Angular Momentum by Kel

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Angular Momentum by Kel

Angular Momentum cover

TITLE: Angular Momentum





SPOILERS: The Blessing Way, One Breath, Teso Dos Bichos, The Calusari

KEYWORDS: Casefile, MS Friendship.

SETTING: Season 3

THANKS: To my master beta, Erin. To Linda, of the eagle eye and gentle heart. To Tre—if only she didn’t spend so much time making pictures, we could get her to write more. To Foxsong, for encouragement and technical guidance.

DISCLAIMER: Just because I’m demented enough to contrive stories about characters from a TV show doesn’t mean I’m crazy enough to submit an invoice.

SUMMARY: “I have been on the bridge that spans two worlds, the link between all souls by which we cross into our own true nature.”

— Fox Mulder, “The Blessing Way”

Part 1

Detective Jones steered left into the Longridge Condominiums and parked next to the squad car, in front of unit twelve.

“What have you got there, Donnie?” he asked the patrolman who opened the door for him.

“We’ve got the dead guy, Neil Deutsch. Plus one suspect, buck naked and too stoned to tell us how he how he offed him. Couldn’t even give us his name. We’ve got Deutsch’s wife, Lauren. She was upstairs, heard nothing out of the ordinary.”

Donnie finished his recitation and looked up from his notes.

“A couple of pals go down to the family room to share some drugs, and one of them turns psycho and takes the other out,” he theorized.

“Could be,” Jones agreed. “We’ll know more after the autopsy.”

= = =

Mulder wasn’t tired enough to sleep, but it was too late to do much of anything else. He lay on the couch, switching channels to hopscotch around the commercials. When the phone rang he picked it up as if he’d been expecting a call.

“Yeah?” he asked.

“Uh, it’s Langly.” His tone was flat, without the usual edge.

Mulder sat up on the couch.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“A friend of mine. Bob Adkiss. He’s been arrested for murder,” Langly said, his voice full of disbelief.

“Got a lawyer? Good.” Mulder rummaged through the papers on his coffee table, finally locating a pencil and something to write on. “What’s his name, and where are they holding him?”

= = =

About the only times Scully arrived at work earlier than Mulder were those days when they were scheduled for some administrative meeting. Other than that, his absence in the office generally meant another ditch.

Scully was starting to suspect that she and Mulder had a very unhealthy relationship. True, both of them were committed to the X-Files, but what were the X-Files? Scully had to conclude that the X-Files equaled anything that happened to grab Mulder’s attention.

Her mother thought she was missing out on the most important thing in life, having a family. Scully didn’t think so, but perhaps that was simple denial. What Scully resented consciously were the little frustrations. Like avocados. Every time she bought an avocado, she’d find herself dragged out of town while it was still hard, only able to return after it had turned to mush.

If it were Scully’s interests that defined the X-Files, she and Mulder could investigate that unfortunate phenomenon. Or—and this was even sweeter—she could assign Mulder to keep an avocado under surveillance, with orders to call her the minute it was ripe.

But it wasn’t just avocados. There were liquefied lettuces and withered little lemons. Dentist appointments missed and rescheduled. Dry cleaning that hung in the store for months because she never had time to pick it up. Her neighborhood Starbucks had a bulletin board, and she used to gaze at it longingly. Tango lessons at the J. Be a mentor for a high school student. Feminist book club. All out of the questions because of her erratic schedule.

Would the world really grind to a halt if Scully insisted on pursuing a life outside of work? Mulder wouldn’t object in principle, but it would never happen. There would be autopsies that couldn’t wait, flights to catch, mutants to chase. Mulder and the X-Files were all or nothing.

Why was she so committed to Mulder? Because she knew how it would feel to lose him. When Scully thought that Mulder would die without her, that wasn’t histrionics. That was playing the odds.

= = =

Detective Jones sipped a can of Pepsi as he watched Mulder study the file on the Deutsch case. Mulder read the statement by Lauren Deutsch and examined the sketches and photos from the crime scene. The statement by the suspect was all but incoherent. The lawyer’s request for a psychiatric evaluation had been granted immediately.

Mulder closed the folder and looked across the desk to the detective.

“You have no evidence against him,” Mulder said.

Jones snorted. “You’ve got that right. We can’t even show it’s a murder.” He ran a hand over his head, pushing the thinning, sandy-colored hair back from his forehead.

Mulder would be able to reassure Langly that his friend was no longer a serious suspect. He gathered his notes and stood to leave, but Jones stopped him.

“Why do you suppose he was naked?” Jones asked.

Mulder shrugged.

“What about the wooden bowl?” Jones persisted. “Containing ‘unidentified plant alkaloids,’” Jones read from his notes. “The same plant alkaloids found in the, uh, vomitus of the witness.”

“That’s a preliminary report,” Mulder reminded him. “Final results pending.”

“Do you have a theory, something for us to go on?” Jones pressed him.

“No evidence of ingestion by the deceased,” Mulder reminded him.

“Agent Mulder, who is this Robert Adkiss? What’s the FBI’s interest in the case?” the detective asked impatiently.

“The FBI has no official interest,” Mulder answered, “and I don’t know anything about Adkiss.”

Jones frowned.

“Friend of a friend,” Mulder added. “If I learn something useful, I’ll pass it on.”

“He’s got a lot of friends, for a nobody,” Jones observed. “We found him lying on the floor next to the body, stark naked and too stoned to tell us his name.”

“I read that,” said Mulder.

“He makes his phone call, and suddenly he’s got a top lawyer and an FBI agent looking out for him,” Jones said pointedly.

“Thanks for your help,” Mulder said, and Jones gave him a sour look.

“Wish I could say the same,” he replied, rubbing his forehead.

Mulder responded with a shrug that was the perfect blend of apology and indifference. Back in the car, he took out his cellular and hit the number for The Lone Gunman.

= = =

When she received the summons to Skinner’s office, Scully knew what his first question would be. This time she wouldn’t have to lie.

“Where’s Mulder?”

“I don’t know.”

A few seconds of eye contact.

“Do you know where he was last night?” Skinner asked.

“No,” said Scully, and waited.

“Clearbrook, Maryland,” he informed her. “Investigating a possible homicide.”

Scully couldn’t be sure what was coming next. If it was a warning to Mulder to drop the case, she wondered why Skinner was wasting his breath.

“I see,” she said.

“Detective Tecumseh Jones of the Clearbrook police informed me of Mulder’s visit,” Skinner said.

“And?” she responded. Skinner wasn’t going to order Mulder off the case, she decided. There was no exasperation behind his steely facade.

“Detective Jones requests further assistance from the Bureau,” Skinner said. “His people are unable to pinpoint a cause of death.”

“I’d be happy to repeat the examination, sir,” she said. Why wouldn’t she be? A fresh body close to home with a police department that wanted her help. Doesn’t get much better than that.

= = =

Frohike was normally the earliest riser of the three lone gunmen, but this morning when he started his day, he found a half-full pot of coffee and his two comrades already hard at work.

“Hey,” he inquired.

Byers looked up from his terminal.

“A friend of Langly’s is in trouble,” he explained.

“Female?” Frohike asked.

Langly was surprisingly successful as a pick-up artist, and Frohike’s first thought was that he’d made that cardinal error of bedding a woman with more problems than himself.

“Male,” Byers said. Frohike nodded.

“Bob Adkiss, from SSNOR,” Langly said. “He’s a suspect in a murder.”

SSNOR. The Society for the Study of Non-Ordinary Reality. Frohike kept his opinions to himself this time: They were a bunch of freaks who liked to get high on exotic plants and pretend it was something spiritual. Langly had a genuine interest in meditation and primitive religion, but the others ranged from sanctimonious phonies to out-and-out psychotics.

Frohike sat down by his regular terminal.

“What do you need?” he asked.

“I’m working up a bio and time-line for Bob. Langly’s doing the same for the dead man, Neil Deutsch,” Byers answered. “Deutsch was a not-so-rising executive with EdwardStoltz, Inc. You dig into Stoltz.”

Frohike nodded. Stoltz—popularly knows as Big Ed. Taking over the world one molecule at a time. You’d have to live in a cave to avoid contact with their products, because they were everywhere. They’d operated in blissful anonymity until a couple of years ago. These days they broke into the headlines regularly, one huge scandal following another. The effect on their earnings and world dominance was undetectable.

“The FBI’s must have mountains of dirt on Big Ed,” he reminded the others. “Restriction of trade, remember? Price-fixing, industrial espionage…”

“Yeah, well, you know Mulder,” Langly said. “Let him think of that himself.”

Byers looked up from the terminal as inspiration struck him.

“Try this, Langly. Mulder said they were going to clear your friend, based on the evidence. Call him up and thank him for his help. Tell him you’re glad it’s over,” he suggested.

“Yeah. If he thinks I’m shutting the door, he’s gonna want to keep it open.” Langly smiled for the first time in hours. “Once we get this information printed up, maybe we can put it somewhere for Mulder to steal.”

“He’s not that bad,” Byers defended him. “He just doesn’t like to be lead around.”

“Mulder’s not our only friend in the FBI,” Frohike said with a Groucho Marx-style leer. Byers only grimaced but Langly groaned out loud.

“Hey! I just like to look.” Frohike took a second to give them his hurt expression, and then he went to work.

= = =

Mulder arrived in his office around eleven-thirty, and he knew right away that Scully would be in a foul mood. The desktop was covered with histology reports and other lab results, plus there was the tell-tale folder from the legal department. She was preparing to testify, and Scully hated going to court.

She looked up when he entered.

“Where were you?” she snapped.

“I had my phone on,” he replied defensively.

“I had no reason to call you. It’s simply a matter of courtesy for you to inform me when you’re going to be out all morning,” she said.

“You’re right,” Mulder agreed humbly. “I was in Maryland.” He walked behind her and put a hand on her shoulder.

“You’re about to ask for a favor,” Scully said suspiciously.

He’d expected her to ask him what he was doing in Maryland. This was going to be tough, Mulder thought.

“Just because I admitted I was wrong?” he asked innocently. He could feel the tension in her muscles, and very gently he used his fingertips to knead away the tightness.

“I’m not stupid, Mulder,” she said.

No, just bitchy, Mulder thought, continuing the massage. She was supposed to ask him about his case, and then he could have eased her along into doing the autopsy. He heard her sigh—with relief, hopefully.

“Have you eaten?” he asked.

“Have you?” She shifted a little to take advantage of the neck rub.

“Not since breakfast,” he said, failing to clarify that breakfast was about an hour ago. “Let’s go get lunch.”

“Hm,” she agreed. “I want something sweet.”

No kidding, thought Mulder, who knew PMS when he saw it.

“Au Bon Pain?” he suggested.

“All right.” She leaned forward and went through a series of stretching maneuvers before she stood up. “Now, what are you going to ask me to do?”

He was holding her coat as he answered.

“I’m just trying to be thoughtful,” he said. She had softened a lot, but he wanted to get some pastry into her before he asked her to examine Deutsch’s body.

She smirked at him.

“Would you mind carrying my purse? It’s awfully heavy.”

He had to laugh.

“Sure,” he said, actually slinging it over his shoulder. “You know what they say about single men in DC.”

She tried to take it back from him, but he was making a point now.

“Admit it,” he said. “You find my androgyny intriguing.”

“He wants an autopsy,” Scully mused out loud.

= = =

“Bob Adkiss earns minimum wage and rents a room in southeast DC. Neil Deutsch lived in a luxury condo in Clearbrook, Maryland. His annual income was in the six figures. What’s the connection?” Frohike asked.

“They both have science backgrounds,” Byers answered. “Adkiss has a B.S. in physics from Cornell University. Deutsch was a chemist from Cal Tech.”

“A dishwasher with a college degree. What’s the story there, Langly? Drug problem?” Frohike asked.

Langly finished cleaning his glasses on his black T-shirt before he answered.

“Bob says dishwasher is the perfect job,” he explained. “He can hop off a Greyhound in any city in America and find work the same day. He can wash dishes all day or all night, with his mind free to travel and his hands immersed in the stream of life.”

A nutcase, thought Frohike.

Byers cleared his throat. “Different drummer,” he observed.

“You could say that about us, too, you know,” Langly replied defensively.

“What about the drugs, Ringo? The cops said he was stoned. His own lawyer thinks he was tripping,” Byers pressed him.

“Ayahuasca isn’t a drug, it’s an entheogen,” Langly said emphatically. “A substance that lets you expand your consciousness and find the truth within.”

“Ayahuasca? Is that what you do in your non-ordinary reality club? You drink yagé?” Frohike asked angrily.

“Ayahuasca, yagé, what are you talking about?” Byers looked from Frohike to Langly, eyes narrowed with confusion.

“Ayahuasca, also known as yagé, is a sacred brew made from vines and seeds. It is part of a ritual that can bring about healing and understanding.” Langly was addressing himself to Byers.

“It’s a hallucinogen?” Byers asked.

“You wouldn’t use it that way,” Langly insisted. “You have to approach it with respect, and you have to prepare yourself. Besides, it makes you puke.”

“What you freaks don’t understand is that the CIA loves it when you get stoned! While you’re off in your non-ordinary reality, they get free-reign in this one.” Frohike was enraged, but speaking in a whisper.

“Shut up, Frohike! You’d be the first one on line if the CIA was handing out Seagrams!” Langly hissed. Talk of the CIA always made them drop their voices.

“Guys, this ayahuasca… Could that be the connection? Could a food and chemical giant like Big Ed have a commercial interest?” Byers asked with concern.

“Maybe so,” Frohike speculated. “Big Ed sends their young executive to make friends with crazy Bob so that they can learn more about ayahuasca.”

“But Bob wouldn’t allow that!” Langly protested. “Ayahuasca must be treated with respect. He’d never let someone misuse it.”

A motive for murder, Frohike thought.

The three exchanged glances.

= = =

Au Bon Pain was directly across from the Hoover Building, but today Mulder didn’t recognize anyone from work. It was overpriced but not expensive, and he insisted on paying for lunch.

Now was the time to ask Scully to perform the autopsy. An autopsy he couldn’t justify in terms of FBI involvement or paranormal circumstances.

“You want another sticky bun?” he asked.

“God, no, I’m stuffed. But thank you.” She smiled; all was forgiven.

Maybe he should ask her if she’d lost weight? No, don’t overdo it. Just make the pitch.

“I know you think the X-Files is all about me, that I just drag you along for anything that piques my interest,” he began. There! Now she’d know he really listened to her gripes. “But this is legitimate, Scully, a dead body with no apparent cause of death. And it’s right off the Beltway.” He paused for a breath.

She seemed surprised by his tension.

“Just what is your involvement here, Mulder?”

“As I told you, the forensics issue—” he started to sputter.

“Your involvement, Mulder. Honestly,” she said, drumming her fingers on the tabletop.

“Langly. He asked me to help. The suspect is a friend,” Mulder said, leaning back.

The eyebrow rode up and the corners of her mouth drew down.

“You take the cake, Mulder,” she said angrily. “Your egotism borders on megalomania.” She grabbed her purse from the chair beside her and rose from the table, her chair squeaking on the floor as she pushed it back.

“It’s still legitimate, Scully,” he protested. Her sharpness mystified him.

“I don’t dispute that,” she said over her shoulder as she hurried toward the door.

“Then you’ll do it?” he asked, striding after her.

“Of course I’ll do it! For Langly!” Her cheeks were flushed.

Probably PMS as well, Mulder thought. The hot temper and the hot cheeks.

“Then there isn’t a problem?” he asked hopefully.

“If you think you have to coax me to do a favor for Langly, we have a problem. He’s my friend too! Of course I’ll try to help,” she said.

“I’ll drive you,” he offered, but she was walking the wrong way. “Scully?”

“I’m going to stop at home to get my car,” she explained. “I don’t know how long this will take.”

“Okay, I’ll drive you home,” he said, but she kept walking, and he kept following.

“The Metro will be fine,” she said. “You should try it.”

“But I want to brief you on the case,” he said, his long stride letting him hover just a bit ahead of her so that he was perpetually in her face.

“Your briefings are selective, if not downright self-serving.” She stopped short and he had to take a step back.

“Scully?” PMS or not, that hurt.

“I’ll call you later, Mulder,” she said.

“But you don’t know where you’re going,” he said.

“Clearbrook. Skinner gave me the assignment this morning.” She stepped around him and continued on her way.

Once again he trotted after her.

“Skinner did? What’s he got to do with it?” Mulder asked.

She really was heading for the Metro. Which didn’t even go to Georgetown, so she’d have to walk the rest of the way. All so she could avoid him.

“What did he tell you, Scully?” he asked again.

“A lot more than you did, Mulder,” she answered. “I’ll give you a call.”

= = =

Detective Jones tried a sip of tea and set the cup on its saucer on the coffee table. He waited until Lauren Deutsch put her cup down as well. Then he asked her:

“Was your husband in good health? Was he under a physician’s care at the time of his death?”

She answered very slowly.

“He was in excellent health. There was absolutely nothing wrong with him.”

The emphatic content of her statement contrasted with the hesitancy of her delivery. Numb with grief, Jones thought. He’d seen it before.

“I wonder, Mrs. Deutsch, how you can be so sure of that,” he commented.

Her face crumpled and her shoulders hunched as if she was about to cry, but she merely sighed.

“He just had a complete physical. He was in the hospital overnight. Every probe and scan known to man, he told me.” She smiled, and then her face collapsed into a grimace. “He said, Thar wasn’t even no part untouched.” She used a deep voice and some indeterminate regional accent to repeat her husband’s words.

A battery of tests for a healthy young man, Jones thought. But he’d checked hours ago, and there was no new insurance policy.

“Why? Why did he have to have an exam like that?” Jones asked.

“Oh, that was Neil. I guess you could say he was a hypochondriac,” she explained.

Except he’s dead, Jones thought.

“A headache was a brain tumor, the flu was leukemia,” she continued. “Ever since I’ve known him.”

Lauren Deutsch wasn’t a suspect. She was doing her best to cooperate with the investigation and her sorrow was genuine, as far as Jones could tell. Maybe she really hadn’t heard anything that night. Maybe there was nothing unsavory behind her continued insistence that Bob Adkiss wasn’t a murderer.

“Did he believe he was ill, at the time of his death?” Jones asked. Maybe Deutsch did have a brain tumor or some other problem that his doctors couldn’t find. The victim’s complaints might be helpful to the pathologist that the FBI had promised him.

Mrs. Deutsch was crying quietly now, and Jones pushed the box of tissues closer to her on the coffee table. She spoke through her tears.

“He felt fragmented. Unwhole.” She shrugged. “His doctor offered him antidepressants. I told him to quit his job.”

“Trouble at work?” Jones probed.

“Neil didn’t think so. He told me everyone at Big Ed understood why he’d blown the whistle, that their operations were clean now,” she said.

