Sentinals

by Elizabeth Holden

 

Archivist's Note: I read this story several months ago, and tried to contact the author about putting her story on my page. Unfortunately, her email address is no longer working and I have not been able to find another way of contacting her. I have only seen this story on one other archive, and I felt that it was a shame that it was not more 'exposed'. So, without the permission of the author, I am archiving her story. Should Ms. Holden see this story and want it taken down, I will comply immeditately with a hearty apology.


Disclaimer: SENTINELS is a crossover story based on the TV show X-Files and the Marvel mutant comics X-Men, The Uncanny X-Men, Generation X and X-Force. So all the X-Files characters (Mulder, Scully, Skinner, the Smoking Man) are copyright Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen Productions, while all the X-Men Characters (Charles Xavier, Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Phoenix, and so on) are copyright Marvel Comics Group and/or Marvel Entertainment Group. No infringement on any copyright is intended, and this is done for no profit to myself except my own pleasure and amusement.

The alert reader will notice that I have taken some liberties with the Marvel Universe in order to make it mesh with the world of X- Files. That was part of the fun.

This is the first time I have posted a story, and I'd love to hear feedback. You can e-mail me at [email protected]


Salem Center, Westchester County, New York
Wednesday, October 11

Mike Keenan took a quick route home from school, mostly to avoid his friends. He'd been studying late at the high school library. This was unlike him, but it kept him and his secrets safe. Soon he would have no friends left, which would solve some of his problems.

The isolation frightened him, but it was only one fear among many. His mother was asking questions. She noticed how weird he'd been acting. She suspected drugs. He wondered if drugs would help, but he didn't know where to get them in any case.

It was dusk as he cycled into the woods, along the old path he'd followed to school ever since he was a young kid. It seemed a long time ago, those carefree days. He was almost fourteen now. He felt much older, as if years had passed in only a few weeks. He felt burdened like an old man.

It was dark on the shadowy path. His bike hit a root, and he stopped, looking at the old oak. He used to sit here, looking at the stream. He lay his bike on the ground, and stepped back under the shelter of the oak that had been his secret hiding place. Wearily, he sat on the ground. He never came here now. It wasn't as if he could hide from himself, however much he tried.

He heard a sound. It was so deep it was just on the edge of his hearing, like the vibration of a motor - an airplane, maybe, since it came from the sky, but it wasn't a loud sound. He couldn't see anything at first. It was strange. That was the last thing he needed - for something else strange to happen.

His life was nothing but strangeness now.

He stood up, filled suddenly with the irrational fear that the thing, the sound, the unseen engine, was coming for him.

It couldn't be a plane, it didn't sound like a truck, it wasn't nearly loud enough to be a helicopter.... It was coming from the west. He squinted against the sunset, trying to make out the moving silhouette beyond the leaves of the trees.

Something huge swooped down towards him.

He caught a glimpse of red and grey, and began to run. Stumbling through bushes, he muttered a curse under his breath. He was prey, now. A victim. Bait.

Behind him he heard cold electronic words. TARGET IN RANGE. It sounded like those corny old digital readouts in movies when they said them aloud.

FIRING. Bushes ignited as he crashed through them. He was running alongside the stream, but realized suddenly that this was giving an advantage to the thing that pursued him, giving it space to manoeuvre. The sleeve of his jacket caught on a branch, and tore. His mum would be upset.

If he ever saw her alive again.

He dove over a stump and half-fell down the bank of the stream. REFIRING, said the voice. Why did he have to be chased by a damn machine that talked to itself? Why him? Because he was different? Because he was cursed? Because he wasn't human any more?

Or was it just the pattern of bad luck that had destroyed his life over the past few months?

There was a flash of red light, and his arm felt the sting of a burn. He knew what that was from movies: a laser gun.

He fell into the water of the stream. It was deep here, as he knew it would be. The cold water made his arm hurt less. He blinked to see better under water, getting his vision adjusted to the changed light. He lay down on the bottom of the stream, the surface of the water two feet above him. He could nestle here as long as he needed to. People never thought to look for him under water. Maybe the machine would be the same. Maybe the thing couldn't see him. Maybe he'd be safe.

Breathing the gentle, healing water soothed his panic. He could not hear the engine now, or feel the vibrations it had sent out. Perhaps he would survive, after all.

He heard the voice again, its timbre different because he heard it through the water. TARGET LOCATED. FIRING.

A few feet of water was not enough, after all, to save him from the blast. The last thought he had was: if I'm dead, no one will know I wasn't really human.

He was wrong.

 

Two days later, Agent Mulder and his partner Agent Scully stood by the same stream, examining the burned foliage in a four-foot radius of the murder site. A carbonized area surrounded the spot where the boy had died, like chalk markings on pavement, like a bomb, like a crop circle. It looked as if someone had tried to set fire to the stream.

Though the area had been trampled in the initial investigation, it was clear from photographic evidence that the only footprints leading up to the stream had been the boy's. His bicycle had been found a quarter of a mile away, under a tree by the path. They could trace his route. He had been running heedlessly. He had torn his jacket, and had been scratched by thorns. There was every indication he had been chased, but there was no evidence of a pursuer. "It was as if the devil was after him," said one of the cops, running a hand through greasy hair.

"He didn't get home from school when he said," explained the Sheriff. "He never did that. Then we got an anonymous phone call, telling us to look here. We found the body, and the burned foliage, as you see. Never could trace the call."

Mike Keenan had fallen over a stump, and gone into the stream. He had died there, but not by drowning.

Back at the car they met the sheriff, waiting patiently for them. "Saw what you need to see?"

"We saw the murder site," said Mulder.

"Looks as if someone dropped a bomb," said Scully.

"On a kid? It gets weirder. Wait till you see the body."

"Right," said Scully testily. She had been requesting to see the body for two hours now, but they had wanted her to see the location of the death first. There was some secrecy going on, knowing looks passed between sheriff and coroner and receptionist.

As they got into the car, Mulder said conversationally, "Nice area. What's around here?"

"Nothing much. These woods. A couple of private estates. There's a posh private academy up the road a little - some sort of research institute now. Used to be an exclusive prep school. Beyond that there's some residential land - that's where Mike Keenan lived - and then the town. Salem Center's a good place. Not much crime. People keep to themselves. Not much trouble, unless a few kids get drunk on a Saturday night."

"So what was Mike Keenan doing alone in the woods?"

"Taking a short cut home from school."

"After dark? On a bicycle?"

"He knew the area pretty well. Lived here all his life. He'd been studying late at the library." There was an awkward pause. As if someone had said something, the sheriff added firmly, "He was a good kid."

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other. They hadn't doubted it.

 

The morgue was tiny, smelling too strongly of disinfectant. The lighting was bad. The body on the table was touching in its youth. Whatever had burned the foliage around the stream had not damaged the skin, except for an ugly burn on the arm. The boy might have been asleep. Tousled brown hair, matted now, framed a face neither beautiful nor ugly. Just a kid of thirteen, like many others. Even in death he had the gawky look of someone in a growth spurt.

"Whatever burned the foliage didn't cause the death," said the Sheriff. "Least, we don't think so. He didn't drown, though he was alive in the water for at least fifteen minutes all together. It appears he had some sort of metabolic seizure. Electromagnetic spasm. We don't know what caused it."

"Heart attack?" suggested Mulder.

"In a thirteen year old? With a healthy history? Not likely."

"He could have died of fear."

"Fear of what?"

"Whatever - whoever - burned the area. Must have used a flame-thrower. We think it drove him into the water."

"If that's the case, it's murder as much as if he was shot through the heart." He sighed, shaking his head.

"Leaving no trace?" said Scully sceptically. "Perhaps he was hallucinating. On drugs."

"So what left the burned circle?" The Sheriff shook his head regretfully. "I can't believe it. I knew him.... He used to play baseball with my Archie. Whatever was going on, he didn't deserve this." He looked reluctant to approach the body. "You haven't seen the strange part yet."

"Which is?"

"Let me show you...." With the stoicism of a man in battle, he lifted the boy's arm. On the back of his elbow was a series of small dermal extensions, tiny spikes growing in a line with a tiny membrane between them.

"It's on the other arm too, just the same," said the Sheriff. "And look at this."

He turned the body over on its chest. The bare back, uncovered by the sheet, had small protrusions from each shoulder-blade. They were like wings. Ribbed, delicate, prickly....

"Looks like the trout I had for supper," said Mulder lightly.

The Sheriff scowled. Scully went to get a lab coat. She understood the Sheriff's disapproval, but Mulder was right.

Hours later, after Scully had done a thorough medical examination, after they had talked to the grieving parents and the grieving little sister, they had learned only what the police reports already said. Mike was a bright, normal boy who had started to change about six months ago. His marks had fallen from A's to C's. He had started to grow, and lost his appetite. He had dropped off the sports teams he had been part of. He became withdrawn and secretive, keeping to his room or the school library.

Drugs seemed a likely explanation, but the body betrayed no hint of drug use. His friends thought it unlikely. There was no sign of delinquency. Just an anti-social reclusiveness. Growing paranoia.

His little sister summed it up. "He became a teenager. Teenagers are weird."

