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Futures Past 09: From the Ashes - Part 3

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


Days Inn, Dayton Falls, PA
Sunday, December 6, 1998
7:12 PM

"This is so strange."

The tall man turned to glance across the room at his partner where she sat on the bed. He frowned. "What's up?" he asked, moving towards her.

"I just checked my email," the woman replied, pointing to the small computer perched across her lap. She looked up from it to see him sit down next to her. "There's a message from Bill."

"Your brother?" A dark eyebrow rose in surprise. "What does he want?"

"Apparently some information."

"Huh?"

"His ship is out on maneuvers somewhere in the Pacific," she began, by way of explanation. "He came across something strange and he wanted to see if I had, or could get access to any information about this area." She turned the laptop to show him the series of numbers indicating the coordinates of the area.

"He couldn't just ask his superiors? I mean, he is supposed to be patrolling the area, right?"

"That's just it, Mulder," she replied, turning the computer back towards her, frowning down at the contents on its screen. "He tried, but kept getting the runaround. Apparently he tried to do a sonar scan of the area, but there's some sort of artificial interference. His superiors in Coronado say that the area is restricted, but he got the impression they don't really know what's down there either. And the information itself is classified highly enough that he was warned to get out of the area with all due haste."

"Scully, isn't his superior a vice-admiral in the navy? If that office doesn't know, then..."

"Exactly," Scully agreed, nodding.

"So what are you going to do?" Mulder asked. "Or maybe I should ask, what does he expect you to do about it?"

"He was just asking if I could maybe find out anything about it, if I had any connections that could get the information for him."

"He seems awfully concerned about it," Mulder observed. "I always thought he was a straight-laced military type, you know. I mean, no wonder he hates me." He grinned at the expression on his partner's face. "I'm just surprised he doesn't just quietly accept the warning from his superiors and forget about it. What did he see out there anyway?"

"Normally I'd have thought the same thing. But he says he saw someone transferring a..." She frowned, rereading the section of the email. "... a coffin-shaped object from a seaplane to a short-range submersible. His instruments couldn't give him a clear reading of the area. And since his superiors weren't much help, he decided to ask me."

"So...?"

"I don't know," Scully shrugged. "Maybe I'll give the Gunmen a holler, see if they can find out anything about that part of the Pacific. Although, what Bill expects from me, I have no idea."

"Hmmm..."

"But that's for tomorrow. Right now, I want to go talk to Colton. Which room did the front desk say he was registered in?"

"Room 14. Want me to see if Lynn's ready?" Mulder asked.

Scully paused as she was putting the computer away. "Oh? Now it's Lynn, is it?"

Mulder's head shot up in surprise. "What else am I supposed to call her? It's her name."

"It's been Horton so far," she answered defensively.

Mulder wondered how to answer that, until he caught the small twitch at the edge of her lips. "But Scully, don't you know?" he replied playfully, "it's not proper to call your friends by their last names."

He walked towards her, moving closer until he was well within her personal space. He leaned in, his face almost nose to nose with hers, his eyes capturing hers, locking with them so they couldn't pull away. "That's reserved for people I don't know," he added, watching her expression go from surprise to indignation. He smirked. "... and for those I know so well, calling them anything else would make them an entirely different person," he breathed.

Blue eyes widened. Her mouth opened, but all that came out was a soft, "Oh..."

Hazel eyes crinkled in answer. "I'll go and see if Lynn is ready," he said, smiling as he turned around and headed for the door again.

Behind him, the stunned FBI agent watched him leave, speechless. Finally, she grinned as well, moving forward to follow him.

She was closing the door behind her when she saw him knocking on the room next to hers. "Mulder?" she asked quizzically.

"It doesn't look like she's in there," he replied, turning the knob experimentally.

"Oh? You think she went to see Colton already?"

"Maybe," he replied. He turned and looked down the corridor. "You wanna check his room?"

They headed towards the room they'd been told Colton had checked into. There was no answer to their knock.

"He isn't here either?" Mulder mused. "Now why does that trouble me?"

Before she could answer, her cell phone trilled. She flipped it open, the "Scully," almost automatic by now. She frowned at the silence. "Hel..." Her voice trailed off as a look of surprise stole over her face. "Mulder," she whispered, holding the phone so he could hear it as well.

Puzzled, Mulder bent down and placed his ear near the receiver.

First there was silence, then he could hear Horton's faint voice. "Tom, are you sure we should be doing this? Shouldn't we take some backup? Or at least let someone know where we are?"

Colton's voice came through next. "Someone? You mean your two new friends? Forget it. Those two are the last people I'd want backing me up," he said harshly.

Both agents winced at the tone. Colton obviously didn't realize he was on candid cellphone. They heard Horton sigh at the comment.

"Fine. So where exactly are we headed anyway?" A pause from Horton, then, "Isn't this 221?"

"Yeah," came the muttered reply. "We should be coming up on FM 529 soon. Nick said that the farm he was checking out was about ten miles west of that."

The line clicked, then disconnected after that. Mulder looked at his partner, silently nodding to her unasked question. As one, they turned and headed for their car.


Several miles outside Dayton Falls, PA
8:08 PM

The utter darkness was unbroken for miles around. Suddenly, twin beams of light lanced out, piercing through the night as the agents made their way through the woods.

"Can you even see anything out here?" The question was valid; outside the circle of brightness from their flashlights, she couldn't make out any features of the dark woodlands. Any direction she picked looked exactly like all the others. Scully finally turned from her perusal of their surroundings to look at the person walking next to her.

"Cut the lights," Mulder said, coming to a sudden halt.

"Huh?" She watched, puzzled, as he turned off his flashlight. "Okay," she muttered, mimicking his action. They were suddenly engulfed by the night, the darkness feeling almost like a cloak thrown around her. She could barely even make out his features, the surrounding foliage completely masking any source of light.

"There!"

"What? Where?" Scully looked around, wondering what he'd seen.

"C'mon Scully." He reached out and grabbed her hand, causing her to jump in surprise. "This way," he said, pulling her behind him as he moved forward.

"What'd you see, Mulder?"

"This," Mulder replied, coming to a stop, reaching forward to brush off some vegetation.

Scully turned on her flashlight again, revealing the hood of a dark sedan. She blinked. "How on earth...?" The branches and the darkness had served to completely hide the car from any human eyes.

"Hood's still warm," Mulder explained, his hands resting on the metal. "They couldn't have gotten far," he added, looking around.

"You know, I've been meaning to ask you about that. What does it look like anyway? The heat, I mean."

Mulder shrugged. "I don't know. It's like those night-vision goggles, I guess. Except the image is a deeper shade of red, not like the green false color stuff. Everything just glows a little when it gets dark." He paused, looking at her. "Even you," he added softly, then grinned at the slight increase in color as her cheeks heated up. Wouldn't have noticed that before, he thought to himself. Sometimes, he had to admit, his abilities definitely came in handy. "This way," he said finally, turning to head into the woods.

They walked for a few minutes through the dense forest, Scully wondering if they were even headed in the right direction. Branches and leaves brushed against them as they made their way in. Scully cursed as she ran headlong into one particularly rigid plant.

"Careful, Scully."

She sighed, pushing the offending obstruction aside as she plodded forward. Not for the first time, she envied Mulder his night vision. She could hardly even hear him moving in front of her, whereas she was sure she sounded like a wounded rhino crashing through the forest.

The edge of the woods came so suddenly, they were out in the open before they realized it. And there, in front of them, less than a hundred yards or so beyond, they saw it. A vast field, stretching into the dark hills in the distance. There were a few lights strung along its edges, casting an eerie glow over it.

"Mulder...," Scully whispered. They had found what they were looking for.

"I know," he replied, his voice echoing the tone in hers. "Here, follow me," he added, retreating behind the treeline. He ducked, pulling her down beside him. "Stay here."

With that he was gone. Scully had to blink a few times, trying to convince herself that he'd disappeared. "Dammit," she muttered to herself, looking around in surprise. "Where..."

She realized where he was when she heard the soft rustling above her. She glanced up, just in time to see him drop down out of the tree, landing next to her. "See anything from up there?" she managed to ask nonchalantly, trying to cover up her startled reaction.

"Yeah. There's a building of some kind in the middle of the field over there," he said, nodding towards a certain section of it. "It looks like it's surrounded by the plants, but there seem to be several narrow passages cut into the crops, leading from the outer edges to the building."

"You think it'll be like the one in Virginia?"

"Probably. But we'll have to be careful. This one's still active." He grew quiet for a few seconds, then softly cursed under his breath.

"Mulder?"

"Over there." He pointed along the edge of the field towards one of the passages.

She followed his finger, squinting to make out whatever it was in the darkness. Suddenly she saw it. Movement. Her eyes narrowed. "It's them," she hissed, just barely making out the two forms crouched in the grassy corridor a bit into the field.

"So, what say we pay them a visit?" Mulder asked, moving towards them.

Careful not to make any sound, they approached the two agents.

"Hello Lynn," Scully said, ducking into a crouch next to them. "Colton," she added, nodding at the man.

The two agents were visibly startled at the new arrivals. While Horton appeared relieved, Colton's expression revealed him to be anything but. "What the hell are you two doing here?" he barked angrily.

"Shut up, Colton," Mulder hissed, sliding in next to his partner. "Lynn, did you tell him what happened at the farm in Virginia?"

"Yeah," Horton answered softly.

"What the hell were you thinking, Colton? This goes against every rule in the book. You should have asked for backup," Mulder whispered hotly.

"Oh, that's rich, coming from you, Mulder," Colton shot back.

Meanwhile, Scully turned to Horton. "Lynn..."

"I know. I'm sorry. I saw him on his way out. I tried to get him to wait for you, but he wouldn't listen. I didn't know what else..."

