Title: White Light
Author: aka "Jake"
Rating: PG-13 (Language, Violence)
Spoilers: Mytharc references.
Summary: While investigating a young woman's claim of alien abduction, Mulder and Scully are led on a cross-country chase of intrigue and murder. As they search for answers, Scully's own abduction memories resurface, threatening the agents' partnership...and lives.
Disclaimer: The characters Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, and the Lone Gunmen are the property of Chris Carter, FOX, and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement intended. This is for fun, not profit.
Author's Note: I originally posted "White Light" on March 16, 2000. Later, dissatisfied with it, I removed it from my website. It then sat untouched on my hard drive for 23 years. Recently, I decided to dust it off and do a total rewrite. What follows is the revised version.
March 9, 2000
//Latexed fingers. Pressing. Pressing.//
//Don’t touch me. Please, don't touch me. Not there.//
//White light. A needle stick. Another prick of hurt.//
* * *
"Scully? Scu-lleeee.” Mulder waggled a file folder in front of her face, stirring a current of air and causing her to blink and look up from the bright light of her desk lamp. "Wool gathering?" he asked when her eyes finally focused on him.
"Just trying to remember something." Not a lie but not quite the truth either. Frowning, she traced a finger along the shade of the lamp, drawing a shaky line through the dust. Two glowing ghosts -- phantoms of the lamp's bulb -- floated in front of her eyes. Mulder, fidgety as always, appeared to dodge around them like a football quarterback. But of course, he wasn't aware of them. The specters belonged only to her.
"Anything I can help with?" He appeared chipper, eager to assist. Almost carefree. Almost. Then again, he was never more than a step or two away from his own millstone of disquiet. Had years of practice taught him how to live with the weight?
She ignored his offer and indicated the folder in his hand. “What do you have there?"
"Our next case."
"I'd rather show you than tell you. I want your unbiased opinion before I taint it with my own theory."
"I guess there's a first time for everything. So where are we going?”
"St. Agatha's Hospital. There's someone I want you to meet."
"Nope. Just keep an open mind."
Center for Psychiatric Treatment
St. Agatha's Hospital
The interior of St. Agatha's was painted “institutional green,” common to most mental health facilities. The result was a drab environment considered well suited to disturbed minds. Nothing to excite the nerves, unravel the soul. Scully wondered if the cheerlessness of the place could make patients feel worse instead of better. She certainly felt like crawling out of her own skin.
The smell in these places was always the same, too. The acrid odor of Clorox never quite conquered the pungent reek of urine.
And the noise! Droning in the background, a tumult of human voices hummed and murmured and yammered. The discord seemed to go unheard by ears deafened by drugs or internal distraction. Or maybe they simply hid their reactions. As she did now.
Mulder led her down a long hall, weaving carefully around unresponsive patients. He'd been here before. He knew exactly where to go. No lab-coated doctor escorted them. A simple check-in at the front desk with a grim woman who recognized him was all the admission they required.
A regular, Mulder? You come here often? Scully's questions went unasked.
"In here," he directed, opening a door and allowing her to walk beneath his extended arm. "Don't mention you're from the FBI," he whispered.
Inside, a young woman hunched over an empty table, starring at nothing and bobbing her head to an inner dialog. Her scalp was freshly shaved. Several lines of sutures dotted the raw, puckered skin of her head, her own missing curls replaced by grotesque, bristling stitches. She repeatedly tried to tuck a nonexistent lock of hair behind her ear.
"Maura? Maura, may we speak with you?" Mulder asked, his voice so soft Scully found herself leaning forward to hear.
The woman glanced their way, catching sight of them for only an instant before her gaze retreated to the safety of the bare tabletop.
“Mm-hm," she agreed.
Mulder straddled the nearest chair. He gestured to Scully to sit.
"Maura, this is Dana."
Again, the woman's eyes flitted briefly from the table, only to swing back and nod and stare at nothing.
"Maura, will you tell Dana what you told me?" His timbre soothed like a child's favorite blanket. "Tell her what happened to you."
"You know. You know. They put wires in my head," she said, rocking faster. Her posture insisted her words were true. The recent scars lent an air of truth.
It took all of Scully’s willpower not to get up and leave. How many alleged alien abductees had told this same story to Mulder? The plot was always the same: little gray men performed painful tests and inserted hi-tech devices into frightened earthlings, ad infinitum. She'd heard the details so many times, she didn't have the patience to listen to it again. And it wasn’t so much that she didn’t believe them. Though she didn’t. But it was because each victim's terror made it impossible for her to forget her own shocking experience. Not that she recalled many of the specifics. But the chip in her neck was incontrovertible evidence that someone had held her captive and performed a variety of unwelcome experiments on her. Of course, she maintained her captors were human men, not aliens from outer space. And despite her experience in Antarctica or her discoveries in Africa, she still resisted the notion of extraterrestrial visitors. To let her guard down would allow her religious faith to burst like a soap bubble fallen to the floor.
"Why did they put wires in your head, Maura?" Mulder asked.
"To listen to my ideas. To steal my thoughts."
Scully cleared her throat. "What did these aliens look like?"
"White. And tall."
Well. Not the standard answer. Mulder smiled ever so slightly.
"They have no hair. They have no noses, no mouths, but I can hear them talking."
"You can hear what they're thinking?” Mulder asked.
"No. They *talk.* They use words that I don't know. Another language."
"Fingernails. They have no fingernails. And their eyes are plastic."
So these were not the stereotypical men from outer space. They sounded more like doctors dressed for surgery.
"Tell us about the wires, Maura. How did they put the wires in your head?"
"A hole. A hole in the back of my neck. They drilled a hole in the back of my neck. They pushed the wires...pushed the wires inside the hole, into my head. They watched pictures of the inside of my head on a screen. On TV. They slid the wires into my brain while they watched TV. They watched. They watched the wires slide into my head. They don't care...they don't care that they're hurting me. They want to steal my thoughts. They put wires in my head to steal my thoughts. I saw it on the TV."
"You watched them do this?" Scully was dubious. "You were awake?"
"Yes." Maura's eyes filled with tears. "It hurt. The drill..."
//Slender metal point. Spinning silver blade. Sliver of white. High-pitched hum of moving machinery.//
Scully blinked away the image and a shiver ran through her.
"Where were you when this happened, Maura?” Mulder asked.
The young woman shook her head, sending her tears skating down her cheeks.
"I...I was in a cold room. There were bright lights and machines and wires. Lots of wires to stick in my head and listen to my thoughts."
"How many times have you been to this place and seen these aliens?"
//“You may not remember. You've only had one experience.”// The concerned faces of Lottie Holloway and Penny Northern rippled into Scully's view, briefly blotting out the institutional green room where she sat with Mulder and Maura Peterson. //“Most of us here have been taken many times.”//
"How...how did you get there?" Scully's voice trembled only a little.
"I don't know. I just woke up there."
"When did this happen?"
"Maura, how did you get the cuts on your head?" Scully scrutinized the raw-looking wounds.
"I tried to get the wires out. I used a fork from the dining room."
Scully’s stomach rolled uneasily. She recalled an old conversation and a doctor's concerned voice.
//“I can feel it just under the skin. And now that I'm looking at it closely, there's a tiny little scar over it. If you want, I could, uh, do a local and pull it out of there.”//
"Mulder, let's go," Scully whispered, hiding her shaking hands beneath the folds of her trench coat.
"Thank you for talking with us, Maura," Mulder murmured and rose.
His hand automatically reached for Scully; he planted his palm softly at the small of her back and guided her into the corridor.
"Are you okay?" he asked, a chevron of concern marking his brow. They headed for the exit.
No she wasn’t okay. She felt like she was collapsing in on herself. A dying star on its way to becoming a black hole.
"I'm fine, Mulder.” Irritation sizzled in her voice. “How can you believe her story?"
"You don't think she's telling the truth?"
"I think she thinks she's telling the truth. But her belief doesn't make her story real. She's delusional, Mulder. She exhibits classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. What do her doctors say?"
"That she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia."
Scully threw up her palms as if to say “there you go.”
"So why don't you believe them, Mulder?"
"Because I've seen something else. Something I want to show you."
"Why not simply tell me?” Her patience was paper-thin. “Why the mysterious unveiling?"
"Like I said earlier, I want your unbiased opinion. Bear with me."
A body lay on an autopsy table in the center of the room, covered with a sheet. Mulder folded back the fabric to reveal the corpse of a young man with a gaping hole in the frontal bone of his skull.
"Who is this?" Scully asked and reached for the dead man's chart.
"Kerry Turcott. He took a swan dive from the roof of the student union at American University yesterday. I’m guessing he wasn't diving for pearls."
"Maybe. You tell me."
Scully peered into the open wound. What in the world...? She snapped on a pair of latex gloves and prodded what remained of the man’s brain.
“Oh my God.” She selected tweezers from the ME's instrument tray and used them to tease a hair-thin strand from the surrounding tissue. Tugging at it, she dislodged a wire about ten inches long. "Mulder, what the hell is this?"
"I don’t know. Have you ever seen anything like it before?"
She shook her head.
“Kind of fits Maura's description, don't you think?” he said.
"Maura's account was pretty vague."
"She claimed wires were inserted into her brain. Kerry Turcott has a wire in his head. You have to admit, it's quite a coincidence."
"I'm admitting no such thing. Maura Peterson is being treated for mental illness. She suffers vivid delusions. She's overtly paranoid. She imagined that procedure, Mulder. It never actually happened."
"Maybe she's paranoid because it did happen. Just because she's schizophrenic, doesn't mean someone didn't put wires in her head." He plucked at Scully's sleeve. "Do me a favor, Scully, autopsy Mr. Turcott."
"What will you be doing?"
“Checking out that wire -- what it is and where it came from."
Offices of The Lone Gunmen
"This is absofreakinglutely unbelievable!" Langly studied the ten-inch strand under a magnifying lamp. "Where'd you get it, Mulder?"
"Move over.” Frohike shouldered Langly aside. "Looks like a state-of-the-art bio-communications device."
"A what?" Mulder bent closer to inspect the strand.
"A computerized filament capable of transmitting wireless signals. One-way communication only, I'd say." Langly wedged himself once more between Mulder and Frohike. "Definitely pushing the technology envelope. The microlithogy on this thing is extremely complex."
"So who made it, boys?"
"There's only one manufacturer producing communication devices as technologically advanced as this," Byers said. "SAS."
"Not who. What. SAS. It's an acronym for Synthetic Aperture Systems -- a laboratory in Reston, Connecticut. As far as the outside world is concerned, SAS develops specialized radar technology for the space shuttle, U.S. satellites, the Mars probe."
"But, actually they're partners with the DOD, producing a helluva lot more than hi-tech mapping equipment," Langly explained. "SAS scientists are currently working on a whole bunch of top-secret assignments, projects ranging from state-of-the-art miniature spy satellite components to highly experimental bio-interface mechanisms."