Scully went to interview more school friends. Mulder went to the pub to get a feel for local colour, and ask a few questions.

Joey Porecci had been Mike's best friend when they were twelve. "He got real strange," said Joey. "Didn't want to talk to me any more. Didn't want to hang out. Like he thought I might hurt him or something."

"Drugs?"

"The cops asked that too. Well, I guess you're a sort of cop. He always said he'd never do drugs. Something messed him up, though."

Scully looked around Joey's room. There was a baseball pennant, a poster picture of the Incredible Hulk, a rather touching picture in a frame of Joey and Mike holding up a large bass one of them had caught. Mike looked young and happy. He was wearing a bathing suit. His bare arms looked like the bare arms of any young boy. There was no sign of unusual growth.

Scully asked, "Was there anything physically unusual about Mike?"

"You mean like, besides dying?"

"Yeah."

Joey thought. "No. He was sick sometimes, but no more than anybody else. He ran fast. He was a great swimmer. Everybody thought he'd be an athlete, till he just... stopped."

"Was his skin normal?"

"Sure, I guess. He got freckles every summer. Is that normal?"

"I think so." Scully smiled. "You go to Salem Centre High School, don't you? What's it like?"

"Okay, I guess." They chatted about the school: teachers who were popular, who knew Mike, teacher who were (on good authority) cruddy. They talked about what it was like to live in the neighbourhood. The word "okay" got used a lot. They talked about the people Mike hung out with, which was nobody, over the past few months, as far as Joey knew. Before, it had been Joey and Matteo and Adam.

"Are there any other high schools around here?"

"No. I don't think so. There's a private school up Graymalkin Lane, but it's like a college or something now. A research place. Some kids say it's haunted."

"Haunted?"

"Yeah. I don't believe in that stuff, though."

"What kind of haunted?"

"I dunno. I mean, they still use the place and all, so why would ghosts hang around there? They say strange things happen though. Werewolves. Voodoo. UFO's."

"Sounds like a TV show."

"Yeah. It's just stories."

 

At Harry's Hideaway, the local pub, Mulder sat with a beer surveying the locals. There weren't many on a weekday night. There was a middle-aged couple, a few solitary men, one darts-player and a sulky girl, who might or might not be the town whore. She ignored Mulder.

Mulder was considering a game of darts when someone else walked in. A short man of indeterminate age - not young - came in and went to a barstool as if he owned it. The bartender gave him a nod. Without exchanging words, he put a brew on the counter and took the short man's money.

His hair was dark and swept up at the sides. He popped open the can and took a large drink, tilting his head back as he did so. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He wore a black and red plaid jacket, the kind lumberjacks wear. His hands seemed large for his size.

Mulder got up. He walked casually over, put his beer on the counter, and sat beside the man. "Nice night," he said. He was ignored.

"Buy you a beer?" he offered.

Dark, hostile eyes turned to him. "Yer tryin' ta pick me up, yer wastin' yer time, bub." There was a regional accent, but Mulder couldn't place it.

Mulder sighed. Misjudged again. He flashed his FBI badge. "My name is Agent Mulder, FBI. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

"So. Ask." He drank again, more slowly this time. Mulder signalled the bartender for another drink for each of them.

"What's your name?"

"Wolverine."

"You live here long?"

"Don't live here at all. I'm visitin' friends."

"So where do you live?"

"Madripoor." Mulder had a vague memory of an obscure Asiatic island city that seldom made the news. He'd come across it on some smuggling case - or had it been piracy? Drug running? Something unhealthy.

"Were you born there?" he asked, intrigued. The man didn't look Asian.

"No. I'm from Canada." He looked straight at Mulder for the first time. "Am I suspected o' somethin'?" His straight gaze made Mulder feel unaccountably uncomfortable.

"I'm looking for background from the locals on a case involving a dead boy. Who knows who, that sort of thing."

"Sorry. I'm an outsider. Ask a native."

"I'll do that. Who are you visiting?"

"Charles Xavier."

Xavier. The name was on the map. Yes: the research institute just outside of town. The Xavier Institute. The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.

This man didn't look like someone whose friends would be academics.

"Where'd you meet him?" Mulder hoped the phrasing sounded more friendly than insulting.

"What's that got to do with a dead boy?" challenged the man who called himself Wolverine. (Surname? First name? Alias?) Mulder was trying to think of an answer when someone else walked into the pub and every coherent thought flew out of his head.

Whoever she was, she was stunning.

She was tall, and she moved with the careless grace of a model. She was an exotic beauty such as you might see jetsetting from Paris to Zimbabwe, or on the cover of Vogue. Her hair was white, almost silver. It flowed down her back. Her skin was dark mahogany. Her leather jacket and pants fit like a second layer of skin. Her boots reached her knees and the effect was of breathtaking femininity.

Her large, expressive eyes had long dark lashes and no visible pupils. Mulder blinked. The last time he'd seen eyes like that, he was looking at Little Orphan Annie on the funnies page.

She was coming towards him. Every man in the room was looking at her, even the bartender. Mulder thought for one happy moment that she was going to speak to him, but realized that he was wrong. She was going straight to Wolverine. She put a hand on his shoulder, moving close to him to say something in a voice so low that Mulder couldn't hear it. Damn!

Wolverine nodded, and said to Mulder, "If that's all ya need, Agent Mulder, I'll be on my way."

"Sure. Thanks," said Mulder. Wolverine didn't introduce the woman. She gave Mulder a vague and uninterested smile, turning away from him. Wolverine put his arm lightly around her waist as they walked out together.

There wasn't a man in the room who wasn't envying Wolverine.

Including Mulder.

In Scully's hotel room, Mulder stretched out on the bed with the map, letting Scully do the keywork with the laptop, at her writing desk. She was logged into the FBI medical files, hoping for the best. "There are no records of humans growing fin-like extrusions on their back and arms," she said. "The growth was natural, not grafted. There are abnormalities in the boy's lungs and brain. I couldn't tell what they meant... His DNA is strange too. They tested some blood samples and checked out the parents too. The Keenans are physically absolutely normal. Except for Mike."

"Uh-huh," said Mulder. He found Graymalkin Lane on the map. The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning was some way along it, set back from the road. It looked large. He squinted to make out the fine print. It said, "The Xavier Estate". Behind the building, still part of the Estate, was a sizable woods and a lake. Breakstone Lake.

"I sent some blood samples for genetic testing in Washington. It's something that needs expert work, and some specialized equipment."

"You think someone might have meddled with his DNA?"

"Who? How? Dr. Mengele doesn't live in New York State. Mike never went missing or anything - not till the day he was killed. He stayed in his room or in the school library."

"Not associating with anybody."

"No. He dropped off the baseball team, the basketball team - even the swimming team, which had been his favourite. His room was full of trophies. He was good. He'd loved it."

"Maybe he discovered girls."

"Uh-uh. Didn't date. Some of his friends thought he was scared of something, but they didn't know what or why. There was a teacher tried to draw him out but all he'd say was that he didn't want to talk about it.

"The only odd thing that has any connection with anything is that there's part of the woods supposed to be haunted. None of the kids would admit to believing it but they'd all heard stories. Noises in the night, explosions, flying creatures - lights - but nothing concrete."

"UFO's?"

"Mul-der."

"Just asking."

"There wasn't much agreement about what they saw, or what their friends told them they'd seen. Nothing concrete to it."

"Where is this patch of woods?"

"North of where Mike died. There isn't much in that area. It's some private land, over towards the college on Graymalkin Lane."

"College? You mean the Xavier Institute?"

"Yes."

"Look it up. The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning."

She typed. "You think it might be significant?"

"There isn't much else around here."

"It's just a school, Mulder. Not some hush-hush lab for genetic experimentation. It used to be some sort of private school for Gifted Youngsters.... Okay, I've got a listing. The Xavier Institute.... 1407 Graymalkin Lane. 555-9636. The Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters relocated to Massachusetts. It's a research institute specializing in...."

"Scully?" Mulder had been thinking with his eyes closed. He opened them. "What?"

"Genetic research."

"Go on."

"I'll try a prospectus.... Nope, nothing." She typed again, waited, typed again. "I'll check on the school.... Ah-hah! Got it. This is from a few years ago. 'An academy of high standard for the gifted child whose special talents set him apart from his peers. Personal training, encouragement and specialized teaching...' blah, blah. What else do you want to know?"

"Principal's name."

"Headmaster - Professor Charles Xavier."

"Teachers?"

"Not listed."

"Number of students?"

"Not listed."

"Alumni?"

"Not listed."

"I sense a pattern. What else *does* it say?"

"Nothing. It's just an ad. It implies that if you need to ask the cost of tuition, you can't afford it. No, wait. It says, 'Scholarships available for the gifted student whose needs are special but whose means are few.' I wonder who provides the money for that?"

"The grateful and wealthy alumni? Xavier himself?"

"He must be rich. He owns a lot of land around here. The Xavier Estate, they call it."

"Look him up."

Changes of screen; Scully read, rapt. "Well?" asked Mulder.

"I'm reading his bibliography."

"Well?"

