Title: Adventures in a Brave New World
Author: Agent L
Classification: Dark Angel/X-Files crossover, 2nd generation MT
Rating: PG-13, for some language
Spoilers: For Dark Angel, no specific episode. Just a general knowledge of the show's mytharc, its characters, and settings. For X-Files: Erlenmeyer Flask, Tunguska/Terma, Patient X, The Red and the Black, The End, Fight the Future, The Beginning, Biogenesis, 6th Extinction, Amor Fati, Requiem, Per Manum, Essence, Existence; numerous minor references and in-jokes
Distribution: Anywhere, as long as my name is attached.
Disclaimer: To all those involved in the writing, acting, and production of Dark Angel and X-Files: No infringement is intended and no money has been exchanged. This is purely for my own amusement
Feedback: Better than chocolate! (well, almost)

Summary: William Mulder goes to Seattle looking for some answers and finds more than he bargained for.

Author's Notes: Please note: This story is about Will, not his parents. They do not appear except for a brief phone call and a flashback, but they're mentioned frequently!

Thanks to Marlen for her own DA fics, which inspired me to write this, and for helping me to keep it real with Max and her world. Any technical errors and/or typos are solely my own.

"O brave new world, that has such people in 't!" --The Tempest


 

William Mulder had wandered into the wrong sector of post-pulse Seattle -- not that he'd seen many "right" sectors since he'd left the bus station two hours ago after waiting for his Uncle Melvin to come pick him up. Exhausted and hungry, he had decided to use the last of his cash to find a room for the night, and a friendly newspaper vendor had assured him there was a cheap, decent motel just down the street.

A Roach Motel, maybe. Will was considering whether to backtrack or forge ahead when he heard the slight scratching noise of something much larger than a roach and far more dangerous.

He had learned to travel light over the course of his eighteen years, and in a city where more people lived in cars than apartments, a kid with worn jeans and a faded backpack was literally one in a million. But anyone standing in a deserted alley after midnight in this particular neighborhood would be an easy target.

He watched as the shadows behind him shifted subtly and detached themselves from the gloom, accompanied by a furtive movement in the darkness a few yards ahead.

Two behind, one ahead.

Will felt the sweat break out on his forehead and dampness on his palms. He wasn't afraid to fight, but he knew he was no match for three men -- if not more -- even if he was in top condition, which he wasn't. He hadn't eaten since yesterday and hadn't slept for the past two days. The bus had been overcrowded and the driver apparently missed his old stock car days, speeding through traffic, clipping cars and nearly running off the road. Many of the passengers had gotten carsick and a baby had wailed relentlessly, setting Will's hyperactive senses on overdrive. His "Spidey-sense" as his friends had jokingly referred to it, was a blessing and a curse. All five of his senses were extraordinarily heightened, which was great for seeing in the dark and enjoying his favorite foods, but made Fourth of July excruciating and a trip on a crowded, noisy, smelly bus a nightmare.

A fourth figure moved toward him from his right side. He should have been flattered, he supposed, that they thought it would take four of them to subdue him, when a hard shove would probably put him flat on his back right now. And what would they do when they discovered he only had $100 cash?

"Hey."

The voice came from behind him. He tried not to shiver as the hairs rose on the back of his neck. Adrenalin pumped through his weary limbs and his senses tingled. He could smell the sweat from his own body, the mingled smell of old food and urine from the garbage bin nearby, the faint musky cologne of one of the strangers now closing in on him. He could see a scar on one of the faces, a jagged red slash, perhaps from a broken bottle, could see the barbed wire above a nearby fence that would prevent his escape, the quick flash of a knife or gun in a gloved hand. He could hear the slight crunch of cinders and gravel from their footsteps, hear his own quickened breathing. He caught bits and pieces of conversation from the people on the street -- so close and yet so far -- none of whom would probably respond to a call for help from a darkened alley, even if they heard it.

"Whatcha doin?" The seemingly innocuous question was accompanied by the soft flick of a knife, still hidden somewhere in the folds of the leader's clothing.

"I'm just looking for a place to stay," Will slowly turned his body so that his back would be against the wall and at least he would only have to worry about an attack from the front, although that was small comfort at odds of four to one. "I don't want any trouble."

"Neither do we." The low brim of a hat completely and no doubt intentionally obscured the wearer's face.

"Look, I've got 50 bucks. Take it." That would at least leave him with some pocket change, even if he'd have to spend the night outside somewhere. The group shifted closer and he reached for his wallet.

A hand grabbed his arm. "We don't want your money. We need your fingerprints."

"My what?"

It happened in an instant. One moment he was standing and the next he was flat on his stomach, agony spearing through his ribs, his cheek pressed into the rough gravel of the alley. The men had pinned his shoulders and legs firmly to the ground, and the leader twisted Will's right arm behind his back, locking his wrist in an iron grip. Will winced as a slight movement sent a stab of pain up his arm to his elbow, and then shivered as he felt a cold blade of steel trace the veins that ran just beneath the skin.

"Hey boys, need a hand?"

A female voice halted the action, and while Will was grateful for the diversion, he wondered why this woman would make her presence known instead of seeing what was going on and running like hell. Unfortunately, none of his captors moved from where they were sitting on his arms and legs. He couldn't even turn his head to see who this incredibly brave -- or incredibly foolhardy -- young woman was.

"You better move along, honey. Nothin' t' see here," one of his attackers growled.

"I see four against one. That's hardly fair, is it? Why don't you let him go?"

"Why don't you mind your own business, bitch?"

Furious at having his work interrupted by this interfering female, the man with the knife charged the intruder, leaving Will to the mercies of the other three, who continued to hold him down, but with less enthusiasm now. They were much more interested in the fight than in their captive. His freed right wrist throbbed, but he didn't think it was broken, and he took advantage of the men's distraction to reach for his own knife. If this woman was brave enough to try to save him, the least he could do was give her some assistance.

"Help --" came a strangled plea, but it was the man's voice, not the woman's. What the hell was going on here?

Another of Will's captors cursed and got up to go help his boss, leaving one still holding Will's shoulders and one sitting across his legs. With their attention focused on the bizarre battle, he simply thrust himself upward, ramming his head into one captor's chin, then twisted and kicked free from the other. He scrabbled away from them and got to his feet, brandishing the knife.

"I don't want to hurt you..." he gasped.

"Why not? They wanted to hurt you." A slim figure appeared behind the two men and before they could turn around, she banged their heads together with a resounding "crack." Will winced as they slid to the ground.

Then he saw his rescuer for the first time.

She was dressed in a form-fitting black leather outfit that made her seem to be part of the night. Even as he looked at her now she appeared to slip in and out of the shadows like the moon on a cloudy night, as if she might vanish at any moment. Her dark hair fell in thick curls around her pale, heartshaped face. Black, ageless eyes regarded him with faint curiosity as she tilted her head slightly, her full, ripe lips unsmiling.

"Are you okay?" She sounded as if she wasn't concerned either way, after risking her life to save him.

"I -- I think so." He was gradually becoming aware of his fatigue and various aches and pains from his struggle, but didn't think any of his injuries was serious. "I should be asking you that," he said. "You probably saved my life."

"Nah. Just your hand." She glanced back at the four prone figures lying in the alley. "They harvest fingers to use for getting past electronic identification systems at high tech facilities that read the prints. Big draw on the black market."

One of the men groaned and moved slightly.

She abruptly turned and headed toward the street. Will retrieved his backpack and quickly followed.

"What's your name?"

"Max."

"I'm Will. Will Mulder." He stuck out his hand.

She ignored the gesture. "Well, Will Mulder, you'd better haul ass back home while you're still in one piece." She strode toward a perfectly conditioned, gleaming motorcycle and slipped on a pair of yellow aviator glasses, then straddled the machine with the ease of a longtime rider.

"Home's a little out of the question at the moment. Can you recommend a decent hotel in the area?"

She stared at him, her mouth quirked in a near smile. "You're not from around here, are you?"

He shook his head. "I'm from back east. I came out here looking for some information, to answer some questions about my family. My past."

"Well, good luck. Gotta bounce."

"Do you happen to know anything about an organization called Zeus Genetics?"

"Nope, sorry." She started the motorcycle, which purred like an overgrown cat.

"How about a project called Manticore?" he shouted as she revved the engine.

She froze for a moment, then looked at him, her face expressionless. "Get on."

He climbed on the back of the bike and wrapped his arms around her lean waist as they roared off into the night.


"William Scully Mulder, unlock this door right now."

His father rarely used William's middle name. The last occurrence had been a year ago when then 9-year-old Will had sneaked out of the house to meet some friends at the local cemetery. They told ghost stories and scared themselves silly, as kids are prone to do, and he'd almost made it back to his bedroom without being discovered when a shadow on the wall had suddenly became a ghoulish arm reaching out for his shoulder. He'd screamed. A stupid, girly scream that had awakened his parents and gotten him grounded for two weeks with limited television privileges.

But this was a more serious matter and he had inherited a strong stubborn streak from both his parents. He was set for a long siege, with a stash of peanut butter, a box of crackers, and most importantly for the success of any political protest -- his own bathroom.

"I'm not moving," he shouted. "I don't want to start all over again."

Will had lived in five different cities that he could remember, and felt as if he'd spent half his life either packing or unpacking. But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was being scrutinized and judged by yet another group of children, worried about whether he'd be accepted in the classroom and the playground, afraid to get too close to anyone because he'd only be yanked away into some new city in a few months. Fortunately he was an outstanding student, his test scores at or near the top of the charts, so moving from school to school didn't affect his grades. He just didn't understand why his family couldn't stay put. His parents *seemed* normal. He didn't think they were criminals on the run or international spies -- although at least that would have made life more interesting....

"Will... Come on, open the door. Let's talk about this."

His father's anger never lasted very long. He was a proponent of talking things out, which usually consisted of sitting and listening to what Will had to say and then telling Will what he had to do. Both of his parents loved to discuss things -- with him and with each other. But he was tired of talking. He just wanted to stay somewhere for a while. To have a place to call home.

"No. I'm not going."

"You'd *best* be going, whitebread, or Original Cindy's gonna kick your skinny white ass."

Will opened his eyes to see a pretty, very angry dark-skinned woman leaning over him. She was wearing a snug orange t-shirt that said "Bitch" across the front in bold black letters and black leather pants that clung to her slim hips and legs like a second skin. She smelled like cinnamon.

"What you lookin' at?" she demanded.

"I -- Nothing. I -- Uh....Where's Max?"

"Oh." Original Cindy nodded as if that confirmed something in her mind. "You one of Max's strays." She looked him up and down as if he were a piece of furniture she was considering. "Hmm. Not her usual, but Original Cindy doesn't judge. Just get out of the doorway, boy, I gotta primp."

