Title: The Firebirds
Author: Alien Girl
Website: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Underworld/1113.html
Rating: No clue...PG, I guess
Classification: Season 8, Mulder Return, adventure
Spoilers: basically everything up to "Within"/"Without"
Disclaimer: Mulder and Scully and Doggy-Boy and Skinman and whoever and whatever else that you already know of don't belong to me (darn it all...) they belong to CC and C (Chris Carter and Crew ;)) HOWEVER...most other characters in this story belong to me, particularly Yallus, Slander and Tho, and all other alien names, species and ships are ALLLLLL mine!!! :D Ask if you want them, and I'll be happy to lend them! :)

Summary: Mulder discovers a legend which could change the universe...and starts his journey home to Scully.

Author's Notes: I usually don't do fanfic that directly correlates with the show, but this idea stuck like glue to my brain and wouldn't go away! I wish I could draw it all, though! :) This story definitely goes into crazy places, but crazy places are a good thing...most of the time...Scully and her crew are not in this one yet, but hopefully the second part I have swimming around in my head will come into form soon and she'll be in that one! But read this one first!!! :)

On with the show!!!


He ran doggedly down the twisting passage, his bare feet tingling with the feel of the ice rust on the ground. Smoke twisted into frightening shadows that he dodged and ran from, not caring whether they were products of his terrified imagination or his real pursuers. He gave a quick glance behind himself, but saw only darkness. This seemed to spur him on all the more, and he continued to run until he reached the door at the end of the passage. Throwing himself inside, he punched the doorlock and a great metal slab filled the doorway, shutting him in darkness.

Mulder felt around the darkness with trembling hands until he found a corner, and he crawled into the corner and curled himself into a protective ball. Gasping, sobbing, he rocked slowly and rubbed his hands against his arms to keep himself warm. He shut his eyes tightly, knowing that what he saw with his eyes open was no different than what he saw with his eyes closed.

He touched the scars on his face, chest, wrists, neck, and ground his teeth with a bitter anger. He was safe for now...but for how long? It had been a miracle enough that he had been able to overpower his guard and get away, but in a place like this, one miracle was one too many.

Mulder felt himself beginning to topple over with exhaustion, and he placed his hand against the ice-cold wall to steady himself. He shuddered with every breath, too terrified to move, knowing that his guard would tell the head officer what had happened and then Mulder would be back in the darkbox...after more drillings...

...When he felt warmth.

He became aware of a light outside of his closed eyelids. Opening them, confused and slightly afraid, he was met with an amazing sight.

The wall was glowing. Engraved into the black wall was a picture of a bird...a majestic, powerful bird, with a crest crowning its head and a scar over its eye. Its wings spouted flames and the wings were extended to the left. The engraving glowed with an unnatural blue light that flickered and danced within. His hand was placed over the engraving, and he also realized with wonder that there was light on his hand as well...tiny circles of blue light danced wildly across his skin like fireflies in a jar.

Mulder felt attracted to the firebird and its warm, blue glow; and he stared at it with intense fascination. It seemed that the blue firebird would befriend him, protect him from the neverending danger that surrounded him. He lifted his hand from the engraving, and it continued to glow, while the blue circles still bounced across his hand.

He began to wonder if there was anything else carved into this strange wall. He brushed away a thin layer of rust ice to get to the smooth surface underneath. He could feel other engravings in the metal, but they did not glow at his touch. His heartbeat rose with anticipation and he felt his limbs gaining strength from some unknown source. This was something magical, mysterious, entirely different from everything else in this place.

Finally, Mulder came to another engraving that responded to his touch. It was the same blue firebird, only this time it was laying on the ground, wounded, the grand flames from its wings now small and dying. He looked back at his hand, and this time saw that some triangles of blue light had joined the circles and were also gliding across his skin. Mulder felt a pain in his stomach to see the blue firebird lying broken, and he wondered why he was reacting so strongly...

Now even more anxious than before, Mulder worked to clear the entire rust ice layer off of the wall, stretching his arm up to try and reach the ceiling. In doing so, he caused another engraving to glow.

It was the same blue firebird, only now it was standing tall and proud, blue flames shooting brilliantly from its feathers, its gaze fixed upon something that Mulder could not see. Looking back at his hand a third time, he saw blue lines as well as the circles and triangles.

Upon removing his hand, the wall reacted again. He heard a low humming coming from under his feet and jolting his nerves. The humming reached the wall, and Mulder stepped back in fear.

A brilliant glow snaked up through the engravings, illuminating the entire black room. When the room was lighted, Mulder could completely see all of the engravings.

The wall was in fact an engraved mural, depicting four different scenes. The first one contained the first blue firebird he had found. There was also a second firebird...this one looking slightly different from the first, and colored red instead of blue. Both firebirds had their wings extended over a very small firebird, this one a purplish color, and surrounded in a brilliant flame.

Mulder stared at the picture for a long time, feeling strange, hot sensations circulate through his body. It took him awhile before he was able to tear his gaze away from the three firebirds and see the rest of the mural.

The second image frightened Mulder somewhat...the engraving of the blue firebird lying wounded was because it was underneath a fearsome dragon, claws outstretched and teeth bared, its eyes glowing an angry light that made Mulder's skin prick. The red firebird was bravely fighting off the dragon, talons scratching at its eyes. The small, purple firebird stood quietly behind the red one...it seemed that the red firebird was trying to save the blue firebird and protect the purple one at the same time.

Mulder gazed over the rest of the engraving...right down the middle of the wall was a strip with a written message, but he could not identify the alphabet...it was certainly not human. In the middle of the strip was a glowing white orb, like a pearl in the middle of a magnificent tapestry.

Above the strip of words he saw more pictures...and became more curious with everything he saw. There was an image of two unicorns fiercely battling. One of the unicorns was small and white, with a brown mane and tail. The other was a much larger, black unicorn. It had three horns instead of one, its mane and tail were made of black flames, and its eyes glowed a sinister green. The black unicorn seemed to be winning against the white one.

The next image showed the purple firebird again, only this time it was much bigger. It had its wings spread over an army of the white unicorns, and a fine purple dust seemed to be spreading out over the entire army.

The final picture made Mulder feel entirely different...it filled his body with a charge of energy, and it seemed to banish the ice-cold around him. He saw the dragon lying dead on the ground, with the purple firebird standing triumphant over it, yelling a victory cry. The blue and red firebirds were standing on either side of the purple one, heads high with pride. In the background, the army of white unicorns was chasing away the army of black unicorns.

Mulder stepped back and gazed at the mural in all its glory, marveling at the perfect, glowing engravings in the obsidian metal. The pictures told a story, a story he could not understand but longed to learn. The humming was persistent and changed pitch sometimes, but it all just added to the mystery presented before him.

Mulder felt himself drawn to the wall again...only this time it was to the glowing white orb in the center of the mural. Slowly, hesitantly, like a moth daring to incinerate itself upon a flame, Mulder reached out a shaking hand towards the orb. Tensing his body, he placed his palm firmly over the glowing white surface.

It seemed that the entire world reacted to this simple touch. The humming changed pitch and was joined by what sounded like an engine coming to life. Mulder felt the vibrations in his nerves grow stronger and quicker. And on his hand, the tiny shapes of light that had been moving wildly suddenly came together and locked into place as a symbol.

Mulder jumped back, startled, as the glowing wall seemed to come to life. Light shot out of the engravings and came together in the center of the room like a giant projector. The light expanded, and then formed what seemed like a three-dimensional spinning screen. The projection began to make sounds, speaking in the language that he could not understand; that was nothing more than a fast jumble of unknown sounds. The screen flashed images at him, images that were moving too quickly for him to see. Mulder just stood, completely awestruck, at a loss for speech or thought.

When the door suddenly opened.

At this, the room reacted as well...the screen switched off, the humming ceased, and the comforting glow coming from the mural vanished into blackness. Mulder snapped back into reality and felt ice sting on his skin as he realized that they had found him.

His heart, having burned with the fires of hope, now died into a mass of cold ash. Guards, doctors and officers were surrounding him on all sides, the guards carrying the familiar snapguns. Their faces showed no emotion except that of anger, and the only way Mulder could tell them apart was by their uniforms.

But Mulder refused to submit. Not now, not after the strange firebirds had given him an unknown source of power. He faced them bravely and exclaimed his only possible defense.

"YOU TURNED YOUR BACK, GUARD!!"

Mulder didn't know much about them and their ways. But he had stayed here long enough to know a few rules. Most of these rules applied to the test subjects...schedules consisted of one-third of the time for the operating room, one third for small meals, or "edobells" as they were called, and one-third for sleeping. Anyone who did not adhere to the schedule got three to five strikes from the snapgun. Anyone who resisted movement between stations was given 15 snapgun strikes and a full schedule's time in the darkbox, a solitary confinement place with no light and no food.

However, there were rules that applied to the guards, too. One of these rules was no one, guards or officers, could tell their name to a test subject. No communication at all was allowed between them and him, in fact. However, his guard escort talked to him frequently. But all that the guard's talking was was just another form of torture. He would usually relate to Mulder what they were going to do in the operating room that time, and it made the experience twice as bad for Mulder knowing what was going to happen rather than not knowing. The guard knew it was torture for Mulder, and that was why he did it...because for some unknown reason, the guard had hated Mulder from day one.

Another rule was that when guards escorted test subjects between stations, they always made sure they walked side by side. His guard had become careless, and had let Mulder march behind, giving him the opportunity for attack. Mulder knew all this, and he knew that if he could put as much blame on his guard as possible, they would be too busy punishing him to punish himself as much. And he didn't even want to imagine what sort of penalty they had for assaulting a guard.

Mulder was not sure what had motivated him to attack his guard earlier that morning...somehow, in the back of his mind, Mulder had known that they were not planning to test on him for a little while and then return him...they wanted to keep him there forever. Mulder had instinctively known this, yet had done nothing for the longest time. He had followed along with the schedule day after day, bravely enduring each new torture they imposed upon him with the weak belief that this might be the last one and he would be set free.

But today had been different. Perhaps the poorly-processed food they gave him had affected his blood and changed his hormone levels the wrong way. Perhaps it was the way his guard had looked at him, eager to tell what types of drills they had been cleaning and which anatomy charts were being studied. Whatever the reason, something inside Mulder had snapped, and he realized that he needed to fight for his freedom. A quick punch to the back of the neck had sent the guard to the ground, and Mulder had managed to kick him a few more times before sprinting off into the smoke-filled darkness.

Only now they had found him again, and Mulder could only think to try and save himself from whatever punishment they dared to use.

But those surrounding him did not seem the least bit interested in either the escaped Mulder or the revealed guard. They were all staring with looks of complete fear at the symbol on Mulder's hand.

Mulder's mind began to overflow with questions as he watched the guards backing away from him as if he were a bomb about to explode. They all seemed to have lost their nerve, their unwaveringauthority, and Mulder couldn't understand why. Mulder looked and saw the head officer standing next to the frightened guard. After a tense silence, the head officer shouted in English, "FIREBIRD CONFINEMENT! NOW!!"

At this order, the guards began to move in again, their unknown fear evolving into anger. The confidence and power drained out of Mulder as the guards surrounded him, snapguns charged.

"No..." Mulder's despair found form in words. "No...I'm not going to go back...I'm not going to do it again..."

Three guards grabbed him at the same time while one gave him a shock with a snapgun. Mulder's body reacted with the usual convulsion and he cried out again...

"NO! NO, I'M NOT GOING! I'M NOT GOING BACK! LET ME GO, I WON'T!! NO!!!"

But Mulder was easily overpowered, and he submitted to the shocks and strong arms with desperate tears in his eyes. It was over for him now...they were never going to let him escape again.

As they were dragging him away, he saw the head officer staring with a deadpan expression at the engraved wall. The guard cleared his throat and whispered..."I suspected as much."


Mulder did not pay any attention to where the guards were taking him; no doubt to some new torture chamber designed to "test his endurance." He could hear the guards talking amongst themselves, but he could not understand them. The only thing that was familiar was the sound of fear in their voices.

After an eternity of being roughly dragged across rusted metal floors, they came to a single door that had obviously not been used in a long time. He did not recognize this area...it was certainly a lot more dirty and crude than where he usually was, which was bad enough. A guard punched the doorlock and the metal slab zipped open.

Mulder did not resist when they quickly shoved him into the darkened room and slammed the door shut behind him. He lay there for awhile, curled into a tight ball of hopeless, cold flesh, sobbing. He had tried to escape, and it had failed, and now he was never going to get out again. With luck they would leave him there to quietly starve in the dark, and not slowly dismember his body schedule by schedule. Stripped, broken and doomed to remain in this dark tomb, Mulder laid down on the icy metal floor and sobbed quietly to himself.

When a light caused him to open his eyes.

His vision still blurry with tears, Mulder could not see well, but he could definitely see a small ball of greenish-blue light shining brightly in the corner. He wiped his eyes, wondering what was causing the light...

When it MOVED. The light shot off from the corner like a bullet from a gun and headed straight for Mulder. Mulder gasped and ducked, and the light zoomed past him and *bounced* off of the far wall.

Mulder watched with frightened surprise as the light continued to move around the room, acting like a giant glowing bouncy ball. It ricocheted across the walls, ceiling, floor and back again. Mulder had to move several times to avoid it hitting him head-on. Too shocked to do or say anything, he continued to watch the light bounce around the room...

...Until something CAUGHT the ball of light.

Out of the darkness, a hand shot up in front of the ball of light and stopped it on its wild path. The light was brought down between two hands, and in its glow he could make out a strange face...

CREEEAK-AK-AK-AK...

Mulder jumped and began to crawl away as a sound like a hawk's cry reverberated around the black room. This call was answered by what sounded like a rapid chattering, like dice being rolled around inside a cup, from the opposite end of the room. (What's going on here?...)

Mulder panicked as he heard the sounds of movement all around him. He backed up against the wall and wrapped his arms around his legs, afraid to breathe. He could hear shuffling, tapping against the metal as whatever was in the dark moved towards him. Mulder didn't know whether to fight or hide...not that he could do much of either.

And then suddenly, the ball of light was right in front of him, illuminating two faces that were staring straight at him.

Mulder let out a cry of terror as he stared back at the three things...it was certain that none of them were anywhere near human. There was one directly in his face, that had the head of some type of bird. A large feathered crest rested on its head, and it observed Mulder with large, aquamarine eyes. Its entire body, which had somewhat a human shape, was covered in fine reddish feathers.

Very large feathers also extended from its shoulders, but somehow Mulder didn't think they were used for flying. The bird-creature was wearing what looked like a tank top adorned with a large stone crest, and a belt with several large pouches.

