On the Verge by aka Jake

Title: On the Verge (Prelude to an Admission of Love)
Author: aka "Jake"
Rating: PG-13 (Language)
Classification: Fill-In-the-Blank for Fight the Future
Spoilers: Anything up through Triangle is fair game.

Summary: How did Mulder and Scully get off the ice and back to Washington, DC, after escaping from the alien ship in Antarctica?

Disclaimer: These characters belong to Chris Carter, FOX, and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement intended. Fun, yes. Profit, no.

Beta: Much appreciation goes to xdksfan!


“Mulder, please,” Scully begs.

She wrestles him into a seated position. Unconscious, he is weighty. Unmanageable. She holds on tight. They’re perched at the edge of a massive crater in an otherwise endless expanse of white.

“You have to wake up.”

Sun on snow blinds her. Cold bites at her nose and cheeks. A bitter wind howls past her ears. She shivers uncontrollably. She has no gloves. No boots either, only oversized socks. She’s wearing what she guesses are Mulder’s parka and snow pants, loose and overly long on her smaller frame. The fabric is soaked through and frigid against her bare skin.

What is this place? How did they get here?

She dimly remembers climbing upward through a tunnel or vent, arms and legs going numb, her grip and consciousness slipping. Panic flared in Mulder’s eyes when he leaned over her and urged, “Breathe in, breathe in…breathe!”

Now she buoys him. Hugs him with all her remaining strength. She presses her face to the crown of his head and rocks him. Tears have frozen on her lashes. Icicles are forming in his hair.

Their bodies are losing heat. It’s only a matter of time before hypothermia sets in. She already feels exhausted and confused. Her teeth chatter. She can’t feel her fingers or toes.   

“Mulder, we’ll die if we stay here.”

“We’ll die,” he thinks he hears Scully say, her voice thick with worry. He fights his way toward consciousness. His head is pounding and he feels chilled to the bone. He’s pretty sure it would be easier to bench press 300 pounds right now than to open his eyes, and he’s only ever bench-pressed 185. On his best day. This clearly isn’t his best day. With Scully’s words echoing in his head, he forces his eyes open. He blinks against an intense glare and flurry of snow.

Scully is sprawled on the ice beside him, one arm hooked around his waist.

“Scully?” Her name turns to steam in the wintry air before the wind snatches it and whisks it away.

She’s passed out, unresponsive.

He struggles to his feet, a seemingly Herculean effort, then bends and hoists her over his shoulders.

Get help, get help, get help thrums through his veins. He starts walking.

The Sno-Cat is out of fuel but it has a portable two-way radio. And the cab will provide protection from the wind, which is picking up, tugging at his hair and blowing through his vest and shirtsleeves. Snowflakes whirl and needle his exposed skin. His face feels raw, like he shaved with a cheese grater. He’s losing sensation in his hands. He misplaced his gloves somewhere. In the tunnel to the spaceship, he thinks, but isn’t sure. He adjusts his grip on Scully, squints, bows his head and forges on. Rescue is an SOS call away, he reminds himself, laboring to remain optimistic. Corbyn Station, the Australian research facility where he spent far too much time and money convincing a staff mechanic to let him take the Sno-Cat…they’ll fly out a rescue helicopter, won’t they? Send EMTs?

The distance to the Sno-Cat seems far greater on the return trek than on the outgoing journey. Adrenaline fueled him then. And hope. But hope is now fading as fast as the Antarctic sun. An ominous overcast is sliding across the sky and he’s traveled only as far as the stoney outcrop. There’s a long way to go yet but as he crests the rise, the Sno-Cat comes into view.

“It’s all downhill from here, Scully,” he says, wondering suddenly if the expression implies things will get better or worse from this point on. It could go either way, he imagines. He trudges on. There’s no other option. He didn’t save Scully from alien monsters and their human conspirators only to watch her die out here of exposure.

One foot in front of the other. Left, right, left, right. Get her to the Sno-Cat. Call for help. Save her. Don’t think of anything else.

He retraces his previous tracks, which are filling with blowing snow. She moans softly.

“Scully?” He twists but can’t see her face. “Scully, are you okay?”

She doesn’t answer. Or move. He briefly considers stopping, putting her down, so he can get a better look at her, but decides time is of the essence. They’re only about halfway to the Sno-Cat. Better to keep going. Get her out of the wind before she becomes hypothermic. If she isn’t already.

Not for the first time in their five years together, Mulder finds himself wishing for Scully’s medical knowledge. Or her faith in God’s miracles. But he has neither her skill as a doctor or her belief in the Almighty. God isn’t likely to answer his prayers at this late date in any case, even if he could somehow get His attention.

“Can’t quit now, Scully,” he mumbles, as much to himself as to her, recalling the words he said to her just days ago in his apartment, before he chased after her into his hallway, wanting more than anything to stop her. They’d lost the X-Files to a fire in their office followed by a reassignment of duties. After Dallas, the powers-that-be resolved to split them up permanently. And then Scully handed them exactly what they wanted when she decided to resign her position. She was walking away, leaving the FBI. Leaving him. She admitted she considered not telling him in person, words that struck him like a punch to the gut. After all they’d been through, all they’d seen. After all he thought they meant to one another.

There was nothing for him to do then but confess the truth: she made him a whole person; he owed her everything and she owed him nothing.

“You don’t need me, Mulder. You never have,” she had said. “I’ve just held you back.”

How could she think that? She’d saved him a thousand times over and he said so. How could she question how important she is to him?

There was so much more he wanted to say, but he was practically hyperventilating at the thought of her quitting. Had he sounded more desperate than sincere? He hoped not. He wasn’t trying to manipulate her into staying. He simply wanted her to know how he felt, really felt, and it poured out of him in a crazy tangle of words. He needed her, has always needed her.

Then her eyes filled with tears and that shut him up. What was the cause of her sadness, he wonders now. His declaration? Her decision to leave? Pity…or love…or something else entirely, known only to her?

When she embraced him, a wave of gratitude and relief washed through him. And when she pressed her lips to his forehead, an urge to kiss her, really kiss her, not as her partner or her friend but as a man, welled up in him, surprising and profound, compelling him to cradle her face in his palms and—

That damned bee! If not for that bee, he would’ve done it. Kissed her the way he’d wanted to, still wants to. Maybe she would’ve kissed him back. Maybe.

And they wouldn’t be here now.

“Hey, Scully, what do you call a yeti with a six-pack?” He waits a beat to give her time to respond…if she’s able. “An abdominal snowman.”

No chuckle. No groan. Silence is her usual reaction to his lame jokes, so not a real indication she didn’t hear him.

“Where do yetis go to dance?” Another pause, shorter this time. “A snowball. I could do this all day.”

Still no response. He plows through the drifts and decides to sing instead of tell jokes.

“It’s a marshmallow world in the winter,” he belts out in his best Dean Martin imitation, “when the snow comes to cover the ground.”

Left, right, left, right.

“It's the time for play,” he croons, “it's a whipped cream day. I wait for it all year round.”

He’s trying to distract himself. Or her, if she can hear him.

He stops singing and asks, “Do you like snow, Scully?”

It’s a legitimate question. He doesn’t know how she feels about snow, their current predicament notwithstanding. There are lots of things he doesn’t know about her, he realizes. Things he probably should know. Things he should’ve asked about years ago. But they don’t talk about their private lives or emotions and, to be honest, the fault is his. Whenever she veers too close to anything personal, he cracks a joke about wanting a peg leg or identifying with Betty Rubble’s bust line. When she tried to tell him how it felt to know she was dying from cancer he said the only time he seriously thought about death was at the Ice Capades.

He clears his throat. Starts another verse. “It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts, take a walk with your favorite g—”

Tears fill his eyes. He swallows past a lump. What would he be if not for her? What will he become if he loses her now?

“This ain’t no sugar date. Sorry, Scully,” he murmurs.

One foot in front of the other, in front of the other, in front of the other….

Incrementally, he closes the distance to the Sno-Cat until it’s only yards away.

Steps away

Within arm’s reach.

At last.


The flurries are quickly turning into a full-fledged storm. He fumbles one-handed for the handle on the passenger side and wrenches the door open. He lifts Scully up into the seat. Broken capillaries crisscross her raw, red cheeks. Her nose and fingertips are candlestick white. His Basic First Aid training was a long time ago but he’s pretty sure these are signs of frostbite. He checks that her legs and arms are inside the cab before he closes the door and hurries to the driver’s side, where he hoists himself up behind the steering wheel. The wind tugs at the door when he tries to close it behind him. He pulls harder and it slams shut.

Icy flakes swirl in dervishes beyond the windshield, specters skating across the windblown landscape. Sleet taps at the glass, and he has the strange sensation of being inside a reverse snow globe, the ghostly fingers of the storm scratching to get in. His breath rises in great foggy plumes. Almost nothing sifts from Scully’s parted blue lips.

He grabs the radio and hits the on switch.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI calling Corbyn Station, come in. Over.”

The radio crackles but no one answers.

He tries again. “Corbyn Station, this is an emergency. Please, respond. Over.”

“This is Corbyn Station,” a man with a distinctive Australian accent says. “Please, state your emergency. Over.”

