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Resolve by Kate M
Disclaimer Dance: You know the drill: Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Lone Gunmen, etc. …CC…1013…Fox Broadcasting…etc. etc. ad nauseum. In short: they’re not mine, and I intend no infringement.
Author’s note: Some of the information in here about artificial intelligence, intelligent androids, etc. is accurate to date. If you’re interested in that, I got my info from a great book called “In Our Own Image,” by Maureen Caudill… Some of it I made up myself, and I have no idea whether it’s even remotely plausible. Call it poetic license, or whatever you want. It’s fiction, after all.
M&S ROMANCE WARNING, for those who don’t like that sort of thing. Also, certain parts are R/NC-17-ish.
Scully sat staring into the darkness of her bedroom. She rarely slept the night through anymore, and she had rapidly reached a point where she could occupy these long, dark hours for only so long. She read, she cleaned, she watched television, but none of these took away the feeling that there was something wrong, something missing. She was beginning to wonder if she shouldn’t go back to the counselor at EAP, but how could anyone understand her fears? Some of them, she knew, were normal enough for a woman in her situation. She was alone, she had a high stress job, she was under nearly constant pressure, and she wasn’t getting any younger. 32 is not old, she reminded herself irritably.
Yet some of her fears, the ones that gave her the nightmares which made it more bearable to stay awake, were things no one would believe. No one but Mulder, she thought, sighing. And she wouldn’t burden him with this. He already took too much on himself, and she wouldn’t add to his guilt. She blamed him for nothing, but he would never stop blaming himself.
She glanced at the clock. 5:30, which meant she could legitimately get up. She was beginning to feel claustrophobic, like she couldn’t spend another minute in this apartment. She would just go into the office early. What she would do once she got there was another matter, but she would worry about that then.
The phone rang, the sound burrowing into her exhausted consciousness like a drill. She grabbed it on the first ring. It had to be Mulder.
“It’s me. Did I wake you?”
“No. What’s up?”
“Why weren’t you sleeping?”
She smiled in spite of herself. This was true Mulder-logic: call her at 5:30 in the morning, ask if he woke her and then wonder why she wasn’t sleeping.
“Mulder, what is it?”
“We have a new case. We fly out today.”
“Where are you?” She knew Mulder could frequently read her thoughts before she spoke them — it was part of what made their partnership work, when it was working. But (to his dismay) he wasn’t able to predict the future. Which in this case meant only one thing.
“I’m at the office.”
“What are you doing there at 5:30 in the morning?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” he said shortly, and she sighed quietly. Sometimes, when she let herself, she thought it would be better for them both if they could talk about some of the things that kept them both from sleeping. And then sometimes, she thought that if they made themselves too vulnerable to one another, it would be dangerous. She had to keep up a certain appearance, or she wouldn’t be capable of doing what they did.
She had constructed her professional facade into a nearly flawless mask of control, and while Mulder had seen that mask crack, it was still important that she keep it up. It was part of how she kept it all together, part of what kept her moving. It was what she held on to.
“Mmm. I’m here.”
“I called because I figured you should just bring your bag to work. I thought I could come over and pick you up, actually. That way we don’t have both cars in the garage.”
“OK. I’ll be ready in an hour.”
They hung up without saying goodbye; they always did. Scully wondered if she and Mulder had ever had a normal phone conversation. She doubted it.
Within an hour she was showered and dressed. She had grown so used to taking off at a moment’s notice that it took her no time to pack anymore. She called her mother to let her know she’d be gone, and then sat on the couch, waiting for Mulder.
He’d given her no information on this case at all. In spite of herself, she hoped it was one of their more routine cases. She hadn’t known Mulder was working on anything, and he hadn’t mentioned sending up a 302 for approval and funds, so this case may have come down through official channels. She sighed. This was not exactly reassuring. It could mean that it was run of the mill, busy work to get them out of the way. Which could in turn mean that something more interesting, more sinister, was going on somewhere else that they didn’t want them to know about. She sighed again. It was official: she was now as paranoid as Mulder.
She heard his light knock on the door then, and stood to let him in. He looked as exhausted as she felt. There were dark circles under his eyes, and while he looked impeccable — dark suit, one of his more conservative ties, even — his face looked almost gaunt, his eyes haunted. She had seen the same look on her face in the mirror earlier, and had turned away sadly. At what point had all hope of a normal life disappeared for them? For Mulder, it had been long ago. As for herself, there were any number of occasions she could point to, but the most recent, and the most debilatating, was Melissa’s death.
“What time does our flight leave?”
“Do you want a cup of coffee? Real coffee?”
He smiled. “What, my coffee doesn’t count?”
“Mulder, your coffee is comparable to toxic waste.”
“Coffee would be great, Scully.”
He followed her into the kitchen, and she could feel him looking at her.
Was he thinking what she had been thinking? That they both looked so sad, that everything that had happened to them was finally beginning to show on their faces, in their eyes. Maybe it was only evident to them — maybe they only saw it in one another.
Why don’t we try to help each other? she thought. Why can’t I just turn to him, right now, and tell him I need someone to talk to? What am I so afraid of?
Mulder leaned against the counter, watching her. She looked beautiful, as always, but she looked tired. Those clear blue eyes were full of something he recognized too readily — a sort of helplessness, a will to keep everything that hurt inside, where it couldn’t hurt anyone else.
Why don’t we talk to one another? he thought. I can see she’s in pain, she’s obviously not sleeping much anymore. Why can’t I just ask her to talk to me? Why can’t I talk to her?
Scully handed him a mug, and they sat at the table, both of them warming their hands and breathing in the sharp coffee smell. Sometimes she felt like she would bleed coffee.
She raised her head. “So. What is it this time?”
He shrugged, and she knew instantly: busy work.
“A woman in New Jersey disappeared 6 days ago.”
“That’s it? A missing person case? Mulder…”
“Her husband is convinced it has something to do with her work. ”
“That’s the thing. He doesn’t know. She works for the Caudill Company, and apparently their work — whatever it is — is so confidential that she isn’t allowed to mention it to anyone, even her husband. At the end of every day, she has to go through two security checkpoints, empty her briefcase, go through a scanner, the works.”
“Could you dig up anything on the company?”
“Nothing. I thought we could run it through some unofficial channels.”
“Meaning, I suppose, that we’re next heading to Paranoia Central,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“They’re the best, Scully. You know it.”
“I know it. Just let me finish this coffee and we’ll go. I definitely need my coffee before I can face Frohike.”
He grinned at her, the first real smile she’d seen from him, and she smiled back briefly. Sometimes he made her heart ache for no reason at all.
Scully leaned against a metal shelf stacked with overflowing files.
Mulder was filling the Lone Gunmen in on the case, and even as he talked, Frohike’s fingers were flying over his keyboard. His overly solicitous welcome had made her feel good in a strange way, and she realized that she welcomed any show of friendliness that she could even remotely trust. There were days on end when she saw and spoke to no one but Mulder, and as much as cared about him, it was nice to hold a conversation with someone else — even Frohike.
Who was now swearing at his computer.
“They’re locked up tight, Mulder. Who are these people? Any idea?”
“The Caudill Company has links to government and military operations,” said Byers, smoothly. Scully was not surprised, and her lack of surprise made her feel even worse.
“What’s their story?” Langly asked, managing to hold himself still long enough to get the question out.
“No one knows, exactly. It’s rumored that they’re working on cloning technology — building an artificial person.”
“For military use? Robot soldiers? Cool.” Langly bounced out of the conversation and over to Frohike to see if he could help hack his way in.
Byers looked seriously at them. “Some very alarming people have been linked with this idea. We know the basic technology exists, but it’s been said that these people are working on intelligent androids.”
“Meaning what?” Mulder was looking at him intently. “Are we talking about something like Data, here? ”
Langly bounced back. “Absolutely. It’s entirely possible.”
Langly gawked at her. “Next Generation,” he said, as if he found it impossible that anyone had never watched Star Trek.
“Oh.” She gave Mulder a look, and he smiled slightly.
“Can you give us hard copy on any of this?” she asked, approaching Frohike cautiously.
He grinned up at her. “Sure thing. Anything for you, Agent Scully.”
Scully rolled her eyes, and Mulder gave his second real smile of the day, which made it almost worth it, she thought absently.
In the car, Scully paged through the information the Gunmen had given them.
“Mulder, this is hearsay, rumor, spread around the Internet. Some of this stuff, “she said, holding up a sheaf of papers, “is from the Next Generation newsgroup.”
“Not a valid source, Scully?”
“Not a valid source, Mulder. ” She continued looking through the file, making an attempt to organize the information. Organize it how? she thought dryly. ‘Impossible, barely possible, marginally possible’ ?
With a sigh, she admitted that this did in fact seem like the best way to categorize anything from the Lone Gunmen, although they had been helpful in the past, in their own strange way.
“Scully, do you realize what we’re talking about here? An intelligent android, capable of speech, of acting on its own. Do you have any idea-”
“Mulder. Do you have any idea what this has to do with Laura Jordan’s disappearance?” She instantly regretted asking.
“Any number of things, Scully. She could be part of an experiment. What do you know about the Human Genome Project?”
“Its purpose is to decipher the human genetic code,” she said reluctantly.
“Right. We’re already learning how to clone animals, Scully, and there are microorganisms, even laboratory animals, that have a specific genetic code. They can accomplish specific tasks, from cleaning up oil spills to manufacturing drugs. Isn’t it possible that the technology that we use today to manufacture something like interferon would eventually be capable of creating an android that looked entirely human, but had an artificial brain?”
“Mulder, for what purpose?”
“You heard what Byers said. These people are linked with the military.”
“Robot soliders, Mulder?”
“Why not? They don’t feel pain, they take orders effortlessly-Scully, there are a million good reasons to have an android army.”
“Mulder. These so-called links to the government and the military are — are conjured up by people who have nothing better to do. People who call themselves things like ‘Spock47’ and spend all their time in a dark room on their computer. They’re out of touch with reality.”
He grinned over at her quickly. “Listen to what you just said, Scully. Pretty accurately describes us, doesn’t it?”
“Mulder, I have never called myself anything even remotely close to Spock47,” she said, with a sigh. When would she give up trying to get through to him? Once he had an idea, he was tenacious. She was just as stubborn, of course, which meant that they were likely to spend the entire trip butting heads.
On the plane, Scully read through the case file while Mulder closed his eyes and tried to imagine what it felt like to sleep.
Eventually she turned to him and said, “So, we start with the husband.”
He opened his eyes. “Communications professor at Rutgers. He says the last time he saw her was Wednesday morning, before she left for work. She left the house at 7.”
“And never reported to work.”
Mulder shook his head. “He doesn’t know. Company policy forbids personal phone calls except in emergency situations, and even family aren’t permitted to know anything about an employee once they’re inside the gates.”
“It says here he tried to contact Caudill.”
“And got nowhere.”
“Has anyone from local law enforcement attempted to contact the company?
They couldn’t very well deny-”
“They did,” Mulder interrupted. “It’s a private company, they have no responsibility to divulge information to anyone without a warrant. And no local judge is going to issue a warrant in a case like this, not unless there’s a provable link between her disappearance and the company.”
“Which there isn’t,” Scully said, trying not to sound smug. Mulder only smiled.
The Jordan house was on a winding, hilly street, set back from the road and nearly hidden behind trees and overgrown bushes.
“They must like their privacy,” Scully commented as they turned into the driveway.
Andrew Jordan looked exhausted. With good reason, Scully thought, allowing herself some non-professional sympathy. She knew what it was like to have someone you loved gone without a trace. Shaking the thought from her head with a small frown, she settled into her professional demeanor and began to ask questions.
“Mr. Jordan, I understand that your wife is not permitted to discuss her job?”
“That’s right. She’s been there for 8 years, and I’ve never known what it is that she does there. Or what they do at all, for that matter.” He shrugged. “I know it sounds crazy, but that’s the way it is. It’s her career, it means a lot to her.”
“She invested a lot of time and effort in her job?” Mulder asked.
“Oh, you could say that. Sometimes she works 12, 14 hour days. Sometimes we barely see one another. I mean, we see one another every day, but sometimes for no more than a few minutes,” he added hastily. “She’s never been gone overnight before.”
Mulder nodded, and Scully continued the questioning.
“You said you contacted her family, but they haven’t been in touch with her. Mr. Jordan, is there any reason why your wife’s family might be protecting her in some way? Have you and your wife been having problems of any kind?”
“No.” He sighed. “I knew you would ask that. Laura and I always got along well. We have a lot in common, in certain ways, and in certain ways, we have nothing in common.” He shrugged. “That’s life, that’s marriage. She likes mystery novels, I can’t stand them. She likes Chinese food, I hate it. I like jazz, Laura listens to country. But we hardly ever argued, and there was never anything — wrong — between us.”
“It can be difficult to have a spouse whose career takes up a large portion of her time and energy. Did you ever argue about that?”
“No. I admit, sometimes it isn’t easy. But I’ve gotten used to it. I know how much this means to her. It wasn’t easy for a woman to break into this company — it was something of an old boy’s network — I’m sure you know what I mean,” he said to Scully. She nodded grimly. She knew all too well. “Laura used to tell me her friends were jealous that she had a husband who was so supportive of her. She said a lot of them ended up working part-time, or staying home because their husbands couldn’t take the long hours, how tired they were when they came home at the end of the day. That kind of thing.”
“Laura’s friends — were they friends from work?”
“No. This was when she first started working. We were married right out of college. Her first job was at a computer consulting firm, and she didn’t have an easy time of it. She was glad to be able to quit when she got the job at Caudill.”
“Does she keep in touch with those friends?”
He shook his head. “Since she started working at Caudill, the demand on her time has gotten so high. We haven’t really had a social life in several years now. I don’t mind it.”
“Did you contact any of her friends?”
“I called the ones whose numbers we still had around. All of them were surprised to hear from me — they all said Laura hadn’t been in touch with them in years. Since she started at Caudill.”
“Mr. Jordan, do you have any idea at all what Laura’s work involves?
Anything at all? This interview is confidential.”
He shook his head, frowning. “I wish I did, Agent Scully. I can’t help but feel like it might have something to do with this. She’s not allowed to say anything, and she never would. Laura is very honest, very trustworthy. She wouldn’t go against company policy. Except —” He looked troubled, and Scully and Mulder exchanged a quick look.
