Title: Aufklaren ('To make clear')
Author: Jtougas
Written: March 2000
Feedback: jtougas@ix.netcom.com
Rated: PG-13
Key Words: ?
Distribution: Don't ask for money for it, other than that, feel free..
Disclaimer: Characters aren't mine, some of the plot devices aren't mine, but the story is. Based on characters and situations created by Chris Carter

Summary: A splinter group has discovered the black virus, and is working on a cure. The devil you know...


Chapter 1

The Fir Trade Corporate Headquarters
Portland, OR
12:30 PM, PST

Thomas Wakefield sat expectantly outside the boardroom. His leg nervously twitched up and down in rapid succession as he justified each point of his job application in his mind. He adjusted his good-luck tie, carefully chosen by his wife to tastefully accent his dark gray suit. Waiting was the worst part. Inside, his well-crafted plan lay exposed before the board members, vulnerable to the whims of their collective decision. When the door opened, a rush of air filled the void left by Thomas's abrupt inhale.

As he entered the cavernous, wood paneled room, he instinctively knew that silence was expected of him until he was spoken to. He felt like a child crossing the threshold of a cathedral for the first time and realized this was as good a time as any to pray.

Thomas sat in the chair directly opposite the Chairman of the Board, Harold Jenkins, a tamed lumberjack who, when pressed to take over the family lumber business, traded his flannel shirts for three piece suits, but refused to shave his graying beard. His broad shoulders and thick hands suggested he was far more comfortable wielding an ax than the gold plated fountain pen resting on the table in front of him.

Mr. Jenkins was flanked by the remaining members of the board, save one conspicuous absence, Gregory Tanner, Thomas's direct supervisor and strongest ally. Thomas swallowed hard.

"Please forgive Mr. Tanner's absence," began the Chairman. "I'm sure you understand he had personal matters to attend with his father's illness. Rest assured, he gave you his full support."

"Thank you, sir." The words nearly caught in his throat.

"Mr. Wakefield, you've been working for this company for two years as a regional sales assistant. You've developed strong relationships with the customer base in the Portland area. Why, then, do you want to transfer to the Seattle office?"

"For my family, mostly. We live in Seattle, but I work here during the week. I'm on the road so much, I hardly get to see them, except on the weekends of course." As he answered, Thomas looked at each of the board members, meeting their eyes, confidently and tastefully selling his story. "My wife's family lives there and they help out with Billy, our son. With the cost of child care these days, we can't afford to lose their help."

"I respect your strong commitment to family," said the Chairman as he thumbed through the papers in Thomas's file, immune to the salesman's practiced charm. "But we're more interested in what you feel sets you apart from the other applicants. Why are you the right person for the job?"

Thomas leaned forward in his chair ever so slightly. "Well sir, for two reasons: performance and experience. Over the past two years, I've expanded our client base by ten percent and increased sales by fifteen percent in the Portland area. I can close the deal and keep the clients happy long after the final handshake.

"In addition, I've assumed many of Mr. Tanner's duties while he's been away from the office. As a result, I've gained a tremendous amount of experience which I believe I can carry to the Seattle office."

"Well spoken," answered the Chairman, as he deliberately placed his firmly clasped hands just behind his gleaming fountain pen. "The person in this position will supervise ten sales personnel, all good people, some of whom have been working for this company for ten years or more. They could be very resentful of someone relatively new, such as yourself, giving them orders. How would you respond to their criticism?"

"Well, sir, I'm a team player. Ultimately, they work for the company, not me. If their performance suffers, the company suffers and that will make their jobs tougher out in the field. I would remind them of that fact as tactfully or bluntly as is appropriate."

"Well, Mr. Wakefield, I for one am very impressed with your application. You're an ambitious young man with a promising future in this company. I'm also glad to hear you consider yourself a team player because we all must do what's best for this company," the Chairman said as he nodded to the other members of the board. "So, I hope you understand why we're rejecting your application at this time. Right now, you're talents are best utilized where you are..."

The Chairman continued talking, but all Thomas heard was, "we're rejecting your application."

"... More experience with our operations, you will be well qualified for this position..."

"...Rejecting your application..."

At the end of the Chairman's speech, Thomas stood obediently and thanked the board for their time. He left the office, walked numbly down the hall and punched the elevator button, but decided to take the stairs when the board members started filing out of the room. He took the stairs two at a time to the garage, barely pausing to pull his cell phone out of his pocket. Once at his level, he dialed his wife, burst through the fire door and promptly flattened an unsuspecting businessman. His phone sailed over the bruised broker, careened against the cement and slid to a stop in several pieces against the tire of a polished black Land Rover with the license tag "CHAIRMAN".

Thomas's psyche was as fragmented as his phone. He picked up the pieces and walked solemnly to his dusty car: a standard issue, gray Ford Taurus sedan. He pulled into traffic with all the gusto of a sleep deprived college student entering an auditorium for a biochemistry final exam.


Castle Rock, WA
2:45 PM, PST

On the highway, Thomas sped by a sign announcing "Olympia 60 miles, Seattle 120 miles". He looked at his watch and quickly calculated when he would arrive home. As long as he beat the rush hour traffic through Seattle, he could get there in time for dinner as he had promised. He clenched the steering wheel a little tighter.

An obnoxiously perky voice squeaked from the radio. He changed channels quickly, searching for anything remotely pleasing, but the radio stations were conspiring against him too. His foul mood deepened and he turned the radio off in disgust.

He looked up just in time to see a scrap of metal strewn on the highway. He braked hard and swerved right, but it was too late - the metal sliced into his front left tire. The car jerked violently to the left. He nearly clipped the bumper of a speeding Jeep as he veered into the lane beside him. Horns blasted and tires squealed as cars streaked by in a blur. Thomas fought to maintain control as he desperately moved towards the side of the road.

When he reached the emergency lane, he turned off the ignition, draped his arms across the top of the steering wheel and rested his head against his arms. When he lifted his head, he took a deep breath, popped the trunk, stepped out of the car and examined the useless tire. The side wall was shredded beyond repair. He took a step back and kicked the tire with the fury of his frustrations until his foot throbbed, then once more for good measure.

He loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves as he limped to the trunk where he removed the spare tire and jack. Thomas dwelled on the meeting in Portland as he proceeded to change the tire.

"At this time, we are rejecting your application," he mocked to himself. The smug, non-committed response ricocheted in his mind, shattering his plans. He removed the ruined tire and let it topple to the ground with a satisfying thud.

If this company didn't appreciate the big clients he pulled in, then he would find one that did! After he put the small temporary tire on and tightened the lug nuts one by one, Thomas threw the jack and shredded tire into the trunk and slammed it shut.

Thomas pulled back into traffic and looked at his watch - he had lost too much time and still had to have the temporary tire replaced. He would miss dinner, again. At least he could call home and tell them. He reached for his cell phone, but was quickly reminded of the collision in the parking garage when the battery fell to his lap.

Neon lights outlined a truck stop and he turned into the worn parking lot. When he released his seat belt, Thomas noticed the grease smudge on his lucky tie. Disgusted, he headed into the diner for the phone. He let the screen door slam behind him as he walked to the counter. The only waitress to be seen was deeply involved in a flirtatious conversation with a young man at the counter and ignored Thomas's silent attempts to get her attention.

Suddenly, Thomas became aware that he was being watched. He scanned the room as casually as he could, but froze when he met the source of his discomfort.

An older man lurked in the corner booth wearing tired blue jeans, a red flannel shirt and a crushed Mariners baseball hat. The man was conspicuously scrutinizing Thomas. When they made eye contact, the man noticed that Thomas's eyes glowed an eerie blue.

Thomas felt as though he was being hunted by a wolf, not so much because of the way thick gray hair framed the man's entire face, nor the way the two white bars in his beard on either side of his mouth gave the distinct impression of fangs, but more because of the way his dark eyes devoured his consciousness. The hair on Thomas's neck stood on end as he returned with renewed desperation to his search for a phone. He abandoned his polite attempts at getting the waitress's attention and interrupted her conversation. "Excuse me, do you have a phone?"

Without turning away from the object of her affection, the waitress pointed to the hallway around the corner.

"Service with a smile," he mumbled sarcastically as he followed her wordless directions. He didn't notice the man in the corner nodding to two patrons sitting at the end of the counter.

He passed the bathrooms on the left and headed directly for the black box hanging on the wall to the right. A red exit sign reflected off the chrome finish on the phone. He pulled out his billfold for his calling card and hesitated at the sight of the family portrait - his slice of the American dream. The next picture showed an eager 7 year old in a little league uniform ready to hit the next ball out of the park. What he wouldn't do for that transfer. He picked up the hand set, dialed his number and waited for his wife to pick up on the other end.

"Hello?" she answered, her voice singing in his ear.

"Hey honey..."

One of the men from the counter approached Thomas from behind and tapped him on the shoulder. Thomas felt the sharp sting of a pin prick on his shoulder.

"Hey! Watch out..." he said. By the time he turned around, the room was spinning and the men's faces whirled together into blackness. One of the men grabbed Thomas as his knees buckled. He lowered the limp body to the ground and searched the pockets for the car keys. The other man quickly hung up the phone, ignoring the frantic pleas from the young woman on the other end, "Thomas?!"

In practiced unison, they carried their quarry out the back door to a waiting white, unmarked semi. Two identical men in blue hospital scrubs and white lab coats took the unconscious man to the front of the rig. There, they placed Thomas on a gurney in a large shipping container whose interior was completely renovated into a self-contained emergency medical suite. The kidnappers secured the back doors to the rig, climbed into the cab and waited.

Inside, the older man paid his tab and walked down the hallway. He entered the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror. He closed his eyes and transformed, feature by feature, into Thomas: a soiled oxford, smudged tie and gray pants replaced flannel and jeans, a cleanly shaven chin replaced the ragged beard, he lost twenty pounds and ten years. When he opened his eyes and looked again into the mirror, Morphing Man nodded approvingly at his transformation. He quickly left the bathroom and pushed open the back door. Once outside, he scanned his surroundings and nodded to the abductors. Morphing Man picked up the stolen keys and walked to the front of the building to the empty car. The rig pulled onto the highway and Morphing Man followed in Thomas's car, heading north into the falling darkness.


Chapter 2

FBI Building
Washington, DC
9:38 am

Mulder hunched over his cluttered, production line desk and intently studied a case file. Something about the case sounded familiar and he searched his memory for the connection, but couldn't find it. In times like these, he missed his overflowing filing cabinets from his old office. Memories flashed by of standing in the charred remains of his office: blackened filing cabinets were dented and twisted, blistered paint pealed from the walls where UFO posters previously hung, the skeleton of his well worn chair was crumpled on the floor, the acrid smell of damp ashes lingered in his nostrils, and the constant traffic of firemen and whispers of curious onlookers echoed in his ears. He knew the answers he was seeking were lost in those charred remains.

The otherwise customary sounds of jangling keys startled Mulder out of his daydream. He looked up to see Scully standing in front of his desk, uncharacteristically late and decidedly pale.

"I didn't mean to scare you," she said softly as she walked towards the chair beside Mulder's desk. It was occupied by a barely contained avalanche of case files, loose sheets of paper and folded road maps. Mulder quickly removed the pile of papers.

"Here, have a seat. You have to excuse the mess. The maid's been out this week," he said as he searched for another place to house the wobbly stack. With each turn, a sheet of paper escaped his grasp and floated erratically to the floor.

"Miss having an office with filing cabinets?" asked Scully as she took the seat.

"Yeah," replied Mulder as he placed the precarious stack on the corner of his desk. "Bet you do too."

Just as Mulder took his seat, the stack succumbed to gravity and toppled to the floor. He moved quickly to stop it, but only managed to deflect a few folders into Scully's lap. Mildly amused at Mulder's improvised filing system, she handed him the folders which landed in her lap. He coerced the papers into an organized mess on the floor next to his desk.

"I'm just happy to have my own desk," she answered with a smile.

She noticed the unopened arson investigation report sitting in the same place on Mulder's desk as it had for the past six weeks. She recalled the memories of working in the old office, of how infectious his passion for his work had been during the five years they worked together there. The strength of his conviction had saved her on more than one occasion in ways she could never explain.

"You still haven't read the results of the arson investigation," she said, indicating the sealed report.

Mulder sat back in his chair, shaking his head in disbelief. "Come on, Scully. I don't need a report to know who used my office as a personal bonfire. My problem is, the man is untouchable. I'll never be able to bring him to justice for that - or for anything else he's done."

Scully nodded her head in agreement, then took a quick breath as a brief wave of nausea crawled up her spine.

Mulder noticed the slight grimace on Scully's face. "Don't take this the wrong way, but you look terrible. Should you be at work?"

Scully managed a weak smile. "Don't hold back, Mulder. Tell me what you really think." She sat up a little straighter in the chair. "On the way home last night, I stopped by TacoTown and ate a burrito. I was up half the night with food poisoning."

"That's what you get for ordering a burrito from a Taco joint."

"Thanks for the sympathy. You aren't looking for a job with Hallmark, are you?" As if her retort required more energy than she possessed, she closed her eyes and rested her head against the back of the chair. "If so, I think you should reconsider your approach."

"Why are you here? If you're sick, go home."

"It's my job to be here. Besides, I took some medicine, I'll be fine."

"Are you sure?" he pressed.

Her "don't ask me that question again" stare effectively answered his question.

He raised his hands as if being held at gun point. "Just asking. Far be it from me to show a little concern for my partner."

Scully returned to resting her head against the back of the chair. Without moving, she spoke quietly, "I passed Kersch on the way in. He wants to meet with us in his office about a new case."

"Do you know what it's about?" he asked, dreading another dull assignment.

"Something about some kidnappings in the Seattle area. Apparently, the victims appear in hospitals completely delirious after two days."

"Gives new meaning to 'Sleepless in Seattle', doesn't it?" finished Mulder.

Opening a single eye under an arched eyebrow, Scully peered at Mulder, silently chastising him for his crass sense of humor.


Escher Laboratories
Burien, WA

Don Nasaki, the doctor in charge of research at Escher Laboratories, escorted the Investor, a tall self-confident man in a dark pinstriped suit, down sterile hallways. They passed generously equipped laboratories and single occupant treatment rooms. The laboratory technicians were identical to each other in every perceivable way, right down to their uniform blue scrubs and white lab coats.

