Title: Thursday's Child
Author: Macomber
Rating: PG
Classification: X
Keywords: EBE, cloning, genetics, abduction

Summary: Mulder discovers a girl sleeping on his doorstep. While she appears to be a fully developed young woman, her mental acuity is that of a small child. Investigation uncovers the girl's origins, along with a mysterious doctor and his unholy alliance with the government.


Mulder straightened the collar of his navy jacket and snatched the keys from the small table near the door. He was late already, though nothing pressing demanded his attention anyway. He yanked open the door and made ready to step into the hall, then was fully and completely stopped.

Lying at his feet was the body of a young woman. For all intents and purposes, she appeared alive, though Mulder couldn't even begin to imagine why a living woman would be lying on his doorstep. Dressed in a simple white cotton gown, her brown hair splayed out around her head, she looked like an angel who had just happened to descend from Heaven and fall quickly and utterly asleep at his door.

He stooped to investigate the thin body; felt for a pulse at her neck. Yes, to his great relief, the girl was still alive. He rubbed his freshly shaved face for a moment, strangely reluctant to wake her. And still, there were answers to be got.

He gave her shoulder a little shake, softly so as not to scare her. Her lips slid into a frown and her lids fluttered ruefully. He tried again to rouse the girl, this time more forcefully.

"Hey. Wake up."

At the sound of his voice, her lids slid quickly open and her eyebrows knitted together in a furry question mark. Mulder stood then, and offered his hands to help her stand. For some unfathomable reason, he didn't want one of his neighbors to happen by at that particular moment and find him hanging around in the hall with a scantily clad woman.

She took his hands gratefully, not seeming at all concerned about his motives or her unfamiliarity with the place. He led her inside and shut the door, waving her to the couch as he did so. She took a seat on the sofa, drawing her knees to her chest and yawning widely without benefit of polite restraint or manners. Sleepily, she rubbed her eyes and then offered them, swollen and misty, up to him.

"What's your name?" Mulder questioned as he lowered himself onto the sofa next to her. She stared blankly at him, as if he were speaking Martian or something. "Can you hear me? I asked you your name."

"What is `name'?" she questioned softly, her face showing nothing more than idle curiosity.

"My name is Fox Mulder. What's yours?" He was patient in this, though her impenetrable calm attitude was beginning to unnerve him.

"I don't have one."

He blinked stupidly at her, wondering how on God's green earth a woman could make it through life without a name. "Everybody has a name."

"Why?"

His mouth worked but his brain just wouldn't kick in for several seconds. "They just do."

"I don't." She shifted uncomfortably in her seat and stared at him, obviously waiting for him to continue. If her present cheered, she sure wasn't showing it.

"Do you know where you live?"

"In the pink room."

"The pink room? Where is that?"

"Just down the hall from the white room. But I don't like the white room. That's where they give me the tests. I hate the tests."

His mind worked feverishly, conjuring all sorts of scenarios but rejecting most of them. "Do you know the address?"

"Address? What is address?" She cocked her head curiously at him, reminding him of a mildly intelligent dog.

"Never mind. Is there someone I can call to come get you? A friend perhaps?"

"No."

Mulder sank back on the sofa and sighed disgustedly. Did she have amnesia perhaps? Or was she mentally retarded in some way? He thought either a strong possibility. "How did you get here?"

"I was following the kitty. She sits outside my window sometimes. I try to get her to come inside but she won't. So I followed her. But then I lost her and I didn't know where I was. So, I kept walking and when I got to this building, I saw her again. So, I went inside but I couldn't find her. And I got tired. So, I just laid down out there."

Again, he was totally flummoxed by her response. "Oh," was all he could muster.

"I have to pee."

Mulder fought back a laugh and then stood. "This way."

He ushered her to the bathroom, then returned to the living room. He picked up the phone and dialed Scully's cell phone, figuring that she would be at least half-way to the office by now. She picked up on the second ring, just as Mulder was peeking around the corner to see if the girl was still in the bathroom.

"Scully? I wanted to let you know that I'd be a little late. I've got a little problem here."

"That's alright. I'm running late myself. In fact, I'm still at my apartment."

"Actually, that's good."

Scully sighed heavily into the phone and grinned. "What do you want, Mulder?"

"Actually, I was wondering if you had any old clothes that you might lend me."

"Costume party, Mulder? Or a change in life-style?" He couldn't see her face, of course, but he knew that she was smiling wildly.

"It has to do with my little problem. I found a young girl sleeping on my doorstep this morning."

"God, Mulder! Don't you even have the common decency to pay for cab fare?"

"Alright, Scully. Enough. I have no idea who this girl is. She doesn't seem to know her name or where she comes from. I want to take her down to the office and run her prints through the computer. Problem is, she's in a state of...shall we say...undress."

"Well, I think I might have some stuff that I could spare. I'll come by your apartment in a few minutes."

"Thanks, Scully."

Mulder hung up the phone and turned just in time to see the girl emerging from the bathroom. Her bare feet shuffled across the carpeted floor, the nightgown dragging behind her. She wandered into the kitchen, where she stood perusing Mulder cereal collection.

"Can I have some of this?" she asked, indicating a large box of Corn Pops.

"Oh...uh...sure." He pulled the box down from where it was perched on top of the fridge and handed it to her.

He searched frantically for -- and finally found -- a clean bowl. There was still a quart of usable milk in the fridge and he handed this to her also. She struggled to climb onto the bar stool, continuously adjusting her gown as she did so. Mulder watched with keen interest as she poured first the cereal and then the milk into the bowl. This done, she turned her baleful eyes up to him, shaking him from his trance.

"Spoon?" she stated simply.

"Oh. Sorry." He passed her the spoon, then watched as she ate.

She ate unabashedly, pausing every few moments to meet his bemused gaze. There was a small stream of milk running down her chin, so Mulder passed a napkin across the breakfast counter. She swiped at her mouth absently, then continued chewing.

"You don't live alone, do you?" he inquired, leaning heavily on the other side of the counter.

"Nope."

"Do you know the names of the other people who live with you?"

"Nope."

"Do you know what part of town your house is in?"

"Nope."

Mulder was saved from any further answerless questions by Scully's knock at the door. "Come," he barked, suddenly turning to see Scully.

"Good morning. I trust these will be okay?"

Mulder eyed the clothes, not sure of what he was looking at. The girl swiveled on her seat to eye Scully, then turned back to her cereal.

"Those will be fine. I guess."

Scully walked over to the girl and smiled heartily at her. "Hello. My name's Dana. What's yours?"

"We've been through that," Mulder offered.

"I don't have a name. I keep telling you that."

"I see. Well, what do your friends call you?"

"I don't have any friends, either."

"Ah." Scully eyed Mulder comically, then studied the girl once more. "I brought something for you to wear. Why don't you come into the bedroom and I'll help you get dressed?"

She turned her hazel eyes to Scully with the same sort of expression that a very young child might give a particularly stupid parent. "I can dress myself, thank you. The man taught me that much."

"What man?" Mulder chimed in, feeling the first glimmer of hope all morning.

"The man who takes care of me."

"What does this man look like?"

She carefully leaned over the counter to place her bowl in the sink, then stood and padded over to where Mulder was standing. She pressed close against him and studied their comparative heights.

"He's a little taller than you. His hair is like Dana's, only shorter."

"You mean, his hair is red?"

"If you say so. But his eyes are light. Like grass."

"Green?"

"Whatever. And he has hair on his face."

Mulder offered no response to this, knowing as he did that it would only perturb her. "Well, that helps."

"Come on," Scully offered. "You should get dressed now."

The girl took the clothes from Scully, then padded softly into the bedroom. Once she was safely out of ear-shot, Scully turned to Mulder with a silly grin on her face.

"You say you found her sleeping on your doorstep?"

"I almost tripped over her when I was leaving for work."

"And she has no idea who she is or where she lives? Couldn't be amnesia. She remembers the building...or at least the room...that she lives in. And the guy who takes care of her."

"The guy who takes care of her. Does that sound just a bit odd to you, Scully? I mean, she also talks about the white room, the one that he does tests on her in. I'm wondering if she isn't talking about a hospital or a private clinic of some sort."

"That could be. Does she seem a bit child-like to you, Mulder?"

"A bit? That's an understatement. She's got the intellectual development of a five-year-old. Are you thinking she's disabled in some way?"

"That's one possibility. I'd have to spend more time with her to be sure."

"Well, unless we can figure out where she belongs, I'd say you're gonna be spending one hell of a lot of time with her."

"Not me, Mulder. You're the one who found her." He was about to respond to this with multitudinous reasons why he couldn't have her stay with him when the door shot open. The girl stood before them, her face blooming with a broad smile and her arms open wide.

"What do you think? Pretty, huh?"

"Very pretty," Scully complimented, offering a smile of her own. "Come on. We want you to come to our office with us. Maybe we can find out where you belong."


Scully and Mulder led the girl to Mulder's car. She walked quietly alongside them, wide-eyed as she studied the whole place. Everything seemed to be a new experience for her; everything seemed to fascinate her.

Mulder held the door for her, then fastened her seatbelt when it looked as though she was unable to do so herself. Scully drove her own car to the office, following slowly behind Mulder's car and musing over their strange new friend.

The girl's head spun this way and that as the agents led her into the building. She had the distinct look of a tourist who hadn't even bothered to read the guide book.

Once inside the office, Mulder prepared to take the girl's fingerprints. She was seated on a chair, watching every move he made with great intensity. When finally he was ready, he put out one hand, which she took instantly. He took her thumb first, rolling it first across the ink pad and then across the paper. She giggled as he did so and struggled to reclaim her hand.

"Just relax your hand and let me do all the work," he advised, watching her smiling face.

"But it tickles."

"I know. But try and relax anyway."

Scully was watching them from some distance away, thoroughly enjoying the fact that the girl could so easily fluster her partner. She offered no advice, no assistance. She merely rocked in her chair and grinned at the two of them.

When the fingerprinting was done, the girl took back her hand and studied her fingertips. "Eeooh!" she exclaimed, wiggling them back and forth.

"Here. I have something that will take the ink off. Come with me." Scully took the girl by the wrist and led her into the washroom. As she scrubbed at the girl's fingers, she watched the way that she studied herself in the mirror. More than anything else, this girl resembled a child, with the same sense of wonderment and exuberance that only a truly precocious toddler might have.

When the deed was done and her fingertips were once again clean, the girl turned to Scully and smiled. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now, I'd like to do some tests on you..."

"No! I don't want any more tests! I don't like the tests. They hurt."

"No, honey. These tests won't hurt. I promise." Scully tried to be as sincere and comforting as she knew how.

The girl eyed her peculiarly, gauging this strange woman's honesty. "It won't hurt? Not at all?"

"Not even a little bit."

Finally and instantly, she smiled. "Okay."

Scully heaved a sigh of relief and took her hand once more. She led the girl to an examining room on the second floor, then helped her climb onto the bed.

"Do you know how old you are?" Scully asked as she checked the girl's eyes and ears.

"No."

Scully looked down the girl's throat and then checked her reflexes. "Do you know if you've ever been sick?"

"I don't think I've ever been sick. Nobody ever told me I was."

"Alright." She checked her blood pressure, then strode to the counter, blocking the girl's view as she prepared a syringe. "Do you mind if I take a little blood sample? It won't hurt much."

The girl stiffened considerably, ready to bolt from the room. "You mean, with a needle? I don't like needles. No needles, please."

Scully turned around and checked her frightened face. There was no way to slip this past her. The girl wouldn't stand for a regular blood test and that was all there was to it.

"Well, maybe I could do it another way. Just a little tiny drop of blood like you'd get from a paper cut or something."

"And it won't hurt?" Her suspicious eyes burned holes through Scully's head.

"Won't feel a thing." Such a little lie for such a good cause.

"Wellll...alright."

"I'll just take your finger like this and you'll never even know it happened."

Scully took the girl's arm under her own, blocking her view with her own body. Quick as a wink, she poked the girl's index finger with a sterile needle, forcing a single drop of blood to the surface. This, she wiped onto a slide. Then, she pressed the girl's finger a bit more and produced a few more drops for further testing.

"There. That wasn't so bad, now, was it?"

"Nope." She examined her finger for signs of injury and was pleasantly surprised to find only a small pin prick.

"Just a few more things." Scully made a couple of notes on a form, then turned back to her patient. "Have you had your first menstrual period yet?"

"Oh, sure. The man who takes care of me explained all that. He fixed me up with everything I needed and told me not to be scared."

"That's good. Have you ever engaged in sexual intercourse?" She raised her eyebrows and studied the girl's face, finding total incomprehension.

"What's...?"

"Never mind." She made another note on her form, then clutched the clipboard to her chest. "Now, I'd like to give you a few more tests. These are more like games."

"Like tag? Or hide and seek?"

"Kind of like that. Come with me?"

The girl slid off the table and followed Scully dutifully into another room, where they sat across from each other at a large table. She watched Scully's face and listened intently to everything she said.

"Okay. I'm going to show you a few pictures and I'd like you to tell me what they look like to you."

"Okay."

Scully held up the first Rorschach card and waited.

"That looks like a bird."

The girl named several animals in a row, then giggled demurely and suggested that the next picture looked to her like a person bent over. Each time, Scully made more notes on her forms and nodded her head.

"That's very good."

"Did I win?"

Scully was taken aback for a moment. Then it suddenly dawned on her what the girl was talking about. "Yes, honey. You won."

She clapped her hands together gleefully and bobbed up and down in her chair. "Goody!"

"Now, I have this puzzle and I'd like to see how fast you can finish it."

She placed a large wooden box on the table, then pulled the various pieces out of it. Mulder was standing outside, peering in through the window behind the girl's back. His arms were crossed and he looked disappointed.

"I like puzzles. I'm good at them, too."

"That's nice. When I say `go', you can begin."

The girl waited anxiously, her eyes watching Scully's and her hands poised over the pieces. Her mouth was stretched into a tight little smile and her eyes were glimmering with an unshared secret.

"Go," Scully said, pushing the button on her stop watch.

The girl frantically grabbed up pieces, plunging them into the respective holes in a mad fury. Within seconds, she had finished the whole thing. Scully again pushed the button on her stop watch and turned her shocked eyes up to Mulder.

"That was very good. Have you done this puzzle before?"

"Nope. But I did harder ones. Ones with lots and lots of pieces."

"Well, you certainly have a talent for it. Let's go back out and see how Mulder's doing with your fingerprints."

The girl followed Scully out of the room, grinning madly when she saw Mulder. She stood between the two, fidgeting with an errant lock of her hair.

"So, how did you make out?" Scully asked him quietly, hoping for the best.

"No luck. Whoever you are, you've never been arrested."

"What's arrested?"

"It's when the cops come and take you to jail because you've done something bad."

"Oh, no. I've never done anything bad. And I've never been arrested."

"How did the tests go?" he queried, turning toward Scully.

Scully scratched the back of her neck and cast a warm gaze on the girl. "Why don't you go back inside and play with the puzzle some more. Mulder and I will come get you when we're done."

They watched the girl leave without so much as a word, then they put their heads together.

"This is an odd case, Mulder. For all intents and purposes, she's a perfectly healthy twenty-five-year-old woman. She's had her first menstrual period and her development doesn't seem to have been arrested at any point. But her mental acuity is the most puzzling. She has the speech patterns and mannerisms of a toddler. And yet, she has an enormous intellect. I can't give her a regular IQ test because she can't read or write. But she did that puzzle faster than anybody I've ever seen. And she picks up on things so fast."

"No indications that she's..." Mulder used one index finger to spin circles around his ear.

"None. If anything, I'd say she's too sane. Text book sane, if you know what I mean. She simply lacks any form of education."

"What do you suggest we do with her? I mean, if we can't find out where she lives, we can't just turn her over to a social worker. They'd think we're nuts."

"I think we ought to get her to retrace her steps. Maybe she can lead us back to where she lives."

"I'm willing to try anything at this point."

Mulder took four large steps across the hall and leaned across the doorway. "Feel like taking a road trip?" he asked the girl.

Her face lit up as she turned toward him. "You mean, in the car?"

"Yea, in the car."

"Yay! I like riding in the car." She stood at once and trotted to where Mulder stood. Then, she took his hand in hers and beamed up at him.

Her quick and unnatural attachment to him was beginning to wear on his nerves. She was, by all rights, a beautiful, sensuous young woman. But she was possessed of the mind of a small child, knowing nothing of the ways of the world or even of her own body. It all made him very uncomfortable and he wished for all he was worth that she would somehow become more attached to Scully.


The three of them drove back to the point of origin: Mulder's apartment building. The girl was seated next to him in the front seat; Scully leaned over the back of the seat, her arms slack. Suddenly, Mulder got the eerie feeling that he was now trapped in a car with two small children who just happened to look like gorgeous women.

"Now, you said that you saw the cat outside my building?"

"Uh-huh."

"Where were you standing when you saw the cat?"

"Right over there." She indicated the northern corner of the intersection. I came from down that road."

"So far so good."

Mulder put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb, spurred on by renewed hope. When he reached the intersection, he stopped the car and looked at the girl again.

"Okay. Where were you before here?"

"I came down that way. I remember because I passed that sign." She pointed to their left, where a large McDonald's sign stood.

"You're sure?" Scully asked from over her shoulder.

"Yea. I remember that sign because it has the same letters as the tag on the man's coat."

Mulder and Scully's head whipped around to stare at the girl, their mouths going slack and their eyes widening.

"You can read?"

"No. But I looked at that tag so much I memorized the letters on it."

"Could you draw those letters for us now?" Mulder's face was hopeful. He bit into his lip awaiting her response.

"Sure."

Scully rummaged through her purse, finally coming up with her pad and pen. She passed these over the seat to the girl, then peered over her shoulder as she wrote. It took her only several seconds to scrawl the letters across the pad. Then, she handed it not to Scully, but to Mulder.

"Dr. Thomas," Mulder read, his eyes meeting Scully's. "Mean anything to you?"

"Nothing. Let's go back and check with the computer. He must have a license. We can track him that way."

Mulder slipped the car back into gear and made a U-turn. He drove them back to the Federal Building, none of them daring to utter a word.

Once they had called up the appropriate files in the computer, Mulder entered Dr. Thomas' name and sat back to await the computer's response. Within minutes, the computer displayed a plethora of information, up to and including the man's licensing and current place of employment.

"He owns and runs Gentech. Where have I heard that name before." He looked askance at Scully, who merely shrugged her shoulders. "Well, I think we should take a run over there and find out what the good doctor has to say for himself."

"I think we'd better leave the girl here," Scully whispered into Mulder's ear. "At least until we find out what's going on over there."

"I'll buy that. But we can't just leave her alone."

Scully straightened herself and surveyed the area. Her eyes finally fell on one familiar face and she smiled. "Sonny's here. We could trust him to look after her."

"We can trust Sonny to look after anything but beer. I'll ask him."

Mulder crossed the room, trying to look casual and serious. Sonny was a veteran agent, having spent the past thirty-two years in service to his government. Three years divorced, he had developed a definite middle-age-spread, though he still had an easy smile and a gentle demeanor. Of all the people Mulder knew at the agency, he trusted Sonny the most.

"Mulder, what are you doing hanging around the office?" Sonny offered his beefy hand and a smile for good measure.

"Slow day." Mulder pumped his hand twice, then leaned against the wall. "Could I ask a favor of you?"

"Sure. I'm not busy at the moment."

"I have someone I'm guarding and I have to go question a witness."

"Say no more! I'd be glad to look after her for you." Sonny looked past Mulder to where the girl was standing with Scully.

"Thanks. We won't be gone long. Just keep a real close eye on her. She's kind of...mischievous."

"Will do."

Mulder walked back to where the girl stood and took her hand in his. "I want you to meet a friend of mine."

She allowed herself to be led across the room, then smiled easily at Sonny.

"This is Sonny. Sonny, this is...well...we don't know her name yet."

"Glad to meet you, little lady." He offered his hand to her.

She took his hand, stepping away from Mulder and standing next to Sonny. She kept possession of his hand, figuring that that was what she was supposed to do.

"Sonny's going to look after you while Scully and I take care of a little errand. Okay?"

"Sure," she agreed, looking up at Sonny. "Can we go get something to eat? I'm hungry again."

"You bet. Don't worry about a thing, Mulder. The two of us will be just fine." He gave her hand a little squeeze and returned her smile in kind.

The girl watched Mulder and Scully leave, waving animatedly at them as they passed the window. Totally unaffected by all this confusion and strangeness, she then looked back at Sonny.

"Do you think we could get some burgers? I like burgers."

Sonny smiled at her and chuckled deep in his throat. Sure, she could have burgers. If he had to walk all the way across town, he would see that she had her burgers. With a face like that, she could have anything she wanted. ~


CHAPTER TWO ~

"I'm Agent Mulder. This is Agent Scully. We'd like to speak to Dr. Thomas." Mulder pocketed his badge and stared at the young receptionist.

She, as animated as a wall and nearly as intelligent, stared back. "May I tell him what it's about?"

"We'd just like to ask him a few questions. It's regarding a case we're working on."

Scully wandered about the room, her arms clasped behind her back, staring at various diplomas and artists' renderings on the wall. The receptionist turned away from Mulder and picked up the phone to her left. Punching in one number, she kept her eyes on Mulder while she spoke softly into the phone.

"There are two FBI agents in the waiting area. They'd like to speak with you, sir."

She gifted Mulder with an ungracious little smile, then placed the receiver back on the cradle. "He'll be right up."

"Thank you." Mulder walked over to where Scully was idling by the window, staring out at nothing in particular. "Penny for your thoughts."

"I was just musing over Dr. Thomas' degrees. He has one in bio- chemistry. One in physics. Another in molecular biology and still another in genetics. Either he's a couple of hundred years old, or he's a very quick study."

Both of them turned suddenly at the sound of the door behind them opening. There stood before them a totally innocuous looking man of about fifty-five. His hair was a deep strawberry blond, his eyes a twinkling green. Though he was taller than Mulder by several inches, he seemed somehow slight in his presence.

"I'm Dr. Thomas. Can I help you?" He stood before them, his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes squinted.

"I'm Agent Mulder. We'd like to ask you a few questions regarding a missing person case."

"Certainly." The man was unmoving.

"Just this morning, I found a young girl sleeping on my doorstep. She's about twenty-five, with brown hair and eyes."

"And...?"

"And, from all the indications that she can give us, she came from here."

At this, Dr. Thomas let his arms fall limply at his sides. "Why don't you come into my office where we can speak more privately."

This gave Mulder some hope and he followed the doctor through the door and down the hall without any further urging. They passed down one short corridor before reaching Thomas' office; the rooms they passed while doing so held no interest to them.

"Please, sit down." Thomas watched eagerly as Mulder took a seat. "Now, about this girl..."

"We don't have a name for her yet. She seems unable to remember who she is or where she came from. A fingerprint search turned up nothing. She did describe you to a tee, though."

Scully, who was surveying the room from behind Thomas' desk, offered her two-cents. "As Agent Mulder said, she seems to be about twenty-five, though we're mystified at her intellectual level."

"What do you mean?" Thomas shifted nervously in his seat, fussed with the hem of his lab coat.

"Well, for one thing, she can't read or write. For another, she doesn't seem aware of such basic things as names or addresses. Either she's been stunted somehow, or she suffered a severe trauma. We thought perhaps she was being treated here."

"We don't treat humans here." Thomas craned his neck to look at Scully, who quickly put down the photograph which she had been eying. "Our work here is strictly research. Some genetic mapping. Some actually genetic engineering."

"Are you the one responsible for those genetically altered tomatoes?" Mulder asked comically. "Because, if you were, I have to tell you they're not much of an improvement."

"That's wasn't my idea, no. Now, about the girl. I can assure you that she did not come from here. We have a staff of only six people, not counting myself. And we do not work with live human subjects. Whatever this girl is remembering must be distorted somehow."

Scully spun quickly and smiled. "Well, we did have to check it out. I'm sorry to have bothered you, Doctor. Thank you."

Thomas took her hand and shook it weakly. "I do hope you can help this girl. If you have any more questions, please feel free to call."

Scully nodded and took Mulder's arm to lead him from the room. He stared blankly at her, wondering why she had put such an abrupt end to the visit. When they finally gained the parking lot, he reeled on her.

"Just in case you were wondering, I had a few more questions to ask. I think he's hiding something."

"I think so, too. But we're not going to get anything out of him. Not now, anyway."

Mulder stopped walking suddenly and stood in the middle of the parking lot just glaring at her. "What have you got up your sleeve, Scully?"

She opened the car door and climbed in unceremoniously. She took her time fastening her seat belt, and cluing Mulder in. He followed suit, the curiosity nearly killing him.

"Mulder, you know that picture I was looking at?" She wasn't looking directly at him now, but rather staring nonchalantly out the window.

"Yea. What about it?"

"There was an inscription on it. It said, `To my dad. The best guy I know. Love, Stephanie.'"

"So?" He started the car and popped it into gear. He was backing it out of the parking space as she answered him, so he wasn't looking at her.

"One of the people in that picture was Dr. Thomas." She waited a few beats, pausing for effect. "The other, was the girl we just left with Sonny."

The car screeched to a halt as a shocked Mulder stamped down on the brake. "What? Are you sure?"

"They're identical."

"You said, `they'. You think they're twins?"

"Could be. We'd have to test their DNA to be certain."

"That's just great. Wouldn't we need a sample from both of them for that?"

"Yes." She was still so blasé. It was beginning to irritate him.

"So, you think this guy's just gonna waltz in and volunteer a sample?"

"He doesn't have to. I just got a sample."

His face brightened considerably at this, though he was still reluctant to admit just how impressed was with her. "Scully, you sly little dickens. Just how did you manage that?"

"There were a few hairs on the shoulders of his suit jacket. I just absconded with a few of them." She held up a small plastic bag containing several errant hairs.

"Scully, you're a bonafide genius."

"I keep trying to tell you that."

As the two of them drove back to the Federal Building, Mulder kept a wondrous smile plastered to his face. He was completely sure that Dr. Thomas had more secrets than just the identity of the girl. He could feel it.

As they marched down the corridor to the elevator, a smallish man stuck his head out of the door and called after them.

"Dana! I've got something for you on that blood sample you gave me."

She spun hurriedly, her face cheering a bit at this. "Anything out of the ordinary?" She strode back to his position, then followed him into the room.

"If what you mean by out of the ordinary is something totally alien to this planet, yes."

She studied his eyes for a moment, then spared a quick glance at Mulder. "What are you talking about, Sid?"

"Well, the girl's blood is perfectly healthy. You don't have to worry on that account. But, there was this substance in it. I've been running some more tests but, honestly, I can't put a label on it for anything."

"You mean, you don't know what it is?" Mulder looked squarely at Sid, his eyes alight with curiosity and suspicion.

"I don't know what it is. I don't know where it came from. But, I do know what it does. At least part of what it does."