"The man has a huge publication history. 'Genetic matrix of equus under subglacial conditions in the Pliocene age.' Or: 'Variant genus of Colii colii', 'Spectroscopy use in analysis of mutagenic signatures', 'Analysis of the viral mechanisms of sample 568'; 'Divergent chromosomal patterns of - '"

"Stop!" She looked up. "Stop, stop. I'll admit that last one is a real knee-slapper, but did he write anything where I might understand the title?"

"'Infrared analysis of a yellow giant in the region of Alpha Pegasi.'"

"How's that again?"

"That was from the Journal of Optical Astronomy. He was nominated for an award for that, but turned it down."

"Why?"

"It doesn't say. It just says 'refused'. Possibly because it isn't his field."

"Right," said Mulder. "He usually publishes on genetics. That paper was on astrophysics."

"You did understand the titles."

"I was reading them just the other day on the subway. So Xavier is well-rounded. Anything else there?"

"He has several advanced degrees... and has published papers co-written by a Dr. Moira MacTaggert of the Muir Island Research Institute, Scotland. And a Dr. Henry McCoy of.... the Xavier Institute."

"The topics?"

"Biophysics. Genetics. Radio astronomy. Spatial topology of gravitational fluxes.... Most of them are on genetics. Pretty advanced stuff."

Mulder remembered a room full of tanks, with bodies in them. "Genetic engineering?" he hazarded. "Fish boys?"

"You're reaching, Mulder. Not one of these articles so much as mentions a fish boy. Or even a fish." She turned from the screen with a flourish. "He's a highly respected scientist in an extremely specialized field and we don't have anything connecting him with that boy's murder."

"We have anomalies in the boy's DNA. We have the geographical connection."

"Mike never even went to his school. Besides, Xavier couldn't kill anyone in the woods. He couldn't even get there. He's a paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair."

"Stephen Hawkings, only less famous."

"Stephen Hawkings, if we're comparing IQ's."

"Family?"

"Nothing mentions family here." She turned back to the screen. "Except for his writings, there's not much about him at all. He seems to avoid the limelight."

"So? What about his graduates? If he ran a school, there must be graduates."

It took her a while this time. Mulder closed his eyes, and thought of a tall black woman in leather with white hair and alien eyes. He let his mind wander. At last Scully said: "Ah-hah! I was beginning to think no one ever actually graduated from the place. I've found three of them. Dr. Henry McCoy - remember him? The co-author? And two others - I even have a photo. Scott Summers and Jean Grey."

Mulder came over for a look, half expecting to see rough little guy from Canada and a woman who looked like a goddess from Kenya. His guess was wrong. The photo was from a newspaper; it was a wedding announcement, a portrait of the bride and groom. The couple looked all-American, yuppies in a toothpaste ad, WASP features and broad smiles. It was a wedding picture. The man had red-tinted glasses, his eyes invisible behind them. The bride was a red-haired beauty. "It's like a picture out of Bridal Magazine," said Mulder.

"Oh? You read that often?"

"When I'm through with the Journal of Optical Astronomy."

"Sunglasses in his wedding portrait?"

"And no occupation listed for either of them. The best, the brightest, the most beautiful," mused Mulder. "I wonder why these gifted youngsters are so hard to trace? Shouldn't they be turning up as scientists, academics, leaders, poets?"

"Brain surgeons? Forget it, Mulder. It's a small student body. We've seen that McCoy is a scientist. I think this is a dead end."

"A taste for privacy might be common sense. Or... Try something else. Look up Wolverine." He went and stretched out on the bed again.

"A small furred predator."

"A guy I met in the pub. Friend of the Professor."

"Wolverine?"

"Wolverine."

"First name or last?" She was typing.

"I didn't get a chance to ask."

"Sounds like an alias. I'll see what our files have listed.... Okay.... Wolverine...." She stared silently at the screen.

"Well?"

"Not what I expected."

"Criminal record?" He was ready to bet on it.

"No. Come and see."

Mulder got off the bed again and went to look at the screen. There was no picture, little text. The screen said: Wolverine - classified 4302, sec. 68337 code G. Government of Canada Department of National Defense Department K. Class g-7 authorization only. File code: Weapon X."

"I can't get past that," said Scully. "Not without some high-level authorization and a few phone calls. Is it worth it?"

"Not yet," said Mulder thoughtfully. "Just what is Department K?"

"I never heard of it. Let me see...." She typed some more. "Nope. You need clearance for that one. Something the Canadians aren't making public knowledge."

Mulder walked to the bed and back. "So Xavier has friends the Canadians keep in a Top Secret file. mixed up with something called Weapon X. I wonder why."

"I guess they like initials the way we like numbers. You say this guy is a friend of Professor Xavier?"

"So he said."

Scully stretched. It had been a long day. "Mulder. You really think all this is relevant?"

"How should I know? Do we have anything else?"

"Just a boy who shouldn't be dead. With fins on his arms."

"I think tomorrow we should visit the Institute for Higher Learning."

"Agreed." Scully logged off, turned off the computer.

"One more question. No, you can answer it off the top of your head. What condition causes a person to have eyeballs with no pupils and no iris?"

"In layman's terms?"

"So I can understand."

"It's called blindness."

"No, this woman can see fine. She looked at me."

"Then she has pupils. She couldn't see otherwise. Mulder, don't you ever get tired?"

He took the hint, and went to his room.

Part 2

The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, Westchester Country, New York. October 13.

The morning was crisp and clear, so the leaves rattled on the ground as they walked towards the large front doors of the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. It was an imposing building of red brick enhanced with timber. There was no ivy on the walls. It appeared to have a disconcerting combination of clean newness and venerability. "You feel more educated just looking at it," said Mulder.

Scully looked over the playing field. "I wonder where everyone is?"

As she spoke, two girls came out of one of the doors, books in their arms. One was blonde, the other dark. One said something, and the other laughed. They went indoors again.

"It doesn't look very spooky," said Scully. "We might be wasting our time here." Mulder rang the doorbell before she could stop him.

It was answered quickly by a tall, handsome man with red sunglasses. Scott Summers said, "Agent Mulder? Wolverine told us you might be dropping by. Come in."

Mulder entered, and introduced Scully. Summers' handshake was polite and firm. "You want to talk to Professor Xavier, I imagine," he said. "I don't know if we can help your investigation. We will do what we can."

They walked through a foyer of old, polished wood and a large staircase. To the right was a room of indeterminate purpose, and a closed, polished wooden door. Summers tapped. Scully looked at the bust on the table, of a bald man with a serious look. There was no name attached.

If there had been an answer to Summers' knock, they did not hear it, but Summers opened the door and held it for them. They entered.

Bald, unsmiling, unmoving, Charles Xavier's personality could be felt before he even spoke. It was the face of the bust outside: arched eyebrows, awareness in his eyes. He nodded to them. "Agent Scully. Agent Mulder. Welcome to the Xavier Institute. I understand you are investigating the murder of Mike Keenan?"

"Yes, Professor Xavier," said Scully. "There are some unusual aspects to his death that we are looking into. Did you know the boy?"

Summers stood casually behind Xavier's chair. It was not a wheelchair, strictly speaking, since it had no wheels. It seemed to be some sort of a hover apparatus. It covered his knees.

Behind the Professor, there were pictures of former students on the walls. Scott Summers appeared, always in dark glasses, or with an oddly shaped visor. Although nothing else about the school had indicated a Christian slant, one young man was in angel costume, complete with large wings. There was a young, fair girl with horns, indicating perhaps that theatricals had been a staple of the curriculum. He looked casually over them until he saw the people he was looking for, in one group photo, and then separately: the white-haired black woman, and Wolverine.

"Please sit down. No, I never met him, or, as far as I know, his family. It is a terrible thing for a child to die violently, suddenly.... alone...." His sorrow - his anger - seemed genuine. It was easy to imagine students turning to this man for help and guidance. In many ways, he was the classical image of a teacher. This might explain, thought Mulder, why Summers seemed protective, with the FBI asking questions of his former teacher - his employer now, it seemed - regarding a murder case with unpleasant implications. He tried to imagine himself feeling similar concern for some of the hardened men who had taught him at the Academy, or for Skinner. He failed.

"Have you known of any unusual happenings in the area?" asked Mulder.

Xavier considered. "The murder occurred between here and Salem Center, did it not?"

"It seems Mike was on his way home from school," said Scully.

"Any strangers in the area lately? Who is resident now at this Institute?" asked Mulder.

"Myself. My colleague, Dr. Henry McCoy, and our associates. Currently there are a larger number of people resident than usual, as the students from the Massachusetts Academy which I run are here temporarily. There are renovations being done to the Massachusetts building."

"How many people, in total?"

"Between thirty and forty at any given time."

"Might one of them have heard or seen something unusual?"

"I will make inquiries."

"Is Wolverine one of your associates?"

"A friend."

"Since we are here," asked Scully, "Might we have a tour of the school?"

"Of course. Scott?"

"We'd be happy to show you around," said Summers. He held the door and they went out, Xavier following. His wheelless chair was almost silent.

They followed, listening to Summers and Xavier by turns describing the school. The building itself had been erected in 1698, thought rebuilt several times since then, without losing the charm of the original architecture. The school sounded respectable and dull. The student body was small, so that each students' needs were individually met. It was implied, but not stated aloud, that even the poorest of students was able to achieve straight A's here.

