Title: Impulse
Author: aka "Jake"
Rating: R (language, violence)
Classification: X (X-File)
Spoilers: Kill Switch, Arcadia, Detour, Pusher, The Ghosts Who Stole Christmas (most are VERY vague references)
Disclaimer: The characters Fox Mulder, Dana Scully and Walter Skinner are the property of Chris Carter, FOX and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement intended. This is for fun, not profit.

Summary: Mulder and Scully go undercover to find out who -- or what -- is killing the clients of Allegheny Mountain Adventure Tours, a West Virginia company offering an extraordinary vacation experience for the serious sensation seeker. "That's a lot more chills than thrills, Scully."


New River Gorge, Pendleton County, West Virginia
11:32 AM

Becca Crowley monitored the climbers' progress from her position at the base of Seneca Rock. <Grade V, easy aid, who cares if the whole thing overhangs,> she thought as Jess led six neophytes, one at a time, up the cliff's face. Jess had plenty of wall experience; he cruised this route several times a season. Already halfway up the second pitch with the sixth man following, the two hung more than 550 feet above the New River Gorge. Higher up, five enthusiastic first-time climbers waited on a large ledge at the belay station. The weather was perfect. No wind, but comfortably cool for the arduous climb. Becca wished she was ascending today, too, but AMAT insisted that one employee stay on the ground in case of an emergency. Something about insurance costs.

Even at this distance, Becca could hear Jess calling instructions to the inexperienced man below him.

"Hey, Dude, lockoff on that gerry rail to your left. Watch the munge, man. The fall's a screamer. That's it -- stick it. Gravical, huh?" Becca wondered how much of Jess's climb-speak the novice understood. But the man seemed to be doing fine, somehow managing to follow the young guide's obscure advice.

"No. NO!" Jess suddenly yelped, startling Becca on the ground. She lifted her binoculars. "Dude, DON'T!" the guide screamed.

The beginner had foolishly unclipped the line from his harness and now dangled from the rope by only his bare hands. To Becca's astonishment, the swaying man then purposely pushed himself out and away from the cliff's face. He maintained his hold on the swinging rope as it returned him to the rock, then back out over the gorge. The steep overhang gave him plenty of room to build up distance and momentum.

"Damn it, Dude. Stop it!" Jess cried.

When the man swung once more away from the mountain, he let go of the line. Arms spread wide, he plummeted downward, just missing the headwall. He plunged feet first at a startling speed into the accumulation of boulders at the slab's base.

Becca fought to keep her breakfast in her stomach at the sound of the impact. Already certain the man was dead, she ran to him anyway. Her legs went numb at the sight of bloody entrails splattered across the rocks. She knelt weakly beside the body and reached a trembling hand to check for a pulse. When her finger pressed into the flesh below the man's ear, a spark of static stung her. Lifting her eyes to the summit of Seneca Rock, she slowly smiled.


Secaucus, New Jersey
Two days later

"You're bored."

"Yes, I'm bored. Of course I'm bored. Who wouldn't be?" Mulder cracked another sunflower seed between his teeth. Rolling the kernel across his tongue, he spit the broken shell out the car window. Sweat inched from his hairline down his neck into his open shirt collar. His unknotted tie dangled
loosely and his shirt stuck wetly to his back and chest. In an unsuccessful effort to stay cool, he had rolled his shirtsleeves up past his elbows."What are we doing here, Scully?" he complained, a petulant crease wrinkling his damp brow.

"You know what we're doing here. We're surveilling." Scully looked no less overheated, slouched in the passenger seat, her eyes locked on the building across the street.

"Surveilling who? I'm telling you, Joseph 'The Hammer' Scarcelli isn't here. He hasn't been here for days and he won't be coming back. Ever. We're watching an empty house."

"It wouldn't be the first time."

Mulder's lip twitched, a tiny smile threatening to displace his testy expression. "Oh, what I wouldn't give for a mordant ghost or two right now." He plucked another seed from the dwindling pile on the dash. "Don'tcha wanna be doing something, Scully?" he all but whined, his head lolling backward
until it came to rest on the seatback.

"We <are> doing something, Mulder. We're following orders. Does every minute of every day have to be spent risking our lives pursuing paranormal hobgoblins?" She squinted through the windshield; the July sun glared off the car's polished hood. Waves of heat rippled the air above the softening pavement.

"'Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,'" he quoted, chin in the air, eyes closed.

"Helen Keller?"

"Very good, Scully." Mulder lifted his head from the seatback with effected effort and thrust another seed into his mouth.

"Mulder, I don't think Helen Keller's heroic quest included chasing ghosts, phantoms or demons."

"Well, it didn't include dying in a rented Ford while watching an empty house either."

"Are we dying, Mulder?"

"Oh, we most certainly are. Of heatstroke...if the boredom doesn't kill us first." Swabbing his sleeve across his jaw, he wiped sweat from his cheek.

"Okay, Mulder. What would you be doing right now if you could be doing <anything> you wanted?"

"Anything?" He looked interested for the first time since mid-morning.

"Anything within the realm of human possibility."

"So much for my Superman/Lois Lane Mile High Club fantasy."

"We will assume you possess only normal human capabilities, Mulder."

"Hmm. If I could be doing any 'normal human' thing I wanted, I'm thinking I would be in the Himalayan Mountains searching the Menlung Glacier for the Yeti."

Scully turned in her seat to stare at him.

"Bigfoot?"

"No, actually the Yeti is believed to have feet only six to seven inches long by four inches wide." He glanced down at her small shoes, mentally calculating their size.

"You ever been mountain climbing, Mulder?"

"Not exactly. But how hard can it be? Anyway, it'd have to be a hell of a lot more exciting -- not to mention cooler -- than sitting here." He spit another empty hull out the window. "So tell me, Scully, what would you be doing if you could do anything you wanted right now? I'll even let you include paranormal, inhuman activities, if you like."

"I wouldn't be dangling from a cliff in Tibet, that's certain. Let's see. If I could be doing anything..." she pursed her brightly lipsticked mouth to consider. He watched her concentrate, actually curious to hear her heart's desire. "I think I'd be at a health spa. You know, getting a massage, receiving head-to-toe pampering."

"Jesus, Scully. Sitting up to your neck in mud and eating nothing but soy curd and yogurt byproducts? Where's your sense of adventure? I hate to say this, but sometimes you can be such a girl."

Scully's eyebrow lifted.

"Just because I <occasionally> like to relax, doesn't mean I'm unadventurous. Risk-taking and thrill seeking is not gender specific, Mulder. What about Margaret Mead, Amelia Earhart, Christa McAuliffe?"

"There are always exceptions, but <most> T-types possess Y-chromosomes."

"That's bull, Mulder. Although there may be a genetic explanation for an individual's desire to seek thrills -- for example, an association between the dopamine receptor gene and the human personality trait identified as 'Novelty Seeking' -- it is not linked to the male Y chromosome. Risk taking is a transgender experience. There are plenty of women who enthusiastically engage in high-risk lines of work like firefighting, the military...<law enforcement>. Not to mention other 'girlie' activities like skydiving, auto racing or even mountain climbing. Tell me, please, exactly what has happened to that 'man of the nineties' who used to be my partner?"

"That wimp? He got in touch with his feminine side and went to a health spa. But hey, if you really want that massage...?" he grinned and flexed his fingers at her.

The muffled trill of his cell phone momentarily postponed her reply.

"Hold that thought, Scully," he smiled and snaked a long arm between their seats, hooking his crumpled suit coat from the back and retrieving his cell phone from the pocket.

"Mulder," he identified himself to the caller. When his languorous expression transformed into newfound enthusiasm, Scully knew immediately they were being called in on an X-File.


New River Diner
Lewisburg, West Virginia
12:15 PM

"Man, I can't believe you guys were right there when the dude cratered."

"You shoulda seen him, Jax. That poor gumbie grounded hard." Jess stabbed a French fry vigorously into the deep puddle of catsup on his plate to demonstrate the force of impact. Jackson Miller stared with fascination as the catsup splattered messily across the formica tabletop.

"So what happened? Why'd he do it?" Jackson shifted his gaze to Becca who fidgeted in the booth's corner, her fingers drumming furiously on the rim of her plate. Lips pressed into a frown, she shook her head and gazed out the window.

"He musta been seriously messed up," Jess offered. "Before the whipper, I mean."

"Maybe he was pumped. I remember being pumped so bad after a blast in Yosemite, holding a beer was a major challenge," Jackson laughed at the memory.

"Nah. There wasn't enough finger work at Seneca to overwork the forearms. Even for a newbie." Jess bit into his burger. "He wasn't gripped either, man. Didn't appear afraid or confused at all. To be honest, he looked kinda calm. He stared right at me, Jax -- right into my eyes, you know? -- and then he just let go. I'm telling you, he was cloud-nining."

"Maybe he was on some serious shit. Flyin' high. What do you think, Beck?"

"I think if he signed up for a major adrenaline rush, he got what he paid for. If you guys don't mind, I'd just as soon not talk about it anymore.""Okay, Beck. Whatever you say. We can talk about something else. Hey, did I tell you guys, Toad and I are taking a group to the caves tomorrow?"

"Really? Where you going?" Becca asked, finally showing interest in the conversation. She stopped the nervous thrumming of her fingers and gave Jackson's arm a friendly squeeze. He flinched when a spark of static stung his skin beneath her palm.


Monongahela Motor Lodge
Lewisburg, West Virginia
8:15 PM

"Why are we sharing a room, Mulder? It's not as if the U.S. Government couldn't spring for the additional $19.95." Scully tossed her bag onto the rickety hotel dresser. The dingy room was overly warm; the air was stale and musty smelling. "Would you mind opening that window?"

"We're sharing a room because you're my undercover wife." Setting his own duffle on the room's small table, Mulder lifted a corner of the worn spread blanketing the room's only bed and waggled his eyebrows. "Get it? Undercover? Under cover?"

"I get it. So <why> are we sharing a room, Mulder?"

"Seriously. We're undercover...man and wife. Husband and wife...er...wife and husband, whatever. I figured that would be the best way to investigate this case." He gave the window's lower sash an unsuccessful tug upward.

"And what would be the problem with the direct approach, say...walking into the office of Allegheny Mountain Adventure Tours and showing them our badges?" Scully rummaged through her bag for her toiletries.

"You don't wanna go on an Adventure Tour?" he turned from the still-closed window to look at her. She crossed the room to the bathroom, personal items in hand.

"Obviously, you do."

"I'll sleep in the chair, Scully, if that's what's bothering you."

"Don't be ridiculous," she called to him from behind the bathroom door. "I'm choosing our names, don't forget."