Sid walked back to his desk, where a stack of papers approximately the size of a Buick awaited his attention. He searched through them frantically, then pulled out a small folder.

"I tried to break the substance down to its components. See, it's a composite of numerous organic and inorganic compounds, though the only one compound that I could identify was magnesium. The others...I just don't know. I've never seen anything like them."

"So, what does this stuff do? Grow hair, or what?"

Sid sneered reproachfully at Mulder. "Not exactly. When you introduce this substance to an organic life form...any organic life form from humans right on down to amoebas...you get a really neat effect."

"Neat?" Mulder questioned irritated.

"Yea. It speeds up cell division. What it actually does is accelerate the growth process. You see that plant over there?"

Mulder and Scully turned toward the far corner of the room, where there stood an orange tree of approximately six feet in height. "Yes?" they prompted in unison.

"This morning, that tree was only a seed. I put one small drop of the girl's blood on it and...voila! A tree."

"That's amazing!" Mulder inspected the tree closely, suspecting a trick. "But what could this stuff be used for?"

"Anything. It could accelerate the aging process. Or the healing process. I mean, just think of the possibilities. You could use this stuff to age an entire country. Just a few drops of it in a city's water supply would turn the entire population into senior citizens overnight."

"Does this mean that she's going to continue aging?" Scully wanted to know.

"Not exactly. See, this stuff isn't stored in the body. It's effects will only last for...oh,say...six hours or so. It would take repeated exposure to cause any significant damage."

"And Dr. Thomas said he wasn't working on any human subjects," Mulder snorted.

"Sid, I'd like you to do one other test for me."

"Anything, Dana."

"Could you compare the girl's DNA to the DNA of these hair strands? See if they match?"

"You bet. I should have something for you by morning."

"Great. Thanks, Sid."

Scully walked out of the room without another word, Mulder hot on her heels. He caught up to her quickly and leaned in close.

"So, what do you think, Scully? Do we have an X-File or what?"

"I think we'd be jumping the gun a bit. It really is weird, though. I mean, the girl seems perfectly normal despite the fact that she seems to be lacking any sort of education."

"Think about it, Scully. If you took a five-year-old girl and gave her continuous injections of that serum, what would you end up with?" He stared at her, waiting for it to sink in.

"You'd get a grown woman with the mind...of a child."

"Which is exactly what we do have."

"So, you think Dr. Thomas found himself a five-year-old orphan and grew a daughter?"

"Something like that. Yea. Something just like that."

"But, how do you explain where that serum came from? If it doesn't have any Earthly components..."

"You know, Scully, you're starting to think more like me every day."

"And don't think that doesn't scare the pants off me."

The girl had been sitting in one of the lounges with Sonny since they had returned from lunch. She was full and sleepy, but her mind just wouldn't shut down. To keep her occupied, Sonny had given her a jigsaw puzzle. That at least kept her quiet long enough for him to listen to the end of the Bears game. As far as Sonny was concerned, there were only two football teams in the entire world: The Bears and whoever was playing the Bears. When Mulder and Scully finally showed up, the girl was seated at the table at the other end of the small room, admiring her work on the puzzle.

"So, how are we doing?" Scully asked as they came through the door.

The girl spun in her chair and beamed at them both. But it was Mulder that she rushed to see. "Hi! Did your work go okay?"

"Fine. And how was everything here?"

Sonny walked casually over to them, his hands in his pockets and his face bright and cheery. "Everything here was great. We had a little lunch. I listened to the game. She did a puzzle."

"Yea, a really big puzzle."

"That's great," Scully praised, stroking her arm. "You can work on it some more while Mulder and I do a little computer work."

"No, I can't. It's already done."

Scully checked Sonny's face; was oddly shaken by what she saw there. "Must have been a small puzzle."

"Seven-hundred-fifty pieces," Sonny dead-panned.

"And you finished it in the short time that we've been gone?"

"Sure. It was easy."

Scully shook the cob webs from her head and risked a glance at Mulder. "Well, I suppose you could do another one. We really do have to finish this one thing."

"It's okay. I understand." The girl's face disappeared behind a dark shadow. "Just come get me when you're done."

"You want me to stay..."

"No, Sonny. That's okay. I'm sure she can stay here by herself. Just as long as you don't leave the room."

"I won't leave, Fox. I promise."

Sonny followed them out of the room, sparing one last look at the girl before he rounded the corner. "Just where did you find this girl, Mulder?"

"On my doorstep. Literally."

"She's cute and all but...she's awful weird. What's her story?"

"We're not exactly sure yet. As soon as we find out, we'll tell you."

"Well, I know one thing for sure. That girl's smart. Spooky smart. I took that puzzle down from the shelf and just dumped the pieces out on the table. There weren't any two pieces attached, I swear. And she had that whole damn thing done in an hour. It's weird."

"Well, some people just have the knack. Know what I mean?" Mulder smiled conspiratorially at Scully.

"Yea. Yea, sure." Sonny wandered off down the hall, the hairs on the back of his neck still standing at attention.

"Shall we do a little cyber-snooping?" Scully asked Mulder as she sat down at the computer.

"Check out Stephanie Thomas? You bet."

Scully completed a few keystrokes, then sat back in eager anticipation. "Yep. Stephanie Thomas. Daughter of Dr. Edward Thomas. Born in Boston on July 4, 1970. Whoa! What's this?"

Mulder leaned in to take a look and his eyes shot open as if they would fly from their sockets.

"Died on April 10, 1993 of cancer. Buried at Hillcrest Cemetery." She craned her head until her eyes met Mulder's, then she felt the shiver go up her spine. "If Stephanie's dead, then who's sitting in there?"

"Her twin. Must be. Right, Scully?"

"Or maybe Stephanie never died at all."

"You mean, Thomas faked his own daughter's death?"

"Could be. Stranger things have been known to happen. The only way to be sure would be to exhume the body."

"We'd need a court order. Whatever's going on here, it's for sure Thomas won't agree to it."

Scully looked sadly down at her watch. "Not tonight. I've got to get to the airport. I've got friends flying in from L.A." She shot up from her chair and snatched her purse from the desk.

"Well, what are we going to do with the girl? We can't just leave her here all night."

"Well, I certainly can't take her. I've got a houseful already."

Mulder glared at her, his shoulders sagging and his mouth drooping. "Surely, you can't expect me to take her. What the heck am I going to do with a child?"

"We can't just give her over to a shelter. Besides, what if someone decides they want her back?" Scully set off across the room, intent on keeping her appointment at the airport.

"Scully, don't do this to me," Mulder called, trotting after her.

She spun so suddenly that she nearly crashed into him. "Look, all you have to do is let her sleep on your couch for one night. Surely, even you can do that much."

"But..."

"I'll stop by in the morning with some more clothes and such. Good-night, Mulder."

"Scully?!"

He watched her figure shrink in size as she made her way speedily down the hall. Then, she was gone and Mulder was left alone, contemplating the night ahead. He didn't have that much experience with children, let alone children who just happened to look like voluptuous young women. He turned to look through the glass partition at the girl, who was happily looking through a magazine. He sighed resignedly and went off to collect her, desperate though he was to avoid the entire affair.

"I think we're ready to go now," he announced to her as he stuck his head inside the door.

"Go? Go where?"

"Home."

"Not back to that place?" Her face fell dismally and she bit into her full lower lip.

"No. You're going to stay with me tonight."

With that, she leaped from the couch and began to bob up and down on her toes. "Oh, goody!"

"Come on. If you're half as tired as I am, you're ready to drop."

She slid her hand innocently into his and peered up at him with wide bright eyes. "Oh, no, Fox. I'm not tired at all."

"Figures," he mumbled under his breath as he led her away.

Mulder unlocked his front door and ushered the girl inside. She went immediately to the bathroom, then returned to drop herself onto the couch. Mulder had been living on his own for a while now; had developed a certain way of doing things. That particular pattern was upset now, however, by the entrance of his innocent and inquisitive guest.

He listened to his messages as she sat quietly on the sofa, gawking at the room. When he had finished this small detail, he began to survey his kitchen which was, he was forced to admit, sadly lacking in foods of any nutritional worth. He stomped into the living room and grinned down at the girl, who instantly turned her happy eyes to him.

"What's that?" she inquired, pointing excitedly at the TV.

"That's a television set. Haven't you ever seen one before?"

"Huh-uh."

He plucked the remote from its usual resting place between the sofa cushions and switched it on. The girl stared, wide-eyed and slack jawed for several seconds before speaking.

"Wow! That's amazing. How did the people get in there?"

Mulder choked back a laugh before it could force its way up his throat and gain its freedom. "There aren't actually any people in there. See, they're really in another place. Their pictures are sent along that cable and into the TV. What you're really seeing right now is just some people and what they did a long time ago. They put it on tape and..."

He broke off once he realized that this was all being wasted on her. She didn't really care about how the people got in or on the TV. She really just needed to know how to work it. He dropped onto the sofa beside her and presented the remote control for her inspection.

"You can change channels by pushing these buttons. This works the volume."

She leaned in to take a closer look; studied his face as he spoke to her. When he handed her the remote, she looked carefully at it, then tentatively pushed the "up" button. The channel changed, showing her a documentary on lions.

"Cats!" she shouted, settling back on the sofa to watch.

Mulder chortled a bit to himself as he stood up. "I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of food here. We'll have to order something out."

"Oh, pizza! Please, can we have pizza? I like pizza." Her face was aglow with glee.

"Pizza it is then. Any special requests?"

"Just don't get any of those little fishes on it. I hate the fishes. They smell."

"A woman after my own heart. Okay, then. A pizza with the works, hold the bait."

Mulder went off to order the pizza, leaving the girl to stare at the TV, entranced. When he returned only moments later, she had changed the channel again and was now watching something which made no immediate impact on Mulder's sensibilities. It was not until she questioned him about it that he realized just what she had come across.

"Mulder?" She turned herself so that she was facing him, her back to the TV. "What are those people doing?"

He leaned on the back of the sofa and squinted, suddenly realizing exactly what was going on the screen. "Oh. Well. I don't think that channel's real appropriate for you."

"But what are they doing? Is it a game?"

"A game?" He suddenly felt faint, squeamish. "I suppose you could...You should ask Dana about that tomorrow. She can probably explain it better than me."

"Okay," was all she said before switching channels again. This time, she landed on a cartoon show and she settled back complacently to watch.

When the pizza finally arrived, Mulder paid the man and carried it to the coffee table. The girl didn't look like she was anywhere near ready to abandon the TV, so he decided not to press the issue. He fetched two plates from the kitchen, along with two sodas. As he scrunched down onto the floor, she slid off the sofa to join him, her eyes still riveted to the TV.

"Thank you," she said politely as he passed her a plate. "Thank you, again," as he handed her a soda.

He prepared to take a bite of his pizza but was stopped from doing so by the girl's strange antics. As he watched, she carefully removed all the pepperoni from the slice of pizza and placed it off to one side of the plate. Then, she eagerly bit off a piece and began chewing madly.

"You should have told me that you don't like pepperoni."

"Oh, but I do like it," she retorted around a large mouthful of pizza. "It's my favorite part."

"Then why are you picking it off?" His face was at once amused and mystified.

"These are my dessert pepperonis, see? I pick them off so I can eat them last so that's the last taste I have in my mouth. Get it?"

His eyes checked hers for a moment as the simple logic of this finally sunk in. "Yea. I do get it." Immediately, he began to pick the pepperonis from his own pizza and line them up on the plate.

The girl giggled contentedly at him, then took another huge bite of pizza.

"You know," said Mulder as he swiped at his mouth, "we need to find you a name. We have to call you something."

"Okay. What's a good name for the outside?"

"It's your name. You should choose."

She thought hard for a moment, having little experience with such things. Though her eyes had not been trained on the TV for some time, her ears had been tuned in to it constantly. Suddenly, her face lit up and she straightened.

"How `bout `Megan'?"

"Megan. That's nice. It kind of suits you. Where did you hear that name?"

"Just now. It's the name of the girl on the pony cartoon."

Okay, Megan." He smiled warmly at her. This girl was unwittingly charming; candidly loving. No matter how hard you tried to fight it, you just had to love her. "I take it you've had pizza before?"

"Just twice. The man who took care of me brought me some. He mostly made me eat that healthy junk, though. You know, salads, fruit. Sometimes, he brought me burgers. I like burgers. But he never let me have fries. He said they were bad for my congestral."

"You mean, cholesterol?"

"Yea, that's it. But he used to bring me ice cream all the time. Chocolate."

"What did you do while you were in that place?"

"Played mostly. I had some toys. And I looked at books. He told me he'd teach me to read the words when I was old enough."

This last stunned Mulder. If twenty-five weren't old enough, then what was? "What else did he teach you?"

"Lots of stuff. He taught me to walk and to talk. And he taught me how to dress myself and brush my hair and teeth. But he never let me go outside. I could see out the window but he'd never take me out to play."

A new television show began, its insipid theme music squawking loudly in their ears. Mulder picked up the remote, ready to turn the thing off, when Megan placed one staying hand on his.

"Oh, don't turn it off. Please. I like this show."

"You've seen it before?"

"Not on TV. That guy...Dr. Thomas...he took me to a...a...theater to see it once when I was little."

Mulder gaped at her. This particular movie had only been made the previous year. "You're probably thinking of another movie. Something similar to it."

"No. This movie. It's about a little boy who can see angels and they help the ball team. Right?"

"Yea. That's right. But how could you have seen this movie when you were little? It's no more than a year old."

"I haven't always been big. It hasn't been that long since I was just a little kid. Like the kid in the movie."

"Not long? How long?"

"I don't know how to tell time. But, it was snowing when I was little. It was the first snow I'd ever seen and Dr. Thomas brought snowballs in for me."

By his quick calculation, that would mean that Megan had been a little girl only nine months ago. "How tall were you when Dr. Thomas took you to see this movie?"

Mega stood up and thought hard, trying to recall the day. "I was about...this tall." Her hand was held at waist-height. Her eyes checked his.

Mulder blinked stupidly at her, feeling totally at a loss to explain the whole thing. Out of desperation, he returned to his pizza, finally finishing up his dessert pepperoni.

After he had cleared away the mess, he joined Megan on the couch. She was fussing with the remote, trying to do something which was clearly eluding her.

"What did I do wrong? How do I turn it off?" Her face was screwed up with the effort of concentrating on the buttons.

Mulder glanced at the screen; noticed that the close captioning was on. "Oh, you just turned on the captioning, that's all. Here." He pressed one button and switched it off.

"What was that?"

"They broadcast a printed script of everything the people on the TV say. It's so the deaf people...people who can't hear...can follow along."

"That's really nice. What do they do so people who can't see can watch TV?"

One half of Mulder's mouth shot up in a lopsided grin. "I think they call that `radio'."

"Oh." Clearly, his humor was lost on her.

"I thought you could sleep in the bedroom tonight. I'll stay out here on the couch."

"Oh, no. I don't want to take your bed. Besides, I'd rather stay out here and watch the TV."

"If that'll make you happy, fine. But not too late, okay?"

"Okay. Can we watch a movie now?"

She was sitting quite close to him and the longer they sat, the closer she edged to him. "Sure. Why not?"

He switched to the guide channel and studied it for a moment before selecting a movie. Above all else, he didn't want to pick anything too controversial; nothing that would need tedious explanation. This particular movie seemed innocuous enough, if not a bit banal.

The girl seemed happy with it, though, and she snuggled up against Mulder as she relaxed to enjoy it. She watched happily through the first hour or so, when a particularly exciting chase scene began. In one swift movement, she suddenly wrenched the remote from Mulder's hand and changed the channel.

"What did you do that for?" he asked, dazed by the suddenness of her movement.

"That guy was about to be hit by that car. I had to change the channel so he wouldn't be."

Mulder stared at her in wonder. "Megan, I told you. What you're seeing on the TV isn't real. Those people were just pretending. Besides, no matter when you change the channel, whatever's happening at the time will continue to happen." He reclaimed the remote and turned back to the channel. "See?"

The man in question was now lying in the street, a crowd of sorrowful people gathered around him. Megan frowned in disgust and sorrow, then looked up at him with those huge, hazel eyes of hers.

"Don't be upset. Look, if I change to another channel...I think it's on this channel. See? Here's the same guy in another show. And he's fine. Right?"

She leaned comically forward and studied the screen, her face finally brightening. "Yea. You're right."

"So, they're just actors. Nothing really happens to them."

"Okay."

He shook his head, trying to remember if there had ever been a time when he was possessed of such innocent wonder, such naiveté. He decided that there hadn't been.

Title: Thursday's Child Author: Patricia Lee Macomber EMAIL: katrina@peganet.com Rating: PG Classification: X Spoilers: None Keywords: EBE, cloning, genetics, abduction Summary: Mulder discovers a girl sleeping on his doorstep. While she appears to be a fully developed young woman, her mental acuity is that of a small child. Investigation uncovers the girl's origins, along with a mysterious doctor and his unholy alliance with the government.


CHAPTER THREE ~

"Good morning," Mulder yawned as he emerged from his room.

The girl, who was squinting single-mindedly at the TV, did not hear him. She was reciting something and Mulder came up behind her to see what she was doing.

"And now we go to our New York office," she read from the captioning bar. "The stock market took a decided turn for the worse..."

"That's amazing! You're really reading that, aren't you?"

She spun around to look at him, her eyes puffy but her smile obviously none the worse for wear. "Good morning, Fox."

"You were reading that. You had to be. The sound's off so you can't be hearing it."

"Sure. All last night, I listened to what the people were saying while I looked at the words at the bottom. I just matched them up, see. Now I can read."

Mulder staggered around the end of the sofa and sat down. "How can that be?" He snagged the TV Guide from the coffee table and flipped it open. "Here, read this."

She took the book from him and gazed briefly at the page. "`When I first watched this show, I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a comedy or a drama. Now, I am. It was clearly meant to be a comedy, though its trite humor is...'"

"Oh, my God! You can read!"

"I told you. It's really easy once you memorize the shape of the words."

Still in denial, he shook his head and drug one hand through his mussed hair. "You really are amazing."

"Thank you."

Still in a trance, he stood up and peered down at the top of her head. "Would you like something to eat?"

"More Pops?"

"Whatever you can find." He moved off in the direction of the kitchen, but Megan raced past him.

"It's okay. I can fix it myself. Dr. Thomas told me I should always do as much for myself as possible. That I shouldn't rely too much on other people." She reached up to the top of the fridge and laid a hand on the cereal box.

"Alright, then. I'll take first dibs on the bathroom."

She didn't hear a word he said. She was intent on reading the ingredients on the cereal box, sounding them out and doing a pretty fine job of it. Mulder wandered off in amused consternation, wondering how such a thing was even possible.

As Megan sat down in front of the TV, her cereal bowl filled to the brim, Sesame Street was just beginning. She squirmed happily in her seat, alternately concentrating on the cereal and Big Bird. She didn't know much about her new world, but she knew that there was a whole lot of catching up to do.

Someone knocked on the door just then and Megan went at once to answer it. As she pulled it open, two smiling eyes peered back at her.

"Good morning, Dana," she greeted happily, pulling the door wide open.

"Good morning. Where's Mulder?"

"He had first dibs on the bathroom. Whatever that means." She had already started back for the cereal bowl. Dana followed.

"I brought you some more clothes. My neighbor had some things that her daughter left behind and she was nice enough to donate them. I also have a few things here that a girl might need. Toothbrush. Hairbrush. New underwear."

Megan stood up and peeked into the bag, smiling broadly as she did so. "Thank you, Dana. That was really nice." She reached into the bag and pulled out the toothbrush, which she turned over in her hand several times before reading the back label. "Approved by the American Dental Association."

Scully cocked her head to one side and smirked at her. "You told me you couldn't read."

"I couldn't. Then. But I learned last night."

"You learned to read overnight?"

"That's right. Ask Fox. I used the TV."

Megan collected the cereal bowl and carried it carefully to the kitchen sink. Dana placed the bag delicately on the counter, then climbed onto one of the barstools. "What else did you learn last night?"

"I learned that TV isn't real. I also learned that there's a terrible famine in Africa. Dana, what's Africa?"

"It's a continent...what have you been watching on TV?"

"All sorts of things." Like a shot, Megan dashed into the other room and changed channels on the TV. Then, she turned excitedly toward Scully, her eyes bright with anticipation. "Fox told me you'd explain this to me."

Scully crawled down from the stool and glared at the TV for a moment before a blush overtook her face. "That? Well..." She spared another glance for the writhing people on the screen. "Perhaps we'd better wait until you're more experienced in the outside world before we delve into that."

"It's got something to do with sex, doesn't it, Dana? Dr. Thomas used to get all flustered when I asked him about things like that. You know, like what's that thing on the bottom of the cat and stuff. Is it really so bad that you can't even talk about it?"

"It's not bad, exactly. Just...awkward."

She turned her naive eyes back to the screen and shrugged her thin shoulders. "Yea. Looks like."

Scully giggled under her breath, then turned to see Mulder staring at her. He was dressed for work and his face was pushed back into an enormous smile. "Bathroom's vacant, if you'd like to take a shower."

Megan leaped up from the floor and dashed for the bathroom, snagging the bag on her way. As Mulder and Scully watched, she shut the door on them.

"Well, sounds like you two had a very eventful evening."

"She's incredible. I'll tell you something else, Scully. We've got a damned good mystery on our hands here. According to Megan..."

"Megan?" Scully's eyes admonished him, though he couldn't be sure why.

"Yea, Megan. Well, we have to call her something. We can't just go around yelling, `hey, you!'."

"But why Megan?"

"She picked it. Not me. Anyway, according to her, she was only a little girl last winter. She says that Dr. Thomas took her to see a movie. A movie that was only made last year. And she was little when she went to see it. About this high." He indicated the waist- level height with both hands.

"But how can that be? Nobody can grow over two feet in just nine months."

"Nobody can use the close captioning to teach themselves to read in just one night, either. But Megan did it. And what about that strange serum in her blood. If it made a seed into a six-foot-tall orange tree in just one day, think of what it would do to a person."

"Which reminds me, Mulder. As soon as we find out the results of Sid's tests, I think we'd better go have another talk with Dr. Thomas."

"Do you really think he's going to be of any help?"

"No. But it never hurts to try. Besides, maybe we can scare him into making a move. Scare him into giving himself away."

Mulder turned at the sound of the bedroom door opening. Megan stood there, dressed in a sweat little cotton dress with sunflowers all over it. She looked at once vivacious and coquettish, which made Mulder all the more nervous.

"Dana brought me some more clothes," Megan announced proudly, spinning to show off her new dress.

"What did you do, Scully? Raid Bloomies?"

"Donations from a neighbor, if you must know."

"Isn't it marvelous?" Megan asked, tossing back her hair and pushing her lips into a tight pout. "I look just like one of those super models. Huh?"

"Mulder, you've really got to monitor her television time more carefully. She's picking up some very unsavory things."

Mulder glared reproachfully at her for a moment, then grabbed up his keys. "Shall we go?" he growled.

Megan took his hand at once and followed him out the door. Scully tagged along behind, grinning as though her entire face would soon be sucked into one giant smile.

"So, Sid. What good news do you have for us?" Scully asked, sitting on the edge of Sid's desk.

"Very interesting news, to be sure." He took a moment to locate his glasses beneath a pile of reports, then perched them precariously on his thin nose. "First of all, I still haven't completely identified that serum. Sorry. But as far as the DNA tests go, their a dead-on match. There's no doubt about it. That little lady is Thomas' daughter."

"Then, she really is Stephanie? The girl didn't die of cancer." Mulder checked Scully's expression; felt like a fool for interrupting.

"Not precisely. She could very well be Stephanie Thomas. She might also be Stephanie's twin. The only way to be sure is to exhume the body."

"And for that, we would need Thomas' permission," Mulder added.

"Or a court order. But we have to show probable cause." Scully slid off the edge of the desk and peered over Sid's shoulder at the test results.

"I think we have probable cause. We have a girl with no identity, who claims that she was raised at Gentech."

"Who happens to have a large amount of local and federal contracts."

"Scully! You're not afraid of stepping on a few toes, now are you?"

"Toe-stepping is your department, Mulder. Not mine."

"So be it. You draw up the papers and I'll go see a judge about a body."

"First, I'd like to give Dr. Thomas one more chance to come clean."

"I don't think we'll get anywhere with him, but you're welcome to give it a shot. Sid, do you think Megan could stay here for about an hour?"

"Here? In my lab?" Sid took obvious offense in having the sanctity of his lab violated.

"It's not like she's going to cook up a nuclear bomb or anything."

"I don't know, Mulder. Considering how fast she learned to read, we just might be taking a terrible risk..."

"Despite what Scully said, she's really very harmless. She just tends to wander off a bit. All you have to do is give her a good book and make sure she doesn't get lost."

"Well...alright. As long as it's only for an hour. I have a lot of work to do."

"Thanks, Sid." Mulder waved wildly at Megan through the glass partition, beckoning her to join them. "Megan, this is Sid. Sid, Megan. You're going to stay with Sid for a little bit while Scully and I check out a few things."

"You're going back to that place again, aren't you?"

"Yes, Megan. We are." Scully felt sorry for the girl. The only home she had ever known was a laboratory. The only family she had was a doctor of dubious distinction.

Megan surveyed her surroundings, rubbing her arms as a chill came over her. "I don't really like it here. There's a lot of machines and stuff. It kinda reminds me of the white room."

Sid broke in, trying as hard as he could to sound positive. "Machines can be like friends. They aren't all scary. Here, I'll show you."

Mulder and Scully watched the two for a moment, then, confident that Megan was in good hands, they slipped out the door.

"Do you like video games, Megan?"

"I don't know. I've never seen any."

"Well, most people don't know this...so don't tell. I have some way cool video games on this computer. This one's called `Mac Attack'. You get to shoot all the planes out of the air and then go in for hand-to-hand. Like this. Now, you sit here and play while I do my work. And don't wander off, okay?"

"Okay," she responded, rather caustically.

Mulder slammed the car door shut, disheartened by the lack of cars in the Gentech parking lot. As he pulled on the door handle, it refused to yield, forcing him to admit that no one was working there that day.

Meanwhile, Scully had taken a stroll around to the side of the building, where windows afforded her a clear view of the building's interior.

"Mulder! Come have a look at this."

He walked around the corner to where she was standing on tip- toe, peering through the window. Inside, there was absolutely nothing. Not a desk nor a chair nor a box remained in the building.

They strode to the next window and then the next, still finding the rooms vacant. "Looks like they've skipped out on us."

"And they did a pretty thorough job of removing the evidence. >From all appearances, nobody's used this building in years."

"Except for this." Mulder stepped aside, allowing Scully to take a good long look through the small window.

This particular room was likewise vacant, but its walls boasted a fresh, bright coat of pink paint. A border of carousel horses frolicked around the room at ceiling level and the linoleum still bore the imprints of four bed feet.