As Cindy nudged him none-too-gently aside and slammed the bathroom door, Will sat up and stretched his aching muscles, recalling bits and pieces of the night before. After arriving here on Max's motorcycle, he had followed her up a seemingly endless flight of stairs, and remembered the smell of cooking and bug spray as he stumbled behind her down a dim hallway. She unlocked a door and they entered a room, the details of which had blurred in front of his weary eyes as the last of his energy faded. The last thing he remembered was her half-hearted offer of "food or coffee or something" before he'd basically passed out on the floor from exhaustion.

Way to impress the girl, Mulder.

As Cindy began singing in the bathroom and he realized she was going to be a while, he stood up and looked around the apartment in the light of day. There wasn't much to look at. In fact, it reminded him of his own bedrooms over the past few years, as if the occupants had either just moved in or were about to move out. Furniture was minimal and mismatched, chosen more for function than looks. A small galley kitchen provided the basics for simple meals. A few interesting prints on the walls added a surprising touch of domesticity. He had a feeling they probably belonged to Cindy. Max probably didn't own anything she couldn't carry on her bike.

Cindy came out of the bathroom, picked up a bag, and headed for the door.

"Uh -- Where's Max?"

She turned to face him, hands on her hips. "Original Cindy is not your personal 4-1-1. Now come on. I gotta haul, which means you gotta haul, whitebread."

He opened his mouth to protest, then thought better of it. He'd find a phone somewhere and try to contact Uncle Melvin, and if he couldn't reach his uncle, he would just start investigating on his own. But he made a mental note of the building and its location as he followed Cindy out -- just so he could come back and thank Max for her help, maybe even return her offer for "food or coffee or something."

She was the first woman who had intrigued him in a long time. He'd given up on trying to develop relationships with the girls he met in school, since he knew he would just have to leave them behind anyway, and had filled the emptiness with his studies and a healthy fantasy life.

But Max was a living, breathing, beautiful woman, and he was no longer forced to pack up and move at his parents' whims.

So he hit the streets of Seattle. One of the places hit hardest by the pulse, the area still looked more like a third-world country than a modern American city. The streets were crowded with the homeless and hustlers. People lived out of cars and vans and sold everything from watches to socks to their own bodies to earn a little cash to get them through the day. The stench of garbage and sewer drifted through the streets like a noxious perfume, since outdoor living meant outdoor plumbing as well. There seemed to be a heavy military or police presence -- he wasn't exactly sure what the generic uniforms signified, only that people seemed to be terrified of the uniformed men. He received a suspicious glance from more than one passing officer, but no one stopped him.

Fortunately, he soon found himself in a less poverty-stricken area that had phone booths with phones still attached. Of course the phone books had long vanished as kindling for a fire or toilet paper, but he had his uncle's number memorized.

The last known number, anyway. Uncle Melvin tended to change numbers as frequently as the Mulders had changed addresses. But he had known Will was coming. He wouldn't have changed numbers without telling him...unless something was wrong.

Will hesitated in the phone booth, not sure what to do next. Then his stomach rumbled, and he knew he'd better eat something pretty soon or he'd be face down on someone's floor again.

He made his way to a nearby diner that looked relatively clean and wouldn't deplete his funds too badly. Taking a seat on a dangerously wobbling stool at the counter, he flipped through the grease-stained menu and ordered the Hungry Man's Heaven -- "home-made" meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and the vegetable of the day, which looked like the leftover vegetables from several days. Still, the portions were hearty and the food surprisingly good. He wolfed it down with a glass of iced tea, half-watching the TV attached to the wall.

A smiling blonde newswoman was informing him about a terrifying earthquake in India when the screen went snowy. After a second or two, the picture flickered back to life, but in the newswoman's place was the disturbing image of a pair of eyes, and a male voice declared, "This is a streaming freedom video..."

"Shit. I hate that guy." The waitress clicked the TV off. "He interrupted my soap last week just as Brock was about to propose to Jenna."

"Who is he?"

She popped her gum and refilled his tea.

"Calls himself 'Eyes Only', thinks he's gonna save the world, expose the crooks and the creeps. He's figured out some way to hack into the local TV signal and comes on and rambles about some conspiracy or something, like there's anything anybody can do about it."

"Nobody knows who he is?"

She shrugged. "Dunno. Don't care. Want dessert? The pie should be thawed by now."

He turned down the pie and left the diner when the waitress turned the TV back on to catch the adventures of Brock and Jenna.

Uncle Melvin and two of his friends had once run a newsletter called "The Lone Gunman." Like this crusading journalist, they uncovered covert government activities and exposed criminals, risking their lives for the truth.

He had a feeling that if he could find "Eyes Only" he would find his uncle.

End part 2


Will finally found a branch of the Seattle library, but his joy faded quickly when he walked through the doors. A lifelong booklover, the sparsely filled shelves and dog-eared texts saddened him. Apparently people were too busy surviving to spend much time reading nowadays. He found a phonebook, however, and searched for "Frohike, Melvin" and as many anagrams of the name as he could think of, with no success. Of course, someone intent on exposing government secrets and corrupt businesses wasn't going to advertise his presence.

He also tried to find some information on Zeus Genetics, but came up empty. Not that he had much to work with. The laboratory had been involved in DNA research and in vitro fertilization experiments in the late 90s in an attempt to "build a better baby." His mother's OB/GYN had worked at the clinic located in Maryland, which had later been destroyed in a suspicious fire. His parents had suspected, but never been able to prove, that the operation was actually a front for a shadowy conspiracy of men developing an alien/human hybrid, just before the invasion scare of 2002. During that year, rumors had begun to spread that alien replicants -- extraterrestrial entities resembling humans -- had been discovered among the population, but no hard evidence was ever found.

Will wasn't sure if he believed in intelligent life on other planets, (despite his father's arguments to the contrary) but he had become obsessed by the need to find out if Zeus was responsible for his special abilities, or if he had come by them naturally. Were there others out there like him? Were there other, less savory side effects of his condition that he should be aware of?

Were his parents really his parents?

He stared at his reflection in the library window. His height and athletic build were similar to his father's. The thick auburn hair, blue eyes, and pale complexion could easily have come from his mother. His above average grades could simply be a happy result of being the progeny of two highly intelligent people. So why did he feel like an outsider so often? Was it just the hormonal imbalances so common in one's teen years, or was he some kind of genetic anomaly?

Yes, his body healed with astounding quickness from illness and injury, and his senses seemed to be pitched higher than most people's. Then again, some kids were double jointed; some had unusual gifts of speed or strength, or could curl their tongues and wiggle their ears. He'd never considered his situation extraordinary until shortly after his 12th birthday.

Two men in dark suits had come to the house, driving a dark car, just like in that old movie with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. His mother sent him to his room but Will had sneaked back out, hovering in the hallway to listen to the hushed argument. The men wanted to take him, administer some tests. They told his parents it was in the interest of national security.

That night they moved again, for the first time since the pulse -- this time taking with them only what they could carry.

The men had never found them, to his knowledge. But sometimes even now he sometimes felt as if he were being watched and followed. Or was that, too, simply an inheritance of his father's paranoid tendencies. Then again, as Uncle Langly had often said, "You're not paranoid if they're really out to get you, dude."

Will shook off his sudden melancholy and wondered what his next move should be. He didn't know anyone in Seattle except the elusive Max. Would she have any clue as to where "Eyes Only" might be? He wondered what kind of work she might do, considering her own special talents, and then remembered the mug he had seen in the kitchen that morning. Sure enough, "Jam Pony X-press" was listed in the library's phonebook. After a few moments to memorize the city map, he was on his way.

Jam Pony bustled with activity. Messengers rode in and out in a steady stream and more waited for their names to be called as they checked their equipment or cleaned their bikes. A nerdy looking man behind the counter seemed to barely control the pandemonium, glaring out at his employees from behind thick black rimmed glasses, his hair in a buzz-cut more appropriate for the 50's than the year 2020.

"Isn't Marlen back yet?" he called out to no one in particular.

"She's on lunch, Normal," someone yelled back.

"For three *hours*?"

"Excuse me..." Will stepped up to the counter. "I'm looking for Max."

"This isn't a dating service, kid. Delivery for Sector 3! Come on, people, work with me."

A young man about Will's age, with spiky hair tinged with green, two silver rings in his nose and a diamond stud in his left eyebrow, elbowed Will aside and grabbed the plastic-wrapped package. Will turned away, deciding to look around on his own, when he heard a shout from behind him.

"Hey. Can you ride a bike?"

"Since I was five."

"Don't need a biography. Look, I'm short handed today and things are backing up. Want to help out for a few bucks?" The man named "Normal" thrust a wrinkled, standardized work contract at him.

"Sure." Will read the paper in a matter of seconds and signed it. "But I don't have a bike."

"We've got some loaners in the back... William." Normal tossed him a large padded envelope scrawled with a handwritten address. "Just get it there and get back. Think you can handle it?"

As easy as riding a bike.

But Will's last biking excursion had been through the suburban streets that led to and from high school. There had been traffic, but none of the gridlock so common in big cities, and certainly no one sleeping in the street that he had to manuever around. The roads had been well tended, with an occasional pothole here and there -- no crumbling fissures, broken water mains or roadblock signs put up for no apparent reason. He also realized the map in the phonebook was more than a few years old, and some streets no longer had names or seemed to have vanished completely.

To Will's surprise, Normal didn't demand to know why he had taken so long with that first delivery. Instead, another package was shoved into his hands as soon as he stepped up to the counter.

By the end of the day, bruised and aching, Will knew the mean streets of the city of Seattle better than he'd ever wanted to. As people began wandering in for the evening shift, he put the bike back with the rest of the loaners and signed out. He was disappointed that he hadn't seen Max in his comings and goings that afternoon, although he had asked a few of the messengers about her and they had assured him she worked there. At least he'd been able to familiarize himself with the area and could supplement his meager funds with a little extra cash.

"Heard there was some hot shot rookie out there on a loaner today."

He turned at the sound of Max's voice. Dressed in a cut-off black t-shirt under a leather jacket, wearing a threadbare pair of blue jeans, she flashed a rare smile, looking nothing like the avenging angel that had saved his life last night -- although she'd never be mistaken for the girl next door, either.

"Hi. You left this morning before I could thank you for all your help last night."

She shrugged. "No big."

"Come on, Max," someone yelled from the door.

"Gotta cruise." She started to walk away, then stopped and turned back to him. "Want to come have a beer?"

"Sure."