“My partner….” He glances at her. Panic crawls up his throat. “She…she’s unconscious. Maybe hypothermic. Requesting air rescue as soon as possible. Over.”

“Copy, Agent Mulder. What is your location? Over.”

He scans the cab for the handwritten note with the coordinates. Finds it. “South 83 degrees latitude. East 63 degrees longitude. We’re sheltering in a Sno-Cat. No fuel. No heat. Over.”

“Copy that. We’ll assemble a response team ASAP. ETA at your location is approximately 15 minutes. What’s your partner’s condition? Is she breathing? Are her clothes dry? If not, is there anything she can change into?”

“She’s breathing but…her clothes are soaked.” He plucks at one sodden sleeve. “And, no, there’s nothing dry to dress her in.” His own clothes are saturated inside and out from sweat and snow, otherwise he’d strip and give her his shirt, vest, and pants. “But…wait, I think…I think I saw an emergency blanket in here somewhere.” He rummages behind the seat and pulls out two folded, aluminized Mylar blankets. “Yes. Yes, there are two. Over.”

“Good. Remove her wet clothing. Do it gently. Jarring movements could trigger irregular heartbeats if her basal temp is below 30C. Don’t rub her skin in an attempt to restore circulation. You could cause more harm than good. Tuck her hands into her armpits and wrap her loosely in the blankets. Use your body to warm her, if at all possible. Lay next to her or put her on your lap, whatever space allows. Over.”

“Understood.” He unfolds the first blanket. It looks desperately inadequate. “Please…hurry.”

“Help is on the way, Agent Mulder. Sit tight. Over and out.”

Relief surges through him but it’s short-lived when Scully moans again. Her lips are chapped and cracked, her breath halting.

He’s reluctant to bare her skin to the frigid interior of the cab but understands that her wet clothes need to come off.

“I’ll do this as quickly as I can,” he promises, abandoning the radio and reaching for the zipper on her coat.

He unzips her parka — his parka, actually. Thank God he wore layers before heading out. He snakes an arm beneath the coat and around her waist. The bare skin of her back feels icy against his own cold palm. He draws her upper body toward him until she is leaning heavily against his chest. He slips the oversized coat from her shoulders, then gently withdraws her arms one at a time from the sleeves. With a final push, the coat tumbles into the footwell. He drapes the first blanket around her exposed back and shoulders.

“That was the easy part,” he says before he carefully hooks an arm around her waist again and lifts, high enough that her hips leave the seat. With his free hand he nudges the snow pants down over her backside. The garment is so big on her, it slides off easily without the need to undo the fastener at the waist. The pants bunch at her knees. He leaves them there while he arranges the blanket beneath her. There’s scant room in the cab for maneuvering. He’s breathing hard from exertion. His own clothes stick to his skin, clammy with sweat. He settles her back into her seat, then whisks the pants from her legs. They join the parka in a heap on the floor.

As instructed, he tucks her hands into her armpits. Her head lolls as he folds the first blanket around her. The jostling doesn’t illicit any reaction from her. He wraps her in the second blanket before attempting to remove her socks. They’re saturated and he has to peel them from her feet. Her toes are colorless and waxy looking. He resists the urge to rub them between his palms. Better to cover them. And her head. He rearranges the blankets as best he can and then pulls her into his lap. He’s shivering violently, he notices, either from cold or from adrenaline. She’s barely shivering at all any more. A symptom, he worries, that can’t be good since it’s too soon for her to have warmed up, even a little.

“Hang on, Scully. Please.”

Panic hovers in the back of his mind, bringing tears that blur the wintry landscape beyond the windshield. He circles his arms around her. Her face presses cadaver-cold against his neck.

A smell like molasses mixed with WD-40 emanates from her hair and skin. Traces of a greenish oily substance cling to the folds of her ears, mat her lashes, and slick her cheeks and chin. It must be residue from the liquid in the cryopod. He’s smelled something like it before. On a deepwater dive suit aboard the Piper Maru and later on Bernard Gauthier, the diver.

He rests his chin on the crown of her head and wills her to stay alive.

“Don’t leave me, Scully.”
After a seeming eternity, helicopter lights appear to the east. He’s shivering uncontrollably and she feels like a block of ice in his lap. Snow is falling harder now, reducing visibility even further. The distant outcrop has disappeared behind a veil of flakes that blow horizontally across the ice.

The chopper arrives and settles fifty yards away. Mulder waits until the rescuers jump out before he opens the door of the Sno-Cat. When he does, a blast of wind steals his breath. It’s shocking how quickly the temperature plummets here at the bottom of the world. He hunches protectively around Scully.

Two men hurry toward him. One carries a light-weight basket stretcher under his arm.

“Agent Mulder?” the man with the stretcher shouts to be heard above the wind and the chopper’s spinning rotors. When Mulder nods, he says, “I’m Graeme Walker. This is Mark Thompson. Field medics from Corbyn Research Station.”

They’re dressed in foul-weather gear, their faces concealed behind masks.

Thompson leans into the cab, where Mulder still cradles Scully.

“What’s your partner’s name?” he asks. His eyes are hidden behind goggles.

“Scully. Dana Scully.”

“Dana, my name is Mark.” He talks to her like she’s not unconscious and can hear him. He lifts a corner of the Mylar blanket just enough to get a peek at her face. “I’m here to help you.”

His voice is kind and confident. He reaches for her.

Mulder is loath to release her but he hands her over to the man, trying to jostle her as little as possible. Walker has set the stretcher on the ground. Thompson places Scully gently on top of it and tucks her blankets firmly around her motionless form.

“Hurry, Agent Mulder,” Thompson urges with a wave of one arm. He and Walker each take an end of the stretcher and lift.

Mulder slides out of the driver’s seat. His knees buckle when his feet hit the ground and he nearly falls over before catching hold of the Sno-Cat’s forward track and righting himself.

“You okay, Agent?” Thompson asks. “You need help?”

“I’m fine.”

It’s a lie. He’s never felt more tired. Or cold. Or bruised. He took several hard falls in the alien ship and is feeling the effects. But maybe worse, his head throbs like a son-of-a-bitch where the bullet grazed his temple. Was that just three days ago? Seems more like three years.

Thompson and Walker shuttle Scully to the helicopter. Mulder lurches after them.

The chopper’s rotors churn the snow, making it impossible to see. Mulder raises an arm to protect his face from the whirlwind and stamps his feet to get the blood circulating while Thompson and Walker load Scully into the craft. As soon as they’re in, Mulder places a foot onto the boarding step and hauls himself up.

Thompson and Walker slide the stretcher onto a raised platform at one side of the cabin area. The pilot gestures to the empty co-pilot’s seat and Mulder sits, noticing the gloveless man is missing the tips of three fingers on his left hand. The pilot doesn’t introduce himself but Brigham is embroidered on his flight jacket. Blond, curling whiskers cover the lower half of his face. Above his beard, his skin is dark and creased from a lifetime of exposure to the weather, making it impossible to guess his age.

“Welcome aboard, Agent Mulder,” he says. “Buckle up.”   

Mulder adjusts the safety harness. Thompson hands a folded Mylar blanket over his seat back. “Looks like you could use one of these, too, Agent Mulder.”

The silvery fabric unfurls and Mulder drapes it clumsily over himself. “Thanks.” His teeth chatter. His legs jounce and he finds he can’t hold them still no matter how hard he tries.

“Brigham to Corbyn Base. See you in a few. Out.” The pilot glances back at the crew. “Ready, guys?”

“Almost.” Thompson and Walker are working together to assess Scully’s condition and warm her up. Walker shoves a heat pack under each of her arms and a third at her neck. Thompson adds another layer of blankets. They strap her and the stretcher down, then seat themselves nearby and buckle in. “All set,” Thompson announces.

“Okay, we’re outta here.”

The helicopter lifts. Brigham’s left hand adjusts the collective control while his right works the cyclic. The cockpit dips steeply as they bank to the east. A gust of wind strikes them side on. Mulder is thrown hard against his safety harness. Thompson and Walker keep their eyes locked onto Scully. The chopper yaws and Brigham wrestles with the controls. Mulder feels like he might throw up.

“Seems I took this ride once at Six Flags," he says through gritted teeth.

Brigham grins, displaying a chipped incisor in his friendly smile.

Sleet soon encrusts the canopy. The windshield wipers aren’t fast enough to clear the glass. Mulder wonders how Brigham can see where he’s going.

“If your call had come just a few minutes later, Agent Mulder, we wouldn’t be here,” Thompson says from the back, voiced raised to be heard above the engine and howling wind. “Storm came in fast and it’s a big one. Base is grounding all flights. Driving out to your location on sleds would’ve taken too long. She….” He hesitates, as if trying to gauge whether Mulder can take the truth.

“She…?” Mulder prods.

“She needs medical attention, sooner rather than later.” He leaves it at that.

The lack of detail does little to calm Mulder’s worst fears.

She can’t die. He cannot lose her.


The flight is bumpy but it takes only minutes before lights at the station come into view. Brigham lands the chopper near the station’s main building. Thompson and Walker jump into action. With practiced teamwork, they each take an end of Scully’s stretcher and smoothly maneuver her out of the helicopter. They dash to the entrance, where someone stands holding the door open at the top of a ramp.