"Looks like a pink room to me," Scully muttered. "So, Megan was telling the truth. She really did come from here."

"And Dr. Thomas has been lying to us all along. What's say we pay him a house call?"

"Sounds like a plan."

They drove at once to Dr. Thomas' house. The mailbox outside clearly stated the name and street address. This building, like Gentech, had been stripped clean. Not one stick of furniture remained to declare its livability. When Mulder checked the mailbox, he found it also to be empty.

"I don't get it, Mulder. Why would he go to all the trouble to clear out Gentech and his house? It's as if he wants to erase any evidence that he even exists."

"Obviously, the very fact that we have Megan scared the bejeebers out of him. Which makes it that much more important for us to exhume Stephanie Thomas' body."

"I'll fill out the appropriate forms and you can present them to the judge."

"Deal."

Sid had been staring through the eye piece of his microscope for the better part of an hour. All at once, he sat up straight, wincing as his back muscles finally stretched out. He was entirely too thirsty for his liking so, he figured, Megan must be, too. He turned to ask her about this and was totally shocked to find her missing.

A frantic search of the room and surrounding hallway failed to turn her up, so he expanded his search to include the rest of the floor. Without a doubt, Mulder would kill him if he came back and found the girl missing.

It had taken only about half an hour for Megan to beat the video game. Such things weren't a very big challenge when you memorized their sequences. So, she had gone off in search of more stimulating entertainment. Perhaps, she had hoped, she would even find Sonny. She knew that Sid had told her to stay put. But she didn't like Sid very much. He was strange in that same way that Dr. Thomas and his friends had been strange and she just wanted to be away from him.

So it was that she had found the elevator, and so it was that she had taken several trips up and down. She enjoyed the sensation and, although the other people who happened to get into the elevator with her had looked at her kind of weird, she had smiled politely and asked them what floor they wanted to go to.

When she at last tired of the elevator, she found that she could remember what floor she had first been on. She had it in mind to start on the first floor, searching each floor successively until she found the right one. But the first floor held things of such fascination that she couldn't quite tear herself away.

There was some sort of class being taught in the first room she came to but the people inside didn't look too thrilled, so she moved on. In the second room, a small group of men were playing another sort of video game. This one was played in a room that seemed constructed totally of TV screens and in order to win they were required to shoot all the bad guys while not harming the good guys. "Hogan Alley" the title had said.

She watched them for quite some time through the glass partition. They looked like they were having fun, all of them shooting and laughing. They weren't shooting very well, though, since even the best of them had killed several good guys and had even been shot once or twice by the bad guys. At long last, one of the men spotted her through the glass and motioned for her to come inside.

She did as she was told, not stopping to think if she should really be there or not. She stood just inside the door, smiling sweetly at them all and fidgeting with the belt of her dress.

"We didn't mean to be hogs. You can take a turn if you want." The man was tall and thin, though his eyes were far more menacing than his physique.

"May I? I wasn't sure."

"Of course. What was your last score?"

"Oh, I haven't done this yet."

"How in God's name did you get through this far without qualifying on the virtual range?"

She looked at him stoically for a moment, not sure what he had meant by that. "I don't know," she answered quietly. "It just never came up."

"Then, by all means. You have to do it. I'll warn you, though. Ever since they got this new program, nobody's done very well."

"Except Mulder," another man chimed in.

"Oh, yea, Mulder. Well, he's been top gun on this thing for as long as he's been here."

"Fox Mulder?"

"You know him?"

"Sure, I know Fox. I stayed with him last night."

The men looked about the room at each other, none of them daring to smile or laugh. Finally, the tall man stepped in and handed her the gun. "Don't be nervous, now. Just take your time and concentrate."

She stepped over to the mark on the floor where the other shooter had been standing. She studied the gun while the tall man reset the program, then glued her eyes to the screen at her right.

She had spent some time watching the others shoot, memorizing the patterns and timing. Without hesitation, she spun in all directions, meeting the screen with her eyes and then the video bullet just as the image appeared. When the program had ended, she checked the other's faces. They surrounded her, their jaws on the floor and their eyes glazed over with shock.

"How did you do that?" the tall man wanted to know.

"Do what? What did I do?" She laid the pistol on the chair and began fidgeting with her belt once more.

"What did you do? You only beat the damn machine. That's what you did. The top score of all time was a 94. Mulder held that title. Until now."

"You mean, I beat Fox?"

"You beat him, alright. You beat him, the director. Hell, honey, you even beat the damned machine."

"Cool."

Suddenly, the door burst open and Megan pivoted just in time to catch Sid's stricken face. "There you are! Come on! We've got to get back before Mulder finds out I lost you." He roughly took possession of her arm and began tugging her in the direction of the door.

"Thank you for letting me play. Bye." She waved demurely as Sid towed her from the room.

"What were you doing in there? Don't you realize I could get put on report just for letting you come down here?"

"I'm sorry. I was just bored, that's all. I saw them playing and they asked me to join them. So, I did."

"Playing? You call that playing?"

"Sure. All you have to do is shoot the bad guys. It's real easy once you memorize the sequence."

Sid came to a screeching halt and glared at her. "Memorize the sequence? It's a random generator."

"So? Even a random generator can only produce so many patterns. You just memorize all the patterns and the timing and...ta- da...you can tell where each one will pop up."

"How well did you do, anyway?" Sid looked like he needed to sit down real bad.

"I guess I did pretty good. That guy in there said that I beat Fox's score. He said I beat the machine."

"All fifty assailants?"

"Uh-huh."

Sid whistled through his teeth and shook his head slowly. "Man! Nobody's ever beat the whole thing before. They oughtta sign you up."

"Sign me up for what, Sid?"

"The agency. Now, come on. I've got to get you back before..."

"...Mulder finds out?"

Sid met Mulder's furious stare with his own, steeling himself against the tongue-lashing that was to come. "Mulder. Scully."

"What are you two doing down here? Sid, you were supposed to be keeping an eye on her."

"It's not his fault, Fox. Really. I got bored, so I went to look for something to do."

"And you ended up down here. It's restricted."

"I didn't know. I just wanted to play the Hogan's Alley game."

"Game? It's not a game, Megan. Besides, you have to work for the Bureau to qualify."

"Well, they must have thought she did, because they let her in." Sid looked confident all of a sudden, like he knew a wonderful secret.

"They did? You actually got to try it?" Mulder looked bruised.

"Try it? She beat it." Sid smirked at Mulder, happy to be the one delivering this news.

"You beat Hogan's Alley? You have to be..."

"Good? She is good, Mulder. She's so good, in fact, that she beat your old score."

Mulder looked first at Sid, then at Megan. His ego had just been dealt a horrific blow but at least it hadn't been Sid who had beat him. "Come on, Megan. We've got some more work to do."

She let him take her arm and lead her away. She cast one last glance and a brief wave over her shoulder at Sid as Mulder drew nearer to her.

"So, how did you do it, anyway?" he whispered in her ear. "How did you beat the machine?"

"I memorized the sequence," she stated simply.

"Memorized the sequence? That's all there is to it?"

"Uh-huh."

Mulder straightened, dumb-struck by this simple concept. "Why didn't I think of that?"

"For the same reason you can never find your keys," Scully interrupted. "It's right in front of your face."

Scully prepared the proper forms to request an exhumation, then Mulder took them to the judge. Megan had begged him to take her with him, but he had refused. More than anyone else, Megan was at a loss to explain her attachment to Mulder. She had spent far more time with Dr. Thomas, and yet she felt no attachment to him whatsoever.

While Mulder was gone, Scully took Megan to get some lunch. She again requested burgers, which she was happily given. Everything in life was new to her, marvelous. She watched people with the same fascination that zoo-goers seemed to possess for the moneys. And yet, she still felt so totally unlike the rest of the population, so separated by them by some intangible quality.

Scully watched Megan, also studying her. She felt the girl's attachment for Mulder, though she didn't sense that Megan had the same connection with her. She was suddenly struck by the fact that Megan had been completely isolated from the rest of the world, having only Dr. Thomas for company or as an example. She wondered for a moment, how anyone could possibly grow up under such circumstances, when it occurred to her that Megan's childhood, while not at all normal, was extremely brief.

"Megan," she began cautiously, "when you were little, do you remember any other little girls being around?"

"Huh-uh. Just me. And Dr. Thomas."

"Did you ever see any pictures of other people. You know, little girls or even grown women?"

"No." She finished chewing that particular bite of burger, then swallowed hard.

"Did Dr. Thomas ever take any pictures of you?"

"All the time. He kept them in this book he had. Once in a while, he would show it to me. He told me that I wouldn't be young for very long, so we had to take lots of pictures so we could remember."

"And the only person you ever saw at Gentech was Dr. Thomas?"

"Yea. And his assistant, sometimes. But nobody was allowed around much when I was in the white room." Megan yawned loudly, her eyes tearing up with the effort.

"Didn't you sleep last night?"

"Nope. I was too busy watching the TV."

"I think you should lie down and take a nap."

"I think so, too. Can we go home, now?"

"Not just yet. But there's a lounge here and I think you can take a nap there. Come on, I'll show you."

Megan followed Scully to the lounge where she and Sonny had stayed. There was a horribly worn green sofa in the room and it was there that she was left. She hadn't felt tired all day but suddenly, going to sleep seemed like the best idea in the whole world. She bunched up her arm underneath her head and stared at the wall for a few minutes before dozing off. Scully was working at a computer just outside the room, taking time every now and again to check on her.

Just half an hour after falling into a deep sleep, Megan was startled by a dream. Her feet and face began to twitch, much in the same way as a baby's would. All of a sudden, she grew extremely frightened of this dream, shooting off the couch and screaming at the top of her lungs.

Scully ran into the room instantly, grabbing the girl and hauling her into her arms. "It's alright, Megan. You're okay."

"The lights! Don't let them get me! Please, make them go away!" Her eyes were wild with terror as she stared at some point behind Scully.

An icy shiver climbed up Scully's back as she was forced to look over her shoulder to allay the unnatural fear that someone or something was standing behind her. She stroked Megan's hair and hugged her quivering shoulders.

"It was just a dream, Megan. Dreams can't hurt you."

"Not a dream." She allowed Scully to lower her onto the couch, though she was not about to let her move so much as an inch away from her.

"Of course it was a dream, honey."

"Not a dream. I mean, it was a dream. But before it was a dream, it was real."

"What do you mean, Megan? What was real?" Scully's heart was finally beginning to slow now, though only by small degrees.

"The lights. They used to come all the time when I was in the pink room. The whole room...the whole building...would fill up with the lights. And then, I would be gone. When I came back, I couldn't remember anything."

"Where did you go?"

"Into the lights."

"And what would happen to you there? Was anyone there with you?"

"I don't know. I can never remember. I asked Dr. Thomas, but he said I was just dreaming. But I wasn't dreaming. I saw them, Dana. I did."

Scully studied Megan's eyes, gauging the enormous amount of fear and sincerity that was within them. "It's okay, Megan. I believe you. But don't worry. The lights can't find you here. They won't get you."

"The lights can find me anywhere." Her face went suddenly pale.

"How do you know?"

"Because, the lights said so."

Title: Thursday's Child Author: Patricia Lee Macomber EMAIL: katrina@peganet.com Rating: PG Classification: X Spoilers: None Keywords: EBE, cloning, genetics, abduction Summary: Mulder discovers a girl sleeping on his doorstep. While she appears to be a fully developed young woman, her mental acuity is that of a small child. Investigation uncovers the girl's origins, along with a mysterious doctor and his unholy alliance with the government. ~


CHAPTER FOUR ~

Mulder strode cockily through the door, his face stretched into a triumphant smile and his right hand waving a piece of paper. Scully looked up in time to see him coming, though her face wasn't quite the mask of joy that his seemed to be.

"I got it," he chuckled, looking first into Scully's eyes and then into Megan's.

Megan had been clinging to Scully since she had awakened from her nightmare. She turned her eyes on Mulder now and, although they hinted at happiness to see him, they were swollen and red. "Got what?"

"Did something happen that I should know about?" he asked Scully, hoping there wasn't more bad news.

"Megan had a nightmare while she was taking her nap."

"You okay?" He took Megan's chin in his hand and tilted her head upward. "You want to tell me about it?"

"It was about the lights. The lights I always saw at...what was that place?"

"Gentech."

"Thanks, Dana. Yea, at Gentech." She watched Mulder's face carefully, wondering if he was going to think her even stranger than he already had.

"What kind of lights, Meg?" He knelt down in front of her, feeling strangely protective and worried for her.

"A big light. It would just show up and fill up the whole room. The whole world. And then, I would go away. Into the lights."

"Then what?" His eyes had gone dark, brooding.

"Then...I don't know. They'd bring me back later, but I never remember what happened while I was gone."

"You said, `they'. You mean, people?"

"No. The lights. All I see is the lights and I'm scared of them `cause I don't know what happens to me when I go into the lights. Dr. Thomas said not to be scared. He said he went into the lights and that it wouldn't hurt so I shouldn't be scared..."

She was becoming increasingly agitated now, her eyes afire with fear. Mulder placed one reassuring hand on her shoulder and forced himself to smile. "It's okay, Megan. The lights aren't going to come here."

She checked his face and felt somewhat solaced by his confidence. "Okay."

Mulder stood up and stepped several feet away from Megan. Scully followed, her face a study in concern. "What are you thinking, Mulder?"

"I'm thinking I need some aspirin. This case just gets stranger and stranger every minute. First, we've got a girl with no identity, but one hell of a strange blood count. Then, we've got a dead twin or whatever. Now, it looks like she's being abducted by aliens. If I didn't know better, I'd say this whole thing was a set-up."

"You got the exhumation order. How soon do you want to go ahead with it?"

"I stopped by the cemetery on the way here. They're getting a backhoe in to dig up the grave now."

"Then, we should get moving." Scully lifted her coat from off the chair back and folded it over her arm. "Is there anyone we can leave Megan with?"

"Aw, Dana. Do I have to stay here again? Can't I go with you this time?" Her eyes were puppy-dog sad.

"I'm sorry, Meg. You just can't. Okay?" Mulder was gentle, but there was a sternness to his voice that told her not to press the issue.

"Alright. Who are you gonna dump me on this time?"

"Sonny's busy. And I don't trust Sid after that last mishap. I'm thinking we don't have any choice but to take her."

"Scully, we can't have her sitting right there..."

"We don't have a choice. She can stay in the car. She doesn't even need to know what we're doing there."

Mulder shot a disgruntled frown at Scully, then turned on Megan with a more resigned look. "Okay. But if anything goes wrong, it was your idea."

"Whatever. Come on, Megan. Looks like you get to tag along after all."

"Goody!" She shot up from the chair and grabbed Mulder's hand, smiling victoriously at him. "I'll be good. I promise."

Mulder shook his head feebly, then playfully drug Megan out of the room. This woman-child was starting to grow on him, no matter how ferociously he fought it. And the more time he spent with her, the more he got the feeling that she, more than anyone else involved in the case, was going to suffer.

"Now listen to me, Megan," Mulder was saying as he leaned on the car door. "You stay in this car no matter what. Okay?"

"Okay, Fox."

"And you don't get out of the car for any reason. There's a book there on the seat that you can read. We won't be too long."

"I'll stay right here, Fox. No matter what."

He looked long and deep into her eyes and, finally satisfied that she would honor her promise, he turned from the car and followed Scully up the hill. They had parked the car at the bottom of the hill so that Megan wouldn't see anything that was going on.

As they crested the hill, the caretaker was just backing the dozer away from the huge hole. They stepped cautiously up to it, dreading what they were forced to do next. Mulder searched through his coat pocket, finally producing the warrant, and then thrust it out to the man.

"Okee-dokie! We'll have that thing out of there quick as a wink."

Scully rubbed her arms, fighting off the heebie-jeebies. "I hate doing this. Always gives me the creeps."

"It'll only take a minute. There shouldn't be much left to take samples from anyway."

She eyed him distastefully, then watched as the coffin was lifted from the hole.

"There you go, folks."

Scully waited until the lid had been pried off, then watched humorlessly as the workers backed away from the coffin, crossing themselves. As she bent over the thing, she shielded her nose from the dank, moldering smell of decay.

The body was mostly decomposed, though one could still make out certain integral features. Her initial examination showed that it was at least the body of a woman, though the age couldn't possibly be determined from so cursory a glance. Steeling herself against the touch of the body, she reached one gloved hand into the coffin and plucked several hair samples from the corpse. This done, she went on to take samples from what little flesh remained of the thing, then noticed that a ring still encircled one bony finger.

"Look at this," she prompted Mulder as she held forth the finger. "Stephanie was wearing this same ring in the picture back at Dr. Thomas' office."

"That's a good sign, but it's not proof positive."

Scully dropped the hand, hating the way it felt, but sickened by the sound it made as it fell back onto the coffin. She took two more samples, then stood to catch her breath.

"Is that it?"

"All done. You can restore the gravesite, if you like. Thank you for your help."

"Any time, ma'am."

Scully carefully placed the bagged samples in her bag, then turned back toward the car. She and Mulder climbed back down the hill in silence, neither willing to discuss the experience nor admit how very unsettling it had been. When they gained the bottom of the hill, they were relieved to see Megan, still sitting in the car and looking at the book. She turned toward them and smiled, glad that they had returned so quickly.

"All done? So fast?"

"All done. Look, it's getting late. Why don't we drop these off with Sid and call it a night."

"Sounds good to me."

"We going home now?" Megan wanted to know, her eyes shining at them over the back of the seat.

"One quick stop at the office, then we'll head home."

"Good. I'm hungry."

Mulder cringed inwardly, suddenly realizing that he was again faced with the question of dinner. He was and always had been domestically impaired, but having to entertain a guest only served to drive home that point.

Mulder dropped Scully off at the Bureau, then continued home with Megan. She yawned almost constantly, her activities of the past few days finally catching up with her.

"I think you should try to get some sleep tonight instead of watching TV."

"I think so, too."

"You can sleep in the bed tonight. That way, the temptation won't be there."

"Sure."

He unlocked the door and stepped inside, then tossed his keys onto the small table. "Have you ever had Chinese food?"

"Huh-uh. What's it like?" She dropped lazily onto the sofa, stretching as she did so.

"I think you'll like it."

"Okay. You can order for me. As long as it doesn't have any of that spinach stuff in it, I'll like it just fine."

Mulder spared a brief glance for the answering machine, which proudly announced that no message had been logged. Relieved of that, he picked up the phone and dialed the Golden Buddha. He gave his order to the cheery Asian woman on the other end, then tossed the phone back into its cradle. When he turned around once more, Megan was reclined on the arm of the sofa, fast asleep. He chuckled quietly to himself, then gently draped a blanket over her.

When the delivery man brought the food, the sound of the doorbell awakened Megan. She stretched and rubbed her sleep-laden eyes, then struggled to a sitting position. Her eye was caught by Mulder, standing at the door with the delivery man. Then her nose was assaulted by the aroma of the food. She sniffed the air greedily and smiled.

"That smells good!" she sang, her face pressed back into little dimples.

"Moo Goo Gai Pan for me. Cashew Chicken for you." He set the package on the coffee table, then went to the kitchen for utensils.

Megan slid down onto the floor, watching everything Mulder did this world, so she counted on him to be her guide. Suspiciously, she tasted her food, her color brightened by the sheer joy of the taste.

"Boy, this is really good! I don't think I've ever had so much good food in my life."

Mulder looked up at her only briefly before returning to his meal.

"So, what were you and Dana doing out at that place today?"

"Uh...just some investigation stuff. You know, gathering evidence and such." He checked her face to see if she was buying it.

"Oh. You and Dana sure know a lot of stuff. I wish I could be smart like you."

"Megan, you're smarter than probably anybody else on the planet. You just haven't had any education."

"Education? What's that?"

"You know, school."

"Oh, yea. They talked about that on Sesame Street. I'd like to go to school. When can I go to school, Fox?"

"Just as soon as we figure out where you belong."

"Where I belong? I thought I belonged here. I mean, I used to live at Gentech. But I left there. And I don't want to go back. I thought I would stay here. With you."

That last part struck a chord in Mulder's heart. He hadn't thought of what would become of Megan, even after they solved the whole mystery of her existence. She was truly a non-person, having no identity to date, no home, no family. He wondered what really would become of her if either he or Scully didn't take her in.

"Well, Megan, you can't stay here forever. I don't think you'd want to."

"Yes, I would. I like it here. I like you."

"Well, see, people generally...well...they..."

"Dr. Thomas always said that a person should rely on themselves. They should never count on anyone else to take care of them. They should make their own way in the world, build their own life. He said I'd do that, too, some day. But I don't understand how you do that. I don't know anything. I know how to play computer games and I can read now. But I don't know how anything works, Fox. I just don't understand it all. So, how can I be self-reliant?"

Her eyes were probing his so deeply for an answer that it made him feel deadly sad. "Well, most everyone your age has spent years learning how things work. You pick it up quicker than they do. It won't be long before you've caught up...maybe even passed...everyone else. In any event, you might already have a home and a family. We just don't know yet. And don't worry. Nobody's going to kick you out in the cold. You can stay here until you get on your feet." Had he really said that?

"Thank you, Fox." Her expression turned quickly into a smile until it threatened to swallow her entire face.

Mulder returned her smile, not at all certain of just why he had offered to share his home with her indefinitely. All he knew was that he couldn't turn her out; couldn't leave her to fend for herself. Maybe it was the fact that she was so innocent, so helpless. Maybe it was the fact that she was the only one -- outside his own family, of course -- to ever call him "Fox".

With no prompting from Mulder whatsoever, Megan cleaned up the dinner mess. She then went into the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth, ritual which she had adhered to since Dr. Thomas had first showed her how to master it. She then presented herself, clad only in the white cotton nightgown that she had been wearing when Mulder had found her.

"I'm going to go to bed now. Okay, Fox?"

"I didn't mean you couldn't watch TV at all, you know."

"I know. But I'm real tired. If it's okay, I'd just like to go to sleep."

"Sure." Truth be known, he was enormously grateful for the opportunity to watch a ball game without having to explain the intricate details to her. "I'll see you in the morning, then."

She jaunted over to where he was seated on the couch, bent graciously over and kissed him on the cheek. At once, a bright blush began spreading infectiously across his face and, no matter how hard he tried to banish it, the heat of it just continued to devour him.

"Did I do something wrong, Fox?"

"No...I...uh." He averted his eyes nervously, then reached for the remote. "Good-night, Megan. Sleep well."

She pivoted on her heels and sauntered back toward the bedroom. Mulder didn't look at her. He just couldn't do it. Her face, her body, every square inch of her conjured up expressions like, "drop dead gorgeous" and "built like a little brick shit-house". He understood her situation, oh yes. But it was all just a little more than he could bear. Better not to expose himself to any more temptation than he had to. Especially considering that encased in that luscious woman's body was the mind of a child.

Mulder had fallen asleep watching the ball game. Whether from his own exhaustion or the game's tedious course, he simply couldn't force his eyes to stay open a minute longer. The TV was still on at as he slept, though some inane talk show was currently being broadcast. He snored softly, one ear still tuned in to the TV, though his consciousness wasn't even aware of it.

At about three in the morning, Mulder thought he heard a noise somewhere outside in the hall. It registered only mildly on his sleeping brain, then he slipped deeper into sleep before he could act on the suggestion. As was his custom, his gun was currently lying on the table at the end of the couch, where he could lay hands on it in approximately a nano-second. Besides, as long as he had lived there, there had never been a burglary reported.

All that came to an end, however, when Mulder's front door suddenly came crashing inward. Mulder was off like a horse out of its gate, one hand grabbing the gun and the other hauling him off the sofa. But it was too little too late. As he reached a crouching position, a large revolver was suddenly thrust into his face, the muzzle of it pressing deeply into his flesh. Immediately, he was relieved of his own weapon.

"Where's the girl?" his assailant asked in a deep, growling voice.

"What girl?" Mulder asked in feigned ignorance, his mind reeling with all this.

Like a bolt of lightning, another gun was slammed viciously across his face, breaking open his right temple and knocking him back onto the sofa. "Don't play stupid with me, Agent Mulder. We know the girl's here." Again, the gun was pressed into Mulder's flesh. "Go check the bedroom," he cast back over his shoulder at his accomplice.

An even larger dark form moved quickly to the bedroom, throwing open the door and darting inside. When he reemerged, he was holding Megan, one hand pressed brutally over her mouth, the other holding a gun to her temple.

"I've got her. Let's move."

Megan's terrified eyes shot to Mulder, now bleeding profusely from one side of his head while still being forced back against the sofa cushion. He looked right at her, her eyes burning holes in him through the darkness. Sadly, he could see no way to help her without first putting her life in danger.

Before he could even form a coherent thought, before he could warn her not to fight them, she took action of her own. With amazing speed and strength, she slammed her foot down on her attacker's foot, while biting savagely into his hand. A low wail escaped his mouth as he released her, hobbling to the wall in agony as he did so.

With a single-mindedness usually reserved for soldiers and very stupid pets, Megan kicked first at his crotch and then at his knee. >From where Mulder sat, the blow to his knee look easily strong enough to have shattered his knee cap. The crushing strike at his crotch would have been enough to bring down a horse.

Satisfied that she had sufficiently debilitated and shocked her assailant, Megan grabbed his gun, making sure to stay away from the muzzle. She wrenched it free of his hand, then shoved it into the shocked man's face. Mulder took his cue from her, suddenly grabbing the floor lamp and smashing it against the side of the other man's face. Stunned by all that had transpired, the two men collected what little nerve they had left and fled the room.

Acting purely on instinct and adrenalin, Mulder reclaimed his own weapon and took out after them. He arrived at the street just in time to see the car speeding away. He did, however, manage to get the license number from the car. Still panting from the fear and exertion of it all, he slowly made his way back up the stairs to where Megan stood, still clutching the gun and trembling violently.

"Are you okay?" Mulder gasped, taking her by the shoulders and looking squarely into her eyes.

"I'm okay. Are you okay?"

"A bit shaken but I'll live." He ran one shaky hand through his hair and stared her down. "Where on earth did you learn to do that?"

"From TV. They had a show on last night about self-defense for women. The guy on the TV said to attack the three `N's: Knees, nuts and nose. Or something like that."

He blinked comically at her. "I hate to tell you this, Megan, but knees is spelled with a `K'."

"Oh. Well, it worked anyway. Didn't it?"

"Oh, yea. It worked alright. But it was a very dangerous thing to do. Please, don't ever do it again. Next time, the guy might not be that stupid."

"Okay," she sighed, shrugging her shoulders. She was tired of being admonished, especially when she was in the right.

Only then did Mulder realize that she was still holding the man's gun. He went at once to the kitchen and retrieved a plastic bag. He held it out for her to drop the weapon into, then zipped it shut. He switched on the remaining lamp on his way to the phone, then hurriedly dialed Scully's home number.

