Title: Chasing Shadows
Summary: Doggett looks into a possible lead on Mulder
Downtown Washington, DC
The woman at the counter of the Inn of the Dove Hotel looked up at the sound of the door opening to the lobby. She sighed heavily, slapping her paperback onto the counter, wistfully tracing her eyes over the generic "bodice-ripper" cover. "Just when I was getting to the good part, too...never fails..."
She glanced up at the visitor, and then clicked the button on the microphone. "How long, and how many?"
"Just me," the visitor replied, and the man's deep, raspy voice made the woman look up in interest. Sure enough, this was no ordinary john looking to make a score in a cheap hotel. This guy was quality material. Tight denim jeans, leather jacket, even a clean T-shirt. Sure, the sunglasses were a bit much, but she could still see the strong line of his jaw, and the slightly worn expression on his face. She could almost imagine what his eyes must be like. She also noted the rather large workout bag that he carried over his shoulder.
"Just you, huh?" she said, knowing better. "Meeting someone?"
"Room 113," he said with a smile. "Has she already arrived?"
The woman sniffed. She was hoping he was here for the old lady in 106. At least then she could have hoped for some fun after her shift ended. "Yeah, she's in there. Popular girl."
The man laughed, pulling out his wallet. "How much?"
"Depends on how long you intend to take, honey," the woman said, casually wiping at the security barrier to get an even better look.
"How about two hours?" he replied, leaning in just a little closer, as if to satisfy her curiosity.
"Fifty, then," she said quickly. "And sign in before you go."
The man slid the money through the barely open slot under the security barrier, and then signed his name on the soiled sheet of paper taped on his side of the plexiglass: Sean O'Donnell, 113. He scanned the page for another familiar name, and quickly found it: Donna Scoletti. He snapped his attention back to the matter at hand when he heard the woman behind the counter slide the key through the slot.
"Thanks, darlin'," the man said as he slipped past the counter on his way towards the rest of the hotel. The woman took another quick look while she still had the chance, and then cursed her usual luck before grabbing her paperback and getting back to her typical kind of evening.
The man quickly closed the door behind him, taking a good look at his companion for the evening. As he had expected, she had been waiting for him. One look at her made him drop the workout bag by the door, waiting for her greeting.
She was not a tall woman, but she more than made up for her lack of stature. The tight, black vinyl pants displayed an athletic build, something that he had appreciated more than once over the past few months. Similarly, her black vinyl halter top was stretched tightly over her chest, emphasizing her proportioned build. Oddly, she chose a halter that stretched down to her stomach, but he was not about to question her choices tonight. Her long blonde hair fell perfectly on the smoothness of her shoulders.
"It's about time," she said, sliding off the bed onto her feet. She wrapped her arms around his waist, slipping her hands up his back. "I was waiting for almost an hour."
"Sorry to keep you waiting," he said with a grin. Returning her embrace, he pressed his cheek against hers, whispering in her ear. "Did you check out the room?" He noted with satisfaction that the blinds were already drawn.
"You bet I did," she replied sternly. "And you're clean."
"Good." He pulled away quickly, and let her step back out of his grasp. Pulling off his leather jacket, he tossed it on the bed. "I think I managed to get here without a tail." He slid his sunglasses into his pocket.
"Same here." Agent Dana Scully pulled the blonde wig from her head, tossing it onto the chair by the window. Without hesitation, she grabbed the leather jacket on the bed and pulled it over her shoulders. "Mind if I use your jacket? I had to lock the guys in the bathroom. They were just standing there, staring at me."
Agent John Doggett shook his head. "Not a problem. Though they might still stare." Scully flashed him a scowl, and then walked over to the bathroom door. "OK, we're clear." She quickly zipped up the front of the jacket.
The door opened, and Frohike gave Scully a disappointed look. "We were playing our roles, Agent Scully. We're supposed to be your clients, aren't we?"
"The blinds were closed. Who were you acting for?" Scully looked over Frohike's head and waved Langley and Byers into the room. "Come on, we don't have much time."
"Actually, we have plenty of time," Byers said apologetically.
That stopped Scully cold. "Please tell me you haven't come up empty again." She glared at the three Lone Gunmen with an uncharacteristic rage. "It's been months! I thought you guys were supposed to be the best!"
"Our kung fu is the best," Frohike said, his voice resigned. "But there's nothing out there. Not one mention of Mulder, or circumstances that sound remotely similar to what you encountered in Oregon or Arizona."
Doggett looked the men over and shook his head. "Nothing? Not even something about alien bounty hunters? I thought the Internet would be jam-packed with that sort of thing."
Langley slipped his laptop out from under his jacket. "Check for yourself, if you like."
"Dell, and the wireless Internet," Byers said with satisfaction. "At least we saved some time while we were standing in the bathroom." He glared at Frohike.
"Hey, you were getting a good look yourself, bud," Frohike said, looking back at Scully. "You know, it might help if we broke up the routine a little. I mean, Doggett's been coming in like that since we started this whole business. Maybe one of us should play the big john next time."
"Got anyone in mind?" Langley said, smiling widely as he prepared the computer for another search.
"All right, guys, let's knock it off," Doggett said, stepping behind Langley, who set the computer on the small table by the window. "I take it you've looked at the all the public information, but what about the private access?"
"I thought you disapproved of those methods, Agent Doggett," Byers said calmly. "Especially the part about breaking into classified files and government databases."
"I still do," Doggett replied. "But I'm losing my patience as much as anyone. I find it hard to continue respecting the privacy of the Bureau when every step they take seems to be designed to get in our way." He pointed to the screen. "Just see what you can find this time."
Scully caught his eye from across the room, and he walked over to join her. "You all right?"
"Yeah, John, I'm fine," Scully answered, running her hands over her eyes. "Just not feeling entirely well. I think these late night meetings are getting to me a little."
Doggett paused for a moment, as if choosing his words carefully. "You know, Dana, I don't want to intrude on your personal business, but is there anything I can do to help? I know you've needed some personal time now and then, since Mulder went missing."
Scully shook her head. "Nothing you can really help solve, John. Part of it is the same old story. I miss him. I miss him terribly. And the longer he's gone, the harder it is to believe that everything is going to turn out happy in the end." She forced herself to smile. "How are you holding up?"
"Better than I thought I would be," Doggett replied honestly. "It's been a hard pill to swallow. Going from a great career track, and then finding myself in the most ridiculed department in the entire Bureau."
"Tell me about it," Scully muttered. "I felt the same way. But at least in those days, there was the semblance of something a little more respectable. We still worked on regular cases in the violent crimes unit from time to time, and of course I was the medical consultant on the team." She sighed heavily, shaking her head. "I don't even know why they bother asking me for reports anymore. They don't expect me to debunk Mulder's work anymore, that's for sure."
"It's something that's been bothering me ever since I was assigned to the X-Files," Doggett added. "When Mulder was around, there seemed to be a certain expectation. He would go off on one of his X-File cases, and you were there to more or less ground him in reality."
"That was my original assignment," Scully admitted. "Things changed, of course, but the entire idea was to find a rational explanation for the events in those files."
"Exactly my point," Doggett agreed. "So why was I assigned? I'm not a scientist, so I'm not going to come up with some theory as to why something can't be a green eyed monster from outer space. And as much as you want to take on Mulder's legacy, it's not a perfect fit. So what is the value of having the two of us on the X-Files in the first place?"
"I'm not sure, but it has to be related to the reasons why we can't seem to find any more leads on Mulder after all this time," Scully said. "More than once in the past, for more than one reason, they have tried to reassign me to other departments whenever there was an excuse to close down the X-Files. So why not this time?"
"I think Deputy Director Kersh might be involved," Doggett replied, after a moment of thought. "He acted like he wanted me to find Mulder more than anything in the world, Dana, and then once that Gibson Praise business came down, it was a whole different ballgame. Even Skinner's noticed. We get these ridiculous assignments again and again, dealing with who knows what, but not one thing about the search for Mulder. And how long has he been missing?"
"Too long," Scully whispered. She looked into Doggett's eyes. "Look, John, I know that this might sound bizarre..."
Doggett gave her a slightly intolerant glare. "Are you going to start with the aliens again? Because I think I heard enough about that with the bounty hunter."
"No, not that," Scully said quickly. "I'm talking about why you're on the X-Files. Skinner told me once that you were considered the best of the best, a real top candidate for a director's position. Then Kersh comes along, puts you in charge of finding Mulder. Only to assign you to the X-Files when that search runs dry after a week or so. Keeping us on assignments so that we don't even have the time to look into the medical records, or the travel records, none of it."
"What are you getting at?" Doggett said, but his expression suggested that he had considered what she was about to say more than once.
"Kersh used to be in charge when Mulder and I were assigned to the domestic terrorism unit a couple years ago. More than once, he made it clear that it was his job to keep us from looking into the X-Files. So I know for a fact that he has the resources to keep us, and that includes Assistant Director Skinner, from looking where he does not want us to look."
"And it conveniently keeps me in a position where I can't threaten his authority, while my own reputation gets dragged through the mud," Doggett said, his tone betraying his anger. "I've gone over it before in my head, Dana, but I still can't figure out why. And what kind of resources Kersh would have."
"I have some ideas," Scully said, but she forced herself not to say anything more. She trusted Doggett, that much was beyond question by now. But there were some things that had to wait. Alex Krycek, and the fact that he had not been seen since Mulder's disappearance, was one of those things. Only she and Skinner knew what that might mean, and that was personal.
"Let me know if they work out," Doggett said, knowing better than to press her on the matter. "In the meantime, I think we should stick to the plan. Remain absolutely professional in all ways while on the job. Assume we are being monitored at all times, in the field and otherwise. The more they believe that we have little or no common interest, the less reason they have to wonder what we're up to."
"It is the safest thing to do, even if it is frustrating," Scully agreed.
"Scully, Doggett, come look at this." Frohike waved them over to the computer. "I think we might have something."
Scully ran over to the computer. "What is it? Does it mention Mulder?"
"No, not specifically," Langley said with a hint of apology. "But it does mention a murder case up in New York. One of the detectives apparently found himself standing in a patch of green liquid that ate right through the bottoms of his shoes. Take a look."
Scully scanned the page, and then turned to Doggett. "Would you happen to know a Detective Thomas Egan?"
"Know him?" Doggett said with a grin. "I used to work with him all the time. He still working in Queens?"
Scully nodded. "Apparently this happened in Long Island City, in the industrial section."
Doggett walked over to the door and grabbed the workout bag. "Sounds like a lead, and one that we can do something about without anyone catching on. I've got some personal time on the books that I should take sooner or later. Think Skinner will mind if I take it now?"
"I'd say no," Scully answered. "Especially since we have precious little else going on right now."
Doggett nodded. "Then let me get changed. I'll call Skinner from the house, and I'll catch up with you once I find out what happened to Tommy. Will you be able to do some forensic testing, if we need it?"
Scully considered the notion. "I can't see why not. If you're on leave, they'll probably have me running tests in the meantime. Fitting something extra in shouldn't be a problem." Scully hesitated, and then said carefully, "I should go with you, though. If there's any chance that Mulder is there..."
"Then I'll tell you right away, Dana," Doggett assured her. "Let's keep this simple for now. This might be nothing. Tommy should play it straight with me. We'll know quick if this is just a waste of time."
Scully was still unsure, but she finally nodded her assent. "You're right. Besides, I'm still waiting on something here."
Doggett raised an eyebrow. "Personal business?"
"Personal business," Scully admitted. "Like I said, nothing to worry about."
Long Island City, NY
As Doggett came off of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, he swore to himself that he would remember not to take that particular route into LIC next time he came for a visit. Traffic around the city was bad enough, after all, without having to sit for hours on end with hardly a moment of progress.
At least he had remembered to leave Washington early in the morning. Otherwise, he would have been late for his meeting with Tommy. As it was, Tommy would probably be waiting for him at the warehouse.
Doggett veered into the lane for Greenpoint Ave., and got caught at the light. As usual, both lanes of traffic were trying to cram into position, vying for the right to slide into the single lane across the intersection. It was no big deal to Doggett; it gave him the chance to take a look at the once-familiar neighborhood.
It hadn't changed much. Sure, some of the business signs looked new, but the buildings looked as though they were days away from demolition. Even the Korean church on the corner looked as though it had seen its better days.
Things only looked worse as Doggett managed to steer into the single lane and cross Van Dam into the industrial park. As usual, it was like running a gauntlet trying to dodge the oncoming traffic as it jumped out from behind the tractor trailers jutting into the roadway.
He crossed the drawbridge, and then made the sharp right and quick left that brought him onto Pearson. Up on the right stood the NYPD Property Clerk Warehouse. Doggett shook his head. Even this building looked as though it had been abandoned for years. That is, if one ignored the half dozen police cars parked on the side of the road.
As Doggett pulled into an empty spot near the corner, he checked the time on the dashboard: 12:15. He chuckled to himself, knowing that fifteen minutes in the city was practically on time, if not early.
Stepping out of his car, he pulled on his leather jacket and took a quick look at the rest of the block. He was parked in front of a furniture repair and import/export business, but they looked like they were closed for the weekend. Across the street was a trucking depot by the name of Public Service. Trucks were coming in and out on a fairly regular schedule.
On the same side of the block as the furniture business, the NYPD warehouse took up the rest of the right side of Pearson all the way down to Skillman. Directly across from the warehouse was a business called J. Manheimer. From the look of the building, Doggett guessed that they had been operating for some time, and keeping the grounds well groomed until recently. The grass was beginning to get a little high in places, and there were signs of neglect around the visible entrances.
Doggett turned away from the Manheimer building, grinning as he saw Tommy step out from the loading dock for the warehouse. As usual, Detective Thomas Egan was dressed picture perfect in his uniform, which appeared to be freshly pressed. Doggett could not remember a time when Tommy had looked otherwise.
Doggett suddenly felt naked without his usual suit and tie. He had changed out of the dirty jeans and T-shirt from the night before, but he could hardly wear his uniform while claiming to be on personal leave for a few days. He was wearing a clean button down blue shirt under his black leather jacket, and a fresh pair of denim jeans. The jacket was perfectly fitted to allow him to carry his weapon.
"Tommy!" he said, embracing the man with genuine joy. It had been quite a few years since he and Tommy had worked together on the force, but those years seemed to disappear in that moment.
"I can't believe you're standing here, Johnny. I thought you had forgotten us, running around for the feds. What, did you get homesick?"
"I heard you were stepping in all kinds of trouble up here, and thought you might need a real detective to figure it out," Doggett replied with a grin.
"Stepping in it is right," Tommy said, pointing to his boots. "Brand new, and they feel like it too. Hurt like a mother, you know what I mean?"
"Oh, I remember," Doggett said, shaking his head. "They still make those things in prisons, you know."
"That would explain it." Tommy slapped him on the shoulder, and gestured across the street. "I know you said you were short on time, so let's get right to it. I called the owner earlier this morning, so he made sure his guy was waiting for us."
Doggett followed Tommy across the street. "I noticed the name Manheimer when I got out of the car. That, and the fact that the grounds look like they have been neglected for a week or two."
Tommy nodded, stopping when they came to the first available entrance. "The company is called J. Manheimer. They were here for almost 30 years. They expanded this building a couple times, in the back and off towards Public Service, but they just had nowhere else to go. So they moved to Jersey. The last bunch left about t wo weeks ago."
Doggett noticed that there was a residual odor coming from the entrance, which was marked for employees only. "What is that? Orange?"
"Orange, lemon, lime, they were into it all," Tommy replied. "They made flavors, like for food and soda and stuff like that. For a while, they made perfumes out of here, too, but they moved that operation out of state five years ago."
"That's right," Doggett said. "These guys were the ones who used to give out the knockoffs every Christmas."
"You got it."
"And this is the building where you found the body?" Doggett followed Tommy up the street to the main entrance.
"No," Tommy said. He pointed to the end of the building. "This is Pearson that we're on now. Up ahead, past the building, you have Davis Court. It runs alongside the building, and then behind it, straight to Hunter's Point Avenue. On the other side of Davis Court is a building with a lot of open warehouse space. It's owned by a company called Allied Bronze, but Manheimer used to lease the space until recently."
"And it was in that warehouse that you found the body," Doggett reasoned.
Tommy stopped in front of the entrance, looking Doggett in the eye. "That's the thing, Johnny. What we found was not so much a body as what was left of a body."
"I remember you saying that on the phone on the way down," Doggett said quietly. "And that's also the same place you found that strange green liquid."
"Yeah, the stuff that ate through my boots," Tommy said, his voice betraying a sudden lack of confidence. "I'll tell you, Johnny, I've never seen anything like that. Sure, the body parts, we see that all the time. But nothing's ever eaten my boots before."
Tommy shook his head, and then cracked a smile. "But hey, it got your attention. You'll have to explain that a little better when we get a bite later. In the meantime-"
"In the meantime, this is your show," Doggett said, sharing the smile. "I'm here in an unofficial capacity." He gave Tommy a guarded look. "Are you sure you want to do this? We both know that this is against regs."
"The guys remember you from the old days, Johnny. It won't be a problem for us. Just don't go pulling rank on us, and it'll be fine."
"Sir, are you pulling rank on me?"
Scully scowled as Assistant Director Walter Skinner stood up to close the door to his office. Once the door was closed, Skinner turned and faced Scully with a scowl of his own.
"Of course not, Agent Scully. But I am warning you that this could get ugly if you are hiding something about Agent Doggett's intentions."
Scully sighed heavily. "Sir, it is hardly a shock that Agent Doggett might want to spend a little personal time to sort out his feelings right now. It's been months since we've had any lead on Mulder, and no matter how personally I...we...might take Mulder's disappearance, Doggett has his entire career on the line."
"I know," Skinner said with a grimace, as he slid into his chair. "But Kersh is using Doggett as leverage, Agent Scully. And while I have already come to terms with my own lack of a future in the Bureau, Kersh is doing everything possible to make sure I'm more than a little silenced."
Scully shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "So you think Kersh was placed deliberately in that position? To make sure that the X-Files is nothing more than a device to keep Doggett out of the director's chair?"
Skinner shrugged. "It's as likely as anything else I can think of, and it fits Kersh like a glove." Skinner suddenly went still. "Agent Scully. Have you had lunch yet today?"
Scully raised an eyebrow. "Sir?"
"Let's go to lunch." Skinner stood, and then gestured around the room, shaking his head. "This is not exactly official business, and I'm thinking that if your partner is on leave, you might like the company."