Mulder fumbles with his harness, fingers not working. Brigham reaches across and releases him.

“Follow them,” Brigham urges, the engine idling and rotors churning. “I’ve gotta put this baby to bed.”  

“Thanks.” Mulder stumbles from his seat on shaky legs. He grips the seatback to keep from falling. Manages to climb out of the helicopter without collapsing.  

He staggers after Thompson and Walker, who are disappearing through the entrance of the sprawling, single-story building — Corbyn Station’s primary research facility. Its metal siding is painted bright red, just about the only thing visible through the cloak of blowing snow. An Australian flag lashes atop a nearby pole, frenzied and snapping like a bullwhip. Behind him, the helicopter lifts with a roar and heads to a hulking hangar located only a few hundred yards away, yet despite the short distance, the building is nearly as indiscernible as a ghost.

The person at the door waves him forward. A woman, he realizes as he draws near.

“Hurry, get inside,” she urges. She’s wearing an unzipped parka, looking as though she threw it on in a hurry, never intending to spend long out in the cold. She pulls the door shut behind them both as soon as he crosses the threshold.

The relative silence inside shocks him. For one startled moment he thinks he’s gone deaf. But then muted sounds come to him: the faint sound of air movement through an HVAC system, hushed voices from rooms adjoining the hallway ahead, the muffled thump of wind across the roof.

“My partner…?” He peers down the corridor and sees no sign of Scully.  

“Follow me. This way.”  

She leads him down the hall. It’s an effort to keep up.

“I’m Arika. Assistant to Dr. Taumata. Everyone calls me Ari.” Her dark eyes are serious but her smile is genuine. She’s young, mid to late twenties, with cornrowed hair. An abundance of skinny braids hang below her shoulders and swing with each step. “You’re American? An FBI agent?”

“Yes. Special Agent Fox Mulder.”

Ari glances his way, a familiar “for real?” look on her face at learning his first name. It’s brief, quickly replaced with her previous professional demeanor. “And your partner?”

“Special Agent Dana Scully. She’s going to be okay, right?” He’s generally not prone to wishful thinking but right now any other option is too unacceptable to consider.

“Helen…uh, Dr. Taumata is the best. An expert in cold injuries: hypothermia, frostbite, chilblains, you name it. Gotta be when all your patients live in the Antarctic. Try not to worry.”

Easier said than done. She might as well tell him not to breathe.

“Agent Scully was infected with a virus,” he tells her.

Ari’s dark eyes widen. “What kind of virus?”

How much should he say? How much does he really know?

“I’m not sure.” He hesitates. He knows how crazy it’s going to sound but doesn’t believe he should hide the truth. Not when Scully’s life is at stake. “It may be…uh, extraterrestrial in origin.”

This brings Ari to a standstill. She takes a moment to scrutinize Mulder. Her stare zeros in on the gunshot wound on his left temple.

“What happened there?”

“I was shot. Three days ago.”

“Did you receive treatment?”


“Doesn’t look it.”

“I’m fine. Really. It’s my partner who needs help.”

“Yes, she does. But maybe you do, too. Let’s go see Dr. Taumata, see what she recommends. For both of you.”

Turning on her heel, she continues down the hall without another word. She’s apparently concluded he has suffered brain trauma and is no longer in his right mind. Who could blame her? He knows how ridiculous it can all sound: alien invasion, government conspiracy, black oil, corn crops, bees, viruses…. It’s a lot to take in even when you’ve seen it with your own eyes.

He trails after her, wanting more than anything to find Scully, to know that she’s going to be alright.

The narrow hall leads them past compact labs and offices, the majority crammed with furniture and equipment, researchers sharing desks. The spaces make Mulder’s basement office look palatial by comparison. He’s surprised by the number of people here. Every room is occupied by groups of workers. Mostly men. All ages.

“Are there always this many people here?” he asks.

“No, but it’s the start of our summer season. Lots of new projects gearing up. Researchers come from all over the world. Not like mid-winter when it’s as quiet as a tomb.”

Personnel in the hallway step aside to make room for him and Ari. They stare openly as he passes. Judging from their expressions, he must look as godawful as he feels. He’s having trouble keeping up with Ari and is about to ask her how much further when she suddenly stops in front of a closed door on the left. The word INFIRMARY is nearly obscured by colorful posters offering a wide variety of safety advice: Chilblains Explained; How to Prevent Hypothermia; Signs and Symptoms of Frostbite. The latter explains that fourth degree frostbite occurs when the tendons and bones freeze. Did Scully get that cold? On a small sign that says Office Hours, someone has crossed out the days and times and scrawled “Open 24/7. Welcome to the Land of the Midnight Sun!”

“Here we are.” Ari opens the door and motions him inside.

Mulder isn’t sure what he was expecting but this wasn’t it. The outer room is more like a walk-in closet than a hospital or clinic reception area. Boxes are stacked everywhere. There are three doors on the back wall, one closed, two open. Beyond the middle door is a tiny exam room. Empty. The door at the far right leads to a treatment area for more serious cases. Ari leads Mulder there. Thompson, Walker, and a woman — presumably Dr. Taumata — are working frantically on Scully, who is lying on a table, wrapped in clean, cotton blankets. The aluminized Mylar blankets from the Sno-Cat are in a pile on the floor.

Walker releases air from a blood pressure cuff strapped around Scully’s right arm. “BP 62 over 44,” he says.

Thompson pulls up Scully’s left eyelid and shines a thin beam of light into her eye. “Left pupil dilated.” He pulls up Scully’s other lid. “Right pupil dilated.”

Dr. Taumata presses her stethoscope to Scully’s chest. “Breathing irregular and shallow. Pulse is erratic.” She shoulders Thompson aside and inserts a thermometer in Scully’s ear. It beeps. She reads the results aloud: “Temp 31.6.”

The number shocks Mulder until he realizes it’s Celsius. He does a quick calculation to Fahrenheit: about 88 degrees. Still not good.  

“PER protocol,” Taumata announces as she places an oxygen mask over Scully’s mouth and nose. “Ari, prepare a warm saline drip. Mark, insert the PIVC. Let’s get this woman’s temperature up. You know the drill.”

Ari shrugs out of her coat. She and Thompson launch into action. Fear closes Mulder’s throat. He tries to speak.

“Is she…is she going to be okay?” he finally manages to ask. The question comes out as little more than a whisper. When he realizes no one has heard him, he clears his throat and yells, “Is she going to be okay?”

“Who is this man?” Taumata asks without so much as a glance his way, her tone conveying her obvious irritation. She’s diminutive, but thickset. Her hair is cropped close to her head in a no-nonsense style. Instead of a doctor’s white coat she wears a yellow and teal sweatshirt with Hockeyroos 1988 printed across the front.

“Agent Mulder. FBI,” Thompson says as he inserts an IV into Scully’s arm. “Made the SOS call.”

“FBI?” Taumata looks directly at Mulder for the first time. She’s clearly not happy with what she sees, though he’s not sure if it’s his mere presence or something else that has her annoyed. “What happened to your head?” She barks the question, chin thrust his way.

His hand lifts automatically to his gunshot wound. “It’s nothing. How is she? How is Agent Scully?”

Taumata ignores him. “Graeme, please remove Agent Mulder. We’re tight on space here. There’s no room for visitors.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Mulder says, palms raised to ward off Walker’s approach.  

Taumata’s eyes blaze. “Graeme, take him next door. Check his head wound, get him out of those wet clothes, make sure he doesn’t have frostbite. Treat him if he does.”

“Will do, doc.” Half a dozen steps bring Walker across the room to Mulder’s side.  

“No! I don’t care about myself.” Mulder’s voice is too loud. All heads turn his way. “I only care about her. She’s all that matters.”
“Out. Now!” Taumata returns her attention to Scully. She's done with this discussion.

Walker reaches for Mulder’s elbow. Mulder shakes him off.

“I’m staying!”

“Sorry, Agent Mulder. We have to let Dr. Taumata do her work.” Walker’s voice is calm, persuasive. “Your partner needs immediate medical attention. You need to think about what’s best for her. Come with me. Please.”

Mulder recognizes that Walker is trying to de-escalate the situation but after coming all this way, finding Scully, giving her the vaccine, Mulder is not about to let her out of his sight. He doesn’t know these people. They could be working with the very men who kidnapped her. This station isn’t all that far from the ship’s location. They could be colluding with the US Government, with Old Smokey.

“I won’t leave her,” Mulder growls, “I can’t—” The urge to throw a punch is nearly overwhelming but Walker is looking at him with patience and kindness. The others have returned their attention to Scully. She clearly needs their help. Her eyes are sunken, the flesh around them looks bruised. Small blisters stipple her cheeks and ears. She’s as motionless as the corpses she autopsies. Fear tightens his chest, sizzles like an electrical current through his limbs. His fists clench but his rage ebbs. He stands down.

“Just for now,” Walker promises, steering him through the door. “As soon as your partner is stabilized, Dr. Taumata will update you.”

Mulder gives a curt nod and reluctantly turns away, not trusting himself to speak. He feels like he’s failing her.