There were study rooms, but, since the school's function had given way to that of the research institute, no classrooms. One room on the ground floor was set up with some amazing electronics. The labs, gym and equipment rooms were in a level below ground; Summers took them there readily enough, in a smooth elevator that left them both disoriented. There was a large gymnasium; an amazingly luxurious swimming pool. "All that parental expenditure?" murmured Mulder. Scully gave him a look.

Before one of the doors was a tall young man in purple, leaning against the wall. His high, buckled boots were gold and reached to the thigh. His hair was strawberry blond, tied in a waist-long pony-tail. He had a star painted - or tattooed - around his right eye. His arms were crossed on his chest. Crossed on his back were two long swords, the hilts polished to glittering. His face was expressionless, inimical. Xavier nodded to him, but did not speak or make introductions. His cold eyes followed them onto the elevator. He combined a stunning physical beauty and a silent, threatening hostility.

"MTV star," muttered Mulder, so only Scully could hear.

"Palace eunuch," she replied.

On the second floor were the private rooms - plenty to go around, it seemed. Windows overlooked the grounds. Scully paused to admire the view. The forest was in full colour, the best of autumn spreading itself before them.

"Is that where Mike Keenan died?" asked Mulder.

"Precisely," said Xavier. Scully again had the impression that there was more to his tone than regret at the murder of a young stranger, some sort of personal stake. Was he hiding something? Mulder said, "The local kids have stories about hauntings and mysterious lights after dark in this area. Do you know anything about that?"

"I thought all youngsters liked the mysterious."

"Any foundation in it?"

Xavier smiled. "We work in genetic theory, Agent Mulder. My students probably know more about ghosts than I do." As Mulder asked Xavier about the path through the woods, Scully turned to look out another of the windows, and realized they were not alone.

The blonde girl she had seen carrying books was standing there, watching them from the doorway. She smiled shily. "Hi," said Scully, going over to her.

"Hi." The girl looked a little more at ease. In jeans and T-shirt, she looked like any American teenager, prettier than some, more composed than many. "Paige Guthrie." Scully said her name and they shook hands. "Are you really an FBI agent?"

"Yes."

"How'd you get the job?"

"First I became a doctor."

"Oh, wow. A doctor and an FBI agent. I'd like to be just one of those things." To most kids, Scully said it was a lot of hard work, or that it took years of study. Looking at Paige Guthrie's animated face, she felt the echo of Mulder's words: the best and the brightest and the most beautiful. This girl could be anything she wanted, in any combination, if she worked hard enough for it. "It's a great job," confessed Scully. When they aren't trying to kill you or lie to you. "Do you like being at this school?"

"Oh, yes. Well, actually, we're usually at the school in Massachusetts. It's nicer. We're just here for a while. But I can't imagine a better school for us. You're investigating that boy in town, aren't you? The one who was killed?"

"Mike Keenan. Yes. Did you ever meet him?"

"No. We don't get much chance to meet the local kids. We're mostly too busy. Sometimes at the mall or something.... But no, I never met him."

The honesty of it was enough to make Scully turn towards Mulder. We're wasting our time, she thought: there's nothing here that will help us find out why a boy had fins. But as she turned she saw something through the window that made her thought disappear.

In the distance, past the playing field, someone was running towards the woods. At first she thought it was a small boy. But.... no. It was a figure such as she had glimpsed before, in the old mine complex in West Virginia, running. Hairless. Small. Large-eyed. Green. The memory was still unreal, but vivid, like a dream she could not shake. She blinked, but the figure was still there, running, and it disappeared into the trees.

Paige was following her gaze. "What was that?" Scully asked. At the other side of the room, Xavier was telling Mulder about the genetic studies the institute was undertaking. Long words strung in combination perhaps accounted for the politely patient expression on Mulder's face.

"What?" asked Paige. Her tone was polite, but not open. She knew what Scully had seen.

"I saw the strangest person running into the woods."

"Strange? You shouldn't judge by appearances, Agent Scully," said Paige firmly. "Some people might think you look strange. That was Leech. He's a sweet kid. Bright, too. He has some sort of skin condition that makes him look funny."

"What condition?"

"How should I know? Ask Professor Xavier. I don't like putting labels on people. Labels are odious."

Scully shook her head. "No, I'm sorry. I meant no offense. I have a professional interest. I am a doctor."

"And I'm late for class. It's been great to meet you, Dr. Scully." She ran down the stairs.

Mulder said, "What was that all about?"

"I'm not sure. I thought I saw one of your little green men."

Xavier took them back to the main hallway. They shook hands. He assured them that he would offer any assistance possible, they need only call.

They walked toward the road. "Little green man?" repeated Mulder. "Where?"

"Running into the woods. Paige - the girl - said it was a boy named Leech who has a... condition. What were his eyes like?"

"Large. I only saw him from a distance, but they were... set further back in his head than normal, and large."

"So? Is there a skin condition that would make him look like that?"

"How should I know? Let me examine him, maybe I could tell you."

"Hey, Scully, it's okay...."

"Is it. That place is weird, Mulder. They tried to act like some preppy version of Welcome Back Kotter but it didn't work. The place is rich, modern, well equipped - but for a place that must have upwards of forty people in it, where are they? We didn't see either the researchers or the students - "

"They were working. Or in class."

"Or the teacher, or the half-dozen adults, or servants to keep up the place and the grounds. It's immaculate, Mulder. Can a man in a wheelchair do that alone?"

"Hover-chair."

"What?"

"There were no wheels on the thing."

"The Professor was abstracted - "

"I'm sure Hawkings has plenty of distractions too."

"And did you notice the cameras? Lenses in the walls? The place has incredible security."

"They're the paranoid rich."

"There are strange controls in the elevator and electronic detection devices on the roof."

"You sure that isn't satellite TV? Anyway, we saw the guy with the swords."

"Right. He fit your idea of the typical genetic scientist? He might have stepped out of the World Wrestling Federation. What was he guarding in that room, anyway?"

"He wasn't. He was just hanging around. Like students do. You know, Joe Cool. The Joe Cools are into bodybuilding these days."

"You think they aren't hiding something?"

"I don't know, Scully, but it seems the worst we have is two people with dye disease and one with a skin condition. If Xavier takes in intelligent handicapped kids, it doesn't make him a murderer. It makes him a Mother Theresa!"

"Let's look at the site again," said Scully. She looked back at the Institute. Storm clouds were gathered above it, and the wind had picked up.

At the site, they sat on a log and reviewed what they knew about the fish boy and his death. It seemed very little. "I should have asked Paige if she'd heard anything about hauntings," said Scully.

"Did you hear that?"

"What?"

"I thought I heard a wolf howl."

They listened.

"I did hear a wolf howl."

"I don't think so, Mulder. In daylight? Here?"

Over the trees, a Blackbird jet rose, flew over them and disappeared.

"That was a Blackbird," said Mulder.

"From the Institute."

"Are you sure?"

"It was from that direction, that distance.... I think."

"Well provided."

"Or with friends in high places."

"In the Canadian government?"

"The Canadian government doesn't have a plane like that."

"Let's go back to the school," said Mulder. "I think I left my hat behind."

 

"Can we justify this?" asked Scully, as Mulder tapped on the door.

"I thought you were the one who was sure they weren't kosher."

"Can't prove it," she said, shivering.

It was not Summers who answered the door, but the short, dark man with flying hair that Mulder had met in the pub. He could be no one else. "We're busy," he said.

"Just a few minutes of your time," said Mulder. His foot was firmly in the doorway. "I want to ask you about Weapon X."

Whatever Wolverine was about to do or say, he changed his mind. Sighing, he held open the door. "Agent Scully," he said. "Come in. Sit down. Make yerself comfortable. Coffee?"

"Thanks," said Mulder, at the same time Scully said, "No, thanks." They glanced at each other.

Wolverine led them into a sitting room. He poured two cups of coffee, sat with an ankle propped on the opposite knee, and said, "Weapon X is ancient history. What do you want to hear?"

"What does Weapon X have to do with you? And what does it have to do with the death of Mike Keenan?

"Nothin' to do with Mike. It was a project set up by the Canadian government. They had me workin' on it, once. Long time ago." He pronounced Canadian "Canajan".

"What was Weapon X?"

"Can't talk about it."

"Even now?"

"Not now, not ever."

"Does that mean it's an ongoing project?"

"I wouldn't know. Let that job years ago." "Does it involve long-distance laser weaponry?" asked Scully.

"What is this, twenty questions? Sorry, darlin', but I've nothin' to add."

"Suppose we get clearance from the Prime Minister?"

"Then ask him about Weapon X. I don't work for them no more."

"And who do you work for?" asked Mulder softly.

Wolverine said, equally softly, "Myself." His deep voice gained in timbre as he spoke. "And I work for all the Mike Keenans of the world, who don't know what's happenin' to them or why, but they know it's a tough world and they don't know how to fight back or who to ask fer help. I work for the sake of kids who wouldn't get a chance otherwise, and who don't have much of a chance anyway, but they're goin' to get every scrap of help we can give them."