"Yes," slurred the sleepy voice at the other end.

"Scully? I just had a little visit from the Fullerbrush men from hell. And they didn't even bother to knock."

"Mulder, are you okay? How's Megan?" Scully was instantly awake, instantly frightened.

"We're both fine. And I managed to get the license number of their car and a weapon with their fingerprints on it. Meet me at the office?"

"Soon as I get dressed."

She hung up in his ear and he dropped the phone onto the sofa. "Go get some clothes on, Meg. I'll see what I can do to fix the door. Gather up your things. We can't stay here tonight."

Megan went at once to do what Mulder said. Despite her tenacity in dealing with the intruders, she was badly frightened by the whole ordeal. She threw on some clean clothes, then stuffed the rest of her things into the paper bag which Scully had brought them in. She stood ready at the door as Mulder nailed the last piece of wood onto the jam.

"There. It won't stop anyone bigger than a poodle, but it ought to keep the door from just flying open on its own. Come on. Scully's going to meet us there."

Mulder was surprised to find that he was still quivering a bit as he drove them to the Federal Building. Megan was strangely quiet and, he assumed, was at least as frightened as he.

Scully was waiting in the main office when they arrived, dressed as though she was ready to start a fresh day at work. Her skirt-suit was immaculate, as was her hair and make-up. By contrast, Mulder felt disheveled and ill-prepared.

"What happened?"

"I was sleeping on the sofa and these two goons just crashed right through the door. They were after Megan, no doubt about that."

"Did either of you recognize them?"

"No. It was too dark. Megan here saved the day. She was like a cyclone. You should have seen her, kicking and biting. When it was all over, that one guy was badly beaten and they were fleeing for their lives."

Scully noted the amount of near-fatherly pride in Mulder's tone, though she was at a loss to explain it. "Well, thank God nobody was hurt."

"Here. This is the license number of the car. I'm going to see what prints I can lift off this gun. Megan, you stay with Scully, okay?"

"Sure, Fox." Megan dropped into a nearby chair and scooted it over so that she could see over Scully's shoulder.

As Scully typed fast and furious on the keyboard, Megan looked on in wonder. It seemed to her that the lives of every single person on the planet were immortalized in that computer in infinite detail. Everyone's, that is, except for hers.

In no time at all, Scully found what she was looking for. She made several notes on a pad of paper, then tore off the page and stuffed it into her pocket. Satisfied, she then turned to Megan and managed a smile.

"Would you like a drink or something?"

"Soda?"

"Come on. There's a machine at the end of the hall."

She went with Scully to the soda machine, delighted with the simple act of pushing the button and listening to the sound that the can made as it slammed against the tray. Mulder was coming down the hall just then, so she delayed opening the can.

"Well, I got a beauty of a print. Trouble is, it doesn't seem to have a mate anywhere in our computers."

"I did a little better with the license number. Belongs to a 1994 white Buick LeSabre. Registered to the Gentech Corporation."

"Why am I not surprised? Seems like everything in the known universe can be traced back to Gentech."

"Except Megan."

"Yea. Except Megan."

"Well, one thing's for sure. You can't go back to your apartment tonight. If they want her back desperately enough to try kidnapping, they'll no doubt try it again."

"I already took care of that. There's a safe house twenty miles south of here in a little subdivision called Maitland."

"I know the place. We used it once for a Federal witness I was guarding."

"I say we stay there, at least for tonight. In the meantime, we can put out an APB on Thomas' car and his little friends."

"I figured you'd suggest this, so I brought a few things along. What do you say, Megan? Are you up for a new bed?"

"Sure, Dana. Is there a TV there?"

Despite the hour and the mood of the evening, both Mulder and Scully broke into gales of laughter. When they had finally got control of themselves again, they wiped the tears from their eyes and gazed amusedly at Megan.

"I'm sure there's a TV there. One thing you need to know about our civilization is that there's a TV almost everywhere."

"Okay. What's say we get a move on before we miss Sesame Street."

Megan started off down the hall at a rapid pace, leaving Mulder and Scully to ponder just where it was that they had lost control.

Title: Thursday's Child Author: Patricia Lee Macomber EMAIL: katrina@peganet.com Rating: PG Classification: X Spoilers: None Keywords: EBE, cloning, genetics, abduction Summary: Mulder discovers a girl sleeping on his doorstep. While she appears to be a fully developed young woman, her mental acuity is that of a small child. Investigation uncovers the girl's origins, along with a mysterious doctor and his unholy alliance with the government.


CHAPTER FIVE ~

Mulder unlocked the door of the old frame house and stood aside while the two women entered. Since the Bureau made frequent use of the palce, the electricity was still on. Scully flipped the switch next to the door and was rewarded with a flood of light from two table lamps. She sighed and took a brief look at her temporary home.

"Well, it's not exactly the Ritz, but it'll do." She went a short distance down the hallway, then returned. "There's only two bedrooms. Megan and I will take the one at the end of the hall."

"I'm going to check out the rest of the house. Why don't you two get settled in." He disappeared into the kitchen, turning on lights as he went.

Megan also checked out the place. There was a large, albeit old- fashioned console TV in the austere living room, which meant that all her needs had been met. She dropped dolefully onto the sofa, searching for the remote as she did so. When her search produced nothing, she was finally made to admit that she would be forced to use the archaic, manual method.

"Mega, honey? Don't you want to go to bed now?" Scully was standing in the doorway, her eyes puffy but her smile bright.

"I am tired. But I'm more scared than tired."

"You'll be safe here. I promise." She turned to look at Mulder, who had come to stand directly behind her.

"I suggest we all get a few hours' sleep. Then, we can reconvene back at the office. Maybe Sid will have some good news for us."

Megan checked his eyes. They were usually so comforting. All she saw there now was worry. "How long will we have to stay here, Fox?"

"Only a day or two. Just until we catch the guys who tried to take you."

"They'll come for me, you know." Her voice was soft, reverent.

"I doubt it. They know we're looking for them."

"Not the men. The lights. The lights will come for me and nobody...not even you, Fox...can stop them."

Mulder walked over to where she was sitting and stooped down. He stroked her cheek lightly and flashed her a comical smile. "Now, Megan, would I let anything happen to you? Hm?"

"No. Not if you could help it. But you can't help it, Fox.

Nobody can help it."

"Scully, do I have more experience with the lights than anybody else in the world?" He looked over his shoulder at her, knowing already what she would say.

"He's right, Megan. Mulder is the world's foremost leading expert in all things weird. Especially weird lights. And I'll be lying right next to you in the bed. So nothing and no one can hurt you here tonight."

She looked from one to the other, hoping against hope that they were right. Finally, she managed a grin for them.

"Feel like going to sleep, now, Meg?"

"Sure, Fox. I'll try."

"That's my girl." He gave her shoulder a little squeeze, then watched the two women leave.

Megan performed her nightly ablutions with uncharacteristic speed and sloppiness. Then, she climbed into the bed with Scully and pulled the covers tight around her neck. Like most children, she had the unerring belief that a simple blanket could shield one from all manner of evil.

Mulder awakened at around ten that next morning, having gotten a mere four hours of restless sleep. His face was unshaven and his face was a glaring confession of his extreme exhaustion. He staggered out into the hallway, listening for signs of life from the women. When he heard nothing, he padded softly down the hall to the other bedroom, where Megan still lie curled in a little ball and purring softly. He lingered for a moment, watching her face, blissfully and innocently acting out the fragments of some dream.

Finally, he made his way down the hall to look for Scully, though he barely gained the dining room before the front door creaked open. Scully entered the house and turned around. Her hair and make- up were immaculate, as were her clothes. In one hand, she bore the fruits of a brief trip into town.

"Good morning, Mulder. I brought breakfast."

"You've got a lot of nerve looking that good after last night. How do you do it?" He dropped heavily onto a dining chair and glared up at her.

"It's called make-up, Mulder. Maybe you should try some. Even a shave would be a big improvement." She set the bag on the table, then unburdened herself of her purse.

"You've got a lot of nerve being so perky. What happened? Did you suddenly become possessed by the spirit of Donna Reed?"

"I checked out the kitchen, but the cupboards were bare. So, I made a little trip to the local donut shop. I've got coffee for you and me and some milk and juice for Megan. Where is Megan, anyway?"

"I looked in on her a minute ago. She's still sound asleep."

"No, I'm not," the tiny voice said from behind him. She shuffled over to the nearest chair and collapsed into it.

"I brought us some breakfast. Hope you like donuts."

"Chocolate donuts, Dana?"

"I thought you'd say that." She took two donuts out of the bag and presented them proudly to Megan. "And here's some milk and juice to go with it."

Megan screwed up her face at Scully. "Juice and chocolate."

"Eeww!" Megan and Mulder said in unison.

"Oh great! Now I've got two kids on my hands."

"It's like I always say, Scully. If you can't beat `em, join `em."

They chowed down on the food, finishing in record time. Megan cleaned up the mess, eager to pitch in and help the two of them. Then, Mulder and Megan retired to their respective bathrooms and got dressed for the day. When they reemerged, they looked somewhat tidier, though signs of their brush with sleep still showed through in their faces.

Megan passed time in the car by reading the street signs. She had always had a horrible sense of direction; an even worse sense of navigation. That was why she had become so horribly lost during her search for the cat, and why she could only partially remember how she had come to be at Mulder's apartment building.

They went straight away to Sid's lab, where the grinning man gleefully presented them with all his data. He sat back on his little stool, allowing Scully to peruse the reports. Once he was satisfied that neither she nor Mulder could even begin to comprehend his findings, he took great pleasure in explaining it all to them.

"I understand some of this," Scully admitted to him. "But the rest is way over my head."

"Well, I still haven't identified that substance we found in Megan's blood. But the DNA findings are absolutely mind-blowing. First of all, Megan's DNA shows that she could very well be related to Dr. Thomas."

"`Could very well'?" Mulder sneered.

"Well, we can't make a one-hundred-percent for-sure conclusion. But their DNA matches close enough to indicate that they would most likely be father and daughter."

"And what about the DNA from the corpse?" Scully asked hesitantly, fearful of what his findings actually had been.

"Well, that's truly puzzling. Now, the tissue samples taken from the corpse also indicate that the body is most likely that of Stephanie Thomas. It also shows that the body in the coffin and Dr. Thomas are related. But that's not the most exciting part. The really incredible thing is, the DNA of the corpse and Megan's DNA are exact matches." He sat back and studied their reactions, obviously expecting something dramatic. He was disappointed.

"So, what you're saying is that Stephanie and Megan really are twins?" Mulder knew where this was going. He had suspected as much from the beginning.

"Not at all. The DNA of twins will often be a very close match. But no two people in the entire world have identical DNA. There's always some minor difference between the two."

"So, they aren't sisters."

"No, Dana. That's not what I'm saying either." There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

"Then, what are you saying?"

"What I'm saying, Agent Mulder, is that Megan is a clone of Stephanie."

"That's impossible. We haven't even come close to cloning humans yet. In any event, Thomas would have had to have begun the process at or around the same time that Stephanie was born. They're the same age, after all. And the technology didn't even exist then."

"He might not have needed that much time," Mulder offered, pacing across the floor thoughtfully.

"Ah-ha! Now you've got it! Go on, Mulder. Let's see how good you really are."

"It's like this, Scully. Thomas was faced with the imminent death of his daughter from cancer. So, he put all his resources to work looking for a cure."

"The serum found in Megan's blood," Sid broke in.

"Exactly. Only thing was, this stuff had quite the opposite effect. It accelerates cell division. And you can only imagine the effect it would have on rampant cancer cells. So, since he couldn't save his daughter's life, he did the next best thing. He took tissue samples from her and stored them away for later use."

"Use for what, Mulder. I still don't get it."

"Cloning, Scully. The man cloned his dead daughter. And he used his serum to speed up her development. That's why Megan can clearly recall being a child just last winter. And why she seems so intellectually stunted."

Scully gaped at him in total disbelief. "I suppose that would explain why Megan looks so much like that picture of Stephanie."

"Exactly. And why Thomas is so desperate to have her back. Desperate enough to send two thugs to my apartment. And desperate enough to pack up Gentech in the night."

Scully looked through the glass partition at Megan, who was seated on a chair outside, oblivious to anything that might be going on around her. She felt a sudden tug at her heart as she wondered about the girl's fate.

"How are we going to tell Megan this? I mean, the girl has no parents. She has no real home, no real identity."

"Ah, but she does." Sid slid down off his stool and folded his arms across his chest. "You see, technically speaking, Dr. Thomas and his wife are Megan's parents. All life begins with just two little cells. It doesn't matter whether those cells are egg and sperm or blood cells. It's all the same before nature."

"Yes, but who is she...really? Is she Megan? Or is she Stephanie?"

"They've been bandying about questions like that ever since the subject of cloning first came up. She is herself. NO matter who she came from or who she looks like, she can only be herself. Even twins have separate identities. It's the life-experiences that come together to make a person whoever they are. Not just the genetic make-up."

Scully eyed him for a moment, feeling a rash of goose flesh break out on her arms. "Well, where do we go from here?"

"We find Dr. Thomas. Then, we'll have to explain this to Megan. Ultimately, she's the one who'll decide what she wants to do with her life."

"I just hate this, Mulder. I mean, look at her out there. Like she hasn't got a care in the world. How do we tell her that she's the product of some enormous experiment? She'll be devastated."

"Thankfully, we don't have to worry about that right now. For now, let's just get her back to the house where she'll be safe. Thanks, Sid."

"Any time, Mulder. Good luck."

Mulder ushered Scully into the hall, where they were forced to meet Megan's penetrating stare. "Are you through with your work now, Fox?"

"I think so. You and Scully are going back to the house. You can get some more sleep. Okay?" She stood up and sidled up to him. "Where are you going, Fox?"

"I've got a few more details to run down. I'll be home in time for dinner. Don't worry."

"Okay. Be careful, Fox. I don't want you getting hurt if you meet up with those guys again."

"I'll keep my guard up."

Reluctantly, she followed Scully down the hall. She wished that Mulder were coming with them. He seemed to understand her better than Scully did. And he was a lot more fun.

Mulder watched them go, wondering if there was anything else he could do to facilitate Thomas' capture. Certainly, the man had a lot of explaining to do, if not about Megan, then at least about the two goons who had tried to tenderize his face last night.

He had it in his head to go back to Gentech and then Thomas' house, just to see if anything had changed. Perhaps he could find some mail, or perhaps an over-looked clue. He produced his keys from his pocket and made his way out of the building, his step slowed somewhat by his total exhaustion and his immersion in thought.

He was only ten feet or so away from his car when he heard a noise behind him. Reeling, he instantly laid eyes on Mr. X. Concealed in shadows, his hands still pocketed, he took only two steps toward Mulder.

"Fancy meeting you here? What have I done this time?" Mulder leaned against a support column and tried to look wistful.

"Stay away from the girl, Mulder. She'll bring you nothing but trouble."

"Ah, so now you're giving advice on dating.

"You're messing in things that could get you killed. Stay out of it, Mulder. You won't like what you find."

"And this pertains to...what?"

"The girl. And her father."

"Father? Or creator?"

"Neither. Or both. It really doesn't matter. What you're seeking is beyond your reach. It's beyond your meager capabilities. It could cost you and the girl your lives."

"Is what Dr. Thomas discovered so important, so monumental that they'll protect it at any costs?"

"Why do you think he's so anxious to have her back? He's not worried about losing her to the outside world. He's afraid of losing her to them. Stay out of it, Mulder. She won't be the only one to pay."

Mulder watched as he disappeared into the shadows, then disappeared altogether. Cryptic as always, the man had left him no clues, had done nothing to sway him. He wasn't at all sure who "they" might be, but he was sure that he wanted to know. With that in mind, he continued on his quest for clues at Gentech and Thomas' house.

Scully snatched up the cellular phone on the first ring, figuring it to be Mulder. Instead, she was greeted by Skinner's dulcet tones.

"They located your guy, Thomas," he was saying as Scully ambled toward the kitchen. She didn't want Megan to overhear anything; didn't want to worry her.

"Where? When?" She spared a glance back through the door to make sure that Megan was still engrossed in her TV show.

"About an hour ago in upper state New York. But he managed to give them the slip."

Scully's shoulders slumped in defeat. They had come so close. "Thank you for letting me know. I'll pass the message along to Mulder."

"What do you want Thomas for, anyway? Is this a legitimate case or another one of your X-Files?" Skinner's tone was more caustic than usual.

"We're not sure yet. As soon as we are, we'll let you know."

Scully hung up the phone in a hurry. She wasn't in the mood to be berated by Skinner. Nor was she in the mood to defend Mulder. As a matter of fact, she wasn't much in the mood for anything.

"Hi, honey. I'm home."

Her head whipped around as she caught sight of Mulder, standing just inside the front door and laden with several generic brown bags. "I brought dinner."

"Whacha got, Fox?" Megan chirped, running toward him with her arms outstretched to accept one of the bags.

"Chinese. Okay, Scully?" His eyes were bright and childlike as they looked to her for approval.

"Fine. Listen, Skinner was just on the phone. He said that Thomas was spotted in upper state New York, but they lost him."

"Well, he hasn't been at Gentech or at his house." He set the bags on the dining room table and began removing their contents. "How have things been around here."

"Boring," Megan chimed in at once. "There's nothing good on TV and there aren't even any good games here."

"Sorry. I know it isn't exactly Disneyland, but you'll only have to tough it out for a few more days. Okay?"

She nodded, then pranced into the kitchen to fetch some plates. Scully moved closer to Mulder; lowered her voice.

"What if we don't get him, Mulder? What if we never find out what he's really been up to in that lab of his?"

"Well, as they say, the plot thickens. I had a visit from Mr. X just as I was leaving the office. He warned me to stay out of this. He said that we were in way over our heads."

"Like that ever stopped you before." She paused, studied her shoes. "So, where do we go from here?"

"Not to worry, Scully. I have a plan."

Happily, Megan reappeared at just that moment, saving Mulder from having to explain any further. Truth be known, his plan wasn't exactly great. In fact, it needed a lot of work.

The three of them ate dinner, Megan scurrying back and forth to the kitchen to fetch things for her two protectors. She was more animated than usual this night; more giggly and talkative. When the meal was over, she cleaned up all the mess, washed the dishes and put them away. Then, she reclaimed her seat on the sofa and tried in vain to find something interesting on TV.

Mulder turned in early, his head and back aching from the combined lack of sleep and stress. Scully remained with Megan, hoping to at least provide some comfort and companionship. They sat side by side on the couch, neither speaking, as one boring show after another unraveled before their eyes. Finally, exhaustion took hold of Scully and she gave in to it.

"Aren't you tired yet, Megan? You've gotten even less sleep than we have."

"No. I'm not sleepy at all. Can I stay up, Dana? Please?" Her eyes were pleading, desperate.

"Alright. But not too late. We can't have you getting sick from lack of sleep."

"Okay. I'll be real quiet when I come in so I won't wake you."

Scully almost moved to kiss the girl's head, then thought better of it. Were it not for her obvious womanly attributes, Scully would have been thoroughly convinced that she was in the company of a child. She was playful and innocent and so starved for affection that it hurt just to look at her. But she let it alone, preferring to climb into bed and leave the girl be. She would find her way eventually. She had to.

Scully laid on her back, staring at the shadows on the ceiling for some two hours. Finally, still unable to drift off, she got up for a drink. Megan was still in the living room, reclined on the sofa and staring blandly at the set. Scully poured herself a glass of water, then joined her there.

"What are we watching?"

"Don't know. I came in the middle of it. It's pretty good, though. There's all these kids and their parents and the kids keep getting into trouble."

"Ah. Sounds familiar, don't you think?" Scully's mouth was stretched into a tidy little grin.

Megan studied her face for a moment before realizing that Scully was referring to her. She tittered a bit, then turned back to the TV. "I thought you were going to sleep."

"I tried. I'm just not having much luck."

Megan stared at the TV for a moment longer, then turned her whole body so that she was facing Scully. "Dana, how come all the people on TV seem to live with someone? I mean, they all seem to have families and parents and stuff."

Scully faltered for a moment, unsure of how she should reply. "Well, Megan, most people do have families. They have parents and brothers and sisters and such."

"Do you have a family, Dana?"

"Yes. I have a mother and a sister."

"Do you live with them?"

"Not anymore. See, when a person gets old enough, they move out and start a life of their own. They get married and have new families."

Megan seemed to mull this over for a moment, her face twisting up and her eyes darkening. "I don't have a family, Dana. Why don't I have a family?"

Scully's mouth worked but her throat simply wouldn't lose the sound. Finally, she regained her voice, if not her composure, and she the easiest way out she could. "We're not sure about that yet, Megan."

"But, I could have a family, right?"

"I suppose. Sure."

"And some day, I can get married and have a family of my own. Huh?"

"Of course you can. You can do anything you want to."

"Except be normal. Everybody else is so normal. But I'm not like them. I don't fit in. All of you have people who love you. You have homes and families and jobs. I don't have anything. I just want to be like everybody else. I just want to be normal."

Scully gawked at her, unsure of what she should say to solace the girl. More than anything, she wanted to wrap her arms around her and tell her that she was better than normal; that she was outstanding and special. Before she could make a move, however, Megan cocked her head to one side and squinted across the darkened house at the kitchen.

"Megan? Is something wrong?"

All of a sudden, Megan's eyes began to enlarge. Her mouth dropped open and her entire body began to tremble violently. "Oh, no. No! God, Dana! They came back."

"Who came back, Megan? Who?"

Megan had no time for a reply. In a flash of furious light, the entire world disappeared. It became engulfed in a preternatural light that was so intense, so all-encompassing, that it was impossible to find its source.

Megan stood in the middle of the room, her face a tortuous mask of terror. As Scully rushed to meet her, the girl's feet left the ground. Everything in the house was bathed in the light, save for Scully and Megan, who seemed no more than dark blots among the brightness.

"Mulder!" Scully screamed as she watched Megan drift further off the ground.

She grabbed onto Megan's arm, struggling to bring her back to earth again. She was making no headway; was nearly lifted off the ground herself. Then Mulder appeared, dressed in sweat pants and grasping his gun.

"Mulder, help me."

"Please, Fox. Don't let them take me. Please don't let them take me again. Please."

The only sound in the room or out was the sound of Megan's pleading voice and the ticking of Mulder's watch. He raced to where the two women stood, struggling with an unseen force. He laid one hand on Megan's free arm, pulling at her mercilessly. Despite their best efforts, the girl was still floating ever nearer the ceiling.

"Oh, God! I'm going!" she gasped, tears rolling down her pale cheeks and dropping on Mulder's arm. "Help me, Fox. Please! Help me."

Her voice dwindled before her body even began to disappear. She felt it happening, remembered now the sensation of all those other occurrences. Though she struggled desperately to hold onto Mulder and Scully, she knew that she could not long endure the pull of the light. In a last-ditch effort to gain some sort of control, to have some sort of recourse, she reached out one hand and grabbed Mulder's gun. Then, she was gone.

Scully eyed her instantly empty hand as if it might suddenly decide to attack her. One moment, Megan had been there. The next, she was not. There had been no slow dissolve, no movement up or out or over. She simply wasn't.

Mulder ran at once to the door and threw it open, peering sightlessly into the light which surrounded the house. Instantaneously, the light was gone. Scully rushed to his side, her eyes still burning from the heat of the light.

"What was that, Mulder? What the hell was that?"

"I think..."

"Where did it go?"

Mulder's eyes scanned the night sky, searching for something -- anything -- that might offer inspiration. "There!"

Scully followed his gaze to a point now some thousand miles or so above and to the north of them. A small speck of constantly changing light was shooting northward, bound for heaven knew where. Scully feared she might faint.

"Where is it taking her?" Scully wondered out loud.

"Who knows? Home? Back to Thomas?" He turned from the door, feeling more at a loss, more frightened than he ever thought was possible.

"Wait! Mulder, look!"

He stepped back to the doorway and squinted into the sky. The light had stopped moving. It was hovering only several hundred feet off the ground. The cessation of movement lasted for mere seconds before the thing again rocketed away and was gone from their sight.

"I think now would be a good time to tell me your plan, Mulder. Assuming you really have one."

"Of course I had a plan, Scully. But right now it's a moot point. My plan was to take Megan public. To release pictures and prints to the media so we could draw Thomas out. But it won't do us much good without Megan, now will it."

"I guess, then, all we really can do is wait."

"And pray they bring her back."


CHAPTER SIX ~

Somewhere around four in the morning, Mulder's fragmented sleep was shattered by the ringing of his phone. He snatched it up and turned it on in one swift movement. His reflexes, if not his mental acuity, were instantly heightened.

"Mulder here."

"Agent Mulder, this is Bennet at the Bureau. We've just received a call from the local police. It seems they have a girl in custody at the fourth precinct. She gave them your name and told them to call here for you."

"That's great news. Thank you. I'll go down there right away."

He switched the phone off and sprang from the bed, every nerve ending on fire with anticipation. He ran to Scully's door and flung it open, not worried in the least about her condition.

"Scully! The police have found Megan. They're holding her at the fourth precinct."

"I'm with you." She climbed out of bed and grabbed her clothes from the back of the chair. Within moment, she met Mulder in the living room.

On full alert now, they raced to the fourth precinct. How Megan had come to be there and why was a point of enormous interest to them. Of even more interest was finding out what had happened to her while she was gone.

Mulder raced through the door of the precinct house, thoughtlessly allowing it to slam in Scully's face. He was bent for the front desk, his mind set only on getting to Megan.

Excuse me, Sergeant. I was told you're holding a young girl here. I'm Agent Mulder." He rummaged through his pocket and finally produced his badge, which he thrust roughly into the man's face.

"She would be in room two. Lieutenant Fisk can fill you in. He's the one who found her."

"Thanks."

Mulder raced down the hall, his coat following him in a flurry of wind. He had no sooner gained the inner hallway than he was confronted by a much larger, uniformed officer, who seemed instinctively to recognize him.

"You must be Agent Mulder. I'm Lieutenant Fisk."

Mulder hurriedly shook the man's hand, then stepped back. "Where is the girl?"

"Don't worry. She wasn't hurt. She's mostly just scared."

"Where did you find her?"

"I found her sitting on a bench in the park while I was on my rounds. She was just sitting there in this white nightgown, clutching her knees in her arms and a gun in her hand. Yours, I suppose?" He reached behind him to where a gun was resting on a small table. It was carefully enclosed in a clear plastic bag and bore an evidence label.

Mulder took it from him and turned it over for inspection. "Yea, that's mine."

"Would you like to explain what happened? Someone's fired three rounds from it. And recently, too."

Mulder and Scully exchanged furtive glances and it was unanimously decided that Mulder should field this question. "We've been guarding the girl for several days now. Earlier tonight, there was an abduction attempt. I fired three rounds at them but didn't hit anything more important than a wall."