"It's okay. You did the right thing," Scully replied softly, putting her hand on Horton's arm reassuringly.

"I don't want you two involved in this," Colton interrupted. "This is my case, and..."

"Dammit, Colton. You don't have any idea what you're involved in. We're working on different parts of the same case. But this is so much bigger than simply your friend's disappearance, or even that of the children in Virginia. This is part of a conspiracy that reaches into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet."

"Oh, cut the crap, Mulder. Don't bring any of your UFO, paranormal, conspiracy theory shit into this, okay? Just...," Colton held up a hand, "... stay out of my way, and let's get this over with."

Mulder snorted, but didn't say anything. He gripped his gun harder as he watched Colton and Lynn quietly move forward through the narrow gap in the field. Finally, he fell into step behind them, Scully at his side.

"It's funny..."

Mulder figured they were about halfway down the path when Scully suddenly broke the silence. He glanced to his side, looking at his partner. "What is?" He kept pace behind the other two agents, who were oblivious to their hushed conversation.

"Oh, you lecturing to Colton about following the rules. You should have heard yourself. Since when have you been such a stickler for them anyway?"

He smirked. "I guess having someone to answer to changes one's perspective, huh? And I'm not talking about Skinner here." His hand brushed lightly against her arm. He could almost see her smiling, and grinned. "I've been really good about not doing the ditch lately, haven't I, Scully?"

"Yes, Mulder, that you have," she acknowledged. "It's just.."

"Whoa!" Mulder suddenly shot out loud enough for all of them to hear. They came to a halt immediately. "You hear that?"

"I heard it too," Horton whispered. "Sounded like machinery, I think."

"We must be getting close to the building," Scully decided.

"What building?" Colton asked, puzzled. "I didn't see anything."

"Mulder saw it inside the field," she explained. At their surprised looks, she shrugged. "He climbed a tree," she added.

Mulder frowned, his ears picking out a soft, high-pitched whine. He'd heard the machinery that Horton was referring to, but this was something else, something... different. And it sounded like it was coming from all sides, slowly getting closer to their position. He paled as he realized what it was. "Guys... RUN!!" he shouted, turning and heading for the outside of the field.

"What is it?" Scully shouted as she ran after him. Colton followed, Lynn right at his heels. By now, even the others could hear it.

Behind them, Horton tripped, stumbling to her knees. She pushed up from the ground, breathless. In front of her, the other agents were getting farther away. Meanwhile, the whine had grown in volume behind her. She turned, her eyes widening as her flashlight caught the dark cloud moving towards her.

They were almost out of the field when Colton realized that his fiancée was no longer running beside him. "Hey, wait a minute. Lynn..." He saw Mulder and Scully stop. He turned, his flashlight searching for the missing agent. The bobbing light caught her kneeling on the ground. She turned, looking at him, their eyes locking for an endless moment. His heart almost stopped when she screamed.

He could see it... them... surrounding her. She was waving her arms, trying to brush them away, her motions woefully ineffectual. The insects swarmed around her, merciless, forming an angry barrier between her and the agents. He started running back towards her.

He almost didn't feel the sudden pain at his temple. But then, the burning set in. In some corner of his mind, he realized that he'd been shot. In the distance, he could make out the suited figures coming towards them. He stumbled forward, trying to reach Lynn before they did.

Another shot rang out, but he was pushed aside, out of its path. He landed hard against the ground, the breath knocked out of him. He could already feel the effects of his injury. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was Mulder's body in front of him, shielding him, jerking as two more shots were fired.


Sickbay
USS Enterprise-D
Sunday, April 11, 2371
1749 hours

The two redheads were bent over the table, their voices low as they went over the steps one more time. With Scully acting as the guinea pig, she wouldn't be available to help Crusher during the actual experiment. With that in mind, she was trying to bring Crusher up to date on anything she might need to know about immortal physiology.

"Almost any part of this would keep the research teams at Starfleet Medical busy for years trying to figure it out," Crusher said as she looked over the biodata her cousin... aunt... had provided her with.

"I know," came the tired answer. "Only too well, actually."

Crusher looked up at the other woman, seeing the pain clearly etched on her face. What were you thinking, Beverly? After what they told you... "I... I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking..."

"It's okay. I know what you meant. It appeals to the scientist in you, doesn't it?"

Crusher silently let out a breath of relief. "Yes! Exactly! How could you resist..."

"I didn't, actually," Scully confessed wryly. "The first few years, I was obsessed with trying to explain this rationally. A scientific explanation for what I thought of as a unnatural aberration."

"And...?" Crusher asked, curious.

"It took me a while to learn to just accept it and move on. We are part of nature, part of evolution. And that's that." Scully grinned. "Although, finding out we weren't unique to the human race definitely helped."

"I bet you were as relieved as when humans first found out they weren't alone in the universe."

Scully grinned at that. She hadn't revealed the truth about the Game to Crusher or Picard. She and Mulder had agreed that it would probably not go over too well with the Starfleet officers. Both remembered the first time that knowledge of alien immortals became widespread among the human immortal community. The panic at the idea of new players in the Game, followed by the surprise at the different rules and beliefs each species followed. It had been a watershed in how human immortals had been viewing themselves for millennia. "Something like that," she said finally.

Crusher nodded at the reply, turning back to the display screen. She'd been looking over the information for almost an hour now, and was mostly familiar with Denise's physiology. Based on the data, she could actually see her body producing the necessary antibodies. Her clinical mind imagined the course of events as the virus would invade the host body. Of course, considering that such an experiment had never been attempted before, she also had no idea how much of an effect the virus would have on her aunt's body.

It was possible that the antibodies would be produced fast enough that the woman would show no signs of infection at all. Crusher prayed that would be the case. However, it was also possible that the virus would completely take over, as it had the dead crewman, shutting down her body as it destroyed her cell by cell. In which case, it would be up to the vaunted immune response she'd heard so much about to come to the rescue.

In spite of Scully's reassurances, Crusher couldn't help but wonder at the ethical and moral ramifications of what she was about to do. How was this any different than the animal experimentation that had been outlawed so long ago on Earth? The only difference this time was that the lab rat in this case was a willing participant in the experiment.

And then, of course, there was still the small chance that none of this would even work. Her cousin had assured her that the introduction of the virus into her system wouldn't do her any permanent damage. But she'd also confided in her the possibility that her body might be able to defeat the virus without actually producing any new antibodies at all, although it was small considering how unique this particular virus was. It was similar to why she herself was immune. The body was able to fight off the invaders because of some previous resistance to something similar. In her case, and Guinan's, it was the other forms of the virus. It was also the reason that other virulent diseases hadn't already been eradicated by other well-meaning immortals. Even if it took a little time, their bodies usually defeated most forms of infection using previously developed immunities instead of producing new antibodies.

She sighed, looking around the empty sickbay. Both Picard and Guinan had gone back to their quarters, once the decision had been made. In the far corner, Mulder sat at her desk, leaning back, staring at nothing in particular as he waited. She could make out the faint tension in his taut muscles and clenched fists. There was nothing he could do; it was up to the two women now. He caught her eye, and gave her a small smile. She returned it, then bent back to her work.

"Do you have any questions?" Scully asked, moving next to Crusher.

"Well, Denise... I mean, Aunt Dana..."

Scully chuckled. "I think just Dana will be fine, Beverly."

Crusher nodded. A thought occurred to her. "Are you really my aunt?"

"I suppose so," Scully replied. "Many generations removed, of course. You're descended from one of my brothers."

"And Agent Mulder is your... partner?" Scully looked back at her, puzzled, so she elaborated. "You're the one he was trying to get back to when he was here last?"

"Yeah," Scully replied, remembering that particular set of events. "We used to work together for the FBI back around the turn of the 21st century."

"I'm glad he found you," Crusher said, pulling her out of her reverie. At her aunt's puzzled look, she tried to explain what she'd seen in him that time. "It was almost as if he was lost, you know. Like a part of him was missing." She darted a quick glance at the man sitting at her desk, then turned back to Scully. "I look at him now, and I can tell he's worried about you. But there's a peace there that wasn't there before."

Scully stared at Crusher for a moment. Finally, she allowed a faint smile to stretch her lips. "Thank you, Beverly. I know what you mean. I feel the same way. But hearing it out loud..." She chuckled, looking down at her hands. "I guess I'm feeling more nervous about this than I admitted to myself."

"Dana...?" Crusher looked at her thoughtfully, a hand moving to clasp her aunt's. "If you're not sure about this..."

"No!" Scully cut her off. "I've never been more sure about anything. This is the right thing to do. The risks to me are minimal."

One look at Scully's expression convinced Crusher of her aunt's resolve. Slowly, she withdrew her hand, nodding silently. Together, they got back to work.

It took almost another hour before they were satisfied that they had covered all the contingencies. Despite her fears, Scully knew that Crusher was competent enough to oversee the procedure.

Scully smiled at the thought. It was, of course, to be expected that the number of descendents of her brothers would eventually grow faster than she could keep track. While she made sure that the Foundation kept tabs on all of them, Beverly was one of the few whom she personally knew about. And, while she and her niece hadn't seen each other in well over three decades, she'd made a point of keeping track of her over the years. She'd been pleasantly surprised when Beverly had chosen to follow the medical profession. Despite all her different vocations over the centuries, medicine remained one of her favorites.

She'd watched with almost maternal pride as her niece rose through the ranks to become head of Starfleet Medical, although she was not a bit surprised when Beverly had chosen to give up the position to return to the Enterprise. There was just something about exploring the unknown that called to her as well. A feeling she could easily identify with.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she saw Crusher walking towards her with a hypospray. "I guess it's showtime."

Crusher nodded, coming to a stop beside her aunt.

Mulder noticed the exchange, and walked over to stand beside his wife. "So how is this going to work?"