The second creature Mulder could only describe as a hammerhead rodent. It had large, unblinking eyes that were extended far from its head, four small ears and rat-like teeth. The creature was covered with an unrealistically thick fur coat, and had small, mouse-like hands.

Now Mulder was completely surrounded by these strange entities with nowhere to run and nothing to fight them with. All he could do was sit there, shaking, hoping they would go away...

The bird-creature, which had been holding the ball of light, tossed it to the rodent-creature. Mulder stiffened as the bird lifted his chin to look at him.

REEAK-CAK-AK-EE? the thing sounded, making noises by screeching and clicking its tongue against its beak. Mulder yanked himself away from its touch, shuddering and refusing to say anything.

The bird-creature and the rodent-creature began to communicate back and forth between each other, the bird speaking in screeches and clicks and the rodent chattering its large teeth together. They seemed to be arguing with each other, gesturing at Mulder constantly. The bird-creature gave a final screech and began to search around in one of the pouches hanging from its belt.

Mulder's pulse quickened as the creature pulled out a large hand-held device. Mulder could not tell what it was; it didn't resemble anything he had ever seen before. The bird switched it on, and a laser-like beam extended from a small hole in the front.

Mulder curled himself up protectively and shut his eyes. He had had laser drill operations performs on his eyes before...it had been one of the most painful tests. He was not about to let something like that happen to him again.

But his efforts were in vain. The bird-creature gave a screech-click, and the rodent-creature suddenly reached out and forced Mulder's eyes open. He gave a desperate cry of protest, but now it was too late. Small, cold fingers held his eyes open as the bird-creature passed the laser over his retinas. Mulder expected more painful drillings, but strangely the laser didn't hurt. He felt like he was just being given an eye scan.

The bird-creature studied a small monitor on the device with the rodent-creature looking over its shoulder. The rodent-creature gave some definite chatterings and looked smugly at the bird. The bird sighed, put the device back into its pouch, and pulled out a new device. This one was small, roundish and had a few metal clasps. The bird-creature extended the device to Mulder...it wanted him to take it.

"You...you want me to have this?" Mulder asked slowly, hesitantly, wondering if the thing could understand him. The bird creature shook its head rapidly, like a dog shaking water off.

Something inside Mulder compelled him to take the device... he had every reason to be afraid of these strange beings, but for some unknown reason he felt safe and secure. He took the device and held it in his palm...only now he didn't know what to do with it.

The bird-creature appeared frustrated. It screeched at Mulder, waving its hands about, and then tilted its head to one side to reveal an identical device attached to its head.

Mulder was still confused. Just then, the rodent-creature came forward and motioned to him that it also had an identical device on one of its four ears.

Mulder stared down at the device in his palm. (This is certainly new...me applying alien technology to *myself*...) Mulder took a deep breath and pressed the device against his ear. He felt the clasps digging into his skin and something else entering his ear. But when he looked back at the bird-creature, he clearly heard it say...

[...What is your race?]

Mulder jumped with surprise and pressed himself against the wall, not believing that he just heard familiar words come out of this thing's mouth. The words did not fit the movements the creature made, so he felt like he was watching a living dubbed Japanese movie. The bird had a female voice, and even a slight British accent. Mulder didn't know how to respond, so he just sat and moved his lips.

This agitated the bird-creature further. [Look, I'm tired with trying to get sense out of you! You're not an Argothian, I am assuming, because if you were I would kill you right now. So what is your race?]

Mulder did not respond. This thing was almost more frightening when he could understand it than when he couldn't. The rodent-creature then reached over, took the laser-eye-scan device out of its pouch, and began to look over it carefully. [Are you *certain* this thing is working properly? He sounds no more intelligent than a Porgan to me.] The rodent said in English.

[Slander, we don't even know if it's a he or she or what! I'm trying to figure out what it is and you're busy complaining about my intel-calic!]

Mulder finally dared to speak. "W...what is this thing?" He pointed to the device in his ear.

The bird brightened. [Aha, I knew I could get sense out of you!] It reached into its pouch and pulled out a handful of identical devices to show Mulder. [They're called translos. We used to use them on my homeworld...each family spoke a different language. These things can take nearly any tongue and provide an instant translation...a lot easier than trying to learn millions of different languages. Now that we've explained that, will you *please* tell me what your race is?!]

The rodent-creature spoke up again, sounding just slightly annoyed with the impatience of the bird. [Yallus...you are forgetting proper interracial etiquette. You must always present your title before you ask someone to present theirs.]

[Oh, honestly! You think that proper interracial etiquette' matters at a time like *this*?!] It squawked.

A look from the rodent creature softened the bird's frustration. It sighed, straightened itself up, and turned to Mulder.

[Very well. Forgive me for not introducing myself first. My name is Yallus Tallo. I am female, and my homeworld was Arethia... of course, this means I'm a Thybiran.]

Yallus then turned to the rodent. [And this is Slander da tre Harim. He's a Miman, and...I don't remember what your homeworld is...]

[It's Rodcuva,] Slander said. [And I am glad to meet you,] He added to Mulder politely.

[And finally...] Yallus spoke up again. [This is Tho. She's a Bleebeean, from Enero.]

Yallus held up the ball of light. And for the first time, Mulder realized that the bright bouncy-ball had *eyes*. The light-ball named Tho turned a bright purple color.

[Now that I have introduced us all, I will ask you *again* what you are!] Yallus demanded. [Do you have a title? What is your homeworld? Do you have a ship, or another transport, or any knowledge of what's going on outside?]

Somehow, the introduction process seemed to lessen Mulder's fears, although they were still there. He wet his lips and gathered up the strength to speak. "M...my name is Mulder. Fox Mulder, but everyone calls me Mulder."

[See, that wasn't so hard," Yallus said. "Odd name, Mulder is. What is your race and homeworld?]

Mulder thought. "Umm...I guess I'm Human...and I am from Earth."

Slander wrung his hands together, muttering to himself... [Human? Earth? I have never heard of such a race or place before.. ...are you from an uncharted sector? I thought I knew every civilized plant in the five sectors...]

"Wait a minute..." Mulder said, desperately trying to make sense of this odd situation. "Are you all...aliens?"

Yallus scowled at him. [Alien' is an ugly word, Mulder. You always use the term race' when referring to peoples other than your own. Alien' is the type of thing an Argothian would say.]

"What is an Argothian?"

Yallus nearly choked in surprise at Mulder's question. [You don't know?! How could you not?!! Why, we're aboard an Argothian doctoral transport right now! They're the ones running this entire vehicle! The ones who currently control nearly 63% of all planets in the known five sectors!! And you are telling me you have never heard of them before?!]

"Not by that name," Mulder sighed. "I'm sorry...I have never seen anything like you before. Almost everyone on my planet doesn't believe there are other races outside of the ones on my planet."

At this, all the people in front of Mulder began to laugh hysterically, and Tho began flashing white and light purple.

Through laughter, Slander asked, [No other races besides your own? What sort of isolated planet do you come from, anyway? Why, there are hundreds of races all throughout these sectors...I could name 20 on this ship right now!]

"I never knew where I was..." Mulder said slowly. "I haven't seen any part of this place except my cell and the...operating room..."

[There is little to see. At least not down here...and nobody but top Argothians are allowed on the upper level. No test subject' has ever seen the control room.]

[Can I ask you a question?] Slander said to Mulder. Mulder nodded. [Is it normal for you to be seated like that? From what I can tell, it seems awkward for your anatomy...]

For the first time, Mulder realized the position he had been talking to these people in. He was pressed up against the wall, hugging his knees to his chest, as if trying to make himself as small as possible. He sighed, "I'm sitting like this cause I'm cold...and almost naked..."

[Then you can have my covering,] Slander responded. [It's considered indecent by my people to expose our bodies, but I'm the only Miman here, and it seems you need this more than I do.] Mulder then watched in surprise as Slander seemed to wriggle around inside his skin, and then remove the entire thick fur layer.

Underneath, Slander actually had what looked like normal skin, and he now more resembled a Mexican hairless dog than a rodent. Mulder was hesitant to take the coat at first, but Slander's look compelled him to take it. He wrapped the enormous fur coat around himself, and almost instantly felt the cold evaporate around him. "Th-thank you," Mulder said to Slander.

As Mulder settled down, Yallus sat next to him. [You are an odd creature, to be certain. But you certainly seem respectful enough to me. Forgive me if I was rude to you...I wasn't sure if you were a disguised Argothian or not. From the little I've seen of them, they seem to be taking your shape frequently. It was puzzling me.]

Mulder still had a million questions to ask, and he did not know where to start. So he just chose one out of the pile. "What was that device that you passed over my eyes?"

[Oh...] Yallus picked the device up off the floor and showed it to Mulder. [This is my intel-calic. It measures intelligence using the Universal Intelligence Scale, which goes from 0 to 1000. I used it on you to see if you were intelligent enough to communicate with. You got a 731.01...that's up there. Of course, the sense of intelligence' is relative, so the reading is very general and only measures in the sense of brain waves. Not all races will respond to an intel-calic. I remember Thybirans used to have a 808.59...]

"Yallus, why do you keep saying used to' and using the past tense?" Mulder asked.

That made Yallus very quiet. She had to take several deep breaths before answering. [Because.....I am the only Thybiran left. Argothians have already conquered Arethia.] Yallus stood up and began to pace around the room, her aquamarine eyes brimming with moisture. [And we knew it was coming! We could have stopped it... ..we could have set up a counterattack, we could have made an alliance with Felkar...but we didn't! We just stood by and watched it all come to an end by those DAMN ARGOTHIAN BASTARDS!!!]

Yallus shouted the last words and hurled the intel-calic forcefully at the wall, where it bounced and a piece of it broke off. Yallus collapsed onto the ground, breathing heavily. [I swear if I ever get out of this hellhole I'll make them sorry they dared to exist...I'll get them...I'll make them pay for taking Dermuli.. ..and Dilchi.....]

Slander walked over and put his hand on Yallus's feathery shoulder. He said nothing, just stood there and hoped his presence provided comfort for the devastated Thybiran.

Mulder felt his heart go out to Yallus...he didn't even want to imagine what would happen if Colonization was carried out on Earth without a resistance. (Is this were the human race is headed? Are just next on a long list?)

Mulder could not think about these sorts of things right now, and he tried to keep his mind on the present. "Well...I'm sorry if this is hurting you, Yallus...but can I ask you something else?" Yallus nodded. "If your race and homeworld were wiped out, why are you still alive and why are you here?"

Yallus cleared her throat with a squawk. [Basically, they forgot I was here. I've been here for a very long time. If they knew I was still alive, they'd kill me immediately. The Argothians only think that Slander and Tho are in here, so I've been eating Tho's meals. Stupid Argothians forgot that Tho is made of energy and doesn't need food...and they boast about their 889.23 intelligence...]

"But where is *here*, exactly?" Mulder questioned. "I've always had my own cell until I escaped today. I didn't know they had collective cells."

[Oh, this isn't a cell,] Slander explained. [This is firebird confinement. We're all suspected firebirds.]

Instantly, the image of the mural jumped to Mulder's mind, and his heartbeat quickened. "Firebirds?"

Yallus groaned. [Yes, that damn Argothian legend was what singled us Thybirans out, because of our resemblance to the firebirds. They suspected me of being the red one...Dermuli, my mate, was the blue one, and my child Dilchi was the Child of the Fire.]

Mulder suddenly felt the need to say what had happened to him earlier. "When I escaped from my cell, I found a room with a mural in it. I saw pictures of firebirds on it, and dragons and unicorns. When I touched it, the wall started to glow...and this appeared on my hand." Mulder, who had been hiding his hands to keep them warm, took out the one hand and revealed the symbol blazing in brilliant blue.

The reaction of the three aliens was something Mulder could never forget. When they saw the symbol, they all backed away at once, and they drew in closer again. Yallus, trembling with excitement, grabbed up Mulder's hand and carefully traced the symbol. Her eyes lit up with an unnatural light, and she kept looking from the symbol to Mulder's face and back. Tho had turned a brilliant yellow-green color and Slander was nearly hopping up and down with anticipation.

[It's true!] Yallus said in a quiet voice, and then louder, [It IS true! I don't believe it! And all this time I never thought it could be anything more than a legend! But it's here...and I don't believe it!] Her last words ended in a sort of screech-laugh.

Tho had been flashing furiously and hopping in Slander's hand. Suddenly the small Bleebleean shot from Slander's hand and shot off toward the wall, blinking colors furiously. Yallus let out a long, loud whoop as Tho bounced around the room, making Mulder's eyes hurt watching the fast-traveling light. Finally, Tho bounced back into Slander's hand.

Yallus suddenly turned to Mulder and gripped his shoulders in her hands. [Blue firebird, you have to tell us! Where is the red one, where is the Child of the Fire?]

Mulder was almost completely lost for words. "I...I don't know what you're talking about..."

[You *have* to know where the other two are! Where is the Child of the Fire?!] Yallus was now shaking Mulder, her beak almost touching his nose.

Mulder was beginning to panic. "I don't know any firebirds! I don't know any child! Please, I don't know!!"

[Yallus, perhaps he has not heard the legend,] Slander explained to the frantic Thybiran. Yallus relaxed a little, but not very much.

"What legend? What is this thing on my hand?" Mulder demanded, his breath ragged with fear and confusion.

[I'll explain it to you later,] Yallus said, looking as if she were deep in thought. [I can best illustrate if we find a tesservid...you can never quite understand the magnitude of this if I just tell you.]

She stood up, and began to look around the room. [First things first, we have to get out of here right now. We have to escape, find our way to the docking bay, and steal a transport... ..maybe a gunner...and get to the Universal League of Races Head Station. They'll finally be able to unite all the stragglers, and the legend will come true!]

"Wait a minute, escape?!" Mulder said in surprise. "I don't know if I want to get out right now...they're furious at me because I assaulted a guard, they'll test on me more..."

Yallus laughed at Mulder. [Why, you're the blue firebird, you're the *last* person who should be afraid of the Argothians!]

"I don't know what the blue firebird is!"

Yallus didn't seem to realize that Mulder was completely at a loss as to what she was talking about. She continued to scheme, growing more excited with each passing minute. [We just need to figure out how to escape...perhaps if I took apart my intel-calic and some translos and put them back together I could pick at the doorlock...but I need to find some way to wrench the door open partially...]

While Yallus was rattling on, Mulder was looking over the small room, trying to figure out what they should do, while Slander paced about nervously, holding Tho between his hands. Mulder stared for awhile at the glowing ball of light...

"Yallus," Mulder suddenly asked. "What you said earlier...is Tho really made out of energy?"

[Yes.....]

"Then shouldn't she be able to move through solid objects, such as doors?"