"Is that what you think this is? Some sort of bio-interface?” Mulder asked.
"That's what it looks like,” Frohike said. “Similar devices work through a direct electrochemical bond with the cerebral cortex, communicating brain activity to distant computer receptors."
"This can reads minds?"
"It may only register brainwaves," Byers suggested. "Or...it may be more advanced than that. You've seen the high end before, Mulder."
"The chip in Scully's neck.” Mulder suddenly felt queasy.
"Exactly. Scully's chip records impulses traveling to and from her central nervous system. We're pretty sure it does more than collect information though. It may in fact artificially replicate her mental processes."
"It can know her thoughts? Affect her memory function?” Mulder thought he might throw up.
"Possibly. Your filament, however, is a different design than Scully's chip. The purpose may or may not be similar."
"Come on, Mulder, fess up. Tell us where you found this baby,” Frohike said.
"Inside a dead guy's head. Scully's performing an autopsy right now."
"Somebody's gonna be looking for him. You don't just write off a device like this. What do you know about the guy?"
"Only that he was a music student at American University before he dropped out of school -- permanently."
Scully removed the last of seventy-seven separate ten-inch-long filaments from Kerry Turcott's skull and neatly arranged it on the tray beside the others. Along with the fibers, she had discovered a flexible .5-millimeter tube in the corpse's foramen magnum. The tube, fitted between the atlas and the occipital, created a tiny passageway into the brain. It had originally been inserted through an incision at the back of the neck. The minute scar was well healed, indicating the tube had been installed some time ago. Scully guessed it had been used to navigate the fibers into place inside the skull.
Turning her back on the body, she reviewed the pre-autopsy MRI. The picture mapped the jumbled network of hair-thin fibers carefully woven into Turcott's brain tissue. Unfortunately, much of the brain had been damaged or lost during the impact of the young man's fatal fall, compromising any comprehensive evaluation of the devices and their placement.
Scully absently fingered the chip implanted in her own neck.
//Please, no! I’m afraid!//
Terror arrived like an unexpected assailant. Her ears roared with rushing blood.
//Are you going to kill me?//
The memory hit like a punch to the gut. She grabbed for the autopsy table.
//Don’t kill me!//
Knees buckling, she collapsed to the floor.
//Let me go. I'm afraid! Don't hurt me! Please!//
She squeezed her eyes shut.
//Men. White light and...and loud sounds. An alarm! Stop the noise! Please!//
Scully covered her ears. Her cell phone rang three times before she realized its trill was not the grating alarm of memory clanging inside her head. With shaky hands, she dug her phone from her pocket.
"Sc-scully," she identified herself.
"I'm on my way to pick you up."
It was Mulder. Thank God.
"Are we going somewhere?” Scully asked, trying to steady her voice.
"Connecticut. Frohike, Byers, and Langly are pretty sure this fiber was manufactured at a lab in Reston."
"You go, Mulder."
"I...I have some things to finish up here."
“Okay...I'll, uh, call you later," he said and hung up.
Scully immediately dialed Dr. Karen Kosseff.
Office of Dr. Kosseff
The Next Morning
"Dana, it’s been a while since I last saw you." Karen Kosseff's statement was kind, not a reprimand. "How have you been?”
"I...uh...I've been remembering things." She sat facing Kosseff, uncomfortable despite the upholstered chair, the innocuous decor, and her counselor’s concerned expression. "I've been remembering things that happened to me when I was, uh, taken several years ago.”
She’d never liked the word “abducted.” It conjured up gray-skinned extraterrestrials with inky eyes. Mulder’s beliefs, not hers.
"Only flashes, really. Bits and pieces."
"Do you want to tell me?"
"I...uh, I've been hearing sounds. An alarm. And...uh, feeling things."
"Feeling what things, Dana?"
"Needles. And...uh, hands...touching me."
"Who touched you?"
"I...I know for certain some of what happened to me at that time. I know I was taken to a train car. A metallic chip was implanted subcutaneously in my neck. A man...a doctor named Ishimaru, he...uh, performed tests on me."
"What kinds of tests?"
"Remembering these events is difficult for you." It wasn't a question, but Scully nodded. "What frightens you, Dana?"
Scully pestered a hangnail on her left thumb, already painfully raw. It was unlike her to pick at her nails. She’d quit that habit in childhood.
"I...I was powerless. I couldn't...I couldn't resist them.” Unwanted tears filled her eyes.
"Do you want to remember what happened to you during that time?"
"I think so. Yes." The last word locked her voice inside her chest.
"Try to relax. Take a few deep breaths. And then describe to me anything you can recall from the time you were taken. Any detail you want to mention is fine."
Two quaking breaths filled and then fled Scully's lungs. She shifted on the chair's cushion, unsuccessfully trying to arrange herself in a more comfortable position.
"Uh...there was a procedure."
"What kind of procedure?"
"A...uh, laparoscope was...I saw it inserted into my navel. My abdomen was insufflated...uh, distended...with carbon dioxide. I felt...I...uh, a speculum..." Looking up from her lap, Scully fixed her eyes on a painting behind Kosseff's head. A beach scene, likely meant to be calming. But the sun in the scene shone too brightly on the white, white sand.
Tears pricked her eyes. A bead of moisture trickled inside her nose and she sniffled.
"What was the purpose of this procedure, Dana?"
"I don't know. I think...uh, they were...uh, taking..." Another sniff. Kosseff handed Scully a tissue. "Well, you know I can't have children. I'm sterile. My ova were removed during the time I was missing."
"You know this for certain? You remember it happening?'
"No, I don't remember it, but I know it happened."
"How do you know?"
"My partner...my partner told me."
"And you believe him?"
"Why...yes, of course I believe him. He told me...well, I found out in California two years ago, just after Christmas. I was petitioning to adopt a little girl. Emily. Mulder told Judge Maibaum that he found evidence I was subjected to experiments during the weeks I was missing. That all of my ova had been extracted. Emily was conceived as a result of those experiments."
"Two years ago? I thought you were abducted in 1994."
Abducted -- there was that awful word again. ”Yes, that’s right."
"Why did Agent Mulder wait four years to tell you all of this?"
“He, uh...he said he was trying to protect me."
"And you have no reason to think otherwise?"
"No. Of course not."
"Did Agent Mulder ever tell you the nature of the evidence he found?"
"And you never asked him?"
Scully fidgeted uneasily in her seat. What hard evidence had Mulder discovered, proof positive that her kidnappers were medical rapists, taking women and stealing their unborn children? When had he found his proof? And why hadn't she asked him about it? Perhaps she was afraid to know the answer. Maybe he was right -- she did need protection from the truth.
"Dana, why do you think you're remembering the details of your abduction now?"
"I...I don't know. I...maybe I feel safer now than before. Like I'm strong enough to remember them now."
"But you came here. You're afraid of something."
"Yes. I'm...I'm afraid my work will be compromised."
"In what way?"
"The memories...the flashbacks...they mostly come when I'm at work."
"Why do you think that is?"
"I...I'm not sure."
"Dana, we've talked before about your fears of disappointing your partner. Failing him. Are you worried about that now?"
"Yes. But only in the context of my professional duty. It's my job to watch his back. If I'm distracted..." Scully didn't finish her thought.
"Dana, over the next day or two, I want you to pay attention to events that trigger your memories. Notice what you're doing, what you're thinking when the flashbacks occur. How you feel before, during, and after a flashback. And if you feel you want to, ask your partner about the things he knows. You and I can discuss this again at your next visit."
Synthetic Aperture Systems Laboratory
Gray suit, dark sunglasses, billowy trench coat -- Mulder felt every inch the G-Man as he strode through the front doors of SAS. His footsteps ricocheted off smooth, white walls when he crossed the marble-floored foyer to head straight to the reception desk. The building had an extensive security system, he noticed: cameras perched high at the ceiling, keypads and card swipes next to the doors, motion detectors. An armed guard blocked a bank of brass elevators and kept a watchful eye on him.
“Hello." Mulder rapped on the counter, trying to get the attention of the pretty receptionist bent over a large box behind her desk.
"Packages are right there on the counter," she said, wrestling with the carton. When Mulder didn't respond she looked up in surprise. "Oh, you're not the UPS man."
"No. No sexy brown uniform. I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder. FBI.” He displayed his badge.
She cleared her throat and smoothed her skirt. "How may I help you, Agent Mulder?"
"I'd like to speak with Philip Straussman."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Straussman isn't available this morning. May I give him your card?"
"Uh, Miss..." — he glanced at the ID dangling from her lapel — "Henderson, I'm conducting a murder investigation and need to speak with Mr. Straussman. Now." His tone left no room for argument, but just in case Miss Henderson was the disagreeable sort, he shifted his stance just enough to allow his sidearm to peak out from beneath his coat.
"Agent Mulder, Dr. Straussman isn't here," she insisted.
"Then I'll speak with anyone who can tell me about this..." He withdrew an evidence bag containing the bio-communications filament from his pocket and laid it on the counter in front of her.
"Oh. Well, maybe Dr. Davis can help you. Let me see if she's in."
While Miss Henderson dialed her phone, Mulder examined the packages on the counter. LP Pharmaceuticals, Sacramento, California. Cascade BioTech, Tillamook Bay, Oregon. Huron Affiliated Labs, Lakeview, Michigan.
"Dr. Davis will be right down, Agent Mulder."
Mulder picked up the evidence bag and sauntered across the lobby to peer down a long corridor. Two men in lab coats walked and talked at the far end of the hall. Mulder watched them disappear into a side room.
"Agent Mulder?" A woman’s cool voice raised the hairs on the back of his neck.
“Blonde Bombshell” was the only description that came to mind when he turned to shake hands with Dr. Davis.
"I'm Dr. Christine Davis. How may I assist you?” She stood tall and straight. Her eyes traveled from his hair to his shoes and back again.
"Tell me what you know about this..." He dangled the evidence bag in front of her.
She registered only the faintest surprise; a barely discernible twitch fluttered her left eyelid.
"May I see your badge?"
He dug the ID from his coat and held it out to her.
"Why don't we step in here.” She walked away, fully expecting him to follow. She led him into a dimly lit conference room. The room automatically brightened when they crossed the threshold. Two surveillance cameras swiveled in the upper corners to aim directly at them. "Have a seat, Agent Mulder."
"What is this thing?" He remained standing and laid the bag with its strand of wire on the long conference table.
"It's a bio-communications device." She remained standing, too.
"Its ultimate purpose is to help people with spinal cord injuries regain mobility. Within limits. It's still in the testing stage. And it's patented. Where did you get it?"
"Out of a dead man's head."
Davis’s eyes widened.
"That's impossible. The BIM implants have been installed only in animals."