The officer eyed him suspiciously, then finally nodded his approval. "How the heck did the girl get to the park?"

"She ran from the house when the whole thing started. I'm afraid she must have lost her way. Can we see her now, Lieutenant?" Mulder licked his lips in anticipation.

"Sure. I don't think there's been any crime here. Other than indecent. But I'm sure we could overlook that."

"Thank you."

"She's right in here."

Mulder moved off after Fisk, desperate to get to Megan. She was sitting inside an interrogation room, her elbows resting on the table and her face smeared with dirty tear-tracks. Mulder opened the door at once and stepped into the room. His knees felt weak and his stomach had begun to roil nervously.

"Fox!" she shouted and catapulted into his arms. "Oh, thank God you came. I didn't know what else to do. I was so scared."

Mulder accepted her eagerly into his arms. He clutched her to him and stroked her hair, finally beginning to feel the first rag-tag remnants of relief trickle through him. "Are you alright? Where did you go?"

"I'm okay. Just scared. But I don't know where I was. One minute, I was in the house with you guys. The next, I was standing in the middle of this place. There were lots of trees all around but no people. And I still had the gun in my hand. I was scared. I didn't know how far I was from you or whether I'd be able to get back. So, I just sat down on the bench and waited for you to come find me."

"And that's where the officer found you," Scully added softly.

"Am I in trouble, Fox? Did I do something wrong?" Her eyes locked on his, their icy fear burning through him.

"No, Megan. You didn't do anything wrong."

"Then, I won't have to stay in jail? I can go home?" She still hadn't released her grip on him.

He was massaging her arms comfortingly, smiling in spite of himself. "Sure. We can go home."

He removed his coat and draped it around her slight shoulders, then once more wrapped a protective arm around her waist. She clutched at him as though suspecting to be torn away at any moment. She really couldn't remember anything that had happened to her since she had been vanished from the house. But she was sure that, whatever had happened, it hadn't been good.

Scully handed Megan a cup of cocoa, then dropped onto the sofa beside her. The girl's face was still ashen, her hands still trembled slightly. Mulder was seated across from her in a chair that faced the window. They hadn't wanted to go back to the house but there really hadn't been any other choice. In light of the past night's events, there didn't seem to be any safe haven for them anymore.

"Alright, Megan," Scully began softly. "I want you to try to tell me everything that happened to you since you first saw that light."

"But I already told you I don't remember anything."

"I know, honey. But you've got to try to give us every detail you can, any feelings or sensations that you might have had. Even the tiniest thing might give us a clue."

"Okay. Well, you know the part about the light. It just filled up the room and then I was floating. It felt the same as the other times it happened, like there was a bunch of bugs crawling all over my body."

"You mean, like electricity going through you?"

"Yea. And the electricity kept getting stronger, so I knew that I was going soon. And I wanted to feel safer. I wanted to have something to protect myself. You and Fox always seem to feel better when you have those guns. So, I took Fox's gun. I don't remember anything after that. The light just sucked me in."

"And the next thing you remember is being in the park?" Mulder had listened to her recount the story, feeling as though he had heard it a thousand times before. In a sense, he had.

"That's right." She took a long sip of her cocoa and licked the foam from her lips. "That's all I can remember."

"It fits in with every story of alien abduction I've ever heard. I don't think we're going to get much more than that."

"You really think she was abducted by aliens, Mulder?"

"Come on, Scully. You've been through it. If anyone understands, it should be you."

She turned uneasily, adjusted her position on the couch so that she could see him better. "Maybe we could try hypnosis. That might bring out something."

"What's hypnosis, Dana?" The girl's eyes were twinkling with that special brand of fascination reserved only for small children and those who were differently abled.

"Well, it's kind of a trance. I put you into a trance and you can remember things that are locked away in your subconscious. Sort of like a dream."

"But it won't hurt?"

"Not at all. And you can even remember everything when you wake up. Would you like to try it?"

Megan looked to Fox for reassurance. His smile lent her confidence. Above all else, she wanted to please him. "Okay."

"Mulder, would you turn the lights down? Now Megan, I want you to get comfortable. You can lie down if you like."

Megan placed her cup carefully on the table before her and grabbed a pillow. She fussed with her skirt for a moment, trying to get it just right, then reclined on the sofa. "I'm ready."

"Alright. I want you to listen to the sound of my voice. Only the sound of my voice. I want you to relax now. Totally relax."

Mulder watched Scully work, envious of all her special talents. And he studied Megan's face, too. Like a child, her face completely mirrored her thoughts and feelings. He felt sorry for her just now, one so innocent having to go through so much strife. He wished he could make it go away for her.

"I'm going to give you a suggestion now, Megan. I'm going to suggest to you that your arms are very heavy. They're so heavy, in fact, that if you tried to lift them, you wouldn't be able to. Try and lift them now, Megan."

Megan's face drew taut with the effort of raising her arms but try as she might they simply wouldn't budge.

"That's very good, Megan. Now, I want you to remember the moment when you first saw the lights. The very first time you ever saw the lights. Where are you?"

"I'm in the pink room."

"Are you alone?"

"Yes."

"And what happened next?"

"I went to look out the window. I thought maybe it was Dr. Thomas coming back. But it wasn't. The lights were so bright that I couldn't see where they were coming from. They were coming from everywhere."

"And did you leave your room?"

"No."

"They didn't take you then?"

"No. They took Dr. Thomas."

"How do you know that?"

"I don't know. I just do."

"Did they take Dr. Thomas very often?"

"Only twice since I've been at Gentech. They took him once by himself and once with me."

"And when they took you, where did you go?"

"To the big flying thing."

"Tell me what it looks like."

"It's big and all silver inside. We only got to see one room, but I'm sure there were a lot more. In the room we were in, there were a bunch of large table-like things. And a lot of bright spot lights. They made me lie down on the table and they stuck me with things. Kind of like Dr. Thomas' test, only it didn't hurt."

"You say, `they'. Who do you mean?" Scully shot a furtive glance at Mulder, who was leaning so far forward in his chair that she thought he might fall out of it.

"The guys who ran the ship. They were kind of small. My height, only thinner. Their skin was all grey and their heads were real big and round. They didn't have any ears, so I couldn't figure out how Dr. Thomas managed to speak to them. But they had these really big eyes. Scary eyes like flies have, only they were shaped kinda oval-like. And their fingers were real long."

"Did they tell you why they were doing those things to you?"

"No. But Dr. Thomas said I shouldn't be frightened. He said they were our friends and they only wanted to help us."

"Help you how?"

"I don't know."

"And when they were done with you, what did they do?"

"They took us back home. To Gentech."

"And you didn't remember anything about it?"

"Not `till now."

"That's fine, Megan. Now, I want you to skip forward to tonight, when the lights came again. Did it feel the same?"

"Yes."

"And did you go to the same place?"

"They took me onto the flying thing again."

"And was Dr. Thomas there?"

"No. Just the little guys."

"What happened to you while you were there?"

Megan's face suddenly twisted itself into a scowl. Her fingers worked their way into fists. "They didn't do anything to me this time. They took me into that room again, the same one as before. But I had the gun this time. I didn't want to stay. I didn't want to do those tests anymore." Her voice had become steadily louder, more frantic.

"It's okay, Megan. Nobody can hurt you now. I want you to relax. Remembering won't make it happen again. Now, tell us what happened on the ship tonight."

"They wanted to do more tests, but I wouldn't let them. As soon as I got there, I pointed the gun at them. I screamed at them to send me back or I'd kill them all. Then I shot the gun." Her voice trailed off into sobs as she remembered the encounter.

"What happened when you shot the gun at them?"

"The first bullet hit the wall. That's when they started running away. But I shot another bullet and that one hit one of the little guys. He fell down and all this green stuff was coming out of him. The rest of them were all gone now, so I shot the gun one more time just to make sure they wouldn't come back. Then, they sent me back down."

"To the park, you mean?"

"Yea. To the park. It's where we were over when I fired the third time. So, they just let me go. I didn't see the ship leave or anything. I was there and they weren't. So, I just sat down on the bench and waited for you and Fox to find me."

Scully finally sank back into her seat. She looked askance at Mulder, who indicated that he had no questions of his own.

"That was very good, Megan. I'm going to wake you up now. I will count to three and when I get to three, you will wake up. You will remember everything we've said here and you'll feel calm and rested. One. Two. Three."

"Did I do okay, Dana? Did I?" She sat bolt upright on the sofa, checking Mulder's reactions.

"You did fine, Megan." Scully moved to the couch, where she could offer a reassuring hug to Megan.

"So, I've been going away on a space ship. But Dana, they said that space ships don't exist."

"They were wrong," Mulder offered at once, standing up and pacing a bit.

"If I tell you a secret, will you promise not to tell anyone?" Scully asked.

"Scout's honor."

"I was taken away on a space ship once, too. But I can't remember anything that happened to me."

"You're lucky. It hurts to remember." She reclaimed her cocoa cup and drained it.

Mulder motioned for Scully to join him in the dining room. In view of what he was about to say, he didn't want to be within Megan's earshot.

"Scully, considering everything Megan's just told us, I think it might be prudent to get a CAT scan done on her. Almost every case of repeated abduction has included some sort of unidentifiable implant."

"And you're thinking that's how they've been able to find her?"

"Yes."

"I have to agree. We've got nothing to lose."

Scully's phone suddenly rang and she grabbed it out of her purse. "Scully here."

"Dana. It's Sid. Listen, a call just came in from the local police. It seems they've found one Simon McRae dead in his house. They're officially listing it as natural causes, being that the guy looked to be about a hundred years old. Only problem is, McRae's birth certificate lists his birth date as August 6, 1961."

"That's certainly weird, Sid, but I don't see how that affects us." She met Mulder's eyes; shrugged her shoulders to indicate confusion.

"You don't, huh? Well, he was Dr. Thomas' lab assistant for two years."

"Where are they holding the body?"

"County morgue."

"We're on the way."

She stabbed the off button and plunged the phone deep into her purse. "Come on, Mulder. Seems we have another plot twist."

"What's up, Scully." Mulder grabbed his coat off the chair and struggled into it.

"Seems they just found Dr. Thomas' lab assistant dead of old age after only thirty-four year of life."

Mulder whistled through his teeth and motioned for Megan to follow them. "Come on, Meg. We've got work to do."

Megan pulled on her own coat, yawning tiredly and taking possession of Mulder's hand. The county morgue was only twelve miles from there, as the crow flies, but traffic at that hour was choked. After nearly an hour in the car, they finally arrived at the morgue and the trio stepped into the heated building.

"Agents Mulder and Scully. We'd like to examine the body of Simon McRae."

The man at the desk scrutinized their badges, then carefully studied some sort of list. "What does this pertain to, Agent Mulder."

"McRae might be involved in a case we're working on. We'd like to see if the physical evidence matches that of the other victims in the case." A little white lie wouldn't hurt anyone. And it would get them inside.

"Alright. But you have to sign here. Especially if you're taking any samples."

Mulder anxiously scribbled his name on the list and slammed the pen hurried down on the counter.

"This way." Mulder led Megan to a small group of chairs where she could wait for them. Then, they followed the myopic man back to the cooler and waited while he searched for the proper drawer. He pulled it open with one mighty jerk, then stepped aside.

"I'll be back at my desk if you need anything." He hobbled away, the shoe on his left foot dragging slightly on the floor.

Scully pulled back the sheet and grimaced at the ancient face which she saw before her. "Hard to believe this guy was ever thirty- four, much less only a couple of days ago."

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"That he must have been given a massive dose of Dr. Thomas' serum?"

"That or they've improved on it." "Well, a blood sample should tell us everything we need to know."

"Good. Let's get it and get the hell out of here. This place is giving me the creeps."

Scully quickly took her sample, then deposited it in her bag and shut the drawer. They collected Megan from her chair and left the morgue.

All three were silent during the trip. Megan was afraid to ask what they had been doing there. She had a meager understanding of what a morgue was and she was sure that she didn't want to know any more than just that.

As they entered Sid's lab, he met them with a huge smile. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled something out of it. Then, he walked over to Megan and stood, holding the thing behind his back.

"I've got something for you," he announced proudly, whipping the Gameboy out from behind his back. "It's not exactly hi-tech or anything. But it should keep you entertained while these two are conducting their ghoulish business."

She studied the thing for a few moments, then raised her eyes to Sid. "Thank you so much, Sid." In one swift and utterly unexpected movement, she leaned over and kissed his cheek tenderly.

"Don't mention it. Now, Dana, I suppose you have a little something for me."

"That I do. I managed to obtain a blood sample from McRae's body."

"And you want me to check it for signs of the serum from Megan's blood."

Scully's eyes flared reproachfully; she shook her head slightly. "That's what I want, yes."

Luckily, Megan hadn't heard a word they had said. She and Mulder were too busy checking out the Gameboy at the time. Scully poked Mulder brusquely in the ribs, then headed for the door.

"We'll be in the cafeteria when you get done."

"It'll just be a few minutes."

"Thanks. Come on, you two vidiots. Let's get something to eat."

Mulder and Megan reluctantly followed her, their heads bent together and their eyes seeing more of the game than of where they were walking. When they finally reached the cafeteria, Scully tried to engage them in conversation, though she met with only meager success.

After nearly fifteen minutes of waiting and watching the two sink deeper and deeper into the video game, Sid finally showed up. His face betrayed the answers he had to give her as he turned a chair around and straddled it.

"You were right on. His blood has an even larger concentration of the serum in it. The other sample," he stated, nodding his head in Megan's direction, "had only a point-oh-one concentration. This sample had a seven-point-five concertation."

"Which means that he could conceivably have aged sixty or so years in just a few hours."

"Whatever aging happened would have happened in no more than four hours. After that, the drug is secreted from the body and aging will stop."

"He was murdered," Mulder pointed out, finally back among the living.

"No doubt about it." Sid leaned both arms on the chair back and placed his chin on them. "Question is, by who."

"The way I see it, we only have two suspects."

"And just who would that be, Scully?"

"Well, Mulder, it's simple. It's either Dr. Thomas, who has the strongest motive. Or the government, who wants to protect the serum from becoming common knowledge."

"Then there's the third suspect."

"And who would that be?"

"The aliens who gave the serum to Thomas." Mulder sat back and watched as Sid and Scully had their epiphanies.

"You really think..." Sid began.

"..that Thomas got this serum from aliens? I most certainly do. I mean, look at the facts. First, we have a man who has figured out how to clone people when nobody else on the planet has. Then, we have a serum which accelerates cell division and which consists of totally unrecognizable components. Third, we have a doctor and a young girl who have both been abducted by aliens."

Sid leaned back his head and broke into gales of laughter. "You're kidding me, right? Aliens? Little green men?"

"Grey," Megan corrected.

"Oh, excuse me, ma'am. Little grey men. They don't call you `Spooky' Mulder for nothing, eh?"

Mulder stared daggers through him. He was about to respond with a scathing retort when someone called to him from the doorway. "Mulder, I want to see you. In my office. Now."

He turned slightly in his chair to spy Skinner, his arms crossed belligerently across his chest and his face frozen in mid-scowl. Slowly and dramatically, Mulder rose from his chair. "I guess I'm grounded."

He walked silently back to Skinner's office, where he was sure he would be given a tongue-lashing par excellence. This time, however, no one, but no one, was going to pull him off the case.

"Mulder, it has come to my attention that you're involved in a case which is...how shall I put this...none of your damn business."

"Excuse me, sir, but this case is most certainly my business. I was the one who found the girl in the first place."

"I'm not concerned about the girl. It's all the other poking around that you've been doing. You're ruffling feathers, Mulder. Mine and a whole lot of other people's. As of right now, this case is shut down. You are no longer responsible for the girl. And you will keep your nose out of Gentech and Dr. Thomas' business. Am I making myself understood, Mulder?"

He gazed deep into the man's stony eyes and fought against squirming in his chair. "But, sir, if I could have just a few more days..."

"You heard what I said. Look, I don't mind sticking my neck out a little bit. But this thing is bigger than both of us. Hell, it's bigger than the whole damn Bureau. You're going to drop this and drop it now."

"But what about the girl? What's going to happen to her?"

Skinner drew in a deep breath; considered lying to the man. It just wasn't in him. "She'll be taken care of. That's all I can say."

Mulder stared him down, refused to blink for fear of losing his hold. If Skinner meant what he thought he meant about Megan being taken care of, then he couldn't drop the case. Not unless he wanted Megan dead.

In lieu of a definitive response, Mulder simply nodded and rose slowly from his chair. He wasn't about to give up on this now, not after all that he had learned. Whoever and whatever was responsible for Megan's creation, for her life, might be ready to end it. He was not. ~


CHAPTER SEVEN

Mulder's face was grim when he stepped back into the cafeteria. Equally solemn, Scully looked up at him questioningly. "So, do we still have jobs?"

Mulder stared into the back of Sid's head, pocketing his hands as he did so. "Sid, don't you have some work waiting for you back in the lab?"

Sid caught one glimpse of Mulder's burning gaze and surrendered his place at the table. "Yea, sure. See you around, Dana."

"Mulder, what's going on? Why did Skinner call you into his office?"

He spared a concerned glance for Megan, then decided that she needed to hear everything he was about to say. "Skinner took us off the case. As of right now."

"But, what's going to happen to Megan? Who's taking over?"

"Nobody's taking over, Scully. The powers that be don't want this thing unearthed. They want us to leave it...and Megan...alone."

She studied his face carefully, looking for signs of that patented Mulder determination and zeal. "And are we going to leave it alone, Mulder?"

"Not on your life. Do you think for one minute that I'm going to turn Megan over to them?"

"Over to who?" Megan wanted to know, her interest suddenly piqued.

"Whoever wants to take you. You see, Megan, whatever Dr. Thomas was doing at that lab, it's very important to somebody. And that somebody wants to keep it a secret."

"Then, we should just beat them to it. Tell the secret before they have a chance to hide it."

Mulder and Scully looked at her in stunned silence. "Well," Scully began, uncertain of how she should word it. "Sometimes, telling secrets can be dangerous."

"More dangerous than the aliens?"

"Maybe not. But maybe. We can't be sure."

"I'm not scared. Are you scared, Fox?"

"Just a little."

"I think we should tell the secret. Dana? What is the secret?" She looked hesitantly at Scully, her brows raised questioningly.

"Well, it has to do with the aliens and something the aliens may have given Dr. Thomas."

"You mean, that serum you and Sid are always talking about?"

"Yes, that. It tends to age people very quickly."

"And I had that same stuff in my blood. Huh, Dana?"

"Yes, Megan, you did. But that doesn't mean that you're going to get any older."

"Good. I like being this old."

"Come on, girls. We've got to find a new place to stay."

"What did you tell Skinner anyway?"

"Nothing. I told him nothing."

Mulder took Megan's hand and led the two women out of the room. He was positive that he could find a place for them stay where neither Skinner nor Thomas' goons would find them. He was not entirely certain, however, that he could find a place where Megan's little grey friends couldn't find her. Tat, above all else, worried him.

It only took them an hour to settle into their new home, a rented cabin near the Smoky Mountains. There was no phone there; nor was there a TV, which greatly upset Megan. But there was a grand view of all the approaches to the cabin and a total lack of prying eyes. Mulder had chosen to take a rented car, which he paid for in cash, as he did the cabin. Unfortunately, their being incognito did not afford them the opportunity to get Megan's CAT scan done, a fact which made Mulder feel terribly uneasy.

There were again only two bedrooms in the cabin and it was decided that Megan and Scully would double up as they had done before. Since they had no idea of just how long they would be staying there, they laid in a large supply of food and firewood. This done, they settled in to plan their strategy.

"If we're going to find Dr. Thomas at all, we're going to have to do it ourselves. We can't count on the backing of the Bureau anymore."

"Well, Scully, that might not be such a bad thing. Since we're not operating under the auspices of the Bureau, we don't have to worry about someone tracking our every move."

"We also can't count on getting any results from that APB."

"Megan," Mulder began. "I want you to think hard now. Did Dr. Thomas ever mention having another house? One besides the one he lived in regularly?"

"No. Never."

"Did he mention anything about a vacation house? Or a place that he liked to go on his days off?"

"Dr. Thomas never talked to me about his life at all. One time he mentioned his dead wife, but that was all."

"He never said that he liked to fish or hunt or sail? Something like that?"

"No."

"Well, there goes that theory."

"Fox, can I go play with the game for a while now?" She was bored; bored and sad for having caused Mulder and Scully so much trouble.

"Sure. You go ahead."

Megan walked back over to the sofa and took up the Gameboy. She was playing with it, a grin plastered onto her face. She missed her TV, yes, but having the Gameboy was a true Godsend.

After several minutes of play, Megan suddenly stopped. She straightened herself and cast her eyes upward, blinking at the ceiling in such a way that it caused Mulder and Scully to pause their discussion.

"Megan, what's wrong?"

"They're coming again." She leaped from the sofa and ran to Mulder, who had just enough time to stand up before she propelled herself into his arms. "Oh, Fox. Don't let them take me again. Please, don't let them."

He held her tightly, having no sense whatever that something was approaching. In the wink of an eye, the entire cabin filled with that preternatural silence and the white-hot light. Megan pressed her body harder and harder against Mulder's hoping against hope that she would somehow become indistinguishable from him.

There was an obvious flaw in that plan, however, since she at once began to rise toward the ceiling. She moaned in fearful resignation, watching as Mulder and Scully became small blurs before her eyes. In a flash, she knew, she would disappear into the light.

The hold thing had happened so fast -- much faster than last time -- that it took Mulder completely by surprise. He made one last grab at Megan's leg, but his hand slashed through empty air. She had disappeared again, without another single cry.

"Damn it!" he yelled, shaking his fists at the ceiling.

Without thinking, he dashed onto the front porch of the cabin and stood, teeth bared, staring at the empty sky with such fury that he feared his head would implode from it.

"Bring her back, you bastards! Bring her back!"

Scully placed a steady hand on his shoulder, then flinched as he spun toward her. "Mulder, come inside. There's nothing more we can do."

He allowed her to lead him inside, then stood in the middle of the room, his arms hanging limply at his sides. "What are we supposed to do now, Scully? How are we ever going to get her back?"

"We might not be able to. You're going to have to accept the fact that you're not invincible. There are still some things in this world that you...Mulder...just can't do anything about."

"You know what they'll do to her, Scully. She's evidence. She's an enormous liability to them now and they have to get rid of her. They've just got to."

"I think you've grown a little more fond of this girl than you intended." She studied his response and felt immediate sympathy for him. First, he had lost his sister and now Megan. "So have I."

"Well, I'm not just gonna sit here and watch the evidence disappear. I'm not gonna sit here and watch Thomas disappear and I'm sure as hell not gonna sit here and watch Megan disappear. It's time for us to go to the media. We'll circulate a picture of Stephanie. We can pull it out of the computer file. She and Megan look identical. We can't tell the press the whole story, but we can tell them enough that they'll want to air it."

"Are you sure about this, Mulder? It could finish you."

"I'm sure. But I won't drag you into this. You go back to the office and act like nothing at all has happened. That way, you'll be safe."

"Not a chance, Mulder. I want to see Megan back safely as much as anybody. So, let's go get that picture. And, Mulder? Let me do all the talking to the press. You've got that wild look in your eyes again." She thrust her arms into her coat and headed for the door.

"Wild look? I don't have a wild look in my eyes. When have I ever had..."

The very next thing that Megan saw was Dr. Thomas' pensive stare. He was leaning over her while she rested on a bed. She didn't recognize the room that she was in. It certainly wasn't her familiar pink room.

"How are you feeling?" he asked her in a hushed tone.

"Tired. And my head hurts. Where am I?" She dry-swallowed, grimacing from the pain.

"You're some place safe." He helped her to sit up, then offered her a glass of water. "The drugs often make you thirsty. But don't worry. It'll wear off soon."

"What drugs?" Her eyes had always been so warm, so gentle when she looked at him. Now, they were cold and suspicious.

"Just something to make you sleep so you wouldn't hurt yourself while..."

She walked unsteadily to the window and peered out of it. "The last thing I remember is...How did I get here?"

"I think you know the answer to that." He walked up behind her and placed one large hand on her shoulder.

She shrugged it off and stepped several feet away from him. "I want to go back to Fox and Dana."

"I'm afraid not, darling. You're going to have to stay here for a while. Just to be sure."

She wheeled on him, boring holes in his head with her hot stare. "Be sure of what? That nobody ever finds me again? When can I leave? Why do I have to be here?"

"I wish I could explain everything to you now. That's just not possible. Please, I wouldn't hurt you. I would never hurt you."

"You have hurt me. All the time you hurt me. I just want to go home."

That last word burned into him like a white hot coal. He loved her so much, honestly he did. And he truly believed that this was for her own good. "I'm sorry, darling, that everything's been so hard for you. I promise it will get better soon."

"No, it won't. It won't get better until I can see Fox and Dana again."

He studied the back of her head for a moment, then allowed his shoulders to slump. "You try and get some rest. I'll come back later to have supper with you."

"Don't bother. I'm not eating anything until you let me go."

"Please, child, don't..."

She went back to the bed and lay down on it, turning her back on him and shutting her eyes against the river of tears which now threatened to wash down her face. In agony, Thomas backed out of the room, locking the door behind him.

Megan waited until she was sure that he had left. Then, she padded softly to the window and checked its lock. There was a sturdy grate covering the whole window, though she thought she might be able to get the screws out if she could find some sort of tool. Just to be sure, she checked the door and, finding that it was indeed locked, set about looking for something with which to unscrew the grate.

There was nothing in the small room but the bed and one small table. On the wall was a single picture, that being of a sleeping kitten. If nothing else, Thomas at least cared enough about her to be aware of her likes and dislikes.

She was finally forced to admit that there would be no tool at her disposal until such time as her meal was delivered. Then, she might be able to make use of a utensil. Until that time, she would have to just sit back and wait.

While she was waiting, she gazed out the window, looking for some clue, some landmark, that might help Mulder and Scully find her. The entire building was surrounded by open field and tall trees. Even the type and style of the building were a mystery to her. Even if she were somehow able to get word to them, she had no way of telling them where she was.

Mulder and Scully had very little recourse left to them. Gentech and Thomas' house still showed no signs of life. Skinner was under the impression that his agents were off the case and had opted to take some personal time, which was fine by him. The only avenue left to them now was to go public, ask for the help of the people.

To that end, they acquired the computer generated photo of Stephanie Thomas, which they then copied several hundred times. They then compiled a list of the appropriate information, which they distributed to the news and law enforcement agencies.

They didn't hold out much hope that anyone would actually spot Megan, mind you. But this was the only hope they had. In the meantime, they kept a constant vigil at the cabin, hoping against hope that Megan would somehow find her way back to them.

