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Futures Past 09: From the Ashes - Part 2

by Arvy

Futures Past 08:
Sweet Dreams...
Home Futures Past 10:
Tchaikovsky Unbound

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

RATING - PG
CATEGORY - C(rossover), R(omance)
SPOILERS - The End(XF), Sub Rosa(TNG)
KEYWORDS - X-files/Highlander/Forever Knight/Star Trek: TNG crossover, Mulder/Scully Romance

SUMMARY

Seven missing children, an untested partner, and a threat millennia in the making... will this be the key to the agents' quest? Meanwhile, the future faces a similar threat that only they can defeat.

DISCLAIMER/Notes

See Part One


Private Vessel Eagle
Sunday, April 11, 2371
0204 hours

"Private Vessel Eagle requesting permission to dock."

"Permission granted. You are cleared for docking in Shuttlebay Two. Please disengage engines and prepare for tractor lock."

"Acknowledged Enterprise. Commencing shutdown on my mark."

The sleek vessel slid quietly into the bigger ship, coming to a halt in its assigned space. The woman at the helm completed the shutdown procedures, then turned to face her husband as he entered the cockpit area.

"Well, it's showtime. Wish me luck."

"I hope you can help them, Scully. I really do. If this is anything like Arvada..." The tall man shook his head sadly.

"Hey," she cut him off, moving closer to give him a hug. "We're not going to let that happen. Now, are you going to be okay while I'm up there?"

He nodded, his hands going around her waist as he pulled her closer to him. "Yeah. I'm sure I can find something around here to amuse myself. Go on. Knock 'em dead."

The last comment earned a wry chuckle from his wife as she pulled away. She suddenly leaned up to place a kiss on his lips, then called out, "Computer, patch me through to the Enterprise Sickbay." At the answering chirp, she continued, "Anytime you're ready, Beverly."

"Stand by...," the disembodied voice replied.

Mulder watched his wife dissolve in a whirl of energy, then sighed as he headed back to the aft living compartment.


Sickbay
USS Enterprise-D

Crusher watched the form coalesce behind the force field. When the sparkling effect cleared, she saw the woman glance around curiously before the intense blue eyes came to rest on her. Her cousin had the same red hair she remembered her aunt having. Smiling at the familial trait, she absently ran a hand through her own auburn locks as she walked over to the edge of the quarantine field.

"Welcome aboard, Dr. Kelly. I'm glad you could make it. I'd shake your hand but..." She gestured towards the force field.

"Please, just Denise," Scully smiled, shaking her head. "I'm just happy I got your message in time. Let's get to work, shall we? What's your status?"

They moved together to one end of the force field. Crusher stopped next to the wall mounted display panel, entering the commands to pull up her files. "Well, we beamed you directly into a quarantined area so you shouldn't be affected. But all crew members on the away team that went down to the planet have now been infected, as well as a sizeable portion of our crew that came in contact with them after they come back. That's including most of my medical staff." She glanced around the deserted sickbay. "In fact, of all the exposed crewmen, I'm the only one who has yet to succumb."

Scully looked away from the image of the black organisms on the screen, turning to take in the woman standing beside her. She looked... terrible, she decided. Crusher had obviously been up for a while trying to come up with a solution to her problem. While clearly not ill, with the increasing number of infected crewmen, the exhaustion from her prolonged activities was clear on her face.

"I wouldn't worry about getting infected if I were you, Beverly. You were inoculated at Arvada, so you're probably immune."

"I thought that might be the case," Crusher acknowledged. "When I tried to infect blood samples from some of the uninfected crewmen as well as myself, mine was the only one resistant to the virus. But when I tried to use my blood as a possible base for a cure, it just wouldn't work. It's almost as if the original source of the disease has changed... mutated somehow. While my immunity still works as a vaccine, as a cure my blood is all but useless." She saw her cousin's face pale at the information. She frowned. "Denise...?"

"Beverly," Scully whispered. "It was hard enough getting hold of a cure for the plague on Arvada. If the virus has mutated..."

"I know," she nodded in agreement. "It just makes it that much harder. What information do you have on the original outbreak? I'm afraid our datafiles aren't too helpful in this case."

"I'd be surprised if they had been," Scully muttered under her breath.

Crusher's eyes widened at the remark. Perhaps she had been closer to the truth than she'd realized when she'd voiced her suspicions to Picard. She made a note to herself to ask her cousin about it later.

"Why don't you show me what you've got so far," Scully continued. She turned to the wall mounted console. "Computer, establish a link to the Eagle's onboard database, authorization Kelly zeta one zero one three." She waited for the link acknowledgement. "Download the files on the Arvada colony disaster to this terminal." She turned to Crusher when the download finished. "This is all the information I have about the original outbreak. Why don't you take a break and look through this while I bring myself up to date on your current problem?"

Crusher nodded. She started to turn away, but paused. "Ummm... Denise? When you docked, I was notified that there were two people onboard your ship...?"

Scully had wondered how long it would take for someone to ask her that question. "Yes, my husband," she replied. "I wanted him to remain on the Eagle. No sense in putting him at risk as well."

"I see. Well, I'll let you get started on that data." Crusher walked over to her desk and sat down. She saw her cousin do the same on the second desk on the other side. With a sigh, she turned on her terminal and started to read.


Friday, December 4, 1998
7:29 PM

"Thank you for the information. You've both been a great help. We'll let you know the minute we find anything."

Mulder turned away from the worried couple at the door, walking down the immaculately maintained path to join his waiting partners. He looked around at the quiet subdivision as he approached the car. Kelso had been right; to say the people were affluent was putting it mildly. The area was entirely too similar to the part of Chilmark he'd grown up in for his comfort. He tamped down on his sense of unease as he got into the car.

"Five down, two to go," he remarked, starting the vehicle.

"Somehow, I doubt we'll have any better luck with the next one than the previous ones." Scully leaned back in her seat as she massaged her neck wearily. "So far, the only things those kids have in common has been their school. None of them really even knew each other." She sighed, knowing already that this entire line of investigation was going to prove futile. "So who's next on the list?"

"Umm... The Nevilles," Horton replied from the back. "In their case, the kid that disappeared is their second daughter Elizabeth. Let's see, age ten, fourth grade. Maybe..."

She was interrupted by the sound of a cell phone ringing. As if on cue, each of them reached into their pockets.

"It's mine," Mulder said, pulling out his phone. "Mulder," he answered. He immediately turned to Scully, excited. "It's the boys. They've found something." He listened for a few moments, then said, "Hang on, guys. Give Scully the directions." He handed over the phone to his partner.

Scully quickly jotted down the instructions the Gunmen relayed before hanging up. Looking down at the pad, she turned to Mulder. "So where exactly did I take down directions to, Mulder?"

"Well, I called them after we found the bee. I thought that if anyone was actually breeding these insects, they'd need fields like the one I saw in Canada. I had the boys look for any likely locations near the school that might fit the profile."

"But there could be so many places...," Scully countered.

"Yeah, but not in the middle of winter, Scully. And that," he said, pointing to the pad in her hands, "is it. We'll take care of the last two families tomorrow."

"Umm... excuse me, but I'm still waiting for that explanation you owe me," Horton said. "Could one of you explain what bees and fields have to do with this investigation?"

Mulder glanced at Scully. She stared back for a moment, then nodded slightly, an agreement passing silently between them. He stared at the road as he thought of exactly what he wanted to say. "Well, Agent Horton, how would you feel about taking a break from the established course of an investigation to look into something a bit more... shall we say... unorthodox?"

The question earned him a raised eyebrow from the woman seated behind him. "What exactly did you have in mind, Agent Mulder?"

"During April of last year," he began, "there was an attack from a bee swarm in a school in Payson, South Carolina. Several children were stung; one teacher was stung so badly she died on the spot. An entomologist who had a bee hive in his possession for study was later found dead as well. He was covered in bee stings, but his autopsy showed that he died of smallpox."

"Smallpox?" Horton gasped. "In this day and age?"

Mulder nodded as he drove. "The children who'd been stung displayed the same symptoms, but before they could be definitively diagnosed as being infected with smallpox, they were taken to a military hospital, treated, and released. Future tests showed no signs of any infection in any of them."

"So you believe that the children from Charlottesville General were suffering from smallpox?" Horton asked incredulously. "That the military took them to what... to treat them? You think they'll be returned afterwards?"

Mulder shook his head. "No, not this time. You heard the description of the last words of their attending nurse. Black eyes are not generally a symptom of smallpox. No, I believe that they were only using smallpox that time as an early test for their delivery mechanism."

"Delivery mechanism? You mean the bees? Agent Mulder, smallpox is... was the most deadly disease in its time. It's been eradicated for so long, they don't even vaccinate against it anymore," Horton protested.

"Can you think of a better test? Why do you think the victims were mostly children? They are the ones more likely to be unvaccinated against smallpox. And without immunity, a test of a biological warfare agent is just that much more effective."

"But why bees? Surely there are better ways..."

"Why not bees?" Mulder countered. "They're small, but in large numbers, are almost impossible to stop. You can't exactly fire missiles at them. And given the technical resources, they can be bred to be resistant to almost any chemical means of stopping them. They're the perfect weapon."

Horton simply stared at the couple in front of her. After a few moments of silence, she sighed. She turned to Scully. "Agent Scully, do you believe this... theory? That these children were being infected by bees carrying something supposedly more deadly than smallpox?"

Scully drew in a deep breath before answering. "I wasn't present for the case Agent Mulder just described," she said. A pained note crept into her voice as she remembered the imaging tests she had been taking at the time as part of her cancer treatments. She smiled faintly when she felt Mulder's hand slide across to grip hers reassuringly. "Nor am I given to wild or unfounded speculation," she added. "However, I have seen the effects of this new virus. And one of the symptoms is a black, gel-like substance floating over the victim's eyes, which would be consistent with the nurse's description. The virus seems to affect certain parts of the human central nervous system, which could explain the children's sudden collapse."

"Okay, let's assume for the moment that what you're saying is even possible. Why are we on our way to a field?"

"About a year before the case I mentioned," Mulder replied, "I was led by an informant to a bee farm across the northern border in Canada. There were huge fields being used to feed and maintain the bees. I think the pollen in the crops were also transgenic, used to transfer the virus to the bees." He shrugged. "I figured they might have a similar setup somewhere nearby. The call I just received confirmed the plausible location of a corn field outside of town. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at it."

Horton leaned back in her seat, digesting this new information. She had expected something like this from Agent Mulder. Hell, she would've been surprised if he hadn't come up with some outlandish theory or the other; his reputation alone guaranteed it. But from Scully?

True, the two of them were ridiculed as a team back at the Bureau. But Scully herself was grudgingly respected for her scientific expertise and her levelheaded, logical approach to any investigation. For her to even hint at support for a theory like this... Horton shuddered at the possibility. This was supposed to be a simple kidnapping case to let her get to know the X-files agents. What had Skinner gotten her into here?