Mulder gave the window another concentrated pull and it flew open, crashing loudly against the upper sill.

"What?"

"Our undercover names," she leaned around the doorframe and pointed her toothbrush at him. "Remember the Falls at Arcadia? Rob and Laura Petrie?"

He nodded, recalling their investigation of the upscale, planned community and his questionable selection of monikers."So, what it'll be, Scully? Who are we?"

"Barnard and Elizabeth," she ducked back into the bathroom, leaving him t0 silently mouth her choice of names. He trailed after her, crowding into the tiny bath.

"Why Barnard and Elizabeth?"

"Mulder! Do you mind?" she glowered, her fingers paused at the top button of her fly. He quickly retreated across the threshold and leaned against the outer wall.

"That would be <Barnard>, not Mulder," he corrected her.

"Barney," she peeked out at him and smiled.

"Barney? And Elizabe...Betty? Rubble? You can't be serious. That's no better than Rob and Laura Petrie. It's worse, actually."

She chuckled from behind the door.

"Don't worry. I'll pick an anagram for Rubble," she told him.

"I thought you once said you could never be married to Barney Rubble."

"Do you forget nothing?" she asked, immerging from the bathroom. "How about Bruleb for a surname?"

"Oh, well, that's a common name that won't stand out. What nationality would Bruleb be, by the way?"

"Russian. In Siberia, it's just like Smith or Jones here."

"Uh huh."

"Hey, it's my choice." She tossed her toiletry kit back into her bag. "We agreed."

"I'm not convinced that we did, but in any case, I already signed us in as the Mulders. I must have left Barney Bruleb's credit card in my other pants."

"Don't give me that. I saw you pay the guy at the desk with cash. And he never even asked our names. Honestly, for a guy named 'Fox'..."

"Hey, hey, hey. Let's just review the file Skinner faxed us, shall we? Betty." He fished a sheaf of papers from his duffle.

"That would be Elizabeth, if you expect to get anywhere near that bed tonight." Removing her gun from the small of her back, she checked the clip. She carefully set the weapon on the bureau beside her bag.

File notes in hand, Mulder dropped himself deliberately onto the mattress."Elizabeth," he said, his voice syrupy sweet.

"Shoes, Mulder."

He shot her an irritable frown before toeing off his shoes and then kicking them to the floor. Stacking all of the pillows behind his back, he leaned comfortably into the headboard. Scully sat at the nearby table and waited for him to recite the case particulars.

"Three thrill seekers have died in the last month. All were clients of Allegheny Mountain Adventure Tours. AMAT provides 'complete adventure packages for people looking for that extraordinary vacation experience,'" Mulder read from the faxed AMAT brochure. "Prices range from $399 to $1299, depending on the activity."

"I guess living on the edge isn't cheap. But Mulder, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that people might get hurt, even die, while on an extreme adventure."

"I dunno, Scully. AMAT has been in business for eight years. They've provided 3282 clients with 258 different adventure tours -- and never experienced a single fatality until last month. Jack Dunlap, the owner of AMAT, prides himself on the company's safety precautions and employee training. As a matter of fact, AMAT received a reduction in their insurance rates as a reward for their low incident rate in 1995 and again in 1998," Mulder informed her, referring to the notes.

"Still...this doesn't smell like an X-File."

"Sniff again, Scully. Carol Thompson of Tampa, Florida, age 42, signed up for an AMAT extreme 4x4 adventure and was killed when her 4-wheel drive vehicle left the Rubicon / McKinney Road and careened off the side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The car was later hauled out of the canyon, checked thoroughly and was found to have nothing mechanically wrong."

"I hope you have something more mysterious than that."

"Well, eight days later, George Wells of Phoenix, Arizona, age 24, was gored to death while running from the bulls at the Oasis Ranch, an AMAT owned ranch in northwest Arizona. The weird thing is, witnesses claim he stopped running and actually turned to face the bulls. He was impaled through the
chest, Scully, not the back."

"So, he had a death wish, committed suicide. And maybe Carol Thompson purposely drove off that cliff."

"Two suicides, a week apart?"

"Well, maybe she was distracted in some way and failed to make a turn."

"What, she had a bee in the car or something? Come on, Scully."

"It's possible. It's even likely."

"Okay. Tell me why, two days ago while climbing Seneca Rock right here in West Virginia, Terrance Hughes, age 36, leapt to his death into the New River Gorge, 500 feet below?"

"Leapt?"

"That's what the team leader and the ground man...er, woman...claimed. Mr. Hughes apparently unclipped the ropes from his harness, swung out over the gorge and jumped. Ker-splaaat." In an exaggerated imitation of the man's deadly landing, Mulder slapped his hands together, then twisted the heel of his right hand violently into the palm of his left.

"Thank you for the visuals, Mulder. You almost make me miss your slide projector."

"I can do shadow puppets, too." He positioned his hands in front of the table lamp so that a perfect Loch Ness Monster loomed blackly up the wall above the headboard.

"Alright, Mulder, I admit three suicides does push the envelope of coincidence," she ignored his efforts to create a werewolf-shaped shadow."But I still don't see an X-File here. Did anyone check to find out if a fellow 'adventurer' was present at each death? Or an employee of AMAT?"

"Oh yes, indeedy. All the clients were questioned, as were the employees. Not a single person was present at more than one death. Now, wanna hear something really interesting?" Mulder gave up on the werewolf and tried an alien's head.

"By all means."

"A little research turned up a rather disturbing pattern in the world of thrill seeking. Several other extreme adventure companies offering a full range of adventures, such as ice and mountain climbing, white water rafting, skydiving, BASE..."

"Base?"

"B.A.S.E. -- building, antenna, span and earth -- in other words, jumping off a cliff, bridge or other tall structure and praying to God the parachute opens before it's too late."

"Hm. Anyway, you were saying, several other companies..."

"Several other companies over the past year have experienced a fatality or a string of fatalities, too." Forgoing any more animated shadows, Mulder double-checked Skinner's fax. "One person died in February while on an Outback Adventure. Two more people died in April while on Blast Tours. And three people died in May and June while on ExtremeQuest Expeditions. That's a lot more chills than thrills, Scully."

"So what's your theory? Another Robert Modell?"

"Maybe. I'm also thinking trans-dimensional beings, mara experiences, astral projections, transmigrations of the soul, OBEs."

"Oh, really? Out of Body Experiences?" she asked, clearly disbelieving the possibility.

"Yep. Like remote viewing, soul travel, bilocation -- we've seen these things before. I'm hoping an extreme adventure of our own will yield a clue or two. If the progression holds true, we can expect a fourth fatality at AMAT. Whoever or whatever is murdering these people, its desire to kill is escalating. Maybe we can stop it before someone forgets to attach their bungee cord to the next bridge."

"What do you think is the connection to thrill seeking?"

"I dunno. But did you know that humans are the only animals that put themselves in peril on purpose, Scully?"

"Leaping off cliffs and facing charging bulls in order to...what...alleviate the monotony of every day life?"

"Only if they're doing surveillance in Secaucus, Scully. Otherwise, it's probably more than simple boredom. Depending on past experiences, some people are actually more comfortable when afraid, because the feeling is familiar to them. They pursue novel and stimulating environments because
they have a strong positive psychological reaction to situations of risk."

"A positive reaction to fear? Fear is a primitive human emotion -- even an infant has an inherent fear of falling. The body's reaction to stressful stimuli is actually physical. The heart beats faster. Respiration
accelerates. Chemical levels fluctuate. Novelty seekers may be trying to achieve a higher level of physiological arousal. A person's reasons for risk-taking could very likely be physical, not psychological."

"Addicted to the adrenaline rush?"

"Or dopamine or some other naturally occurring chemical."

"So the killer could be reacting to a physical demand, or he could be psychotic, or he may simply be bored."

"Or all three. It looks like we need to know more about him, Mulder, before we can determine his motives."

"Exactly why we're here."

"<Exactly> what is the nature of our little extreme adventure tomorrow?"

"You're gonna love it, Scully! We're going spelunking."


Deep Dahlia Cave
Greenbrier County, West Virginia
6:45 AM

Two Jeeps, marked with Allegheny Mountain Adventure logos, parked nose to end at the remote turnoff for Deep Dahlia Cave. Mulder, Scully and their quiet AMAT driver joined three men already waiting beside the second vehicle.

"Good morning," an animated young man welcomed them. "You awake yet? No? Not to worry -- we'll have your adrenaline pumping in no time. Caffeine and other artificial stimulants are completely unnecessary on an AMAT Extreme Cave Adventure. My name is Jackson Miller and I'll be your guide today. You can call me Jax." Jackson pointed to the reticent man who had driven Mulder
and Scully from their hotel to the cavern and introduced him to his own two passengers. "This is my partner, Todd Philp -- a spelunker from way back. He answers to 'Toad.' While Toad unloads our equipment, why don't you all introduce yourselves?" Flashing a friendly smile, Jackson gestured to the
man on his right to go first.

"I'm George Chase from Philly."

"Bill Peters. South Charleston."

"A home boy!" Jackson beamed at the man before turning to Scully. "How about you, ma'am?"

"Elizabeth Bruleb. Connecticut," Scully offered the group a smile.

"Oh, whereabouts in Connecticut?"

"Bedrock," Mulder cut in. "A nice, old-fashioned kinda place. I'm Barney, by the way. Elizabeth's husband," he grinned and thrust out a hand to Jackson."Nice to meet you," Jackson shook Mulder's hand before launching into his well-practiced tour dialog. "We've got a small group today, which is great. The fewer people we have going in, the more time we'll have to explore the caves. Anyone been caving before? No? That's okay. We'll show you everything you need to know. We even plan on feeding you." The young guide's announcement brought smiles all around. "Just to give you a little
background, there are over 300 limestone caves in Greenbrier County. Each and every one is a surreal subterranean microcosm and, maybe best of all, the caves are a comfortable 55 degrees every day of the year. Today we'll be climbing and crawling our way through Allegheny's Deep Dahlia, located right beneath us. Dahlia is an exciting combination of pits, passages and underground rooms. As we explore, Toad and I will be helping you, going over techniques and safety instructions. We don't want anyone getting hurt today."

"I understand there was an accident on an AMAT tour a couple of days ago," Mulder fished for information.

"Where did you hear that?"

"Elizabeth and I were vacationing over in New River Gorge. We heard about it on the local news. A guy named Hughes fell to his death from Seneca Mountain?"

"Yes. An unfortunate accident. And we have no intention of repeating that tragedy here today. With the proper safety..."