“Except what, Mr. Jordan?” Mulder asked gently.
The man ran a hand over his balding head. “I think Laura was troubled about something. She was having these dreams, or nightmares, I guess.
She woke me up a few times, talking in her sleep, crying once. I tried to hearwhat she was saying, but I couldn’t understand most of it.”
“Do you remember anything she said, Mr. Jordan?” Mulder was leaning forward intently.
“Something about a baby,” he sighed. “I think Laura wanted to have a baby — we had always talked about having children eventually. But with the way Laura works, and my schedule at the university, it just hasn’t happened.” He looked at them carefully, and then said, “I think the company has a policy that forbids pregnancy.”
“They can’t do that,” Scully said sharply. Mulder glanced at her, surprised at the tone of her voice.
Andrew Jordan shrugged. “I’ve more or less taken on the attitude that they can do whatever they want. Employment is voluntary — she signed a contract. She may have agreed to it herself, and come to regret it.”
“Did she ever say anything else — in her sleep — that gave you any indication that something was bothering her?”
“No. She seemed fine, a little tired, maybe. But 8 years of working a high-stress, constant pressure job can wear you out. I put it down to that. Laura and I were always close, in spite of this company-imposed silence about her work. I thought if she remembered her dreams, or had anything she needed to talk to me about, she would. Maybe I was wrong.”
They finished up their questioning and told Jordan how to contact them.
As they drove to the hotel, Scully flipped through the file once more.
Mulder looked over at her.
“What kind of company forbids its employees to have children, Scully?”
“Mulder, they can’t do that. It’s against the law.”
He snorted. She sighed.
“All right, even supposing they did — it could simply be that her work is delicate, or dangerous in some way — it may involve chemicals, or some degree of radiation exposure.”
“Mulder, I refuse to jump to the conclusion that this woman’s disappearance has anything to do with her work until we have some kind of tangible evidence. It’s far more likely that she’s having an affair, maybe with a colleague from work, even, and is taking a little vacation.”
“Pretty inconsiderate for someone who’s so close to her husband.”
“How close can they be, Mulder? She works 14 hour days, she can’t tell him anything about what she does. She’s obviously troubled about something — maybe she’s already pregnant. Maybe she’s gone somewhere to have an abortion. There are a million things this could be, Mulder, and so far none of them point to Caudill.”
Mulder pulled into the motel parking lot and looked at her carefully.
She was obviously very tense — and very tired, he told himself, remembering that his 5:30 a.m. call hadn’t woken her. She isn’t sleeping any more than I am, he thought unhappily. We both need some rest.
“Scully, I don’t know about you, but what I need is some sleep. Why don’t we check in, take a nap, and meet for some dinner?”
She sighed. “Sounds perfect.”
Scully hung her suit jacket on the back of the desk chair, and sat on the edge of the bed. With a groan, she slipped off her shoes and stood again to strip off the rest of her clothes. I need a shower, she thought. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. She pulled her robe from her suitcase and headed for the bathroom.
Standing under the streaming hot water, Scully told herself to relax.
Why am I so tense? she wondered. I feel like every muscle in my body is clenched. I need to get some sleep. The hot water began to relax her, and as she closed her eyes and tilted her head back, an image of Mulder standing at her door that morning hovered behind her eyelids.
We’re both unhappy, she thought suddenly. I don’t let myself acknowledge it, and I doubt he does either, but we’re not exactly lighthearted anymore, are we? She knew they both had more than their share of reasons to be unhappy. They had been through things most people would not have survived physically, let alone mentally. And yet here they were, plodding forward with the very work that had brought both of them such pain. And there was no way that either of them could ever back down. It may have started as Mulder’s crusade, but it belonged to both of them now. She frowned, thinking, in spite of herself, of Laura Jordan and her husband.
Was this case hitting too close to home? she wondered. The woman was almost exactly her age. She had a stressful career that required she not discuss it with her husband. Well, I certainly don’t have a husband, Scully thought with a grim smile. But if I did, I suppose there would be a lot I couldn’t tell him. She frowned suddenly. How would that make her feel? She was accustomed to shutting certain things out, to not dealing with things that made her uncomfortable. But if there was someone in her life, wouldn’t she want to share everything with him?
Wouldn’t she want, need to talk to him about things? You shouldn’t hide anything from the person you married, she thought, but there are things I don’t even tell Mulder.
Her eyes flew open as that thought crossed her mind unbidden. Where the hell had that come from? Since when had she started feeling like Mulder was closer to her than anyone else could be?
Because it’s true, she thought, leaning against the wall. Because no one — no one — but Mulder would believe what I’ve been through, would even try to understand it, let alone accept it. And no one would understand why my work is so important to me. No one would be there for me so unconditionally, would know when to ask and when not to.
This was not necessarily a cheering thought. What, precisely, was she acknowledging here? That she would spend the rest of her life alone?
That there would never be anyone in her life but Mulder? And why did that thought not feel so bad? The image of him standing in her doorway came to her again, and she wondered what would have happened if she had opened up to him in some way. What could I have done? she thought. What should I have done? Acknowledged the pain he’s in, the pain I’m in.
Touch him, let him know I care about him.
He knows I care, she argued with herself. There’s never been any doubt of that. We might argue, we might disagree, but he knows I’m here, that I — She stopped herself, feeling her heart lurch in her chest.
That I love him?
Mulder slouched on the bed in a pair of sweatpants. His hair, still damp from the shower, kicked up in spiky tufts on the top of his head, and the fact that he constantly, absently ran his fingers through it didn’t make matters any better.
Something was wrong with Scully. There were a million things he could put the blame on — her abduction and her refusal to deal with it, Melissa’s death, all of the things they had discovered, only to have the proof ripped away from them, gone without a trace. He had never wanted her to reach this point, although he himself had been living like this for years now.
Not true, he told himself uncomfortably. There was a time when it didn’t cost so much to believe, when he hadn’t lost quite so much. When he hadn’t almost lost her.
Mulder had chosen not to entirely admit to himself that his reasons for carrying on went beyond his sister’s abduction. So much had happened, so many things had been revealed, shadowy things, revealed under unconvincing circumstances. He was no longer sure just what he wanted to believe.
What he wanted were the answers. What had they done to Scully? What were they doing? Why were they doing it? And what were the long-term effects? He heard her voice in his head: “I’ve seen the truth, Mulder.
Now what I want are the answers.”
His stomach clenched as he thought of what she had gone through, and how much he didn’t know. What should have brought them closer — and had, in some wordless, determined way — had somehow also driven a wedge between them. Sometimes it was more evident than others. What it amounts to, he thought bitterly, is that neither of us is exactly good at being vulnerable. And we’ve seen one another’s vulnerabilities. In order to do what we do, we can’t allow ourselves those vulnerabilities, and we can’t allow anyone else to acknowledge their existence either. Not even one another.
He wanted to protect her. He wanted to tell her everything would be all right, and he wanted to make it all right. He wanted to take her away from this work, and somehow to erase all the horror that they had been through. Or at least give her something that would balance it out.
He smiled mirthlessly. He’d already given her everything he had: paranoia, fear, nightmares, bitterness. He’d dragged her right down to his level: she’d found herself pointing a gun at the man who killed her sister, just as he’d done with Cancerman, with Krychek. And all of them had gotten away, had gotten away with it. At least Cardinale was dead, but there hadn’t been any real justice.
He felt his own pain and hers in his chest like an ache that wouldn’t go away. Sometimes it was quiet — when they found something to laugh about, something else to talk about, which was increasingly rare. He thought they were over the worst of it — he grimaced as he remembered Comity, and tried to tell himself that it had been a planetary alignment, not really them. Still, there was something separating them,and he thought he knew what it was. He was sure he knew what it was, in fact, and it scared him to death.
He couldn’t live without her, and he couldn’t ask her to stay with him.
He would never ask her to leave the X-Files, and he hoped to hell she didn’t. What he meant was more than that. What he meant was that she was part of him, a part that made him ache but was also the only thing in his life that could ever possibly make him happy. It was his luck that the one thing, the one person, who could bring any joy into his life was the one person he couldn’t have.
He knew that Scully wanted more from her life. Most people did. He knew she was dedicated to her work, he knew that her stake in this was as big as his own. But he had heard the tone in her voice when she was talking with Andrew Jordan, and later, in the car. This was case was hitting a sore spot with Scully, and he could understand it too well. She was a beautiful, intelligent woman with so much to give, and the only person in her life was a bitter, self-absorbed, paranoid jerk. She wanted somone she could talk to, and she obviously couldn’t talk to him.
Not that I talk to her all that much either, he thought. We’ve shut down, somehow, and it isn’t right.
He sat up straighter. I’ll talk to her tonight, he told himself. At dinner, I’ll try — I’ve got to try to make her talk to me.
Two hours later he stood in front of the connecting door between their two rooms. It had become an unspoken signal between them— if they needed space or time alone, the door was locked. He knocked, and when he got no answer, he tried the knob gently. It was unlocked, and he stepped in softly.
She was still asleep. The only light in the room came from the bedside reading lamp, and it cast a soft glow on her face and hair. She was curled on her side, with a light frown on her face. He crouched beside her, barely breathing, and gently touched her face with his fingertips, as if to smooth away the frown.
She stirred, smiled a little, and he caught his breath. She was so close to him, sleep-warm, her hair messy, and he wished she could always look so relaxed. She opened her eyes and saw him crouched beside the bed.
“Mulder?” Her voice was throaty with sleep, and he felt a catch in his throat.
“Hey,” he managed quietly. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Mmm.” She struggled to shake the sleep out of her head, and he smiled at her as she sat up. He sat back on the floor.
“You were out.”
“I was really tired.”
He frowned. “You still are.”
She shrugged, and said, “I feel better now. How about you?”
“I don’t need much sleep anymore.”
“I’m starving,” he said, cutting her off before she could start lecturing him. “Room service? Or there must be a Chinese place somewhere in this town. I could run out and bring something back.”
She smiled, one of her rare, full-out smiles that made him catch his breath slightly.
“Mulder, that’s the best idea you’ve had all day.”
He got to his feet, grinning down at her still in bed. “You get some more sleep, Scully. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He walked toward the door to his room, and then turned again and said, “And no “Buddhist’s Delight” for you, either, Scully. You’re going to eat something substantial.”
She nodded, still smiling, and he left quickly, before she woke up enough to see what must be obvious — he felt like he had it written all over his face.
After he left, Scully sat in bed for a few minutes. She felt unsettled.
It had been strange to wake up and find him crouched beside her there, watching her sleep. Strange, but nice. And the look on his face told her so much — maybe more than she was ready to know, she thought now.
So I love him, all right, fine, she told herself sharply. And so maybe he loves me. What good is this going to do us? We can’t be together, we can’t ever have a normal life. There are too many people who want to hurt us, and any kind of relationship between us would only be fuel for their fire.
But, said the voice in her head. This is probably the only chance you’ll ever get. You know you love him. You know that no other man could ever be close to you, could ever compare to him. Why punish yourself? There are enough people who want to hurt you both. If this is your chance to be happy, why not take what you can get? Why not enjoy whatever you can, while you can?
Frowning, Scully got out of bed and headed for another shower. This situation was not going to resolve itself, she knew. And whatever conclusion she came to, it wouldn’t be an easy one to reach. Right now they were on a case. They had work to do. Anything personal would have to wait. She couldn’twouldn’t-deal with this right now.
When she came out of the bathroom, the room was filled with the scent of Chinese food, and Mulder was sitting on the floor leaning against the bed. He smiled up at her, and much of her resolve was lost as she smiled back in spite of herself. She sat down cross-legged on the floor and dug into the box of food.
They ate in silence at first, and then finally she said, “So tomorrow we’ll try to get into Caudill, I suppose?”
“Can’t hurt to try, Scully,” he answered, with a smile. She gave him a look that clearly said ‘Oh yes it can,’ but said nothing.
“And if we get nowhere? Then what?”
“Then we keep trying. That’s all. We’ll talk to local law enforcement, we’ll see what they’ve found out, if anything.” He shrugged. “I still think the answers are at Caudill, Scully. I think Andrew Jordan believes that too.”
Scully sighed, frustrated.
“Mulder, what makes you so sure her job has anything to do with this? ”
“Call it a hunch,” he said, and she rolled her eyes.
“All right then, what do you think? You really think it’s just an affair? That she would disappear without a trace for almost a week and not even tell her family where she was?”
“Mulder, it’s not like it’s never happened before. People do this sort of thing all the time. Her husband may just not want to believe that’s what it is. I think he knows more than he’s telling us.”
“And you think that’s what it is.”
“Mulder, look at the facts. Jordan said himself that they hardly see one another anymore. She works 14 hour days, sometimes they barely have time to speak. She can’t tell him anything about her job, and when you work 14 hour days, that’s a pretty big part of your life. It doesn’t exactly leave much time for intimacy. That’s got to put a strain on their marriage. ”
“So you think-”
“So I think it’s highly possible that she’s having an affair with someone she works with. Maybe they just wanted to get away for awhile. Maybe she’s pregnant, and they went away to decide what to do about it, or for her to have an abortion. The point is, Mulder -”
“I honestly don’t think that what you’re saying ever occurred to Jordan.”
“Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with it, Mulder. Maybe he even has some kind of proof that it’s happening, and he just doesn’t want to admit it, to us, or to himself. Mulder, think about it. This woman is obviously consumed by her work. It’s become the most important thing in her life.
Yet she can’t talk to her husband about it. She’s got to need someone, someone she can talk to, someone she can trust. Who better than someone she works with? Someone who knows what she deals with everyday, someone who will understand what she does, who knows why it’s so important to her. You can’t go through life without confiding in someone, keeping everything inside. Everyone needs someone, Mulder, and …” Her voice trailed off. He was staring at her.
She shook her head slightly, her eyes wide. “No, Mulder.”
“Scully, don’t shut me out. Listen to what you just said.”
“Please, Mulder, don’t.”
“Don’t what? Scully, you aren’t talking about Laura Jordan. You’re talking about us.”
They sat in silence. Scully stared at her lap, and Mulder stared at her. Finally she said,
“I can’t do this Mulder.”
