Title: X Net
Summary: What if the grey Reticulans had been caught off guard and enslaved by us in 1947, and Fox Mulder spoke a lot like Joe Friday of Dragnet?
The following story is fictitious. No names were changed because they were made up in the first place.
<<This story is brought to you by Morleys. Morleys: The butt everyone has their mind on.>>
J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
It was an oppressively hot, humid day in Washington. The air conditioning was in a state of disrepair, so I wore a short-sleeved white shirt under my summer weight suit. There was no sense in being confined by a necktie, so I had removed it earlier in the day. My name is Special Agent Fox Mulder. My partner is Special Agent Dana Scully. We were working out of the X-Files Office and had been relieved from the mainstream cases once again when the OPR had decided to re-open our department.
Scully arrived at the office with a bundle of files and what appeared to be a cup of coffee.
"Coffee? On a hot day like this?" I was wondering why anyone would even want to boil water on such a hot day.
"Green tea," Scully replied, as she set the cup on the far side of the desk and placed the files in front of me. "Very healthy. It has antioxidant properties. What are you doing?"
"Watching the Mets and Jays game. The Jays are ahead."
"For once," Scully smiled. "I'm sure Ritchie would be pleased about now. By the way, it's time to go over expenses."
"Not in this heat." I kept my voice even and expressionless. For some reason I believed I was born to have a droll monotone.
"Yes. In this heat." Scully pulled up a chair and produced her calculator.
Our phone rang. "Saved by the bell." It was our superior, Assistant Director Walter Skinner. "Yes, Sir. We're on our way." I reached for my tie and jacket. "Skinner has a case for us."
"Saved by Skinner," Scully sighed. I knew she was relieved.
We arrived at A.D. Skinner's office hoping we would be assigned to some place where the air was cool, or at least with air conditioning. Despite the fact the weather made things uncomfortable, we had a job to do.
"Have a seat, Agents. I know it's not easy working in a sealed building on a day like this."
"No, it isn't. You wanted to see us, Sir?"
Skinner handed us a file folder and removed his glasses, mopping the sweat from his forehead with a tissue. "We've received reports about interstate smuggling of aliens, illegally employed as what we can assume is slave labor."
Scully leafed through pictures of long, white eighteen wheelers driving down interstate highways. "Mulder, this appears to be a large scale operation. The list of cities and towns is quite extensive."
I looked at some of the states and locations listed. "By illegal aliens I'm assuming you mean migrant workers from Mexico and South America?"
"Not exactly," Skinner said. By now, he was leaning back in his chair. "I didn't say 'illegal aliens'. I said aliens."
"Aliens." Scully echoed his word and stared at the door, hoping to be on the other side almost immediately. "I think even Agent Mulder is kind of shocked you'd tell us something like this. Still, the rate of pay is far below minimum wage."
*And I thought WE were being paid slave labor wages,* I mused. I didn't say it, though. Their average wage was $2.53 an hour. American.
"Yes, Agent. Aliens. There have been complaints, and as there are laws against such practices as slave labor, we do need to investigate this infringement of alien rights. After all, we have a duty to uphold the law. I've arranged for you to leave for any one of those major cities listed this evening. You have carte blanche on travel expenses this time."
"Thanks," I said. I stood and Scully practically sprung out of her chair, happy to be leaving the boss's office. "We'll... check this out. I'm sure we can narrow the investigation down to the larger areas of the violations and arrange for the local offices to take care of the rest upon our findings."
"Thank you. Let me know when you reach your first destination. I can get the ball rolling on local Bureau assistance when you've decided on which sites merit the most investigation and enforcement. And Mulder?"
"Lots of sunblock. It's a nation-wide heat wave." He handed me the papers needed to acquire our plane reservations, car rental fees and accomodations.
"Thank you, Sir. One more thing: Are they shape shifters or Reticulans?"
"Reticulans," Skinner said sternly. "They were apparently easily overtaken."
"Reticulans. It is hard to catch a shape shifter. I'm sorry. I know that was politically incorrect."
Skinner just gave me a blank stare. My remark wasn't funny anyhow.
We arrived in Tulsa and made ourselves known to the local Field Office. The heat was of the dry variety, but nevertheless, fans and air conditioners were going at full tilt.