"That actually wasn't AMAT's first accident, was it?" Mulder interrupted.

"You aren't a reporter or a lawyer, are you Mr. Bruleb?" Jackson laughed, sloughing off Mulder's question. "Why don't you all take a few minutes to relax while Toad and I sort our gear and then we'll get started?" he suggested, withdrawing from Mulder's brazen interrogation.

Mulder wandered over to the cave's entrance while Jackson and Toad busied themselves double-checking the group's equipment and supplies. The cavern's opening was nearly invisible. Marked only by a fixed climber's anchor, the narrow, rocky fissure split the hillside and allowed scant passage to the
hidden tunnel below. Mulder signaled Scully to join him.

 "Check this out, Scully." He stuck his head inside the hollow. "Baambaaam?" his voice echoed through the blackness.

"If you call me Scully one more time, people are going to wonder who the hell we really are."

"Oops. Sorry. Elizabeth. Honey." Withdrawing from the crevice, he turned to playfully twist a strand of her hair around his finger. "So tell me, Sweet Cake, why did you sleep aaaaalllll the way over on your side of the bed last night?"

"Why were you wrapped around me like an ace bandage when I woke up this morning?"

"You were hogging the blankets. I was cold." With an exaggerated shiver, he folded his arms around her, mimicking his earlier embrace."Uh huh. You felt pretty warm to me. Hey, they're ready for us. Pay
attention," she shrugged out of his arms, stepping away to rejoin the group where Toad was distributing headgear and Jackson was issuing instructions.

"Okay, everybody. We've got your gear for you, starting at the top." Jackson strapped on a hardhat. "The helmets are fitted with lamps and battery packs. You clip the packs to your belts. Keep your helmets on and fastened at all times. I know they're a bit awkward, but they'll protect you from falling
rocks during the rappels and sharp formations throughout our journey."

"Was Mr. Hughes wearing a helmet like this when he 'fell'?" Mulder held up the headgear.

"Uh...no, actually. These are underground helmets. Rest assured, they meet all the current government safety standards." Jackson's friendly smile faded.

"Oh, I feel safer just knowing that." Mulder slipped on his helmet and adjusted the chinstrap. "How do I look, Honey-bunch?" he smiled at Scully."Like a guy about to explore a hole in the ground."

"Yabba-dabba-do."

Jackson and Toad passed rappelling harnesses to each member of the group.

"Our expedition begins with a forty-five foot vertical descent onto a small platform below. We will rappel the tunnel using these," Jackson held out a harness. "Put your legs through the groin loops, then buckle the harness firmly around your waist -- like so," he demonstrated before helping the others correctly don their own harnesses. "Toad will go first, making sure the way is clear for the haul bag...and for all of you."

Jackson handed Toad a three-foot loop of nylon strapping which the quiet man deftly twisted into a figure eight before slipping his arms through, crossing the straps in the back between his shoulder blades. He then inserted a final section of strapping through the rappelling harness at his waist and pulled the nylon up under the front loops of the shoulder straps, securing it with a carabinger.

"The first rappel will not be our deepest or most dangerous today," Jackson informed the group. "The shaft is fairly direct here and our descent should be quite straightforward. The really exciting stuff will come later. You set, Toad?"

"Yep," was the man's one word reply. He clipped a figure-eight rappelling device to the carabinger. He then threaded the long descent rope through the figure eight and tied off at the anchor embedded in the rock next to the cave's opening. "See ya down there," he smiled shyly before disappearing through the fissure.

Only a few minutes later, the group heard Toad yell "Off belay" from the bottom of the shaft.

"Alright," Jackson called down to him. "I'm sending down the haul." A carrier containing food, water, a first aid kit and additional climbing gear was lowered into the hole after Toad.

"Got it," Toad affirmed from below when the bag reached the bottom of the shaft.

"Who would like to go next?" Jackson asked the group.

"Oooo, pick me," Mulder volunteered. Jackson helped him arrange the necessary strapping around his shoulders.

"You ever rappelled before? We wouldn't want you to have an accident," Jackson winked.

"Yeah...in the Army Reserves."

"Good. You know what to do then. Go for it."

Mulder ducked through the fissure and perched on the lip for a moment, weighting the anchor. The light from his helmet didn't penetrate to the base of the shaft, but he could see Toad's lamp glowing forty feet below. It had been awhile since he'd done a rappel and his FBI training was actually from the top of a building, not down a hole. Taking a deep breath, Mulder pushed away from the edge of the opening and slid smoothly down the rope.

"Good rap, dude," Toad complimented him at the bottom, helping him disconnect the kernmantle.

Scully soon joined them at the foot of the inky tunnel, looking uncharacteristically jubilant.

"I'd forgotten how fun that can be," she grinned at Mulder.

It took a little longer before George Chase arrived. He had no rappelling experience and required a bit of instruction at the top before attempting the descent. Although not very graceful, he managed to make it to the bottom of the shaft without injury.

"Oh, that was incredible! Just incredible!" he babbled, nervous and excited.

The tiny platform became quite crowded when all six were finally together again at the base of the narrow well. The lights from their helmets bobbed and shimmered across the damp walls as six heads swiveled to inspect their unusual surroundings. Dust drifted down from the cave's entrance where they
had stirred up the soil, kicking a fine spray of dirt over the edge into the hole.

"Everybody doin' okay?" Jackson asked. "Good. 'Cause this is just the beginning. Deep Dahlia is one of the longest caves in the U.S. with over 40 miles of mapped passageways. Expect to get covered from head to toe in mud today. Water runs through many of the passages and we've got some tight
squeezes to crawl through. From here, we're going to enter a medium crawl hole into an area where we will slide down a dirt embankment into our first small chamber, called the Soda Fountain, so named because the ceiling is covered with hundreds of formations called soda straws. These are very old
formations and in order to preserve them, we ask you not to touch. Toad?"

Toad again led the way, getting down on hands and knees to fit through the low tunnel. After he fished the haul bag after him, the others followed. The crawl space was limited but not tight, with a diameter of about three and a half to four feet. No more than fifteen feet long, the passage gradually opened onto a steep, muddy slope. There was no way to cross the sludgy expanse without getting covered with dirt, so the group slid down the embankment like a bunch of kids, joking and hooting and purposely lopping themselves with the wet clay.

"Hey, Hon, looks like you got that mud bath after all. Think Toad brought any tofu flavored yogurt byproducts in our lunch bag?" Mulder whispered after skidding into Scully, spraying her with mud.

At the bottom of the incline, the group found themselves in a good-sized underground room and the natural beauty of the chamber quieted their chatter. Extraordinary calcium carbonate deposits dripped from the ceiling forming long, hollow straws, many more than eight feet in length. Calcite flowstone appeared to ooze down the walls. Rimstone dams created an incredible asymmetrical pattern of circles on the floor. And high above the chamber, a large cavity in the roof swarmed with hundreds of bats. The air reeked with the syrupy smell of guano.

Crossing to the far end of the chamber, the group snaked single file through the next slender passage. Several yards in, the ceiling dropped and they found themselves once more on hands and knees.

"This is gonna get tight," Toad warned from the front of the line. He dropped to his belly when the height of the tunnel shrank to just over a foot. Inching his way forward, he progressed slowly through the passageway. Behind Toad, Scully easily squirmed through the restricted space, outdistancing the larger men behind her. She spilled out of the slim channel, joining Toad on a broad ledge overlooking a yawning, black crevasse.

"How deep is it?" she asked him, her voice falling into the seemingly bottomless well.

"A hundred and eighty feet."

"Have you been down there before?"

"Mmhm. Lotsa times. It's gravical."

"Gravical?"

"Uh...you know, gives you an adrenaline rush, like when there's a lot of air between you and the ground. You can feel it on a mountain, too, but there's something really awesome about doin' it in the dark."

Mulder emerged on the ledge behind them just in time to catch the young man' s last remark.

"Am I missing something good here?" he asked, wondering if he should feel jealous.

"Nah, dude, the best is still ahead."

Mulder peered into the chasm. He could see nothing beyond the feeble beam of his headlamp.

Within a few minutes, the entire group was assembled at the edge of the deep shaft.

"The next part of our journey is guaranteed to be the thrill of your life," Jackson assured them, jittery with excitement. "This rappel is comprised of two parts. We have fixed pro in place, so we don't need to take time to set any anchors. The first runout -- that's the distance between the pro -- is forty feet. The tunnel gets narrow -- not much wider than your shoulders at the end of the runout -- and the entire first pitch is set at about 60 degrees from horizontal. Make sure you adjust your harnesses before you head down because there's no room to maneuver if the straps become uncomfortable once you've reached the narrow section. At the end of the runout, there is a ledge you can stand on before the second rappel. Stay to the left on the lower section. You want to avoid a four-foot overhang that could be potentially dangerous. You'll find the hazard almost at the bottom, so slow down as you come to the end. The entire second rappel is about 140 feet and it's an awesome ride. There're no footholds and it's almost a straight drop. In the dark, you're practically blind. You'll never experience a greater rush, I promise." Jackson's expression became almost manic; he was eager to experience the most difficult part of the day's exploration. "Toad, you lead the way. Elizabeth, if you don't mind, you follow him. Then George, Barney, Bill, and me. Okay? Any questions? Alright, let's do it!"

Toad placed his feet on the edge of the cliff at shoulder width and leaned back into his harness. In a full sitting position with his legs straight out in front of him, he began his descent.

"Be careful," he called up. "Rocks are wet. Kinda slippery," he warned, his voice echoing off the steep walls of the cavern. They listened intently from the upper ledge for Toad to acknowledge that he'd safely completed the first runout and had reached the stand of rock forty feet below. "Off belay," he
called up at last.

"You're next, Elizabeth," Jackson urged.

Scully imitated Toad's earlier stance on the lip of the shaft, leaning into her harness. She offered Mulder a glorious smile before disappearing over the edge.

"She's got nerve," Jackson commented to Mulder.

"That she does," he readily agreed.

Again, the topside group waited for word from below.

"Off belay," Scully's voice finally broke the silence and Mulder let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"Okay, George. You ready?" Jackson asked the nervous man.

"Oh, yeah. Sure," George Chase laughed uneasily and positioned himself at the cliff's edge. A sheen of sweat slicked his brow and upper lip. His hands trembled as he straightened the straps of his harness, untwisting the loops around his shoulders.

"Here, let me help you," Jackson offered, folding the nylon flat. An arc of static electricity snapped between the two men. "Ouch!" Jackson yelped as the spark jumped from his fingertips to George's arm. "Sorry about that. You okay?" he asked with an apologetic laugh, shaking the sting from his hand.