"Bio Interface Mechanism. Despite showing excellent progress, the devices aren't ready for testing on human subjects."
"Dr. Davis, do you conduct your own tests? Right here at this lab?"
"No. Testing is conducted at another location."
"I'll need the name of that location."
"Agent Mulder, SAS has invested substantial time and capital in this project. We've taken every precaution to ensure the security of our device. I can assure you, we would not risk divulging our design to our competitors."
"Somebody put this thing into a man's brain. That man is now dead. I'd have to say there's either a hole in your security or SAS is responsible for the death of an American University student named Kerry Turcott."
Davis studied Mulder while considering his accusation.
“All right, Agent Mulder. Testing is done at Huron Affiliated Labs in Lakeview, Michigan. I'll contact them and let them know that you're coming. You have my assurance, SAS will cooperate with the FBI in any way we can."
"In that case, I'd like a list of personnel working on the BIM project."
Scully set aside Kerry Turcott's file. Opening the folder containing Maura Peterson's background material, she withdrew the young woman's medical records. With Mulder gone, she had made herself at home in his chair and drank a cooling cup of coffee from his Graceland coffee mug.
"Maura Peterson," she murmured and scanned the file. Age: 27. Occupation: studio artist. Her physical health was good. She'd been undergoing treatment for schizophrenia since she was nineteen, under the care of a Dr. Robert Stanford. She was taking Risperdal to control her symptoms. Delusions. Paranoia. Confusion. The usual. She also suffered from chronic nightmares and, before being admitted to St. Agatha three months ago, she was evaluated at a sleep clinic in Arlington. Hope Clinic for Sleeping Disorders. Something was familiar about the clinic's name. Scully tapped her index finger against the handle of Mulder's coffee mug.
"Wait a minute..." She flipped open Turcott's file and shuffled through the contents. Sure enough, Kerry Turcott had also undergone similar testing and treatment at Hope Clinic.
Cradling the phone between her chin and shoulder, she dialed Mulder's cell number.
"Mulder," he identified himself.
"Where are you?"
"On my way to the airport."
"Did you know Maura Peterson and Kerry Turcott were both patients at a sleep disorder clinic in Arlington?"
"I thought so, too. I'm going to check it out. Where are you headed?"
"Lakeview, Michigan. Plane leaves in half an hour."
"What's in Lakeview?"
"An affiliate lab of Synthetic Aperture Systems. The filament you took out of Kerry Turcott originated at SAS in Connecticut.”
“I took a total of 77 wires out of Turcott’s brain.”
“Seventy-seven?” Mulder sounded surprised. “I learned those wires are called BIMs. Bio Interface Mechanisms."
"Used for what?"
"According to the spin doctors, BIMs will eventually have Christopher Reeve bustin' a move."
“They’re conducting human trials?”
“No, they claim the mechanisms have been implanted only in animals. No human test subjects."
“Then how do they explain Kerry Turcott?"
"They don't. I've got the Connecticut Field Office running background checks on all SAS employees. They're reviewing security tapes, too. I'm on my way now to talk with the BIM project head at the Michigan Lab."
"Do you want me to fly out and meet you there?"
"No. You check the sleep clinic. Oh, and Scully?"
"Do you have the wires you removed from Turcott?"
"In my personal possession? No. Why?"
"Do me a favor and pick them up. Don't leave them anywhere...uh, unprotected."
"Mulder, they're at Quantico in the morgue. I'm sure they're safe there."
"Just do it, Scully. I'll touch base with you later."
"Mulder...?" she began, but he was gone.
"Jerry? Hal?" Scully wandered into the empty morgue, her voice echoing off the stainless steel. "Where the hell is everybody?" She found a note taped to a glowing computer screen. “Gone to lunch. Just slip the bodies under the door.” Ha ha. Morgue humor.
Inside the room where she’d autopsied Kerry Turcott the previous evening, the evidence bin sat by the door waiting for transport. Bagged and neatly labeled in her own careful script, seventy-seven wires -- what Mulder had called BIMs -- were exactly where she had left them. She slid the bag into her trench coat pocket and turned to leave.
"Oh, s'cuse me," a big man met her at the threshold, his enormous frame filling the doorway.
"Are you looking for Jerry?" she asked.
His fist collided with her jaw, propelling her backward against the autopsy table. Her back slammed painfully into the stainless steel. She tumbled to the floor. Blood dripped from her split lip, dotting her blouse and coat sleeves. She reached behind her back for her gun. As her fingers curled around the weapon, a second blow slammed her cheek just below her eye, causing a burst of stars. She scrambled backward, slipping blindly beneath the autopsy table, grasping for her gun.
Tight fists circled her ankles and yanked her out from under the table. Another punch jolted her. Blood poured from her nose. Finally drawing her gun, she aimed at her attacker.
"Federal agent! Don't move!"
She could barely see him. Her left eye was swelling shut and her head throbbed from the blows. He knocked the gun from her hand. Lifting her from the floor by the lapels of her coat, he shoved her roughly into a wall. The impact forced the air from her lungs. Gasping for breath, she dug her nails into his face. He yowled and released his hold on her. She dropped to the floor and tried once more to crawl beyond his reach. He lunged. He pinned her face down.
“Let me go!”
He twisted her arms behind her and held them in one giant fist. She felt him search her trench coat with his free hand and pull the evidence bag from her pocket.
“No! You don’t--“
He grabbed a fistful of her hair and rammed her head into the floor. Blood filled her mouth. She was losing consciousness. She no longer heard his panting breath. She barely felt the press of his knee in her back or the pull of her hair when he lifted her head only to drive it into the floor once more. A sound like a ringing alarm clanged past her eardrums. Her forehead bounced painfully on the tile. White light. All she saw was a flash of white light.
//Latexed hands. Holding her. Holding her. Keeping her still. The feel of the drill spiraling into her neck.//
Georgetown Memorial Hospital
"Mulder, what are you doing here?" She struggled to sit up in her hospital bed.
"Skinner called me." He hooked his index finger loosely around hers, not quite certain where she was hurt or whether or not his touch would cause her pain. "What happened?"
"It looks worse than it is."
"It looks awful," he said, telling her the truth. He was shocked by what he saw. Her face was swollen and black. Stitches dotted her forehead, her lip, and her chin. Dried blood still caked her hair. "They keeping you overnight?"
"They want to but I'm petitioning for release. I want to go home. Get cleaned up."
"I'm fine, Mulder."
"Skinner said you were attacked at Quantico in the autopsy bay."
"Mmm. He took the...whatchamacallits. BIMs?"
"Yeah, Bio Interface Mechanisms."
"You were right. Somebody did want them."
"I shouldn't have suggested you go back after them alone."
“*I* should've realized the potential danger. I was taken by surprise, Mulder. I really didn't think anybody would try to steal evidence from Quantico."
"Has my paranoia taught you nothing in seven years?" He lightly tagged her arm and smiled.
She didn’t return his smile. Probably for the best, he thought, given the painful-looking stitches in her lip.
He eased himself onto the edge of her bed and brushed a fleck of dried blood from her hair.
”What did you find in Michigan?” she asked.
"Nothing? Didn't you go?"
"Yes, I went. Huron Affiliated Labs no longer exists. The building was empty, completely cleaned out."
"Somebody called ahead."
"I'd say so."
"What did the people at SAS have to say about their missing business partner?"
"They acted all innocent and surprised. Dr. Davis's righteous indignation was Oscar-worthy.”
"So now what?"
"The Connecticut Field Office is combing through SAS's records. You and I still have the sleep clinic to check out. And I understand you gave a pretty descent description of your assailant to the police. A sketch is being circulated."
He gently squeezed her finger. He wanted to kiss her but couldn't find an undamaged spot to place his lips.
“Help me out, Mulder. Spring me from this joint." She gave him a pleading look. "Tell the docs you'll look after me, bring me back if my condition worsens. Tell them you're my husband, if it'll help."
He smiled and looked ceilingward. "Journal Entry, March 10: Today I found proof of an alternate universe when Agent Scully asked me to lie for her."
“Just do it, Mulder."
Was she really well enough to leave? He carefully thumbed a bruise on her cheek. "Are you sure?"
“Okay, I'll see what I can do. Honeybunch."
Latexed fingers. Pressing. Pressing. A needle stick. White light.
Skin stretched, her stomach grows round and large. Her abdomen becomes a mound that hides her bent knees, her spread legs. Cold steel spears her navel, is pushed into her belly. She feels a rolling inside, like her organs are being pushed out of place. An alarm rings. A man's voice speaks unfamiliar words. She shivers, her fear is so great. She is held down. By hands? By drugs? She tries to speak but her words sound garbled -- nonsense in her own ears. She wonders if she is alive or dead. The possibility that this is the afterlife is almost more frightening than the idea that this is her real life.
A man peers into the metal post that impales her stomach. A thrust of cold invades her between her legs. A popping pressure digs deep within her, like a puncture to the womb.
White light blinds her and forces her to close her eyes.
* * *
"I'm here, Scully."
He caught her halfway out of her bed. Holding her in a one-armed embrace, he helped her to the kitchen. He didn't comment on the bruises that shadowed her legs. She was glad he couldn’t see the marks beneath her nightshirt, though he’d probably seen the photos that were taken at the hospital. Evidence that would help put her assailant behind bars for a long time. If they could catch him.
“Coffee?" he asked.
He poured her a cup and handed it to her. She wrapped her fingers around its warmth. He’d already helped himself to a cup, which sat half-empty on the table next to the sports section of her newspaper.
“Thanks.” She felt chilled and tried not to shiver.
He either noticed her discomfort or intuited it because he lifted the suit coat he'd worn the previous day from the chair back and draped it across her shoulders.
"I have a bathrobe in the other room," she told him.
"So get it."
She didn't. She stayed and watched him lean against her kitchen counter and drink his coffee instead. He was still dressed in yesterday's clothes. Unshaved stubble darkened his jaw. If he’d slept at all, he’d done so on her couch.
"Bad dream?” he asked.
"Mm hm.” Dr. Kosseff had told her to pay attention to events that triggered her memories. Notice what she was doing, what she was thinking when the flashbacks occurred. And to ask Mulder about the things he knows.
“Want to talk about it?” he asked as if reading her mind.
Eager to change the subject, she asked, "So, did you end up having to tell the docs at the hospital you were my husband to get me out?"
"I'm not sure I *had* to, but I did. Seemed to work." When she huffed in frustration, he asked, "Isn't that what you wanted?"
"Yes, but it's galling they wouldn't release me on my own say-so as a doctor...until my 'husband' also made the request."
"Still a man's world, Scully." He offered a sympathetic smile.
"Like you need to tell me."
"Want anything to eat?" he asked. Apparently, he now felt the need to change the subject.
"There's some yogurt in the fridge.” When he made a face, she said, “I’ll toast some bagels.”
