge to her face and back. Apparently satisfied, he continued, "There's been a government lab there for a long time. Last year they upgraded it. Brought in truckloads of stuff. Beefed up security. Looks like the local politicos have pull with someone."

"What's there now?" she asked.

"You didn't talk to the director?"

"Yeah, we did," Mulder broke in. "We want to know if there's something he's not telling. Are there controversial experiments going on there?"

"Like, what kind?"

"The kind that bring out protestors or bombers?"

"Haven't seen anything like that. Just a quiet lab with lots of security. Mostly they breed rats from what I saw," Phillips answered. His partner began drawing the photos together and straightened them by tapping along the edges.

"Why all the security then, Agent Phillips?"

"Cause it's military. Gives them the jollies to guard things, I guess."

"Did the intruders get in through the gate? Over the fence? Do we know?"

Clayton sifted through the papers and pulled out a set of blue forms. "It's here in the notes of our interview with the guard. She says the only people who came in that evening were people known to her and the cleaning crew."

"Was it the regular cleaning crew?"

"No, subs. But they had the pass from the firm, so everything seemed on the up and up."

"They don't need security clearance?" Scully asked.

Phillips answered while Clayton skimmed through the notes. "The director said they didn't have access to the classified areas. Military cleans that up all by its lonesome. You think it's the cleaners? Mostly they don't even speak English."

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances. "Have you got them on videotape?" she asked.

Clayton nodded and left the room. On returning, he fed the tape into the VCR and dimmed the lights. He zapped through a mostly quiet evening, the night guard arriving in her red Vega, a couple of technicians who stopped to trade reports about the Pirates and the Reds with the guard, and finally a beat-up black Chevy. "The guard said there were three people in the car, all women, middle-aged. She spoke only to the driver who, incidentally, had a thick Polish accent, just like the regulars." The guard stepped forward into the range of the camera and examined the credentials of the crew, bending over to compare them to their photos. Only the driver had been captured on tape, a plain woman with heavy glasses and stringy blonde hair that hung to her shoulders. Most of the time her face was away from the camera as she spoke to her companions. The guard disappeared from the screen, presumably back into the booth to make a phone call. When she reemerged, she walked around the back of the car and opened the trunk, then opened the door to the back seat.

"Anything in the trunk?" Mulder asked.

"Just cleaning supplies and a couple of buckets, she said."

"Let's see it again," Mulder asked and Clayton rewound through the five minute segment. Scully kept her eyes focused on the screen. She supposed that Mulder had been in the back seat, dressed in some outfit the four of them had imagined fitting for a Polish cleaner. Now he could sit here with these other agents and go over the evidence point by point understanding every nuance and asking every question exactly right. He could analyze a case down to the smallest detail if he wanted to, but that was never his goal. Just getting answers wasn't the point for him; somehow it had to relate to the truths that drove him. So here he was staring at himself on the screen, knowing the answers Phillips and Clayton wanted, but not the ones that mattered, the ones he was ready to sacrifice for. Her answers this time.

Mulder's voice broke through her thoughts. "Anything strike you, Scully?"

His inflection signaled concern. "Oh, no, nothing," she said, wondering what the others had said in the past minute or two, "except whether the video had been enhanced."

Phillips paused then spoke with exaggerated patience, "Sure, like I just said, the driver just gets uglier the more you enhance her. No wonder she's cleaning floors for a living."

"So, you confirmed that these women were sent by the firm? Have you interviewed them? I mean with a translator." She hoped this question hadn't already been answered, too.

"The guard called the number on the crew's credentials. We were *about* to double-check when we got pulled from this case. Thought maybe you all would have that special touch or whatever." He turned off the video and motioned to Clayton to turn on the lights.

"We did run the plates. Expired. Used to belong to a trucking firm in PA. Looks like someone fished them out of the trash. Doesn't mean they're our intruders, though. Lots of folks might like to save some money on their tags."

"No trace on the car, then."


"And the break-in occurred while the crew was there?"

"Could be. The intruders disabled some of the security devices but not the general electricity. No one is sure of the exact timing, but it seems that a couple of cameras went down before the cleaners arrived."

Mulder rose from his seat. "Maybe we should go out there together and see. If you don't mind."

"No problem, Agents."