Yallus sighed. [That would be true...except for this type of prison. It's made up of optrom slabs.]

"I don't know what optrom slabs are."

[Optrom is an energy-reflective metal. Most smaller transports use it for shields, but its hard to come by since it is formed in small amounts and is next to impossible to cut,] Slander explained. [This entire room is made out of optrom slabs held together by leftotium gum, which an good energy conductor. If Tho were to touch the optrom slabs, she'd be split into a hundred rays of energy. That's why she only bounces on the binding gum.]

An idea was beginning to form in Mulder's head, and he felt his blood pump faster at the realization that they might get out. "If Tho were to bounce on an optrom slab and split up, could she come back together?"

[Yes...Bleebeeans have a very strong center of gravity...]

Mulder explained his idea with excitement. "Well, if Tho were to bounce on an optrom slab and split into rays of energy, she could blast the door and we would be free!"

[You mean she would blast *us*,] Slander corrected. [You can never touch a Bleebeean directly - you would get your fingers burned off. And if Tho is split we'll most certainly be cut through by energy rays.]

All throughout this talking, Tho was looking around, beginning to worry about where this might be heading. She turned a brownish color and flashed a message. Slander smiled at the small ball of light. [Don't worry, Tho. We're going to get out of here, and we'll make sure that no one gets hurt.]

Yallus had caught on to Mulder's idea and was beginning to build off of it. [Perhaps...it could work! If we could tear up a few optrom slabs, and each of us get in a corner of the room, we could use them as shields to protect us.]

"Can we do that?" Mulder asked.

[We can try!] Yallus immediately pulled out a handful of translos, leaving at least a few behind, and retrieved her intel-calic. Yallus was the only one who was very good with machines, and Mulder knew absolutely nothing about alien technology, so she set to work taking apart the various gadgets.

The other three people watched in amazement as the Thybiran took apart the intel-calic, removed some parts, replaced them with some parts from her translos, and put it back together again. As Yallus stared at the rebuilt intel-calic, she remarked, [It's amazing! I can't believe I didn't think of the idea myself! And I thought Thybirans had a greater intelligence...]

Yallus immediately tried out the revised machine. By taking a few things out and putting some new pieces in, she had been greatly able to increase the laser's power. She switched it on and pointed it towards the material that binded the slabs together, and the laser almost instantly burned away the leftotium gum. Yallus gave an excited grin to her comrades and continued to cut around the perimeter of the optrom slab. When she was finished, she carefully picked the slab up out of its place and set it aside. Beneath the optrom slabs was a second metal floor; the normal kind that Mulder had seen before.

[It works!] Slander exclaimed. [We can do this! cut some more, Yallus!] Yallus obeyed heartily, and she set to work on another slab.

Mulder watched all this with great anticipation, and in his thinking he began to realize exactly what he was doing. He was sitting in an alien jail cell, having conversations and planning escapes with intelligent creatures he never imagined could exist.. ...even wearing an alien's coat! (I wonder what Scully would say if she...)

Mulder stopped mid-thought at the reminder of Scully. He had not stopped thinking about her ever since he had been taken. She was in his dreams every night, and he forced her into his mind during the testing, so as to distance himself as much as possible from the torturous present. After so many long schedules, his memories had begun to become blurred, and she now seemed like a person he had known in a former life. He used to be able to recall every single detail on her face, but not anymore...perhaps the tests had dulled his memory over time. Or perhaps they were purposefully trying to make him forget, so as to make sure there was not any chance of hope left with him. The only thing that really stuck with him was her name...he mumbled it to himself every schedule when he went to sleep, when he woke up, when he went into the operating room. It was his prayer, his one defense against their rules and expectations.

(If I could get back to her...)

Mulder didn't even put such thoughts in his head. That would be too good to be true, too miraculous to be reality, after everything he had experienced here. He couldn't--

[Got it!] Yallus's voice suddenly interrupted Mulder, and he snapped back to the present. The Thybiran had cut loose three large optrom slabs, each one big enough for them to hide behind. Yallus picked up one and handed it to Mulder. It was heavy, and yet brittle, but Mulder could carry it. The female Thybiran gave Mulder a smile and puffed out her red, feathery chest with pride.

[Let's get out of here, blue firebird.]

Mulder did not question the strange name, but just smiled back.

[Alight!] Yallus said to everyone. [Get completely behind your shield, and I'll throw Tho. The door breaking open will create enough noise as it is, so we have to keep quiet and make sure it's safe before we rush out.]

Slander and Yallus each took their own slab and headed for a corner of the room, where they could be the most safe. It took awhile for Mulder to find his corner in the dark, but he eventually found it and curled himself into a protective ball behind his slab.

[Is everyone ready?] He heard Yallus's voice call out in the dark.

She was answered by two affirmatives.

[Alright...go Tho! Bounce on a slab!!] Yallus shouted, and threw the Bleebeean.

Mulder shut his eyes tightly as he heard Tho go zooming off around the room. Then there was what sounded like someone trying to force an object through a paper-thin glass window, and a flash of light and heat that he could feel just inches away from searing his skin. The sound became higher and the heat grew hotter until finally...

KKKVVVVVVOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!

Mulder waited before the sound went off and the heat died away before he ventured out from behind his slab. The first thing he saw was Tho barely bouncing in the middle of the room, flickering as if she were about to go out. He also saw extra light streaming into the room from outside...the door had been blown completely out of its frame.

Slander came out from behind his slab and picked up the blinking Tho. It was apparent that the splitting had drained Tho, and she appeared exhausted. [That was great, Tho! You're the best Bleebeean I've ever met!] Slander encouraged his friend.

Yallus also ventured out. She peered carefully out into the hallway, checking to make sure there was no one out there waiting for them. [It's all clear. Let's go!]

The four stepped out of the black cell, blinking and somewhat confused. Mulder had only been in the cell for a little while, but Yallus, Slander and Tho had not been outside in ages, and it took awhile for them to get used to their new surroundings.

[Outside...] Yallus said with wonder. [Outside! I can't remember the last time I saw something other than those four walls!]


There was a lot to see. They were in the lower levels over what Yallus called an "Argothian doctoral transport," and from their position they could see hundreds of twisting passages and structures, all of them making no sense to Mulder. He had not paid much attention to the places around him before, because he had had no say on where he went. But now, he was presented with a million different choices, all of which could lead to capture and a return to torture.

[I wish I had some sort of weapon...] Mulder heard Yallus mutter to herself.

"The guards have snapguns," He said.

[Ha! Snapguns are cheap toys! We're in the middle of an Argothian ship...we need some REAL weapons!]

"They sure didn't feel like cheap toys' to me..." Mulder said, remembering the many painful convulsions he had received from them.

The four ventured out into the maze, wary of guards and workmen that might be lurking behind every corner. Down in this level there were mostly engines, fuel tanks, power systems and other things that ran throughout the entire ship.

As they were walking, Mulder glanced down at his hand and was reminded of the strange symbol emblazoned on his skin.

"Yallus...you promised that you would tell me what the firebird legend was."

[Oh, of course. We'll get up to the next level, and we'll be sure to find a conference room that no one is using. They have too many of those rooms.]

After a good time spent walking, they came across an enormously-sized elevator. Mulder did not even realize it was an elevator until Yallus said, [Here we go...a turbolift on this level; good. They won't suspect anything if they see it coming up.]

"How come we haven't seen any guards or doctors down here?" Mulder asked.

[Most Argothians don't work on this level...it's all grunt maintenance work down here; they all either work as guards and doctors on the above level or officers and pilots on the top level. They would use a few slaves to work down here...Slorans, most likely.]

With that, the Thybiran stepped into the turbolift, and the others followed her. Yallus punched some buttons on a console on the wall, and the huge elevator quickly ascended several stories.

They could see all of the middle section of the ship, and Mulder was amazed at the complexity of what lay before him.

Before long, the turbolift reached its destination, and Yallus did another check of the area before they went outside again. Mulder could see a big difference in the levels...this one was a bit nicer than the one below, and the structures looked more familiar to him.

[All we have to do now is find that conference room you were speaking of...] Slander said.

Tho brightened (literally), and bounced ahead of the group, flashing a message. [Alight, if you think you know where one could be!] Slander said in response, and followed Tho off down the hall. The other three had no choice but the follow them.

Tho's sense of direction was apparently very accurate...after only a few twists and turns down darkened metal halls, she stopped at a single metal door and bounced excitedly. Yallus punched on the doorlock, and the door zipped open to reveal a large, smooth table with odd-looking chairs and a few lights overhead. A strange structure was placed in the middle of the table.

Yallus grinned. [This is perfect...doctor's conference room. They have a lot that are never used, so we won't be bothered.]

As Mulder stepped inside, he saw something that caught his eye and made him smile. On one side of the room were a few shelves, and on the shelves were several folded clothes. There were some neutral gray shirts made of a material like flannel, and some black pants. They looked a little big for him, but he had no trouble trading them for his Miman fur coat, which he handed back to Slander.

[I wonder what clothes for your race are doing here,] Slander remarked.

"I don't care...I'm just happy to have them," Mulder said, fitting the shirt over himself.

[Alright, Mulder, now you must pay attention,] Yallus said. [This story is extremely important to you, and to all the universe, in fact. If you know it, you can understand how important you are.]

Yallus switched some buttons on the top of the table, and a projection illuminated the space above the table. It looked similar to the light projection he had seen when he found the mural. "Wow...what is this?" Mulder asked in awe.

[A tesservid,] Yallus explained. [It creates four- dimensional moving images. Argothians first discovered a tesservid on Seereenee, ironically enough, and now it's all they use. Only a few races can actually observe four dimensions, and Argothians are not one of them, although they would like to think they are. To most other races, tesservids look like three-dimensional spinning projections. Argothians use tesservids to store certain information, usually on test results, homeworld conditions and travel routes.

[Now, before I tell you the legend of the firebirds, there are a few things you need to know about the Argothians. They are a very powerful, very intelligent, very warlike race. They believe that it is their destiny to conquer the entire universe and control every planet they can. They love technology, especially biotechnology, and have experimented on themselves so much that they have nearly created new races. They've genetically re- engineered themselves to be able to morph into other races and so that nearly four times as many males are born as females.

[Argothians conquer other homeworlds through whatever means they can...usually they use a combination of biological, negotiation and military tactics to do so. The Argothian homeworld is Morgor, but they have conquered so many homeworlds that they now refer to Morgor as their "origin planet." Almost all Argothians dedicate their lives to their common mission to control the universe. There are a few that do not agree with their twisted Manifest Destiny, and would rather run their own lives, but these independents are quickly outcasted, exiled and even killed. Argothians are raised to believe that their race is superior to all others, and that it is their mission to annihilate all inferior beings.'

[Now, a long time ago, an Argothian general had a vision, and he told this vision to his female mate. This vision was passed down through hundreds of generations as a legend. Now what few Argothian mothers there are tell the legend to their children as a warning.

[The legend says that there would come a time when the Argothians were close to conquering the whole of the universe, when they came to a small planet isolated somewhere in one of the outer systems. On this planet were two firebirds, one of them blue and the other red.]

Yallus pressed some buttons on the table, and the tesservid displayed an image of the two firebirds flying through the air, side by side. Mulder was amazed at the bright spinning image before him, and he looked on with interest.

Yallus continued. [These two firebirds were very powerful beings who knew of the Argothian's plans and wanted to stop them. Even though the firebirds were very strong in magic, they still could not defeat the entire Argothian army. So, they came to a point where these two firebirds came together and created a new firebird, the offspring of the two.]

The tesservid image changed, so that it showed the red and blue firebirds, beating their wings furiously and hovering over a smaller, purple firebird surrounded in flame. The images continued to spin, giving Mulder the view from all angles.

[This new firebird, the Child of the Fire, received from its parents very strong magic, and was extraordinarily powerful. Throughout its entire body ran magical blood, and this magic blood was in fact a deadly poison to the Argothians. The Child of the Fire could even give a drop of its blood to other creatures, and they would be endowed with the same magic. This single young entity had the power to stop the entire Argothian march forward...even destroy their race completely.

[The legend also talks about how the Argothians reacted to this Child of the Fire. Terrified of their possible end, the Argothians made a pact with a dragon that lived on the same homeworld as the firebirds. The dragon promised to kill the firebirds and the Child of the Fire in exchange for his own life when the Argothians would conquer his planet. This dragon was a mortal enemy of the firebirds, and he tried many times to end their lives, but all times he failed. At last, after the Child of the Fire had been created, the dragon fought the firebirds again, and wounded the blue firebird so that he could not reach the red firebird.]

Now the tesservid displayed a fearsome battle between the two firebirds and the dragon, just like the picture on the mural, only this time it was alive and almost too realistic for Mulder. He watched the scene play out before him with a mixture of fear and wonderment...wondering how this connected to him...

[When the red firebird was separated from the blue one, it attacked the dragon fiercely, and the dragon was wounded as well. The red firebird and the Child of the Fire hid from the possible returning dragon, remaining under the watch of five white generals from the firebird's planet, and tried to find the blue firebird.

[It was a long time before the blue firebird returned, but when it did, it did so just in time, for the Argothian army was already preparing to destroy the firebird's planet. The Argothians had planned their invasion for a later date, but they were so fearful of the Child of the Fire rising to fight them that they decided to quickly invade the planet before the chance arose. However, they did not invade soon enough, for the Child of the Fire had reached the age where it could spread its magical blood to all creatures that needed it. Just as the Argothians were beginning the battle with the firebird's people, the Child of the Fire spread its blood out to the riding army and made them invincible against the Argothians.]

Now the tesservid showed a new image, so large that it nearly covered the entire table, of an army of three-horned black unicorns running into battle against an army of white unicorns. The two armies clashed in battle, and the black unicorns began to drive back the white unicorns until the purple firebird, now grown, flew out over the white army.

[This caused the white unicorns to gain new ground, and eventually annihilate the entire Argothian army. However, as the Argothians were retreating, the dragon challenged the Child of the Fire to a fight. The dragon, when it had been wounded, had gone to the Argothians to be healed, and had been given Argothian blood and now had become a three-horned, black dragon. The blue and red firebirds came to the aid of their child, and together they killed the Argothian dragon. With the dragon dead, the entire Argothian race was at the mercy of the Child of the Fire, and they were soon destroyed completely.]

The final image was of another battle between the black dragon and the three firebirds, and the dragon was thrown to the ground and then killed by the purple firebird. The purple firebird perched on top of the dragon and gave a victory cry as its parents stood on either side.