The Investor was very familiar with medicine and with the operations of the facility. Between the staccato taps of his black, lion-headed cane and his polished footsteps, he constantly grilled the doctor with questions that did not always have answers.

"We are presently experimenting with vaccine delta-47 in combination with aggressive antiviral agents," explained Dr. Nasaki as he led the Investor to one of the viewing rooms. From there, the two had a bird's eye view of the events inside the treatment room below without disturbing the patients or the caretakers.

"Has this treatment shown more promise than the others?"

"Yes. To date, it's been effective at eliminating the virus in 32% of the patients. In the remaining patients, the virus mutates and becomes dormant. It returns to original levels when the immune system is compromised."

"Thirty-two percent does not inspire a great deal of confidence, doctor. You do understand the importance of this project, don't you? I expect to see better results for the funding I'm providing."

"We're dealing with a disease we know very little about. If we're not careful, we could develop a treatment that's worse than the disease. As it is, this combination of drugs has powerful neurological side effects, including memory loss and psychosis. We have to suspend the patient in a near catatonic state just to control them."

"Are these side effects permanent?"

"No, they subside within a few days after the treatment is completed. We're developing a new vaccine which we believe will be more effective, but it could very well have debilitating side effects that aren't reversible. These drugs must be tested thoroughly before they are attempted in humans and we haven't finished the preliminary laboratory tests yet. Unfortunately, the scientific process is inherently slow..."

The Investor cut off the doctor in mid-sentence. "The one resource we are lacking, doctor, is time. Do whatever is necessary to get results." He looked sternly at Dr. Nasaki and walked quickly out of the room.

After watching the Investor leave, the doctor turned back to the window and stared at the patient below. The last phase of the treatment began when a caretaker injected an amber fluid into the patients' IV.

Thomas Wakefield was strapped to the treatment table, eyes wide open and staring past the ceiling above. A dingy gray liquid appeared in the corner of his eyes and quickly engulfed the surface, completely blocking Thomas's sight. He tried to open his mouth to scream, but couldn't find his voice. His lips trembled as he struggled to make his body respond to his commands, completely aware of the war raging inside his body and utterly powerless to escape. His entire body started shaking uncontrollably on the table.

Assistant Director Kersch's Office
FBI Headquarters
Washington, DC

"Please, have a seat," began Kersch. He stood behind his large desk, grabbed a pair of case files and handed them to Agents Mulder and Scully as they sat down. "There has been a rash of 'disappearances' in the Seattle area over the past six months. Each victim was missing for approximately 48 hours before reappearing as Jane or John Doe's in local hospitals. When they arrived, they were terrified, delusional and had absolutely no memory of what happened to them. After seeing 17 cases, the local police have exhausted their resources and could use any help we can offer."

"There are a number of perfectly mundane medical explanations for the symptoms you've described. Alcohol or recreational drugs top the list, though a severe emotional or physical trauma could elicit the same response," offered Scully.

"The DEA is currently pursuing the recreational drug angle and they haven't found anything yet. They're not aware of any new drugs in the area," answered Kersch.

"Are there any connections between these victims?" asked Mulder, trying to formulate an hypothesis as to the purpose of the disappearances.

"There aren't any obvious connections," Kersch said as he flipped through his copy of the case file. "The victims are a variety of ages, races, genders, religions, social classes,...The only consistent pattern is that at the last known location of each victim, all witnesses report that the victims all walked out under their own free will. We believe the latest victim is Thomas Wakefield of Seattle, Washington. He was last seen yesterday afternoon at a roadside diner where he apparently stopped to call home, but the call was interrupted. Over the phone, his wife heard Thomas say, 'watch out' before the call was abruptly canceled. Witnesses reported him driving his car away from the diner, but he hasn't shown up anywhere. If we can find Mr. Wakefield before he appears in a local hospital, we may be able to find out what happened to the rest of the victims, too." finished Kersch. He looked at his watch and held up his case file. "The rest of the information you need is in the case files I've provided. There's a flight that leaves at noon for Seattle. Mulder, you will report to Special Agent in Charge Hutchens at the Seattle field office." He turned to Scully and said, "You, however, don't look like you're in any condition to go anywhere except home."

Scully didn't like to back off from assignments even when she was ill. Even though she was actively recruited into the FBI, she constantly felt pressure to prove her worth. Missing an assignment because of a little illness made her feel like she was losing valuable ground. She was about to argue the point when her stomach protested. Then again, if she wasn't 100% in the field, she could put herself or Mulder at risk and that was far worse than wounded pride. When the nausea passed, she looked up at Kersch.

"Maybe you're right," she conceded reluctantly.

Looking at Mulder, Kersch said, "I'd like you to partner with Agent Bennett on this case. Scully can join you if and when she feels up to it. Bring Bennett up to speed and get on that plane."

Mulder looked away in obvious disgust at Kersch's choice of partners.

"I don't want to hear it, Agent Mulder," scolded Kersch. "Bennett may be young, but he's a good agent. Just don't teach him any bad habits."


Chapter 3

Washington, DC

Cigarette Smoking Man paused outside the office door, lit a cigarette and, while inhaling the sweet smoke, composed answers to inevitable questions. He exhaled, turned the doorknob and entered the office. Gray-haired men in tailored suits were seated in leather chairs around the room. Their conversation ended abruptly as Smoking Man entered the room.

"You've kept us waiting. You're not falling into old habits, are you?" scolded the Elder.

"No. I've come across some interesting news regarding the X- Files," replied Smoking Man, taking another drag of his cigarette.

The men in the office said nothing, but instead stared intently at Smoking Man, silently demanding the morsel of information. Smoking Man waited 5 seconds, then 10. He savored this stage of the game. They still needed him to gather information they were unable to obtain by their other sources. As long as he was useful and did not endanger the project, they would let him play his game. Smoking Man exhaled.

"Agent Mulder is traveling to Seattle to investigate a series of disappearances," he began.

"And Agent Scully?" asked a refined gentleman with a neatly trimmed beard.

"She has been temporarily sidelined. Agent Bennett is traveling with him instead," continued Smoking Man as he paced the perimeter of the dimly lit room.

"What do we know of this Agent Bennett." asked the Elder.

"Stephen Bennett is fresh out of Quantico. He's a bright young man, but he's entirely too concerned with pleasing his superiors. He's malleable, a promising young agent, indeed," replied Smoking Man.

"We cannot afford another adversary," warned Bearded Man.

"What do you know about the case?" asked Strughold.

"Citizens in the Seattle area are disappearing for 2 days and reappearing in local hospitals. The only thing these victims have in common is that each of them is one of our patients." Smoking Man paused as the men in the room digested the information. He stopped at the window and peered through the blinds to the traffic below. The commuters always amused him - blaring horns vented frustrations of tempers shortened by too many stoplights. They were always in a hurry to get somewhere, unaware of how insignificant their meetings were compared to what was happening in this room. He sucked another lungful of his addiction and turned to face the group.

"What is happening to them?" asked the Elder.

"At this time, we don't know and neither do the victims. They have no memory of the 48 hours they were missing," answered Smoking Man.

"Are they still infected?" asked Strughold, the concern in his voice was growing.

"Who has access to that list?" asked the Bearded Man, matching Strughold's concern.

"These are all questions that have yet to be answered," replied Smoking Man flatly.

"Use all necessary resources to answer those questions," said the Elder curtly. His patience was running thin with the game. All threats to the project had to be eliminated.

"Of course," replied Smoking Man. He crushed his cigarette in a marble ashtray in front of the Elder and walked out of the room.


Chapter 4

Georgetown, VA

Scully stood at the stove in her kitchen wearing her pajamas and a bathrobe. She was heating a pot of water for tea when the doorbell rang. She tightened her belt on the way to the door and checked the peep hole. Instantly recognizing the middle aged woman, she quickly unfastened the locks.

"Mom, what are you doing here?" she asked as she gave her mother a hug.

"I called down to the office and they said you were out sick. I decided to drop by to see if I could help," answered Mrs. Scully with a smile.

"You didn't have to do that. Dinner didn't agree with me last night, that's all," said Scully as she led her mother inside. "Make yourself at home. I'm making some tea, do you want some?" she asked.

"Sure, decaf if you have it," answered Mrs. Scully as she wandered into the living room. She crossed over to the mantle and picked up a family portrait. It was taken during Thanksgiving the year before Scully's father died and was the last time the entire family was together. A faint smile crossed her face as she traced the outlines of her late husband. She continued across the picture to her eldest daughter, Melissa, whose vibrant eyes illuminated the picture.

Scully appeared carrying a tray with spoons, sugar, honey and two steaming coffee mugs with tea bag strings dangling around the handles. She put the tray on the coffee table, picked up the mugs and brought them over to her mother. "Chamomile OK?"

"Perfect," said Mrs. Scully accepting the warm cup. She returned the photograph to it's spot on the mantle. "Do you remember that Thanksgiving?"

"Who could forget?" answered Scully as a smile crept across her face. "Army beat Navy that year and Dad wouldn't let it go." Scully began imitating her father, "First we get a draft dodger in the white house,..."

"... now Army beats Navy. What's next?!" finished Mrs. Scully. They looked at each other and laughed. Mrs. Scully returned her attention to the photograph and tucked her thick, dark hair behind her ear. "And look at Melissa. So young, so bright," she paused. "I miss them."

"Me too," Scully agreed solemnly. They stood together and looked at the family portrait. After a moment, Scully walked back to the couch, took a seat and broke the silence. "You didn't come over here just because I'm sick, did you."

Mrs. Scully turned and smiled, he cover blown. "Actually, I was wondering how you were doing. I've been spending so much time out with Bill's baby that we haven't talked much since Christmas," said Mrs. Scully as she walked over to the couch and took a seat next to her daughter.

"How is the baby these days?" asked Scully as she removed the tea bag from her cup.

"He's definitely Bill's son -- inherited every ounce of his energy and mischieviousness. Last week, he hid the remote control to the television when Bill didn't let him watch his favorite cartoon. I guess he figured if he couldn't watch television, no one else could either." She leaned closer to Scully to whisper her well guarded secret. "That's a mother's sweetest revenge, you know," she said with a smile. "Still, I wish they lived closer so I could ..." Mrs. Scully stopped too late.

"See your grandson more often," Scully finished the sentence for her. Once again Scully felt as if every decision she made in her life, every accomplishment she had achieved, was being questioned. Her dedication to her career meant not that she was respected for her success, but rather meant only that she was still single - without a husband, let alone a family. Far worse, if she had chosen a different career, perhaps practicing medicine as her parents had hoped, then it is probable that she would not have been abducted or subjected to the treatment which caused not only her infertility, but the cancer which nearly killed her.

Scully unconsciously rubbed the base of her neck where the mysterious implant resided. She was proud of her work with the FBI, but was reminded what the cost of that work had been for her. Scully stirred her tea and stared at the whirlpool she created. She felt as if she were caught in the dizzying eddy herself.

"When I was growing up, I had a vision of what my future would hold. From time to time, elements of that vision would change, but at the core, I always had a family of my own - a daughter to teach to sail, a son to teach to do his own laundry," she paused and, smiling bravely, looked at her mother. "When I found out I couldn't have children, that vision started to fade. And when I was sick, it was all I could do to get from day to day."

Scully walked over to the fireplace and pulled a picture of a young girl down from the mantle.

"But when I found Emily in California, she gave that vision back to me. I thought I was being given a second chance. I never even questioned how she could exist. The RFLP tests showed she was my flesh and blood, and that was enough for me. Then I watched her in the hospital, so helpless and innocent. I saw that chance slip away with her life.

"Lately, I've been looking back and wondering if I made the right choice. How different would my life be if I were practicing medicine in a nice little family practice instead of chasing phantoms?"

Mrs. Scully walked across the room and wrapped her arm around her daughter's shoulders. She brushed the hair away from Scully's face and looked at the picture of Emily.

"Dana, you're father and I may not have shown you the kind of support you deserved when you chose to enter the FBI, but we knew you had to choose your own road, and we respected you for that. Don't spend too much time second guessing yourself. The roads you didn't take can never be. You're here now. Keep you're eyes open or you might miss the next road."

"You sound like Melissa."

"Well, she was a smart lady. You both took after me, you know," Mrs. Scully joked with a smile and a hug.


Chapter 5

Interstate 5
Seattle, WA

Agent Mulder drove the large rental car past expansive industrial areas and construction sites littered with earth movers and piles of black dirt. Bennett fidgeted nervously, an unasked question lingering in the back of his throat like the bitter aftertaste of warm, stale beer.

Mulder casually added another empty sunflower shell to the paper bag at his side. He noticed Bennett swallow his question once again and decided to break the uneasy silence.

"What?" asked Mulder.

"What, what?" asked Bennett, surprised at Mulder's question.

"You've been wanting to ask me a question for the past half hour. Come on, spit it out."

Bennett looked at his hands, then out the window. Mulder found him out and he didn't know exactly how to ask the question.

"Do you still believe your sister was abducted by aliens?" he finally asked.

Mulder popped another sunflower into his mouth before answering, "No."

Bennett turned to face Mulder, surprised by the answer. "Then who do you think took her?"

"The government," answered Mulder matter-of-factly.

"The government," repeated Bennett, somewhat confused.

"Yes." Mulder glanced at the young agent and waited, his teeth skillfully splitting the hull of the sunflower seed.

"Why would the government want to kidnap children?" Bennett finally asked.

"To hybridize with aliens."

"To hybridize with aliens," repeated Bennett.

"Is there an echo in here?" Mulder asked, putting the empty hull into the paper bag and popping another seed into his mouth.

"So you do believe in aliens."

"Sure. Don't you?"

"I don't know, but I can't believe our government is conducting genetic experiments with stolen children. That's the kind of thing Nazi's did to the Jews. For Christ's sake, you're talking about the United States of America," exclaimed Bennett.

"Come on, you're not that naive, are you? You've heard of the Tuskeegee experiments, haven't you? Our government conducted medical experiments on its own citizens without their knowledge or consent. This is no different."

"Yeah, but that was the 1940's. This is 1999. We don't do that sort of thing anymore," asserted Bennett.

"Sure we do. We're just better at hiding the truth, that's all."

Bennett stared at Mulder in disbelief.