Crusher held up the hypo. "This contains enough of the virus to ensure infection. Once it's been administered, her body should start fighting it almost immediately, based on the information you've given me."

Mulder looked at her questioningly as she paused. An eyebrow rose. "And...? What happens after that?"

Crusher looked from him to Scully and back, a flush rising up her neck. "Umm... that part, we're not entirely sure of..."

"What!?" Mulder shouted, incredulous.

"Mulder..." Scully placed a hand on his arm, calming him almost immediately. "It's just that we're treading on new ground here. As we see it, it could go either way. Depending on how powerful my immune response is, the antibodies might be generated almost instantaneously. On the other hand..."

Mulder could almost see what was on the other hand. He'd been born into an age where medicine had sufficiently advanced that he wasn't often exposed to dangerous diseases. But he'd heard enough stories from fellow immortals to realize that many of the more virulent diseases often killed the immortal before they were able to fight it off.

"On the other hand," he sighed, "it's also possible that you'll slip into a coma, just like all the others."

"Yeah," Scully replied. "There's just no way to tell."

"Okay, so what happens if you do go into a coma? I'm assuming that Beverly is not going to put you in stasis as well?"

"No, she's not. The disease must be allowed to run its course, Mulder. Even if I die..." She flinched at the involuntary gasp from her husband. She squeezed his hand tighter. "Even if I do die, I'll revive as soon as my body builds up the necessary immunity."

"I don't have to tell you that I don't like this one bit."

"I know, Mulder," she whispered to him. She reached up, her lips just brushing against his. "And I love you for letting me do this."

"Just... promise me...," he asked, his voice just as soft, "promise me you'll come back to me, okay?"

Scully could see the tears gather in his eyes, even as he blinked to try and clear them away. She smiled at him, reaching up once again to claim his lips in hers in a silent promise. This time, it was longer, more passionate, as each tried to encapsulate their love for each other into one soul searing kiss.

Scully finally broke away, turning tearful eyes towards Beverly. She nodded.

"Get up on the biobed," Crusher said softly, not unaffected by the display of emotion in front of her. When she saw her aunt lying on the bed, she walked next to her head. She placed a hasty kiss on her cheek, then pressed the hypospray against her arm. A short hiss, and it was done.


St. Clair Memorial Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA
Room 310
Monday, December 7, 1998
6:47 PM

He came awake to an empty room and the sound of hushed voices just outside the door. He looked around, taking in his austere surroundings. A mistake, he realized immediately. His eyes slammed shut as the sharp pain lanced through his head. His hand reached up, his fingers tracing the bandage that encircled his head. Slowly he reopened his eyes. A hospital room, he observed, as his surroundings came into focus. Finally, the indistinct voices outside resolved into coherent speech.

"I am his doctor," a female voice hissed indignantly. "He is not to be moved without my express authorization and consent." The voice rose as she barked, "Do I make myself clear?"

There was a muffled reply that he couldn't quite make out, but it must have been in the affirmative. The first voice responded with a gruff, "Good. If that's all then I'll be with my patient."

He saw the door open, but was unprepared for the identity of his visitor.

"Good, you're awake," Scully observed, moving next to him. "How are you feeling?"

He blinked, trying to clear his confusion. "Where...?" he finally managed to utter. The hoarse whisper that came out surprised him. He struggled to lean up.

Scully immediately reached to the counter next to the bed, pouring out some water into a cup. "Here, let me help you up," she said, pressing the controls by the bedside to raise the head of the bed. She handed him the cup. "Your throat's going to be a little sore, so drink it slowly."

Colton took a grateful sip, the water soothing his throat as it slid down. He looked back up at her. "How long have I been here?" he asked.

"You were shot," she explained. "You've been unconscious for almost a day. It's Monday night." She paused, waiting expectantly. After a moment, she asked, "What's the last thing you remember?"

"Getting shot," came the clipped response.

"What else?"

Suddenly an image came back. "Mulder... he was shot too." He thought he saw her eyes widen just a fraction, but figured he was mistaken when he heard her reply.

Scully shook her head. "It wasn't too serious," she said. "He was just grazed."

Colton frowned. That wasn't quite how he remembered it. He could recall his surprise that Mulder would willingly risk his life for someone he didn't even like. He was sure the bullets had... He sighed, shaking his head. It didn't matter anyway. It wasn't what he really wanted to know about.

"Tom? Aren't you going to ask about Lynn?" Scully asked softly.

He gritted his teeth. As long as they didn't talk about her, he could imagine her in a similar room next to his, or maybe sitting in the hospital cafeteria, getting a bite to eat. He swallowed, a bitter taste forming in his mouth. "She's not here, is she?" came the subdued question.

The look on the woman's face was answer enough. "I'm so sorry, Tom. We tried, but there were too many of them. They got to Lynn before we could. And the bees were getting closer. We had no protection. We had to get out of there."

"Right."

"Tom?" Scully's voice dropped, going from sympathetic to deadly serious. "Did Lynn tell you about the bees?"

"Yeah, she filled me in on Mulder's cockamamie theory," he replied, his hostility toward the agent evident. "About the bees carrying a deadly virus, or some shit like that. What does it have to do with leaving Lynn..."

"We don't have a cure for it. If even one of those insects had stung you, you'd be in a coma like your friend, like those children in Virginia. We were very, very lucky."

"Yeah, tell that to Lynn. I'm sure she feels very lucky right about now. What are we doing to get her back? When can we return to the farm?"

Scully sighed. "Mulder went back to the farm earlier today. It's been cleaned out. There's no field anymore. Or a building, or any bees. Nothing. Just like before."

"You're joking." He stared at her in incredulous disbelief. "I saw the field! I saw the goddamn bees, the men in the suits! They couldn't have gotten rid of everything so quickly." Seeing her pained nod, he closed his eyes. "Who are these people?" he asked finally.

"Mulder would probably paint a more dramatic picture, but what it boils down to is a group of men who are behind this project. They have these... these bee farms scattered throughout the world. We believe they are using the bees as a carrier device for spreading this virus."

"But to what end?" Colton asked in protest. "Why would anyone want to..."

"For the oldest reason in the book," she replied, shrugging. "Power, control, you name it. Mulder thinks they plan to use it to enslave humanity or to put into effect some sort of mass mind control. Personally, I think that's being a little too melodramatic. From what I've seen, all the virus does is put people into a coma."

"You've studied the effects of the virus?"

Scully cleared her throat sheepishly. "Sort of, but, well..."

"Well what?" he asked impatiently.

"Well, I haven't actually studied the long term effects of the virus," she confessed. "Most of my patients seem to wind up disappearing before I get the chance to examine them too closely."

"Oh, that's just great," Colton muttered sarcastically. "Which reminds me, where is Mulder anyway? You two always seemed to be joined at the hip. I'm surprised he managed to leave you here alone." He saw her eyes narrow at his comment. He frowned as the conversation he'd heard earlier came back to mind. "And what's the deal with you being my doctor? I don't recall consenting to that."

"Mulder is... ah... he's meeting with an informant of his. We hope this person can provide us some information about where they took Lynn. As for being your doctor, well, that's the only way I'd have the authority to keep you here." At his blank look, she tried to elaborate. "There was a transfer order that came in about a couple of hours ago, requesting that you be moved into a facility where you can be better taken care of. We know how well that worked with your friend."

"Oh." The reply was short, but his face paled at the news.

"Yeah. I've arranged for a guard to be posted outside your room at all times. Although, now that you're awake, we can probably dispense with that. I didn't know how long I could keep the hospital at bay without any explanation." She shrugged. "Anonymous Bureau authority will only get you so far," she added wryly. "But the good news is, your head's healing nicely. The bullet grazed your temple, but you should make a complete recovery. Are you in any pain?"

Colton shook his head. "Only if I move too fast. When can I get out of here?"

"It must be something in the male chromosome," Scully muttered to herself. Out loud, she said, "I'd suggest you stay here tonight. I'll dismiss the guard. I can use the couch over there." She nodded towards the far end of the room.

"You're going to sleep in here?" Colton asked incredulously.

"You have a problem with that?" she rejoined sharply. When he shook his head, her gaze softened. Memories of the past, of a little boy in a similar hospital floated through her mind. Gibson had trusted them, and they'd failed him terribly. "I've learned from bitter experience that you can't be too cautious when it comes to these people. If I left you alone, I wouldn't be surprised to find you missing come morning."

"Holy...!"

"So, I'd suggest you get some rest if you want to get out of here tomorrow. I'll be right back." She headed out the door, but true to her word, she returned within a few minutes. "The guard's gone, but Mulder should be back soon."

Colton saw her move to sit down on the couch, pulling out her briefcase and her laptop. He reached for the bed controls, lowering the head until it was level again. He realized how tired he actually was when the mere act of leaning back felt so soothing. He heard the soft tones of the modem connecting as Scully worked. Idly, he thought about the two X-files agents. The last time he'd seen them had been over five years ago. He was surprised at the lack of animosity he felt towards them now.

He wanted to be angry at them for involving Lynn in all of this. He tried not to remember that technically, it was Lynn's case in the first place, not theirs. He sighed. Maybe it was the enforced inactivity, but it was giving him time to think. Too much probably, he thought darkly.

He couldn't help thinking that if he'd worked with the two of them, gotten a better idea of the dangers they were up against instead of brushing them off, Lynn might still be safe. After all, it was his fault that Lynn had accompanied him out there in the first place. Try as he might, he couldn't fault the agents, not with the image of Mulder getting shot in his place coursing through his mind every few minutes. He frowned. He'd been sure Mulder had been wounded more seriously. But if the man was up and about, he must've been mistaken. But still...

"That's strange."

The comment interrupted his thoughts. He looked down the bed, his eyebrow rising in question. "Something wrong?"

"I was trying to find your friend, Stein, in the Bureau database. It says there's no Nick or Nicholas Stein listed with the Pittsburgh office."