At six o'clock that evening, Dr. Thomas appeared at Megan's door. He was pushing a large cart which bore, among other things, hamburgers and French fries. He figured that this would erode her resolve to starve herself. If it did not, then he certainly had a back-up plan at his disposal.

"You must be half starved by now, darling." He offered her his most endearing smile, though it fell quite short of melting her heart.

"Please, stop calling me that."

"I'm sorry. It's just a reflex. I'll try not to do it again." He wheeled the cart over to the table and laid out the feast. "Now, won't you at least eat some French fries? Please?"

She wanted very much to take the knife from the table at once, but she told herself to wait; to be cautious. She couldn't jeopardize her plan by making him suspicious. So, she joined him at the little table and very slowly began nibbling at her fries.

"Would you at least answer some questions for me?" She locked onto his eyes with her own and refused to release them.

"My, your journey out into the world has brought about such changes in you. You seem so much more...sophisticated."

"I learned to read and write. And I learned to play computer games."

"How on earth did you accomplish this in such a short time?" His eyes were shimmering with pride.

"I used the close captioning on the TV. And I had good teachers."

"Were those two agents good to you? I mean, they didn't harm you in any way, did they?"

"Fox and Dana would never hurt me. They were very nice. And they protected me."

"Protected you? From who?"

"From those guys you sent to kidnap me. And they tried to protect me from the aliens."

His fork hit the plate with a loud clang and his frightened eyes shot to hers. "How do you know about them? "

"Dana hypnotized me. She helped me remember what happened."

"My poor sweet girl. I dearly wish that you hadn't been made to go through all this."

"I don't. I've had a real good time out there in the real world. I learned a lot about people. And about myself."

He was beginning to relax a bit now; stuffed a French fry into his mouth. "Why did you leave, anyway?" he inquired around it.

"I was chasing the cat. She came and sat in my window every night. I used to feed her little bits of food, hoping that she might trust me enough to come inside. But she never did. So, I decided to go after her. But I got lost in the city. When I got tired, I just curled up right on the spot. Fox found me the next morning, there, on his doorstep."

"I suppose I should be grateful to him. You could have fallen into much worse hands."

Megan eyed him cautiously, taking great care to keep her true intentions from her face. With one random, spasmic movement, she knocked her fork onto the floor. As she had known he would, Thomas bent to retrieve it. When he did so, she shoved the knife into the hem of the curtain.

"Why don't you answer my questions now? Such as, who am I really? And why were you keeping me here?"

He looked at her with such deep sorrow and pain that it made her hurt just to see his face. "I suppose I do owe you an explanation. I always knew this moment would come and I've been dreading it."

"Is the truth really so awful? I mean, Fox always says that the truth will set you free."

"He sounds like a very good man, your Fox. I should like to meet him one day. Of course, I'd like to be a lot older, with a lot less to lose."

"So, tell. Be free." For all her child-like innocence, she had the cunning of a predatory cat.

"How do I explain this to you, dear child. You see, there has come to be this enormous turmoil, like a tornado of fear and greed and hatred. And at the very center of it all, stands me. It all started so innocently. Just a plan to save my beloved Stephanie."

His eyes had glazed over, his vision now stuck somewhere in the past. Megan placed her hands delicately in her lap and listened to him, not daring to interrupt his train of thought.

"All I ever wanted to do was keep my only child alive. I lost my wife some five years ago so when Stephanie got sick, I thought I would die right along with her. She had cancer, such an awful disease for such a young girl. And no matter how I tried, I couldn't do a thing to stop it."

He broke off suddenly, at last focusing on Megan's face. What he saw there was not the innocent young thing of days past. What he saw was cunning and intelligence and cold, stark malice. His tone, and his tact, changed at once.

"So, I invented a drug which I thought would save her. In the end, it only hastened her death. And now, everyone in the world wants my drug. They just don't want it for the same reasons that I do."

He stood abruptly, throwing Megan off kilter. She regained her composure and lifted her eyes to meet his. "Where are you going? You haven't even finished your food yet."

"I'm sorry, dear. I have much work to do. I'm afraid I've lingered too long already. But please, finish your supper. You need to keep up your strength."

Without further edification, he turned on his heel and left the room -- and Megan. Had she known that he would be so careless with her, she would never have taken the risk of stealing the knife. She listened hard at the door until his footsteps had faded into nothingness, then she plucked the knife from its hiding place.

The grate was on the outside of the window. It was your standard institutional type grate, painted a sickening green and bolted to the wall from the outside. Sadly, the spaces between the slats did not allow her to get her fingers -- or the knife -- on the outside to loosen the screws.

Thwarted at this and feeling very desperate, she surveyed the room once more in the hopes of finding another means of escape. In all the movies she had watched on TV involving such issues, the person in question would unerringly use the knife to take a hostage, thus gaining his release. Such things just weren't in her nature. She would have to be more clever.

Her eyes fell almost at once on the air conditioning duct on the far wall. There was a small vent in the ceiling through which passed the cold air. This other duct was an intake and so was far larger than the other. She dropped onto her knees and studied the vent cover, noticing that it was held in place by two retaining clips which were weakly screwed into place.

With a mischievous little smile on her face, she set to work immediately trying to remove the screws. It took nearly five minutes, working with the cumbersome knife, before she finally freed the screws from their holes. She placed them in her pocket along with the knife, and then pried off the grill.

The passageway inside was only marginally wider than her body. She would be able to squeeze through, but she had no idea how far the thing went before it narrowed. No matter how improbable it seemed, it did happen to be her only means of escape.

She climbed into the duct, taking great care to replace the grill so that no one would notice its absence. She had gone maybe three feet before a truly cunning idea struck her. Energized by this clever plan, she backed out of the duct and strode to the window. She hoisted this up on its sash, thus giving the impression -- implausible though it may be -- that she had somehow escaped through the window.

Once more, she entered the vent, sealing herself in and trying to be as quiet as she could. She crawled along for five feet, her hair scraping on the ductwork above her, before the thing made an abrupt turn to the right. It did not, however, get any smaller, so she continued on her quest.

As she inched along through the duct, she kept a keen ear tuned for sounds of someone approaching. It was after seven and most everyone had gone home already, save for two guards who still kept watch over the palce at night. Still, she didn't want to risk being found out.

At one point, she came to another turn in the duct, which also branched off to another air inlet. She peered through this grate, seeing nothing in particular at first. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, however, she came to realize that there was a phone in that room.

Now, the problem was how to get the grill off from the inside. She thought that she might be able to ease the retaining clips to the side without removing the screws, though it would take some time and a great deal of patience. She removed the knife from her pocket, all the while keeping a wary eye on the door at the opposite side of the room. It wouldn't do to have someone walk in suddenly and see a knife sticking out of a vent.

She gently drug the knife along the outside of the grill, searching by feel for the retaining clips. She found the first one of these and, keeping a tight grip on the knife, attempted to push it aside. It budged only slightly, then refused to move any more. The dexterity required to keep control of the knife was making her fingers ache, so she withdrew the knife and rested her hands for a moment.

When she resumed her task, the clip stubbornly remained steadfast. In order to shore up her confidence, she went to work on the other one, which easily yielded to her urgings. Thus bolstered, she returned to the other clip. In the midst of all this, the door suddenly came open and a man stepped into the room.

She withdrew the knife from the grill's slats and flattened her body against the floor of the duct. She was careful not to make a sound, not to allow anyone to see her.

The man sat down in a squeaky chair and leaned back a bit before snatching up the phone. He dialed someone's number, then waited for the person on the other end to answer.

"It's Blake...Of course I'm still here...No...Everything's as planned....In about two days...Is everything ready on your end?...I don't want any mistakes this time. Have you gotten those two agents off our backs?...What?...The girl has no idea what's happening to her...No. Thomas hasn't a clue...By this time tomorrow, Thomas, the girl and everyone who's ever been associated with them will be a distant memory. After that, we won't have a care in the world...I have the Agency's assurance of that...I'm off at nine...Alright...At ten."

The man slammed down the phone unhappily. He lingered in the chair for a moment, steepling his fingers and losing himself in thought. Then, he simply stood up and strode from the room, switching off the light and locking the door behind him. Megan could still see light coming from under the door, so she knew that someone must still be about. From the man's attitude, however, it was clear that no one had noticed her missing yet, although it was a sure bet that that wouldn't last forever.

She knew full well that any attempt to leave the building would not only be noticed, but would be met with as much force as was required to stop her. In view of this, her only alternative was to try and contact Mulder and somehow tell him where she was.

She worked feverishly at the second retainer, forcing it from its position and freeing the grill. She lowered it gently to the floor so that it wouldn't make any noise. Then, she slipped silently out of the duct and grabbed the phone off the desk. Instead of remaining in the room, she drug the phone and its long cord into the duct with her. Then, she replaced the cover and dared to lean against the wall of the duct.

Megan lacked even the most rudimentary understanding of how a phone worked. All she knew of the things had been learned from TV. There were five buttons at the bottom of the phone; four clear and one red. The red one was marked "hold", so she pushed one of the white ones. To her utter delight, she heard a dial tone.

One of the keys was marked "OPERATOR", so she pushed this in the hopes of getting some help. A tired-sounding woman responded almost at once and Megan swallowed hard and tried not to sound too frightened or too unsure of herself.

"Could I please have the number for the FBI in the Federal Building, please?" She swallowed again, this time more easily.

"You'll have to call information for that, miss."

She was beginning to feel panicked now, as though someone might walk in on her at any moment. "Please, I don't have time for that. And the only button on this phone that works is zero."

"Alright, miss. Don't get upset. I'll see if I can find that number for you. You do mean the Federal Building in Washington, D.C., don't you?"

"Yes. I suppose that's the one."

There was a pause which lasted approximately a hundred years, then the woman spoke again. "That number would be, area code 202, 555-6187."

"Thank you," Megan said at once. While repeating the number in her head, she pushed the receiver briefly down, then dialed the number.

It took an eternity for anyone to answer. She sat there in near total darkness, hunched over and heart pounding. Finally, she heard the ring of a woman's voice in her ear and she straightened a bit.

"FBI. How may I direct your call?"

"I'd like to speak to Agent Fox Mulder, please."

"One moment." Soft music began to play in her ear and Megan bit into her lower lip to keep from crying out in anxiety. "I'm sorry, Agent Mulder does not seem to be in the building at the moment."

"Could I speak to Dana Scully, then?"

"Of course." Again, the woman left her alone in the darkness, still hopeful, but beginning to feel the heavy weight of doom. "Agent Scully is not in the building either. Perhaps you would like the number of Agent Mulder's cellular phone."

"Oh, yes!" she responded at once, her lips curling into a smile despite her increasingly strong sense of fear.

She listened carefully as the woman gave out the number, trying hard to remember it. Ten, she hung up the phone and dared to draw a real breath.


CHAPTER EIGHT

Mulder had just dropped off the last of his press kits and was trotting down the steps of the building. He and Scully had split up, figuring to cover more ground separately. As he neared the bottom step, his phone sang out and he withdrew it from his jacket pocket.

"Mulder here."

"Oh, Fox! Tank God!"

The voice on the other end was frantic, shaken. It was also unmistakable. "Megan? Where are you?"

"I don't know. I'm in a building. In an air duct. Fox, you've got to come get me."

"Calm down, Megs. Now, look at the phone you're using and tell me what the number is."

She looked down at the phone, near hysterical now, but saw nothing but buttons and a small, blank strip of plastic. "There's no number on the phone. Just the buttons."

"Okay. It's alright. Don't panic. First, I want you to tell me if you saw anything on the trip up there." He had gained his car; was starting the engine.

"I was unconscious. They knocked me out."

"All right. Here's what we're going to do. Listen carefully and do everything I say."

"Okay."

"Do you have anything to write with?"

She glanced hurriedly out into the room to where the desk was. "Wait a minute." She pushed the grill out of her way and crawled to the desk. There was a pen there, and a small pad of paper. "Got it."

"Write down this number. 202-555-9210."

She wrote slowly and carefully. "I've written it down."

"Very good, Megan. I'm headed for the office now. I want you to stay on the line with me while I drive. When I get there, you're going to call me back at that number so I can trace the call. That way, I'll be able to find you."

"Okay, Fox. But please hurry."

"I'm hurrying, Megs. So, are you alright?"

"I'm fine. I'm scared."

"I'll bet you are. Who else is there with you?"

"Dr. Thomas and some men. I heard one of them on the phone saying that soon Dr. Thomas and me and everybody who knows us is gonna disappear. Fox, are they going to kill me?"

Mulder didn't want to hesitate too long on this; didn't want to shake whatever sliver of confidence she might have left. "No, Megs. They're not going to kill you. Would I let anything happen to you?"

"No."

"Hey, I'm at the office now. I'm going inside." He ran up the stairs as fast as he could, his heart beating a fast rhythm and his chest heaving with the effort of breathing. "Okay, Megs. I want you to hang up and call me back at that number I gave you."

She immediately banged the receiver on its cradle, then picked it up again. As she squinted through the half-light, she picked out the numbers on the keypad. Mulder's voice answered almost instantly.

"Very good, Megs. We've started the tap now, so it'll take three minutes. You okay?"

"I'm okay. I just wish you could hurry up and get here."

"So, do I, Megan." He covered the phone with the palm of one hand and spoke to the man standing behind him. "How are we coming?"

"Two more minutes, Mulder."

"We're almost done now, Megs. Hang in there."

"Okay."

"When we do hang up, I want you to stay in that duct until Scully and I get there. You understand?"

"I understand."

"You stay in there and keep quiet. Don't come out until you hear me call you."

"Alright, Fox."

"There. We're done. You're in an abandoned clinic in Bethesda, Maryland. It shouldn't take us more than half an hour to get there."

"Please, hurry."

"Fast as I can, Megs. I'm gonna hang up now so I can call Scully. You remember what I told you."

"Yes, Fox. Bye."

He hung up on her, praying with all his heart that he could make it to the clinic before they discovered her missing. As he galloped for the car, he dialed Scully's number from memory. He had already reached the parking garage when she answered.

"Scully! Listen up. We've found Megan. She's in an old abandoned clinic on the south side of Bethesda. I can't count on back-up from the Bureau, so can I count on you?"

"How can you even ask that? I'm at The Post now. Swing by and get me."

"ETA five minutes."

He hung up his phone and mashed his foot viciously down on the accelerator. His heart was threatening to beat an escape through his chest, but other than that, he was feeling just fine. He hadn't slept much as of late, and he certainly wasn't a model of nutritional excellence, but in a pinch, he'd trade good old adrenalin for health food any day.

Mulder spotted Scully standing on the sidewalk. The left front tire jumped up onto the pavement as he skidded to a stop, but he didn't even seem to notice it. Scully jumped into the car and they sped off, bound for...who knew what.

"How in the world did you find her?"

"She found me, actually. I swear, I feel like the proud papa. Somehow, she managed to crawl out of her room through an air duct and make it to one of the office phones. Then, she managed to get my cell phone number and called me. I had her call me back on one of the office lines and we traced the call. You know something, Scully? In a few years, that girl's gonna make one damn fine agent."

"Did she say anything about how she got there?"

"I don't think she remembers. If you ask me, I think her little grey friends gave her a lift back to good old Dr. Thomas."

Scully mulled this over, somehow not finding it nearly as ludicrous as she at once would have. She didn't know what to expect when they got there. Neither of them had a real good grasp of the situation. All they knew was that Megan was counting on them and they couldn't let her down.

They came upon the clinic nearly forty-five minutes later. It was located in a rather sad part of town, having at one time been a government subsidized health facility. They turned off the headlights and parked the car in the alley behind the building, next to where an old dry cleaner used to be.

Mulder eased himself out of the driver's seat, tentatively casing the building. All the light appeared to be out, completing the illusion that the building was still unused.

Cautiously, he crept to the nearest window and peered inside. He had no way of knowing which room she might be in, so there was only one sensible thing to do: Walk right in through the front door. He motioned for Scully to join him, then whispered in her ear.

"I think the only way to do this is to catch them by surprise."

"Any idea how many people are in there?"

"None. But we're about to find out."

He led her to the front door, which was not only locked, but which bore the warning, "Caution! Trespassing on this property is a violation of Federal law." Mulder read this notice quickly, then pulled a face at Scully.

He tried the door knob, but it refused to turn. In one swift and brutal movement, he kicked at the door and sent it crashing inward against the wall. Gun drawn, ready for any kind of resistance, he stepped quickly into the building.

"Hm, no welcoming committee. Tis might be easier than I thought."

"Not that easy," replied a voice from beside him.

Mulder whipped his gun around until it was pressed tightly against the man's forehead. "Tell me where you're keeping the girl and Dr. Thomas."

"Screw you!"

Mulder drew back his hand and brought the gun crashing down on his neck. He teetered crazily, then crumpled to the floor. "Wrong answer, pal."

Mulder pushed the man's body back into the room from which he had come, then shut the door on him. He and Scully walked slowly down the hall, being more careful this time. No one else showed up to slow their progress, so they began peeking into rooms in search of Megan.

Mulder's ritual was to first listen at the door, then carefully open it and call Megan's name. Then, he would shut the door and move on. He had opened perhaps ten doors, all of which offered up no sign of life. He was beginning to get discouraged.

In the eleventh room, Mulder found a tall man. He was seated at a desk, his shoulder's slumped as he wrote carefully on a piece of paper. The man's head snapped up at the sound of the door opening, and Mulder instantly recognized him as Dr. Thomas."

"What the..."

"Be quiet," Scully warned, leveling her gun at him. "All we want to know is where Megan is."

Thomas sighed loudly and leaned back in his chair. His face had a look of quiet resignation, his voice soft and frail. "I'll take you to her. She'll be very glad to see you."

He rose at once and walked toward the door. His pace was slow and labored, though he still presented an imposing presence. "I'm almost relieved that you've come. I was beginning to wonder what would ultimately become of us."

"Unless I miss my guess, they plan to get rid of you at the first possible opportunity." Mulder checked the man's response and was disturbed to find only acceptance.

Thomas brought them to a door at the end of the hall. This, he unlocked with a key from his sizeable collection. He stepped inside, the first hint of a smile coming to his face. "Megan, you...Oh, my God! She's gone."

He stepped at once to the window and peered out, completely unsure of what he expected to see. Then, he reeled on Mulder and Scully, his face lost somewhere between panic and relief. "I don't understand. How could she...?"

"She got out through the air duct." Mulder stepped over to the grill and kicked weakly at it. It fell forward onto the floor.

"You have taught her well, Agent Mulder."

"Where could she possibly get out of this duct?" Scully questioned.

"Let's see, the nearest in-take would be...in the director's office."

"The director?" Mulder's brow knitted and he frowned in confusion.

"I'll tell you about that later. Providing, of course, that we are able to find the girl and get out of here alive. Come."

They followed him down the darkened hall, wary of anyone who might be about at that hour. Thomas walked quickly, his long legs gobbling up several feet in one stride. He at last led them to another door, which he flung open.

"Megan?" Mulder called into the darkened room.

"Fox! I'm here." She at once scrambled out of the air duct and straightened up, her back crying out from being too long in that hunched position.

Mulder reached over and switched on the light while Scully shut the door. Megan joyfully propelled herself into Mulder's arms, her face smeared with tears and her hair flecked with bits of fiberglass. Mulder took her into his arms and stroked her hair, oblivious to the itchy substance.

"Are you alright, Megs? You're not hurt, are you?"

"I'm okay. Now. But let's go, huh? I hate it here." She looked up at him with eyes that were so bright, so full of love and hope, that he felt a lump rising in his throat.

"You heard her, Scully. Let's blow this pop stand."

He managed to pry Megan off him long enough to open the window, then he gave her and Scully a boost. The four of them crawled out the window and trotted to the car, hoping to make their escape before the gentleman in the hallway awoke.

Megan had quickly called shot-gun, beating Scully to the car door by only seconds. Mulder had no idea where he was headed as they drove off. All he knew was that he wanted to put as much ground between them and their kidnappers as he could. And then, he wanted to hear Thomas' whole story, start to finish.

"Thank you," Mulder said to the waitress who brought their coffee. Megan had ordered donuts and the others paused for a moment to take a sip of the coffee and watch her eat.

They had driven for three hours, finally ending up at a coffee shop in a small town called Cumbleton. Thomas had directed them there, explaining that he had gone fishing there once. Since it was a small town and was nowhere to be found on the map, Mulder had agreed. They all sat at the booth now, eying each other quietly and wondering how to begin.

"I think we should get down to business," Scully offered, sparing a seemingly idle glance out the window at the desolate parking lot.

"Where to begin," Thomas sighed, warming his hands on the coffee cup. "It was so long ago that I almost feel as though it happened to somebody else." He cast a wary eye at Megan, who was still immersed in her donuts, chocolate covering the better part of her mouth.

"Why don't you start by telling us when you first had contact with the extra-terrestrials." Mulder didn't have time for niceties.

"That would have been almost thirty years ago. I was just out of college then and had begun my first job working on a grant from a chemical company. My wife, Dora, and I had been married a little over a year and were looking forward to our lives together; to having children. We tried diligently for quite some time and, when nothing came of it, we each made our pilgrimage to the doctor. The fault lie with me. I was sterile.

"About two months after our first anniversary, we made the decision to adopt a child. We figured it was the next best thing to having one of our own. So, we filled out the appropriate papers and began the long wait. One night after a double shift at the lab, I came home. Dora was already sound asleep, so I went into the kitchen to make myself a sandwich before joining her. I was sitting at the kitchen table when the entire house filled up with this strange light. I thought it was odd that the light should come from all directions at once, so I went to see where exactly it was coming from.

"I could see nothing out the windows, so I stepped onto the front porch. Imagine my shock at seeing that thing, easily as large as a football stadium, hovering over my house. That was the last recollection that I had. I was apparently returned five hours later and awoke in my own bed."

"So, you had no memory of where you had gone or what had happened to you that night?"

"No, Agent Mulder. It wasn't until much later that I was allowed to retain my memories of their visits. That particular abduction was monumental for me, not only because it was my first, but also because it occurred on the night that my daughter, Stephanie, was conceived. Though I couldn't prove it at the time, I had no doubt in my mind that my little friends had made some sort of repair to my body. Stephanie was their gift to me.

"They returned several times in rapid succession, each time being exactly the same as the first. An unnatural silence would overtake the house and a great flood of light would wash over me. It began to be rather a familiar part of my life, even if I couldn't recall what was happening to me on their ship."

"Did you ever mention it to anyone?" Mulder put down his cup and leaned back in his seat, checking Megan's reaction to all this.

"It would hardly have been prudent for a man in my position to go around espousing the benefits of alien abduction. Certainly not at that time. Very few people had come forward about such things and the few that did were discounted as lunatics, attention-seekers."

"They still are," Scully added rather snidely, meeting Mulder's eyes out of the corner of her own.

"Stephanie was born without a single complication and Dora and I took up our new role as parents. We were all so happy in those days. What a wonderful child Stephanie was, so bright and intuitive, much in the same way that she is." He nodded toward Megan, indicating his reference to her. "She brought a joy to my life like nothing ever had.

"About the time that Stephanie turned two, my friends came back for another visit. On that occasion, they took Stephanie as well. She seemed to accept the entire situation as some sort of wondrous adventure or other. I still can't say why, but they allowed her to retain her memory throughout the entire experience. She took such delight in the whole thing. Afterward, we sat in the kitchen and she filled me in on the details over Oreos and milk. It was our little secret. It brought us so much closer together.

"Much later, I was also allowed to be cognizant of my visits with them. It had become a sort of symbiotic relationship. I became their model for the human body and they in turn helped me in my work. It was all very professional, very pedestrian. And every time I would return, Stephanie would be there to meet me. She'd get out the cookies and the milk. Then she'd ask me, `What did you teach them this time, Daddy?'"

"How did they speak to you? Was there a language barrier?"

"They use telepathy. They can quite easily read our minds, which is how they are able to locate us so readily. And with practice, they became able to project their own thoughts into my mind. Again, I considered it merely interesting.

"They did not abduct Stephanie again, though they often asked after her. She was the only person in the entire world with whom I could share my other-worldly experiences and she kept the secret until her dying day. Blessed child, she was always so totally understanding of it all. And they continued to help me in my research as I helped them in theirs. They were immensely curious as to how we lived and how our bodies functioned. Mind you, they had no intent whatever of interfering. They were and are still only observers.

"Dora and I never had another child. I'm not sure whether it was God's will or theirs. In any event, it would have been difficult to improve on my darling Stephanie. But we were all so happy that it didn't seem to matter." He took another swallow of his coffee and his face seemed to darken instantly. His eyes got a far-away look in them and he seemed not to be talking to them anymore, but to some unseen presence.

"We were so totally happy right up until the day that my beloved Dora died. I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday. We had slept late; she had cooked a huge breakfast. She was always such a joyful woman, but on this day, she was so bubbly and vivacious. I recall that she was laughing when she went out the door, her face all sunny and bright. I can imagine that she was smiling still when she stepped down off that curb and in front of the truck. The next time I saw her was in the morgue. I stood there looking down at her body, so lifeless and strange to me. That huge, wonderful heart that had been so full of love would beat no more.

"I cannot remember a time when I felt so totally alone in the world. Even dear Stephanie couldn't draw me out of my depression. I can recall very little of that time. I ate little; slept less. I had fallen into a deep, moldering pit of gloom that it was impossible for me to perform even the most mundane of daily tasks. It is one of my deepest regrets that I was not there for my daughter. There she was, this innocent, sweet child who had just lost her mother. And I was immersed in my own self-pity to the exclusion of all else. I cannot recall going to the funeral, nor any other part of that entire month. For all intents and purposes, I was as dead as my sweet Dora.

"But the ship continued to come; they continued their questions. And they offered help. They had no idea of Dora's passing. How could they possibly know? Nor did they have any concept of our rituals and customs involving death. They told me that there was a method by which I could bring my beloved Dora back. They explained it as though it were the simplest thing in the entire world. To us, however, cloning an entire human being was simply a work of fiction."

"So, you did learn the technique from them?"

"Yes. The trouble was, it was just too late in coming. By the time they broached the subject with me, I had no chance of collecting usable tissue samples from Dora. As upset as I was over her death, I was even more so at my friends for not informing of this sooner. In my heart, I knew that they were not at fault. But in my heart, they were as responsible for Dora's death as the man driving that truck had been. I raged at them, damning them for their ignorance. They were only trying to help and I pushed them away, I commanded them to stay away from me.

"Thankfully, they did not. Such a short time passed between Dora's death and the time that I found out about Stephanie's illness. She came to my lab that afternoon and her pretty little face was so fraught with pain and anguish. I couldn't imagine what sort of horrible thing could make her so terrified. And when she told me, I felt as though my heart would stop beating. I couldn't imagine such a horrendous thing happening to such a beautiful, loving person as she. And I felt so powerless. Here I was, an educated, talented scientist, and I was completely powerless to save my darling daughter's life.

