Title: White Light
Summary: While investigating a young woman's claim of alien abduction, Mulder and Scully are led on a cross-country chase of intrigue and murder. As they scramble for answers, Scully's own abduction memories resurface, threatening the agents' partnership...and lives.
FBI Headquarters Washington, DC
<Latexed fingers caressing gooseflesh. Pressing. Pressing.>
<Don't touch me. Please, don't touch me. Not there.>
<A needle stick. Another prick of hurt.>
<White light. Please, please stop.>
"Scully? Scu-lleeee," Mulder waggled a file folder in front of Scully's face, stirring a current of air and causing her to blink and look up from the bright light of her desk lamp. "Wool gathering?" he asked when her eyes finally focused on him. "Just trying to remember something." A crease deepened between her brows. She ran her fingertip lightly along the shade of her desk lamp, drawing a wavering line through the dust. The grit vibrated beneath her skin, unexpectedly irritating her - like fingernails on a chalkboard. Two glowing ghosts - phantoms of the lamp's bulb - floated in and out of her vision, crowding her view. Fidgety as always, Mulder appeared to dodge around the apparitions like a football quarterback. But of course, he wasn't aware of them. The specters belonged only to her.
"Anything I can help you with?" Mulder appeared chipper, eager to assist. Almost carefree. Almost. He was never more than a step or two away from his millstone of disquiet. Years of practice, however, had taught him how to live with the weight. "No, it's nothing." She indicated the folder in his hand, "What's that?"
"Our next case."
"I'd rather show you than tell you. I want your unbiased opinion before I taint it with my own theory."
"I guess there's a first time for everything. So where are we going?"
"St. Agatha's Hospital. There's someone I want you to meet."
"Unh, unh. Just keep an open mind."
Center for Psychiatric Treatment St. Agatha's Hospital 3:13 PM
The drab color jokingly referred to as 'institutional green' overlays the walls of most mental health facilities. St. Agatha's was no exception. The result was an environment well suited to the fatuous or the ill of mind. Lifeless. Dull. Nothing to excite the nerves, unravel the soul. The smell in these places was always the same, too, where the sinus-burning odor of Clorox never quite conquered the salty reek of urine. And the noise! Droning in the background and invading the ears of the conscious, a collective tumult of human voices hummed and murmured and hammered an unending, percussive recital. Impossibly, the constant discord remained unheard by ears deafened from drugs or internal distraction.
Mulder led Scully down such a hall, weaving carefully around unnoticing patients. He'd been here before. He knew exactly where to go. No lab-coated doctor escorted them. A simple check-in at the front desk with a cheerless woman who recognized Mulder's proffered badge was all the admission they required. <A regular, Mulder? You come here often?> Scully's questions went unasked.
"In here," he directed, opening a door and allowing her to walk beneath his extended arm. "Don't mention you're from the FBI," he whispered.
Inside, a young woman hunched over an empty table, starring at nothing and bobbling her head to an inner song. Her scalp was newly shaved. Several puckered lines of sutures dotted the raw skin of her head, her own missing curls replaced by grotesque, bristling stitches. Out of habit, she tried to tuck a nonexistent lock of hair behind her ear. "Tara? Tara, may we speak with you?" Mulder asked, his voice so muted Scully found herself leaning toward him in order to hear.
The woman glanced sideways, catching sight of them only for an instant before retreating to the safety of the barren tabletop.
"Mm hmm," she agreed.
Mulder straddled the nearest chair. He gestured at Scully to sit. "Tara, this is Dana."
Again, the woman's eyes flickered briefly from the table only to swing back, nodding and starring at the blank surface in front of her.
"Tara, will you tell Dana what you told me?" his timbre soothed like a child's favorite blanket. "Tell her what happened to you."
"You know. You know. They put wires in my head," she said, rocking faster. Her posture insisted her words were true. The recent scars lent an air of fact.
A hiss of air escaped Scully's nose. How many alleged abductees had told this same story to Mulder? The plot was always the same: little gray men performed painful tests and inserted hi-tech devices into frightened earthlings, ad infinitum. She'd heard the details recited again and again and again while sitting at her partner's side. She didn't think she had the energy to listen to the all-too familiar narrative one more time. Each victim's terror made it impossible for her to forget her own shocking experience. Not that she recalled many of the specifics. But the chip in her neck was incontrovertible evidence that someone had held her captive and performed a variety of undisclosed and unsanctioned experiments on her. Still, she maintained her captors were human men, not aliens from outer space. Despite her encounter in the Antarctic or her discoveries in Africa, she resisted the notion of extraterrestrial visitors. To let her guard down would allow her religious faith to burst like a soap bubble fallen to the bathroom floor.
"Why did they put wires in your head, Tara?" Mulder asked.
"To listen to my ideas. To steal my thoughts."
Scully cleared her throat. "What did the aliens look like?"
"White. And tall."
Not the standard answer. Mulder smiled ever so slightly.
"They have no hair. They have no noses, no mouths, but I can hear them talking."
"You can hear what they're thinking?"
"No. They <talk.> They use words that I don't know. Another language."
"Fingernails. They have no fingernails. And their eyes are plastic."
So these were not the stereotypical men from outer space.
"Tell us about the wires, Tara. How did they put the wires in your head?"
"A hole. A hole in the back of my neck. They drilled a hole in the back of my neck. They pushed the wires...pushed the wires inside the hole, into my head. They watched pictures of the inside of my head on a screen. On TV. They slid the wires into my brain while they watched TV. They watched. They watched the wires slide into my head. They don't care...they don't care that they're hurting me. They want to steal my thoughts. They put wires in my head to steal my thoughts. I saw it on the TV."
"You watched them do this?" Scully was surprised. "You were awake?"
"Yes." Tara's eyes filled with tears. "It hurt. The drill..."
<Slender metal point. Spinning silver blade. Sliver of white. High-pitched hum of moving machinery.> Scully blinked away the uninvited image and noticed a shiver vibrate through Tara.
"Where were you when this happened, Tara?"
The young woman shook her head, splashing her tears over her lashes onto her cheeks.
"I...I was in a cold room. There were bright lights and machines and wires. Lots of wires to stick in my head and listen to my thoughts."
"How many times have you been to this place and seen these aliens?"
<"You may not remember. You've only had one experience."> The concerned faces of Lottie Holloway and Penny Northern rippled into Scully's view, briefly blotting out the institutional green room where she sat with Mulder and Tara Peterson. <"Most of us here have been taken many times.">
"How...how did you get there?" Scully's voice trembled only a little.
"I don't know. I just woke up there."
"When did this happen?"
Tara shrugged. "Tara, how did you get the cuts on your head?" Scully squinted at the recent wounds.
"I tried to get the wires out. I used a fork from the dining room."
Swallowing back the involuntary heave of her stomach, Scully recalled an old conversation and a doctor's concerned voice. <"I can feel it just under the skin. And now that I'm looking at it closely, there's a tiny little scar over it. If you want, I could, uh, do a local and pull it out of there.">
"Mulder, let's go," Scully whispered, hiding her shaking hands beneath the folds of her trench coat. "Thank you for talking with us, Tara," Mulder murmured and rose. His hand automatically reached for Scully; he planted his palm softly at the small of her back. Standing tall and straight, he guarded and guided her into the corridor. Concern ridged his brow as he watched his already small partner subtly collapse in on herself like a dying star on its way to becoming a black hole. Her quiet disintegration was so slight and newly born that most observers would have missed it entirely. She was extremely well practiced at hiding her feelings, even from herself. However, he saw her unease. He knew her very well. "Are you okay, Scully?" he asked. They headed for the exit.
"I'm fine, Mulder. How can you believe that story?" Irritation sizzled in her voice.
"You don't think she's telling the truth?"
"I think she thinks she's telling the truth. But her belief doesn't make her story real. She's delusional, Mulder. She exhibits classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. What do her doctors say?"
"That she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia."
Scully threw up her palms as if to say 'You see?' "So why don't you believe them, Mulder?"
"Because I've seen something else. Something I want to show you."
Scully's patience was wearing thin.
"Why not simply tell me, Mulder? Why the mysterious unveiling?"
"Like I said earlier, I want your unbiased opinion. Bear with me."
Quantico 6:18 PM
Mulder folded back the sheet, revealing the crushed body of a young man on the autopsy table. A gaping hole split the man's skull, exposing what remained of his brains.
"Who is this, Mulder?" Scully asked and reached for the dead man's chart.
"Kerry Turcott. He took a swan dive from the roof of the student union at American University yesterday. I dare say he wasn't diving for pearls."
"Maybe. You tell me." Scully leaned close and peered into the man's opened skull. Her eyes widened in surprise. Quickly, she snapped on a pair of latex gloves and prodded the viscous tissue cradled in the shattered bones of the young man's head.
"What the..." She selected tweezers from the ME's instrument tray and used them to tease a hair-thin strand from its sticky pocket. Tugging the nearly invisible thread, she dislodged a tangled knot of ten-inch wires embedded in the victim's brain. "Mulder, what the hell is this?"
"I dunno. Have you ever seen anything like it before?"
She shook her head.
"Kinda fits Tara's description, don't you think, Scully?"
"Tara's account was too vague to ascribe any validity to it."
"She claims wires were inserted into her brain. Kerry Turcott has a head full of wires. You gotta admit it's a bit of a coincidence."
"I'm admitting no such thing. Tara Peterson is being treated for mental illness. She suffers vivid delusions. She's overtly paranoid. She imagined that procedure, Mulder. It never actually happened."
"Maybe she's paranoid because it did happen. Just because she's schizophrenic, doesn't mean someone didn't put wires in her head." He plucked at Scully's sleeve. "Do me a favor, Scully, autopsy Mr. Turcott."
"What will you be doing?"
"Taking one of these wires to our Gunmen friends. See if we can figure out what these things are and where they came from."
Lone Gunman's Office Washington, DC 8:08 PM
"This is absofreakinglutely unbelievable!" Langly admired the ten-inch strand under a magnifying lamp. "Where'd you get this, Mulder?"
"Move over," Frohike shouldered Langly aside. "Well, well, well. About time you brought something worthy of our kung fu. Looks like a state-of-the-art bio-communications device."
"A what?" Mulder bent closer to inspect the strand.
"A computerized filament capable of transmitting wireless signals. One way communication only, I'd guess." Langly wedged himself once more between Mulder and Frohike. "Definitely pushing the technology envelope. The microlithogy is extremely complex."
"So who made it, boys?"
"There's only one manufacturer producing communication devices as technologically advanced as this," Byers said. "SAS."
"Not who. What. SAS. It's an acronym for Synthetic Aperture Systems - a laboratory in Reston, Connecticut. As far as the outside world is concerned, SAS develops specialized radar technology for the space shuttle, U.S. satellites, the Mars probe."