Up front, the X-files agents looked at each other, their thoughts on their upcoming destination as well as their new partner. The rest of the ride continued in silence.


Somewhere outside Charlottesville, VA
8:18 PM

The glow lit up the entire horizon. The transition from a dark winter night into the orange light was almost startling. The car sped up the empty road, coming upon the source of the brightness.

"Oh my god!"

Mulder heard the gasp from the back as he searched the area for any signs of life. Just off the edge of the road, past a wooden fence, brilliant orange flames licked at the sky. The entire field was on fire.

Mulder spotted a small building nestled near one end of the field. He stopped, then turned around and parked the car facing the direction they'd come from. "Damn, I was afraid of this. Our investigation must have set off some flags. Looks like they're cleaning up shop." He got out, then waited for the others to do the same before pointing out the building to them.

"It looks like the fire hasn't reached it yet," Scully observed. "Maybe we'll find something inside."

Mulder nodded in agreement as he headed for it. Coming up on the desolate building, he motioned the women to stop. At Scully's curious look, he simply pointed. In the distance, a man emerged from the building, wearing a tank on his back, and what looked a lot like a flame-thrower clutched in his hand.

They waited until the man had moved towards the field. They had determined that the field was not completely ablaze yet. Some areas were still untouched by the flames, and it looked like the man was going to complete the job. As soon as he was out of sight, they crept up to the door he had exited from. The door was locked, but Mulder simply gripped the knob tight and turned, making sure to hide his actions with his body. With a faint groan, the locking mechanism gave way and the door swung open.

They quietly slid inside, and looked around surprised. What had looked like a small barn on the outside turned out to be a modest office. They found themselves in a dimly lit corridor, with doors leading off each side. The narrow hallway ended at some steel double doors, leading to the back. They had seen what looked like a movable roof over that part of the building. They proceeded to check into the other doors first.

The first two rooms were bare, although there were signs they'd been emptied recently. The third room they checked contained burnt equipment, including computers and disks, as well as ashes that might once have been files and papers. Finding nothing that could possibly provide them with any information, they returned to the corridor, moving towards the last door before the double doors at the end.

Mulder suddenly held out his hands, stopping their progress. He'd heard... something inside. Someone was behind the last door; he could hear movement, and the sound of crashing objects above the roar of the flames outside. He quickly relayed the information to his partners. As one, each pulled out their gun, holding them at the ready.

Scully softly started a countdown, "Three... two... one..." At one, Mulder kicked in the door, and they rushed inside.

The man inside switched off the flame gun when he heard the door. He turned... and promptly ran into a fist that slammed into the side of his face. He sank to the floor with a muffled groan.

Mulder pulled back, looking down at the unconscious man, then back up to take in the contents of the room. A couple of filing cabinets against the far wall were on fire, as were the computers. Although they were total losses, the cabinet next to the door was as yet untouched. With a grin, Mulder yanked it open and pulled out the papers inside. He turned and laid them on the table in the center of the room, spreading the papers while Scully and Horton kept their weapons trained on the door.

"What are they?" Horton asked.

"This one," Mulder replied, separating one piece of paper from the rest, "looks like a Mercator projection of the earth."

Horton glanced down at it curiously. "Isn't that a dot on there where we are right now? In Virginia, I mean."

"Uh, hunh," Mulder nodded. "And it looks like there are similar dots all over the world. Oh my god!" His voice dropped to an awed whisper. "This is it! The locations of other bee farms like this one. Look..." He pointed to an area in southern Canada. "There's even one where I found that farm I told you about. Although it looks like..." He squinted in the dim light. "Looks like it's a different color." He frowned.

"Maybe an indication that it's been taken down?" Scully ventured. "You did say there was no sign of it when the area was inspected afterwards."

"Maybe," Mulder agreed. "The rest of this stuff looks like basic farming information. This one lists fertilizer delivery times, and this one here..." He paused, frowning as tried to decipher the information. "Waitaminute..."

"Those are safety procedures for handling biohazards, Mulder," Scully replied, her expression hardening.

"Wait, they have biohazardous material here?" Horton asked, horrified. "That's..." She took in a deep breath as she put two and two together. "Of course, the virus...," she breathed.

Mulder nodded mutely, still staring at the papers in his hand.

"Umm... Maybe we should get out of here, guys," Horton went on. "It's starting to get a bit warm in here."

The words broke the X-files agents out of their stunned trance at the discovery. They looked up at each other, silently digesting what they had learned.

"One more door to go," Mulder whispered softly.

The others nodded. They waited while he stuffed the papers into his pocket, then headed back out into the corridor. Coming up to the steel double doors, they paused.

"Anything?" Scully asked, her voice rising to be heard above the noise of the fire outside.

Mulder shook his head. "The door's too thick, I think. All I can hear is the fire."

Horton glanced at them quizzically, then watched Mulder reach out to pull open the door. Weapons aimed, they moved in.

The blast of air startled them. Glancing around, they saw the air vents lining the floor, walls, and ceiling of the short hallway they found themselves in. Moving beyond the end of the corridor, they looked around the huge room that took up the entire back of the building. The high ceiling had some sort of machinery attached to it, undoubtedly used to open and close it. The walls, most of which were now ablaze, were adorned with orange material that, on closer inspection, produced a gasp from the agents.

Hives. Every square inch of the walls was covered with beehives, from floor to ceiling. However, the agents had little time to gape at their discovery. They were more concerned with the dozen or so figures in protective suits, milling about the room. Each carried flame-throwers similar to the ones they had seen on the men outside. They were spraying flames onto the walls, busily obliterating any evidence of the bee farm.

One of them turned just then, spotting the intruders. They must have had radios within their suits, because the rest turned almost immediately, moving towards them. The agents watched the flame guns that had been trained on the walls move, coming to rest pointing in their direction.

"Oh, sh..." The rest of Mulder's curse was drowned out by the roar of the flame throwers. He turned abruptly, his eyes widening as he shoved the women forward. "Out! GO! GO!" he shouted, pushing them out the door. He got the door closed scant seconds before the flames licked at the other side. Grasping the handles, he squeezed, warping the door frame, effectively locking it behind them.

"I think it's safe to say we've overstayed our welcome," Horton gasped.

"And how," Mulder shot back wryly. He glanced around quickly when he heard the pounding on the back of the double doors. "Let's get out of here," he said, seeing the doors start to buckle.

They rushed down the corridor, heading for the outer door. Behind them, they could hear the men coming after them. Once out of the building, they ran past the burning field, the others right on their heels.

Mulder paused, turning to fire a couple of shots, allowing the other two time to get to the car. He looked over his shoulder to see them get into the vehicle. Scully sat in the driver's seat, her door open as she met his eyes. When he saw them widen, he turned back... and ducked. The flames shot bare inches over his head. He leapt back, rolling to his feet as he continued running towards the car.

Scully's door slammed shut just as he slid in behind her. With a roar, the car jerked forward, leaving their pursuers standing in a cloud of exhaust fumes.

"Suck gas, evildoers," Mulder muttered under his breath, looking behind him at the suited figures standing in the roadway. He was surprised at the soft chuckle from the woman in the passenger seat.

"Good one, DW."

He raised an eyebrow, looking from Horton to Scully. "What do you think, Scully?" He grinned. "Don't I make a cool terror that flaps in the night?"

Scully cast an incredulous glance at him in the rearview mirror, her eyes moving from him to Horton before returning to the road. She shook her head, rolling her eyes. "I'm surrounded by children."

"Hey," Mulder shot back in a wounded tone. "If you know what we're talking about..."

"Mulder," she replied exasperatedly. "I have baby-sat before, you know. Just because I recognize which Saturday morning cartoon you're talking about doesn't make me an adolescent." She paused for effect, then added, "I'll leave that up to you two."

"Hey, Lynn," he said, still staring at Scully, "you gonna let her talk to you like that?"

Horton chuckled again.

"Shut up, Mulder," Scully muttered, smiling indulgently.

Mulder simply smiled back, turning to face the front as they continued on their way to their hotel.


Sickbay
USS Enterprise-D
Sunday, April 11, 2371
0712 hours

Images of her grandmother and a vague recollection of her aunt floated through her head. She could hear her aunt calling her. She turned, looking around the farmhouse, trying to figure out where the insistent summons was coming from. "Beverly..., hey Bev..." The soft voice pulled her away from what she was doing, forcing her to search for its source.

"I'm coming, Auntie Day," the little girl responded automatically, putting away her toys. She reluctantly stood up, dusting herself off as she ran over to where she thought her aunt was. She frowned, coming up empty.

The call was starting to get more urgent. "Beverly..." It finally broke through the haze surrounding her. The dreamscape shifted, the farmhouse on Arvada coalescing into the stark interior of the Sickbay, the image of her aunt resolving into reality just a few yards away.

"Auntie Day?" she asked, confused, her voice still low and scratchy from sleep. She shook her head, trying to clear it, not quite catching the momentary look of surprise on her cousin's face. "Denise?" she corrected herself as the sleep faded away. She rubbed her eyes, a yawn escaping her lips. "Oh, I'm sorry. I must have dozed off there. I was having the strangest dream."

"Don't worry about it," Scully assured her, waving a hand. "You needed the rest. But I'm glad you decided to rejoin the land of the living. I was almost tempted to let down the quarantine field to come wake you."

Crusher smiled wryly at her cousin as she rose from behind the desk. She winced at the crick in her back from the awkward position in which she'd slept. Rubbing lightly against the spot, she walked over to the replicator along the wall. "Computer, coffee." When the beverage materialized, she took a long sip of the hot liquid before turning around. "Find anything?" Crusher asked, walking up to the wall console her cousin stood next to.

Scully nodded. "I just might have. Take a look at this." She pointed towards the image on the console screen.

Crusher looked up, recognizing the RNA strand on the screen. Her brows furrowed in puzzlement. "The virus? What about it? I've already looked at it more times than I can count. The structure is unlike anything I've ever seen before. I don't..." She stopped when she saw her cousin shaking her head. "What?"

"It's not the virus. Or at least, it isn't yours. Take a closer look. Computer, isolate grid two one one and magnify."

The screen highlighted a section of the image and zoomed in on it. For a second, Crusher didn't realize what she was looking at. Then it hit her. "This is the virus from Arvada, isn't it?" she asked in a hushed voice.

"It sure is. Computer, highlight sections 2, 19 and 42." When the requested sections brightened, Scully turned to Crusher. "You see these? Compare them with your virus. Computer, display analogous section from sample E23 next to current image." Obligingly, a similar strand popped into existence next to it. "See it now?"

Crusher looked at the highlighted sections. "Oh my god!"