Mulder read the expression on Bennett's face, satisfied that he was able to keep the young agent off balance. But it was time to get back to business, and, according to Mulder's growling stomach, the first order of business was food. Although it was only 6 o'clock locally, it was well past his dinner time. The meal from the plane trip was long gone and the sunflower seeds were only encouraging his appetite.

"Why don't we get some dinner. Then we can check into our hotel and start looking for Mr. Wakefield in the morning."

"OK," said Bennett, relieved to be through with that conversation.

Mulder took the next exit which promised food.

"What do you like? We have your basic choices of heart attack on a bun, heart attack over easy or ..." Mulder spotted an advertisement for a local adult entertainment restaurant. "Heart attack in a tank top," he finished with a mischievous grin.

He turned to the unresponsive Bennett and read the shocked, if not embarrassed look on Bennett's face. He wished Scully's familiar face stared back at him instead. Sometimes, he hated breaking in rookies.

"Whatever's fine with me," replied Bennett.

"OK, then. I'm feeling like some local cuisine."

The rental car rolled into the parking lot of Gary's Galley, a working class seafood restaurant. Mulder and Bennett paused in the threshold of the Galley and absorbed the local atmosphere. Tattered photographs of proud fishermen displaying their catch were indiscriminately pinned or taped on the dingy walls among ratty nets and plastic salmon. The bar was filled with hardened men who worked long hours to earn their pay, in construction, fishing, or trucking. Their clothes, stained with dirt, grease and sweat, were as worn as their hands were callused. For these men, sharing a beer with friends was part of their daily ritual. Several wobbly ceiling fans whisked their grimy smells with the pervasive odors of cigar smoke and stale beer. The bar was distinctly masculine and the few women that were present were either objects of affection or as ragged around the edges as the men.

To say that Mulder and Bennett were fish out of water would be something of an understatement. Bennett sensed they were breaking a taboo simply by walking into the restaurant. He felt the heavy weight of every stare that followed him to the nearest table. Mulder, oblivious to their trespasses, walked past the bar to the rest rooms.

A large man sitting at the far end of the bar studied Mulder as he walked by. Mulder's eyes flashed a brilliant blue, almost as if they were phosphorescent. After Mulder passed, the man nodded to two men further down the bar who in turn followed Mulder down the hall.

Agent Bennett focused his attention on the torn paper menu in front of him as he listened to the accusatory whispers traveling quickly around the room. A moment later, Bennett looked up from his menu long enough to see Mulder walking by the front window of the restaurant. He watched in disbelief as Mulder started the rental car and drove off. He slammed his menu on the table and ran out into the parking lot. Feeling abandoned as his partner drove further and further out of sight, he raised his hands to his head in confusion.

"Where are you going? What about me?!?" he yelled into the setting sun.


Chapter 6

Georgetown, VA
10:30 PM, EST

The final gulp of the toilet flushing sounded beside Scully as she filled the sink with cool water. She thoroughly soaked a wash cloth, wrung it out gently, and rested it at the base of her neck. She splashed some water on her face as she let the cool cloth settle her stomach. After a moment, she wrung out the washcloth and traded it for the hand towel that hung beside her. She released the plug and watched as the water raced in tighter and tighter circles through the drain to the pipes waiting below.

By force of habit inherited from her mother, Scully tucked her hair behind her ear. She patted her face and neck dry and studied her reflection. Fortunately for her, she had inherited her mother's nose and mouth, but her eyes were as fiery as her father's. And her ears, well, sometimes lineage was difficult to decipher. Beginning at her eyebrow, she traced the outline of her face. Her fingers followed the gentle curves at her temple, cheekbone, and jaw.

She returned the towel to it's hook and walked out of her bathroom wearing her pajamas. A tall glass of water and over the counter medications waited on the night stand. She picked up her thermometer and began to take her temperature as she crawled into bed. She felt better than in the morning when she dragged herself into the office. Though her body ached for the sleep she missed the night before, her mind was too pre-occupied with the events of the afternoon to allow sleep. She pulled a picture of Emily out of the night stand. There were so many unanswered questions about Emily's existence and ultimately, of Scully's abduction. After a moment, she removed the thermometer which had been incubating under her tongue. Ninety-nine - at least her fever was gone.

Scully traded the thermometer for her journal and began to write.

As a scientist, I've always been intrigued by the forces which shape who we are. Fundamentally, the answers are hidden within our genes, a puzzle whose pieces are assembled through time. Our lives begin simply with the union of two cells into one; two halves join to form a whole. We enter the world as helpless infants, our cells equipped with instructions on how to develop, our minds equipped with the power of thought and choice. Each action we take, each decision we make, consciously or otherwise, determines the shape of the next piece to fall. And so, nature and nurture combine in an inseparable potion to shape who we are: president or pauper, optimist or cynic, saint or sinner.

While individually, our genes are unique to ourselves, they are in fact an almagamation of traits that have survived generations, passed down through our parents. Our genes, in turn, survive in our own children and so we see a little bit of ourselves in their eyes, their nose, their laugh or smile. But tonight, once again, I looked into eyes that will remain solely my own. They will never grace the face of a child of my own making.

That is but one consequence of the choices I have made. Combined, those consequences burn as brightly as the sun, blistering my flesh if I hesitate, blinding my eyes if I turn to retreat. So I find myself perpetually moving forward, propelled ever faster into the unknown by the collective force of my own decisions. With my sun at my back, I'm walking into the depths of my own shadow, unsure of my next step, hoping that one day I might learn to use this sun to navigate my course.

She closed the journal and stared out her window, fighting the emotions building within her. The orange perimeter of an embryonic thunderstorm hovered over the horizon, silhouetted by the early evening. Lightning streaked through the center of the charcoal clouds, backlighting the billowing layers in flashes of brilliant blue. Scully took one last sip of water, turned off the light and settled into bed. It wasn't long before she fell into a deep sleep.


Escher Laboratories
Treatment Room 129
Burien, WA

Dr. Nasaki stood at the window of the viewing room, watching the events below, when his long time friend and colleague, Jim Keegan, burst through the door clutching a handful of lab reports.

"What do you think you're doing? What happened to protocol? You know I haven't finished analyzing my data yet!"

"I've seen your preliminary results. In my opinion it's safe to proceed," answered Dr. Nasaki, trying to reassure his friend.

"Safe to proceed?! You used to hound me to run my tests in triplicate before testing a new drug on humans. Now you're telling me it's 'safe to proceed' before I've even finished my initial trials? What's this about?"

"Look Jim, we've worked together for a long time. This is by far the most important project we've ever worked on. You have to trust my judgment here. Our deadline can't be moved."

"Since when did deadlines take priority over safety?"

"Lives are at stake if we don't succeed."

"That's my point. This is reckless, Don. It's not like you. I'm not sure I can be a part of it any more."

Dr. Nasaki hung his head for a moment, then looked Jim squarely in the eye. "Then you can be replaced," he said solemnly.

Jim couldn't pinpoint the exact sequence of events that led to this moment, but the way the doctor emphasized the word 'replaced' sent a chill down his spine. He stared with disbelief at what was now a stranger in front of him. He found himself confined by circumstance and expectation, every bit the prisoner as the patient bound in restraints below. He backed his way to the door and left the room.

In the treatment room, IV's served the dual purpose of supplying essential nutrients and the experimental drugs. Electrodes placed about the head and torso recorded the evidence of the turmoil within the patient as erratic phosphorescent lines on monitors.

Agent Mulder lay on the table, eyes open and staring wildly past the ceiling. He was desperately aware of the people surrounding him, though he was powerless to move away from them. From the corner of his eye, he saw an attendant inject a translucent red fluid into his IV. As the liquid coursed through his veins, he felt his body grow heavier and heavier, as if layer upon layer of heavy woolen blankets covered him. Despite his efforts to the contrary, he succumbed to the effects of the drug bathing his brain. The lights and sounds around him took on a vibrant life of their own, shimmering and pulsing in unison with his amplified heartbeat. The blurry outline of a man in a white coat floated above him before darkness swallowed him whole.

A misty dawn softly greeted Mulder at his childhood summer house in Rhode Island. He stood on the corner of the porch and watched as he and his sister played tag in the cool spring grass. To his left, his mother and father sat on the porch swing. They were watching the children playing and laughing. Mrs. Mulder stood expressionless and walked inside. In the kitchen, Cigarette Smoking Man grabbed her by the arm. To Mulder, their argument was grossly distorted and muted, as if he was listening through water. Smiling, Mr. Mulder continued watching the children, oblivious to the events inside.

Mulder walked inside and tuned the television. His sister sat on the floor waiting for her turn in the board game when a white light flooded the room. Samantha slowly floated into the air and out the window. Mulder struggled to grab her foot or nightgown, anything to keep her safe, but his body refused. He watched helplessly as she disappeared into the blinding light.

He turned around and watched his father walk towards the bathroom. Mulder tried to yell, to warn his father, but his voice was silent. When he came to his father's side, Mr. Mulder was already dead, blood seeping from his open wounds. He cradled his father's head in his lap.

With a blood soaked shirt, Mulder opened the bathroom door and walked into the hospital room. His mother lay on the bed, staring straight ahead and mumbling. Her heart monitor beeped slowly and steadily. He reached down and tenderly stroked her hair. A hand gently touched his shoulder and he turned to find Agent Scully.

Scully led Mulder into the next room where Melissa Scully lay in a coma. Scully turned around for Mulder but instead found herself alone in a hallway, engulfed by silence and brilliant white light. A window in the wall and a door beckoned. She peered through the window first. Rows of babies, all with Emily's infant face, were tended by a dozen identical nurses. Scully turned and walked through the door. Instead of entering the nursery as she expected, she walked into a small room with yet another window which peered below into a treatment room. Instantly, Scully recognized Mulder lying motionless on the table below, eyes open in terror.

Alarms suddenly exploded the silence, throbbing in her ears. She looked to her left to see the pulsing red light of the emergency exit sign flashing. She turned back to Mulder and watched as the distance between them grew even though neither one of them were moving. Another blast from the fire alarm shook her.

Scully reached out clumsily for the phone.

"Hello," she said hoarsely, half asleep. The clock flashing 12:07 gave no indication of the real time. A low rumble of thunder reminded her of the thunderstorm from earlier in the evening.

"When was the last time you talked with Agent Mulder?!?" squawked the irate voice through the phone.

Scully, her brain numbed by sleep, struggled to recognize the voice yelling at her. "Who is this?"

"This is Assistant Director Kersch. I just got off the phone with Special Agent in Charge Hutchens at our field office in Seattle. Agent Bennett checked in but no one's heard from Mulder. I'm hoping you have."

The fog was lifting slowly as Scully recounted the day's events. "The last time I talked to him was this morning before he went to the airport."

"You haven't talked to him since then?" asked Kersch, clearly disgruntled that he had to have this conversation at all, let alone in the middle of the night.

"No, sir. Why isn't he with Agent Bennett?"

"Bennett says Mulder deserted him at a local restaurant. I don't have to tell you that abandoning a fellow officer during an investigation is intolerable. God help him, he better not be playing games with us. You need to be on the next available flight out to Seattle. On your way to the airport, stop by Bennett's office and pick up his spare travel bag. Wherever Mulder went, he took all of the luggage with him. Bennett will meet you at the airport in Seattle," Kersch ended and abruptly hung up the phone.

As Scully hung up the phone, she couldn't shake the image from her dream of Mulder lying on the treatment table. The pit in her stomach told her Mulder wasn't playing games.


Chapter 7

FBI Headquarters
Washington, DC
5:35 AM

Cigarette Smoking Man listened as hurried footsteps approached from down the hall. He stuffed the shirt back into the travel bag and quickly left the office. His long black coat billowed as he walked briskly towards the nearest exit. He entered the stairwell just as Agent Scully rounded the corner at the other end of the hallway.

Agent Scully checked her watch again - just enough time to get to the airport. She fumbled through her keys until she reached Bennett's office, only to find the door cracked open. A quick glance of her surroundings revealed a vacant hallway but the faint residue of cigarette smoke haunted her. Nothing was out of place in the office, so she picked up Bennett's travel bag and headed for the airport, certain the door closed securely behind her.


King County Hospital
Seattle, WA
4:07 AM

Lights flashing and sirens wailing, an ambulance pulled into the hospitals' emergency treatment bay. Morphing Man, dressed in an EMT uniform, jumped out of the cab and ran to the back of the ambulance. There, he met a handful of nurses and orderlies who where already opening the ambulance doors. Thomas Wakefield, motionless and pale, was strapped in to the gurney. The attending medic held the IV bag while Morphing Man and an orderly removed the gurney from the ambulance and quickly rolled it into the hospital.

When Dr. Lowe met the entourage in the hallway, the medic began clicking off Thomas's vital signs as a matter of urgent routine. "Victim is an unidentified white male, approximately 30 years old and 190 pounds. He was found at Seward Park, completely unresponsive. Blood pressure, 140 over 80. Pulse, 75 and steady. One liter saline solution administered."

"Another one?" the doctor asked himself incredulously. "Treatment room 3. Let's move!" he snapped to the entourage. He turned to one of the nurses and ordered, "Get on the phone to Seattle PD. Let them know we've got another John Doe."

The doctor donned his stethoscope and listened to Timothy's chest. As he looked down, the doctor noticed a grayish black substance oozing from the patients mouth. "Get a sample bottle over here and get that stuff up to the lab, top priority!" he ordered. "Lungs clear, all sections," he said aloud as the nurse moved into action.

The nurse quickly grabbed a clear plastic jar from a shelf and scraped it against the side of Thomas's face, catching as much of the vile ooze as possible. When it reached the bottom of the jar, it coalesced almost as if it were alive. She put the lid on the jar, labeled it and personally carried it up to the lab.

"We've got another John Doe downstairs. Dr. Lowe needs this analyzed, top priority," she said as she handed the sample jar to the lab attendant.


Sea-Tac Airport
Washington
8:45 AM

Agent Bennett waited impatiently as the airplane pulled into the gate. He looked at his watch for the hundredth time, willing time to somehow move faster than it was. Finally passenger after passenger filed off the plane. Businessmen and women paced frantically by, carrying their laptop computers and rolling their luggage behind them. For them, every minute away from the phone was another business opportunity lost.