He followed her and a few other messengers, including Original Cindy, to a nearby bar called Crash, where he watched Cindy hustle nearly every guy in the place with her pool playing skills. If Max hadn't given him a warning nudge, he would have become her first victim. He had a feeling Max was no slouch at the game herself, although she seemed content to sit on the sideline and cheer for her "sistah-girl" while cheerfully taking each new sucker's money. By following her lead, Will had amassed a tidy little sum of his own after a couple of hours.

"So what about you, whitebread?" Cindy strolled up to him as her latest victim slunk away from the table. "You ready to take me on now?"

Will shook his head. "No thanks. I can calculate the precise geometrical angle I need to sink a shot, but I can never seem to get the cue to cooperate."

"Math geek." Cindy shook her head and walked away.

"I'm sure she meant that as a compliment," Will said drily.

"So did you find a place to stay tonight?" Max asked, sipping her beer.

"Uh -- I sort of got drafted by Normal before I had a chance to do any looking. Would you mind if I crashed at your place just one more night?"

He took her shrug to mean she wouldn't kick him out if he showed up on her doorstep. "Actually, I was hoping to get a chance to talk to you about something. The other night when I mentioned Manticore --"

"Hey, want another beer?" She was gone before he could finish the sentence.

Okay, that topic was off limits.

When she came back with the pitcher, he tried a different subject. "So...what do you know about 'Eyes Only'?"

"What do *you* know about Eyes Only?" she countered, then distracted him by licking a bit of beer foam off her lip.

Will felt his body respond to the blatantly sexual gesture -- hell, at his age a woman cleaning a toilet could probably turn him on. Particularly if the woman had waves of midnight colored hair and full, pouting lips...thick, dark eyelashes...

He took a quick swig of beer. "He's my uncle."

"Your what?"

"Well, not my real uncle. He's a friend of the family. I've been looking for him for the past few months and found out he was here in Seattle. Do you know where I might find him?"

"Sorry. Fresh outta help." She stood up from the table. "By the way...the new guy always buys."

She tried to make her escape while he was settling up with the bartender, but he caught up to her when one of her friends stopped her at the door, and took her arm as if he were politely walking her home. Not that Max would ever need an escort.

As soon as they were outside she jerked away from him. "Maybe you'd better find somewhere else to stay tonight."

"Look, if you know where he is, please tell me. I need his help to learn some things about my past." He threw pride and caution to the winds in his desperation. "I - I'm different than other guys, Max, and I need some answers about what makes me the way I am. But I can't do this alone. I need my uncle's money and connections."

She folded her arms across her chest. "What does this have to do with Manticore?"

"I know a little about the project -- to design the perfect soldier, right? I think that Zeus Genetics was a precursor to Vivadyne, the lab that sanctioned the Manticore project. They were performing the same type of work, but with...alien DNA."

He waited for her to laugh. His father's theories often got that reaction from people, and as a boy, he'd been embarrassed by Fox Mulder's insistence on the existence of extraterrestrial life. But after learning what had happened to his father and mother over the course of their work at the FBI, he'd begun to believe in extreme possibilities.

Apparently, so did Max. She did not laugh, but regarded him unblinkingly, inscrutably, for a few moments.

"I'll take you to him," she said finally. "But if this is some kind of trick -- if you're out to expose him or steal money -- I'll track you down and kill you."

He started to smile until he saw that her eyes had gone cold and blank.

But Will Mulder was no coward. He forced himself to meet and hold her gaze.

"Let's do it."

She insisted on blindfolding him, to keep the location a secret. He found it disconcerting at first, fighting for balance as she whizzed around unexpected corners and sped down straightaways. Eventually he began to relax, taking advantage of his helplessness to lean against her back and tighten his arms around her waist. When he didn't get an elbow in the ribs, he began to enjoy the ride.

When they finally came to a stop, she helped him off the bike and led him inside a building. Only then did she allow him to remove the blindfold. He blinked in the dim light, wondering if anyone in Seattle could afford more than one bulb per hallway as he followed her into one of the few working elevators in the city.

Hmm, the penthouse. Uncle Melvin had done well for himself.

The elevator doors opened onto a lush apartment, tastefully decorated. The kitchen alone was about the size of Max's living room, and she strode through as if she were as familiar with this place as she was her own, totally ignoring the huge window that overlooked the city below. Perhaps the lights didn't glitter as brightly as they had before the pulse, but it was a still a sight to stop and admire, which Will did.

"Hey, Max, I didn't expect you tonight."

Will turned at the sound of a male voice to see a man in his 30's, with blondish hair cut short, his face with the unshaven look that many women found sexy. He wore a pair of wire rimmed glasses and rolled into the room in a wheelchair to stare up at Will, who stared back. Not because of the wheelchair, but because there was absolutely no possibility that this was Uncle Melvin, who also sported that unshaven look and wore glasses, but was close to 70 and still got around quite nimbly on his own two feet.

"And who is this?" the man asked Max, who appeared from the kitchen, munching on some grapes.

"He says you're his uncle," Max replied.

"I've never seen him before."

Within seconds, Will found himself in a humiliatingly familiar position -- flat on his stomach, one arm wrenched behind his back, and a knee grinding into his kidney.

He was beginning to hate Seattle.


"What's your name?"

He stared at wheels and feet -- all he could see of his inquisitor, and wondered why the hell he couldn't have gotten super-strength instead of super-senses. "William Mulder."

"Mulder...That name sounds familiar. Where are you from, William?"

"Lots of places." He grunted as Max twisted his arm. "Virginia, originally. Lived up and down the east coast."

"And what brings you to Seattle?"

"I'm looking for my uncle, Melvin Frohike. Seattle was his last known address."

"Let him go, Max. He's harmless."

Ouch. That hurt, coming from a guy in a wheelchair. The pressure on Will's spine vanished, and he pushed himself up slowly to a sitting position to look up at the man in the chair.

"Who are you?"

"My name is Logan Cale."

"*You're* 'Eyes Only.'" Although Will was disappointed that his uncle wasn't behind the project, he was nonetheless impressed.

"I have something you might be interested in." Logan manuevered the chair out of the room as easily and as deftly as he had avoided acknowledging Will's statement. Max glared at Will as he stood slowly and carefully, hands up in a gesture of surrender.

"This was an honest mistake. I didn't try to trick you, Max. But trust me, I won't tell anyone." He knew from Uncle Melvin and his father that people who dared to expose the shadows of deception to the light of the truth made a lot of enemies, and those enemies would stop at nothing to keep their secrets hidden in the darkness. Admittedly, he was acting more out of self-preservation than any loyalty to Logan. If the wrong people found out that Will knew Eyes Only's identity, even Max might not be able to save him.

Not that she seemed much interested in his life one way or the other, as she stalked over to the window and stared out.

At that moment Logan rolled back into the room and gestured for Will to join him at a massive antique desk with ornate carvings -- as much a piece of art as a functioning unit of furniture. Will had also recognized a sculpture and a couple of paintings in the room as originals. In addition, only the wealthy could afford computers in the post-pulse era; Logan had not only a state-of-the-art desktop model, but a laptop as well. Whatever reasons the man had for doing what he did, it certainly wasn't that he needed money.

Will joined Logan at the table, where he had spread out some newsletters that had been carefully preserved in plastic. Issues of "The Lone Gunman," the crusading newspaper that his uncles Langly, Byers and Frohike had operated. Will smiled at the headlines that screamed about conspiracies, secrets, paramilitary operations, aliens. The guys' hearts were pure and their intentions noble, and they had done some good work -- but many of their articles read like cheap science fiction or detective novels. Will knew many of them by heart, since his father had read those to him instead of bedtime stories, much to his mother's dismay.

A lump rose in his throat and he turned away. Logan gave him a moment in the time-honored tradition of males hiding their feelings, before he spoke. "When I started doing research on government watchdog groups and radical journalism, I discovered there are a lot of straight-up wackos out there, but these guys seem to be for real. There's a lot of shit to wade through in these papers, but there's also a lot of truth, and their sources are usually solid. You say Melvin Frohike's your uncle?"

"Well, not a blood relation, but he and his friends, Langly and Byers, were like brothers to my dad."

"Ah, here's why your name seemed familiar. There are a lot of articles by an 'M. F. Luder.' Do you know this person too?"

Will smiled. "That's my father's pen name. M. F. Luder is an anagram for F. Mulder... Fox Mulder."

"Look, Will...I hate to give you bad news, but Melvin Frohike is dead. He was killed a few weeks ago in a reenactment of the JFK shooting when something went wrong. He was shot in the head."

Will shook his head. "That's impossible. I talked to him on the phone before I left home, and that was November 29th. The reenactment would have been the 22nd, the date of JFK's death. They've been doing it for years and they use toy guns. He must have had to go underground for some reason."

"That happens a lot around here," Max said, leaving her spot at the window to join the two men. "You won't be doing him any favors if word gets out you're looking for him."

"She's right," Logan agreed. "But let me check around, see what I can find out."

"By the way, do you know anything about a company called Zeus Genetics?"

Max groaned. "I'm gonna get some food."

As she walked into the kitchen, Will explained his interest in the laboratory and its possible connection to Project Manticore.

"I've heard that the kids from the Manticore project are special. Physically and mentally enhanced, trained to seek and destroy. I have some of those same enhancements, Logan. And there's some question surrounding the procedure that enabled my mother to get pregnant. Of course, her records were destroyed in a convenient fire shortly before I was born, but I'm sure there were other facilities doing the same type of research."

"With...aliens."

"Alien DNA." Will sighed. Now he knew how his father must have felt in the months and weeks before the invasion scare, trying to tell people what was about to happen only to receive the same disbelieving stare that Logan was giving him now. This was why he needed Uncle Melvin, who already knew the history, had been a part of it. "Extraterrestrial biological entities have been here on Earth for centuries. Some even believe they are the original inhabitants of this planet. In the late 90's Earth became a prize in a battle between two alien races. In hopes of saving some part of our humanity in the event of colonization or having some chance of surviving a mass extinction, scientists worked to create an alien-human hybrid."

"So why aren't we all bowing down to little green men right now?" Max asked sarcastically, coming into the room with a triple-decker sandwich and a pile of chips.

"Gray," Will automatically corrected. "We're not sure what happened, but my father and uncles believe that the aliens got into a conflict over who would claim the planet, and that conflict turned into a full-fledged war. And after the pulse, we probably lost any value we may have had as a colony or slaves, assuming the aliens were still interested at that point."

"Well, yippee for the pulse," Max said drily, propping her feet up on a no-doubt priceless ottoman. "Logan, you're not swallowing any of this crap, are you?"