His voice was soft, not angry, as it had been a moment before. He reached across the space between them and took her chin in his hand, forcing her to look at him. Unwillingly, she remembered that moment in Pfaster’s house, that moment so like this one. The mask had cracked, and when he made this same gesture, taken her face in his hand, forced her eyes up to his, she had broken down and cried in his arms. She was so close to doing it again, and she knew that if she did, there was no turning back.
“Mulder, we can’t,” she said, her voice despairing.
“Why not?” he repeated, his eyes locked on hers, his voice gentle. His hand slid up to stroke the damp hair out of her face, and he cupped the back of her head in his palm. “Because it’s against the rules? So what?
Because you think they’ll try to use it against us? Scully, you are already my biggest weakness — but you are also the reason I keep going.”
“Mulder, I need control. This — this makes me feel — out of control.”
“This what?” he asked softly.
“This —” She gestured at the space between them, and he smiled slightly.
At least he had gotten her to admit there was something happening.
“I know, Scully. I understand. Neither of us could do what we do if we didn’t have something to hold onto.”
“That’s right, Mulder. And I need to hold onto a sense of control.”
“That’s fine, Scully — professionally. But what about personally?”
“Don’t psychoanalyze me, Mulder!” she said sharply.
He didn’t flinch. “I’m not. I’m trying to tell you — I’m trying to tell you that I understand that need to hold onto something. I hold on to you. You’ve gotten me through every bad moment I’ve had, every — everything.”
Her eyes softened, and she reached up and put her hand on his arm. “Mulder.”
“I love you, Scully. I want this. I want you.”
“Mulder…” her voice trembled, and he pulled her toward him, over the jumble of take-out containers and paperwork. He kissed her, a soft, gentle kiss, not demanding, not questioningconfirming.
They pulled back, and Scully’s eyes remained closed. He dropped his hands and sat back, defeated. He wouldn’t force her, he couldn’t. If she didn’t love him, there was nothing he could do.
He looked at her again, and saw that she was crying. In one quick movement he was by her side, holding her. She turned to him and buried her face in his chest, finally letting herself cry. For Melissa? For herself? For him? He didn’t know, and it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that she trusted him, she was letting him in.
Eventually she took a deep breath and tried to sit back, but he held her against him and she relaxed into his embrace. He looked down at her and wiped the last traces of tears from her face. She smiled slightly at him.
“Damn you, Mulder. You just shattered my infamous resolve with one quick kiss.”
“Imagine what I could do with a slow one,” he said, tilting her head up to his.
This time the kiss was slow, exploring. He tasted salty, spicy, she thought, dazed, as she felt the weight of his body against her, lowering them to the floor. He held himself above her, looking down with a look in his eyes that reminded her suddenly of that last night in the woods on their first case. Someonethe sheriff — it didn’t matter — had hit her with the butt of his rifle, and she had been dazed, running through the trees in the rain. Then there had been that light — the inexplicable, blinding light, and moments later, Mulder calling her name, running to her. She had reached out, touched him, she had been so confused. She remembered saying, “Mulder, what happened? There was a light…” And then she had been lost in the look in his eyes, that look of wonder, of joy, almost of fear at the confirmation of something he had wanted so desperately to believe in. He had that look in his eyes now, and it made her own eyes fill with tears again, because this time, it was all for her.
His touch against her skin was somehow both soothing and electrifying.
It felt right — it felt like something she had been waiting for, something that had been just out of reach and was finally there for her to explore.
Her body was still warm from the shower, and she gave off a spicy-sweet scent that made him feel drugged. He lowered his mouth to the hollow at the base of her throat and tasted her, shuddering slightly at her intake of breath. She had been so tense when he first touched her, but now he could feel her relaxing beneath him, her body adjusting to his weight against her, even as his own body responded to the silky feel of her. He wanted to be slow, to draw this out, to make love to her as gently as possible, and yet the heat that was building between them was driving him to a point where he wondered how slowly he could go.
She ran her hands beneath his t-shirt and over the long muscles of his back. Her breath was already coming quickly, and as he began to kiss his way along her collar bone and up her throat, she made a noise that hit him so strongly he responded in kind with a soft moan.
“Mulder,” she said breathlessly, her hands tight against the small of his back, pressing him to her. He raised his head and looked at her, holding his breath. He didn’t want to rush this. If she wasn’t ready, it would be enough for him to have simply acknowledged what they felt for one another. They could take it as slowly as she needed to, only — only they had to stop now if he wasn’t going to suffer for it. He looked at her questioningly, not trusting himself to speak just yet.
“Mulder, let’s — the bed. We’re going to get rug burn,” she said in a low voice, smiling in a sleepy way that made him catch his breath. He sat back on his haunches and she sat up, her hair tossled, her eyes hot and her lips swollen from his kisses. He felt like he wasn’t breathing, and he stared at her, mesmerized.
“You look — my God, Scully, you’re beautiful,” he whispered, reaching out to touch her mouth with a fingertip. She flushed, and said, softly, “You’re pretty beautiful yourself, you know.” Her eyes lingered caressingly on his face, and as she reached a hand out to touch him, he took it and pulled them to their feet. They stood, inches apart, the space between them humming, and then she was in his arms.
He lowered them to the bed. His weight on top of her felt good. She could feel all the angles and planes of his body against her, and she ran her hands over him greedily, pulling up his t-shirt. He raised himself to kneeling position on the bed, and pulled the shirt over his head. She couldn’t stop looking at him — he was more than beautiful. He was literally taking her breath away. Mesmerized, she ran her hands over his chest and stomach, taking in the feel of him beneath her hands, the heat of him.
He closed his eyes and let himself go to the gentleness of her touch.
They had touched one another often enough — light, almost unthinking touches of guidance, of support, and all too often, of apology, reparation, condolence. Now the feeling of her hands gliding over him made him shiver, and he opened his eyes and looked at her with so much love and desire that she shivered in response, and drew him down to her.
They undressed one another quickly, eager now for the feeling of skin against skin. When she stretched out beside him and he felt her heat against him, he surprised even himself with the tears that sprang to his eyes. She looked at him wonderingly, and he said in a low voice, “I never thought — I’ve been alone my whole life, Scully. I never thought I could have this, that I could feel this way with anyone.”
She nodded, and said hesitantly, “There’s so little left for me to believe in, Mulder. But I believe in you. I believe in this.” Her voice was soft but strong. “I love you.”
He kissed her, and she moved against him slightly in a way that caused him to gasp. He turned slightly and proppsed himself on his side so that he could look down at her. Her confidence and trust in him made his heart ache with the hope that he could live up to it.
Scully looked up at him, knowing instinctively that he needed a reassurance of some kind. She pulled him down to her, and the kiss broke his troubled train of thought. He kissed his way down her throat and into the hollow between her breasts. His mouth on her skin brought forth a reaction she had thought gone forever. She drew in her breath sharply as he stroked her breasts and she arched into his touch. The wet heat of his tongue against her nipple made her writhe beneath him, and she laced her fingers through his hair. His teasing lips and fingers were sending warm shudders through her and she was losing control rapidly. He raised his head and she took advantage of the moment to turn them over so that she half-straddled him. The sight of her above him, her hair wild, her eyes bright and hot with desire, made him smile even as he fought to even his breathing. He wanted this to last…
She ran her hands over him again, then slid off him, following the path of her hands with her mouth. Her hair made a bright curtain around her face, so that he couldn’t see her, could only feel as she slowly, delicately ran her tongue around the tip of his arousal.
“Scully…” He said her name, half-whisper, half-groan, as she took him in her mouth, stroking him with one hand. He had no idea where she’d learned to use her tongue like that, but it probably shouldn’t be legal, he thought. He groaned again as she stopped and looked up at him wickedly. He used the last vestiges of his control to sit up and push her back onto the bed again.
Her eyes were half-closed as she reached for him again, but he evaded her grasp and pinned her hands over her head. With his free hand, he stroked her, running his hands over the length of her body, teasingly between her thighs, not stopping. He ran the palm of his hand lightly over her nipples, causing her to whimper in a way that left him temporarily reeling. He parted her thighs, running his fingers over her lightly, and she jumped and whispered his name in a husky voice. Finally he slid his finger into the hot center of her, and she cried out softly. He stroked her lightly, teasingly, then released her hands so that he could lower himself to taste her.
At the feel of his tongue against her, she knew she was lost. She bucked against him, feeling herself coming, hearing her voice saying his name, and then suddenly, with one fierce movement, he was inside her, hands braced on either side of her on the bed, and she reached up to hold him, to pull him deeper into her.
His movements became harder and faster, the sounds he made almost animal in a way that made her respond in kind. The feel of him inside her was like nothing she had ever known. He felt her spasming around him, and he used the last of his control to watch her as she came. The look on her face pushed him over the edge, and he came, quivering against her with one final movement.
They were silent, curled together on the bed, suddenly almost shy. It happened so quickly, she thought. One minute we were talking and the next we were making love…and now what?
He felt her tense infinitesimally and looked down at her with a slight frown.
“Scully? Do you — are you sorry?”
She looked up at him calmly, studying the expression his face, in his eyes. Was he sorry? Regardless, she had to be honest. There was no point trying to hide now.
“No. Just — curious.”
He smiled. “Mmm, about what?”
She smiled back, but her voice was serious as she said, “About this.
About what it means, what will change.”
“What do you want to change?”
“I don’t know. It can’t — it can’t get in the way, Mulder.”
“It doesn’t have to.” He touched her face lightly, and said, “I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time. Things will change, but we can deal with it.”
“We don’t have to worry about all that right now,” she said, turning her face into his caress like a cat. She was smiling now in a way that made his heart beat quicken. “I just wanted — I don’t know. To be sure.”
“That I love you?”
“That we both accept that things will be different, but we can’t-” She stopped, frustrated. “We can’t let anyone know, Mulder.”
“I know. We’ll work it out, Scully.”
They smiled at each other, and she leaned forward to kiss his throat.
Her breath was warm against his skin as she said, “You know, I never thought I’d say this, but I think I like it that you call me Scully, even now.”
He laughed quietly, and said, “I wondered…”
“No one else calls me that but you,” she said, her lips still against his throat. “I like that.” Then she raised her head and looked at him teasingly. “Everyone calls you Mulder, though.”
He grimaced and said, with an effort, “If you want to -”
She stopped him with a kiss, then said softly, “If you want me to.
That’s all. I’ve called you Mulder for so long I don’t know how well I would adjust.” She grinned at him, and they fell silent again, holding one another until they fell asleep.
“So I assume we’re going to Caudill right away?” Scully asked, glancing at the files she had gathered from the floor. Mulder looked at her in the mirror as he struggled with his tie. The change was remarkable, he thought, remembering the way she had looked while they made love. Even this morning, he thought, grinning slightly as he remembered the long, slow shower. She had finally chased him out, and he had gone, knowing that they would never get anything accomplished if they didn’t stop somewhere. Now she stood there, poised and cool, every hair in place and her charcoal suit crisp and neat. She looked up at him, one eyebrow raised at his useless attempts with his tie. He looked back helplessly, and she smiled just a little, that small smile that let him know she loved him even when he exasperated her. Then she crossed the room and stood behind him, untangling and fixing his tie, frowning slightly in the mirror. He watched her, fascinated and amazed that Scully, this Scully, was his lover. His thoughts must have been in his eyes, because when she looked up and met his gaze, she flushed slightly and swatted his behind.
“Let’s go, I’m starving,” she said, turning to walk away, but he turned quickly and grabbed her. She came into his arms, smiling in spite of herself, and he said,
“Have I mentioned lately that you’re hot? ”
“No. And you better watch yourself, Mulder — you’re not the only one who thinks so,” she teased. He frowned, but then his crooked grin flashed over his face as he said triumphantly, “I told you it was remotely plausible that someone might find you hot.
The Lone Gunmen were right.”
“I’m sure they’d be pleased to hear someone say that,” she said wryly, kissing him quickly and wriggling out of his grasp. “Now let’s go, Mulder. If I don’t get some coffee soon, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Gaining entrance to the Caudill Corporation was easier than they had anticipated. The guard checked their badges and waved them through to a security office, where they put in the request to speak with Charles Caudill. They waited no more than 10 minutes before they were shown to a bright, sunny office. Charles Caudill, an impeccably dressed man in his late 50’s, stood to greet them.
“Agent Scully, Agent Mulder. A pleasure. Please sit down. Can I get you anything? Coffee, tea?”
Both declined, and Charles Caudill sat back in his chair. “I understand that you’re investigating Laura Jordan’s presumed disappearance?”
‘That’s correct, Mr. Caudill. We need to ask you some questions. I understand that the nature of your work is confidential, and that this confidentiality extends to Laura Jordan’s work as well. We see no need to question you in relation to this,” Scully began.
“Mr. Caudill, you said “presumed.” Do you have reason to believe that Laura Jordan is not missing?” Mulder cut in.
“Two weeks ago Laura Jordan requested 10 days vacation time. She filled out the appropriate paperwork, and it was approved accordingly. We made no attempt to contact her home when she didn’t report for work because we were not expecting her to report for work,” Caudill said smoothly.
Scully glanced at Mulder. As pleased as she was on a professional level that her theory appeared increasingly correct, she knew she would have a hell of a time getting Mulder to accept that the woman’s disappearance was not connected to Caudill. She wondered briefly how she had found herself in love with such a paranoid man, and smiled slightly before returning to the matter at hand.
“Mr. Caudill, may we see this paperwork?”
“Certainly.” He handed her a file across the desk, and Scully took it, crossing her legs and skimming quickly through the information it contained.
Mulder found himself glancing helplessly at her legs as she sat in the chair, frowning slightly as she read. This was going to be more difficult than he had thought. He felt distinctly distracted.
Then Scully handed him the file silently, and he read through the important information quickly. It showed exactly what Charles Caudill had just told them: Laura Jordan had requested vacation time, it had been approved, and the last time her husband had seen her had been the first day of her supposed vacation.
“Mr. Caudill, I realize you may not be able to answer this question, but perhaps you can direct us to someone who could,” he said quietly. “Do you have reason to believe that Laura Jordan was experiencing any kind of personal problems? ”
“Personal problems?” Caudill looked genially confused. “I’m not in the habit of keeping track of my employee’s personal lives, Mr. Mulder.”