A babies' piercing wail could be heard the length of the terminal as it's ears fought to equilibrate. In the waiting area, a mini family reunion was beginning. As passengers recognized mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, hugs were enthusiastically exchanged, if not awkwardly choreographed with arms filled with duffel bags, purses and back packs. In the midst of the commotion, Bennett caught a glimpse of Scully's red hair and walked towards her.

"I'm glad you were able to bring my extra travel bag," Bennett said as he reached Scully. "I'm ready for a change of clothes." He took the garment bag from Scully and directed her towards ground transportation.

"Then there's no word yet from Mulder?" Scully asked as they walked among the other travelers.

"No. I've tried his cell phone a dozen times, but there's no answer."

Sensing Bennett's frustration, Scully responded, "It's not like him to abandon a case like this. For what it's worth, I don't think he left you voluntarily."

"I hope you're right," Bennett answered. "I'd hate to think it's another practical joke on the rookie."

Bennett's cell phone rang in his jacket pocket. He pulled it out and looked at the caller id. "It's Agent Hutchens," he said to Scully as he answered the phone. After a brief conversation, he hung up the phone and returned it to his jacket.

"Thomas Wakefield turned up at King County Hospital last night. A Dr. Lowe is caring for him in ICU."


King County Hospital
10:17 AM

Bennett and Scully walked to the nurses station of the Intensive Care Unit. They flashed their credentials to a nurse and asked for Dr. Lowe. The nurse paged the doctor and after a few moments, the doctor walked down the corridor towards them, reviewing a patient's chart as he walked. When he arrived at the station, he handed the chart to the nurse.

"I'm Dr. Lowe," said the doctor as he turned to Bennett and Scully. "How can I help you?"

Scully noticed that Dr. Lowe's voice wielded a great deal of command, yet somehow it stopped short of being authoritarian. His eyes simultaneously revealed his intelligence and compassion.

"Dr. Lowe. I'm Special Agent Bennett of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is Special Agent Scully. We're investigating a series of missing persons cases in the Seattle area. Thomas Wakefield was reported missing two days ago and we understand he's here under your care."

"Yes, he is."

"What can you tell us about him?" asked Scully.

"Well, he arrived last night around 2 AM in a coma. A local ambulance service brought him in. They said he was found over at Seward Park pretty much in the same condition as he is now," Dr. Lowe pointed through a glass partition at a resting patient.

"Are there any signs of trauma or other indications as to the cause of the coma?" she asked.

"He doesn't have any head injuries. His CAT scan revealed nothing abnormal and his tox screen was clean. So at this point, I don't know what caused it."

"Did you notice anything unusual when he came in?" she pressed.

"Well, he was spitting up some black ooze. I sent a sample up to the lab for an analysis. They said it was a protein."

"Could I see a copy of the lab report?"

Scully wanted to verify her hunch before she thought about the terrifying consequences. Could someone be exposing the general population to the versiform creature she saw disable Dr. Sacks back in Washington? She shuddered at the thought.

"As you know, I can't release any of his medical details without authorization from him or his spouse. Mrs. Wakefield is in the waiting room, this way," Dr. Lowe led them down the hallway to the sparse waiting room.

"Have you seen many cases like this?" asked Bennett.

"I've seen nine cases at this hospital over the last two months. This is the first one that has come in comatose, usually they're screaming maniacs," he answered as they rounded the corner. The waiting room was straight ahead of them at the end of the hall.

The scene in front of her reminded Scully of her own mother after her father died. Mrs. Wakefield sat alone at the end of one of the couches, nearly engulfed by the cushions. She drained the last drops of a cup of coffee and blindly discarded its carcass onto the small paper graveyard accumulating at the base of the table lamp beside her. While the caffeine coursing through her veins managed to keep her awake, it did little to calm her nerves as she sought refuge among the tattered pages of a magazine worn well beyond its usefulness. Despite her best efforts, the uncertainty of her husband's condition preyed upon her mind like an alley cat pouncing on a cornered mouse.

In contrast, Mrs. Wakefield's son, Billy, unencumbered by youth of the burdens of comprehension, seemed immune to the family crisis. He was stretched out on the floor playing with toy spaceships. A war was raging in a distant galaxy, and from the looks of it, he hadn't yet decided who was going to win.

Mrs. Wakefield stood anxiously as Dr. Lowe entered the waiting room. "Is Tom awake?"

"No, not yet. But his vital signs are stable and we hope he will be soon," answered Dr. Lowe reassuringly. "Right now, I'd like to introduce you to Agents Scully and Bennett of the FBI." They exchanged handshakes. "They're investigating Tom's disappearance and they need to ask you a few questions."

"I'm sorry we have to meet under these circumstances. I know this is a difficult time for you," Scully sympathized.

Mrs. Wakefield wiped a tear from the corner of her bloodshot eyes. "Thanks. Do you know what happened to Tom?"

"We believe his disappearance may be linked to others in the area," began Bennett.

"Dr. Lowe ran some tests last night when your husband arrived. Those tests may help us determine what happened to him. I'd like your permission to see his medical records and the results of those tests," asked Scully.

"Of course," replied Mrs. Wakefield, holding the hand of young Billy who was now standing beside her, flying the victorious space ship in large arcs.

"Thank you. You were on the phone with your husband before he disappeared, is that correct?" asked Bennett.

"Yes. Like I told the police, he was on his way home from a meeting in Portland. He always called if he knew he was going to be late," she answered through restrained sobs. She went back to the couch and sat down. Billy climbed into her lap.

"Do you remember hearing anything over the phone? Another voice?" asked Scully, taking a seat next to Mrs. Wakefield.

"No, nothing. Just Tom yelling to someone to 'watch out'. It all happened so fast, you know? First I'm talking to my husband, then I'm listening to the stupid dial tone," she finished, stroking her son's hair.

"Thanks for your help, Mrs. Wakefield." Scully reached for Mrs. Wakefield's hand to comfort her, but hesitated when the young woman turned away, her chin quivering. "We'll keep you updated on our investigation, OK?"

Mrs. Wakefield silently nodded her acknowledgment.

Dr. Lowe escorted Bennett and Scully back to Thomas's ICU room. He retrieved the patient's folder and handed it to Scully.

"I've never seen a protein sequence like this and neither has anyone else in the hospital. It's very complex, almost as if it's been engineered. I hope for everyone's sake that it's not at the root of the cases we're seeing."

Scully opened the folder and flipped through it's contents until she found the lab results. Scully immediately recognized the protein and it sent a chill down her spine. While not an exact match to the one she had seen in Dallas, it was close enough to indicate a direct link. One could have easily risen from the other by a simple mutation.

"Could I have a copy of this?" asked Scully, holding up the lab report.

"Certainly." Dr. Lowe took the report and walked over to the copier.

"What do you think it is?" asked Agent Bennett.

"I've seen a similar protein sequence in another case, but I want to study it further to determine if they're related."

The doctor returned with a copy of the report and handed it to Scully.

Suddenly, Thomas bolted upright in his bed, terrifying screams exploded out of his mouth. The nursing staff, orderlies and Dr. Lowe responded immediately, flooding into the room and surrounding the hysterical patient. The orderlies restrained Thomas while the nurses tied down his arms and legs.

Scully and Bennett watched from the other side of the glass. The phone ringing in Bennett's pocket added to the commotion. He answered the phone as he walked down the hall away from Thomas's room.

"Get those needles away from me! Let me GO!" protested Thomas.

"Get that IV back in!" yelled the doctor.

"You're one of them! Get away from me! Don't make me go back!" screamed Thomas, fighting the staff with every ounce of strength.

Dr. Lowe managed to inject Thomas with a sedative. His screams turned into mumbles as he succumbed to the drug. Finally, the orderlies and nurses relinquished their hold.

The doctor returned to Scully. "Well, nothing like a little excitement to get the adrenaline going. I mentioned something earlier about 'screaming maniacs'". He took a deep breath to calm his nerves. "If this case proceeds like the others, we'll keep him sedated for ten to twelve hours, until he doesn't pose a threat to himself or the staff. Then we'll move him out of ICU. Medically, we don't have any explanations for his delusions. Like I said, screens against known toxins came back negative. But whatever is happening to these people, it's affecting them neurologically. They have no memory of the events during the last 48 hours of their lives. A psychiatric evaluation will reveal a mild aversion to confinement, even if he has no history of claustrophobia. Aside from that, he's a healthy human being. We'll have no medical reason to keep him here, so he'll probably go home tomorrow night or the next morning. That's been the same story for every one of them."

Bennett returned from down the hall, anxious to leave.

"Mulder's rental car has been found at the Marriott hotel downtown," he informed Scully. "Agents are canvassing the area but they haven't found him yet," he answered her question before she had a chance to ask.

Scully quickly pulled her business card out of her pocket and handed it to the doctor. "Thanks, Dr. Lowe. Please keep us updated on Mr. Wakefield's condition. We'd like to ask him some questions when he's able."

Dr. Lowe watched Scully walk briskly down the hall. He didn't realize he was being paged until the red-haired agent was well out of sight.


Chapter 8

Marriott Hotel
Seattle, WA
12:35 PM

Scully was already climbing out of the car as it screeched to a halt in the hotel parking lot. A mobile crime scene unit was parked behind the abandoned rental car and forensics experts were examining it for clues.

"Special Agent Scully, FBI. Who's in charge here?" she asked, quickly flashing her badge to a policeman as she approached the taped off area.

The officer allowed her under the tape and guided her to Special Agent in Charge Hutchens, who was directing a handful of officers near the car. Hutchens was a tall man with broad shoulders and thick chest. His neatly trimmed mustache matched his cropped salt and pepper hair. His squinting dark eyes, weathered by age and experience, were confined by thick eyebrows and seemed to look through people rather than at them. He expected his orders to be followed completely, without question or deviation. In his view, the FBI was better off without agents who chose to interpret orders rather than obey them. Consequently, Mulder's reputation as a maverick irritated Hutchens like a mosquito constantly buzzing his ear, skillfully dodging every swat of his callused hands.

Scully approached Hutchens as the team dispersed. "Agent Hutchens? I'm Agent Scully,..." she began, but Hutchens interrupted her in mid sentence.

"So, you're Agent Mulder's partner," he said in a manner that was decidedly unsympathetic, if not downright scornful. His piercing stare accused her of insubordination, guilt by association.

"Yes." Refusing to give any ground to his unexpectedly abrasive response, she locked her stare against his. "Have you found any leads?" she asked directly.

Hutchens looked past Scully and nodded as Bennett joined them. "There isn't much to tell. Whoever took the car wiped it clean - it would even pass my mothers white glove inspection." Hutchens continued with his summary as they walked around the side of the car to the open driver's door. "The keys are in the ignition and the luggage is in the trunk. There isn't any sign of a struggle -- or of Agent Mulder for that matter."

"Do you know when the car arrived?"

"The engine's cold, so sometime last night, though no one seems to remember when. The employees don't pay much attention to the parking lot," finished Hutchens as he surveyed the progress of his investigators.

"Has anyone inside seen him?"

"He hasn't checked into the hotel. We showed his picture to everyone that's here now but we haven't had any luck. I've sent a couple of agents to the homes of employees that were working last night. We'll know something from them this afternoon."

"I'll check the phone records from the lobby" she offered, hoping that her singular contribution would result in finding her missing partner.

"You aren't going anywhere near this case," replied Agent Hutchens.

"But, I..."

"That's a direct order," scolded Hutchens. "I've already discussed it with Assistant Director Kersch and we agree that you are too close to this case to be objective. You will stay out of this investigation, is that understood?" he asked, towering over Scully.

"Yes, sir," replied Scully reluctantly. He was right, but that didn't lessen her frustrations. She looked at the abandoned car and at the agents hopelessly dusting for fingerprints. Clues to Mulder's whereabouts resided in the car, clues that perhaps she alone could decipher because she knew him so well. And yet it was that very fact that was preventing her from joining the investigation. She took a deep breath and looked down at the pavement.

"Continue to work with Agent Bennett on the missing persons case," Hutchens continued.

"Do you think Mulder's disappearance may be related to that case?" asked Scully.

"No, I don't. Every one of the victims in that case are from the Seattle area. I don't see any reason why the perpetrators would change their habits. Frankly, I think Mulder deliberately left his partner to explore a link involving little green men. Unfortunately, I don't have any proof of that, or I'd have his hide. In the mean time, I have no choice but to conduct this investigation to the best of my abilities, as you should be yours. Now, what did you learn at the hospital?"

"We weren't able to speak with Mr. Wakefield. While we were there, he woke from his coma but was delusional. Dr. Lowe will contact us when he's coherent," she answered.

A phone ringing from Agent Hutchens jacket pocket interrupted the briefing. "Keep working on it. Interview Mr. Wakefield as soon as you get the chance," he said before answering the phone.

Bennett and Scully walked back towards their car.

"Have you checked into a hotel yet?" Scully asked.

"No. I spent the night in the luxury accommodations of the local field office," replied Bennett, reminding her of his misfortune.

"Why don't we check in here. I'd like to access our database and see if we have any information on the protein found in Mr. Wakefield," suggested Scully.

"Sounds fine to me. I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry. I wonder how good room service is around here," replied Bennett.

Upon entering her room, Scully put her lap top on the table and her luggage on the bed before wandering over to the window. Below, the agents were packing up the crime unit van. The abandoned rental car was sitting snugly on a flatbed tow truck, headed to the forensics lab for further analysis. When the truck was out of sight, she returned to the nightstand, pulled the phone cord out of the phone and plugged it into the side of the lap top. When she reached to plug the power cord into the socket, she noticed a small envelope resting conspicuously under the door.

She opened her door and looked down the hallway - but it was empty. "Agent Scully" was scrawled on the front of the envelope in an unfamiliar hand. Inside, she found a brochure for Escher Laboratories. An "E" presented as a three dimensional hologram served as the logo and the slogan typed in a sophisticated modern font across the bottom read, read, "We design a better future." A business card for James Keegan, Ph.D., was included with a residential address and "6 PM" written on the back.

Scully quickly plugged the phone line into the back of her laptop and turned on the power. When she accessed the internet, she went to the World Wide Web address printed at the bottom of the flyer. The now familiar three dimensional icon appeared in the left hand corner of the screen. "At Escher Laboratories, our mission is to apply the latest medical technology to improve the quality of life for all mankind. We design a better future." Scully scrolled through other propaganda until, at the bottom of the page, she reached links which interested her: The Organization, Skeletal Reconstruction, Organ Generation, Cloning, Genetic Engineering, Vaccine Development.