“After you." Walker points the way to the exam room next door.

Mulder obliges and enters ahead of Walker. When Walker starts to shut the door behind them, Mulder objects.

“Keep it open,” he insists.

“For your privacy—”

“I said keep it open. I want to hear what’s happening in there.” He nods toward the treatment room they just left.

“Suit yourself.” Walker grabs a couple of thick towels from a shelf. “Take off your wet things and dry yourself with these.” He sets the towels on the exam table.

Mulder ignores the towels. “First, tell me about your neighbors.”

“My neighbors?”

“The station. Spitting distance from where you picked me up. Are you working with them?”

“Not likely. We’ve been told to steer clear of that base.”


“You probably know more about it than I do. Word is, it’s a top secret US military research station, off limits.” Walker pulls antiseptic, gauze pads, and tape from a drawer and lines them up on the counter.

“You’ve never been there, never seen it?” Mulder challenges.

“No. Brigham…our rescue pilot…did a fly-by once, from a distance. Said it was just a few small igloo-style structures, not much to it.”

“You’d be surprised. He will, too, next time he flies out there.”

“And risk an international incident between the Australian and the United States governments? I don’t think so. We like our jobs.”

Mulder is inclined to distrust nearly everything and everybody but his gut is telling him Walker is being truthful. Maybe he really is what he appears to be and just wants to help.

“Now it’s my turn to ask questions.” Walker approaches and takes a long, close look at the wound on Mulder’s temple. “What happened here?”

“I was shot.”

“I see that. When? Two, maybe three days ago?”

Mulder nods but doesn’t elaborate.

“A close one,” Walker states the obvious. “I’ll clean and bandage it. Here, sit on the exam table and stick this in your mouth.” He holds out a mercury-style thermometer and waits for Mulder to open up. “Under your tongue, please.”

Mulder obliges and is silenced for several minutes. He shivers and wishes someone would turn up the heat. Walker dabs antiseptic on his wound and applies a fresh bandage. It stings but Walker is gentle, methodical.

“There’s a bit of infection setting in. I’ll give you some antibiotics to clear it up. Was an MRI taken?”

Mulder nods, though he doesn’t know if it’s true. He woke up in the hospital with gauze wrapped around his head and Byers telling him a few centimeters to the left and he’d be dead.

Walker relieves him of the thermometer and checks the reading. “A little below normal but you’re not in any danger.” He shakes it out and drops it into a jar of blue liquid. “Now, will you please get out of those wet clothes? I’ll send for something clean and warm for you to change into.”

Mulder unzips his vest, shrugs it off while Walker crosses to a wall phone and punches a number. “Hey, Buzzy, it’s Graeme. Send up a change of clothes, will you? Men’s large.” He turns to Mulder. “What size shoe do you wear?”

Mulder is peeling his sweatshirt off over his head and thinks who the fuck cares. Then realizes his boots are soaked through and a dry pair would be nice, so says “Thirteen” from behind the fabric.

Walker speaks into the phone. He soon ends the conversation with, “Okay, great. As soon as you can get it all together. Thanks.”

Walker hangs up as Mulder removes his undershirt.

“Whoa, you have some pretty serious bruising there.” Walker is staring at Mulder’s ribs. “What happened?”

“I dropped in on your neighbors. Literally.”

Walker presses the area gently, eliciting a hiss of pain from Mulder. “I’d like to take some x-rays to rule out any broken bones or fractures.”

“I’m fine.”

“Do you have ‘MD’ after your name on your business card, Agent Mulder?”

Chagrined, Mulder presents Walker with a ghost of a smile. He bends to remove first one boot, then the other. They don’t come off easily, saturated as they are, sticking to his bare feet.

“No socks?” Walker is clearly surprised.

“I gave them to her.” Mulder tilts his head toward the room on the other side of the wall and wonders how things are going in there. He stands and strips off his pants. More bruises mottle his legs. A particularly large one on his left hip peeks out both above and below his boxer briefs.

“Looks like we’ll be x-raying more than your ribs.” Walker hands one of the towels to Mulder, who wraps it around his shoulders. Gooseflesh stipples his arms and legs.  

“Sit.” Walker pats the exam table before gathering Mulder’s clothes and dumping them onto a chair.

Mulder does as he’s told. The fight has gone out of him. The strain of the last three days is catching up. It’s a struggle to move, stay awake, breathe.

As if reading his mind, Walker asks, “When was the last time you slept?”


“Funny. For real, when did you last get some sleep?”

Mulder thinks back. A couple of trips to Dallas and the long flight to Antarctica. “I really don’t know,” he says honestly.

“Okay. What about food, when did you last eat?”

“I had a bag of peanuts on the plane.”

“Well, I suggest when we’re done here, you get some food into you and then you sleep for a few hours.”

As if sleeping is as easy as that. He isn’t going to close his eyes until he knows Scully will recover.

Walker unfolds another towel and drapes it over Mulder’s knees. Mulder welcomes its warmth.

“Hands out, palms up.” Walker demonstrates. Mulder follows suit. “What brought you and your partner to the Antarctic?” He turns Mulder’s hands over to inspect the backs. “Unless it’s classified and you have to kill me if you tell me.” He’s smiling when he says this. He squeezes Mulder’s fingers. “Can you feel that?”


Walker snags a wheeled stool, positions it in front of Mulder’s feet, and sits. “Surely, not sightseeing.” Walker is back on the subject of why Mulder and Scully are here.

Mulder decides to give him at least part of the picture. Without any sugarcoating. “My partner was kidnapped from my apartment hallway and brought here against her will. I was shot trying to stop it.”

Walker’s prodding stops. He stares up at Mulder. “Holy Hell!” He gathers his wits quickly. Standing, he says, “No sign of frostbite. You’re very lucky, Agent Mulder.”

That’s not how Mulder would describe his situation but he is grateful he’ll be keeping all his fingers and toes. The pilot’s missing fingertips come to mind.

A knock on the doorframe interrupts them.

“The clothes you asked for,” says a young woman with the palest eyebrows and eyelashes Mulder has ever seen. The hair on her head is dyed bright blue. She smiles at him and lifts a pair of boots from the top of the pile. “Got lucky and found you some boots that should fit. I’m pretty sure Australian twelves are the same as American thirteens. But let me know if they’re a no-go and I’ll see what else I can dig up.”

Walker takes the clothes from her. “Thanks, Buzzy. Appreciate it.”

This is clearly a dismissal but she flashes Mulder another wide grin before backing out the door and disappearing.  

“Okay, let’s take those x-rays now,” Walker says and points Mulder to the door.

Buzzy included a razor, toothbrush, and paste in the pile of borrowed clothing she’d brought. Bless the little blue-haired angel’s heart. After a hot, albeit far-too-brief shower and shave, Mulder feels reborn. The station’s strict water conservation rules kept his cleanup to under three minutes but he’s grateful for everything, especially the change of clothes. Sweatshirt, jeans, even the underwear smelled of sweet-scented detergent, a far cry from the rank, sweat-soaked garments he arrived in. And it felt heavenly to slip his feet into warm, dry socks. Bonus: the boots did fit. Walker said all this stuff came from former researchers who left their gear behind when they went back home, not wanting to pay freight costs for clothing they’d likely never use again. It was all cleaned and kept in storage for future researchers, should they neglect to pack everything they might need or end up damaging what they did bring.

While Mulder was cleaning up, Walker developed his x-rays.

“Good news,” Walker says to Mulder now, pointing to the pictures clipped to the light wall in the exam room. “No broken bones or fractures. Just deep bruising.” The images show Mulder’s ribs, spine, and the long bones of his legs are all whole despite the beating he took. “Still, injuries like this can hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. You want something for the pain?”

“No, I’m okay. Thanks.” Mulder is eager finish up here and visit Scully. “Can I see her now?”

Walker flicks off the wall light and the x-rays go dark. “Sorry, no. I know it’s hard to wait, but there’s nothing you can do for her right now except stay out of the way. Dr. Taumata will talk to you as soon as she’s able.”

“Isn’t it taking a long time? Shouldn’t Scully…Dana…have improved by now?”

“It’s only been an hour.”

Mulder wonders how that can be possible. It feels like it’s been days.

Walker collects Mulder’s wet clothes. “I’ll get these cleaned and dried for you.”

“Wait….” Mulder suddenly remembers Scully’s cross, recovered from the transport unit on the ship. “There’s something in my vest I need.”

Walker passes him the vest and Mulder digs into the righthand pocket. His fingers graze Scully’s necklace. He palms it and tucks it away in his pants pocket.

“Are you sure we can’t just take a peek?” he asks as they walk past the treatment room, where the door is now closed. This adds to his worry.

“Soon. For now, go to the cafeteria and get something to eat and drink. Doctor’s orders.”

Mulder knows he should refuel but his appetite left him the minute Scully collapsed outside his apartment.

“I’ll walk with you as far as the laundry,” Walker offers. “This way."