She slipped her arms into his suit coat and rolled up the sleeves. While she sliced the bagels, he searched her refrigerator. He pulled out a tub of cream cheese and a jug of orange juice.
"You feel up to visiting Hope Clinic this morning?" he asked.
“Sure." If nothing else, it would take her mind off her nightmares and flashbacks.
He located a couple of juice glasses in her cupboard and filled them with OJ. “Do you know what Turcott and Maura were being treated for at the clinic?"
"They both suffered Chronic Nightmare Disorder."
"I've heard of that. I've read that ninety-five percent of people suffering from CND are creative people with careers in the arts, although not all creative people are CND sufferers."
"That's true.” She dropped the bagels into the toaster.
"Turcott was a music major at American U,” he said.
"And Maura Peterson is a studio artist."
"Yeah, she told me she had some paintings on exhibit in a small gallery in Arlington."
"How did you meet her, by the way?”
"She wrote me a fan letter, actually.” He looked a little embarrassed.
"A fan letter?"
"Yeah. She read about me in the Post. You know, that 'Who's the Craziest FBI Agent' piece that made the mid-week edition several months ago."
“Ah, right. You bring that kind of thing on yourself, you know. ‘Spooky.’”
“No doubt. Anyway, my description of alien abduction experiences struck a chord with Maura. She wrote and I visited her. I didn't think much more about it until Kerry Turcott split his head open, revealing he was wired on more than caffeine."
The toaster popped, offering up two perfectly browned bagel halves.
"Here, Mulder. You eat these. I'm going to take a shower."
Hope Clinic for Sleeping Disorders
"Thank you for seeing us, Dr. Bartlett.” Mulder shook the balding man's hand before taking a chair. "I'm Agent Fox Mulder from the FBI. This is my partner, Dana Scully."
"What brings you to Hope Clinic, agents? Is it safe to assume you're not suffering from a sleeping disorder?" The spectacled doctor stared openly across his desk at Scully's battered face.
"We're investigating a possible homicide. I believe Kerry Turcott was a patient of yours.” Mulder passed a photograph of Turcott to Bartlett.
"Oh. Yes. Kerry Turcott. He came to see me several times. You think he was murdered?"
"Why were you treating him?" Mulder ignored the doctor's question.
"Well, he suffered from CND."
"Chronic Nightmare Disorder," Scully restated for clarification.
"Yes. Do you understand the malady?"
"A little. Can you tell us about it?"
"Certainly. In general terms, CND sufferers are trauma victims. They've lived through a horrific event such as rape, abuse, combat, or a natural disaster, among other possibilities. As a result, they experience disturbing or unpleasant dreams every week or at least every month and their nightmares persist for six months or more. Sometimes for decades."
Scully felt like the doctor could be describing her. "How do you treat them?"
"Here at Hope Clinic we use a technique called 'imagery rehearsal.' I meet with the patients for three three-hour sessions where they talk about their nightmares and come up with alternate endings for the stories in their dreams. The patients then imagine the new ending in 10- to 20-minute daily practice sessions. At a fourth and final meeting one month later, we discuss their results."
"Is that the treatment you used with Kerry Turcott?" Mulder asked.
"You performed no surgery on him?"
"Have you ever performed surgery on a patient, Dr. Bartlett?”
Bartlett shifted uneasily in his chair. "I'm a psychologist, not a surgeon, Agent Mulder," he insisted.
"Did Kerry Turcott respond to your treatment? Did his nightmares stop?" Scully asked.
"Ninety percent of our patients find imagery rehearsal very effective. However, Kerry Turcott never returned for his follow-up. I couldn't say if his nightmares stopped or not."
"What was the cause of his nightmares?" Mulder reached for the photo still in Bartlett's hand.
"That's privileged information, Agent Mulder. I'm not at liberty to say.” He released the photo.
"Thank you. We appreciate your time," Scully rose. Mulder hesitated for a fraction of a second before standing and trailing Scully into the corridor.
"Scully, shouldn't we ask for the nickel tour?"
"There's nothing to see here, Mulder."
"What makes you so sure?" He held open the front door and she stepped out onto the street.
"I don't think Kerry Turcott was murdered."
"Scully, you took seventy-something wires out of the man's head."
"The wires didn't kill him. He jumped off the roof of a building. Considering his psychological state, I'd have to conclude the cause of death was suicide."
"I'm completely serious. Turcott suffered CSD. His nightmares were just a symptom, not the cause of his psychosis. He experienced a traumatic event that triggered those nightmares. Despite Bartlett's claims of success, learning a technique like 'imagery rehearsal' isn't likely to overcome severe post-traumatic stress. It's probable that Turcott couldn't live with the horrific memories of his past and he committed suicide."
"Scully, maybe the traumatic event Turcott experienced -- the event that triggered his nightmares in the first place -- was having something inserted into his brain."
"Even if you're right and that was the cause, that event would have occurred *before* Turcott came to Hope Clinic for help. I don't see any reasonable connection to Dr. Bartlett or this clinic. Do you?"
Scrunching his face, Mulder hissed a disappointed sigh through his nose.
"Before I concede, Scully, let's search the ING for the names of other Hope Clinic patients who may have committed 'suicide.'"
"And if we find any?"
Rubbing his palms together, a slanting grin nudged his right cheek.
"We exhume the bodies!"
"For the purpose of...?"
"Autopsying them, of course."
"I was afraid you were going to say that. I suppose I'll be looking for wires in their heads?"
"It's downright 'spooky' the way you can read my mind."
Mulder tapped at his keyboard. Two names appeared on his monitor.
"Julie Thomas and Jay Bregmann,” he said to Scully. “Both were patients at Hope Clinic and both purportedly committed suicide within the last six months. Looks like we're going to be dusting off our shovels.” He flashed her a grin.
Scully slumped tiredly in her chair.
"There's protocol to follow," she reminded him.
"Minor inconvenience. The bodies will be at Quantico by this evening."
He swiveled to face her. She looked exhausted. The bruises on her face had grown darker and larger, giving her skin the mottled appearance of jungle camouflage.
"Scully, if you're not up to it..."
Before she could respond, her phone rang.
"Scully," she answered then held up her hand to signal Mulder. “Okay. Yes. I'll be right there.”
“What’s up?” Mulder asked when she hung up.
"That was Detective Morrow from the Quantico PD. He wants me to come down to identify my attacker."
"They found him?"
"Could be. I’ll let you know.”
“Uh-uh. I’m coming with you.”
“You're certain, Agent Scully?" Detective Morrow asked.
"Yes. I'm certain."
Scully glowered at the fourth man in the lineup on the other side of the one-way glass. He was without a doubt her attacker. At six-four and well over two hundred pounds, the big man was both formidable and unforgettable. Eight parallel welts lined his cheeks from his eyes to his jaw where her nails had raked through his unshaved skin. Remembering how it had felt, she balled her fists and squeezed her fingernails into her palms.
Standing beside her, Mulder rocked from foot to foot. Anger rolled off him like heat from an over-stoked furnace.
"I want to interrogate him," he announced through gritted teeth, causing a muscle to convulse along his jaw.
"I...uh, don't think that's a wise idea," Detective Morrow said.
Mulder pierced him with a defiant stare. "I said, I want to interrogate him."
Shrugging, Morrow offered Mulder the suspect's rap sheet. "It's your case. Just don't do anything that'll force us to cut him loose on a technicality."
"Don't worry.” Mulder nodded. "I won't."
* * *
"...You have the right to speak with an attorney, and have an attorney present during questioning. If you so desire and cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed for you without charge before questioning."
Mulder finished reciting the prisoner’s rights. He knew Scully and Detective Marrow were watching him through the interrogation room's two-way mirror. As much as he hated this guy, he intended to do everything by the book, dot all his i’s and cross all his t’s. Scully’s attacker would not go free because he fucked up.
The man’s name was Rick Foley. His last known address was Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, where he had served five years in SCI-Greene for assaulting his court appointed lawyer. He’d beaten the man almost to death...with his bare hands.
Foley sat cuffed to the table, smug eyes fixed on Mulder. The man was enormous. The chair he sat in looked as if it would collapse out from under him.
Mulder stood across from him, fists anchored to the table top.
"You understand each of the rights I've explained to you?" he asked.
"I've heard 'em before."
"Good. So now you can tell me how you got those beauty marks.” Mulder indicated the scratches on Foley's cheeks with a nod.
"Musta cut myself shaving."
Mulder's hand shot out and gripped Foley's chin. He squeezed the man's jaw, pressing bone-white fingers deeply into his flesh.
"Explain to me how your blood got under the fingernails of my partner?"
"What can I say? The bitch likes it rough."
Anger rose in the back of Mulder's throat and scalded his tongue like a wash of sour bile. The urge to throw a punch was nearly overwhelming. With a furious jolt, he released his hold on Foley's reddening jaw.
"Who are you working for? Who sent you to Quantico?"
"My parole officer.” Foley chuckled. "He was encouragin' me to become an FBI agent."
Mulder's hands twitched. He crossed the room to stand directly behind the big man.
"Where are the devices?"
"I got no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh yes you do. Somebody hired you to steal evidence from the autopsy bay. Who was it?"
"I ain't working for nobody."
"Who paid you to steal federal property? Exactly how much money did you get for beating up a woman half your size?" Mulder's voice ricocheted off the room's walls.
Mulder stepped closer. He lowered his voice and hissed into the big man's ear, "I think it's obvious I don't have a lot of patience. I'd love to see you go down for beating the crap out of my partner. So, unless you like the idea of spending a sizable chunk of your sorry-ass life behind bars for the attempted murder of a federal officer, you better tell me something. Because if you don't answer my questions, I guarantee you'll wish you were going back to Waynesburg. Have you ever been to a federal maximum-security prison? Twenty-five years of grabbing your ankles gets to be a real pain in the fucking ass."
Foley shifted in his chair.
"You have something to say, Foley?"
"I want a lawyer," Foley demanded. Looking directly at the two-way mirror, he shouted, "I want a lawyer!"
“You didn’t really think I was going to hit him, did you, Scully?" Mulder held open the autopsy bay door for her.
"Actually I did."
"You have a history, Mulder."
"You're not holding that John Lee Roche thing against me, are you?"
"You did hit him."
"And Terry Edward Mayhew."
"And don't forget Phillip Padgett."
"I didn't hit Padgett."
"You wanted to."
"Hey, you can't blame me for things I've *wanted* to do. The fact remains, I didn't do them."
"Right. You're a model of self-control."
At the center of the room, two body bags sat unopened atop two autopsy tables. She walked over to them.
"Mulder, do the bodies of Julie Thomas and Jay Bregmann look a little...*little* to you?"
Unzipping one of the bags, she exposed the first corpse. She crinkled her nose and glanced at Mulder. He placed his palm over his mouth to block the smell.
"There's no head, Scully."