Scully clicked first on the "Cloning" icon, profiles of two mice. The next few screens discussed the basic theories behind cloning - creating multiple genetically identical copies of a single organism. While plant cloning has been practiced since the earliest days of agriculture, mammal cloning has only recently been successful. In the web pages that followed, Escher Laboratories professed it's successes in cloning, including a viable third generation mouse clone with no sign of genetic disintegration.

Finding nothing promising, Scully proceeded to the "Vaccine Development" icon, an image resembling a sleek lunar lander crossed with a high tech dumbbell. A three dimensional illustration of a complex protein greeted Scully. The globular molecule rotated on the screen, displaying its active sites as peaks and valleys. "In our V2000 program, we at Escher Laboratories are applying the latest recombinant DNA technology to develop an arsenal of vaccines for the fight against the world's deadliest viruses."

A knock at the door diverted Scully's attention. She quickly went to the door and looked through the peep hole. Agent Bennett, freshly showered and clothed, was juggling two sandwiches, chips and drinks. She unlocked the door, grabbed the drinks and ushered him inside. At the table she picked up the brochure and handed it to Bennett.

"Somebody shoved this under my door. Escher Laboratories is a biomedical engineering firm involved in everything from artificial limbs to biogeneration of replacement organs to vaccine development. I'm looking at their web site now," said Scully as she showed the site to Bennett.

"So, what do you think this has to do with our case?" asked Bennett.

"For one thing, I find it interesting that one of their primary research programs revolves around vaccine development."

"What's so unusual about that? There must be hundreds of labs across the country involved in that sort of research," countered Bennett, adjusting his shirt collar.

In a white van parked in the rear of the hotel, a man adjusted his ear phones. A reel to reel tape was slowly winding it's way across the tape heads, recording the conversation inside. The man turned up the volume and listened to Scully's explanation.

"Viruses are essentially shells of protein surrounding genetic material. Vaccines work because they prime our bodies to recognize the protein structure that is common to that particular viral strain. Then, when we are exposed to the live viruses, our immune system recognizes and attacks those proteins to eliminate the virus."

Scully dug her copy of Mr. Wakefield's lab report out from under her luggage and continued, "Dr. Lowe said that the protein found in Mr. Wakefield was unusually complex, almost 'as if it had been engineered'. The only other time I've seen a protein sequence this complex was in bodies recovered from the wreckage in Dallas last year."

"What are you talking about? I saw the report. Those men died from the blast," argued Bennett.

"And I saw the bodies. Their bones and tissues were dissolved into a gelatinous mass barely recognizable as human. You don't see that kind of damage from exploding bombs."

"So you're saying these people were kidnapped by a virus? What is this, mad cow disease gone mad? Mr. Wakefield is driving home from a meeting, is suddenly overcome by the virus, drops off the face of the planet for a couple of days and then shows up at the local hospital? I don't buy it."

"Look, the blast in Dallas was meant to cover up what I saw. What if something like it were here? Wouldn't you think the same forces involved in concealing it's existence in Dallas would be at work here as well?"

"More government conspiracies? You've been working with Agent Mulder too long. Look, if there's a cover up going on, why return the victims alive?" asked Bennett.

"For our sake," answered Scully, returning to her computer. She was suddenly lost in thought, pulling together pieces of a puzzle from the recesses of her mind. "The best lie is sandwiched between two truths," she muttered under her breath.

"Excuse me?" asked Bennett.

"What do you think would happen if word got out that a deadly virus with unknown origins or means of transmission were sweeping through downtown Seattle?" She paused for effect as the weight of her argument crushed his resolve. "Right. Pandemonium. But if you feed the public a story about a kidnapper, something tangible, they ignore it along with every other gory item on the six o'clock news."

Scully opened her private e-mail account on her computer.

"What are you doing?" asked Bennett as he looked over her shoulder.

"I'm e-mailing a couple of friends. They might be able to get some information about Escher Laboratories beyond the propaganda on the web," answered Scully as she quickly typed and mailed her request.


Chapter 9

Dr. Keegan's Residence
Redmond, WA
6 PM, PST

Bennett and Scully parked their car in front of a modest two story house.

"This must be the place. 219 Olympia Court" said Scully, comparing the address on the back of the business card with the numbers on the door. The house was similar to all the others squeezed onto the block: flower boxes decorated the windows and the small lawn was well groomed.

The two were walking up the sidewalk when the door unexpectedly opened.

"Dana, is it really you!" Jim asked enthusiastically. He met her halfway up the walk, gave her a quick hug and whispered in her ear, "Play along, they're watching."

Agonizing seconds passed before Scully decided to play his game.

"Jim? How long has it been?" she asked, as though greeting a friend from a nearly forgotten corner of her life.

A little bewildered, Scully scrutinized the man in front of her. His face was deceptively young, if not a little idealistic, but his eyes were weary, as though they had witnessed unspeakable tragedy. Those eyes urged her to continue lest someone discover his impending betrayal.

"This is my colleague Steve," she said, introducing Agent Bennett.

A tangible wave of relief crossed Jim's face. "Hi, Steve. It's a pleasure to meet you," Jim said, exchanging a hand shake with Bennett. Returning to Scully, Jim proceeded with the charade, adding subtle splashes of shared memories to his facade as they walked into his house. "So, how's Sally? I haven't talked to her in ages."

"She's doing some research on viral replication at Johns Hopkins back east. They just discovered a target protein for a vaccine," she answered, hoping to lead the discussion.

"I've been involved in some fascinating research in that area myself," answered Jim as he closed the door behind them. His demeanor instantly deflated into edgy concern. "Thanks for coming. Please, make yourselves comfortable."

Jim directed them to a tidy living room accessible immediately on the left from the foyer. An orange tabby with equally orange eyes peered briefly from behind the curtains at Scully, but the cat was far more interested in the events transpiring outside than in. Scully appreciated the simple decorations in the room: sleek hand-carved whales graced the polished cherry end tables, refined white curtains framed the window, and paired wooden bookcases were filled with books on Native American culture, whales, and chemistry journals. The top shelves were occupied by family pictures, though none of them were new. Scully barely recognized the boy in the pictures as Jim. The tousled black hair and vibrant eyes suggested a carefree nature that was all but absent in the man standing in front of them now.

Scully and Bennett sat on the navy couch that occupied most of the small living room. Jim sat on a matching chair directly across the coffee table from them, kneading his knuckles into the palms of his hands.

"Why did you invite us here," began Scully with businesslike efficiency.

Jim looked directly at her, his sunken eyes silently pleading for her to abandon her question, to somehow allow himself to undo what he was about to do. But he knew it was too late. When she persisted, he reluctantly rose from his chair, walked over to the bookcase and pulled a picture down from the top shelf.

"When I was a child, I dreamt of being a doctor."

He looked at Agents Scully and Bennett for a moment, a faint smile lit his face as childhood memories flooded his thoughts. His face darkened when he returned to the photograph and his story.

"Then I witnessed my mother endure chemotherapy. I discovered I didn't have the strength to watch the progression of untreatable diseases as they systematically devour the flesh and spirit of their victims. I couldn't be a doctor, so I became a chemist."

He looked at Scully and Bennett again and his tone took on a childlike eagerness as though he had discovered hidden treasure that he wanted to share.

"You see, molecules can be isolated, identified, synthesized, and destroyed all within the tidy confines of test tubes, beakers and gels. For the past fifteen years, I've been doing just that, developing drugs to fight those hideous diseases. Agent Scully, I'm sure you of all people can appreciate the importance of the work I do."

Scully suddenly got a very uneasy feeling. He had addressed the envelop directly to her, had personally invited her here. It was now obvious that he knew far more about her than he should.

Jim's eagerness vaporized as he put the photograph back on the book case.

"As you know by now, Escher Laboratories is at the cutting edge of research into developing vaccines. I helped develop that program and I'm very proud of it. We've always followed exacting standards to thoroughly test new drugs for safety and efficacy before proceeding to human trials."

"Who's 'we'," asked Scully.

"Dr. Nasaki and myself. Don, uh, Dr. Nasaki, is the director of research at Escher. He's currently supervising a handful of human trials. But yesterday, I found out he's been conducting human trials with drugs I haven't finished my preliminary tests on. When I confronted him, he complained about a deadline that couldn't be moved."

"What's so unusual about that?" asked Bennett naively.

"What kind of deadline is so important as to necessitate jeopardizing lives?" answered Jim with all of the gravity he could muster.

Scully pulled out a copy of Mr. Wakefield's laboratory report and handed it to Jim. "Does this look familiar to you?"

Jim's eyes widened when he recognized the characteristic sequence. He sat back down in his chair. "Yes. Where did you get this?"

"From a hospital patient," answered Scully with deliberate ambiguity. She waited for him to continue.

"This is the protein we've been developing plug vaccines against. I'm trying to build a molecule which binds the active site in this protein to prevent the virus from developing an infection. Don's detected this virus in a few patients, but they don't show any symptoms. It's as if the virus is vegetating, waiting for the right trigger before it attacks."

"How do you know who's infected if they don't show any symptoms?" asked Bennett.

"It's a matter of optics. The virus leaves a molecular residue on the surface of the eye which reacts with ultraviolet light. So bees can see it, but we can't."

"The bees," Scully muttered under her breath. The conversation continued without her as she recalled the transgenic experiments she witnessed in the Texas corn fields and the thousands of bees she encountered in the gigantic apiary.

"Bees can see it?" asked Bennett.

"Sure. Bees use ultraviolet light for navigation. A number of flowers reflect ultraviolet light that bees can detect. Our eyes aren't sensitive to ultraviolet light, so we can't see it without special equipment."

For an instant, Scully's body reflexively recalled the effects of her last bee sting - she felt lacerating pain ripping through her chest, she tasted the bitterness in the back of her mouth, and she felt as cold as though she were sitting on the Antarctic ice pack now.

"Scully, are you OK?" asked Bennett, noticing Scully's daze.

An uncontrollable chill ran down her spine as Scully joined the conversation again. "Yeah. I'm not terribly fond of bees anymore, that's all." She rubbed her forehead, trying to force the thoughts racing through her mind into a logical order. "To my knowledge, this disease hasn't been identified by the CDC, yet you're running clinical trials. Who's funding this work?"

Jim sat up stiffly in his chair and answered nervously, "I don't know. I haven't seen a single research proposal, let alone a grant for the work we're doing now. That's why I contacted you."

"Then how do you come by these patients?" she pressed.

Jim realized he had gone far enough. He shook his head and handed the report back to Scully. "I can't answer that question. But I can tell you there are others."

"'Others' what?" asked Bennett, clearly unsatisfied with the answer.

The heat of Bennett's accusatory glare couldn't melt the cold fear in Jim's eyes.

"Please, I've said more than I should already," Jim finished as he stood to escort his guests to the door. Like a well practiced actor walking through the curtains for the final act, Jim returned to his charade.

"Dana, it's been great to see you. Don't let so much time pass before you drop by again."

"Thanks, Jim. I won't."

He turned to Bennett and shook his hand vigorously. "And it was a pleasure meeting you. Any friend of Dana's is welcome here anytime."

"Thanks," answered Bennett, still unsatisfied.

"Enjoy your stay in Washington," finished Jim. He shut the door quietly.

Scully and Bennett walked to their car in silence. When they drove off, a white van merged into traffic behind them.

"So what do you think he meant by, 'There are others'?" asked Bennett. "Other informants? Victims? Laboratories? What?"

"That's a good question," Scully answered as she stared out the window at the road ahead. "I'd like to get a closer look at what's going on inside that laboratory. Let's talk to Hutchens in the morning about getting a search warrant."


Washington, DC
9:30 PM EST

Byers stared at the exposed guts of the computer sitting on the cluttered desktop. "What kind of contraption did you put in this time, Langly? Looks like a fifty six sixty on steroids."

Langly stood proudly, flicking his long, thin blonde hair behind his shoulders and puffing his chest. "That's the latest in telecommunications technology. We'll be able to access the internet at speeds a hundred times faster than we could with that clunker Frohicke installed last month."

"That was a fine piece of machinery, a true workhorse. It's not my fault it was fried by the thunderstorm last night," answered Frohicke, scratching his scruffy beard as he examined the computer screen in front of him.

"So, did you get it working yet?" asked Byers of his stubble faced colleague.

"Just one more thing. I've got to reconfigure this technological wonder so it doesn't conflict with the mouse again." Langly conducted a mini stage show with his fingertips. Metronomic key board taps sent data scrolling across the screen, reflecting in the thick glasses of the concert master. Command, respond, display, save. Hard drives clicked and whirred with pulsing lights and the constant hum of CPU and power supply fans. The show's finale was punctuated with the satisfying robotic beeps, chatters and whistles of the modem connecting to a remote computer. "We're in business."

Web pages loaded onto the computer with noticeable ease.

"Take a look at that! Sorry to say it, Frohicke, but this smokes you're workhorse. Now I'm going to be the ultimate doomsday dealer when I play Intergalactic Space Warrior against that junior cadet next door. Let me at him."

"Put you're testosterone in check there, Langly," said Frohicke as he clicked the mouse on the flashing mailbox in the corner of the screen. "We've got mail in our private box. It's from Scully. I knew she'd come around to see my point of view. We were meant for each other."

"Fat chance, Frohicke," chided Langly as he read the message.

"A man can dream, can't he?" asked Frohicke innocently.

"What's she want?" asked Byers, concern showing on his young, bearded face.

"She wants us to dig up some info on a biotech company named Escher Laboratories." Langly read further down the e-mail and paused at the last line. "Byers, take a look at this."

"What?" asked Byers as he walked around the desk to face the computer screen.

The three stared at the end of the message in front of them:

PS. Mulder's missing. Keep your eyes and ears open.


Marriott Hotel
Seattle, WA
8:35 PM, PST

Scully was staring past the flickering computer screen when footsteps in the hallway snapped her back to reality. She tried for the third time to read the paragraph in front of her, but her mind wandered before she reached the end of the second sentence. Recognizing she was making no progress on her report, Scully shut down the computer.

Her internal clock told her it was late, but the clock on the night stand said 8:35. If she went to bed now, she would be wide awake at 4:30 in the morning and she was sure that was against an unwritten law that was bred into her bones.