Something in Mulder instinctively doubted that, but this was clearly not the time to go into it. He smiled slightly, insincerely, and nodded.
“Mr. Caudill, thank you for your time. Would it be possible for us to get a copy of this information?” Scully asked.
Caudill frowned. “Our personnel records are confidential, Ms. Scully. I permitted you to see this only because it seemed necessary.”
“I understand that, sir. But under the circumstances, you can see that it’s necessary for us to have a copy of this as part of the case file.”
“Very well. But only the vacation request forms, please. I see no reason why her application or resume need be copied.”
“That’s fine. ” Mulder handed him the file, and they stood to leave.
“If you care to wait, I’ll have my secretary copy this for you right away,” Caudill said, rising with them. He ushered them into the outer office, gave his secretary the file and excused himself.
They waited in silence, and left the building in silence. When they reached the car, Scully said quietly, “It seems pretty obvious, Mulder.”
“Scully, what seems obvious to me is that Caudill is giving us just enough to keep us off his case.”
“No, Scully, listen. First of all, we need to get a sample of Laura Jordan’s handwriting and check it against that form. If it’s legitimate, we need to put out an APB for her in the immediate area, check the airlines, the travel agents, whatever.”
“You may be right, Scully. She may be on vacation, holed up in a hotel somewhere with her lover. But don’t you think he was awfully eager to give us that information, considering the way that Andrew Jordan got the brush-off? Why wouldn’t they have told Jordan that she was on vacation? ”
“We’re the FBI, Mulder,” she said tightly. “We’re conducting an investigation. We request information, generally we’re given it.”
“Scully, I just don’t buy it. If nothing else, we need to eliminate all the possibilities. We have as much of a responsibility to Andrew Jordan to find his wife as we do to Laura Jordan to find her.”
“Since when do we do this kind of detective work, Mulder?” Scully was amused. “Not exactly our standard fare.”
“Until Laura Jordan comes home safe and with an explanation of where she’s been, this case stays open and unsolved.”
She sighed. “Right.”
“I think we need to go see Andrew Jordan again, and have him tell us one more time exactly what happened when he called Caudill.”
“Let’s stop at the hotel first, Mulder. I want to have those checks run, and I’ll hook up the modem and have them send out anything they find.”
Mulder sat slouched in a chair in the hotel room, watching Scully. She leaned over her laptop, phone cushioned against her shoulder, setting up the modem while she talked to the local Bureau headquarters.
“Right. If there’s anything unusual, call me right away. Otherwise, just run this through and send me what you find. Thanks.”
She hung up the phone and continued to frown at the computer for a moment. Mulder came up behind her and put his arms around her, pulling her against him. He saw her smile in the reflection from the screen.
“Mulder, we have work to do.”
“We certainly do,” he murmured into her hair, lowering his head to kiss the nape of her neck.
She sighed. “Mulder…”
“Mulder, we don’t have time.”
“Ever hear of a quickie, Agent Scully?”
She twisted in his arms, turning to face him. “We don’t even have time for a quickie, Agent Mulder.”
He pouted. “What’s our hurry?”
“The sooner we get the work done, the sooner we get home. And when we’re home, no one can interrupt us,” she said softly.
He smiled, and gave her a light kiss. “Lead the way, Scully.”
Mulder studied the bulletin board outside Jordan’s office. The usual cartoons, office hours, class schedule.
“Looks like he won’t be back here until 1:30, Scully. Wanna grab some lunch?”
Scully made a face. “As long as you’re thinking about somewhere other than the cafeteria. I remember cafeteria food all too well.”
“There’s got to be something edible around here somewhere. Let’s take a walk.”
As they headed down the hallway, they saw Andrew Jordan hurrying toward them. They stopped, but he barely glanced at them and kept moving.
Mulder stepped forward.
“Mr. Jordan -”
“What do you want? What are you doing here?” he snapped, fumbling with the keys to his office.
Mulder looked briefly taken aback. “We have some information regarding your wife’s disappearance, and we thought you’d want to know—”
“Ever heard of a telephone?” Jordan jerked the door open and turned to close it in their faces. Scully stepped forward quickly, and Mulder shot an arm out and held the door open.
“Mr. Jordan, is something wrong?”
He turned to them exasperated and clearly angry. “Look. Whatever you have to tell me, if it came from Caudill, it’s bullshit, all right? I know these people, I know how they work. They’re going to tell you what you want to hear. What is it, that she’s on a confidential business trip?”
“Actually, we have a copy of a form allegedly filled out by your wife requesting vacation time. We received it this morning-” Mulder shot Scully a look, but she went on. “From Charles Caudill.”
“So you spoke to the big man,” Jordan said mockingly. “May I see that?”
Scully pulled the copy from her briefcase and handed it to him silently.
“Mr. Jordan, can you confirm that this is your wife’s handwriting?”
Jordan studied the form. “Yes. But I still don’t believe she’s on a vacation — at least, not a voluntary vacation.”
Scully sighed. Another paranoiac. “Mr. Jordan, is there anything you’re not telling us? Anything that gives you reason to believe that Laura’s disappearance is connected with her work?”
“Look. It doesn’t matter where she is. She’s not going to tell me where she was when she comes back — if she comes back. She’s not going to tell anyone anything, because she never does. There’s no point — you might as well give it up now. ” He turned his back and started shoving things around on his desk irritably.
Scully’s cel phone rang, and she pulled it out of her pocket, stepping outside the office to answer it. Mulder, left alone with Jordan, spoke to him quietly.
“Mr. Jordan, if you do know anything at all that you’re not telling us, I’m asking you now to please do so. I know this is difficult — the situation is complicated, and it isn’t easy having strangers ask you questions about your personal life. I understand that.”
“You understand?” Jordan stared at him. “What the hell do you understand? Do you understand what it’s like to know nothing about your wife’s life, what goes on in her mind? Do you understand what it’s like to have the woman you love kept away from you because of her work? Do you understand what it’s like to have the woman you love physically ripped away from you, to god knows where, when you don’t know what’s happening to her, or why?”
Mulder looked at him levelly. “Yes. As a matter of fact, I do.”
Jordan, calmer now, stared at him dully.
“She was gone for 3 months,” Mulder said, his voice deceptively quiet.
“She was taken – it doesn’t matter by whom. We’re still not entirely sure. Or why. But she was gone for 3 months. And during that time, I never once stopped looking for her. I knew she was alive and I knew I would find her. I did everything I could, and some things, ” Mulder grimaced, “Some things I shouldn’t have.”
Jordan smiled at him acidly. “Well, Agent Mulder, I’m sure it helped you considerably to have the FBI behind you. I’m sure it helped considerably to be able to run around and wave your badge and your gun in people’s faces — that goes a long way toward getting answers. For instance, it got you in the door of Charles Caudill’s office this morning, when I can’t even get them to talk to me on the phone.”
“Mr. Jordan, we’re doing everything we can.”
“It doesn’t matter. I told you.”
Mulder could feel himself getting angrier and he tried to stay calm. He couldn’t understand how someone could give up hope so quickly and easily. He would have killed for Scully, and nearly had. He would have died for her. For 3 months he’d lived in hell, and after only 7 days, this man stood in front of him and told him it didn’t matter?
He leaned forward. “Your wife is alive, Mr. Jordan. And if you give a damn about her, I would think you’d do everything in your power to help us, not sit around whining like a goddamn coward.”
Jordan’s eyes blazed. “You son of a bitch. Who the hell do you think you are? What gives you the right?”
“A woman is missing, possibly in danger. Your wife. And you don’t seem to give a damn. What the hell is wrong with you? What are you not telling us?”
Mulder was in his face, his voice just below a yell. Scully stood in the doorway, her eyes like ice. “Mulder. May I see you, please?”
Mulder swung around and left the room abruptly, striding past Scully, who closed the door and turned to face him. She would say nothing at the moment — he needed time to calm down, and she needed time to figure out what the hell his problem was.
“That was Jerry from the local Bureau. He said that a woman fitting her description was found in Pleasantville, about 2 hours from here.”
She nodded. “Dead.”
Mulder’s head fell forward slightly and he ran a hand over his face. When he looked at her again, his eyes were bleak. “What do we tell him?” he asked, gesturing toward the office.
“He’s going to have to ID the body, Mulder.”
“Why don’t we go first? We’ve got photos, let’s see if we can give a provisional ID before we drag him down there to go through that.”
Scully nodded and went back to Jordan’s office, leaving Mulder slumped against the wall, staring into space.
“Mr. Jordan, we have some business to attend to elsewhere. You know how to get in touch with us if you need to. Please don’t hesitate.”
Jordan sat at his desk, his eyes closed. He only nodded slightly when she spoke, and Scully hesitated, wondering if she should apologize for Mulder’s outburst. “Mr. Jordan, Agent Mulder-”
“Thank you, Ms. Scully. I’ll be in touch if I need you.”
Scully suggested that they stop at the hotel again before leaving for Pleasantville, as there was no way of knowing how long they would need to be there. Mulder nodded, and gave her a sideways look. He knew he was in trouble. There was no way Scully would let him off the hook. He smiled dryly to himself. Their first fight —at least, as an official couple.
When they got to the room, Scully went straight to the computer. Mulder went to pack, and when several minutes went by without her coming to his room, he wasn’t sure whether he should feel relieved or worried. When he was finished, he put his bag in the car and went to Scully’s room warily.
She was sitting on the edge of the bed reading a report. Without looking up, she said, “Preliminary report from the ME in Pleasantville. Cause of death, exposure. She was found in a wooded area about a mile from the road. Some evidence of trauma, possibly obtained in an automobile accident, although there were no accidents reported or found in the immediate area.”
“Can I take a look when you’re finished?” She handed it to him, glancing up as she did so, and he realized that while she was still angry, she wasn’t entirely sure how to deal with it. It must be the first time, he thought, not without some humor.
He looked through the report quickly. There was nothing immediately unusual, and he handed it back without comment. She put it on the bed beside her and stood up, going over to shut down the computer. Mulder stood in the middle of the room, wondering what exactly was going to happen.
Finally, she turned and said in a low voice, “Mulder, are you going to tell me what the hell happened with Jordan?”
He looked pained. “Scully, I’m sorry.”
“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to,” she said, eerily calm.
“Doesn’t it strike you as strange that he wasn’t at all interested in what we had to show him? He blew it off, he tried to blow us off. He knows something, Scully.”
“Even if he does, Mulder, that’s not the way to get it out of him.”
“It’s worked before,” he said mildly.
“He’s not a suspect, Mulder. He’s one of the victims. You had no right to explode on him the way you did, and — I suspect it’s for personal reasons, Mulder.”
He only looked at her.
“You have to distance yourself more, Mulder. There are no real similarities between this case and mine, if that’s what this is all about. It’s highly probable that Laura Jordan’s disappearance is nothing more than a case of marital infidelity. ”
“It’s highly probable that Laura Jordan is dead,” Mulder said flatly.
“We have yet to determine if that body is Laura Jordan. If and when we do, we’ll have something to investigate. In the meantime-”
“Scully, can you at least try to understand?”
“He said it didn’t matter. He said he didn’t care. How can he not care? Something’s going on, Scully. Maybe he’s being threatened, maybe he’s involved in it himself. I don’t know. All I know is that no innocent man, no victim in a situation like this, doesn’t care. ”
“Mulder, everyone deals with this kind of trauma differently. I know -”
She took a breath and went on, looking at him carefully. “I know that when I was gone, things were difficult for you.”
He gave a wry smile. Difficult? He had nearly killed for her-had nearly killed himself. He had nearly lost his job -not that it mattered. He knew he had gone over the edge, that Maggie Scully, and even Melissa — even Skinner — had been worried about him. He hadn’t cared. All he had been able to focus on was Scully, and the fact that whatever was happening to her was his fault. That she was gone, and his life without her was worthless.
He shook his head to clear it. Scully was staring at him, concerned.
His thoughts were clear in his eyes, and she reached out to touch him gently. He focused, and looked down at her.
“Scully, I know I was — an extreme case.” They exchanged brief smiles.
“But what about you? When I was gone, you didn’t give up. You didn’t stop caring. They suspended you without pay. They took away your badge and your gun. But you didn’t stop trying. You didn’t stop believing in me,” he said gently.
She looked at him for a moment, and sighed. The argument was pointless.
Yes, she was angry that Mulder had verbally assaulted Andrew Jordan. It was inappropriate, and if nothing else, would do nothing to facilitate their investigation. But at the same time, she could understand his point. They had both been there, they had both been so close to losing everything, to losing one another. She had lost Melissa, and he had lost his father, and she remembered so clearly the feeling of rage, the way that rage nearly overcame her when she stood holding her gun on Cardinale. The distant, empathic part of her could not understand how or why Andrew Jordan would give up hope so quickly, and she knew that Mulder ran on empathy sometimes. So she gave him a small smile, and nodded.
“All right Mulder. Just try to tread a bit more carefully in the future, OK?”
“Yes ma’m,” he teased, reaching out to brush a non-existent strand of hair from her cheek.
She packed quickly while Mulder re-read the preliminary report on the body.
“No identification found on the body. The trauma — contusions, bruising, lacerations about the forearms and hands — is consistent with trauma sustained in an automobile accident. Yet no accident was reported or found in the area. At least the immediate area, which means, what, 3,4 miles?”
“Presumably she couldn’t have walked much more than that in that condition,” Scully said from the bathroom. She emerged with the last of her things and put them in her suitcase, closing it and resting it on the floor.
“We need to have them check a larger radius than that,” Mulder said thoughtfully. “We need to-”
“We need to get going,” Scully interrupted, taking the file from his hand and slipping it back inside her briefcase. “We’ll have more to go on once I’ve performed the autopsy, and then we can start figuring out what we need to have done.”
“Pleasantville isn’t exactly pleasant,” Mulder commented, as they drove past boarded up buildings, burned-out bars and dilapidated motels surrounded by expanses of sandy dirt and scrubby pines.
“Pretty far from it, I’d say,” Scully answered, staring out the window.