"But, actually they're partners with the DOD, producing a helluva lot more than hi-tech mapping equipment," Langly explained. "SAS scientists are currently working on a whole bunch of top-secret assignments, projects ranging from state-of-the-art miniature spy satellite components to highly experimental bio-interface mechanisms."
"Is that what you think this is? Some sort of bio- interface?"
"That's what it looks like. Similar devices work through a direct electrochemical bond with the cerebral cortex, communicating brain activity to distant computer receptors."
"This can reads minds?"
"It may only register brainwaves," Byers suggested. "Or...it may be more advanced than that. You've seen the high end before, Mulder."
"The chip in Scully's neck."
"Exactly. Scully's chip records impulses traveling to and from her central nervous system. We're pretty sure it does more than collect information though. It may in fact artificially replicate her mental processes."
"It can know her thoughts? Affect her memory formation?"
"Possibly. Your filament, however, is a completely different design than Scully's chip. The function may or may not be similar."
"Come on, Mulder, fess up. Tell us where you found this baby."
"Inside a dead guy's head. Scully's performing an autopsy right now."
"Somebody's gonna be looking for him. You don't just kiss off a device like this. What do you know about the guy, Mulder?"
"Only that he was a music student at American University before he dropped out of school - permanently."
Quantico 9:06 PM
Scully removed the last of seventy-seven separate ten-inch- long filaments from Kerry Turcott's skull and neatly arranged the final strand on the tray beside the others. Along with the fibers, she had discovered a flexible .5- millimeter tube in the corpse's foramen magnum. The tube, fitted between the atlas and the occipital, created a tiny passageway into the brain. It had originally been inserted through an incision at the back of the neck. The minute scar was well healed, indicating the tube had been installed some time ago. Scully guessed it had been used to navigate the fibers into place inside the skull.
Turning her back on the body, Scully studied the pre- autopsy MRI. The picture mapped the jumbled network of hair-thin fibers carefully woven into Turcott's brain tissue. Unfortunately, much of the brain had been damaged or lost during the impact of the young man's fatal fall, compromising any comprehensive evaluation of the devices and their placement.
Scrutinizing the MRI, Scully absently fingered the chip implanted in her own neck.
<PLEASE, NO! I'M AFRAID!> Like an unexpected assailant, an upsurge of terror pummeled Scully's chest. Her ears roared with rushing blood. <Are you going to kill me?>
Unwelcome memory zigzagged through her shuddering muscles. She grabbed for the wall.
<Don't kill me!> She slid to the floor.
<Let me go. I'm afraid! Don't hurt me! Please!>
She squeezed her eyes shut. <Men. White light and...and loud sounds. An alarm! Stop the noise! Please!> Scully gripped her ears. Her cell phone rang three times before she realized its trill was not the grating alarm of memory clanging inside her head. With shaky hands, she dug her phone from her pocket.
"Sc-scully," she identified herself.
"I'm on my way to pick you up." As usual, Mulder skipped the superfluous salutations. "Where are we going?"
"Connecticut. The boys are pretty sure these fibers were manufactured at a lab in Reston."
"You go, Mulder."
"I...I have some things to finish up here."
Mulder paused at the other end of the line, as if considering whether or not to question her certitude.
"Okay, Scully. I'll...uh, call you later," he finished and hung up.
Scully immediately dialed Dr. Karen Kosseff.
** Office of Dr. Kosseff The Next Morning
"Dana, I haven't seen you for quite awhile." Dr. Kosseff's statement was not a reprimand. "How have you been?" And her question wasn't a polite bow to social custom. She really wanted to know. It was her job to know.
"I...uh...I've been remembering things." Scully sat facing the counselor, uncomfortable despite the overstuffed chair and the innocuous decor. "I've been remembering things that happened to me when I was abducted six years ago."
"Only flashes, really. Bits and pieces."
"Do you want to tell me?"
"I...uh, I've been hearing sounds. An alarm. And...uh, feeling things."
"Feeling what things, Dana?"
"Needles. And...uh, hands...touching me."
"Who touched you?"
"I...I know for certain some of what happened to me at that time. I know I was taken to a train car. A metallic chip was implanted subcutaneously in my neck. A man...a doctor named Ishimaru, he...uh, performed tests on me."
"What kinds of tests?"
"Remembering these events is difficult for you." It wasn't a question, but Scully nodded. "What frightens you, Dana?"
Scully pestered a hangnail on her left thumb, already painfully raw.
"I...I was powerless. I couldn't...I couldn't resist them." Tears flooded Scully's eyes.
"Do you wish to remember what happened to you during that time?"
"I think so. Yes." The last word locked her voice inside her chest. "Try to relax. Take a few deep breaths. I'm not going to hypnotize you. I simply want you to describe to me anything you can recall from the time you were abducted. Any detail you want to mention is fine."
Two quaking breaths filled and then fled Scully's lungs. She shifted on the chair's springy cushions, unsuccessfully trying to arrange herself in a comfortable position.
"Uh...there was a procedure."
"What kind of procedure?"
"A...uh, laparoscope was...I saw it inserted into my navel. My abdomen was insufflated...uh, distended...with carbon dioxide. I felt...I...uh, a speculum..." Looking up from her lap, Scully fixed her eyes on a painting behind Kosseff's head. A heavy tear toppled over her lower lash, dripping like candle wax down her cheek. She sniffed a bead of moisture from her reddened nose. "What was the purpose of this procedure, Dana?"
"I don't know. I don't know. I think...uh, they were...uh, taking..." Another sniff. Kosseff handed Scully a tissue. "Well, you know I can't have children. I'm sterile. My ova were removed at the time I was abducted."
"You know this for certain? You remember it happening?'
"No, I don't remember it, but I know it happened."
"How do you know?"
"My partner...my partner told me."
"And you believe him?"
"Why...yes, of course I believe him. He told me...well, I found out in California two years ago, just after Christmas. I was petitioning to adopt a little girl. Emily. Mulder told Judge Maibaum that he found evidence I was subjected to experiments during the weeks I was missing. That all of my ova had been extracted. Emily was conceived as a result of those experiments."
"Two years ago? I thought you were abducted in 1994."
"Why did Agent Mulder wait four years to tell you all of this?"
"He said he was trying to protect me."
"And you have no reason to think otherwise?"
"No. Of course not."
"Did Agent Mulder ever tell you the nature of the evidence he found?"
"And you never asked him?"
Scully fidgeted uneasily in her seat, unable to settle her nervous arms and legs. What hard evidence had Mulder discovered, proof positive that her kidnappers were medical rapists, abducting women and stealing their unborn children? When had he found his proof? And why hadn't she asked him about it? Perhaps she was afraid to know his answer. Maybe he was right - she did need protection from the truth. "Dana, why do you think you're remembering the details of your abduction now?"
"I...I don't know. I...maybe I feel safer now than before. Like I'm strong enough to remember them now."
"But you came here. You're afraid."
"Yes. I'm...I'm afraid my work will be compromised."
"In what way?"
"The memories...the flashbacks...they come while I'm at work."
"Why do you think that is?"
"I...I'm not sure."
"Dana, we've talked before about your fears of failing your partner. Are you worried about that now?"
"Yes. But only in the context of my professional duty. It's my job to watch his back. If I'm distracted..." Scully didn't finish her thought.
"Dana, over the next day or two, I want you to pay attention to events that trigger your memories. Notice what you're doing, what you're thinking when the flashbacks occur. How you feel before, during and after a flashback. And if you feel you want to, ask your partner about the things he knows. You and I can discuss this again at your next visit."
Synthetic Aperture Systems Laboratory Reston, Connecticut 10:02 AM
Gray suit, dark sunglasses, billowy trench coat - Mulder looked every inch the G-Man as he strode through the front doors of SAS. His footsteps ricocheted off the walls and down a diffusion of corridors as he crossed the marble- floored foyer. He headed straight for the reception desk. His eyes skimmed the glossy building's extensive security system: cameras perched high at the ceiling, keypads and card swipes next to the doors, motion detectors. An armed guard blocked a bank of brass elevators and kept a watchful eye on the visiting fibbie.
"Hello," Mulder rapped on the counter, trying to gain the attention of the pretty receptionist bent over a large box behind her desk.
"Packages are right there on the counter," she said, wrestling with the carton. When Mulder didn't respond she looked up in surprise. "Oh, you're not the UPS man."
"No. No sexy brown uniform. I'm Agent Fox Mulder. FBI," he displayed his badge. "How may I help you, Agent Mulder?" she cleared her throat and smoothed her skirt.
"I'd like to speak with Philip Straussman."
"I'm sorry. Dr. Straussman isn't available this morning. May I give him your card?"
"Uh, Miss..." he glanced at the ID dangling from her lapel, "Henderson, I'm here conducting a murder investigation. I need to speak with Mr. Straussman right now." His tone left no room for argument, but just in case Miss Henderson was the disagreeable type, Mulder shifted his stance enough to allow his sidearm to peak out from beneath his coat.
"Agent Mulder, Dr. Straussman isn't here," she insisted.
"Then I'll speak with anyone who can tell me something about this..." he withdrew the bio-communications filament from his pocket and laid it on the counter in front of the receptionist. "Oh. Well, maybe Dr. Davis can help you. Let me check to see if she's in." While the receptionist took a seat and dialed the phone, Mulder examined the packages at his elbow. LP Pharmaceuticals, Sacramento, California. Cascade BioTech, Tillamook Bay, Oregon. Huron Affiliated Labs, Lakeview, Michigan.
"Dr. Davis will be right down, Agent Mulder."
"Thank you." Ignoring the security guard, Mulder sauntered to the edge of the lobby and peered down a long corridor. Two men in lab coats walked and talked at the far end of the hall. Mulder watched them disappear into a side room.
"Agent Mulder?" a cool voice raised the hairs on the back of Mulder's neck.
'Blonde Bombshell' was the only description that came to his mind when he turned to shake hands with Dr. Davis.
"I'm Dr. Karen Davis. How may I assist you, Agent Mulder?" She stood tall and straight. Her eyes traveled from his hair to his shoes and back again.
"Tell me what you know about this..." he dangled the ten- inch strand between his thumb and finger, holding it high for her to see.
She registered only the tiniest surprise; a barely discernible twitch fluttered her left eyelid.
"May I see your badge?"
He dug the ID from his coat and held it out to her.
"Why don't we step in here," she walked away, fully expecting him to follow. She led him into a dimly lit conference room. The room automatically brightened when they crossed the threshold. Two surveillance cameras swiveled in the upper corners to aim directly at the room's occupants. "Have a seat, Agent Mulder."
"What is this thing?" he laid the strand on the table.
"It's a bio-communications device."
"Its ultimate purpose is to help people with spinal cord injuries regain mobility. Within limits. It's still in the testing stage. And it's patented. Where did you get it?"
"Out of a dead man's head."
Davis expressed genuine surprise now.
"That's impossible. The BIM implants have been installed only in animals."