Once our plans were outlined to the Supervisor at the Tulsa Office, Scully and I were on our way to location number one: The basement kitchen at the city's largest hospital.
We introduced ourselves and showed our badges to Millie Traynor, Dietician. "What can I help you with, Agents?"
Scully looked around for the aliens. "We have received reports that this hospital is employing slave labor. Under the Constitution, it is a Federal Offense to force anyone into working at below minimum wage. We also have reason to believe they are kept in inhumane living conditions."
Traynor was, apparently, one of those stiff older women whose clothing and tone were bland and overly controlled. "Agent Scully, we do not employ slave labor at our facility. As for the wages, it's hard enough to get teens these days to work at Denny's just around the corner, let alone a hospital kitchen."
"Ma'am, where are your employees right now?" I asked. Perhaps speaking with them would cast a different light on the woman's story.
"They're on break, and as many of them smoke, I assume they're at the picnic tables out back of the laundry wing. I think it would be best if you spoke to them some other time," Miss Traynor snapped at me. "Anyway, what are you going to ask them?"
"Just the facts, Ma'am."
Scully looked across the hallway and pointed out a couple of vats with a green gelatinous substance. "Excuse me. What is that?"
"Tonight's dessert. Lime jelly with fruit."
"There must be other flavors," Scully thought aloud. "Seems to me we have lime jelly in almost every hospital in the country."
"It's a popular flavor," Traynor told her.
"Yeah. It seems that way," I said. "We might want to talk to you later."
SMOKING AREA 4:25 PM
When we reached the smoking/coffee break area we saw greys sitting and standing, sipping coffee and smoking Morleys. We decided to question them immediately.
"Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. We'd like to ask you a few questions."
A grey with a female voice spoke up. "Sure, Agent Scully. As long as you don't try to bum a cigarette."
The others at her picnic bench laughed.
"Of course. How did you know about that part of my past?"
"We'll restrain ourselves," I said. "How do you feel about your working conditions?"
"Hey," a man said, "Can't complain about free meals, lodging and tax free status. Back home we had no way around the strict government and lack of resources. The unemployment rate was sky high. You can call me Jack."
"Yes. Uh... Jack. You sound like you grew up here. There's no difficulty with your English."
"Second generation Earth," he said. He sipped his coffee, as the others nodded knowingly. "I was born in Mississippi. Even tried out for Jeopardy once, but... well, you can see why I was turned down."
"Yes," was all I could manage to say. I couldn't imagine America exposed to the sight of a grey on a game show, but perhaps there would be a time when we would overcome that and be more egalitarian.
"Scully, they've got them hooked on Morleys, just like Cancer Man."
"You have to admit, the conditions sound better here, Mulder." She sounded semi-serious, and her smirk told me she was only playing along with the suspected victims.
"Scully, we're here to get the facts, find the people who got these Reticulans into this ridiculous employment or slavery, and do our job." I decided to address the female once again.
"Ma'am, who recruited you for these jobs?"
"What do you think?" she asked her fellow workers. "Should I?"
Some of the Reticulans nodded and others shook their heads.
"All right. You have to understand it was 1947, and what a year that was for interstellar travel, huh Jack?" She laughed.
"Just the facts, Ma'am."
"It was 1947, our people were travelling to other planets to see if we could start over here, or even just work and commute. One of our ships crashed in New Mexico, we had to negotiate with a bunch of stiff, suited men with an attitude, and we were put into 'Employment Recruitment Camps'... "
"Horse pucks!" Scully shouted and rolled her eyes. "That is one of the most stupid stories I've ever heard. What the hell is really going on here... ?"
"You did want the truth," Jack said nonchalantly.
I decided it was best that I steer Scully away from these people as she was obviously not going to tolerate what they had to say at that time. "Yeah, well, if you want out of the deal or have any more to tell us, here are our contact numbers. Scully, I think we should do some more digging before we throw the baby out with the bath water."
She just shook her head in disbelief.
"And," I advised Jack, the Reticulan, "If you know anything about this man, let us know." I produced a picture of the man we knew as C.G.B. Spender.
We were on our way to the front of the hospital when the female shouted, "There is one thing I'd call cruelty! They make us watch Lost in Space every night!" Her fellow workers laughed.
Scully hadn't said a word to me all the way out to the parking lot. I proceeded to drive away from the hospital and asked her why she was angry. "So, what is it?"