"So I see." She unzipped the second body bag. "No head here either."
A body lies draped in white on the autopsy table.
“Pull back the sheet, Mulder."
"No, you have to uncover it."
She's nervous. Her hands shake. She doesn't want to look. The bright white sheet hides a horrible secret, she's sure.
“Uh-uh, Scully. Only you can do this."
Stepping closer, she peels back the sheet. Her hands tremble as she exposes the thing that had been so carefully concealed beneath this white, white cover.
Oh my God. "Mulder. It's me!"
A hole pierces the brow of her dead self. She touches a finger to the wound.
"The frontal and parietal lobes are missing," she tells Mulder.
"They stole your memories."
She peers into the empty hollow. Tears fill her eyes. Her heart aches for the lost pieces of her past.
A wet stain of bright blood spots the sheet halfway down the body. To her surprise, it is expanding, soaking outward into the white fabric. She yanks away the sheet and is horrified to find a gory cavity between the corpse’s hipbones. A wombless void gapes between the curving bones of her pelvis, an opened abyss filled with nothing but sorrow.
"You knew about this, Mulder."
"Yes. I found evidence."
"What evidence? What evidence did you find?"
* * *
Scully fumbled for the ringing phone, almost dropping the receiver onto the floor beside her bed.
"Scully," she practically shouted when she answered.
"Maura Peterson's dead."
"Mulder? What...what time is it?"
"Did I wake you?"
She glanced at her clock. 4:00 a.m. “Maura's dead?"
"Yeah, I just got a call from St. Agatha's."
"Not unless she somehow managed to cut off and hide her own head."
"Jesus, Mulder.” Just like the bodies of Julie Thomas and Jay Bregmann. “Somebody is going to an awful lot of trouble to keep a secret."
"We may be able to figure out who. Foley's lawyer cut a deal with the DA in exchange for a name."
"From Hope Clinic?"
"One and the same."
"Has he been arrested?"
"Nope. He's gone."
"Gone where?" She pinched the bridge of her nose.
"I don’t know. I've got a couple people looking, but so far: zip."
"So we're back to square one."
"Not necessarily. When I was at SAS, I noticed a couple of outgoing packages waiting for pickup. One was going to California, the other to Oregon."
"So where are we headed first?"
"Oregon. I already booked a flight. You and I are going to pay a visit to Cascade BioTech in Tillamook Bay. I'm on my way to pick you up right now."
Tillamook Bay, Oregon
Nine Hours Later
"This way, agents," a high-heeled brunette named Chloe led Mulder and Scully down a plush hall. Beneath their feet, a carpet the color of the sea wound around a curved wall like a bend in in a river. Strains of Debussy's 'La Mer' emanated from hidden speakers. Native Northwest Coast art decorated the corridors. Lit by tight-beamed halogen lamps, ancient tribal images emerged like vivid dreams. Killer whales. Sea monsters in the shapes of wolves. Thunderbirds. Claws and teeth and enormous black eyes.
Chloe ushered the agents into the sumptuous office of Christian Mace, founder of Cascade BioTech, the world's largest developer of medical diagnostic software and computer-enhanced prosthetics. With company profits exceeding eight and a half billion over the last six months, Mace had settled comfortably into Fortune 500's top ten. "Mr. Mace will be with you shortly," Chloe said before slipping out the door and leaving Mulder and Scully waiting in the enormous office, more than sixty-feet square, completely glassed on two sides, and offering a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean's Tillamook Bay.
Mulder whistled through his teeth. "Life must be good in the world of digital medicine. Nice digs.”
"A bit more elbow room than a basement office in the Hoover Building."
"But none of the cozy charm."
Mulder sauntered over to a desk anchored like a luxury liner in the center of the room. He picked up a richly framed photograph of a laughing two-year-old.
"That's my son, Tyler.” A tall man appeared at the door. "He died three years ago in an unfortunate accident. I'm Christian Mace." Sandy-haired, graceful, impeccable, Mace wore the look of money despite his faded jeans and lamb's wool sweater.
"Special Agent Fox Mulder. This is my partner Dana Scully. I'm sorry about your son."
Mace eyed Scully's bruised face with an expression of genuine concern but said nothing about it. Instead, he said, "Unless you've lost a child, you have no idea how devastating it can be.”
Scully knew only too well how it felt to lose a child. She would always grieve the loss of Emily.
Mace gestured toward a pair of chairs facing his mammoth desk. “Have a seat. Coffee?"
"No, thank you.” Scully sat.
Mulder waved off the coffee and settled into the chair next to Scully. He handed Mace a photo of Hope Clinic’s Dr. Bartlett. “Do you know this man?”
Mace took the photo and sat down behind his desk. He chewed the inside of his lip as he studied the picture, then shook his head and passed the photo back. "No. No, I don't think so. Should I?"
"Maybe you know this man.” Mulder ignored Mace's question and handed him a picture of Scully's attacker, Rick Foley.
Mace took a moment before shaking his head. ”No. I'm sorry, I don't know him either."
"Have you ever heard the names Kerry Turcott or Maura Peterson?” Scully asked.
Bemused, Mace smiled. "No. What is all this about, agents?"
"Did you ever receive a package from Synthetic Aperture Systems?” Mulder asked.
"Yes. I get them all the time. SAS supplies highly specialized computer components to my company. State-of-the-art stuff. They're currently developing a bio interface for a prosthetic device I'm hoping to put on the market in 2004.”
"Can you tell us about the device?"
"Absolutely not. Secrets are a necessity in this business, Agent Mulder."
"I'm sure they are. Perhaps you can tell me if your interface looks anything like this?" Mulder pulled the BIM from his pocket.
The friendly light dimmed from Mace's eyes. "Yes. I paid a lot of money for the exclusive rights to that device, not to mention its guaranteed confidentiality. I'd like to know how you came by it."
"Mr. Mace, Agent Mulder and I are here conducting a murder investigation,” Scully said. “If this device belongs to you, then you'll want to cooperate with our inquiry in any way that you can. And you can begin by explaining how you plan to use that thing." Scully could see by Mace’s reaction that her stitched and swollen face seemed to impose an urgency to her demand.
“All right. Let me show you. Agents, come with me to the lab."
Mace surprised Scully by leading them not only from his office but out of the building altogether. They trailed him along a foggy shore path to a neighboring structure nestled deeply into the cliff. Hidden by a berm of earth and a profusion of flowering azaleas, the low-roofed building was nearly invisible from the outside. At the door, Mace punched a code into the wall-mounted security pad and waited for a green light.
Whereas Mace's business office presented a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape, this low-slung lab shut out all suggestion of the outer world. Not a hint of nature invaded the man-made interior. The building was windowless. No plants softened the hard edges of its long halls and hi-tech labs. The muted sound of humming equipment replaced the rhythmic crash of surf. The non-odor of a climate-controlled environment kept out any trace of the rich fragrance of cedar and salt water.
"This way," Mace said, winding his way through a maze of undecorated corridors. Passing dozens of identical, unmarked doors, Mace stopped and opened one seemingly at random. He gestured the agents inside.
Despite the spotless condition of the room, the biting smell of animal excrement clung to the stainless steel and tile. Dozens of cages lined the bright room. Furry movement scuttled inside the smallest cages. Several rhesus monkeys squeaked with excited fear in larger crates on the opposite side of the room.
"Take a look at this.” Mace leaned over a cage containing a large white rat with a thin curving filament sprouting from the shaved crown of its head and disappearing into the knobby bones of its spine halfway down its back. The rat's pink nose lifted and twitched, sniffing the strangers' approach. Tipping its head, it looked up at Mace through one pink eye. "This rat was surgically paralyzed to imitate the motor dysfunction of a human paraplegic. A single bio interface mechanism was implanted into its brain. Take a look at the results." Mace picked up the rat by the base of its tail. It twirled and struggled until Mace set it onto his sleeve. It gripped the fabric with the claws of all four feet. After only a moment's hesitation, it waddled forward, balancing perfectly on the curve of Mace's arm. Its four limbs moved flawlessly. "Amazing, isn't it?"
"How does the device work?" Scully asked.
“I can’t divulge any proprietary information, of course, but in general terms, the BIM reads and writes biological information directly from and to the brain -- in this case, digitally saved impulses allow the disabled rat to move normally. The filament creates an artificial neural path from the brain to the muscles, complete with software-enhanced electronic commands that permit mobility. The other half of the equation comes from a device -- or group of devices actually -- implanted in the brain of a healthy animal, collecting data to be used by the disabled specimen. The data is communicated to a centralized hardware hub, much in the same way the Internet is accessed by wireless technology. The digitized information is then available for retrieval by the BIM in this rat. Or any rat fitted with one of the devices." Mace set the rat back in its cage. "Think what this means, agents! The brain activity of a healthy individual can be recorded and stored for the use of the less fortunate. Theoretically, we could go beyond the mere restoration of motor function in people with spinal cord injuries. We could share any brain activity. Memory. Technical skill. Even creativity! Consider what it would be like to download into your brain not just the thoughts of a man like Stephen Hawking, but the ability, the genius of any living thinker or artist!" Mace's eyes glowed with the idea.
"It sounds like you're playing God, Mr. Mace," Scully said.
"Agent Scully, scientists play God everyday. We artificially inseminate, we manipulate genes, we clone and radiate and engineer our way to a more perfect world."
"Is it really more perfect?" Mulder asked.
"Do you know anyone who has cancer, Agent Mulder? Or is unable to bear children?"
Mulder glanced uncomfortably at Scully.
"What do you tell them? Tough luck? Agents, this device is a step in the evolution of science much like antibiotics, fertility treatment or gene therapy. Bio interface technology isn't evil."
"But the possibility of abuse exists," Scully said.
"The cruelty of nature and purposeful abuse by man continue independently of scientific strides. Your job as FBI agents is to fight the latter. And it's my job to correct the former. You see? We all play God in one small way or another."
Mace crossed the room to the wall of caged monkeys.
"These healthy animals have BIMs permanently installed in their brains. We're collecting behavioral data from these normal monkeys to test on surgically disabled counterparts."
"I don't see any wires sticking out of their heads," Mulder said.
"Unlike the rat we just looked at, these animals had BIMs implanted permanently into their brains through a small incision in the back of the neck. The filaments were fed through a tiny plastic tube inserted between the uppermost vertebrae and the occipital. The procedure closely approximates the technique we hope to one day employ on human subjects."
Scully glanced at Mulder. This technology was exactly what she had found in Turcott’s brain.
"Let me show you an MRI." Mace quickly thumbed through a stack of images. "This one shows a textbook perfect placement of the devices." He handed the picture to Scully.
//Slender metal point. Spinning silver blade. Sliver of white. High-pitched hum of moving machinery.//
Scully swallowed. Clearing her throat, she blinked back sudden tears. The scan shook in her hands.