Big Ed was EdwardStoltz, Inc., Jones knew. A year ago, Neil Deutsch had cooperated with the Justice Department in an antitrust investigation. There were fines and firings and a new executive board, but no prison terms, of course. Jones took a second to thank God that his work didn’t involve white-collar crime.

“What do you think, Mrs. Deutsch?” he asked.

She shrugged.

“I think there had to be hard feelings. I thought he’d do better with a fresh start somewhere else,” she said. And then her face clouded. “You don’t think they’d kill him, do you?”

“There’s no evidence of that,” he assured her.

There’s no evidence of anything at all, he thought.

“Neil never wanted to be an executive, you know. He was a scientist, an engineer. The new management put him back in the lab, and he was relieved,” Lauren Deutsch said.

Jones thought that sounded like a demotion.

“Relieved, but not happy?” he asked.

“Neil wasn’t what you’d call a happy person. He was always restless, always looking for something. I think that’s why he and Bob hit it off so well,” she said.

Bob Adkiss had the mental acuity of a grapefruit, as far as Jones could make out.

“Did they have a lot in common?” he asked.

“Not on the surface. But deep down, they shared a belief. A conviction that if you could learn all the secrets, everything would make sense.” She sighed. “Right now I’d like to believe that myself.”

= = =

Scully snapped off her gloves and stopped the tape recorder.

Neil Deutsch was the healthiest dead man she’d ever seen. Thirty-plus years on earth had failed to mark him with any signs of degeneration, disease, or trauma.

No swelling, no thrombi, no bleeding, no infarcts, no lesions, no plaquing, no ulcerations. Nothing. He looked like an illustration in an anatomy text.

The Clearbrook ME had suggested a lethal arrhythmia. Deutsch didn’t fit the pattern, but Scully had nothing better to offer.

She washed and dried her hands and donned fresh gloves to close the incision. Nothing fancy, just some thick running stitches.

Scully frowned as she sutured, and she began to consider her lack of findings in a different light.

If all scientific explanations were eliminated, it might be time to seek answers beyond standard science.

Many of the lab results were still outstanding, though, and maybe she would find some answers there.

“Agent Scully? I’m Detective Jones.”

She looked up and found the source of the voice. A slight, sandy-haired man with a shoulder holster over his short-sleeved white shirt.

Scully, still gloved, nodded her greeting.

“What did you find?” he asked.

“Nothing, I’m sorry to say. I collected a few more specimens, but unless we get lucky….” She pulled the plastic drape up over Deutsch’s body and began to sort through her instruments, dropping the disposable items into a large red container labeled “Sharps.”

“Well, Doc Barnes said he couldn’t find a single thing wrong, not so much as a hangnail,” Jones offered.

Scully’s review had turned up a slight inguinal hernia and an ingrown whisker. Completely insignificant, but at least she could tell herself she’d been more thorough than the original examiner.

“I’d like to go over your notes, if that’s all right,” she said.

“I’d appreciate it,” said Jones. “I’ll be in my office.”

After she finished the clean-up and changed out of her scrubs, Scully met with the detective.

“I’ve got something for you,” Jones said. “Hot off the presses. Mr. Deutsch recently checked himself into the hospital for a complete physical. Here’s his chart.” He passed the thick envelope across the desk to her.

“Insurance?” Scully asked. “Increased coverage on his life insurance, or maybe a change in the carrier on his medical coverage?”

Jones shook his head.

“I checked. His wife said he had some vague complaints, wanted some reassurance that everything was okay.”

“Maybe we will get lucky,” Scully said, although she doubted it. “Maybe they found some aberrant pathway.”

“Oh, lord,” Jones laughed. “Now you sound like my only suspect.”

Scully smiled.

“Sorry. Your ME suggested a lethal arrhythmia as the cause of death. An abnormal EKG could support that finding.” She grew thoughtful. “Did your suspect really talk about aberrant pathways?”

“Mostly he chants, or he doesn’t say anything. But sometimes he gets going on things like spirit journeys and soul retrieval. Very frustrating,” Jones said.

“My AD said he was being held for a psych evaluation,” Scully said.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with him after that,” said Jones. “If there’s no murder, he’s not a suspect. There’s nothing to say he’s dangerous.”

“You’ll have to release him,” Scully said.

Jones snorted.

“He scrapes through on a mental status exam, but there’s no way this guy can take care of himself. I’d love to send him home to the Lone Gunman, whatever the hell that is.”

“I’m sorry, what about the Lone Gunman?” Scully asked.

“That’s the outfit that’s paying for the fancy lawyer. I have a theory about it, if you want to hear it,” Jones said.

“I’m all ears,” Scully said, very curious.

“Kind of twisted, but here goes. Neil Deutsch was a loose cannon at Big Ed—EdwardStoltz, that is. If Big Ed found a way to put an end to him, they’d have to keep their distance from his killer,” he began.

Scully let him finish, although she could guess where he was leading.

“They’d have to arrange an intermediary to hire the lawyer, stuff like that. I think the Lone Gunman is a secret arm of Big Ed,” Jones finished.

“I don’t think so, Detective,” Scully said.

“Maybe I’m being paranoid,” said Jones. “Just keep it in mind.”

= = =

Part Two

Mulder pressed the buzzer a second time and bounced on his heels impatiently. At last the bolts slid aside and Langly opened the door.

“About time,” Mulder greeted him. “What’s that, the new name for your tabloid?”

Langly wore a black T-shirt whose lurid letters proclaimed, “Circle Jerks.”

“Come on in, Mulder. That is, if you can spare the time before your photo shoot at GQ,” he answered.

They walked into the gunmen’s main work area, and Byers and Frohike glanced up from their terminals but didn’t speak.

“What’s new in Geekland?” Mulder asked. Langly looked down, and Frohike began to type rapidly. The silence stretched until it couldn’t be ignored.

“Lots of developments in superconductors,” Byers said at last. “From Portugal, of all places. They’ve had a breakthrough with the use of titanium alloys.”

Mulder moved a pile of manuals from a desk chair and sat down.

“What’s going on, boys?” he asked quietly. This time Frohike answered.

“Look, Mulder, we’re grateful for your help, what you did for Langly’s friend. We’ve got a few loose ends to clear up, and then we’ll be glad to give you the scoop,” he said.

“You’ll give me the scoop?” Mulder asked incredulously.

“It’s not that we don’t trust you,” Frohike began.

“But the fact is you’re a federal agent with certain sworn obligations,” Byers picked up the thread.

“You called me,” Mulder reminded them. “You brought me into this.”

“We did, and we appreciate your help,” Byers said. “But right now, I don’t think you should be here.”

“Let us handle it,” Langly mumbled, eyes downcast.

“You can talk to me right here or I can bring you in for questioning,” Mulder said coldly. “I’m not in the mood for games.”

Frohike didn’t look at Byers or Langly because he didn’t have to. Mulder was hooked tighter than J. Edgar’s girdle; time to reel him

“We’re not trying to hold out on you, Mulder,” Frohike said. “We don’t have any proof, just a lot of suspicions.”

“All right,” said Mulder. “Give me what you’ve got.”

Frohike leaned back as Byers started to bring up a file. Langly looked Mulder in the eye and began his recitation.

“Have you ever heard of a company called EdwardStoltz, Inc.?” he asked. It was a rhetorical question.

“EdwardStoltz—Big Ed. Formed in nineteen sixty when Stoltz Mills merged with Edward Grain and Feed. Dominates the world market in food additives, pesticides, and synthetic hormones. Known to the public largely for their philanthropic activities, but their generosity is most notable in the area of campaign contributions,” Mulder related.

Mulder must have picked up on the Big Ed angle without their prodding, Frohike noted.

“Looks like you’ve been sniffing along the same trail,” he said.

“Not really,” Mulder admitted sheepishly. “I spent four months transcribing surveillance tapes from Big Ed.”

“Last year? The big antitrust case?” Byers asked.

“About five years ago,” Mulder answered. “We had some strong evidence of industrial espionage, but the whole investigation fell apart. One of the ringleaders died and our witness fled the country.”

“That seems awfully convenient,” Frohike said.

“It was for me,” Mulder said with a grin. “They let me take off the headphones.”

Pure Mulder, thought Frohike. A minute ago he was the consummate G-man, threatening to bring them in for questioning. Now he sounded like a kid excused from math class. He’d probably leave Bin Laden handcuffed to a parking meter while he ran after a woman who reminded him of Samantha.

“No, really,” said Langly. “Or maybe you don’t know that Neil Deutsch was a cooperating witness in that price fixing case.”

“That’s interesting,” Mulder said.

“Or that the CIA has used executives from Big Ed as informants, possibly even spies,” Byers added.

“Big Ed has a vast empire offshore. They can make a billion dollars disappear from one continent and reappear around the world,” Langly said.

“Are you getting all this?” Byers asked.

Mulder grimaced impatiently. “Listen, boys, the FBI was chasing after Big Ed back when Skinner had hair. There’s a permanent division that does nothing else. A bunch of tight-ass accountants that make you guys seem like lumberjacks.”

“Maybe you could talk to them,” Langly suggested eagerly. “We have a strong suspicion that Big Ed had something to do with Deutsch’s death.”

Mulder laughed. “No doubt the boys in White Collar Crime would agree with you. Of course they also think Big Ed killed Kennedy.”

This is personal, Frohike thought. He doesn’t get along with the guys in White Collar Crime, so he’s not going to talk to them. I’ll call Scully later and ask her to look into it.

“They’re paranoid,” Mulder insisted. “Hey, their ASAC died of a stroke last week, and some of them think it was a hit by Big Ed.”

Frohike saw he’d have to try a different spin to catch Mulder’s interest.

“Have you ever heard of ayahuasca—or yagé?” he asked. “It’s a psychedelic drug first used by the Indians of the Amazon.”

“Also popular with anthropologists,” Mulder said dryly. “At least up at Boston University.”

“That figures. They can get high and pretend it has something to do with ancient wisdom,” Frohike said.

Langly whirled around in his chair.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” he exploded. “If you would just shut up no one would know how ignorant you are.”

“Maybe if you had to watch while all around you people traded in their futures for a line of blow you’d have some idea what I’m talking about,” Frohike shot back, his index finger inches from Langly’s face.

“Guys,” Byers said warningly, but Langly interrupted.

“Yagé isn’t blow!”

“It’s a drug, Langly! Don’t be naive!” Frohike shouted.

“Telephone,” said Byers, and as the voices dropped it rang again. Still glaring, Frohike flipped the switches to record the call and answered the phone.

“I’ll tell you about yagé,” Langly said to Mulder. “He’s just nuts.”

Frohike cupped his hand over the mouthpiece and offered the phone to Byers. Byers spoke for a minute before hanging up.

“The lawyer,” he informed the others. “He says the cops are ready to release Bob if someone’s willing to accept responsibility.”

“I guess that’s us,” Frohike said. “He may be a hophead but we still can’t let the CIA get to him.”

“I’ll go pick him up,” Langly said. “I’ve never been pulled over for driving under the influence.”

“I’ll go, too,” Mulder said.

“That’s not such a good idea,” Byers observed tentatively.

“A federal cop wants to go for a ride with an incompetent suspect, without his lawyer, and you think that’s not a good idea?” Frohike asked sarcastically. “What’s the problem?”

“Come on,” Langly said to Mulder. “I can tell you about ayahuasca on the way.”

= = =

Studying Neil Deutsch’s medical chart consumed a couple of hours. Scully forced herself to read not only the reports, where specialists had interpreted the results, but the raw data on the tests themselves.

Nothing, nothing, nothing. She was frustrated and annoyed.

Even Robert Modell, who could kill with a word, left evidence behind. Before she understood or believed how he did it, she could explain the proximate causes of death—burns, multiple trauma, myocardial infarction.

If Bob Adkiss was a murderer, he was subtler than Modell. It was as if he had discovered an “off” button.

Time to move away from the victim, Scully thought as she climbed behind the wheel. Her need now was to learn more about Bob Adkiss and Big Ed.

Big Ed should be easy, because White Collar Crime had been targeting them for a decade or more. She had a friend in the division, Brent Milligan, a classmate from the Academy. She’d seen him a few days ago, at a wake, sadly enough. Maybe she could take him out to lunch.

Bob Adkiss was a little trickier. She wouldn’t talk to him without his lawyer. Clearly the guy was going for an insanity defense, and she refused to help his cause by breaching his rights. Her next best source was Langly.

Langly would want to protect his friend, but Scully didn’t believe he’d go so far as to lie. Langly respected the truth and the search for the truth; if Bob turned out to be a killer, Langly wouldn’t cover for him.

She didn’t bother calling ahead to the Gunmen because someone was always there. The place reminded her of Tau Delta Rho. Back in the day, Delta U was the “cool” house, with the jocks and the face-men, but Scully had gravitated to TDR, where the guys were shy but bright. Like her.

Scully did some of her best thinking when she drove. Not when Mulder drove; that put her to sleep.

If Mulder had asked her about it, she would have blamed his soporific rants and lectures, but alone in her car, she could admit the truth. She felt safe with him. She was all too willing to let him control the car and the investigation.

In his more splenic states, Mulder would urge her to leave the X-Files, for the sake of her career and reputation. Even if she had wanted to, she couldn’t. Mulder would die without her. Someone would kill him.

She had to stay on the X-Files. And the X-Files were the embodiment on earth of Mulder’s will and whims. No wonder she let him drive. No wonder she fell asleep.

But back to Langly. She’d be there in five minutes unless… Inspiration struck, and she parked her car by Nola’s Kitchen. A rack of ribs would help her cause immeasurably.

Most of Nola’s business was takeout and Scully sat at an empty table to wait for her order. You could watch your food being prepared, but Scully never did. She didn’t want to know what made the greens so delicious; she wanted to pretend that it had nothing to do with pork.

Finally, balancing two large paper sacks, Scully arrived on the doorstep to the Lone Gunman and managed to ring the buzzer.

Frohike opened the door and assisted with the burden.

“Hello, pretty lady,” he said, grabbing a bag. “But it’s just Byers and me. The human trash compactor isn’t here.”

Byers began clearing off a space for the food, removing papers and disks from a table and stacking them on the floor. Frohike left the room and returned with a jug of water.

“I just tested it this morning,” he said as he put it down. Scully set the table with the paper plates provided with the order. Frohike pulled some desk chairs over for the unscheduled feast, and they took their seats.

“This is ridiculous,” Scully acknowledged, looking at the mountain of food.

“It won’t go to waste,” Byers assured her. “Langly’s not too proud for day-old ribs.”

“I wish he was here,” Scully said, reaching for a biscuit. “I wanted to ask him about Bob Adkiss.”

“Langly would tell you that Bob Adkiss is a modern-day shaman who dropped out of society to pursue the wisdom of the universe,” Byers said. “Or something along those lines.”

Scully looked at him quizzically.

“I get the feeling that you’d describe Bob Adkiss differently,” she said.

“I don’t really know him,” Byers said carefully. “I do have some concerns.”

They were worried about Langly, Scully realized, but they didn’t want to talk behind his back.

“Is there anything you can tell me?” she asked softly.

“At least we can tell her what we told Mulder,” Byers said, and Frohike accepted that answer.

“Bob Adkiss drinks yagé. It’s a drug used by the Indians of the Amazon. Have you ever heard of it?” he asked Scully.

“Yagé—the vine of souls,” Scully said. “A powerful hallucinogen and potentially deadly.”

“Really?” Byers asked.

“Absolutely. It’s a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. In combination with tyramine-rich foods, it could cause a hypertensive crisis,” she said.

Is that what killed Neil Deutsch? Scully wondered. No, she concluded, because she would have found the evidence. Infarction or hemorrhage of the heart or brain. Still, it was intriguing. She’d order some extra screens on the serum samples.

“I wonder if Langly knows that,” Frohike said.

“He did say you had to be careful,” Byers said. “That you had to prepare yourself and treat it with respect.” They both sounded anxious.

“What kinds of foods, Scully?” Frohike asked.

“Products that are aged or fermented, like cheese or beer. Anyone familiar with ayahuasca would know about that effect,” she reassured them.

Byers gave a twisted smile.

“Poor Langly, torn between the urge to explore other realities and the desperate need for pizza and beer,” he said.

“Seriously, guys, yagé’s a poor choice for a recreational drug,” she said.

“What are you saying, Scully? Bob really is a shaman?” Frohike asked.

“Of course not, and I don’t think he’s an assassin either. But he doesn’t sound like a guy who would pal around with a corporate type like Neil Deutsch,” she mused.

“We have some theories about that,” Byers offered. “Have you ever heard of a company called EdwardStoltz?”

= = =

“Pull over, Mulder!” Langly shouted, and Mulder squealed across to the right lane and then bumped the car up onto the shoulder of the road. He jumped out of the car and ran around to open the rear door on the passenger side.

Langly was holding Bob Adkiss by the shoulders, and together with Mulder managed to swing him out of the car.

Langly, still supporting his friend from behind, turned his head to the side, and Mulder turned his back entirely.

Bob vomited.

“Ugh. What a wonderful drug. Why don’t you invite me over next time you use some?” Mulder said with great disgust.

“I don’t understand,” Langly answered. “It shouldn’t last this long.”

Bob finished vomiting and looked up at the moon.

“La purga,” he said.

“Bob? Feeling better?” Langly asked, but Bob didn’t reply. Langly loosened his hold, and Bob stood on his own.

“Let him air out,” Mulder said, leaning against the car. “Is he gonna keep going like this all night?”

“I don’t know. I told you, the effect should be over by now,” Langly said impatiently. “Bob? What happened, man? Why are you acting like this?”

Bob raised his arms to his side and turned his palms skyward. Then he began to whirl in a circle.

“You use this garbage, Langly? You’re an asshole,” Mulder said.

“This is all wrong. He ought to be able to talk to us,” Langly said.

“Shaman heal thyself,” Mulder quipped.

Langly gazed up at the moon, then back to his friend.

“What do you see, Bob?” he asked. “Where are you?”

“Ahhhhhhh-ohhhhhh-ahhhhh,” Bob sang tunelessly.

“Shaman-chanted evening,” said Mulder.

“Your sympathy is overwhelming.” Langly said with irritation. “He’s lost and he can’t get home.”

“Not in my car,” Mulder agreed. “Not until he stops vomiting.”

“The purge is an affect of the yagé, perfectly normal. But he’s caught in the lower world,” Langly said earnestly.

“Get off it, Langly,” Mulder said sharply, watching as Bob stopped his spinning and lay down on the grass. “This is your basic bum trip.”

Langly looked at him stonily.

“Journey. Not a trip, a journey,” he said.

“Shaman-tics,” Mulder said.

Bob stood up, put his hands behind his back, and shuffled his way to Mulder.

“You hide in the cold away from the hearth,” he said to Mulder. “Open your eyes and see.”

“Thanks. I’ll remember that,” Mulder said sarcastically.

“With drums and vines you shall call me home,” Bob said. He got into the car.

“Bum trip?” Langly asked pointedly.