"Exactly. I'm not entirely sure if this virus ever occurred in nature, but the one you're dealing with is definitely not a mutation. These two samples," she said, pointing to the images, "have been biologically engineered. The signs are unmistakable. Once you know where to look for them, that is."

"How did we miss this before?" Crusher asked incredulously. "I mean... I can't believe I didn't see it."

"Wasn't your fault," Scully answered, holding up her hand. "I didn't catch it either until I did the comparison between the two. The only places that show the signs are these," she said, her fingers tracing the highlighted sections. "The areas where the two strands differ. And that's not something you could catch just by examining either strand by itself."

Crusher stared at the two strands for a few moments, possible solutions running through her head. "Do you have any idea what the difference is between the two RNA configurations? Or why my blood doesn't act as a cure?"

"Yeah, I think so. First of all, I'm not even sure this thing can be called a virus, especially since it seems to be multicellular. But look at this. I couldn't figure out what these sections did until I looked at your notes. You mentioned that you thought this thing was a polymorph, a combination of carbon and silicon based life?"

Crusher nodded, trying to relate her observations to the new information her cousin had discovered.

"Well, going by that information, these sections would seem to be the ones that control the balance between the carbon and silicon aspects of the organism. The engineered areas on the Arvada virus seem to be those that enhance the carbon base. Whereas," she paused, moving to the adjacent image, "on the one you've got here..."

"... the silicon base is enhanced. Of course... if what you said about it being a deliberate infection was true, this one was intended for the Hortas, not for us."

"My reasoning exactly."

"It must have enough of its carbon base to affect us too, just not enough for the old vaccine to be of any use."

"Yeah," Scully nodded wearily. "The nucleotide sequence that made up the old vaccine just doesn't fit the new configuration of the virus RNA."

"But why? Why would anyone want to infect a colony of Hortas? It's not like they were any threat, were they? I mean, most of them were scientists and artists, from what the Admiral told me."

"Beverly..." Scully cleared her throat then went on. "I don't know. But I will tell you this. I don't think we've seen the end of it."

"You think we can expect more attacks like this one?" Crusher asked incredulously.

Scully nodded in reply. "I think this one was a test. You were right about the colonists. I looked up their backgrounds. They weren't any threat to anybody."

"A test!? I don't understand."

"This virus is a weapon, Beverly" Scully tried to explain. "It's only good if you know it's going to work. And not just in a lab. You have to test it out in the field. And what better place than this? The colony isn't exactly on the beaten path. It's more than a week from anyone who'd notice, even at maximum warp. It's convenient, and would also minimize the casualties. If too many died, it might call unwanted attention to the attack. This way, it's just an unfortunate incident. Easy to brush under the rug."

"That's..."

"Cold? I agree, but those are the facts."

"Do you know who's behind this?"

Scully shook her head. "We're not sure. We've been trying to find out who they are, but we haven't had much luck. This is the closest we've come to them, to tell you the truth. We weren't in this sector entirely by accident, you know," she confessed.

"We?"

"My husband and I, we were informed of something going on in the Belisar system. I'm not sure if you knew, but all current traffic in this area has been rerouted to avoid it. Any missions that might stumble onto the colony have either been cancelled or postponed indefinitely."

Crusher's jaw dropped, her eyes widening in surprise. "But that would mean...," she managed finally, swallowing as the disturbing realization hit her. "That would mean they had someone in Starfleet. How high does this go?" The last question came out in a whisper.

"High enough. We don't have any proof, of course. Actually, I'm surprised you were near the colony at all."

"We wouldn't have been. The stopover at Belisarius wasn't exactly a planned mission. We were ferrying an Admiral to the colony for his retirement as a personal favor." Crusher shrugged. "He served on the original Enterprise, so I guess he thought of this as his farewell voyage." Her voice had an ironic tinge to it as she considered her words. "Though I doubt he expected the farewell would have to be said to his own friends and family," she added bitterly.

An auburn eyebrow rose at the comment. "This Admiral you mentioned... Naraht?"

"Yeah, you know him?"

"We've met," she answered, her reply deliberately vague. "Oh, this must've put an kink in their plans, whoever they are. But back to the matter at hand. How do you want to proceed?"

Crusher took a deep breath as she considered the options they had available to them. "Well, what you've told me is more information than I had before you arrived. Do you know how your mother and my grandmother came up with the original cure? Maybe we could follow their method of research ourselves."

There was a dry chuckle from Scully. "Oh no. That would make it entirely too easy for us." Seeing the questioning look on Crusher's face, she continued, "I doubt we'd have any success using that method. You see, they had the cure handed to them."

"Handed to them? By whom?"

"Beverly, this virus... Arvada wasn't the first time its been used."

Crusher paled at the information. Her cousin had as much as confirmed that the virus had been deliberately introduced, both here on the Horta colony as well as back on Arvada III. How many times has this happened, she wondered, with no one else being the wiser? She shuddered. "When...?"

Scully shook her head. "Not recently. It was a long time ago. I believe that the people who used the virus initially... they misplaced it somehow. It didn't resurface again until Arvada, as far as I know."

"I see," Crusher said, dejected. "So it's back to square one?"

"Well, not entirely. We still have the original vaccine. It'll probably be worse than useless for the Hortas... which reminds me, did any of them survive?"

Crusher shook her head sadly. "No. They were all dead by the time we got here."

"What about Naraht? He wasn't infected, was he?" Scully asked, a concerned tone lacing her voice. She let out a breath of relief when Crusher replied in the negative. "Good. I would have hated to see anything happen to him. I hope he's under heavy quarantine. This virus would probably affect him much faster than any carbon based species."

"He's safe. He was placed under quarantine before the first beamup," Crusher assured her. Her voice dropped as she added, "I just wish I'd thought of similar precautions for everyone else."

"It wasn't your fault. You couldn't have known. This virus was engineered to be undetectable and deadly. The blame should fall on those who were behind this, not us. I learned that lesson myself a long time ago."

"Yeah," Crusher replied quietly, not totally convinced.

Scully sighed at the tone of the doctor's voice. She knew how the other woman felt. Both she and Mulder were experts on assuming guilt for events neither of them had control over. It was just a part of the lives they had chosen to lead. And she knew, firsthand, how hard it was to put it aside and see the situation for what it was.

"Hey, remember, we still have the original vaccine. The nucleotide sequence that made up the formula is in my notes. I was thinking that we could try different combinations of the sequences, see if any of them fit the new RNA configuration. What do you think?" For the first time since she'd arrived, Scully saw a small spark light up Crusher's eyes.

"It's definitely worth a try," she said slowly.

Scully smiled, nodding. "Well, let's get to work then, shall we?"


Westside Hotel, Charlottesville, VA
Saturday, December 5, 1998
6:42 PM

"This had to be the single most unproductive day of my life," Horton sighed as she pushed open the door to their suite.

It had begun, predictably enough, with them taking some local backup back to the bee farm they'd escaped from the night before. And continued with them looking extremely foolish at the sight of the empty fields, not to mention the lack of a building where they had seen the office and attached hive room the night before.

Needless to say, the local help hadn't taken too kindly to being called out on a wild goose chase. To his credit, Horton acknowledged, Mulder hadn't seemed too surprised. In fact, if she had to decide, she'd probably have described him as disappointed. It was obvious he'd seen this type of cleanup operation before.

She herself was stunned. Not a single piece of evidence remained to indicate what had transpired the previous night. The fields of burning crops had been cleaned so it looked like the land had lain fallow for at least a few months. Of the building itself, nothing remained except for a faintly blackened piece of hard ground. From the level of response, she knew they must have stumbled onto something... huge. The thought brought with it a vague sense of unease. And she had a feeling it was only going to get worse. The following interviews with the remaining two families, uninformative as they'd turned out, hadn't exactly filled her with any confidence either.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. She flipped it open, her face stretching into a smile at the familiar voice. "Hey honey," she said softly, glancing up at the knowing grins on the faces of the other two agents. She shook her head, then headed for her room.

The door closed behind Horton, leaving two bemused partners standing in the suite's common area. "Well, I guess her love life doesn't leave anything to be desired, eh Scully?"

"Oh, and I suppose yours does?" Scully shot over her shoulder as she headed for her own room.

Mulder simply stood there for a moment, considering. How did he get himself into these things, he wondered. He couldn't come up with any answer to that that wouldn't put him in very deep water, or very deep crap. "I am not even going near that one," Mulder replied at last, shaking his head, opting for the safest way out. "Maybe we should just talk about this case?"

The smirk on her face clearly indicated that she'd recognized the escape tactic. She would let it slide this time, she decided, much to his relief.

He followed her into her room, jumping onto her bed. He took off his coat and threw it over a nearby chair as he watched her put away hers in her closet. He smiled, shrugging when he saw her glance at his coat and sigh, then leaned back against the headrest as he stretched.

"Don't get too comfortable, Mulder, or I'll throw you out early," she teased.

Mulder affected a mock pout, causing his partner to stick out her tongue at him. He tried to imagine his staid partner acting like that the year before. Impossible, he decided almost immediately. He still wondered at all the changes they'd gone through in the time they'd been together. They couldn't afford to parade it out in public, of course, but there was still a certain something that he could see, if only because he knew her... knew them so well. There was a relaxation of the old barriers that had kept them apart for so long. An ease in their relationship that hadn't been there before, an openness that he relished, that he savored for the precious gift that it was.

Not for the first time, he cursed their enforced distance, the image they had to project to the outside world. Of course, he mused, he couldn't ask for a better incentive to bring down the consortium once and for all. Anything that would allow him and his other half to be together once and for all, not just during stolen moments in the safety of her home.

He closed his eyes, envisioning her in his arms, his fingers caressing the soft skin at the base of her neck. He brushed feathersoft caresses along her collarbone, moving up... tracing her cheeks, her lips... He sighed, a slight shudder coursing down his body. He opened his eyes, the imaginary Scully transforming into the real one. A real, flesh and blood one, with a concerned expression on her face... Uh, oh!

"Hey, you okay, G'man?"

A sheepish grin stole its way across his face. "Guess I lost myself a bit there, huh?" he whispered softly.

The concern gave way to understanding as she recognized the look on his face. She leaned forward to lightly brush her fingers across his hand, smiling in shared empathy.

Mulder nodded. "Yeah," he bit out, summing up both their feelings with that single word. "Well, let's take a look at those papers, shall we?"

And that was that, she realized. A shelving of their feelings until it was actually safe to deal with them. Scully blinked, then resigned herself to the sudden change in the mood. It was for the best, she knew. They couldn't afford to get mired in the mechanics of their relationship while out in the field. It had been a mutual decision, one made after much deliberation, after careful consideration of all the prevailing factors. Which didn't make it hurt any less, make it any less painful. Not for her, and judging by the expression on his face, definitely not for Mulder either.