She didn’t know whether to laugh — it was like something out of a movie, and a bad movie at that — or cry. Any amount of time spent in this place is a mistake, she thought, sighing. This is not going to be fun.
They pulled up to the police station and Mulder glanced over at her before they got out of the car.
“I guess you’ll do the autopsy right off?”
“No time like the present,” she said lightly.
“I’ll stick around for that, if you want me to.”
“It’s up to you, Mulder. I know you’ll want to see where they found her.”
He reached over and touched her cheek with the back of his fingers. “Let’s get a look at what constitutes local law enforcement before I decide whether or not to leave you here alone, Scully.”
She tensed slightly. “Mulder, I can-”
He put his hands up as if surrendering. “I know. You can take care of yourself. I’ve never doubted it, Scully. I’ll just feel better if I know we’re not dealing with some kind of inbred mutant. And from the looks of this place -”
She sighed again, but gave him a smile as she slipped off her seatbelt.
An officer sat at the desk inside the front door. When they introduced themselves, he looked fairly startled, and mumbled, “I’ll let them know you’re here,” before scooting through a door behind him. Mulder and Scully stood in what amounted to a lobby, looking at one another with a mixture of despair and resignation.
The door opened again, and a tall, heavy-set man came forward.
“I’m Chief Slovak. You two are FBI?” He gave Scully a look that instantly caused her spine to stiffen. Mulder stifled a smile. The chauvanism of local law enforcement was something Scully never failed to deal with in a manner that alternately amused and fascinated him. It usually didn’t take long for them to figure out she meant business.
“I’m Agent Scully, this is Agent Mulder.”
“Come on back. Do you want to see her?”
“That’s more or less why we’re here,” Mulder said, trying not to sigh as they followed him into the back.
Slovak stopped just inside the door and looked down at Scully doubtfully. “It’s not a pretty site, you know.”
“I was under the impression that the cause of death was exposure, and the trauma was slight,” Scully said calmly, one eyebrow raised.
“Well, that’s what they said, but a dead body is never an easy thing to look at. I just thought I should warn you.”
Scully gave him a look that spoke volumes before saying crisply, “Perhaps you are unaware, Chief Slovak, that in addition to being a federal agent, I am a forensic pathologist? If this is our woman, I’ll be performing the autopsy. Have you ever witnessed an autopsy, Chief Slovak?”
He shook his head wordlessly.
“Then I should warn you that it isn’t a pretty site,” she said cooly.
Mulder swallowed a chuckle. Slovak turned to him and said, “We found her about a mile off Route 42. Local guy, Gus Wechsler, lives out that way. He was out with his dogs, and they caught the scent, you know.” He shrugged. “He called us right off, and we went out and picked her up. She’s not from around here, as far as we can tell.”
“Have you detained Wechsler for questioning?” Mulder asked.
Slovak shook his head. “No. We can get him back though, if you need to talk to him.”
“Why don’t you work on that while Scully does the autopsy? Have the photos been developed?”
“Of the body. The crime scene documentation.”
Slovak shook his head. “No. Photos? I mean, isn’t that kind of …”
“It’s procedure, Mr. Slovak. You do have a camera, I assume? Agent Mulder can do the photo documentation of the body here. I’ll also need access to the proper equipment — you do have a facility to perform autopsies?”
He nodded wordlessly.
“Could you point us in the right direction?” Scully asked sweetly.
“Through that door and down the stairs. The county medical examiner is in there already,” he said. “He’ll give you everything you need. I’ll have one of my men bring you the camera.” He turned and walked away, and Mulder flashed Scully a quick grin. She rolled her eyes.
When they reached the bottom of the steps, they heard raised voices inside the examining room. Without exchanging a look, they stepped through the door quickly to find the a green-faced policeman and a visibly shaken man, presumably the ME. Both turned to face them, and before they could introduce themselves, the ME said in a hoarse voice, “I’m telling you there was no pulse. No heart beat. No respiration. Nothing. She was dead when they found her.”
“And now she’s not?” Mulder asked mildly, walking up to the table where the body of a woman in her mid-thirties lay under a sheet. Her chest rose and fell evenly with her breathing. Scully looked at him, exasperated. This was ridiculous.
“Are you the ME?” she demanded of the man not in uniform. He nodded.
“And you did the preliminary examination, the one that was sent to me?”
The man looked alarmed. “What?”
Mulder could feel Scully’s temper reaching the boiling point. He said quickly,
“We’re working on a case out of Morristown. Local FBI there told us about your Jane Doe, and we came down to ID her, see if she’s the woman we’re looking for. They sent Scully a report of your preliminary findings.”
“Who did? I haven’t even written up an official report yet,” the man protested.
“Good thing,” Mulder said dryly.
“How did you get it?”
“We’re working on a missing persons case. We had the local Bureau running a few things through for us, looking for anything like this. When they came across your Jane Doe, they called the station. Someone here faxed them a preliminary report, which they sent to me,” Scully said, with carefully controlled impatience.
“But there isn’t an official report yet. Just notes.”
“Then maybe they faxed them the notes. There wasn’t a lot of information. At any rate, we now no longer have a body. We have a living woman who needs medical attention.”
“But I’m telling you she wasn’t living when I made those notes,” the man said uneasily.
Scully and Mulder exchanged a quick look, and she said, “First of all, let’s see if we can ID her.” She pulled a photo out of her briefcase and glanced from it to the woman on the table. “That’s her all right. Take a look, Mulder.”
He examined the photo and the senseless woman, then nodded, handing the picture back to Scully.
“Can you tell us what happened here?”
“All I know is that I got a call this morning from Slovak. He said Gus Wechsler found a body in the woods off 42, and they needed me to make the pronouncement. I got down there as fast as I could, and she was dead when I got there. I’m telling you, she was dead.” He was nervous.
“Well, we brought her back here, and they said that someone else would be coming to the autopsy, to wait until they got here. I take it that’s you?” He looked to Mulder, who shook his head expressionlessly and nodded toward Scully. The ME looked almost frightened, and Scully smiled mirthlessly.
“They brought her in, and when I went to take another look, she was breathing.”
“So you haven’t done more than a cursory exam at this point, ” Scully interjected.
“That’s right. And now…how can that happen? How can someone be dead and then not be dead? After that amount of time…”
Mulder opened his mouth to speak but Scully gave him a look and cut him off. The ME already seemed near collapse — he didn’t need to be shaken further by one of Mulder’s theories.
“Mr. — I’m sorry, we never introduced ourselves. I’m Agent Dana Scully, this is Agent Fox Mulder. ”
“William Empson, County Medical Examiner.”
“Mr. Empson, when you re-examined the body and found Laura Jordan to be alive, how long had it been since your pronouncement at the scene?”
“I’ not sure, exactly. The time of the pronouncement would be on the police report, of course. I came back here with them to do the autopsy, but when we got here they said you would be coming to do it, that I should wait.”
“So you waited here until we arrived?”
Empson looked away. “No. I — I went to lunch. At the Cloverleaf Diner, on Rt. 42.”
“And when you came back?”
“I came back here about 10 minutes before you got down here. I talked to Chief Slovak for a few minutes — I — I argued with him about waiting to start the autopsy. I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need to apologize,” Scully said smoothly. She was used to people’s resentment of her jurisdiction in matters of this kind. They rarely apologized.
“He told me that you were on your way, so I came down here to prep. We left an officer down here to guard the body.”
Mulder looked interested. “Why?”
“Because it seemed like it might be wrongful death,” Empson said uneasily. “We figured we wouldn’t know until the autopsy, but we wanted to be sure.”
Scully nodded. “Go on.”
“When I got in here, I checked the body again.”
“Just — just to see.”
“To see?” Scully’s eyebrow went up. “To see what?”
“Anything.” Empson gestured meaninglessly. “To see — I guess I wanted to be prepared for the autopsy.”
Scully nodded. When she had worked with local MEs in the past, they had frequently tried to “scoop” her on the findings, wanting to one-up a federal agent. She wasn’t surprised that Empson had reacted similarly.
“And when you checked her, she was breathing?”
Empson nodded. “I thought I was losing my mind. I checked her vitals, and she was alive, but unconscious. I called in the guard to double-check — I really thought I might be going crazy,” he admitted.
“That’s reasonable enough, under the circumstances, ” Mulder said mildly.
“Thank you, Mr. Empson. I think our next step will be to take Laura Jordan to a hospital. Where can you be reached if we need you for further questioning?”
“Further questioning? You mean like in court?”
“Mr. Empson, no one is holding you responsible for this -unusual circumstance. There were others at the scene who presumably can corroborate your pronouncement,” Scully told him gently. “We may just need to ask you a few more questions at some point, that’s all.”
He nodded, and took a business card from his wallet, which he gave to Mulder. Scully turned her attention to Laura Jordan.
Mulder followed Empson upstairs and spoke with Slovak.
“We’ll need an ambulance to take her to the closest hospital. We’ll need two guards posted outside her door at all times. This may have been a case of assault, although we’re not sure.”
“We found her car,” Slovak said strangely. “It was in a ditch about 15 miles further up the road.”
“Was she run off the road?”
“We don’t know.”
“All right. I’m going to need to see the vehicle and also the the site where she was found. We have to determine if this was deliberate.” He turned to go downstairs and tell Scully the news when Slovak said, “How the hell could she have walked that far? In that condition? I’m no detective, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that woman couldn’t have walked that far.”
Mulder shrugged, eyeing him carefully. Slovak would probably not be receptive to his theories, and there was no point wasting breath. It would be hard enough to convince Scully.
“We’ll figure it out, ” he said to the man, heading downstairs.
Once again as he neared the bottom of the stairs he heard raised voices.
Gun hand ready, he ran through the double doors into the examining room to find Scully arguing with a conscious and confused Laura Jordan.
“Scully, you all right?” His first words were instinctive, and she shot him an annoyed, if affectionate look.
“Mrs. Jordan refuses to be taken to a hospital,” she said shortly, folding her arms.
He turned to the woman, who sat clutching the sheet around herself and staring at him in anger and fear. In his gentlest, easiest voice, he said, “Hello, Laura. I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder, FBI. How are you feeling?”
“What do you want with me?”
“We don’t want anything. We’ve been looking for you. Your husband is very worried about you.”
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the examining room of the police station in Pleasantville, New Jersey.”
“How did I get here?”
Mulder looked at her carefully. “You don’t remember?”
She shook her head. “Can you tell me the last thing you do remember?”
Scully watched him talk to the woman in his calm, gentle voice. He could be a miracle worker when he wanted to, she thought wryly, but she was already wondering if Mulder had abduction theories spinning through his overactive brain. It had all the signs, she thought absently, and then gave herself a mental shake.
“I remember leaving my house. I was going to work.”
“Do you remember what day that was?”
“It was Tuesday. I left the house at 7, like I always do.”
“Laura, you’ve been through a lot. We’re not quite sure what happened yet, but we’re working on it. In the meantime, I think it would be a good idea if we took you to a hospital and let them have a look at you.”
“No!” There was fear in her eyes and in her voice. “No hospitals. I just want to go home. I’m fine.”
“What happened to me? How did I get here?”
“We don’t exactly know, Laura. Your husband reported you missing a week ago. We’ve been conducting the investigation. A man found you in the woods off of Route 42 here in Pleasantville.”
“You were unconscious, presumed dead,” Mulder said quietly.
“Obviously not the case,” he said lightly, his eyes locked on hers. “It appears you must have been in an accident, Laura. They found your car,”
he said turning slightly to include Scully. “It looks like you’re a pretty strong woman, because you must have walked a good 15 miles.
That’s how far you were from the scene of the accident when you were found.”
“Mulder, 15 miles? They’re sure the car is hers?”
“Yes.” He turned back to Laura, and asked, still in that quiet, friendly voice, “Do you know your name?”
“Laura Jordan,” said the woman, in a dazed voice.
“Do you know where you live?”
“48 Forrest Road, Morristown, New Jersey.”
“Your husband’s name?”
“Andrew Charles Jordan.”
“What do you do for a living, Laura?”
Scully shot him a look.
“I work for the Caudill Corporation.”
“Do you remember what you do there, Laura?”
She looked at him, impatience breaking through the glaze on her expression.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss that,” she snapped. “I know who I am, I just don’t know how I got here, all right? And I would really like to go home now. Can I at least call my husband and let him know where I am?”
“Of course. There’s just one more thing. If you don’t want to go to a hospital, would you let Agent Scully here take a look at you? She’s a medical doctor, and you’ve got some nasty lacerations, contusions — she’ll need to clean them up, bandage them. Will you let her do that?”
“Of course.” Her voice was suddenly tired, and she slumped slightly on the table.
“Great.” Mulder gave her his best professional smile, and turned to Scully. “Can I see you a minute?”
They stepped outside the examining room and Scully gave him a wry smile.
“Nice try, Mulder.”
He shrugged. “Couldn’t hurt to try. Besides, it’s a standard question under the circumstances. ”
“So they found her car 15 miles from where they found her?”
“Yep. Looks like she’s a pretty hardy soul. Or an android.”
“Mulder.” Scully’s eyes widened slightly. He never ceased to amaze her.
“Listen, Scully. It’s entirely possible, isn’t it? Given the situation?”
“Given the — Mulder. You’re jumping to conclusions.”
“Someone has to,” he teased, smiling a little.
“Let me take care of her, let the poor woman call her husband, and let’s get out of here,” she said gently.
“Scully, how do you think a normal woman could survive a car accident and then walk 15 miles through the woods in that condition? ”
“Shock can do strange things to people, Mulder.”
“We at least have to investigate the possibility that was run off the road. I’ll go and have a look at the car while you take care of her.”
“Fine. But Mulder, I’m willing to bet that this is a simple case of an overworked woman suffering from exhaustion and stress.”
He looked down into her determined eyes and smiled. Touching her cheek lightly, he said, “Do me a favor — just keep an open mind, OK? Keep an eye out for anything unusual.”
“Unusual?” she asked, feeling almost drugged by his light touch in spite of her best efforts.
“Just anything out of the ordinary.”
“You’re out of the ordinary,” she told him in a soft voice, and he gave her a light kiss.
“So they tell me.”
“Sir, we think they’ve found her.”
Charles Caudill raised his head to give the junior executive standing in front of him a look that sent chills down the other man’s spine.