Scully understood at once, and cursed herself for being foolish. How many times had Mulder's office been bugged, or her own apartment? Skinner was right to be cautious, and they had let their guard down at the worst possible moment. Would Kersh, or his secret allies outside of the Bureau, suspect that John was up to something?
Standing to follow Skinner out of the office, Scully hoped that was not the case.
Doggett followed Detective Egan into the Manheimer building, noting that there were very few lights still operating in the offices. The lobby itself was lit, so while Tommy paged the owner's representative, Doggett took a look around the room. The walls were covered with the shadows of pictures that had been removed, and from the looks of it, there had been quite a few. Doggett wondered if they were awards, or just pictures of the management.
He turned as the door next to the lobby window opened. An older man, obviously neat retirement, flashed them a guarded smile. He wore a thick flannel shirt and blue jeans, and carried a flashlight in his right hand.
"Mr. Londner, this is John Doggett," Tommy said formally. "He's with the FBI, but off duty. He's acting as a kind of consultant on the case." Tommy turned to Doggett. "Johnny, this is Michael Londner. We've known each other a few years now."
"Good to meet you," Doggett said, shaking the man's hand. It was an oddly light grip, and Doggett suddenly wondered if the man was ill.
"Likewise," Londner said curtly. He looked to Tommy with a concerned expression. "FBI?"
"I'm in the city on personal leave," Doggett explained. "Tommy told me about the case, and I offered my services." He grinned, trying to put the man at ease. "You know how it is, once a cop, always a cop."
"Right," Londner said with a guarded tone. "Shall we take the tour?"
Tommy nodded, and gestured for Doggett to follow him. They stepped through the doorway, which led them into a small hallway running along the front of the building.
"The office portion of the building is arranged roughly like a square," Londner explained as he led them to a large open area. "The square sits behind this front portion of the office. This used to be where the cubicles stood. The computer office was in that corner." He pointed behind them. Doggett observed that the computer room would have been in the corner of the building that sat at the intersection of Pearson and Davis Court.
"Watch that room," Londner said offhand. "It has an automatic lock, and its own ventilation system which is no longer in operation."
They walked through the open space, which left them at an intersection between two hallways, one running ahead of them, and one running to the left. Londner led them straight ahead. "This was executive row. This part of the building runs down the entire side of the building."
They passed a large board room, and then the wide hallway ended at a door. A thin hallway led off to the left towards a stairway. Doggett assumed it was a second floor, but there were no lights, except for the red glow of the fire exit signs.
Londner led them through the door, and there was another hallway leading to the left, and a small hallway leading ahead and then to the right. "This is the other side of the square," Londner said quietly. He turned on his flashlight, pointing it towards the small hallway. "Back there is a stationary storage area, and an abandoned first aid room. Stay out of the first aid room...there are no windows, and I don't have a key for the lock."
"Mind if I take a look?" Doggett said suddenly, pulling out his own slim flashlight.
Londner looked annoyed, but shrugged. "Go ahead. Nothing to see."
Tommy flashed Doggett a curious look as he walked by, but followed Doggett into the small hallway and through the door. It opened into a dirty area that was very oddly shaped. It appeared that it was the back of the building, but it was not a true corner like the computer area had been.
Doggett noticed that there was a poorly constructed stair leading to a storage area on the second floor. "What's up there?" he asked, turning back to Londner.
"We kept old retention samples up there," Londner said carefully. "Nothing but empty shelving now."
Doggett nodded, and noted the small room under the stair. Empty boxes for stationary confirmed that it was a stationary room. He stepped past that doorway, and the area opened slightly. There was a door to the left, marked "No Exit". A door opposite the entrance to the area led down a metal stairway. A third door was marked "Exit 4", and a fourth door to the right was marked "First Aid".
"OK, there's your first aid room, and that must be a back door," Doggett said carefully. "What are these other doors?"
"The door to the left, the one marked 'No Exit', goes to an old lab," Londner answered. "The other door leads to the locker room."
"Why does it lead down like that?" Doggett asked.
"It's part of the addition on the back of the building," Tommy said, cutting off Londner.
Doggett nodded again, and then turned to Tommy. "So let me get this straight. We had the lobby and the computer room, which took up the front of the building from the main entrance to the corner. Then we had one side of the office square. Past that, we have this back area, and apparently a lab to the one side. And then, past that, there was an addition?"
"That's right," Londner said.
Doggett gave Tommy a look. "You got a map for this place, Mr. Londner?"
"No," he said with a rueful smile. "They're in the Jersey office."
"Figures," Doggett muttered. "All right, let's go back."
Londner led them back to the end of the executive row, and then walked them down the hallway to the left. "This runs parallel to the lab at the back of the building. There is also a lab to the left."
He pushed open a door, and they walked into another wide hallway. "This part of the square runs alongside the production area, which is just past these labs." Londner pointed to the right. "That goes towards the back of the building. The entrance to the lab at the back of the building is that way. Also, a lunch room." Londner pointed to his left. "This goes back towards the lobby."
Doggett nodded. "So this is how it goes. This hallway has labs on the outside. The front has the lobby and the computer room on the outside edge. The other side has executive row on the outside, and the back hallway has the first aid room, a lab, and the lunch room on the outside." Doggett smiled at Tommy. "That's our square." He turned to Londner. "What's on the inside?"
Londner pointed to a nearby door. "It's a large lab, which was used for QC. Everything's out of it now, but the glass shelving and some of the lab benches are still in there."
Doggett turned to Londner. "Is the rest of the building this complicated?"
"No," Londner replied with a laugh. "The production area is mostly open."
"Let's see that," Doggett said. He was sure that the production area would prove to be more important, and he was anxious to get to the warehouse where the body parts had been found.
Londner led them down the hallway, and then opened a door. Doggett saw another door, which led to the lobby, and to the left was the start of executive row. To the right, a short hallway lead to a large door covered with warning signs.
Londner gestured towards the large door. "This way."
Doggett let Tommy take the lead, but stopped short when he saw a glass door to one side. There was no light beyond the door, but using his flashlight, Doggett could see the bottom of a stairway. "Where does this go?"
"Second floor," Londner replied. "It sits over the lab hallway."
"What's up there?" Doggett asked, not sure why he was interested.
"More labs," Londner said carefully. "Another small lunch room." He shrugged. "There's no power up there now, we cut it when we closed the building. And there's really not much to see."
Doggett sighed, and then turned back towards the door to the production area. "All right. Let's keep going."
Londner lead them through the doorway, and Doggett found himself standing in a large warehouse. Just ahead to the right, the remains of a shallow dike clearly marked where the production tanks had once stood. The floor was marked in a regular pattern with bolt holes, where the drum racks had stood.
Ahead to the left, there was a small concrete bunker. Londner seemed to notice the direction of Doggett's gaze, because he quickly explained, "That was the old production office. That's where my office is now."
Doggett walked towards the office while Londner explained its function. Looking through the window facing the empty warehouse, Doggett noticed that there was only one desk, with a phone and a couple papers strewn over its surface. Then he noticed something very different.
"Mr. Londner," he said, turning back towards the elderly man. "What happened to the walls and the floor in there? It's some kind of dark yellow or something."
Tommy stepped behind him, looking in as well. Londner cleared his throat, and said quietly, "I'm not sure. We think it had something to do with the citrus oils that used to be blended nearby."
"But the outside of the office is still bright white," Tommy observed. Doggett nodded his agreement.
"Seems a bit hard to believe, that it would stain the inside of the office, but not the outside," Doggett observed. "But you're the one who worked here." He took a good look at the rest of the warehouse area. "This is the main part of the original building, right? So there's a part at the back that's an addition."
Londner pointed to the back wall, well past the dike. "That's right. We used to have our savory flavors and distillations back there. And the locker room, which you saw part of earlier." He pointed to a door past the office bunker. "That's the employee entrance, and the boiler room."
Doggett sketched it all out in his mind. He remembered that the employee entrance was very close to the main entrance, so the boiler room was next to the lobby. The office "square" was beside the production warehouse. And the back of the building was an addition.
"Tommy said there was another addition, not too long ago," Doggett said. "Where's that?"
Londner pointed to a couple of wide doorways cut into the far wall, opposite the offices. "This was the production area, of course, so we built a new shipping area."
Londner led them into the small addition. Most of the room was completely empty, with the exception of a couple drums of flammable material scattered here and there. Doggett noticed that one of them had what looked like Chinese written in ink down its side.
"You get a lot of foreign business, Mr. Londner?" he asked, tracing his fingers down the writing.
"Oh, most of our raw materials are foreign," Londner replied. "A lot of the materials come from Indonesia, India, or China. Some of it even comes from South America. You'd be surprised what kind of ingredients go into flavors for foods, Agent Doggett. Most of our raw materials are flammable, but some are corrosive, even poisonous."
Doggett gave Tommy an amused smirk. "Let's drop that subject, Mr. Londner. I'd like to be able to eat dinner tonight without thinking about where it came from, if it's the same to you."
Londner chuckled, and once again Doggett got the feeling that the man was seriously ill. The sound was clearly weak. He noticed Tommy's expression was also concerned, and he made a note to ask Tommy about it later.
Doggett noticed that there was a small room built out of part of the shipping area. It was closed, with only a thick roll-down door serving as an entrance. The door had a couple plastic windows, but they were covered from the inside.
"What is that room for?" Doggett said, walking towards the doorway.
Londner stepped in front of him, holding up a hand. "I would prefer if you stayed out of that room. We still have some sensitive materials on site, which require heat. That room has been converted into a hot room until we can create a similar area over in Jersey."
Doggett shrugged, and turned to Tommy. "Fair enough. Is there anything else you think I should see here, or can we move on to the crime scene?"
"One last thing," Londner said as they walked back towards his office. "Under the shipping addition, there is a parking garage." He smiled. "Unfortunately, because it was built under the addition, you can't get to the offices from the garage. You can only access that area from outside."
"That's a great design," Doggett joked. "I bet it's a real treat during a downpour."
Londner laughed in agreement, and then stepped into his office. Before closing his door, he said quickly, "Let me call the owner of the warehouse out back. We don't have regular access anymore."
Doggett nodded, and waited a moment for the door to close. Then he turned to Tommy and raised an eyebrow. "Tell me again, why you wanted me to get the tour of this building if the crime scene is in that other warehouse?"
Tommy seemed uncomfortable talking so close to the office door. "I don't suspect Londner, if that's what you're asking. But there are others who work for Manheimer, or used to work for them, who come to this building on a regular basis. There are a lot of places where they could hide out in here. I wanted you to see that for yourself."
Doggett accepted that, and changed the subject. "You said you knew Londner for a while. Has he always looked like that? Sick, I mean? The man looks like he can barely stand."
"No, that's new," Tommy admitted. Now he looked even more uncomfortable. "I can't even remember a time when he wasn't overweight. Now look at him."
Tommy went quiet as the office door opened, and Londner walked out. "The owner, Herb Koenig, is going to meet us outside the entrance. Let's take the ramp out to the back."
Londner led them across the length of the production warehouse to a long ramp that led out of the back of the building. As they passed the top of the ramp, an electric eye opened the metal gate that sealed off the building at the end of the ramp.
Staring into the mid-afternoon breeze, Doggett felt a chill run through him. Too many nights, he had been involved in chases through dark, deserted warehouses in the city. And too often, people had wound up killed or wounded as a result.
Was it memory that unsettled him now, or some anticipation of what was to come?
Scully picked at the food on her plate. Most of the meal was still sitting there, but Scully had little appetite. As if worrying about her partner was not enough, wondering what Doggett had uncovered in New York, there was the constant trace of nausea that she had never managed to ignore.
"Is it that bad?" Skinner suddenly asked, as he tossed his fork onto his now-empty plate. Certainly his appetite was healthy.
"You always hear about the morning sickness," Scully said with a slight hint of amusement. "What they fail to mention is that you get it in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and pretty much all the time in between."
Skinner shook his head. "That's something that most men probably don't know."
"What I wonder is how a man can keep kissing a pregnant woman," Scully said with a disgusted look on her face. "We have to live with the aftertaste, but they ask for it."
Skinner shrugged. "That's not really my department, Dana."
Scully stared at Skinner for a moment, and then sighed. "Yeah...I guess not." She glanced down at her plate again, and pushed it away from her. "I can't even look at it right now. Can we get back to our other conversation? I assume that this is a more secure location." She resisted the urge to point out that there were dozens of civilians within earshot in the crowded restaurant.
"Well, there's always a chance that someone's listening, Agent Scully, but I'd rather talk here than in my office or one of our apartments." Despite his words, he still took the time to scour the faces nearby before continuing.
"All right, this is how it is. You know that John was set in the fast track before he was assigned to the Mulder case. And we know what kind of man Kersh is. He's not exactly the type to risk his hide on anything that might look bad on his record."
"I wonder if that has something to do with the way he treated us," Scully said frankly. "And maybe that's why he's trying to derail Agent Doggett. Mulder and I were assigned to Kersh on purpose, to keep us off the X-Files and under constant surveillance. It only lasted a few months, but when he failed, it had to have hurt Kersh's career."
"And so when the time came, he knew the best way to hurt John's career," Skinner concluded. "I see where you're going with this, Scully, but I'm not sure where that leaves us."
"I think you know where you stand," Scully reasoned. "He knew that you were helping us, and your defense of Mulder's point of view is only helping Kersh keep you out of his hair. As you said, with Kersh occupying the Deputy Director's chair, your future is not exactly rosy."
Skinner grimaced. "I know. But I can't sit on the fence anymore, Agent Scully. I've seen too much. I probably always knew, on some level, but after seeing Mulder..." He stopped, and then shook his head. "I can't deny it anymore."
"I know," Scully said softly. "I've been there a thousand times, over the years. And I think that I resigned myself to being on the X-Files until the day I leave the Bureau. I just never thought that I would be the one to outlast Mulder."
Skinner nodded, but there was concern in his eyes as well. "I know, Dana, but we talked about this. Our best chance for finding Mulder is making use of Doggett while we have him. Kersh may think that this is some kind of punishment, but Doggett has the right expertise in investigation to follow whatever leads we can find."
"I know, I know," Scully muttered. "But it weighs on me, sir. Doggett's a good partner, and I know it's the law enforcement life, but it's like...it's like I see this flash of light in the corner of my eye, and just for a second, I think it's him. And it's like that every day."
Scully turned away, forcing herself not to give in to tears. "I just can't believe that this is happening. This isn't the way it was supposed to be."
Skinner let her sit quietly for a moment, and then said softly, "Have you told Doggett?"
Scully let out a harsh laugh. "Tell him what? I can't tell him I'm pregnant. Then I'll be put on leave, and I'll have no say in what happens in the future. And without me, how is Doggett going to survive on the X-Files? I'm the only one who understands what kind of line we're walking out there. Except for you, and you have your own line to walk.
"And how can I tell him the rest, without him putting the pieces together? He already has to suspect something, with all of the personal time that I've had to take. He almost said as much the night that he left."
Skinner ran his hands over his face, and then let out a deep breath. "I'm sorry that you have so much pressure on you right now, Dana, but there is little that I can do to prevent it. I've kept your secrets this long, but soon there's going to be nothing I can do to hide it. And nothing you can do."
"Which means that we are running out of time," Scully said bitterly. "All of us." She looked Skinner in the eye, driving her point home. "We need to find something within the next few weeks, and cut through whatever red tape Kersh is throwing up, before that time comes."
"And that's why Doggett is in New York," Skinner said suddenly. "Isn't it?"
"We found something, or we think we have," Scully said truthfully. "But it's a long shot. Something that the guys found during a document search. But it's all we have."
Scully rose to her feet, looking at her watch. "Thanks for lunch, sir. I'm sorry about how much I left."
"Don't mention it," Skinner said, also standing. "You have that appointment?"
Scully hesitated, and then nodded. "Results from the last battery of tests. Maybe an answer about...about those..."
"I understand, Agent Scully," Skinner said with perfect empathy. "Let me know when you find out, OK? We'll talk." He glanced at her plate. "Just not over dinner."
Scully smiled, flashing him a silent thanks. Skinner watched as she left the restaurant, and then caught the waiter, gesturing for the check.
Long Island City, NY
Herb Koenig was a tall man, but that was his only remarkable feature. His face was completely generic, as was his typical Queens accent. Doggett was sure that if he ever saw the man again on the street, he would have a very hard time recognizing him.
Tommy pulled the yellow police tape from the door, and then stepped away to allow Koenig to do his job.
"Herb, this is Detective Egan, Agent Doggett," Londner said as he greeted his friend. "They want to take a look at the building."
"Of course," Koenig said carefully, giving Londner an odd look. "But I thought that you..."
"Agent Doggett wants to see the crime scene for himself," Londner said as the door swung open. "Apparently there are some oddities that he wants to look into."
Doggett noted the exchange, and held Tommy back as the older men walked into the warehouse. "Shouldn't you have the key to this place? The door was sealed. This is a crime scene. No one else should be able to get in here."
Tommy scratched at the back of his neck. "There were some problems getting a key. Apparently Koenig has some pull with the department. They asked us to back off."
"Mighty irregular, Tommy," Doggett said as he turned towards the door. "But I also noticed that Koenig expected Londner to have a key."
"I know. He was supposed to, but he says he lost it," Tommy said with a sigh.
"Which is why you suspect someone else from Manheimer." Doggett shook his head. "I haven't even seen the crime scene, and this is already giving me a bad feeling."
Tommy led him through the warehouse door. Immediately Doggett was hit with the scent of human decay mixed with some other, completely unknown odor. He turned to Tommy, and his friend simply nodded. The smell was related to the crime scene.
"Mr. Londner," Doggett called out, as he saw the man standing in the middle of the room. "What is that smell? Something of yours?"
"No," Londner said firmly. "We had some spice blends, but nothing so bad as this."
"It smells like bile," Tommy said suddenly. He turned to Doggett. "Johnny, that's what I think it smells like."
Doggett shook his head. "No. It's close, but that's not it. At least, I don't think it is." He looked around the expanse of the warehouse. The building was very old, and there was a flaking coat of pale green paint covering every surface. The uneven ceiling was held up by an arrangement of thick concrete columns. In between the columns, the floor had settled, leaving the foundation for the columns a good five inches above the floor.
But there was no sign of the crime scene. "Where did you find the body?" he asked, looking to Tommy.
"In the storage room," Tommy replied, gesturing around the corner. "There are no lights in there, so we'll need the flashlights."