"You've never implanted any of these devices in a person?" Mulder asked, his voice reaching Scully as if it had traveled up from the bottom of a deep well.
//Latexed fingers. A needle stick. White light.//
"No. Of course not," Mace insisted from somewhere beyond Scully's narrowing field of vision.
//Pressing. Pressing. Dr. Ishimaru. Other men, their faces covered by surgical masks. A rearrangement of internal organs.//
"Please stop!" Scully gasped, trembling fingers gripping the MRI.
"I need some air.” She thrust the MRI into Mace's hands and hurried from the room. She soon realized she had no idea where she was going. Every door looked like all the others. She spun in frustration, trying to gain her bearings.
Her stomach heaved. She fought to keep her airline lunch inside her.
"Scully." Mulder's fingers curled around her arm. "This way."
She let him guide her past a blur of doors to the foggy brightness of the shore path and then to their rental car. Placing her palms against the cool metal of the car's hood, she let it support her while Mulder unlocked the doors. She told herself to take deep, even breaths. She sucked in sweet ocean air. The scent of pines. Her head began to clear. The squall of seagulls replaced the endless drone of an alarm ringing in her head.
"Scully, what happened in there?"
"Nothing. It was nothing."
"Damn it, Scully, don't give me that crap. Don't tell me everything's okay when it obviously isn't."
"What is it you want hear, Mulder?"
She opened her mouth to speak, but only shook her head.
"Please, Mulder. Not now. Later. I promise." She slipped by him and sunk into the passenger seat.
Mulder climbed behind the steering wheel, started the car, and shifted into reverse. He twisted in his seat to look out the rear window.
"Hey, Scully.” He nodded toward the low-roofed lab. She turned to see a blonde woman punch a code into the security panel and enter the building. "That's Dr. Christine Davis from SAS. Think she's in Tillamook Bay for the crab legs?"
Mulder knocked on Scully's motel room door.
"Scully? Scully, are you ready?" He opened the door a crack and peeked inside. "Scully?"
He could hear the sound of running water coming from the bathroom shower. Pausing at the threshold, he tried to decide if he should come into her room or go. In the end, he stepped inside and took a seat at the room’s small desk. He hoped Scully had been able to get an hour or two of sleep, take the nap she said she needed. She'd been pushing herself ever since leaving the hospital and he was worried the case, the travel, and her injuries were catching up with her.
Her laptop sat open on the desk. Her field report, he assumed. Curious to know her thoughts on the case, he began to read her entry.
//Mulder, on this journey we have traveled together, truth has been our ally, our one constant, a lifeline connecting us. Saving us. Separating us not from each other but from all the lies and deceit of our enemies. Yet now, the truth divides us. You hold the final pieces to the puzzle of my lost memories and I'm afraid to ask you to divulge your secret and complete the picture. I'm afraid because I trust you -- as I always have -- to guard me from harm. And if you are reluctant to expose the facts you've uncovered, I have faith you must be acting on a heartfelt concern for my wellbeing. Until now, my belief in you has been enough for me. But Mulder, I can no longer tolerate this thing between us, despite my trust of your honorable motives. I can no longer allow my past to remain an incomplete picture. Despite my fear, I believe I'm strong enough to hear the truth -- especially if you are nearby to lend me your strength should I need it. I do not blame you for your long silence. I'm certain you would have answered my questions if I had only asked. You know me so well. You have understood that until now I was unprepared to hear your words. But today, at last, I am ready and must ask: What evidence did you find? What happened to me so many years ago when I was taken from you and from myself? What is it that you know?//
"Shit," he whispered.
"You weren't supposed to read that." She stood frowning in the bathroom doorway, wrapped in her robe, damp hair curling in uncombed tangles.
"No?" His voice was still a whisper.
"I was just...just trying to get my thoughts together."
"But you want to know...don't you?"
She stared at her bare feet, at her toes sinking into the dingy motel carpet. After a moment, she nodded, bobbing her wet curls.
He went to her and drew her to the bed, sat her down. He sank into the mattress beside her.
“I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
“I want to know what happened to me. What evidence you found.”
He searched her face for proof that she was ready to hear the truth. He hoped so. He’d been wanting to tell her for the longest time.
"Scully, when you were being treated at Holy Cross for your...cancer," he stumbled only briefly on the word, "I went to the Lombard Research Facility."
"Where Dr. Scanlon worked."
"Yes. Kurt Crawford was there. Actually, several Kurt Crawfords were there."
“They were human/alien hybrids. They were tending growing tanks. Tanks that held more hybrids like themselves. One of the Crawford-hybrids showed me something else. Proof of what happened to you when you were abducted. Scully, are...are you sure...?"
“Yes, Mulder. I want to know. I need to know. My memories are returning. Have returned. I'm trying to make sense of them. I need to put the pieces together so I can finally see the whole and then, hopefully, make sense of it and put it behind me."
He nodded. "The Crawford-hybrid showed me a vault...a vault containing human ova."
"Yes. Yours and Penny Northern's and Betsy Hagopian's and other women. He told me the ova were harvested during your abductions through a high amplification radiation procedure that caused superovulation."
She took in this information. He half expected her to argue with him, tell him no such procedure existed, it was scientifically impossible. But as was often the case with Scully, she surprised him.
“Well, that explains the alarm I remember hearing and the bright lights. Those would be warnings to the doctors that the room I was in was being irradiated and wasn't safe for them to enter. It also explains the laparoscope, the shots, the other procedures. But why, Mulder? For...for fertilization? Of Emily?"
"Yes. Maybe others. The Crawfords were an end product of the experiment themselves. The ova constituted one half of the necessary raw material for their creation. He called the women who provided the ova ‘our mothers.’”
Her face paled. Was she thinking of Emily? Other possible children? Hell, how many part-human/part-alien children were out there, still undiscovered? What was their purpose, their future?
"And the other half of the genetic material?” Her voice quavered. “Where did it come from?"
He shook his head. "I'm not certain. Alien DNA, maybe. Scully, we've both known for a long time about the hybridization program."
“Yes.” Again, she surprised him by not arguing the point. “I saw an alien fetus. I just...didn’t--"
"You saw...?” This was new information. “When? Where?"
"Six years ago. At Fort Marlene in a High Containment Facility. I found it on the seventh floor in a room marked 'Purity Control.' I took it."
"Six years? Why didn't you tell me about it then? Hell, why didn’t you show it to me?"
"I traded it, Mulder. I traded it for you. Your kidnappers shot and killed Deep Throat and took the fetus.”
He was dumbfounded. Of course he remembered being taken hostage and he learned later about Deep Throat -- he even blamed himself for the man’s death -- but he’d had no idea about the fetus. “Scully, you held it in your hands. Six years ago. The answers to all our questions!"
"I thought I had nothing. I refused to believe it. And even if I had believed it was real, I wasn’t going to keep it and risk losing you. It wasn't worth your life."
"No, Mulder. Even after finding Emily, I didn't want to admit... I wasn't ready. Not when Penny Northern tried to tell me about the procedures. Not when you told me you had found evidence of what had been done to me. I wouldn't...I couldn't listen to her story and I...I didn't want to hear yours either."
He tried to understand her apprehension, he wanted to sympathize. Those procedures caused her cancer. They caused her infertility. They were responsible for Emily’s short and painful life. His heart broke for her.
“I'm sorry, Scully. For everything.”
She took his hand and traced the hills of his knuckles with the silky pads of her fingertips. Despite her small size and her battered features, she seemed the more durable of the two of them. With the telling of the story, his strength had seemingly drained from him into her, leaving him wobbly and rendering her unshakable.
"The chip in my neck, it was put there to monitor and control me, physically and mentally,” she said bitterly. “It's like the BIMs in Cascade BioTech's monkeys. I'm now programmed, categorized, and easily referenced,” she said, repeating his own words, spoken atop the Federal Building in Dallas two years ago.
"You once told me nothing happens in contradiction to nature. But what happened to you -- what was done to you when you were abducted -- wasn't natural. I’ve said it before. Our government made that chip, implanted it in your neck as part of a secret military project to develop a biochemical weapon, to monitor your immunity, or to destroy you like a lab rat, if the truth were to be exposed. And I hope they burn in hell for it."
His anger appeared to kindle her relief. Her arms circled his waist. He wrapped her in his own embrace, patted her still-damp hair, tried to soothe away the years of hurt. To his relief and astonishment, she let him.
But there was more he needed to tell her. About her ova. He'd taken them to a specialist and the news wasn’t good. The eggs weren't viable.
"Scully, there's something else--"
"No, Mulder. Not today. Maybe tomorrow."
"But I...I took--"
"No, Mulder. Please. Not today."
Sunset Bar and Grill
Mulder rearranged his silverware for the umpteenth time while they waited for the waitress to bring their dinner. The small restaurant was nearly empty. Maybe because it was a weeknight. Or maybe because it was off-season -- whenever that would be in Tillamook Bay, Oregon.
"As soon as the guys arrive, Scully, we're going in."
"I can't believe you called the Gunmen. The FBI has a Field Office in Oregon, you know, if we need backup."
"The Bureau seems to frown on B&E. For some reason, they prefer we knock on the front door and show our badges."
"So why don't we?"
"I don't want Cascade BioTech to evaporate the same way Huron Affiliated Labs did. Davis is here and I don't trust her. Christian Mace is beginning to smell a little like yesterday’s garbage, too. I want to get inside his lab and take a look-see."
"Security appeared pretty tight."
"The boys are experienced. They aren't nearly as sexy in black as you, Scully, but they have some pretty cool hi-tech crowbars for getting beyond locked doors. They should be here by 1:00 AM."
"What do you mean they're 'experienced'? Exactly what kind of field trips have the four of you been on?"
"How do you think I got into that Lombard Research Facility? Security there makes Cascade look like The Church of the Open Door. We'll get in."
"It's not the getting in that worries me, Mulder. It's the getting out."
"Did you bring extra headsets this time, Frohike?" Mulder asked.
"We spared no expense, compadre. Here.” Frohike passed a headset to both Mulder and Scully. He and Langly already wore theirs. Byers looped his loosely around his neck.
Parked out on Route 1 half a mile south of Cascade BioTech, Langly unloaded equipment from the trunk of the rental car.
"We checked out Cascade's security systems by hacking into their provider's database. Looks like pretty standard stuff. Too bad. I was hoping to try out some of our new gear," Langly said, his head still in the car's trunk.
"Government facilities make better B&E targets anyway, Langly. It's always more fun to bring The Man to his knees.” Frohike chuckled.
Scully frowned. "I didn't hear that.”
"You're looking fetching tonight, Agent Scully." Frohike's eyes traveled appreciatively from her boots to her dark knit hat. "Black is definitely your color.” He winked at her.
"Can it, Frohike. I--" She was cut off by a swipe of Mulder's hand across her cheeks and nose. He smeared her skin with something black and greasy. "What the hell is that?"