The guard waved the two cars through the gate and pointed to the visitors' parking by the main door of the lab. Phillips and Clayton turned left to the designated area, but Mulder drove to the end of the lot where an empty field stretched to the hills a half mile away. Clayton sighed and turned the car around to follow, sensing Phillips' renewed anger. "Who do these guys think they are, anyway?"

"Beats me, Phillips. Special anti-terrorism unit? Yeah."

By the time the two local agents caught up, Mulder had waded out into the waist-high grass. "What's this?" he shouted back at them.

"It's a field." Phillips replied. "Like, agents in the field."

"Yeah, I can see that. What's it for?"

"It's just an empty field. For building more buildings on."

Scully had located a path through the overgrowth and started out to join her partner.

"What's that burned area out there?" Mulder shouted again.

"What burned area?" Phillips was losing patience.

Mulder turned and kept going toward what he had seen. By taking the path, Scully arrived at almost the same time. All of the grass had been flattened in a circle almost 80 feet across. At the center and around the circumference, it had also been singed. On the far side a rutted track curved away toward the back of the laboratory building. "What's this, Mulder?" Scully asked softly, looking over her shoulder at their approaching companions.

"I think this may be the way our intruders arrived." Responding to her puzzled look, he said, "Prepare for the return of Spooky Mulder."

Phillips and Clayton walked up a few seconds later. "Gentlemen," said Mulder, "has this area been tested for unusual levels of radiation?" Clayton looked down at his wingtips as though he'd stepped in something.

"Radiation? Why would we do that?"

"It's well known that alien races are interested in human DNA."

"Alien as in ET or alien as in wetback?" Phillips asked with a smirk.

"Extraterrestrials. Intelligent extraterrestrials. It's possible that our intruders came from above." Mulder looked up at the overcast sky and the others followed suit.

Phillips crossed his arms and snorted. "That's a good one, Mulder. You think little green men flew in and raided the center? What about you, Scully? This your take on it, too?"

Scully had moved away and was pacing off the perimeter. "I always take Agent Mulder's theories seriously."

"No way am I going to call my boss and tell him we gotta test for little green men."

"Their color is irrelevant. I don't care what you tell him. We need to get a team in here to do some samples." Mulder turned and headed back to the parking lot with the others in his wake.

When they reached the asphalt, Phillips and Clayton got in their car and drove back to the entrance, but Scully grabbed Mulder's arm and said she wanted to walk.

"Mulder, what was that about? I'm not sure it's a good idea to play with their heads that way. They're already hostile enough."

"I don't think aliens made off with the ova," he smiled sarcastically, "but I do think they've been here. I think that's what accounts for the singed area. I'd like to know more."

She sighed and looked away. "This story is perfectly bad enough just with the humans, Mulder. We can't go back to Kersh and tell him the aliens did it."

"I have no intention of saying that. But this is a chance for us to learn the truth. Don't you want to? Is this whole enterprise just some rogue biologists fooling around with materials that fell into their hands -- or is there real alien involvement? Is it an accident that the other women are dead? Or is it murder? It makes a difference to me and I think it would make a difference to you."

"Of course, it matters to me. But there are a number of truths here. I just don't want aliens or anything else to obscure the very real, very human men who are involved in this. I want truth, but I'd also like a little justice."

He nodded at her vehemence. "Fair enough."

They cut short their conversation as they approached the building. The two Wheeling agents stood next to the doors enjoying a private joke. Phillips called out to Mulder, "Hey, you folks decide on the make of that space ship yet?"

Mulder gave him a little smile and pushed his way into the building.


Dr. Dylan was not in his office, but his secretary directed them to a lab down the hall. He was conferring with a white-coated technician when the four agents walked in, and the young staff member hastily excused himself from the room.

"Well, it's nice to see all of you together. Perhaps I can be spared the need to repeat myself."

Mulder didn't give Dylan time to enjoy his own disdain. "What is that field used for, Dr. Dylan?"

"Out there? Nothing. It's just an empty field."

"And the cleared area out some distance?"

"Oh, that. Helicopters sometimes use that as a landing area."

"No landing pad?"

"No appropriations. Frankly, I'd rather they spent the money on equipment if they're going to spend it at all." He paused to consider Mulder's intent. "Are you suggesting that the intruders came by helicopter? I do think our guard would have noticed the noise."