A pervasive odor of overused fryolator oil, grilled onions, and burnt coffee hits Mulder even before he opens the door to the cafeteria. Stepping inside, he’s assaulted by a cacophony of clanking dishes and genial chatter. The room is the largest he’s seen so far at the station. More colorful, too, with a tropical-themed mural on two walls. About twenty laminate tables fill the space in front of a food counter, some pushed together to accommodate larger groups. The diners are all dressed much like he is in sweatshirts, down vests, and jeans. Many wear hats although the room is comfortably warm. A welcome change from the rest of the station.

Mulder approaches the service counter and scans the whiteboard menu. Lighter fare includes soups, burgers, meat pies, a long list of beers. For heartier appetites: roast lamb, steak and chips, chicken parm, the list goes on and on. And then there are the desserts, most of which he doesn’t recognize. Stickjaw Toffees? Cherry Ripe? Pineapple Lumps? It’s an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, courtesy of the Australian government.

“What’ll it be?” asks the young man behind the counter. Dreadlocks spill from his knit hat. Piercings ornament his ears, nose, and lower lip. His name tag says “Spike.”

“What do you recommend?”

“Chili and cornbread are the best you’ll find anywhere south of Tierra del Fuego.”

Mulder wonders how many times a day the kid repeats that line. “Sure. And the largest cup of coffee you have.”

“I’ll bring a pot to your table. Food’ll be up in about five minutes. Sit anywhere you like.”

The cafeteria is crowded, nearly every table occupied. He spots Brigham, the pilot, sitting alone in one corner, his back to the wall. Brigham sees Mulder, too, and waves him over.

“How’s your lady friend?” he asks when Mulder arrives.

Mulder shrugs and sits. “Don’t know. Taumata kicked me out.”

Brigham chuckles, the deep laugh of a barrel-chested man. “No worries, she’ll be right mate. Helen Taumata has the personality of a pit bull but she’s good at what she does. None better. Saved many a frozen fuck, including my own sorry, cold ass. Couldn’t save all of me but I lived to tell the tale.” He holds up his hand and wiggles what’s left of his amputated fingers.

“That’s…reassuring.” Mulder pictures Scully’s petite hands with her pretty manicured nails, snapping on latex and holding a scalpel, squeezing the trigger of her SIG, fighting off Donnie Pfaster so that her fingers didn’t end up in his freezer next to his peas and carrots. Bile rides up the back of his throat. “You been working at Corbyn Station long?”

“Five years. Summers only.”

“And the rest of the year?”

“Sailing, snorkeling, surfing. Anything that puts me out in the fucking heat.” That explains Brigham’s darkly tanned face.

Spike delivers Mulder’s food and, as promised, sets a full coffee pot on the table between the two men. While Brigham helps himself to a refill, Mulder digs into his bowl of chili and is pleasantly surprised by how good it tastes. He’s hungrier than he realized. He takes a huge bite of cornbread and washes it down with a slug of coffee. The caffeine rushes to his head, dulling his headache and promising a much-needed jolt of energy.

“Thanks again for the lift,” he says between bites.

Brigham waves off Mulder’s gratitude. “All in a day’s work.”

Mulder slathers butter on his cornbread. “Assuming my partner is able, how soon can we fly out?”

“That’s up to Mother Nature. No transportation — of any kind — until the weather improves.”

As if on cue, a particularly intense gust of wind batters the outer wall and thumps loudly across the roof. A few diners look up from their food in surprise. Beyond the room’s one window is nothing but white.

“Maybe tomorrow?” Mulder asks.

“Possibly. Or maybe two or three days. Katabatic winds are notoriously hard to predict. All I know is visibility is currently less than 30 meters, windspeed is topping 55 knots, and the temp is -73C. That’s what’s known as Weather Condition 1 down here. You, her, me, anybody, we’re all stuck here for now.” Brigham’s plate is empty except for a few cooling French fries but he seems in no hurry to leave. “There’s plenty to do to pass the time, if you’re interested. The station has a gym, ping pong, arcade games, movie nights."

“Movie nights? Anything good playing?”

“‘The Thing.’”

“You’re kidding.”

“Not a John Carpenter fan?”

“I’m not a shape-shifting aliens in the Antarctic fan. At least, not this week.”

“Huh. Don’t know what you’re missing.”

Mulder’s chili is nearly gone already. He considers ordering another bowlful. Or a piece of Cherry Ripe, whatever that is. But first he wants to find out what if anything Brigham knows about Old Smokey’s operation at South 83 degrees latitude, East 63 degrees longitude.

“Rumor has it you’ve flown over the station where you picked me up.”

Brigham’s genial expression evaporates. He sets down his coffee cup and crosses his arms. “The trouble with fucking rumors is most are bullshit.”

“You’re saying you haven’t seen that base?”

“It’s officially off limits, Agent Mulder.”

“Maybe, but I’ve gone places I shouldn’t. Ignored ‘no trespassing’ signs.”

“Maybe you’re in a better position to disregard the rules.”

Mulder nods. “How about I tell you what I saw there.” Poker-faced, Brigham doesn’t encourage or discourage Mulder in any way. Mulder takes it as silent consent to continue. “You ever visit Wolfe Creek Crater?”

“Sure, as a boy.”

“That’s what you’ll see if you fly over that station now.”

“A 900-meter crater? How the hell is that possible?”

“The base that was there when you did or did not fly over it was just the tip of an iceberg. An iceberg of unnatural origins.”


“The station was sitting on top of a ship buried beneath the ice.”

“Ship? What kind of ship?”

“Nothing you’d sail in around Sydney Harbour.”

“Fuck me, I don’t believe it.”

“I was there. Inside it. It’s where I found my partner, held captive in some sort of cryopod, along with thousands, maybe tens of thousands of other captives, some looking like they’d been there since the Ice Age.”

“For what purpose?”

Mulder hesitates. How much of the truth would Brigham believe? He decides to find out.

“Alien colonization.”

He expects Brigham to laugh or dismiss the idea but instead the pilot uncrosses his arms and leans his elbows on the table. Deadly serious, he asks, “And how exactly did the crater get there?”

“The ship took off, flew away, leaving a big ol’ hole in the ground. It’s there. Fly out after the storm ends and see it for yourself.”

Brigham pours himself another cup of coffee. Fills Mulder’s, too.

“As crazy as that sounds,” Brigham says at length, “and it does sound fucking crazy, I’ve seen something, too. Something that makes me believe there might be a kernel of truth to what you’re saying.”

“What did you see?”

Brigham glances around and lowers his voice. “About a month ago, a cargo copter crashed, halfway between this station and that one. No distress call, no warning. It was a picture-perfect day with clear skies, no wind. A Corbyn researcher out on the ice witnessed the crash from about a thousand meters away and called it in. I flew out with a rescue team. Tried to raise the pilot on the radio on the way there. No response. Took us only minutes to arrive. But we weren’t the first on the scene.”

“Who got there before you?”

“Two choppers, brand new, no logos, no identifying marks. They had to have come from the other station, given how quickly they arrived at the crash site. Half a dozen crew wearing full cold-weather hazmat gear were offloading containers from the downed chopper.”

“What kind of containers?”

“Metallic tubes, about a meter long, 15 or 16 centimeters across. Smooth. No labels, though given the precautions, I’d guess they contained something dangerous.”

Black oil, Mulder is certain, carrying the alien virus.

“What about the pilot?” he asks. “Was he dead?”

“Not sure. Two men loaded him into some sort of translucent stretcher, for want of a better term, with a lid, like a see-through coffin. Nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Like the container on the ship where Mulder found Scully’s clothes and necklace. “He might not have been dead.”

“Funny you say that. I swear I saw him moving inside that thing before they loaded him into their chopper. Everything about this so-called rescue seemed off but what really struck me as odd was this one guy who wasn’t wearing protective gear like the others, just a regular parka. He seemed to be in charge though he didn’t say much, just stood there watching everything happen, smoking one cigarette after the next.”

“I know that man. He was on the ship. He’s responsible for Agent Scully's abduction.”

“He directed one of his men our way. Guy came over, armed with an M16. Aimed it at us and demanded we leave immediately. Said the area was under strict quarantine and we were in grave danger. Strict quarantine, grave danger…his exact words. Who the hell talks that way?”

There is more Mulder wants to ask but is interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Taumata.

“G’day, Brig,” Taumata says to the pilot.

“Helen.” He nods.

Mulder stands, hoping he’ll finally be allowed to see Scully. “How is she?”

“Walk with me, Agent Mulder.” Taumata heads for the exit.

Mulder hurries after her. “Is she okay? She’s alive, isn’t she?” His voice rises with every word. Passersby turn to stare.

Taumata stops and lightly grips his upper arm, halting him, too. “Yes, she’s alive. Her temperature is back up, her heart rate is regular. She’s regained consciousness.”

Mulder bends, braces himself, palms to thighs. Sucking in a lungful of air, he tries to slow his breathing, calm his racing heart. Taumata’s hand drops away and he stands upright again.

“Thank you,” he says, never more relieved.

“Thanks go to you in large part, Agent Mulder. Your quick action likely saved her life. Her condition was very serious but we were able to stabilize her with passive external warming. We administered humidified oxygen and warm intravenous fluids. Her core body temp still isn’t where we want it but is continuing to rise.”

He’s heard enough and wants to see Scully. Without waiting for permission, he abandons Taumata and jogs toward the infirmary.