"We?"

"Me. My friends."

"Xavier."

"And others."

"You didn't know Mike Keenan."

"I don't need to. I read about him in the papers - after it happened. I've known him too often... in 'Nam, in the ghetto, in Madripoor, in places where they tie you to the stake and burn you for being what he was."

"And what we he?" asked Scully.

"A victim. An' that's bad. Kids should have a chance to be more'n victims." He paused. "I'm bein' called. Stay here."

He walked out of the room.

"Called?" repeated Scully. She had heard nothing.

"What brought that on?" asked Mulder. "Suddenly he's a preacher."

"He needs to talk," said Scully.

"I couldn't get a word out of him in the pub."

"Wrong time, wrong place."

"Are we staying here? You go right, I'll go left. Watch out for cameras."

"And men with swords," replied Scully.

"Meet here in fifteen minutes. If I'm not here, back at the car. Got it?" He was gone.

Scully, mentally shrugging, went down the right-hand corridor. She wondered what Wolverine knew, or thought he knew, about the Keenan boy. She thought she heard voices, and shouting, but when she stopped to listen, she heard nothing. Well, kids can be noisy.... If there were kids here.

She was near the elevator. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. She could always claim to have been lost. She pushed a button at random, and the doors closed. There was a stomach- churning second, and the doors opened on another level. She hadn't seen this corridor before. She tried the door opposite her. It was not locked. She opened it, and stepped in.

It was no empty. There was a blue gorilla perched on the back of a chair, peering at a computer screen as he tapped keys at top speed.

The gorilla was wearing a lab coat.

No, not a gorilla: it was too small, but much larger than a chimp. It wore tiny glasses perched on its blue nose. She saw, as it turned to her, smiling, that its large hairy bent knees were blue and furry as well. Under the lab coat, it wore black shorts with a belt. The belt buckle was designed as the X- pattern that was emblematic of Xavier's Institute.

Without warning, it somersaulted over her head, and landed between her and the door. "Dr. Scully, I presume?"

"Who are you?" blurted Scully.

"Dr, Henry McCoy." He extended a paw - a hand - and Scully hesitantly shook it. It was warm, and felt comfortingly human. "You may, if you will, call me Hank. I wanted to discuss some details of Mike Keenan's condition with you."

"You know about - "

"Only in general terms. I might have made some progress, if the boy had come to us, but he was killed before we could approach him. You have, I believe, had the opportunity to actually examine his body. I was curious about his skeletal conformation. Here, here, sit...." He held a chair by the computer console for her. She sat, gingerly. She was doing her best not to stare at his hairy blue chest and the knees that were like pom-poms. He called up a programme on the screen. "You know his lungs were full of water?"

"Yes. Drowning was not, however, the cause of death."

"No. He could breathe quite well under water." Images of blood cells appeared on the screen, and enlarged. Scully had seldom seen such precision in a monitor. The machines were unlike anything she had ever seen. So was the notation on some of the unfamiliar console keys. "Did you get the opportunity for a genetic analysis?"

"I sent cell samples to the lab. I don't have results yet."

"Had you noticed anything odd?"

"Yes. Who are you? A colleague of Xavier?"

"A colleague, student and friend. Look," said McCoy, highlighting a section of screen. "This is very interesting: some of his cells have spontaneously altered so he could breathe in either a normal air situation or under water. He had become a natural amphibian."

Scully was watching McCoy, not the screen. "How do you know this?"

"I examined a blood sample, which is what you see here."

"When he was alive?"

"No. I confess, Agent Scully.... Dana? ... I took a blood sample shortly after death occurred. We found him.... too late."

"It was you who phoned the police?"

"Let's just say it was me or a friend."

"Why make it anonymous?"

He leaned back in the chair, his hands clasped behind his head, glasses twirling in one extended finger. He propped his feet against the edge of the keyboard. His toes were remarkable. "Because when you look like I do, you find it more convenient to avoid the constabulary. I would no more kill a boy like that than you would, but would the local police believe me? Knowing me to have been examining the site shortly after the boy's death? Would a jury believe me, do you think?" "

I'm not sure I do," said Scully. "You seem articulate. So explain. How did you come to be at the murder site right after the murder? How did you know about it?"

"We were trying to find him. Trying to save him. We got there... too late."

"Who?"

"Myself and my friends."

"Xavier? Summers? Wolverine?"

"I had really hoped, Doctor, to discuss the medical predicament of the deceased rather than the discovery of the body."

"Think of me as FBI first, doctor second," said Scully.

"I am, as you perhaps realize, a geneticist," said McCoy.

"Co-author of "Spectroscopy use in analysis of mutagenic signatures'."

"Among other things.... You've read it?"

"No," said Scully regretfully.

"A pity. I'd like to know your thoughts on my speculation about the electromagnetic discharge of -- No. Well. All right, then. Let me tell you about Keenan's genetic makeup." He switched the picture on the screen. "You are waiting to hear from your lab?"

"Yes."

"They should look at the formation of the blood platelets, here. You see the anomalous compound structure....."

Mulder found a number of locked doors. He wandered deeper into the mansion, cutting through the kitchen. It was empty, though it showed signs of use; someone had left a cutting board and a heel of bread on the counter, with crumbs, and a baseball cap. He found another door beyond that, which he failed to open. He took a magnetic impression of the lock with his bogus Esso credit card. Give time, he could get in. He went through an open door, which led to a library. High shelves of books, row upon row. A glance at the nearest shelf revealed science texts in German. Someone had left a Heinlein novel open on a low table.

A voice behind him said, "Why'd you come back?"

He turned, and found himself facing another student.

Paige Guthrie had fit his image of the preppy coed - blonde, elegant, strong-minded and self-possessed.

This kid was shorter and younger. Her clothes - shirt, shorts, boots in primary colours - looked like the bargain table at K-mart. She was maybe thirteen or fourteen, Asian-American, with an androgynous look that would soon transform into beauty. There were blue plastic sunglasses pushed up on her head, but her eyes, he was relieved to see, looked normal.

"There were unanswered questions," he said. She clearly knew who he was, but he showed her his badge anyway. "Agent Mulder. FBI."

"Yeah. Fox Mulder. What kind of name is Fox? I'm Jubilee. I know you're just doing your job but you'll do it better if you go after someone else."

"You're a student here?"

"I'm a friend of Logan.

"Who?"

"Wolvie. Wolverine!"

"Why is your elevator there locked?"

"The what?"

"Elevator."

"Geez. They lock it when we're not using it. THat bother you?" Mulder shook his head. "If the White Queen was here she'd been pissed. Old Frost-bite. She'd eat you alive and suck on your bones. She doesn't like government snoops." It sounded like more than a vague boast that he'd get it when the teacher came back. He had come across high school teachers, in the past, who were witches. The White Queen?

"No one does," he said. "My job doesn't endear me to everyone, but sometimes you have to find the truth."

"Truth? I'll tell you about the truth, Agent Fox Mulder. Truth is you're lost. You don't know what's goin' on or why and you're looking at us 'cause maybe we seem strange and this isn't like most other places. You can't even tell the good guys from the bad guys and you don't know where to start. The X-Men are busting their ass to destroy the Sentinels and you're back at the starting gate wondering why a high school kid had fins."

"Why did he have fins?"

"He ordered 'em from Sears. What a stupid question."

"Who are the X-Men?"

"Us. We're the X-Men. Cyclops and Wolvie an' - " She paused, a strange look coming over her face. "Oh. Sorry," she said in a small voice, as if talking to someone silent and invisible.

Mulder said, "What - " and stopped, forgetting what he was about to say. He felt a velvet touch in his mind. It was something he had felt before. Images of Samantha floating in the air. Images of men beating him, and a large room full of lights.... the sense of a place in his brain that should have been there, but was not, and never would be again.... the sense of a presence intruding in his thoughts, touching his memories, being where it had no right to be. He shouted, "No!" to the presence in his mind, and doubled over, fighting in. He could see Jubilee shouting. He heard her say, as if she was far away, "Jeannie, stop it! He knows you're there - he's freaking!"

Mulder ran. He scrambled through the kitchen and found the front door, charging down the lane without looking behind him. It was getting dark. He no longer saw the beauty of the dusky autumn or the glow of sunset over the trees. He saw Samantha, and men who beat him, and the aliens.... aliens from a long time ago.... The horror of mindwipe. Is this what Duane Barry had undergone from the probes of the aliens? Or Scully?

He leaned against the car, panting, getting a grip.

He heard Scully shouting his name. He did not respond. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to restore something of himself.... She put a hand on his shoulder and he flinched away. The sense of her words started to reach him. She was saying, "Mulder? Mulder! Are you okay? What happened?"

"Yeah, I'm okay," he gasped. She took his wrist in her hand and looked at her watch. He pulled his wrist away. "I said I'm okay!"

"You're pale and sweaty and your pulse is fast. At least sit down."

He took a deep breath. "Okay." He got into the car, behind the wheel. She sat in the passenger seat, shutting the door carefully. "No one followed you, except me. What happened?"

He leaned his arms on the steering wheel, closing his eyes. He ran his mind over the conversation with Jubilee, up to the point of psychic entry; careful, now, work through the panic -

"Mulder. Tell me about it."