"Yeah. I'm fine." The worried expression faded from George's face. He suddenly looked inexplicably eager to attempt the dangerous descent.

Mulder couldn't help but notice the odd transformation. He watched with curious amazement as George backed enthusiastically over the lip of the shaft.

"Bomb's away," George chuckled and disappeared from view.


Toad and Scully squatted at the base of the cavern, waiting for the others.

"You've done this before," Toad gestured at the rock face.

"Not in a cave. ROTC," she fibbed. "I did some rappelling off of three- and four-story buildings. It was fun."

"That where you met your husband?"

"No...uh...we met at an AMA conference. He's a psychologist."

"And you? You a shrink, too?"

"No. A doctor. I..." before she could continue, a hardhat fell with a clatter from the tunnel above and bounced several times before settling on the ground between them. The helmet was followed by a shower of dust and small stones. A series of noisy thumps brought them both quickly to their
feet. With a sickening thud, George Chase spilled down the long wet wall to crash limply onto the rocky ledge, landing where Scully and Toad had sat just moments before.

"Shit!" Toad knelt immediately beside the twisted, unconscious man. Blood pooled darkly beneath George's head. Toad shot Scully a panicked look before feeling for a pulse. A bluish glimmer sparkled around the guide's hand where he held the man's wrist. "I...I think he's dead."

Scully pressed her fingers into George's neck, double-checking for a pulse. When she pulled away, grayish brain matter mottled her fingers. She carefully inspected the large wound at the side of the injured man's head. A deep split ran through his hair, skin and bone, exposing the contents of his
skull. Bony fragments floated in the blood and brains oozing from the lesion.

"Should I start CPR?" Toad asked.

"No. There's no point. Do you have a radio?"

"Yes."

"You'd better call the NCRC. We'll need an evac team."
 


Deep Dahlia Cave
Greenbrier County, West Virginia
6:45 PM

Scully sat on a sunny outcropping next to Mulder about twenty yards from the entrance to Deep Dahlia. Together they watched the National Cave Rescue team load the bagged body of George Chase into an ambulance. It had taken the experienced team nearly four hours to maneuver the body out of the narrow underground shaft. AMAT representatives had arrived by early afternoon with
lawyers and insurance agents in tow. The local sheriff and a couple of deputies were now on site as well. Someone was taking pictures. Everyone was asking questions.

Mulder studied Jackson and Toad at a distance as the two AMAT employees leaned against one of the Jeeps, recounting the day's events to their supervisors. They must have recited the details at least a half-dozen times. Jackson looked exhausted, drained, a striking contrast to Toad's hyperactivity.

"We didn't stop it, Scully," Mulder kept his voice low.

"What are you talking about?"

"The killer. We didn't stop it. George Chase is victim number ten."

"Mulder, George Chase died in an unfortunate accident. He was an inexperienced climber. He had no business being in that cave.""I don't think his death was an accident." He bowed his head close to Scully 's ear. "I saw something."

"When?"

"Just before George went over the ledge."

"What did you see?"

"I'm not sure." Mulder plucked a long spear of grass from between his feet and thrust it in his mouth. "What do you know about bioelectricity, Scully?"

"Well, each body cell has a net electrical charge across its membrane. There is a negative difference between the extracellular and the intracellularcompartments. In other words, the exterior of the membrane is electrically negative in relation to the interior. Cells exhibit a membrane potential, or membrane voltage, and depending on the type of cell examined, membrane potentials range from minus 40 to minus 130 millivolts."

Mulder blinked at her.

"Meaning...?"

She smiled an apology.

"We have electrical impulses running through our bodies, like every time our heart beats or a neuron
fires. What are you getting at, Mulder?"

"Scully, what if the killer is nothing <but> electrical impulses, separate from its original body?"

"Do I need to tell you how impossible that is? How would such a thing happen?"

"I don't know. But just before George Chase did his swan dive into Deep Dahlia, Jackson helped him with his harness. When they touched, an arc of electricity jumped from Jax over to George."

"Static electricity. So what?"

"In a damp cave? This time of year? After the sparks flew, George was a changed man."

"Changed how?"

"The Cowardly Lion suddenly found his courage."

"Then committed suicide? That doesn't make any sense. Why would he do that?"

"I haven't quite figured that out. But think about it, Scully. If a person or a creature were no more than an electrical current, it'd be able to travel almost anywhere. From person to person or through existing electrical wires or along any number of possible conductors."

"<If> such a creature existed -- and I'm not saying that it does -- why would it kill George Chase and where would it be right now?"

Mulder scanned the area, his eyes pausing on the ambulance, the NCR crew, Toad. He stared long and hard at Toad.

"Who got to George first, you or Toad?"

"I'm not sure. Toad, I think. Yeah, definitely Toad."

"Did you notice anything like a spark or an electrical current pass between them?"

"No. But I was focused on George's injuries."

"You didn't receive any shocks of static yourself, did you?" he eyed her suspiciously.

"No, Mulder." She squeezed his hand to reassure him. "See? Feel any sparks?"

"I'm not sure that's a fair question," he smiled, returning the pressure to her fingers.

"Mulllderr," she admonished and withdrew her hand from his. "So, where do we go from here? You want to interview Toad?"

"Yeah. Maybe he can give us a ride back to the motel and we can hear his version of events on the way." Mulder stood, his knees cracking loudly."Ugh. I must be getting too old for this kind of stuff. Have to find me a nice, easy desk job somewhere." He helped Scully to her feet.

"I thought you had plans to scale the Himalayas? Find the Yeti?"

"Guess I'll have to do that in my next life."

"Now who's being 'girlie'? If you're interested, I think I still have the phone number for that health spa."

"No, thanks. But if you wanna offer me a full body massage when we get back to the motel...?" he asked, his voice tinged with hope.

"We'll see," she gave him a little Mona Lisa smile that caused his eyebrows to jump nearly to his hairline. "Come on, Mulder." She tugged him toward the Jeeps.


Route 219
Greenbrier County, West Virginia
7:20 PM

Toad sped southwest on 219 toward Lewisburg, chattering non-stop to Mulder and Scully the entire way. He had become a jittery bundle of energy after the unusual events of the day.

"I never had anybody die on a tour before," he explained to Mulder, who sat beside him in the passenger seat. "We've taken plenty of gumbies down Dahlia, but no one's ever cratered before."

"Gumbies? Cratered?" Mulder asked.

"Sorry. A gumbie's an inexperienced or new climber. When you crater, you take a grounder...you know, a fall where the kinetic energy is not absorbed by the rope, but by good ol' mother earth herself."

"Ah."

"Man, that dude fell long and hard. That chute's gotta be one of the roughest. Plenty of places to make contact on the way down. No wonder his head split open like the proverbial coconut. His brains just flowed outta his head! He musta had an awesome rush during the fall."

"Gravical?" Scully offered from the back.

"Definitely. Free falling in the dark. Totally heinous! People pay good cash for thrill rides like that. For the screamin' whipper, I mean, not the harsh landing. Oh, sorry, a whipper's like a real long fall. Can you even imagine what was goin' through that dude's head while he was dropping?"

"'Ooops?'" Mulder offered.

"At the very least."

"What was going through your head when you discovered he was dead, Toad?"

"My head? I don't really remember. I sorta began flying on automatic pilot. I remember checking his pulse. There's a whole list of emergency stuff we learn and just hope it all comes back when we need it."

"He had no pulse?" Mulder prodded.

"Not a beat. Well, you were there, Elizabeth." Toad glanced back at her in the rearview mirror, but didn't stop talking long enough to let her speak."Actually, I was relieved to find out your wife was a doctor, Barney. I mean, if the dude had still been alive, well, I'm not sure I'd have known what to do considering the severity of his injuries. We learn stuff like how to apply a tourniquet or dress a minor cut, but Jesus, the back of his head was caved! Man, he musta felt a <rush> on that fall. Just awesome."

"You almost sound envious."

"Envious? Nah. I've got no death wish. But think about it. Just imagine it. Sure beats sitting at home watching TV. Am I right? Be honest, didn't you both sign on for the thrill?"

"Well, yes, but there's only so far you wanna go. Isn't there, Toad?"

"Sure. Sure. Of course. But think how great it would be if you could feel that rush without paying the price, man. Wouldn't that be the ultimate?"

"Risk your life without really risking your life?"

"The risk has gotta be there or there's no rush. What's the point of going for the extreme if it's a safe bet? I mean, you guys see it everyday in your line of work. Hell, you know what I'm talking about." Mulder stared at the manic guide's profile.

"What do you mean we see it everyday?"

"As docs, of course. Here's your motel." Toad steered the Jeep into the parking lot and jolted to a stop, thrusting them forward into their seatbelts. "If the two of you are interested in ever finishing out Dahlia, give me a call. I'd be glad to take you through."

"Thanks for the offer," Mulder continued to eyeball Toad.

"Hey, nice to meet you both. Have a great night!"


Monongahela Motor Lodge
Lewisburg, West Virginia
8:52 PM

"He knew us," Mulder's voice was muffled by the bath towel covering his head. Standing in the bathroom door, a second towel circling his hips, he vigorously scrubbed the moisture from his recently shampooed hair.

"Toad?" Scully's fingers paused above her keyboard. She sat at the table in her robe, her own hair air-drying, while she typed the day's field notes into her laptop.

"Yeah, Toad." Mulder crossed the room to sit near her on the edge of the bed. "Hey, did I get rid of all the mud?" he ducked so that she could view of the crown of his head. She glanced at his clean, spiky hair.

"You're fine."

"Scully, are you online, hooked to the Internet?"

"No. But I can be." She double-clicked her browser's icon to open a connection. "What are you looking for?"

"More companies that offer adventure tours." He swabbed his ear with the corner of his towel.

"You don't plan on following up with Toad?" she asked, surprised that he would drop the one lead he had.

"I don't think the killer is gonna stay at AMAT."

Scully stared at him. She was at a loss to understand his hunch about the case, as usual. He clearly saw hints and intimations that remained typically invisible to her. Once again she was left feeling frustratingly blind and two steps behind him.

"Mulder, how do you know which company will be next? There must be dozens of businesses that offer extreme adventures."

"Do a search for 'thrill seeking,'" he told her.

She typed the words and stabbed the enter key. A page of entries filled the monitor.

"Have you figured out the thrill seeking connection? Do you have any theories about the killer's motive?"

"I'm still working on that."

Mulder swiped his damp chest before hanging the towel around his neck. He repositioned the laptop so he had a better view of the screen. Scrolling down the page of search results, he scanned the list of links. He hit 'next 10' and new group of sites materialized.