Papers, right. She sighed, pulling out her briefcase. She moved to sit beside him on the bed, spreading out the papers on top of the mattress. These were the only remaining evidence that the bee farm had ever existed. And for now, they were their only lead. The map itself, while interesting in that it confirmed their theories, had been all but useless in pinpointing actual locations of the other farms. It was obviously a scaled down copy of a more detailed map, and the dots marking the other locations were large enough to cover territory the size of several cities.

The rest of the papers were not much more help either. Oh, there was plenty of information about everything from farming equipment and bee nutrition to delivery schedules and irrigation techniques. But information about anything outside the farm itself was sorely lacking. And there was nothing to indicate any actual illegal activity at the farm itself; the existence of the crops and bees would be more of a curiosity than an actual crime. Even the list of biohazard safety protocols could conceivably be argued away as being for experimental fertilizers. There was simply nothing to connect the bee farm to the black oil virus.

The agents pored over the documents for almost an hour without making any headway. Finally, Mulder broke the silence. "That's it. My eyes are going to start a rebellion if I stare at these things one more time." He sighed. "Let's face it, Scully, we have nothing. I don't think the attack at the school was even planned. There would have been more bees, definitely enough of them to have been noticed, like in the school in Payson. It's more likely that a few bees got loose by accident." He looked up to meet his partner's blue gaze, seeing reluctant agreement etched on her face. He glanced down at his watch. "I'm going to get something to eat. You game? Maybe we can call the Gunmen afterwards, see if they have anything about these other farms."

Scully hesitated, her eyes traveling back down to come to rest on the papers. Then she sighed as well, admitting defeat. "Yeah, I could use something. You want me to see if Lynn's hungry?"

Mulder nodded, getting up to get his coat while Scully went out to talk to Horton.


Lynn Horton sighed as she leaned back in her bed, the phone clutched in the crook of her neck.

"Yeah, I'm turning in my report as we speak," she said, peering at the laptop perched on her stomach. She punched in a few more keys, watching the upload indicator as it confirmed the transfer. "There, it's done. And let me just say, you were dead right. The only way to keep an eye on these two is to get assigned to the same case as their partner."

She waited, listening to the person on the other end, then smiled. "No, of course not. Neither of them suspects a thing." She chuckled, remembering when she'd first spoken with them. "You should have seen their faces when I told them who my fiancÚ was. I think they actually felt sorry for me. They probably think I'm just some green agent who ran to them for help on her first big case."

Another pause, as she pulled up scanned copies of the papers they'd found at the farm. "Nah, we're pretty much at a dead end on the case. I think they're hoping one of their sources comes through with some information, because what we have so far is pretty pathetic."

She listened again for a few moments before replying ruefully, "Yeah, I'll be sure to keep that in mind. Thanks for the reminder. Well I gotta go now. I'll keep you updated on my progress. Later..."

She hung up, then shut down her laptop. She got up, placing the small computer into its bag and zipping it shut. She was about to turn and head for the door when she felt the cold object at the back of her neck. She stiffened, a startled gasp escaping her lips.

"Not so fast, Agent Horton," came the steely voice from behind her. For a moment, she felt fear at the amount of hatred lacing the soft voice she'd come to associate with Dana Scully. Suddenly she could see the side that Scully showed to the criminals she pursued. And faced with it, she could easily see how it made her the effective agent she was. She shivered.

"Hands where I can see them," Scully snapped. "No sudden moves, you know the drill." The gun moved away from her neck, for which Horton let out a silent breath of relief. "Turn around slowly." When Horton complied, she went on, "Move to the bed and sit down."

"Agent Scully, I don't..."

"Shut... up...," Scully cut her off, her eyes narrowing in anger. "You don't talk unless I say you can. You got that?" When she didn't receive an answer immediately, she leaned forward, the muzzle of her gun pressing into Horton's forehead. "I said, you got that?" she hissed.

Horton gulped, and nodded her reply, a trickle of sweat running down her spine. She was afraid, she realized. This woman was ready to kill her; she could read it in her eyes. Desperately, she tried to remember her phone conversation, and wondered exactly how much of it Scully had heard, and what conclusions she'd drawn from it. Shit, she berated herself, she should have made sure the door had been locked. What had she been thinking? She wondered if she'd be allowed to live long enough to get out of this one. Think, Lynn, she shouted at herself, what are you gonna do now?

"Mulder!"

The shout brought her attention back to the agent in front of her. Scully hadn't taken her eyes off her, and the steel blue that met hers made her extremely nervous. Idly, she wondered if Mulder would be better or worse. Considering the emotional reactions she'd noticed in the two of them since she'd been partnered with them, if Scully was this mad... She sighed, resigning herself to the shortest assignment in all history. She could see her gravestone now... Here lies Alynna Horton, She died of stupidity and incompetence.

"Um... Scully? Something you want to tell me?" Mulder looked from Horton's frightened eyes to his partner's hate filled ones, his brows furrowing in confusion. "If you don't like her choice of restaurants, I'm sure we can work something out."

"I was going to ask her if she'd like to eat out, when I overheard the most interesting conversation," Scully replied, neither her eyes nor her gun moving an inch from her target. "She was reporting on the progress of our case to someone on the phone. She said we didn't suspect her at all, and that she'd been assigned to us as our partner so she could keep an eye on us."

Horton closed her eyes, realizing exactly how that sounded. She was dead, she just knew it. Maybe she'd have a nice funeral, she thought to herself. Maybe Scully would be merciful and make it quick and painless. Maybe... Sheesh, considering her stupidity, maybe she should just grab the gun and shoot herself! She snorted silently. Now there was a thought.

She frowned. Mulder should have blown up by now. She opened one eye, then, puzzled, opened the other one as well. She had seen Mulder's face harden as Scully laid it out for him. By now there should have been steam coming out of his ears. Instead, he leaned against the cabinet next to the door, barely able to contain his mirth.

Scully must have picked up on it too, because she frowned as well, then moved back so she could see her partner while still covering Horton with her gun. "Mulder?" she asked, her eyebrow rising in question.

"So let me get this straight?" Mulder held up his hand. "She was assigned as our partner to keep an eye on us," he said, ticking off one of his fingers. "To report on our progress," he added, ticking off another one. "I don't know, but she sorta reminds me of someone from oh...," he shrugged, "five... six years ago. Don't you think?"

"Mulder!" Scully was outraged, her tone incredulous. "You can't possibly compare..."

"Oh come on Scully. Can't you hear yourself? She's doing exactly what you were doing when you were first assigned to the X-files. You were more right about her back at the hospital than you realized."

By now, Horton was thoroughly confused. Wait! Scully was assigned to spy on Mulder and his work? That was something they'd left out of her assignment briefing. In fact, they'd left out quite a lot of material, she was starting to realize. And just what the hell was going on here? Mulder was being just a bit too amused by this entire thing for her comfort.

"I never tried to fool you about my intentions, Mulder." There was slight note of hurt in Scully's voice now.

Mulder must have realized his error then, Horton saw, because his expression immediately became contrite. "Sorry, Scully, you're right. You never did that," he acknowledged, causing Scully's expression to soften ever so slightly.

"So what are we going to do with her?" Scully was all business again.

"I'd suggest lowering the gun, Scully."

"But..."

"I should have made the connection sooner, when we came across your father's name," Mulder said, turning to Horton. When she paled at his statement, he added, "By your expression, I can assume you're not a Hunter?"

Horton shook her head vigorously, still speechless that Mulder had figured her out.

"Of course, you won't mind if we confirm that with Dawson?"

Another shake of her head.

"James Horton?" Scully asked, remembering the information from Horton's personal file, and connecting it with where she'd heard the name before. "You mean she's a..." She turned to Horton, her gun lowering. "You're a Watcher?"

Horton smiled faintly, shrugging. With the gun turned away, she uttered a heartfelt prayer of thanks.

Scully coughed slightly. "I guess I owe you an apology," she said, putting her weapon back in its holster. Suddenly her eyes widened. "Um... Colton isn't... I mean... he doesn't know, does he?" She saw that even Mulder was somewhat concerned by the thought.

Horton shook her head. "Nope, he doesn't. Not about the Watchers, or about immortals."

"Good. I hope you plan on keeping it that way," Scully replied. When Horton nodded, she added, "You should have told us. It's just..." She sighed. "We've had others assigned to us before, Lynn, people who've undermined our investigations, destroying our evidence and fabricating false leads."

"No, that's just it, don't you see? I couldn't tell you," Horton replied plaintively. "It goes against everything we believe in. Observe, never interfere," she recited the Watcher's motto. "It's all my fault. I wasn't supposed to let you find out about me at all." Horton's voice dropped as she hung her head. "I don't know what they'll do to me now. Some Watcher I turned out to be. I got caught on my first assignment." Her tone had turned distinctly mournful.

"I'm sure they'll understand." Scully leaned over to pat Horton's hand reassuringly. She'd been ready to kill Horton not two minutes ago, and now she was actually comforting her. She shook her head at the irony. "We're not exactly in a profession that allows for us to be very trusting," she went on. "Especially considering the types of cases we're involved in. Actually I'm surprised Joe had you assigned to us. No offense, Lynn, but wouldn't a Watcher with more experience have been more useful?"

"That's actually why they didn't assign someone with more experience. It's always a problem when you have immortals in jobs like yours. If you'd done a background check on any of our veterans in the FBI, you might have found something... well, suspicious."

"Like an abundance of cases involving decapitation, maybe?" Mulder ventured, smirking.

Horton shrugged. "Something like that, yeah. I was a new face, and there wasn't anything in my official files that might have set off any alarms. And Joe didn't think you'd make the connection with my father."

"I suppose you're right," Scully nodded.

Horton snorted. "And if it weren't for my carelessness, you wouldn't have found me out either."

"Oh, I don't know. If we were any other immortal, perhaps," Mulder said thoughtfully. "But in our case, we already knew about the Watchers. It was just a matter of time before we realized it." He pulled out his cell phone as he talked. "I mean, it wasn't just what you said on the phone that tipped us off about you being a Watcher."

"How did you know anyway?" she asked, curious. "You realized it only after Scully told you about my phone conversation, right?"

"Yup. And I bet that tattoo of yours still itches." He grinned when he saw both the women stare at Horton's wrist. Raising the phone to his ear, he explained, "I saw you scratching at it when Scully had her gun pointed at you."

The line must have connected just then. "Joe? This is Fox Mulder." He smiled at the cautious greeting from the other man. "I'm doing great," he replied. "Listen, I was calling because I'm concerned about a new partner of ours. One Alynna Horton. According to her files, her father is James Horton. I remember you mentioning that name in connection with the Hunters. I just wanted to make sure she wasn't after our heads or something."