Scully sat on the bed, turned on the television and flipped through all 67 channels, but found nothing remotely interesting. She turned off the television and retrieved her cell phone from the night stand. She dialed Mulder's number as she walked over to the window. The police tape was gone from the parking lot below and people were coming and going, oblivious to the events of the morning. No answer. She threw the phone down on the bed in disgust, frustrated that once again she found herself alone in a hotel room, surrounded by unfamiliar sights and sounds and uncomfortable furniture.

Leaving the phone on the bed, Scully picked up her blazer from the back of the chair, put her high heel shoes on and walked out the door. She was about to knock on Bennett's door but decided against it when he heard him snoring loudly. Instead, she went to the lobby alone.

Live jazz music lured Scully into the hotel lounge. She took a seat in a booth and ordered a glass of wine from the waitress. The lounge was decorated simply. At each table, a small bouquet of freshly cut flowers was lit by a single white candle. A trio of musicians playing piano, bass and saxophone were situated in one corner and their music softly filled the gaps between the quiet conversations around the room. A few couples were dancing in a clearing in the corner. Occasionally, giggles released by nerves but restrained by politeness rose from one of the couples. Scully tried to remember the last time she laughed like that.

"A horse walks into a bar and the bartender asks,..."

"Why the long face?" Scully answered simultaneously with the vaguely familiar voice behind her. She turned around to see Dr. Lowe holding her glass of wine.

"I guess I better update my repertoire," said Dr. Lowe sheepishly. "Would you mind some company?"

"Please, by all means. What are you doing here?" Scully asked as she accepted the glass of wine.

"I tried calling, but there wasn't an answer. Earlier today, your partner mentioned the Marriott, so I thought I'd give it a try."

"Good memory. You'd make a good agent. Have you thought about joining the Bureau?"

"Oh, no. Guns and I don't get along. I've seen what happens when bullets mix with flesh and well,.."

"I was just kidding," interrupted Scully.

"Oh." He chuckled nervously as he took a sip from his glass. Scully noticed his ring finger was unadorned.

"How's Mr. Wakefield?" asked Scully.

Dr. Lowe stretched out his arm to reveal his watch. "As of 18:00 hours, he was resting comfortably, all vital signs stable. And my beeper hasn't told me otherwise, so..."

"So, do you ever leave your work behind?" asked Scully, picking up the unfinished sentence.

"I guess not. Been married to it for 10 years now and am still in love," he answered proudly, eyes wide and sparkling.

Scully wanted to drink the self-assurance that overflowed from Dr. Lowe's lips, to incorporate his sense of purpose into her own being. When she realized she was staring she sighed and turned away. She sipped her wine and watched the flickering shadows dancing within the flower arrangement at the center of the table.

Dr. Lowe leaned forward and with a quirky half smile, asked politely, "What is it?"

She looked at him and felt his compassionate, inquisitive eyes searching her face. His simple question was genuine, as though his sole purpose was to help her find answers to the questions she had been asking herself recently. Maybe his bedside manner was well rehearsed, but she instinctively felt he was sincere.

"Do you ever feel like life's passing you by?" asked Scully.

"Like you should've taken that left turn in Albuquerque?" asked Dr. Lowe.

"Yeah, something like that," Scully nodded and laughed, a little embarrassed that her brooding question could be reduced so easily to a cartoon metaphor. "You know what I'm talking about then."

"Sure I do. Doesn't everybody at some point in their life? The last time I felt like that was when I was pulling double shifts during my internship. My life consisted entirely of working, studying, eating and on rare occasion, sleeping. Meanwhile, my newlywed sister was starting a family and my friends were getting jobs and moving away," answered Dr. Lowe.

"What's different for you now?" pried Scully.

Dr. Lowe took a sip of his drink and thought for a moment. "Balance. During my internship, my life was work. In the morning I went to the hospital; during lunch I reviewed cases; when I finally went home I studied until I went to sleep, sometimes on my books. I felt guilty if I took an evening off to hang out with my friends. There was no balance, but that's the way it was. When you're at the bottom of the food chain, everything is about survival.

"Somewhere along the way, I discovered that medicine is my life. I'm healing people and I relish that. Of course, I may lose a patient every now and then. But the next minute, a 10 year old boy will come in with a broken arm and I can fix him up and send him on his way. It's exhausting and rejuvenating all in the same breath. Life's not passing me by, I'm living it. Besides, now I've learned I can enjoy an evening out without feeling guilty."

"So what kept you going, dedication or stubbornness?" asked Scully.

"Deja vu."

"Deja vu?" she asked, intrigued.

"Sure. Call me superstitious, but I take it as a little sign post that says, 'You're on the right track'. I knew I was heading in the right direction, so I kept going. I'm guessing you haven't seen that sign post in quite a while."

"No, I suppose not." Scully sipped her wine again and felt its warmth infiltrate her chest, melting her restraints. Dr. Lowe silently, patiently waited while his eyes gently coaxed her to continue. She felt him willing her to speak, and she consented.

"When I entered the Bureau, I did so because I felt I could make a difference, I could make the world a better place. I despised the cynics which felt it was their duty to spread their bitterness and discontent with the world and all of it's evils. Perhaps I despised them for losing hope, if not their ability to make a difference in their own lives.

"Have I made the world a better place? It seems that for every case we solve, there are ten we don't. My brother's started a family and I don't have enough time for a pet, let alone a family or even a couple of friends.

"Look at me. I'm sitting in a hotel bar talking to a near stranger while my partner's missing and I'm forbidden from..." The next few words caught in her throat like an escaped convict that suddenly found himself surrounded. Her hands trembled and she wondered if he could see it, though she didn't dare look at him to find out. She was thankful the lighting was as subdued as it was. "I'm sorry, it's not like me to ramble like this."

She stood to leave, but Dr. Lowe grabbed her arm and stood beside her. Slowly, she turned to face him and, to her surprise, found a warm, sympathetic face as though he knew exactly where she was at that moment in her life.

"You don't need to apologize. I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to listen," he reassured her. "But if you don't want to talk anymore, that's OK, too. Why don't we dance? They're playing my favorite song."

Scully nodded and took a deep breath. In a very courteous manner, Dr. Lowe guided her to the dance floor, placed his right arm lightly around her waist, held her right hand gently in his left and expertly led her around the dance floor. They moved fluidly, as one with the music. Engulfed by the moment, Scully closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder, content to follow his lead.

"I don't recognize the song, what is it?" she finally asked.

"I have no idea, it's the first time I've heard it," he confessed.

Scully giggled contagiously until he joined her. With each turn, she let her burdens slip away until she was actually enjoying herself.


Chapter 10

Washington, DC
10:30 AM, EST

The news that Cigarette Smoking Man brought to the Syndicate served to momentarily silence the room. A thin trail of smoke encircled Smoking Man while each man in the room looked at the other in turn.

Finally, the Elder asked the obvious questions for the group. "Who runs Escher Laboratories? Why are they conducting these experiments against the alien virus?"

"Does it really matter? We can't have private companies toiling with this virus. They have no idea what they're dealing with," Strughold responded, clearly worried.

Bearded Man picked up where Strughold left off. "They could alter the timeline without ever knowing it. One wrong move and it could erupt in their faces."

"We can control that by absorbing the company. We have the resources to do this, so I suggest we use them. I'm concerned Agent Scully has been able to link these cases with cases we supposedly buried in Dallas," the Elder thought out loud. He paused to allow the reminder of the failure in Dallas to have it's full chastising effect on Smoking Man. "Does she have any physical evidence?" he asked finally, staring intently at the shadowy man in front of him.

"Apparently she has a protein analysis from the latest victim that matches something she saw in the victims in Dallas," answered Smoking Man, refusing to cave in to the scrutiny.

"Sloppy work," tisked the Elder.

"Does she have any evidence from the laboratory?" asked Strughold.

"No, just an informant," replied Smoking Man through exhaled smoke.

"Good. Don't let her get any." The Elder turned to Smoking Man and commanded, "Shut down the operation immediately. In the mean time, do everything you can to prevent Agents Scully and Bennett from entering that laboratory."


SAC Hutchens's Office
FBI Field Office
Seattle, WA
8 AM, PST

Special Agent in Charge Hutchens hung up the phone as Agents Scully and Bennett entered the office. They carried with them a request for a search warrant of Escher Laboratories. Scully took the lead and handed it to Hutchens.

"Good morning, sir. We'd like to request a search warrant for Escher Laboratories. We believe they're responsible for the kidnappings in the area."

Hutchens reviewed the papers in silence. Bennett practically held his breath waiting for the answer.

"You're kidding, right?" rebuffed SAC Hutchens.

"No, sir," answered Scully.

"I don't know how they operate things on the east coast, but around here, we need some hard evidence before we start issuing search warrants. You only have the word of one person. For all you know, he got into a little tiff with his friend and this is his way of getting back at him."

"Sir, this laboratory is conducting human experiments on a disease the CDC knows nothing about and with drugs the FDA has never heard of. When I asked the informant where the laboratories obtained their test subjects, he shut his mouth tighter than the White House during an impeachment trial. I think we need to see what's going on in those laboratories," pleaded Scully.

"Did he give you any names?" questioned Hutchens.

"No, sir."

Bennett looked down at his shoes, happy he wasn't on the receiving end of the self-inflicted inquisition.

"Did he show you the alleged vaccine?"

"No, sir."

"Was Mr. Wakefield exposed to the alleged vaccine?"

"I believe he was. The informant recognized the protein structure recovered from Mr. Wakefield," she answered hopefully.

"Were any of the other victims exposed to the vaccine?"

"I don't know."

"You have far too many questions unanswered to justify a search warrant. You can resubmit your request when you have those answers," finished Hutchens.

"Yes, sir" answered Scully.

She and Bennett turned to leave the office. When she reached the door, she paused and turned to ask SAC Hutchens one last question.

"Sir, can I ask how the investigation into Mulder's disappearance is going?"

Hutchens took a deep breath and examined Scully's concerned face. He had to admit that he was beginning to share her concern.

"It's slow. The interviews with the personnel on duty that night didn't lead to anything. We still have some interviews to conduct with the clientele and we are looking into phone records from the lobby. Forensics is still working on the car. You stay focused on your case, we'll find him."

"Thank you, sir." For a second, she caught his reluctant gaze and swore she detected a hint of compassion. She felt a little better as she left the office and closed the door behind her.

Outside the office, Bennett asked, "So now what?"

Scully watched the morning drizzle crawl down the window. The phone ringing in her pocket gave them their answer.

"Agent Scully."

"This is Dr. Lowe. I wanted to let you know that Mr. Wakefield is conscious and doing well."

"Thank you, doctor. We'll be right over." She hung up the phone and returned it to her pocket. "Why don't we see if Mr. Wakefield can answer some of these questions."


King County Hospital
9:00 AM, PST

Scully and Bennett entered the Intensive Care ward but found Thomas's bed occupied by a woman. They returned to the nurse's station and displayed their credentials.

"I'm Agent Scully of the FBI. We're looking for a patient by the name of Thomas Wakefield. He was in that room yesterday."

"Yes. We needed the room, so we moved him down the hall. I'm headed there now - it's time for his morning check-up." The nurse escorted them to Thomas's new room.

Thomas sat motionless in a small chair, staring intently as the morning mist shrouding the buildings turned their rigid steel and stone corners into shadows. His son, Billy, sat in Mrs. Wakefield's lap across from him. She was talking to him, but his gaze never shifted.

"He's been sitting there all morning, staring out that window ever since he woke up," explained the nurse.

"Then maybe we should start with his wife," suggested Bennett. "See if he's said anything to her. Could you send her out?"

"Sure."

The nurse walked into the room and whispered into Mrs. Wakefield's ear. Billy stayed in the chair while Mrs. Wakefield joined Scully and Bennett.

"How are you doing?" asked Scully.

"I've been better," she answered hoarsely, watching Thomas as the nurse took his blood pressure and pulse.

"Has your husband told you anything about what happened?" asked Bennett.

"No, he's hardly said a word. Just sits there and stares out the window. Won't even let Billy sit in his lap. Says it's 'too confining'. How am I supposed to explain that to Billy?" Her bloodshot eyes rested on the young boy. He was sitting quietly in the chair, hands clasped in his lap like his father's, staring out the window, waiting for the sun to burn through the gray world.

"Would you mind if we asked him some questions alone?" asked Scully.

"No, go ahead."

Mrs. Wakefield called Billy into the hall. Scully and Bennett entered the hospital room just as the nurse finished.

"Mr. Wakefield. I'm Agent Bennett and this is Agent Scully. We're the FBI agents investigating your case."

"Hi," he answered without looking at them.

"How are you feeling this morning?" asked Scully as she took the seat across from him.

Thomas looked down at his hands. "Like a damn fool."

"Why's that?" asked Bennett.

Thomas clenched his jaw as he looked at Bennett. "I've been working my ass off for my company for the past two years so that I could transfer to Seattle. Well, I didn't get the transfer. So what happens? I drop off the face of the planet and show up a couple of days later with no memory and a pretty set of track marks up my arms." He held out his arms, displaying the bruising from the IV's at the laboratories. "Great way to show you're dependable in the face of adversity, isn't it?"

"What's the last thing you remember?" asked Scully.

"I was driving home from the meeting in Portland. I pulled into a truck stop to use the phone. When Lisa answered, something pricked me on the shoulder. That's it."

"Witnesses saw you drive away from the truck stop. Do you remember that?"

"No, just the phone call. The rest is all ... nonsense."

"Anything you can remember could help us," she pressed.

Thomas stared intensely at Scully, his lips trembling. "All I remember is white. No rooms, no walls, no people, just white. I heard voices, but they were twisted and muffled. I couldn't understand them. I couldn't stop them. I couldn't move." He studied his hands for a moment, massaging his left palm with his right thumb. Finally, he whispered, "I couldn't do anything." Ashamed, Thomas resumed his silent stare out the window.

Scully looked at Bennett for a moment, then stood to leave. "Thanks for your time."

Mrs. Wakefield waited for Scully and Bennett outside the room, her eyes searching for answers on their faces.

"He didn't have much to say. Maybe more will come back to him later. Here's my card. If you need to talk to us, or if he remembers anything, give us a call, OK?" Scully wrote her hotel number on the back of her business card and handed it to Mrs. Wakefield.