Yallus switched off the tesservid then, making the room become dark again. She turned to Mulder. [You see then, how important this is? The Argothians do not fear anything...ANYTHING in this entire universe, except for that one child. They obsess over it often, search every planet thoroughly to see if the firebirds could be living there. They place murals and tesservids and other reminders of the legend all throughout their ships and workplaces to put fear into the hearts of those that might be lazy or not working hard, so that they might be reminded of what could happen to them if they do not always work hard to ensure the good of the Argothian cause.

[The legend makes Argothians even more fearful of other races than they already were, because the creatures pictured in the legend do not resemble any of the other life forms on Morgor or familiar to Argothians. Argothians keep a special watch on planets that are suspected of being the firebird's homeworld. This is why Arethia was quickly singled out...my people, the Thybirans, greatly resemble the firebirds in the legend. No Argothian will ever be able to sleep soundly until they are certain that they have destroyed the firebird's planet and the Child of the Fire along with it.]

Mulder soaked all of this information in carefully. He felt some odd sort of relief at this legend...relief that the aliens had some sort of weakness, a fear...something that they could fight back with. However, his relief was far less than his most immediate feelings and the question that went with them.

"I think I understand what you are talking about...but what does this legend have to do with me?"

Yallus gave Mulder a look. [The final thing that the legend says is that the Argothians can recognize the firebirds by only one thing...all three of the firebirds have in their blood a genetic pattern that forms a symbol when activated. You told us that you had touched the mural, and it began to glow. You see, Argothians incorporate themselves into a lot of their technology, including their ships and transports. The mural is programmed to react to a genetic makeup that is resistant to Argothian blood...as well as activate the symbol that marks them as a firebird. You are the only one that has ever received the symbol from a mural...that makes you the blue firebird.]

There was a long silence. Mulder felt the eyes of the three different races on him, and he somehow couldn't meet their gaze. He stared down at the floor, and ended up just looking at his hand. The symbol was still there, although it was beginning to fade into his skin again. He swallowed hard. "This can't be, though..."

[This is why you have to tell us!] Slander explained in an almost pleading voice. [Since you are the blue firebird, you must know where your mate, the red firebird, and your child are. We need to find the Child of the Fire, so that all races can get a drop of its magic blood and we can beat back the Argothian threat!]

[Many races have come together to try and form an alliance against the Argothians,] Yallus explained, [But there are so many disputes and miscommunications in meetings that we have never been able to really create a solid counterattack against them. If the ULR were to know that the legend is true and the Child of the Fire does exist, we could come together and completely annihilate the Argothian race before they do the same to us!]

Mulder began to back away slightly. "But...I don't have a child! I would never be able to...I don't know where I could..."

[You have a mate, do you not?]

"Well, I..." Mulder stopped. How could he answer this? In almost all senses, he could consider Scully to be his "mate", except for the physical part. They were never officially mates, although he felt that both he and Scully considered themselves so on the inside. "I...sort of do...but I'm not sure if it counts. If not, then no."

[Who?]

"Scully," For some reason, Mulder found it more difficult for him to say her name out loud than it ever had been before. "Dana Scully."

[I can tell you something right now,] Yallus said to Mulder decisively. [Just by looking at your face and listening to your voice, I can tell that she is your mate. It is the same way I used to be with Dermuli. She...Scully...is the red firebird.]

"But this still can't be!" Mulder said desperately in what felt like defense. "Even if I was the blue firebird and Scully was the red one, there is no child! And there never could be...Scully can't have..."

[Trust me,] Yallus looked Mulder in the eye. [If there is no child now, there soon will be. There *has* to be. You have the symbol on your hand; there is no denying that you ARE the blue firebird. If your Scully were to touch the mural that you found, she would have the mark, too. And where the two are, the third must be there, also.]

Mulder's limbs suddenly seemed to fail him, and he felt like he could collapse at any moment. The implications of this were too much for him to comprehend, too great for him to understand. Out of nowhere, memories of some former life flashed through his mind...memories of Scully coming to him sick, having chills and getting dizzy, and conversations with her as he kept her warm in his bed...

"I want to go home..." Mulder said in a small voice. "I...I can't stay here...I want, I NEED to go home, I need to see Scully..."

[If we do get out of here...you can't come to the ULR headquarters first, to explain who you are?] Slander asked.

"No, I can't go anywhere!" Mulder said in a daze. "I need to go home! I need to go home right now!"

The three aliens exchanged nervous glances. Yallus looked down at the floor, then turned back to Mulder, her face set with determination. [I promised that I would get back at the Argothians for taking my family and my home...and the way I will to so is to assist the blue firebird in any way I can. We will help you get home.]

Mulder managed a weak smile. He was still in shock, but he felt a comfort come from these strange friends he had made. "I could never be able to repay you if you were able to help me get home...but how would we do that? How could we get out of here?"

[There should be smaller transports in a landing bay somewhere on the ship. Of course, we'd have to go through too many guards to get there. If we could do something that could somehow draw most of the Argothians aboard this ship into one spot, we could get to the landing bay and steal a transport. We just need a really good distraction.]

Slander grinned micheviously. [I know just the one.]


Mulder and his four comrades had been walking down endless, twisting halls for what had felt like hours, following Slander to some unknown destination. They had crossed paths with some guards and doctors more than once, but by quickly hiding behind large structures or in adjoining rooms they had been able to avoid detection. Nobody knew where they were going except Slander, and they all hoped he had a better idea on where they *were* than they did...

[It's hard to remember exactly where we went...it's been so long since I've been outside...but I think I know where it is.]

"What exactly is it that were looking for?" Mulder questioned.

As they reached the end of the hall, Slander came to a door and smiled. [*This* is what we're looking for. I knew I would find it sooner or later.] Slander punched the doorlock, and the door slid open to reveal darkness.

[We're looking for a dark room?] Yallus said incredulously, obviously getting a little impatient.

Slander responded to her question by searching around and finding the light switch. Floodlights that covered the ceiling suddenly flickered and came on, revealing a room about half the size of a football stadium. The room resembled a large warehouse, with long aisles filled with rows of...cages.

Mulder stepped inside, and was completely at a loss for words. The cells in this room were small, stacked two or three high sometimes, and were made of a plastic-glass-like material. What astonished Mulder the most was that almost every cell held one alien, each one entirely different from the other.

Mulder wandered into the room and down the aisles, staring from one cell to another, while Slander, Yallus and Tho filed in behind him. There were races here that were so unbelievable, so unimaginable that he could barely find words to describe them. One looked like a walking starfish, another like an eight-legged frog, and another like a palm tree with a mouth. There was a lava-like alien with its head floating in space, a large, shaggy creature with long, soft hair, an athletic humanoid-like alien with stripes, and a small, gray, bumpy creature resting on the head of a smooth, bluish, goat-like creature. Most of the other aliens were even more bizarre and unreal than these. Some of the aliens simply watched Mulder with deadpan expressions, while others got up and began pounding on the glass, making movements with their mouths, although Mulder could not hear them through the glass. Mulder slowly turned back to Slander with a look of shock. "Wh...what is this?"

Slander responded to Mulder while searching the front wall for something. [A general holding area for races that have not been destroyed yet. Argothians abduct a sample or two of new races and then keep them here to test on them later.]

"Why?"

[To study their physiology,] Yallus answered angrily. [To find their strengths and weaknesses, so they will know how to best destroy them. Here there are Barshans, Luvans, Jefroans, Olvymoans and Allotibans-Coponans, to name just a few.]

"So...what are we going to do with them?" Mulder asked.

[This.]

Slander had found what he had been looking for. On the wall he pulled down an enormous switch, and a loud alarm sounded out, reverberating through the ceiling and walls. And every single door on every single cell in the whole room flipped open, letting all of their occupants free.

Mulder quickly scrambled back to where the others were as he was nearly trampled over by dozens of different races. They were making all sorts of noises, some of them actual words and some of them meaningless sounds, although Mulder barely tell the difference between them. There were all sorts of creatures running, hopping, flying, crawling and floating as far away from their prisons as possible, all trying to fit through the door. Slander gave a satisfied smile as all kinds of aliens filed out into the hall to spread throughout the ship. [If this isn't a diversion, then I don't know what is. It'll take hours for the Argothians to sort out this mess.]

Mulder and his three friends suddenly turned around at the sound of what Mulder could only describe as a Tyrannosaurus Rex roaring underwater. From somewhere towards the back of the room there suddenly stood an enormous reptillian-like creature. The thing sported razor claws and teeth and a thick armor of tough spikes.

[Oh no...] Yallus said in a frightened voice.

"What is that thing?" Mulder asked.

[It's a Manolinan!] Slander gulped.

"What's a Manolinan?"

[Oh, *only* the biggest, hungriest, most dangerous race ever known in the five sectors!] Yallus shouted. [What were the Argothians THINKING when they abducted that thing?!!]

The huge Manolinan roared again and began to storm in their direction, smashing anything and anybody in its way beneath its clawed feet. By now, most of the other alien prisoners had exited the room, and they figured it was time for them to do so as well. Without saying a word, all four of them scrambled to get back through the door. Slander, the last one out, slammed on the doorlock and trapped the Manolinan inside the prison room. They could hear its muffled roars from behind the thick metal.

But they soon discovered that they were now in a possibly worse situation than before. Slander's diversion had worked...the commotion had caused all of the guards and doctors on this level to come and investigate, and there was now a group of nearly 20 of them facing their group. They stood stiffly with matching faces and matching uniforms, with quite a few of them holding weapons that Mulder had never seen before.

A strange sound caused Mulder to turn to his left. Yallus was breathing very heavily, almost growling, as she laid eyes on the creatures that had murdered her family and stolen her home. The hatred began to churn up the color in her eyes, and Mulder was suddenly very afraid of the Thybiran standing next to him..... Yallus stood challengingly at the front of the group and roared, [THE FIREBIRDS LIVE!! DEATH TO THE ARGOTHIAN RACE!!!]

Five Argothians raised their guns at the group, but did not fire. This simple statement was a very effective weapon against them, and they were too frightened to do what they needed to do. Mulder was filled with amazement at seeing these men, who had been so solid, cold and unwavering whenever he saw them before, suddenly reduced to shivering, genuinely frightened creatures. Just at that moment, there came three heavy pounds on the door behind them. They had just enough time to turn around before the door was completely ripped out of its hinges, and the hungry and furious Manolinan charged out.

Mulder instantly realized their problem. In front of them were 20 Argothians ready to shoot them down the moment they got over their fear. Behind them was one huge Manolinan, with an appetite big enough for them, the 20 Argothians and every other creature aboard the ship. (Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place...)

But the Manolinan's appearance only served to their advantage. For now the Argothians were completely distracted by the Manolinan and turned all their attention to the snarling, spiked beast. Yallus grabbed her opportunity and instantly went into a rage. She jumped on one of the officers, beating him against the metal floor until he was knocked senseless. Yallus grabbed up the weapon the officer had been holding.

*Now* Mulder understood what she had been talking about when she had mentioned wanting a real weapon. Yallus managed to fire two shots and take down one guard. Two enormous blasts of light came out of the gun sounding like snapping trees, and splattered the surrounding guards over with a shower of green blood from the one that had been shot. Several of the guards raised their hands in surrender. But Yallus didn't want surrender...she wanted revenge.

"Yallus, don't!" Mulder stopped Yallus just before she was about to shoot again. She turned to him, and saw that he was covering his face with his hands. "Don't shoot any more of them, their blood is acidic to me!" As much as Yallus wanted to take down this Argothian scum, she instantly complied for Mulder's sake.

[Hey, look out!] Slander's voice called out a warning. The group of four instantly scattered at the Manolinan that had been behind them charged forward, heading for the Argothian group. The others backed away as it grabbed up the wounded officer and instantly devoured it.

As Mulder struggled to regain himself after dodging, he could hear one of the Argothian officers talking into a radio intercom. Even though the officer was speaking in his language, Mulder could still understand him with his translo. [Attention, we have an emergency on level 2! We have an emergency on level 2! We have a living Thybiran and at least 40 escaped test subjects, including a Manolinan. All workers and other personnel must come to level 2 *immediately* to assist in containment of the threat! Send instant communications to any other vehicles in this system and to the base transport!]

"We need to get out of here!" Mulder exclaimed. "They're coming to get us!"

Yallus stood and gazed up at the level over them. [We *have* to get to the control room...] She said decisively. [We have to stop them from sending communications to all their other ships. If word of what has happened gets outside these walls, then this mission is as good as over.]

[We can't use the turbolifts!] Slander added. [All the Argothians are using them now. And they're coming for *us*!]

Mulder did not like the sound of this. "Well, can't we find some stairs, or climb up all of this machinery or something?!"

[That would take too long," Yallus groaned. "And we'd be easy targets for any gun-holding Argothians.]

Slander stared up at the top level. [If only there was a way we could fly up there...]

He could not have timed his wish better. Just at that moment, an enormous creature flew overhead, and Mulder realized that it was one of the aliens they had released from the prison room. It looked like a huge cross between a pegasus and an elephant, with large feathery wings and a long, trunk-like nose. There were small metal balls on chains attached to the thing's legs, and it took Mulder a minute to realize that they were some sort of jewelry. The creature circled above them, watching the great commotion below.

Slander grinned. [Yes...an Elie-pogoan! I think this is just what we're looking for.] The Miman then raised his voice to the Elie-pogoan. [Hello, friend! Could you please come down here and help us?]

Luckily, the Elie-pogoan understood Slander's chattering language, and it quickly descended to stand on the edge of the platform where they stood. [You are the four persons who released me and my fellow prisoners from our containment facilities, are you not?] It said.

[Yes, we are.]

The Elie-pogoan bowed to them in a servant-like manner. [I am called Trinita by relations both physical and emotional, and I am indebted to you because of your kindness towards me and my previous plight. Imply upon me any wish you might contain, and I shall quickly and efficiently carry out your wish to the best of my ability.]

[Could you please take us up to the top level?] Slander asked.

[Certainly. Please assemble yourselves onto my back as quickly as you are able, for I fear we may be experiencing troublesome company quite shortly.] The group turned around and saw what Trinita was referring to...the Manolinan was beginning to retreat under the pressure of heavy gunfire from the Argothians, and a few guards were starting to get past the beast and head for *them.*

Yallus did not waste any time. [Alright, let's go!] She exclaimed and quickly climbed onto the Elie-pogoan's back. Slander and Tho followed her. Mulder was a little hesitant about boarding a giant flying pegasus-elephant-alien that spoke in long, elegant sentences. However, the thought of dozens of Argothians ready to kill him was not nearly enough to hold him back, and he climbed aboard alongside the others.

Trinita stepped from the smoky platform and instantly sailed off into the open space. Mulder and his friends held on for dear life as the huge creature beat its wings against the air, propelling itself upwards. Several of the Argothian guards shot at them as they were flying up, but all their shots missed. Mulder stared down at the interior of the alien ship, knowing it would be a long and deadly drop down if he were to fall. From up high he could see masses of activity on the second level, as every Argothian on the ship swarmed to help as they had been directed over the radio intercom.