Logan looked thoughtful. "I'm not ready to say that aliens are among us, no. But I don't doubt that genetic experiments have been performed for a long time, with only the most generic, benign results made public. It's entirely possible that Zeus Genetics was doing the same type of work that Manticore was involved in, maybe competing for government contracts, or even sanctioned by the government." He glanced at Max. "It's no less believable than your story."

Max scowled at both of them. "What's my story got to do with anything?"

"You're one of the X-5s," Will said.

It hadn't been hard to figure out, once he got his mind off the exotic features and tight leather pants. Her extraordinary physical strength, ability to see in the dark, absolute fearlessness and spartan lifestyle screamed that she was a product of Manticore.

She sat up and looked at him with mingled annoyance and respect. He fought the urge to smirk. Maybe he wasn't engineered to be a super-soldier, but he was still smarter than the average teenager. Hell, smarter than most adults.

"You've done your research," Logan commented.

"As much as I can, but my resources are limited. That's the reason I came here -- to investigate Manticore firsthand and to get access to some high tech research tools through my uncle and his friends. If records exist for Zeus Genetics, these three will be able to find them... pulse or no pulse."

"You may not like what you find," Logan said quietly.

Will nodded. His greatest fear was that he would learn that his life up until now had been a lie, and worse, that his parents might have taken part in the deception. But he couldn't live in ignorance any longer.

"I need to know."

"Well, this is sweet," Max interrupted. "But I need to do my laundry. I'll be downstairs. If you're not there in five minutes you can walk home."

She left the room without a backward glance and Will got the impression that this wasn't one of those parental type warnings that would be followed by a grace period or an extension. She would drive off without a second thought if he wasn't downstairs in the allotted five minutes.

He should have been insulted, but instead he was aroused, and headed obediently toward the door like a puppy following its mother.

He was a healthy eighteen-year-old male, after all...alien DNA or not.

"Hey, Will." Something in the tone of Logan's voice stopped him and when he turned, the warmth had vanished from the other man's eyes. His sympathetic smile was now forced. "Don't push Max on the Manticore issue. She doesn't like to talk about it. I hope you'll respect that."

Will knew a threat, even a polite one, when he heard it. He'd seen the looks that passed between Logan and Max when they thought he wasn't watching -- and he'd noticed the silent exchanges that they probably weren't even aware of. Their protectiveness of each other and the unspoken communication between them reminded him of his own parents, who were inseparable, even when they were miles apart.

He gave Logan a nod of understanding and made it downstairs with a full minute to spare, only to find out they were just down the street from Max's apartment. Her roundabout way of getting to Logan's had been meant to keep the location a secret. As he climbed on the back of the bike, he supposed making him look like an idiot was just an added bonus for her.


Will rarely slept more than 4 or 5 hours a night. He would get caught up in a book or a project and be awake until after midnight, or go to bed at a reasonable hour only to awaken at 1 or 2 and be unable to go back to sleep, his brain buzzing with activity.

For a long time, he had considered this behavior normal, and thought that there was something wrong with his mother, who seemed to need eight hours or more of rest on a regular basis. After all, when he woke up in the middle of the night, his father was almost always awake as well. Some of Will's fondest memories were of playing chess or watching old horror movies with his dad at 2 a.m.

After crashing the night before for an unprecedented nine hours, Will found sleep eluded him this evening. The couch was comfortable, the blanket was warm, the apartment was relatively quiet. Original Cindy was staying with a friend, and Max had turned in around midnight. He had listened to the sounds of her getting ready for bed and tried to dispel the images his hormone-charged brain supplied of Max in satin sheets by calculating square roots.

Besides, knowing Max, she probably slept on a military cot in fatigues, ready to do battle at a moment's notice.

Will wrapped the blanket around his shoulders, opened the window, and climbed out onto the fire escape as quietly as he could. Although early December in Seattle wasn't the most temperate time of year, cold weather didn't bother him much, and at least it wasn't raining.

The apartment was high enough off the street that the traffic and pedestrian noise would drift up to most people as a jumble of sound, with a shout or siren or horn blasting through the mix occasionally. But Will could pick out conversations, identify vehicles by the sounds of their engines, even hear the click of high heels and the low appreciative whistle that followed. He could smell the ever-present scent of rain in the air, mingled with perfumes from the street below, body odor, exhaust, garbage, and the daily special -- something Italian, heavy on the oregano -- at a nearby diner. He leaned back and stared up at the sky, letting the sensations wash over him as he silently greeted his old friends the stars. They had been one of the constants in his life as he had moved from place to place, always there, even if they sometimes hid from him on cloudy nights.

"Can't sleep?"

He turned to see Max climbing out the window in an old sweatshirt and sweatpants. She sat down beside him and gazed up at the sky.

"You don't have to keep me company," he said.

"I'm not."

For a few moments they sat in silence together, watching the stars. He could feel the warmth of her body, the faint movement of each breath, each slight shift in position with an intensity that had nothing to do with any genetic enhancements and everything to do with being close to this beautiful, mysterious woman. He took a deep breath of the scent that was uniquely Max -- clean and uncomplicated.

The same scent that was everywhere in Logan's apartment.

With a sigh, he returned his attention to the stars.

"So what's your deal?" she asked after a few minutes. "What tricks do you do?"

"Heightened vision, hearing, smell, taste," he responded. "I can read that billboard over there..." He pointed to a sign a few miles away. "And some guy in the karaoke bar down the block is doing a really bad rendition of 'Feelings.'"

She shrugged, unimpressed.

"I can calculate mathematical and scientific equations in my head in a matter of seconds -- made a killing in Vegas a year ago with a friend of mine until they barred us from the casinos. I have a photographic memory and my IQ scores are off the charts. Accelerated healing from illness and injury, little need for sleep...and a rifle pitching arm."

The last one drew a quick grin that she quickly hid.

"Sound familiar?" he asked.

She nodded. "Do you...do you ever have to take any medications?"

He shook his head. "Do you?"

"I have seizures, sometimes. My body doesn't naturally manufacture Tryptophan. I get messed up if I can't get the synths or at least some milk right away."

She seemed embarrassed at this weakness in her armor, and sat up as if she were getting ready to make her escape.

"So how strong *are* you?" he asked, willing to bruise his male ego to keep her by his side a few more minutes. "Wanna arm wrestle?"

She gave him an incredulous look.

He'd seen a small table in the corner that the girls probably used for snacks or drinks when they came out here in warm weather, and he dragged it over to Max. Kneeling on one side of it, he put his right arm on the cold surface, then raised his right hand, fingers curled, ready for an opponent.

"You've got to be kidding," she sighed. But as he had guessed, she couldn't resist a challenge and even as she spoke she was kneeling opposite him. "I could break your arm."

"I heal fast, remember?"

She proceeded to soundly defeat him in all three of their matches, and although she broke no bones, his wrist felt as if it had been twisted in a vise for the past few hours when he finally gave up.

"Don't feel too bad," she said. "I've kicked my brothers' asses on a few occasions too."

"Your brothers? How many do you have?"

She clamped her mouth shut and clenched her fists, belatedly realizing she'd opened up to him again. Max guarded her privacy as zealously as she guarded Eyes Only's identity. Thus Will was surprised when she decided to answer him instead of just ignoring the question.

"A few," she mumbled. "We've lost touch over the years. Contact risks exposure. Capture."

He couldn't imagine being cut off from his parents, to know that a visit or a letter could put their lives in danger. After making a mental note to call his mother the next day, he said, "Still...you have family out there, even if it's not in the traditional sense. People who care about you."

"Yeah. I've got family."

She smiled sadly, staring out at the clouds that had gathered in the night sky, bringing with them the scent of rain and a gust of arctic wind that rattled the open window behind them. Max rubbed her hands over her arms, but Will knew that the cold came from inside, not from outside. At that moment, she looked more like a lost little girl than a superwoman.

He was falling in love with her.

The realization hit him with the force of one of her punches as he gazed at her in the moonlight, fascinated by the shadow and light that played across her face, drawn to the unique combination of strength and vulnerability, the intoxicating mixture of danger and sensuality...and the loneliness that he knew all too well. And for that brief breath of time, he was just a guy and she was just a girl, alone in the city with no thought beyond the next minute.

He leaned across the small space that separated them and damned the consequences as he pressed his lips gently against her forehead.

Before his mouth could even begin to warm her cool skin, she slipped back into the apartment, leaving him outside, foolishly kissing a shadow.

At least she hadn't tossed him off the fire escape.


Life in 21st century Seattle wasn't all that far removed from how life must have been in the early days of the city's settlement, particularly if one occupied an apartment illegally. Cold water for bathing, erratic electricity, no phone, no TV, nothing that might require the user to provide an address. The one difference was that the original settlers probably hadn't had to make regular payments to corrupt cops so they and the other residents could keep a roof over their heads.

So Will had to return to the little diner and the soap addict waitress to call his mother the next morning. Phone service was uncertain at best, so she would not have been expecting a call, although he knew she was worried about him traveling so far away from home. His parents had tried to have other children, but without success, and while she wasn't smothering or overprotective, Dana Scully cherished her only child. She hadn't wanted him to come out here, but he had begged and bargained and assured her that Uncle Melvin would be providing food and shelter. In the end she had loved him enough to let him go.

"Mom?"

"William? Is that you?" She refused to call him Will, even though she and her father still called each other "Scully" and "Mulder," just as they had when they had worked together at the FBI. How weird was that?

"Yeah, Mom." They had a clear connection, at least for the moment. "What's up? How's Dad?"

"I'm giving my last final this afternoon, then I'm going to finish up my Christmas shopping. Your father's not back yet from his annual pilgrimage to Graceland. Apparently there have been spottings of something called an Ozark Howler around the Arkansas/Missouri border." She gave a long-suffering sigh. "But how are you, honey? How's Uncle Melvin?"

"Oh, he's fine. Sends his love. I -- We haven't located Zeus Genetics yet, but Dad was right about Project Manticore. I've met one of the X-5s, and Max's abilities are very similar to mine -- more advanced, in fact. I'd be willing to bet there are other facilities working with this technology in the area, either in competition or cooperation with Vivadyne Labs. Maybe Zeus is one of them, running under a different name."

"Just be careful, Will. I did some research and those kids at Manticore escaped before they completed testing. There could be psychological or physical repercussions from the experimental processes that no one knows about. One of the earliest groups displayed psychotic behavior."

"I'm always careful, Mom. Besides, Max is one of the most together people I've ever met. She's been showing me around town, introducing me to the right contacts..."

"*She*?"

Will grabbed a fork and raked the tines across the mouthpiece. "What? Sorry, Mom... Breaking up. See you soon."