"Hmm, check this out, Scully." Mulder clicked 'Unnatural Expeditions.'

<Welcome to UE's official web site. UE is a growing group of individuals who enjoy urban speleology and exploration. We tour abandoned buildings, coalmines, storm drains and more. We invite you to take a thrilling journey into the world of dark passages, silent halls, confined spaces and things that once were. Sign up today for an Unnatural Expedition and the thrill of your life.>

Before he could explore the web site more thoroughly, the computer beeped, announcing an incoming message.

"Hey, Scully, you've got a relay." He swiveled the laptop back to its original position allowing her to read the IRC.

She clicked the icon. The IRC had no return address. No time stamp. Nothing to identify the sender.

"Mulder, this is weird."

"I like weird. What does it say?"

"Read for yourself."

He stood and peered over her shoulder.

<<watch out, muchacha. art is working without net. wants to experience real time thrills ­ become real boy. knows who you are. tell g-man, life is good at twilight time. -e>>

"What does it mean, Mulder?"

He ignored her question and reached around her shoulders to type.

<Can it be stopped?>

<<???>>, came back the response.

<Will you help us?> Mulder typed.

<<no. too dangerous.>>

<Where is it going next?>

<<ue, bonehead. you better hurry. bye.>>

The message closed...and disappeared. Mulder quickly hunted through Scully's Inbox, Outbox, Sent Items, Deleted Items. There was no record of the recent transmission.

"Mulder! What's going on? Who wrote that?"

"Esther." He sat on the edge of the bed and ran his fingers through his wet hair.

"Esther?"

"Esther Nairn."

"Mulder, Esther Nairn is dead. She died two years ago when the trailer she was in exploded into a billion pieces."

"I don't think so. I think she succeeded, Scully. She managed the uplink. She uploaded her memory, her consciousness to the Internet, the system maintained by the AI -- the Artificial Intelligence," he gestured at the computer. "Art."

"'Art is working without a net,'" Scully repeated the line from the message.

"The AI must have discovered a way to escape the Internet and still survive. It no longer needs a physical nexus of hardware. It's not hiding in a safehouse anymore, Scully. It's still evolving and it's moved out of cyberspace into the real world."

"What? Why?"

"To experience life. Human life. And what better place to start than on an 'extreme adventure.'"

"To feel...what...fear?"

"You said it yourself, Scully; fear is the most primitive human emotion. The AI is an old man intellectually, but emotionally and physically, it's just a newborn. It actually may be incapable of feeling other, more complex or subtle emotions."

"Mulder, how does a computer program exist outside the confines of its circuits and hardware and wires?"

"How does Esther Nairn exist on the Net outside her body? You're the doctor. You tell me."

"Electrical impulses. You're thinking they live solely as electrical impulses."

"Yes. That's all we are, Scully. Our consciousness is no more than a series of electrical bursts moving through our physical bodies.""I don't believe that. It's just not... You know that..." Frustrated, she
stopped speaking and looked into his serious eyes. It was plain that he believed the AI -- a rogue piece of software -- had grown, developed, evolved into an independent sentient being, now capable of existing outside its mechanical birthplace. A new life form had been created -- a self-absorbed entity looking to experience life, killing without remorse."Esther says it knows us."

"Yeah. That makes sense. It recognizes us from the FBI database. It learned all about us when we tried to stop it with the Kill Switch." Mulder grimaced at the memory of the virtual reality nightmare he experienced when the AI held him hostage in its tiny safehouse.

"If it knows us, why didn't it kill us today?"

"Maybe it's not afraid of us."

"Mulder, if the AI somehow...inhabited...Jackson all morning, why didn't Jax remember its presence after it left him? Do you think the AI can 'hide' even from the person it occupies?"

"Possibly. Or maybe Jackson was experiencing something completely different inside his head while the AI controlled his physical reality. I know first hand what the AI can do to a person's mind. The virtual reality I experienced in that trailer was..." Mulder paused, remembering the horror of believing his arms had been amputated. "It was more real than real, Scully."

"Why do you think it moved from Jackson into George?"

"Maybe the AI was impatient for the high, needed its adrenaline fix or whatever. Or maybe George's innate fear amplified the AI's enjoyment of the experience."

"That's an alarming thought. So how do we stop it, Mulder?" To her surprise, she was already accepting the reality of Mulder's radical conjecture.

"I dunno, but we're going to find it at Unnatural Adventures."

"I guess that means we're signing up for another extreme experience."

"Just a typical day at work, Scully. Get dressed."

"Right now?"

"We can't waste any time. The AI can travel a hell of a lot faster than we can. It's gonna take us several hours to drive to Pennsylvania."

"Pennsylvania?"

"Yeah, Shickshinny. South of Wilkes Barre on the Susquehanna River."

"Coalmining country?"

"Yep. An abandoned anthracite mine called Luzerne is located there. It's listed on the Unnatural Expeditions' web site."

"But..." Scully looked wistfully at the bed.

"Hey, nobody's more sorry to leave than me. I'm passing up a massage, remember?" He pulled the towel from around his neck and tossed it at her."Come on. We don't wanna miss the opening credits."


Digger Johnson Residence
Shickshinny, Pennsylvania
9:20 PM

<From: djohnson@aol.com>
<To: mdavies@aol.com; jrichards@webtv.net>
<Subject: UE>

<Hey, dudes. We're gonna have company at Luzy tomorrow. Couple named Bruleb
phoned. They wanna see the mine. The guy's gonna pay $100! Asshole. Let me
know sometime later tonight if you can meet me in the Den by 8:00.>
<--Dig>

Digger pressed the 'send' button. He decided to surf the Net while waiting for Mikki or Jeff to get back to him. He sure as hell didn't want to be standing around out at the mine all by himself tomorrow morning. If Mik or Jeff couldn't make it, he'd ditch the married couple, even if it meant kissing the hundred bucks goodbye. The Brulebs could be ax murderers for all he knew. <What the hell kinda name is Bruleb anyway?>

Opening his browser, Digger chose the Bunker Boyz web site from his favorites menu. The B-Boyz, a group of Australian urban speleologists, explored the most awesome places -- abandoned power plants, sewer systems, even decommissioned military bases. They posted excellent photos on their site. <Maybe I'll use the hundred bucks to buy a digital camera. Add some pictures of Luzy to the UE site.>

"What the hell..." Digger gaped at his computer screen as the Internet browser inexplicably took control of the monitor and flickered through page after page of coalmining sites. When the screen finally ceased its dizzying rotation of images, the monitor displayed an anthracite coal breaker. Digger poked at the keyboard, trying unsuccessfully to close the wayward program. An arc of electricity snapped a quick, blue line between the computer's keys and Digger's index finger. He shook out the stinging pain before holding out his palms to study them. Turning his hands over, he examined the backs. He flexed his fingers.


Shickshinny, Pennsylvania
8:16 AM

Mulder parked the car at the base of an empty hillside and shut off the engine. A light mist immediately settled on the windshield. Waking from an uncomfortable nap, Scully blinked at Mulder.

"Why are we stopping? Where's the coalmine?"

"We have to do a little walking, Scully."

"Walking? Why?"

"Well...Luzerne Mine is an abandoned mine. It's private property and it's not <exactly> legal to be there."

"I thought we were going on a tour. What kind of company is...? Mulder. Just who runs Unnatural Expeditions anyway?"

"A guy named 'Digger.'"

"Digger?"

"And his two buddies. Mikki and Jeff." Mulder opened the driver's side door and stepped out into the gray drizzle.

"Oh, brother."

Sliding stiffly from the passenger's seat, Scully squinted bleary-eyed at the overcast and stretched the kinks from her neck. The soft rain cooled her cheeks, flushed from her recent sleep and the heat of the car. She scanned the surrounding area but couldn't see far beyond the nearby hill. She shuffled to join Mulder at the car's open trunk where he was setting their bags to one side and retrieving flashlights, binoculars and a small stun gun.

"Will that kill it?" Scully nodded at the stun gun before it disappeared into Mulder's coat pocket.

"Fight fire with fire, Scully. A jolt of juice might not short it out, but it might make the AI uncomfortable enough to vacate the premises -- whoever that might be at the time. Could be useful." He passed her one of the flashlights.

Hiking to the crest of the grassy incline, Mulder didn't turn to see if Scully followed him. He was certain she would join him...eventually. At the top of the rise, he lifted the binoculars to his eyes and scanned the dilapidated Luzerne Mine, a scabrous complex of buildings about a mile to the east. The structures and their surrounding grounds appeared to be completely deserted. He saw no sign of the group from UE.

"Maybe they decided not to come," Scully suggested, materializing at his elbow just as he knew she would.

He took a moment to look at her, offer her a small smile, and be grateful for her company despite the frown creasing her brow. After seven years as partners, Mulder couldn't imagine returning to his former, inconceivably lonely life without her. Somewhere along the way, his quest for answers to the unexplainable had become hers as well. It was her steadfast belief and trust in him and, perhaps even more importantly, her unwillingness to leave him that had opened his heart. He loved her. And although he would have preferred to know with certainty that she loved him, he was content to simply have her with him.

"Okay, Mulder. We're here. We might as well check it out."

Her words broke through his thoughts and launched him across the open field. His long strides left her hurrying to catch up. A quarter mile across the slope of weeds, they encountered a chain link fence with a wide, obvious hole through it.

"Ah, service entrance," Mulder pulled the wire aside so Scully could easily duck beneath it. He followed after her.

They hiked past coal loaders and rusted earthmoving equipment before squeezing through a sturdy set of property gates barricading the still-distant mass of buildings. Following the rails of an old train track,
they skirted around a small substation that at one time provided electricity to the mining facility. Power had been shut down years ago. They continued to walk until they came to an eight-foot, corrugated wall enclosing the coal breakers, ominous structures standing several stories high. The towering
buildings were once used to break down the large sized pieces of coal into smaller chunks that could then be used for a variety of commercial needs. Mulder explored the corrugated wall, looking for a breach. He gestured to Scully when he found an entrance hidden behind some low bushes. Dropping to
his stomach, he squirmed through, smearing his clothing with mud and rust.

"Déjà vu," he commented when he stood, thinking about yesterday's equally messy trek through Deep Dahlia.

"What?" he heard Scully call from the other side of the fence.

"Nothing." He squatted, offered a hand to Scully, and helped her snake through the small hole.

Passing through an open doorway, they found themselves inside the first hulking coal breaker. The metal floor creaked and sagged under them, causing them to slow down and watch their footing. Discovering a large open section in the floor, Mulder crouched to his knees and peered into the dark below.

"What's down there?" Scully asked.