The flight upwards seemed to last an eternity as thick air blasted them on all sides and a million different sounds echoed against the black metal walls. However, it was eventually over, and Trinita landed on the top floor of the ship. All of them could see a definite difference on this level. All of the architecture and machinery was smooth, modern, and *very* clean. Bright lights illuminated the level, unlike the dark, damp, rotting levels below. When Trinita touched the ground, the four climbed off, glad to be back on stable ground.

[Is there any other service I can perform for my liberators?] Trinita asked.

[Get off the ship,] Yallus warned. [Find someone who can fly a transport and get to safety.]

Trinita could not understand Yallus's family language, so Slander translated for her. The Elie-pogoan gave a final farewell and thank-you, and flew off to do as she had been instructed.

(That was certainly interesting...) Mulder thought to himself.

Yallus did not waste a second. [Come on, we have to get to the control room right now! If they finish sending that communication to other ships, we're dead.]

They ran down the hallway, passing through doors and passages that just seemed to lead to more doors. The loud sounds continued to drift up from the level below. Mulder wished that they were not running so that he could observe the magnificence of the ship on top, with its clean and modern furnishings that looked more like UFOs as portrayed on Earth.

Before long, they came to a wide, lighted hallway that ended in two enormous, curved, black doors. It was clear that whatever was behind these doors was very large and very important. Yallus grinned. [This is it...this is our moment.]

[What will we do?] Slander asked quietly.

[We break in! If there are any that are armed, it won't be many, because they have no need for weapons in there. Tho can also provide a good distraction just by moving around.] The four of them moved in closer until they were all on either side of the two doors. Yallus got her weapon ready. [Alright, on my signal! One.....two.....three!!]

With her last word, Yallus punched on the doorlock, and the two doors whipped open in an instant. The moment the doors were open, all four of them rushed inside.

The moment Mulder got his first look, he was stopped dead in his tracks. The control room was not like anything he had ever seen before. There was a huge glass window that took up nearly half of the room, and through it Mulder could see thousands upon thousands of stars, all more clear and bright then he had ever seen before. He could also see some sort of planet nearby that resembled Uranus or Neptune, and the white bar of the Milky Way stretched like a rainbow over the vast reaches of space.

The rest of the control room was almost as stunning as the stars outside. There were large screens and tesservids displaying charts, maps, photos and lists. There were also consoles and large, alien-looking computers that controlled everything the ship did and that could communicate with other ships light-years away. Dozens of officers were working at these consoles or were standing around talking. They were all dressed in uniform and they were all in their Argothian gray form. At the entrance of Mulder and his friends, they all stopped and stared at the invaders in complete shock.

Yallus held her gun ready to shoot down any Argothian that moved. She stood defiantly at the front of the group and shouted, [STAY WHERE YOU ARE! YOU MOVE, YOU WILL BE SHOT!!]

Although the Argothians far outnumbered their group, none of them were armed, for before there had never even been the possibility of needing weapons. The Argothian officers held out their hands in surrender, not even able to comprehend the idea of mere test subjects taking control of their ship. (They're not so tough when things aren't going their way,) Mulder thought.

[Here, hold this gun,] Yallus suddenly said to Mulder. [If any one of them move, don't hesitate, just shoot them. That will keep them still.]

"But I don't know how to use this thing!" Mulder whispered anxiously.

[And they don't *know* that,] Yallus hissed. [You've got to keep them away while I fix this ship for good.]

Mulder took the gun and kept it on the frightened and confused officers while Yallus headed for the external communication console. The Argothians didn't try to intervene, but it was apparent that they would jump to do so if given half the opportunity.

Yallus knew that you didn't need to know much about a machine to destroy it. She instantly began flipping switches, pulling out connections and smashing screens to the horror of the officers. [You cannot do this!] One of them shouted angrily. Yallus simply ignored him and continued her rush of destruction. The control panels sparked and fizzed dangerously. Yallus stepped back as the console exploded into a ball of smoke and dust, and then lay cold and still. The Argothians were now unable to communicate with anyone outside of their ship.

A sudden rumble caused everyone to stop and look around in surprise. Mulder's group instantly realized what the sound was...it was the ship's engines starting up. One of the officers had snuck to the engine console and had fired up the ship's first boosters. He stared threateningly at the five escaped test subjects... [We told you that you could not do this. You will be punished without mercy.]

This warning did not phase the four escapees...they had gotten this far, and they weren't about to let anything stop them now. [Tho, put down their engines!!] Slander shouted suddenly.

Tho was only too happy to oblige. The Bleebeean zoomed off across the control room, causing several Argothians to duck to avoid being hit. She went straight for the engine console and simply whizzed through it, putting holes in all of the equipment and causing sparks to fly. The Argothians tried to stop her, but they could barely keep track of where she was, much less capture her. As she finished destroying all of the equipment in nearly a fraction of the time that Yallus had, the sound of the engines died and the ship lurched harshly.

Slander knew that there would be weapon-bearing Argothians here soon to take care of them, so he said, [Hey, you guys, we need to leave now. It's not safe to stay here.]

They agreed, and headed for the door, their mission now complete. They exited the control room, and Yallus shot the doorlock to prevent the officers from quickly following them.

"Now what?" Mulder asked.

[Now we get the hell off this ship!] Yallus exclaimed, her voice full of excitement. [Come on, we've got to get to the parking bay.]

The four of them started to run down the sleek halls. Doors and structures passed by them, but they did not stop at any of them. [Do you have any idea where we are going?] Slander questioned after a while of what seemed to be going nowhere.

[Not real--]

[THERE THEY ARE!]

Just as the group rounded a corner, they met head-on with a large gang of Argothian guards that had been summoned up to this level. The biggest problem was that most of them had a large weapon of some kind.

[Other way!] Yallus exclaimed, and all four of them simultaneously turned around and sprinted in the opposite direction. The sounds of the armed guards chasing them motivated them to double their speed.

Their only lucky break was that they headed into several hallways that branched off into multiple passages. While they could head down one, the guards would split up into all of them. They kept going through these branched conjunctions until they were finally able to lose the guards completely. They stopped to rest outside another black door, all of them panting for breath.

[Well, now we lost them...] Slander sighed, [but we still have no idea were the parking bay is.]

Yallus tried to hide her frustration at the situation they were in. [We'll just have to keep looking. Come on, it's not safe to stay still.] She stood up and punched on the doorlock.

The door opened to reveal a sight that made all of them instantly believe in fate. The room before them was the size of several football fields and resembled an aircraft carrier. There were several rows of small, two-person transports that to Mulder looked like something out of "Star Wars." All of the transports were black, smooth, and about the size of small fighting jets. As far as they could tell, there was no one in the parking bay, as all of the workers had gone to the crisis below. The parking bay was open to the vacuum of space except for a thin, greenish film that reminded Mulder of saran wrap. This film covered the entire open area, and Mulder guessed that it allowed ships to pass through without causing a vacuum.

Yallus suddenly turned to Mulder. [Do you know how to fly an Argothian sky attack gunner?]

"I can't even fly an aircraft from my *own* planet!" Mulder protested.

[Then I'll fly it. Come on, let's get you one...]

"Wait a minute, Yallus, what do you mean, fly it? Fly me where?"

[Why, back to your homeworld, of course! Unless you suddenly changed your mind and want to go to the ULR headquarters after all...]

"Wait a minute, you can't come with me to Earth!" Mulder said insistently. "My people won't accept you! They'll be afraid of you and want to study you..."

[Look, I promised I was going to serve the blue firebird in any way that I could. You need to return to your homeworld, so I shall bring you back. If you want, I can drop you off and then leave again.]

Mulder stood still for a little while, and then his face broke into a huge smile...the first time he had smiled in what felt like years. "Thank you, Yallus."

[I'll take my own transport,] Slander spoke up, [and I'll take Tho back to her home.]

Mulder gazed with a strange regret at the other two...regret that he had to leave his friends that he had known so briefly, but had done so much for him. "I wish that we didn't have to go separate ways...I wish that people on my planet would behave differently so that you could come with me."

[We wish you all the luck in the universe, blue firebird,] Slander responded. [We are depending on you. Please try and contact us.]

"I'll try," Mulder sighed. "I don't know how, but I'll try."

[Farewell!]

With that, Slander and Tho went into one of the sky attack gunners, while Yallus and Mulder went for their own. The Thybiran opened a door on one side of the ship, and it opened upwards and outwards. Mulder looked carefully over the well-kept interior, and then followed Yallus through a small door into the cockpit. The cockpit had two seats side by side lined with some plush material, and one side looked like it was meant for navigation while the other was meant for targeting. The could clearly see the parking bay and the stars through a large glass window that extended up over their heads.

[I'll take the driver's seat, you get in the gunner's seat. Make sure you strap yourself in, these things usually have a bad jerk reaction to lightdrive boosters.]

Mulder didn't even bother asking what lightdrive boosters were. He just sat down in his seat and pulled the double straps together around his body, looking over the machinery that was in front of him.

[Oh, damn...]

Mulder was about to ask what was the matter when he saw it as well. The Argothians had finally caught up to them, and scores of them were pouring into the parking bay, all of them armed.

[Quick, I'll start the engines up! You take care of them!] Yallus ordered.

"What do I do?!"

[You're in the gunner's seat...use a GUN!]

Mulder frantically searched around for anything in front of him that could be a trigger button. Everything was a mess of computers and buttons and levers that he had no clue how to operate. Meanwhile, Yallus was frantically flipping switches and turning on computers. A deep hum started somewhere behind them, and Mulder felt the ship lurch as it lifted off the ground.

[Let's see...engines one and two on, primary battery working, lightdrive engine ready, landing gear retracted...don't just sit there, Mulder! Shoot them!!]

Mulder punched a few buttons, and a tesservid displaying a targeting grid popped up in front of him. Feeling a video-game excitement build up inside him, he grabbed what looked like an alien joystick and pressed the fire button.

Instantly, two bolts of light shot out of cannons on the underside of the ship and blasted two Argothians right out of existence. Mulder gave an excited whoop at his victory.

[Shields are full!] Yallus announced. She couldn't have said it sooner, for the Argothians had already started firing at them. Their gunfire was simply absorbed into the shields and added to their power.

Mulder watched as the ship taken by Slander and Tho took off and passed through the film layer like an object passing through a waterfall. Then they were moving forward, watching the Argothians below them yelling and shooting in anger. They also passed through the pressure film, and were surrounded on all sides by a multitude of stars celebrating their escape.

For a brief moment, neither Mulder nor Yallus could speak, they were too shocked to say anything. But the farther they sped away from the huge Argothian ship, the more difficult it became for them to contain their excitement.

Suddenly, Yallus let out a long victory screech, and raised her fists to the sky. [Look at me! You're looking at the last Thybiran this universe will ever see...and she's FREEEE!!!]

"We did it!" Mulder shouted, feeling his body quiver with an energy that he could only describe as freedom. He had never truly felt it before...although he had lived in a free country all his life, he had never truly been able to understand what freedom meant until now. "We got away! I'm...I'm going home!"

[Let's do it!] Yallus exclaimed, and pulled down on one large lever. [Engaging lightdrive.]

Mulder barely felt it when the attack gunner jumped from a cruising speed to going faster than the speed of light. There was only one thought in his mind...(Scully...I'm coming home.)


One of Jupiter's small moons watched in silence as a streak of light whizzed by and was then gone, moving faster than the light of the stars that thickly covered the reaches of space. The streak of light was in fact a single Argothian sky attack gunner, heading in the direction of a small blue planet that was third from this system's sun.

Mulder was fast asleep in the gunner's seat, completely exhausted at the amazing ordeal he had been through. This plush seat was the first soft thing he had gotten to lay on in what felt like decades, and he had had no trouble falling asleep in it.

Yallus Tallo, meanwhile, was awake and alert. She watched the stars speed by them in a whitish blur and continuously checked the tesservid map to make sure that they were on the right path. She was finally starting to relax, and propped her feet up on the dashboard. She stared at the oil and dirt that nearly coated her red, feathery toes...(I can't *wait* to wash myself up.)

BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP...

Yallus sat up suddenly as she heard one of the ship's warning lights come on, accompanied by its tiny siren. Yallus pressed the button, wondering what the problem could be...

A tesservid image popped up, displaying a funnel-shaped structure with a substance inside. She stared at it for a minute, and her expression dropped into a frown. [Uuuuugh...damn Argothian TRASH!!]

"Wha!--" Mulder's eyes snapped open and he lunged forward in his seat, but the seat straps restrained him.

[Oh...I'm sorry to wake you, Mulder,] Yallus sighed.

"Don't worry about it." Mulder yawned and stretched, hearing his body crack in several different places. He focused his vision, and saw the stars were still blurring past them. He found it incredibly strange that he could be moving faster than the speed of light and still be talking and acting normally. "What's the matter?"

[*This*,] Yallus motioned at the image of the quarter-full funnel. [We've only got a quarter-tank of chark left.]

"What's chark?"

[It's a liquid fuel source,] She explained. [The Argothians discovered a planet full of the stuff and it's their main fuel source for ships and transports.]

Mulder felt his lungs expand with panic. "Do we have enough to get back to Earth?!"

[Oh, we have plenty enough to reach your homeworld...just not nearly enough for me to get back to the nearest friendly outpost.]

Mulder let the information sink in slowly, and he looked at Yallus worriedly. "But...what can we do?"

[Nothing,] Yallus sighed. [I'll just stay with you on your homeworld for awhile. It's not like I have a home to go back to, anyway.]

"Yallus, my people won't accept you!" Mulder insisted. "They've never seen anything like you before. They'll want to hurt you, test on you, kill you..." He paused, feeling a knot form in his throat. "They'll treat you like the Argothians did."

Yallus didn't seem nearly as concerned as Mulder was. [It's not like we have much of a choice, anyway. What's important is that we get you back home, and that's what we're going to do. Perhaps we'll be able to find another fuel source like chark on your homeworld and I can leave again.]

Mulder was about to protest again, when he realized that Yallus was right and he changed his mind. "How close are we?" He finally asked.

[Very close,] Yallus said. She switched on a navigation tesservid, and it projected a map image of their position in the solar system. [We're passing the fourth planet from your sun.] "Mars," Mulder said, his body tense with excitement. The concept that he was traveling past Mars wasn't nearly as amazing as the concept that he was returning home. He instantly began to plan out what they would do once they got back to Earth. "We'll get to a pay phone and try to call Scully, and if she's not there I can try Skinner or the Lone Gunmen. But first I'll have to find something to conceal you. Then you can stay in my apartment until I find Scully, and I'll bring her back and explain everything!" [Will she believe what you say? From the way you describe your people, most of your peers would think you were mad if you said you were aboard an Argothian ship.]