"No, I think that landing area is used for other purposes. Deliveries of the sort you might not want to go through the front gates." Mulder met Dylan's stare and waited.

Scully broke the silence to change the subject. "There seem to be some signs that there was inside help on this job. Have all your staff members been interviewed?"

Phillips interrupted, "We were in the process of interviewing them when we got pulled from the case. I think we covered just about everyone with upper level access. There was just that one guy we couldn't reach. He in today?"

Dylan shook his head. "Crawford? Actually, it seems that Crawford has gone missing."

"When did you find this out?" Phillips motioned to Clayton to start taking notes.

"Well, I thought he was ill. But when he failed to come back to work this morning, I made some phone calls and found that he hasn't been seen since that night."

"The night of the break-in?"


"Who is this?" Mulder asked.

"His name is Kurt Crawford," Dylan responded. "He's been with me several years, has always been trustworthy. Hate to think that he's been a mole the whole time."

Mulder drummed his fingers on the lab bench and tried to catch Phillips' attention. "Well, that would make a lot of sense. How the intruders knew how to disarm the system, where to find the samples. Do you think Crawford could have been alone?"

Scully spoke up from her notes. "I think we ought to see his personnel file."

"Is that necessary? We really don't know that he's involved."

"And do you have the other records ready?" she continued.

Dylan studied her badge again, then glanced down to her left hand. "If you'll come this way, Agent Scully. Gentlemen, please excuse us."

Dylan showed Scully to his office and stepped out to ask his secretary to copy Kurt Crawford's file. He shut the door and walked over to his desk where a pile of folders had been assembled since the previous day's visit. He opened the one on top and extracted a single sheet of paper. "There *is* one strange thing about all of this, Agent Scully. Something I wanted to raise with you in private. The records indicate that one of the women who donated ovarian specimens had the same name as yours… and was about your age, if I'm judging correctly." He slid the paper back into the file.

"I don't see how that could be," she replied, as casually as he.

"Just an anomaly, as I said." He suddenly reached out and grabbed her around the back of her neck. Her defensive push was not quick enough to prevent him from feeling the implant. "A most interesting anomaly, come to think of it. Is your partner aware of it? I rather guess he is. But what about your boss?"


Two days later, back in Kersh's office in Washington.

A.D. Kersh took off his glasses and leaned back in his chair. He tapped his pen against the edge of his desk, then laid it down in the center of his papers, pointing toward Mulder. "Well, I've read your report. It doesn't seem very definitive."

Scully leaned forward as if to show him something in the pages she had written. "It's an interim report, as we note. We are awaiting some additional tests and records…" She pulled her hand back from the edge of his desk.

"Tests, yes, I understand from the director of the Wheeling office that you've ordered radiation tests for field full of weeds. What exactly is that about?"

Mulder shifted in his chair. "Behind the laboratory is a landing area in an untended field. We found scorch marks there similar to those at other UFO landing sites. A higher than normal trace of radiation would tend to confirm…"

"You think aliens did this, Agent Mulder?"

"Not exactly, but…"

"And I also have a protest from the director of the center, Dr., Dr.," he flipped through the pages of a yellow legal pad, "Dr. Dylan, that you have requested complete copies of their files relating to his experiments. Of what possible relevance is this?"

"As you said, sir, our findings so far are inconclusive," Scully began. "The physical evidence is thin to non-existent. Several people may have been involved along with one or more insiders who have now disappeared. Working from the personnel records, our background check has failed to verify even the existence of the primary person under suspicion. If we are to continue this case, we need to pursue other routes. We need to understand the exact nature of the work…"

"Dr. Dylan also alluded to some personal factor that he thought was clouding your judgment. He did not elaborate. Would you care to tell me what that might be, Agent Scully?"

"Nothing has clouded my judgment on these matters, sir."

"Then why have you called for the Bureau to seize all of the experimental materials not lost in the theft?"

"If we are to pursue this case," Mulder's voice insisted, "then we must investigate a much larger matter as well. It is our belief that the center was engaged in illegal…"

"Agent Mulder," Kersh interrupted, rising from his seat and leaning forward, both hands on his desk.

"…illegal research possibly using human tissue obtained in an unethical and coercive manner."

"Agent Mulder…"

"… we will find the solution only in understanding what went on at that center. And we will likely need to expose the work of Dr. Dylan and his colleagues."