"But I promised her anyway. I promised her that nothing bad was going to happen to her. And she trusted me. She trusted in me to keep her safe, to protect her from that hideous disease. But I let her down. Just as I had let her down when her mother had left us.

When we learned of her illness, they once more reached out to me. I suppose they were trying to redeem themselves, gain my favor. They told me that I could save Stephanie, that I could arrest her cancer. Bear in mind that there was a slight communication difference, that not all things were as clear as if they were spoken. Also, there was the fact that they did not have a complete understanding of how our bodies worked. For that matter, neither do we.

They gave me the formula, which I was to fabricate at once. When we discovered that not all the ingredients were readily available on earth, they took great care to supply me with the raw materials that I needed to fabricate them. I went to work at once. There was so previous little time. With each passing day, My beloved Stephanie was slipping closer and closer to death. The cancer was growing with in her and she was counting on me to be her savior.

As I say, there was very little time. There was no time for proper testing, no time for safeguards. I hold myself responsible for all that happened next for I was the one person who could have stopped it. Should have stopped it. We administered the first dose to her as soon as the formula was complete.

"You say, `we'. Was there an assistant?"

"Oh, yes. There was an assistant. He was with me throughout the entire ordeal, not that it made a whit of difference. But I will say more about him later.

"So, I went ahead with the formula. I trusted my friends and they trusted my abilities. Sheer folly. As soon as the formula was complete, I administered the first dose to Stephanie. We administered four doses at four hour intervals, then did tests to discern what effect, if any, it was having on the cancer."

He broke off and stared at his hands, which quivered as they tried to grasp the coffee cup. His eyes had filled with tears and his face, now taut with pain, had lost any pretense to handsomeness.

"When Stephanie's first round of tests came back, I was absolutely in shock. Instead of arresting her cancer, it caused the cancer cells to become rampant. They grew and mutated in such a way that, in only two days, they had consumed over twenty percent of her body. There was nothing I could do. I begged the extra-terrestrials for help and they were most sympathetic. So far as they knew, the serum should have worked. They could no more understand Stephanie's reaction to it than I could.

"And so, in just two short weeks, my daughter, the love of my life, was gone. She had put her faith in me and I had betrayed her. If not for my own ego, my own carelessness and disregard for the proper procedure, she might have had conventional treatments that, if they couldn't save her, might at least have slowed the process. But I knew best. I was the great scientist, bent on saving the lives of everyone on the planet. God! What a fool I was!

"I remember the funeral, sitting there on that pew and sobbing into my hands. I was ashamed to show my face to anyone. I felt as though I was being a hypocrite just by being there. I was her father, her sworn protector. And I was the one who had killed her. The pain was unbearable. As I watched her coffin being carried from the room, I remember thinking that I would go not to the graveside service, but home. To kill myself. I felt that I should pay for what I had done.

"But I was too stupid and weak to even do that much. Instead, I was possessed by one single thought. I had to find a way to bring my Stephanie back. I walked into the back room, where the coffin was awaiting its trip to the cemetery. Begging a few last moments with my daughter, I used that time to take enough tissue samples to enable my daughter's rebirth."

He looked morosely over at Megan, who seemed oblivious to the fact that this information affected her in any way. "My poor, sweet little girl. You've paid twice for the ignorance of your father."

Megan finally looked up from her plate, surprised to hear anyone speaking to her. "My name's Megan. That's what we decided on."

"It suits you, child. It's only right that you should have a name of your own. I only hope that we can find a way to give you a life of your own and that, after you hear what I'm about to tell you, you'll still allow me to play some small part in it."

"Sure," she offered graciously, not fully comprehending what he had said.

"So, armed with the knowledge of my little friends and the tissue samples from Stephanie, I set out to recreate my own daughter. The first attempt was abysmal, I must say. Something went horribly awry and what resulted was no more than a mass of undulating flesh. They were the ones who solved my problems, corrected my errors. With the second try, I was able to produce something that, although it very much resembled a human, lived only a few short hours.

"It wasn't until my fifth attempt that I was able to get it right. They had supplied me with this marvelous serum which would soon allow Stephanie to pick up with her life just as though she had never left. I was able to control the development of the body and its aging with the serum. We monitored her doses carefully, fearing another mishap."

"You say, `we'. Your assistant again?"

"Yes, Agent Scully. The assistant. He was the man whom you found dead of old age in his home. He worked with me from start to finish. As soon as I created Gentech, I knew that I would have to carry on some sort of productive work there in order to cover up my real work. That, and I would have to generate some kind of revenue to keep the project alive. So, I hired several essential office personnel, acquired quite a few lucrative contracts, and then found my Watson. He was eminently qualified for the job and his loyalties seemed beyond reproach. He worked diligently and purposefully with me and not once did I have a clue as to his true motives.

"So, on the fifth try, we had an infant Stephanie to work with. I had become Frankenstein. I had created life out of death. In my own eyes, what I had done was noble and self-sacrificing. In reality, it was self-serving. I took my dead daughter's tissue and, using the technology of a race far superior to ours, I rebuilt her. Nothing I had done was my own work. Nothing I had done served any purpose for anyone but me. From beginning to end, I thought of no one save for myself. And that is my one great regret in all this."

He slid his hand across the table and grasped Megan's fingers gently. "My dear Megan, I hope you can forgive me for all this. I beg you to try and understand. I never meant to cause pain for anyone else. I only wanted to end my own. All I wanted in the world was to have my Stephanie back."

Megan was staring stonily into his eyes. She had only a cursory understanding of what he was talking about, but she had the distinct feeling that she should somehow dislike this man a little more than she did.

"What happened to the second Stephanie? Is she dead, too?"

He looked into those innocent eyes and immediately felt as though he were drowning in them. "Oh, my darling. No. The second Stephanie did not die. The second Stephanie is very much alive and well. Megan, my dear, you are the second Stephanie."

Her eyes shot open and she snatched back her hand as if scalded. In a flurry of emotions, her lip began to tremble and tears slowly tracked down her cheeks. "I'm Stephanie? You made me in...in...in your room there, where you did all the tests and gave me my medicine?"

"That's right, darling." His eyes searched hers frantically for some sign of compassion.

She felt suddenly faint. She tried to weave together these threads of truth so that they would make a larger, clearer tapestry. There was no hope for understanding a thing such as this. It was too vast, too morally and emotionally incomprehensible. She shook her head slowly back and forth, her eyes narrowing at last and her face falling slack.

"Then, who are my parents?"

"I'm not sure of that, dear. I'm afraid that's a question not easily answered by anyone."

"And who am I? Am I Megan? Or am I Stephanie?" She burned the question into his eyes with her own, demanding an answer.

Mulder took up the gauntlet at once. "You are Megan until such time as you decide that you're not. No two people are ever the same. Not even twins. You and Stephanie may share the same genes, even the same fingerprints, but it's a person's life experiences and emotional background that make them who they are."

"I'm sorry, Megan," Thomas pleaded. "In all of this, I never wished any harm to anyone. Most especially you. Can you please forgive me?"

She merely blinked at him, her mind overloaded and now blank.

Mulder reached across the table and took Megan's hand out of simple reflex. He caressed her fingers and chanced a smile at her, hoping to break through her confusion. "I think what need to do now is figure out where we go from here. If there's any place left to go."


CHAPTER NINE

"Oh, I know who's chasing me. They're the heart of everything that's evil in this country."

"The Republicans?" Mulder quipped.

"Shop. "

That one word sent cold shivers of dread up Mulder and Scully's spines. Mulder grinned uneasily and his back stiffened. "Brought to you by the same people who gave us Air America. Why am I not surprised."

"They were the ones my assistant went to first. He knew perfectly well that they would be the only people to even listen to his plan. And, he knew, they'd be the only ones powerful enough to make it work. With them, there would be no bargaining. He could name his price and rest assured of getting it. The only thing he didn't count on was the fact that they would ultimately betray him.

"As soon as the project was finished and we had Megan to offer up as proof of our success, he went to them with the whole sordid tale. He named his price and they agreed. They first came to me on the day that Megan disappeared. They wanted all my data, all my equipment. And they wanted Megan. I gave them everything they asked for, except Megan, that is. I fended them off with a cock-and-bull story about having to run the final tests on her, Surely, I reasoned, they didn't want an incomplete project.

"I had no way of knowing that Megan would pick that particular time to pull her vanishing act. I had fully intended to sneak her out of there that night, though I must say that she did a far better job of it than even I could have. In any event, there was no way in hell I was ever going to let them get their hands on her. Not when I was so close to having my daughter back again. Not when I knew what they would do to her.

"And that is why I denied any knowledge of her when you came to visit me that morning. I knew that, no matter what kind of people you were, she was better off in your hands than in theirs. Besides, I figured that my friends could help me get her back from you and then we could simply disappear. I did not count on them over-hearing our conversation. I believe they paid you a little visit?"

"The welcome wagon from hell," Mulder sneered.

"But you escaped unharmed. I will always be grateful to you for keeping Megan so safe."

"I had very little to do with it. It was Megan who beat them off."

His eyes shot to hers, still dark and brooding. "My, my! You certainly learned a lot from your two friends, didn't you?"

"I learned it from TV. I learned everything from TV."

"Hm. I see. But you escaped them and that's what matters. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you."

"Escaping the boys in black is a walk in the park compared to getting away from your little grey friends."

"I'm not concerned about them. They won't hurt me."

"How can you say that? They've already kidnapped Megan. Twice."

"No, no. They weren't trying to kidnap Megan. They were trying to return her to me. I asked them to help. They would never hurt either of us. As soon as I found out that those thugs had tried to grab Megan, I knew that we would have to hide out up there until we could figure out a way to get them off our backs. So, I asked them to bring her to me and then hide us. They were only too happy to oblige. They've always been so concerned about our well-being. I can truly say that I trust them more than any human I've ever known."

"Oh, no!" Megan gasped. "Oh, no."

"What is it, Megan? What's wrong?"

"Oh, Dr. Thomas. I hurt them. When I was on the ship the first time, I killed one of them. I felt myself disappearing again and so I grabbed Fox's gun, just so I'd feel safe. When I got onto the ship, I started shooting and I think I killed one of them. I'm sorry. I didn't know they were our friends. I thought they were going to hurt me."

"It's alright, dear. I'm sure they'll understand when I explain it to them. You can't be held responsible. You didn't understand."

"And your assistant? Was it the Shop boys who killed him?"

"Of course, Agent Mulder. As soon as they had the formula, as soon as they knew it would work, they decided to eliminate anyone who had ever had knowledge of it. We were enormous liabilities to them at that point. Besides, why pay for something that you can simply steal? They gave him ten times the normal dosage of the serum, which killed him almost instantly. That was when I knew for sure that they would kill me, too."

"So, what do we do now, Mulder?" Scully looked tired and worn. She felt like she could fall asleep on the spot.

"The first thing we have to do is find some place to hole up. We have to figure out where we go from here. We've already released Megan's description to the media, so practically everyone in the country will be looking for her. But we neglected to tell them why she was missing."

"You're thinking that if we come clean about the whole fiasco, the boys in black will have to leave us alone. Public out-cry will force an inquisition and even they won't be immune from that."

"Do unto others before they do unto you, I always say. Dr. Thomas, you say you know this area pretty well. Where can we find a place to spend the night?"

"There's a little place out by the lake. It's almost always pretty abandoned at this time of year, so there won't be many prying eyes."

"Excellent. I say we spend the night there. In the morning, we can go to press with the whole story and hopefully back them into a corner."

When they arrived at the sprawling, thirty-room motel, Dr. Thomas went inside to pay for the room while the others waited outside. Mulder had wanted them all in the same room, believing that strength-in-number axiom. There were only three other cars in the parking lot, one of those belonging to the night clerk.

They slipped into the room under cover of darkness, making as little noise as possible. Mulder at once secured the one door and window in the room, then checked his weapon. He didn't think that anyone would be able to locate them in the next few hours, but he wasn't taking any chances.

"I'll stand the first watch," Mulder offered, worried by how tired and frail Scully looked.

"Dr. Thomas, why don't you take that bed. Megan and I will take this one."

Thomas nodded his agreement to Scully, then loosened his tie. "What if my friends show up tonight?"

"If one goes, we all go. Agreed?" Mulder's eyes left no room for discussion.

"Agreed."

Megan went into the bathroom first, hurrying through her rituals and leaping onto the bed. She was uncomfortable with the way Thomas seemed to watch her all the time. She knew full well that she was nothing more than a stand-in Stephanie, and the whole concept made her tense and irritable.

Though a great many things preyed on her mind just then, she found sleep a welcome relief and slipped into it like a comfortable pair of slippers. She snored softly into her pillow, her face snuggled up to Scully's back. Though she wasn't entirely sure why, her mind was on full alert status and so she awakened three hours later when Mulder shook Scully from her sleep.

She watched the changing of the guard quietly, and was watching Mulder still when he climbed into bed next to Dr. Thomas. Mere seconds passed before his tired head felt the heat of her gaze and his eyes flapped open to meet it. He winked happily at her, musing over how much he would miss her when this whole thing had ended and she had gone off to start a real life.

Early the next morning, Scully ventured forth into the world to forage for food. Mulder disappeared into the bathroom and Megan sat opposite Thomas at the little table. She was still ill at ease with him, though she somehow felt that she was required to make more of an effort.

"You've really grown quite fond of Scully and Mulder, haven't you, my dear?"

She forced her eyes from the bathroom door, where they had been locked since Mulder's disappearance. "They've been really good to me. They took care of me and kept me safe. I love them both very much."

"It's important to have friends. They can be one of our greatest treasures."

"And family."

"Yes, and family."

"I suppose we're family. Kinda."

"In a way, yes." She was getting at something here, though he wasn't entirely sure what. His face segued into an amused grin, though he tried not to seem condescending about it.

"Everybody in the world seems to have a family but me. And you."

"It only seems that way, darling."

"You made me in your lab. From Stephanie's tissue. Right?"

"Yes."

"So, since you were Stephanie's father, I guess that sort of makes you my father, too. If I understand what I read in Dana's books and what I saw on TV, it really doesn't matter what two cells come together to make a person. Whether they're a sperm and an egg or skin cells doesn't make any difference. You're still my father and Stephanie would be my sister."

He felt tears gathering at the corners of his eyes. More than anything else in the world, he felt like hugging this sweet, beautiful girl. "I think she would be very happy to know that you consider her a sister."

"We're all family. We're all we've got. And you have to love family. Right?" She, too, was grinning bemusedly now; having fun with her little tease.

"That's right, Megan."

"So, I guess what I want to say is I want to go live with you. When this whole thing's over, that is. I want to go to school and learn everything I can so I can be like everybody else. And maybe, if I'm real lucky, I'd like to get smart enough to help you with your research."

"Nothing in the world would make me happier."

"And maybe, someday, if I'm really, really lucky, I can get married and have my own family, just like you and Dora. My mother, that is."

His shoulders were shaking now with the effort of holding back the tears. He reached across the table and stroked her face, his lips pressed tight to fend off the enormous grin which threatened to take full possession of his face. "Oh, my darling, any man in the world would consider himself lucky to have you. I'm sure that someday soon, you'll have a husband and children of your own."

"Good. I think I'd like that. But until then, I can hang with you, okay?"

"Very okay, darling."

She flew into his arms suddenly, inexplicably warmed by his embraced. Even though she had never before been in his arms, had never had any sort of contact save for the most clinical, this one moment seemed so familiar, so right, that it made her weep.

Mulder stepped out of the bathroom at that moment, a towel slung around his bare shoulders and his hair dripping wet. He paused for a moment, touched by the reunion which was being played out before him. He was glad that Megan finally had someone to call her own, if not a little sad that it was not he.

"Oh, Agent Mulder," Thomas chuckled, swiping timidly at his eyes and pulling away from Megan. "I thought you were still in the bathroom."

"Is everything okay out here?"

"Everything's fine, Fox," Megan beamed. "He's my daddy. I can call you `daddy', can't I?" She cast a cursory glance over her shoulder at him and winked.

"God, yes."

She turned her brilliant eyes on Mulder again and cocked her head to one side. "You aren't gonna be upset if I don't stay with you, are you? I mean, you have Dana. But Dr. Thomas...my daddy...doesn't have anybody but me."

"Well, I'll miss you like crazy. But I think it's only right that you have your own life."

"Yea. There's a lot I've missed out on. I grew up so fast that I never had my first day of school, or my first date, or graduation. I've got to catch up."

"Well, let's see if we can't get this whole nasty mess cleaned up so you can get on with it." He tweaked her chin playfully and smiled warmly at her.

The door opened abruptly and Scully stepped inside the warm room. She bore two large McDonald's bags, filled with breakfast fixings. "Anybody hungry?" she asked, offering up a smile.

"Did you get pancakes?" Megan asked anxiously.

"With extra syrup. Just the way you like them."

Scully began setting out the feast but she suddenly got the distinct impression that she was being kept in the dark about something. Megan's face was bright and her eyes twinkled joyously. Dr. Thomas was fairly beaming as he gazed at his new daughter. And Mulder, well, Scully didn't think she had ever seen him try quite so hard to maintain a poker face. She paused, her one hand still clutching a Styrofoam cup of coffee, and glanced about in confusion.

"What?" she blurted, her eyes shooting open in mock fury.

"What, What?" Mulder returned, a hint of a grin tickling at the corners of his mouth.

"Have I suddenly sprouted donkey ears or something? Why are you all staring at me that way?"

"What way?" Mulder knew how much he was frustrating her. He liked it.

"The way you're staring at me. What's up?"

"Shall I tell her, Megan? Or would you like to?"

Megan stood up suddenly, thrusting her chin into the air and smiling for all she was worth. "I've made a decision," she announced proudly. "I've decided that I'm going to live with my daddy."

Scully glanced at Mulder, then back at Megan. "Your daddy?"

"Yes," Megan pronounced. "My daddy." She took one step to the side and gestured grandly at Dr. Thomas.

"Well, Megan, I think that's marvelous. I'm very happy. For you both." There was a tinge of hesitation in her voice. She still wasn't sure that she entirely trusted Dr. Thomas. She found him to be disingenuous and easily swayed by things such as fear and raw emotion.

"Yea. And I'm going to go to school and have a job and maybe even a husband and a family."

"I wish you both the best. Really. Now, shall we eat our breakfast before it gets cold?"

Megan took a seat at the small table with Dr. Thomas while Scully and Mulder hunched over their food on the bed. She poured three containers of syrup over her hotcakes, then stuffed an enormous bite into her mouth.

"As soon as we're done," Mulder announced around a sizeable bite of eggs, "I think we should move on. We shouldn't stay in any one place too long."

"I agree. But where are we going next?"

"Well, Scully, I was thinking about that while you were gone. I think we should move on toward New York. That way, we can go directly to the big fish. Get our story out on the network. Gain the most exposure."

"Alright, I'll buy that."

"As soon as I finish here, I'll call ahead and arrange for a room at the Roosevelt. I'll register..."

Mulder's cell phone sang out from the dresser and he clamored over the bed to reach it. "Mulder."

"Don't say I didn't warn you, Mulder. These boys play for keeps." It was Mr. X. His voice was without humor, without sympathy.

"What do you want?"

"I want to meet. They're willing to make a deal."

"No." He shut off the phone and tossed it onto the bed.

"Who was that?"

"That was Mr..." Again, the phone rang and again he turned it on.

"What?"

"Don't be a fool, Mulder. This may be your only chance to get out of this alive."

"I'm listening."

"All they want is Thomas. He's the only one who has any tangible proof. He's the only one who poses a threat to them. Give them Thomas and the rest of you can go free."

Mulder was silent for a moment, endless seconds ticking off as his mind scrambled frantically for a decision.

"Mulder?"

"I'm here. The girl. What about the girl?"

"She can go free. Nobody's going to believe the wild rantings of a crazy woman."

"How do I know I can trust you in this? How do I know you won't double cross me?"

"You have my word."

"That and fifty cents will get you a cup of coffee." He frowned and studied the pattern of the bedspread for a moment. "Give us some time to talk this over. Call me back in an hour."

With that, he shut off the phone and pressed it to his chest. "I'll give you three guesses who that was. And the first two don't count."

Scully studied his sullen expression for a moment, then knew for certain what the answer was. "Mr. X."

"Give that girl a Bozo button."

"What in God's name does he want?"

"To deal." He spared a look at Dr. Thomas, who was listening with great interest to the conversation. "He says that they'll let us all go free if we give him Dr. Thomas."

"No!" Megan snapped at once. "You can't do that. I can't do that. He's all I have."

Thomas reached out and rubbed her hand soothingly. "It's alright, Megan. Agent Mulder, what do you suppose they'll do with me once they have me?"

Mulder pursed his lips and forced himself to speak the truth. "If I were to venture a guess, I'd have to say they'll kill you. I mean, they have the formula. What else do they need you for? The only reason they're even remotely interested in you is because you're the one person who can out them."

"And what do you think they'll do if we go to the press with this? If we expose them?" He studied Mulder's eyes intently, trying to get a feel for what the man was really thinking.

"I think they'll probably try to kill us all before we can substantiate our story. If they can get rid of us before that, then our story will sound like so much science fiction."

Thomas screwed up his face as he thought. There weren't a lot of options here. The most important thing to him, though, was ensuring Megan's safety. "Can we trust them to keep their word?"

Mulder put his mind to this, still unsure of what the answer was. "I'm not entirely sure. But I think we can."

Thomas stood up suddenly, startling Megan. He picked up his coat and stared Mulder down. "Just in case, I brought along a little insurance." In one swift movement, he tore open the lining of his coat and extracted two disks and a small video cassette. "This insurance." In one swift movement, he tore open the lining of his coat and extracted two disks and a small video cassette. "This should offer enough proof to convict them all in any court in the land."

Mulder accepted the material from him, his eyes locked on the scientist's. He turned them over in his hands as though they might bite, then shoved them into the pocket of his own coat. "What's your decision, Doctor?"

"Tell them they've got a deal."

"No!" Megan shouted. "You can't do that. What's going to happen to me? We were going to be together. We were going to be a family."

He reached down and touched her face, turning her chin upward and flicking a tear from her cheek. "Ah, Megan. My sweet, darling girl. Sometimes we just can have things the way we want them. But Mulder and Scully will make sure you're well taken care of. I've made arrangements for that."

"What do you mean?"

"I set aside some money in a trust fund. As soon as I began this project, I knew that the day might well come when you would end up alone in the world. I couldn't exactly leave my estate to someone who had no documented identity, so I set up a trust fund for you. It should be enough to pay for your education and your living expenses while you're still in school."

She threw her arms around his waist and pulled him to her, her tears soaking into his shirt. "I love you."

He stroked her hair and fought the rising tide of his own tears. "And I you, child."

"It's decided then? I'll tell them that we've agreed to their terms?"

"Yes, Agent Mulder."

"No," Megan protested.

"Yes." Thomas looked sternly down at her.

She leaped from her chair and fisted her hands. "No, damn it!"

She looked around the room and she blushed in the face of their shocked expressions. Suddenly, she felt every bit the child that everyone thought her to be.

"Now, listen, Megan," Thomas began very sternly. "This is the way it has to be. Besides, with some luck and a little help from my friends, we'll back be together in no time."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

"Fox? What do you think?"

He studied her eyes for a moment, feeling for all the world as though someone had just kicked him in the stomach. "I think this is the only chance we have of ever getting out of this. And I think Dr. Thomas is right. If anybody can get away from those guys and find his way back to you, it's him."

Megan frowned morosely and her shoulders went slack. "I guess you're not going to listen to what I want. And I guess if Fox says it's so, then it's so." She sat back down at the table, but her appetite had lost its edge.

"When Mr. X calls back, I'll tell him he has a deal. We'll go into New York today and I'll set up the meeting for tomorrow morning. We want a nice public place. In front of Radio City will do. Scully, you and Megan will stay at the hotel. On the off chance that we're about to be screwed over, I want the two of you safe."

"You don't have to go with me, Agent Mulder. I can just turn myself over to them. There's no need to put you at risk."

"Not a chance. I want to be there to make sure the whole thing goes down right."

"Very well."

Megan studied Mulder's worried face, then Thomas'. She wanted to memorize his face so that it would last her until she got to see him again. Her scant few childhood memories had begun to come back to her; of Thomas brushing her hair, playing hide-and-seek, reading her stories. She could remember all of that as well as she could remember what she had for breakfast. He was her only connection to her past and her future and now he was about to disappear for what might very well be forever.

The phone rang shrilly, startling them all from their reverie. Mulder snatched it up and pressed it to his ear. "I'm here."

"What's your decision, Mulder?"

"Alright. You've got a deal. Have two of their boys meet Thomas and me in front of Radio City at ten in the morning. Any more than that and the deal's off. Do you understand?"

"I've got it. And, Mulder?"

"Yea?"

"There may be hope for you yet."

Mulder shut off the phone and his face melted into a scowl. Just having to make this deal left a bad taste in his mouth.


CHAPTER TEN

Mulder had phoned ahead and reserved a suite under the name of Tom Reynolds. When they arrived at the hotel, he checked in alone, paying in cash for one night. Then, he went straight to the room, where he used his cell phone to contact Scully in the car.

"Room 217," he stated. "Left off the elevator."

"I'll send Megan up first. Then Thomas and I will follow."

She shut off the phone and turned around in her seat to face Megan. "All you have to do is get in the elevator. Go to the second floor. Then make a left. It's room 217."

"Okay, Dana."

"And keep your eyes open just in case we're being watched. We'll follow you in a couple of minutes."

She nodded feebly, then stepped out of the car. She checked to make sure that she looked alright; her clothes were neat and her hair wasn't mussed. Then, she started off across the parking lot with as much confidence as she could muster.

She went up to the second floor and found the room quickly, then knocked just to make sure. Mulder pulled the door open and motioned for her to enter. She was relieved that that much was over. She hated being out in the world by herself, even if it was only to walk into a strange building.

Scully and Thomas followed, linking arms and trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. To the best of their knowledge, they were not being watched. They gained the room without incidence and began to finally relax.

"There's two bedrooms. You girls take this one and Dr. Thomas and I will share that one. Nobody leaves this room for any reason. Got it?" And with this, he looked directly at Megan.

"Got it," she agreed, nodding and crossing her heart with one finger.

"Alright. We better get some rest."

Mulder dropped onto the sofa and clicked on the TV, wanting to check the news for any word of them. Megan sidled up next to him, tucking her legs underneath her and resting her chin on his shoulder. He was painfully aware of her presence; of her great relief at being close to him again. Even though she and Dr. Thomas seem to have made their peace, she still seemed to feel closer to Mulder, more at ease with him.

For some reason known only to his subconscious, Mulder slipped an arm around her shoulders and began rubbing her arm. She purred into his neck then, her eyes drooping and her body relaxing visibly. Within moments, she had dropped off to sleep and her body was limp and heavy against him.