"Bio Interface Mechanism. Despite showing excellent progress, the devices aren't ready for testing on human subjects."
"Dr. Davis, do you conduct your own tests? Right here at this lab?"
"No. The tests are conducted in another location."
"I'll need the name of that location."
"Agent Mulder, SAS has invested substantial time and capital in this project. We've taken every precaution to ensure the security of our device. I can assure you, we would not risk divulging our design to our competitors."
"Somebody put this thing into a man's brain. That man is now dead. I'd have to say there's either a hole in your security or SAS is responsible for the death of an American University student named Kerry Turcott."
Davis squinted at Mulder and considered his accusation.
"Alright, Agent Mulder. Testing is done at Huron Affiliated Labs in Lakeview, Michigan. I'll contact them and let them know that you're coming. You have my assurance, SAS will cooperate with the FBI in any way we can."
"In that case, I'd like a list of the staff working on the BIM project."
FBI Headquarters Washington, DC
Scully set aside Kerry Turcott's file. Opening the folder containing Tara Peterson's background material, Scully withdrew the young woman's medical records. With Mulder gone, Scully had made herself at home in her partner's chair and drank a cooling cup of coffee from his Graceland coffee mug. The light was better at his desk, she told herself. As for the mug, well, it held substantially more than her 1997 AFA Conference cup. Besides, she liked the way Elvis' hips appeared to swivel whenever she lifted the cup to her lips.
"Tara Peterson," she whispered to herself and scanned the file. Age: 27. Occupation: studio artist. <Studio artist? Who the hell can make a living as a studio artist?> Her physical health was good. She'd been undergoing treatment for schizophrenia since she was nineteen, under the care of a Dr. Robert Stanford. She was taking Risperdal to control her symptoms. Delusions. Paranoia. Confusion. The usual. She also suffered from chronic nightmares and, before being admitted to St. Agatha three months ago, she was evaluated at a sleep clinic in Arlington. Hope Clinic for Sleeping Disorders. Something was familiar about the clinic's name. Scully tapped her index finger against the handle of Mulder's coffee mug.
"Wait a minute..." she flipped open Turcott's file and shuffled through the contents. Sure enough, Kerry Turcott had also undergone similar testing and treatment at Hope Clinic. Cradling the phone between her chin and shoulder, Scully dialed Mulder's cell number.
"Mulder," he identified himself.
"Where are you?"
"On my way to the airport."
"Mulder, did you know Tara Peterson and Kerry Turcott were both patients at a sleep disorder clinic in Arlington?"
"No. Do you think it means anything, Scully?"
"I don't know. I'm going to check it out though. How about you? Are you on your way back?"
"No. I'm flying to Lakeview, Michigan. My plane leaves in about a half hour."
"What's in Lakeview?"
"An affiliate lab of Synthetic Aperture Systems. The filaments you took outta Kerry Turcott originated at SAS here in Connecticut. The strands are called BIMs. Bio Interface Mechanisms."
"Used for what?"
"According to the spin doctors, BIMs will eventually have Christopher Reeve bustin' a move."
"They claim the mechanisms have been implanted only in animals. Not in human test subjects."
"How do they explain Kerry Turcott?"
"They don't. I've got the Connecticut Field Office running background checks on all SAS employees. They're reviewing security tapes, too. I'm on my way now to talk with the BIM project head at the Michigan Lab."
"Do you want me to fly out and meet you?"
"No. You check the sleep clinic. Oh, and Scully?"
"Do you have the strands you removed from Turcott?"
"What, in my personal possession? No. Why?"
"Do me a favor and pick them up. Don't leave them anywhere...uh, obvious."
"Mulder, they're at Quantico in the morgue. I'm sure they're fine."
"Just do it, Scully. I'll touch base with you later."
"Mulder...?" she began, but he was gone.
Quantico 12:17 PM
"Jerry? Hal?" Scully wandered into the empty morgue, her voice echoing off the stainless steel. "Where the hell is everybody?" She found a note taped to a glowing computer screen. 'Gone to lunch. Just slip the bodies under the door.' <Ha ha. Morgue humor.> Inside the room where she had autopsied Kerry Turcott the previous evening, the evidence bin sat by the door waiting for transport. Bagged and neatly labeled in her own careful script, seventy-seven wires - what had Mulder called them...BIMs? - were exactly where she had left them. She slid the bag into her trench coat pocket.
"Oh, s'cuse me," a big man met her at the threshold, his enormous frame filling the doorway.
"Are you looking for Jerry?" she asked.
His fist collided with her jaw, propelling her backward against the autopsy table. Her back slammed painfully into the stainless steel and she collapsed to the floor. Blood spattered from her split lip, spraying her blouse and coat sleeves. Too dizzy to stand, she reached behind her back and felt for her gun. As her fingers curled around the weapon, a second blow slammed her cheek just below her eye, blurring her vision. She scrambled backward, slipping blindly beneath the autopsy table and grasping for her gun. Tight fists circled her ankles and yanked her from beneath the table, sliding her easily across the tile floor. Another punch jolted her. Blood poured from her nose. Drawing her gun she aimed at her attacker.
"Federal agent! Don't move!"
She could barely see him looming in front of her. Her left eye was swelling shut and her head throbbed from the blows. He knew it. He kicked the gun from her hand. Lifting her from the floor, he shoved her roughly into the wall. The impact forced the air from her lungs. Gasping for breath, she dug her nails into his face. He yowled and let her go. She dropped to the floor and tried once more to crawl beyond his reach. He lunged. He pinned her face down.
<No, let me go!>
He twisted her arms behind her and held them with one giant hand. He searched her trench coat. She felt him tug the evidence bag from her pocket.
<Stop! Let me go!>
Grabbing a fistful of her hair, he rammed her head into the floor. Blood filled her mouth. She was losing consciousness. She no longer heard his panting breath. She barely felt the press of his knee in her back or the pull of her hair when he lifted her head only to drive it into the floor once more. A sound like a ringing alarm clanged past her eardrums. Her forehead bounced painfully on the tile. White light. All she saw was a flash of white light.
<Latexed hands. Holding her. Holding her. Keeping her still. The feel of the drill spiraling into her neck.>
Georgetown Memorial Hospital 9:16 PM
"Mulder, what are you doing here?" Scully struggled to sit up a little straighter in her hospital bed.
"Skinner called me." Mulder hooked his index finger loosely around hers, not quite certain where she was hurt or whether or not his touch would cause her pain. His brow wrinkled with concern. "Scully, what happened?"
"It looks worse than it is, Mulder."
"It looks awful," he told her the truth. He was shocked by what he saw. Her assailant's punches had left her face swollen and black. Stitches dotted her forehead, her lip and her chin. Dried blood still caked her hair. "Are they keeping you overnight?"
"They want to. I'm petitioning for release though. I wanna go home. Get cleaned up."
"I'm fine, Mulder."
"Skinner said you were attacked at Quantico in the autopsy bay."
"Mmm. My attacker took the...whatchamacallits. BIMs?"
"Yeah, Bio Interface Mechanisms."
"You were right, Mulder. Somebody did want them."
"I shouldn't have insisted you go back after them."
"<I> should've recognized the potential danger. I was taken by surprise, Mulder. I really didn't think anybody would have the balls to steal evidence from Quantico."
"Has my paranoia taught you nothing in seven years?" he grinned. She returned his smile and then winced from the pull of stitches in her lip.
"What did you find in Michigan, Mulder?"
He eased himself onto the edge of her bed. He brushed a fleck of dried blood from her hair. "Nadda," he sighed, tight-lipped.
"Nothing? What do you mean? Didn't you go?"
"Yes, I went. Huron Affiliated Labs no longer exists. The building was completely stripped."
"Somebody called ahead."
"I'd say so."
"What did the people at SAS have to say about their vanishing counterpart?"
"They acted all innocent and surprised. Dr. Davis' righteous indignation could've garnered her an Oscar."
"So what now, Mulder?"
"The Connecticut Field Office is combing through SAS's records. You and I still have the sleep clinic to check out. And I understand you gave a pretty descent description of your assailant to the police. A sketch is being circulated."
He gently squeezed her finger and allowed his eyes to study her injured face. His itinerant gaze catalogued each hurt. Her pain pinched his brows every bit as much as if he wore the bruises himself. Empathy shimmered wetly along his lower lashes. He looked like he wanted to kiss her but couldn't find an undamaged spot to place his lips.
"Come on, Mulder. Spring me from this joint." At the risk of reopening her split lip, she forced a smile.
"Lemme see what I can do."
Scully's Apartment 6:36 AM
<Latexed fingers. Pressing. Pressing. A needle stick. White light.> <Expanding, with skin stretching, her stomach grows round and large. Her abdomen becomes a mound that hides her bent knees, her spread legs. Cold steel is driven through her navel and into her belly. She feels a rolling inside, like her organs are out of place. An alarm rings. A man's voice speaks unfamiliar words. She shivers, her fear is so great. They seem to think she's cold. She can't move. She is held down. By hands? By drugs? She tries to speak but her words sound garbled - nonsense in her own ears. She wonders if she is dead. The possibility that this is the afterlife is more frightening than the idea that this is her real life.>
<A man peers into the metal post impaling her stomach. A thrust of cold invades her between her legs. A popping pressure digs deep within her, like a puncture to the womb.> <White light blinds her and forces her to close her eyes.> *
"I'm here, Scully."
He caught her halfway out of her bed. Soothing her with a warm-armed embrace, he led her toward the kitchen. He didn't comment on the bruises wrapping her legs and he certainly didn't want to consider the marks that undoubtedly blackened the skin beneath her nightshirt. "Coffee?"
She saw he had already helped himself to a cup. On the table, next to the sports section of her newspaper, sat the half-filled mate to her AFA office mug. The fact that he had chosen that particular mug out of her cupboard of mismatched coffee cups made her smile. She took his proffered coffee and wrapped her fingers around the warm cup.
Apparently, he noticed her shiver. He lifted the dress shirt he'd worn the previous day from the chair back and draped it across her shoulders.
"I have a bathrobe in the other room," she told him.
"So get it."
She didn't. She stayed and watched him lean against her kitchen counter and drink his coffee instead. He hadn't been up long, despite the coffee and newspaper. He was still dressed in t-shirt and sweats and yesterday's whiskers darkened his cheeks. But he'd already removed the blankets from her couch.
"Bad dream, Scully?"
"Wanna talk about it?"
"Got anything to eat?" he asked her.
"There's some yogurt and melon in the fridge."
"I repeat, got anything to eat?"
"How about toasted bagels?"
Scully slipped her arms into his makeshift robe and rolled up the sleeves. She pointed to the toaster, indicating he should plug it in while she sliced the bagels.
"You feel up to visiting Hope Clinic this morning, Scully?" he asked while he searched her refrigerator for juice.
"Whenever you're ready."