Doggett slipped his out of his pocket, and followed Tommy to the entrance for the storage room, which was next to the restroom. The smell of decay and bile became much stronger as they walked through the brick opening, and Doggett noted that the floor was marked off. The four men carefully stayed outside of the marked area.
"Ok, Johnny, this is where we found the body parts," Tommy said, pointing towards the entrance. "Just about where the light from the warehouse windows is cut off. The green stuff was back further."
Doggett moved the beam of his flashlight over that stretch of the floor. The concrete was stained a dark green, and the surface was obviously pitted and eaten away. The pattern of the stain did not seem to fit the placement of the body parts.
"What exactly did you find here?" Doggett asked, covering his nose with his free hand.
"Two partial hands, and what the coroner says is the top of a scalp."
Doggett nodded. "So what we are looking at is a body that apparently melted, with the exception of..." Doggett thought about the position of the body parts, and something clicked in his mind. "Tommy, did the coroner give an estimate for the time of death?"
"Yeah. About this time."
Doggett nodded. "Was it about this kind of weather yesterday?"
Tommy shrugged. "I suppose it was. Why?"
Doggett pointed to the demarcation between the light and shadow on the floor. "You said that the hands, and the top of the head, were sitting about where the light is hitting the floor. And there are no lights in here, besides what comes in from the warehouse."
Tommy swore. "You think that has something to do with it?"
"Maybe." Doggett took another look at the pattern etched into the floor. "You notice that? See how the stain seems to splatter outward? I think that whatever ate through the floor, whatever wound up on your boots, exploded out of the victim."
"What the hell could do such a thing?" Koenig said, his face completely pale. Londner's reaction was hard to determine, given his state of health.
"Jesus, Johnny, are we talking about some kind of bug? Do we need to call in the CDC or a HazMat team?"
"Tommy, have any of your men showed any signs of sickness? Any of them miss a shift?" Doggett grabbed Tommy's arm tightly.
"No, no, I don't think so," Tommy said, struggling to remember. "Let me call in and find out." Tommy stepped out of the room to contact his dispatch.
Doggett took another look at the stain on the floor. The pattern was definitely indicating some kind of explosive episode, unleashing the acidic liquid onto the floor. The victim was also obviously already on the floor by that point, probably attempting to escape.
Doggett shook his head. There had to be more. If this was related to the incident in Arizona, then he was going to have to find more than the effect of some green goo on concrete. To find Mulder, he was going to have to find out who or what was responsible for this death.
Tommy walked back into the storage room. "Everyone's accounted for, Johnny. I put out a warning that anyone who feels sick, even just a sneeze, ought to get checked out as soon as possible and let someone at the station know."
"Good call," Doggett said, as he began moving his beam along the walls. "Tommy, if this stuff did explode out of the victim, violently...did you ever find any of it on the walls? There, you see that? The walls have some evidence of pitting too."
Tommy nodded. "Yeah, we saw some of that on the walls around the entrance."
"There's a little back here, too," Doggett said, standing to get a better look. "Wait a second...what the hell is this?"
The beam of his flashlight was fixed on something faintly carved into the concrete floor, farther into the storage area, away from the entrance. As Doggett knelt down, Tommy joined him. Koenig and Londner stood close to the entrance, as if ready to bolt at the slightest hint of danger.
"It looks like something slid over this concrete, and ate away at it along the way," Doggett said. He traced the wide markings back towards the area where the victim was found, and then followed it towards the back of the room. He stood slightly, following the tracks, until he came to the wall. "There's a gap between the wall and the floor here. Probably from the settling of the building, same as the columns. And whatever this was, I think it got out here."
"Got out?" Koenig said. "You mean whatever killed that man is in the city?"
"I don't know, but it looks that way." Doggett turned to Tommy, who was almost as pale as Koenig. "What was the weather like last night? Cloudy?"
"Yeah, you couldn't even see the moon," Tommy answered, his voice low with fear.
"Not much light, then," Doggett concluded. He shone his flashlight on the gap in the wall again, and then nodded to himself. "Let's take a look outside, and see what we can find."
As he walked past the entrance, he turned to Koenig. "Can we have that key? We may need to get in here again."
"Of course," Koenig said. The man was obviously more than ready to divorce himself of the entire situation.
"Thanks," Doggett said, passing the key to Tommy as the detective walked by. "Mr. Londner, thanks for your time. I assume you will be around for the rest of the day?"
Londner nodded. "Let me know if you need anything more."
"Actually, why don't you stick around for the next couple days," Doggett said absently. "Just in case. I'm sure the owners won't mind if you work out of this location."
Londner looked reluctant, and then nodded his assent. "Of course."
"Thanks." Doggett stepped through the entrance, and turned to his old friend. Tommy looked a bit spooked, but otherwise ready to continue. "Come on, Tommy. Let's see if whatever this thing is left us some tracks to follow."
Scully sat in her car, the dark brown envelope resting against the steering wheel between her trembling hands. If she had been aware of the world around her, she would have realized that she had been sitting in the parking lot for nearly fifteen minutes. But that was the last thing on her mind.
They were still there.
Her doctor had been unavailable, and so Scully had asked for the results to be sent to a nearby office along with the written reports. It was unconventional, true, but absolutely necessary given the circumstances.
Only now Scully found herself wishing that she had someone to talk to, someone to explain to her exactly what her options were. It was one thing to know it medically, or to read it on a dispassionate piece of white paper. Scully wanted someone human, someone with compassion, to explain it to her.
When she had gone into the hospital, just a few weeks ago, they had shown her the results of the ultrasound as it had been conducted. That was when the unknown growths had first been diagnosed. At the time, the doctors assured her that they were nothing more than cysts, something perfectly normal for a woman at her stage of pregnancy. Only they were much larger than normal, and on both ovaries. The doctors explained that they almost always dissolved in a short time, and her dehydrated state had simply led to a slight infection and acute abdominal pain. Given time, they should go away.
There were still there.
Her latest ultrasound confirmed it. They were still about ten inches in diameter. And now, because of how far she had come in her pregnancy, it was too dangerous to operate. They would either dissolve, or in time, they could very well be fatal to either the baby or herself.
The envelope slipped from her fingers as she brought her hands to her face, hiding the tears that had started flowing before she could contain them. How many times had she hoped, no, prayed for a child of her own? And now, after all that she had been through, after discovering that she was barren, to finally have that child, only to face losing it...
She needed someone to help her deal with this. Her first thought went to her mother, but that was not an option at the moment. Her brother was visiting, and that would only lead to something she would much rather avoid.
There was Skinner, but how could she explain this to him, and expect him to truly understand what she was going through? The fact that he had chosen to act as her confidant did not mean that he was fully ready or capable of the task.
It went without saying that she was not going to turn to Doggett or the Gunmen for comfort.
No. She knew who she needed to find, the only one who understand what she was dealing with. Maybe he wouldn't understand perfectly, but he would know how to deal with it, how to calm her fears and make everything bearable. But there was just one problem, the one little detail that made her eyes well up with fresh tears, and her chest heave with crushing sobs.
He was not there.
Long Island City, NY
As Doggett followed Tommy out of the warehouse, he grabbed his arm lightly, to let him know he needed to talk with him. Tommy understood, and waited under Londner had gone back into the Manheimer building.
"Tommy, I just wanted to make sure you understood, I'm not trying to take over your case here." Doggett gestured to his choice of clothing. "I'm not in uniform here. I'm just here to give you a hand."
Tommy nodded. "I get it, Johnny, but I don't mind if you take a shot at this. Besides, this is more up your alley these days, anyway."
Doggett gave him a guarded look. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Come on, Johnny, word gets around," Tommy said with a laugh. "We heard when you were looking to take over the place down in DC, and we heard when the bottom fell out from under you. You're working on the cases with the little green men, right?"
Doggett shook his head. "It's not quite like that. My main objective is to find a fellow agent who's gone missing. Some say he was abducted...by little green men. I'm a bit less convinced, let's put it that way. In the meantime, I work on the cases that the agent in question would have been on."
"And he was the one looking for little green men?"
Doggett snorted a laugh. "Yeah, that's right."
Tommy shrugged. "And that's why when you called, I thought you might be the perfect man to help out with this case. Although I had hoped you would be helping out in an official capacity."
"I have my reasons, Tommy," Doggett said defensively. "Look, I'll explain over a cold one later, when your shift is done. In the meantime, let's see what we can find."
Doggett searched the outside of the building, close to the foundation, until he found something that looked like the spot he was looking for. He waved Tommy over, pointing to the disturbed soil.
"Look at this," Doggett said as he bent down closer to the dirt.
"Looks like hundreds of worms came out of the wall, and tunneled through the dirt all at the same time," Tommy said as he joined Doggett. "Maybe thousands of them."
"And they left some sort of residue in the soil," Doggett said, his expression betraying more than a little nervousness. "Green, like the stain in the concrete, and in the tracks." He looked up from the beginning of the trail, trying to figure out how far the creatures might have gone.
The soil was disturbed in a straight line along the edge of the building. Doggett lost the trail when it came to a couple of parked trucks and a trailer, sitting near the end of the warehouse. Doggett looked more closely, and noticed that the windows the trucks and the trailer were covered with cardboard from the inside.
"What's the story there?" Doggett said, standing as he tapped Tommy on the shoulder and pointed to the trailer.
"Oh, that's Gerry," Tommy said with a grin. "The neighborhood shut-in. He lives out of the trailer with a couple of dogs. Keeps to himself, mostly. I think he works at the body shop on Skillman."
Doggett pointed to the trail. "This goes right to his trailer, Tommy."
Tommy's eyes went wide, and then he cursed to himself. "I should have thought of that. We should check him out."
Tommy ran ahead while Doggett followed the trail, looking for any type of evidence that could help explain what was happening. Obviously, this was turning out to be very different than he what he remembered in the hospital in Arizona, but he knew enough to reserve judgment until he could send something to Agent Scully for analysis. She was the one who had first mentioned that "alien bounty hunter", after all.
He looked up when Tommy suddenly cried out. His friend was pointing at something slumped over in the weeds behind one of the trucks, his hand over his mouth. Even when Doggett managed to carefully make his way to the same spot, it took him a moment to recognize what he was looking at.
"That was one of the dogs," Tommy said, recovering. "Or what's left of it."
Doggett knelt down, taking great care not to touch anything. There was very little of the dog left to examine. Besides a couple of strips of furry flesh and bone, there was nothing more than the evidence of an explosive discharge similar to the one discovered in the warehouse. It was smaller, of course, but more complete.
"Not much left," Doggett said, vocalizing that observation. "Must have happened overnight." He looked up at Tommy. "No light, no body parts."
Doggett looked more closely, and noticed that there was a small trail similar to the larger one leading from the building. It led under the trailer, towards one of the wheels.
"Tommy," he said softly. "We need to check that trailer." Before his friend could take another step, he shook his head. "Not us. Call in some kind of HazMat support. Get a couple guys with suits in there."
Tommy started calling in the request, while Doggett took a closer look at the remains of the dog. He noticed something else, and waved his hand to get Tommy's attention.
"Tell them that we'll need someone to take some soil samples, too," Doggett said, pointing to the dirt under the trailer. "We need to know what that residue is."
Tommy nodded, and he quickly received a response from the dispatch. "They're sending them over now."
"Good," Doggett said, stepping away from the remains. "We'll want this area sealed off once they arrive. No press, Tommy, that's a given. I'd think that we should keep Pearson and Davis cordoned off."
"Johnny, is this like anything you've seen before?" Tommy asked, clearly shaken.
"Like on the X-Files?" Doggett asked. He shook his head. "No, it's not. And that's saying something." He sighed, running one hand over his sweating face. "Now that we have some kind of direction on this, I need to ask you a favor."
"Whatever you need, it's yours," Tommy replied.
"Let me ask it first," Doggett insisted. "My partner is a top-notch medical expert. She's one of the best, and her time on the X-Files has given her...well, let's just say it's given her a wide range of perspective on this kind of thing.
"I'd like to get her involved, but not locally. I think we should send a soil sample, a sample of that green fluid, the body parts, even your shoes, and get her take on all this."
Tommy hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. "I think I can do that. It might take some doing on this end, with the local coroner, but I'll make sure it's all delivered ASAP."
"Thanks, Tommy," Doggett said with a relieved smile. "She'll need copies of the coroner's report and the results of any analysis you've already done."
"We should be getting an ID on the victim soon," Tommy added. "I'll see that she gets a copy."
Doggett turned back to the trailer, and then took another look at the warehouse. "I'm not sure, but I think we're dealing with some kind of insect, not an infection or contagion. The worms seem to suggest that there is a physical basis for the cause of death." Doggett shook his head.
"Something's not adding up. There's something we're missing."
Tommy shrugged. "Maybe there will be something in the trailer that will clear this up, Johnny. Or something your partner might tell us."
"Maybe." Doggett looked up at the slowly waning sun. "But I get the feeling we better find out soon."
It had been over an hour since she had returned to her apartment, but she found herself staring into space until the blaring ring of the phone forced her out of her shocked contemplation. And yet, she let it ring, preferring to screen the call rather than answer it herself.
Moments later, she heard a familiar voice ring out from the answering machine. "Agent Scully? Are you there? This is Agent Doggett. Pick up if you're listening."
Wearily, hesitating just a moment, she reached over her shoulder from her couch and licked up the phone, slapping the answering machine off along the way.
"I'm here, Agent Doggett." Her voice was low and raspy, and she wondered whether John would notice.
"Oh, good, I caught you." There was a pregnant pause. "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah, just...I'm fine," Scully said, closing her eyes and forcing some semblance of control to enter her voice.
"Want to talk about it?" As usual, Doggett was not the kind of person who would let someone suffer in silence.
"No, it's nothing, it's..."
"Personal business," Doggett finished for her.
Damn the man! "Agent Doggett, was there something you wanted to tell me?" For a moment, she let herself feel a thrill of hope. "Something about Mulder?"
"I'm not sure what I found," Doggett replied, his usual frustration with the unusual betrayed in his tone of voice.
"Well, start from the beginning, Agent Doggett," Scully said with a mute sigh. It wouldn't do to let him hear her own impatience.
Still, he hesitated just a second, letting her know that he was well aware of her present attitude. "I took a look at the crime scene, and it's as advertised. An unidentified victim seems to have exploded, releasing an unknown amount of green liquid with acidic properties. It ate through the concrete floor of the warehouse, and Tommy's shoes."
"Exploded?" Scully said. That was different from the other cases, she thought with dread, but very close to another facet of the whole alien experience.
"Yeah, the entire body, with the exception of both hands and a portion of scalp," Doggett explained further. "I'm having those items sent to you, along with the coroner reports from this end. I thought you'd want to take a look for yourself."
"Yes, I would," Scully replied, but she was thinking of something else. The alien bounty hunters always died like the alien/human clones had died. The entire body would melt into an acidic puddle of evaporating green liquid. On the other hand, Mulder had also mentioned that there was an alien virus that seemed to infect human hosts and cause them to create an alien being, which would explode out of the host.
Was this related? Or was it something entirely new?
"Agent Scully, did you catch that?"
Scully forced herself to pay attention. "Sorry, I was thinking about what you already told me. Can you repeat that last part?"
"I said that something like worms left a trail leaving the victim and leading outside."
Scully completely froze. Worms. That sounded very familiar. "Did you see these worms?"
"No," Doggett said calmly. He seemed to hesitate again. "They left some kind of residue in the soil as they traveled. I'm sending that, along with some residue from a dog that was also infected and had a similar reaction along with the victim."
Scully nodded to herself. "So there were body parts left when the dog exploded?"
"No. Light seems to play some kind of role in the reaction to the infection. The dog was in total darkness, so nothing was left. The victim died at a time when the light coming from the outside left his hands and the top of his head exposed to the sunlight."
Scully quickly ran some facts through her head. What had Mulder told her years ago? Heat had something to do with the reaction to the alien virus. Could the heat from light, specifically sunlight, have the same effect? But then, why would the body parts have been left in the sunlight, instead of the other way around?
"Do you know how the dog was infected?" Scully asked.
"I think it was the worms," Doggett replied. "The trail led right to the dog remains, and then under a trailer. It's locked, but there may be an occupant inside. We called a HazMat team in. They're going to open it up and see what's inside." There was a pause, and then a heavy sigh. "I hope they get here before nightfall."
"Whatever they find, send me a sample," Scully offered. "This doesn't sound like the same thing we had in Arizona, or at other times with the same situation, but a closer look might prove me wrong."
"I hope so," Doggett said, and Scully knew he was being completely honest. He really did want to find Mulder, even if it was just for his own promise to do so. Once again, Scully found herself glad that John was her partner during this difficult time.
"I'm going to get some rest, and then I have to talk to Skinner about something," Scully said after a pause. "I should be able to get working on the forensics soon after they arrive."
"I'd appreciate it," Doggett replied. He paused again, and then added, "Take care of yourself, Agent Scully. You sound like you need it."
It was his own way of telling her, without coming right out and saying it, that he knew something was truly bothering her.
"I will," she said quickly. "I'll call you when I have some results."
She disconnected, and then sat, holding the phone for a moment. Whatever John had found, there was still a chance that it was related to Mulder, still a chance they might find him. And at this point, a chance was all she was asking for.
Long Island City, NY
Under Tommy's advisement, Doggett had taken a room at the Greenpoint, not far from the warehouse, in order to freshen up and prepare for the night ahead. The place was hardly what one would call a good hotel, but it was good enough for the night. Hopefully, he would be able to find something better in the morning.
A pot of cheap instant coffee was brewing on the small table by the grimy window as Doggett tossed his leather jacket onto the bed. He pulled off his shoulder holster and placed his weapon carefully on the table by the mirror, and quickly took off his shirt. He wished he had time for a shower, to get rid of the thin layer of sweat that had left him feeling less than fresh, but Tommy would be coming by any moment. Best to simply prepare and wait for the call from the HazMat boys.
Tommy's precinct had taken the initiative to cordon off the two roads leading directly to the site of the trailer, giving them a few hours while the HazMat team evaluated the residue in the soil. It was taking longer than he thought it should, based on his former experience, but that was life in the city. Nothing could be taken for granted.
Doggett finally decided to run some water onto the washcloth in the bathroom, just to take the edge off. A moment later, he was back in front of the mirror, wiping the cloth down his bare chest, his eyes lingering on the scars tracing here and there across the sweaty flesh.
Most of those scars were from his time in the USMC, or from Lebanon, and most of the rest were from his time working with the NYPD. The more recent ones, the ones with the decidedly weirdest memories attached to them, were from his time on the X-Files. But even so, there were a few that held an even deeper meaning.