"Mulder! I just wanted to pull off their rubber suits and get it over with! The speech patterns, coffee break habits, not to mention the joking, convince me these people are nothing but paid actors who've been hired to set you up." She folded her arms tightly and stared out the window. "Aliens smoking Morleys. It's crazy, Mulder. Face it, you're being laughed at."
"This is a legitimate investigation, Scully. As for the Morleys, we're due out in West Virginia tomorrow to investigate the aliens working in the tobacco industry. And we're to come back with the facts. Who the heck would get them hooked on cigarettes?"
<<This story is brought to you by Morley cigarettes. Shouldn't your butt be a Morley butt?>>
RENCHWELL TOBACCO FARM
I pulled off of the highway, drove past the curing sheds and stopped in front of the plantation house. The heat from the sun was bad and there was very little wind. "This is the place. I'm sure the workers will have pretty much the same story to tell. Maybe we'll hear some concrete testimony this time."
"Just as hot here as anywhere else," Scully observed. "I'm betting their costume designer opted for rubber instead of latex."
"The complaint here states about the same as the Tulsa report: Long working hours, workers trucked in early every day, and low wages. There is a pattern here, Scully."
"I'd say there's a pattern in the weather as well. Then again, we did promise to solve this case."
We introduced ourselves to the owner of the plantation, a Mr. Mark Grumley. He was a middle-aged man in casual dress. He offered us ice tea and we accepted. I turned down the offer of a Morley, and Scully thought about it, bit her lower lip, then declined the smoke.
"I know it's been one heck of a hot summer, Agents, but we ensure that all our workers are well-hydrated and take regular rest periods. Funny how this hot spell seems to be all over North America, isn't it?"
"Yes, Sir. Now about the white trucks and where they come from... "
"And I do think the weather is bound to let up. Dear knows we could use the rain. Mind you, the irrigation system... "
"Just the facts, Mr. Grumley. Where do those trucks pick up your workers? And why only these workers?"
"The workers." Grumley removed his hat. "The federal government, with it's fine judgment, has been cracking down on the migrant workers because of the low wages, and the fact that the money goes across the border or over to the islands. As for where the trucks pick them up, wherever they live, and wherever they drop them off at night... I haven't a clue, Agent Mulder."
"Would you mind if we looked around? Maybe spoke with some of your workers?" I knew Scully was hell bent on dismissing them as humans wearing alien costumes, but decided against bringing that up in front of Mr. Grumley.
The man scratched his head. "No, not at all. Don't let their looks put you off, though. They're very good people, Agent... "
"Scully. Thank you, Sir. By the way. Who do you contact when you hire these workers?"
I could see the fear in Grumley's eyes as he thought of his answer. "Mr. Grumley, I can assure you that whatever you tell us, you won't be in any danger. We're only here to uphold the law. We can arrange for someone to protect you, should the need arise."
Grumley mopped his brow. The sweat wasn't due to the heat, and I could tell he was somewhat under stress. "Morley Tobacco contracts me to grow the tobacco, and they provide the workers. That's all I can tell you."
"Thank you. Well, we'd better interview some employees. Thanks for the ice tea."
"Any time. I know it isn't Nestea, but it's still... "
"I know," I told him. Why do I have to constantly remind people to stick to the facts? As law enforcement officers, it's our duty to get the information and evidence as quickly, accurately and as soon as we can.
It was quite hot in the fields. We walked toward the first group of workers we saw.
"Good thing I wore flats," Scully remarked.
"These fields can be murder on the feet. So how come you wore your regular shoes, Mulder?"
"Creature of habit, I guess. Now look at those people. Do you believe they're Reticulans now?"
"We'll soon find out. Agents Scully and Mulder, FBI. We'd like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind."
One of the men who appeared to be a foreman said, "It's okay. You know it's almost time to cool down anyway. Take a break. Now, what can I do for you?"
"I have to check this out," Scully whispered.
"You're not going to... "
"Just watch me." Scully approached one of the workers who was leaning on a hoe, and pulled at his (or her) skin. "It does seem real," she conceded.
I felt embarrassed for the poor guy. "I'm sorry about that."
"No problem, Agent Mulder. But I'm sure the ASPCA might not like that."