"Why were Turcott and Tara being treated at the clinic anyway?"
"They suffered Chronic Nightmare Disorder."
"I've heard of that. I've read that ninety-five percent of people suffering from CND are creative people with careers in the arts, although not all creative people are CND sufferers."
"Turcott was a music major at American U."
"And Tara Peterson is a studio artist."
"Yeah, she told me she had some paintings on exhibit in a small gallery in Arlington."
"Mulder, how did you meet Tara?"
"She wrote me a fan letter, actually," he looked a little embarrassed.
"A fan letter?"
"Yeah. She read about me in the Post. You know, that 'Who's the Craziest FBI Agent' piece that made the mid-week edition several months ago."
"The story that mentioned your predilection for extraterrestrials?"
"Right, right. Another missed rung on my career ladder."
"You bring it on yourself, you know."
"Anyway, my description of alien abduction experiences struck a familiar chord with Tara. She wrote and I visited her. I didn't think too much more about it until Kerry Turcott split open his head, revealing he was wired on more than caffeine."
The toaster popped, offering up two perfectly browned bagel halves.
"Here, Mulder. You eat these. I'm gonna take a shower."
** Hope Clinic for Sleeping Disorders Arlington, Virginia 9:08 AM
"Thank you for seeing us, Dr. Barrett," Mulder shook the balding man's hand before taking a chair. "I'm Fox Mulder from the FBI. This is my partner, Dana Scully."
"What brings you to Hope Clinic, agents? Is it safe to assume you're not suffering from a sleeping disorder?" The spectacled doctor stared openly across his desk at Scully's battered face and winced.
"We're investigating a possible homicide. I believe Kerry Turcott was a patient of yours," Mulder passed a photograph of Turcott to Bartlett.
"Oh. Yes. Kerry Turcott. He came to see me several times. You think he was murdered?"
"Why were you treating Turcott?" Mulder ignored the doctor's question. "Well, he suffered from CND."
"Chronic Nightmare Disorder," Scully restated for clarification.
"Yes. Do you understand the malady?"
"A little. Can you tell us about it?"
"Certainly. In general terms, CND sufferers are trauma victims. They've lived through a horrific event such as rape, abuse, combat and natural disasters, among other things. As a result, they experience disturbing or unpleasant dreams every week or at least every month and their nightmares persist for six months or more. Sometimes for decades."
"How do you treat them?"
"Here at Hope Clinic we use a technique called 'imagery rehearsal.' I meet with the patients for three three-hour sessions where they talk about their nightmares and come up with alternate endings for the stories in their dreams. The patients then imagine the new ending in 10- to 20-minute daily practice sessions. At a fourth and final meeting one month later, we discuss their results."
"Is that the treatment you used with Kerry Turcott?" Mulder asked.
"You performed no surgery on him?"
"Have you ever performed surgery on a patient, Dr. Bartlett?"
Bartlett shifted uneasily in his chair. "I'm a psychologist, not a surgeon, Agent Mulder," he insisted.
"Dr. Bartlett, did Kerry Turcott respond to your treatment? Did his nightmares cease?" Scully asked.
"Ninety percent of our patients find imagery rehearsal very effective. However, Kerry Turcott never returned for his follow-up. I couldn't say if his nightmares disappeared or not."
"What was the cause of Mr. Turcott's nightmares?" Mulder reached for the photo still in Bartlett's hand.
"That's privileged information, Agent Mulder. I'm not at liberty to discuss it," he released the photo.
"Thank you, Dr. Bartlett. We appreciate your time," Scully rose. Mulder hesitated for a fraction of a second before standing and trailing Scully into the corridor. "Scully, shouldn't we ask for the nickel tour?"
"There's nothing to see here, Mulder."
"What makes you so sure?" he held open the front door and she stepped onto the street.
"I don't think Kerry Turcott was murdered."
"Scully, you took seventy-something wires out of the man's head."
"The wires didn't kill him, Mulder. He jumped off the roof of a building. Considering his psychological state, I'd have to conclude the cause of death was suicide."
"You can't be serious."
"I'm completely serious. Turcott suffered CSD. His nightmares were just a symptom, not the cause of his psychosis. He experienced a traumatic event that triggered his nightmares. Despite Bartlett's claims of success, learning a technique like 'imagery rehearsal' isn't likely to overcome severe post-traumatic stress. It's probable that Turcott couldn't live with the horrific memories of his past and he committed suicide."
"Scully, maybe the traumatic event Turcott experienced - the event that triggered his nightmares in the first place - was having something inserted into his brain."
"Even if you're right and that were the cause, that event would have occurred <before> Turcott came to Hope Clinic for help. I don't see any reasonable connection to Dr. Bartlett or this clinic, Mulder. Do you?"
Wrinkling his features, Mulder hissed a disappointed sigh through his nose.
"Before I concede, Scully, let's search the ING for the names of other Hope Clinic patients who may have committed 'suicide.'"
"And if we find any?"
Rubbing his palms together, a slanting grin nudged the dimple in his left cheek.
"We exhume the bodies!"
"For the purpose of...?"
"I was afraid you were going to say that. I suppose I'll be looking for wires in their heads?"
"It's downright 'spooky' the way you can read my mind."
FBI Headquarters Washington, DC
Mulder tapped at his keyboard. Two names appeared on his monitor. "Yes! Julie Thomas and Jay Bregmann. Both were patients at Hope Clinic and both purportedly committed suicide within the last six months. Looks like we're gonna be shining up those shovels, Scully," he waggled his eyebrows.
Scully slumped tiredly in her chair.
"There's protocol to follow, Mulder," she reminded him.
"Minor inconvenience. The bodies will be at Quantico by this evening."
"Great," she said flatly.
He swiveled to face her. She looked exhausted. The bruises on her face had darkened, mottling her skin with the colors of jungle camouflage.
"Scully, if you're not up to this..."
Before she could respond, her phone rang. "You go ahead and get that, Scully. I'll arrange for the exhumations," he reached for his own phone.
She envied his enthusiasm. She felt as if she'd been run over by a freight train. "Scully," she answered her phone.
"This is Detective Morrow from the Quantico PD. Agent Scully, we'd like you to come down to identify your attacker."
"You've found him?"
"Could be. Thanks to the description you gave our sketch artist. Can you come down?"
"I'll be right there."
Police Headquarters Quantico Precinct
"Are you sure, Agent Scully?" Detective Morrow asked.
"Yes. I'm sure." Scully glowered, her frown unseen by the fourth man in the lineup on the other side of the one-way glass. He was without a doubt her attacker. At six-four and well over two hundred pounds, the big man was both formidable and unforgettable. Scully focused on the ragged scratches lining the big man's cheeks. Her raking nails had tattered his whiskered skin, raising eight parallel welts from his eyes to his jaw. In an effort to expunge the feel of his tearing flesh from her memory, she now balled her fists and squeezed her fingernails into her palms. Standing at her side, Mulder rocked angrily on the balls of his feet. The sight of the big man riled a series of grating spasms in the muscles of his calves and thighs. His tenuous self-control was little more than a flimsy veneer glossing a tide swell of impatience and antipathy. "I'll interrogate him," Mulder announced, his voice grinding from his throat.
"I...uh, don't think that's a wise idea, Agent Mulder," Detective Morrow advised.
Mulder pierced the detective with a defiant stare.
"I said, I'll interrogate him."
Shrugging, Morrow offered Mulder the suspect's rap sheet. "It's your case, Agent Mulder. Just don't do anything that'll force us to cut him loose on a technicality."
"Don't worry," Mulder nodded. "I won't."
"...You have the right to speak with an attorney, and have an attorney present during questioning. If you so desire and cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed for you without charge before questioning."
Scully and Detective Marrow watched Mulder read the prisoner his rights on the other side of the interrogation room's one-way mirror. Scully's attacker was a man named Rick Foley. His last known address was Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, where he had served five years in SCI-Greene for assaulting his court appointed lawyer, beating the poor man almost to death...with his bare hands. Foley fixed smug eyes on Mulder. Hands cuffed behind his back, the big man dwarfed the room's well-worn table. The ancient chair in which he sat looked as if it would collapse out from under him.
"You understand each of the rights I've explained to you?" Mulder asked.
"I've heard 'em before."
"Good. So now you can tell me how you got the beauty marks," Mulder glared at the scratches on Foley's cheeks.
"Musta cut myself shaving."
Mulder's hand shot out and gripped Foley's chin. He squeezed the man's jaw, pressing bone-white fingers into Foley's scored flesh.
"Explain to me how your blood got under the fingernails of my partner?"
"What can I say? The bitch likes it rough."
Anger rose in the back of Mulder's throat, scalding his tongue like a wash of sour bile. A bloat of heat surged and rolled beneath the surface of his skin, nearly razing his self-control. With a furious jolt, he released his hold on Foley's reddening jaw. "Who sent you, Foley? Who sent you to Quantico?"
"My parole officer," Foley chuckled. "He was encouragin' me to become an FBI agent."
Mulder's hands twitched. He crossed the room to stand directly behind the big man.
"Where are the devices, Foley?"
"I got no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh yes you do. Somebody hired you to steal evidence from the autopsy bay. Who was it?"
"I ain't working for nobody."
"Who hired you, Foley? Who paid you to steal federal property? Exactly how much money did you get for beating up a woman half your size?" Mulder's voice echoed loudly off the room's walls.
Foley shrugged. Mulder stepped closer. He lowered his voice and hissed into the big man's ear, "Foley, I think it's kinda obvious, I don't have a lot of patience. You beat the crap outta my partner and I'd love to see you go down for it. So, unless you like the idea of spending a sizable chunk of your sorry-ass life behind bars for the attempted murder of a federal officer, you had better tell me something. Because if you don't answer my questions, I guarantee you'll wish you were going back to Waynesburg. Have you ever been to a federal maximum-security prison, Foley? Twenty-five years of grabbing your ankles gets to be a real pain in the fucking ass."
Foley shifted in his chair.
"You have something to say to me, Foley?"
"I want a lawyer," Foley demanded. Looking directly at the one-way mirror, he shouted, "I want a lawyer!"
Quantico 7:10 PM
"I bet you thought I was gonna belt him, didn't you, Scully?" Mulder held open the autopsy bay door, allowing her to enter the room.
"Yes. Actually I did."
"You did? Really?"
"You have a history, Mulder."
"You're not holding that John Lee Roche thing against me, are you?"
"You did hit him."
"And Terry Edward Mayhew."
"And don't forget Phillip Padgett."
"I didn't hit Padgett."
"You wanted to."
"Jesus, Scully, you can't censure me for all the things I ever <wanted> to do. The fact remains, I didn't do them."
"Okay. You're a model of self-control, Mulder."
Narrowing his eyes at her, he chose to remain silent. She moved to stand between two gurneys, each graced with a lumpy body bag.