"That was not your assignment."

"That is the only way we can complete our assignment, sir," Scully responded.

"The military is both qualified and authorized to investigate any lapses in scientific conduct. That is not a matter for the FBI."

"The military has chosen to ignore the scientific lapses. Hell, they sponsored the lapses." Mulder threw his hands in the air.

"Any investigation of the mission of the facility might have serious repercussions for both of you. You are ill-advised to pursue that line." Kersh resumed his seat and adjusted his reading glasses. He turned the pages of the report one at a time, then tapped his finger against the text and looked up. "You speculate here that persons wishing to disrupt the experiments might have been behind the break-in. As you know, we have had repeated incidents with some of the more extreme right-to-life groups. Given that Dr. Dylan's experiments involved reproduction, it seems plausible to focus our attention in that direction. I will alert our task force to redouble their surveillance of these groups. In the meantime I will also advise the military to upgrade their security procedures in light of this episode."

Scully felt her color rising. "You're saying that we can't investigate the center despite the violations of federal law and human rights? One man has disappeared without a trace, not impossibly by orders of the military. We already have preliminary information supporting our suspicions and would like to present that to you."

"No such case has been given to me, Agents. I see no reason to spend my time on materials irrelevant to the assignment I asked you to complete. I will not exceed the mandate given to me."

"You're not interested in justice?" Mulder asked.

"I am interested in making sure that we solve those problems needing most urgent solutions. In the end, that adds up to the best justice we are likely to achieve." He turned the report back to page one. "It's a flawed world, Agents. Thank you for your prompt action. You may return to your usual assignments."

Mulder rose and reached the door in four long strides. Following him, Scully turned back to see Kersh slide their case files into a courier envelope and seal it.


The streetlights had already flickered on when Mulder pulled up outside her Georgetwon apartment and parked the car. The keys jangled as he pulled them out of the ignition. Across the street, the windows of her flat were dark -- the automatic timer had yet to come on or maybe it had burned out weeks before. It didn't seem important. A few nights earlier, she reflected, they had celebrated a rare victory against the conspiracy. Now once again, the promise of answers had eluded them and their own supervisor had blocked their access to the damning evidence.

Mulder broke the gloomy silence. "At least we seem to have evaded the trap. They're not going to risk this stuff coming out."

"Thin protection for you. And, it leaves them in business. Where does this end? When do we get the satisfaction of exposing these lies? When can we move on?"

He braced his elbow against the back of her seat, gripping her headrest in his right hand. "We've accomplished something, Scully. Not everything, but we're closer to ending this."

"For me, yes, not for the others. Not for the next victims." She ran her hand along the edge of his seat. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way. I'm grateful to you for everything. All the risks you've taken."

He nodded, watching her hand for a moment before a car parking in front of them drew his attention. "Gratitude's fine, Scully."

Her insides levitated again. How could she possibly say to him what he wanted to hear? She hadn't even convinced herself of the reality of that night in her apartment. Or what the hunger of the last few evenings meant. Where did truths between them precipitate from the imagination, become solid so you knew what you were holding? He had a way of forcing her to look at things she had chosen to leave in the shadow, of showing her that their friendship was constrained not by their heated back-and-forths but only by what they refused to give. Get out of the car, walk up the steps, unlock the door alone. The dark apartment would seem less a home than ever. They were each other's only safety net. Would a false inference mean falling past the edge? Mulder gently brushed the back of her neck. "You okay?"

"Yeah, just thinking."




She stared down at her finger, now cautiously tracing the crease in his trousers. "I know sometimes in the middle of the night… I mean it might be unfair to assume…" His hand on her neck had stilled. "It's just… When you came over that night, and you started asking me… did we reach an understanding? I mean, of sorts?"

"Yeah, at least as far as I'm concerned."

"It was real, then, not just one of those 4 a.m. things?"

"Real deal." He hesitated for just a moment. "If memory serves me right, you proposed and I accepted."

"I proposed?"

"Yes, and rather adroitly, too." The light through the windshield illuminated his smile.

"*I* proposed?"

He nodded.

"That's not quite the way I remember it, Mulder."

He lifted the hair from her neck and leaned in to kiss her, first whispering "Are you second-guessing me, Agent Scully?"

The End

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