Colton chuckled. "Nick is his middle name. He hates his first name. Try Francis." He heard the soft clack of the keys, followed by a satisfied, "Ah."

"Francis Stein." Scully stared at the information for a second, frowning. Her face cleared as she made the connection. "Francis Nicholas Stein. Oh, I get it. The poor guy."

"Yup. He used to get teased about it all the time, especially with his height and all."

"Hmm... Well, I don't see anything here that would explain how he stumbled onto the bee farm. Did he tell you anything?"

"Nah. All he said was that he'd gotten a tip about some illegal deliveries at the farm. He told me he couldn't reveal much more, but that whatever it was, it was big. I guess he was right, the poor bastard."

"We'll get them back, Tom," Scully said softly. "Both Nick and Lynn."

"Yeah," Colton replied. Of course, they would. He didn't dare think otherwise. He couldn't afford to. He closed his eyes as he drifted off to a troubled sleep.


Warehouse 12, Keith Road, Pittsburgh, PA
7:09 PM

"Perhaps, we were being overconfident," the Englishman muttered to his companion as he paced the floor of the empty building. "There is no guarantee he will come."

The other man leaned back against the far wall, a small smile on his face. "He will come," he assured. "If only because I asked him to."

"Oh?" A raised eyebrow joined the comment. "He knows you are alive then?"

"I'm sure he suspects. In the business you and I are in, things are rarely what they appear to be."

"Indeed. I wondered how he found out about our base in Peru. Perhaps I've found the leak my associates have been searching for."

"My friend," came the chuckled response. "You know there is no evidence that Mulder was ever at the base. Besides, I think we've both been guilty of leaks when they've suited our purposes."

"And what would yours be?" The gaunt man stared calculatingly at the other. "You have yet to inform me as to your reasons for being involved in all this. I'm sure you would not have come out of hiding for a triviality. And I've certainly done you no favors."

"You may not have, but I do have certain... debts I need to repay." The man the X-files agents had dubbed Deep Throat shrugged. "Very old debts," he added, sighing.

The Englishman's eyes narrowed at the reply, wondering about the other's motivations. In an enterprise that perforce required a certain amount of secrecy, this man was that much more of an enigma. Not many in the consortium knew much about him. He had just always been there since their inception. In fact, the one person who might have known him well enough was now conveniently missing from Peru, leaving behind a small scale nuclear explosion that had all but destroyed their base and their work there. He wondered if the man wasn't an orchestrator more than he was an informant.

Their line of work was a dangerous one in which to have owed favors or outstanding debts. He knew his own reasons for doing this. His granddaughter, and his loss of faith in the consortium's objectives. But he couldn't quite help contemplating the identity of the person who could cause his cohort to undertake the risk in their collusion. Those old debts of his must have been very dear indeed. The sudden jerk of the other's head caught his attention. He saw the hand reach furtively into the trench coat, and wondered if the other was reaching for a weapon. He followed the suddenly alert expression, glancing towards the doorway.

"I think I'm about to absolve myself of some of my debts. I do believe Mr. Mulder has arrived."

As if on cue, the agent materialized in the doorway. The Englishman blinked in surprise. He hadn't heard Mulder approach at all. The man had appeared almost out of thin air. He hid his nervousness, however. He was painfully aware of which cards he held, and they were definitely not the favorable kind, something he was quite unused to.

Mulder tossed a quick glance around the vast room before his eyes settled on the two people waiting for him. He walked towards them, coming to a stop a few steps away. He raised an eyebrow at the Englishman, but spared a small smile for the other man.

"You're looking better than the last time I saw you."

"I should hope so, Agent Mulder. The last time you saw me was at my funeral."

Mulder grinned at the thin attempt at humor before turning serious. He looked from his old informant to the taller man next to him. "I must say I didn't expect you."

"My daughter is Gwynneth Neville."

This earned a knowing nod from Mulder as he recognized the name. "Ah, of course. Elizabeth Neville... one of the children in Virginia. Your grandkid?" He saw the man nod. "And you allowed that?"

"I allowed it, Agent Mulder," came the bitter response, "as much as your father allowed your sister's abduction. Neither of us were given a choice. Fortunately for me, unlike your father, I am in a position to do something about it before it is too late."

"I see. And getting my partner back, what's that? A fringe benefit for helping you?"

The Englishman gritted his teeth. "Do not make me regret my actions, Agent Mulder."

"You do realize that the others in your group will know where I got my information from?" Mulder waited for the hesitant nod. "Our mutual friend here," he said, gesturing towards his informant, "probably doesn't need to fear any repercussions from this little adventure of yours. You, on the other hand... I may not be able to protect you."

"I didn't expect you to. I made my choices. I found something more important than the work... my family. Now I have to live with those choices."

Mulder nodded, accepting the answer. "Okay. What do you have for me?"

The two men looked at each other. Finally, at a nod from his companion, the Englishman reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small package wrapped in paper and handed it to Mulder.

"What's this?" Mulder asked, puzzled. He unwrapped it to reveal a tiny vial. He held it up to the dim light, seeing the liquid inside splash around.

"A vaccine, Agent Mulder. A cure for the black oil virus."

"That's all there is? This will be enough for my partner and all the children?"

The question earned him a snort. "Be grateful I was able to get that much for you. You will have to employ Agent Scully's redoubtable skills to replicate more from that sample."

"Fine. And their location?"

"On the paper."

Mulder glanced at the paper that had been wrapped around the vial. He frowned at the set of numbers written on it. They seemed so familiar. His face cleared as he made the connection. Of course, it would figure. When it rained... "Not another one. Let me guess, an underwater base on the East Pacific Rise?" he asked, grinning at the stunned expression on their faces.

"You know about it!?"

Mulder shrugged. With the information from Scully's brother, the deduction had been fairly easy. He felt something he rarely did from his previous meetings with shadowy informants. A measure of control. "I try to keep informed. Although I do wish you'd pick your bases in the continental United States. Do you have any idea how expensive these trips are getting to be? Not to mention the inconvenience." He sighed.

"I'll be sure to bring up the topic at our next meeting," the Englishman responded wryly.

Mulder nodded in acknowledgement, then turned to the other man. "I suppose I owe you my thanks once again. Although you know, if you keep doing this, it's going to be hard to keep yourself hidden away."

"I can take care of myself, Agent Mulder. Being dead gives a certain freedom that I haven't enjoyed in a long time. Although I suppose you're no stranger to the idea. Considering how many times you yourself have come back from the dead, I'm surprised no one found out about your latest effort."

Mulder could see the confusion setting in on the Englishman's face at the strange turn in the conversation. "I was lucky," he said simply. He rewrapped the vial within the paper, placing the package carefully within his coat. "Thank you both for this. I hope... well... just, take care," he said, looking directly at the Englishman at his last words. He then turned and left without another word.

Behind him, the two men glanced at each other, both silently wishing the agent luck, praying he wouldn't need it, but knowing that he probably would.


Sickbay
USS Enterprise-D
Sunday, April 11, 2371
1937 hours

"How long?"

Crusher turned to the man asking the question. She saw him standing by the biobed, his hands holding his wife's. His gaze never left hers, although she had closed her eyes over an hour ago.

"I'm not sure. I can't actually detect the virus itself within her body." The doctor's gaze swept over her console, trying to make sense of the readings displayed there. "I'm trying to determine if she's been successfully infected. She's slipped into a coma, which is common in the first stages of the infection."

Suddenly, there was a flurry of beeps and alarms as the medical sensors started reading... something. Crusher's eyes widened as she saw the readouts displayed on the screens. "It's starting..." she whispered.

Mulder looked up from his wife's face, turning to see Crusher engrossed in the instrument panel in front of her. "What's starting? What's going on?" he asked.

"I think..." Crusher began, then paused as another set of beeps sounded. Her fingers flew over the console, acknowledging the alarm, and keeping track of the various pieces of information being displayed. "Yes, I'm positive," she continued, "It looks like her body's starting to succumb to the infection."

"What about the alarms?"

Crusher looked up from the console to meet Mulder's eyes. She took a deep breath, trying to figure out how to tell him. She finally decided on keeping it short and to the point. "Complete renal failure. Her kidneys and liver have been compromised, and her heart is starting to show severe arrhythmia. I'm also reading some anomalous activity around her brain stem." She saw the shocked expression on Mulder's face, and tried to explain. "The virus seems to start working at different times for different people. But once it starts, it causes massive organ failure, accompanied by a shutdown of the cerebral cortex. I suppose it is a testament to how powerful her immune system is that it took this long for even these first signs of the infection."

"Is she in any pain?" Mulder asked, a slight vein of fear lacing his voice. He knew he should probably have thought of this before. Although, he wasn't sure exactly what he could do should the answer be positive. When Crusher shook her head, he let out a small breath of relief.

"No," Crusher replied. "Based on what I know, and Dana's medical readouts, I think the virus is shutting down her sensory and nervous system. She's not feeling any pain." Or anything else, for that matter, she thought to herself.

She had discussed the possibility with her aunt earlier. Deanna's assessment of the infected crewmen's state of mind rang through her head. Right about now, Dana's would be completely cut off from her senses. She hated to think of what the unconscious woman must be going through. While her rational mind could understand the inevitable progress of the infection, a part of her would be terrified at the sensory deprivation. As Deanna had mentioned, the humanoid psyche just wasn't built to stand that kind of loneliness for long.

Another alarm beeped from the console, bringing her attention back to the present. "The brain stem is shutting down. I'm detecting a decrease in her neurotransmitter activity." She silently watched as the neurotransmitter levels in her cerebral cortex fluctuated wildly, the besieged immune system trying desperately to combat the alien organisms. Her hands twitched, her mind calling out almost immediately for a hypo of tricordrazine as she made the automatic diagnosis. She sighed, trying to convince her body to remain calm and let the virus run its course. A lifetime of training warred with what her mind was telling her to do. To stand by and watch as a patient died, without trying to do everything in her power to save them.