“Who knows?” Mulder answered. “Maybe just a good act.”

“You could test him,” Langly said. “Ask him something.”

“You’re really serious about this stuff,” Mulder commented.

“His journey in the lower world gives him hidden answers,” Langly said. “Ask him a question.”

Mulder shook his head dismissively.

“This isn’t the Amazon, Langly. Your friend Bob is a dilettante at best. At worse he’s delusional, or a fraud,” he said.

“That’s your objection? There are other worlds, but only for the Indians of the Amazon? A different reality for different people?” Langly pressed.

Mulder looked as if he might answer but apparently decided against it.

“Get in the car,” he said.

Langly opened the door and joined Bob in the back seat.

Mulder guided the car back onto the highway.

“That’s wild, Mulder. You believe in all this crazy shit, but you don’t think it has anything to do with you,” Langly said.

Mulder gave a long-suffering sigh and turned on the radio.

“If I was an anthropologist, I could map this out,” Langly mused. “Like, vampires are real. Flukeman—real. But Voodoo only works for Haitians. And yagé only works for Indians.”

“Feel free to shut up any time,” Mulder said, cranking up the volume so he could listen to Tom Petty instead of Richard Langly.

“The Blessing Way—it’s not just for Navajos anymore,” Langly said.

“For anyone. By Navajos,” Mulder called back to him. “I could make all the sand pictures I want and nothing would happen.”

“But something did happen,” Langly shouted over the pounding music. “Neil Deutsch is dead.”

“Drums,” Bob said. “Drumming.”

“At least someone in this car makes sense,” Mulder observed.

“Tell me, Mulder. How was he killed?” Langly persisted.

“Neil?” Bob asked. “He’s dead?”

Langly had been leaning forward to argue with Mulder, but now he turned his attention to Bob.

“Yeah, Bob, he’s dead,” Langly confirmed.

“Whoa, dude,” said Bob. “This is bad.”

Mulder tried to catch Langly’s eye, but Langly was watching Bob.

“You’ve got to tell us what happened,” Langly said. “They think you did it.”

Bob spoke softly.

“Somebody’s down there,” he said.

Mulder turned off the radio.

“No, dude, keep the drum,” Bob said. “Tryin’ a hang on up here.”

“You met another journeyer?” Langly asked.

“The lower world’s getting crowded, now that anyone at all can go there.” Mulder observed. The radio started blasting a commercial, and Mulder scanned for something else with a backbeat.

“Shut up, Mulder. Just let him tell it,” Langly said impatiently.

“I saw his artifice, the hand of man in the world of spirits,” Bob said.

“You think he did something to hurt Neil?” Langly asked.

“Oh yeah. Dude, someone’s gotta go after him, undo what he has done,” Bob said.

Langly paled.

“I’ve only been there a couple of times, Bob. And it’s not going to bring Neil back,” he said.

“Neil can’t finish his journey until his spirit is released,” Bob explained. “But you can’t do it, dude, you haven’t been called.”

“Do you know anyone who’s had the Call?” Langly asked.

Bob thought.

“There’s a woman in Baltimore. There’s a guy in Akron I chat with sometimes. But what about him?” His arm extended with a graceful flourish as he indicated the driver of the car.

“Mulder doesn’t drink brew. He’s not even a believer,” Langly said.

“He was called,” Bob insisted.

“Maybe I wasn’t home,” Mulder said.

“He was called and he will be called again,” Bob said.

“Called twice? That’s rough,” Langly said, grimacing with sympathy.

“More than twice. More than called. Called and chosen,” said Bob.

= = =

“And good morning to you too,” Scully said brightly, carrying a paper sack from Au Bon Pain over to Mulder’s desk. He looked up.

“You’re unusually cheerful,” he said, sounding unusually grouchy.

“I don’t have to go to court,” she announced. “And here’s your coffee, so you can share in my celebration.”

She studied his face as he took the cup.

“You look like hell,” she said.

“Long night, Scully, and not very pleasant,” he said. “First of all, my partner, who had said she would call me, never did.”

Scully sat down and peeled the top from her coffee.

“I’m sorry, Mulder. I was with the Gunmen until eleven,” she said.

“It’s not a problem. Frohike was kind enough to apprise me of your findings—or lack thereof.”

Scully sipped her coffee, staring at Mulder without answering. Weathering Mulder’s foul moods was part of the job, and Mulder’s bitchy spells were easier on her than his dark depressions.

“You didn’t tell me you were going over to the Lone Gunmen,” he said.

“Is that a problem?” Scully asked. He must have skipped his run this morning, she decided. He seemed critically low on endorphins.

“No,” he said, his tone suggesting otherwise. “But it’s a rough neighborhood, not the safest place for you to go alone at night.”

Scully burst out laughing, and a second later Mulder was joining in.

“I withdraw that last comment,” he said. “But seriously, Scully, I’d like to think we’re working together on this.”

“Okay. Here’s what I learned,” she said. This would be interesting; this time it would be Mulder telling her that the story was crazy.

Mulder placed a yellow pad on his desk and moved his coffee to the side.

“Neil Deutsch was a chemical engineer at EdwardStoltz, Inc. A couple of years ago he was tapped by the Justice Department to be a witness in a price-fixing case against his employer,” Scully began. “Justice triumphed; the company was fined and the scoundrels were replaced.”

“God bless America,” Mulder said. “Go on.”

“Neil, a reluctant executive by his own admission, was relieved of his management responsibilities and returned to the lab,” she said.

“I didn’t know that,” Mulder admitted.

“Neil was unhappy. He complained of some intangible loss of self. He consulted medical specialists, who pronounced him healthy but depressed,” Scully said. “For the record, nothing in his chart suggests that he’d be prone to a sudden arrhythmia.”

“So the ME was full of shit,” Mulder said.

“Not at all,” Scully said. Lethal arrhythmia left no evidence. The ME, finding nothing, had made his best guess. Pathology was one area where Mulder totally trusted her, and most of the time she was content with her perch atop the pedestal.

“Discontent, Neil began to search for answers in unlikely places. He looked to the wisdom of the primitives,” Mulder said, picking up the thread.

“He consulted a shaman,” Scully continued.

“Aha. Strictly speaking, Bob Adkiss is not a shaman. He’s a practitioner of shamanistic ritual,” Mulder said.

“You could give Chuck Burks a call,” Scully suggested. Burks was a friend of Mulder’s who had assisted them on a very sad case. Scully wondered how Charlie and his mom were getting along these days.

“I might. But Scully, I have a problem with this. I understand the power of the shaman. I saw those dead bodies in the steam tunnels of Boston, but that case involved a genuine Amazonian Indian shaman. Bob Adkiss and Neil Deutsch, while arguably alienated, are definitely post-industrial Americans,” Mulder said.

Scully nodded thoughtfully.

“I think I’d have a bigger problem if they did claim a connection with the Indians, because then they would be lying,” she said.

Mulder half-smiled.

“If they’re sincere in their beliefs and they experiment with the rituals and botanicals of another culture, perhaps they would stumble upon another truth,” she said.

“You’re unusually open-minded today,” Mulder said.

Scully thought about telling him of her own experience. Adrift in a pleasant haze in a rowboat on a lake, ready to choose eternal peace, until a voice convinced her that her time had not come.

She wasn’t ready to share the memory, so she gave him a different reply.

“I saw the same bodies you did, and the same cats and rats and intestines. If there is a lower world, Mulder, I don’t think it’s only for Indians. Any more than heaven is only for Christians,” she said.

“What about the drugs—oh, sorry, the ‘botanicals’?” Mulder asked.

“They are powerful and potentially dangerous,” Scully said. “It’s not inconceivable that Big Ed would have an interest in them. Or the CIA.”

“We’re spending way too much time with the Gunmen,” Mulder said, shaking his head.

“I had a very pleasant evening,” Scully said brightly. “But you know, they’re worried about Langly. Frohike thinks he’s going to burn his brain out on yagé.”

“I spent most of the night listening to Langly and Adkiss,” Mulder said. “They have nothing to worry about.”

“He admits he’s used it,” she said.

“Yes. Twice. He’s not a big fan,” Mulder said. “First of all, he can’t get past ‘la purga.’”

“La Purga?” Scully raised an eyebrow.

“The purge. Yagé makes you vomit like crazy. Bob asserts that it’s pleasantly cleansing, once you stop trying to fight it. Langly’s not convinced,” Mulder explained. “He says the stuff tastes bad enough the first time.”

“He should tell them,” Scully said. “Frohike’s afraid he’s an addict or something.”

“Then there are certain preparations, before you perform the ayahuasca ritual. You have to be pure in your body and mind,” Mulder said. “You have to avoid certain foods.”

“That’s for safety,” Scully explained. “In combination with tyramine, the yagé could cause a hypertensive crisis.”

“Like the MAO inhibitors?” Mulder asked. “I see. But the other preparations don’t seem to involve drug interactions. The ritual calls for a week of abstinence.”

“Oh,” Scully said, trying not to snicker. “Are you telling me Langly has a problem with that restriction?”

“That’s what I’m saying,” he confirmed. Mulder seemed equally amused.

Leave it alone, she told herself. But she couldn’t.

“Langly can’t endure a week of abstinence?” she questioned.

“Yeah, Bob was ragging on him about it too,” Mulder said. “See, Langly finds it difficult to ignore an opportunity.”

“Langly has… opportunities?” Scully asked incredulously.

This is absolutely none of my business, she thought.

“Langly’s a love machine,” Mulder said in a his deepest bass.

= = =

“Dude?” Bob said.

Frohike looked up from the monitor. If he was as tall and blond as Langly’s friend, he thought, he’d be running IBM and hiring guards to scrape the women off his doorstep.

“What is it, Bob? Do you need something?” He tried to sound friendly.

Byers was meeting with Adkiss’s lawyer, trying to “structure the payment of fees.” Langly was over at GWU, belatedly educating himself about the darker side of shamanism. That left Frohike to baby-sit.

“I was, like, sleeping…. and I had a journey,” Bob said.

“Does that mean someone has to change the sheets?” Frohike asked. He sighed, annoyed with himself. Shouldn’t pick on an idiot.

“I journeyed to the lower world,” Bob continued. “The greening fern showed me where to find Neil.”

Frohike turned his chair away from his terminal, and pointed at another chair.

“Sit down, Bob,” he said. “You know, it’s natural that we dream about people we’ve lost. Because we’re still thinking about them.”

“I feel so bad for Neil,” Bob said. “His soul is complete, but the Thorn blocks his path and he can’t journey on.”

“That’s sad,” Frohike said. “Maybe if you go back to sleep you can help him.”

“Gonna try,” Bob said. “First I need your car.”

“Dude, are you on drugs?” Frohike asked. His precise enunciation and exaggerated facial expression suggested a very patient kindergarten teacher addressing a very stupid child.

“Dude, no,” Bob answered. “Neil’s got a wife. He’s gonna try to talk to her. The reign of terror has only begun.”

Frohike thought that the last thing Mrs. Deutsch needed just now was a visit from a witch doctor.

“The Thorn’s in the lower world, Bob, isn’t that right? And Neil’s wife is in this world. So she’ll be safe,” he explained.

Bob shook his head.

“Dude,” he said reproachfully. “Nothing happens in just one world.”

“Why don’t you call her, then?” Frohike suggested. Probably not the kindest thing for Mrs. Deutsch, but better than dropping in on her.

= = =

Part Three

Byers was always polite and deferential, but it took more than that before his cousin Larry agreed to accept his fee in monthly payments.

“They make jokes about us, but who’s the first person you call when you get into trouble?” Larry asked.

“A lawyer,” Byers acknowledged humbly.

“We haven’t talked in what, three years,” Larry said. “But when you need a favor, I don’t let you down.”

“Thank you,” Byers said. “I knew I could count on you.”

“You’re not exactly rolling in dough, are you, John?” Larry asked.

“I do all right,” Byers said defensively.

“In that case—” Larry began.

“No, you’re right, Larry. My income is somewhat less than I would have hoped,” Byers said.

“My income is huge, but no one seems to realize that I have expenses,” Larry started to explain, but at that point Langly sauntered into the office.

He nodded at Larry before he spoke.

“Let’s go, Byers, I had to leave the engine running. Damn solenoid’s acting up again,” he said.

Larry beamed benevolently.

“I’ll give you a break, John. Just send me the first check by the fifteenth,” he said.

They hurried out to the van, and fortunately, even with the engine running and the keys in the ignition, no one had stolen it.

“Byers, thanks,” Langly said as they got in. Byers, gazing out the window as if lost in thought, nodded.

“I thought your research would take longer,” Byers commented as they pulled into the traffic.

There was a pause before Langly answered.

“I took karate lessons, as a kid,” he said.

“I did too,” Byers responded, looking mystified.

“Cause you were getting picked on,” Langly suggested.

“Yes,” Byers admitted. “An older boy, an oversized brute—”

“I know all about it,” Langly broke in. “Same story.”

“Did it help?” Byers asked.

“I guess. But I always wondered about something. What would happen if the bully took karate lessons, too,” Langly said.

“Karate calls for discipline and respect for others,” Byers said. “You learn principle along with the techniques. Not that I was ever very good.”

“Yeah, there’s that. And the bully always played football or little league, so he didn’t have time for something wussy like karate,” Langly said.

“As Mulder would say, Bring it home,” Byers encouraged him.

“Shamanism teaches that the journey requires respect for others, respect for everything, in fact. It doesn’t usually appeal to bullies,” Langly said. “But it turns out that bullies can do it too.”

“That’s what you found out at GWU?” Byers asked.

Langly drove like a cabbie, switching lanes to take advantage of perceived gaps and tailgating without mercy. His deliberate recitation contrasted sharply with his aggressive driving.

“I wanted to talk to Professor York. He specializes in primitive religion and he’s written a couple of books about non-ordinary reality. But he skipped his lectures and office hours this morning, and I didn’t get to see him,” Langly began.

Byers nodded, even though Langly was fixed on the traffic ahead.

“I explained to his secretary I wanted to learn about Shamanism. I bought her a cup of coffee,” Langly said.

“I see,” said Byers.

“She’s engaged,” Langly added. “But she told me the professor was usually willing to talk to people outside the academic community, if they showed a genuine interest. Several years ago a businessman came to him for some informal instruction. At first Professor York was delighted to work with him.”

Langly glanced over to confirm that he had Byers’s attention, and then he continued.

“The businessman made it worth his while, too. Funded some fieldwork, helped him get published. Professor York became uneasy, however, because the businessman showed little interest in the traditional goals of shamanic journeying.”

“Which are…?” Byers asked.

“Well, you know. Self-knowledge, healing, reading the future…”

“Of course,” said Byers. “What did the businessman want to learn?”

“How to hurt his enemies,” Langly said. “How to punish people who got in his way.”

“Sounds like a bully,” Byers commented.

“Powerful guy, used to getting his own way,” Langly agreed. “Chairman of the board of EdwardStoltz, Inc.”

Byers’s eyes widened, and Langly continued.

“Of course, the professor didn’t know anything about using the journey to hurt people. In all his research, that wasn’t something his shaman sources were willing to share.”

“Very wise of them,” Byers remarked. “But you think the chairman of the board found someone else to instruct him?”

“Yeah, I’d say there would be a lot of suspicion on the chairman of the board, but he’s got a great alibi,” Langly said. “He’s dead.”

= = =

“The Ed Hunters. People call us the X-Files of the antitrust division,” Milligan said.

Scully’s friendship with Brent Milligan was forged at Quanitico during late night study sessions and early morning roadwork. With his accounting credentials and quick mind, Milligan had been hand-picked for the EdwardStoltz task force. He’d been an Ed Hunter ever since.

Milligan’s work area looked nothing like the basement office. The microfilm reader and double-row of book shelves suggested a library.

“That’s a compliment,” Scully assured him with a sardonic smile. “It means you’re incorruptible and you never give up.”

“What a relief. I thought it meant we had outrageous expenses and never managed to make a dent in the enemy.” Milligan tried to soften his bitterness with a smile. “Sorry. Mike. You know.”

Michael Hudson had been Milligan’s ASAC from day one. His death, unexpected and sudden, left the future of his division in question, and his colleagues were angry and discouraged.

“I was shocked when I heard,” Scully said, settling into a chair. Even Mulder had been shocked, she remembered. “I thought he was too mean to die,” he’d commented.

“This was his whole life, Dana,” Milligan said quietly. “A hero with nothing to show because his enemy has rigged the game.”

“Tell me about the enemy,” Scully said.

“Very simple. You can’t get to them,” Milligan said. “The fines they paid were less than loose change to them. Throwing out the board of directors was like cutting the head off the Hydra. They have a piece of just about everything bought and sold in this country.”

“You won, Brent. That must count for something,” Scully said.

“Yeah. Tell that to Neil Deutsch,” he replied. “He put it on the line for us.”

“What makes them so untouchable?” Scully asked. “Is it just the money?”

“The money and what it can buy,” Milligan explained. “They pour tremendous amounts into political campaigns and lobbying. They draft the laws and they place their own loopholes.”

“Would they resort to murder?” Scully asked.

“Wouldn’t put much of anything past them. Do you think they killed Neil Deutsch?” he asked pointedly.

She didn’t know how to answer that, and her face showed it.

“I’m not asking if you have proof,” Milligan pressed her. “Gut feeling.”

“Yes,” she answered. “But how?”

“What have you got?” he asked.

“Since you ask, what I have is a primitive ritual involving a tropical vine,” Scully said.

“I don’t believe it,” Milligan said, his voice rising. “Gerstbloem.”

“No, Banisteriopsis caapi or Peganum harmala, most often,” Scully corrected him.

Milligan took a deep breath.

“About five years ago, we thought we had Big Ed by the balls. We had a well-placed employee ready to testify, we had one of our own agents on site under cover, and we had miles of tape,” he said.

Mulder had been a reluctant transcriber in that operation, Scully remembered. Five years later and he still complained about those miles of tape and that slave-driving bastard, Hudson.

Milligan continued, “Our man was invited to a get-together with Woodrow Wilson Gerstbloem, the chairman of the board. He’s thinking it’s going to be a cocktail party or something.”

“But it wasn’t,” Scully said.

“No. Turned out to be just the two of them. The chairman offered him some of that yagé brew—Jim turned him down. Chairman asked if he’d mind doing the drumming. So Jim’s there wearing a three-piece suit, banging on a big wooden drum. And the chairman, he’s stark naked, drinking brew and throwing up.”

“What happened?” Scully asked.

“Jim kept drumming, and the chairman kept puking, and after a while the chairman fell asleep and Jim went home,” Milligan said.

Scully let out a huge sigh.

“The next morning Jim got out of bed and phoned in his resignation. Became a painter. Very good, from what I hear,” Milligan said.

“Midlife crisis?” Scully asked.

“Whatever it was, it wiped out our investigation. The witness got hinky as hell, and then the chairman died,” he related.

“From drinking yagé?” Scully asked.