The rag fell to the floor with a wet slap as he reached for his wallet. Pulling it open, he slid the familiar picture out from its hiding place. How long had it been now? Even now he could tell himself the exact number of years, months, even days. And as always, the picture brought his resolve in perfect focus.
With a heavy sigh, he slid the picture of the young boy back into its place. He allowed himself just one last moment of reflection, as his fingers traced along one particular scar, to remember. And then, just as suddenly, he reached down and resumed rubbing the wet cloth across his chest.
He was pulling the thin gray muscle shirt over his head when he heard someone knock on the door. He glanced at his weapon for a split second, and then smiled to himself as he went directly to the door. "That you, Tommy?"
"Who else?" Tommy said, with slight impatience.
Doggett pulled the door open with a grin. "In this part of town, anyone."
Tommy walked in quickly and tossed a Kevlar vest onto the bed. "Compliments of the force, Johnny." He gave Doggett a playful look. "I think you're the same size. It's only been five years or so."
"More like ten," Doggett replied with a wider grin, closing the door. He pointed to the coffee. "Want some?"
Tommy went right to the pot. "After today, I think I could use it." Doggett noticed that Tommy's hands were shaking as he poured the hot coffee into a cup. "I hope your partner can explain this one, Johhny, because I am at a complete loss."
"She should be getting everything in a couple hours," Doggett said, as he took the cup that Tommy offered. "She'll let us know what she finds."
Tommy seemed to lose himself in thought for a moment, savoring what little he could appreciate in the horrible coffee, when he suddenly looked Doggett in the eye. "All right, Johnny. I've waited all day to ask you this, and now seems like the only time we're going to have before we're dealing with whatever is in that trailer.
"Why are you doing this off the record? Why not officially?"
Doggett sighed heavily, and sat down on the edge of the bed. "It's a long story, Tommy. But it comes down to the fact that a superior officer in the Bureau decided I was some kind of threat to his authority. He thought I might rise to his level, maybe take his place sometime soon. At any rate, he set me up with a case I could never solve."
"That missing agent?" Tommy asked, remembering what Doggett had said earlier.
"Yeah," Doggett agreed. "At first, I thought that it had something to do with my time here as a detective. I had a lot of experience with manhunts. Or something similar, anyway. But when everything came down, there were no answers. And I still have no idea where to find this guy."
Tommy regarded Doggett closely. "You mean, they knew you wouldn't find him?"
Doggett shrugged. "I don't know. Agent Scully, that's my partner...she thinks so. And the assistant director, he says the same thing. Only they think that the agent was abducted by aliens, so that might have something to do with their opinion."
Doggett shook his head, running a hand through his hair. "I promised that I would find him, Tommy. It's not just about the job anymore. But I can't help thinking that if I can find him, and finish this mess, I can get back on track. Get off the X-Files and back where I belong."
Tommy considered that, and shook his head. "It's a mess, Johnny. And I guess, looking at it that way, I can see why you wanted to keep this quiet. You think this might have something to do with the agent you're looking for. And you don't want the wrong people to find out."
"I did, but Agent Scully will be able to tell me for sure," Doggett answered. "She's the one that knows what we would find if it were related to what we've seen before on this case."
Tommy laughed. "If she's that good, what is she doing working cases on little green men?"
Doggett replied in an even tone. "We ask ourselves that question all the time. And we still don't know the answer."
Despite the chill in the air, Doggett had chosen to leave his leather jacket at the hotel. He had been struck with the feeling that very soon, he would be glad to be stripped down to the bare essentials. In this case, that meant his Kevlar vest and his weapon.
Two men in HazMat suits were standing by the trailer, bright lights shining on the entire area at Doggett's insistence. Maybe it was that same feeling, but he wanted to be sure that there was a strong source of light available, just in case.
"You ready?" he heard Tommy ask as he passed by, taking a few steps back and drawing his weapon.
Doggett drew his own weapon and nodded. "Tell the boys to open it up." Tommy gave them the signal, and with a slow, methodical motion, the HazMat team opened the trailer door. There was no initial response. Tommy moved to step closer, but Doggett waved him back. It was too soon, and Doggett wanted some signal that it was all clear before he would let anyone get close to that trailer.
"We have something," he heard suddenly, as one of the men pointed towards the inside of the trailer. "A patch of green material, pretty large."
The other man seemed to lean forward into the trailer, as if trying to get a better look. "I hear something," he said, leaning in farther. "What the hell is that?"
"Some kind of low level hum," the first man added. He turned towards Doggett and pointed into the trailer. "The patch of green liquid is about the size of a human body. No body parts remaining. And no worms or signs of anything leaving the area of the green stuff."
"That noise is getting louder," the second man said, edging his flashlight deeper into the trailer. "Almost like some kind of-"
Abruptly, the second man lurched back as something swooped down out of the end of the trailer and planted itself into the center of his chest. The sound of rapidly beating insect wings filled the air. The second man knocked the first man to the ground, leaving the view fully exposed for Doggett, Tommy, and the rest of the officers on the scene.
Doggett's first impression was that it looked like a giant mosquito, but then he realized that it was more like a cross between a mosquito and a wasp. Instead of a needle-like protrusion, the thin insect carried a huge lancet at the end of a fully articulated thorax.
Before anyone could react, it plunged the lancet directly into the second man's stomach, and then rose into the air, landing on the side of the trailer, as if readying itself for another attack. Doggett's fingers were pulsing on the trigger of his drawn weapon before he was consciously aware of his actions. The other officers apparently had the same instinct, because within seconds, the insect was torn apart as the bullets ripped through its fragile carapace. Green liquid sprayed along the side of the trailer and onto the dirt below.
Doggett was the first to recover, but not before the injured man jumped to his feet, his eyes wide with panic.
"It burns! It burns!" the man screamed, grabbing at his midsection with his heavily gloved hands. Then he covered his eyes, as if trying to shield himself from the bright lights surrounding the task force.
Doggett noticed his reaction, and formed a quick theory. "No! Don't cover the wound!"
"It burns!" The wounded man let out a strangled scream, and suddenly lept behind the trailer, running for the darkened warehouse.
"Damn it!" Doggett cursed. He pointed to the uninjured HazMat man. Green fluid from the remains of the unknown insect sizzled on the surface of the protective suit. "Someone get that man out of the suit, and make sure he's kept under strong lights until you're sure he's not infected. The rest, follow me! We have to get that man back out into the light before it's too late... and that warehouse is completely dark!"
Doggett and Tommy ran towards the infected man, who was now pounding with inhuman strength at the door to the warehouse. Just as they were about to grab him, the door caved in, and the infected officer ran screaming into the thick shadows of the warehouse.
Doggett pulled out his flashlight, suddenly aware of just how small it was compared to what they would need. He took a quick sweep of the area just inside of the doorway, and shook his head. "He kept running into the back of this place." He turned to the other officers as they caught up. "We need to fan out as quickly as possible and find this man. They may be a few areas where the lights outside are shining into the building through the windows. As soon as you can, try to pull the officer into the nearest patch of bright light."
"Should we pull him out of the suit?" Tommy asked, as the officers began running into the warehouse, one by one.
Doggett shook his head. "I wouldn't. Chances are, this man is already beyond help. But if he explodes, like those other victims, we know that liquid is like acid. That suit ought to keep it contained." The last officer ran by, and Doggett gestured for Tommy to follow him. "Let's hope I'm wrong."
By the time Doggett managed to squeeze through the shattered doorway, most of the other officers had already spread out within the expanse of the warehouse. Thin beams of light marked the progress of each officer as they appeared and disappeared among the thick concrete columns. All of it was accompanied by the background noise of the HazMat officer screaming somewhere in the darkness.
"Tommy," Doggett called out, and one of the shadows turned towards him, the beam of his flashlight pointing at his feet.
"What's this man's name?"
Tommy paused for a moment. "Frank Ciccone."
Doggett thanked Tommy for the information, and then ran into the darkness, letting his eyes adjust to the lack of light along the way. Most of the officers had split up into three groups, each group taking a section of the warehouse and checking every corner. The emptiness of the warehouse made it impossible to determine where the man had hidden himself. Regardless, the volume of the screaming had elevated to the point that Doggett was sure that they were running out of time.
Doggett found himself standing near the center of the empty warehouse, with nothing more than a few faint shafts of light piercing the darkness around him. The screaming had suddenly descended into a series of sharp cries. If Ciccone was going to be saved, now was the time.
Doggett walked towards one of the nearby columns, listening very closely to the way that the sound carried in the room. It occurred to him that the first victim had intentionally hidden in the darkest space possible. The fact that anything remained of the body was likely a matter of chance...the way that the victim fell when he lost consciousness.
Doggett looked around, trying to determine the darkest part of the building. He had seen Tommy checking the room where the first victim had been discovered, so that was no longer an option. The rest of the building was dark, but open. The officers should have found Ciccone by now.
Scanning the center of the building, he realized that there was a wall separating the two halves of the warehouse. And right in the center of that wall was a small maintenance area. It had no ceiling, but it was thin and small enough that it was easily missed.
Doggett ran towards the shack, and noticed that the door was already open. Lifting his weapon, he scanned the inside of the shack with the beam of his flashlight. "Officer Ciccone? You in there?"
There was no answer, but he wasn't expecting one. He crept into the room, watching for any sudden movement in the darkness, his weapon ready for anything that might come from an unexpected direction. For that matter, after seeing what had been hiding in the trailer, he was no longer positive that they were still looking for a man.
But then he caught something as his flashlight hit something in the far corner. It was Ciccone's protective suit, but it was crumpled at an odd angle along the floor. As he took a few steps closer, he noticed that there was no movement.
"I've got him, in the maintenance shack!" Doggett called, hoping that his voice would be easier to follow that the screaming had been. "There's no movement." As the first officer ran into the shack, Doggett turned and pointed to his radio. "Tell the HazMat team that this man, alive or dead, needs to be sent directly to an Agent Scully in DC."
The officer hesitated. "Shouldn't we call the CDC or-"
"Just do it," Doggett snapped back. He knew it would end his ruse and bring Kersh down on his neck faster than that killer insect, but at this point, there was nothing to be done. By now, Scully had to have figured out that this was very different than the situation in Arizona, and a far cry from finding Mulder.
As the other officer left the shack to make the arrangements, Tommy ran to Doggett's side. "Is Ciccone alive?"
Doggett brought the flashlight up to the faceplate, and was shocked to find that the man was still breathing and aware. He turned to Tommy and nodded, and then approached Ciccone cautiously.
"Officer Ciccone, can you speak?" Doggett asked. The man barely moved, and Doggett was unable to tell what the movementof the man's head was supposed to indicate. But then he heard a soft rasping, and listened carefully.
"Kill me," Ciccone said, his eyes going wide. "Please..."
The man's jaw trembled, and at first Doggett thought that Ciccone was biting back the pain. But then he noticed the movement just under the skin, and the way that fluid seemed to course along his jawbone as though something were moving. Doggett swore softly to himself as he realized that just under the skin, there was a massive amount of greenish liquid, and within that liquid, small worms appeared to move and slither, distending the skin.
Ciccone started to make a gurgling sound, and then his midsection appeared to collapse slightly. His eyes went wide, and in a jerking motion, he slapped the flashlight away from his face.
"No!" Doggett cried out, and scrambled to turn the beam back towards Ciccone's faceplate. But before he could react, he heard a loud but muffled "pop". He managed to illuminate the faceplate just in time to see what remained of Ciccone's face slip off the surface of the glass.
There was a sudden noise behind him, and he realized that Tommy was retching by the door. Doggett watched as Ciccone's suit seemed to deflate, as the corrosive liquid from his body drained down into the legs of his suit.
Doggett stared blankly, gazing at the fallen officer, or what was left of him. This might not have been a lead on Mulder, but whatever it was, he was damned if he was going to let it kill anyone else on his watch.
Scully stood over the sagging blue protective suit containing what was left of Officer Frank Ciccone, staring at the residue on the faceplate with obvious distaste. She had just completed an analysis of four different samples of the green material, as well as a quick evaluation of the body parts.
Everything was pointing to one single source for each and every case. And if that was the case, then she had no desire to open that protective unit and give whatever organism happened to be alive in there a chance to get to her and her unborn child. At least the suit had been immediately sealed before anything could escape.
But on the other hand, she had very little choice. And so with more than a little reluctance, Scully was standing in a clean room wearing a protective suit of her own.
"Victim is identified as Frank Ciccone, age unknown, height unknown, weight unknown. Victim was wearing a hazardous materials containment suit at time of death. Victim's body appears to have been completely destroyed within the suit by an unknown organic corrosive agent. Witnesses are on record as having seen worms of some type within the victim's body before the time of death.
"Preliminary diagnosis would appear to confirm that the victim died of the same unknown infectious or pathogenic cause as the previous victims."
Scully took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "We will confirm this diagnosis by releasing the seal on the containment suit and determining the nature of its contents."
Scully stepped back slightly as she released the seal, watching as a large portion of the green liquid spilled into the glass tray that held the containment suit. The liquid's corrosive properties would have been retained within the sealed atmosphere of the containment suit, and Scully had no intention of getting charged for a new autopsy table.
But none of that was her concern at the moment. Instead, she felt a primitive fear as the first of the small worms surfaced in the green liquid. Soon there were hundreds of them, then thousands, writhing in the fluid, trying to find some means of moving towards another source of nourishment.
Scully knew what that meant, and she continued with her record in order to make sure others were aware of it as well. "Seal has been broken. There is a large quantity of the organic corrosive, as well as thousands of larvae of an unknown insect. The larvae are sensitive to some unknown indicator of nearby living organisms. The larvae are currently collecting in one part of the glass tray...the part closest to me."
Scully looked to the ceiling above the tray. "Diagnosis appears to be correct. Officer Frank Ciccone was killed by infection, exposure to an unknown insect. Vector of infection would appear, in this case, to be caused by a sting from the fully grown adult insect.
"I will now begin the experiment."
Until now, the lights in the room had been turned very low, in order to observe the larvae in their fully functional state. Scully decided that it was the perfect time to turn on the very bright lights hanging directly over the glass tray.
Instantly, as the blinding light shone down on them, the larvae began shriveling and dissolving within the slowly drying green liquid. To Scully's shock, within seconds, none of the larvae remained.
"The experiment was a complete success. The larvae, in their entirety, were killed when exposed to a light source able to penetrate the corrosive liquid. It is my determination that this provides a means of defense, and can be used in the field as a means of destroying the organism in the larval stage."
Scully hesitated, and then concluded. "It is unknown whether a similar approach would be enough to destroy the organism in the adult stage, although witnesses have reported that the only adult specimen encountered appeared unaffected by the artificial lights on the scene."
Moments later, Scully was standing in the next room, looking through the glass at the steadily evaporating liquid in the tray. It was so similar to the properties of the remains of the alien bounty hunter, those weeks ago.
No matter what she had told John, she had invested much more in this unofficial lead than anything they had heard since Arizona. To have it turn into some generic X-File, after all of that anticipation...
Scully sighed, and pressed the speed dial on her cell phone.
"John Doggett," came the voice seconds later.
"It's Agent Scully," she instantly replied. They might hate playing the overly formal game, but there was a certain comfort to it. It was almost natural now. "I've finished looking at the remains of Officer Ciccone. I think I have a complete picture of what kind of organism you're dealing with."
"That's great, because we are completely at a loss here," Doggett admitted. His voice sounded strained, and beyond weary. "I've been waiting to hear from you before taking the next step. You mind starting at the beginning?"
"No, that's fine," Scully replied. Where else would she start?
"The first victim was one Anthony Calzaretta. In that case, we had the benefit of fingerprints, of course. Records show that he had been an employee of J. Manheimer for just about a year. Reported missing just before I made the identification, according to the NYPD.
"The remaining tissue, mainly the hands, shows some very strange properties. For one thing, there was massive infection of the tissue by those worms. The worms are actually the larvae of whatever insect you encountered in the trailer.
"The green liquid is a combination of pus from the infected tissue, the digestive bile of the larvae, and the resultant excrement. There is also evidence of an unknown organic material, which does not match human fluids or the fluids from the larvae. The digestive fluids of this particular insect are something far removed from anything I have seen for something that size."
"So the victim was infected, probably from some kind of insect sting, and that infection ripped through his body as the larvae reproduced."
Scully sighed. "That's what I think."
Doggett grunted an agreement. "OK, what about the fact that the hands and that piece of scalp were unaffected?"
"You were right about the light being important," Scully answered. She rubbed her hand across her sweating forehead. "The sunlight from outside penetrated the skin, and prevented the larvae from spreading into that tissue. Apparently that patch of scalp was not covered by enough hair to remain in the dark."
Scully paused, collecting her thoughts. "Did the rest of the HazMat team find any larvae in the trailer?"
"Yeah, but they were dead," Doggett replied. "When they tried to leave the trailer, the sunlight got them, or our portable rig. The rest were dealt with after the incident with Officer Ciccone."
"The larvae are the means of reproduction," Scully said confidently. In this respect, the larvae were very similar to the worm-like forms taken on by the alien virus that she and Mulder had encountered four years earlier in Terma, and a couple years later in Texas. "They find a living host, and when it is large enough, it serves as a breeding ground for an adult."
"Which is why there was a trail going from the dog to the trailer," Doggett reasoned. "The dog was a source of food, but not large enough a host to allow the adult to spawn."
Doggett hesitated, and then asked, "I assume that we have a clear chain of victims here?"
Scully turned, looking into the clean room. "It would appear to be the case. Anthony Calzaretta was infected approximately 32 hours ago by an adult insect that has not yet been located. The larvae left Calzaretta's remains and sought a new host. It tried to infect a dog, could not spawn an adult, and so moved on to the next available victim, which was Mr. Ferrara in the trailer." Scully saw a flash of moment to one side, and pushed her hair behind her ear.
"Who spawned an adult as well as more worms," Doggett "The adult that wound up infecting Officer Ciccone." There was the muted sound of a curse in the background. "Agent Scully, this makes sense to me, but I have a lot of officers here who need to know what our next move is."
"I know," Scully said, pushing her hair behind her ear again. It was becoming distracting. "I think the obvious move is to find the original adult."
Doggett was the one to curse this time. "Only we have no idea where to look, and this is one hell of a big city."