He opened his eyes. "I met one of the kids. A younger one, this time... from the school in Massachusetts... Asian-American, adolescent, attitude. She said she knew we were just doing our job but we'd do it better if we went after someone else. I asked her if she was a student and she said she was a friend of Wolvie's."

"Wolvie?"

"Quote. I asked why the elevator was locked. She said they weren't using it. She said... someone... her teacher, I think.... Would be 'pissed' if she was here, presumably with me. She'd eat me alive and suck on my bones. I had the impression of a fearsome witch. I said that it was sometimes necessary to find the truth. She said...." He took another deep breath: this was where it was getting difficult. He could feel the holes in his brain, like dropped stitches, like bullet-holes in a wall. Scully was listening intently. "She said I was lost because I didn't know what I was looking at."

"True," confirmed Scully.

"True. She said I was looking at them because they were strange and the Institute wasn't like other places. She said I couldn't tell the good guys from the bad guys, and that the... the... her people were busting their ass to destroy the...."

He stopped, groping for a word that wouldn't come. Scully wryly suggested, "Evidence?"

"No. It's gone. She said we were back at the starting gate wondering why a teenager had fins. I asked why he did and she said it was a stupid question - he ordered them from Sears. Then I asked.... something else.... and someone stepped into my brain and erased memories."

"Mulder, that's ridiculous."

He made his hand into a fist, pressed it against his forehead. The horror advanced and receded. Scully said, reasonably, "You seem to remember the conversation pretty well."

"How do I know? Part of it is gone. I remember what I said, but what else? Did she dance the hunca-munca? Read Shakespeare? Stand on her head? All I know is that someone invaded my brain to take something away."

"How do you know?"

"I felt it. I've felt it before, Scully. Remember Allen's Air Force Base?"

She nodded, remembering his face when she had found him. "How did I get here?" he had asked. She said, "What happened then?"

"I ran. I wanted to get away form it. I guess it worked."

"And Jubilee?"

"She said something.... I wasn't really listening." He shut his eyes. "She said, 'Oh, sorry', as if there was someone else there listening to us. Then she said, 'Jeannie, stop. He knows you're there. He's freaking.' She was right."

"You didn't see anyone else?" "See? No."

They thought for a moment. "Jeannie," said Scully. "Jean Grey is the name of Scott Summers' wife."

Mulder nodded. Memory was not returning, but he felt calmer with distance between him and the mind-probe. "So what happened to you?"

"I met one of Xavier's colleagues. The one who helped him write 'Spectroscopy use in analysis of mutagenic signatures', Dr. Hank McCoy."

"Hank? Someone's really named Hank?"

"Why not? Henry McCoy used to be Xavier's student. He entertained himself and told her had been studying Mike Keenan since before he was killed. They knew of his physical abnormalities and were trying to ascertain their course - apparently it fits with a genetic theory of human development that Xavier is working on with Hank and Dr. Moira MacTaggert. I couldn't understand all the details without doing more reading on the subject, but it has to do with spontaneous anomalous chromosome realignment at adolescence. In other words, it seems that when he reached puberty, if became obvious that Mike was born with a genetic variation."

"He became a fish boy? A freak?"

She said patiently, "He had some genetic coding that most people don't have. McCoy called this the x-factor."

"How did they know about Mike in the first place?"

"He didn't say."

"Did he say who killed him?"

"No."

"Too bad. Or how he knew about it?"

"Hank was one of the people who found him dead. And who called the police."

"Anonymously."

"Yes, anonymously."

"And you believed his story?"

"There's something I haven't told you."

"Oh?" He gave her a suspicious sideways glance. It was dark now. Her profile was stubborn.

"I haven't told you what Dr. Henry McCoy looks like."

"A blond hunk?"

"No."

"Nerdy with glasses and lab coat?"

"Uh... well, you get two out of three there. I wouldn't say he looked nerdy, though."

"Okay: you're going to tell me there's something wrong with his eyes."

"Nope. Well, actually, he's mildly myopic - needs glasses for reading. But that isn't it."

"Well?"

"Fur, Mulder. He has blue fur. All over his body. Like a... well, like an ape. Or something. If an ape was blue."

"Blue fur."

"All over his body."

"You saw his whole body? What kind of discussion was this?"

"He wears shorts. And glasses. And a lab coat. And he can do things... he somersaulted over me. He can type with his toes."

She had, for once, silenced him. He put his forehead against the steering wheel again. When he lifted his head, he seemed less pale. "Scully," he said, "I think you had a weirder time than I did."

Part 3 Salem Center, New York.
11:21 p.m.

Back at the motel, Mulder took the laptop and modem and dialled the number he knew so well. Involving the Lone Gunmen in his cases was a risky proposition, involving give as well as take. Sometimes it was necessary. Sometimes it was more than necessary. But it worried him.

It took them half an hour to get back to him. He was dozing by then, facing a nightmare of invaded thoughts and missing moments. He sat up, clearing his head instantly, the way he sometimes did. "Well? Got anything on Weapon X?"

Frohike said, "You bet we do. Scully there?"

"No."

"Well..." He would have gone on, but Langly interrupted him. "Do you know what you're into here, Mulder? This is heavy shit."

"That much I'd guessed. If I knew more, I wouldn't need to ask you."

Byers said, "We're talking deep secret ops. Stuff that only a few people know the full story on, and that's need-to-know status."

Langly: "Scary, we're talking scary. Big time. Sabretooth. Deadpool. Crazy guys. Wolverine."

"Yeah, I met one of them."

There was a shocked silence. "Run," said Langly. "Do not walk, run. We're talking major psychos. At least, that's the rumour. Have to be, to be involved in Weapon X."

"Explain," said Mulder.

"Bio-enhancement experimentation - " said Langly.

"Mutilation of human subjects - " Frohike said at the same time.

"Hubris," said Byers. That silenced the other two. They looked at him.

"Men playing God," he explained, a little sheepishly.

"Who?" asked Mulder. "Back up guys, I'm not getting a clear story."

"The Canadian government wants to cover it up," explained Langly patiently. "It's a programme they have, under the auspices of something called Department K. Don't know where it is, or even for sure what it is, but they medically alter people to create metahuman operatives."

"Took out a guy's skeleton, they say," said Frohike. "Replaced it with some alloy."

"Either you have to be crazy to get into that programme, or they took crazies to work on. Any case, there've been hush-up scandals, a few mass killings that the truth will never be known on."

"Excuse me," said Mulder. "You're talking about Canada? That country to the north of us? Maple syrup and Wayne Gretzky?"

"Beavers," said Frohike.

"Hosers."

"Anne of Green Gables."

"G'day, eh?"

"Anne Murray and Bryan Adams."

"Snow."

"Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald."

"Molson's X."

"Right, right," interrupted Mulder, realizing that they were showing no inclination to stop. "I thought Canadians were supposed to be good guys. Undefended border, peacekeeping forces, all that."

There was a pause while they stared at him sympathetically over the electronic connection, as they might stare at an infant with brain damage.

"Okay, I get it. Covert monsters. So who is Wolverine?"

"One of those guys. One they altered somehow. He's not with the Canadians any more. Free agent."

"And Xavier?"

Silence. "No scoop on him," said Byers.

"Yeah, he's what he seems. Scientist. Bio-genetics. Hangs out with the Nobel prize crowd."

"Moira MacTaggert of Muir Island. Now, there's a babe," said Frohike. "A scientist, but a babe just the same."

"What's the connection between Wolverine and Xavier?"

They looked at each other. "Connection?"

"There's a connection?"

"I'll let you know when I figure it out," said Mulder. He thought. "Any ideas on Mike Keenan?"

"I don't know about ideas," said Byers. "But you might like to look at this week's National Enquirer. Some reporter got photographs."

"Nobody'll believe it," said Mulder. "Thanks, guys."

"Da nada," said Langly.

 

He didn't feel like sleeping. We went out, into the cool evening air. There were too many variables, too many gaps in the equation.

He drove to Graymalkin Lane. It was quiet, tonight. He parked the car near the path where Mike Keenan had died. Foolish to let himself be distracted by tangents, or by his own nightmares of missing memories. The point, the key, the important thing was a dead boy. Why kill a kid?

Because he was different. Because there were fins on his arms and back. Because he could breathe underwater.

Why kill him, for that?

And how?

Did Mike himself know what had come for him?

A lifetime's preoccupation made him aware of the sound from the sky before it was consciously audible. He got quickly out of the car, and looked up at the clear, moonlit sky. Something large was flying over the field - three shapes, in formation. Not saucers. Not oblongs. Things shaped like.... things with lights like headlights in the front, like eyes.... things shaped in roughly anthropomorphic form, but metallic. They turned in formation at a point roughly a hundred yards from where Mulder stood.

Then suddenly a wind sprang up.

One moment it was calm. The next, Mulder was grabbing the car for fear he might be swept away. In the sky above him was a man with wings, swooping - no, surely, that couldn't be right. Was he hallucinating? And a flying woman, without wings.... He heard a shout.