“I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. He was out of the country at the time. I’m not sure exactly where this leads you, Dana, but it can’t be a coincidence,” Milligan said.

“The chairman of the board drinks yagé,” Scully said. Unbelievably, it was very believable. “I bet they didn’t put that in their annual report.”

“Obviously. Close as they came was in his obit. Something like, ‘Woodrow Wilson Gerstbloem was an avid student of primitive religions.’”

“In all your tapes, Brent, is their any discussion about developing products from the different vines?” Scully asked. The components of the ayahuasca brew had numerous physiologic effects and the potential seemed obvious.

“I think it was just a hobby,” Milligan said. “Unless you’ve heard reliable reports on the price of ayahuasca climbing through the roof and shamans forced to hock their drums.”

= = =

“Hey, Chuck, do you have a minute?” Mulder asked, the phone held between his neck and shoulder, leaving his hands free to play with a latex glove.

“Just about,” Chuck Burks answered. Mulder could hear music in the background, something lively and tinny. “If you can wait until later, I can give you as much time as you need.”

Scully had this way of making latex gloves shoot into the trash can, but Mulder couldn’t get it to happen. He sighed at his latest failure.

“Just a quick question for now,” he said. “It’s a term in Shamanic practice. The Call.”

“The Call is the process by which a shaman is summoned to become a shaman,” Burks began.

Mulder twisted the glove into a rope as he listened.

“The Call can occur in several ways. Understand, Mulder, that shamanism as it’s used today covers a range of traditions and modern practices.”

“Uh-huh.” Mulder rolled the rope into a ball.

“Most often the Call involves a serious illness or injury. The shaman achieves the first part of his training by recovering. Or her training—it’s an equal opportunity vocation,” Burks said.

“A serious illness or injury?” Mulder echoed, remembering Bob’s prediction. He unfolded a bit of the glove to wrap around the coiled part, twisting and doubling it until it held.

“Has to be life threatening. Traditionally something like a high fever or being struck by lightning. Could be anything. You could be stabbed or drowned or crushed or burned—hey, gotta go. Talk to you later.”

Mulder dropped the little ball onto the desktop and let it bounce back into his hand.

Don’t call me, I’ll call you, he thought. He was looking for a target for the little ball when the phone rang. Frohike.

“Just how much of a kook is this Bob guy? He claims we have to talk to Deutsch’s wife, she’s got a message from her dead husband,” Frohike said. “If we don’t, more people will die.”

“What people? How?” Mulder asked. Drop, bounce, catch.

“I know exactly how stupid it sounds, Mulder. You can do whatever you want about it,” Frohike said impatiently.

“Well… I’ll give her a ring.” Catch, bounce, catch.

“Not home, or not answering. Like I said, you can do what you want.” Frohike hung up without saying good-bye. Mulder only noticed because people complained about him doing that.

Interviewing Lauren Deutsch wasn’t a bad idea, Mulder thought. He needed to learn more about Neil. He tossed the latex ball into the trash and headed out the door.

He’d brought his car today. The Metro wasn’t quite the modern miracle that Scully believed. First of all, it shut down at midnight. And worse, one time he’d found himself jammed elbow to elbow with Skinner for the whole ride. They’d smiled awkwardly and then Skinner had stared at the door while Mulder memorized the advertisements.

More than half the cars in the Hoover garage had been backed into their spaces. Whether it was paranoia, prudence, or peer pressure, Mulder had done the same thing. Out of habit, he scanned the front of the car before opening the door.

The car looked fine, but Mulder noticed something else that made him uneasy. Further down the row, a man was standing by his car. He looked at his watch and then at the car door. When he reached for his cell phone, he used his left hand—the same hand that was wearing the watch. His right hand stayed in his coat pocket.

“Do you have the time?” asked a harsh, deep voice behind him.

Mulder whirled around—dark suit, dark glasses. Where had that guy come from?

Mulder slammed his left fist up into the man’s nose, but his gun hand, just inches from its destination, was grabbed and jerked up behind his back.

There were two of them behind him and common sense told him not to fight, but adrenaline and rage made him twist and struggle. When one of them leaned in to lift his gun, Mulder was able to trip him with a sweeping kick, but then it was over.

He could raise his face off the concrete but his hands were pinned securely behind his back, and they’d removed the gun from his ankle holster even before they’d patted him down.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to check my watch like this,” he complained hoarsely.

= = =

“Agent Scully? Detective Jones here.”

A crackle of static broke though the line and then cleared.

“What can I do for you?” Scully asked.

“That wooden bowl, from the Deutsch house? When do you think your crime lab will be ready to release it?” Jones asked.

“I’ll find out and get back to you,” she said, and then she felt a tinge of guilt. She had yet to fax him the latest reports. “It’s a gourd, by the way. I think they were using it as a cup.”

“Mrs. Deutsch is eager to have it back,” Jones explained. “Sentimental value, I suppose.”

Scully was about to respond sympathetically, but suddenly Mrs. Deutsch’s request struck her as very odd.

“Detective, has she also asked about releasing her husband’s body?” Scully asked him.

“That didn’t come up,” Jones said. “Hm…”

“It might not mean a thing,” Scully conceded. “I’ll see what I can do about returning the gourd.”

She hung up with Jones and made the necessary arrangements. She tried to call Mulder to see if he wanted to ride out to Clearbrook with her, but he wasn’t answering his phone.

= = =

“I regret the misunderstanding, Fox, but it was imperative that I speak to you at once.” Senator Matheson had dismissed his thugs and returned Mulder’s weapons. Now Mulder sat awkwardly in a visitor’s chair, holding an ice bag to his jaw and hoping like hell that whatever was hurting his back would get better by itself.

Mulder didn’t answer, but they both knew the script. If Mulder had commented on the Senator’s pointless brutality, Matheson would have reiterated the urgency of the situation and suggested that the physical confrontation only occurred because of Mulder’s resistance.

Matheson walked from behind his desk to his stereo.

“I want you to listen to something,” he said as he slipped in a CD and started it playing. “Do you recognize it?”

“Drums,” Mulder said.

“Shamanic drumming,” Matheson confirmed with a nod. “I imagine you know the basics by now. The shaman enters a state of ecstasy in which he imagines that he journeys to other worlds. To return to his own world, he must follow the sound of the drumming.”

Matheson rehashed the basics of shamanism without telling Mulder anything new.

“Whatever you may think about these practices or the plants that support them, the plain fact is that they are demonstrably effective,” Matheson said. “I’m sure you can see the potential for abuse.”

“Neil Deutsch is dead, Senator. If you know something, it’s your duty as a citizen to come forward,” Mulder said in a discouraged drone.

Matheson wasn’t going to say anything publicly, he knew. He was going to give Mulder a little piece of the puzzle and ask him to clean up a little piece of the mess.

“Deutsch’s death is regrettable, but Deutsch is just one man. I’m talking about the potential for wholesale mayhem,” Matheson said.

“The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence oversees the CIA, isn’t that right, sir?” Mulder said. “Your committee, sir.”

“Good point,” said Matheson. “The CIA might very well have an interest here. That’s another reason to put an end to it right now.”

So it’s not the CIA, Mulder thought, just Big Ed and its big, deep pockets.

“How much of your war chest comes from Big Ed?” Mulder asked.

“Don’t be distracted by the flow of dollars. The refinement of these products and techniques is a separate and serious concern,” Matheson said.

“What would happen if you stood up on the Senate floor and called for a limit on the shipment and commercial exploitation of these plants?” Mulder challenged him.

“I could do that,” Matheson agreed readily.

He would, too, Mulder thought. And a lawyer from Big Ed would draft the bill for him, to make sure it was either meaningless or unpassable.

Matheson returned his stony gaze with a fond smile.

“We have a special relationship, you and I, one that’s endured over the years,” Matheson began. Mulder shook his head but the Senator held up a hand to forestall interruption. “It is based on the art of the possible. I’m your protector and, on occasion, your informant. You, on occasion, are my operative.”

Mulder stood up slowly and put his ice pack on the desk.

“I am not your operative,” he said bitterly.

“We share so many goals and ideals,” Matheson said urgently. “And I assure you, this is not about money. Big Ed supported my campaign, but they also supported my opponent, and far more generously.”

“I’m leaving,” Mulder said icily. “And if you ever sic your goons on me again I’ll kill them. Learn to use the fuckin’ phone.”

He was halfway to the door when Matheson caught up with him.

“Take it, Fox. You might need it.”

The CD recording of the shaman’s drums.

= = =

No wonder Bob Adkiss had so much trouble finding his way back from the lower world, Frohike thought sourly. He could barely find his way around this one.

“I’m going to stop for directions,” Frohike said sternly. “You just keep your mouth shut.”

“I know I could find it if you’d let me drive,” Bob complained. “Just hard to explain.”

Frohike had buckled under Bob’s insistence on talking to Lauren Deutsch in person. Now they were jolting along in Bob’s ‘74 Pinto, but Frohike wouldn’t let him drive. He didn’t have a license.

His edgy passenger was humming loudly to himself when Frohike finally pulled in at the Longridge Condominiums. Bob’s sense of direction was enough to lead them to Lauren Deutsch’s doorstep, and Frohike breathed a sigh of relief when she was not only at home but willing to receive them.

Lauren Deutsch was a babe, but she didn’t dress like one. She wore khaki slacks with a blue cardigan and her smooth blond hair was clipped back into a ponytail.

The three of them sat down in the living room, the middle level of the triplex. The furnishings were tasteful and expensive, but their blandness made Frohike think of a motel room.

“I’m very sorry about your loss,” Frohike said. Lauren Deutsch acknowledged him with a little nod of her head.

“Are you a real shaman?” she asked.

“No, I’m a… journalist,” Frohike answered, and at once she turned her attention to Bob.

“You have to teach me,” she said. “Teach me everything you taught Neil.”

“Whoa, Lauren. That takes time,” he said.

“Will you go back?” Her voice was shaking. “The policeman said you couldn’t come out of the ecstasy. Aren’t you afraid?”

“D-uh, yeah, I’m afraid. Last time my guide took off and I was alone when the drumming stopped,” he said.

Lauren bowed her head.

“I can drum for you, on Neil’s drum,” she said. “But I don’t have the gourd.”

“I’ve got a drummer, and dig this: his name is Ringo,” Bob told her. “But I can’t go back so soon. He’ll whip my ass all over again.”

Frohike startled at the name, remembering what happened to the last guy who had that gig.

“We have to do it tonight,” Lauren said. and then her voice dropped. “I saw him. In a dream.”

“He talked to you?” Then he turned to Frohike. “Neil says it has to be tonight.”

Bob was a lost cause. Frohike directed his response to Lauren.

“Ma’am, you look like an educated woman. I know you’re suffering a terrible loss, but it can’t make things better to fool around with dangerous chemicals,” he said earnestly.

Lauren looked at him sadly.

“I know exactly how you’re thinking. That was me, a week ago,” she said. “My husband was under attack and I was no help to him.”

“Mrs. Deutsch, that doesn’t make sense,” Frohike said.

“You know what? I don’t have time for this,” she said firmly. “Excuse me, I have something on the stove.”

They’re both crazy, Frohike thought. How do you argue with a crazy man?

“You told her you weren’t ready,” he reminded Bob. “You’ll just get your ass whipped again.”

Bob looked pensive.

“The Thorn’s a bad dude, right?” Frohike continued.

“Dude, you’re right,” Bob said. “We have to find a real shaman.”

Frohike nodded his agreement. Next he’d try to coax Bob back to the car.

The doorbell interrupted his thoughts and Lauren Deutsch hurried through the living room to answer it.

“Lauren Deutsch? I’m Special Agent Dana Scully…”

What’s she doing here? Frohike wondered.

“…I have your gourd, Mrs. Deutsch. I know you were eager to get it back.”

Frohike sat quietly, listening to the conversation at the door. Bob was waving his hands, trying to get his attention. Frohike motioned him to be quiet, but Bob couldn’t hold back.

“Dude! That chick’s been called!” he exclaimed triumphantly.

“Sh,” Frohike told him.

“She has done the journey!” he insisted. “That’s some high-power chick!”

“You can tell that just by listening?” Frohike asked. Maybe that was Bob’s gift—he could pick out a babe by the sound of her voice.

“I know it,” Bob answered. “We have our shaman.”

= = =

Mulder took a cab back to the Hoover Building. The pain in his back had settled into a nagging ache and his jaw was only a little tender.

The word “operative” troubled him in a way that made no sense. He was aware that Senator Matheson’s protection and information came at a price. He was used to it. X had never let him forget that their relationship was unequal, and Deep Throat had used him as well.

Maybe that was why he was so eager to help, when Langly asked. Those guys didn’t try to control him. They were his operatives. Mulder smiled, then winced because it hurt.

When he returned to the office, he was annoyed and disappointed because Scully wasn’t there. He’d been counting on her to help him hash out two questions.

First, that whole “operative” idea. She’d suggested once that he enjoyed being played. They’d been talking about Deep Throat and the way he’d let the clues fall in a trickle or a torrent. She’d been blunt enough to suggest that Mulder “got off” on it.

He was ready to entertain the theory.

He wanted to ask her about something else as well. Chuck Burks’s talk about life-threatening events was bringing back the memories.

“Scully, remember all the times I almost died?” he could ask her. Or maybe he could get right to the point: “Remember when the Navajos dug me out of the rubble and took care of me? Remember how you said you saw me in a dream? Remember what you heard me say?”

He couldn’t remember saying it, but he could remember what she told him:

“I have been on the bridge that spans two worlds, the link between all souls by which we cross into our own true nature.”

It sounded like something Bob would say. Mulder took the Shaman Drum CD out of his jacket pocket and popped it in the player. Maybe he and Scully could use it as background music for their morbid little chat.

“Remember all the times I almost died?” he could ask her, and then she could say the same thing to him. And they could reminisce.

If loving someone meant it hurt like hell when you thought you would lose them, he loved Scully a lot. Dying would be cake compared to losing her. He didn’t doubt that she felt the same way about him.

Where did the love go when nobody was dying?

He snapped off the CD. He was getting creepier than Bob.

= = =

Bob was in the kitchen, helping Lauren Deutsch. After all, she’d never brewed yagé before.

Frohike was Scully’s unwelcome companion in the living room of the triplex. He was cramping her style big-time.

“I cannot believe you’re even considering it,” Frohike said harshly.

“Just go home,” she beseeched him. “I promise I’ll bring Bob back myself. You don’t have to wait for him.”

“Promise me you won’t do anything stupid,” he asked. Scully had never seen him so worked up.

“I promise,” she said, but Frohike pursed his lips and shook his head.

“I don’t believe you,” he said. “We’ll leave together.”

“I am here to gather information,” she informed him as emphatically as she knew how. “I am not a shaman, no matter what these people think, but I need to learn more about their beliefs.”

“Their beliefs are nonsense. Upper world, lower world, what difference does it make? None of it is real,” he said in frustration.

Frohike sounded so sure of that, but Scully was not. She thought again of the placid lake in the pretty forest and the voice that guided her. Whether or not it was real, that place was very important.

Lauren and Bob came back to the living room together, Bob drying his hands on his T-shirt.

“Ready to go?” Frohike asked him hopefully. No one replied.

“She should eat,” Bob told Lauren. “Cause you don’t want her eating later on.”

“I’ll fix her something,” Lauren said, nodding knowingly. “No cheese, no smoked meat or fish. Anyone else hungry?” Without waiting for a reply, she left the room again.

At least the kitchen was on the same level as the dining room, Scully thought. What a lot of stairs for a two-bedroom apartment. Bob sat himself on the sofa next to Scully and began to instruct her.

“When you journey, you need to minimize distractions,” he said somberly. “Night time is good, cause the ordinary world is less insistent. You have to be comfortable. No tight clothing—naked is good.”

Scully gave Frohike a big smile and a wink.

“No way around it, you’re going to vomit,” Bob continued. “Don’t fight it. I’m kind of a hardhead, so I need more brew and then I vomit more. You probably won’t need as much.”

“I am learning more about your beliefs,” Scully said, pointedly staring at Frohike so he wouldn’t get the wrong idea. But maybe he wasn’t wrong. Maybe this was something she would have to do.

“I’m calling Mulder,” Frohike announced, but Lauren Deutsch interrupted him, summoning them from the doorway.

“Everyone into the dining room. Dinner is served—or maybe lunch,” she announced.

“Wonder what they eat in the Amazon,” Frohike asked Scully under his breath. “Sloth kebobs? Anaconda stew?”

Scully answered with a warning frown, and he sighed and followed the others into the dining room.

“It’s just what I had in the kitchen,” Lauren explained apologetically. “Soup and salad.”

Soup, salad, and a basket of biscuits. The kind from a cylinder that you keep in the fridge for unexpected company. And a small platter with sliced onion, tomato wedges, and perfect green avocado halves.

= = =

Part Four

Four o’clock and still no Scully. Mulder could have phoned, but he was hoping for her to walk in by herself. One of the few benefits of being roughed up was Scully’s response. She would frown with concern and ask him what happened. Then she’d check him over, gentle fingertips searching for bruises and swelling. Maybe he’d even get a little forehead kiss. He realized he’d been hanging around the office, accomplishing very little, on the chance he could collect his perk.

Mulder strained to remember the last time anyone besides Scully had touched him with tenderness. When he did remember, he felt even worse.

The best cure for pathos was a long, grueling run, but he was too sore for that. He decided to swim. He locked up the office and headed for the pool.

Hardly anyone used the pool, but swimsuits were required. Mulder changed in the locker room and shoved his clothes into a locker. He didn’t worry about wrinkling them; his little scuffle in the parking garage had taken care of that.

He had company in the pool today, a serious swimmer who was one of the few regulars. It was oddly companionable to join him in the pool, three lanes over, and adopt his pace.

Swimming gave Mulder the same release as running. His needs were reduced to one: oxygen. He didn’t count the laps and he had no real idea of time. When the other man climbed out of the pool, Mulder was vaguely sorry to see him go. He decided to wear himself out with the butterfly, but about halfway through the next lap, he realized the other swimmer was watching him from the side of the pool.

“Mulder?” the man called.

It sounded more like a question than a threat. Still, Mulder was keenly aware that he was unarmed and probably at a physical disadvantage. His rhythm was ruined, and he reached the edge of the pool in a few raggedy strokes. He pulled his goggles down around his neck and looked up.


“I have some information for Dana,” the man said. Mulder hauled himself out of the pool.

“Who the hell are you?” he demanded, and the other man’s face twisted in annoyance.

“Special Agent Milligan, Antitrust Division,” he answered stiffly. “Never mind. I’ll call her myself.” He turned and walked toward the locker room.

“Wait.” Still breathing hard from his swim, Mulder hauled himself out of the pool and followed after him. Milligan looked back with something close to distaste, and Mulder felt like a jerk. “Sorry, man,” he added. Milligan seemed appeased.