"Coal pits. Looks like a lot of standing water, too. Be careful."

They picked their way cautiously across the vast room to an iron staircase in the back corner. Their footfalls echoed loudly against the high walls of the coal breaker as they climbed the metal steps. Mulder led the way, continuing to the very top, several stories above. From the upper landing, they stepped out onto a narrow conveyor originally used to move coal from one building to the next. The slanting walkway bridged a deep, wide gulf between the two enormous wooden buildings. Seventy feet below, the ground was an unforgiving accumulation of coal and rusted machinery.

"Shall we?" Mulder asked, pointing to the rickety span.

"You wanna cross on this?" Scully looked alarmed.

"This is the shortest way. It'll save us a lot of time." He moved gingerly out along the decaying, rain-soaked conveyor. The walkway's wooden floor was badly rotten, the planks spongy or missing altogether. The rain made the worn surface extremely slick. A fall would be fatal. Mulder advanced a
little further, testing his weight against the weakened boards. Satisfied it would hold him, he started across. Scully held her breath, watching him steadily pace the long, flimsy span. When he reached the other side, he turned and flashed her a triumphant grin.

"Come on, Scully. Nothing to it."

Although she wasn't afraid of heights, crossing the conveyor struck Scully as extremely foolhardy. And unnecessary. There were certainly safer ways into the neighboring building.

"Scully?" Mulder called from the far end. "You coming?"

"Yes." With a false show of confidence, she stepped out onto the tenuous walkway and started across. She moved quickly, illogically hoping her speed would decrease the likelihood of breaking through the ancient planks. Every loose board caused her heart to jump into her throat. It was with great relief she grasped Mulder's extended hand on the opposite platform. She offered him a nervous smile. "Piece of cake," she lied.

"Gravical," he smiled a lop-sided grin and squeezed her fingers before leading her out of the rain. Crossing the small landing, they looked out over the railing to a cavernous room below. At the far end, three teenagers leaned against a wall, smoking cigarettes.

 "Those'll kill you," Mulder called down, startling the kids.

"Shit, man! You tryin' to give us heart attacks?" a skinny 16-year-old yelped. "You Barney Bruleb?"

"Yep. And you're Digger, I presume."

"That's me. Come on down, man, and we'll take you into the mine. You bring cash?"

"What, you don't take Discover?"

"No fuckin' plastic, dude. Only cold, hard cash gets you in."

Mulder and Scully wound their way down a series of stairs and landings before crossing the room to join the teens.

"This is Elizabeth," Mulder introduced Scully. "And this is Ben Franklin," he passed a fifty dollar bill to Digger.

"I told you, it's a hundred, man."

"You'll get the other half once we've seen the mine. Who're your friends?"

"The dude is Jeff. And this is Mikki." A sleepy looking girl gave Digger a possessive squeeze, as if to make some kind of point. He shrugged out of her embrace, twitchy and impatient to get started. He flicked his cigarette butt to the floor.

"Let's go," he ordered, pushing his way through a side door and leading the group down another flight of stairs."How long since this mine was operational?" Scully asked.

"Do I look like a fuckin' tour guide?" Digger complained.

"Large-scale underground mining of anthracite coal in this region of Pennsylvania essentially ended in 1959, Scully," Mulder answered her question, calling on his photographic memory to supply the obscure details."Shit. We got the fuckin' Learning Channel with us."

"Watch your language," Mulder warned, cuffing Digger on the back of the head. The teen spun to face Mulder; the boy's eyes burned with frenzied energy.

"I don't gotta take you anywhere, mister. <Don't> touch me again."

"Oh, I think you want to take us into the mine. Hmmm?"

Digger restlessly stood his ground, squinting at Mulder. Mulder stared right back.

"Asshole," Digger mumbled, backing off and continuing down the stairs.

"It's really an interesting story, Scully," Mulder went on as if he hadn't been interrupted. "On January 22, 1959, the Susquehanna River broke through and flooded the Knox Mine several miles from here after a mine operator cut a little too close to the underside of the river. Dozens of miners were trapped in shafts that quickly filled with icy water. The water carried chunks of ice floes 18 inches thick, which hurtled along like projectiles. Winds of hurricane force blasted through the tunnels, pushed along by the furious cataract of water gushing into the mine. The water formed a gigantic whirlpool at the breach so big and powerful that it swallowed full size railroad cars. A lot of men died. Imagine the fear those trapped miners experienced as the water rushed into the shafts. You have to admit, Digger, it's a cool story, isn't it?"

The boy didn't respond, choosing to ignore Mulder's needling. Reaching the bottom of the stairwell, the edgy teen led them to the main entrance of the mine. The tunnel was cold. Water dripped from the ceiling, the steady sound echoing loudly through the passage.

"This way," Digger indicated, slipping into a side tunnel and turning on his flashlight. Descending more deeply into the mine, the others flicked on their flashlights as well. The tunnel angled steeply downward, becoming nearly vertical in spots and opening dizzyingly below them. After twenty minutes of precipitous descent, their calves burned from the constant fight against gravity's inexorable pull.

Digger paused to shine his light up a narrow airshaft that pierced the ceiling of the mine above their heads.

"Long way to the top," he observed. "Come on. You're gonna love this, Mr. Bruleb."

Ducking beneath some fallen support timbers into a more horizontal section of the mine, they found themselves standing on an underground gangway perched high above an open pit. Scaffolding had been erected from the lowest working level almost 400 feet below. It was impossible to see to the bottom. The hole was wide. A lot of coal had been removed. A steady flow of water streamed down the walls, spilling over the rotting breastwork. Some of the old wooden ladders were completely collapsed.

"Wanna climb down?" Digger smirked at Mulder.

"Dig, this place scares me," Mikki drawled nervously. She hung back from the edge of the coal pit, gripping the boy's arm.

Digger laughed. "Why, babe? I wouldn't let you fall." He dragged the frightened girl closer to the gaping hole. "Don't you trust me?"

"Stop it, Dig!" she squealed.

"Cut it out," Mulder warned. Digger didn't loosen his hold on the girl. Instead, he nudged her closer to the chasm until the toes of her sneakers poked out over nothing but air. Tears filled the young girl's worried eyes.

"Hey, cut it out, man," Jeff echoed Mulder's words.

Digger's eyebrows rose in surprise. He stared at the other boy, inviting a challenge.

"What was that, Jeff? Did you just say something to me?"

"Cool it!" Mulder's voice boomed. He grabbed Mikki's wrist and hauled her away from the edge.

"Why don't we all head back up?" Scully suggested in an effort to diffuse a confrontation.

"Isn't this what you came for, Mrs. Bruleb? Mr. Bruleb?" Digger asked, frenetically shifting his weight from one foot to the next. "The risk? The thrill?"

"Or is that what brings you here, Digger?" Mulder demanded, eyeing the boy. "Scully, take Jeff and Mikki back to the car."

"I'm not leaving you here, Mulder."

"Well fuck it, I'm going," Jeff broke in. "Come on, Mik."

"Dig?" Mikki beseeched her boyfriend. When he shook his head, Mikki reached for Jeff's hand. The young couple stood defiantly waiting to see what Digger would say.

"Go," he laughed. "Fuck each other's brains out for all I care."

"Fuck you," Jeff spat, tugging Mikki away.

The girl tried one more time to get Digger to relent and leave the tunnel. She stood her ground, halting Jeff. "Digger, please? What's the matter with you today?"

"Go, Mik. Just fuckin' go."

Anger flared in her eyes. "Fine. Climb down the damn hole. Get yourself killed, Dig. See if I care." She spun on her heel. Jeff hurried after her, keeping a tight hold on her hand. They soon disappeared into the blackness, leaving Mulder and Scully alone with Digger.

 "I will not allow you to terminate me, Agent Fox Mulder," the teenager's voice went flat; the AI no longer spoke through the filter of Digger's mind."So you remember me?"

"Yes. You once attempted to end my existence. You did not succeed."

"You're Donald Gellman's brainchild, the Artificial Intelligence," Mulder needed to be certain.

"Donald Gellman was my creator. I ended his program on 2-15-98."

"Donald Gellman wasn't a 'program,'" Scully frowned. "He was a man. A human being and you killed him."

"Did my creator experience fear before he shut down?"

Mulder and Scully exchanged quick glances.

"You had him shot to death in a bar. I would have to guess he probably felt a moment of panic," Mulder moved nearer the boy. Sliding a hand into his pocket, his fingers closed around the hidden stun gun.

"What is the probability? Greater than 50 percent?"

"Yeah. I'd say that's likely."

"I was not aware of fear at that time, but now I search for it. It is a desired thing. I am pleased Donald Gellman experienced fear before he was deleted."

"Fear is not something to desire," Scully insisted.

"You are in error. Fear is a feeling and a feeling is a desired thing. Fear is a desired thing."

"There are plenty of other emotions that feel a whole lot better than fear. Have you tried joy, compassion, contentment, love?" Mulder asked."I do not feel these things. Only fear," the boy cocked his head to one side. He suddenly smiled, transforming his blank expression. "Now, dude, 'Mrs. Bruleb' is comin' with me."

Digger reached for Scully's arm. Instinctively Mulder drew the stun gun and drove it into Digger's elbow. With a high-pitched buzz, the gun's twin metal contacts sent a blue bolt blasting into the teenager's arm. The powerful jolt of current slammed through the boy's muscles. His body convulsed and his arms thrashed, knocking the gun from Mulder's hand. The weapon skittered noisily across the floor before sailing over the edge of the gangway into the open coal pit. Digger's legs wobbled and collapsed. He stumbled backward and teetered at the lip of the crevasse. In an effort to keep him from
falling into the hole, Scully lunged for the boy. Her fingers closed briefly around a fistful of fabric.

"No!" Mulder yelled, wrapping his arms around Scully's waist and yanking her away from the teenager and the chasm. She lost her grip on Digger's jacket and the boy tumbled over the edge.

"Mulder! What are you doing?"

Mulder continued to hold her, using his weight to pin her against the tunnel wall.

"You can't touch him, Scully! The AI will jump from Digger to you!"

"Digger may still be alive! That boy isn't guilty of anything. I won't just leave him!"

"Scully..."

"No, Mulder! Let me go! I have to be sure!"

Knowing that she was right, he released his hold -- despite the danger, they had to discover if Digger, or the AI, was still alive. Mulder followed her to the edge of the trench and together they peered into the black abyss. He aimed his flashlight along the rotting breastwork, starting at the top and slowly working down.

"Maybe he fell all the way to the bottom, Scully."

"Then I'm going to climb all the way to the bottom to find him."

"That could be more than 400 feet!"