"No, I don't think so," Scully interjected. "The adult, regardless, is going to want to build some kind of hive or nest in a place with zero light. And since the larvae can only travel a short distance, the original adult is going to want to stay within a short distance of that area, in order to make sure the new aadult can reach the nest with as little exposure to light as possible."
"So," Doggett said knowingly, "we should be looking for a building with little or no lighting and very close to the warehouse where the first victim was found."
"Exactly," Scully replied.
Doggett laughed. "Great. I think I already got the grand tour of the place."
Scully didn't quite understand, but she lost the obvious question as she once again became distracted by the movement of her hair. What was with it tonight?
"Do you think we should bother with HazMat suits?" Doggett asked, breaking her out of her line of thought, such as it was.
"It might be some measure of protection against the larvae," Scully noted, "but you're dealing with the adult. And we already know that the containment suits are no protection from the stingers on an adult."
"That's what I thought," Doggett said with that familiar tone of weariness. "Then I guess we'll go in as is. With a bigger flashlight, though, that's for sure."
Scully smiled. "I'm still waiting on the lab results regarding that unknown organic chemical in the residue. I should get it within the next few hours."
"Let me know when you get something, right away," Doggett replied. "It could be important."
"I will," Scully answered. She hesitated for a moment, and then said, "Watch your back, Agent Doggett. And stay in the light as much as you can."
"That thing's not going to be in the light, Agent Scully," Doggett countered. But she could hear his smile in his voice, and knew that her warning had been taken as it had been intended.
Doggett disconnected, and Scully found herself leaning in complete exhaustion against the window to the clean room. It appeared as though everything was in order, and the objective was clear. Now that the question of Mulder's involvement had been resolved, it was a simple hunt for a new and deadly insect. And that was a typical day at the office on the X-Files.
Hadn't she forgotten something?
Well, it had been a very long 24 hours. After her meeting with John the night before, she had not gotten much sleep. Her head had been filled with images of Mulder, and the hopes that such thoughts always brought. And then the usual wearying intrigues over the X-Files, and this business with the unknown insect in New York. None of them more important than her ever-present complications with the baby.
She slid one hand across her stomach. Skinner was right. She had a few weeks, no more, before matters came to a head and the baby would start showing. And then there would be the inevitable tension between her and John, with him wondering why she had never trusted him enough to tell him the full truth. He would still be there for her, she knew him well enough to be sure of that much, but what bonds they had forged would be sorely tested.
No, she was right to keep it from him, given how closely he was being watched by Kersh and his unknown, but suspected, benefactors.
Once again, there was that annoying movement in the corner of her eye, and she reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. Only there was no hair to tuck, and suddenly Scully realized what she had missed in her exhaustion.
She jumped away from the glass just as the stinger of the spawned adult sliced a line into its surface, and then began smashing into the glass as hard as it could with the lethal stiletto point. Scully was barely able to reach the other side of the observation room before the glass shattered.
Scully grabbed a large instrument tray and held it like a shield in front of her as the insect's stinger stabbed at her again and again, pressing her towards the wall. Scully realized quickly that the insect was trying to corner her, and that she would never escape infection if she allowed that to happen.
To one side, she saw a rotary saw lying on a cart, ready for use during the next scheduled autopsy. Taking a chance, she let go of the instrument tray with one hand and grabbed for the saw. The stinger shot out at her exposed arm, but it missed, and Scully managed to retrieve the saw without injury.
Still, she'd only get one or two chances at using the saw against her attacker. As soon as the stinger lanced towards her again, she hit the switch on the saw and brought it down towards the powerful thorax. She missed, but so did her opponent.
It recovered quickly. Before Scully was ready to defend herself, she felt the stinger plunge into the hand holding the instrument tray, tearing through the glove and into her flesh. She screamed at the sudden searing pain, and ripped the saw into the insect until it withdrew.
Ignoring the pain in her wounded hand, Scully continued to bear down on the insect with the saw until it was severed in two. Green corrosive material spilled down onto the floor, sizzling as it began eating away at the tile. Some of it hit Scully's legs as well, but that pain was a minor issue.
Scully stumbled towards the door to the clean room, holding her hand as far from her body as possible. The searing sensation was obviously from the digestive acids of the first larvae to begin eating at her flesh, and she could already feel the movement under her skin.
As she stumbled into the room, she was thankful that the bright light above the glass autopsy tray was still on. Taking only minimal care to avoid the remaining acidic liquid in the tray, Scully thrust her infected hand under the light, putting it as close to the source as possible.
Seconds later, she felt the movement cease, and the fluid under her skin began seeping from the wound. Scully held her hand to the light for as long as she could bear, and then she slumped against the glass tray, taking care not to lean into the still deadly fluid.
She took a step towards the door, intending to make sure that her hand was properly treated, when she felt a stabbing pain in the left side of her abdomen. She cried out, falling to one knee, and she was barely able to catch herself. Another knife seemed to rip through her right side, and then she lost all strength as she simply collapsed from the agony.
"No!" she moaned, the word wrenched from her throat, one hand trapped under her as the other instinctively went to her stomach. The lancing pain continued to throb from both sides, with any attempt at movement.
Tears began streaming down her cheeks as she heard the sounds of footsteps running into the room. She realized, through the haze of pain and the rising panic, that the breaking glass must have triggered an automatic alarm.
"My baby," she cried, her plea cut off as she sucked in a short, jagged breath as the pain ripped through her as they tried to help her to her feet. "Please, don't let my baby die!"
Then she was back on the floor, voices crying out for a stretcher, to keep her still until help could arrive. And then, as the shock and trauma finally caught up with her, everything faded to black.
Long Island City, NY
Doggett slipped his cell phone back into his pocket, and looked back at the Manheimer building. Scully was right. Whatever this thing was, it was in its element in darkness. And as he had noted more than once during his grand tour, the Manheimer building was full of lots of dark corners and other places to hide.
He turned to Tommy, who was standing with about three other officers near the trailer. "You said you knew some of the guys who used to work for Manheimer?"
Tommy nodded. "Yeah, a few. Why?"
"You ever meet someone named Tony Calzaretta?"
Tommy thought for a moment. "I think so. New guy, only there for a few months. Maybe a year. He was back and forth to Jersey a lot."
Doggett stepped closer to his friend. "What did he do for Manheimer?"
"Shipping and receiving," Tommy answered. He pointed to the back of the Manheimer building, towards the five large bay doors to the right of the ramp. "That's the back of the loading dock. Not much action these days."
Doggett shook his head. "That's not what I was thinking of, but that makes me think of something. Londner said that the warehouse here used to be leased for storage of their materials, until just recently."
"That's right," Tommy said, and a couple of the other officers confirmed it with a nod.
"So if Calzaretta was in charge of shipping and receiving, was he also responsible for the material handling crew? Would he have had any reason to be in that warehouse?"
"Just to remove the materials when they were ready to move out," Tommy replied with a shrug.
"Exactly," Doggett agreed. "So what was he doing in the warehouse, when we know that all the materials were out of there weeks ago?"
"Maybe they weren't all out," Tommy guessed.
"Or someone told him there was something still in there," Doggett added. He looked back at the Manheimer building. "Calzaretta died in that warehouse no earlier than two days ago. That means that he was still coming here to supervise the removal of materials. And we saw those few drums in the shipping area."
Doggett scanned the back of the Manheimer building, and then turned back to Tommy. "I think we should find out where they're keeping the drums that Calzaretta came here to remove."
Tommy shook his head. "We took a tour through that building, Johnny. That place was clear of drums, except those few sitting here and there in shipping, and that was hardly enough for a shipping supervisor to come back for."
"I know," Doggett said confidently. "So there has to be someplace else where they are keeping them."
"Did you check in the underground garage, under shipping?" one of the other officers, Hector Quintana, asked as he pointed to a metal gate under the center of the loading dock.
Doggett shook his head. "No, we never made it down there. But the way that Londner made it sound, it wasn't very important."
"We have free access to the building, Johnny," Tommy said, holding up the key he had gotten from Herb Koenig. "Want to take a look?"
"I think that might be a good idea," Doggett said with a grin. He turned to the other officers. "We can handle this if you have something else to do."
The officers shook their heads. "No way, sir. Ciccone was a good man, and a good friend. We're sticking on this to the end."
"All right," Doggett said with a satisfied smile.
All told, there were five of them. Doggett and Tommy took the lead, walking towards the loading dock. The three remaining officers were all from the local precinct. Quintana was a short, stocky man with a thick Latino accent. The second officer was named Lombardi. He was a tall Italian, but his accent was pure Brooklyn. The third officer was named Janeczko, a muscular man with a trace of Polish in his voice.
Within minutes, they had their flashlights sweeping in a constant arc of illumination in front of them, walking down a steep stairway leading from the loading dock to the underground garage. As they came to the door at the bottom of the stairs, Doggett heard a soft whirring by the wall. Quickly turning and pulling his weapon, he relaxed when he noticed the camera.
"Security system, I guess," Lombardi muttered. Doggett nodded, and pushed open the door to the garage.
The underground garage was the same size as the shipping area above. There was a metal gate leading up a ramp to the outside, the one Quintana had mentioned. On the opposite end, there was a door leading up to the front of the building.
Doggett noticed that the space was roughly divided in thirds. To the left of the ramp, there was a large pile of trash and empty boxes, likely from the move to Jersey. The center third, directly in front of the ramp, was completely clear. Doggett assumed that the center space was used for parking.
However, the final third, the space to the right of the ramp, was isolated by a steel cage. Behind the cage, pallet after pallet of steel-drummed materials were arranged along the length of the garage. A quick inspection of the gate revealed a door with a lock on their end of the garage, and another door very close to the other end.
"This gate's locked," Janeczko said, pointing to the nearby door.
"Let's check the other end," Tommy said, and they carefully walked along the perimeter of the cage, taking care to keep their path fully lit, as well as the space behind them.
Doggett was the first to notice. "That's door is open." Sure enough, as they came closer, they noticed that the door was propped open with a drum full of crumbled concrete.
"That ought to make it easy to take a look at those drums," Tommy added.
Doggett stepped into the cage, careful to stay close to the other officers and the light they provided. He shone his beam directly on the nearest drum, and tried to read the faded writing on the steel drum.
"I can't make out a name for the material," he said after a moment. "I thought that was illegal."
"It is," Lombardi replied from one side. "But are you sure there's anything in the drum? The name looks like it was scraped off."
Doggett knocked on the side of the drum. "No, there is definitely something in there. Sounds like some kind of liquid."
"The writing is Portuguese," Quintana muttered. "And the rest of the markings suggest that this stuff came out of Brazil."
Doggett turned towards Tommy, his expression grave. "Londner said something about Manheimer getting a lot of materials from a lot of isolated areas. If this stuff came out of Brazil, is it possible that these drums came out of some part of the Amazon?"
"What would that have to do with anything?" Tommy asked.
"Well, I'm not sure about this," Doggett admitted, "but I seem to remember a lot of stories about huge insects and bizarre diseases coming out of remote areas in the Amazon rain forest."
Doggett gestured towards the ceiling. "This is a small company, or at least a small building, and from the impression I get, it amounts to the same thing. A small flavor and fragrance company would have to find some way to survive, especially with the bigger companies starting to merge and cutting them out of the action.
"So what are the chances that they would start looking for some special ingredient, something only they knew was out there in the rain forest. Maybe something that was recently discovered in one of the areas just cleared by some other operation."
"I get it," Tommy interrupted. "They start shipping this stuff in, and then they take off the label in order to keep it a trade secret." He pointed to the drum. "Something on there has to be something only Manheimer would recognize."
"All right, so it was technically legal," Doggett said with a smirk. "But I'm betting that a few days ago, maybe a few weeks ago, they got one of these shipments. Only there was something else in the shipment, hiding on one of these skids."
"Those worms?" Lombardi asked, sweeping the floor suddenly with the beam of his flashlight.
"Or an adult," Doggett reasoned. "It's possible that the bug was actually living in the drum. Agent Scully said that there was an unknown organic chemical in the residue from the soil and from the crime scene." He nodded towards the drum. "Dollars to doughnuts, this is the stuff."
"Johnny, look over here," Tommy said, pointing the beam of his flashlight away from the drum and towards the concrete floor. by the open gate. "Some sort of hose."
Doggett stepped away from the pallet of drums, careful to stay within the confines of the officers' illumination. Bending down, he saw a clear plastic, steel-lined hose filled with a greenish liquid.
"That hose is connected to the top of one of these drums," Quintana said, tracing the line back to its source.
"Yeah, but where does it end?" Doggett asked, as he sstoo and began slowly following the hose out of the caged area. He walked along the length of the hose, past a number of connecting sections, until he found himself about twenty feet away, staring at a large metal door set into the concrete wall at the front of the building.
Tommy read the sign on the door. "Terpene Storage."
"Must be some kind of underground storage tank," Janeczko muttered. "Oil of some kind?"
"Londner mentioned something about essential oils, like some of flavor ingredient," Doggett added. "I guess terpenes would be one of those. The question is, is the stuff in those drums terpenes, or is it something else?"
"Guess we have to take a look," Tommy said, and when Doggett nodded, the officers took position around the door, making doubly sure to keep the entire doorway lit.
"One, two, three," Doggett said confidently, and then pushed the door wide open. It slammed against the concrete wall with a satisfying thump, but beyond the echo throughout the garage, nothing left the unknown room.
Lombardi was the first to inspect the immediate interior. "The hose goes off to the left. Some kind of sewer line along the front wall." Once Quintana took position behind him, he took a better look. "Sewer line leads to a sump. Past that, the hose goes into another small door. It's also marked 'Terpene Storage'."
"So Manheimer, or someone in the company, is pumping that stuff from the Amazon into this large storage tank," Tommy said, looking to Doggett. "OK, call me crazy, but why?"
"I don't know any more than you," Doggett replied. Then he stepped into the interior of the storage room. "But I think we might want to find out where the stuff in that storage tank comes out."
Doggett gestured for the other four men to take up a defensive position around the doorway. Once he was sure that they would be able to cover him while also keeping an eye on the vicinity of the doorway, he carefully stepped towards the small door leading to the storage tank itself.
When he came to the small door, he readied his weapon and slowly opened it. A quick inspection of the room showed a very large metal storage tank. The floor was lightly stained from the strange greenish liquid from the drums. Doggett noticed that the stain was more of a yellowish color, but he filed that away for future reference. The first priority was figuring out if there was a processing pipe leading away from the tank.
He was already bent slightly into the room, his feet planted close to the edge of the deep sump, when he heard the faint humming. He went completely still, his eyes widening as he tried to figure out where his attacker would be coming from. A light, feathery caress slid along his calf, and he realized that he would not be able to turn in time to shoot.
Instead, in one fluid motion, he lurched into the storage tank chamber, screaming at the same time, "The sump!"
Shots rang out with explosive thunder as chips of concrete became shrapnel as they ricocheted against the end of the metal tank. The sharp bite of concrete quickly turned to a stinging heat as burning liquid sprayed onto his legs and back. Doggett resisted the urge to flip over, knowing that he should confine the acid burns to his legs and the Kevlar vest.
A few seconds later, his ears still ringing from the overwhelming sound of echoing gunfire, he pulled himself to his knees. He knew that Tommy and the other officers were probably calling out to him, to know if he was all right, but he could do little more than wave his hand through the open doorway. When Tommy finally rushed into view, Doggett gestured to his ears, shaking his head.
Tommy nodded with a smile, and pointing to the ground while running a finger across his exposed neck. "Dead," he mouthed, and then gestured towards the storage rank, raising an eyebrow in question.
Doggett shrugged, and resumed searching for the pipe leading away from the storage tank. He was no longer worried about finding another one of the insects, now that the one they were hunting had been killed, but there were still some other questions that had to be answered.
Finally, a few moments later, he found something that looked promising. "I think that's the one," he said loudly, his ears still ringing badly. "Connects to the middle of the tank, then goes along the wall and into the room over our heads."
Tommy nodded. "Sounds about right." Recognition seemed to flash in his eyes. "If that pipe goes into some room, then I think this is right below that room that Londner said was some sort of hot storage room."
"I remember that," Doggett said, slightly softer this time. "Sensitive materials."
Tommy helped Doggett to his feet, and together they walked carefully back into the garage. Doggett felt a slight breeze on his lower legs, from where the acidic fluid from the insect had burned through his jeans. The skin underneath was a little stiff, but nothing that would need immediate medical attention.
Once they were all back into the open area of the garage, he gathered them all together. "That must have been the insect from Calzaretta," Doggett said, trying hard to keep his tone down. "We have a clear progression of victims now, and the source of the infection.
"Manheimer gets this unknown material on the cheap from South America, which harbors some kind of unknown insect," Tommy continued. "Calzaretta gets infected and that where we got involved." He turned to Doggett. "Johnny, that doesn't add up."
"Exactly," Doggett said with a frown. "We saw how quickly the infection from that insect can lead one of those things melting down a human body. Ciccone didn't make it more than fifteen minutes, tops. So that means that Calzaretta was already in the warehouse across the street when he was infected.
"This material is dated recently, so I doubt it was moved. Most of the employees relocated to Jersey before the shipment, I would guess. So someone, maybe the person who ordered this stuff in the first place, lured Calzaretta into the warehouse.
"Koenig said that he gave Londner a key to that warehouse. Londner told you, Tommy, that the key was missing as of a few days ago. That fits with the possible date of the last shipment and the time of death of the first victim."
Doggett pointed towards the storage room door. "In the meantime, someone has been pumping the liquid from those drums into the large storage tank down here into a room that Londner made sure we didn't get a look at. If all of the operations are moved to Jersey, what reason is there to continue pumping material into that room?"
Doggett shook his head. "We know that someone from this company was imported a possibly illegal material into the country, and that the same person probably found out about the insect. When Calzaretta found out, someone set him up and used the insect to kill him. That same someone might have intentionally kept the insect inside that storage room."
"Why?" Lombardi asked, shaking his head.
"To keep anyone from finding out about this operation down here," Tommy answered. "That place is completely dark, and isolated. No way for an infected person to get out."
"And we know that the worms drive their hosts in the dark, so they can gestate," Doggett added. He shook his head. "Londner is supposed to be some kind of regulatory officer. He would have had the means and the know-how to get that material into the country without attracting undue attention."
"So Londner is the one behind this?" Quintana said, turning to Tommy. "I thought he was some old guy. How is a skinny old man going to control those things?"
"He might not have been working alone," Doggett said. "He could have been taking orders from someone higher in the company. Maybe that's why he was the one out here showing us the building and the crime scene."