“Regarding Woodrow Gerstbloem,” Milligan said. “We were speculating about the manner of his death.”

“Uh-huh,” Mulder panted. It was a name he’d never forget, thanks to his many weeks of servitude preparing transcripts. Back then, Gerstbloem was the chairman of the board at Big Ed.

“Dana wondered if it was related to drinking yagé,” Milligan continued. Mulder snagged his towel as they walked by the bleachers. Why would Scully think that Gerstbloem drank yagé? And why wouldn’t she tell him?

“Gerstbloem was backpacking in Peru when he took ill,” Milligan said. “Big Ed launched a medical evacuation team, but they arrived too late. Cause of death was listed as dehydration.”

“I’ll tell Scully,” Mulder assured him, rubbing his head with the towel.

“They got to Neil Deutsch, didn’t they? Some of us are wondering if they got to Mike, too,” he said in a low monotone.

Milligan had been working with the Ed Hunters too long, Mulder thought. If he cut himself shaving, he probably blamed Big Ed.

“Don’t put anything past them,” Milligan said warningly. “Bad things happen to people they can’t control.”

The muffled ring of a cell phone greeted their arrival in the changing room. Dialing in the combination, Mulder opened his locker in time to get the call.

“Agent Mulder? The assistant director’s been trying to reach you.” It was Kimberly Cook, Skinner’s assistant.

“Sorry, I was in the pool,” Mulder said. “Tell him I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Stay where you are. He says he’ll be right down.”

Mulder closed the phone and hurried to pull on a shirt. His meeting with Skinner would only be more complicated if he had to explain the technicolor bruise on his ribs.

“Wonder what I did now,” he remarked to Milligan. “Skinner wants to talk to me.”

“You guys don’t know how good you have it,” Milligan commented as he dressed. “Dana complains about his ‘micro-managing,’ but take it from me, you have a lot more slack than most of us.”

Mulder remembered the management style of Milligan’s recently departed ASAC and didn’t argue.

Skinner entered the locker room with his customary scowl in place, and it only deepened when he saw Agent Milligan.

“Interesting place for a meeting, gentlemen,” he said.

“We like it,” Mulder agreed flippantly. “It’s a long walk to the golf course, but the pool is right outside.”

“Agent Milligan, I was not informed of any joint ventures involving your division and the X-Files,” Skinner said.

“Maybe there should be, sir,” Milligan said somewhat defiantly. “A lot of us consider ASAC Hudson’s death to be unexplained.”

“Your concerns have been noted and will be addressed at the appropriate level. It is entirely inappropriate for you to engage in unauthorized operations with Agent Mulder.” Skinner’s disapproval was not evident in his tone, which was no more surly than his usual speaking voice.

“Sir, we were just swimming,” Mulder said. He himself liked to rattle Skinner’s cage now and then, but this escalation of tension seemed utterly pointless.

Skinner turned on him.

“What the hell happened to your face?”

“Someone was, uh, trying to get my attention,” Mulder said. He was habitually protective of his relationship with Senator Matheson and a little embarrassed to tell Skinner the manner in which he’d been summoned.

“Maybe this will get your attention,” Skinner said. “The Secret Service has a few questions for you. If you can’t manage to give me some straight answers, maybe you’d prefer talk to them.”

“What’s going on?” Mulder asked.

“You were seen entering Senator Matheson’s office shortly before the attack,” Skinner said.

“He was attacked? How bad?” Mulder asked.

“I was going to ask you what you discussed with Senator Matheson, but since you picked this particular day to play Marco Polo with Agent Milligan, I’m going to guess that it had something to do with EdwardStoltz, Inc.,” Skinner said.

“Where’d they take him, Northwest Georgetown?” Mulder asked urgently. “I have to talk to him.”

“Brilliant idea, Mulder. I’m sure the officers at his door would be glad to grant you access,” Skinner said sarcastically.

“Damn it,” Mulder said softly, as he realized that Skinner was right. “He was trying to tell me something, and it was about EdwardStoltz.”

“This is how they operate,” Milligan said angrily. “They’ve got a guy on the side who takes care of things like this.”

“I need a complete accounting for your time, starting with your meeting with Matheson,” Skinner asked Mulder. “Did anyone see you leave?”

“Is he under suspicion? You see what they’re doing, don’t you? This is a diversion,” Milligan said.

Skinner’s glare should have told Milligan to mind his own business and remember that he was talking to an AD, but it was only enough to silence him momentarily.

“Sir, I have to follow up on something,” Mulder said. “A warning. It’s urgent.”

“Then I suggest you give me what I asked for, unless you’d rather discuss it with the police,” Skinner said.

Skinner was being generous under the circumstances, Mulder realized. It was lucky that he’d hailed a taxi for the ride back to the Bureau.

“I know who did it, sir,” Milligan said. “Henry Heinz. Either he did it himself or he made the arrangements. We can pick him up for questioning.”

About one more minute of Milligan’s yapping, Mulder thought, and Skinner would ask for his weapon. Mulder never realized a White Collar guy would be so intense.

“I left Matheson’s office around one-fifteen,” Mulder said. “I took a cab back—Capitol Cab. Didn’t get the tag number, but the driver’s name was Dov Ben Zion. It’ll check out. And I have to go.”

“Stay away from Matheson, Mulder, that’s an order,” Skinner said.

“Okay.” Mulder nodded vigorously, impatient to be on his way, but Skinner turned from him and addressed the other agent.

“There’s no room for vigilantes on the Matheson task force. Do you think you can handle it?”

“Thank you, sir,” Milligan said. “I can handle it.”

“Go see Agent Conner on the fifth floor.”

Milligan grabbed his jacket and took off. Mulder waited for his own dismissal, but Skinner wasn’t through with him.

“Drop the lone-wolf act and tell me what you know,” he said.

Mulder swallowed his impatience.

“Matheson implied that Big Ed had found a way to exploit Shamanic ritual,” he said. “I need to work it from that angle.”

Skinner frowned thoughtfully.

“Shamanic ritual. How does Scully feel about that?” he asked.

“She seems inclined to take it seriously,” Mulder said, and Skinner broke into a smile. “Did I say something funny?” Mulder asked.

“No. Sorry.” Skinner resumed his ordinary mask of perpetual annoyance. “But it does explain why you’re swimming laps. Okay. You continue to pursue the paranormal angle, but I will need to know where to find you. I won’t let your work interfere with the conventional investigations of the assault or the murder.”

“Thank you,” Mulder said, turning to leave.

“Mulder!” Skinner called sharply. “I said I need to know where you’re going.”

Mulder picked a destination.

“Neil Deutsch’s house,” he answered.

= = =

Conversation around the dining table began with the mundane.

“I love avocados,” Scully said, although it was obvious. “The darker ones with the pebbly skin.”

“The smooth ones are worthless,” Lauren agreed.

“Absolutely. They don’t have that richness,” Scully said.

“The color is wrong, too,” said Lauren.

Bob tapped Frohike’s shoulder.

“She uses all her senses. That’s good for the journey,” Bob told him.

“Excuse me, may I use the phone?” Frohike asked, pushing himself away from the table. “I’m calling Mulder now.” Lauren directed him to the kitchen.

“Ask him to call Chuck Burks,” Scully said. Frohike seemed convinced that she was planning to drink ayahuasca and that Mulder would stop her. She was sure of neither.

“I know exactly how he feels,” Lauren said when Frohike had left the room. “When Neil began to explore other realities I thought he had lost his mind. When he started talking about a menace in another world, I was sure of it.”

“Did Neil feel his life was in danger?” Scully asked.

“Never, not even when he was wearing a wire for your people,” Lauren said. “Neil wasn’t afraid of getting killed. He said someone was stealing parts of his soul.” She dropped her face to her hands, shoulders hunched in grief. “I thought he was nuts.”

“I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to believe in other worlds,” Bob said. “The evidence is all around us.”

“But it isn’t, Bob, not for most of us,” Lauren said. “It’s very subtle usually.” She turned back to Scully. “After tonight, though, it might not be that subtle.”

“What do you mean?” Scully asked.

“My husband was not the first. Each victory increases his power,” she said.

“Who?” Scully asked.

“The Thorn,” Bob answered matter-of-factly. “He’s got Neil trapped.”

“Lauren, listen to me. Your husband is not coming back,” Scully said firmly. She had held his cold heart in her hands, but she was glad Lauren didn’t know that.

“I understand he’s dead. He needs to complete his journey,” Lauren said. “You may not believe in that, but believe this: If the menace isn’t stopped, many more people will die.”

Frohike returned from the kitchen.

“Mulder’s on his way,” he announced. “He said don’t do anything until he gets here.”

“Mulder, that’s the dude I told you about,” Bob informed Lauren. “Dude who called me back with the drum. He’s had heavy training, too.”

“Mulder’s a shaman too?” Frohike asked Bob. “You are a cuckoo bird.”

Frohike still seemed to think he’d been tattling on her, but Scully was only too glad to have Mulder along for this one. Her habitual skepticism had abandoned her and she was questioning her own judgment. When her cell phone rang, she expected to hear Mulder’s voice, but it was the AD.

“I’m trusting you to help Mulder obey a direct order,” he said. “Senator Matheson was assaulted in his office. He’s under guard now at Northwest Georgetown.”

“Oh my God,” said Scully. “What happened?”

“I want Mulder to stay away from him. If he tries to talk to him or investigate on his own, I will have his badge. That’s a promise.”

Skinner was playing his “baby-sit Mulder” card again, and he wasn’t even willing to answer her questions.

“Will that be all?” she asked a little tartly.

= = =

Mulder didn’t have Chuck Burks on speed dial, but he didn’t have to look up the number. He keyed it in as he drove.

“I was wondering about your call this morning,” Burks said when he heard Mulder’s voice. “Is there any particular reason you needed to know about Shamanism?”

“Yeah, there is,” Mulder answered, grateful that Burks was as “out-there” as he was himself. “Someone’s using Shamanic journeying to kill people.”

He expected some degree of argument; Burks was “out-there,” but he usually wanted some facts to work with.

“That explains a lot,” Burks answered. “I think we need to talk.”

“Start talking,” Mulder said. “I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”

“I just heard some very bad news. A friend of mine died yesterday, a professor from GWU. His assistant found a letter among his papers, to be opened in the event of his death. I want you to see it.”

= = =

“We’ve got to find Bob,” Langly said again.

He and Byers had driven back to their own office and then to Bob’s apartment without finding him or Frohike or any sign of the rusted-out Pinto. They had tried to reach Mulder and Scully at their home and office numbers.

The endeavor was doubly problematic because of their distaste for cell phones and their van. Finally Langly had to give in and call Mulder’s cellular, from a pay phone, of course.

He got back in the van on the passenger side, since Byers had moved over to goose the accelerator. The van was idling rough and low, and if it stalled, someone would have to crawl underneath to rap on the solenoid.

“I got him,” Langly reported. “He’s heading for Neil’s place, and Bob’s there now.”

“What does Mulder think of your theory?” Byers asked. “The deceased CEO of EdwardStoltz is on the rampage in another world.”

“He thinks it’s his theory,” Langly said.

Byers looked doubtful, but nonetheless he drove toward Clearbrook.

“I have major misgivings,” he said. “I think what you’re planning is dangerous.”

Byers was watching the road as he spoke, and Langly was staring out the side window. There was no eye contact.

“I can’t think of another way,” Langly said. “Bob’s in no shape to go back, and no one else has any experience.”

“What if you’re wrong? What if there’s no threat from your ‘other world,’ and you’re playing with a dangerous hallucinogen for no good reason?” Byers asked.

“If there’s no threat from the other world, then the journey isn’t dangerous,” Langly said.

“On that we disagree,” said Byers with a sigh of resignation.

= = =

Back in the Deutsch’s ordinary living room, Frohike sat on a beige couch, arms folded across his chest, and listened with growing horror to a discussion he would have found positively thrilling if the circumstances had been different.

“Totally naked?” Scully was asking.

“It’s just more natural,” answered Bob, sitting cross-legged on the floor. “I mean, you wouldn’t wear something to sleep, would you?”

“I would,” Lauren said. “It gets cold. I think it would be very uncomfortable to be naked when everyone else was wearing clothes.”

“We could all get naked,” Bob offered generously.

“Do you sleep in the nude?” Lauren asked Frohike conversationally.

“No,” he answered shortly.

“Okay,” said Bob, shrugging his shoulders at the absurdity. “She can wear whatever she likes. No synthetics, though. Wool or hemp.”

“Cotton?” suggested Lauren practically, and again Bob shrugged his bemused consent.

This is going too far, Frohike thought. Scully looked at him, and he saw her apprehension. He knew she had made her decision.

“Can you lend me something?” she asked Lauren. “In case I decide to do it?”

“Please wait for Mulder,” Frohike begged. “He’s on his way.” But Scully and Lauren walked out together.

“She’s been there before,” Bob said. “You don’t have to worry about her.”

“You are so full of shit,” Frohike answered, now that they were alone. “You’re some new-age burned out hippie and just because you’re tripping on a jungle vine instead of LSD you think you’re a shaman.”

“I’m not a shaman, I never said that,” Bob protested.

“If your goddamn journeys are so safe, why is Neil dead?” Frohike demanded.

“That’s what we’re trying to tell you, dude. The Thorn. A powerful menace in the lower world,” he explained again.

“And that’s where you’re sending her,” Frohike said accusingly.

“Dude, don’t you get it? Lower world, middle world, upper world. He can find you anyplace.” Bob put his palms together, then folded his hands. “Power like hers, he’s gonna know it. He’ll come get her right here.”

Scully came out looking quite ridiculous in an oversized caftan the color of oatmeal. She sat on the couch by Frohike, and Lauren took the armchair.

Bob surveyed the outfit and said, “Well, you can always take it off later.”

Engine noises and squeaky brakes announced the arrival of a vehicle outside. Frohike knew those sounds all too well.

Lauren readied herself by the door. As before, Frohike could hear her.

“Agent Mulder? And you must be Professor Burks,” she greeted the two arrivals.

“Uh, no, ma’am, I’m John Byers, and this is Richard Langly. May we come in?”

“Of course,” she said uncertainly.

“The drummer,” Bob explained to Scully. “One of the best.”

Byers and Langly seated themselves on the love seat. Byers cleared his throat.

“I must admit, this all seems a little crazy,” he said.

“Just a little crazy?” Frohike asked him. He’d expected Byers to help him put a stop to this madness.

“I don’t know, Frohike,” Byers said. “The evidence offers significant support.”

“Save your breath,” Langly said. “We’ve been through all the arguments and he knows this is something I have to do.”

“You’re going to do it?” Frohike asked. Maybe that would be better. Langly used that yagé crap anyway. What difference would it make if he drank it one more time?

“He’s not the one,” Bob objected. “Besides, we need him as the drummer.”

“Scully’s never done it,” Langly argued. “Why are you pressuring her?”

“Hello,” Scully said. “I think I have something to say about this.”

“You promised me!” Frohike reminded her heatedly. “You said you wouldn’t do anything stupid.”

“Quiet!” Lauren said harshly. “We need unity, not squabbling. I’m not a shaman, but I know that much.”

= = =

“There’s just one thing I find troubling,” Mulder said, glancing over at his passenger.

“Just one?” Burks asked with a sharp laugh. “The dead executive comes back as a shaman and starts killing people, and there’s only one thing that bothers you?”

Mulder didn’t smile. “Yeah. Just one. Senator Matheson.”

“Well, I don’t see anything mysterious about that. Somebody beat him up,” Burks said. “Nothing shamanic there.”

Mulder didn’t pursue it. As soon as he could, he’d take it up with Scully.

“What did you bring?” Mulder asked, pointing to the briefcase Burks held across his lap.

“I’ve got Professor York’s final letter, with his suspicions about Woodrow Gerstbloem. The rest is general information about the ayahuasca ritual,” Burks answered.

“I appreciate it,” Mulder said. “I’ll need all the help I can get.”

“What about Scully? Do you think you’ll convince her to go along with this?” Burks asked.

Frohike’s phone call made it sound as if Scully was set on drinking yagé herself. Medicine that makes you sick. Scully should never have to face that again.

“Maybe not,” Mulder said. “Maybe she’ll talk me out of it and neither of us will do it.”

“Ah.” Burks nodded. “Yin and yang. The sacred balance.”

“She’s my partner, Chuck. I value her opinion,” Mulder said.

“She completes you.”

“Don’t push it,” Mulder said.

“I’m only paraphrasing what you’ve told me,” Burks answered mildly. “But seriously, Scully believes that Woodrow Gerstbloem is doing these things?”

“I don’t know,” said Mulder. “We haven’t talked about it.” He made the turn for the Longridge Condominiums and angle-parked next to the Gunmen’s van.

The door at number twelve opened, and a willowy blond woman watched as Mulder and Burks approached.

“Are you Agent Mulder?” she asked. “I’m Lauren Deutsch.”

They completed their introductions and proceeded to the living room, where Langly and Bob were still debating. Byers and Frohike were exchanging words as well, quietly and urgently, but Mulder barely saw them. Scully and her exotic caftan absorbed all his attention.

“Going somewhere, Scully?” he asked.

Scully turned to their hostess. “We’ll need a minute,” she said. Lauren directed them to an upstairs bedroom, apparently a guest room.

Finally, alone and away from the din in the living room, Mulder and Scully were able to talk.

“What happened to you?” Scully asked. Mulder went through the motions of trying to wave her off, but then he sat on the bed so she could study the bruise on his jaw and push back his hair to check for further damage.

Mulder realized his face must look a lot worse than it felt.

“A calling card from Senator Matheson,” he said. “And now it seems I was the last person seen with him before the attack.”

“Why was he attacked? Was anything taken?” Scully asked. She hiked her big robe up to mid-calf and sat down next to him on the bed. She seemed unselfconscious about her bizarre attire.

“His office was ransacked, but apparently nothing is missing,” Mulder said. He was impatient to learn what Scully knew, but it was useless to try to pump her until he answered her questions.

“What did he want from you, Mulder?” Scully asked.

“I didn’t hang around long enough for him to tell me,” Mulder admitted. “Something about EdwardStoltz and their involvement with Shamanism.”

Scully shook her head and looked at him sadly.

“Yeah, I know. I should have let him finish,” Mulder said, watching her face to see if he’d guessed what was on her mind.

She sighed audibly. “You’re an FBI agent, Mulder. He’s a U.S. Senator. I’ve never understood why the two of you play these games.”

“The attack on Senator Matheson breaks the pattern,” Mulder said, unwilling to explore the question Scully had raised. “The technique was decidedly ordinary and he isn’t dead.”

“Pattern,” Scully repeated. “One death doesn’t form a pattern. You’re counting ASAC Hudson as another victim.”

“For the sake of argument. And possibly one more, Edwin York. A professor who studied and wrote about Shamanism,” Mulder said.