Mulder simply nodded as Crusher regularly gave him updates about his wife's condition. He'd long since tuned her out; it had simply become too painful to do otherwise. He just sat by her side, his fingers lightly stroking her hands. He raised a hand to caress her cheek. "It's going to be fine, Scully," he whispered, leaning in close to her ear. "You hear me? You're going to beat this damn virus, and you're going to come back to me."

From her position behind the instruments, Crusher watched him talk to her aunt. She'd already told him that, in all probability, Dana wouldn't be able to hear him. Not even subconsciously. He had merely smiled at her, and continued with his soft words. For a second, she felt a pang of jealousy, a sense of loss, a feeling of wanting what they so obviously had. She could almost see the connection between them. Not for the first time, she silently wondered what would have happened had she had the courage to take Jean-Luc up on his offer after their adventure on Kesprytt III. She shook her head, pushing the thoughts to the back of her mind, trying to concentrate on the matter at hand.

She glanced up at the chronometer. It was now about two hours since her aunt had slipped into the coma. She'd watched the brain activity levels jump all over the scale as they slowly, but surely, dropped. Meanwhile, there was hardly a single organ in her body that still worked. That she was still alive was in itself a miracle. Although Crusher was not sure this qualified as an existence. She silently prayed the ordeal would be over soon.

Finally the neurotransmitter levels dropped to zero, just as her heart gave up after one final faint beat. It was over. She swallowed, her eyes shut tight. A single droplet escaped, trailing down her cheek. When she opened her eyes again, she saw Mulder looking at her with an expression on his face that she hoped never to have to see ever again. He knew, she realized. I'm so sorry, Mulder, she thought to herself, although she couldn't bring herself to say it out loud. Instead she walked over to stand beside him, her hand coming up to squeeze his shoulder.

He could feel the quickening slowly fading. He knew what was happening, and he clutched Scully's hand that much tighter, knowing within every cell in his body that he could do nothing to stop it. And hating himself for it. When the final spark died, a strangled gasp escaped his lips. He looked down at his partner of over three and a half centuries, his wife, his soulmate, his very life. She lay there, so still, he could almost imagine that she was just asleep. He leaned down to place a gentle kiss on her forehead. "Don't keep me waiting too long, huh Scully?" he said softly, turning to catch the pained gaze from their niece. He turned back to look down at Scully. When he felt the hand come to rest on his shoulder, he placed one of his own over it, the two of them silently sharing each other's pain.


White.

Nothing but white.

She turned, trying to figure out where she was. And saw another infinite expanse of white in front of her. She frowned. She knew something was wrong. There should have been color, pictures. Instead, there was this all encompassing white that surrounded her.

She looked around, her eyes coming to rest on... something. A faint speck of color amidst the uniform white. Her eyes narrowed trying to make out what it was. And widened as she realized it was growing.

A few moments later, she knew she'd been wrong. Horribly wrong. It wasn't a color that was replacing the white. It was something else. A nothing. A void. She turned, and started to run. A glance over her shoulder, or what passed for a shoulder in this reality anyway, and she could see it, gaining on her. Slowly, but inexorably. She tried to increase her speed, but she knew it was useless. She could almost feel the darkness behind her now. It licked at her heels, dogging her, trying to claim her. But she wouldn't allow it! Resolutely, she sped up.

She could see the darkness beside her now, eating up the blank white canvas, tearing apart her... her what? She couldn't remember, she thought, panicked. The dark flowed around her, moving past her, cloying in its sickly sweetness. It offered her an escape from the not knowing, from the unknown. It offered her sanctuary, but she knew she couldn't afford the cost. It was most definitely too high. She refused.

The darkness reared its head, outraged. This puny thing dared to defy it!? It moved closer, surrounding her now. Soon the only piece of white left was a small circle around her... feet? She could see it shrinking in front of her. She tried to fight it. But she was so tired. So very tired. It would be so easy to... to just let go. She paused, an image of a man suddenly in front of her. Who was he? She didn't recognize him, but she knew he was waiting for her. Somewhere. And she knew he wanted her to fight. For some reason, it was important. And she knew him, didn't she? He was important too. She knew it, deep in the very core of who she was. Very well then, she would fight!

That was her last thought before the darkness was complete.


"Now, all we can do is wait," Crusher said to the three of them.

Guinan and Mulder sat at one of the desks, looking at the doctor as she finished explaining what had happened. Crusher had seen little reason to continue to keep Picard behind a quarantine field any longer while in Sickbay, since the rest of them were already immune and wouldn't spread the virus. But for now, she decided not to change the status quo. So, from behind an invisible shield, the captain of the Enterprise looked out at the three of them. Crusher had also made sure to erect a force field around Scully before beginning the experiment. Of course, this was all done with the assumption that Picard was still uninfected. If not, the entire point was already moot.

And try as she might, Crusher still hadn't been able to actually track the viral organisms themselves within the body. It seemed almost as if they'd been engineered to mimic readings from parts of their host bodies to escape detection. Had she not seen the evidence of their exit from the one casualty they'd had so far, she might not even have figured out that it was a virus causing this epidemic. Although, she supposed that was the point. By the time anyone became aware of the threat, it would be more than likely that the epidemic would have already spread to a significant number of any population, passed along by beings unaware of even being infected until the virus decided to strike. It was one of the hallmarks of a bioengineered weapon.

She sighed, her glance falling on the somber man sitting beside Guinan. None of them were unaware of the toll this was obviously taking on Mulder. Crusher looked away from the downcast man, her eyes meeting Guinan's own dark ones. Just seeing him so distraught caused a wave of anguish to wash through her. She looked at the bartender helplessly.

Guinan smiled faintly at her, then rose and moved beside Mulder. "Hey, it's going to work out, Mulder. You'll see," she whispered softly. But she could tell that the words weren't even reaching him. "Mulder..." She sighed. It was rare that she couldn't find the words to help someone, at least for a little while. But she couldn't imagine what she could say to him to help him. He needed to get his mind off the current situation. And they weren't exactly helping by simply sitting around, commiserating about the patient in the next room. She looked up, meeting Picard and Crusher's eyes with a sense of defeat so rare for her.

From his vantage point a few feet away, Picard had taken one look at Mulder, and known immediately that the man had not been prepared for this. After all, how could one prepare to watch their loved one die? Picard silently wondered how he might feel should it be Beverly lying on the table, instead of someone he hardly knew.

Of course, those thoughts inevitably led down paths he'd walked all too often. He turned away from the distraught man to look again at his chief medical officer. She stood not ten feet away from him, yet so unreachable. And not just because of the force field separating them at the moment. He'd often thought about taking their relationship past that one last line. He knew they both wanted to, and silently wondered exactly what it was that was keeping them apart.

He'd even tried bringing it up after their feelings for each other had been confirmed on the Kesprytt homeworld. Those few days when they had been telepathically attached to one another had been some of the most trying, as well as the most happiest of his life. To finally be able to let her know, to not have to hide it anymore. It had been such a relief. He had thought that once back on board the Enterprise, they would definitely continue what had begun down on the planet.

But, to his surprise, she had refused. He had seen the fear in her eyes as she'd uttered the words. He sighed, wondering what her reasons had been, what could possibly have caused that terror stricken look that had passed across her face for a split second before she'd managed to cover it up. It was almost as if, with the dissolution of their link, all the old fears had once again taken root, more in force than ever before. And with her refusal, he'd pulled back. It was so much safer to simply carry on, just as they'd always done.

Still he couldn't help wondering where they would be at this very moment, had their dinner that night gone in a slightly different direction. If only... he sighed. Somehow, so many things seemed to come back to that one single phrase. He felt a sense of pain as he thought of all the lost opportunities, all the missed chances. If only... He looked at her, and saw exactly what he was missing. He closed his eyes, suddenly feeling dizzy with the thoughts he usually kept hidden so deeply. He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs that seemed to have suddenly take up residence in there. When he opened his eyes again, his vision was still clouded. It was then that he knew he was in trouble.

Crusher met Picard's eyes, and saw him suddenly close them as if in pain. She wondered if he was feeling the same thing she was, if he felt the helplessness she did at not being to help this man.

It might have surprised her to know Picard's thoughts from just moments before. Her thoughts mirrored his as she wondered what her own reaction might be to seeing him on that bed instead of Dana. Lord knew, she'd had to do that exact thing more than a few times in the past, considering the number of times he'd been hurt, while she desperately tried to heal him. And each time, she'd convinced herself that this was the reason she'd refused his offer after Kesprytt. It was just so much safer. No love, but no pain either.

She'd had to pick up the pieces of her heart after Jack had died. And she didn't think she could stand to do that again. She thought back to when Ronin had offered her what seemed like the perfect solution at the time. Someone to let her forget Jean-Luc, someone who wouldn't leave her, someone who would always be there... She closed her eyes at the thought, then opened them again when she heard it.

"Beverly..." The name came out in a soft breath. Crusher looked up to see Picard raise a hand, as if to support himself. "I...," she heard him start to say, just as his eyes rolled up in his head. She was up and moving towards the forcefield before his body hit the floor. "Jean-Luc!!" she cried, "No...!"

The field lowered at her command, her tricorder already beeping out readings on his body. It only confirmed her fears; the virus had claimed another. If the readings on her tricorder weren't proof enough, the blackness clouding his eyes when she pulled back on an eyelid confirmed it. Quickly shutting down and locking away her feelings one more time, just as she'd always done before, she prepared to put him in stasis along with the rest of the infected crew. She felt Mulder come up beside her, laying a hand on her shoulder, echoing her actions from earlier. Looking up into his eyes, she thought she saw a glimmer of understanding in the hazel depths. She hastily blinked away an errant tear as she and Mulder bent to lift the prone body.