Scully and Bennett watched as Mrs. Wakefield and Billy joined Thomas in the gray hospital room. Mrs. Wakefield brushed the hair out of the young boys eyes as he settled into her lap and stared silently out the window like his father.

Scully and Bennett were about to leave when Dr. Lowe joined them. "Good morning. Sorry I couldn't get here sooner. I had a patient to attend to."

"Good morning," answered Scully trying unsuccessfully to hide the smile from her face.

Bennett caught the friendly greeting and eyed her suspiciously.

"Was Mr. Wakefield able to answer any of your questions?"

"No. I think he's still overwhelmed by everything that's happened. It's going to take some time before he can really help us or himself, for that matter," answered Scully as she peered through the doorway at the troubled man.

"Doctor, would you mind if I asked you a question?" asked Bennett.

Scully looked quizically at Bennett.

"By all means," answered the doctor.

"You mentioned yesterday that you have treated nine kidnapping victims like Mr. Wakefield that have appeared at this hospital."

"Yes."

"How many cases have there been?" asked Bennett.

"I think just the nine," answered Dr. Lowe as he wrapped his arms around the patient's chart he was carrying.

"Do you know a Dr. Nasaki?"

Scully's eyes widened when she realized where his questions were leading. Her glare would have stopped a freight train had Bennett paid attention.

"Yes. I see him from time to time around the hospital. He's been working with Dr. Schamp in pediatrics to develop a new vaccine delivery system."

"Does he work with viruses much?"

"That's his primary research interest."

A voice on the intercom interrupted their conversation. "Dr. Lowe, please report immediately to the nearest nurses station."

"Excuse me." Dr. Lowe sprinted down the hall to the nurses station.

When he was well out of earshot, Scully turned on Bennett. "What was that all about?"

"Why don't you tell me."

"Excuse me?"

"That greeting you gave him. What did I miss between you two last night?"

"Not what you're implying," she answered, planting her hands firmly on her hips.

"But you did talk with him."

"Yes."

"About the case?"

"I asked how Mr. Wakefield was doing," she said in a hushed voice, pointing to the man staring out the window.

"And what else?"

"Where are you going with this, Bennett?"

Bennett lowered his voice. "You should know better than to become personally involved with a suspect."

Scully leaned into Bennett. "Suspect?! Since when did Dr. Lowe become a suspect?"

"Don't you think it's a little too coincidental that he's the only doctor at this hospital that's treated all of the kidnapping victims?" asked Bennett, pointing to the doctor down the hallway.

Scully was speechless. She crossed her arms defiantly across her chest.

"That's all I'm saying," finished Bennett.

"I think we should give Dr. Nasaki a visit," said Scully, finally. "We don't need a search warrant to ask questions."

Scully and Bennett walked silently down the hall.

Dr. Lowe picked up a phone and dialed as he watched the agents round the corner.

"Hello?" a tired voice answered.

"Hey, Don, it's Mike."


Chapter 11

Escher Laboratories
Burien, WA
11:15 AM, PST

Bennett and Scully drove through the front gates onto the campus of Escher Laboratories. Security cameras and motion detectors hidden among overgrown bushes tracked their movements down the drive. Scully pulled out the brochure and compared it to the scene in front of her. It was obvious the picture was taken some ago when the laboratory was new. The once crisp paint now peeled in dingy layers from the panes of cloudy windows.

Bennett parked the car among the weeds which invaded the pavement. The agents entered the building to an unassuming, sparsely decorated lobby. They were greeted by Ms. Williams, the receptionist.

"May I help you," she asked.

"I'm Agent Bennett from the FBI and this is Agent Scully. We'd like to speak with Dr. Nasaki," he said as they displayed their identifications to her.

"Is he expecting you?"

"No," he answered, putting his badge back in his pocket.

"One moment, I'll see if he's available." She phoned Dr. Nasaki to notify him of the unexpected visitors. "Follow me, please," she said as she hung up the phone.

Ms. Williams led Scully and Bennett through the thick double doors that separated the lobby from the laboratories. An uneasy familiarity greeted Scully as they walked through the sterile, white labyrinthal hallways, past laboratories sealed with metal doors decorated with biohazard stickers. She peered through the small windows in the doors and was surprised to see that each room was unusually small. The ceilings were noticeably shorter than the ceiling in the hallway and the metallic walls were bare. A skinny aisle separated two facing lab benches filled with beakers and test tubes. Occasionally, a laboratory technician wearing safety glasses, latex gloves and white lab coat occupied one of the labs. When they rounded another corner, a small man with straight black hair greeted them in the hallway.

Extending his hand in a welcoming gesture, Dr. Nasaki greeted Scully and Bennett. "Good morning, I'm Dr. Don Nasaki. Please, call me Don."

Morphing Man watched a panel of security monitors as the three exchanged handshakes. The receptionist retreated from view, but Dr. Nasaki and the FBI agents walked from the viewing field of the camera in the hallway to the one in the corner of the doctor's office.

"How can I help you?" Don asked as he led them into his office. Like the lobby, the office was sparsely decorated. Aside from a computer monitor and a phone, his desk was completely occupied by orphaned research journals and papers that could not find refuge in the overflowing bookcases.

"We're investigating a case involving a patient at a local hospital that was infected with what we believe is an unusual virus. We understand you're research involves viruses and vaccines," answered Agent Scully as she sat across from the doctor. Agent Bennett sat beside her.

"Yes, I'm currently overseeing three research projects involving vaccines: one involves a revolutionary delivery system using a patch of microneedles."

"Microneedles?" asked Bennett.

"It's quite ingenious, really, and we're in the process of patenting the technology now." He pulled a dime sized patch out of the center drawer in his desk and handed it to Bennett. "Each patch has hundreds of microscopic needles which are long enough to penetrate the outer layer of the skin and deliver a drug, but are small enough to avoid sensitive nerve cells. So it feels like you're wearing a band aid. We've also developed time- release versions which can deliver a drug over six, twelve or eighteen hours. Painful inoculations delivered by needle injections will soon be a thing of the past."

"And the other two studies?" asked Scully.

"One study focuses on building immunity to a virus before the body is exposed to the virus. We've found that if you expose mice to fragments of genes isolated from RNA viruses, they build immunity to the virus. There isn't a threat of infection because we are only exposing the mice to pieces of the virus rather than the whole, yet the mice generate full immunity. We're still sequencing the RNA, so this study is in it's infancy

"The last study focuses on neutralizing a virus after it has invaded the body. We've identified a rudimentary active site on the surface of the virus that causes the common cold. This site doesn't mutate as quickly as other molecules on the surface, yet it's vital for invading cells and subsequently causing infection. We're synthesizing molecules that will bind to that active site and thus prevent it from invading cells. With this technique, someone can theoretically carry a high viral count without ever feeling sick. The immune system then has time to eliminate the virus on its own."

"Why are you working on the common cold? Aren't there more important viruses to work on?" asked Bennett.

"Well, for one thing, the common cold virus is plentiful and if we're not successful, the worst that can happen is that someone has a slight case of the sniffles and a runny nose for a few days. But if we are successful, we can perfect the technique and transfer it to more threatening viruses such as HIV or Ebola."

"Who's funding your research?" asked Scully. She was searching the doctor's expressions and mannerisms for any sign of discomfort, but couldn't find any. He was answering the questions with ease.

"The National Institute for Health is funding the development of the microneedle patch, the World Health Organization is funding the research into RNA vaccines, and private investors are funding the cure for the common cold. They are particularly interested in the potential return on their investment."

"Does any of your research involve human trials?" asked Bennett.

Scully thought the doctor stiffened a bit at the question. For a split second, his eyes diverted to the corner of his office.

"The only one that does is the microneedle study. I'm working with Dr. Schamp at King County hospital. We're coordinating with the local public health office to vaccinate children and compare their resistance to children receiving traditional vaccines. The other two studies are still confined to test tubes and lab mice."

"Could you show us the labs where this research is being conducted?" asked Scully.

"I'm afraid not. You must understand that we have to follow certain protocols to ensure our experiments won't be contaminated. Unfortunately, that involves restricting access to those laboratories."

"Well, thank you for your time, Dr. Nasaki," Scully said as she stood to leave.

"You're welcome. I'll take you to the lobby. The hallways around here are a little confusing at first. The first week we moved into this building, it didn't matter where I was going, I kept ending up at the cold room. It seems all the hallways lead there."

Dr. Nasaki led Scully and Bennett through the maze of hallways to the lobby. "Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you."

"Thank you, doctor," answered Bennett as he and Scully left the building. "Well, he seemed to have reasonable explanations for the work he's doing. Maybe Hutchens is right, this guy Jim just has it out for Dr. Nasaki."

They climbed into their car, Bennett in the drivers seat. Scully looked back at the laboratory as she answered, "I'm not so sure yet." She noticed a vaguely familiar white van parked next to the building and tried to place where she had seen it before.

"What'd I miss?"

"Well, for one thing, Dr. Nasaki said we couldn't see any of the labs because of potential contamination threats."

"Yeah, so..."

"So, the lab techs were wearing minimal protection at best: safety glasses, latex gloves and lab coats. There's no reason why we couldn't have worn the same." She looked again at the brochure sitting on the dashboard. "Remember yesterday when you asked Jim about the 'others'?"

"Yeah."

"Why don't you see if there are any other unexplained absences around the country that fit ours. I'll check out the doctor's story with the NIH and WHO."

"What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking that if a laboratory were conducting unsanctioned tests on people, they would have to keep a pretty low profile."

"And that means taking a small sample before moving to a new location. I'll dig into Jim's history a bit, see where he's been living and see if there are any correlations," answered Bennett as he started the car.

Scully looked once more at the building as they drove off.


Viewing Room

Inside the building, Morphing Man joined the Investor in the viewing room.

"Yes?" asked the Investor, intently observing the activities below.

"Dr. Nasaki just had a visit from the FBI," reported Morphing Man.

The Investor turned quickly at the news. "What did they want?"

"They asked general questions about the vaccine research he's overseeing," answered Morphing Man as he looked down into the eyes of the man he had become the day before.

"Did he give anything away?"

"No, he handled the questions pretty well."

"We just started making some real progress here. Who tipped them off?" he asked angrily.

"It could be Dr. Keegan. He had a heated discussion with Dr. Nasaki yesterday."

"Be sure and deal with him appropriately. We can't afford to take any chances. In the meantime, prepare for relocation. We aren't completely mobile until this last patient is released. That will be a minimum of 24 hours from now."

"Yes, sir" replied Morphing Man. He left the room as the Investor returned to his observations of the patient below.


Dr. Keegan's Office

Dr. Nasaki stormed into Dr. Keegan's office and slammed the door.

"You don't like how I'm conducting my work, so you contact the FBI?!" ranted Dr. Nasaki. "Do you realize what you've done? You've put this whole operation in jeopardy! This isn't about protocol, Jim. It's not about your conscience either. It's about human lives. And you may have just sealed our fate!"

Dr. Nasaki was trembling with rage as he stared at his former friend. They could see in each other what they were feeling inside: guilt for what they had done, fear for what was to come. When Jim didn't offer a defense, Dr. Nasaki left the office in disgust.


Chapter 12

FBI Field Office
Seattle, WA
5 PM, PST

Scully sat a desk borrowed from another agent. She logged onto the computer to check her e-mail. A message was waiting from the Lone Gunmen, answering her request for more information about Escher Laboratories.

Hey Scully,

We looked into Escher Laboratories for you.

Turns out they're a subsidiary of Mendell-

Carmicheal Pharmaceuticals, an international

company. Escher Labs is a small part of their

entire operation. Through their subsidiaries,

there are MCP labs in New York, Arlington,

Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, San Diego and

Seattle, as well as in a number of countries

around the world. In 1994, they were involved in

an industrial espionage suit. A rival company

claimed MCP stole their technology for developing

some kind of specialized vaccine. The case was

settled out of court.

We'll keep looking.

PS - Keep us updated on Mulder.

She was about to respond when Bennett came up beside her, carrying a manila folder.

"Any luck?" he asked, baiting her.

"Yeah. Dr. Nasaki's story checks out with the NIH and WHO. He has active grants with both of them. Also, I just got an answer to that e-mail I sent yesterday. Escher Laboratories is a subsidiary of Mendell-Carmicheal Pharmaceuticals, a company that has offices in several cities around the US, including New York, Atlanta, Miami and a few others. You have any luck?"

"As a matter of fact, I did. Turns out our little informant has been around. I looked into his vehicle registration records for the past 5 years. Before living in the Seattle area, he lived in Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans and San Diego. That's four moves in the past five years. I hope he packs light.

"I asked the local police in each city if they had any unsolved cases similar to ours. Look at this,..." he said enthusiastically, placing the open folder in front of her. "There are clusters of a dozen or so unsolved kidnapping cases in Atlanta, New Orleans and San Diego that correspond to the times Jim was living in those cities. I think we should ask him a few more questions."

"I think you're right," answered Scully as she logged off the computer.

Scully and Bennett were waiting for a downtown traffic light to turn green.

"I checked up on Dr. Lowe, too, but I didn't find anything connecting him to either Dr. Keegan or Dr. Nasaki," said Bennett.

"That's good to know," answered Scully dryly.

"I'm , well, sorry for accusing you of behaving inappropriately. I was out of line."

"Apology accepted, but it wasn't necessary. You saw a pattern that I missed. That's good work. But next time, clue your partner in on what you're thinking. In this job, you get things done with teamwork," advised Scully.

"I'll remember that."

Scully's phone rang and interrupted their conversation. "Scully," she answered quickly.

"This is Jim Keegan. Can you come to my place?"

"As a matter of fact, we're on our way now."

"I have more inform..."

The line was suddenly silent.

"Jim? ... Jim?!" Scully looked at her phone, but from everything she could see, she should still be getting his signal. She threw the phone on the seat and ran the red light.

"What are you doing?" asked Bennett, bracing himself as best he could in the swerving car.

"Keegan's in trouble," she said breathlessly as she took a hard right turn.

A stopped bus blocked the lane in front of them. She slammed the brakes and swerved into the left lane into on-coming traffic. Horns blared and brakes screamed as she ducked in front of the bus and sped down the street. She paused at the next intersection before bullying her way through. After the next left, she merged onto an expressway and raced through traffic, startling a number of drivers along the way. She progressively moved to the left until she was hemmed into the left hand lane.