"Mulder, do the bodies of Julie Thomas and Jay Bregmann look a little...<little> to you?" Unzipping one of the bags, she peeked in at the corpse. She crinkled her nose and glanced at Mulder. He placed his palm over his mouth to block out the smell. "There's no head, Scully."
"I notice that." She unzipped the second body bag. "No head here either."
Scully's Apartment 3:34 AM
<The body lies draped in white on the autopsy table.>
<"Pull back the sheet, Mulder.">
<"No, you have to uncover it.">
<She's nervous. Her hands shake. She doesn't want to look at the thing lying beneath the snowy shroud. The bright white cover hides a horrible secret, she's sure.>
<"Unh, unh, Scully. Only you can do this.">
<Stepping closer, she tugs at the shroud's hem and peels back the sheet. Her fingers tremble as she exposes the thing that had been so carefully concealed beneath its safe camouflage of white.> <She gasps when she sees her own face, framed by her familiar red hair, eyes closed as in sleep, cradled by the stainless steel of the autopsy table.>
<"Mulder. It's me!">
<A hole pierces the brow of her mirror image. Lovingly she touches a finger to the raw wound.>
<"Mulder, the frontal and parietal lobes are missing.">
<"They stole your memories.">
<Tears fill her eyes as she peers into the gaping, empty hollow. Her heart aches for the lost pieces of her past.>
<A wet stain of bright blood spots the sheet halfway down the body. A shudder thrums the bones of her chest as she watches the puddle expand, soaking outward into the white fabric. Suddenly angry, she yanks away the sheet. But her anger transforms into horror at the sight of a gory chasm between her twin's vacuous hipbones. A wombless cavity painfully gapes between the curving bones of her pelvis, an opened abyss of revealed sorrow.>
<"You knew about this, Mulder.">
<"Yes. I found evidence.">
<"What evidence? What evidence did you find?">
Scully fumbled for the ringing phone, almost dropping it onto the floor beside her bed.
"Scully," she practically shouted.
"Tara Peterson's dead, Scully."
"Mulder? What...what time is it?"
"Did I wake you?"
"Uh...yeah. It's okay though. Tara's dead?"
"Yeah, I just got a call from St. Agatha's."
"Not unless she somehow managed to cut off and hide her own head."
"Jesus, Mulder. Just like the bodies of Julie Thomas and Jay Bregmann. Somebody's gone to an awful lot of trouble to keep a secret."
"We may be able to figure out who, Scully. Foley's lawyer cut a deal with the DA in exchange for a name."
"From Hope Clinic?"
"One and the same."
"Has he been arrested?"
"Nope. He's gone."
"Gone where?" She pinched the skin between her eyebrows, trying desperately to wake up and follow Mulder's expanding list of events. Hadn't he slept at all?
"I dunno. I've got a couple people looking, but so far: zip."
"So we're back to square one."
"Not necessarily. When I was at SAS, I noticed a couple of outgoing packages waiting for pickup. One was going to California, the other to Oregon."
"So where are we going first?"
"Oregon. I already booked a flight. You and I are gonna pay a visit to Cascade BioTech in Tillamook Bay. I'm on my way to pick you up right now."
Cascade BioTech Tillamook Bay, Oregon Nine Hours Later
"This way, agents," a high-heeled brunette led Mulder and Scully down a plush hall. Beneath their feet, a carpet the color of the sea wound around a curving wall like a bend in the shoals of a tidal flat. Strains of Debussy's 'La Mer' exuded from hidden speakers. A gallery of Native Northwest Coast art dotted the gently cambered corridor. Lit by tight-beamed halogen lamps, ancient tribal images emerged like vivid dreams. Killer whales. Sea monsters in the shapes of wolves. Thunderbirds. Claws and teeth and enormous black eyes bristled and stared, channeling Mulder and Scully expeditiously along their sea green path. The brunette ushered the agents into the polished office of Christian Mace, founder of Cascade BioTech, the world's largest developer of medical diagnostic software and computer-enhanced prosthetics. With company profits exceeding eight and a half billion over the last six months, Mace had settled comfortably into Fortune 500's top ten. "Mr. Mace will be with you shortly," the brunette said before slipping out the door and leaving Mulder and Scully waiting in an enormous room more than forty-feet square. Completely glassed on two sides, the room offered a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean's Tillamook Bay.
"Life must be good in the world of digital medicine," Mulder whistled through his teeth. "Kinda makes our office back home look a little incommodious, doesn't it, Scully?"
"This does have a bit more elbow room."
"But none of the cozy charm."
Mulder sauntered over to a desk anchored like a luxury liner in the center of the room. He picked up a richly framed photograph of a giggling two-year-old. "That's my son, Tyler," a tall man appeared at the door. "He was killed three years ago in an unfortunate accident. I'm Christian Mace." Sandy-haired, graceful, impeccable, Mace wore the look of money despite his faded jeans and lamb's wool sweater. He held out a long-fingered hand to Mulder. His grasp was unexpectedly crushing and he wasn't quick to let go.
"Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI. This is my partner Dana Scully. I'm sorry about your son." Mace applied only the most delicate pressure to Scully's hand while his eyes combed over her bruised face with an expression of genuine concern.
"Unless you've lost a child, you have no idea how devastating it can be. What can I do for the FBI? Please, have a seat," Mace gestured toward a pair of captain's chairs facing his mammoth desk. "Coffee?"
"No, thank you. Mr. Mace, have you ever met this man before?" Mulder produced a photo of Dr. Bartlett from Hope Clinic.
Mace thoughtfully studied the photo, chewing the inside of his lower lip. He shook his head. "No. No, I don't think so. Should I have?"
"Maybe you know this man," Mulder ignored Mace's question and passed him a picture of Scully's attacker, Rick Foley.
"No. I'm sorry, I don't know this man either."
"Have you ever heard the names Kerry Turcott or Tara Peterson?"
Bemused, Mace smiled. "No. What is all this about, Agent Mulder?"
"Did you ever receive a package from Synthetic Aperture Systems?"
"Yes. I get them all the time. SAS supplies highly specialized computer components for my company. State-of- the-art stuff. They're currently developing a bio interface for a prosthetic device I'm hoping to have on the market by 2002."
"Can you tell us anything about the device?"
"Absolutely not. Secrets are a necessity in this business, Agent Mulder."
"I'm sure they are. Perhaps you can tell me if your interface looks anything like this?" Mulder pulled the BIM from his pocket.
The friendly light dimmed from Mace's eyes. "Yes. I paid a lot of money for the exclusive rights to that device, not to mention its guaranteed confidentiality. I'd like to know how you came by it."
"Mr. Mace, Agent Mulder and I are here conducting a murder investigation. If this device belongs to you, then you'll want to cooperate with our inquiry in any way that you can. And you can begin by explaining how you plan to use this mechanism." Scully's stitched and swollen face imposed an urgency to her demand. Mace found himself unexpectedly blinking agreement with Scully's split-lipped insistence.
"Alright. Let me show you. Come with me to the lab, agents."
Mace surprised Mulder and Scully by leading them not only from his office but out of the building as well. They trailed him along a foggy shore path to a neighboring structure nestled neatly into the cliff. Hidden by a berm of earth and a profusion of flowering azaleas, the low- roofed building was nearly invisible from the outside. At the door, Mace punched a code into the wall-mounted security pad and waited for a green light. Whereas Mace's glassy office presented a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape, the low-slung lab shut out all suggestion of the outer world. Not a hint of nature invaded the man-made interior. No windows penetrated the walls. No plants softened the hard edges of the long halls and hi- tech labs. The muted sound of humming equipment replaced the rhythmic crash of surf. The non-odor of a climate- controlled environment expelled the dripping fragrance of cedar and salt water.
"This way," Mace said, winding his way through a maze of hi-gloss corridors. Passing dozens of identical, unmarked doors, Mace stopped and opened one seemingly at random. He gestured the agents inside. Despite the spotless condition of the room, the biting smell of animal excrement clung to the stainless steel and tile. Dozens of cages lined the bright room. Furry movement scuttled inside a row of smaller cages. Several rhesus monkeys squeaked with excited fear on the opposite side of the room.
"Take a look at this," Mace leaned over a cage containing a large white rat with a thin curving filament sprouting from the shaved crown of its head and disappearing into the knobby bones of its spine halfway down its back. The rat's pink nose lifted and twitched, sniffing the strangers' approach. Tipping its head, it looked up at Mace through one pink eye. "This rat was surgically paralyzed to imitate the motor dysfunction of a human paraplegic. A single bio interface mechanism was implanted into the rat's brain. Watch the results." Mace picked up the rat by the base of its tail. It twirled and struggled for purchase. Mace set the rat onto his sleeve and the animal gripped the fabric with the claws of all four feet. After a moment's hesitation, it waddled forward, balancing perfectly on the curve of Mace's arm. Its four limbs moved flawlessly. "Amazing, isn't it?"
"How does the device work?" Scully asked. "The BIM reads and writes biological information directly from and to the brain - in this case, digitally saved impulses allow the disabled rat to move normally. The filament creates an artificial neural path from the brain to the muscles, complete with software-enhanced electronic commands that permit mobility. The other half of the equation comes from a device - or group of devices actually - implanted in the brain of a healthy animal, collecting data to be used by the disabled specimen. The data is communicated to a centralized hardware hub, much in the same way the Internet is accessed by wireless technology. The digitized information is then available for retrieval by the BIM in this rat. Or any rat fitted with one of the devices." Mace dropped the rat back in its cage. "Think what this means, agents! The brain activity of a healthy individual can be recorded and stored for the use of the less fortunate. Theoretically, we could go beyond the mere restoration of motor function in people with spinal cord injuries. We could share any brain activity. Memory. Technical skill. Even creativity! Consider what it would be like to download into your brain not just the thoughts of a man like Stephen Hawking, but the ability, the genius of any living thinker or artist!" Mace's eyes glowed with the idea.
"It sounds like you're playing God, Mr. Mace," Scully said.
"Agent Scully, scientists play God everyday. We artificially inseminate, we manipulate genes, we clone and radiate and engineer our way to a more perfect world."
"Is it really more perfect?" Mulder asked.
"Do you know anyone who has cancer, Agent Mulder? Or is unable to bear children?"
Mulder glanced uncomfortably at Scully.
"What do you tell them? Tough luck? Agents, this device is a step in the evolution of science much like antibiotics, fertility treatment or gene therapy. Bio interface technology isn't evil."
"But the possibility of abuse exists," Scully insisted.
"The cruelty of nature and purposeful abuse by man continue independently of scientific strides. Your job as FBI agents is to fight the latter. And it's my job to correct the former. You see? We all play God in one small way or another."
Mace crossed the room to a wall of caged monkeys. "These healthy animals have BIMs permanently installed in their brains. We're collecting behavioral data from these normal monkeys to test on surgically disabled counterparts."
"I don't see any wires sticking out of their heads," Mulder observed.