“Edwin York? Oh my God,” said Scully. “He wasn’t just an authority on Shamanism, Mulder, he was the reluctant teacher of a man named Woodrow Gerstbloem.”

“Dear departed chairman of EdwardStoltz,” Mulder said. “I think that settles it, Scully. There is a connection.”

“The killing won’t stop unless we make it stop,” Scully said. “This is a different kind of a killer, even for us.”

“Scully, Frohike told me what you’re planning to do,” Mulder said.

“He has to be stopped,” Scully insisted. “He’s only getting stronger.”

“I agree,” Mulder said, looking down at his hands, “but you’re not the one to do it.”

“There’s something I’ve never told you. I’ve done this before. I’ve been to the lower world,” she said.

“Nice try, but I have a hard time picturing you sucking down a cup of yagé,” he responded.

“After my abduction,” she said quietly. “I was in a boat on a lake, and I had to decide which way to go. I had a guide, someone to help me.”

He looked away, abashed.

“Don’t you believe me?” she asked.

“You’re talking about a time you almost died,” he said. “Maybe that’s not the best argument to convince me.”

“I don’t have to convince you,” she said gently. “It’s not your decision. I have the qualifications, and you don’t.”

“The Call? Is that what you mean? You know I’ve had that too.” He was wondering if this would turn into the talk he’d imagined earlier… Remember those times when I almost died.

“I know I almost lost you,” she said. “I know I don’t want to go through it again. Mulder, what are you doing?”

“Chuck says you have to be barefoot,” he said, untying his shoes and slipping them off.

“This morning you didn’t even believe in the lower world,” Scully reminded him.

“You know, Scully, that might have been a helpful time to tell me about your own experience,” he said, shrugging out of his jacket and tossing it over the back of a chair.

“Perhaps I should have,” she agreed. “Oh my God, Mulder, that must hurt.”

He’d already collected on his punishing encounter with Matheson’s messengers, but unbuttoning his shirt had brought him a dividend. He let Scully pull the shirt from his shoulders and groaned dramatically when she pressed on his ribs. She smiled but continued to palpate, which was painful but failed to produce any ominous grinding noises.

“You’re lucky they didn’t take down a lung. And you are most definitely not doing any journeying with a bruise like that,” she said with great finality.

Mulder unbuckled his belt and unzipped his fly.

“Can we discuss this?” Scully asked as he stood to lower his trousers.

The door to the room opened, but Mulder continued to undress.

“Hey.” It was Langly. “Whatever you have in mind, Mulder, I’m here to take your place.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think you can,” Mulder said. “Remember? The Call?” He kicked his pants aside and reached for the waistband of his boxers.

“You don’t have to get naked, you know. That’s just Bob,” Langly offered. “Unless you want to.”

Without warning or explanation, Scully grabbed the back of Mulder’s shorts and turned down the elastic.

“Pure silk,” she read off the label. “I guess you can keep them.”

“Jesus, Scully, you could have just asked him,” said Langly.

Mulder smiled. “Or felt them.”

“All dressed up and nowhere to go,” Scully said. “We still haven’t agreed on who’s making the journey.”

“According to Bob, I was called and chosen,” Mulder said.

“Well, I’m a high-power chick,” Scully said, “and I have done the journey.”

“Guys, Bob’s kind of a flake. Maybe you should let Chuck decide,” Langly suggested.

= = =

Part Five

“This would make an awesome game show,” Bob said.

Frohike didn’t react. Bob couldn’t help being simple-minded. The real outrage was that otherwise normal people were in fact participating in Choose Your Shaman, with your host, Chuck Burks. Mulder had found a way to upstage Scully in her weird cassock; he was wearing blue silk boxers and a large blue-black bruise.

The only promising note was that Scully seemed destined for a parting gift.

“Avocados are a high in tyramine,” Burks said. “Didn’t you know that?”

Scully glanced over to Bob, who had sat at the table with her and never mentioned it.

“No, dude, I didn’t know,” he said apologetically. “Are they really that bad?”

“I’m not sure about that,” Burks admitted. “I don’t think they’re in the same category as red wine or smoked sausage. How much did you eat, Scully?”

Frohike answered for her.

“She had a about a dozen,” he said sarcastically. “Isn’t that right, Lauren?”

Lauren Deutsch looked distressed and embarrassed.

“Not literally,” she said. “But, uh, yes, it was kind of an avocado-binge.”

“This is where you’re supposed to tell everyone you had a wonderful time,” Mulder prompted Scully.

“I have an idea, Chuck,” Scully said. “Maybe I could use medication to block the effect of the tyramine. A beta-adrenergic antagonist.”

“Scully, don’t be a sore loser,” Mulder said.

“On to the next round,” said Bob. “My money’s on Mulder.”

“Hey, I didn’t eat any avocados either,” said Langly.

“Dude, you know where you’re gonna wash out,” Bob said. “You’ve got that purity issue.”

“Okay, purity,” Burks said. “No sex in the past week. Or at least the last few days. Is that a problem?”

“Maybe you’d better define ‘sex,’” Scully suggested snidely.

“Let me help you out,” snapped Frohike. “When two people love each other very much, and when they both feel ready—”

“Two people,” Mulder interrupted. “Okay, not a problem.”

“Oh, shit,” said Langly. “I’m out.”

“You’re never gonna progress on the spiritual path until you can take control of your bodily urges,” Bob counseled him.

“Give it a rest, man,” Langly said. “She was from Texas.”

Bob nodded sympathetically, and then explained. “That’s one of his trigger states.”

“Let’s get started,” Mulder said. Frohike thought he sounded nervous. “Where’s the stuff I’m supposed to drink?”

“We’re going to use the den. Bob says it’s more earthen,” said Lauren.

“And the carpet’s older,” Bob added helpfully. “Neil didn’t want anyone puking up here in the living room.”

= = =

By reputation the White Collar guys were supposed to be a bunch of nerds, but Brent Milligan thought his fellow agents on the Matheson task force were tame and cautious, compared to his regular crew.

The task force was set up in a conference room. Phone lines and computers covered the big table, and bulletin boards displayed diagrams of the Senator’s office building, with the exits highlighted.

Milligan presented his plan—pick up Henry Heinz and make him sweat. The agent in charge wasn’t going for it, not without some hard evidence.

All they were doing was giving Heinz more time to construct an alibi or disappear. You couldn’t catch guys like him by coloring inside the lines. You had to stay ahead of them, guess their next move.

Milligan was supposed to be crosschecking a handwritten telephone log against its electronic equivalent, but in fact he was trying to puzzle out Heinz’s next move. Heinz’s name was on the log twice, which didn’t surprise Milligan at all.

If Heinz had found what he was looking for, the game was over. Heinz would be out of circulation or untouchable. But if he hadn’t found it, he was still looking.

It wasn’t overly large, whatever it was. Heinz wouldn’t have ripped the upholstery off the chairs unless he was looking for something small enough to hide there.

How would I keep something safe, if I was Senator Matheson? Milligan asked himself. The Senator had called for Mulder. Mulder was the last person seen with him. That had to be it.

Milligan picked up his jacket from the back of his chair. “I’m taking a break,” he informed the head of the operation as he left the room. The guy only nodded.

It felt funny to Milligan. Old Hudson would have told him to piss on his own time.

= = =

Mulder felt perfectly normal. Way too normal to be lying on the floor in his underwear with his hands folded over his stomach while Langly tapped his monotonous rhythm and everyone sat around watching.

“Don’t cross your legs,” Bob said. “Let the energy flow.”

“Your chakra’s a little lower,” Chuck instructed him. “But don’t lace your fingers.”

“Nothing’s happening,” Lauren said impatiently. “He needs more brew.”

“Sh,” Scully warned everyone.

“Do you see a path?” Bob asked. “Something like that?”

Through it all, the cadence of the drum, as boring and insistent and meaningless as a staff meeting.

“Shouldn’t you be checking his pulse or something?” Frohike asked Scully.

“Sh,” Scully said again. “He’s good.”

Scully’s oat-colored robe hung in the corner of his vision, like a splat of sunlight breaking through foliage. Langly’s drumming seemed to change, and in it Mulder heard witty phrases and surprises.

Scully’s robe. Very friendly and safe, like sunlight or cream. Patches of sunlight on the sandy forest floor. His feet touching down on the warm sandy soil, feeling the soft loam and the cool dry leaves. Touching down on the soft ground and then pushing away, launching him into a long, easy loping stride. Not running, not dancing, but something in between. A crazy running hopping dance as clever as the drumming.

The earth below grew harsher as he ran, pebbled and hard. Each buoyant step propelled him upward, but his footfalls were heavy as the earth called him back. A leaden weight gathered in him, dark and bitter, and he could not shake it off.

“Right here,” Scully whispered.

He turned his head and let it go, freed himself of a torrent of sorrow and hurt and humiliation. Scully held a bag to his mouth and wiped his lips when he had finished.

“Holy Moly,” said Burks. “Did you two rehearse that?”

Lighter now, as light as a leaf. He wasn’t dancing to the drumbeat, he was dancing to some underlying rhythm that commanded his steps as well as the drum. The sandy soil gifted him with its warm power, sending energy surging up through the soles of his feet.

“He sees something,” Byers said. “Look at his face.”

Broad green leaves, shiny and thick. Lobed waxy leaves. A green that should be wet, and he touched the leaves, expecting his finger to sink below the surface. He wanted to swirl the warm wet green, but the leaves were solid. Only the color was thick and wet.

The leaves hummed for him, a rushing sound. Big flat leaves, bigger than his hand, but a thin sound without resonance. The leaves whispered and he strained to make out their message, but heard only their sound. He rubbed a big waxy leaf between his hands and felt his palms touch. When at last the leaves gave up their secret, it was the sound of his own breathing.

Mulder thanked the broad-leafed tree that breathed with him, and then he walked on.

The trees grew thicker around him and the forest floor was soft with old pine needles. When he asked the drum for a direction it told him only to move on. He eased his way through the foliage, slipping past boughs and branches. A cricket on the ground roared petulantly for his attention, and Mulder sat down to watch. Marching along like a little tank, six stiff legs. Mulder smiled, but he didn’t want to walk like that.

A little brown toad hopped into view. “Dude, you gotta use all your senses,” it told him.

“Show me,” Mulder implored him, but the toad hopped out of sight. It was too hard to struggle through the dense growth with no idea of which way to go. He should have asked the cricket, but it was gone.

The brush rustled, close by. Mulder focused, searching for direction, but the wind saw his furrowed face and laughed at him. It fluttered the trees and sent birds into flight, and with noises all around him Mulder lost the rustle from the undergrowth. The drumming grew sinuous and teasing too. Frustrated but stubborn, Mulder hugged his knees to his chest and waited. The wind relented and brought him something raw and strong.

A musky odor caught his nose, earthy and stubborn. Someone else was finding his way through the forest, a brother to Mulder, at least in one sense. Another mammal.

He was close now, too close for the wind to hide him. Mulder called to him and waited. The smell and the noise grew louder, and Mulder could wait no more. He pushed his way through the forest to find him.

The leafy branches parted as Mulder brushed by, making way for him with little grudging sighs. The drum gave him a jaunty beat and the forest let him jog, and he felt the other mammal running away from him but calling him to follow.

“Slow down, let me see you,” Mulder called silently, and at last he broke into a clearing and the beast was in sight.

A hippo? No, too small and too fast. A sweaty wild pig. Mulder’s mind fumbled until his memory supplied a photo from an encyclopedia. It was a peccary.

The animal faced him with curiosity, marveling at his long hoofless feet and nearly hairless hide, but most of all at his height.

Too tall, it told him, won’t fit, can’t follow.

I’ll follow. Show me the way, Mulder answered.

Stubborn naked monkey, it answered. Let’s go.

It was easier to run this way, bounding along low to the ground. The dirt was filled with threats and promises. Warnings from other animals; tasty caterpillars and acorns. He licked his lips, remembering the juicy, strutting cricket.

Yeah, baby, yelled the drum. Go, go, go!

It was cooler down here, and that was good. He ran and ran, dodging past trunks, swerving around rocks. The vegetation thinned and Mulder smelled a sweet pond up ahead. When it drew into view, he trotted up to the water’s edge and lowered his head for a drink.

The water was cold on his throat and into his stomach. When he’d had his fill, he shook off his head to dry his muzzle.

He turned from the pond and viewed the landscape again. He’d arrived at a barren place, with dusty rock for miles ahead. He looked longingly back at the forest and thanked it for his passage. Then he trotted ahead to meet the setting sun.

= = =

When Senator Matheson opened his eyes and spoke his first words since his attack, two things happened. First, his condition was upgraded to “guarded.” Second, the police put out an APB for Fox Mulder.

It was another half an hour until the Senator could make his meaning clear. His assailant was not Mulder but a man he knew only as “Henry.” Mulder was in danger because he had what Henry was looking for.

Matheson napped and drifted. The question of what Henry was looking for remained unanswered.

= = =

Mulder liked the gray rock with its shiny bits that glinted in the moonlight. He rubbed against its roughness and savored the feeling as it rubbed him back. Then he rolled in the sand to leave his scent.

He heard the echoes from inside the rock, so he knew where the passageway opened out to him, although he could not see it. He rooted about with his great snout and smelled trickling water. It was cold in the rock and it would be very dark.

The drumming swelled to fortify his courage and to promise him a road back home. Mulder nosed his way inside, his hooves clicking against the hard floor. He smelled neither comrades nor competitors nor anything to eat. The water trickled down the craggy stone walls, and when a bit of spray hit his coarse fur, he skittered aside.

He grunted nervously, looking left and right but seeing only shadows as he trotted down the passageway. He remembered the wet rich green of the big waxy leaves and he hoped there would be colors again when the rocks let him out. He hoped they would let him out soon.

The fragrance of rotting wood reached his nostrils and quickened his steps, because it smelled like outside. Besides, rotting wood held the promise of termites. Some pale light joined the wood-smell to pull him along, and when he finally emerged, the silver moon welcomed him. Mulder raised his head to greet the moon and strut for her.

He sniffed the air and amid the dry grasses he found the rotting wood, and he followed the scent to the stump of a tree. He couldn’t help calling for his herd to join in the snack, although he knew he was alone.

More bugs for me, he told himself as he probed, but perhaps the dead tree was offended by his selfishness. Angry red ants poured from the wood, stinging his mouth and tongue and nose. His mane bristled and he clacked his teeth angrily as he ran away, so that the tree would know he was not afraid. He snorted and shook his head and rubbed his forelegs against his snout, and finally he lay on his side panting and shuddering.

The drum throbbed with sympathy, and Mulder realized he wasn’t alone. He jerked to his feet. Too chastened to trot, he walked on, with his back to the drumming and the silver moon overhead. He sniffed the air, hoping for some cold sweet water to help the hurt in his mouth.

The tall dry grass whispered a warning to Mulder: Don’t drink from the stream that holds the spirits. He thanked the grass, but when he came to a stream the water sparkled clear and bright.

Don’t drink, the grass reminded him, but the water looked pure and Mulder drank.

The water was cold but it tasted like smoke and pricked his mouth and stabbed his stomach. He retched forcefully and painfully. The tall grass swayed with knowing sorrow, and a wisp of moonlight passed across his forehead to soothe him. Mulder continued on his way, thirstier than before.

He followed the bank of the stream. The treacherous water still sang and sparkled but he wasn’t deceived.

I know you now, foul noxious stream, Mulder told it.

You will be mine, pig, said the stream. Your thirst will grow and you’ll be mine.

Mulder didn’t answer, not even in his thoughts. He was following the nasty, tainted stream because he was looking for something nasty and tainted.

The stream taunted him now and then, singing to him of pure cold water. But sometimes he heard other voices in the stream. Without the drum for company, he could not have borne it, so bleak and lost were they. He walked with his head held low, but he did not turn back and he did not stop.

Look, the grass whispered.

Mulder looked up, and what he saw was both familiar and foreign. Rocks gathered by design and formed into a structure. Wood forced into planks and attached into shapes. A building. It squatted by the stream and held a wheel out in the water.

A building. A man made this, Mulder said. He saw how the wheel turned in the water, but the part of him that understood what he saw was unable to explain it in the language of grass and pigs.

It makes the water bad, the grass told him. Mulder wanted a closer look, but the grass hung back, afraid. Mulder walked the last few hundred feet over bare hard red soil.

As he drew closer to the building, the voices grew louder. The stream cackled and challenged him, and the voices of the lost cried out their warnings. The building was the key. Mulder listened soberly as the drum wept with the lost spirits, sad and afraid. But when the drum regained its purpose Mulder found his own fortitude and together they advanced.

A metal vine surrounded the building and its wheel. Mulder sniffed inquisitively and it jabbed his snout. He stepped away, blinking, and then trotted back to inspect the vine a few feet away. He saw shiny thorns on the vine and he understood their purpose.

The house with the wheel is afraid of me, he thought with satisfaction. The thorns are there to tear my skin and keep me out. He clacked his teeth and pawed the ground, and then he hurled himself against the wire vine.

The thorns caught his ears and tangled in his fur but the pain only enraged him. Mulder shoved his bleeding body against the vine until the strands parted and let him through, and he landed on the ground in a heap. He scrambled to his feet at once and ran to face the wheel of wood.

He wanted to command the wheel to stop, but a closer look showed him that the wheel was without spirit, for the tree had fled. He turned his attention to the water, stepping closer to the edge of the bank.

Foul acrid stream, he mocked. Yoked to the wheel like an ox.

Drink me, pig, it sneered.

Then he saw something in the water, and he understood he was looking at the voices of the lost.

Float free, he told them, because they looked like little clouds. Go back to the sky. He saw no metal vine of thorns to hold them; they had only to rise.

They wailed back to him in wordless grief, drifting and intermingling in the water. One of them gathered itself with a little whirling motion and began to surge to the surface. Mulder watched as it rose from the water in a little white plume, but before he could bark his encouragement the water crackled with sparks and the cloud was sucked back with a hiss.

They cannot float free, the water said. They are mine forever.

Only while the wheel turns, one of the voices answered.

The water would turn the wheel forever, as far as Mulder could tell, and the turning wheel held tight to the spirits. But what about the house? He could not feel its thoughts, for its stones were as dead as the wood of the wheel. But it had raised a vine of thorns against him, and he knew that it must be afraid.

He was afraid too. He looked up at the moon, who had followed him the length of his journey. She’d be lost to him inside the house. No moon, no sky, and perhaps no drum. He shuddered.

He thought of something else and he shuddered again. This house was made by hand of man. Where was the man? The man must be smart and powerful and evil.

Mulder walked all the way around the house, sniffing and thinking.

I know nothing of walls and doors, the pig said. I will take my leave.

Mulder found himself upright again, and he kneeled on the ground beside the pig who had guided him.

Do you have to go? he asked.

There is nothing here to eat or drink. I will return to my herd.

Chuck Burks hadn’t taught him how to say good-bye to your spirit guide so Mulder had to improvise.

Good luck, he said. Sorry about the barbed wire.