Then Doggett shook his head. "That makes no sense. Leaving that insect in the storage room...that would allow the worms to get into the sewer system through the sump. If they were trying to hide the operation, letting some lethal infestation into the environment would be a quick way to ruin that plan.
"And if they wanted to keep all of this secret, then why would they kill Calzaretta in the abandoned warehouse? And why let the worms escape the crime scene?"
"Unless they didn't know about the worms," Janeczko said quietly.
"Then how would they have known that the evidence would be destroyed?" Doggett answered. "No, there is some kind of rationale here. The pieces just don't fit together the way we want them to."
Doggett ran down the series of events again. "Someone ordered this material, brought it to this facility, and then stored it down here for some unknown operation. Sometime after that, Calzaretta was infected across the street in the abandoned warehouse.
"We've accounted for the insect down here that must have infected Calzaretta. We've accounted for the worms from that infection, and the insect from Ferrara. And Agent Scully told us that the worms, when they find a large enough host..."
Doggett realized what he had been missing. "Wait. If a human is a large enough host to create an adult, then what happened to the insect from Calzaretta? Unless this was the insect from Calzaretta." Doggett gestured back to the storage room.
"Which means that Calzaretta was infected by another one," Tommy said, looking suddenly into the darkness.
"That's exactly what it means," Doggett said with a smile. But just as quickly, that smile disappeared. "And that means..."
His words were cut off as a shrill beeping escaped from his cell phone.
"Agent Scully," he whispered to himself, as he lifted the phone to his ear.
"John Doggett," the voice said from the other end of the line. "Is this Agent Scully?"
Skinner took a deep breath, and then answered. "No, Agent Doggett. This is Skinner."
"Is Agent Scully all right?" Doggett said urgently. His fear for Scully was clearly drawn in the tone of his voice.
"She was attacked by some kind of giant insect," Skinner said with an obvious level of impatience. "That led to a very dangerous situation. She's in the hospital waiting for a diagnosis, and the results of some tests."
"Was she infected by the insect?" Doggett asked, insistent.
"Yes, but she was able to deal with that problem," Skinner assured him. "But that did lead to another situation." Skinner stopped himself before he could say anything more.
"As long as she's all right," Doggett said, after a pause. There was the sound of a heavy sigh. "I suppose that this is no longer under wraps?"
"You might say that." Skinner had to restrain the bitter laugh that threatened to escape his throat. "Kersh sounded like he was ready to have a coronary. He demanded that I inform him of your whereabouts, your involvement in this case, and the reason why Scully was participating in an unauthorized case."
"What did you tell him?" Doggett's tone sounded resigned.
"As little as possible, but I think that he might have figured out the rest," Skinner said, running his free hand over his head. "He's demanding that he get a full report as soon as the situation is resolved." Skinner paused. "You have any idea when that might be?"
"I have a suspect, but we have another one of those things to find before I'll feel comfortable leaving the area."
Skinner cursed slightly, and then apologized when a nurse glared at him from across the hall. "Why don't you just have some of the other officers find him?"
There was a pause, and then Doggett lowered his voice. "No need. He just showed up."
Long Island City, NY
Doggett stared at Londner as the old man slowly walked towards them. There seemed to be an odd expression on his face, something that seemed to betray some semblance of deception. Doggett forced himself to erase such assumptions from his thoughts. It was far too early to judge guilt or innocence.
"Mr. Londner," Doggett said, stepping slightly into the man's path. "Can we help you?"
Londner seemed to stir out of his own thoughts, and shook his head. "I'm not sure. There were reports of gunshots, so I came to see what was going on."
Doggett gave Tommy a bemused glance. "Well, it's good timing. We were about to call you and ask you a few questions."
"Call me?" Londner asked.
"That's right," Tommy said, as the other officers slowly started walking towards Londner.
"We found your killer," Doggett said, stepping towards Londner. "Some kind of killer bug came in on one of your shipments, Mr. Londner. One of those drums in that cage."
"Then this is over?" Londner said, his eyes full of sudden hope.
"Not quite," Tommy replied sarcastically.
"What do you mean?" Londner demanded, his hopeful expression now turned to something far less pleasing.
"There's another one out there, besides the one that killed Calzaretta," Doggett explained. "Or the one we killed was the one that came out of him when he died."
"Killed?" Londner asked, his voice strained.
"Killed," Doggett said, now quite close to Londner, looking down in the man's face. "So we need to find this other bug, Mr. Londner, before anyone else can get infected. And that's means looking around on this piece of property a little more."
"Like that room upstairs," Tommy said from one side. "You know, the one that you're pumping all of this stuff into?"
Londner paused, and then nodded. "I think that we could do that, if you think it's necessary."
"I think that would be wise," Doggett said as he gestured towards the other end of the garage. "We came down here from the shipping area, and as I recall, that room was not too far away. How about we go there now?"
"We'll need the key first," Londner said, as he turned towards the door. "It's locked."
Doggett and Tommy exchanged glances again, and Doggett nodded with a grin. "All right, then, we'll stop at your office, pick up the key, and then go to room. But let's be clear. No other side trips."
Londner nodded, and with the escort of the three officers and their flashlights, they made their way to Londner's office. The lights were already on, something that Doggett found to be alarming.
"Tommy," he whispered as he stepped over to his friend. "Do you remember any of the lights being on when we came in earlier?"
"Nope," Tommy replied, as quietly as Doggett.
"Seems rather odd for a man concerned about some gunshots to take the time to open up the office like this," Doggett added. "Not to mention when there is an unidentified killer out on the loose." Then he remembered something that Londner had said moments before.
"Mr. Londner," he said, stepping towards the man. "You mind telling me who reported those gunshots to you?"
Londner stopped at his office door, staring into Doggett's eyes. "What do you mean?"
"You said someone reported the gunshots down there," Doggett said, returning the stare. "Who reported it? And why would they report it to you?"
Londner paused, and then stammered out, "Mr. Manheimer is a member of the local community board. We always get calls from the local businesses if they notice anything out of the ordinary on our property."
"That's fine, Mr. Londner, but who's around this place at this time of the morning?" Doggett gestured towards the back of the building. "Or can't you be more specific?"
Londner attempted to open the door to his office, but Doggett casually held it shut as he leaned closer to Londner's face. "And while we're at it, why don't you tell me how it is that you managed to show up so soon after we killed that insect. Where did you say you live, Mr. Londner?"
"I've been staying nearby," Londner replied, his voice strained. "Now, if you want to get into that room, you're going to have to let me into my office. On the other hand, if you want to question me, arrest me and get it over with."
Doggett hesitated for a moment, and then moved away from the door. "Get that key, Mr. Londner. And after we see that room, maybe we'll talk about that arrest."
Leaving Tommy and the other officers by the entrance, Doggett stepped into Londner's office, forcing his eyes to adjust to the light. He looked around at the papers strewn across the floor, as well as the way that the furniture was arranged, and gave Londner a guarded look.
"Just how long were you in this office before you came down to check on things?"
"Not long," Londner said, as he stepped behind a cubicle wall. "The key is right back here. Give me a second."
Doggett made sure that he could keep an eye on Londner's movements, or at least the top of the old man's head, while he inspected the office a little more closely. He heard a knock behind his head, and saw Tommy through one of the office windows, giving him a questioning look. Doggett simply nodded that everything was all right, and turned back to see what Londner was doing.
Suddenly, the lights in the office went out.
Doggett flicked the switch on his flashlight, pointing it towards Londner as he cursed under his breath. The man was standing completely still, trembling slightly, but otherwise he was not responding to the light shining at his face.
"Mr. Londner?" Doggett asked, taking a step closer to the cubicle wall. "Mr. Londner, are you all right? Was that you?"
Doggett was about to step around the cubicle wall when he saw Londner begin to shake harder as a loud, slick slap of liquid fell to the floor. Doggett scanned the floor just in time to see a thin layer of greenish liquid spread out near his feet.
Suddenly he realized why the floor and walls had the distinctive stain, and he ran for the door as the first glimpse of the emerging insect slipped over the edge of the cubicle wall.
"Close the door, close the door!" Doggett cried as he dove to the ground near the officers' feet. Tommy, who had been watching from the window, quickly complied, knowing the reason why his friend was so panicked. The distinctive hum of the insect's wings began echoing within the office walls just as they managed to slam the door closed.
"That thing was in Londner," Doggett said, as he pulled himself to his feet.
"But Londner was still alive," Quintana said, backing away from the door. "How could that thing have been growing inside of him, without it showing?"
"Must have been in him all this time," Tommy said as he tried to shine his flashlight into the office through the window. "Maybe it was controlling him or something. Maybe we can-"
Tommy jumped back as the window cracked into a spider's web as the insect attempted to spear his head through the glass. The rest of the men focused their beams on the window, chasing the insect away, but they all knew that it was just a matter of time.
"All right," Doggett said, pulling out his weapon and pointing it at the window. "Next time that thing tries to come through the window, we-"
"Johnny!" Tommy shouted, as a sudden lurch of machinery sounded from the direction of the shipping floor. "That locked door is moving!"
"You two, keep your lights on the office window. Lombardi, follow my lead!" Doggett took a few steps away from the office, and along with Lombardi and Tommy, tried to get a look at what was happening. The beams of their flashlights hit the opening under the rising door just in time to stop another of the insects from rushing at them.
"There must be a control in the office," Tommy said, backing close to Doggett. "Johnny, we have to get out of here."
Doggett looked around, and remembered that there was an employee's entrance just to one side of the office bunker. "All right, let's try the door over here!" Grabbing Quintana and Janeczko, Doggett started running for the side of the office bunker. Distracted by the sudden noise of their footfalls, he almost missed the hum of an impending attack.
He dodged to the right as an insect's stinger ripped through the air where his shoulder had been, pulling two men to the ground at the same time. He heard a scream, and looking up, he saw Janeczko pinned to the concrete of the bunker, the stinger lodged in his arm.
Doggett heard movement in the direction of the doorway, and realized that it was a trap. The insects that had escaped must have caught up with them, and the most obvious exits would be blocked. He looked over his shoulder, and saw that the way to the door leading into the main offices was clear. It would mean having to find his way out of the maze of hallways in order to escape, but it was their only chance.
"Get out of here," he heard, and he saw that Janeczko had grabbed the insect with his free arm, keeping it from attacking someone else. His pinned arm was slowly moving up, the gun still in his hand. "I'll cover you! Just go!"
"You heard him!" Doggett said, knowing better than to waste time. "Tight formation, and keep your lights moving in all directions! Cover everything you can, and we might make it!"
"Johnny, we can't just him," Quintana said, resisting, but Doggett took him by the back of his vest and pulled him towards the door. Lights swirling all around them, they ran as fast as they could to the door, pulling it open with only the slightest thought for whether or not it was clear. As they slammed the door shut behind them, they heard the shatter of the office window as Londner's insect escaped, followed immediately by a series of gunshots and one final harrowing scream from Janeczko.
"Jerry!" Quintana cried out, reaching for the door, but Doggett and Tommy grabbed him before he could open the door.
"Knock it off, Hector," Tommy said, too harshly. "He's dead. We need to get out of here and find a way to seal this place off."
"That's right," Doggett agreed. "The main thing is to get out of here and find a way to contain these things so we can call in the CDC or something. Although I have to wonder what they're going to be able to do about something like this."
"Burn the place to the ground," Tommy muttered, pulling out his weapon. He checked the clip, and then shook his head. "I'm running pretty low. How about the rest of you?"
"Same here," Lombardi said, swearing as he reloaded, and Quintana reluctantly nodded the same.
"I'm close to full," Doggett said. "The rest of you must have run low killing the one down in that storage tank room. Which means that we have to stick together, and try not to waste what we have."
Doggett heard something above his head, and checked to see if the others reacted as well. His heart sank as he saw the looks on their faces.
"The ductwork," Tommy said softly.
"Must have some of the A/C units in the production area," Doggett said under his breath. "All right, that just means we have to move a little faster. Anyone remember where the other doors out of this place were located?"
"There was one in the back, close to the corner of the building," Quintana said. "I noticed that when we were setting up outside the trailer. But I have no idea how to get there from inside."
"That might be the door by the first aid room," Doggett replied, suddenly very glad that they had taken the guided tour with Londner. "Something just occurred to me. If that thing was controlling Londner, why would he have insisted on showing us the layout of the building yesterday?"
Tommy nodded. "I was just thinking the same thing."
"It could have been some kind of diversion," Lombardi said, shrugging his shoulders. "Tommy, you mentioned that Londner said it might have been some other employee that was involved."
"Yeah, but why show us the building?" Doggett said. He shook his head. "No, he was trying to warn us all along. Pointing out specific places that were hard to get in or out of, where the exits were, indirectly telling us things the entire time."
"He must have been the one to first find the insects from the illegal shipment," Tommy said. "It must have taken him as some kind of host. It explains why he looks so bad these days."
"Maybe," Doggett said, checking his gear one last time. "But at this point, it doesn't matter. We have to get out of the building. Besides the back exit, does anyone remember any other way out of here?"
"The front door," Lombardi said, pointing in the rough direction of the lobby. "It shouldn't be far."
"Yeah, but it's also the first place that these things are going to expect us to go." Doggett shook his head. "Back exit it is. And if I remember correctly, that means that we have to take a left down the next hallway, past the labs, and then a right before we hit the lunch room. Somewhere back there, in the opposite corner, ought to be the exit."
Doggett took a few steps away from the production entrance, shining his light along the wall to his left. It caught the edge of the hallway within about ten feet.
"This way," he said, taking the lead. "Tommy, you cover us as we move. Lock any doors that we pass through, if you can. Lombardi, Quintana, I want you to stand at either side, just behind me. Keep Tommy just behind you. Face out if you can. The idea is to cover as much ground with your light as you can. Remember to listen carefully for any sounds coming out of the ducts above our heads. If we stay quiet, we should hear them coming."
Following Doggett's lead, they moved slowly around the corner, keeping an eye out for any unexpected moment. The constant motion of the lighting around them made that task difficult, but they quickly fell into a set pattern that allowed them to move a little more quickly.
They passed through one door, and Doggett paused to see where they were. They were definitely at the end of the long lab hallway. A bright red exit sign palely lit the hall about halfway down the stretch, across from the entrance to the large central QC lab. A second exit sign marked the door that led to the back hallway, the one that would take them to the back exit.
Doggett flashed his light into each room as they slowly passed by each lab door, making sure that there was nothing waiting to surprise them by bursting through one of the windows. By the time that they were almost under the first exit sign, Doggett was beginning to wonder if they were going to make it without resistance.
"Hold it," Tommy said, and the rest of them stopped in mid-stride. "I heard something just overhead."
They all stood absolutely still, waiting for another noise, and then they all heard a creak of movement roughly above the exit sign itself. Doggett was about to wave for them to move more quickly down the hall, to try to make it to the second exit sign and the safety of the next hallway, when a loud crunch of metal and plaster erupted from the ceiling in that very direction.
"Everybody, through the door, now!" Doggett let loose two shots at the oncoming insect, the second shot ripping through one wing and slowing it down. As a second insect burst through the ceiling directly above where they were standing, Doggett dove through the doorway and slammed it shut behind him. Locking the door, he swung around to find the others.
"Is there any other way out of here?" Doggett asked, as he found them behind one of the benches.
"I think there's a door over by the back of the room," Tommy said, risking a look over the edge of the bench. "It should open into that other hallway."
"At least we have that much," Doggett said as he wiped the sweat from his brow. He took his own look, and grimaced as he heard more noise coming from the ducts above. "They know where we are. There are a few benches between us and the door. So we have to move fast before they catch us in here where we can be trapped."
Doggett jumped to his feet, flashing his light across the room, and ran about halfway towards the other door before sliding behind another bench. One by one, they all advanced to the same position, keeping an ear out for any movement above.
"All right, we need to try for the door," Doggett said as Lombardi crouched beside them. "I think our best option is to just make for the back exit before they can react to our movements."
"We'll be more vulnerable that way," Quintana said, his expression full of disapproval.
"We're completely vulnerable now," Doggett countered. "If we get caught between two of these things, we could be stuck just long enough to let others pin us down and pick us off one by one. I'm the only one with even half a clip. How long do you think we could last if there are dozens of those things?"
"We don't know how many-"
"That's right," Doggett agreed. "Which means we have to assume that there are more of them than we can deal with on our own."
"Johnny, at least one just parked over our heads," Tommy said, his eyes going wide. "We're out of time to argue."
Doggett gave Quintana a hard look, and then waved them towards the door as they heard more creaking and slithering in the ceiling. Lombardi made it to the door first, kicking it open and scanning the length of the hall. He waved Tommy through, and then turned to urge Quintana on.
The ceiling exploded as one of the insects dove towards Quintana, colliding with the running man and sending him careening across one of the benches. The heavy man burst through the empty glass shelves on the bench, sending glass flying in all directions.
At the same time, Doggett whirled and fired as a second insect attempted to emerge out of the ceiling, ripping it apart and spraying its corrosive innards down on Doggett's chest. The Kevlar vest sizzled at the contact, but Doggett ignored it as he launched to his feet and checked on Quintana.
As he reached the other side of the demolished bench, he saw Quintana rise, blood dripping from his hands and chin. Deep gashes covered his exposed body, and his clothes were ripped and torn. A sharp shard of glass was gripped in one hand, greenish liquid bubbling on its length.
"Did you kill it?" Doggett asked, his weapon at the ready.
"Yeah," Quintana said, nodding towards the ground. "Before it could get me, anyway." He looked towards Doggett. "Can this stuff get into you through a cut or something?"
"I don't know," Doggett admitted. Then he realized they were wasting time, and he quickly took Quintana by the arm. "Come on, you can let us know how you feel when we get out of here."
They ran for the door, Lombardi urging them on, just as Tommy returned from checking the short hallway leading to the back room. "The way to the back exit looks clear," he said, waving them on. "But I don't know how long that will last."
The four of them ran towards the back exit, Lombardi covering them along the way. They could hear movement over their heads, but when they emerged in the back room near the exit, there were no longer any ducts for them to hide in. They appeared to have made it to safety.
"All right, let's get the hell out of here," Quintana said, wiping his forehead with his bloodied hand. He pushed on the emergency bar on the door, and then frowned when nothing happened. "What the hell!"
"It's jammed?" Doggett said, his expression finally betraying some hint of worry.
"Completely," Quintana said, pushing harder and getting no response. He carefully inspected the door, and then cursed when he looked more closely at the lock. "This thing needs a key. The emergency bar was disabled when the building was abandoned, and they installed a lock to keep anyone out."