Horton turned towards Mulder, surprised. He hadn't mentioned anything about Scully stumbling upon her earlier phone conversation with Uncle Joe. The way he'd asked made it seem as if he'd come to the conclusion on his own.

"That's good to know," Mulder said when Dawson confirmed Horton's claims about not being a Hunter. "You must have known we'd figure it out, Joe," Mulder was saying. "Naah, if you'd sent someone with more experience, our background check on them would probably have lit up like a bunch of christmas lights."

Lynn's jaw dropped as Mulder repeated her earlier words almost verbatim. She saw him grinning at her as he continued, "In fact, if we hadn't known about you guys in the first place, we would never have figured her for a Watcher at all."

No, they would have just gone ahead and killed me, she thought to herself. Nothing Mulder had said so far had been an outright lie, just a judicial revelation of the facts.

"Thanks for the info, Joe. We'll talk later," Mulder said before hanging up. "I guess you're clean, Ms. Horton," he remarked, turning towards her.

"Thanks for not turning me in," she said quietly.

"Out of curiosity," Scully asked, "what would have happened if we had?"

"Oh I'd probably get transferred back to Seattle." Horton shrugged. "They'd have to find someone else to fill this spot. Although, it took them long enough to get me in place, so lord knows how long a replacement would take."

"And you?"

"I'd get stuck doing research until they deemed it safe for me to go out in the field again, watching some other immortal. You guys really saved my ass, you know."

"Well, you can thank us by buying us dinner," Scully replied, smiling at her. "That's why I came in here in the first place, to see if you wanted to go get something to eat. And I just realized I'm starving."

"Yeah, and until we can get a lead on where some of these other bee farms might be, we're pretty much stuck," Mulder added.

"Other..." Horton began, then stopped, stunned. "Oh my god! I am definitely an idiot. I can't believe I didn't see it before!" She turned and headed back to the desk beside her bed. She pulled out her case and started rifling through it.

The other agents stared at her in confusion. "Lynn?" Scully began.

"Hang on," Horton replied, holding up a finger. "I think I may have found something." She pulled out a copy of the map she'd been looking at earlier, smiling in satisfaction when she saw it. She knew there had been something...

"I was talking to Tom earlier, and he told me the most interesting story." She looked up at Mulder and Scully, seeing that she'd caught their attention. "He called me from Pittsburgh. He'd gone up there to look for a friend of his."

"His friend...?" Mulder asked, his brows furrowing in question.

"Yeah, Nick Stein. He's an agent from the Pittsburgh field office. Tom went with him to the Academy."

Scully nodded at that. "I think I remember him. Tall, dark hair, athletic?" she asked.

"That's him," Horton confirmed. "Tom was at the Pittsburgh office for a while, so they've kept in touch pretty frequently. Before we left on this case, Tom was telling me about Nick doing a little investigating on his own time, looking into something not entirely on the field office approved list. Something about suspicious deliveries to an isolated farm a few miles south of the city."

She paused, her eyes narrowing in thought. "I didn't connect it immediately with what Tom just told me. But apparently, Nick had been admitted into a nearby hospital about a week or so ago. His wife reported that he'd just collapsed suddenly. A few hours after he was admitted, he was transferred to a facility better able to care for him. Or at least, that was what his wife was told."

"But..." Scully prodded.

"But," Horton continued, "when Jess... that's his wife... when she tried to follow up on that, there was no sign of this facility, or of Nick." She smiled grimly. "Sound familiar?"

"Extremely," Scully muttered. "What about the transfer orders?"

Horton shook her head. "There weren't any. There was no record of him even being at the hospital, for that matter. That's when Jess called Tom up and asked him to help. She got the impression that Nick's superiors weren't too keen on finding out what really happened."

"Interesting," Mulder observed, moving to stand next to Horton. He pointed to the map on her laptop screen. "Isn't there a dot in western Pennsylvania somewhere?"

"Right here," Horton replied smugly, pointing at the spot.

"I guess it's time to pack, Scully," Mulder said, his voice betraying his excitement at the new lead.

"Great," Scully shot back, then added, "but can we go eat first? I'm still hungry."


Sickbay
USS Enterprise-D
Sunday, April 11, 2371
1511 hours

"This had to be the single most unproductive day of my life," Crusher sighed as she pushed herself away from her desk.

"Beverly?" Scully looked up from a similar position on the other side of Sickbay.

"Damn it, Denise." Their eyes met, locking for a moment in mutual understanding. "It's not working. The nucleotide sequence in the vaccine is just too long. We'd never get through all the different possible combinations. Not in time to find a cure anyway."

Scully sighed, mirroring her actions. "You're right. I was hoping we might stumble onto the right combination, but there's no way it's going to happen anytime soon. How long can you keep your people in stasis?"

Crusher stood up and started pacing nervously. "Not too long before their bodies start to succumb. I'd say another week at the most. Stasis only slows down the process; it doesn't stop it completely."

Scully nodded. "You should reach the nearest starbase by next week, but by then it'll probably be too late for most of the crew."

"I know." Crusher tiredly rubbed her eyes. "But I don't know what to do anymore. God, I feel so helpless," she cried out in frustration, dropping her face into her hands.

Scully cursed silently, moving forward. She stopped short when she ran into the force field. "Aww... dammit." She slapped her hands against the invisible wall in frustration, her palms stinging from the slight electrical surge that ran through them. "Beverly, come on. You can't give up. We'll think of something."

"What else can we do, Denise?" came the hushed protest from the tired doctor. "We've tried everything. The damn virus is just too strong. We'll never be able to guess the combination for the cure. And short of someone handing us the formula, which I don't foresee in the near future, the only way we can get a cure is from someone who was previously infected or vaccinated. And that's pretty damn impossible with an engineered virus."

Crusher looked up, puzzled by the silence that greeted her. She'd expected some sort of reply to her outburst, but was met instead by her cousin staring back at her slackjawed. "Denise...?" she began worriedly.

"Beverly, you make the Howard name proud." Scully had a wide grin on her face. "You're absolutely right!"

"I do... I mean, I am?" Crusher shook her head, frowning in confusion. "I don't understand."

"You said that we need someone who was previously infected or vaccinated."

"Right, but as I told you, my immunity is for a different version of the virus. And there aren't any others..." She paused, her expression clearing as she realized what her cousin was getting at. "Are there?"

"I'm not entirely sure, but I'm going to find out. Computer, hail the Eagle." She waited for the acknowledging chirp, then softly called out, "Felix?"

Crusher heard the voice reply over the comm channel, "Denise? Is everything okay?" She wondered for a moment at the strangely familiar voice.

"Hey," Scully replied. "No, everything's not okay. Listen, I'm in the Enterprise Sickbay with Beverly, and I need a favor. I need a sample of your blood."

"My blood?" came the confused question. "What for?"

"I'm not sure yet. I want to run some tests on it. Do you think you can extract some yourself and beam it over here?"

"I think so. Where do you keep the hyposprays?"

"Look in the lab. The cabinet next to the door."

"Hang on..." The sounds of movement came through the connection as someone walked around on the other end. "Okay, I found them. How much do you need?"

"I think ten ccs should do it. For now."

"For now!?" came the protest. "You know I always hated these things."

"It's all in your head, M... Felix. You know you can hardly feel them now."

"Yeah, sure, fine..."

"Don't you dare complete that..."

"Here it comes," he cut her off.

Crusher could almost hear the smile in his voice. It was infectious, raising her spirits a little. The warning was followed almost immediately by a faint whining noise. She watched as a hypospray appeared on the desk next to Denise. She saw her cousin pick up the instrument as she thanked her husband.

"No problem. Just be careful, okay," came the soft reply. "I love you."

"I will. I love you too." Scully broke the link, looking thoughtfully at the instrument she held in her hand.

Suddenly her previous words flashed across Crusher's mind. "Wait, you said your husband was exposed to the virus too? Was he a victim on Arvada?" She wondered why her cousin had quoted a risk of infection if her husband had some sort of immunity to the virus.

"Well, I'm not sure you could call him a victim." There was an obvious note of pain in the woman's voice, clear evidence that the incident still disturbed her. Scully still remembered her worry when Mulder had disappeared in Tunguska, and the relief she'd felt in the courtroom when he'd barged in on the Senate hearings. "And it wasn't on Arvada," she continued finally, still clutching the hypospray tightly. "He was given a vaccine for the virus, then deliberately infected. So I guess test subject would be more appropriate."

"Oh god!" Crusher breathed, horrified. "I'm so sorry. Is he... all right?"

"It never seemed to affect him, so I suppose the inoculation must've worked." Privately, she wondered if that wasn't because of his latent immortality, rather than due to any effect the vaccine might have had. He had told her that the vaccine the Russians had been testing wasn't exactly a finished product at the time, so it was entirely possible that the former was true. She sighed. Well, they'd find out soon enough. "I'm not sure if the virus he was infected with was the same one as on Arvada, or the one from Belisarius. But I want to check it out anyway."

Scully moved to one of the workbenches next to her desk. She pulled out the vial from the hypospray, holding up the blood sample. Gently, she placed it under a sensor scanner.

"Computer, scan sample."

A soft hum echoed around the room as a faint light brushed across the vial. "Sample scanned," the computer replied.

"Good," Scully replied. "Now let's see what type of effect it has on the virus. Computer, add two ccs of the blood sample to an equal amount of blood containing virus sample E23. Project the results on the screen, magnification level three."

"Working..."

A moment later, the screen lit up with an image of the infected blood cells. Even at this magnification, the effects of the virus were clear. A dark red tinge indicated the blood being added to the sample. Scully and Crusher watched as the two samples mixed. For a few moments, nothing seemed to happen.

Scully frowned. "Computer, audio readout of the infection levels in the blood."

"Current infection level at 50%," came the obliging reply. Which made sense, considering half the blood was infected.

"Nothing's happening," Scully muttered.

"Wait." Crusher held up a hand. She could see a slight change in the color of the image. "What's that?"

Just then, the computer chimed in. "Infection level at 47%."

"Oh my god, I don't believe it! It's working! It's actually working," Crusher shouted.

"Hang on. I'd wait till the levels drop to zero before I start celebrating," Scully cautioned.

"Levels at 39% and dropping."

"Come on..." Scully quietly urged the readout to drop further, watching as it slowly edged past the 27% mark.

"Levels at 21%."

"Yess..." Crusher smiled.

"Levels at 23%."

The smiles disappeared, from both their faces. "What!?" Crusher shouted, looking from Scully to the image and back. "What happened? Why did it go up?"

"Levels at 28% and rising."

Scully moved quickly to the scanner, adjusting some of the parameters as she examined the image. She sighed. It had been a slim chance to begin with, but the disappointment still hurt. "I was afraid of this," she replied quietly. "The rising levels aren't indicative of the virus that infected Belisarius colony."