He ate a quick breakfast and was one of the first messengers to arrive at Jam Pony, receiving an approving nod from Normal and claiming the bike he'd used the day before. Business was slow early in the morning, so he played a lazy basketball game in the back with a couple of the other guys until Max and Original Cindy strolled in. When Normal called Max over to his desk, Will started to go back to the basketball court, but Original Cindy grabbed his arm and led him over to the soda machine in the corner. She reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a dollar bill, then stuck it in the machine and pushed a button. After opening the soda and pocketing the change, she gave him a smile.

"Now listen...Original Cindy's gonna drop some free advice on you, 'cause you just bought her a soda. While there's nothin' I enjoy more than watching you heteros do your little mating dances, sistah-girl over there is already taken."

"And your point would be...?"

She shook her head sadly. "Whitebread, you want to survive this bitch, best start wearing your heart on the *inside* of your sleeve."

Before Will could reply, Normal called him over for a delivery run and he was able to escape. Pumping hard on the bike, he dodged traffic and pedestrians, skidded around corners, and leaped over potholes until he nearly collided with a truck and forced himself to slow down. It was useless to try to outrace the anger and frustration, anyway -- not at Cindy, but at himself. He'd let Max -- or rather, his attraction to her -- distract him from the reason he was here. He'd lost his focus. And though it pained him to admit it, even with Logan out of the picture, he had no chance with a woman like her to begin with.

He had to just survive this bitch and then go home.

Jam Pony was busy that day, messengers going back out almost as soon as they arrived, so Will didn't have much time for self-pity or introspection. He was coming back from a delivery in Sector 5 on cruise control, taking a little extra time to catch his breath between runs, when the sign on a nearby building caught his eye and he slammed the bike to a stop.

Jupiter, Inc.

Jupiter. The Roman name for the god Zeus.

How stupid of him not to consider that Zeus might have changed names. But would they have chosen a new name that maintained such a close association to the previous one? Either they were extremely confident that no one would question it -- after all, how many people in modern day Seattle could recite the names of the Roman *and* Greek gods? -- or this was purely a coincidence.

He needed to get back to work.

But what would be the harm in stopping to rest for a few minutes? Get off the bike, stretch out those cramped muscles, just stroll around the outside of the building. No "No Trespassing" signs, no growling dogs, no warnings about private property.

No reason not to open the front door and walk in.

He could have been standing in the lobby of any of a dozen small corporations -- even a waiting room at a doctor's office -- although the off-white walls, pale blue carpet, and plain furnishings certainly weren't meant to impress. Three chairs sat on either side of the room, those wooden chairs with upholstered seats that were comfortable for about five minutes. A low, round table in the middle of the room held the usual assortment of popular magazines, surprisingly up- to-date, but nothing to indicate what kind of work might be done here.

The reception area opposite the front door was enclosed, with a sliding glass window for communication with the outer office. Will walked up to the window, and although it looked as though someone had been working there and he tapped lightly on the glass, no one came to greet him or chase him out.

A door on his left apparently led past the receptionist's desk to the inner offices. After knocking and getting no response, he tried the knob, expecting it to be locked. Instead it turned easily, and he entered.

If this was some kind of genetic research lab, they needed to strengthen their security.

The receptionist's work area was on his right; he found himself standing near a counter that held a phone, notepad and pen, apparently for visitors' convenience. The desk was cluttered with the usual office paraphenalia -- pens, paper, stapler -- plus a computer and a multi-line phone. The only sign of personalization was a small framed photo of a baby in one corner.

A copier, fax machine and shredder occupied the back wall, next to two large filing cabinets -- locked. There were restrooms to his immediate left, and then a short corridor lined with doors, all closed. If he hadn't heard the muffled voices and faint sounds of telephones ringing and keyboards clicking, he would have thought the place was deserted.

Since there were no windows facing the hallway and no one hanging around the water cooler, he felt relatively certain he could look around a bit without being noticed. Throat dry and heart pounding, he moved forward, expecting at any moment to hear alarms go off and security dogs barking.

The nameplates gave him no clue as to what activities might be going on here. D. Smith, Facilities Supervisor; T. Anderson, V.P. of Human Resources; B. Sheridan, Project Manager...He could have been at any company anywhere in the United States.

Will flinched at a noise behind him and pressed himself up against the wall as a middle-aged, heavy set woman came out of the restroom and entered the reception area. By some stroke of luck, she didn't glance down the hallway, but Will's relief was short-lived as he realized that getting out was now going to be a lot tougher than getting in. At least the Jam Pony ID would provide a decent cover story. Maybe he should just get out of here before one of these doors opened and somebody started asking questions...

"May I help you?"

The thick carpet had muffled the woman's approach from around the corner. She was probably close to 60 -- but one of those women with a timeless beauty that would always attract a man's attention. A hint of Scandanavian ancestry showed in her high cheekbones and silver-blonde hair. Her navy blue business suit was expertly tailored, the jacket hugging her narrow waist. The fashionably short skirt should have looked silly on a woman her age.

"May I help you?" she repeated in her low, throaty voice.

"I - uh - I was making a delivery and I got thirsty. I was looking for a drinking fountain."

She arched a delicate brow. "And Arlene sent you back here?"

"Well...to be honest, she wasn't at her desk, and the door was unlocked..."

She covered her surprise quickly and smiled. "If you're thirsty, I've got some bottled water in my office. It's much better than what comes out of the faucets around here. Come on in, Mr....?"

"Just call me Will."

Her perfectly manicured nails gleamed as she extended her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Will. My name is Marita."


He felt like an idiot.

Jupiter, Inc. was, indeed, a research facility. Marita gave him a pamphlet that described the company's achievements in reducing the risk of birth defects in problem pregnancies, which included glowing testimonials and pictures of proud parents with their perfect newborns. She even offered to take him on a tour of the premises.

"No thanks." Will finished the last of his water and set the glass down. "I really should get back to work."

"I understand." Marita smiled and stood up to walk him out. "If you don't mind my saying so, you don't seem like the bike messenger type. Are you working your way through college?"

"I haven't started college yet. I - I have some things to do first."

She nodded. "Well, we're always looking for bright young minds here at Jupiter. Just something to think about while you take care of those...other things."

She opened the door and he went out into the lobby, but stopped to thank her for the water and apologize for trespassing.

"That's all right." She smiled, then turned to the receptionist, who had been watching them curiously. "Arlene. I'd like to see you in my office."

Will got a glimpse of Arlene's face as the door swung shut.

She was terrified.

Her expression haunted him the rest of the afternoon. He didn't want his impulsive action to be the cause of someone getting fired. Jobs were hard to come by nowadays. After stumbling through an explanation to Normal of why a 40 minute run had taken him nearly an hour, he made the rest of his deliveries that day in record time -- not that Normal would acknowledge *that* -- and at the end of his shift he hopped back on his bike to go back to sector 4.

He wasn't sure what good it would do to go back -- but at least he could apologize to Arlene for getting her in trouble. Surely she hadn't gotten fired on his account, considering how nice Marita had been to him, when most people probably would have called the cops.

Will arrived at 1013 Cameron Street a few minutes before 5:00 and walked into the lobby.

A young man a few years older than Will with neatly trimmed dark hair, glasses and a blue lab coat sat at the desk, typing something into the computer. He looked up as Will approached.

"We're not expecting anything," he said, glancing at the Jam Pony ID.

"I don't have a delivery," Will replied, noticing that the small photo on the corner of the desk was gone. "I was looking for Arlene."

The man's pleasant expression vanished. "She no longer works here."

The front door opened and a large man entered the room, his jacket stretched across his broad shoulders, buttons straining against his chest. His iron-gray hair was cut in a military style, and Will would have bet that every strand was exactly the same length as the other. He gave Will a narrow gaze from pale gray-blue eyes and put a hand in his jacket pocket.

"We're closed," he said in a gravelly voice. "You need to leave."

"But I --"

"Now."

A dark van followed him at a discreet distance all the way back to Jam Pony. ___________

"License number CRMV 1121," he told Max after finding her at Crash. She had listened -- occasionally -- as he told her about his experience that afternoon, but seemed more interested in watching a couple of young male tourists try to put the moves on Original Cindy.

"I think it would be worth it to have Logan check that out," Will added, once again talking to the back of Max's head. "And see what we can find out about Jupiter Inc. and a Marita Covais."

Max finally gave him her attention. "So she made you drink imported water out of a real glass and offered you a job. Sounds like a bad-ass criminal mastermind to me."

"You didn't see that receptionist's face. She was scared to death."

Max shrugged. "She should've been. I would have fired her ass too."

"Look, I can't explain it, but I think something's going on there. Can't you and Logan just humor me?"

Max raised her glass toward Cindy as the two tourists slunk away, then turned back to Will. "You're going to have to wait a couple of days. There's a shipment of illegal weapons on its way here and Logan has this thing about saving the world."

"Five minutes. That's all I need."

"Hmm, that's funny. I thought you had super-hearing. I said just chill for a while. She stood up. "Come on, let's play pool."

Will shook his head. "No thanks. I'm going to take a walk."

He left the bar and headed back to the apartment. Max was right. He really had no reason to be suspicious of Marita or Jupiter, Inc., other than this vague feeling that something wasn't quite as it appeared to be -- and he hadn't inherited the uncanny intuition that his father had about these things. The last time he'd followed a hunch he'd lost $100 on a horse named Spooky.

He'd waited 18 years for this. He could wait a few more days.

Then he heard the footsteps.

Despite curfew still being hours away, the street was nearly deserted in the early winter twilight. Will quickly assessed his surroundings and chances of escape -- even as he wondered if he'd heard too many of the Lone Gunmen's conspiracy theories. But he soon realized that despite his heightened awareness, the person behind him was making no effort to hide his or her presence or be particularly stealthy.

"Hey!"

He stopped at the sharp command and turned to see a military cop approaching. Police presence in all sectors of Seattle was strong -- they monitored residences, stores, banks, and cruised the streets on cycles and on foot. Unlike many kids his age, Will had a healthy respect for authority, probably because his mother's brothers had all served in the military

"I.D. please." The man was face to face with him now, with the suspicious glare that most law enforcement officers seemed to have for 18-year-old males in old jeans and sweatshirts out after dark.

Will reached in his pocket for his identification card, knowing that being from out of state would probably prompt more questions. The officer scrutinized it with the aid of a small flashlight.

"Against the wall," he barked, and pushed Will toward a nearby building. "Hands up, feet apart."

"What is this? I haven't done anything."

"Eyes front." The officer frisked him quickly. "Put your hands behind you."

Respect for authority only went so far. Will put his hands down and turned around. "Not until you tell me what the hell's going on. Or at least read me my rights."

"You don't have any rights," the man sneered.

Just then a van pulled up a block down the street, its lights off, motor idling. The same van that had followed Will earlier that day.