"Unlike the rat we just looked at, these animals had BIMs implanted permanently into their brains through a small incision in the back of the neck. The filaments were fed through a tiny plastic tube inserted between the uppermost vertebrae and the occipital. The procedure closely approximates the technique we hope to one day employ on human subjects."
Scully glanced at Mulder. "Let me show you an MRI." Mace quickly thumbed through a stack of images. "This one shows a textbook perfect placement of the devices." He handed the picture to Scully. <Slender metal point. Spinning silver blade. Sliver of white. High-pitched hum of moving machinery.>
Scully swallowed. Clearing her throat, she blinked back sudden tears. The photograph shook in her hands.
"You've never implanted any of these devices in a person?" Mulder asked, his voice reaching Scully as if it had traveled up from the bottom of an unfathomable well.
<Latexed fingers. A needle stick. White light.>
"No. Of course not," Mace insisted from somewhere beyond Scully's narrowing field of vision. <Pressing. Pressing. Dr. Ishimaru. Other men, their faces blocked by surgical masks. A lurch of internal organs.>
"Please stop!" Scully gasped, her white fingers gripping the photograph.
"I need some air, Mulder," she thrust the MRI into Mace's hands and rushed from the room. She teetered unsteadily down the hall, soon realizing she had no idea where she was going. Every door looked like all the others. She spun in frustration, trying to gain her bearings. <White light.> Her stomach heaved. She fought to keep her airline lunch inside her. "Scully." Mulder's fingers tucked around her arm. "This way."
She let him guide her past the blur of doors to the foggy brightness of the shore path and then to their rental car. Placing her palms against the cool metal of the car's hood, she let the car support her while Mulder unlocked the doors. She told herself to take deep even breaths. Inhaling the sweet ocean air and clearing her head, the squall of gulls finally replaced the endless drone of an alarm ringing in her mind's memory.
"Scully, what happened in there?"
"Nothing, Mulder. It was nothing."
"Damn it. Scully, don't give me that. Don't tell me everything's okay when obviously it isn't."
"What is it you want hear, Mulder?"
She opened her mouth to speak, but only shook her head.
"Please, Mulder. Not right now. Later. I promise." She slipped by him and sunk into the passenger seat.
Climbing in behind the steering wheel, Mulder shifted the car into reverse. He twisted in his seat to look out the rear window.
"Hey, Scully," he nodded toward the low-roofed lab. She turned to see a blonde woman punch a code into the security panel and enter the building. "That's Dr. Karen Davis from SAS. Think she's in Tillamook Bay for the crab legs?"
Oceanview Motel Tillamook Bay, Oregon 7:15 PM
Mulder knocked on Scully's motel room door.
"Scully? Scully, are you ready?" He opened the door a crack and peeked inside. "Scully?" Stepping into her room, he could hear the splash of water coming from the shower. He slung himself into a chair to wait for her to finish her bath. He hoped she'd been able to sleep, take a nap. She'd been pushing herself hard ever since leaving the hospital and he was worried the case, the travel and her injuries were all catching up with her. Obviously she'd been typing her field report while he had slept this afternoon. Her laptop sat glowing on the motel's small table. Curious, he swiveled the computer and read her entry.
<Mulder, over the distance we have traveled together, truth has been our ally, our one constant, a lifeline connecting us. Saving us. Separating us not from each other but from all the lies and deceit of our enemies. Yet now, the truth divides us like the quiescent metal between two sides of the same coin. You hold the final piece to the puzzle of my lost memories and I'm afraid to ask the divulgence of your secret. I'm afraid because I trust you - as I always have - to guard me from harm. And if you are reluctant to expose the facts you've uncovered, I have faith you must be acting on a heartfelt concern for my wellbeing. Until now, my belief in you has been enough for me. But Mulder, I can no longer tolerate this thing between us, despite my trust of your honorable motives. I can no longer allow my past to remain an incomplete picture. Despite my fear, I'm strong enough to hear the truth - especially if you are nearby to lend me your strength if I should need it. I do not blame you for your long silence. I'm certain you would have answered my questions if I had only asked. You know me well, Mulder. You have understood that until now I wasn't prepared to hear your words. But today, at last, I am ready and must ask: what evidence did you find? What happened to me so many years ago when I was taken from you and from myself? What is it that you know?>
"Shit," he whispered.
"You weren't supposed to read that, Mulder." Her voice caused him to flinch. She stood frowning at the bathroom door, wrapped in her robe, damp hair curling humidly in uncombed red tangles.
"Why not?" his voice was still a whisper.
"I was just...just trying to get my thoughts straight in my head."
"But you want to know...don't you?"
Scully stared at her bare feet, at her ten pink toes sinking into the dingy motel carpet. She nodded, bobbing her wet curls across her ears and cheeks.
"Scully..." he was beside her, drawing her toward the bed, sitting her down. He sank into the mattress next to her, his weight causing a hollow into which she fell. From hips to knees, they pressed against one another, scorching a strip of flesh down each of their thighs beneath the meager fabric of their clothes. "What happened to me, Mulder? What evidence did you find?" she looked directly into his eyes. She watched his brows draw together in distress and his pupils tighten with anger. His emotion was not for her, here, now, but for the memory he carried. A muscle jumped along his jaw as he searched her face for proof that she was ready to hear his truth. He inhaled a fortifying lung full of air.
"Scully, when you were being treated at Holy Cross for your...cancer," he stumbled only briefly on the word, "I went to the Lombard Research Facility."
"Where Dr. Scanlon worked."
"Yes. Kurt Crawford was there. Actually, a whole bunch of Kurt Crawfords were there."
"What...what do you mean?"
"Human/alien hybrids. They were tending growing tanks. Tanks that held more hybrids like themselves. The Crawford- hybrid, he showed me something else. Proof of what happened to you when you were abducted. Scully, are...are you sure...?"
"I want to know, Mulder. I need to know. My memories are returning. Have returned. I'm trying to make sense of them. I need to put the pieces together so I can finally see the whole and then put it behind me."
He nodded, understanding her need to recover her past, allowing her to move on. Hadn't he spent his whole life doing the same thing with his memories of Samantha? "The Crawford-hybrid showed me a vault...a vault containing human ova."
"Yes. Yours and Penny Northern's and Betsy Hagopian's and other women. He told me the ova were harvested during your abductions through a high amplification radiation procedure that caused superovulation."
"Well that explains the alarm I remember hearing and the bright lights. Those would be warnings to the doctors that the room I was in was being irradiated and wasn't safe for them to enter. It also explains the laparoscope, the shots, the other procedures. Why, Mulder? For...for fertilization. Of Emily?"
"Yes. Maybe others. The Kurt Crawfords were an end product of the experiment themselves. The ova constituted one half of the necessary raw material for their creation. For Emily's creation."
"And the other half of the genetic material? Where did it come from?" her voice quavered.
He shook his head. "I'm not certain. Alien DNA, I imagine. Scully, we've both known for a long time about the hybridization program."
"I saw a hybridized fetus. I just...didn't..."
"You saw...? When? Where?"
"Six years ago. At Fort Marlene in a High Containment Facility. I found it on the seventh floor in a room marked 'Purity Control.' I took it."
"Six years? You took...? What did you do with it? Why didn't you ever show it to me?"
"I traded it, Mulder. I traded for you."
"Scully, you had it in your hands six years ago. The answers to all our questions!"
"I thought I had nothing. I refused to believe. And it wasn't worth your life."
"No, Mulder. Even after finding Emily, I didn't want to admit... I wasn't ready. Not when Penny Northern tried to tell me about the procedures. Not when you told me you had found evidence of what had been done to me. I wouldn't...I couldn't listen to her story and I...I didn't want to hear yours either, Mulder."
"Scully, those procedures caused your cancer. It caused your infertility. I...I'm sorry..."
She took his hand, traced the hills of his knuckles with the silky pads of her fingertips. Despite her diminutive size and her battered features, she now appeared the more durable of the two. With the telling of the story, his intensity had leaked from him into her, leaving him wobbly and rendering her unshakable. She wondered if they were destined to ever feel strong at the same time.
"And the chip in my neck, it was put there to control me and monitor me, physically and mentally. It's like the BIMs in Cascade BioTech's monkeys. I'm now programmed, categorized and easily referenced," she said bitterly. "Scully, you once told me nothing happens in contradiction to nature. But what happened to you - what was done to you when you were abducted - wasn't natural. The things those men did to you were in contradiction to nature and to God. And I hope they burn in hell for what they did."
His anger inexplicably flooded her with relief. Her arms circled around him. Her palms slid across his ribs and settled on either side of his spine. He wrapped her entirely in his embrace, crossing his arms behind her back and clutching her shoulders. He patted her still-damp hair, trying to soothe away the years of hurt, and, to the relief of them both, she let him. She nestled into the deep curve of his chest and felt the past slide incrementally away.
"Scully, there's something else..."
"No, Mulder. Not today. Maybe tomorrow."
"But I...I took..."
"No, Mulder. Please. Not today."
Sunset Bar and Grill Tillamook Bay, Oregon 7:58 PM
Mulder rearranged his silverware for the umpteenth time while they waited for the waitress to bring their dinner. The tiny Bar and Grill was quiet, relatively patron-free. Maybe because it was a weeknight. Or maybe because it was off-season - whenever that would be in Tillamook Bay, Oregon. "As soon as they get here, Scully, we're going in."
"I can't believe you called the Gunmen. The FBI has a Field Office in Oregon, you know, if we need backup."
"The Bureau has an annoying little rule against breaking and entering. For some reason, they prefer we knock on the front door and show our badges."
"So why don't we?"
"I don't want Cascade BioTech to evaporate the same way Huron Affiliated Labs did. Davis is here and I don't trust her. Christian Mace is beginning to smell a little like Charlie the Tuna, too. I wanna get inside his lab and take a little look-see."
"Security appeared pretty tight."
"The boys are experienced. They aren't nearly as sexy in black as you, Scully, but they bring cool hi-tech crowbars for getting beyond locked doors. They should be here by 1:00 AM."
"What do you mean they're 'experienced'? Exactly what kind of field trips have the four of you been on?"
"How do you think I got into that Lombard Research Facility I was telling you about? Security there makes Cascade look like The Church of the Open Door. We'll get in."
"It's not the getting in that worries me, Mulder. It's the getting out."
** Cascade BioTech Tillamook Bay, Oregon 1:38 AM
"Did you bring extra headsets this time, Frohike?" Mulder asked.
"We spared no expense, compadre. Here," Frohike passed a headset to both Mulder and Scully. He and Langly already wore theirs. Byers looped his loosely around his neck.
Parked on Route 1 half a mile south of Cascade BioTech, Langly unloaded equipment from the trunk of the rental car.