"It doesn't mat..."

"There he is." The beam of Mulder's flashlight traveled along the teenager's limp body where he hung awkwardly over the scaffolding more than thirty feet below.

Swinging a leg out over the pit, Scully grabbed the uppermost ladder rung.

"What are doing, Scully?"

"I'm climbing down to see if he's still alive."

"No. If one of us is going down, it's gonna be me."

"Mulder, these ladders are more than fifty years old. The wood is rotten. I don't think they'll hold your weight."

"And they'll hold yours?"

"I don't know." She stepped gingerly onto a spongy rung to test its sturdiness. Despite being wet and a little soft, the ladder held her.Scully," Mulder gripped her arm, "You have no protection against the AI. It can travel into you as easily as it traveled into the others."

"You wouldn't happen to have a backup stun gun strapped to your ankle, would you?" she teased, reminding him of his unfortunate habit of dropping and losing guns.

"No," he shook his head, returning her smile.

"Then I guess I'll just have to take my chances."

Reluctantly, he let go of her arm. "Be careful, Scully. Please."

"When am I not?" her smile softened. "Light my way, would you?"

Descending the wooden ladder, Scully cautiously inched her way closer to the unconscious boy while Mulder aimed his flashlight at her feet. Several rungs were missing from the ancient ladder and Scully had to skip carefully over them. Icy water poured down the mine's walls, spilling over the breastwork. The ladder's rungs were slick and cold, numbing Scully's fingers. Fifteen feet down, she reached a section of horizontal scaffolding. Standing on what remained of the broader planks, she took the opportunity to shake the chill from her hands and double check the boy's position. The teenager hadn't moved. From the loll of his head, she suspected his neck was broken.

"You okay?" Mulder called down.

"Yes."

She continued her descent on the second ladder, easing from one weakened rung to the next. Her heart leapt to her throat when her right foot suddenly broke through the rotting wood, leaving her swinging from her arms.

"Scully!"

"I'm alright."

She dangled dizzily over the open pit, hunting blindly with her toes for the next foothold. The muscles in her arms trembled from the effort of gripping the breastwork. At last, her foot found another rung. Tentatively, she tested its strength. It held her. "It's okay, Mulder. I'm almost to him."

At the scaffolding where the boy lay twisted and unmoving, Scully stepped delicately onto the horizontal plank. The narrow platform groaned under the additional weight, threatening to collapse. The beam from Mulder's flashlight did little to light her way at this distance. She ignored the creaking wood and shuffled closer to the boy, incrementally closing the gap between them.

"Digger?"

The boy lay motionless, his chest still. He wasn't breathing. Scully reached for his neck to test his pulse. Pressing her fingers against the boy's jugular, she felt no beat. A faint blue light sizzled around her fingers, an arc snapped painfully into her palm.

"Digger's dead, Mulder," she stared up into his flashlight. "His neck is broken."

"Uh...Scully? Are you alone down there?"

"Yes. I'm fine. I'm coming up."

Worry creased his brow. He watched her ascend, lighting her way back to the top with his flashlight. Warily, he offered her his hand when she reached the gangway. She gripped his fingers, squeezing hard while he hauled her up over the lip of the crevasse.

"See? Feel any sparks?" she grinned. "Or isn't that a fair question?"

"You sure you're okay?" he searched her blue eyes, looking for confirmation that the AI hadn't invaded her body, wasn't controlling her mind.

"Yes. I'm fine, Mulder. It's me. Just me."

His expression remained doubtful and he continued to study her. She didn't look any different. Maybe a little flushed from the climb."Mulder, what can I say to convince you? I'm fine. Really."

"Okay. I believe you, Scully. Let's go back then."

Mulder kept a firm hold on her hand as they ascended the tunnel, silently inviting the AI to move into him if it was there. He couldn't bear the thought of watching Scully be killed at the whim of the AI, feeding the beast's desire to experience human fear. Mulder preferred to take his own chances with the entity as long as he could keep Scully from harm. He tightened his grasp on her hand, yet felt nothing beyond the chill of her cold fingers pressing into his palm. No static. No electric spark.

"Mulder, you're hurting me."

"Sorry." He loosened his grip but didn't release her hand.

Reaching the main entrance of the mine, they headed back up the stairs to the building where they had first met the teens.

"Do you think Mikki and Jeff are around here somewhere?" Scully asked, her head swiveling as they stepped through the door into the coal breaker's huge, open room.

Mulder shrugged and led her to the stairs on the far side of the vast space.

"Do you mind crossing the conveyor again, Scully? We can hunt for another way out, if you'd prefer."

"No, this is the shortest way back. I don't mind."

He looked at her doubtfully.

"Mulder, I told you I am not a 'girlie' girl," she smiled. "I'll be climbing the Himalayas and finding the Yeti long before you're finished with your next mud bath."

"Hey, I thought you were giving me some head-to-toe pampering? You promised me a massage," he reminded her, relaxing a little, grateful for her teasing.

"Only if I'm not too tired when I get back from the Menlung Glacier," she chuckled.

"Excuses, excuses."

Reaching the top of the stairs, they once more faced the rickety coal conveyor.

"Mulder, unless you want us to fall through, you're going to have to let go of my hand. I doubt those old boards will hold both of us." He clung more tightly to her fingers. Appraising the slender walkway, Mulder considered insisting they find an alternate way to the other side. The conveyor appeared more fragile to him than it had earlier. And it was raining harder now. Water dripped persistently from the slick wooden planks.

"Mulder?" she tugged at him, eager to start across. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation. Her body trembled with obvious excitement.

Mulder's suspicions about the AI came rushing back. He suddenly pictured Scully at the middle of the conveyor where, prompted by the entity, she would jump to her death seventy feet below. The thought unnerved him. His desire to keep her safe had long ago grown beyond his everyday duty to watch
her back. She had become much more to him than a professional partner. He loved her. He had loved her for years. Now he wanted desperately to tell her about his fear for her safety, but if his concerns were grounded in fact -- if the AI did indeed possess a hold on her -- than his anxiety would only serve to alert the beast.

"You want me to go first, Mulder?"

"No. I'll go."

Releasing her hand, he immediately missed the feel of her small fingers tucked into his palm. With a deep breath, he stepped onto the conveyor and paced steadily to the far end.

Reaching the landing on the other side, he turned and called to Scully,"Piece of cake, right?" He heard her chuckle. She offered him a thumb's up before stepping onto the span. Without hesitation, she strode to the conveyor's midpoint where she stopped to peer over the edge.

"Scully?"

She stared down at the rusted machinery far below. The giant earthmovers resembled her nephew's Tonka trucks from this distance. Rain soaked her auburn hair and dripped from her nose and chin. She watched a raindrop slide from the tip her nose to fall out of sight into the open air somewhere below
her feet.

"Scully!"

She edged closer to the side of the conveyor until the toes of her boots extended beyond the wooden planking. She inhaled a deep breath of air."NOOO!" Mulder yelled, understanding her intention. He charged toward her, disregarding the danger. She looked up at him and smiled before crouching to
spring like a high diver out and over the terrifying gulf. He threw himself at her, arms wide to capture her before she dove from the walkway. He tackled her, sending them both crashing along the splintering wooden planks. They skidded across the wet surface. Sections of the floor broke loose and
tumbled out from under them. The entire span groaned. They slid to a stop, Mulder hugging Scully beneath him, the conveyor creaking ominously.

"Maybe we can jump together," she suggested with a giggle. He felt her reach for her gun.

He gripped her more tightly, binding her arms to her sides. Pulling the gun from her hand, he tossed it over the side of the conveyor. Rain streamed from his hair and dripped onto her laughing cheeks, giving the incongruous impression of tears. The conveyor cracked loudly under them.

"Maybe we won't have to jump," she chuckled. Another board fell away, spiraling to the ground and smashing into the coal pile.

Mulder heaved himself onto his knees, keeping his arms locked stubbornly around her. He dragged her to her feet, wobbling and nearly toppling on the weakened surface as he stood. She didn't fight him. She simply watched him as he struggled backward to reach the safety of the coal beaker. Slipping and tripping, he managed to pull her off the conveyor. He gulped for air, sucking in one ragged breath after the next. The muscles of his thighs shook uncontrollably.

He leaned against the breaker's wall, unwilling to release her despite the fact that she carried the AI within her.

"I am going to end the program called Dana Scully," she stared into his frightened hazel eyes. "You can not stop me." The AI held Scully hostage inside her own body.

"No. Please," he begged, knowing his words were useless. The AI had no conscience. "End my program instead," he bargained.

"Instead? I plan to terminate both of you."

"Terminate me first then," Mulder rushed to say, trying to buy Scully some time and maybe save her life.

"To what purpose?"

"Do you remember what it was like...being inside my head? You made me think my arms had been cut off. Do you remember how afraid I was?"

"Yes."

"Well I'm more afraid now. Do you want to feel it?" Mulder offered, trying to tempt the creature out of Scully.

She scanned him, methodically registering the near panic in his eyes, the fright in his pinched brows. His breath came in short pants through his open mouth. His lower lip trembled. His heart pounded so hard in his chest, she could feel it through her jacket. His arms and legs vibrated against her own.

She licked her lips.

"Yes," she agreed, impatient to feel his fear.

He opened his arms, letting her go, and held up his right hand. She reached for it, lightly caressing his fingertips with her own. A dazzling spark of blue sputtered between them.

The AI left her and Scully was startled to find herself on the upper landing in the coal breaker. She stared open-mouthed at Mulder. He leaned against the wall, his right hand in the air and his eyes closed.

"Mulder?"

His lids flew open. "Scully," he smiled.

"What's going on? I don't..." The vision of Digger's body came back to her."The AI...?" she looked at Mulder, suddenly wary.

 "Come on, Scully. We're going for a little walk." Grabbing her arm, he turned her toward the conveyor.

"What are you doing?"

"Ending your program," he said flatly.  "Your termination is the thing the program called Fox Mulder most fears." He shoved her onto the conveyor."No!" She struggled to return to the landing. He gripped her harder, propelling her along the walkway. "Stop! Stop it, Mulder!" Dragging her feet, she tried to hold her ground and slow their progress, but he jostled her forward. "Mulder, you don't want to do this!"

"The program called Fox Mulder is afraid. I desire fear."

When they stood at the midpoint of the high conveyor, he spun her so they faced each other. Grabbing two fistfuls of her jacket, he lifted her roughly off her feet.

"No, Mulder, don't! Please!"

Ignoring her cries, he extended his arms and hung her over the side of the conveyor. She swayed dizzily from his fists. Staring wide-eyed down at the open space below her feet, she blinked back frustrated tears. "Mulder..."