Mulder pulls up short at the door to the treatment room where Scully is asleep on the exam bed. A tube loops from an oxygen tank to her nose. An IV bag hangs on a nearby pole. She’s wearing an oversized hospital gown that makes her appear even smaller than she is. There are dark circles beneath her eyes and she’s nearly as pale as the bedsheets. The sight takes him back to the Trinity Hospital Emergency Medical Unit, when she was dying of cancer.

This past year has taken so much from them both but most especially from Scully. Her cancer, Emily, Ruskin Dam…any of these trials could’ve crushed the spirit of someone with less fortitude or faith. While the disease she was given and the heartbreak she suffered at the death of her child whittled away at her physical size, she remained indomitable, saving his ass multiple times over the past few months, from mothmen in Florida, a killer AI in Virginia, a brain-sucking insect-monster in Illinois. As always, her strength and fearlessness awe him. He has come to rely on these assets. On her, as both a partner and a friend. She truly is his one in five billion.   

He takes a deep breath and crosses the room to stand beside her. Gently, he brushes aside a loose strand of hair at her temple. She’s been cleaned up, her hair rinsed, her body washed, the oily substance is gone. He regrets the loss of trace evidence but is so damn glad to see her. She stirs and wakens.

“Hey,” he says softly.

Her brow furrows when her focus slides to the fresh bandage at his hairline.

“Mulder, what happened?” She reaches for his hand, grasps his fingers. “Are you okay?”

“Am *I* okay?” Smiling, he lifts her hand to his lips and places a soft kiss on her knuckles. Her skin is warm. Thank you, Dr. Taumata! “Scully, you’re the one lying in a hospital bed.”

“But you…?” Her words trail off as she glances around the room. He does the same.

Ari is busy organizing the contents of a cupboard. She offers him a quick smile.

Scully clings to his hand, tightening her grip. “Mulder, I…I don’t know what happened to me.”

“We don’t need to talk about that right now. But I do have something for you.” He digs into his pocket and pulls out her necklace. The cross dangles from its chain, catching the light.

She takes it from him, unfastens the clasp, and hooks it around her neck. “This is getting to be a bad habit.” She frowns as she fingers the small cross.

“Our own post-abduction tradition,” he jokes but sees her bristle. She’s never liked the term. He bends down and softly kisses her forehead, wanting to erase the unease he sees there.

“I see you found your way, Agent Mulder,” Dr. Taumara says as she enters the room. She is slightly out of breath. If she’s surprised by his show of affection toward Scully, she doesn’t let on. “Ms. Scully, are you hungry?”

“Yes. To be honest, I’m famished. Mulder, have you eaten?”

He nods. “I can recommend the chili.”

Taumata checks Scully’s vitals on the patient monitor beside to the bed. “Let’s start you with something hot and sweet to drink, followed by fruit and bread. The complex carbohydrates will provide quick calories. If you’re still hungry after that, Ms. Scully, you can eat whatever you like.”

Ari volunteers to order the food and leaves the room. Mulder snags a nearby chair and moves it close to Scully’s bed. As he starts to sit, Taumata warns, “Don’t make yourself too comfortable, Mr. Mulder. Your partner needs her rest.”

“I want him to stay,” Scully says, once again reaching for his hand.

He takes it, grateful to be with her, relieved she’s alive. Delighted she wants him to stay.

“In that case, maybe he can answer some questions,” Taumata says. “Mr. Mulder, I’ve already asked your partner about her experience but understandably she doesn’t recall much of what happened to her. I’m hoping you can fill in the blanks and provide information that could be helpful to her treatment and recovery.”

“Fire away.” Mulder sits and gives Scully’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

“Ms. Scully presented with cardiac arrhythmia and went into arrest soon after she arrived. We used a defibrillator to restore a rhythm. During the process, I noticed bruising at her sternum, as if someone had recently performed CPR on her. Was that you?”

Horrified by the possibility he might have injured Scully, he gives a hesitant nod. “I…I didn’t break anything, did I?”

Taumata smiles. “No. You did fine. I just wanted to confirm what happened for our records.”

“Can we have access to those records?” Mulder asks. “Any evidence we can bring back to DC could be helpful to our case.”

“Of course. Would the samples I took be of help, too?”

“Samples?” Mulder feels a surge of hope. Maybe all trace evidence wasn’t lost after all.

“Blood samples primarily,” Taumata says. "Ari mentioned to me that you said Ms. Scully had been exposed to a virus. An ‘extraterrestrial’ virus. Did she hear you correctly?”

“It’s a … complicated story, and we’re still piecing together the details, but, yes, Agent Scully was infected with a virus, the origin of which—”

“Is up for debate,” Scully interrupts. It’s clear she wants him to say no more on the subject.

He’s about to risk angering her when a fit of coughing overtakes her. She struggles to catch her breath. Taumata is immediately attentive, raising the head of the bed until Scully is sitting upright. After a couple of minutes, Scully’s cough subsides.

“Lean forward,” Taumata says, placing the diaphragm of her stethoscope to Scully’s back. “Take a deep breath. Another."

“I’m okay,” Scully insists when Taumata finishes.

“You have fluid in your lungs,” Taumata says.

Mulder supplies the likely explanation. “She was submerged in a liquid-filled tank when I found her.”

“Submerged? Completely?” Taumata looks skeptical.

Mulder nods. “There was a…a flexible hose-like structure inserted into her throat.”

Now Scully’s expression registers disbelief. “A ventilator tube?”

“It looked more…biological than mechanical.”

“Mulder, I don’t have to tell you how unlikely that is.”

“Unlikely or not, Mr. Mulder’s account may explain the substance we found on your skin and hair when you were brought in. It was oleaginous. Smelled like a combination of honey and burnt engine oil. I took samples of it, too.” Taumata turns to Mulder. “Where exactly did you find her?”

Will she believe him if he tells her the truth, that Scully was held captive on an alien ship full of long-clawed spacelings gestating in the bellies of their human hosts?

“I’m not at liberty to say,” he says at length, falling back on an FBI protocol he usually ignores. Scully lets out a sigh of what can only be relief. “Our investigation is ongoing.”

“I’d like to get out of here,” Scully says, pushing back her bedcovers.

“I don’t recommend that, Ms. Scully. Your condition—”

“I don’t care. I want to leave. Mulder, can we please go?”

“Scully, I think you should listen to your doctor.”

“I want to go home.”

“I know. So do I. But we’re grounded here until this storm lets up.”

“Storm…?” Her expression of irritation is replaced by one of resignation when she clearly recognizes the sound of wind over the roof. “Okay, but I don’t want to stay here in this room, in this bed.”       

Mulder turns to Taumata. “Is there someplace private where Agent Scully and I can debrief?”

“I prefer she stay right here where I can monitor her. If pneumonia develops—”

“I’m a medical doctor,” Scully interrupts. “I can monitor myself.”

“Dr. Scully,” Taumata says, using her title for the first time, “we both know doctors are notorious for disregarding their own symptoms."

“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Mulder says before Scully’s obvious indignation turns into a full-blown argument. “I promise I’ll reach out for help if anything happens.”

“I strongly urge you to reconsider that idea,” Taumata says.

“Doctor, I’m hungry and tired,” Scully says. “I’ll sleep much better in a real bed than I will in this one.”

Taumata briefly considers Scully’s words before striking a bargain. “How about you eat here and if your condition continues to improve, we’ll find you a room. And I’ll rely on Mr. Mulder to keep his word and let me know if your condition worsens in any way.”     

“Her welfare is my only concern.” Mulder tags Scully’s arm, giving it a light caress.

Taumata takes in the gesture. She nods. A smile plays on her lips. “I’m inclined to believe you, Mr. Mulder."

The only thing familiar is him. Not this strange place. Or these people. She doesn’t know how she got here. Or what happened to her. The mystery bedevils her. She is reminded of waking up in other hospitals, of other moments of her life unaccounted for. Lost time on Skyland Mountain. At Ruskin Dam. But then as now, Mulder is beside her and his presence steadies her, keeps her panic at bay.

“This is it.” Mulder stops at a door marked 17, inserts a key into the lock. A turn of the knob and he swings the door inward. “After you.”

She hesitates at the threshold. The room is dark and chilly. Goosebumps rise on her arms although she is dressed warmly. Borrowed clothes, too big, are an improvement over the hospital gown she left behind in the infirmary, where she finished a hearty meal of fruit and bread and soup and even a plate of fried chicken wings, which she would never touch back home, but she wanted to prove to Dr. Taumata, and to herself, that she is better, well enough to be set free.

The food now sits uneasily in her stomach. Her fists are buried deep inside the sleeves of her sweatshirt and she hugs herself to hide her shivering.

“Still cold?” There is concern in Mulder’s eyes. He watches her intently.

There are times like now when she wants to hide from his scrutiny. For his sake as well as her own. He sees too much, this man, her partner. A profiler by profession and by instinct. She wants him to think she’s unshaken by this latest ordeal. But she knows he sees through any pretense.

“I’ll get the light,” he says. Stepping past her, he flips a switch.