"We checked out Cascade's security systems by hacking into their provider's database. Looks like pretty standard stuff. Too bad. I was hoping to try out some of our new gear," Langly said, his head still in the car's trunk. "Government facilities make better B and E test subjects anyway, Langly. It's always more fun to bring The Man to his knees," Frohike chuckled.
"I didn't hear that," Scully frowned.
"You're looking fetching tonight, Agent Scully." Frohike's eyes traveled appreciatively from Scully's boots to her dark knit hat. "Black is definitely your color," he winked at her.
"Can it, Frohike. I..." she was cut off by a swipe of Mulder's hand across her cheeks and nose. He smeared her skin with black makeup. "What the hell is that, Mulder?"
"Something I stole from the shoe shine man at the airport. Despite your bruises, you're looking a little pale, Scully."
"Jesus, I can't believe I let you talk me into this." She watched Mulder wash his own face in black. "That had better come off," she warned.
"Seems to wear off my shoes...eventually," he tossed the container to Langly. "Powder your noses, boys."
"What's the plan, my man?" Langly tucked his long hair into the back of his collar.
"Byers stays with the car. Langly, you and Frohike take out the surveillance cameras and unlock the doors. You know what to do. I want a repeat performance of Lombard, but without the live ammo coming at me. Scully and I will go inside, find incriminating evidence and get back out. Everybody clear on their assignments?"
"As simple as that, Mulder? We just go in and find evidence?"
"Well, they may have hidden the incriminating stuff, Scully. It's possible we'll have to rummage around a bit," he grinned at the prospect. "No mess ups, boys," he warned the Gunmen, "I don't wanna be sharing a jail cell with the three of you for the next fifteen to twenty. Let's go."
Mulder set off at a jog. "Last one there is a rotten egghead," Scully challenged, chasing Mulder and launching Frohike and Langly into motion.
On the road just beyond the view of the facility, Mulder paused at the base of a utility pole and waited for the others to catch up. Scully soon joined him. Frohike and Langly trailed, weighted down by their heavy gear. Frohike immediately squatted at the pole's base to set up his monitoring equipment. Dressed in hooks, Langly climbed up the pole and tapped into the telephone wires.
"How does it look, Langly?" Mulder asked, eyes darting in the direction of Cascade.
"Give me two minutes for a systems check."
Jittery, Mulder paced several times around the pole.
"Should be a piece of cake, guys," Langly told them. "These bastards skimped on a shunt bypass. No redundancies."
"Are we set?" Mulder asked, taking a quick look at Frohike's computer screen. The monitor showed several views from the lab's interior surveillance cameras.
"Nobody's at home. The place is deserted," Frohike announced.
"Give me two more minutes, Mulder, before you try the front door," Langly insisted. "I'm gonna override the security systems and blindside the cameras."
Mulder was already on his way to the entrance, Scully on his heels.
"Cameras are set. Wait for the green light at the door," Langly's tinny voice warned over the headset in Mulder's ear.
At the lab's front door, Mulder stared at the little red light on the security keypad, willing it to turn green. His fingers tapped impatiently against his thighs. He practically danced from the ball of one foot to the other. Scully gave his arm a gentle squeeze, momentarily calming his fidgety nerves. The red light went dark. Mulder didn't blink until the green light glowed in its place.
"We're going in," Mulder spoke to Frohike through the headset. "Let me know if we should smile for the cameras."
"Smile if you want, but you're not showing up here. The video loop is working. Hallway looks deserted."
Inside, Mulder flicked on his flashlight and aimed the narrow beam down the hall. He inched his way forward. Scully all but disappeared in his shadow. "We're in front of camera two. Can you see me waving, Frohike?"
"Nope. You're the Invisible Man. Keep going."
Mulder counted doors, retracing their steps from earlier in the day. "Mulder, look," Scully pointed to a partially open door at the end of the hall. A sliver of light flowed over the threshold.
Mulder motioned for Scully to stay where she was while he edged down the corridor. "Where are you now?" Langly's voice squawked in Mulder's ear.
"Shhhh," he breathed. He put his eye to the crack of the door and peered inside. Scully watched him squint at the hidden scene beyond. He froze at the doorframe, intent on the mysterious contents of the lit room. Finally, he gestured her forward with a waggle of his fingers. She glanced nervously around. Taking measured, silent steps, she slid into place beside him. To her surprise, he swung the door inward allowing them both an unobstructed view of the bright room.
A little gasp of breath puffed from her lungs. She stared at a neat grid of baby cribs, four rows by six. And in each bed slept a toddler. The same toddler. Twenty-four nearly identical children.
"Clones?" Mulder mouthed the question, eying the rows of tow-headed, round faced boys.
She shook her head, walking between the rows. "Brothers. Same mother, same father, I'd guess. Twelve sets of identical twins."
"How is that possible? They all look as though they're the same age," Mulder's head swiveled from one crib to the next.
"Embryo splitting. Each embryo is divided into two genetically identical halves."
"But how does the same mother give birth to twelve sets of twins...at the same time?"
"She doesn't. Hormone injections stimulate the release of ova in the mother. The ova are then extracted and fertilized in vitro. From the similarity in these children, I'd say the sperm came from a single donor. The resulting embryos are split and then transferred into twelve recipients...surrogate mothers. Twelve sets of twins are born nine months later. The process is done all the time with livestock."
<Livestock?> Mulder felt sick to his stomach. He wondered how Scully could look at these children and speak so calmly about their unusual conception after enduring a similar harvesting procedure herself. Against her will. Not to mention knowing her own daughter had been created this way. Or something very much like this.
"Scully, do these children look familiar to you? I think...I think they're replicas of Mace's son Tyler. They look like the photo I saw in his office."
"I think you're right. Look, Mulder. This boy has a scar on the back of his neck. So does this one!"
"They all do," Mulder checked more of the boys.
"They have implants, Mulder. Mace inserted BIMs into all these children."
"His <own> children. Why?"
She shook her head. "I don't know, but maybe we can find out." She slid into a chair facing one of several glowing computer monitors at the far end of the room. "Langly? Can you help me out here?" she spoke softly into her headset.
"What's up?" his nasal twang vibrated in her ear.
"I want to break into Cascade's bio-test database. I'm looking at a password protect access screen. Can you get me in?"
"No problema. Give me a minute or two."
Mulder circled the room, pausing at each crib. The boys slept, unaware they were being studied. Mulder compared the boys' faces, as well as the identical scars on the backs of their necks. Scully was right. The children weren't clones. Now that he looked more closely, he could detect small differences in their features. These two had a dimple to the right of their delicately curving lips. Those two had a v-shaped bend to their left eyebrows. Two more had slightly wider noses than the others. Twenty-four brothers, all approximately two years of age. All with wires embedded in their heads.
"I've got something," Scully announced. Mulder listened to her fingers tap a rapid staccato across the keyboard. "Mulder, the boys were conceived three years ago. The embryos were frozen in ethylene glycol and subsequently transferred into surrogates. There are detailed records of the boys' development. Let me..." she typed again. "Here it is. Mace is the father of these children."
"And the mother?" Mulder moved to stand behind Scully.
"Uh...here she is." A picture of the boys' blonde mother filled the screen.
"Shit! That's Karen Davis. From SAS," Mulder gaped at the woman's image.
"What the hell is going on here, Mulder?"
"What else can you find out? Is there anything about the BIMs?"
"Let me see. It might take a minute."
"Okay. I'm gonna look around. See what other dirty little secrets I can ferret out. Print out anything incriminating, Scully. We need some hard evidence that connects what we're seeing here with the deaths of Kerry Turcott and Tara Peterson."
She nodded and kept typing while Mulder slipped from the room.
* Mulder zigzagged his way through the lab's confusion of black corridors. He opened several doors and took quick stock of each room's contents. He panned the narrow beam of his flashlight across the unused furniture and equipment. Microscopes waited, draped in plastic. Computers sat idle. Instruments collected dust. A couple of offices held empty file cabinets. The furniture appeared new, waiting for future occupants. Mulder continued his search and entered a short passage that dead-ended in a cul-de-sac of small, spotlessly clean operating theaters. He stepped into the first room. Several television monitors lined the wall beyond the bare operating table. Stainless steel stirrups hinted at the table's use. "Mulder?" Scully's voice crackled in his ear. "I've been looking at the children's genetic records. Guess who's on the payroll?"
"Figures. So this was the rock he crawled under after he left his waning practice at Holy Cross Memorial."
"He engineered all the embryo work here. There's more, Mulder."
"Lay it on me." Mulder edged into the next operating room. He noiselessly lifted several surgical instruments from a neatly arranged tray. Knives. Syringes. A variety of items that defied identification. He carefully set them back in their original places.
"Mulder, neither Mace nor Davis holds the patent to the BIMs. A man named Philip Straussman originally created the device and still owns the rights to it."
"Straussman? He works at SAS. I tried to interview him when I was in Connecticut. He wasn't available." Mulder ran his index finger along a row of videotapes arranged chronologically on a shelf below one of the television monitors. Each cassette was carefully labeled. "Uh...Scully, there are tapes here. I think they show the implant procedure performed on the boys. They're labeled 'tyler 12,' 'tyler 13,' 'tyler 14' and so on. The dates go back more than a year." He selected one at random, removed it from its sleeve and slid it into the VCR.
"Mulder, I've found records describing the BIMS. The records include MRIs of the children - before and after the devices were implanted. Jesus. Langly's hooked me into the data stream currently being downloaded to the boys' brains. You're not going to believe this..."
Mulder punched the VCR's Play button. The tape clicked into motion. He stiffened when he felt the barrel of a gun dig deeply into his ribs. The headset was pulled from his ears.
"Mulder? Mulder! Damn it," Scully readjusted her headphones. "Frohike, can you hear me? Are these things working?"
"I hear you. Everything sounds A-O-K at this end."
"I've lost Mulder."
"Whaddaya mean you lost Mulder?"
"I don't know. He's not answering his headphones. Can you find him with the security cameras?"
"That'd mean activating the surveillance system."
"Just do it, Frohike! I want to know where he is! He may be in danger."
"But there's no one else in the building. We checked before you went in. Who could...?"
"And exactly how would we know if the building is empty now, Frohike? With the cameras turned off, we're working blind. Find him! Now!"
"Agent Mulder, is that you under all the black-face, dressed up like a common cat burglar?" Christian Mace prodded his gun into Mulder's back. With a whoosh of air, he tossed the useless headphones to the floor. He jerked the Sig Sauer from Mulder's holster. "You didn't think our little decoy surveillance system was the only security installed here at Cascade, did you? Big secrets require big protection, Agent Mulder." Above their heads, the television monitor lit up with the image of a hair thin wire slithering through viscous gray brain tissue. A muffled male voice could be heard describing the filament's path through the small skull. "I hope that's the Discovery Channel and not your vacation videos, Mace," Mulder said, still facing the TV set. "Mind if I turn around? I get a little squeamish watching a father pith his own son's brain."