He started to run. His first thought was to head back to the bar, but the van had blocked that route, two men already getting out to help their associate. He had to get to a more populated area, find a store or theater where even if no one would help him, at least there would be witnesses to whatever might happen.

Will swung right and dashed across the street, dodging cars and motorcycles, crashing into unwary pedestrians. He hoped he could lose his pursuers in the crowd, but every time he glanced behind him, the cop was still only a few yards behind. His lungs burned, his legs felt like rubber, but the adrenalin pushed him on. He stopped just in time to avoid a car speeding through the next intersection, flinching as the vehicle flew through the light only to crash into small truck. But the accident blocked the path of the man chasing him, and his uniform attracted the attention of the irate accident victim, who had grabbed him and demanded that he arrest the speeder.

Will ducked into a doorway and watched the scene for a few moments, but saw no sign of the two other men. With his hunters otherwise occupied, he decided to backtrack using an alternate route and meet up with Max at the bar. After all, there was safety in numbers, particularly when one of those numbers could beat up a handful of guys without breaking a sweat.

He was a block away from the bar when he heard the van and was able to squeeze into the narrow space between two buildings just before it appeared around the corner. The vehicle cruised slowly down the street, stopped in front of the bar, then began to back up.

They couldn't have seen him. Will slipped a little farther into the darkness, realizing as he did so that he was in a blind alley. The only way out was the way he had come in. He pressed himself up against the wall, hoping that his pursuers would think the space was so small that he would have passed it by.

Moments later the van's lights went on, shining directly into the narrow space, leaving nowhere for him to hide. A shadow cut across the the blinding glare.

"I'd suggest you come out of there and cooperate, boy, or I *will* use force."

The sentence was punctuated by the distinctive click of a gun's safety being switched off.

"Okay." Will took off his Jam Pony ID and dropped it on the ground, hoping that if Max or someone came looking for him they'd know he hadn't left voluntarily. Then he raised his hands in a gesture of surrender and moved toward the opening of the alley, still hoping to make a break for it once he got out of the confining space.

He never had a chance. Men waited on each side of the opening and they immediately grabbed his arms, twisting them behind him, while the third man, the faux cop, fastened a pair of handcuffs securely on his wrists. Even then, the men kept their iron grip on his arms, dragging him toward the van. His cry for help was cut off by a strip of duct tape pressed across his mouth. He tried to kick out at them as they threw him into the back of the vehicle, but one of the men just grabbed his legs and bound them together with rope as the vehicle squealed away from the curb and sped off into the night.


When Will was 7, he had accidentally locked himself in the storage closet in a new house. His parents had been busy moving boxes and hadn't heard his cries for help, so it wasn't until his mother called him for lunch that they realized he was missing. He had been stuck in the small, musty, dark space for about a half an hour, but it had seemed like days to the frightened child. Occasionally he still had nightmares about being trapped in a confined space, in the dark, unable to cry out for help.

Except that this was no dream. Will fought down his terror and tried to think clearly. The tape on his mouth was already loose -- not that it would do him any good to yell for help at this point, but they had to stop sometime -- and the rope around his ankles was snug, but he might be able to work free. The handcuffs would be on until someone took them off.

He tried to gauge how long they had been on the road and how far they had traveled, but his anxiety had distorted his perception of time, and he wasn't sure if it had been a few minutes or an hour. Judging by the frequency of stops and starts, he assumed they were still in the city, but there were no windows in the back of the van and he couldn't see anything out front except an occasional streetlight.

He would just have to wait and hope for an opportunity to escape. He started working at the ropes around his ankles, trying to loosen them without attracting his captors' attention.

About an hour later, the van slowed and took a right turn. Gravel crunched under the wheels as they crept uphill for about a half-mile, then the van stopped. The driver turned the engine off and got out as Will's guards moved into position, one at his head, one at his feet.

He thought he had managed to get the rope slack enough that one quick movement would set him free, and tried to go limp as they picked him up, to make them think he'd decided to accept his fate and cooperate. The man holding his legs had to back out of the van, which put him in an vulnerable position momentarily, one foot on the ground, the other balanced on the bumper.

Will thrust his legs up and out, catching the man square in the chest. As he had hoped, the rope fell away with his sudden movement and his captor tumbled to the ground. Distracted by the unexpected turn of events, the man holding his shoulders momentarily relaxed his grip. Using his legs for leverage, Will heaved himself backward, shoving the man against the back of the front seat. Then he struggled out of the van and implemented part two of his plan.

He ran like hell.

The van was parked near a long, low building that seemed to be a warehouse of some kind, surrounded on all sides by a wooded area. They had left the city and its lights far behind -- the only illumination besides the moon out here was a bulb directly over the door. While the deeper darkness would hinder Will's pursuers, it also made his escape more difficult as he stumbled over the uneven ground. The handcuffs made running treacherous -- if he fell on the rough terrain or dew-slick grass, he wouldn't be able to cushion the blow with his hands. At least the tape had slipped off his mouth at some point so he could breathe easily.

One of the men tackled him about halfway down the drive. He was still seeing stars as they dragged him back to the building.

They took him to a room that resembled a doctor's examining area. Two folding chairs and a small table sat in one corner. A sink with a few medical instruments and some latex gloves next to the basin occupied one side of the room, flanked by what appeared to be supply cabinets. On the opposite side of the room was the sight that chilled Will to the core -- a gurney with leather restraints.

When he saw the gurney he began to struggle again. At that moment the door across from him opened and Marita Covais walked in. She took in his grass-stained, torn clothes and the lump on his head, her sharp gaze raking across his captors.

"I said not to hurt him."

One of them mumbled an excuse, which she waved aside. "Take those handcuffs off." As they did so, she brought the two chairs forward and sat down in one, gesturing for Will to sit in the other. His captors released him reluctantly, and he sat down opposite Marita, flinching when she reached toward him to examine his abused wrists. She smiled warmly at him, as if they were sitting down for afternoon tea.

"I apologize for their behavior, Mr. Mulder. Subtlety has become a lost art."

Will jerked his hands out of her grasp. "How did you know my name?"

"You were kind enough to leave your fingerprints all over my water glass this afternoon. But I could see the family resemblance immediately. I was a friend of your father's."

"He's never mentioned you."

Her smile faded. "No...I don't suppose he has. How *are* your parents, William?"

"Fine."

"I'm glad."

"Well, now that you're up to date, I'll just be going -- " Will started to get up only to be shoved back into the chair by his guards.

"Oh, that's not why you're here." Marita stood up and walked over to the counter by the sink. "I've heard you're a very special young man, William. A genetic anomaly."

"I'm just a bike messenger, Ms. Covais."

She picked up something and put it to her lips. Immediately a shrieking sound pierced through Will's brain. He doubled over in pain and clamped his hands over his ears. The noise stopped and Marita walked back over to him.

"That was a dog whistle, William. Something no human should be able to hear."

"So you're saying there's a German Shepherd in my background somewhere?" Will retorted.

She looked startled at his flip comment, then laughed. "Just like your father... in more ways than one. I suppose you've heard the theory that we're all descended not from apes, but from aliens? That all of us have an area in the brain referred to as the God module, inactive and unaccessed in most but active in a few rare individuals -- as it was once in your father. These individuals are more alive, more aware than the rest of us."

"My parents have told me about Gibson Praise and the discovery of those artifacts in Africa while my father was -- hospitalized. None of it could ever be scientifically verified."

"Because no one knew how to control the gift, how to cultivate it and use it.... They were afraid of its potential power. Our work here is to harness that power, to activate the dormant DNA that exists in all of us, to create a stronger, smarter human."

"Like the Manticore project?"

She smiled. "We compete with Vivadyne and a few other facilities for government funding, yes. But we have a number of private investors here and abroad. It's the supply of alien DNA that has become a concern. The original Roswell source has long been depleted, and the extraterrestrial wars have virtually halted visits to Earth by potential colonists, who we could sometimes persuade to assist us. There are a few hybrids scattered about, but the toxicity of their blood reduces their viability and endangers our researchers."

"That's too bad," Will muttered. "But what does this have to do with me?"

"You are aware that the circumstances surrounding your birth were...unusual."

Will shook his head. "My mother underwent some unsuccessful in vitro attempts, and the pregnancy was difficult. But Dana Scully and Fox Mulder are my biological parents."

"That's exactly why we need you. They were both exposed to the alien virus in the course of their investigations, as well as the vaccine used to fight that virus. You know that a vaccine is actually a weakened form of the disease...or in this case, alien DNA. Thus any product of their combined genes would be an excellent source of alien DNA -- a missing link, so to speak, closer to that of those first colonists than anything since Roswell."

"So you need blood or saliva or something?" He didn't want to think about any other possibilities.

"We just want to run some tests, William. I won't lie to you. It won't be pleasant. But the ultimate outcomes -- the advancement of the species, the expanded possibilities in the fields of medicine and science, enhanced creativity ... the potential for a nearly utopian society... far outweigh any temporary physical discomfort, don't you agree?"

"If your work is so beneficial to mankind, why all the secrecy? Why kidnap your test subjects if this is such a noble endeavor?"

"As I mentioned, we *are* in competition with a few other groups. People like Donald Lydecker at Project Manticore would have no qualms about stealing our research to use for their own agenda of violence and subjugation. As far as our acquisition of test subjects, I have found in my research that people tend to be self-absorbed creatures, valuing their own safety and health over that of the general population. It is my hope that in the course of our work here, you'll come to think differently."

"So your dedication has nothing to do with lucrative government or corporate contracts or some kind of twisted God complex?"

She shrugged. "I didn't say that."

She gave a brief nod to the men behind Will, who grabbed him and dragged him toward the gurney. He fought with all his strength, and had managed to throw one of them off and give another one a bloody nose before the door burst open and three more men came in. Within seconds he was immobilized by the restraints as Marita stood over him.

"My friends know I was being followed," he gasped. "People will be looking for me."

She brushed his hair off his forehead and gave him an indulgent smile. "You said it yourself, William -- you're just a bike messenger. People disappear in Seattle every day. You're miles away from the city in the middle of a well-guarded, soundproofed, and nearly invisible facility." As he fought against the restraints, she went over to the counter, put on a pair of latex gloves, and picked up a hypodermic needle.

"This is our first test. I'm going to inject you with a weakened form of the vaccine, which will activate that dormant part of your brain. You're about to enter a new dimension, William, to experience the world as few other humans ever have."

"Please...don't do this. I swear, I won't tell anyone what's going on here..."

Someone grabbed his head, holding it still.

He screamed as the needle pierced his temple.