"What does that mean?" Crusher asked, trying to get over her disappointment at the failure of their newest approach.

"Levels at 57% and rising," the computer interrupted.

"My husband's immunity is definitely different than yours. I think he was exposed to the original virus itself, not the engineered ones. The initial reactions were substantially better than anything you reached with your blood tests, right?"

Crusher nodded mutely.

"Unfortunately, my husband is also a carrier for another rather virulent organism. Both of us are immune to it, and it isn't contagious except by direct transfer of certain bodily fluids. But his blood is still useless as a cure. The other virus would simply overwhelm any positive results. We'd be even worse off than before."

"I see," Crusher slowly replied. "There isn't a cure for it?"

"No," Scully shook her head. "I'm sorry Beverly."

"It's okay. We'll just have to find another way, that's all."

Scully was quiet for a few minutes, an idea slowly forming in her head. Theoretically, it would work. But...

"Denise?"

"Beverly, I still believe what you said is the way to go."

"What I said?" Crusher asked, puzzled.

"We need a previously infected being to get a vaccine from."

"Okay, but we're back to the first question. Where are we going to find someone like that? If this virus was engineered specifically for the Hortas, there is no chance..."

"We'll just have to provide our own," Scully cut her off.

"I'm sorry?" Crusher frowned, shaking her head, sure she'd misunderstood.

"We'll have to deliberately infect someone," Scully said. "And then we have to harvest their blood for antibodies."

"You're crazy," Crusher replied, her voice rising in incredulity. "I have a ship full of infected crewmen, and you want to infect someone else? To what purpose? What would be different?"

"Beverly, there is a difference. None of those already infected can come up with a natural immunity to this thing."

"Exactly, hence the search for a cure," Crusher bit off sarcastically.

"But I can," Scully said softly.

The comment stopped Crusher in her tracks. "I'm sorry. Did you just say you had a natural immunity? How do you know? Have you been infected? You never mentioned that you were immune."

"I'm not. I mean, I've never been infected. But I can produce the antibodies once I am. I know it sounds impossible, but it's true."

"How?"

"I need to talk this over with Felix first, but I believe it'll work. I know it will." Her voice dropped as she added, "It has to."


USS Eagle (CG 74)
Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean
Sunday, December 6, 1998
1040 hours

The two men entered the dimly lit quarters. The tall redhead in the captain's uniform stepped over to the table on one side. He looked down at the many maps strewn on top of it, leaning down to study them.

"Have you seen these?" he asked, turning to the shorter man standing next to him. He held out a sheaf of papers in his hand. "They just got piped down from upstairs." At the silent nod, he sighed, glancing back down at the maps. "What the hell are they thinking? If we follow this course change, we'll be skirting this entire section of the East Pacific Rise," he muttered, tracing a roughly circular area on one of the maps with his finger.

The other man just shrugged helplessly. "Your guess is as good as mine, Captain." He grinned suddenly. "They're probably just messing with our minds, sir. With all those psychology studies they're always coming up with, this is probably another inane idea cooked up by some pencil-pusher with degrees up the wazoo." He paused. "Personally, I think it's all a conspiracy. They figure we'll analyze it to death, and it'll drive us out of our minds." His voice dropped to a conspiratory whisper. "You know, that's how they clear the way for the up and coming generation without too much fuss."

The captain simply stared at him silently, then blinked. "Jesus Christ, sailor," he breathed finally. "For a moment there, you reminded me of the prick my sister works with."

"Sir?" came the quizzical response.

"Never mind. So, Riker, is this your way of telling me not to overanalyze this course change?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

"Smartass," the captain chided him good-naturedly.

"Following in your footsteps all the way, sir," Riker replied smoothly.

"You're lucky there's no one else around. I'd have you busted to ensign if anyone heard you talking to your superior officer in that tone of voice, mister."

Riker affected a shocked look. "I'm always careful sir. No mouthing off to the captain while in the presence of impressionable junior officers, check."

The other man sighed. "What did I ever do to deserve you as my executive officer, Riker?"

"You were blessed, sir."

He got a snort in reply. "Right, well, might as well lay in the course change, I suppose."

The XO nodded and was about to leave to carry out his orders when they were interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Captain Scully? Mail call." The young crewman handed the captain a thin envelope before leaving.

Scully fingered the envelope thoughtfully, lightly caressing it as he considered its contents.

"Ah, romance!"

The comment interrupted his reverie. Scully darted a sharp look at his XO. "Excuse me?"

"Aw, c'mon Bill. We both know Tara manages to email you at least every other day. But there's just something about an actual, physical letter that just... well, it makes the heart go pitter pat, skipper."

"Commander Riker," Scully ground out. "We've known each other all our lives. But I'll still thank you not to speculate about my love life..."

"... or current lack thereof..."

"That's it," Scully cut him off, rising. His body language conveyed irritation and anger, but the twinkle in his eyes gave him away. He tried to hide a grin as he pointed a finger at the door. "Out! Before I have you court-martialed, you sorry excuse for a naval officer. Leave me to my love letter in peace, will ya?"

"All right, okay," Riker replied, his hands going up in surrender. "I know when I'm not wanted," he added, a grin threatening to break out on his face. He turned to go, but paused at the door. "Hey, we still on for the game at 2100?"

"Yeah, yeah," Scully waved his hand dismissively at the door, his mind already on the contents of his letter as the door shut behind his XO. With a sigh, he slid into his chair, smoothing out the letter as he read it. Riker had been right; there was just something so much more... personal... about getting an actual letter.

He smiled as he read through it. Nothing terribly important, of course. If it had been anything urgent, he'd have long since got the information by email. He wished they'd had the facilities back during his father's days for the type of electronic access they had now. He couldn't help remembering the times his father would go on his tours of duty, when the only means of communication would be the slow, irregular mail service.

He'd almost gotten through to the end when the call came.

"Captain to the bridge."

He looked up from the letter, glancing at the PA speaker. He sighed. What now? he thought to himself as he rose and headed for the door.


Bridge

"Captain on the bridge."

The flurry of activity came to a momentary halt as the person in question walked past the men on duty. He returned their salutes as he walked over to where his XO stood.

"Riker?"

"Captain," the first officer acknowledged his presence. He turned back to the radar image on the screen in front of him. "We were just about to lay in the course change when this showed up on the scope." He pointed out the small blip that blinked at the very edge of the instrument's range.

Scully leaned down in thought. "Hmmm... Any idea what it is?"

The few men in the vicinity all shook their heads. Apparently there had already been some discussion of this before he'd been paged. He sighed, then blinked as he took another look at the scope, a frown building on his face. "Let me see that blip on the charts."

Riker obligingly pulled out a navigational map, pointing out where the radar blip was in relation to them.

"And the route our course change would have taken us in?"

The navigator used a ruler to draw a line at an angle to their current course.

"Hunh!" the captain grunted. "Now, that's interesting," he observed, looking up from the map, his eyes meeting his XO's.

"Oh, yeah," came the muttered response. Drawn this way, it was clear that their course change would have put them well outside the detection range of their radar anomaly.

"Ummm... Captain?" the navigator asked. "Do you still want to continue the course change?"

"Hmmm? Oh, no. Not yet. Just to be on the safe side, I want you to contact COMNAVSURFPAC. Make sure the course change order is on the up and up."

"But sir, that'll take at least an hour."

"I should hope so," Scully replied, sharing a small smile with his XO.

"Sneaky...," Riker mouthed at him, to which he chuckled softly.

"Mr. Riker, let's take a look at our bogey, shall we?"

"Aye, aye, Captain. Full speed ahead, Mr. Stanton," he said, moving forward, looking out over the still Pacific waters.

They still had a bit of time before their order confirmation came through. The blip on the radar screen got steadily closer, until they could finally make out what it was. A seaplane floated in front of them, a submersible in the water next to it. It appeared as if some sort of transfer was in progress. The bridge crew could make out a vaguely coffin shaped object being lowered from the back of the plane onto the deck of the submersible.

"All stop," Scully ordered.

"All stop, aye," came the rapid acknowledgement.

As the cruiser came to a slow halt beside the submerged vessel, Scully and Riker moved out of the bridge and onto the outer deck. The activity in the water had come to a stop as soon as they had come within visual contact with each other. Scully watched as Riker walked over to the railing.

"Ahoy, there," the XO hailed, looking over the railing.

Both watched as a tall, thin, blond-haired man walked across the submarine deck towards them. He reached the side of the cruiser, grabbing hold of the ladder rungs and pulling himself up. As soon as he was on deck, he gave Riker a once over. Both the captain and the first officer got a distinct impression of unease from the gaunt man.

"You are on restricted waters. I'm afraid you'll have to correct your course," he told the XO without preamble.

"You showed up on our radar," Riker answered him. "We were curious why someone would be out here in the middle of nowhere. We came to see if you needed any assistance."

The newcomer stared at the executive officer for a moment, then answered him. "As you can see, you were mistaken. I think..." He broke off, catching sight of Scully standing to the side. He stared, an incredulous expression on his face. "Morrissey?"

"I'm sorry?" Scully asked, frowning in confusion.

"I didn't realize you had been assigned... I mean, I wasn't told...," he stammered, flustered.

"Um, I think you might have mistaken me for someone else," Scully cut him off. He walked closer, holding out his hand. "Captain William Scully," he said by way of introduction.

"Oh." There was a moment of silence, the man continuing to stare at the captain. "I'm sorry," he said, "you looked like someone I knew." He shook his head, as if clearing it. "In any case, as I said, I'm afraid you are currently in restricted waters."

"Captain?"

The call made Scully turn away from their visitor. He raised an eyebrow as the navigator walked up to them.

"Sir, I just got confirmation from COMNAVSURFPAC. We've been ordered to implement a course change."

"Well, I won't keep you from your orders then, Captain," the man said, turning back towards the ladder.

"How kind of you," Scully muttered under his breath as he watched the stranger climb down onto the submersible deck. Once down, he simply stared back up at them. Scully met his stare for a minute or so, then turned and nodded at the navigator. The captain of the Eagle could feel the man's eyes boring into his back as he made his way back to the bridge.

It took a few minutes for the cruiser to lay in their new course. As they turned and headed away, they could see the coffin-like object disappear into the bowels of the small submarine. The deck hatch closed and the vessel submerged, followed almost immediately by the departure of the plane.

"What in god's name was that all about?" Riker asked of no one in particular.

"I don't know." Scully's face grew thoughtful. "That sub didn't look very long-range. What does sonar say is below us?"

"Uh... It looks like..." There was a pause in the response from the sonar station. "That's funny..."

"What?"

"There's some sort of interference, sir. I can't get a clear signal reflection from this entire area."

"Well," Riker remarked. "This place is crisscrossed with underwater mountain chains and valleys. The sonar signal would get bounced around like anybody's business."