“They found Jordan’s car in a ditch off Route 42. 15 miles away they found her body. She was pronounced dead at the scene.”
Caudill’s mouth tightened. “FBI?”
“They’re there now. Only — according to the latest reports, sir, she’s not dead. The medical examiner believes he made a mistake.”
“Of course.” Caudill smiled slightly. “What else?”
“That’s really all we know, sir. At this point,” he hastened to add, seeing the older man’s jaw tighten.
“What about the other? Laura?”
“Still missing, sir,” the man said quietly. He hated being the one to report bad news. Charles Caudill was not a friendly man at the best of times, and this was far from being the best of times.
“Let me know as soon as you hear anything. Presumably the FBI will either attempt to hospitalize her or bring her home. We have to be ready for either possibility. Get some of our people to whatever godforsaken hospital is closest to Pleasantville. Keep up the watch on the house. We have to get her back.”
The younger man nodded quickly and left, breathing deeply when the door closed behind him.
Caudill frowned out the window. Things were not going according to plan, and he was a man who liked order and control. They had finally achieved what he had been working toward for so long, only to have the whole thing get blown out of the water almost as soon as it began. And there wasn’t one single person he could blame, unfortunately. It would have alleviated some of the rage if he could have centered the blame on one person and taken out his anger there. But so many things had gone wrong that he was almost at a loss where to begin. Almost.
He began with Laura Jordan. She had come to Caudill nearly 9 years ago now, young, bright, ambitious. The ambition was one of the first things he had taken note of, and it was that factor that made her a candidate.
He tested her immediately, tested her loyalty, her dedication, and did not find them lacking. He continued testing her in small ways over the first months of her employment and ultimately decided that she was just what they were looking for. She was intelligent, lovely, passionate about the work, and had complete understanding of their need for confidentiality. She did not balk at any of the testing, nor did she balk at the notion of keeping silent about her work to everyone, including her husband. They had done what was necessary to be sure that she complied, of course — bugs in the cars, the house, whatever was necessary. Laura Jordan did not disappoint them.
Finally, he brought her in and told her what they were looking for. She was taken aback, but interested, he thought, with an inward smile.
Definitely interested. So he arranged a meeting with his superiors, the people behind him who had been funding this work since it began. She met with their approval as well, and less than a month later, the real work began.
She became part of the experiment voluntarily, he thought now. She knew what she was getting into. She knew what the stakes were. Or if she didn’t know, exactly — if we didn’t know, exactly — she was aware of that too. We kept her in the dark about almost nothing.
For the past 8 years they had been working ridiculous hours under ridiculous amounts of pressure. They were all exhausted, under too much strain. Yet, failure after failure, things began to improve gradually, to change, to progress. Laura had been as excited about it as anyone.
It wasn’t until last year that she began to waver.
She had come to see him in his office, carefully making an appointment beforehand, although she knew, as part of the core team (arguably the most important part, in fact) that she could see him almost immediately when she needed to. He remembered the meeting clearly. She had been nervous, and he had tried to put her at ease by discussing how well things were progressing, how pleased he was with her multiple contributions to this project. She had taken the praise calmly, with less evident pleasure than she had been wont to do in times past.
Finally, she spoke.
“Charles. I — I have a request. Or, really, a question.”
“I want to get pregnant. Not now, not right away,” she said quickly, before he could react. “But eventually. Soon, preferably. I’m not getting any younger,” she said, smiling weakly.
“Is Andrew pressuring you in any way?”
“No, no. Not at all. He knows how important my work is to me, and we decided some years ago that both of our careers came first. It’s just that I — well, I would like to have a child, Charles.”
He spoke gently, persuasively.
“Laura, you do have a child. You will have a child. This work-this project is so important, Laura. The potential is tremendous. We’re talking about something so enormous that most people can’t comprehend it, and you’re part of that. You’re an integral part of it, Laura, the integral part.”
“I know.” She looked at her hands, folded neatly in her lap like a schoolgirl. “It’s just that, well, I’m already in my thirties, and I’ve been doing this — work — for 7 years. I just don’t want to give up my chance to have a child while I’m still relatively young. And healthy.”
“Laura, I understand.” He paused, considering the situation rapidly. If he reacted too strongly against her proposition, he stood to lose her entirely, and at this junction, that would be beyond regrettable. What he needed to do was placate her somehow.
“Laura, let me make a proposition. First of all, I feel I do have to remind you that you voluntarily signed a contract stating that you had no intention of becoming pregnant for the next 10 years. ”
“That 10 years is almost up, Charles,” she said softly.
“All right. It will be up, when, exactly?”
“I came here in August of 1987.”
“So we’ve got more than two years left on that contract, Laura.”
She nodded. “I don’t mean right now, Mr. — Charles. That’s why I prefer to phrase this as a question. I would like to know how much longer you intend to go on with my particularcontribution. To the project. If it would be possible for me to have a child at the end of that contract, I would still only be 35. That’s still young enough to have a child.”
He nodded. “I understand Laura. And I see no reason why we can’t figure that into the plans we’re making. It’s a reasonable request. Can we do this — can we meet again, reevaluate the situation as we get closer to the end of that contract?” He smiled amiably at her. “You know how this work goes, Laura. A good day here, a bad day there. By that point in time, the work may have come so far that your particular aspect of the project would be completed.”
She looked relieved, if still slightly tense. Nodding, she rose from her chair and thanked him.
That year had come up just a month or two earlier. She had again scheduled a meeting with him, and he had not been happy. They were closer now than they had ever been, and her contribution was still of extreme importance.
She was not well, he could see that as soon as she entered the room. She had grown thinner, and she looked tired. So did many of his staff, of course, especially the core team. They were under so much pressure, now more than ever, with the project so close to actual completion.
The meeting had not gone well. She had broken down, actually pleaded with him to let her out of the project when her contract was up. He had been as gentle as possible, and managed to coerce her to stay with them through the next several months. She still had 6 months left in her contract, he reminded her quietly, and they could hold her to it legally. He did not want to have to get forceful with her, surely she could see that he cared about her, about all of his employees. Their work gave them an unusual loyalty and closeness to one another, he felt. He went on, speaking softly, persuading her finally to stay with them and continue her part of the work until her contract was up.
That was almost two months ago. In the 8 weeks that followed that discussion, the work had gone from steady but slow to skyrocketing into something that none of them had believed was possible. They had completed the project. They had, in their laboratory, an intelligent android who looked, acted, and spoke like Laura Jordan.
It had taken him no time to decide how they were to implement the next phase of the project. He called Laura into his office, congratulated her heartily. Even through her growing exhaustion he could see that she was excited about the completion of the project. Perhaps, he thought now, she was not so much excited as frightened. He told her that she deserved a rest, that he knew how difficult things had been for her. He had one final request of her, and it would be delivered with something pleasant, he hoped, to cushion the difficult aspects of it.
“First the good news,” he told her, smiling benignly. “I’m sending you on a vacation. Somewhere warm — Hawaii? Jamaica? You tell me. It’s up to you. For two weeks, you will have nothing to do but relax, regain your strength, have some fun. We’re paying for the whole thing, Laura — airfare, hotel, anything you want. Company credit card, my dear. No limits on the expense account. This is a much-deserved rest for you, because you’ve given us the — well, the life of our project, Laura. We owe all of this to you.”
“Is Andrew going with me?”
He looked at her carefully. “This is the difficult part, I’m afraid. He can’t go with you, Laura. In order to truly field test our product, we have to simulate real situations. There’s no effective way to do that here. What we’ve decided to do is go for the real thing — interaction with others. That has to include Andrew.”
She had been horrified, angry, frustrated. She was bound to them, lock, stock and barrel, as they said. And she had to know that staying with the company where she could still have some part, however small, in the decision making, made more sense than abandoning it altogether.
“And he won’t know? He’ll think this thing-”
“She, Laura. She’s you.”
“But she’s not me, that’s the point. Anything could happen, she could do anything, and everyone will think it’s me. Andrew has to know.”
He shook his head. “He can’t know, Laura.”
“Then why can’t he at least come with me?”
“No one, including Andrew, is surprised at the demands your job makes of you. He might not like it at first, but he won’t be surprised when you tell him you have a business trip to take. And we both know that he won’t question you about it. Whereas Andrew does not travel. If he were to be gone, and you there alone — well, it would look strange. Besides, in many respects he is the most important aspect of the test. Interpersonal relations.”
“You want me to go away and bask in the sun for two weeks while you send an android to live with my husband in my place.” She had said it dully, and he had smiled at the sound of it. It seemed like a bad science fiction movie, but it was real. It was happening.
Caudill frowned. Obviously Laura had not told her husband that she was taking a business trip. She had simply disappeared, and even his operatives had not been able to locate her. Then Andrew Jordan had gotten the FBI involved, and now all hell was breaking loose.
The AI had behaved well, in the laboratory. He himself had been impressed with it. And clearly for the first night, things had gone well. Laura Jordan had not gone home from work that Monday. Instead, she had been taken right to the airport. They had sent the AI home in her place, and apparently Jordan had not even noticed the difference.
The droid had functioned perfectly, until the following morning, when instead of reporting to Caudill as programmed, she, too, had disappeared.
Now she had turned up two hours away in a hole in the wall town. At least, he thought ruefully, she had come back to “life,” if that was what you wanted to call it. They wouldn’t have gotten far into the autopsy before finding out what they were dealing with.
Not that those two particular agents hadn’t seen their share of strangeness. More than their share, he thought grimly, remembering what his backers had told him of this team. The last people he would have wanted involved, if they had to be involved at all, damnit. And to make matters worse, he had lashed out at one of the most important men behind the scenes.
“If you knew they were sending them, why the hell didn’t you stop them?”
“I assumed you would be able to handle them, Charles. Apparently I was wrong.”
The acrid scent of the man’s ever-present cigarette had nearly suffocated him in his own office.
“How the hell did they get involved in this case anyway? This isn’t their usual jurisdiction, if what you say is true.”
The man shrugged. “They have friends, Mr. Caudill. Friends who occasionally have the — gall — to countermand what they know are my unspoken orders. It will be taken care of. You dropped the ball,” the man said, smiling horribly. ” Someone else will pick it up, and finish the game.”
Caudill shifted irritably. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about those two.
What he cared about at this point was damage control, and that meant getting that AI back, and finding Laura Jordan before she went nuts or public, or both.
Scully sat in the Pleasantville police station, waiting impatiently for Mulder. She had considered calling him, but there seemed to be no point. He would be back soon enough, she reasoned, and what she had to tell him could wait. And the waiting gave her time to think, too, and time to wonder about what the hell was happening to Laura Jordan. Or what had been done to her, she thought grimly.
The woman had been calm when Scully examined her. She seemed tired, which was certainly reasonable. She seemed overall to be fine, although Scully recommended that she see her physician when she got home, and said she would be glad to provide a full report of her own examination. Laura had nodded silently.
It was only when Scully moved to examine the lacerations around her hands and wrists that she had gotten anxious. Scully snorted at her word choice. Anxious was perhaps an understatement. Borderline violent was more like it. She had yanked her hands out of Scully’s gloved ones, and wrapped her arms around herself.
“I’m fine,” she had practically hissed. “Can you just leave me alone? I want to call my husband.”
“I’d like it if you’d let me take a look at those,” Scully said mildly, making no move to touch the other woman again. “You were in those woods for a while, and it looks to me like they could have gotten infected.
I’d like to clean them up for you, and see how bad the infection is. I can prescribe an antibiotic, or at least recommend it to your regular doctor.”
“There’s no need,” She kept her arms tucked protectively around her body, and Scully backed up a step or two, wanting to give the woman some space.
“Laura, you’ve been through a lot, I know. And I know you’re confused and probably frightened. I just want to take a look. I’m not going to hurt you, I’m not going to do anything you don’t want me to. Just let me take a look at your hands, please.”
Laura stared at her with strange eyes. There was something off about the way she looked, but Scully couldn’t pinpoint it. The connection she had felt to this woman had been tenuous, and she felt it coming and going in surges. She knew what it was like to wake up frightened and confused, with no idea of where you had been or how you’d gotten there. She knew how disorienting and enfuriating it was, especially for a woman who prided herself on her strength and independence. She had hated the condescending attitude of the doctors and nurses who took care of, their deference undercut with something almost saccharine, false. Later, her mother told her how Mulder had reacted to her sudden presence in the hospital, his threats and violent outburst. They had walked on eggshells around her out of fear of him, she thought, with a small smile. It was childish, but she almost couldn’t help liking the fact that he had cared enough…
The other woman was staring at her now, and Scully looked at her with a sudden jolt. She had been lost for a moment there. She spoke, and her voice was gentle, almost distant, as she said, “Laura, I do know something about what you’re feeling. A few years ago, I was — kidnapped. I was gone for months, and finally I just showed up a hospital. My family, my friends, my partner — they had all given up on me. I didn’t -and don’t-remember anything about the time I was gone.
I was in a coma. I almost died. The took me off the respirator and waited for me to die, but there was one person who believed in me, believed I was alive and that I wanted to live. He stayed by me, he helped bring me back. When I came back I was terrified and angry about what had happened. I’m still angry, and I can still get terrified. I want to know what happened to me. I hate to be controlled, I hate for other people to try to manipulate me, and I felt violated.” She paused, shrugging. “I’m telling you this because I know how alone you probably feel, how angry. And I just wanted you to know that you can trust me. I want you to trust me.”
Laura Jordan sat wordlessly. Finally she relaxed her tense posture, and held out her hands. Scully smiled briefly and slipped instantly back into clinical mode as she examimed the minor lacerations. But her clinical mind was almost instantly whipped to a state of disbelief and frustration.
Laura Jordan had not bled. There was no blood around the lacerations.
There was swelling, there was discoloration, and there were traces of what looked to be some kind of oil or grease, but no blood. The cuts weren’t deep, so the blood would have been minimal, but there was no blood at all. Nor was there any scabbing, as such. It seemed, instead, that the skin was in the process of somehow — Scully’s logical mind fought against the idea even as she articulated it to herself — as if the skin was in the process of healing itself, closing itself over.