You’re bleeding too, the pig observed. Farewell. He walked to the fence and ran alongside it until he found the place where it was breached. Then gingerly he picked his way through the opening and trotted away.

Mulder found he could think more clearly in his customary form. The location and mechanism of the door were quite evident. He would enter the mill and find a way to sabotage the machinery. He didn’t expect to find a grindstone or saw blades inside; he was reasonably sure he would find a generator.

One nice thing about the lower world; nobody would bug him about a search warrant. And the crude latch on the door wouldn’t require him to pick the lock. He walked around the enclosure, looking for a rock or some other implement of destruction, but there was nothing of the kind. Maybe he’d find something inside. Next time he journeyed he’d bring a flashlight and a tool kit.

With a shrug of his shoulder and a nod to the moon, he reached for the heavy hasp of the door.

Liquid fire surged through his body, from his hand up his arm to his brain. Electricity. Enough to kill him? He didn’t know. The current held him for long seconds until at last he dropped to the ground, stunned and breathless. When at last he could fill his lungs he opened his mouth and screamed with all his might.


= = =

The den was too hot, the drumming was too loud, and Mulder kept vomiting.

“It’s like a singles bar,” Frohike complained to Byers.

“Go out and get some air,” Byers whispered. Frohike shook his head adamantly.

“I’m not leaving him alone with these guys.”

Almost an hour ago, Mulder’s face had taken on a look of wonder. His mouth agape, he’d stared in astonishment at nothing at all, and Frohike was sure he was faking.

Since then he’d twitched and vomited and whimpered and vomited, and Frohike would have given up his biker gloves if it would turn out this was all an elaborate prank.

“I’m here,” Byers reminded him. “Scully’s here too.”

Frohike was not reassured. “You two are just as bananas as the rest of them,” he said. “Look at her.”

Scully was sitting on the floor next to Mulder, legs folded beneath her. She seemed unperturbed by his thrashing or his sightless eyes or the unpredictable bouts of vomiting.

“Go get a drink of water or something,” Byers urged him. “You’re getting worked up.”

“How long are we going to let this go on?” Frohike demanded loudly, addressing the entire group.

“Chill, Frohike,” Langly hissed without dropping the beat.

They were hopeless, all of them. Frohike lowered himself to the floor, next to Scully.

“Are you sure he’s okay?” he asked her quietly. As she turned to answer him, Mulder arched his back and let out a blood-curdling scream:


Frohike watched in horror as Scully’s eyes rolled up and her body went limp. He had just enough time to stretch out his arms and catch her before she thumped to the floor.

= = =

Part Six

The peaceful place, with the lake in the forest.

I’ve been here before, Scully thought, but in the daytime. Even by moonlight it was pretty and green. Scully was pretty too, pretty and prim in her coat in the boat, but she didn’t feel peaceful. She felt restless and edgy.

“Mulder?” she called tentatively. She felt constrained not to shatter the soft murmur of forest sounds, and her voice was barely above conversational level.

The water was as still as glass and the boat barely bobbed, although it was untethered. She folded her hands and waited.

“What am I supposed to do?” she wondered impatiently. Nothing was happening.

“Mulder!” she called, forcing herself to fracture the quiet around her. “Mulder! Can you hear me?”

Damn him, she thought. Another ditch.

“Mulder!” she yelled as loud as she could, and then she folded her arms across her chest, feeling angry and useless.

“You’re making quite a racket,” a voice commented calmly. Not Mulder; a woman.

Scully couldn’t see the source of the voice, and that annoyed her too.

“What am I supposed to do?” she asked petulantly.

“Why did you come?”

“I was brought here,” Scully answered.

“Are you sure, Dana? Are you sure you didn’t come here on purpose, for a reason?” the voice prodded her.

“I’m stuck in the middle of this lake,” Scully said. “Why would I do that on purpose?”

“You were not brought here, Dana, and you are not stuck,” the voice instructed her. “If you choose to sit in that boat as if you’re posing for a portrait…”

“Excuse me, whoever you are! I don’t have a paddle!” Scully’s voice rose in volume and pitch.

The voice didn’t answer.

“You have to help me,” Scully said. “I have to get to Mulder.” Maybe the voice had taken offense. “Please help me…. Nurse Owens.”

Scully had a knack for pleasing people, and she tried to guess what the voice was waiting to hear.

“It’s not just for Mulder. There are lives at stake,” she said, but still there was no answer. “There’s an evil force at work—I would think you would want to stop it.”

Scully sat and waited.

“You helped me last time,” she reminded the voice, but apparently it had abandoned her. “You don’t expect me to swim, do you? I’m wearing a coat!”

I can’t swim because I’m wearing a coat. She weighed the idea and found it wanting. She fumbled to unbutton her coat but it was impossible.

“It won’t come off,” she called to the voice. “I’m trying, but I can’t take it off.” She groped clumsily without success. “All right. I’ll keep it on,” she said out loud. She slid herself to the side of the boat and surveyed the water.

The lake glared back, trying to impress her with its obsidian mystery. If it held secrets in its depth she could not see them.

I’ll swim along the surface, she thought, just skim across the water without delving below. Rather than strike her as odd, the plan seemed practical. She drew her head back up to study and memorize some landmarks, but now they were gone. No shore, no dock; even the moon was hazy and distorted.

How maddening, she thought. Which way should she go? She listened for a clue. Very odd; she heard nothing at all. No gentle lapping of the water against the boat, no rustling sound, although she could feel a breeze against her face. Her hearing had fled more thoroughly than her sight. Damned inconvenient.

She strained against the silence until she became aware of a low throb. That way, she thought. She raised her head and tasted the warm air. A scattering of lizards, she decided, and something pungent and warm-blooded off in the distance. She slithered over the side of the boat and into the water.

Her body slipped below the surface as she entered the water, but it was easy to extend her head into the air, and when she began to swim, whipping her long body side to side, she was able to skim across the lake as she had planned.

Swimming this way took a lot of energy but gave her unusual speed. Hearing nothing and seeing little, she followed the throb. The odor of musk grew stronger, and she noted idly that the source was undoubtedly too big to eat. In any case, she wasn’t hungry.

She found herself little troubled that she couldn’t hear, but the blurry vision was a nuisance, as was the sodden coat. When her nose poked into the soft mucky bank, she surged out of the water and onto the land.

She slithered into the underbrush, pausing so that she could sample the air again. The scent of mammal persisted, but it was joined by a new odor, something harsh and unpleasant, familiar and yet unnameable. Every scale on her body recoiled from the smell, but the low vibration of the drum continued and she knew she had to travel on.

Dana, wait.

The words slipped into her brain without sound, startling her into a hiss before she could regain her thoughts.

It’s okay, she told herself. It’s Nurse Owens.

You can’t go on, Dana. You’re not ready, the voice said, still without sound.

I’m ready, she replied earnestly. I can swim and climb and burrow, and I can feel the way.

Your eyes are clouded, dear. Slough your skin.

Yes, thought Scully. She poked around, exploring, seeking out a stone or tree trunk, something hard and rough to help her start her shed.

There is little more satisfying than a good shed, she reflected. The opaque spectacles leave your eyes and your vision returns with dazzling clarity. Your new skin is beautifully shiny and supple, and your vigor and appetites are strengthened and renewed.

Her rostral scales caught on a bit of bark, and she wriggled forward slowly and carefully, so that her old skin would slide off as a single sheath. She flicked her tongue again; the mammal heat was still there, but not as funky.

Why, it’s Mulder, she thought. And I’m Scully.

She had to hold on to both her selves, she realized, serpent and human. Think, she commanded herself.

The furry animal scent was Mulder, she confirmed. The other odor puzzled her because it seemed so ordinary and yet so alarming. It smelled like… a machine. Wires and oil and ozone. Something she smelled every day of her life—but what was it doing here?

As for the throbbing, that was easy. Langly’s drum. She remembered that snakes lacked auditory structures, but fortunately she could feel the vibrations vividly. She rubbed her nose against the rough tree and the scales peeled away from her face, flooding her lidless eyes with light. After she slipped away from her old skin, she would shimmy up a tree and figure out where she had to go.

She savored the sleek economy of her efficient body as she circled away from her sloughing scales, until something startled her and made her lunge for cover.

The drumming had stopped. She pressed against the ground, trying without success to call back the vibrations. She flicked her tongue nervously, sensing the air until she found Mulder’s odor and heat. Reassured, she slinked back to her tree to finish shedding. She had lost the drum, but she could use Mulder’s scent to guide her.

= = =

Nothing in Chuck Burks’s crash course on Shamanism had prepared Mulder to be attacked by an electric door. The Thorn was breaking the rules, bringing middle world technology into the lower world.

He lay on the ground, stunned and shivering. I should have let Langly make the journey, Mulder thought. He would have trashed this machine by now.

Mulder felt shaky and homesick and, most of all, thirsty. He wondered about trying a small sip of water. What had been unpalatable to him as a wild pig might be acceptable now. He lurched to his feet and walked to the bank of the stream.

It was a slow, meandering stream, he noticed. The water that turned the wheel was carried there directly by a wooden flume. The sharp incline of the riverbank suggested that the current had been stronger once, and the water level higher.

Mulder wanted to drink the water, which was clear as crystal, but he knew better. One of the cloud-spirits drifted toward the bank, as if to remind him of the river’s curse. It spoke to him in a voice he could recognize.

Still hangin’ out by the water cooler when you’re supposed to be doin’ your work, said the cloud.

Oh, come on, thought Mulder. This is going beyond extreme possibilities.

You know who I am, the cloud insisted. Last time you slacked off on me I had to call Reggie Purdue in to chew your lazy ass. Now quit daydreaming and get us out of here.

Aye-aye, Captain Bligh, Mulder told him. Uh, don’t suppose you have any suggestions how I might do that?

He didn’t expect an answer. ASAC Hudson had always been more interested in barking orders than figuring out how they could be accomplished. But there had to be a dozen ways to disrupt the system. The water turned the wheel, the wheel ran a generator, the generator powered the electrical field that trapped the clouds and protected the mill.

A wooden chute fed water directly to the top of the wheel. Maybe he could interrupt the flow. He tossed a pebble at the chute, hoping to learn if it was electrified like the door to the mill. The pebble bounced off the wood with no sign of a spark or crackle, but Mulder remained cautious. The water itself might be deadly here, so close to the source of its malevolence. Standing on the bank he reached tentatively for the chute.

His fingers touched the wood and the air exploded into a cacophony of ear-bursting sound, a painful symphony of shattering booms and screams and sirens. He snatched his hand away and jumped back a step The noise continued, but when no one responded to the alarm, Mulder shrugged his shoulders and decided to try again.

He tapped at the chute and tugged on it feebly, too distant and too low to be able to apply real force. Maybe he’d have to take a chance on wading into the water.

Before he could decide, the blast of noises stopped, but Mulder’s relief was short-lived. The drumming was gone as well. Uneasily he stepped back from the water’s edge and looked over toward the mountain.

= = =

“Come on, that’s our car,” Frohike called to Byers.

Something had triggered the alarm in their old van. There was no mistaking the overwrought ear-splitting blare for anything else; it represented Langly’s idea of the loudest, most threatening noises a machine could make.

Others might question the need for such a sophisticated system in such an old rustbucket, but the gunmen did not. The van had many interesting non-market features.

Fortunately, the alarm was “smart” enough not to trigger at every passing semi or every nostalgic boomer who came to admire it. When the alarm sounded, it meant business.

“I wonder if they can hear it,” Burks mused, looking down at the floor. Whereas Mulder seemed especially twitchy and uneasy, Scully’s face showed a bland indifference.

As Byers and Frohike hurried outside to investigate, Langly shoved the drum at Bob. “Gotta go,” he said, running after the others.

“Ringo, no,” Bob called. “You know I suck at this.” He started to tap on the drum, looking rather desperate and overwhelmed. “Somebody help me out here!” he called.

“Let me try,” said Lauren, and Bob passed her the drum as if it was on fire. She started to drum, succeeding, at least, in setting a steady if prosaic rhythm.

“I guess it’s harder than it looks,” Burks said. “Maybe we can use Mulder’s recording. Do you have a CD player?”

Focused on the drum, Lauren answered him haltingly. “There. The computer.” The alarm had stopped, but even the voices talking outside were enough to overwhelm her feeble drumming.

“Okay.” Burks rose from the couch and backed his way to the workstation, afraid to take his eyes from the two figures on the floor. The computer was agonizingly slow to boot up, and Lauren’s drumming seemed only a bit better than Bob’s. Finally Burks put the CD in the tray and shoved it in place.

“Can I stop now?” Lauren asked as the intricate rhythms swelled from the little speakers.

“I guess so,” Burks said. “I wonder what’s happening outside?”

“Outside, inside, all is the same,” observed Bob sagaciously. “Whoa, that computer’s got a good beat.”

= = =

Her muscular body was well-suited for climbing, but by habit she was a burrowing snake, and she had to remind herself to keep her grip on the tree as she ascended. The tree swayed indulgently and made her a pathway and a perch.

Constricting carefully, she surveyed the landscape.

There’s the boat, she said. She could see the placid little lake below, and the stream that fed it.

A little boat, the tree replied, no harm was taken.

Looking further, she understood, for elsewhere the hand of man had wrought considerable harm. A clearing in the forest showed a stand of stumps, not rough and jagged, but clean-hewn. It was not time or decay that took down these trees, but stone forced to metal and formed in a wedge.

She hugged the tree a little tighter, to share his sadness.

Near the stark clearing, Scully saw that the water too had been forced into service. A wall of stones with a wooden gate held back much of the flow. More wood was used to form a flume, so that some of the water rode swiftly, but not free. The flume held the water and it could not wander but had to run straight.

I must follow the water, Scully said, and the tree shivered.

That way lies evil, he warned her. Seek it and it will find you.

The water did not seek it, nor the trees, she replied.

Perhaps you are more than you seem, said the tree. What you need you may take freely, and be on your way.

Scully descended carefully but quickly, letting herself drop the last few feet into the soft leaves on the forest floor. The drumming had returned, but it did not throb as before and it was harder to feel.

She made her way to the edge of the lake, noting now that the water level was unnaturally high, submerging growth that longed for dryer soil. The water itself clung to the land, for it hated the tyranny of the dam and the sluice. But Scully slithered on, strong and purposeful, until the dam was beside her.

She addressed the dam, inquiring to know its purpose, but the stones and wood had lost their quickness.

You are wise and yet foolish, said a large rock behind her. Like all your kind.

Do you know my kind? Scully asked. The rock sounded a bit condescending, but not hostile.

I grappled with another traveler, and you see that I won, for he could not add me to his wall.

Scully regarded the rock with raw admiration, for her words were clearly true.

Have you wisdom for me? she asked. I too would defeat the traveler.

Handiwork is undone by hands, said the rock. Consider that, limbless one.

Who will speak to me if I take my human form? Scully asked. I need your words.

We will speak, but perhaps you will not hear, the rock conceded. But your task demands the wisdom of your own kind, and the cunning of hands.

But what is it that I need to do? Scully asked.

Not do, but undo, said the rock.

Scully understood, but feared to resume her ordinary form. The smell and heat of Mulder were a comfort and a guide she was loath to lose, for the drumming was faint and she mistrusted the flow of water. She left the rock to follow the stream, and Mulder’s scent grew stronger.

= = =

“What do you think it means?” Lauren asked Chuck Burks. She sat on the floor by her two unresponsive guests, but since both seemed calm at the moment and Mulder hadn’t vomited in quite a while, she had let her attention wander to the monitor of the computer. A stream of gibberish crawled across the screen.

“Someone burned it on that disc on purpose,” he answered. “There must be a reason.” He stood by the screen, watching the crawl. “Looks like random characters, but it has to mean something.”

“I’m worried about her,” Lauren said, smoothing Scully’s hair back from her face. “She didn’t even drink the yagé.”

“He needed her and she went to him,” Bob explained. “Kind of sweet, isn’t it?”

= = =

The alien evil of the machinery repelled her, and she approached the manmade enclosure with care. The mill did not surprise her; once she’d understood the purpose of the dam and the sluice, she had known what to expect. She passed easily under the barbed-wire fence. Mulder’s scent was all over, but the turning gears and their hot oil were overpowering, and she could not find him by smell.

No rats, either, which was disappointing and unnatural. A proper mill is ripe with rodents.

She saw first his feet, which terrified her even more than the mill. They were huge and careless, ready to ambush her accidentally, so that he would be as frightened as she was. For a million years, his kind had stomped on hers and then recoiled in terror.

Her transformation to human form was timely but unintended. The snake was gone, the scent of Mulder lost, but her hearing returned, and the drums, and some clattering noise from the water wheel.

“Scully?” He sounded a little surprised. “Give me a hand here.”

She clambered to her feet and delicately picked her way across the pebbly ground to where Mulder stood by the turning wheel.

“The shaft is made of iron,” Mulder said. “I can’t get enough leverage to dislodge the sluice. The only way is to break the wheel.” He’d been jamming branches between the blades of the wheel without the hoped-for result. The branches had snapped and the wheel kept turning.

“The drumming. It sounds different,” Scully said. “Before it was like a heart.”

He looked away from the wheel to smile at her.

“It’s got a beat and it’s easy to dance to,” he said. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re here. Help me get some more stuff to stick in the wheel.”

“No, that’s not the way,” she said. “We have to go upstream to stop the flow.”

= = =

“Sorry, guys. I had one of these babies way back,” the man shouted. Crewcut and bull-necked, it was hard to imagine him as a flower child. Nevertheless, when the gunmen burst from Lauren Deutsch’s condo in response to the old van’s burglar alarm, they’d discovered this apparently nonlarcenous figure innocently admiring the vehicle. Langly turned off the noise, and normal conversation became possible.

“Really?” asked Byers in a friendly tone. “You must have gotten quite a start when that alarm went off.”

“I was kind of wiggling the door handle,” he admitted sheepishly. “Just remembering the good old days, you know.”

That would never have set off the alarm, but the gunmen continued to play along.

“Hey, we know you weren’t trying to steal it,” Langly said. “Not with this nice new car parked right here next to it.”

“Yeah, a car thief would go for that newer model,” Frohike agreed amicably, and glanced over at Mulder’s car.

Mulder’s car. What happened in there? The headliner hung down in tatters and the instrument panel showed gaping holes and dangling wires. Frohike gulped and looked back at the thick-necked stranger, working hard to keep the friendly smile fixed firmly on his face.

“Truth is, I have a weakness for these old buses,” the stranger said. “Ever think of selling it?”

“Oh, never,” Langly said. “Not for a million dollars.” The others nodded seriously.

The man shrugged, “Oh, I couldn’t offer you that much anyway. But seriously, I’d give you ten g’s, right here on the spot.”

“Ten g’s? You know, I’ve put a lot of modifications on this baby. She’s a lot smoother than she looks,” Langly said.