"I suppose it's possible," the crewman manning sonar replied. He fiddled with the controls, trying to enhance the image. "But it looks more like there's something actively blocking the reflections and scattering the signal."

"Is that a fact? Maybe our esteemed superiors have some answers for us. Get them on the horn, Riker. Put in a request for terrain intelligence on this area. I'm going back to my letter. Let me know if you find anything."


Private Vessel Eagle
Sunday, April 11, 2371
1701 hours

"Out of the question! I won't allow it. It's too risky." The man paced in front of the seated woman, his voice slowly rising.

"But, Mulder..."

"Oh no, don't you dare... Do you even hear yourself?" he asked incredulously. "You're talking about infecting yourself with an unknown virus that has already got most of the crew on that ship in stasis." He turned around, letting out a breath of disgust. "I'm not even going to go into the logic of this."

"Dammit Mulder. It's their only chance," she hissed. "I'm their only chance."

"And what if it doesn't work, hunh? What then? What am I supposed to do, put you in stasis as well and just wait around till they find a cure? If that even happens." He threw up a hand in disgust. "You know there's a good chance they're going to cover this up the moment they reach that starbase."

"I don't know about that, Mulder. This is a Galaxy Class vessel, not to mention the flagship of the entire fleet. They can't just make them disappear. Not after a whole starbase gets a look at them."

"Which just makes me wonder if they'll even make it to the base in the first place. You, of all people, know what they're capable of. Ten to one they're monitoring communications around the Belisar system. The Enterprise heading to the starbase closest to Belisarius, under quarantine no less... you know that's going to set off some major alarms. And if the Enterprise does happen to disappear, out here who the hell is going to notice it in time? You know there was a reason they chose Belisarius."

"I know, Mulder. Which just makes it that much more imperative that I go through with this. Do you want to have the lives of all these people on your conscience? Wasn't Arvada enough?"

"NO!" Mulder shouted forcefully, clearly indicating that was the end of the discussion.

"Aaargh! I'm an immortal, Mulder," she cried out in frustration. "I'll recover."

"No one knows the limits of our healing, Scully. When was the last time an immortal was infected by a bioengineered virus? Huh? Tell me that? How do you know this won't be the straw that breaks the camel's back? Does being immortal mean you keep taking chances like this?"

"No, but it does mean we have an obligation to help in any way we can," she replied softly. "What was that thing you kept telling me about power and responsibility?"

He knew she had him. Damn her anyway. She just had to pull that card, didn't she? She knew he wouldn't turn a deaf ear to that. But he had to try, one last time. "I won't lose you, Scully." His voice dropped to a pained whisper. He stopped in front of her, sinking to his knees. His hands reached out to grab hers, squeezing them as he desperately tried to sway her decision. "I can't. Please, Scully, think about this..." But he could already tell by her expression that she'd made up her mind.

"I have, Mulder. Don't you think if there was any other way...?"

"What about me? You asked for a sample of my blood. Can't you use me instead? You're the doctor. I'd have a better chance of recovering if you were treating me. What would I be able to do for you? I'd just end up standing around helpless."

"Oh, Mulder... Do you really think you're any less important to me than you think I am to you?"

"I don't think, Scully. You are..."

She raised a finger to his lips, quelling his protest. "No, Mulder. I love you so much for suggesting it. But it just wouldn't work. Any attempt to use your blood would transfer the virus for vampirism as well. And we don't want to end up with a crew full of bloodsuckers, would we?" The last was said with a slight smile. "Talk about the cure being worse than the disease."

"Yeah, I guess that would be bad for the Fleet image." He took a deep breath, already resigned to the outcome. He closed his eyes, moving closer to hug her, the side of his face pressed into her chest. He slid his hands around her back, even as he felt hers go around his neck, hugging him hard in return. "I hate this, Scully. Since when did we become the saviors of the human race?"

"Not just the human race Mulder." She kissed his head, then laid hers down on top of his, closing her eyes as well, sharing the moment in silence.

Finally, he chuckled. "Figure of speech, Scully. So what are we going to do? I assume we'll have to bring the good doctor into our confidence?"

"Yeah. I don't see how else we'll be able to explain my immune response. Besides, she's the one who'll be monitoring my vitals and extracting the antibodies to synthesize the cure. And... you're probably not going to like this part..."

Mulder raised an eyebrow. "Hate to tell you this, Scully, but that part's come and gone." He saw her pull back to stare back at him impassively, and sighed, not needing her to spell it out. He'd already come to the same conclusion. "If we tell Crusher, then we'll have to tell Picard too, won't we?"

They stared at each other for a moment. "Yeah," Scully finally replied. "We won't have a choice. There's no way to explain the cure without also revealing the immortality angle along the way. Not unless..."

"Not unless we can get the captain's authorization to do some pretty creative hacking and slashing through the Enterprise computers," he finished for her. "I know we'll have to remove the evidence, but I was really hoping we could get around that somehow."

"I've already looked at Beverly's research, Mulder. There is a way to get the cure without infecting me, but not in the time we have left to us. Those crewmen on that ship have less than a week. And the odds of us just stumbling onto the correct combination of nucleotides to fight this particular strain of the virus are worse than astronomical."

She paused, letting the urgency of the situation sink in. "Considering what we're about to do, nothing less than the authorization codes from Picard himself will do." Seeing the unsure expression on his face, she placed a hand on his arm. "Mulder... everything I've heard about him says that he's a man of integrity. Both Byers and Lynn have mentioned his strength of character several times. We could do a lot worse than confiding in him. Remember that conspiracy in the Starfleet Admiralty that he helped stop?"

"But he's still going to be hard to convince to help us," Mulder offered a final, albeit weak rejoinder.

"Maybe," Scully answered, "but then, we have someone on the Enterprise who can vouch for us, don't we? Someone Picard trusts implicitly?"

Mulder sat silently for a moment, his eyes closed, then let out a breath of defeat. "Well, we might as well get around to it then. Oh, and while we're doing that, maybe they'd like to meet me as well. Cause there's no way I'm letting you do this without me standing next to you, holding your hand all the way."

"I think I was hoping you'd say that." A wide smile lit up her face.

"You don't think Beverly will faint, do you?" He pulled back, grinning up at his wife.

She slapped him lightly. "Chauvinist!"

"Hey," he affected a wounded expression. "Can I help it if I'm old-fashioned?"

"Mulder, that attitude became old-fashioned before you were born."

He stood up, holding out his hands to her. "So sue me," he quipped, pulling her up hard enough that she fell into his arms. He reached in to kiss her before she could say a word.

She pulled back from the kiss, a dazed grin stretching her lips. "Okay then," she said, feeling his hands slide down her shoulder to clasp her hands, "let's do this."


Captain's quarters
USS Enterprise-D

When the words started blurring in front of his eyes, he knew it was useless. He was too worried to let himself enjoy the book the way it was meant to be. He sighed, leaning back as he placed the volume against his chest.

This was supposed to have been a routine scientific mission, with an even more routine passenger drop-off along the way. How had it gotten so... out of control? He closed his eyes, letting his mind drift over the words he'd first heard his chief medical officer say... was it only two days ago? It seemed like an eternity.

He'd never felt this helpless before. The speed with which the pathogen had overcome the majority of the crew was nothing short of amazing. That he'd not been among those who'd succumbed had been more sheer luck than anything else. If the infection had indeed been a deliberate act... he shuddered at the idea of the potential this had as a weapon.

Slowly, he started to work through various possibilities, trying to figure out who might be responsible for the incidents at Arvada and Belisarius. When he'd spoken to Beverly a little while ago, she'd confirmed her suspicions based on information from her cousin. He wondered exactly what had transpired at Arvada colony that could have led Crusher and her family to that conclusion. When this crisis was over, he decided he would have to have a serious talk with Dr. Crusher's cousin.

The chime from the terminal on his desk chose that moment to interrupt his thoughts. He looked up in surprise, then placed the book on the side table and walked over to the desk. A quick tap on the console, and the image resolved into a familiar face.

"Beverly," he said, a small smile breaking out on his face.

"Hello, Jean-Luc. Hope I'm not disturbing you."

"Oh, no. Nothing that can't wait. Any news?"

The doctor paused, wondering how to answer the question. "A request actually, from my cousin. She and her husband want a meeting with you."

Picard's eyebrow rose. It looked like he was going to get his wish sooner than he'd anticipated. "Very well, I'll open a conference channel..."

"No," Crusher headed him off. "They requested it be face to face. They said they had something to explain to the both of us."

"Oh? And you think it is worth the risk?"

Crusher nodded. "I can beam you to a shielded area, like I did with Denise. It should be pretty safe. And considering the information I suspect they have, I think it might be worth our while to accede to their request."

The second eyebrow joined the first as Picard stared at the screen. He wondered if the information Crusher referred to wasn't more than just about the cure itself. Finally he grunted, "Whenever you're ready."

He felt the tingling as the transporter effect whisked him away. His surroundings disappeared, the interior of his quarters dissolving, reforming into the interior of Sickbay. He saw that he'd been beamed into one of the secure areas, cut off from the rest of the medical facility by a force field. He looked across the floor to see Crusher at her desk. A second later, two more shimmering figures appeared behind a similar force field.

The man and woman materialized standing side by side. The smaller figure, they assumed to be that of Crusher's cousin. But both Picard and Crusher stared incredulously at the other figure.

Picard was the first to find his voice. "Agent Mulder, I presume," he asked weakly.

Crusher tore her eyes away from the pair to dart a look at him, her expressions clearly indicating her disbelief at Picard's assumption. Unless... "Don't tell me, you accidentally stepped through another time portal?"

"Nice to see you still remember me," Mulder grinned. "But, to answer to your question, no, there was no portal involved this time."

Both Crusher and Picard remembered the man from his earlier visit to the Enterprise almost a year ago. At the time, he'd claimed to be a federal agent from the early 21st century, and a brief investigation into his story had confirmed it. Apparently, he and his partner had stumbled onto a time portal on Earth that had sent him to the 24th century. It had caused quite a stir while they tried to figure out a way to send him back to where he belonged.

And now it seemed as if they'd come full circle. Here he was, once again in their midst. Picard wondered what the man would say by way of explanation this time.

"As near as I can figure, for you, it's been about fifteen months since I was here last?" Mulder looked from Crusher to Picard for confirmation. When both nodded, he continued, "For me, however, it's been almost 365 years."

The silence following his statement was absolute. For a few moments, no one spoke. Finally Crusher managed to choke out, "That's impossible." She looked to Denise, her expression pleading for a saner explanation.

"It's true. Both Felix... or rather, Mulder and I have a unique genetic disposition towards longevity."

Crusher looked from Scully to Mulder and back, her expression still somewhat disbelieving. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were El-Aurian."