Will faded in and out of consciousness in those first few minutes, partly from the agonizing, blinding pain and partly as his conscious mind recoiled from the horrifying reality of what was happening to him. He was vaguely aware of activity in the room around him as someone took his pulse, hooked up an IV, drew a blood sample.

As the pain and shock faded, he lay as still as possible with his eyes closed, and tried to assess what was happening in his body and mind.

Strangely, he didn't feel any different. Maybe the worst was over, at least for now. If only everyone would be quiet. It sounded like a dozen people were in the room, probably staring at him, taking notes, recording his reactions...

Will opened his eyes to find himself alone except for a scowling guard sitting near the door.

But he could still hear the voices, as if there were a party of invisible people in the room. He could make out individual words occasionally, and thought he heard Marita talking to one of her associates. Was this part of the test? Had the injection further enhanced his hearing, or had it simply brought on some kind of auditory hallucination? He raised his head to look at the guard and his head began to pound at the movement.

"Excuse me..." he murmured. "I'd like to see Ms. Covais, please."

"Shut up, you stupid kid. How'd I get stuck with babysitting detail, anyway?"

The man never opened his mouth, yet Will heard the words as clearly as if he had spoken out loud. A chill went through him as he remembered his father talking about the voices -- the incessant voices buzzing in his head, how he could read people's thoughts. How it had nearly driven him insane.

The muted murmur of conversation grew louder, seemed to swell inside his head as the door opened and Marita came in with two strangers in white lab coats and one of the men who had brought him here. He could hear them all, even though no one spoke as they gathered around the bed, and found that if he focused on a specific person, he could understand what that individual was thinking. Marita met and held his gaze.

*You know what I'm thinking, don't you?*

He nodded.

"Good," she spoke aloud. "Can you tell me what Dr. Simpson is thinking?" She gestured toward one of the white-coats, an emaciated looking man with his gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, who leaned forward eagerly.

*There could be a Nobel prize in this for us. I wonder if she'll let me dissect the brain.*

Will shuddered. "Don't leave me alone with him."

"And this is Dr. Pauley."

Dr. Pauley was a young woman, probably not long out of med school, with poorly trimmed hair and thick glasses. She pushed her glasses up on her nose and stared at Will.

*He looks sad. I wish we didn't have to hurt him.*

"I wish you didn't either."

As Dr. Pauley stepped back in shock, Marita smiled. "Wonderful." Then she opened a manila envelope. "I have a set of cards here. Some have pictures and some have words. I'd like you to tell me what --"

"Cat. Drive. Snake. Mother." God, he wanted his mother right now. "Pipe. Barn. Elephant."

They applauded as if he were an infant who had just spoken his first words. As they checked his vital signs he let their thoughts and words wash over him. It was too exhausting to try to focus on just one person, and he didn't particularly want to know the details of what they were planning to do. Especially Dr. Simpson, who was nearly salivating as he hooked up an EEG machine.

He knew he should be trying to think of a way to escape but the voices made concentration on his own thoughts nearly impossible. His best hope was probably Dr. Pauley, who seemed sympathetic, but did she really see him as a human being, or was it the same feeling she might have for a lab rat right before she injected him with a deadly virus?

Hell, even if he could get free he was in no shape to try to escape. The headache he'd had since awakening was getting worse. The lights in the room hurt his eyes, and the noise level ebbed and flowed, making him feel nauseated. Suddenly he had an idea that might at least buy him some time before the next round of tests.

"Gonna be sick --" he moaned.

"Let him up, he'll choke," Dr. Simpson said, and hands fumbled to undo the straps across Will's chest and arms. Marita grabbed a small basin as Drs. Pauley and Simpson raised Will to a sitting position. A jackhammer began pounding behind his eyes at the abrupt movement and as his stomach heaved in sympathy, he didn't have to worry about convincing them he was really sick.

The next few minutes passed in a blur. Their thoughts swirled around him -- Dr. Pauley was worried, Dr. Simpson irritated, and Marita was trying to determine if this was some kind of trick, even as she patted his back and murmured kind words. The other two men were fighting their own nausea, as far away from him as they could get without actually leaving the room.

Finally, shaky and sweating, Will fell back against the pillow and lay quietly while Dr. Simpson reattached the EEG and IV that had come loose. But when the doctor reached for one of the straps, Will grasped his hand.

"Please...I - I won't try to escape."

Dr. Simpson glanced at Marita, who was standing on the opposite side of the gurney.

Will took advantage of her hesitation. "What if I get sick again and you're not here? Do you think either of those guys is going to help me?"

The two guards were still lurking in the corner.

One sneered at him. *You can choke to death for all I care.*

Marita couldn't hear their thoughts, but their attitude was obvious. She gave Will a suspicious glance, and he tried to appear weak and pathetic. Not much of a stretch at that particular moment.

"Oh, all right," she sighed. "You're in no condition to go anywhere, I suppose. Let's remove the restraints."

Will was glad she couldn't read *his* mind.

"This was my fault," she said. "I should have let you become accustomed to your new abilities before we started testing you." She glanced at her watch. "Why don't you try to get some rest and we'll come back later."

"C- could someone stay with me for a while, in case I feel sick again?" he asked, his gaze going to Dr. Pauley.

"I'll stay." She gave him a reassuring smile.

"Fine," Marita said. "Harry, you stay too," she ordered the man who'd been in the room when Will had awakened. Then she, Dr. Simpson, and the other guard left.

Harry settled back in his chair and pulled a book out of his jacket. Dr. Pauley pulled one of the folding chairs over to the gurney and sat down, scribbling on her chart.

"What are you writing?" Will asked.

"Oh. Ms. Covais wants us to keep track of your physiological and emotional reactions to the testing. I'm just making some preliminary notes while the impressions are still fresh."

Will glanced over at Harry, who appeared to be engrossed in his book. "You're not going to write that I threw up, are you?"

She smiled at his obvious embarrassment. "Sorry. It's got to go in the report."

"May I see?"

She hesitated, then handed him the chart -- and her pen, just as he had hoped. "You're very thorough," he said for Harry's benefit as he wrote "Call Jam Pony Messenger Service. Ask for Max."

He handed her back the chart.

She stared down at what he had written, then at him, and shook her head. "I can't do that," she whispered.

"Please," he whispered back. "Help me."

"I have to go," she said, and almost knocked over the chair in her haste to get out of the room.

All he could do now was wait. _______________ He and Harry were both dozing by the time Marita and the doctors came back. Will had intended to spend that time thinking of a brilliant escape plan, but the stress of the past few hours and Harry's droning thoughts had lulled him to sleep. Their voices woke him, but he also discovered he was better able to push them into the background and learning how to separate one from another.

Dr. Simpson checked the EEG readouts, making some marks here and there as Marita once again checked Will's vital signs to be sure everything still functioned normally. Dr. Pauley hung back, looking nervous. Will wanted to reassure her that he understood her reluctance to help, but couldn't say anything without giving away their earlier conversation.

They performed similar tests to the ones that had been done earlier and asked him a lot of questions about his physical and emotional state. Marita did most of the talking, while Dr. Simpson eyed him as if he were the turkey at a Thanksgiving dinner and Dr. Pauley rarely looked at him at all. He was allowed to go to the restroom -- with Harry waiting outside the door, of course -- and was splashing water on his face when he heard the conversation down the hall.

"It's too soon."

"No, we have to do the procedure immediately. His reactions have to be monitored from the first day, to determine the adjustment period."

"You know patients with this kind of brain activity don't react to sedatives or anesthetics. He'll be awake through the whole thing and terrified."

"The neuro inhibitor will produce a temporary paralysis. Besides, I don't know why he should be afraid. The procedure itself is painless. I've done hundreds of them."

"Hey, did you fall in?" Harry's voice broke through the more distant conversation, startling Will from his horrified trance.

"I -- Uh -- I think I'm going to --" He began making gagging noises, although he felt as if he really might throw up again. He had to get out of here. Now.

*Stupid kid,* Harry's thoughts drifted in to him. *I ain't cleanin' that up.*

"I need some help."

*Shit. I don't get paid enough for... Where is he?*

As Harry opened the stall door, Will, who had been standing on the toilet seat, kicked him in the jaw. Harry staggered backward and hit his head on the wall, then slipped to the floor, unconscious. Will took off the man's jacket and pants, hoping that the minimal disguise might buy him a little time before someone looked too closely. After a moment of hesitation, he grabbed the gun from Harry's shoulder holster and left the bathroom. He'd use the weapon on himself, if he had to, before he'd let that butcher Simpson slice and dice his brain.

He crept down the hallway, all his senses on high alert, listening to the sounds and conversations around him, narrowly avoiding capture more than once by hearing someone thinking about their grocery list as they watched a doorway.

Marita hadn't been bluffing about the facility being secure. No entrance or exit was unguarded. The windows were not only out of his reach, but criss-crossed with thick wire. There was probably an electronic security system as well, and no doubt the grounds were heavily patrolled.

He stared down at the gun in his hand and wondered if he was going to have to try to shoot his way out. How far would he get before he was killed or recaptured? He'd never even fired a weapon except at a firing range under carefully controlled conditions.

An alarm went off above his head.

Panicked, Will ducked into a nearby storage closet. The bleat of the alarm was like a knife stabbing at his hyper-sensitive ears, and the voices in his head grew louder, more jumbled as dozens of people began responding to the emergency. In his exhaustion, for a few moments all he could do was huddle in the darkness, drowning in the noise.

*Sounds like someone saved me the trouble of breaking into this bitch.*

Max was here.

But would she find him before *they* did?


Will quickly realized that a storage closet probably wasn't the most imaginative place to hide. While that might make it easier for Max to find him, it would make it easier for anybody else in the immediate vicinity as well. He'd have to take his chances on the outside. Glancing down at Harry's ill-fitting clothes, he wondered how many people searching for him actually knew what he looked like. In the controlled chaos, would anyone pay much attention to one more suit with a gun? At a moment of silence in the hallway, Will opened the closet door and slipped out, hoping he was heading in Max's direction. Or at least away from Marita and Dr. Demento.

He forced himself not to turn and run the other way as a group of three men jogged toward him, but instead concentrated on hearing their thoughts, which turned out to be totally occupied on finding the escaped prisoner -- a kid in old jeans and a ragged sweatshirt. Will breathed a sigh of relief as they passed by. But Harry would be found soon, and they would remember the young man in the baggy suit they had seen in the hallway.

He tried to sort through the cacophony of voices swirling in his head to locate Max, and found some small comfort in discovering that the orders were to capture him alive. He could feel the fear and anger swirling around him, the darkness of men who hunted and killed, like a palpable presence stalking the halls.