"The next exit is Keegan's!" said Bennet, still bracing himself in the car. "It's only a half mile away!"

"Hold on!" said Scully.

She slammed the brakes and moved into the right lane behind the car beside her. Checking the side mirror, she moved over another lane, but a tractor trailer blocked the next. She stepped on the gas and merged in front of the truck. She checked her side mirror again and moved over into the far right lane, cutting off a car that was in her blind spot.

Scully proceeded down the exit ramp and through several stop signs as she navigated Keegan's neighborhood. She locked the brakes in front of his house and slid to a stop with a hideous squeal. Scully and Bennett jumped out of the car and ran up the sidewalk, guns drawn. Jim's orange tabby was perched on the front porch, but dashed around back as the agents raced up the sidewalk. They were about to knock on the front door when they noticed it was partially open.

"Jim? It's Scully," she yelled into the house.

No response. They moved cautiously inside. Scully's stomach knotted when she saw the living room. The toppled lamp illuminated the whale figurines scattered across the floor with several journals and the shattered picture of Jim's family. They moved down the hall to the kitchen where Scully found Jim's body lying face up on the floor.

She quickly kneeled beside him and checked for a pulse or breathing. Nothing. She looked up at Bennett and shook her head. Fresh bruises around Jim's neck quickly revealed the cause of death to her. Still unaccustomed to the sight of dead bodies, Bennett stared at the expressionless eyes gazing upward. Squeaking floor boards from upstairs pulled him out his trance.

Together, Scully and Bennett quickly and quietly walked to the stairs in the foyer. Their flashlights pierced the darkness engulfing the landing at the top of the stairs. There, they decided to split up, Bennett taking the left side of the house and Scully taking the right.

The first room on Scully's left was a bathroom, small and empty. A linen closet opposite the bathroom was filled with towels, extra sheets and pillows. She moved further down the hallway until she reached a bedroom on the right. The open window let in enough light to reveal twin beds, a night stand, rocking chair, and chest of drawers. The fairly small guest room lacked a closet or any other refuge.

As she was leaving the room, Scully heard a muffled voice cry "Scully!?" from down the hall. She cautiously approached Bennett's side of the house, scanning the floor and halls with her flashlight.

"Bennett?" she called anxiously.

She listened for her partner but all she heard was the muffled thumping of her heart pounding in her chest. She tried to hold her nerves in check as the blood raced through her veins.

A soft thud.

She held her breath.

"I got him!" yelled Bennett.

Relieved, Scully raced down the hall to find Agent Bennett breathing heavily. He was standing over an unconscious man lying face down on the floor, hands cuffed behind his back.

"Who is it?" asked Scully, reaching down to turn the man over. A pin prick on her shoulder stopped her short.

"Hey, what's that..." Scully had just enough time to turn around and look at the impostor before passing out. She fell to the floor next to the hand cuffed Agent Bennett.


The Lone Gunman Headquarters
Washington, DC
7:00 AM, EST

Langly sat in front of the monitor, a days worth of stubble on his slender face. He reviewed the data streaming across the screen, typed, waited and watched. Typed, waited and watched. Occasionally, he scribbled a note on a scrap sheep of paper next to the keyboard. Similar scraps littered the floor and desk, illuminated by the single halogen lamp.

The overhead light flickered to life as Byers walked into the room wearing his bathrobe and slippers. "You still at it?" he asked between a much needed stretch and a yawn.

"Yeah. They've got a pretty good firewall, but I'm close, I can feel it. I made some coffee earlier if you want some."

Byers looked at the cold, coagulated mass coating the bottom of the coffee pot and promptly poured it out. "Thanks, I think I'll make a fresh batch."

After he set the coffee brewing, Byers retrieved the morning paper from the front porch. On his way back to the kitchen, he knocked on Frohicke's door. "Frohicke! It's seven o'clock." Silence answered. He knocked louder. "Frohicke!"

"Yeah, yeah, I heard you already," Frohicke answered through the door.

Byers poured fresh coffee for each of them and sat down to read the paper. Frohicke stumbled into the kitchen, his bathrobe hanging off his shoulders and his glasses clinging to the end of his nose.

"Man, you just interrupted the best dream. Scully was..."

"I don't want to hear about it," answered Byers, stifling Frohicke's story before he could start in on the details.

"I'm in!" exclaimed Langly.

Frohicke and Byers rushed to his side.

"Go to the medical records," suggested Byers. "Let's see who they're treating."

Langly quickly typed a few commands. Soon, names and dates scrolled up the screen.

"Limit the search to patients within the last two months," suggested Frohicke.

Langly typed a few more commands and a shorter list appeared. To their surprise, Mulder's name was last on the list.

"Oh, my," said Byers.

"Download his file," commanded Frohicke. There was no need. Langly was already typing feverishly, fueled by adrenaline.

"Call Scully," instructed Langly.

Byers rushed to the phone and dialed her cellular phone. No answer. He tried the hotel. No answer. "I can't reach her."

Byers returned to the computer as Langly began the download. The three watched the kilobytes climb as the file loaded onto their hard drive, painfully aware that time was working against them. Each second that passed was another opportunity for the system administrator to discover the security breech. Ten seconds passed.

"One quarter of the file across," reported Langly.

Twenty seconds passed.

"Come on," pleaded Byers.

Thirty seconds passed. The kilobyte count grew.

Suddenly, the connection was severed. An error message commandeered the screen: "DNS no longer available."

"Do you have it?" asked Frohicke.

"I'm checking. It's encrypted."

Byers and Frohicke could only watch as Langly tried to open the file.

"Yes, it's complete," he answered finally.

"Send it to Scully," instructed Byers.

"One step ahead of you," answered Langly as he clicked the send button on the private e-mail account.


Dr. Keegan's Residence
Redmond Washington
9:30 AM, PST

"Agent Scully, can you hear me?" questioned the commanding voice of SAC Hutchens.

Scully moaned and blinked, struggling to focus on the overlapping faces in front of her. She tried to talk. In her mind, she answered clearly, but her words tumbled out of her mouth as mangled mumbles, "Bai zho zhay." When she could see more clearly, she knew she wasn't getting through to them. "Bai zho zhay," she tried again unsuccessfully.

She felt the world beneath her shift as the medic and SAC Hutchens sat her upright. An acrid smell pierced her daze and she instinctively turned away. The medic persisted and waved the smelling salts under her nose twice more.

"I'm OK," she said more forcefully, pushing the salts away from her face.

This time, they understood. She looked around the dimly lit room, slowly becoming aware of her surroundings. Another medic was tending to Agent Bennett who was sitting on the bed. The sounds of voices and squeaky wheels traveled up the stairs as the coroner rolled Dr. Keegan's body to the hearse waiting outside.

"Keegan," she said as she tried stand up. Immediately, the world spun around her and her knees buckled.

"Slow down," said Hutchens, catching her and propping her against the wall.

In the midst of the vertigo, she couldn't decide if she was holding the wall up, or if the wall was holding her up. When the spinning stopped, she took a few unsteady steps into the bedroom aided by Hutchens. With each step, the scene in front of her bounced, as if she were watching a home video filmed by a young child. Trusting her instinct to know where each foot should go, she walked forward on faith. She sat on the other side of the bed with her back to Bennett. The medic continued tending to her.

"How'd you ..." she asked groggily, struggling to focus her mind on a single line of thought.

"Keegan's neighbor found his cat outside. When she let him in the back door, she found Keegan in the kitchen. The police found you and called us."

"When?"

"About a half an hour ago or so. What ever they used to knock you out sure did the trick." He showed her a dime sized patch. "We found this on your neck. One on Bennett too. He says it's some drug delivery patch Dr. Nasaki's been working on."

Scully nodded in agreement, closed her eyes and rubbed her neck to work a kink out.

"Dr. Keegan was your informant, wasn't he?" asked Hutchens in a tone more serious than usual.

"Yessir," Scully answered, her words slurring together despite her best effort.

"When the medic clears you, Agent Ramirez here will take you back to the hotel to clean up. I'm going to get you that search warrant."

"Yessir," she answered, noticing for the first time the short agent standing beside Hutchens. She smiled in greeting.


Marriott Hotel
Seattle, WA
10:30 AM, PST

Scully opened the door to her hotel room and threw the key on the table. She turned her laptop on and sat for a moment on the bed, still somewhat dazed. She stared blankly at the wall in front of her as the laptop booted up. A beep from the computer brought her back to reality. She sighed, unloaded her gun, badge and phone onto the bed, gathered some fresh clothes from her suitcase and headed for the bathroom.

While she was brushing her teeth, she turned the faucet on in the shower to let the water heat up. She rinsed her mouth out, undressed and climbed into the shower. The warm water did more to revive her than the cup of coffee Agent Ramirez offered her earlier. She let the shower pound her shoulders while she thought about Keegan lying on the kitchen floor.

After her shower, Scully walked out of the bathroom barefooted, wearing navy slacks and a pale, v-neck dress shirt. She toweled her hair dry as she grabbed her shoes and walked to the waiting computer. She logged on to the internet and put her shoes on while the modem beeped and buzzed. She checked her e- mail for new messages. She skipped past the general mailings from the FBI and opened the message from the Lone Gunmen:

Scully,
Couldn't reach you by phone. We accessed Escher's

files. They've got Mulder. I've attached his file.
- LG

She threw her towel on the table and turned off the computer without bothering to read the attachment or log off the internet. She grabbed her badge, gun and phone from the bed, her blazer from the chair and left the room. She hammered on Bennett's door. Agent Ramirez answered as Bennett walked out of the bathroom wearing tan trousers and an undershirt.

"Mulder's at Escher. Meet me in the lobby ASAP!"

Scully paced the lobby, anxiously waiting for the other agents to appear. She hated waiting, doing nothing. She turned on her cell phone and dialed SAC Hutchens.

"Agent Hutchens, it's Scully. Agent Mulder is a patient at Escher Laboratories," she explained quickly.

"How do you know this?"

"I can't reveal my sources. We're going straight to the laboratory. Can you meet us there with the search warrant?" She couldn't prevent an edge of desperation from creeping into her voice.

"Of course."

"Thank you, sir. I'll see you there."

As she hung up the phone, Bennett and Ramirez walked out of the elevator. They hurried to the car, Bennett taking the driver's seat. He pulled into traffic and sped down the highway.

At the laboratory, he turned into the empty parking lot and stopped at the doorway. Scully jumped out of the car with her gun drawn, ignoring Bennett screaming behind her, "We have to wait for the search warrant!" He ran after her, leaving Ramirez behind to wait for Hutchens.

She burst through the front door and found the lobby bare. The desk was gone. The chair was gone. Only discarded paper strewn on the floor greeted her. Bennett joined her and was caught as unprepared as she. Together they walked through the double doors to laboratories.

The laboratories were gone, all of them. The doors shutting behind them echoed in the empty warehouse.

Scully raced across the bare floor to the offices lining the far side of the warehouse. She broke into Dr. Nasaki's office -- it was empty, too. And the next office. And the next.

She turned to Bennett, searching for an explanation. He stood in the doorway of the cold room in the far corner of the warehouse and silently waved her over.

When she reached him, he motioned for her to look inside. Her heart sank. She hesitated, then followed his flashlight inside. On the floor lay the deceased body of Dr. Nasaki. She breathed again.

"He said all the hallways led to the cold room," said Bennett, cringing at the irony.

Scully jumped as her phone rang. She answered quickly. "Scully."

"Hi. This is Dr. Lowe at King County Hospital."

"Yes, doctor."

"We have another kidnapping victim here. He called for you by name."

"How is he?"

"He's fine, resting comfortably."

"Thank you, doctor." She couldn't help but smile as she hung up the phone. "Give me the keys. Mulder's at the hospital."

She raced out of the warehouse and nearly knocked over Agent Ramirez on her way to the car. She shouted instructions to the bewildered agents as she climbed into the car. "I'm going to the hospital. Mulder's there. Wait here for Hutchens."

Scully peeled out of the parking lot, leaving Bennett and Ramirez behind to tend to the body of Dr. Nasaki.


King County Hospital
12:30 PM, PST

Scully walked eagerly down the hospital hallways until she met Dr. Lowe outside Mulder's room. "Hello, doctor."

"Agent Scully," greeted Dr. Lowe.

"How's Agent Mulder?" asked Scully, concerned for her partner.

"He's still sedated. I was just about to wake him. Would you like the honors?"

Scully accepted Dr. Lowe's invitation and walked quietly to Mulder's side.

"Mulder?"

He heard a muffled, distant voice and fought to decipher the discrete words.

"Mulder? Mulder, can you hear me?" the voice asked again, strong and reassuring.

He recognized the voice and whispered hoarsely, "Scully?"

"I'm right here, Mulder," she answered, leaning closer and wiping his damp hair off his forehead. "How do you feel? Don't take this the wrong way, but you look terrible," she jabbed lightly.

He slowly opened his eyes and struggled to focus on his partner. "Where am I?" he asked.

"You're at King County Hospital in Seattle, Washington. What's the last thing you remember?"

Mulder sifted through his mind for his last clear memory.

"Bennett and I stopped for dinner," he answered.

"Do you remember anything after that?" she pressed.

A series of dreamlike illusions flashed in Mulder's mind. The confused combination of images and sounds completely lacked cohesion or structure. There were no reference points in time, no linear connections. He closed his eyes and shook his head, as much to answer the question as to erase the images from his mind.

"That's OK," Scully said reassuringly.

Mulder's entire body ached as though he spent the last week single handedly moving his mother's solid oak furniture into a new house which had entirely too many stairs. He moved his arms cautiously, as if to prove to himself that he could voluntarily move them. At first they resisted, as if immobilized by the depths of a nightmare. With a little concentration, he was able to lift his hand to hold Scully's.

Scully placed her other hand on top of his, and at that very moment, experienced deja vu. She looked around the room to reassure herself that she had never been in this room with Mulder before. Sure, she had visited her partner in the hospital before, but this was different. She tried to hold onto the moment, to capture the security and calm she felt sweep over her body.

"What is it?" asked Mulder.

"Oh, it's nothing," replied Scully. She smiled and looked at Dr. Lowe in the doorway. "Just a little deja vu."

Dr. Lowe returned her smile and left the room.

The End


Author Notes: Once again, let me know what you think. Your input is appreciated.

jtougas

We all have our scars-
You show me mine
I'll show you yours.

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