"They already think that." [Do you have any concept of how long you have been gone?] Mulder stopped. He hadn't thought about that. He had had no concept of hours or days when he had been abducted...time had been measured in schedules. He could have been gone days or years, he didn't know. He just hoped that it wasn't the latter.

[Alright, we're coming up to your homeworld,] Yallus announced. [I'm switching off the lightdrive.] The Thybiran pulled back on a lever, and the blur of stars switched back to the normal spots of light. And instantly, the Earth took up nearly all of the window view, and Mulder could see all of the Northern Hemisphere stretched out before him.

An atmosphere of white clouds covered the splotches of brown, green and deep blue that covered the planet's surface. Mulder couldn't help but laugh out loud. "This is it! It's Earth..." He shook his head at the sight. "Wow...it's beautiful."

Yallus nodded. [I have to admit, from a distance I like this color arrangement.]

"We have to land in a certain spot," Mulder said. "Can you do that?"

[I can program the computer to settle us down up to 1000 kilostarps from the surface,] She said, using an unknown unit of measurement. [But after that I have to do some tricky manual flying.]

"We need to land somewhere outside the Washington D.C. area," Mulder instructed. "That's my country's capital. It's very densely populated, but we need to land in an area where there are more trees so people don't see the ship."

[Where on your homeworld is the Washington D.C. area?]

"Umm...it's on the far eastern side of the United States, which is a country in the northern, western hemisphere. Although I guess directions like north and west don't really apply in space...just keep going towards that landmass right there. I'll keep directing you the closer we get."

By now, they were very close to the Earth, and the planet took up all the space in their glass window. Yallus began to prepare for their descent onto land. [Okay, you have an oxygen- based atmosphere, I am assuming, so we're putting up heat shields...air debris reflectors up...landing gear is okay...]

"Do you have a cloaking device?" Mulder asked suddenly. "We can't let anyone see this ship."

Yallus was getting a little annoyed with the extreme secrecy of their arrival. [Alright then...cloak is activated.]

The Argothian sky attack gunner then hit Earth's atmosphere. The two occupants held on to their seats tightly as the ship rattled and jolted dangerously against air currents and heat. For a long time they couldn't see anything in front of them except thick yellow and white clouds flashing by them.

Then the attack gunner broke free of the outer atmosphere, and they could see both land and sea below them. Mulder continued to direct Yallus downward until they were over the United States, and then the east coast, and then over D.C. Mulder could even pick out some large buildings. (All those people down there who thought I was crazy...and all they have to do is look up above them,) Mulder grinned.

The nearest forest area was not as close as Mulder would have liked, but he still did not want to take any chances. Yallus turned off the automatic pilot and grabbed at a small steering- wheel device to land the gunner manually. Mulder gripped his seat to steady himself as the Thybiran maneuvered the ship down towards the ground and then around trees, looking for an open space large enough for them to land. At last there appeared a fairly large clearing in the middle of the woods. She positioned the ship above the open space and then lowered it slowly, smoke hissing from its exhausts. The ship gave a final jolt as it touched earth, and then Yallus turned the engines off.

For a moment, everything was completely silent.

Then Mulder felt a sudden desire to get outside. He didn't just want to see his home through glass...he wanted to hear it, to feel it, to breathe it. After so long a time spent in the cold, dark, thick misery of the operating room, all he wanted to do was fill his lungs with the fresh, warm smell of the planet Earth.

He and Yallus exited the gunner, and the first thing Mulder saw was the blurry, aged-glass-look of the ship's energy cloak. He rushed to get outside it and see the world completely. That blasted energy field had been the last thing he saw before he had been abducted, and it was the thing that had first gotten him into this mess, anyhow. Mulder and Yallus stepped through the energy field, feeling their bodies jump and jolt for just an instant as they did.

Once they were outside, Mulder stared with a huge grin at the scores of trees that surrounded him on all sides. "This is my home, Yallus!" He said, his voice filled to the brim with happiness. "What do you think?"

Yallus smelled the air. [It is no Arethia...but I can certainly understand how one can become attached to it.]

"I don't think I've ever enjoyed it as much as I am now."

Yallus gave Mulder a smile. [You've found your home once again, blue firebird...it's time to reunite you with your mate.]

Mulder couldn't have agreed more. With that, both Human and Thybiran began their journey off into the trees.


"Let's see...that's one extra-extra-large hooded robe, one pair of extra-large loose-fit jeans, one pair of elbow-length black gloves, one pair of of knee-high size 23 boots...will there be anything else?" The store clerk gave Mulder an odd look.

"No, I think that's it," Mulder dumped all of the money he had been holding in his fist onto the counter. He could only imagine what he must look like...dressed in a dirty gray shirt and pants, his hair completely messed up, his skin coated over with oil and muck, not to mention the numerous unsightly scars from the tests that graced his body. It was a wonder they had let him into the store without any shoes. (I get back to Earth after spending who-knows-how-long being tested on in an alien ship, and the first thing I do is go and buy clothes. How American of me...)

Their walk out of the woods had been good for them, but had taken quite awhile. Whenever a bird or small animal would appear for them to see, Mulder would point it out and show it to Yallus. After several hours, they had emerged from the woods to find a small highway.

Mulder had made Yallus hide back in the woods, and told her to wait until he flagged down a certain vehicle. Then he would get in the front and she would jump in the back and hide herself. That certain vehicle was a pickup truck, and Mulder didn't have to wait very long before one came along down the highway. As soon as the driver agreed to give Mulder a ride, Yallus climbed into the back and hid herself beneath an old piece of tarp.

The truck driver was obviously just a little bit out of it, and Mulder had had not trouble persuading the man to drive him all the way to the nearest town as well as loan him a good sum of money. Once they reached a small town called Shiresville, Yallus had hidden in a back alley again while Mulder had gone into a small store to buy coverings for her.

Now the store clerk tied up the clothes in a bag for him, and then handed him back his change. She looked at Mulder again quizzically, and then asked, "What is that *thing* in your ear?"

Mulder was confused for a minute, and then realized that he was still wearing his translo. He had become so used to it that he had completely forgotten he had it, and it must have looked incredibly strange to others. "Oh! Uhh...new hearing aid," He answered. He grabbed the clothes and change before the clerk could ask him any more questions.

Mulder stepped around the back side of the store until he came to a door that led to a back storeroom. He went inside, shutting the door behind him. He turned on the light, and saw Yallus looking rather annoyed.

[I spend who-knows-how-long in a dark room doing nothing, I escape, and then what do I do? I spend who-knows-how-long in a dark room doing nothing!] She snorted.

"Trust me, you would much prefer doing this to what could happen to you otherwise." Mulder took the clothes he had bought out of their bag. "Put these on. And make sure you pull the hood all the way over your head so no one can see your beak. This way we can actually walk down the street without everyone staring at us, although we're still going to keep to the sidelines as much as possible."

Yallus fumbled around with the clothes, trying to figure out how she could wear these. She pulled on the boots, trying to fit her oddly-shaped feet and ankle feathers into these bothersome articles. The pants fit well enough, and so did the gloves, although since Yallus had only four fingers on each hand she was left with a bit of extra glove material. The robe was the most trouble...her long, extending shoulder feathers were somewhat stiff, so she had to find a way to bend them down against her back just to get the robe over her head. Then she pulled the hood as far as she could over her face, so that the only way anyone could see something was if they looked directly into the hood.

Mulder stepped back to look at her and had to stifle a laugh...she looked like a cross between a monk and a motorcyclist, if such a thing was possible. He saw her glare at him from within the hood. [Wherever your Scully is, I suggest we find her quickly, otherwise I may be forced to burn this outfit so that I may never see it again.]

Mulder sighed. "Come on, then...I think I can reach Scully pretty quickly."

As it turned out, Mulder did not reach Scully as quickly as he would have liked. He and Yallus went to the nearest pay phone, and Mulder used some of his change to call Scully's home. She had not been home, and Mulder did not bother to leave a message on the machine. Next he had tried calling their office number, assuming that she might still be at work, but there had been no answer there, either. Mulder had also tried calling Skinner's number, hoping that Skinner could pick them up and take them to Scully, but he wasn't there, either. Getting desperate, Mulder had finally called the Lone Gunmen, but of course there had been no answer. Mulder was confused and just slightly worried at this strange absence of all the people he knew...especially Scully. (Where could she be if she wasn't at the office and wasn't at home?...)

Mulder had used the last of his change to barely get him and Yallus a cab ride back to D.C., although the cab driver had been somewhat suspicious of the strangely-dressed Yallus. When the cab had refused to take them further on what they had paid, they walked the rest of the way, keeping to alleys and trying to avoid the public as much as possible. By now it was late afternoon, and the sun was beginning to sink into the west. They finally arrived at Mulder's apartment around 5:00, and headed in to his room. Mulder felt incredibly strange walking down the hall to his familiar #42...he felt like he had not been gone a day, and that everything was exactly the way he left it. He could instantly recognize the creaks in the boards, and the numbers on the doors. He could even recognize the smell of the carpet. Neither he nor Yallus said anything until they stopped in front of #42.

Mulder twisted the doorknob...it was locked. He suddenly was struck with a bolt of panic...(what if I've been gone a very long time and somebody else got my apartment?!)

[Don't worry about this, I can fix it.] Yallus instantly solved his problem for him. She reached inside her robe and dug around inside one of her many pouches until she came upon a piece of twisted metal left over when she had taken her intel-calic apart. She used the metal piece to pick the lock on the front door, and in no time at all they heard the bolt unlock.

The front door creaked eerily as they opened it and stepped inside. Mulder was overcome with a relieved confusion as he realized that all of his furniture was still there...nothing had been touched.

[Rather small...] Yallus commented. She immediately removed her annoying coverings and dropped them on the floor.

Mulder moved forward very slowly, feeling strange being here. Everything looked kept after...the fish were still alive, at least. Although there was quite a tick dust layer over most of the furniture, he could tell that someone had been here recently. He walked to his desk as something caught his eye...it was his small desk calendar. The date on the calendar was July 17th. At first Mulder thought that he had only been gone for two months, but upon closer inspection he realized that the calendar was for the year 2001.

Mulder had to swallow down a large lump in his throat before he could speak. "I...I've been gone for almost 14 months!"

Yallus heard his comment. [How long is a month? Tell me in terms of days or years.]

"A month is about 30 days; there are 12 months in a year," Mulder said, sounding as if he were on autopilot. He was relieved that he hadn't been gone for decades, but he also knew that a *lot* could happen in 14 months. What puzzled Mulder even further was that had a 2001 calendar at all...that meant that someone had been keeping track of the passage of time in his apartment; even enough to go out and buy him a new calendar. "Scully's been taking care of my home," Mulder said suddenly.

[I suppose you're thankful for that,] Yallus mused.

Mulder then went from his living room to his bedroom, wanting to see the rest of his house. Surprisingly, his bed was unmade...it was the same way as when the morning he left. He felt like he had come home to a museum...everything was untouched, only time had changed. Mulder sat down on his bed carefully, soaking in the unfamiliar feelings that surrounded him.

Yallus walked into the bedroom and gave Mulder a look. It was apparent that the thick reverence of memories was getting to her as well. [Where is the red firebird?]

Mulder looked back up to Yallus. At first he was confused by her question, but then he remembered what the name meant. "Right now? I'm not sure. But the first place I'm going to look is our office at the FBI."

[FBI? What's that?]

"Federal Bureau of Investigation...it's one of our law enforcement agencies."

[You're in law enforcement?] Yallus said quietly. [Strange...so was Dermuli.]

"What did you do?"

[I was an architect until I had Dilchi.]

"Then what were you?"

[A mother.]

The word 'mother' brought back the reminder of the firebird legend. In their journey from the Argothian ship to his apartment, the importance of the legend had almost completely left Mulder's mind.

Mulder stood. "I'm going to go find Scully," he said decisively. "You stay here and wait for me to return. Keep away from the windows, and don't open the door for *anyone*."

[What about you?]

Mulder thought. "I'll knock three times slowly on the door. When you hear that, you'll know it's me and you can let me in."

[I still don't like standing around here by myself while you go out and do everything without me,] Yallus grumbled.

"Look, Yallus, you're my friend, and I don't want to see anything happen to you. Do this for me and I promise you won't regret it." Mulder found it somewhat ironic that he was doing this with Yallus. Before he would have gladly exposed a living alien to the public, just to prove to everyone that he had been right all along. But now after he had met and become friends with an alien, he was completely unwilling to endanger her life for his own convictions. (If only I had always been the same way with Scully.....)

Mulder then pulled on a pair of shoes, grabbed some cash he had in a drawer, and left Yallus alone in his apartment.


Mulder crept around the back of the FBI building quietly, making sure that no one could see him well. Mulder did not even try to go in through the front door...there was no telling what sort of reaction he would get if he just showed up at the FBI after over a year. He figured he could possibly catch Scully in their office, and he hoped that was where she was. He knew there was a very small window in their office looking outside, and if he could drop down through that he could see her instantly. He just hoped that when he had called her at the office that she had simply been out getting coffee or something, and that she had since then returned.

After a good deal of searching around through the back alley passages of the FBI building, he found the small window that he sought. Looking down through it, Mulder could not see much. He pushed against it, and luckily found it unlocked.

He pushed the window the rest of the way open, giving him just enough room to squeeze his body through. He pushed himself feet-first through the window, and then landed on the ground next to his desk.

Mulder felt his heart swell with the anticipation of seeing Scully...but a quick glance around the office revealed to him that she was not there. Mulder stood, rooted to where he was, and studied the office in detail. Most of the things here were still the same...his desk was still here, his posters and newspaper clippings were still up, and his beloved X-File cabinets were still present. But a few things were different...there was another desk in the room, and little nicer-kept than his own desk. There were files and folders piled all over the place, which was typical. But somehow...Mulder wasn't sure if he liked the way he felt here. His office, his home away from home, felt tainted and somewhat reassembled. (You've just been gone for so long you're not used to being here,) He told himself. (You just need to see Scully and then everything will make sense again.)

But Scully was not here, and Mulder was not sure what to do next. Mulder did not feel comfortable going up above to where the whole FBI could see him. (Should I try her house again? What if she's out on a case or something?)

Mulder's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone coming down the hall towards him, and he could tell just by the rhythm of their shoes that it was not Scully. Mulder panicked...there wasn't anywhere he could hide, and his only way out was through the window again...

Then Mulder didn't have time to think anymore, for the person appeared in the door.