S.S. Meercat, Cargo Hold
East Pacific Rise, Pacific Ocean
Friday, December 11, 1998
11:24 AM

"Now, remember," the man said, pushing stringy blond hair out of his eyes. "We've tried to match your air mixture to the recommended combination for the depths you're going to be reaching. It's not deep enough that we have to use liquid oxygen to maintain pressure, but it's still a doozy of a mixture."

The two men were alone in the room. Next to them, a small submersible vessel bobbed in the moon pool in the center of the hold. Both were carrying what Mulder thought looked more like space suits than any diving equipment he'd ever seen.

"This isn't any ordinary dive, Mulder," the blond added, seeing the look on the agent's face. "We think we got the air mixture pretty close to what you'll come across in their base. But it'll still be up to you to check the air if you decide to remove the suits."

"We know, Langly," Mulder replied. "I still wish we could have gotten a bigger sub though."

"This was the best we could do, Mulder," Frohike said. The two men stopped, turning to watch the short man walking past the cables on the deck as he approached them. "Subs that can reach those depths aren't too easy to come across, especially on such short notice."

"I know, I know," Mulder sighed. "You guys still did a great job getting us this far. Thanks."

"You know us, Mulder," Langly replied. "Anything to shaft these guys."

All three turned at the creak of metal that echoed around the room. They saw the hatch on the sub being thrown open with a clang as a diminutive figure popped up through the opening.

"Langly, Frohike," Scully greeted the Gunmen as she pulled herself out of the sub.

"Hey, Scully," they said in return.

"Now, as we said before," Langly added, "this sub has quite a few nifty features. It's got an adjustable pressure system, so it'll pressurize to match the ambient pressure levels outside as you descend. By the time you reach the coordinates, you should be at optimum pressure. This way, you won't have to spend any extra time equalizing down there."

As soon as Scully moved away from the hatch, the third agent climbed out. "Are those the suits?" Colton asked as he reached for the suits Langly still held.

"Yeah," he replied, handing them over. "You won't need these unless you actually decide to leave the sub. We're not sure what you'll find down there. The acoustic baffle that they've got set up doesn't allow any readings for about a mile around the coordinates. So you'll have to decide once you get there."

All three agents nodded as they entered the sub. Colton immediately set aside the suits and moved up to the front, flicking on various switches and controls. Slowly, the instrument panels came alive, lighting up as the vessel powered up. Among the various instruments, Mulder could make out what looked like sonar displays and depth gauges.

Scully and he looked up at the two Gunmen looking back down at them from outside. "Good luck," they said, moving back as they flipped the hatch shut.

All of a sudden, the agents felt the silence surround them. Cut off from the rest of the world, they felt as if they were now alone in their journey. They heard the hiss of air around them, and looked to the front where Colton was busy with the controls. They felt the floor move beneath them, and moved to take the seats near the back.

"All systems check out," Colton said into his headset as he manipulated the controls. "Preparing to dive." He waited for an acknowledgement from Byers in the control room of the boat, then with a final "Over and out," he flipped off the radio. The agents had already decided against radio contact until they were on their way back. It would minimize any risk of their being detected. Quietly, the sub started sinking.

The small windows at the front of the sub and the portholes on the side provided the agents with a limited view of the outside environment. They watched as the light blue of the ocean waters turned into a deep twilight just as Mulder noted the depth gauge reading about 65 meters below the ocean surface. They sank at a steady one half meters per second, the windows slowly growing darker as they descended.

It was almost noon now. On the surface, it was no doubt clear and sunny. Down here, however, the inky darkness was absolute. Half an hour and about 700 meters down, the only sources of light, except for some slightly bioluminescent creatures, were the small running lights on the outside of the small vessel as it knifed through the dark waters, heading in a steady downward direction.

Scully sighed as she glanced out the viewports, staring into the forbidding nothingness, interspersed with the occasional luminous sea denizens as they wafted up past the window in chains of ghostly green. With difficulty, she pulled her eyes away from the hypnotizing darkness to look around the dim interior of the cabin.

Up in front, the two men sat quietly, staring intently at the instrument panel in front of them. Scully could see the light from the radar and sonar screens casting an eerie glow on their faces. She walked up to join them.

"Scully," Mulder acknowledged her presence, moving over to make room for her in the cramped cabin.

"How long till we get there?" she asked, curious blue eyes taking in the instrument readouts.

Colton looked up from where he was piloting the small submersible. "It shouldn't be too long," he replied. "This acoustic baffle is creating a pretty sizeable dead zone around the location your informants gave us. But I'd say another hour or so to reach the actual coordinates."

"Good," the redhead replied in relief. "I want to get this over and done with."

Colton nodded in mutual desire, turning back to the instruments.

Mulder looked from the other agent to his partner, wondering about the grudging respect that had somehow developed between them. Colton had even been level-headed and calm when they had initially discussed this trip.

Of course, the agent mused in amusement, it might have had more to do with the fact that of the three of them, Colton was the only one even remotely qualified to be here, than any sense of camaraderie between the three of them. When Mulder had returned from his visit with the two informants, he'd spoken first with his partner.

Lynn's location, they both knew, would pose a pretty large problem. If the information on the piece of paper was to be believed, the base was not only somewhere in the Pacific Ocean out in the middle of nowhere, but also a good one and a half miles under the water's surface. The trip to the base in Peru seemed almost trivial in comparison. He looked at the slowly increasing numbers on the depth gauge, then up at the windows that showed nothing except the blackness outside, speckled with the occasional glow-in-the-dark fish.

A call to the Gunmen and some of their sources had gotten the agents access to a submersible that they could use. Of course, the problem now was a qualified pilot for the vessel. Neither of them had ever dived before, let alone have any experience in the conditions they would encounter at the depths they would need to reach. And both were leery of involving any more people than absolutely necessary. A pilot neither of them knew was just one more complication they did not need.

They had debated whether it would be wise to discuss Mulder's information with Colton. While neither of them particularly liked him, Lynn was his fiancée after all. After much deliberation, both had reluctantly decided that the man deserved to know. Of course, he'd immediately wanted to accompany them, something neither of them was prepared to allow.

Surprisingly, Colton simply stared at them, then actually seemed to think about it rather than shouting his mind as they might've expected. Perhaps, the agents thought, the man wasn't a total loser after all. With a smirk, he'd asked them how they intended to get to the location Mulder's informants had given him. When the X-files agents had sheepishly confessed their predicament, he'd just laughed.

"Mulder," he'd said, "only you two could come up with a situation like this. It may interest the two of you to know that I got a dual degree in marine oceanography and sociology as an undergraduate."

At their puzzled expressions, he'd continued, "Oceanography? Which involves diving?" Seeing the realization dawn on their faces, he'd added, "I have more than enough qualifications to pilot your vessel, not to mention the actual licenses to do so. So, I guess I'm coming with you guys after all."

And there hadn't been a whole lot the agents could say to refuse him. After all, they'd agreed, it did solve a particularly pressing problem in the time they had available.

Even so, it had taken them almost the whole week to get everything ready. It had taken Scully nearly that long to get the vaccine sample analyzed and replicated into sufficient amounts for about a dozen people. They had also used the time to get familiar with some basic diving and safety techniques for their trip. But most importantly, it had given Colton a chance to recuperate from his injury, while getting to know the X-files agents a little better.

Mulder didn't know what had changed, but he definitely knew better than to look it in the mouth. Colton, meanwhile, couldn't help but feel a sense of excitement at finally being able to do something, anything, to get Lynn back. The night he'd awoken in the hospital had been the worst in his life, he thought. Now... now, he had a chance to go after her. To rescue her. The moment he knew the other two would have need of his skills, it had taken all his self-control to keep from shouting for joy.

Which brought them to their current situation. Cramped inside a small six man submersible on their way down to the depths of the Pacific Ocean, headed for the ultimate unknown. And given the lack of any sonar readings, no inkling of what awaited them.

And worst of all, each of them was only too aware of the fact that, while they had been tremendously lucky to get their hands on this sub at all, even if they found any of the abductees, at the most they would only be able to fit three or four of them into the vessel. If they found any more than that down there, it would tear a pretty big hole in their rescue attempt. Faced with the choice between attempting the rescue as soon as possible, or wait almost indefinitely for a better vessel to become available, they had decided on the former.

Mulder sighed for what seemed to him to be the millionth time. So many things could go wrong with this trip. He'd thought the base in Peru had been hard to break into. But compared to this, that one had been a piece of cake.

"Another 20 minutes," Colton's voice interrupted the silence. The depth readout read about 1900 meters below sea-level.

Mulder's eyes wandered from the steadily rising numbers to the nearby panel. He frowned as he registered the readings. "Hey, Colton. Is there something wrong with that temperature gauge?" He turned to glance outside the dark windows. "It looks like it's getting warmer."

Colton glanced at the readout, his brows furrowing in thought. He then looked up, following Mulder's gaze outside. His face cleared as he realized what it was. "No, I think it really is getting warmer. We're getting pretty close to the rise. It's volcanic in many places, so we're probably near one of the surface vents. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised to find the base using one of the bigger vents for their power and heat." His eyes drifted back to the depth readout. "Get ready, guys. We're almost there."

Both the X-files agents leaned forward in their seats, eyes straining through the outer darkness as they tried to make out any possible details. They could feel the sub slowing down, and almost without warning, they were there. The forward lights bathed a rocky wall just ahead and beneath them. They rested in the water, hanging motionless about 2500 meters below the ocean surface. Below them, the floor stretched away into the distance, a rubble of igneous rock that somehow seemed to resemble an ancient city, worn down by time and left to erode and die. The lava rock formations looked like pillars and walls that in places stood nearly 20 feet high, forming mock cathedrals and spires everywhere.