"You have no idea what we do here, Agent Mulder. By the way, I believe you've met my colleague, Dr. Bartlett."
Mulder turned to glare first at Mace and then at the balding doctor from the Arlington sleep clinic.
"The nightmare and the nightmare doctor. Now there's a match made in heaven...or hell, as the case may be."
"We deal in dreams here, Agent Mulder, not nightmares. My sons are being given the brightest future the human mind can offer. Skill. Creativity. Genius. Gathered from the brains of the inspired."
"Stolen would be more accurate. I doubt your donors volunteered for the job. I know Tara Peterson didn't."
"Ms. Peterson didn't have that much to offer really."
"So you killed her?"
"She would have killed herself anyway eventually."
"Like Kerry Turcott?"
A shrug rippled Mace's shoulders.
"Who else, Mace? How many other minds have you raped? How many other deaths have you caused?"
Mace shifted. He slid his gun up Mulder's body until the barrel pressed a tiny circle into the skin of the agent's cheek.
"Science is a progression, Agent Mulder. Failures almost always precede successes. We expect to lose a few of the more fragile specimens. Ends justify means and so on."
"Are you rationalizing murder?"
"People die all the time. It's a sad fact of life. If someone else can benefit from the loss..."
"Is that what this is about? It's okay to kill innocent people in order to resurrect your own dead son?"
"Procreation is an insistent proclivity, Agent Mulder."
Mulder was disgusted. "What's in this for you, Bartlett?" he scowled at the sleep doctor.
"Money, Agent Mulder. It's as simple as that. Mr. Mace pays me very well to find creative minds for his project. The CND patients at Hope Clinic provide an endless supply of imaginative donors. And they think the surgeries are part of their treatment. Of course, we don't tell them we're putting wires into their heads."
"Tara Peterson knew."
"Yes, well some patients require more anesthesia than others. Occasionally we underestimate. I would guess a man your size might require...oh, about this much," Bartlett withdrew a syringe from his pocket and held it up for Mulder to see. Mace poked his gun against Mulder's temple. Both men smiled as Bartlett sunk the needle into Mulder's neck.
"Damn it," Mulder sizzled. Bartlett yanked the stinging needle from his skin, leaving an expanding droplet of bright blood at the puncture. "You're an intelligent man, Agent Mulder. Certainly there are some thoughts in your head worth harvesting."
"You wouldn't wanna hear the thoughts going through my head right now," Mulder felt his tongue grow thick. His words slurred and skated across his numbing lips. His knees buckled. The room appeared to lurch and slide around him as he fell. Looking like the distorted reflections in a funhouse mirror, Mace and Bartlett grabbed him beneath the arms and propelled him onto the operating table. "Shhhhitt," Mulder hissed as he was rolled onto his stomach.
"Where's Mulder, Frohike?" Scully stood at an intersection of corridors, gun in hand. "Which way?"
"Stop right where you are," a cool voice warned. "I'll take that gun." Karen Davis stepped out from the shadows, her own weapon pointed directly at Scully's chest. Davis' lovely face was unruffled, her voice calm. A perfectly manicured hand relieved Scully of her gun.
"Karen Davis," Scully stated the obvious, recognizing the blonde woman from her image in the database. The beautiful woman countered Scully's frown with a detached expression. Brilliant blue eyes catalogued the details of Scully's demeanor, gauged her physical ability. Davis squinted at the agent's stitched lip and brow.
"Are you here looking for something in particular, Agent Scully? Or some<one,> perhaps?"
"Drifting off into dreamland by now, I imagine. You'll be joining him soon enough," Davis smiled, her lips drawing back from her perfect white teeth. "Why? What do you intend to do?"
"I think you have a pretty good idea."
"This won't bring back your son, Miss Davis."
Scully could see a flitter of madness cross Davis' face. The woman's composure faltered and returned, only to melt away once more. Permanently.
"What do you know about my son? What do you know about losing a child? About freaks of nature and the unfairness of life?"
An image of Emily waffled through Scully's memory. And a spinning drill. A flash of white light.
"More than you might realize."
Davis huffed disdainfully through her nose. "Miss Davis, I know your son Tyler - your <original> son Tyler - died soon after birth from a congenital defect that prevented brain development. The anterior neural tube didn't close properly. He was anencephalic."
Davis flinched at the word.
"I saw your son's genetic records. Tyler was born without a brain - he lacked cerebral hemispheres and cerebellum and possessed only a rudimentary brainstem. I can see what you're trying to do here. I know you're hoping to replace your lost boy with new sons, whole sons, brilliant sons."
"This project is a success, Agent Scully," she gloated. Pride twitched the corners of her mouth upward.
"You've murdered innocent people," Scully accused.
"Only unborn children are innocent."
"You've put wires in your own children's heads. You've robbed them of any hope of a normal life."
"If you think you can appeal to my maternal instincts, Agent Scully, I no longer have them. I lost my motherly inclinations when I buried my son. You see it's difficult to become emotionally attached to something grown in a petri dish. Especially when you no longer have feelings to offer. I'm a scientist now, conducting an experiment. And you're about to become part of that equation." Davis gestured down the hall with a flick of her gun. "That way, Agent Scully." Scully started down the corridor, only to turn and elbow Davis in the chest. A rapid punch to the blonde woman's jaw sent both guns spiraling and clattering to the floor. Scully brought her foot down hard on the surprised woman's instep. Davis yelped. Her cry was short-lived; an uppercut drove Scully's fist into Davis' chin with a teeth-cracking wallop. Blood oozed from the tip of Davis' bitten tongue.
Scully twisted the woman's arm behind her back. With a smooth practiced motion, she handcuffed Davis. She dragged the dazed woman to the nearest door and closed the cuffs around the handle.
"Don't go anywhere, Miss Davis," Scully warned, shaking the sting from her knuckles. "Frohike? Frohike, are you there?"
"Yeah. Are you okay, Agent Scully? What happened?"
"I'm fine. Where's Mulder?"
"He's in an operating room. 3C at the end of a corridor just up ahead on your left. You better hurry. Mace and Bartlett are with him. They look like they're about to do something nasty."
Scully scooped up the two guns and set off at a silent jog toward the operating theater.
From halfway down the hall, Scully could see light spilling from the occupied operating room. She heard the familiar hum of a surgeon's drill. The sound brought the tang of her churning stomach to her throat. With difficulty, she swallowed the bitter taste and her memories with it. She stepped cautiously around the doorframe and into the room.
"Stop!" she demanded. The two men looked up at her in surprise. Mace aimed his gun. She leveled her own weapon at his chest.
"It appears we have a stand off, Agent Scully," Mace chuckled. "Continue," he gave Bartlett permission with a nod of his head.
"No! Stop or I'll shoot!"
Bartlett positioned the drill above Mulder's nape. The spinning silver blade sunk effortlessly into his flesh, creating a quick, neat hole. A faint moan gurgled from Mulder's lips. Blood seeped from the wound when Bartlett withdrew the drill. He reached for a tiny plastic tube and a pair of long, bent tweezers.
"I said stop!"
"You're going to have to wait your turn, Agent Scully," Mace stood unmoving, his gun still trained on her.
Bartlett gripped the tiny tube with the tweezers. He leaned over Mulder. Scully fired her gun and rolled beneath the steel operating table. Her bullet blasted a spray of red across Bartlett's right arm. The doctor spun and toppled backward, taking a clattering tray of surgical instruments with him as he fell.
Mace crouched. He thrust his gun under the steel table. Scully kicked the weapon from his hand. While Bartlett groaned, Mace hauled Scully across the floor. She shoved the barrel of her gun into the side of his nose.
"You're done, Mace. The project is over."
FBI Headquarters Washington, DC
Mulder squirmed in his chair while Scully inspected the small wound at the base of his neck.
"Copy cat," she teased. "Can't I ever have anything without you wanting one, too?" She patted the gauze back into place and smoothed his collar over the bandage. "It's healing nicely, by the way."
"The Connecticut Field Office called this morning," he said, changing the subject, uncomfortable whenever she treated him like he was a patient.
"Philip Straussman is dead. Mace and Davis killed him...or had him killed, actually. Foley admitted to the murder. Foley told the police that Straussman discovered Davis and Mace were using the BIMs for their own project. Furious, Straussman threatened to expose them. So they offed him. Cascade's records indicate fifteen people, including Tara Peterson and Kerry Turcott, were used as donors for Mace's project. All were being treated at Hope Clinic by Dr. Bartlett. The eleven who are still alive are undergoing surgery to have the BIMs removed from their brains."
"Why did Foley admit to the murder of Philip Straussman?"
"Plea bargain. He's testifying against Mace and Davis in exchange for a reduced sentence."
"I suppose it's worth it if it means Davis and Mace will never leave prison again. By the way, the children are now in Oregon state custody. It's likely the BIMs will be removed from them as well. The device - or rather the process of memory exchange - has the nasty side effect of eventually inducing depression and subsequent mental breakdown. Kerry Turcott, Julie Thomas and Jay Bregmann were the first people to receive the implants. Their psychotic disintegration was the most advanced."
"So their suicides were the result of the memory uploads and not a reaction to their enforced participation in the project?" Mulder warily searched Scully's eyes. He wanted to know if her own similar experience had her teetering on the edge of emotional collapse. He remembered her sudden fragility at St. Agatha's Hospital following their interview with Tara Peterson.
"I'm fine, Mulder. I won't be jumping off the roof of the Hoover Building later this afternoon, if that's what you're worried about."
He shrugged and offered her an embarrassed smile.
"You bring out the Jewish mother in me, Scully. What can I say? I..." he grabbed her hand and folded it into his palm, "I just wanna know you're okay."
"I'm okay. Really. I know what happened to me, Mulder. And although I wish it had never occurred, it's in the past. I expect it'll affect me in lots of different ways, but it's not going to govern my life."
"Scully...you don't quite know everything. I..."
She placed her index finger over his lips.
"I don't need to know everything, Mulder."
"Shhhh. Don't we have cases we should be working on?" She smiled. Enthusiasm shone in her eyes in a way he hadn't seen for quite some time.
"Yes. Yes we do." He rolled his chair backward, releasing her hand and reaching for the filing cabinet. "Your choice, Scully. Crop circles in Indiana, shaped like Mickey Mouse ears. A plague of flesh-eating chiggers in Louisiana. Confirmed sightings of a rabbit-man in Arizona."
"Rabbit-man?" she asked, genuinely surprised.
"Oh, goodie. I was hoping you'd pick that one. Scully, book us a flight to Tucson. And don't ask me for any details about the case. I want to get your unbiased opinion before I taint it with my own theory."
Feedback, good or bad, is welcome on this or any of my stories. Send comments to email@example.com. I'm obviously not a professional writer so any pearls of wisdom you could pass my way would be most helpful and appreciated. Thanks!
My other fanfic (look on Gossamer, Ephemeral, Spooky's or email me for a copy):