He turned. The girl, Jubilee, stared at him, glaring as if he had done something wrong. "You shouldn't be here!" she stormed, and raised her arms as if he had threatened her. Lights - explosions - the threw up his arms to protect himself from a barrage of weaponsfire, backing away. Something hit him from behind. His head swam, and he fell hard. The last thing he saw while falling was Wolverine standing over him, and the last thing he felt, mixed with his anger, was the pain of the blow that felled him.

 

He awoke with a headache, and it was morning. He was in his bed, in the hotel room. Someone had removed his shoes, but he still wore his coat, muddy from the grime of the road. There was a pounding in his head. No, the pounding was at the door. It took him a moment to realize the door was unlocked. "Mulder?" shouted Scully. "Are you there?"

He sat up, hurting. "Come in," he said.

She came in. "Why didn't you answer your phone? Mulder! What happened? You look terrible."

"Thanks."

"We got a call from Skinner. We're to go back to Washington."

"Why?"

"No explanation."

"Why now?"

There was no answer and no choice. They went back to Washington.

FBI HQ
Saturday, Oct 14

Mulder and Scully sat waiting to go into Skinner's office. There were several men already in there. They didn't have much to say to each other. Mulder had given Scully a curt, edited account of the events of the middle of the night. Her face had revealed nothing of her real reactions, out of kindness or incredulity. Flying creatures with lit eyes; men with wings; mysterious attacks; a weapons attack without weapons. He couldn't explain and didn't try. His head ached. He gulped aspirin and tried to get some sleep on the plane.

It was a short flight.

The door to Skinner's office opened. "In," he said, leaving it ajar. They walked in.

Mulder had changed to a clean coat but he still felt like roadkill. Scully look composed and neat. In fact, she looked downright perky. Mulder hated her. Hated Skinner more.

There were four men in the room with Skinner. Skinner sat, pen behind his ear, and glared at Mulder and Scully. The Smoking Man looked at Mulder, and smiled. Mulder felt the urge to twitch. Beside him, a small insignificant man failed to meet anyone's eye. On his other side, a beefy man with a short red hair and glasses looked at them as if they were lab specimens.

Mulder's report was brief and to the point. The death, the body, the nature of the town, the presence of the Xavier Institute, which they had visited without uncovering further evidence - he touched briefly on each event without elaboration. Scully account was equally terse, but included medical data. "I have not received a report on the blood sample I sent to the lab for DNA testing," she finished.

"No. I received it," said Skinner. He did not say, but it was understood, that no report would be arriving on Scully's desk.

The red-haired man, who had not been introduced, said, "Could you determine the nature of the appendages on the arms of the deceased?"

"No, sir."

"Have you any theories, Dr. Scully?"

She said blandly, "I feel I have not yet enough information to make a valid theory."

The red-haired man gave them a look which seemed to say: You are the best the FBI has to offer? And you haven't a clue? The look was contemptuous and victorious at the same time. Mulder thought: You smug bastard. Whose wild goose chase is this?

"Heard enough, Gyrich?" asked the Smoking Man. Gyrich nodded. He rose. "This case is closed. You'll hear from us," he said to Skinner, and the three departed without speaking further to Scully or to Mulder. Mulder stopped holding his breath.

Skinner said, "You can go." They rose. He added, to Mulder, "Her. Not you."

Mulder sat again. Scully left, and closed the door behind her.

"You weren't telling the whole truth," said Skinner.

"So what more did you want? Stories about a kid with a skin condition so he looks like a one of Duane Barry's nightmares? Stories about things that go bump in the night on the back of my head? Stories about beautiful black women with funny eyes?"

Skinner held up his hand. "No. I don't want to hear it. Go to the bottom line. What have you stumbled across?"

"Too many questions. An academic institution where one of the leading scientists has blue fur all over his body and the Headmaster has a wheelchair with no wheels."

"Is that relevant?"

"To what? To the dead boy? Probably not. What we have is a murder that may never be solved because the case is closed as soon as it opened. Whose toes did we tread on? The Canadians?"

"The what? Mulder, what does Canada have to do with this?"

"I wish I knew. Do you know about Weapon X?"

"Never heard of it."

"Department K?"

"What's that?"

"A guy named Wolverine?"

"Is this a joke?"

"I hope not. Someone is meddling with my case. Someone is meddling with my head - again. I don't like it."

Skinner met his gaze. "You want to go back."

"Easy guess. But the case is closed."

"Oh? I didn't hear myself say that." Skinner took the pen from behind his ear, tapped impatiently on the stack of papers on his desk. "Go back to Salem Center. If there's no payoff, Mulder, forget it and come back to Washington. If there is payoff... don't rock the boat too hard. Push the wrong buttons and I'll have Gyrich's goons coming down on my ass like masonry."

They were back in Salem Center by midnight. This time, Mulder had a good, long sleep on the plane and felt refreshed. It was Scully who looked travel-worn, but she wanted to waste no time. "We're here," she said. "We learn what we can. We disturbed an ant-hill somehow. We might as well find out who the ants are."

They drove in their rented car to the Xavier Institute. They sat for a moment at the roadside. Scully said, "You really think they're up to no good, don't you?"

He faced her. "You really think they're pristine pure, don't you?"

She shrugged. "I don't think they killed Mike Keenan."

"Someone did."

"Or something."

"So. We go in?"

"Mulder, this is highly irregular. Not to mention illegal."

They were in jeans and jackets, armed and ready for anything. Including shapes in the sky and blows on the head. "Go back if you like," said Mulder. "I'll pretend you didn't know what I was up to."

She answered that with a glare, and then they broke into the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.

Since Mulder had taken electronic impressions of the locks, getting inside was easy.

Dark and silent, the place was no less spooky than in daylight. They went straight to the elevator and Mulder fiddled with the controls. It wasn't straightforward; but he persuaded it to acceded the electronic code on his card.

Inside the elevator, Mulder hit one of the buttons with a strange sigil on it. "What is that?" asked Scully. "Was this thing made in Korea?"

"That's not Korean," said Mulder.

The doors opened, and they were in a corridor with strange metal doors before them. The doors were oddly shaped and marked with symbols, but there was a button marked 'open'. Mulder pushed it before Scully or common sense could stop him.

Suddenly they were in the middle of a battle.

They were out of doors, in a dimly lit city. Missiles flew over their head - they ducked into the shelter of a half-shelled building. Directly above them was a humanoid shape, hovering. The size of, perhaps, ten men, it was metallic in grey and red; its eyes shone like searchlights, and it made a low hum as it floated.

The wind whirled. Floating on the air with a swirling cape, a black woman with white hair and remarkable eyes swooped past them, deflecting the metallic giant. It boomed, TARGET: STORM and turned in swift formation.

Wolverine, in a costume of brown and yellow, leaped on the thing, punching it with his fists, sharp claws growing from his knuckles.

A sign flashed: "Intruder Alert. Intruder Alert."

"No shit, sugah," said a mellow female voice. A woman flew down to land beside Mulder and Scully. "Don't y'all move," she said, grinned, and flew away again.

"There's another one," said Mulder, his gun cocked in his hand. One of the flying robots was coming toward them. He aimed.... was about to fire.... and his gun was knocked aside by a flaming playing card.

A flash of red laser-fire knocked the gun out of his hand. He looked up as he curled himself into a ball, dodging into the shelter of the wall. The laser-fire had come from a man in a visor, the laser directly from where his eyes should be.

He looked at Scully. She had a smudge of dirt across her cheek. "Any theories?"

"About how to get out of here?"

"About where we are."

"Bosnia?"

There was an explosion in the dirt beside them. Jubilee made a three-point landing beside it, crowing. "Got 'im!" She began to climb up the wall, and disappeared over a roof.

"She's just a kid," said Scully, appalled.

"Through the looking glass," said Mulder.

"What?"

"Just thinking aloud. Watch it, the thing's coming back."

Before the robot could attack them, it was waylaid in midair by the woman in green, the one with the southern accent; a man in a trench coat; and the redhead they had seen in the wedding photo.

Scully said, "Do you think we can find the door again, and get out of here?"

"Not without my gun," said Mulder grimly. Dr. McCoy had joined the party fighting the robot in the air. He did a triple somersault, and landed neatly near where Jubilee had been. "Dana! So happy you could make the party," he said. He dodged a laser-shot that almost singed his arm, with a pratfall that turned into a back-flip. Scully said, "Hank, what is going on?"

"Sentinels," he explained, as if that made it all clear.

Since she looked baffled he said, "You hadn't figured out yet that it was a Sentinel that killed Mike Keenan?"

"Beast!" Someone shouted a warning, and a Sentinel moved above them so fast that not even McCoy could move. He was bathed in violet light. "Aw.... tarnation!" he fumed, and someone said, "End sequence."

The lights, the buildings, the smoke, the chaos disappeared.

Suddenly they were in a large empty room, a room much larger than the Xavier mansion appeared to be, but still much smaller than the outdoor environment they had been in before.

Mulder saw his gun, picked it up off the floor, reset the safety lock, and put it in his holster.

Scully looked up at a window high in the wall. She looked at the people who were standing now in front of her - eight of them, oddly dressed.

The man with the hood and the visor which covered his eyes, said, "Agent Scully. Agent Mulder. We meet again." It was Scott Summers. The red-haired woman came and stood beside them.