"Something I stole from the shoe shine man at the airport. Despite your bruises, you're looking a little pale, Scully."
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this." She watched Mulder coat his own face in black. "That had better come off," she warned.
"Seems to wear off my shoes...eventually." He tossed the container to Langly. "Powder your noses, boys."
"What's the plan, my man?" Langly tucked his long hair into the back of his collar.
"Byers stays with the car. Langly, you and Frohike take out the surveillance cameras and unlock the doors. You know the drill. I want a repeat performance of Lombard, but without the live ammo coming at me. Scully and I will go inside, find the incriminating evidence, and get back out. Everybody clear on their assignments?"
"As simple as that, Mulder? We just go in and find evidence?" Scully asked.
“If they’ve hidden the incriminating stuff, we may have to rummage around a bit.” He didn’t seem upset at the prospect. "No mess ups, boys," he warned the Gunmen. "I don't want to be sharing a jail cell with the three of you for the next fifteen to twenty. Let's go."
Mulder set off at a jog.
"Last one there is a rotten egghead," Scully challenged, chasing after Mulder and launching Frohike and Langly into motion.
* * *
Up the road just out of view of the facility, Mulder paused at the base of a utility pole and waited for the others to catch up. Scully soon joined him. Frohike and Langly trailed, weighted down by their gear. Frohike immediately squatted at the pole's base to set up his monitoring equipment. Donning hooks, Langly climbed the pole and tapped into the telephone wires.
"How does it look, Langly?" Mulder asked, eyes darting in the direction of Cascade.
"Give me two minutes for a systems check."
Mulder paced several times around the pole, eager to get inside.
"Should be a piece of cake, guys," Langly told them. "These bastards skimped on a shunt bypass. No redundancies."
"Are we set?" Mulder asked, taking a quick look at Frohike's computer screen. The monitor showed several views from the lab's interior surveillance cameras.
"Nobody's home. Place looks deserted," Frohike announced.
"One more minute, Mulder, before you try the front door," Langly insisted. "I'm gonna override the security systems and blindside the cameras."
Mulder was already on his way to the entrance, Scully on his heels.
"Cameras are set. Wait for the green light at the door," Langly's tinny voice warned over the headset in Mulder's ear.
At the lab's front door, Mulder stared at the little red light on the security keypad, willing it to turn green. His fingers tapped impatiently against his thighs. He bounced from one foot to the other. Scully gave his arm a gentle squeeze, momentarily stilling him and calming his fidgety nerves. The red light went dark and the green lit up.
"We're going in," Mulder spoke to Frohike through the headset. "Let me know if we should smile for the cameras."
"Smile if you want, but according to plan, you’re not going to show up here. The video loop is working. Hallway appears deserted."
Inside, Mulder flicked on his flashlight and aimed its narrow beam down the hall. No one was there. He jogged to the intersection of two hallways, where a security camera hung in an upper corner. Scully followed, watching his back.
"We're in front of camera two. Can you see me waving, Frohike?"
"Nope. You're the Invisible Man. Keep going."
Mulder took a left, retracing their steps from earlier in the day. He slowed when he spotted a partially open door at the end of the hall. A sliver of light flowed out over the threshold.
Mulder motioned for Scully to stay put while he moved closer.
"Where are you now?" Langly's voice squawked in Mulder's ear.
"Shh," he breathed. He put his eye to the crack of the door and peered inside.
In the brightly lit room, baby cribs stood in a neat grid of four rows by six. In each bed slept a toddler. The same toddler. Twenty-four identical children.
Fuck. Should Scully really see this?
After a moment's hesitation, he gestured her forward with a waggle of his fingers. She glanced nervously around before moving silently down the hall and slipping into place beside him. He swung the door inward allowing her an unobstructed view of the room.
“Oh my God,” she whispered.
"Clones?" Mulder asked, keeping his voice low.
She shook her head, walking between the rows of tow-headed, round-faced boys. She returned to Mulder and whispered into his ear, “A PCR would be needed to prove it but I’m pretty sure they’re brothers. Same mother, same father. Twelve sets of identical twins."
"How is that possible?” He spoke directly into her ear, too. “They look as though they're all the same age.”
"Embryo splitting. Each embryo is divided into two genetically identical halves."
“Yes, but how does the same mother give birth to twelve sets of twins...at the same time?"
"She doesn't. Hormone injections stimulate the release of ova in the mother. The ova are then extracted and fertilized in vitro. From the similarity in these children, I'd say the sperm came from a single donor. The resulting embryos are split and then transferred into twelve recipients...surrogate mothers. Twelve sets of twins are born nine months later. The process is done all the time with livestock."
*Livestock?* Mulder’s stomach churned. He wondered how Scully could look at these children and speak so calmly about their conception after being forced to endure a similar harvesting procedure herself. Against her will. Not to mention suspecting her own daughter had been created in a way very similar to this.
"Scully, these children look like replicas of Mace's son Tyler. They look just like the photo in his office."
She nodded. "This boy has a scar on the back of his neck. So does that one."
Mulder checked more of the boys. They all had similar scars.
She joined him on the far side of the room. ”I’m betting Mace inserted BIMs into all these children."
She shook her head. "I don't know, but maybe we can find out." She slid into a chair facing one of several glowing computer monitors that lined the wall. "Langly? Can you help me out here?" she spoke softly into her headset.
"What's up?" His nasal twang vibrated in her ear.
"I want to break into Cascade's bio-test database. I'm looking at a password protect access screen. Can you get me in?"
"No problema. Give me a minute or two."
Mulder circled the room, pausing at each crib. The boys slept, unaware they were being studied. Mulder compared the boys' faces, as well as the identical scars on the backs of their necks. Scully was right. The children weren't clones. Now that he looked more closely, he could detect small differences in their features. These two had a dimple to the right of their delicately curving lips. Those two had a v-shaped bend to their left eyebrows. Two more had slightly wider noses than the others. Twenty-four brothers, all approximately two years of age. All with wires embedded in their heads, if their scars were any indication.
"I've got something," Scully said softly. Her fingers tapped the keyboard. "Mulder, the children were conceived three years ago. The embryos were frozen in ethylene glycol and subsequently transferred into surrogates. There are detailed records of the boys' development. Let me..." She typed again. "Here it is. Mace is the father of these children."
No wonder the kids looked like his son Tyler. "And the mother?" Mulder moved to stand behind her.
"Uh...here she is." A picture of the boys' blonde mother filled the screen.
"That's Christine Davis. From SAS," Mulder said. "Is there any mention of the BIMs?"
“Hold on. This might take a minute."
"Okay. I'm going to look around. See what other dirty little secrets you can uncover, Scully. Send any incriminating files to Langly. We need some hard evidence that connects what we're seeing here with the deaths of Kerry Turcott and Maura Peterson."
She nodded and kept typing while Mulder slipped out of the room.
* * *
Mulder zigzagged his way through the lab's dark corridors. He opened several doors and took quick stock of each room’s contents. He panned the beam of his flashlight across the unused furniture and equipment. Microscopes waited, draped in plastic. Computers sat idle. Instruments collected dust. A couple of offices held empty file cabinets. The furniture appeared new, waiting for future occupants.
Continuing his search, he entered a short passage that dead-ended in a cul-de-sac of small, spotlessly clean operating theaters. He stepped into the first room. Several television monitors lined the wall beyond the operating table. Stainless steel stirrups hinted at the table's use.
"Mulder?" Scully's voice crackled in his ear. "I've been looking at the children's genetic records. Guess who's on the payroll?"
So this was the rock he crawled under after he disappeared from Holy Cross Memorial.
"He engineered all the embryo work here,” Scully continued. “And there's more."
"Lay it on me." Mulder moved into the next operating room. Noiselessly, he lifted several surgical instruments from a neatly arranged tray. Knives. Syringes. A variety of items that defied identification. He carefully set them back in their original places.
"Mulder, neither Mace nor Davis holds the patent to the BIMs. A man named Philip Straussman originally created the device and still owns the rights to it."
"Straussman works for SAS. I tried to interview him when I was in Connecticut. He wasn't available." Mulder ran his index finger along a row of videotapes arranged chronologically on a shelf below one of the television monitors. Each cassette was carefully labeled. "Uh...Scully, there are tapes here. I think they show the implant procedure performed on the kids. They're labeled 'tyler 12,' 'tyler 13,' 'tyler 14' and so on. The dates go back more than a year."
He selected one at random, removed it from its sleeve, and slid it into the VCR.
"Mulder, I've found records describing the BIMS. The records include MRIs of the children -- before and after the devices were implanted. Langly's hooked me into the data stream currently being downloaded to the children's brains. You're not going to believe this..."
Mulder punched the VCR's Play button. The tape clicked into motion. He stiffened when he felt the barrel of a gun dig deeply into his ribs. The headset was yanked from his ears.
* * *
"Mulder? Mulder! Damn it," Scully readjusted her headphones. "Frohike, can you hear me? Are these things working?"
"I hear you. Everything sounds A-O-K at this end."
"I've lost Mulder."
"Whaddaya mean you lost Mulder?"
"I don't know. He's not responding. Can you find him with the security cameras?"
"That'd mean activating the surveillance system."
"Just do it! I want to know where he is! He may be in danger."
"But there's no one else in the building. We checked before you went in. Who could...?"
"And exactly how would we know if the building is empty now, Frohike? With the cameras turned off, we're working blind. Find him! Now!"
* * *
"Agent Mulder, is that you under all the grease-paint, dressed up like a common cat burglar?" Christian Mace prodded his gun into Mulder's back. He tossed the headphones to the floor, then jerked the Sig Sauer from Mulder's holster. "You didn't think our little decoy surveillance system was the only security installed here at Cascade, did you? Big secrets require even bigger protection, Agent Mulder."
Above their heads, the television monitor lit up with the image of a hair thin wire slithering through viscous gray brain tissue. A muffled male voice could be heard describing the filament's path through the small skull.
"I hope that's the Discovery Channel and not your vacation videos, Mace," Mulder said, still facing the TV set. "Mind if I turn around? I get a little squeamish watching a father pith his own son's brain."
"You have no idea what we do here, Agent Mulder. By the way, I believe you've met my colleague, Dr. Bartlett."
Mulder turned to face Mace and the balding doctor from the Arlington sleep clinic.
"The nightmare and the nightmare doctor. Now there's a match made in heaven...or hell, as the case may be."
"We deal in dreams here, Agent Mulder, not nightmares. My sons are being given the brightest future the human mind can offer. Skill. Creativity. Genius. Gathered from the brains of the inspired."
"Stolen would be more accurate. I doubt your donors volunteered for the job. I know Maura Peterson didn't."
"Ms. Peterson didn't have that much to offer really."
"So you killed her?"
"She would have killed herself eventually."