It was a male agent. The agent was tall and grim-looking, with gray-blue eyes and brownish-gray hair. He looked like something out of the military. The agent was carrying nothing except a single cup of coffee.

When he saw Mulder, he stopped cold, as if he had suddenly been put in suspended animation. Mulder watched him with puzzlement as his eyes widened with unspeakable shock, and his face became as white and dry as chalk. The cup of coffee slipped from between his frozen fingers and splattered all over the floor. The man mustered up all the living energy left in him to take a single step backwards.

"A...A...Ag...Agent M...M...Muh..."

"Who are you?" Mulder asked.

"M...Mulder?"

Again, "Who are you?"

The agent took a few careful steps into the office, looking as if he entered a horrible curse might be placed upon him. "Is that...*you*?"

"I'm Mulder! What are you doing here? Do you know where Scully is?"

The agent's face dropped into something between horror and sorrow...he looked like he was about to cry. "Are...are you alright?" He said slowly.

"I'm okay now," Mulder said, beginning to get a little confused with the way this man was acting. "But who are you?"

"My name is Agent John Doggett," he said, and took a few more steps into the office.

"What are you doing here?"

"I...I'm Agent Scully's partner."

"No you're not. *I'm* her partner."

"Not since you left," Doggett said.

Mulder felt his insides twitch at seeing this man say he was Scully's partner...he didn't seem right for her. He seemed too strict, too stern, too informal. He had to find out what had happened from Scully herself. "Where is Scully?"

"She's gone."

"Where did she go?"

No response.

"Where did she go?!"

Doggett's answer was sad. "I don't know."


Mulder sat in his office chair without saying anything while Doggett quietly cleaned up the coffee spilt on the floor. Mulder was deep in thought...he couldn't even imagine what had happened to Scully. His skin pricked and his chest ached, and for just a moment he felt like he was back in the operating room again. (All this way...and she's not even here...)

Doggett finished cleaning up the coffee and turned to Mulder. "Do you realize that you have been gone for over a year, Agent Mulder?" He said quietly.

"Yes."

"Where were you?"

Mulder looked at him carefully. "Would you believe me if I told you?"

Doggett sighed. "When I was first partnered with Agent Scully, I found her ideas and theories to be ridiculous. I didn't disagree with everything she said, but I was always more skeptical than she was. Now...I'm not sure. I don't know if I'll ever be sure. Tell me."

Mulder hesitated before speaking. "I was in an alien spaceship somewhere on the edge of this solar system."

Mulder couldn't tell whether Doggett was angry or relieved by what he said. "I don't believe that's true, Agent Mulder," Doggett responded. "But I don't want to argue with it right now."

Mulder, however, felt like arguing. "Why would I say that if it wasn't the truth?"

"Any number of reasons...I don't know!" Doggett held up his hands in frustration. "What am I supposed to think, here? You up and disappear, and you're gone for over a year. And then you just reappear in your office as if nothing ever happened?! Things changed, Agent Mulder...a lot of things changed."

"Why isn't Scully here?" Mulder demanded, his voice tightening with anxiety.

"She just...disappeared," Doggett said slowly, as if he could hardly believe it himself. "She had already stopped coming to work because of personal reasons, but she made sure to call me every day. Then one day, there was no call. I assumed that she was very busy and had forgotten...but three more days went by and she still didn't call. I was worried about her, so I went to her house to check up on her. But...she wasn't there! She was completely gone, and so was...." Doggett stopped suddenly.

"So was who?"

"He...her car," Doggett breathed carefully in a voice that Mulder was instantly suspicious of. "Wherever she went, she took her car and quite a few of her belongings." Doggett looked at Mulder sadly. "Nobody has seen her for almost two months."

"Almost two *months*?!!" Mulder blurted, and stood up. "This is the FBI! Why didn't they start *looking* for her?!"

"She was technically off-duty when she disappeared. There has been some search, but not a very extensive one. A.D. Skinner and those friends of yours, the Lone Gunmen, have spent nearly all of their time looking for her. Skinner said he would be checking up with me whenever he got back here today...that should be soon."

Doggett could not have timed it better. Just at that moment, the phone on the desk started ringing. Mulder and Doggett exchanged glances, and then Doggett picked up the phone. "Yes?"

"Agent Doggett? This is Skinner, I'm..."

Doggett took a deep breath. "Sir, before you say anything, I have a situation down here that you need to attend to."

"What? Did you find Scully?"

"No sir...but you need to come down here right away."

"I'll be down there.:

Doggett hung up the phone and turned to Mulder. "Skinner's coming."

"I heard."

There was a silence.

"So you have no idea where she went?" Mulder persisted. "She didn't leave any note, or clue, or anything?"

"Well..." Doggett swallowed and cleared his throat. "It appeared like there had been some sort of struggle in his home. We found some blood on the carpet. We analyzed it and it's not hers, but..."

Mulder did not want to hear anymore. He felt sick, exhausted, wanting to escape from this nightmare and find Scully. He felt like he had been trying to "escape" from something all his life, and he would never get to where he needed to be. "I need to find her..." He said softly.

Both men looked up at the sound of footsteps in the hall. Skinner came into the doorway and stopped cold the same way Doggett had. Mulder gave Skinner a sad smile.

"I found him, sir," Doggett said. "Or rather, he found me."

"Agent...Mulder?" Skinner said in a choking voice, his body beginning to tremble. He got over his shock much quicker than Doggett had, and he rushed over to Mulder, just to see if he was real.

Mulder stood and faced him. "Good to see you again, sir."

"Are you...are you hurt? Are you okay? You aren't..."

"I'm okay now, I just need to see Scully..."

Skinner couldn't refrain himself any longer, and he embraced Mulder tightly. Mulder felt Skinner's body shudder with each breath, and all Mulder could do was hold him back. Skinner gulped, "I saw...I saw you get taken...and I didn't..."

"I escaped...I got away."

"I'm so sorry...I'm sorry I lost you...I'm..."

"I want to find Scully," Mulder pulled away from Skinner. "I came back and now she's not here...I don't know what to do."

Skinner was silent for a moment, and then he appeared hopeful. "I think we can find Scully now!"

"How?!" Mulder felt his heartbeat triple.

"We don't know where Scully went," Skinner said, "but her mother does. Apparently, she was the last one to see Scully before she left. We tried asking her, but she refuses to give us a single word on where Scully could be. She won't say why, either. But now that you're here...she might change her mind and tell us something!"

Mulder's face brightened at the thought that someone might know where Scully was, and he gripped Skinner's hands excitedly. "Take me to her right now!"

Skinner was not as eager to do so quite yet. "Hold it, Mulder! You haven't explained anything to us yet! Where have you been for this past year? How did you get back? Do you remember anything, did they do anything to you?..."

His past year spent in the operating room was the last thing Mulder wanted to remember right now. "I'll...I'll tell you on the way. All I want now is to see Scully."

Something suddenly came to Skinner's mind, and he bit his lip and looked at Doggett questioningly. Doggett gave Skinner back a look that apparently answered his silent question. Skinner looked at Mulder again, and sighed. "This is all very hard to register, Mulder...most of us thought that you would never be seen again."

Mulder looked at the floor, and then back at Skinner. "I guess I could say the same for you, sir, and everyone I know."

Skinner could tell that Mulder's past experiences were something that he could not talk about easily. "I'll call the Lone Gunmen," he said, "and we'll go to Mrs. Scully's house. You can say whatever you want to on the way."


Mulder sat in the front seat of the Gunmen's Volkswagen van as it rolled through suburban streets to its place of destination. Skinner was driving the van, while Doggett and the three Lone Gunmen sat in the back. When the Lone Gunmen had returned from whatever corner of D.C. they had been in and had seen Mulder, they had been too shocked to say anything for two minutes. Frohike had almost burst into tears. Each of them had demanded the same things of Mulder as Skinner had. Mulder did not bother to even try and explain anything until they were in the van on the way to Maggie's home. He talked very briefly about his past year or so adhering to the schedules time after time, but he did not go into detail on the tests...the scars all over his body told their story well enough. Mulder tried to describe his escape to them, but it was clear that none of them really understood what he was talking about. The terms 'Argothian', 'translo', 'optrom', 'tesservid', 'Manolinan' and 'attack gunner'' made no sense to them whatsoever.

"So let me get this straight..." Frohike said after Mulder had told his story. "You escaped from wherever you were, found a glowing wall, got caught and thrown back in prison, made friends with a bird, a rat and a bouncy-ball, escaped again, fought 20 guys with guns and a Tyrannosaurus Rex, flew on a flying *elephant*, broke somebody's radio, and then flew back to Earth in some sort of mini UFO?"

"It was a bit more complicated than that," Mulder said. He had not bothered to mention the firebird legend to them...he knew they wouldn't come close to understanding what it could mean. He could barely understand it himself. He began to wonder exactly how he would explain it to Scully when he saw her again. Yallus's words kept coming to mind...(where the two are, the third must be also.)

(How would I convince her to do this? To have a child with me? How do I explain that we *need* to do it...in order to fulfill this ancient alien legend and save the universe?) He almost laughed aloud at the thought.

Mulder suddenly jumped back to the present as Doggett responded to Mulder's previous comment. "Forgive me, Agent Mulder, but I still have to say that all of that sounds too incredible for me to believe."

Mulder was getting a little tired of this Agent Doggett. "Then what do *you* think, since you seem to be so sure that what I've said isn't the truth?" Mulder said, not bothering to hide the annoyance in his voice.

"I didn't say it was a lie. It could be that you perhaps *believe* it to be the truth. It is obvious that someone took you against your will, and apparent that they operated on you. But whoever took you could have implanted any number of ideas into your head to make you believe what they want you to believe. What's important is that we find the people who took you and why."

"I already know who took me and why they did," Mulder said decisively. "That's not what's important right now. What's important is that we find Scully."

"We're getting there," Skinner said as he turned the van around the last corner. They drove down the street a little ways before stopping in front of a small brick house; the home of Maggie Scully.

"You stay behind us," Skinner told Mulder. "It would probably be best if you weren't the first person to see if she answered the door."

Mulder agreed, and stood towards the back as the small party made its way up to Maggie's front door. Skinner rang the doorbell, and Mulder felt his body tense with anticipation...he was one step closer to being reunited with Scully.

Maggie answered the door with a smile, but when she saw Skinner, Doggett and the Lone Gunmen, her face dropped into a frown. "Look, Mr. Skinner, I'm sorry, but this is the last time! I'm not telling you anything! I've made a promise and I'm going to keep it...it's too dangerous for me to tell you anything. It's dangerous enough that I'm talking to you right now!" She started to shut the door.

Skinner held the door open firmly. "You think we don't know that? We came here because we have someone here that you need to see."

"I don't need to see anybody!" Maggie protested, even as Skinner forced the door open more. "I just want you to-"

Maggie stopped suddenly as the others filed inside her home, revealing the person who was standing in the back. Mulder gave a weak smile as Maggie put her hands over her mouth. "Oh my....." She buckled at the knees, tears springing to her eyes Byers caught her just before she collapsed on the floor.

Mulder stepped inside the house. Maggie finally regained her balance and walked up to Mulder, her hand hovering over his shoulder, as if daring to see if he was real. Finally she overcame her hesitance and embraced Mulder. "Fox...it's...it's really you..."

"Yeah." It was the only response Mulder could think of. Maggie stepped back to look Mulder over. "After all this time...seeing Dana..." Maggie suddenly stopped again.

"What?"

"I...I wish she was here to see you..."

"Then take me to her! Skinner said that you were the last person to talk to her...you have to tell me where she is!"

Maggie did not respond right away. She walked into the living room and found a chair where she could sit down. The others followed her. "She...she told me not to tell anyone where she went, because it was not safe. I promised I wouldn't tell anyone, but I..." She looked carefully at Mulder. "I'm worried about her, too. She's been by herself for a whole two months, and I haven't received any word from her...I want to know..."

"Why did she leave?"

"I can't say that, either." Maggie paused. "Fox...where have you been all this time? How did you get back? Dana told me very little about what had happened to you...just that you were gone. We all reached a point where we thought you would never return...except Dana."

"It's a *very* long story," Mulder sighed. As much as he enjoyed proving that he had been right all along, he was not sure if he wanted to tell the whole story all over again.

When something suddenly caught his eye.

For a moment, Mulder was frozen. Then he stepped closer and looked more carefully to confirm what he had seen before. What he saw made his heart skip and his throat close tightly.

On the mantelpiece rested several photos in frames. One of the pictures was a photo of Scully outside, perhaps at a park. She was looking at a camera and smiling...and showing off her very pregnant body.

Mulder wanted to pick up the picture to look at it closely, but he was afraid he would drop it, his hands were quivering so much. Everyone else in the room fell silent as they noticed what he was looking at.

Mulder slowly turned back, his expression a mixture of shock, amazement and joy. "W...when was this taken?" He asked through dry lips.

Maggie hesitated before answering. "She was eight months pregnant..." Another pause. "That was taken half a year ago."

Mulder felt like he could choke on air if he dared to inhale. He had to swallow before speaking again. "She...had a...baby?"

"This past February," Doggett said slowly. "It was a girl. She should be five months old now."

"What is her name?"

Doggett glanced around at the others. "Scully said her name was Hope. Nobody argued that, I guess."

Mulder was deathly afraid to ask his next question, but he did so anyway. "Wh......who is the father?"

This response took the longest of all. "They did multiple DNA tests...although Scully cannot explain it, she...um. Well, all the tests confirmed that the other half of the DNA came from.....you."

Mulder's nerves jolted with the electric shock of Doggett's words. He wanted to make some sort of sound, but his throat was so thick and dry it felt like dough. All he knew was that before he had been abducted, he and Scully had gotten close...but never close enough for a baby. He had never slept with Scully...and yet here he was, the father of her child.

(How can this be? I never did anything with her...how can it be my baby? Unless...it just had to happen. Unless that firebird legend got tired of waiting around for us and decided to take matters into its own hands...)

A virgin birth? No, that just couldn't be possible. Scully was no Virgin Mary. But Mulder still didn't know how to explain her pregnancy if nothing happened between them. He wondered if Scully had any idea as to how she had become pregnant, or if she had given birth never knowing where her baby had come from.

Seeing the picture of Scully pregnant and smiling, Mulder suddenly felt a wave of sadness wash over him...sad that he had not been here to take care of Scully in her pregnancy, to help her through the difficult times, to see his baby daughter when she was born. He hadn't been there for her...

"Who took care of Scully?" Mulder wondered aloud.

"She took care of herself," Doggett said. "I helped her whenever she would let me. I helped her to get through labor, and filled in for her when she was at home."