A dim desk lamp blinks to life, revealing a combination bedroom and study space. It reminds her of the dorm rooms at med school. Bare bones furniture of scuffed wood, mismatched chair and desk, a bureau with too few drawers, a narrow bed pushed into one corner. Posters of Sydney Harbour decorate the walls, along with scientific charts, photos of ice fields and emperor penguins, newspaper clippings, a windchill chart. A framed photo of a tanned young woman with a smiling baby graces the nightstand. Someone moved out to temporarily make room for her and Mulder. She is grateful to this stranger.

“Scully, look! It rained sleeping bags,” Mulder says, bringing back memories of their night together in North Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest. Grinning, he grabs one of the two rolled bags from the bed and pulls at the laces that keep it bundled. It unfurls with a shake and he works the zipper until it opens into a makeshift blanket, which he drapes around her shoulders.


“A little.”

He wraps his arms around her, adding his body heat to the mix. “How about now?” he asks and rests his chin on the crown of her head.

She relaxes into his embrace. Breathes in his familiar scent. Feels the steady beat of his heart against her cheek. She is reminded of the last time they stood like this. In the hallway outside his apartment.

Oh God, she’d gone there to tell him she was quitting.  

“I owe you an apology, Mulder.”

“For what?”

“Resigning. Leaving the FBI. The X-Files.”

Leaving you.

“Scully…there’s nothing to apologize for."

She draws back to look up into his sad eyes. “Yes, there is. You never quit. No matter how difficult things get, you keep forging ahead. It’s not in your nature to give up.”

“Don’t be so sure.” He tightens his hold on her. “I quit the FBI once. Wrote out a letter of resignation and handed it in to Skinner.”


“When you were missing. Uh, the first time.”

“Well. You obviously changed your mind.”

“Only because Skinner made a compelling argument. And you were returned.” His chin is again propped on her head and she can feel the slide of his Adam’s apple against her brow. “We can all reach a breaking point, Scully.”

She leans into him, grateful for his presence, the solid feel of him. Wind rattles across the roof. A storm rages outside, trapping them here. But a storm is raging inside her, too, and she is caught between the desire to know the truth of what happened to her and wanting to avoid an argument with Mulder. For surely, there will be a difference of opinion if he ignores the science. Does she dare ask him for the details of how they got here and why?

She hasn’t always wanted to confront the truth. I don’t share those memories, she’d told Penny Northern, I can’t hear this right now. Only a year and a half ago. Yet she’s seen so much since then. Things even science couldn’t adequately explain.

She’s also learned she doesn’t like being kept in the dark or blindsided after the fact. Why didn’t you tell me, Mulder, she asked after learning about the loss of her ova. At a custody hearing, of all places, petitioning to adopt Emily. His reply: I thought I was protecting you.

Well, she doesn’t need coddling. She needs the truth. “I want to know what happened to me.”

“Are you sure?” His tone is measured.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Okay. But it’s a rather long story.”

“Then let’s get comfortable.” She steps away from him to toe off her borrowed sneakers.

He follows her lead and sits in the desk chair to untie his boots. No sooner has he pulled them from his feet when she warns, “Heads up!” and tosses him the second sleeping bag, still tightly rolled. He catches it and smiles. There are several pillows on the bed, which she piles against the headboard for them both. While he works on opening the second sleeping bag, she settles into the bed and covers herself with the first.

“Here,” Mulder soon says and spreads another down-filled layer over her. She appreciates the added warmth. She scoots close to the wall to make room for him. When he lowers himself onto the bed and tries to fit himself beside her, he moves slowly, carefully, like he’s afraid of crowding her.

Or he’s injured.

“Everything okay?” she asks.

“Fine. It’s been a rough few days.” His movements stop and he looks at her apologetically. “Not that it’s been a cakewalk for you.”

“What happened to me doesn’t negate what you’ve been through.” She’s only beginning to understand all he’s done on her behalf. “Tell me everything, Mulder.” You don’t need to protect me, she thinks but doesn’t say.

He stretches out on his back beside her, head propped by pillows. She is cocooned in the scant space between him and the wall. She repositions the sleeping bags to cover him, too. Her fingers inadvertently graze the skin of his neck, making him gasp.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, Scully, and under other circumstances I probably wouldn’t, but please keep your cold hands to yourself,” he says, smiling.  

“I can’t believe you’re saying it either.” She gives him a playful poke in the side. This elicits a yelp of pain. “What is it, Mulder?”

“Nothing. Just a bruise.”

“Let me see.”

“No, I—”

“Let me see!” she says more firmly, pushing off their covers and tugging at his sweatshirt.

To her surprise, he gives in to her, sits up, and draws the shirt off over his head. His thermal undershirt nearly goes with it, giving her a clear view of his blackened ribs.

“Mulder…this isn’t nothing.” She presses as gently as possible along his bones, feeling for breaks.

“Stop.” He leans away. “I’ve had x-rays. No breaks, no fractures. Your hands are like ice.” He traps them between his own warm palms, putting an end to her probing.

“Okay,” she relents.   

He releases her hands and tugs his undershirt back into place before lying down again. She lies down, too, facing him, her head cradled in the hollow between his chest and shoulder. His pulse thrums steadily beneath her ear. She places her open palm on his chest, which rises and falls with each breath he takes. He covers her hand with his own.

“I want to know how you got those bruises, Mulder. And that wound on your head. Tell me everything. And start at the beginning.”

“The very beginning?” He shakes his head as if what she’s asking is impossible. “Let’s start with the last thing you remember before I found you on the ship and we’ll work from there.”

She’s not sure what he means about a ship but puts that question aside for now and thinks back.

“I remember stopping by your apartment.” A surge of guilt heats her face. Her reasons for going there seem unfair now. No, worse than that. Disloyal. Unconscionable. “You followed me into the hall.”


He’d told her he owed her everything and she owed him nothing. She was fairly certain he was going to kiss her.

She doesn’t say any of that out loud. Instead, she says, “I was stung. By a bee. I remember pain in my chest. A funny taste in the back of my throat.”

“You collapsed. I called 911. But my call was intercepted and you never made it to the hospital. You were brought here.”

“Were you brought here with me?”

“No. I was shot in the head, woke up in a hospital, and then came looking for you.”

“Shot? Mulder….”

“It’s okay. I survived. Obviously.”

“Obviously. Then what? How did you know where to find me? Did Kurtzweil tell you where I was?”

“No. Kurtzweil’s dead, by the way. I got your location from his killer. Along with the vaccine to save you. I don’t know the man’s name but you and I have met him before.”

“When? Where?”

“Three years ago. At Victor Klemper’s orchid house.”

“Mulder, that man is interested only in helping himself and his coconspirators. He said as much when he approached me at your father’s funeral.”

“That man gave up his life so that I could find and save you.”

“He’s dead, too?”

“Along with his driver.”

Dealing with these murderers, Mulder had clearly put his own life at risk. To save her. She swallows past a lump in her throat to ask her next question.

“He gave you a…a vaccine?”

He smiles. “I’m getting to that.”

Mulder continues his account, describing his frantic search for her, his relief at finding the station, which gave way to anger when he spotted Old Smokey boarding a Sno-Cat outside the base’s above-ground structures. Mulder must’ve pulled a lot of strings to get from DC to Antarctica in two days. Scully is sure he’s skipping details, likely editing what he says for her sake, to keep her from worrying. Or maybe he’s simply tired. When was the last time he slept? Exhaustion is etched into his face yet his eyes burn with an eagerness to tell her what he’s seen.

“At the time, Scully, I had no idea what was under those structures.”

“What was under them?”

“A ship. Bigger than the Astrodome. Designed to warehouse human captives, thousands of them, maybe tens of thousands. I know…I know it sounds impossible,” he says when she shakes her head, “but hear me out.”

“Okay. I’m listening. But back up. How did you get inside?”

“Let’s just say I slipped in through a side door.” He rubs his bruised ribs. “I wasn’t prepared for what I found, Scully. Some of the people in the pods looked like…cave men. I think…I think that ship has been there for a very long time, maybe since before the last Ice Age.”


“I’m just telling you what I saw."

“Okay, for arguments sake, let’s say there was a ship—”

“There was a ship.”

“How? Or why?”

“To house human hosts and propagate new aliens. Each human had an alien growing inside it.”

“You could see them? These ‘hosts’ were transparent?”

“You saw that infected body in Dallas. You saw what his tissue looked like.”

Yes, she had. It was gelatinous and translucent, with the bones and organs fully visible beneath the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. But…. “There was no alien growing inside the body I autopsied.”

“I’ve wondered about that. Maybe those men died before the transformation could take place. Or conditions weren’t right. Or…. I don’t know how it works, Scully, but I know what I saw on that ship.”

She wants to believe him. She knows he’s not a madman. He intuits things she doesn’t. He’s been right often enough to have earned the benefit of the doubt. And yet….

As always, he anticipates her skepticism and tries to convince her. “There’s precedence for this in nature, isn’t there? Aren’t there insects that lay their eggs inside other insect hosts?”

“Parasitoid wasps lay eggs on or in the bodies of other arthropods, sooner or later causing the death of these hosts. But the aliens you describe didn’t lay eggs in human hosts, Mulder. Those people were possibly infected with a virus but viruses don’t grow into multi-celled organisms.”