*The east entrance, Will. They haven't got the east entrance covered.*

Dr. Pauley's urgent tone broke through the general murmur, and he was startled to hear his name -- as if she was attempting to communicate with him, to send him a message. But was it a trap or was she trying to help? And which way was east?

*Damn, Will, where is your skinny ass?*

Max. She sounded close.

A hand reached out and snatched the gun away from him, and he found himself staring into the cold, dark eyes of a killer. A beautiful, lethal weapon.

"Come on." Max grabbed his arm and they began to run.

*Will. The east entrance. Please....hurry.*

"Head for the east entrance," Will whispered, hoping Max had a better idea of where she was than he did. She held his hand in a bone-crushing grip, moving swiftly and silently while he lumbered along behind her, gasping for breath. The voices in his head rose and fell, depending on how close their pursuers were. Unfortunately, he couldn't always tell if they were heading away from or toward danger, and as they rounded a corner, they came face to face with two of the guards.

Max shoved Will aside and charged at the first man, who hesitated, startled by her aggressive move. As she gave him a vicious head butt, the other man grabbed her from behind. She threw him off as if he were an old winter coat, and he crashed into the wall. The first man, sprawled on the floor, blood all over his face, managed to grab at Max's ankle and drag her to the floor. With a roar he lunged at her throat, but in a lightning fast move she planted her feet against his chest and shoved him backward -- into the second man, who was staggering forward to help his buddy. They both tumbled to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs as Max grabbed Will's hand and they began to run again.

It wasn't the only time they would be stopped -- but Max seemed to view each encounter as a minor annoyance rather than a potentially fatal battle. Even if she had allowed Will to help, he would have only been in the way as she subdued the men with an athletic, graceful and deadly
Series of kicks and punches -- so quietly and quickly that they never had a chance to raise an alarm. Their own blows seemed to glance off her, when they could actually made contact. Most of the time they found themselves flailing at thin air.

She defied physics and gravity, combining the agility of a cat with the fierceness and unholy joy in battle of an ancient warrior, fearlessly taking on three men at a time, all of them twice her size. Then she moved stealthily and confidently through the hallways, never hesitating at which direction to go next.

Finally they arrived at the east entrance -- unguarded. Max pushed down the bar handle and shoved against the thick metal door. It didn't budge.

"Shit. I knew this was too good to be true." She glanced behind her at the still empty hallway, then knelt down beside the door and pulled a small leather case out of her jumpsuit.

*Lock down the east door.*

"They're coming," Will murmured.

"I don't hear anything." She opened the case to reveal several tiny picks and tools that looked like surgical instruments, then went to work on the lock.

Will watched her as the voices kept getting louder.

"Max, I don't want to rush you, but --"

"Don't be paranoid, Will. Just a few more seconds..."

"We don't have a few more seconds."

She glared up at him, then her sensitive ears picked up the sound of footsteps. Moments later they found themselves trapped in the narrow hallway by four men.

"We've got 'em," one murmured into his headset as they approached. "Yeah. There's some chick with him." He paused and gave Max a lingering glance. "Nah... no back up."

"Now that's a *big* mistake," Max remarked.

She was on him even as he reached for his gun, kicking the weapon out of reach and then whirling to elbow him sharply in the ribs. As he doubled over, she clasped her hands together and delivered a heavy blow to the back of his neck. He sank to the floor with a groan.

"Max, look out!" Will called as a big man in an ugly checkered jacket grabbed her from behind. Immediately afterward Will was tackled from the side by the smallest of the four, who still outweighed him by a good 30 pounds. They slammed into the wall.

"I don't care what the orders are, I'm gonna kill you," the man growled as he closed his hands around Will's throat.

*And then I'm gonna have some fun with her.*

The man's thought sent a surge of anger through Will, who lunged forward, catching him off guard, and they crashed into the opposite wall. The impact loosened the man's grip on Will's throat and Will jerked free, then threw all his weight into a left hook, connecting with a satisfying "crack" on the man's jaw. The thug slumped to the floor as pain radiated up Will's hand into his shoulder.

This looked so easy when Max did it.

She had finished off two of the men and was battling the last one, who had just gotten in a lucky punch that put her on her back. Even as Will stepped forward to help, however, she had flipped back up and kicked out in one blurred motion.

The man crashed to the floor like a felled redwood.

Max leaped over him and knelt beside the door to finish her work. She was about to push the door open when Will grabbed her arm.

"The alarm system."

"Logan's on it."

They left the building, then scrambled through the woods for about half a mile before they got to the van where Logan waited with the engine running.

No one relaxed until they had gone a few miles and no other cars appeared behind them.

"How did you find me?" Will leaned back against the soft leather seat with a weary sigh. Every muscle in his body ached, and his hand was still tingling unpleasantly. He had scratches all over his face and arms from their little trip through the woods. Max, on the other hand, looked as if she had just returned from a leisurely stroll.

"One of the bouncers at the bar saw the van and then found your ID," Logan replied. "We traced the license plate back to Jupiter, Inc. Max paid them a little visit and -- er -- persuaded one of the employees to give her the location of the lab. 'Eyes Only' has already put the word out. It won't be long before the authorities move in and shut them down." Logan eased the vehicle off the bumpy side road and onto the highway that led back to Seattle.

"Will, how'd you know about the east entrance?" Max asked. "It didn't show up on the diagram I had."

"You wouldn't believe it if I told you," he groaned. "And by the way, my ass isn't skinny."

He took great pleasure in seeing the unflappable Max look startled.

He felt safe for the first time in what seemed like days, and the voices in his head seemed to be gradually fading. Either he was getting accustomed to his new ability or the effects of the vaccine were temporary. As Logan and Max talked in the front seat, he dozed in the back.

But as they got closer to the city, the buzzing in his head began to increase. The volume and intensity kept rising, and the headache that had become a simple nuisance returned full-force. He realized that they had simply been away from other people, and that as they approached civilization, he was hearing not just a handful of thoughts, not even hundreds...but thousands.

Max grasped his hand. He thought she must be asking him what was wrong. He could see her mouth moving, but he couldn't hear her over the roar in his head. He tried to explain, but he wasn't sure he was getting the words out. His own thoughts were carried along in the tumult of screams, cries, laughter, whispers...like drops of water tossed into the raging rapids, he couldn't distinguish them. It hurt too much to try to focus. The pain became blinding, as if the voices were filling his brain to capacity, like a balloon blown up and up and up...

Someone put something in his mouth, made him swallow and then drink, but he knew the medication wouldn't touch the pain, wouldn't muffle the noise, wouldn't help him...

Nothing would help him ...

The only thing he could do was cling to Max's hand as he sank under the weight of the voices, drowning in sound. ____________ Silence.

Beautiful silence.

Will lay as still as he could, afraid that even the slightest movement would wake the demons in his head again, that the dull ache in his temples would flare into agony if he so much as turned his head. But as he became more aware of his surroundings, of the soft clicking of a keyboard, the hum of a refrigerator, faint traffic noise, he realized he couldn't hear anyone's thoughts except his own.

He opened his eyes, wincing at the bright light streaming in a nearby window. Now the pain would start. Now the roar would begin to build gradually, steadily...But nothing happened. A shadow fell across him and he slowly opened his eyes again to see Max and Logan at his bedside.

"Where am I?"

Max pulled up a chair and sat down. "At Logan's. You've been out for about twelve hours."

Will sat up cautiously. "What have I missed?"

"The facility where you were held is being currently being swarmed over by a dozen different agencies," Logan informed him. "Seems like everyone from the AMA to the IRS had an interest in Jupiter, Inc. The local cops made a few arrests and brought in a couple of doctors for questioning. Ms. Covais' current whereabouts, however, remain unknown."

"I stopped by the office this afternoon," Max said. "Locked up tight. Looks like everybody left in a big hurry." She handed him a file. "I did find this, though. Thought you might want to see it."

His name was on the folder.

"Thanks." He set it aside. "Maybe later."

"I also managed to locate Melvin Frohike." Logan looked very pleased with himself. "He's currently hiding out in Vancouver with Byers and Langly, under the alias of John Gillnitz. But he told me how we can contact him, when you're up to it."

"Thank you." Will swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. "Thank you both for...everything."

"We should let you get some rest." Logan backed his chair away from the bed and wheeled out of the room. Max followed, then stopped at the door, turning back to Will.

"Hey...when you're feeling better, I've got something to show you."

It was a long time before he went back to sleep.


Epilogue

"Wow. This is amazing."

Will sat next to Max on top of the Space Needle, looking out at the lights of the city below -- or at least what he could see through the ever-present clouds.

"Told you."

"I just wish there was an easier way to get up here than all those stairs."

"There is." She pointed toward a stout cord attached to the structure. The end of the rope drifted somewhere far below, out of sight.

Will stared at Max. "If you were anybody else, I'd think you were kidding."

For a few moments they sat in companionable silence, each lost in their own thoughts, enjoying a rare moment of peace and quiet. They were so far above the city that Will's sensitive ears couldn't even pick up traffic noises. He savored the rare experience of feeling like a normal person.

Sure. Lots of normal people hung out on the Space Needle after midnight.

"What are you smiling about?" Max asked.

"Sometimes I'm just glad I'm not normal."

She gave him the same amused, slightly exasperated look he'd seen his mother give his father from time to time -- usually when he was explaining one of his wilder theories. "Did you ever read that file?"

He shook his head. "I gave it to Logan. Whatever's in there... Fox Mulder and Dana Scully will always be my mother and father. No lab report, no amount of testing will change that."

She sighed, and he knew she was thinking of her own past, with no real home, no loving parents. "So now what?"

"I'll spend some time with my uncles in Vancouver. Maybe see if we can track Marita, or find out if there are more 'test subjects' being held against their will."

"I'll sleep better tonight knowing you and Logan are out there saving the world." She stood up and hooked one end of the cord to her waist. "But for now, gotta buzz. You coming?"

"I'll take the conventional route." He gestured toward the door behind him. She shrugged. "Suit yourself." Then she launched herself off the top of the Space Needle in a graceful swan dive. Will leaped to his feet and moved cautiously over to the edge, his heart in his throat, barely able to see the dark outline dancing through the clouds.

He stared at the rope, the impossibly thin piece of material that was the only thing keeping her from crashing into the cement far below, and wondered what it would be like, to dangle high above the city, to glide through the air, laughing in the face of death. To be fearless. To fly.

Maybe he'd stick around for a few more days before he headed to Vancouver.

The End


*Thanks for sticking with me! I'd love to know what you thought of Will and Max. Please send me a note

Read More Like This Write One Like This
Kid William fics list
Get William Back! list
William's 13th Birthday Challenge
Christmas Reunion Challenge


Return to The Nursery Files home