Mulder felt his sadness boil up into a jealousy at Doggett. What right did this strange, stern agent have to suddenly take over roles that were rightfully his, just because he had been absent? Why did this "Doggett" get to have Scully to himself during the time that she would have needed Mulder most?

Maggie sighed again, her voice choked with memories. "We tried our best to take care of her, to help her out, but Dana almost always insisted that she could take care of herself and the baby without any help. Then one night she came to me at three in the morning with Hope...she was practically in tears. She said that someone had attacked her in her home..."

Mulder's heart jump-started. "Attacked?!!"

Maggie nodded. "Someone came into her house and...Dana thinks they were trying to kidnap the baby. She woke up because she heard the baby crying, and whoever was there attacked her. Dana got her gun and shot the man...she doesn't think he could have survived. But when she came to see me, she was very shaken up. She said that it wasn't safe for her to stay out in public anymore, and that she wanted to go away for awhile. She wanted me not to tell anyone what she was doing, and just...disappear. I asked her how long she wanted to go away, and she said that she didn't know."

"You have to tell me where she is," Mulder said. "I *have* to find her. I have to see my...daughter."

Maggie did not respond for a long time. She closed her eyes, and everyone could tell she was trying to decide between keeping her promise or complying to Mulder's wishes. When she opened her eyes again, she said, "She's staying in a cabin in Vermont. The cabin belonged to my mother. It's deep in the woods, very secluded...very safe."

"Can you take us there right away?" Skinner asked.

"I can take you there."

"Then let's go now!"

Mulder was filled with an apprehensive excitement, and hoped that this time he would finally find what he had come back for. He could see her after all these months...as well as see her baby. Thinking of the baby reminded Mulder of one other detail... "We need to stop by my apartment first."

"Why?"

"We have to pick up someone."

"Pick up someone?!" Skinner looked at Mulder quizzically. "Who is in your apartment?"

Mulder suddenly realized that this was going to be very difficult to explain. "Um...well.....would you believe me if I said it was an alien?"

There was a pause.

"No." Doggett said.

Mulder expected as much. "Well then, I'll just have to prove it to you. Just promise me that you won't do anything incredibly stupid when we get to my apartment."

"Sure......." Frohike said slowly. The rest of the group was looking at Mulder strangely, but they were not saying anything. Apparently, they were only able to believe what Mulder said to a certain point.

"We need to go now," Mulder said finally. "The sooner we leave, the sooner we can find Scully."


Mulder stopped outside his apartment door, and hesitated. He took a glance back at the six people with him, not sure if wanted to see their reaction at what was inside. He was just about to knock when he remembered his translo. He took it out of his pocket and put it in his ear.

Skinner gave him a strange look. "What is *that*?!"

Mulder chose to ignore the question. "Now, before I open this door, I want you all to know something: this thing is not dangerous. Without her I never would have been able to get back here...so please don't do anything drastic."

"*Her*?" Frohike said with raised eyebrows.

Mulder turned to the door and knocked three times slowly. There was a pause, and then everyone watched in amazement as the doorknob jiggled, and then unlocked.

Mulder the only one who knew who had opened the door, but even *he* was in a bit of shock when he saw her. Yallus was completely sopping wet, her feathers a red-brownish color from being damp. She was standing in a puddle of water on the floor, looking somewhat irritated.

Mulder's surprise wasn't nearly as bad as the reaction of the six people behind him. Doggett leaped backwards as if he had been electrocuted and shouted, "HOLY S--T!!!" Maggie had to stifle a scream, and the Lone Gunmen just stood there as if someone had glued their feet to the floor and they were still trying to get away. Even Skinner, who had seen the UFO take off when Mulder had been abducted, was more than a little startled. "Mulder...what the hell is this?!"

Mulder gave the group what he hoped was an encouraging grin. "This is Yallus Tallo. She's a Thybiran, and I met her and bunch of other different...types of people when I was on the ship."

Yallus suddenly started clicking and squawking to Mulder, but Mulder was the only one who could understand her.

KREEA-IK-IK-IK-REKARR-KRIK?

"I don't know what a body airchamber is, so most likely I don't have one."

REERKA-REE-KAKA-IK-IK-IK-IK-RIK?!

"We use something called *towels*. Didn't you see them?"

EK-IK-EEK-RAKAREE-KREEKAR.

"You used *all* my towels?! How come you're still wet?"

IRKEE-RAK-RAK-KREEARKIK-IK-AK! IK-EEK-IK-IK-RAKAR!

"You can try using my blow dryer. But I'm not sure if it still works..."

REERKEE-KEEKA-IRKIK-IKIKIK-REEEE-AARK?

"It's in the bottom cabinet, and you plug it into the wall socket. Just don't electrocute yourself, you're sopping wet."

Yallus disappeared back into Mulder's bathroom, and Mulder turned back to his friends. "Sorry. Yallus just used my shower, and she's trying to figure out what she can use to dry herself off with..."

Mulder stopped as he saw the faces of the other six people. Doggett had drawn his weapon and held it nervously at the floor; the only thing that was preventing him from firing right there was Mulder's unnaturally calm look. "Mulder, what *is* that thing?" He said. "Where did it come from?"

"I told you, her name is Yallus, and she's a Thybiran! Her homeworld is Arethia."

"H....homeworld?" Skinner said slowly.

"Yeah!" Mulder finally perked up at being able to prove he was right. "I was right all along...there is not only alien life out there, there are *hundreds* of different races in this one corner of the galaxy! I already told you about the other races I met on the ship. Yallus helped me to get home because she knew how to fly the smaller ship we took home. That ship is somewhere out in the woods...I can't exactly remember where."

"She's not...d-dangerous?" Doggett finally managed to gasp.

"Of course not!" Mulder said. "She wouldn't hurt anyone...unless you were an Argothian. But that's a good thing." Mulder turned back to the bathroom. "Yallus! You're not dangerous, are you?"

Yallus stepped out of the bathroom, using the blow-dryer on one of her legs. KRE-KRAAEE-REEKAE-KRI-KI-KREEKA?

"Just say no, okay?"

KRA?

"See? She said so herself."

"Mulder, how can you understand what it is saying?" Doggett asked. He had put his gun away, but was still looking very nervous...and very confused.

"This thing." Mulder pointed to the translo in his ear. "Yallus gave me this, and it translates different languages so that you can understand them." He turned back to the Thybiran. "Yallus, do you have any more translos?"

[Only four,] She said, throwing Mulder the pouch that contained them.

"Does anybody want to use one?" Mulder asked. "She only has four left."

Nobody was quick to answer. After a while, Skinner finally said, "I want to know what she is saying." Mulder handed him one of the translos, and Skinner looked at it was a strange expression. "What do I do?"

"Just put it in your ear, that's all."

Skinner hesitated, and then did so. He flinched a little at having this alien object filling his ear, but so far at least it didn't seem to be hurting him.

"Yallus! Say something!" Mulder instructed.

Both Skinner and Mulder clearly heard Yallus say, [Why the hell haven't you told me who these people are?!]

"Sorry..." Mulder launched into his introductions, ignoring Skinner's initial shock at being able to understand Yallus. "This is Skinner, and he used to be my boss. This is Agent Doggett, he...worked with Scully for awhile. These are my friends, Frohike, Langly and Byers. And this is Scully's mother, Maggie."

[Why are they here?]

"We think we may have found Scully! We came by to pick you up so that we can find her."

Yallus turned off the blow-dryer. [The red firebird?! Then why are we standing around talking? Let's go to her!!]

"The red *what*?!" Skinner said, still somewhat in shock.

Mulder gave Yallus a look that said not to say any more on the subject. "You're right...we're going right now."

"W-Wait a minute, Mulder," Maggie spoke up suddenly. "I don't want everyone going to see Dana."

Everyone's faces dropped almost in synch. "What do you mean?" Doggett asked.

"Like I told you earlier, it's too dangerous for so many people to converge on her at one time. Especially with somebody as conspicuous as...Mulder's friend. I only want Mulder and possibly Mr. Skinner to come. Perhaps we can convince Dana to come home, and then you can see her. But until then, I'm going to stick by her instructions as best as I can."

There was silence for a moment. "What are we supposed to do in the meanwhile?" Byers finally asked.

"Byers, you and Frohike and Langly take Yallus back to your place for now. I'll give you the rest of the translos so you can communicate, and Yallus has a disguise she can use if necessary. I'm sure you won't get bored talking to her."

[There you go again!] Yallus complained. [Running off to go see the red firebird, and leaving me behind with these three people that I don't even know!]

"Don't worry, you'll get to like them. And they know a lot about science and technology, perhaps they'll help you find a fuel source for that attack gunner. I know that you want to see the...see Scully, but I would rather see her first alone. I know you understand."

Yallus was about to protest again, but she stopped and sighed in consent. The Lone Gunmen seemed to be okay with the idea, if now just a little apprehensive. Mulder sensed that Frohike might even be *excited* by having Yallus come with them.

"What about me?" Doggett asked. "I figured that I would be entitled to come along, too..."

Mulder was not all that eager to have Doggett come with him when he went to see Scully for the first time in over a year. "Well, Agent Doggett...you were Scully's partner for this past time, so whoever is looking for her might be able to get to her easier through you. It'd probably be better if you went back to the FBI headquarters, and made sure things stay quiet over there. We don't want any suspicions being aroused just yet."

Doggett did not complain as loudly as Yallus, but he still felt a kind of resentment towards Mulder. After all, he had been Scully's partner all this time while Mulder had been gone. He had helped her solve who-knows-how-many bizarre cases, and he had been concerned for her whenever she had not come to work. He had stood by her through 18 hours of labor, and he had done twice as much work while she was on maternity leave. Lord knows he had saved her life more than once. So why then did he have to stay behind when he had been the one that had been searching for her all this time?

(He *is* the father of Scully's baby,) Doggett reminded himself. (I suppose he is entitled to see his child as well as Scully...) But that thought did not change his mind very much. He still felt a fairly strong resentment towards Mulder, and not just because Mulder was getting to see Scully and he wasn't. If it weren't for Mulder's disappearance, he never would have been assigned to the X-Files in the first place. Although he couldn't say that his time on the X-Files had not been interesting, he hadn't considered it very rewarding. Unlike Mulder or Scully, he did not have a passion for this strange version of law enforcement. And now Mulder had come back, and brought with him this intelligent alien being, destroying everything he had trusted and believed in. He was not sure what to think now about anything...about himself, his peers, the FBI, the world he lived in. (All because that Agent Mulder had to conveniently disappear and then come back and screw up everything I've worked so hard for...)

Doggett looked at the floor and nodded, angry that he was being left out but deciding that now was not the time to argue it. Skinner did not argue Doggett's case, since he was happy just to be allowed to be going to see Scully.

"We should go soon," Maggie warned. "I really don't like standing around talking about Dana like this."

"Then we will," Mulder said decisively. "You all know what to do. We will contact you as soon as we bring Scully back." Mulder took a deep breath and looked at his friends, not sure what to say next. "I'll make sure I come back with her."


Skinner's small Taurus bounced unsteadily over the rough terrain...the vehicle was obviously not built for difficult roads. On all sides, the trees stood as a firm and intimidating barrier between them and the deep woods.

Mulder watched the trees go by with some halfway fascination, and he was slightly disturbed by it. When he had been in the operating room schedule after schedule, he had promised himself that if he ever returned to Earth that he would never be unappreciative again. He would cherish everything about this planet...from the dirty gray security of civilization to the natural wonders that any human being could love. And yet here he was again...regarding trees as trees, grass as grass, dirt as dirt, and nothing more.

Somehow, he could not appreciate any of this beauty without Scully. Instead of seeming mysterious and wonderful, the woods felt cold and threatening without her. He wanted to regain that sense of wonderment; he wanted to return to Scully...and yet he didn't. The reunion with Scully, which he had prayed for endlessly every night for the past year, was suddenly something that he dreaded. He knew that once he met her, that things would never be the same again, that some unnamable thing in their relationship would be lost. He remembered Doggett's words...(Things changed, Agent Mulder. A lot of things changed.)

(How do I talk to her, after all this time, after she's been partners with that Agent Doggett for a year, after she's been pregnant and had a *baby*? How can I so much as look at her after all the things we've been though away from each other? How can she ever forgive me for leaving, and abandoning her when she needed me most? How can we ever just pick up where we left off, continue on as if this past year never happened? We can't.)

(So where do we go from there? I've come back knowing so much about what has happened and what can happen in the future...how do I explain all this to Scully? She wouldn't want to hear it...she wouldn't want to hear that her baby is involved in grand, far-reaching schemes that affect everyone on this planet and hundreds of planets besides. She would want to protect her baby, to try and give it a normal life; the normal life that she can never have.)

(In a way, I want that for our daughter, too.)

(*Our* daughter.) The thought reminded Mulder of the amazing miracle of Scully's pregnancy. (All DNA tests proved that I am the father...yet we never slept together.) Try as he could, Mulder could not explain this one. He had never given to a donor center before, so he didn't know how she could have gotten ahold of his half of the contribution...he didn't even know how she had gotten her *own* half. (How can she have become fertile again? This entire situation doesn't make any sense...) Mulder found it odd that he could have escaped from an alien spaceship with the help of living, intelligent aliens and then find something as common as a pregnancy to not make any sense.

(But this is no ordinary pregnancy...) Mulder corrected himself. (Which means this is no ordinary baby.)

Mulder glanced back to the seats behind him...Skinner was driving again, and Maggie was sitting in the front seat next to him. Somehow, Mulder felt uncomfortable sitting alone in the back. As much as he ached to see Scully again, he knew he also wanted to talk with the Lone Gunmen after not seeing them again for a year. He wanted to make sure that Yallus was alright. He wouldn't even have minded having Doggett talking to him.

Doggett intrigued Mulder...in an annoying sort of way. He wondered how Scully had acted around Doggett. Had she instantly invited him into her circle, or had she turned on the electric fence that surrounded that circle? Had she accepted him as a friend and partner, or had she done a thousand background checks before letting him get close? Had she told him him about how she had felt towards himself? Had she told him about her pregnancy instantly...or did he have to find out on his own? Except for his escape, Mulder's past year had been almost boring. But there was no telling what Scully had been through.

"It's coming up here," Maggie warned suddenly. "Drive slowly, so it won't look like you're trying to rush up to get her."

Skinner slowed the van, although Mulder could still see nothing but trees. He felt his heartbeat pick up speed, and started to squirm in his seat with some building energy. He tried to think of the first thing he would say to Scully...a million different ideas went through his head, but he rejected every one. He was completely unprepared...and somehow that made it all the easier.

The van climbed up over a rise, and when they reached the top, they could see a small clearing below them. In the clearing there sat Scully's car and a single wooden cabin.




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