"Ah, but you do know better, don't you?" Mulder pointed out.

Crusher reluctantly nodded. "The scans I did of you at the time showed human physiology, for the most part." Her face abruptly cleared. "Although, there were some anomalies, like low metabolism and the slight flux in your DNA, that I attributed to the effects of temporal distortion. I assumed they were merely temporary. Are you? Human, I mean."

"If you'd scanned him later, you wouldn't have seen any changes in the readings. That's normal for us. As for whether we're human..." Scully shrugged. "By every definition that counts, we are. We were born on Earth in the late 20th century. My parents were normal humans."

"How..." Crusher asked, not quite able to figure out exactly what she wanted to ask. A thousand questions came to mind, each vying to be the first out of her mouth. Finally one emerged. If she was born in the 1900s, then the woman on Arvada... "Your mother...?" Memories of the vibrant redhead from her childhood flooded her mind as she made the connection. She gasped softly, then ventured in a wondrous whisper, "Auntie Day...?"

Scully nodded, the corners of her eyes crinkling as she smiled faintly. "You were just eleven at the time. I figured you wouldn't recognize me now. In fact, I was surprised you remembered me at all. We were on Arvada for such a short time."

Slowly, Crusher was starting to believe. She looked at Mulder. A faint memory of the strong hands lifting her up flashed across her mind. "I thought you looked familiar on your last visit. I couldn't remember your faces, but I could never forget you." She let out a small snort of laughter, moving behind her desk. Reaching into a drawer, she pulled out a chain. She held it up, the light glinting off the small cross hanging from it. "I always held on to this," she said softly. "For luck."

Scully reached around her own throat, her fingers hooking the cross she wore. "And mine's never failed to bring me hope."

And, incredible as it sounded, Crusher believed her.

Equally obvious, however, was the expression of distrust on Picard's face. His eyes narrowed as he went over the story Agent Mulder had laid out for them. It just seemed a bit... convenient for his tastes, a little too contrived. As a Starfleet officer, he wasn't unaware of the possibility of long lived species. The normal Vulcan lifespan was easily twice that of most humans. The El-Aurians themselves, he knew from personal experience, lived for centuries. But humans? Surely, a genetic aberration of this magnitude could not have gone unnoticed over the years.

"You'll forgive me, Agent Mulder, if I don't entirely believe you," he said. "I have seen others take advantage of time travel to interfere with the timeline." Memories of Rasmussen, another traveler from the past who had come to their time with the intent to alter history, rose unbidden to mind.

Mulder looked at his wife, both sharing a smile at Picard's response. "Somehow, Captain," he said, looking back at him, "we didn't think you'd be easy to convince. Tell me..." He held out his hands invitingly. "What would you have us do to prove ourselves?"

"If what you say is true, surely there would be records somewhere of your..." Picard trailed off, seeing the man shaking his head.

"Captain, if such records were available, don't you think someone else would have noticed our... condition? We prefer our anonymity. There would be nothing in your computers that could back us up. At least, nothing you could find easily."

Picard saw the couple stiffen suddenly, as if they'd heard something. He saw them look towards the door expectantly, but was puzzled as to the reason.

"But, perhaps, Captain," Scully said, still looking away from him, "you might be persuaded by someone you know? We took the liberty of asking one of your crewmen..."

The door to Sickbay slid open as if on cue.

"Guinan..." Crusher's eyes widened at their visitor. She uttered a faint curse as something else registered. "You broke quarantine! Dammit, Guinan, what were you thinking?"

The dark woman entered, her eyes traveling around the room, meeting each one's in turn. "I'll be fine, doctor," she said, nodding reassuringly towards Crusher. A smile touched her lips as she saw Picard. "Captain." She finally looked towards the couple, and her face broke into a full-fledged grin. "Hello Mulder, Dana. It's good to see you again."

"Likewise," they replied, their smiles evidence of their recognition. "It's been a while."

"I take it you know them?" Picard asked, an eyebrow rising in question. "From somewhere other than Agent Mulder's last visit?"

"Something like that," Guinan answered. "They saved my life once."

"Once? How long ago? Agent Mulder has been telling us a story about long-lived humans..."

"You mean, like me?" Guinan cut him off.

"You're not human," Picard countered. "Your lifespan is common to your race."

Guinan shook her head. "Not all El-Aurians were like me," she replied. Her expression grew somber. "The few that were mortal were mostly wiped out when the Borg destroyed our world. The ones that survived were assimilated. Now all that are left are us."

The implications of her words hit Crusher and Picard simultaneously. "Then this... genetic predisposition is not unique to humans?" Crusher asked.

Scully smiled. "Oh no," she answered, shaking her head. "They're there in every species. More in some races than in others, but there nonetheless."

"Then there are other humans as well? Like you?" Picard questioned the couple. At their nod, he protested, "Even if you manipulated computer records, surely someone must have found out?"

"Oh, they've found out," Mulder replied bitterly. "Some of us, the older ones, have had to live through witch hunts and persecution by those who couldn't understand what we were. Others, including us, have been experimented upon by our fellow humans in the pursuit of science or power." A pause, then, "You can understand why we're reluctant to come out into the open. It's the same with most races. Some of the more tolerant species, like the Vulcans, know about our kind among them, but even they would not speak of it in public."

Crusher's jaw dropped at his words, but Picard was quickly putting the pieces together. "That's why you wanted me here. You want this kept from the official records."

Mulder simply nodded.

"But the ramifications of what you said...," Picard protested. "The others you mentioned... I cannot withhold the knowledge in good conscience if some of them might be a threat to the Federation."

"For all our advantages, we're still human, Captain, or whatever race one of our kind belongs to. Some of us are good, some evil," Mulder admitted, "but most fall somewhere in between. But we do keep to ourselves. Even the worst of our kind don't usually involve themselves with mortals. And if one of us does step out of line, there are more than enough of us to handle the problem." Mulder narrowed his eyes, adding in a determined voice, "We take care of our own."

"Vigilante justice?" Picard shot back.

"Self-preservation," Mulder rebutted. "Those who would harm mortals risk exposing us. It's not a risk we're willing to take. Or can afford to, for that matter."

Before Picard could reply to that, Scully interrupted. "Captain, we're taking a risk telling you about us. We needn't have revealed any of this to you. In fact, we needn't have come here at all. But we did. We want to help. All we're asking you is to trust us in return. I think you can understand our need for secrecy."

Picard grew silent as he considered her words. He had certainly seen enough in his years in Starfleet that the information didn't so much shock him as surprise him. But for now, he was concerned with more important things. "Doctor..." He was mildly amused when both Crusher and Scully turned to look at him. "About the reason you wanted to meet..."

The statement sobered the others as they were reminded of why they were here in the first place. Scully cleared her throat. "He's right. The rest of this can wait. Beverly," she said, turning to Crusher, "part of the genetic quirk is a heightened immune response. I can pretty much guarantee that I'll be able to generate antibodies to combat this virus."

Crusher frowned. "I thought you said Agent Mulder was a carrier for another virus? Obviously, his immune system didn't work as well as you claim yours will. I don't know if I can ethically allow that kind of risk."

Scully and Mulder looked at each other for a moment. Scully sighed. "That's because the other virus was introduced into his system before the quirk kicked in. It's why I'm immune to it. We aren't born like this, Beverly. It usually takes some sort of traumatic event to trigger it. We're born normal humans, and we age normally till then. And our longevity..." Scully drew in a breath as she continued, "well, no one we know with this condition has ever died. Not of natural causes, and definitely not of a disease." There... it was laid out in front of them. She knew she was blurring the facts a little, but both she and Mulder had agreed to reveal as little about immortality as possible. And now that they'd told their story, it was up to Picard and Beverly to decide.

Picard was silent as he stared at the two of them for a moment. Finally he took a deep breath and turned to Crusher. "Doctor, Guinan, if I could speak to you in private?"

The two women obligingly moved towards him, while the other two moved away to give them some privacy.

"Jean-Luc...?"

"Beverly, do you trust them?"

A simple question, she realized, with a complex answer. An answer that nevertheless finally boiled down to one word. "Yes," she replied, "I do. Jean-Luc, Denise... I mean, Aunt Dana offered to infect herself in order to find a cure. I don't know what more they can do to convince us of their sincerity. Granted, I'm not entirely convinced that they are telling us the whole truth, but as I see it, it's their business. If their kind want to keep to themselves, who are we to stand in their way?"

"They lied to us, Beverly. They've been lying to the world for an obviously long time."

"You heard what Agent Mulder said about their kind being persecuted through the ages. As I see it, they have every right to protect themselves." Crusher paused, looking from Guinan to Picard.

"I agree," Guinan added. "As they said, they need not have volunteered for this in the first place. Captain, those experiments that Mulder talked about... you know I spent some time on Earth?" When Picard nodded, she continued, "I was unfortunate enough to be caught in one of the first uses of this virus. They rescued me from my captors."

"Damn," Crusher said. "I was hoping to ask you to undergo the procedure. If you shared their immune response..."

Guinan shook her head. "I already asked Dana about that. Unfortunately, my blood would be as useless as yours is, for similar reasons. No," she turned back to Picard, "if you want to save this crew, Captain, it's in their hands now. They felt they could trust you with the truth about them. You'll just have to extend them the same trust. I do."

Picard sighed, nodding. "I don't think I have a choice, do I?" His lips broke into a slight smile. "I suppose I just wanted a second opinion to justify my decision." He shrugged, his expression turning serious. "Doctor, can you hide all evidence of how you came about the cure?"

Crusher nodded. "I think so. I just have to be careful where I record my work."

"Then you don't have any objections to this course of action?"

Crusher shook her head.

Even as Picard nodded, the two immortals were having their own discussion on the other side of the room.

"Picard may be trustworthy, but he's still a hardass."

"Mulder!" Scully hissed, "keep your voice down. The last thing we need is for him to hear that."

"You know I'm right, Scully," Mulder said. But he did take care to lower his voice. He looked across the room towards the topic of their conversation. "You know who he reminds me of?" Looking back down to meet his wife's eyes, he saw the answer reflected back at him.

With a grin, both replied at the same time.

"Skinner," Scully said.

"Mel Brooks," was Mulder's answer.

Scully stared at him in surprise. "You're joking."

Mulder chuckled. "Sorry, couldn't help it. Something about his eyes. But you're right. He's like Skinner reincarnated or something. Especially with that attitude." He paused, an idea forming in his mind. "Oh, god, I just had a weird thought. You don't think they're related, do you?"

"Who knows?" she answered, her lips quirking into a wry grin. Her eyes wandered to the others, seeing them finish their conversation and turn towards them. "Mulder," she nodded in their direction. Both moved closer to them.

"Very well, Agent Mulder, Dr. Kelly. Where do we go from here?" Picard said.

Continued in Part 3

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