“Well, I’m a sucker for a vintage bus,” the man said. “How about twenty?”

Langly spent a minute in furrowed concentration. “Hold on, I better talk this over with my wife,” he said at last, then hurried back into the condo.

“His wife,” Frohike explained. “She loves this old van.”

= = =

“Damn,” Scully said. The sharp gravel cut into her feet as she walked along the millstream.

“Hooves are highly underrated,” Mulder said sympathetically. He was having the same problem.

“Feet are highly overrated,” Scully said.

“So Scully, did you ever think it would come to this? You and I pursuing a perp into the land of the spirits?” he asked jauntily.

“I’d say it was meant to be,” she said, “even if you did try to ditch me. I will admit, though, that when I thought about you tilting at mills, it was always a windmill.”

The comment seemed to drop like a stone between them Mulder didn’t answer, but he picked up the pace, and Scully found it difficult to keep up with him.

“Mulder, slow down,” she called after him. He stopped in his tracks and turned to face her.

“I keep forgetting, Scully, that I’m silly and ridiculous, and that your only role in life is to keep me from killing myself,” he said. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that you have no interest in the work we do, it’s only that you’ve signed on as valet to a madman.”

“You’re not ridiculous, Mulder, and I don’t think you’re silly.” She caught up to where he stood. “It’s a habit.” She looked up at him earnestly. “A bad habit.”

“Is this an apology?” he asked in surprise.

“An apology? As in, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings? No.” She took a step away from him. She wanted to look him in the eye, and he was just too tall to make that comfortable up close. “I do believe in the work. It’s worthwhile, it’s important, and…”

He waited, his eyebrows rising in expectation.

“I love it,” she declared.

“You love it?” he asked with open disbelief.

“I love it,” she confirmed. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

They stared at one another until he dropped his eyes and broke the contact.

“Journeying… it’s supposed to help you learn about yourself,” he said. “Scully, I learned something too.” She waited for him to continue. And waited. Finally she had to prompt him.

“You said you learned something, Mulder,” she said.

“Let’s go.” He reached for her hand and pulled her along, purposeful again despite the rough gravel.

“What did you learn?” she asked, eyes down in a hopeless effort to avoid the worst of the pebbles.

“I have some habits too,” he mumbled.

They walked on, slower now, silent except for the occasional gasp when plantar surface encountered sharp stone.

“We’re pathetic, aren’t we?” Scully asked. They were nearing the dam, and the sound of tinkling water grew louder.

“Only taken individually,” he answered. “Scully, look at that. Odd, isn’t it?”

She followed his finger to where the wooden chute drained water from the lake, before running the length from the dam to the mill. Wooden posts held the chute above the stream.

“What’s odd?” Scully asked. She was much better able to understand the mechanics of the chute and the dam now that she could see it from above the level of the ground.

“The head gate is mostly closed,” he said. “And the spillway is open.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I know I didn’t see a control gate. I was looking,” Mulder said. “You know what, Scully? I don’t think we should stop the flow at all. I think we should turn it up.”

“Turn it up,” she repeated thoughtfully. “More flow to make the wheel turn faster. But why?”

“Just a hunch,” he answered, but Scully gave him a stern, disapproving look.

“That’s a bad habit,” she reproached him.

“Okay. Do you know how a mill works?” he asked.

“Basically. The water turns the wheel, the wheel turns the grindstone,” she answered.

“Right. But you don’t want the stones grinding when there isn’t any grain,” Mulder said. “So at night, or when the miller’s away, the mill stops. Either the headwater is diverted so the wheel doesn’t turn, or a slip cog is used to disengage the lay shaft.”

Scully gawked, but didn’t interrupt.

“This mill runs all the time,” Mulder said. “It has to, to power the defense system.”

“I didn’t see any defenses, beyond the barbed wire,” Scully said.

“The door to the mill is electrified,” Mulder said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said.

“There’s something else. A containment field that traps the spirits in the water,” Mulder said.

“So if we could break the field, the spirits could complete their journeys?” Scully asked.

Mulder grinned. “I was afraid you were going to make some disparaging allusion to “Ghostbusters.’”

“I was just wondering if Neil’s spirit is trapped there,” she said. “However, I am curious about your past life as a miller, unless there’s a more scientific explanation for your arcane knowledge.”

“You’re familiar with Jung’s concept of racial memory?” he asked. “‘Mulder.’ It’s the Dutch word for miller.”

“Oh, I like that,” Scully said.

“Or maybe it’s from that summer I was a guide at Old Sturbridge Village,” Mulder added.

“All part of the same rich pattern,” Scully said. “But back to your plan. Something about slipping a cog and laying a shaft.”

“Simpler than that. We close the spillway and open the sluice gate. Put the mill into overdrive and see what happens.”

= = =

Mulder was unavailable by cell phone and so was Scully. Perhaps Skinner knew where they were, but if Milligan inquired, the AD might ask a few questions of his own.

It was situations like this that made Danny the most popular man in the FBI. He turned up the last locations of calls to each of their phones, and Milligan was able to pick a destination. Clearbrook, Maryland. The drive took him right past the corporate headquarters of Big Ed, but that was one spot that Heinz would surely avoid today.

Milligan had never been to Neil’s house, although he knew the address. They had always set their meetings in neutral, public locations with large parking lots. Neil was the rarest kind of cooperating witness; a decent guy who wasn’t just trying to save his own butt. You don’t want to compromise any CW, but especially not a guy like that.

Milligan took the turn for the Longridge Condominiums, scanning for number twelve. He got a jolt when he spotted it, because there was a police prowler parked outside.

Maybe he was too late. Maybe running off on his own had cost Mulder his life. He drove past the cop car and parked. The Clearbrook officer had Heinz in cuffs, and he was talking to a man in a suit and two seedy-looking guys.

He pulled out his creds as he approached the group.

“Special Agent Milligan, FBI,” he told the cop. “What’s going on?”

“FBI? Maybe you guys should open a field office here,” the cop answered wearily. “Attempted auto theft, possession of burglary tools, vandalism. You guys into that these days?”

Milligan couldn’t help breaking into a broad smile.

“You’ve got a nice collar, officer. You caught a bigger fish than you know,” he said.

= = =

Part Seven

“Is it working?” Scully asked. She and Mulder stood by the side of the river, near the mill but beyond the fence. She couldn’t be sure from this angle if the water wheel was turning faster than before.

“The water’s lower,” Mulder said,

That much was evident. The river had receded from the banks and the little clouds seemed to crowd together in their shrinking space.

“I can see that,” Scully agreed. “And the flow from the sluice is definitely faster and heavier. But nothing’s happening.”

They watched in silence for a while.

“This isn’t working,” Mulder said at last. “We’ll have to go back and do it the other way. Shut off the flow of headwater to make the wheel stop.”

Scully frowned thoughtfully.

“But what happens when we leave here?” she asked. “The Thorn just opens the gate and starts it back up.”

“Where is that guy, anyway?” Mulder asked. “Why’s he hiding from us?”

The answer came from one of the cloud-spirits in the river.

“He isn’t hiding from you, young man. He must spend most of his time in the middle world,” said a refined voice with the trace of a British accent.

“Spell it out for him, Professor. He’s a slow study,” said the spirit voice of ASAC Hudson.

“He is not dead, and so his time here is limited. It’s this infernal device that extends his power,” the refined voice explained.

“But where—” Mulder’s question was interrupted by a snapping sound from within the mill, followed by a sharp odor.

“Something’s happening,” Scully said hopefully.

Another snap, and then a thin stream of smoke, trickling from around the door.

The water wheel turned smooth and fast, but within the building the increased speed was taking its toll.

An arc of sparks crackled across the surface of the stream.

“Mulder, let’s get out of here,” Scully said.

“Not yet,” Mulder said. “We have to be sure.” He stood fixed, staring at the mill as a huge arc of current bridged from the door to the fence, scribbling a blue trail through the air.

“We’re too close,” Scully said, grabbing his arm to pull him away from the mill, back toward the lake.

“Not that way, Scully. We have to go back the way we came,” he said. He pointed downstream. “We have to go around the fence this time.” He didn’t take his eyes off the mill, wide-eyed as sparks flew and the building itself seemed to groan and crack. “Scully, come on!”

She was straining to retreat toward the lake, but Mulder resisted and tried to pull her around the side of the mill so that they could head back toward the mountain.

“That’s not the way we came!” she shouted.

With a rolling boom and a sharp, loud crack, flames burst from the roof of the mill.

“This way!” Mulder shouted.

Scully’s thoughts came faster than she could express them. The air around them seemed to tingle, and her skin crawled with goose bumps. She couldn’t hear the drum or feel its vibrations, but the ground itself rumbled a deep, bass resonance that made her stomach churn with fear and anticipation.

He was too close to the danger and he wouldn’t retreat with her, and the tension between them and around them escalated unbearably.

“Mulder!” she shouted, and hurled herself at him in a desperate attempt to shield him from the explosion and conflagration she was sure were imminent.

“Scully!” She came hurtling at him, and then they were both airborne, blasted back by the detonation and whipped by the debris. He grabbed her and held on desperately as the world around them erupted with sound and strobed with blinding brightness.

= = =

Six men fit comfortably in the large office. Tecumseh Jones of the Clearbrook Police, two federal agents, and three strange fellows who aroused Jones’s curiosity and perhaps his suspicions.

Detective Jones stretched and yawned. It was his office, but he was perfectly content to let the man from the FBI run the meeting.

“A simple announcement for now, just something to say that an arrest has been made in the brutal attack on Senator Matheson,” Skinner was saying.

“Fine by me,” Jones agreed. He stole a glance at his watch. One AM.

“We’ll call a press conference in the morning, if that’s all right with you, Detective,” Skinner continued.

“I still have some questions, Mr. Skinner,” Jones said. He glanced over at the lone gunmen. “If you gentlemen could step outside for a minute.” He didn’t trust those guys and he hoped Skinner would back him up.

“Step outside so you can bury the truth,” Langly challenged him. The blond one with the big mouth.

The younger FBI man jumped to his feet, making his chair screech on the linoleum floor.

“Yeah, boys, we all heard about what great pals you are with Mulder. We’d like to confirm that with Mulder, but you’re the ones who won’t let us in the house,” Milligan barked.

“Actually, it’s Mrs. Deutsch who is refusing you admission,” said the one with the beard. “I assure you that Agent Mulder is unharmed.”

“Sit down, Milligan,” Skinner said quietly. “I’ve checked them before and they come out clean.”

“Then where’s Mulder?” Milligan demanded, but Skinner gave him another frown and he sat down.

“If you were really concerned, you would have gotten in.” Jones could tell Skinner was trying to keep the conversation private. “Don’t ask me to believe you’d wait for a warrant if you thought there was an agent down.”

“Mr. Skinner, they may be as clean as you say, but are you aware that their organization covered the legal fees for Bob Adkiss?” Jones asked mildly. “Perhaps they perform other services for EdwardStoltz.”

“We don’t work for Big Ed!” Langly exclaimed. “We’re trying to get those bastards put away.”

“Enough,” Skinner snapped. “Detective, they have the information we need. I see little point in continuing without them.”

“It’s your show, Mr. Skinner. I just wanted you to have all the facts,” Jones said. He didn’t like the idea, but he wanted this meeting to end so he could catch some sleep before morning.

Skinner turned to Milligan. “Let’s start with you, Agent. You began your work with the Matheson Task Force late this afternoon, correct?”

“Yes, sir,” Milligan said. “From the beginning I suspected that Henry Heinz had a hand in the attack, a suspicion that was confirmed when I saw that he’d been in contact with the Senator by telephone.”

X called Y on the phone, therefore X assaulted Y. Jones smiled inwardly. He had officers like that on the force. He had no doubt that AD Skinner would find the time to help Agent Milligan adjust his attitude sometime soon.

“A suspicion that was confirmed by Senator Matheson, when he was able to speak,” Skinner added.

“I figured if Matheson knew Heinz was after something he had, maybe he slipped it to Mulder.” Milligan glanced over to Jones to clarify. “Mulder was the last person seen with the Senator before the attack.”

“So you followed Mulder over to Neil Deutsch’s place, where we had Heinz in custody,” Langly said.

“Or, more properly, where one of my patrolmen had Heinz in custody,” Jones corrected him. “After you, very properly, placed a nine-one-one call to report the attempted break-in.”

“Hey, just for the record, Heinz had no trouble trashing Mulder’s car without triggering the alarm,” Langly said defensively. “Your boy would have walked away if I didn’t have my own system up protecting the van.”

“Very nice,” Jones agreed. “Perhaps you should patent it.”

“You wish,” Langly sneered.

“I informed the patrolman that Henry Heinz was a suspect in the attack on Senator Matheson,” Milligan said, raising his voice to regain everyone’s attention.

Jones caught Skinner’s eye. Agent Milligan had good instincts as a manhunter, but he’d be a hell of a liability on the witness stand.

“Others on the task force were able to establish the facts as described by Agent Milligan using more conventional investigative techniques,” Skinner said with a little nod to Jones.

“You have Henry Heinz and you have evidence linking him to the assault,” Frohike said. “You have nothing on Big Ed.”

“I know who keeps Heinz’s pockets full. Everyone does,” Milligan said.

“Then you wouldn’t be interested in actual evidence,” Byers said. The sarcasm in his message was not expressed in his voice.

“What have you got?” Skinner asked.

Jones refrained from asking his own question: Where did you get it?

“Little of this, little of that,” Langly answered. “About seven gigabytes of this and that.”

He was by far the most irritating of the trio, Jones decided.

“We have documentation relating to tax evasion, violation of patent, price fixing, product adulteration, illegal campaign contributions, and pay-offs to various inspectors and auditors,” Byers said. “Probably more. We haven’t had time to run through it all.”

“And just like Cracker Jacks, there’s a surprise in the bottom of the box,” Frohike added. “Woodrow Gerstbloem is alive and well. The son of a bitch has an apartment in the Watergate, for Christ’s sake.”

“Alive and well and rich as hell,” Langly quipped.

Skinner exchanged glances with Milligan.

“I knew it,” Milligan said angrily.

“This is what Heinz was looking for,” Skinner concluded. “And all along Mulder had it?”

“That’s right,” Byers confirmed, “but I don’t think he knew. It was on a music CD.”

“A music CD with encrypted files out the ying yang,” Frohike explained.

“An RSA encryption in perl script. I broke the code like that.” Langly snapped his fingers.

“And Mulder thought it was just a pretty song,” Frohike marveled.

“Is there some reason we can’t ask Mulder what he thought?” Skinner asked pointedly. “Or Scully, for that matter?”

“Yeah, do you think you could might convince your friend Lauren Deutsch to let us in the house?” Milligan whined.

“Fellas, be reasonable,” Frohike said. “It’s almost two in the morning.”

= = =

Mulder opened his eyes and stretched sleepily. It hurt, sort of like a mild sunburn.

He couldn’t identify where he was, but it was definitely someplace normal, somewhere in the middle world. He disentangled his hand from Scully’s to check his watch, but found he wasn’t wearing one.

Scully’s hand? Scully?

Slowly Mulder turned his head. That was Scully, all right.

“Scully?” he said, and she stirred and opened her eyes.

“Mulder, you’re safe,” she said gratefully, moving closer to him. Then she noticed where they were. “Mulder! What are you doing here?” she asked in surprise.

“This must be Lauren Deutsch’s bedroom,” Mulder said.

“This must be Lauren’s bed,” Scully said.

A knock at the door brought a halt to their uncertain reorientation process, and Chuck Burks entered the room.

“Good, you’re awake,” he said. “Some guys from the FBI are here. They’ve been asking to talk to you since last night.”

Scully looked shocked, but Mulder grinned.

“What do you say, Scully, should we let them in?”

She gaped for a moment, but she collected herself enough to zing him back.

“By all means, Mulder. I’ll find a way to hide my crushing frustration and disappointment from last night,” she said.

“They’re outside the house, but if you’re ready Lauren will let them wait for you in the living room,” Burks explained.

“Might as well face the music,” said Mulder. Chuck retreated toward the door, but Scully called him back.

“I hate to be obvious, but is there some reason we’re, uh, here… together?” she asked him.

Burks hemmed and hawed, but then he explained:

“You were pretty beat after your journey. Lauren thought you’d be more comfortable in bed.”

“I’m very comfortable,” Mulder agreed.

“She has a fold-out couch in the living room, and she had it all made up for him.” Burks addressed his answer to Scully. “She was going to give you the guest room up here.”

“She’s so thoughtful,” Scully said. “Especially considering everything she’s been through.”

“She is,” Burks agreed. “I think she’s one of those naturally kind people. Anyway, Mulder was still a bit out of it, but she got him to stumble his way to the bed, and she had him tucked in nice and everything….”

“I hope I got my milk and cookies first,” Mulder said.

“Scully was in similar shape,” Burks said. “Well, maybe a little better. So Lauren got her halfway up the stairs….”

“Oh my God!” Scully said suddenly. “Please, Chuck, please tell me that the gunmen weren’t around for this part.”

“Oh, no,” he assured her. “They were at the police station.”

“What?” asked Mulder and Scully together.

“Anyway, Scully, Lauren was trying to get you up to bed, but then your partner here started making noises and you went off the wall,” Burks said.

“Noises?” Mulder asked. “What kind of noises?”

Chuck scrunched his face as he searched for the right words.

“Well, whimpering at first. Then some kind of howling. And then, well, sort of like sobbing,” he said.

Scully reached for Mulder’s hand, her face filled with nothing but sympathy.

“I did not sob,” Mulder insisted indignantly, although he didn’t really remember.

“Well, whatever you want to call it,” Burks said. “Sort of like ‘boo-hoo-hoo.’”

“There is no way,” Mulder said stubbornly.

“Look, it doesn’t matter,” Burks said. “You were fine once you had Scully with you.”

“I suppose nobody cared that I was crying,” Scully said.

“Um… you weren’t crying,” Burks said. “You were hollering. Mulder! Mulder! Wouldn’t shut up until we brought him to you. Then you just wrapped yourself around him like a hungry anaconda and you both fell asleep.”

“Excuse me?” Scully sounded highly affronted.

Chuck nodded to himself.

“Soul mates,” he said, quietly enough that everyone could pretend that they hadn’t heard him. “Tell you what, I’ll tell your friends from the FBI you’ll be ready for them in an hour.” He left the room, closing the door behind him.

“You heard him,” Mulder said glibly. “Like a hungry anaconda.”

“Boo-hoo-hoo,” Scully retorted.

“Pressing against me, tighter and tighter…” Mulder teased.

“Mulder, I mean this in the nicest possible way,” Scully said, turning on her side to look him in the eye. “You’re a pig.”

the end!

= = =

Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Let it go. Feel your muscles relax. Concentrate on the intense urge, that overwhelming desire to send feedback.

Feedback, feedback… Every cell in your being wants to send feedback. It’s irresistible…

Feedback to

There. You feel so much better now.

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