"Like Kerry Turcott?"
"Who else, Mace? How many other minds have you raped? How many other deaths have you caused?"
Mace moved the gun to Mulder's cheek.
"Science is a progression, Agent Mulder. Failures almost always precede successes. We expect to lose a few of the more fragile specimens. But ends justify means and so on."
"Are you rationalizing murder?"
"People die all the time. It's a sad fact of life. If someone else can benefit from the loss..."
"Is that what this is about? It's okay to kill innocent people in order to resurrect your own dead son?"
"Procreation is an insistent motivating force, Agent Mulder."
Mulder was disgusted. He scowled at the sleep doctor. "What's in this for you, Bartlett?"
"Money, Agent Mulder. It's as simple as that. Mr. Mace pays me very well to find creative minds for his project. The CND patients at Hope Clinic provide an endless supply of imaginative donors. And they think the surgeries are part of their treatment. Of course, we don't tell them we're putting wires into their heads."
"Maura Peterson knew."
"Yes, well some patients require more anesthesia than others. Occasionally we underestimate. I would guess a man your size might require...oh, about this much.” Bartlett withdrew a syringe from his pocket and held it up for Mulder to see. Mace poked his gun more insistently into Mulder's jaw. Both men smiled as Bartlett removed the cap from the needle and sunk its point into Mulder's neck.
“Don’t...damn you!” Mulder shouted.
"You're an intelligent man, Agent Mulder,” Bartlett said. “Certainly there are some thoughts in your head worth harvesting."
"You wouldn't want to hear the thoughts going through my head right now.” Mulder felt his tongue growing thick. His words slurred as they skated across numbed lips. His knees gave out. The room appeared to spin as he fell. Mace and Bartlett, looking like the distorted reflections in a funhouse mirror, grabbed him beneath the arms and propelled him onto the operating table. “Shhhhitt!" Mulder hissed as he was rolled onto his stomach.
* * *
“Frohike, which way do I go?" Scully stood at an intersection of corridors, gun drawn.
"Stop right where you are," a cool voice warned. "I'll take that gun." Christine Davis stepped out from the shadows, her own weapon pointed directly at Scully's chest. Davis' expression was unruffled, her voice calm. A perfectly manicured hand relieved Scully of her gun.
"Christine Davis.” Scully recognized the blonde woman from her image in the database. "Where's Mulder?"
"Drifting off into dreamland by now, I imagine. You'll be joining him soon enough.” Davis smiled.
"I think you have a pretty good idea."
"This won't bring back your son, Miss Davis."
The woman's composure faltered and returned, only to melt away once more. Permanently.
"What do you know about my son? What do you know about losing a child? About freaks of nature and the unfairness of life?"
An image of Emily rose in Scully's mind. And a spinning drill. A flash of white light.
"More than you might think."
Davis huffed disdainfully through her nose.
"Miss Davis, I know your son Tyler -- your *original* son Tyler -- died soon after birth from a congenital defect that prevented brain development. I saw it in his file. The anterior neural tube didn't close properly. He was anencephalic."
Davis flinched at the word.
“According to your son's genetic records, he was born without a brain -- he lacked cerebral hemispheres and cerebellum and possessed only a rudimentary brainstem. I can see what you're trying to do here. I know you're hoping to replace your lost boy with new sons, whole sons, brilliant sons."
"This project is a success, Agent Scully," Davis gloated. Pride twitched the corners of her mouth.
"You've murdered innocent people.”
"Only unborn children are innocent."
"You've put wires in your own children's heads. You've robbed them of any hope of a normal life."
"If you think you can appeal to my maternal instincts, Agent Scully, I no longer have them. I lost my motherly inclinations when I buried my son. You see, it's difficult to become emotionally attached to something grown in a petri dish. Especially when you no longer have feelings to offer. I'm a scientist now, conducting an experiment. And you're about to become part of that equation." Davis gestured down the hall with a flick of her gun. "That way, Agent Scully."
Scully started down the corridor, only to turn and elbow Davis in the chest. A rapid punch to the woman's jaw sent both guns spiraling. They clattered to the floor several yards away. Scully brought her foot down hard on Davis's instep. The woman yelped in pain. Her cry was short-lived; Scully drove an uppercut into her chin. Blood oozed from Davis's bitten tongue.
Scully grabbed the woman’s arm and twisted it behind her back. With a smooth practiced motion, she handcuffed Davis, then dragged her to the nearest door where she closed the cuffs around the handle.
"Don't go anywhere," Scully warned, shaking the sting from her knuckles. "Frohike? Frohike, are you there?"
"Yeah. Are you okay? What happened?"
"I'm fine. Where's Mulder?"
"He's in an operating room, 3C at the end of a corridor just up ahead on your left. You better hurry. Mace and Bartlett are with him. They look like they're about to do something nasty."
Scully scooped up the two guns and set off at a jog for the operating theater.
* * *
From halfway down the hall, Scully spotted light spilling from the occupied operating room. She heard the familiar hum of a surgeon's drill. The sound brought the sting of bile to her throat. She swallowed the bitter taste and her memories with it. She stepped around the doorframe and aimed her gun into the room.
“Stop what you’re doing!" she demanded. The two men looked up at her in surprise. Mace pulled his gun. She leveled her own weapon at his chest.
"It appears we have a standoff, Agent Scully.” Mace chuckled. "Continue," he told Bartlett.
"No! Stop what you're doing or I'll shoot!"
Bartlett positioned the drill above the nape of Mulder's neck. The spinning silver blade sunk effortlessly into his flesh, creating a quick, neat hole. A faint moan gurgled from Mulder's throat. Blood seeped from the wound when Bartlett withdrew the drill. He reached for a tiny plastic tube and a pair of long, bent tweezers.
"I said stop!"
"You're going to have to wait your turn, Agent Scully," Mace stood unmoving, his gun still trained on her.
Bartlett gripped the tiny tube with the tweezers. He leaned over Mulder.
Scully fired her gun and rolled beneath the steel operating table. Her bullet blasted a spray of red across Bartlett's right arm. The doctor spun and toppled backward, taking a clattering tray of surgical instruments with him as he fell.
Mace crouched. He thrust his gun under the steel table, aiming for Scully. She kicked the weapon from his hand. While Bartlett groaned, Mace grabbed a hold of Scully's leg. She shoved the barrel of her gun into the side of his nose.
"You're done, Mace. The project is over.”
Office of Dr. Kosseff
Two Days Later
“Dana, what happened to you?” Karen Kosseff stared openly at Scully’s stitches and bruises. They sat across from each other in their customary places. “Are you alright?”
“I’m okay. It was a rough case, in more ways than just this.” She gestured at her face.
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
“About the case specifically? No. But I do want to tell you that I took your advice. I spoke to Agent Mulder and asked him about my abduction.” Somehow, the word didn’t stick in her throat the way it used to.
“What did he tell you?”
“The details aren’t important but he was supportive, as always, and I felt better after talking to him.”
“Better in what way?”
“I no longer feel powerless or afraid. I feel closer to Mulder. I feel I can move forward with my life.”
“Any down side?”
“Well, I still can’t have children of my own.”
“Are you ready to accept that?”
When she didn’t answer, Dr. Kosseff said, “There are other options, as you know. Adoption, surrogacy, IVF. Do any of these interest you?”
“Maybe. With the right partner.” With someone like Mulder, she thought but didn’t say. She looked past Dr. Kosseff to the painting of the seaside on the wall. Its white, white sand beach no longer made her skin crawl. It brought no tears. No flashbacks. “I’ll think about it.”
“If you ever want to talk it through, I’m here.”
“I appreciate that. You’ve been very helpful. I do feel much better.”
“I’m glad, Dana.”
Scully stood. She really did feel better. More energized, more positive than she had in a long time, and eager to get back to work and to Mulder, to make sure he was okay after what he’d been through at Cascade BioTech.
Later That Day
Mulder squirmed in his chair while Scully stood behind him and inspected the small wound at the base of his neck.
“Copy cat,” she teased. “Can't I ever have anything without you wanting one, too?” She patted the gauze back into place and smoothed his collar over the bandage. “It's healing nicely, by the way."
“The Connecticut Field Office called this morning,” he said, changing the subject, uncomfortable whenever she treated him like a patient.
“Philip Straussman is dead. Mace and Davis killed him...or had him killed, actually. Foley admitted to the murder. Foley told the police that Straussman discovered Davis and Mace were using the BIMs for their own purposes. Furious, Straussman threatened to expose them. So they offed him. Cascade's records indicate fifteen people, including Maura Peterson and Kerry Turcott, were used as donors for Mace's project. All were being treated at Hope Clinic by Dr. Bartlett. The eleven who are still alive are undergoing surgery to have the BIMs removed from their brains.”
“Why did Foley admit to the murder of Philip Straussman?”
“Plea bargain. He's testifying against Mace and Davis in exchange for a reduced sentence.”
“I suppose it's worth it if it means Davis and Mace will never leave prison. By the way, the children are now in Oregon state custody. It's likely the BIMs will be removed from them as well. It appears the device -- or rather the process of memory exchange -- has the nasty side effect of eventually inducing depression and subsequent mental breakdown. Kerry Turcott, Julie Thomas, and Jay Bregmann were the first people to receive the implants. Their psychotic disintegration was the most advanced.”
“So their suicides were the result of the memory uploads and not a reaction to their enforced participation in the project?” Mulder warily searched Scully's eyes. He wanted to know if her own similar experience had her teetering on the edge of emotional collapse. He remembered her sudden fragility at St. Agatha's Hospital following their interview with Maura Peterson and then later at Cascade.
“I'm fine, Mulder. I won't be jumping off the roof of the Hoover Building later this afternoon, if that's what you're worried about.”
He shrugged and offered her an apologetic smile. “I just want to know you're okay.”
She squeezed his shoulder. “I'm okay. Really. I know what happened to me. And although I wish it had never occurred, it's in the past. I expect it'll affect me in lots of different ways, but it's not going to govern my life.”
“Scully...you don't quite know everything. I--”
She placed her index finger to his lips. “I don't need to know everything, Mulder.”
“Shh. Don't we have cases we should be working on?” Enthusiasm shone in her eyes in a way he hadn't seen for quite some time.
“Yes. Yes we do.” He rolled his chair backward and reached for the filing cabinet. “Your choice, Scully. Crop circles in Indiana, shaped like Mickey Mouse ears. A plague of flesh-eating chiggers in Louisiana. Or confirmed sightings of a rabbit-man in Arizona.”
“Rabbit-man,” she said without hesitation or a hint of skepticism.
She was clearly feeling better and he couldn’t be happier.
“I was hoping you'd pick that one. I’ll book us a flight to Tucson. And don't ask me for any details. I want to get your unbiased opinion before I taint it with my own theory.”
(Posted June 12, 2023)
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