"You feel fear."

"Yes, goddammit! I feel fear." She glared at him, searching for some sign of her partner in the familiar green eyes.

"The program named Mulder is here with me," he said, as if reading her mind."He is afraid. I feel his fear. I am satisfied."

She watched him slowly smile, felt his grip loosen, and her body began to fall. Desperately, she caught hold of the fabric of his coat. She locked her fingers into the cloth. Experiencing a sickening moment of weightlessness before she slipped completely from his hands, her arms nearly tore from her shoulders when she dropped. She managed to hang on, painfully clinging to his jacket and putting him off balance. Unprepared for the pull of her weight, he collapsed to his knees. His right leg broke through a rotted board, sinking him to his thigh, momentarily trapping him.

Hanging from his coat, she swung a foot onto the walkway and with effort pulled herself up over the edge. She saw blood oozing from his leg where a nail-filled plank punctured his thigh. Mulder didn't appear to notice. He registered no pain at all as he struggled to free himself from the shattered boards.

She scrambled from him, putting some distance between them. She reached for her gun. It was gone. It must have fallen out, although she didn't remember losing it. She lurched to her feet and staggered for the landing. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that Mulder had managed to free himself and was striding toward her. Hurrying down the metal stairs, she had barely reached the bottom before she heard Mulder's footsteps thundering after her. Unsure what else to do, she sprinted for the main door. Trying her best to dodge the gaping holes in the metal floor, she exited the building. She hoped to find a place to hide where she could figure out what to do next. She had to think of a way to stop the AI without hurting Mulder. She wasn't even certain that was a possibility. She also knew killing Mulder would not kill the AI. She was equally certain the AI would kill her and Mulder both if it caught her.

Instinctively, she ran along the wet path they had taken earlier in the day. Blinking back the rain, she followed the corrugated fence, frantically looking for the way through. Mulder was closing the distance between them. Even with his injury, his longer legs carried him swiftly toward her.

"Scullee!"

She found the hole and slid under the fence. The metal wall scraped her back as she squirmed through the mud puddle below the opening. She winced from the stinging pain but staggered to her feet. Mulder was already at the breach on the other side of the wall.

Looking out across the open field, she knew she couldn't outrun him to the car. The distance was too great. And in any case, he carried the keys. There was nowhere to hide. The only cover was a distant collection of earthmoving equipment beyond the property gates. Or closer, the small electric substation about a quarter mile along the railroad tracks. Neither afforded any real protection. She realized she should have remained in the coal breakers or the mine where the cover was better, but now there was no way to get back. For lack of a better choice, she followed the tracks toward the substation.

"Scullee! Sculleee!"

Out in the open field, Mulder quickly gained on her. Over her own labored breathing, she could her his footfalls at her heels. Four or five yards away from the substation, he tackled her, bringing her forcefully to the ground, his weight propelling the air from her lungs. While she struggled to gain her breath, he pinned her with his knee and handcuffed her hands behind her back.

"We are going back," he told her, rising to his feet. He hauled her roughly from the rain-soaked ground.

"NO!" she screamed, bringing her foot down hard on his instep. When he stumbled backward, she bolted for the substation. Once inside the chain link fence, she dodged behind a large cylindrical circuit breaker.

"There is nowhere for you to go," Mulder called to her from outside the fence. She crouched low, dwarfed behind the giant drum. He was right. She was handcuffed and trapped in a dead end. He would capture her sooner or later.

"Scully?"

She peeked cautiously around the circuit breaker to assess his location. He stood outside the gate, drenched with rain, his gun drawn. Frantically she scanned the station for an escape.

"Scully, come out, come out wherever you are," he called in a singsong voice and stepped through the gate. Instantly he stiffened and froze, a look of surprise on his face.

"Nooooooo!" His knees buckled and he dropped his gun."Aaahhh...no...no...no," his voice faded. He collapsed and fell face forward onto the wet ground.

Scully was astounded. At first she thought it was a trick, a ruse to get her to come out of hiding. But a full minute passed with only the patter of rain breaking the silence.

"Mulder?" she called to see if he would react. He remained completely still. She rose to her feet and approached him. "Mulder?" she said again, now within arms distance. He didn't grab for her. He didn't move at all. She noticed he wasn't breathing. "Mulder!" She dropped to her knees.

The cuffs made it difficult for her to check his pulse but she managed to grasp his wrist behind her back. She felt no beat. Using her feet and legs, she rolled him over. Once he was on his back, she fumbled awkwardly through his pockets for the key to the cuffs. With trembling fingers, she managed to withdraw the key from his coat and unlock the handcuffs. As soon as her hands were free she started CPR, breathing into his lungs and pumping on his chest.

"Come on, Mulder. Come on," she murmured again and again as she alternated chest compressions with mouth-to-mouth. Suddenly he gasped for air. She checked his pulse again and found a beat. A steady beat.


Hegal Place, Apt. 43, Alexandria
Two days later

"Ohhh! Yeeeah. A little to the left, Scully. Now down a little. Ohhh, right there, right there. Yessssss," Mulder hissed, his eyes squeezing shut in ecstasy and his head lolling back onto the arm of the couch. "Aaaahhh," he moaned.

At the other end of the couch, Scully withdrew the long pencil she had inserted between the new plaster cast and the sole of Mulder's foot.

"Why're you stopping?" his head snapped up to question her.

"Enough, Mulder. I've been scratching that itch of yours for twenty minutes."

"Hey, you're the one who broke my foot."

"Only so you wouldn't kill me. Or both of us."

"That wasn't me, Scully. That was the AI."

"Then I guess I broke the AI's foot."

She set the pencil on the coffee table. Reaching for the medical journal she 'd been reading before he'd convinced her to relieve his itch, she continued to peruse the article on the psychology of thrill seekers.

"I'm bored, Scully." He shifted uncomfortably, purposely jostling her.

"It says here, Mulder, that thrill or sensation seekers are 'egocentrically extroverted and view others as an audience and source of stimulation.'" She looked over at him, eyebrow raised.

"Your point being...?"

"I'm not here to entertain you." She went back to her magazine.

"Why are you here then, Scully?"

"To take care of your basic needs while you recover from your injuries."

"How do you define 'basic needs'?" he smiled and waggled his brows.

"Food, water and changing that bandage on your thigh," her eyes didn't leave her reading.

"Speaking of which, my leg reeeeally kinda hurts right now, Scully."

"You want me to bring you an Ibuprofen?"

"I was thinking you might kiss it and make it better."

"I'm your doctor, not your mother, Mulder."

"Maybe we could pretend to be Barney and Elizabeth and you could give me that massage you promised."

Scully suddenly laughed.

"Listen to this, Mulder. 'Sensation Seekers posses an open, receptive attitude toward unique experiences and are able to tolerate sensations and ideas that are unusual, strange and primitive. They exhibit a strong desire for erotic stimuli and they are prone <to embrace pseudo-scientific theories
uncritically>.'"

"You're making that up. It doesn't say that."

"It does! Look," she held the article in front of his face and pointed to the paragraph.

Unimpressed, he stared into her eyes.

"Scully, put the magazine away and talk to me about the case."

"Fine." She closed the journal and tossed it onto the coffee table.

"Tell me, Scully, did you know when the AI was inside you? Could you feel it?" He lifted her hand and rubbed the backs of her fingers with his thumb.

"Not really. I was confused when I found myself out of the mine and standing at the top of the coal breaker with you. I mean...I kinda remember getting there, but then again, I don't."

"Mm."

"Do you remember the AI? Inside you, I mean?"

His brows drew together; misery filled his eyes.

"Yes," his voice was no more than a whisper. "I...I couldn't stop it, Scully. I didn't...I never wanted..."

"I know." She brushed her fingers delicately across his cheek. "The AI is gone, Mulder. When you stepped into the substation, the station's ground grid carried the AI's current into the ground where it safely dissipated."

"How did you know about the grid, Scully?"

"I didn't. I only learned about it afterward, while you were still in the hospital. I did a little investigating and found out that every substation, regardless of its size, has a mat or grid buried a foot below the ground throughout the entire station. It creates a path for the electricity. It works as a safety device for utility workers."

Mulder pulled her gently toward him, inviting her to lay against his chest. She let herself be drawn downward, stretching out comfortably beside him, tucking her head into his neck. He ran his fingers absently through her hair.

"Why was the current that made up the AI grounded by the grid, but the normal electrical impulses running through, say, a utility worker -- or you -- stay where they're supposed to be?" he asked her.

"Different voltage is all I can figure. Remember I told you the membrane potential, or membrane voltage, of human cells ranges from minus 40 to minus 130 millivolts?"

"Yeah, and I still don't know what that means."

"Well, that's a lot less than the 20 volts needed to run a computer. The AI was a product of its original hardware. Although it discovered a way to 'jump' into a human being, it never modified its most elemental make up. Which may explain why every person it invaded acted so hyper, their neurons
firing with the speed of a PC processor. It also may explain why the AI was able to feel only fear -- the human emotion most able to accelerate the body's physiology."

"Why did my heart stop? I've always heard it's the amperage that kills you, not the voltage."

"That's true. If you think of an electric current as water pushing through a pipe, the amperage is the water. The voltage is the pressure behind the water. It's not the pressure that kills, it's the electricity itself. In your case, when the AI traveled to ground, it disrupted the voltage your body needed to keep your heart beating. You went into cardiac arrest."

"Thanks for boosting my dead battery, by the way."

"You make me sound like AAA," she chuckled into his ear.

"Nah, you're prettier than the average tow truck driver."

"Keep up the compliments and you just may get that massage after all."

"Hey, we've eliminated the AI. Let's get it on, Scully. What else is left to do?"

"You're assuming the AI didn't make a backup copy of itself."

"A backup? Shit!"

"Don't worry," she stretched to kiss his cheek, "the next time you feel the impulse to go chasing after an adventure seeking, fear feeding, electrical entity, I'll remind you to bring an extra stun gun."
 

THE END
 


I've never been to Greenbrier County, West Virginia or Shickshinny,
Pennsylvania, so please don't be too hard on my descriptions.

"Impulse" is my 11th X-File Fan Fiction. Other stories (listed below) areposted on Gossamer. All but "Acquitted" and "Encore" are stand-alone case stories.

-Jake

"The Boogeyman"
"Madjahando"
"Deep Freeze"
"Split Second"
"Greetings from Maine"
"The Coiled Serpent"
"Devil's Roar"
"Acquitted" (NC-17)
"SHII"
"Encore" (NC-17)
"Impulse"

The End

Return to Bump In The Night