He spared a glance for Thomas, who seemed strangely unconcerned about this. Perhaps he realized that the two still shared a close bond and wished to allow it to strength so that it would better serve her in the days to come. Somehow, Mulder didn't think so.

After a few moments, Thomas yawned heavily and stretched. "I think I'm going to try and catch a couple of winks. All this seems to have taken its toll on me."

Scully and Mulder watched him go into the bedroom, then exchanged confused glances. Having discovered nothing about them on the national news, Mulder switched off the set. His arm was beginning to fall asleep from being pinned under Megan's back for so long and he slid it out from behind her. Slowly and with great care, he managed to extract himself from her, then let her slowly slide down onto the couch. He tossed a blanket over her, then motioned for Scully to follow him into the vacant bedroom.

"Scully, don't you find Dr. Thomas' reaction rather strange?"

"How do you mean, Mulder?" She dropped onto the bed, beginning to feel a bit weary herself.

"Well, in the morning, he's going to leave Megan conceivably forever. Under those circumstances, don't you think he'd want to spend every possible moment with her?"

"Mulder, he knows full well that he might never see her again. And remember, the two of them haven't really had a chance to form a strong bond. I think he's just distancing himself from her. He's trying to soften the blow."

"That may be. But I just don't feel it. I mean, when he looks at her, he manages to muster the proper amount of emotion and everything. But you can't feel it. You know what I mean?" He rubbed his chin briskly, suddenly realizing how long it had been since he'd last shaved.

"You mean, the kind of emotion that Megan exudes whenever she's near you." She stared him down, taunting him with her eyes.

"Exactly. She's known him longer than anyone. And she considers him to be her father. Sort of. So why, then, is she still so attached to me? Why not him? Or you, for that matter?"

"Well, Mulder, you've got to understand. She may have the mind of a child, but she has the body and the hormones of a woman. She feels a bond of sorts with me and with Dr. Thomas. But with you, it's different. With you, she feels a familial bond. But she also feels sexual attraction. She doesn't know that's what it is, but she feels it just the same."

Mulder gawked at her in disbelief. His mouth worked stupidly but nothing but air would come out. "Come on, Scully! How can she possibly feel..."

"It's perfectly natural. Most little girls imprint on the first man they meet. He becomes the standard by which all others will be judged. He becomes her ideal mate. That's usually a father, though most of us aren't aware of it on any conscious level. In her case, she had very little time with Dr. Thomas. She's had a lot of time with you. And she's not at all hampered by the constraints of society. Actually, you should be honored."

"Oh, yea." He looked worried now. Worried, and embarrassed.

"You should also be glad that she liked Sesame Street a heck of a lot more than the Playboy channel."

His eyes shot to hers, small dark holes in his head. He stared daggers through her until his consternation eased, then he merely slumped against the wall. "So, you think this thing will really work? You think they'll really leave us alone?"

"You're the only one who's had contact with the infamous Mr. X. You tell me."

"I wish I knew, Scully. I wish I knew."

Megan had awakened shortly after Mulder and Scully had left. She found herself frighteningly alone in the motel room, though she felt sure that they wouldn't have gone off and left her alone. She clutched the blanket to her and turned on the TV, hoping for a `distraction.

There were a lot more channels on this TV than any of the others, and so she searched for something of interest. She passed by a lot of soap operas, some shopping shows and news. She took perfunctory glances at several movies, then ultimately decided that there was nothing worth watching.

Bored, she walked over to the window, the blanket still gathered around her, and stared out of it. This New York was a huge place, bigger, even, than where Scully and Mulder lived. She watched the cars passing below, the people scurrying along the sidewalks. They all seemed to be in a hurry; all seemed to have something important to do. She wished she had something to do.

She was about to abandon the window when she thought she heard a noise. It was soft and cautious, as though whatever it was wasn't entirely certain it wanted to be heard. When she listened more closely, she could almost make it out.

In an attempt to find the source of the noise, she pressed her face to the glass and looked every which way. Having no success at this, she finally opened the window and leaned out of it.

There was a fire escape just outside and as she hung precariously out the window, she was able to spot a small yellow cat sauntering along the fire escape edge. Her face lit up with excitement when she saw it, teasing her with its tail and turning this way and that. She wanted to pet the kitty, so she called softly to it in that way that all cats seem to instinctively respond.

This cat, however, did not respond. It was taunting her even more now, beckoning her to come out and play. She remembered what Mulder had said about not leaving the room, so she sat back and furrowed her brow with the effort of finding a solution. She at last arrived at the conclusion that going out on the fire escape did not really constitute leaving the room.

Tentatively, she stretched out one long, lean leg until her small foot made contact with the metal grating. Then, she carefully eased the rest of her body out the window. The sun was shining fiercely, so she squinted at the cat as she hunched down on the metal floor.

"Come on, kitty. I won't hurt you. Come here. Kittykittykitty."

The cat took notice of her, certainly, but it was hesitant to make the long journey of ten feet from where it stood to Megan's waiting arms. Still, the girl looked friendly and safe, so the creature took one cautious step forward. Then another. Megan urged the cat on, calling quietly to it and wiggling her fingers.

At long last, the cat was within her reach and she scooped it up into her arms. She stroked its head and scratched its chin, making the beast's head turn first one way and then the other. She was smiling brightly now, cooing to the kitty and whispering in its ear.

She had sat there for all of ten minutes, feeling care-free and uplifted. The cat seemed content in her arms and made no move to escape. She realized that she couldn't stay out there forever. If Mulder found her there, he would surely be mad. So, she tried to take the cat inside with her.

She no more than hoisted her leg over the window ledge when the cat fully realized what was going on. Alarmed at the possibility of being confined in-doors, the thing hissed loudly and scrambled from her arms, gaining purchase by digging its claws into her flesh.

Megan winced and clapped a hand to her broken flesh, confused at why the kitty would turn to suddenly violent. Unhappy that the cat was gone, now traipsing quickly across the fire escape to the next window ledge, she sat back on the window ledge and sighed.

Mulder and Scully had finally come out of the bedroom. They realized within seconds that Megan was not where they had left her and panic set in. A quick examination of the room revealed her shadowy form, sitting on the window sill.

"Megan!" Mulder yelled lunging for the window and grabbing her about the waist.

He hauled her roughly inside the room, both of them tumbling onto the floor and Megan landing on top of Mulder. They both were panting from the fright and Mulder was also gasping from the exhilaration.

"Megan! What were you doing out there?"

She craned her neck as much as possible so that she could look him directly in the eye. She showed no signs of remorse, nor any sign of fear. "I was just petting the kitty."

Gently, Mulder rolled her off him and onto the floor. He propped himself up on one elbow and glared reproachfully at her. "A kitty. You went outside to pet a kitty."

"Yes. She looked just like the one at Gentech. And at your apartment building." She blinked at Mulder, unable to understand why he was so angry at her.

"Do you remember what I said about not leaving the room for any reason?"

"Of course I remember. I'm not stupid. But I didn't leave the room. Not really. I was just out on the fire escape, which is attached to the wall, so it's really still a part of the room."

He stared at her, unable to argue with her twisted logic. "Just don't do it again. Don't go out the door. Don't go out the window. Don't even stand next to the window. Do you understand me?"

"Yes," she stated simply, staring at the carpet in feigned remorse.

"Alright." He softened a bit, feeling like a brute for having yelled at her that way. He stood up and straightened his clothes, looking down at her. "Come on," he chuckled, offering his hand to help her up. "Let's order up some dinner."

She beamed up at him and stood, casting herself fully into his arms and hugging him brusquely. "Burgers? Pizza?"

"Whatever's on room service. We don't want to attract attention."

She nodded her compliance and fetched the menu from the desk drawer. To her happy amazement, there were burgers on the menu. Scully roused Thomas from his nap and they all ordered the food.

When the meal arrived, everyone else hid in the bedroom while Mulder signed for the food. He closed the door behind the bellman, locking it securely and replacing the chain.

"Olly-olly-oxen-free!" he called to them.

They ate together in relative silence, the tension mounting as the night wore on. Afterward, Scully retired to her room, leaving the others to watch some TV and hopefully grow sleepy. At around ten- thirty, Thomas also retired, performing his ablutions and then turning out the lights.

Megan sat Indian-style on the couch, nibbling on some chips that had come with Thomas' sandwich but which he had not eaten. Mulder was watching a Three Stooges episode, laughing more in some places than seemed warranted. Megan watched him watching the TV, a slow smile coming to her face. She found nothing whatever amusing about the show.

"Mulder, this is stupid," she announced snidely, scrunching up her nose and eying him.

"You're right. I suppose you want to watch a documentary?"

"Not!"

He laughed at her sudden command of slang and the corners of his eyes crinkled up. "Want to watch some basketball? There's a game on in five minutes."

"I don't know anything about basketball."

"It's alright. I'll teach you. And stop hogging the chips." He snatched the bag playfully from her hand and stuffed two chips into his mouth.

"Hey!" she yelped, grabbing the bag back and digging greedily into it.

He took possession of it once more, this time fending off her attempts to reclaim it. She scrambled over the top of him and he leaned back on the sofa, stretching his hand out over the arm of the couch so that she couldn't reach the bag. She waved frantically for it, reaching as far as she could and giggled wildly. He managed to keep hold of her, though, thus preventing her from even touching the bag. In mock submission, she instantly let her body go limp, lolling back on him.

He was still smiling, proud of his meager victory, when she made a cat-like lunge for the bag and managed to wrench it from his hand. "Ha!" she spat, leaping from the couch and running to the other side of the sofa.

The chase was on, Mulder scrabbling around the couch after her in pursuit of the coveted chips and she just barely staying ahead of him. They were giggling loudly and beginning to lose muscle coordination and strength in the face of their near hysterics. Then, Mulder made his move. He faked to the left and Megan, unable to see clearly because of her fun-tears, bought into it completely. That was when he pivoted to the right and snatched her up in mid-air. Still laughing uncontrollably, he threw himself over the back of the couch and she, still caught in his arms, went along for the ride.

She tumbled down on top of him, the bag still in her hand and both of them laughing like children. Chips sprayed everywhere. She lay there on top of him, their faces only inches apart, and that's when Mulder realized that he was mere seconds away from kissing her.

His smile failed as he fought to disentangle himself from her. Their eyes were still locked and their hearts beating madly as he pulled himself to the other side of the couch. He ran a trembling hand through his tousled hair and did everything possible to avoid her gaze.

She stared at the TV for a while, her heart showing no signs of calming down, while she struggled with what she was feeling. For some inexplicable reason, she felt suddenly guilty over something. She sat there for a while, panting and wondering, then finally couldn't take it anymore.

"Fox, I feel strange."

He finally chanced a look in her direction, though he was frightened by what he saw in her eyes. "It'll pass," he stated simply.

"I feel all hot inside. I feel like my skin's trying to crawl off my body. Why do I feel like that, Fox?"

He licked his lips nervously and let his head loll back against the sofa. What should he tell this innocent girl who knew nothing of sex or hormones or the like? "Just try not to think about it and it'll go away. You probably just got too over-heated from all that running around." He still couldn't believe that all their rousting about hadn't awakened Scully or Thomas.

She tried to do as he said, but the feeling was a long time in passing. They concentrated in the game and Mulder took the time to explain all the details to her. She caught onto this as quickly as she had everything else, so they were soon watching the game in tandem, alternately booing and cheering.

When enough time had passed, they finally became comfortable with each other again. The heat of that one moment was still emblazoned on Mulder's memory and he promised not to allow it to repeat itself.

As the night wore on, they became more and more comfortable, until they were lying side by side on the sofa. Megan was lying between Mulder and the sofa back, her head resting on his chest and her sleepy eyes locked on the TV. She could hear his heart beating just beneath her ear and it was this sound which lulled her to sleep. Not too much later, Mulder followed suit.

Scully emerged from her room that morning, having been surprised not to see Megan at her side. When she stepped into the living area, she realized why. There were Mulder and Megan, locked in each other's arms and very deeply asleep. Mulder's left arm dangled onto the floor but his right was wrapped around the sleeping girl. Megan's face was snuggled up against his chest while her right hand was locked around his neck. Scully took a moment to watch them, sleeping so peacefully, before she shook them awake.

"What time is it?" Mulder yawned.

"Eight o'clock. What time did you two finally go to sleep last night?" There was a hint of chastisement in her voice.

"Let's see. The game started at eleven. That means...we must have gone to sleep...about one." He had, as yet, made no attempt to gain his freedom from Megan.

"What's going on?" she murmured as she stretched out atop him.

"It's time to get up." Mulder patted her back and helped her ease herself into a sitting position.

"I'm going to order up some breakfast. Why don't you go take a shower. A cold shower."

Mulder stopped in mid-stride and turned to glower at her. Then, he continued on his way to the bathroom.

Megan watched Scully quietly for a moment, somehow feeling as though she were mad at her for some reason. Then, she staggered into the bathroom to wash her face.

The two men joined them some time after the food was delivered. They ate in relative silence, the gravity of what they were about to do weighing heavily on them.

"While I'm gone," Mulder started off, "I want both of you to stay right in this room. The whole deal shouldn't take more than an hour, so if I'm not back in an hour and a half, I want you both to get in the car and go back home."

Megan's eyes shot to his and her spoon paused in mid-air. "What do you mean, if you don't come back? Why wouldn't you come back?"

"He'll be back," Scully promised vehemently.

Megan finished her food, then watched worriedly as Mulder readier his weapon and phone. She went to where Dr. Thomas sat on the sofa, his arms resting limply at his sides and his face frozen in an expressionless stare.

"I hope you can come back soon. We only just got to know each other."

He looked across at her and forced a smile. "I won't be away one moment longer than I absolutely have to. I promise you that."

She leaned in an kissed him tenderly on one cheek, then settled into his arms. He rested his chin on her head as he stroked her hair back.

"I think it's time to go," Mulder prompted, holstering his gun and pocketing his hands.

Thomas stood up and pulled on his coat, suddenly looking frail and small. "You be good for Mulder and Scully," he said to Megan. "And whatever happens, just remember that I love you."

She plunged her arms into his coat and hugged him desperately. "I love you, too. Goodbye."

"Are you sure you don't want any back-up on this?" Scully asked Mulder.

"Not this time, Scully."

"Watch your back."

"Always."

They gazed fondly into each other's eyes while Megan looked on. She was feeling something which she could not yet put a name to -- jealously.

As the two men strode out the door, Megan was stricken by the feeling that she wouldn't see either one of them again. The world was a huge and scary place to her, one in which there were a lot of monsters. Somehow, all the monsters seemed to look like people.

When they had gone, Scully turned to Megan and tried to look as cool and confident as she could. "Wanna watch some TV? There's a lot of good game shows on at this hour."

Megan shrugged lackadaisically and collapsed onto the couch, her mind still consumed with thoughts of Mulder and Dr. Thomas.


CHAPTER ELEVEN

Mulder checked his watch as he drove. It was nearing ten o'clock and so he pressed down a bit more on the accelerator. Beside him, Dr. Thomas was calm and stoic. If he were afraid of the men in black, he sure didn't show it.

"When we get there, let me do all the talking. And nobody makes a move until I say so."

"Whatever you say, Agent Mulder."

Mulder checked the man's face again. He was far too collected, much too compliant. Something was amiss here. Mulder could feel it.

Mulder circled the block where Radio City was located twice just to get the lay of the land. He could make out the men in black at once. They hadn't made the slightest effort to conceal themselves. There were three of them there, dressed alike in black suits and wearing dark shades. Two of them were seated on a bench right out in front. The third waited in the car.

Mulder pulled into the parking garage, also circling it once to make sure there were no traps. Then he gathered up his courage and parked the car.

He felt naked, out here all alone with no back-up, no Scully. He spared a moment of thought for the women, alone in the hotel. Surely, no one could know where there were. Surely, Scully would see to it that nothing happened.

As he stepped from the car and stood up, he eyed Thomas again. His face, though as pale and luminescent as the moon, was as serene as a saint's. He motioned for Thomas to follow him out of the garage, then the two men approached the men outside.

The taller, thinner of the two men stood first, looking Thomas up and down as if he suspected some sort of an imposter. He removed his shades and shoved them into his breast pocket, then offered them a conspiratorial smile.

"Right on time. Hello, again, Dr. Thomas."

Mulder looked in Thomas' direction, surprised that the two men were acquainted. "You two know each other?"

"We're old friends, the doctor and I. Aren't we, Dr. Thomas?" His grin was sadistic, perched there on his face like some bird of prey.

"Indeed." Thomas shifted uneasily from foot to foot and looked around.

"Well, I suppose this concludes our business, eh, Agent Mulder? It's been a pleasure working with you."

"You gave me your word that nothing would happen to the girl. I expect you to keep it."

Thin man reclaimed his shades from his pocket and placed them on his face with a flourish. HIs smile was pasted on, though now his eyes were hidden and with them, his true intent. "I said that the girl could go free. And I always keep my word, Agent Mulder."

The man reached into his coat again, the smile still splitting his face in two. He had not yet removed his hand from his pocket when a shot rang out from somewhere behind him.

Mulder flinched instinctively and grabbed for his own gun, though he had no idea at whom he was to aim it. Thin man's companion had not fired the shot. Neither had the man in the car.

Once more, a shot split the air with its thunder and the man still seated on the bench slumped onto the pavement. Mulder's eyes were wide, his nerve endings were firing at sub-light speed. He checked the man in the car, who was now slumped over the steering wheel, blood spattered everywhere from the whole in his head.

Mulder grabbed Thomas' arm and began hauling him back across the pavement towards the parking garage. They were both at a dead run, trying desperately to keep ahead of whomever had fired those shots. They had almost gained the car when someone called out from behind them.

Mulder recognized the voice at once and spun to face the man. He was gasping for breath and still clutching Thomas' arm quite brutally.

"Skinner! What the..."

"There's no time. We've got to get back to the hotel. Scully and Megan are in trouble."

"How..."

"Come on!" Skinner shoved Mulder toward the driver's side door, then climbed into the back seat with Thomas. Mulder turned the engine over immediately and squealed out of the parking space. The rear bumper of his sedan glanced off a Porsche on the way out, but he made no note of it.

"How the hell did you know about any of this?" Mulder gasped, weaving the car in and out of the web of traffic.

"Mr. X called me. He said your life was in danger and that you needed my help."

"He's the one who set up this whole thing." He squinted into the distance, trying to avoid any major traffic snarls. "Why would he set it up if he knew it was a trap?"

"He didn't. Get in the left lane. The right's blocked up ahead."

Mulder changed lanes quickly, realizing that they were only blocks from the hotel. "But why you? You were the one who took me off the case in the first place."

"I was trying to save your stupid neck. You were in way too deep and you didn't have a clue who you were up against."

Mulder wheeled into the parking lot of the hotel and switched off the ignition. In seconds, he had reached the lobby, Skinner and Thomas tagging close behind. He leaped into the elevator and punched the button, silent as he waited for the elevator to reach its destination.

When the elevator doors opened, Mulder and Skinner already had their weapons drawn. They reached the door of their room, only to find it open several inches. Mulder used the muzzle of his gun to push it slowly open, then peered inside.

Megan and Scully were seated on the sofa and their eyes shot to him at once. There was someone sitting in the chair opposite them, though his back was to the door and Mulder couldn't put a name with the head. He stalked slowly into the room, Skinner to his left and slightly behind. Whoever was in that chair either wasn't aware of their presence or didn't consider them enough of a threat to turn around.

Mulder placed the muzzle of his gun at the man's head and cocked it. Then, he stepped around the chair to set eyes on the man.

"Mr. X!"

"Home safe and sound, I see."

Mulder uncocked his gun and holstered it. His heart was still beating an irregular rhythm as he complete his circuit of the chair. "Scully? Are you and Megan alright?"

"We're fine actually. He showed up about five minutes after you left and we've been having a very interesting chat."

Skinner finally relaxed enough to holster his weapon. He walked around to where Mulder was standing and glowered at Mr. X. "Now, maybe you can fill us in as to what this is all about."

"As much as I can," Mr. X agreed, folding his hands on his lap and waiting imperiously for everyone to get comfortable.

"If that wasn't you who called me with the deal," Mulder began, "then who was it?"

"Why don't you ask Dr. Thomas? It's one of his buddies."

Everyone in the room turned to look at Thomas, but the man had disappeared. They frantically checked the other rooms, then the hall and finally the lobby. As if by magic, the man had vanished.

"It really doesn't matter," Mr. X sighed. "We were through with him anyway."

"We, who?" Mulder wanted to know.

"Why don't you all sit down. This is a long story." Mr. X recrossed his legs and folded his hands. Then, he drew in a deep raspy breath as he prepared to tell the tale.

"Dr. Thomas had a very close relationship with the EBEs. That much is true. The rest of his tale, pure fabrication. And just for the record, I'd like to say that I had no part in this, did not, in fact, know anything about it until just six months ago."

"I'm well acquainted with your babe in the woods song and dance. Just tell us the rest."

"The rest, Agent Mulder, is not for publication. If you have any idea of going to press with this, you'll wake up dead."

"Dr. Thomas was indeed working with the EBEs on this formula. And as far as his family tragedies go, that much is documented truth. But he wasn't nearly as driven by his loss as he was his greed. He took the formula from the aliens and made it work. Megan here is proof of that.

"The whole truth of the matter was that Thomas' work was subsidized from the very beginning. As soon as he was given the formula, he went to the Committee with it."

"The Committee?" Mulder felt suddenly frightened, as though several thousand volts of electricity had just passed through him.

"The Committee is a super-secret agency formed to study the existence and interference of EBEs in our society. It was formed right after the Roswell landing and has been operating ever since. It's chief function was to gather as much intelligence from the aliens and possible and find a way to make use of it here on Earth. You'd be amazed at how many of today's unpleasantries were produced in their labs.

"So, the Committee set Thomas up with Gentech. There, he could develop the formula and find suitable applications for it."

"Suitable? As in..."

"As in profitable. There's profit in a great many things, Mulder. Vaccines, organ transplants, genocide. That one simple formula was the single greatest thing to ever come out of the Committee. If Thomas had ever learned to manage it properly, he could have discovered a way to clone organs for transplants. He could have...and probably did...use it to develop certain strains of bacteria which he could then develop a cure for. The marketing of such a wonder drug would net billions of dollars for the Committee and its fellows."

"But Thomas never learned to manage it, did he? If he had, he could have saved his daughter."

"Sad but true. For all his knowledge, Thomas was little more than a conduit between the Committee and the aliens. They dealt with him exclusively. And Megan here wasn't so much bred to replace a daughter as she was to be a future link to the EBEs. They had already dealt with her. They trusted her. Thomas couldn't live forever and they would need her to maintain their relations with the EBEs."

"So, why not just clone Thomas?"

"Because, Thomas was already something of a wild card. He didn't always agree with the Committee on matters of morality. And there were certain...enhancements...made to Stephanie during the aliens artificial impregnation of Mrs. Thomas. She had an enormous intellect and that trait has been carried on in Megan here."

Mulder spared a look at Megan, who seemed intent on what Mr. X was saying, though not overly shocked about it. "And what of Thomas' assistant?"

"One of mine. He was placed there as a safeguard. In the event that Thomas actually managed to develop anything more lethal than a genetically altered tomato, he was to eliminate him. When Thomas found out who he really was, he killed him with his own serum."

"But who really arranged the meeting?" Scully wanted to know, truly afraid to hear the answer.

"That was a member of the Committee. You see, Thomas wasn't just discovered by you in that building. He was waiting for you. He was supposed to leave with you, gain your confidence. Then, when he had found out the extent of your involvement, he would return to the Committee. The meeting was scheduled so that he could make an exit without you being any the wiser. While you and Thomas were at the meeting place, those two goons were supposed to kill you. At the same time, two more Committee members were to be in place here to eliminate Megan and Scully.

"As soon as I found out about it, I contacted the only person who would be sure to act in your best interest: Skinner. While he was there, making sure that you weren't harmed, I came here to stand watch over Scully and Megan. By the way, the two members who came here are in the bedroom."

Mulder stood up from the couch, his eyes still locked on Mr. X, and strode to the bedroom door. He opened it, took a cursory glance inside, then winced.

"Sorry about the mess," Mr. X chuckled. "I tend not to be too neat in such things."

Mulder squinted at Mr. X as he walked slowly back into the room. "But what about these?" he inquired, pulling the disks and video tape from his pocket.

"Blanks. You don't think Thomas would actually give you the proof you need to convict the whole Committee, do you?"

Mulder shrugged. "So, where do we go from here? What's to stop the Committee from killing all of us?"

"The real proof. All of Dr. Thomas' notes and files were hidden away in the eventuality that they tried to freeze him out of the project."

"So, where are they?" Mulder looked questioningly at him, though he wondered just what portion of Mr. X's story was genuine.

"Megan holds the key to that."

"Me? I don't know anything."

Mr. X laughed raucously and shook his head. "Megan, you know a great deal more than you can ever realize. But that knowledge has been blocked from the beginning. You see, Thomas hid his deepest secrets in your mind. He locked them away for safe keeping, knowing that no one would dare to suspect such an innocent as you. Through months of diligent work, he managed to brainwash you using a technique known as the Israeli Block. With that in place, any attempt at remembering such information would cause you such pain that you would either abandon the effort, or die from it."

"But, how did he plan on getting at the information?"

"With the key. He developed a key phrase which would allow Megan to recall everything. The block was already beginning to break down, since she was never supposed to remember being abducted by the EBEs."

"The key, man. Give her the key." Mulder's eyes were afire with curiosity. His hands worked nervously.

"Megan, dear, listen closely to what I tell you." He waited while her demure eyes fixed on him, then he went on. "Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?"

"I've been to London to visit the queen," she intoned, her eyes growing so large that they threatened to fall from their sockets. The color drained from her face and she reached out to Mulder reflexively. "Oh, my God! I remember now. The information we need is in my hair band."

Mulder gaped at her in total disbelief. Then, she shook the hair band from her hair and offered it to him. He felt its heft and shape for a moment, then used his pocket knife to slit the stitches. Inside was a length of microfiche. He held it up for inspection, grinning superiorly as he did so.

"Everything we need is on there," Megan offered. "Even the formula. He put it all on microfiche some months back and sewed it into my headband. Now I know why I was always so fascinated with the cats. And why I never went anywhere without that headband."

"But why would Thomas go off and leave Megan with us, knowing that she had the proof right here?"

"He didn't know that I knew the key. The only people who had that information were Thomas and his assistant. By the time he discovered that his assistant was working for me, I already had the information and it was too late to change the key. As far as he knows, the secret's safe."

"But they'll come back for Megan. Won't they?" Scully's eyes looked worried, tired.

"Don't you worry about them. I can handle them." Mr. X started toward the door, then thought better of it and turned toward Mulder. "All this time, you've been looking for the truth, Mulder. Well, the truth isn't out there." He smiled insidiously and patted his chest. "It's right in here."


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