"So we can't get out, and they know exactly where we are," Lombardi said, just as they began hearing noise coming from the walls on the second floor.
"It won't be long before they get through," Doggett observed. "We need to decide what to do now."
Tommy pointed to the first aid room next to the blocked exit. "Londner told us that there was no way to get in or out of that room. We could hide in there and call for backup, let someone know what we're up against."
Doggett looked inside the first aid room, checking the ceiling, and shook his head. "The ceiling is just the floor to that area above our heads, the place where they used to keep the retention samples. It's wood. That's not going to stop them for long. Besides, that lock can be opened with a key, and three guesses who would have something like that."
"Londner," Tommy said, stating the obvious.
"Exactly," Doggett said, and then he snapped his fingers. "But there is someplace Londner told us about that might do the trick. All we have to do is make it down the executive hall and get to the computer room."
"Why there?" Quintana asked, still staring at the source of the noise above.
"Londner made point to tell us that the room has an automatic lock that keeps anyone out, including him."
"And he specifically said that the computer room has its own dedicated and separate ventilation system," Tommy said with a grin.
"Which means that if we made it there, we could call for backup and wait them out," Doggett said. "And if I remember correctly, that room has outside windows, meaning that we would only have to wait a few hours for the sun to come up."
"Those searchlights should still be out there, or at least close by," Tommy added. "One way or another, if we can get to that room, we should be all right."
"Then let's do it," Lombardi said, pointing to the door. "Those things aren't going to wait."
Doggett counted to three, and then they ran for the door as fast as possible. He was reasonably sure that he knew the way, which meant that he would be taking the lead. Bursting through the first door, he waited just long enough for Quintana to hold it behind him before running for the next door that would open into the executive row.
Doggett burst through the second door, and immediately heard a humming to his right. He brought his light around instantly, catching the attacking insect in its blinding illumination. Letting off one kill shot before dodging to the left, he noticed that there were a number of other insects coming from the same direction. They had apparently been waiting in the stairwell leading to the second floor.
"Come on!" Doggett screamed, firing at a few more insects before joining the others in a mad dash to the end of the executive row. The hall was wide enough that they could run side to side and still all see the computer room that they were rapidly approaching. As they all rushed to the doorway, Doggett and Tommy whirled, snapping off a few more shots at the oncoming bugs.
"I'm out!" Tommy suddenly cried, as Lombardi pulled the door open. "Come on, no more time!"
Doggett picked off one more insect, and then jumped into the computer room, pulling the door closed behind him. His fingers found the trigger for the automatic lock, and he activated it. For better or worse, they were now trapped in the room, with the insects unable to get into the room without a great deal of work.
He turned to Tommy, shaking his head. "We're not going to wait until dawn. We have to get those big lights out here now."
"I'll call them in," Tommy answered. "Where do you want them?"
Doggett pointed to the wide windows. "Out there. We can try to catch as many of them as possible by keeping those lights off until they manage to get in. And then we hit the lights and take them out all at once."
Tommy nodded, and as Quintana and Lombardi opened the blinds and moved as much of the remaining equipment away from the windows, Doggett inspected the rest of the room. There were a couple of bare desks sitting to one side, with mostly empty racks used for displaying computer equipment on a raised section to the other side. The windows spread across the entire length of the room, as well as the width of the room on one side. A small, thin closet was behind one of the desks, which also had a window along its length.
Turning around at a sudden noise, Doggett realized that they were going to run out of time faster than he had suspected.
"Tommy, did you get through to the dispatch?"
Tommy turned and nodded. "Yeah, Johnny. Fifteen minutes."
"I hope that's long enough." Doggett pointed to the doorway, and then to the walls beside it. They were made completely of glass. "It's double thick, but those things can get through Kevlar like it's tissue paper." A quick flash of his light forced the insects to jump away from the glass, and he counted about ten of them.
"Jesus," Tommy swore. "How many of these things are there?"
"I'm thinking that this might be the rest of them," Doggett said. "Or maybe all of them except for the one that controlled Londner. More than that, and the number of people who would have had to die to create these things would have become noticeable."
"But how did he manage to kill this many people in the first place?" Lombardi asked, from his position at the window. "There had to be at least twenty of them so far."
Doggett turned back to Tommy. "How long has Londner been looking like that? Not healthy, I mean?"
"A while," Tommy admitted. "Maybe a few weeks, or even a couple months, when you start talking about when he started losing the weight."
"Which means he had plenty of time to find vagrants, homeless, all kinds of people who might never be noticed." Doggett shrugged. "He locks him in that room, where he keeps them fed with that constant supply of fluid they must need. And who's the wiser?"
"Until he slips, intentionally or not," Tommy added. "When Calzaretta died in the warehouse across the street, when he learned too much."
"And the insect that came out of him never made it back into the hiding place," Doggett reasoned. He turned towards the doorway again as he heard another loud crash into the glass. He noticed that small stars where starting to appear here and there in the glass, as it threatened to shatter.
"Running out of time," he said, scanning the room for a weapon. His eyes fell on a discarded fire extinguisher, and he glanced at the closet again.
"They're here," Quintana said, pointing to the trucks as they pulled onto the road outside. "They'll just need a few minutes to get everything ready."
Another hard slam into the glass left a small crack on its surface. Doggett pointed to the closet. "We're out of time. Everybody in there. When these things break in, we want them to have a reason to stay until those lights can hit them."
He grabbed the fire extinguisher and ran into the closet, the others not far behind. Quintana moved a bit slowly, the loss of blood starting to take its toll, but they were all safely locked in the closet by the time the first loud shatter of sound marked the entrance of the insects into the computer room.
Something slid across the surface of the wooden door, and then there was a harder knock. Doggett took the extinguisher in both hands, and turned to Tommy. "Tell them to get those lights on now! Everybody, drop and cover!"
No longer listening to Tommy's strained voice from the floor or the sound of the insects shredding and splintering the door behind him, Doggett pounded the extinguisher into the outside window. The window stubbornly resisted, but he continued to pound as hard as he could, even as the door exploded and slivers of wood surrounded him, biting into his exposed arms and face. Gunshots echoed around him as the officers at his feet shot blindly into the throng of onrushing attackers.
There was a sudden burst of blinding light, and with a scream, Doggett felt the extinguisher penetrate through the window, sending pellets of glass raining through the air. He fell forward, the remaining glass stinging his arms and hands, and then turned to face what remained of the threat, his eyes still stinging from the brightness of the searchlights.
The mass of insects had instantly reacted to the combination of bullets and intense light, melting into one spreading pool of corrosive fluid. Quintana, Lombardi, and Tommy rose to their feet and started to climb out of the shattered window, calling for Doggett to do the same before the liquid reached his feet.
Doggett nodded, and slowly pulled himself out of the room and onto solid ground. A medical technician ran to his side, but he waved her off, pointing to Quintana. "He's hurt worse than I am, and he might be infected," he said, as he accepted a fresh towel from the worried woman.
As soon as the other officers were taken care of, Tommy ran over to Doggett. "Everything seems secure. I called for a couple more trucks to come and take position around the building. I think we need to seriously consider calling in official federal help on this one."
"I'm your help right now, Tommy, and it might as well be official," Doggett said with a weary grin. "My leave was over hours ago. It's my job to make sure we bring this to some kind of resolution."
"What do you suggest?" Tommy asked, almost laughing. "Calling in the National Guard?"
Doggett reached for his cellphone, and then cursed when saw that it was mangled beyond recognition. "Here's what you can do. I'm going to give you the number for my direct superior, Assistant Director Walter Skinner. Tell him that we have assessed the situation, and that I have determined that the best way to deal with this situation is to exterminate whatever kind of nest we have here."
"Me?" Tommy asked, staring at Doggett with growing apprehension. "Why can't you call yourself?"
"Because someone has to go back in there before Londner, or whatever is controlling him, tries to get away before it's surrounded by these searchlights." Doggett raised his hand with a smile. "I appoint myself."
"You're not going alone," Tommy disagreed. "I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not," Doggett insisted. "Listen, Tommy, you have a family to think about. I don't, and you know that. So which of us is more expendable? And even if I wanted to do the smart thing and wait for enough backup to make this easy, Londner and that thing would be long gone."
Tommy sighed, and then shook his head. "You can't be sure that there's only that one left."
"You're right," Doggett said. "But it's good odds that I'm right."
"Fine, kill yourself, if that's what you want." Tommy took the slip of paper with Skinner's cell number. "At least get yourself a fresh clip and a stronger flashlight before you go."
Doggett checked his weapon, and then grunted his assent. "One more thing. I'll need some road flares, too."
Tommy raised an eyebrow. "Road flares?"
"Call it a hunch," Doggett answered. "I have a plan..."
Skinner looked into her hospital room, belatedly making sure that she was not trying to get some sleep. During nights like these, he always seemed to have a problem keeping track of time. The fact that he was even allowed to stalk the halls and monitor her progress was even more damaging to his body clock.
"I'm awake," Scully murmured. She was still sitting up in her hospital bed, but now she held a flimsy piece of medical film in her hand, staring at the picture burnt into the plate.
Skinner froze, unable to work out the expression on her face. "What is it?"
Scully shook her head. "Not what I was expecting, that's for sure."
"Is...everything all right?" he asked, trying to be discrete.
Scully sighed, and then looked towards him as she nodded with a slight smile. "Apparently the sharp pains are due to a slight pull of the diaphragm. The doctors say it's a common enough occurrence."
"At least it wasn't what you feared," Skinner said, slipping into one of the empty chairs by her bed. "But I get the feeling that's not what you were talking about when you said the news was unexpected."
"No, it's not," Scully admitted. She lifted the medical film again. "They're gone."
Skinner leaened forward, staring at the film in disbelief. "Are you sure?"
"Hard to tell from this, I know," Scully said. "But I watched the ultrasound. The cysts are gone. Both sides. Completely dissolved and absorbed."
Skinner sat back, and after a moment of reflection, simply shrugged. "I wouldn't know if that's normal or not. But it must be a relief."
Scully sighed. "Yeah. A relief." She laughed suddenly, slipping the film back into its envelope. "And why should I be surprised? After all, I'm only a barren woman giving birth to a child that was completely unexpected. Why should I be shocked when something like this comes along?"
Skinner smiled, and then pointed to the film. "No sign of any effect from that infection by the insect?"
"None," Scully confirmed. Suddenly, she shifted the topic of conversation. "How's Agent Doggett?"
"I just got a call from Detective Tommy Egan of the NYPD," Skinner said, pulling his cell phone from his pocket and giving it a little wave. "Apparently he ran into a little trouble. Turns out that insect is from the Amazon, or someplace nearby. And there was a whole nest of them hidden on the premises of the Manheimer building. Doggett thinks that they got them all, but he's going to check for himself."
"Is he out of his mind?" Scully said, a look of complete disapproval in her eyes. "Is he trying to get himself killed?"
"According to Detective Egan," Skinner said with a smirk, "one of those insects was controlling the man keeping watch over the building. It may have escaped when the other insects were dealt with. He wants to make sure it doesn't sneak out before the building can be secured."
Scully shook her head, and then slumped back into her pillows.
"Is there some reason that all of my partners have this death wish?"
Long Island City, NY
Doggett stood just inside the employee entrance of the Manheimer building, checking the flares to make sure they were secured in his belt. He had already double-checked his clip, making sure it was full, and the flashlight in his hand had been refit with fresh batteries.
Tommy had practically begged him to keep wearing the Kevlar vest, but Doggett wove him off. "We both know it's useless," he had told his friend, "and besides, the vest would just reduce my range of motion."
And so he was standing in his tattered jeans and the remains of his black muscle shirt, sweat and dirt smeared on his arms and shoulders, weapon and flashlight in hand.
The NYPD had moved one of the searchlights into position behind him, and so his path was clear for half the distance to the concrete bunker where Londner had last been seen. There was no assurance that the man would still be there, or that he would even be involved, but it was the logical place to begin his sweep of the building.
Within moments, he was standing at the solid door that marked the interior of the building. He gave Tommy a nod, and then he kicked the door open, letting the blinding light from the outside spill into the expanse of the production area before running in.
Before the thick metal door slammed closed, leaving him in darkness once again, he was rounding the corner to the production office, sweeping the interior with the beam of his flashlight. Shards of glass littered the concrete floor where the insect had burst out of the locked bunker. When a cursory inspection of the office yielded no signs of Londner, Doggett pushed the door open and checked behind the cubicle wall.
The fabric was frayed from repeated exposure to the insect's corrosive fluids, and the floor was discolored and worn down to the concrete, but there was no sign of Londner or his probable remains. That was hardly conclusive, since the other bodies had been completely consumed, but Doggett still had the feeling that the man's body was still in use.
Doggett went still, listening for any hint of the tell-tale humming of the insect's wings. But there was nothing. A moment passed, and he decided that it was long past time to lure the beast to him.
He ran quickly to the shipping area, still sweeping every shadow and crevice with light, and found that the door that had concealed the other insects was still open. He took a quick look at what remained, and nearly dropped the flashlight when his vision finally registered what it was seeing.
The walls and floor were covered with a thick layer of green fluid, which had long since eaten away the paint and coating from the surfaces. Within that fluid, thousands upon thousands of larvae slithered and snaked over each other, searching for some source of food and reproduction.
Doggett felt himself starting to wretch, but he stopped himself when he realized how much danger he was in. Quickly moving the beam closer to his feet, he noticed that a growing number of worms had left the comfort of the fluid, slowly progressing in his direction.
Snapping out of his shock, Doggett ran to the nearest remaining drum of material, and checked the sides of the drum. Sure enough, there was a flammable label on its side, and it was full. Londner had mentioned something about most of the raw materials being flammable, and Doggett was willing to bet that the material that had harbored the insect to begin with would be flammable too.
Doggett jumped behind the drum, and with one hard kick to its side, pushed it over in the direction of the open door. The top of the drum burst open, spilling a noxious, oily liquid across the floor and into the larvae-filled sea.
He slipped one of the flares out of his belt, ripping the top off and watching as the larvae writhed as they found themselves exposed. He waited for a few breaths, just long enough to see if Londner would intervene, and then he tossed the flare into the flammable pool.
The liquid rushed into a wall of flame instantly, lighting the room with an orange intensity in seconds. Doggett ran towards the loading dock as quickly as possible, and as he dove into the darkened space, he pushed himself against the far wall and brought the beam of his flashlight across the ceiling and walls to fend off any attack.
But no attack came. Seconds later, there was a massive explosion within the formerly hidden room, washing Doggett with a sudden blast of heat. He covered his eyes, almost too late, and felt himself break into a hard sweat as the flames quickly began fill more than half of the shipping area itself.
Doggett wasted no more time. He pulled himself to his feet against the wall, and ran towards the production area, pulling out another flare as he passed into a darker section of the building. The flames in the shipping area illuminated most of the space, but there was an entire section that was completely shielded.
Nodding to himself, Doggett grabbed one of the remaining drums of flammable liquid, and rolled it close to the edge of shadow. Forcing the bung open, he pushed it until it began to roll, dumping a wide swath of flammable liquid in its path. When the drum was nearly to the opposite wall, he tore the top off the second flare and tossed it into the natural oil.
The back of the production area exploded into flames, and the drum careened into the lowered back portion of the production area before expelling the rest of its contents. Doggett heard a sudden screech, and within the space of remaining shadow in the ceiling above, he saw the insect soar towards the doorway leading into the office area.
Doggett aimed, firing two shots, but both missed. Cursing, he ran towards the door to the offices, checking on his flares along the way. Three remained. Between the flares and the flashlight, he wondered if it would be enough.
Sliding the flashlight into his belt, he pulled out another flare. With a quick motion, he activated it, running into the office area, drawing a line of fire on every possible hint of motion. When he came to the first intersection between hallways, he stopped and checked his position.
From his position, he could tell that the entire executive row was lit by the searchlights still shining in the windows of the computer room. That meant that nearly half of the offices on the ground floor were covered. The position of the lights also told him that the rooms on executive row were now fully lit by a new set of searchlights arranged on that side of the building.
That left only a few areas unlit: the lab hallway, the QC lab in the center of the building, and the completely unknown second floor.
Doggett considered his options, and then realized that he there were roughly four spots that he would need to cover with the flares, and only three flares to work with. And those would only work if he moved quickly.
He pushed open the door to the lab hallway, running down its length before stopping near the door to the back hallway. Pulling open the door to that hallway, he lowered his gun. Looking slightly away, but keeping one eye down the weapon's sight, he fired one shot at the bottom hinge. The door lurched to the ground, and the top hinge bent from the weight.
Now that the door was able to stay open on it's own, Doggett dropped the flare so that its light would shine down both hallways and cast anything in shadow if he were to look down either hallway from any other position.
With only two flares left, he glanced up at the ceiling. Unlike the production and shipping areas, there was no place for the growing volume of smoke to escape. It was beginning to creep through the ruptured vents and into the offices. Visibility would soon diminish into a thick cloud of poison that even the searchlights outside would not be able to penetrate.
With no time to spare, Doggett ran back down the lab hallway, turning towards the door to the production area. Through the slot window, he could see that the flames had slowly spread to cover nearly the entire floor, and the various sprinklers along the ceiling were not functioning. That meant that while there was little chance that the insect could escape the flames to safety without detection, there was also a chance that Doggett would be caught in the same trap.
Just beside the production door was the glass door behind which a stairway to the second floor resided. Pulling out his fourth flare, he pulled open the door. With a quick motion, he activated the flare and tossed it to the top of the stairs, covering the stairway and presumably most of the hallway up there with its blinding light.
Doggett reviewed the layout of the building in his mind. There had been no sign of the last insect during his entire assault on the building, which meant that it had to be in one of only a few areas. The additions to the back of the building had all been covered in flames. The fire in the larvae room would spread to the storage tank within moments, which would no doubt eliminate whatever might be hiding in the garage.
Covering as many possibilities as he could think of, Doggett quickly searched the rooms on the first floor that were not covered by the flares or the searchlights outside. They were all empty, and while there was always the chance that the insect could be in the ducts, the toxins in the growing flow of hot smoke would have to have affected it by now.
And there was the matter of Londner's body, which he had not found, suggesting that the insect was once again in possession of the man.
Doggett quickly came to the inevitable conclusion that his quarry was on the second floor. He cursed himself for not thinking ahead, not demanding to see that part of the building as well, and he knew that he could not count on the flare to cover the entire second floor on its own.