The agents shivered at the empty and desolate feeling the sight evoked. Colton slowly manipulated the controls, and they felt themselves moving again. As they got closer to the rocky floor, they could make out red tube-like worms that covered the surface of the rock. Nestled amid the slowly writhing worm colony, the agents saw several small crabs, wiggling their claws as they scampered by. Long, thin fish lay motionless among the worms, until the backwash from the sub propellers nudged them out of their hiding places, causing them to dash out and about in panic.

Scully sucked in a breath as they moved over a rise, the floor seemingly dropping away beneath them, vanishing into the never-ending darkness outside the circle of the sub's lights. They slowly descended, hugging the ocean floor as they approached the coordinates.

Slowly, the ground started rising again, getting steeper as they moved forward. They crested another rise, and gasped at the sight. A few hundred yards ahead and above them, the structure sat, nestled against the cliff wall, standing about four stories tall. It loomed above them, perched on a ledge extending out from the cliff face. The base exuded a dim, almost ethereal glow, the lights studding its exterior winking ominously in the murky darkness.

Colton brought the sub to a stop, then put it immediately into reverse. The base disappeared from view as they fell behind the rise. He slowly set the vessel down into a niche next to a bare ledge of rock. Ensuring that they were securely attached to the rock, he started shutting down the engines.

"Well, we're here," he said, flicking off the last of the switches. The noise from the propellers died away, leaving them surrounded by a thick silence. They looked at each other in the dim lighting. "At least we know your information was correct."

Mulder's eyes narrowed in thought at the comment as he realized something. "You never really believed it, did you?"

Colton shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, a secret underwater base almost one and a half miles under the Pacific? Don't get me wrong. I was praying that we'd find something down here. But, well..." He sighed.

The other two smiled at him in wry understanding. "So," Scully said, breaking the silence, "now what?"

"I want to take a look at the video of that building," Mulder said. The sub was equipped with a front mounted video camera, set next to the forward lights. They'd activated it when they'd reached the ocean floor. For now, Mulder didn't want to risk moving out of their hiding place until he could get a better idea of the ground layout.

Colton nodded, reaching to activate the playback controls. The three of them watched the screen intently, initially seeing nothing more than the dark rocky ground interspersed with the small inhabitants of the deep. They saw the rise, as they'd moved over it, then the base as it came into view. Colton paused the video, freezing the image of the structure in the middle of the screen.

"Hey Colton," Mulder asked, his eyes still on the image. "Ever seen the Abyss?" His mouth stretched into a small grin when he felt two pairs of eyes fasten on him in surprise.

"Oh, god! Please don't tell me you're expecting a UFO down here, Mulder," Colton said, referring to the last scenes in the movie.

"Relax, Colton. I just meant the general situation."

"That's a relief," Colton replied dryly. He turned back to the image on the screen. It looked like a conglomeration of modules, each sticking out of the overall structure in every possible direction. But they all seemed to be attached together. Colton explained that it was probably easier to build and transport down here in sections. He pointed to the areas where the modules connected with each other, noting that there might be some sort of airlock system in place at the junctions to regulate pressure.

His eyes wandered over the rest of the structure, noting the modules near the top. He was puzzled at their smaller size compared to the ones below them, until he realized what they probably were. Escape pods. Following the structure down, he saw something that brought a satisfied smile to his lips. "Guys," he called their attention to the module. "I think I may have found a solution to our problem. Check this out." His fingers traced the area as he looked up at them. He saw their faces clear as they realized what he'd seen. The lower half of a submersible similar to theirs jutted out of the bottom of one of the lower modules.

Suddenly Scully's face sobered as a thought occurred to her. "Do you think they know we're here?" she asked.

Colton and Mulder looked at each other. Finally Mulder shook his head. "I didn't see any activity around the base. I think whatever measures they're taking to block outside sonar might be affecting their own scanners as well."

"Of course," Colton chimed in, "that doesn't mean we'll be able to stick around in there too long after we get inside."

"Agreed," Mulder said, nodding. "I wonder how much security they'll have. I doubt they're even expecting any unexpected visitors down here."

"Hmm...," Scully grunted. "Well, we'll find out." She stood and moved to the back of the compartment where the suits had been stowed.


The room was large, with several cables and wiring lining the floors and adorning the nearby walls. Pale fluorescent lights cast overlapping shadows over the floor. Near the middle of the room, water gently sloshed against the surface of the vessel that floated, mostly submerged, in a square pool about 10 yards on its side.

The silence in the room was unbroken except for the rhythmic squeaks as the man tightened the bolt on a panel on the sub's surface. To take his mind off the monotony of his work, he pursed his lips, about to hum a tune. He never saw the white gloved hand reach up out of the water between him and the vessel. He didn't even register anything out of the ordinary until he suddenly found his airway being cut off, so quick was the motion.

"Urk!" He dropped his wrench, his hands instinctively reaching up to claw at the vice that seemed to have gripped his throat. Before he even had a chance to struggle, he felt himself being pulled forward. Losing his balance, he tumbled head first into the water, coming face to face with what he thought was an apparition. The air in his lungs escaped in a flurry of bubbles as he uttered an involuntary scream upon seeing the white clad figure. A face black as night stared back at him. Of course, he had only a moment to register the image before the hand returned. This time the fist connected with his jaw, and his head lolled back limply as he lost consciousness.

The water cascaded off the figure as it heaved itself and its burden up the ladder by the side of the pool. With a grunt, the figure tossed the unconscious man over the side, then pulled itself up and out of the water. It climbed onto the slightly wet deck, looking around to make sure they were alone, then turned and reached down to give a hand to the two others following it.

Once all three were out of the pool, they quietly checked their wrist mounted gauges. Satisfied with the ambient air pressure, they reached up and unfastened their collars, removing the helmets and cautiously sniffing the air. The agents then proceeded to remove their suits and place them out of sight behind some equipment. Quietly they looked around for any cameras or security monitors, but found none.

Looking around they saw a corridor leading off the far wall, ending at a door on the other side. As they were about to move towards it, the faint groans from the unconscious man captured their attention.

"He's coming around," Scully said. "What do you want to do with him?"

"We could use his knowledge of the base's layout and crew complement," Colton replied.

Mulder and Scully looked at each other, then nodded. Mulder moved to kneel beside the slowly recovering man. He saw the man's eyes flutter open, widening when he saw the figure leaning over him.

"Wha...?"

Before the man could complete his thought, he was interrupted by a low voice. "Listen very carefully," Mulder breathed, a firm hand gripping the front of his shirt, "and maybe you might make it through this in one piece. Got it?" He waited for the man to meet his eyes, then continued, "Now, we want to know where that door over there leads." He nodded towards the door at the end of the corridor.

The man simply stared at him, his face set in refusal.

Mulder glared back, then looked up at the other two. "Why don't you two go see if you can get that door open? I'll see if I can persuade our friend to cooperate."

Colton seemed about to object when Scully nodded, then gently placed a hand against his back, pulling him along with her.

Mulder watched them move away, then turned back to the man. He leaned forward, his face inches away from the prone man as he pulled him closer. His voice dropped further until it was almost a hiss. "Now, where were we?"

The man felt the voice lower, the menacing tone sending pinpricks of ice up his spine. He gulped, looking up into his interrogator's face, and blinked. For a fleeting moment, he thought he saw the hazel eyes glow. And then... he frowned as he tried to figure out exactly what it was he was so concerned about.

The other two returned in a few minutes to see a curious sight. Mulder and their captive were kneeling on the floor, hunched over. Coming closer, they could make out Mulder looking over the man's shoulder as he drew something on a piece of paper.

Mulder looked up at them, a small smile stretching his lips. "Our friend's been very helpful," he said.

The other two looked down at the paper, seeing a rough diagram of the base.

Mulder waited for the man to finish, then moved the paper so the others could see it as well. He pointed to several marks that dotted the map. "He said that there are four technicians on the base, including him. These three cross marks here are their probable location. These four hashes here are the four researchers they have onsite. Apparently they rotate through them every once in a while. Other than these eight, he said there were about a half dozen security personnel scattered throughout the base."

Colton's jaw dropped at the information. "And you managed to get all this from him in the time we were gone?" he asked in disbelief. "How?"

Mulder shrugged. "I have many skills," he grinned.

"What about the children?" Scully asked. "And Lynn?"

"Ah, look here." Mulder pointed to a section of the base near their current position. "They're somewhere in this area. He couldn't give me any more details than that. Apparently, that section is off-limits to the tech personnel when they have merchandise in there." His tone conveyed his disgust as he repeated the terminology the tech had used.

Colton glanced up from the map, his eyes falling on the tech. He shuddered at the blank look on the man's face, so devoid of any emotion. He silently wondered what Mulder had done to the man to get the information. It almost seemed like he'd been... drugged. He turned back to the other two, realizing that Scully was saying something.

"We got the door open, and it looks like it leads to the next module. I think it's some sort of storage area; there're lots of crates and boxes in there. If we go by this map," Scully said, tracing a section on the paper, "then we'll need to go out that door, and up the ladder on the far end." She softly tapped the paper. "Mulder..." She paused, darting a significant glance from him to the captive technician. "If we're going to get all of them back down here, we might need a little help."

"I think that can be arranged," Mulder replied, turning towards the tech himself. "You'll help us, won't you?" he softly said, his words more of a persuasive statement than a question.

Colton watched open-mouthed as the man calmly nodded his head. "What in...?"

Mulder held up a hand to interrupt him. "Don't think about it too much, Colton. He's decided it's in his best interest to help us. Who're we to tell him otherwise, huh?" He stood up, pulling the tech up with him. "Well, lead on, MacDuff. To the captives, men." He chuckled as he followed the tech through the corridor and past the door, out into the next module.