What the hell was this? She removed the oily substance from the woman’s hands and wrists, carefully placing the towelettes in a plastic bag. She applied antibiotic cream, and tried to decide whether or not to wrap the woman’s wrists. Mulder would want to see this, she knew, but she also knew that the chances of the woman’s submitting to any more tests or examinations were slim. Which was frustrating, because she would like to have taken a blood sample. It couldn’t hurt to try, she thought absently, turning back to Laura.
“Laura, would you mind if I took a blood sample?”
“Just to run some tests. Just standard blood work. There were traces of oil or grease around some of these lacerations, and it would be a good idea —”
“No.” She shook her head, looking at Scully coldly. “I’m finished here.
I want to call my husband, and I want to go home.”
Scully sighed. She had used her only resource to make this woman trust her. Maybe Mulder could convince her, if he got back in time.
Now she sat and waited for him, alternately wondering what was going on, and when she had begun to even entertain ideas like the one she was entertaining now. If Mulder knew what she was thinking about, he would laugh himself silly. His skeptical Scully — She stopped, catching her breath with that thought. ‘His’ Scully. Had she already started thinking of herself as his? She had never liked it when people referred to their lovers or spouses like possessions. She had fought long and hard to achieve this level of independence, and so many times it had nearly been taken from her. Was she going to give that up for him?
She sighed, recognizing her defense mechanisms kicking in automatically.
Mulder expected no such thing from her, she knew. If anything, he was even less prone to romantic notions of possession — at least, this kind of possession, she thought wryly — than she was . He loved her, she knew, but he also respected her. He had always watched out for her, but then she watched out for him. It was part of the deal, and had been, before their relationship had escalated.
She gave herself up to a rational examination of her thoughts and feelings about Mulder and this new aspect of their relationship.
Granted, it was still very new, but their working relationship didn’t seem to be suffering for it. They had always argued and disagreed, and she supposed they always would. Sometimes he was right — and those times were bound to be strange times. Sometimes he was wrong. It didn’t matter. She loved him, and she had a quick surge of confidence and joy.
They could make this work, she thought, smiling. The joy was a feeling she was not used to, and it took her breath away as effectively as his physical presence could. She let herself feel it.
Mulder walked through the doors of the station, still squinting from the late afternoon sun. He saw Scully sitting on a long wooden bench, a cup of coffee cooling in her grasp, smiling dreamily. His heartbeat quickened, and he thought almost instinctively, as he did whenever he saw her, “She’s so beautiful.” Then he wondered what she was thinking about that made her smile like that. She didn’t seem to notice him as he walked up to her.
“Hey,” he said softly, and her eyes cleared as she smiled at him.
“How’d it go?”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t look like she was run off the road,” he said, sitting beside her. “Looks more like she lost control, or fell asleep at the wheel. I guess you’re right, Scully. Just exhaustion and stresss.
It’s still odd that she managed to get so far from the scene of the accident —”
“Mulder, inside the car — was there oil of some kind, grease or anything like that? Did the damage to the car correspond with the nature of her injuries?”
He frowned. “Yes. But I didn’t see any unusual substance. Why?”
“Because —” She stopped, and looked at him carefully. She hated to get his hopes up, to egg him on in his strange beliefs. Yet there was clearly something going on here, although what it could be she had no idea.
“When I finished examining her, just checking her vitals, her eyes, her lungs, that kind of thing, I went to take a look at the cuts on her hands and wrists. She reacted strongly, almost violently, she pulled away from me, and I had to work pretty hard to convince her to let me look at them. When she finally did, I — Mulder, I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
He was looking at her intently, watching her eyes as she spoke. He nodded, encouraging her to continue.
“There was no blood. The lacerations weren’t deep, they wouldn’t have bled heavily anyway. But there was no blood, no scabbing. Just residue of what looked like some sort of oil, or grease. I have the samples here,” she said, pulling the bag out of the pocket of her lab coat and handing them to him. “It looked — Mulder, it looked like the skin was in the process of healing itself.”
“Well, we can’t determine exactly when the accident occurred, Scully.
She might have been out there for a few days. The healing process might have started already. She might even have cleaned herself up in some way without remembering it. Used a rag from the trunk of the car, something that had grease or oil already on it.”
She nodded, but Mulder could see she was still unconvinced.
“I’d like you to take a look at them, Mulder. If she’ll let you.”
They found Laura sitting stiffly in the heart of the police station. She held an untouched cup of coffee, and she looked absently at them when they approached her.
“Laura, would you let Agent Mulder have a look at those cuts on your hands?”
“He hung up on me,” she said distantly.
“Who did, Laura?”
“Andrew. I called him, and he hung up on me.”
Mulder and Scully exchanged a look.
“Did you try to call him just now?” Mulder asked gently.
She nodded. “He wouldn’t listen to me. He just hung up on me.”
“Mulder, I’m going to go give Jordan a call. Stay here with her, and see if you can at least catch a glimpse of what I was telling you about,”
Scully said in a low voice. He nodded and sat beside the troubled woman.
Scully dialed Andrew Jordan’s number impatiently. When the answering machine picked up, she steeled herself to be patient.
“Mr. Jordan, please pick up the phone. This is Agent Scully. I need to talk to you. It’s extremely important, Mr. Jordan. ” She waited, and said again, “Please pick up the phone, Mr. Jordan. I understand that this is difficult, but —”
“Mr. Jordan —”
“I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but someone just called here and pretended to be my wife.”
“Mr. Jordan, I’m at a police station in Pleasantville, NJ —”
“Agent Scully, my wife is here, and she’s very ill. I have no time for this now.”
“What? Your wife is there?”
“Yes,” he said impatiently. “She’s very ill, but she won’t go to a hospital. I thank you and your partner for what you’ve done —”
“Mr. Jordan, I’m sorry. I know this is not going to make any of this any easier for you, but I have a woman here who claims to be your wife. She looks exactly like your wife, and was found near where your wife’s car ran off the road, off of Route 42.”
There was silence at the other end of the phone.
“Agent Scully, what the hell is going on here?”
“I don’t know. But we’re going to find out. Mr. Jordan, I know this may sound strange, but please keep your wife at home unless it is an absolute emergency. Do not open the door to anyone other than Agent Mulder or myself. Do you understand?”
“Yes. Agent Scully —”
“We’ll be there as soon as we can. You have my phone number if you need me.”
She disconnected and sat, resting her head against the steering wheel.
She gathered her thoughts as best she could, closed her briefcase and headed back into the station.
Mulder watched her walk across the room and instantly knew something was wrong. He got up and met her halfway, and she said in a low, flat voice.
“I just spoke to Andrew Jordan. He said his wife is there, that she’s very ill. I told him that we had his wife here. Needless to say, he was not very happy about that.”
“I guess not.” Mulder looked at her carefully. Scully was hardly one to jump to conclusions. He was interested as to what exactly she thought of the current situation.
“What do you think is happening, Scully?”
She shook her head and looked up at him, her eyes questioning.
“I don’t know, Mulder. But if you do, please tell me.”
“Scully, I think what we have here is a clone. Or, more specifically, an android clone.”
She nodded tiredly. Of course. A clone. It would make sense, wouldn’t it? She nearly laughed, and Mulder saw the expression on her face and put a quick hand under her elbow.
“It just makes sense, doesn’t it? That’s why she seemed dead, when she was only —” she gave a quiet snort of humorless laughter. “Turned off?
Is that what you’d say?”
“I don’t know, Scully.”
“So this Laura Jordan is a clone of the real Laura Jordan, who is currently at home with her husband, and very ill. Presumably, ill as a result of whatever they did to her to create this clone.”
Mulder was slightly surprised at the ease with which she was accepting this theory, but he was only too happy to continue.
“According to what little information we got about Caudill, it’s been said that they have found a way to do just that, Scully. Not only have they created the technology to send a functioning intelligent android out into the world, but they’ve also created the technology to clone a living human being. This,” he motioned toward the woman on the bench, “Has to be the prototype. Presumably in the future they’ll take genetic information from more than one person, in order to create droids that look human, but not like one particular human. For this first effort, it was easiest to just make a clone of Laura Jordan.”
“But why would she let them do that? What the hell would possess her to let them do — whatever it was they had to do? ”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, Scully. But it explains a lot, doesn’t it?
It explains why she could never say anything to her husband about what was happening. It explains why she couldn’t have a baby. ”
“Mulder — if they sent the clone out to be Laura Jordan, what do they intend to do about the real Laura? Where has she been?”
His eyes darkened and he frowned slightly. “Only one way to find out.”
The ride back to East Brunswick was mostly silent. The droid stared out the window at the passing scenery, reacting only briefly when Mulder pointed out the area where her car had run off the road. Scully read through the information from the Lone Gunman again, looking for any evidence that what they had in the backseat of their car truly was a clone. The pieces fit, she thought, numbly. She wondered again what kind of person would let them do what they had done to Laura Jordan. She had allowed them to take away not only her own chance at having a normal, happy life, but she had also ruined the life of her husband.
Was that the reason this case had hit so close to home? It was more even than what it had seemed at first — a woman so desperately in need of someone who could understand what she dealt with on a daily basis, who felt estranged from her husband for the simple reason that he couldn’t understand — she felt a pitying sort of horror of a woman who was so ambitious, so determined to make something of herself that she would sacrifice her whole life for it.
That isn’t me, she thought calmly. That isn’t me. I took the chance, I took the risk, and let him into my life. Everything’s different now.
She cast a sidelong glance at him, taking in his strong profile, the cowlicks that spiked his unruly hair, his long, slender fingers gripping the wheel. She had done the right thing. It was necessary to be strong, it was good to have the kind of resolve she knew she needed to get through some of the more difficult aspects of this job — be it local law enforcement, or something much, much stranger. But it was good also to know when to let that resolve go.
They had not discussed what to tell the Laura clone, if anything. They had no idea what level or degree of intelligence they were dealing with.
The — thing, woman? — seemed human, as real as they were. But they had no idea how it was functioning. Was it still under the control of Caudill, or had the accident broken the connection in some way, done some kind of damage? Had the accident truly been an accident? Had something inside the clone gone wrong, leading it to believe that it really was human, was Laura Jordan? Had it been programmed to believe that?
It occurred to Mulder as he drove through the mindlessly ugly countryside that the droid might be a transmitter of a kind, that they might be leading Caudill or his operatives right to the real Laura Jordan. Not that she would be difficult to find, hiding in plain sight. He couldn’t afford to worry about that at the moment. They had to find out what was happening.
When they were approaching the Jordan residence, Mulder glanced at Scully questioningly. What was the best way to proceed in this situation?
Should they just bring the droid into the house? Could they stop her if she wanted to go? Scully motioned silently to a gas station and Mulder pulled in and turned to Laura.
“Just going to top off the tank. Do you need anything?”
She shook her head. Scully got out of the car and walked in the direction of the bathroom. When she was out of sight of the car, she dialed Andrew Jordan again.
“Mr. Jordan, it’s Agent Scully.”
“Where are you?”
“We’re at a gas station in Morristown. We need to know how you’d like us to proceed from here. We’ve got —”
“What you’ve got is an,” She heard him stumble a bit over the phrase.
“An intelligent android. Created with a combination of technology and genetic material from my wife.” His voice was tense, and there was anger just below the surface. Apparently he had gotten that much information out of his wife.
“That’s what we thought,” she said, unsure if she was relieved or alarmed, or somehow both at once.
“That’s what you thought,” he repeated in a flat voice. “How the hell did you come up with that?”
“That’s our job, Mr. Jordan,” she said crisply, fighting an absurd urge to laugh. She imagined that no one else in the world could say that it was their job to come up with theories as insane and improbable as that one.
“Yes. Well. I’m increasingly glad that my job has nothing to do with this sort of thing. ”
“Mr. Jordan, what would you like us to do? We need to see your wife, and we need to see you. Does your wife know anything about this — droid?”
“She wants you to bring her here. She wants to see her, see what kind of damage has been done, whatever.”
Scully disconnected and returned to the car. Laura — the droid, her mind corrected — still sat looking out the window expressionlessly.
When Scully spoke to her, she responded only by turning her head to look at her blankly for a moment. She was relieved when Mulder got back in the car.
“Yes. Mr. Jordan is waiting to see her.”
The last few minutes of the drive were spent in silence. Scully was edgy, and she could tell Mulder felt the same way. When they pulled into the driveway, she instinctively unsnapped the restraint on her holster. She turned to the droid.
“Let’s go,” she said tonelessly, and Scully had a sudden flash of fear that the droid had been programmed to kill all of them, somehow. I’m definitely as paranoid as Mulder, she thought humorlessly, and got out of the car.
Andrew Jordan stood waiting at the front door. His eyes widened when he saw the droid, clearly taken aback. Obviously, however, his wife had prepared him to some extent, for he stepped forward and said in a relatively controlled voice,
“Laura. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Andrew. Just a little shook up, that’s all.” She smiled at him, and Scully saw the fear in his eyes. She tensed, wondering if he might not be their wild card after all. Would he be able to handle himself? If they could just get inside, she thought.
He led the way into the house, and Scully watched the droid carefully.
She seemed calm, calmer than she’d yet been, actually. They stood in the foyer, and she saw Jordan make eye contact with Mulder and nod slightly in the direction of the living room.
“Laura, why don’t you and Agents Mulder and Scully have a seat? I’ll get something to drink for us all.”
“Thank you, Andrew.” The droid walked calmly through the doorway, and froze. Scully’s hand went automatically to her gun. Laura Jordan got up from her seat on the sofa and walked toward them.
She looked ill, exhausted and weak. Yet her gaze was firm and her voice calm when she addressed the droid.
“Do you remember me?”
The droid was frozen, clearly unable to process this information.
“Laura?” Without taking her eyes from the droid, she said quietly, “I was afraid of this. There’s been some kind of processing error. Was their any head trauma in the accident?”
“Nothing visible,” Scully said softly.
“Still, any kind of impact might have been enough to damage the circuits.”
“How is she programmed?”
“She’s programmed to believe she’s me, of course,” said Laura conversationally. “She’s programmed to act, think, and behave like me to such an extent that no one, not even my husband, would have been able to tell the difference. But she should also recognize me, and anyone else from the core team who worked on her. If she’ll let me get close to her, I can —”
“No!” The droid was backing up, and Mulder moved toward her slowly.