But he could count on it to cover that end of the second floor hallway, and so he sprinted through the front of the building and down executive row, until he was standing at the bottom of the other set of stairs leading into the darkness above.
Remembering the horde of insects that had emerged from the same stairway perhaps an hour before, he scanned the darkened corridor thoroughly before starting up the incline. A glass door that had once been at the top of the stairway was now shattered and discarded against the side of the corridor, and Doggett had to look down for a split-second to negotiate the climb.
As his eyes flashed back up to the hallway above, a short stretch that joined the long hallway that was brightly illuminated by the flare at the other end, he saw the faint outline of a thin man within the shadows. The flicker of the flare's light, caused by the rising column of smoke escaping from the flare's burning, caused a swirl of red and black to dance in Londner's sunken eyes.
Doggett bounded up the rest of the stairs, his eyes firmly on Londner. The man was watching him, a lethal intelligence, as he stepped closer. Even that much closer, Doggett could only make out a darkly lit silhouette.
Londner spoke, a deep gravelly noise. "Do you celebrate this slaughter? Do you glory in the death of a species?"
Doggett shook his head, his eyes darting towards the darkness, wary of his vulnerable position. He leveled his weapon towards Londner, aiming directly at his neck. "It's not a matter of that, Londner. But it's not really you, is it?"
"No," he confirmed, as he turned slightly to stare at Doggett directly. Only half his face was lit in the low, swirling light, his eyes bearing down on his opponent. "The man was a tool. A means to an end. A vehicle. As you will be."
Doggett pulled back the trigger, taking careful aim. "Sounds like you're the last of your kind. But you know what? I don't care. Whatever you are, however you might be able to control that man, you're a killer, plain and simple. The rest is just a detail."
A wisp of smoke rose into his next breath, and as Doggett coughed, Londner struck out without a hint of warning. The gun fired, the bullet slamming Londner in the gut, and the old man was tossed back into the darkness. Doggett recovered quickly, feeling around the floor for his weapon.
Giving up on the search when it was obvious that he was wasting time, he swept the darkened portion of the hall with the beam of his flashlight, pulling out his final flare as he did so.
The short and long hallways met on the second floor near an open area, but now Doggett saw that there was a slight extension of the smaller hallway that he had not seen while facing down Londner. Stepping carefully down that hall, Doggett noticed that there was an office hidden on one side of it.
A chance sweep of light along the wall caught the nameplate by the door, and Doggett realized that he was at the end of the line. It read "M. Londner", and there was literally nowhere else for his target to hide. Sliding the beam into the office, it fell on the old man's face.
Londner stood leaning against the wall, holding his hands against the massive wound in his gut. Strangely, there was a smile etched across his face, even as the smoke from the raging fires nearby began dipping towards the top of his head.
"Very good," he whispered, his voice weak. "And yet, you only serve our purpose."
Londner waved a bloody hand around the dark room, inviting Doggett to inspect the man's former office. For just a moment, Doggett did so. That was when he noticed how wet the carpet was under his feet, and how it seemed to writhe. In one corner, a small drum with Portuguese markings stood, its side ruptured.
"A contingency," Londner rasped, his body obviously failing. "For some unfortunate body to uncover, should the others be destroyed."
A sudden pain ripped into Doggett's lower legs, and he stumbled backwards, resting against the wall of the short hallway. He focused the light on his legs, and saw through the tatters of his jeans that larvae had burrowed under his skin, beginning the painful infection that was rapidly spreading.
But his backward motion had allowed him to stumble out of the contaminated portion of the carpet, and he resolves himself to end it once and for all. Taking up the flare, he ripped the top off and let its light flash around him. He heard Londner scream in agony.
Forcing himself to his feet, his muscles erupting into spasms from the invasion of pain, he tossed the flare into Londner's office. The floor exploded into flames as the flare contacted the soaked carpet, killing the larvae that had been released and leaping onto Londner's body.
Doggett watched as Londner lurched forward, his arms and head shaking uncontrollably. His chest burst open in a torrent of enflamed blood, and the insect that had been controlling Londner emerged, racing towards Doggett.
Knowing what the creature intended, Doggett forced himself to dash for the stairs through the smoke. He heard the insect impact into the wall where he had been standing. He tried to make it to the stairs without losing control of his movement, but the agony in his legs left him tumbling forward. He was tossed and bruised as he crashed down the stairs headfirst, his arms unable to break his fall.
He landed just within the area covered by the searchlights in front of the building, but the smoke from the burning building obscured it just enough that the insect was no longer fully disabled by it. It dug its stinger into his left shoulder, tossing him into the middle of the executive row.
Every instinct within his mind screamed for him to crawl into the nearest strip of shadow, to avoid the light and surrender to the invasive whispers that slithered through his consciousness. But he fought those instincts down, driving them away, forcing his own desire for self-reservation to maintain control.
The pain searing through his body with every motion, Doggett forced himself to his feet as he managed to catch the insect across its eyes with his clenched fists. Stumbling towards the front of the building, where he could see the faint outline of the officers watching for his emergence, he waved his arms to get their attention.
Just as he reached the shattered remains of the computer room's entrance, the insect knocked him to the ground with a slash across his lower back. By now, the infection in his legs had progressed to the point that he could no longer support his weight, and he fell to his hands and knees as the insect landed on his back.
A sharp pain lanced into the back of his neck, and his jaw went tight as he shouted with gritted teeth. "Shoot it! Kill it!"
He saw Tommy's silhouette just before the deafening hail of gunfire erupted through the air above him, and the weight of the insect burrowing under his flesh disappeared as it was torn to pieces. Its corrosive fluids gushed down on his bare, bloodied back, and he screamed in agony as darkness threatened to descend.
The last thing he saw before night fell was Tommy's face, tears rolling down his cheeks, a distant voice repeating his name over and over, until all was silent.
Doggett stirred out of his fitful sleep, his vision slightly obscured by a brightness that he could not explain. Quickly, his vision recovered enough that he could see the room around him, and he remembered that he was lying in a hospital bed.
He turned to one side, blinking, and saw Skinner sitting there, looking into his eyes with concern.
"Can you see, Agent Doggett?"
"Yeah," he rasped, and almost immediately coughed. He tried to sit up, and found that he was still slightly weak. He slumped back into the bed, running his hand over his face. Something brushed against his cheek, and he jumped slightly, pulling the hand away in fear. He belatedly noticed that it was just the IV.
"Take it easy, John," Skinner said, patting him lightly on the shoulder. "You've been through a long road to recovery. It took a while to work on those acid burns up and down your back."
Doggett didn't understand at first, and then the memory returned. "That bug, that insect...I was infected." Doggett's eyes fell fearfully on the shape of his legs under the sheets. "My legs, they were infected, and my shoulder."
"All healed completely," Skinner said, assuring his friend. "Agent Scully managed to confirm a method of treatment that could be used to kill the infection before too much tissue could be lost or damaged. The fact that you managed to get as close to the bright lights as you did probably saved your legs, if not your life."
"Scully," Doggett said, clearing his throat. "How is Scully? Is she-"
"She's fine," Skinner interrupted. "She was marginally infected, but she was cleared almost immediately." He pointed at Doggett's eyes. "They had to keep you under some very bright lights during the treatment, strong enough to penetrate your skin deeply enough to kill all of the infection. They were afraid it might have some effect on your sight."
"No, I'm OK, I think," Doggett replied, blinking from the thought of losing his ability to see. "How long was I out?"
"Five days," Skinner answered. "Now that you're awake, the doctors said they want to take a final blood sample, to be sure that everything's back to normal. The burns will be tender for a while, but the medics on the scene were able to keep them to a minimum. Virtually no scarring, they say."
"Good to know," Doggett said with a weak grin. His expression sobered. "I imagine Kersh wants a word with me."
"As soon as you're able," Skinner confirmed ruefully. "He's already caught up with me and Scully. He gave her a bit of a hard time, but considering the circumstances, I think he's saving the best for last."
Doggett shook his head. "It shouldn't be this way, sir. You know it, I know it. I shouldn't have come to this."
"I know," Skinner agreed, his voice sympathetic.
"I just hope Kersh is willing to hear that."
"...five men confirmed dead, several others wounded, including a number of local law enforcement officers, the total destruction of a private warehousing real estate."
Deputy Director Alvin Kersh glanced up from the report held tightly in his hands, glaring at Doggett with his typical lack of patience.
"Shall I go on? In addition to the confirmed dead, there are allegations by this Detective Thomas Egan that as many as several dozen victims might have been killed under the same circumstances over the past few months.
"And according to your report, while you admit that these deaths were nominally the result of actions taken by the late Mr. Michael Londner, you go on to say, and I quote, 'Mr. Londner was under the control of a parasitic insect that guided his actions to the ultimate purpose of perpetuating its species in the New York Metro area.'
"Now, Agent Doggett, would you like to explain that one to me in a little more detail, because unless I am mistaken, this does not even begin to explain what you were doing working on a case in Queens during a requested personal leave, or why you felt the need to burn down half a city block."
Doggett sat uncomfortably in a wooden chair, trying to get the stiffness in his back to go away without giving Kersh the impression that he was actually starting to squirm.
"May I be honest, Director Kersh?"
Kersh raised an amused eyebrow. "Oh, please do, Agent Doggett."
"This has nothing to do with me investigating a case while on personal leave, or Agent Scully conducting unauthorized autopsies, or the cost in lives and real estate that resulted from what we found up there."
Doggett leaned forward, staring Kersh down in the process. "I acted in accordance with the task that I was assigned months ago when I was ordered to find Agent Mulder. Whether or not I took leave under false pretenses, and you can do whatever you feel is necessary in response to that action, I involved myself in that case because I had reason to think that there was a connection between the circumstances of that case and what was left unresolved in Arizona."
"From what I can tell, Agent Doggett, the only connection between the two cases has something to do with a similar puddle of green liquid." Kersh returned Doggett's intent stare. "What in the name of hell does a puddle of green liquid have to do with Agent Mulder?"
Doggett struggled for some kind of response, but ultimately, he sat back into his seat, unable to give a reply that would satisfy Kersh.
"Sounds to me like we're back to the pie in the sky, alien fairy tales, Agent Doggett. And to be honest, as much as I expected that from Agent Scully, and at this point even Director Skinner, I would have hoped that you might resist the urge to engage in this kind of sloppy and frankly unprofessional nonsense."
"Nonsense?" Doggett retorted, finally losing his patience. "All I deal in is nonsense, sir. That's what you dropped in my lap when you assigned me to the X-Files. Frankly, I am having a bit of trouble understanding exactly what it is you are expecting from this investigation.
"Ever since Arizona, have we gotten any leads from even one field office in the Bureau? Have we been given the same resources and the same level of attention that we were afforded before things started to spiral out of your frame of reference?
"Of course not. Instead, we've been assigned everything from missing children to some mechanic with X-ray vision. What do any of those cases have to do with Agent Mulder? At least I took the chance to go out there and find out if there was a connection, no matter how bizarre it might be. It's a hell of a lot more than the Bureau has given us to work with."
Kersh slapped the report file onto his desk. "Are you telling me that you feel that your assignment to the X-Files is a waste of your time? You seem to place a high value on your talents, Agent Doggett. Some might consider that a sign of arrogance."
Doggett shook his head. "Absolutely not. But I am questioning why I was assigned to the X-Files in the first place. I'm not Agent Mulder. I have no personal stake in those kinds of cases, or a need to validate the paranormal on taxpayer's dime. And if you really want to know, I question why Agent Scully is still assigned to the X-Files, when there are several times in the past seven years when Agent Scully has been reassigned due to irregularities in the department."
"Agent Mulder's disappearance created a vacuum in that department. Someone needs to fill that void until his whereabouts can be determined, and if necessary when that time comes, a replacement can be assigned. As the agent in charge of finding Agent Mulder, you were the logical choice."
"That still doesn't explain why the X-Files is even still open in his absence," Doggett said, his voice weary.
"That's not your concern," Kersh replied harshly. "Execute the cases assigned to you, and let those of us in the proper position handle the whys and the wherefores."
"That's exactly what I was doing," Doggett snapped back.
"As far as I can tell, Agent Doggett, you were chasing shadows, nothing more."
"Because that's the only thing I have to work with," Doggett said bitterly. He stiffly stood. "Give me something to work with, and maybe I'll chase something more substantial."
Kersh pushed himself out of his seat. "I expect you to take that kind of initiative, Agent Doggett. I suggest you stop waiting for the Bureau to provide you with a break, and do your damned job."
Doggett stared back into Kersh's eyes, for a moment, and then nodded. "Understood."
"Thank you," Kersh said, his tone far from pleased. "Then I expect that you will work within channels in the future, and avoid this kind of sloppiness. It's what I would have expected of Agent Mulder, not what I was expecting from you."
Kersh's expression softened into a patently false smile. "I can understand how this has been a hard week for you. Get some rest. I'll try to do what I can to minimize the damage on this end. Dismissed."
Doggett nodded his head slightly, and then walked out of the room, confident that the damage was far from minimized.
Doggett sat staring at the files on his desk, unsure as to where to resume his work. The meeting with Kersh had been a complete waste of time, more of a game than a true resolution, and that kind of double speak always left Doggett with a bad taste in his mouth.
Truth be told, he was conflicted. Kersh had all but ordered him to take charge of finding leads on Mulder, and yet he had a strong feeling that he would have to be very careful about what kind of leads he might choose to explore. The last thing he needed was another black mark in his file with Kersh.
His choices were clear. He needed to keep his head above the water on the X-Files while also pushing for some kind of progress on the Mulder case. If nothing had surfaced on that case since the time of Mulder's initial disappearance, then the only alternative was to keep clutching at straws like they had been doing every Friday night for weeks, or take a look at what Mulder had been doing just before his fateful trip to Oregon.
Which brought him to the file sitting on his desk. Mulder's last case had been a solo trip to a small town in Pennsylvania, and there were a few oddities that might provide some kind of lead. It was a long shot, but at this point, it was better than nothing.
"You're working late tonight."
Doggett glanced up, and saw Agent Scully standing by the door, her eyes reflecting his own weariness. "I could say the same to you."
"Well, there was some paperwork thanks to Kersh and his objections to the autopsy. And some issues with the hospital and my records." She shook her head. "I think they know me on a first name basis by now."
"OPR, or the hospital?" Doggett asked.
"Both," Scully said with a slight smile, walking over to her desk. She tapped one of the files as she slumped into her seat. "Detailed results from the chemical tests."
"I think we're long past the time for that, Agent Scully," Doggett said, shaking his head. "I'm not looking to revisit this one, if I can help it. And since it had nothing to do with Mulder, what good would it do?"
"I wouldn't be so quick to say that," Scully said. There was something in her eyes, a barely concealed excitement. "I found something very interesting."
Doggett looked far less excited. "And what would that be?"
Scully opened the file, paging through the results. "Remember that unknown organic compound that I mentioned? The one you thought was the liquid extracted from the Amazon? Turns out that it was something else.
"The organic compound was a by-product of the degeneration of a particular type of retrovirus. It's very unique, but I've seen it before. So have you. It was the same retrovirus that Skinner was infected with in Arizona."
Doggett found himself unable to respond. He walked over to Scully's desk, scanning the pages of results himself, and then shook his head. "Are you trying to tell me that those bugs were somehow related to that alien bounty hunter business?"
Scully sighed, hearing that familiar tone of disbelief in his voice. "No. I'm saying that the insects might have been the result of an experiment utilizing the tissue or DNA from something similar to the bounty hunter. There's plenty of evidence of similar experiments involving human subjects in the X-Files."
"And there are just as many reports of bizarre and seemingly alien insects and diseases coming out of the Amazon and other remote areas every week," Doggett replied, much more harshly than he intended.
Scully took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "The experiments are on record. It's just a matter of taking the leap-"
"It wasn't too long ago that you were telling me how you couldn't take those kinds of leaps anymore, that you couldn't keep trying to be Mulder," Doggett said, holding back his frustration as much as possible. "This is not the way to find him, Agent Scully."
"I have to trust my instincts," Scully replied. She looked him in the eye. "I'm asking you to trust my conclusions. Can you do that?"
"It's not a matter of trust, Agent Scully," Doggett shot back. "As a partner, I trust you. I know you think you're doing the right thing, taking the right approach. But this is not a matter of trust. It's a matter of faith. A matter of belief."
"Belief in what?" Scully asked.
"In Mulder's methods," Doggett answered. He gestured towards the file cabinets. "You try to be Mulder because you've learned to believe in his methods, in his cause. But I can't operate that way. I have to have something concrete to work with, something I can understand and follow without making these leaps you keep talking about. Or as you put it, keeping an open mind."
Doggett shook his head. "I can't put my faith in alien bounty hunters and experiments using alien DNA. If I did, I would be lying to myself, and then I'd be guilty of exactly what Kersh was accusing me of."
"And what was that?" Scully asked.
"Chasing shadows," he replied. He sighed heavily, unwilling to continue the argument. "So how did your personal business go while I was away? Do you mind if I ask what you were doing?"
Scully thought about the news she had received, and the unexpected revelation of her sudden good fortune. "Chasing shadows," she said finally, with a slight smile.
Doggett wanted to press, like he always wanted to, but once again he let it drop. "Not sure how to take that, but I'll take what I can get."
Scully smiled, a signal of her appreciation. "Are we still on for tonight? I think the boys are waiting impatiently to find out what I'm going to wear next."
"Just watch for the digital cameras," Doggett said with a wink. Then he glanced at the file on his desk, and shook his head. "No, I think that's something I'll skip this time around. Like I said, I need to work with something a little more concrete for a while. And I could do with a weekend without Langley."
"They'll be so disappointed," Scully said wistfully. She glanced at the file, unable to read the title. "Anything I can help you with?" "No, not at the moment," Doggett said evasively. "I just need to catch up after my time in the hospital." He looked her over, and saw the careful way she was holding herself, her slightly stiff posture. "Why don't you get away for a few days, take it easy?"
"I think I'll do that," Scully said, her smile far more genuine. "I could do with a weekend without Frohike."
They laughed together, and moments later, Scully left for the night, leaving Doggett to his thoughts once again. He opened the file on his desk, scanning the report once again, and then started filling out the vehicle requisition forms he would need to start the trip the next morning.
Maybe this would give them the answer they needed, or maybe it would just give him some sense of purpose and progress. Either way, more than ever, he felt as though he was on the right track. He would find Mulder.
For Scully's sake, and for his own, he had to.