The other two agents silently followed, shaking their head at Mulder's sudden enthusiasm. Scully found herself smiling slightly, while Colton simply tried not to wonder whether the pressure was starting to get to them.

They'd moved past the scattered crates to reach the ladder when Mulder held up a hand to quiet them down. "There's someone up there," he whispered, his head tilted to the side as if he was listening to something intently.

Colton frowned, looking up the ladder. He saw it lead up into what he figured was the module right above. "You sure?" he whispered back. "I don't hear anything."

"If Mulder says they're there, they're there," Scully hissed at him. "How many?" she asked softly, turning back to Mulder.

Mulder's face tightened in concentration. "Two. They're..." He paused, his eyes widening. "Shit! They're getting closer." He moved back. "Hide..." he breathed. While the other two immediately scrambled away, he turned to the tech. "Distract them," he instructed the man, then jumped over and crouched down behind one of the boxes next to the ladder.

Not a moment too soon, as it turned out. He'd barely gotten out of sight when two figures dropped down the ladder shaft. They started in surprise at seeing the lone tech standing there staring at them.

"Hey? You ok, man?" one of the two ventured tentatively. Both frowned at the lack of any kind of response. They were about to move toward the man when he suddenly pursed his lips and started whistling.

"What are you..." the other newcomer began, puzzled.

Behind the crate, Mulder sighed, shaking his head slightly. Well, he had commanded the man to distract them. He moved, jumping over the crate, his fists connecting with their jaws before they even noticed his presence. Without a sound, both silently sunk to the ground. The tech simply stood there, staring at the agent.

"Not what I would have come up with, but still... good work, MacDuff," Mulder muttered to the man, then glanced up to see Scully and Colton walk towards him. "Three down, eleven to go."

Scully knelt down beside the two men, reaching for their belts. She retrieved their sidearms, holding them out for the others to see. "These look like really small caliber weapons." She handed one to Colton and stuck the other under her own belt. "If we're lucky, maybe we'll come across a couple others for you, Mulder," she snickered, remembering his penchant for losing his sidearm.

"Funny," Mulder retorted dryly. "Well, they probably can't fire anything more heavy duty than those down here without risking a breach. I suppose this means these two were security." He sighed. If Colton hadn't been here, he might have risked putting the whammy on these two as well. But, even then, he thought their group was already getting conspicuous enough without adding a parade of zombies to their ranks. Besides which, he rationalized, security personnel rarely made good whammy subjects anyway. "Let's tie them up and get on with it," he said finally.

A few moments later, the two men were securely immobilized using some lengths of cable they found around the room. The agents quietly went up the ladder, following behind the whammied tech as he led them upwards.

They were unsure whether it was simply luck, or whether the tech was just making sure to avoid any of the base personnel, but their trip was relatively uneventful. They had almost run into some of them a few times, but had managed to duck behind some cover in each case. The tech led them through a few more modules, and a couple of levels higher, before they reached their destination.

They walked into a dimly lit room, empty except for a small desk on one side, and a door set almost seamlessly into the opposite wall. There was a security card access panel next to the door. The agents simply stared at it, then at each other as they tried to decide what to do.

"I guess this is the end of the line," Mulder finally muttered. He made a show of looking up and down the room they were in. "There's never a consortium researcher around when you need one," he complained, shaking his head.

As if on cue, they heard some voices in the adjoining corridor, moving closer towards them.

"You were saying," Scully retorted, quickly moving into the shadows behind the desk in the back of the room. The others followed her, blending into the darkness, just as a tall man in a white lab coat entered the room.

He paused at the entrance, still talking to whoever it was outside. The agents caught his final words, "I'll be right up. I want to start the next series of tests on the first lot." They pressed further back as the man walked in, stopping next to the door to pull out a card from his pocket. He slid the card through the reader, then waited as the door clicked open and smoothly swung aside.

The man had barely crossed the threshold when the agents made their move. He didn't realize anything was wrong until he felt the hand slide over his shoulder to cover his mouth. He felt the body behind him, holding him tight. The voice next to his ear seemed almost deafening in the quiet, yet so soothing as he listened to the words.

"I'm going to remove my hand now, and you're not going to make a sound. You got me?"

He nodded, finding it strange that he'd even consider doing otherwise.

Mulder grinned. Chalk up another one to the vampire whammy, he silently congratulated himself. He realized how lucky he'd been that the two he'd successfully whammied had been alone. He still hadn't quite gotten the hang of putting more than one individual under yet. Nonetheless, he moved aside to let Scully point her weapon at the man's back. While he'd managed to get the man under control without raising Colton's suspicions, he didn't want the agent to wonder why every consortium agent Mulder talked to was suddenly eager to betray his comrades.

"Where do you keep the merchandise?" Scully asked bluntly, anxious to get to the object of their mission. She poked the muzzle of the gun into the man's back. While she knew that the threat itself didn't actually matter, considering the effects of Mulder's unique skills, she still felt better just doing it.

"In there," the researcher pointed ahead of him. "Let me get the lights," he added helpfully, reaching to the side.

With a flicker, the room lit up. The agents saw that the door had led into a large laboratory. Several tables, some of which were occupied with the children they'd come here after, lay scattered around the room. Mulder's eyes narrowed as he made out four of the seven children.

"And the others?" Colton asked, not seeing his fiancée anywhere.

"Over there," came the reply. The researcher pointed to the far wall, where there were four more doors similar to the one they'd come in through.

Quietly, the agents moved through the room, walking towards the indicated doors. On the way, Scully stopped beside the bed of the nearest child, noting the boy's pallor. He was strapped down to the observation table, an IV running out of his arm, a mask on his face leading to a respirator, and a multitude of sensors attached all over his body. Beside his table, a bank of readouts blinked and hummed as they gathered data about his vital statistics.

Scully resisted the temptation to gently touch the boy, to reassure him that he wasn't alone any longer. She blinked, pushing back the anger she felt. The boy couldn't be more than eight years old. That there were people willing to do this to such an innocent made her blood boil. She took a deep breath, giving the child a wan smile, then moved on to catch up to the others. Reaching the far wall, they made use of their host's keycard to open the first door. Beyond, a room similar to the one they were in housed the rest of the missing children. A quick look confirmed that other than the children, the room didn't have what they'd been looking for.

"And Agent Horton?" Mulder asked the man.

"In the next room," came the reply. Together, they moved over, opening the door to find what they'd been looking for. In a smaller room, on the two tables, Alynna Horton and another man lay in a similar condition as the children.

"Oh, god!" Colton whispered, immediately stepping into the room. He was about to rush over when Scully placed a hand on his shoulder to stop him.

Ignoring his quizzical look, Scully turned to the researcher. "Are they contagious?" she asked, hoping desperately that it wouldn't be the case. She let out a sigh of relief when the man shook his head.

"No, of course not!" he replied. "Not at this stage in the infection," he said, almost proudly, earning him looks of disgust from the agents.

Turning away from him, Scully watched as Colton ran over to the table, his hand reaching for Lynn's. He squeezed it reassuringly, his other hand moving up to brush aside the blonde hair that fell over her forehead. He placed a gentle kiss on her brow, then leaned in to whisper softly. "I love you, Lynn. We're gonna get you and Nick and the kids out of this. Just hang on, okay?"

"Let's go see the other two rooms, shall we?" Mulder said in the meantime, wondering how many others might possibly be down here. Besides, he thought the mortal agent could use a moment alone with his fiancée.

"Of course," the researcher said obligingly, leading the two X-files agents out. The next door led to an empty lab, but both the agents froze at what they saw in the last room. On a table, similar to the one Lynn was on, lay a dark-skinned woman. Two separate IV needles were attached to her, one on each arm. The one on the left led to a bag filled with some sort of black fluid. By contrast, the second line showed a deep purple liquid flowing through it, leading from her arm till it disappeared somewhere in the mass of equipment behind the table. But what shocked them the most was the soft tingle they both felt. It was weak, but definitely recognizable. They looked at each other in surprise. The woman inside was an immortal!

Scully frowned as she moved closer, then gasped when she realized what the black fluid was. "Mulder...," she whispered in a trembling voice. "That's..." She pointed to the black bag with a shaking finger.

"The black oil, yes," the researcher supplied in a cheerful voice, almost causing Mulder to belt him. He would have to work on the attitudes of his whammied subjects, he thought to himself as he moved towards Scully.

"What are they doing to her, Scully?"

"It looks like they're continuously infecting her with the oil."

"But why...?" Mulder asked.

"She seems to be somehow immune to the effects of the virus," the man answered, adjusting his lab coat as he talked. "We're trying to see if a concentrated dose will somehow infect her successfully. We were curious as to how strong her immune system is."

Scully felt sickened at the information. "And that other line," she pointed. "What's in it? What else are you giving her?"

"Oh that's the most interesting part," the researcher chortled, seemingly excited as if he were about to reveal a great secret.

"Could you tone down the happy attitude?" Mulder muttered to the man. "It's starting to give me a headache."

The man simply nodded in reply. "That's her blood," he said.

The agents stared back at him in shock, then turned back to the woman on the table. "Purple blood?" Scully asked, incredulous.

"Oh yes! We can't quite explain it, although we think it might be an unusual side effect of the infection, or maybe a reaction of her heightened immune system."

Scully snorted at the man's theory, then turned to look at Mulder. She could almost see the wheels turning as he ran through the possibilities. "Not now, Mulder," she whispered to him, her hand on his arm gently squeezing in warning. "We'll have plenty of time to figure it out later." She turned back to the researcher. "Are there any other abductees in this base?"

"No," he replied. "Just the seven children, and the three adults."

"Good. Now you...," Mulder said, a finger jabbing the man in his chest, "are going to help us take all of them downstairs. Is that clear?"

The man nodded silently.

Concluded in Part 4

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