“This one does. I witnessed newborn aliens coming to life. They birthed themselves by clawing their way out of their living hosts. They were fully formed, able to stand up on two legs and chase after us. They would’ve killed us if we hadn’t managed to escape.”

“I’m sorry, Mulder, but it all sounds more like science fiction than fact. Without proof, OPR won’t believe any of it.”

“But we have proof, Scully. We have records of our medical conditions. And the samples Dr. Taumata collected from you. Run tests on those samples when we get back to DC. You were infected with that virus. You can identify it. If…if the DNA or proteins or whatever aren’t from this world, you’ll have your scientific proof, proof that the virus is extraterrestrial. They’ll have to believe us.”

She’s not so sure. But she’s too tired to argue with him. She changes the subject instead.

“Do you have a plan for getting us home?”

“Not a finely detailed plan, no. I’m hoping Skinner will help us." He cups her jaw and runs his thumb feather-light across her cheek.

He looks like he wants to kiss her, like he did in his hallway. But he yawns and his hand drops away.

“Sorry, Scully. I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“You sleep, Mulder.”

His eyes slowly close and he sighs as if content.

After a moment, he mumbles, “Hey, Scully? What do you get if you cross a yeti with Dracula?”

“I don’t know, Mulder. What do you get?”


She suppresses a groan but can’t help smiling. His breathing grows steady and deepens as he drifts off.

If he were to try to kiss her again, would she kiss him back?

The answer is likely yes. She no longer wants to quit the FBI or give up the X-Files. She certainly doesn’t want to leave him. Bad jokes aside.

She fingers the cross at her neck. Returned to her by him twice. She leans over and kisses him lightly on the lips. He stirs and turns to her in his sleep. His arms encircle her and he draws her closer, but doesn’t wake.

“Thank you, Mulder,” she whispers. “For everything.”


While Scully is checking in with Taumata and collecting the doctor’s notes and samples, Mulder is in the station’s radio room, patched through to Skinner’s phone.

“Did you find her?” Skinner asks, concern evident in his voice.

“Yes. She’s okay.”

“Good. I’ll want the details when you get back. You are coming back, right?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“Transportation. We could use a ride, sir.” Mulder stares out the window at the clearing sky. The storm has moved on.

“Sorry, I can’t help with that.”

“Sir? I was hoping, with your influence—“

“I’ve already put in a request. Twice. It’s been denied both times. Questions are being asked, Agent Mulder. Like why you and Agent Scully are even in Antarctica. After Dallas, the FBI is running out of patience.”

“Those questions will be answered, sir. We have proof.”

“Until that proof is in the hands of the OPR Committee, there’s nothing I can do for you. Find another way.”

Mulder chuffs in frustration. “It’s not like I can call a cab, sir. I could try standing by the side of the road with my thumb out but the nearest road is across the Drake Passage somewhere in southern Chile.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something. Call me when you get back to DC.” Skinner ends the call.

“Son of a b—”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, Agent Mulder,” says Brigham from the open door, “but I may be able to help. I’ve got a pick-up at McMurdo Station later this afternoon, some scientific instruments and a couple of scientists from the Byrd Polar Research Center. I’d be happy to take you and Agent Scully along. You’ll get a ride off ice a lot quicker from there than here. They have sea and air transport options that we don’t.”

“If it’s no trouble, Scully and I would really appreciate it.”

“No trouble at all. Maybe we can take a peek at that crater you say is out there.” Brigham smiles. “Be ready to go at 1300 hours.”

Mulder boards the helicopter behind Scully. She takes the co-pilot seat next to Brigham. Mulder settles in the back. Brigham hands them each ANR headsets so they can talk and hear over the noise of the rotors.

Brigham radios the station and then takes to the air. The ride is a lot smoother than during their rescue. Visibility is better, too. The sky is clear and blue. Mulder peers out the side window to watch Corbyn Station grow small beneath them. He called McMurdo Station an hour ago to secure passage on a ship that’ll ferry them to Punta Arenas, where they’ll take a small plane to El Tepual International Airport and finally home from there on a commercial jet. Assuming the FBI doesn’t revoke his Bureau credit card. The entire trip will take a couple of days and despite a restful night, he’s looking forward to sleeping the entire way.

Scully is chatting politely with Brigham when she suddenly gasps. “Oh my God! Mulder…?” She twists to look at him, eyes wide.

“Jesus, you weren’t kidding about that crater, Agent Mulder,” Brigham says.

If Mulder were an I-told-you-so kind of guy, he’d be crowing big time. But the expressions on their faces are vindication enough.

Ahead, the giant hole left behind by the spaceship grows larger and larger until it’s even bigger than Muder remembered. Prevailing winds have coated one side of the basin with fresh snow. The rest remains a dark scar in the otherwise white landscape.

Brigham steers the helicopter around the perimeter, close to the rim, and then dips down inside the bowl. There’s no sign of the alien craft that until yesterday lay hidden here. But lodged into the frozen ground is recognizable debris from the former station’s upper structures. No doubt, all of it will soon be cleared away or buried inside the crater when it’s filled in, hiding the truth once again. Mulder wishes he’d thought to borrow a camera from the station to take pictures before all the evidence is gone.      

“Seen enough?” Brigham asks. “Sorry, but I’m on a pretty tight schedule.”

“The sooner we leave, the sooner we’ll be home,” Scully says.

Mulder has seen enough, too. More than enough. As hard as he might try, he’ll never get the image of Scully trapped inside that icy cryopod out of his thoughts. But she’s here now, right in front of him, alive and well, if not completely unscathed, and he couldn’t be more pleased to have her back.  

With her, he’s not an outcast, not some crazy FBI laughing stock. He’s someone worthy. Her respect and friendship are proof of it. But more than that, he wants her by his side because of who she is and what she brings to his life. He wants her with him always. He loves her and he's felt that way for a long time, he realizes.

But…how to let her know? He considers himself a brave man, generally speaking, able to face government conspirators, alien invaders, and inhuman monsters without flinching, but nervousness can overtake him when it comes to Scully. How would she react to a romantic overture from him? For five years, he’s been her professional partner, a good friend. But his feelings for her have changed and grown. He wants more than friendship now and if her reaction to Eddie Van Blundht disguised as “Fox Mulder” is any indication, she could feel the same and be attracted to him, too.

He's fairly certain she was going to return his kiss in his hallway.

Wasn't she?

Mulder vows to tell her as soon as they get home. He’ll let her know what’s in his heart, come hell or high water, rejection or acceptance.

And if not as soon as they get back, allowing that they’ll have to go in front of the OPR Committee before they do almost anything else, then by the end of the month.

Or before the end of the year at the latest. For certain.

He’ll kiss her, too. He will.


“Mulder? Mulder, it's me.”

It’s Mulder’s turn to wake up in a hospital bed. “Where am I?”

She leans over the raised railing on his bed. “You're in a hospital.”

That much he’s gathered. He tries to sit up. “Ooooo,” he groans, aching all over.

“Lie still,“ she urges.

He falls back into his pillows. “I feel...like hell.”

“I don't blame you. You've been through the wringer, I'd say.”

“What happened to me?” He dimly recalls something about a rift in time, the Queen Anne, Scully in a red gown.

“You did something incredibly stupid.”

"What did I do?”

“You went looking for a ship, Mulder. In the Bermuda Triangle.”

“Say that again?”

Before she can respond, Skinner and the Gunmen arrive. Skinner is carrying a bouquet of flowers, which he drops unceremoniously on a nearby table. As they talk, it all comes back to him. 1939. Nazis. Thor’s Hammer. A kiss. A wallop to the jaw.

When he tries to explain what happened to him, they think he’s on drugs. Maybe he is on drugs but he’s clear about what he experienced. It was real, whether they believe it or not. Skinner tells him to get some rest and leaves with Frohike, Langly, and Byers in tow.

Alone again with Scully, he tells her, “I would've never seen you again. But you believed me.”

She’s often the only one who believes him. He hopes she will this time, too.

“In your dreams,” she says. Then, as if talking to a child, “Mulder, I want you to close your eyes and I want you to think to yourself ‘there's no place like home.’”

He chuckles. When she starts to leave, he props himself up on his elbow and calls her back.

She returns to his bedside. “Yes?”

Does he dare say it? Tell her how he truly feels? It takes him a moment to find the courage. But he promised himself back in Antarctica. Before the year was out, he’d do it. And he’s already kissed her, even if it was 1939 Scully and not 1998 Scully. But Scully is Scully and he’s certain of his feelings for her no matter what decade it is.

“I love you.” There, he said it, just like he promised himself.

Say it back to me, Scully, please?

“Oh, brother.” She turns and, to his disappointment, leaves him alone in his room.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t the best time to tell her. She thinks he’s on drugs and doesn’t know what he’s saying, especially after talking wildly about Nazis and Scully saving the world. But he does love her and he’ll convince her of it eventually. He’s good at convincing her. In fact, it’s what he’s best at.

Pain shoots through his jaw when he tries to lie back down. It was all real, he’s certain. As certain as he is of his love for her. Rubbing his jaw, he smiles after her.

“Just a matter of time, Scully. You’ll see.”


(Posted April 17, 2023)


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