“Don’t touch me! Who are you? What’s going on here?”
He shot Laura a questioning look.
“Laura, I know this is frightening. Do you remember me at all? I helped you before.”
“What’s going on here? Andrew? Where are you? Why are you letting them do this to me?”
Mulder felt an instinctive protectiveness toward her, and had to remind himself that she was not real, not human. He kept his eyes on the droid, who was now staring, panic-stricken, around the room.
Laura took a step closer, and the droid backed up a step.
“Will you let me take a look at you? I know this is frightening,” she repeated. “But I can help you. I really can.”
She continued to approach, and with every step she took forward, the droid backed up.
“Laura-” Scully spoke in warning, feeling instinctively that if there would be trouble if they pushed the situation too far. Laura Jordan only shook her head, and took one more step forward.
The droid stepped back, and into Mulder, who hovered in the doorway. She whirled in a panic, and pushed him out of the way. Scully grabbed for her gun, but Laura stepped in front of her, still trying to persuade the droid to calm down. The droid only stared at her with wide eyes. When Andrew Jordan approached from the kitchen, he found the droid backed against a wall in the foyer. His wife stood in the doorway, still talking in a calm, quiet voice. Mulder and Scully stood side by side, both with a hand on their holstered guns.
“What’s going —”
“Andrew!” The droid spoke, her voice shrill. “Andrew, what’s happening here? Why are you letting them do this to me?”
He stood immobile, staring from the droid to his wife, his eyes dazed.
Scully realized that he had no real way of knowing which was his wife and which the droid. Everything he assumed to be normal had been taken away from him in the last day, and she suddenly wondered how much more he could take.
He looked from one to the other, and said nothing.
“Andrew,” the droid pleaded. “Help me.”
“Laura. I — I don’t know —”
“Andrew, stay out of this,” she said sharply.
“Stay out of it!”
Scully swore quietly as she saw the anger flare in Jordan’s eyes. He’d been through too much, and had finally reached his breaking point.
“How the hell can you ask me to stay out of it! You dragged me into it!
You knew what they were doing, you did this to yourself, to me, to her!”
“Andrew, she isn’t human, she isn’t real, she’s just a —”
“Shut up! How the hell am I supposed to know what’s going on here?”
“Andrew, please, I’ve already explained everything, I don’t know what else I can say, but now is clearly not the time -”
Scully glanced up at Mulder. He was tensed, on alert, as she was, looking from Laura to Andrew cautiously. In what seemed like the split second that attention was drawn away from her, the droid opened the door and ran.
Scully took off after her, hearing Mulder on her heels, and then passing her. They chased her down the winding street, and into the woods at the bottom of the hill. They split up in the trees, wordlessly taking off in separate directions, hoping to head her off somehow.
Mulder ran, branches lashing at his face. Through the trees ahead he could see light, a clearing. He headed in that direction, and then he heard it. A helicopter, blades beating the air, a sickeningly familiar sound. He swore, and kept running.
He saw her at the edge of the clearing, backing away from two men who had just gotten out of a black sedan. The noise of the chopper was deafening, but he called out anyway, instinct kicking in. He had to be sure she was safe.
She heard his voice under the noise, and ran toward it. He stood, gun in hand, tensed and angry looking. She called to him, and he turned quickly.
The relief on his face when he saw her made her heart contract for one moment, and she felt her pulse speed up. This was itthis was some kind of test, she thought. Their first conflict, the first real danger they faced since their feelings had come to light, since everything had changed. Their eyes met — the only thing that was different now was this — that they would chance one last opportunity to touch, to look, to say something , just in case. She raised an eyebrow at him, trying for cool, trying to focus on the situation at hand, on what was important.
They were trapped, she knew. Chances were they’d let them go without a struggle, provided, of course, that they chose to let them take Laura Jordan. The droid, her mind corrected her automatically. It wasn’t even a person, it was a machine made to look like a person. Was that something worth risking their lives for? She looked at Mulder, questioning him with her eyes. He looked back for a moment, and she knew what he was thinking. If they took the droid, they took the proof. They took the only thing the real Laura Jordan had to fight with, if something was seriously wrong with her. It meant they would get away with it again. Any doubt as to who was behind this had disappeared when she saw that car and those men. She even thought she recognized one of them — she knew she’d seen him before, and there had certainly been many occasions when she might have. If they let them take the droid, there would be no proof that the experiment had ever taken place. Laura Jordan would be forced into silence by the lack of proof — it would be nothing but her word against arguably the most powerful men on the planet.
Scully had doubt as to who would win, and she knew that they were willing to pay any price for silence.
She put a hand on Mulder’s arm, and he looked down at her, anger and defeat in his eyes. The men had the droid by each arm, and were putting her in the back of the car. As he shut the door, one of them turned and looked, it seemed, directly at them. There was no expression on his face, but she felt her stomach contract all the same.
The car turned around and followed a narrow dirt track back into the woods. The sound of the chopper receeded into the distance, and she holstered her gun.
“Come on, Mulder,” she said quietly.
He didn’t move, just stood staring at the empty clearing.
“They did it again, Scully,” he said, in that empty voice she recognized painfully.
“They did it again! And they’ll just keep doing it! Who the hell are these people?”
“It doesn’t matter, Mulder.”
“How can you say that?”
“It just — Mulder, listen to me. If nothing else — every time we get this close, every time we find out one other thing they’re doing, we’re that much closer to stopping them.”
“How?” He gestured toward the emptying clearing. “Do you realize what this means? You saw her — that droid. Do you realize what they’ve done? They made a droid so fucking real, even she thinks she’s human.
How long before they’ve got a whole town populated with these things?
People who will do whatever they’re told, believe whatever they hear, feel no guilt about anything they do?”
She looked at him, feeling the anger rise in her even as she struggled with the urge to just hold him, find some way to soothe the anger out of him.
“There’s no way we can stop them, Scully.”
“Mulder, this one failed, didn’t it? They thought they had her under control, but they didn’t. ”
“It’s just a matter of time, Scully.”
“There’s no way to fight them. We’re powerless.”
“What do you want me to say, Mulder? That I give up? I don’t, Mulder, and neither do you. Every time this happens it just makes me more determined to get the truth. I’m not going to give up, Mulder, I’m not going to let them defeat me, and I’m not going to let them defeat you either.”
Mulder looked down at her, at the rage and determination in her eyes.
She constantly amazed him. Every time that he thought it was over, that he, that they, couldn’t keep playing this game, she was there. She refused to let them beat her, and she refused to let them beat him. If they had to go down, they wouldn’t go easily.
He felt himself relax a little, and holstered his gun. He reached for her, and she went into his arms with a small, tight smile. Sighing against his chest, she said, her voice muffled, “So I guess we only have one more place to go.”
She looked up at him, smiling but serious. “No. Caudill.”
…Our final attempt to speak with Charles Caudill was received and dealt with by a Mr. Joseph Kott. Mr. Kott met with us briefly in his office at Caudill Industries. When asked direct questions in relation to the disappearance and illness of Laura Jordan and the subsequent appearance and disappearance of the alleged android/clone, Mr. Kott denied all knowledge. He repeated his statement that the company had at no time been involved with technology of this sort or with this aim in mind. He refused to answer direct questions regarding the nature of the work at Caudill Industries. He informed us that Laura Jordan was mentally unstable, and had violated her contract by becoming pregnant.
For this reason, her position with Caudill was terminated.
Laura Jordan and her husband remain convinced that the woman brought in by the Pleasantville police department was, in fact, an android clone.
Mrs. Jordan claims to have assisted in the research and development of the technology necessary for the production of such an android. She also remains insistent that she voluntarily submitted genetic material (tissue, blood, urine, cell cultures, etc.) toward the biological engendering of the clone.
Having performed only a preliminary examination of the alleged android, I feel that I cannot say positively that she was such. However, I agree with Agent Mulder’s conclusion that the woman we escorted from Pleasantville to East Brunswick, who was subsequently apprehended and kidnapped as stated above, was identical to Laura Jordan, and is most probably a clone. The medical documentation of my examination of this woman stands as further evidence of these suspicions.
As we have no definitive answers at this time as to the identity or whereabouts of this woman, we feel that this case must remain unsolved.
It will be hereafter referred to as file X-100970, and will remain open and inactive in the X-Files Division.
Dana Scully, M.D.
Fox Mulder, Ph.D.
Scully saved the file and stretched, glancing at the clock. 2 a.m. Her tea was cold, her bagel was chewy, and she was tired. The only light in the room was the blue glow of the laptop, and she rubbed her eyes irritably. She’d been at work on this report for too long. Mulder had better have the expense reports filled out, because she was in no mood to grapple with those tonight, and she knew Skinner would want everything on his desk tomorrow.
She felt him come up behind her and smiled. Before she had a chance to tilt her head up, he put his hands on her shoulders and massaged her tight muscles. As his thumbs stroked the back of her skull, she let her head fall forward slightly.
“Have I told you lately that you’re a mind reader?” she mumbled.
He chuckled. “I wish I could read your mind sometimes, Scully.”
“Tell me what I’m thinking now, Mulder,” she said in a low voice, and his fingers tightened against her warming muscles.
He leaned down and whispered, “You’re thinking how good a hot bath would feel.”
She was slightly startled. She had actually been thinking that, although she’d planned to indulge both of them in something a bit more intimate.
Although a bath could be intimate, she thought now, raising her head.
“You are a mind reader,” she said mildly, but her eyes were glinting.
“Your wish is my command, Scully.” He drew her to her feet and led her to the bathroom. The room was full of steam and an herbal, slightly spicy scent she wasn’t familiar with.
“Wild marjoram oil,” he said in answer to her questioning look. “Good for sore muscles.”
He backed her against the sink, and penned her in place with his arms.
She smiled at him.
“Are you planning to make my muscles sore, Mulder?”
He grinned, but she saw the feral glimmer in his eyes.
“I was just trying to be nice,” he said, all innocence. “I know your back gets stiff when you sit at the computer too long.”
“Mmm-hmm.” She untucked his t-shirt, running her hands beneath it, over his chest. He closed his eyes and leaned against her. She raised herself slightly so that she sat on the edge of the sink, and pulled him between her legs. He came willingly, and she whispered, “You’re easy, Mulder, you know that?”
His eyes flew open, and he gave her an arch look. “I’m the innocent one here, you know. I drew your bath and everything. I’m not the one in full seduction mode.”
“Could have fooled me,” she said with a smile, as she pulled him down into a kiss.
He brought his hands up to tangle in her hair, pulling her head back as he kissed his way down her neck. He stopped long enough to pull her t-shirt over her head and wriggle her out of her panties.
“I like watching you work when you’re barely dressed,” he said against her skin. “Will you come to work in nothing but a t-shirt and panties?”
She snorted. “Sure, Mulder. On the day you come to work in nothing but that red speedo.”
He took a playful bite at her shoulder and she shuddered, reaching out to tug at his t-shirt. He stepped back enough for her to undress him quickly, and she drew her breath in when she saw him there, naked in the candlelight. She ran appreciative hands over him, and he swayed slightly. Wrapping her legs around him again, she pulled him back to her, arching into his touch as his hands found her breasts. They were both breathing heavily, and she was surprised at how quickly he could excite her. His tongue lightly traced the contour of her lips, and he supported her with his hands at her back when she leaned back to give his mouth access to her. His teeth grazed her nipple and she gasped.
“Who’s easy now?” he asked, his voice a delicious whisper over her skin.
“Not me,” she managed, determined not to let him see how easily he got to her.
He raised his head, one eyebrow cocked. “No?”
He moved away from her slightly, and she instantly missed the feel of him. Then she felt his breath, the wonderful, harsh rasp of his stubble against her inner thigh. She gripped the edges of the sink hard and turned her head to avoid his gaze should he look up. She looked into her own dim reflection, and for the first time, she understood the eroticism of mirrors at a moment like this. She had never seen herself before, not like this. Her eyes seemed huge, her face flushed, her lips swollen. Her gaze moved down her own body, over her erect nipples, the almost non-existent swell of her stomach. His dark head moved between her thighs as he nuzzled against her, and she forgot about playing hard to get. She was mesmerized, between the feel of him, his tongue moving in slow circles, teasing, tasting, and the sight of him there. She heard herself making soft sounds, watched herself begin to buck slightly against his mouth, and he raised his head and met her gaze in the mirror. She flushed, but his eyes lit, and his gaze never left hers as he got to his feet. She heard his voice at her ear.
“You taste ready,” he said, and she made another of those soft sounds that made him smile.
“Watch,” he said, in the same quiet voice, and she saw and felt him spread her legs and enter her. Her eyes closed briefly as he began to move, slowly at first, but his voice called her back.
“Watch,” he said again, and she opened her eyes to see him watching her.
Their eyes stayed locked in the mirror as he began to move faster, and she wrapped her legs around him, pulling him deeper, and tilting up to him. She could feel herself beginning to crest, and wondered briefly if she could stay with it enough to watch. As he reached between them to stroke her, increasing his pace, she knew she couldn’t.
“Mulder, I can’t, I’m -” And then she was gone, pushed over the edge, her pleasure heightened by the feel of his eyes on her as she came. She felt his movements quicken, driving her on and bringing him with her.
She watched him, heard him say her name hoarsely, once, as he stiffened against her, then relaxed, leaning them both sideways against the cool mirror.
“Think that bath is still hot?” she murmured a moment later, then gasped as he picked her up without slipping out of her. He carried her to the edge of the tub, and she leaned back slightly, dipping her hand in the water. “Yep.”
He lowered her gently into the tub and then climbed in behind her, leaning against the back of the tub and closing his eyes. Scully leaned into him, sleepy and still shivery with aftershocks. She glanced over at the mirror, and saw them reflected there again, just their heads and shoulders visible over the edge of the tub. He met her gaze there.
She arched an eyebrow, and he grinned slightly.
“No, well, yes, but I mean thank you, for giving me a kick in the ass when I needed one. Out in the woods yesterday.”
“That’s why I’m here, Mulder. Or at least, professionally, that’s why I’m there.”
“I love you,” he said quietly, and she looked at him seriously.
“I know. I love you.”
“I know,” he said, smiling again, and closing his eyes.
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