"The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals?"
"Uh, no. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Aliens. I'm one of the founding members. Now, you wanted to ask me some questions?"
"Yes, Sir. Now, where do you live, how do you get to work and... " I asked every question I could based on the words of the greys back in Tulsa, and there was a flood of answers from the foreman's mouth. A look of terror crossed his face as he proceeded to tell me a lot more than anyone else thought Scully and I should know.
"And you should see the beds... " the foreman went on.
"Just the facts. I get the picture. So they gave you human names. Most of you along with your children have been here since 1947, and you thought my office could help you. I can try to expose this, but I don't know how far it goes regarding my government. They don't exactly tell us about Reticulan Slavery in school, and we're certainly not free to read such information at the Bureau."
I saw a long white tractor trailer pull away from the farm across the road.
"That's one of the transport trucks right there," the foreman offered. "Shift change."
Later that night, we observed several such vehicles travelling down the highway, but we were almost run off of the road by cars that had seemed to come from out of nowhere.
Scully ran the license plate on one of the cars, and it had no registration, no known owner, and it just didn't seem to exist in our universe of records. So much for the facts. We tried running the few names we managed to glean from some of the Reticulans and the search yielded no information.
Over the course of the week, we also visited a tomato processing factory, a tree nursery, and even an automotive factory. The stories from the workers were the same, and while some of them were joking, as the woman at the hospital had, there seemed to be an agreement about dates, some deal with a group of men unknown to the general populace, and their sparse living conditions. These people thought highly of their work, however, and it had been my experience as a law enforcement officer that even people in penitentiaries welcomed some form of labor as relief from the boredom of captivity. The dismay they likely felt was evident in many of their faces.
As for the one report that shape shifters had sold them into captivity in 1947, we had no corroborating stories and there were most certainly no official records bearing such information.
As for Scully's investigation into the matter of whether the Reticulans' skin was 'real', she had managed to scrape some skin cells from one of the workers at the tobacco farm and sent them to Quantico for examination. Under her personal supervision, the sample was deemed to be biological material with cellular properties, yet of unknown origin. I sensed her disappointment that the material found had been neither rubber nor latex, and avoided making any allusions to that topic.
"What the heck am I going to say in my report, Mulder? That they came from outer space?"
"Just the facts: Organic, of unknown origin. Besides, our superiors already know what and who we're dealing with. This is strictly a wild goose chase. All expenses paid."
"Somehow, Mulder, I don't think that would be sufficient. And stopimitating Jack Webb. I think you've been watching too many Dragnet reruns."
<<Morley reminds you to plant your butts where they belong. In the wrong place, your Morley butt could cause a fire. Extinguish your butt in one of our fine Morley ashtrays, and make it a Morley butt.>>
J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
Scully came back from Records content that she had sorted at least some of the accounting information before we could tackle the mass of those folders we had left on my desk over a week ago. She peered over the monitor once in a while as I typed my case notes regarding the reported ring of Reticulan slaves.
"Closing entry. File No. X-76134.
"While the heat hadn't abated yet, by the end of the week we had rounded up several truck drivers from various locations around the country. Some of the locations Reticulan workers had admitted to being held to live in were destroyed before we were able to release the captives. Others were empty by the time Federal Agents arrived on the scene. There have been no reports as to the whereabouts of the Reticulan workers. There had been, however, sightings of several unidentified flying objects in many areas of the country during the course of the investigation.
"While one Reticulan accused shape shifters of actually having sold them into slavery to a secret paramilitary group, that inference could not be verified by any documents or testimony from other witnesses.
CASE STATUS: UNSOLVED
AGENTS OF RECORD:
Fox W. Mulder and Dr. Dana K. Scully."
"Well, that about does it. How did it go up in Records? Did you find those receipts that made their way into the wrong folder?"
"Yes, I found them. And you won't believe the hassle... "
"Just the facts, Scully."
She just shook her head and pulled up a chair. "I bet Joe Friday and his partner weren't up to their necks in as much red tape and protocol as we are."
I thought about it a moment. "No, I don't suppose they were. I think we're lucky to be back in the basement again."
"I suppose we are, Mulder. But I don't think we'll feel that way the same time next week. Let's get this all done before we're sent out in the field again."
"I couldn't agree more, Bill... I mean, Scully."