"Pleased to meet you," she said. "I am Jean Grey. I believe you have met my husband, and Dr. McCoy. Allow me to present Gambit, Jubilee, Rogue, Storm. and Wolverine."

The man in the trench coat had glowing red eyes.

With a snikt, Wolverine's claws disappeared.

A voice above them said, "You can handle this?"

"It's under control, Bishop," said Summers. The light in the window above went out. He added, "Sorry to scare you like that, but it seemed useful to make you part of our exercise there. We don't stop our work in the Danger Room during the middle of a sequence unless absolutely necessary."

"Danger room?" said Scully. She looked around. "How apt."

"So what do we do with them?" asked the woman in green. She nodded at Mulder and Scully. Her curling hair had a white streak down the middle of her head. Her looks were striking, almost as much so as that of the tall black woman - Storm - whose eyes looked perfectly normal. Scully glanced at Mulder, and realized that if he had said her eyes were opaque and white, they had been. "You don't need to apologize, Cyclops, as far as ah can see. They didn't exactly bring their engraved invitations."

"I think we should tell them what's going on," said Summers. "We don't need to be paranoid. They aren't with Magneto or Apocalypse, they're FBI."

"I agree, Scott," said Jean Grey. "We can work with them."

"With Feds?" The man in the trench coat moved impatiently. He had graceful lean limbs, and a long silver staff in his hand. The black gloves left two of his fingers uncovered. The eyes, glowing faintly red, looked at them as if they had crawled out from under a rock. He smiled at Scully. Not sure what to make of him, she found herself smiling back.

"They deserve the truth," said Storm. Her voice was resonant and strong.

"Ah can handle that," said Rogue. "Far as it goes." She glanced at the man in the trench coat, and frowned.

"Trut'?" He said. "Why? Why work wit' de Feds? Dangerous ground, mes amis."

"I don't like it either," said Wolverine. "Playin' with Feds is playin' their game. We don't need that."

"Why? You used to be one of them," shot back Jean.

"That's why I don't trust 'em."

The black woman said, "Not all government agents are evil, or against us."

"Non?" challenged the man with glowing eyes. Gambit. "Name one."

"Val Cooper."

"Henry Peter Gyrich? Steven Trask?"

"Nick Fury."

"He's dead."

""Zactly," said Wolverine. The claws suddenly appeared - snikt! - on his left hand, by his side. Slowly, they retracted.

"Storm! Wolverine! Gambit!" Jean silenced him. "We could argue all night and get nowhere. We have more important problems. Quick vote: what do we do with Agents Scully and Mulder? Whatever we do, we should do it fast." And why do I have the feeling, thought Mulder, that my gun would be useless here? Whatever they might decide? He set his jaw. Jean Grey continued, "I suggest we tell them what they need to know about us and about Mike Keenan."

"The Sentinels too?" asked McCoy.

"Why not? It's their business."

"Agreed," said Storm promptly.

"Agreed," said Scott.

"Absolutely," said Hank McCoy. He looked pleased.

"Fine by me," said Rogue.

"Sure," said Jubilee, shrugging.

Wolverine shrugged. "Yeah. Might as well."

They all looked at Gambit. He was lighting a cigarette. He did not use a match; didn't need to. He took a drag, let it out slowly, and looked them all over, one by one. The cigarette hung on his lip. "No way," he said.

Jean Grey said coldly, "If you're going to smoke that thing, take it outside."

The Cajun walked out of the room. The door closed decisively behind him. Jean said, "We might as well go somewhere comfortable."

"Ah'll be off, then," said Rogue. "Y'all don't need me."

Jubilee disappeared as well. The rest went to a large sitting room, with sofas, tables, a fireplace. Someone had been in the middle of a game of cards on one of the tables. Scott Summers leaned against a wall, his arms crossed as they had been in Xavier's room. His costume of gold-trimmed blue spandex made him seem larger than he had appeared in street clothes yesterday. On his shoulder was the red and black X of the Institute. His wife, in a costume of mellow gold, put her hand on his shoulder for a moment, and then turned back to Mulder and Scully. Mulder noticed that there was no longer a smudge on Scully's cheek. The illusions of the Danger Room were gone.

Wolverine sat on the edge of a chair, his elbows on his knees. Storm sat casually in a lone chair, her knees drawn up. McCoy stood by the fireplace. Mulder noticed that he had fangs. Scully hadn't mentioned that.

Jean Grey said to Mulder, "I owe you an apology. "I tampered with your consciousness without asking your consent. I did not think you would detect me, but you did. Whether or not your were trespassing, whether or not you were a threat to us, I should not have done that.:

Mulder's eyes held no compromise. "You stole something from me. Give back what you took."

She smiled slightly. "I will. I will do it in words, not to make my error worse yet. I took three words from you, Mr. Mulder. The first was the White Queen, a reference to a teacher employed at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. Her name is Emma Frost. The second was X-Men. We are the X-Men. The third word was Sentinels. A Sentinel killed Mike Keenan."

The words fit, like pieces into a jigsaw puzzle. "Thank you," said Mulder. He sat down on the sofa beside Scully.

"Would you like something to drink?"

"Coffee," said Scully gratefully. Mulder shook his head. He watched as a movement caught his eye. A coffee pot, sitting on a hot plate, lifted of its own accord and poured hot coffee into a cup. "Cream and sugar?" asked Jean Grey, and Scully nodded. Cream and a teaspoon of sugar were delicately put into the cup by an invisible hand. The cup then floated across the room to Scully. She was watching with a faintly glazed expression. Mulder couldn't help thinking of Beauty and the Beast.

Not a drop was spilled. Scully took the cup with outward calm. "Thank you," she said, and took a sip.

Jean Grey said, "I was able to pour your coffee without touching it because I have a high degree of telekinesis as well as telepathy. We all attended Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters because we are all gifted - or cursed - with special abilities. Together here we learned to use these abilities to the best advantage, and to defend ourselves against forces that would destroy us."

"Isn't that a little paranoid?" asked Scully.

"Oh, no!" Jean Grey's expression hardened. "Just look at Mike Keenan if you doubt the stakes involved. He was a child, Dr. Scully, and they killed him for the crime of being different. For being like us. For being a mutant."

"A mutant," said Scully.

"A person with special skills which appear at puberty."

"Like telekinesis?"

"Or gymnastic ability, in Hank's case. Optic plasma beams, in the case of my husband. Storm has psionic control of weather patterns. Wolverine has a healing factor."

"And claws," said Mulder.

"Yes. Mike Keenan was able to breathe under water. We knew about him - we try to trace such people - we knew about him a full week before he died. We meant to talk to him, to bring him into the school where he could find friends who would accept him as he was. So he could accept himself. Where he could be free from the hostility people show to those who are different."

"He was difficult to approach," said Scott, taking up the story. "He kept to himself - his reaction to the changes taking place in his body was to become reclusive. We did not want to approach his parents without talking to him first, but we saw no opening. He hadn't even told his parents what was happening to him. Sometimes kids react that way. What would they think if we had gone to them first? Strangers telling them their kid was a freak?"

"So we waited," said Wolverine. "Bad idea, now, but we didn't know that. He was scared. We knew that. We meant to catch him on the way home, tell him we knew what he was goin' though, that we could help."

"We thought Paige might make the first contact," said Jean. "She's quite pretty, and not much older than he was."

"I didn't work," said Wolverine. "We were too cautious. Too blamed careful. The Sentinels got to him first."

"We saw the Sentinel leave," said Scott. "We were a mile away still. We went to the area, and found him already dead. Dead maybe ten minutes. If we'd been ten minutes earlier....."

In the silence following the remark there was a quiet 'snikt'. Scully stared at Wolverine's hands in fascination. Storm put her hand on his. He retracted the claws without comment or apology.

"We took blood samples," said McCoy. "We did tests. The boy was perfectly healthy, Dr. Scully. He was simply a victim of his own genes and the destruction by a Sentinel."

"What are the Sentinels?" asked Scully. "Who is behind them?"

"The sort of people who think giant killer robots are a progressive step," said Jean Grey. "Originally, a man named Trask. Now - we don't know. Originally it was a government project. We suspect there is still covert government involvement from at least one agency. We can't prove it."

"If we knew who," said Wolverine, "We could do somethin' about it. As it is - we fight as best we can."

"Sentinels are humanoid constructs with one purpose only," said Storm. "To kill mutants. They do it well."

"Giant robots," said Scully again.

Jean Grey said, "They have reprogrammable capabilities and are relentless in their hunt. The only way to stop a Sentinel is to destroy it. We have learned how to destroy them. We can do it.

"Mike Keenan didn't know how. He didn't even know what a Sentinel was."

"Ten minutes too late," said Wolverine.

"So we called the police. That's it. The whole story."

Scully said, "Who would have resources like that? Who would want to use them against you?"

Hank McCoy said, "We were hoping that you might have some ideas about that."

"Why did the Sentinel go after the kid?" said Mulder. "Wouldn't it make more sense to go after you?"

"The bigger target?" Storm nodded. "Make no mistake, Mr. Mulder, they have gone after us and they will do so again. But that night, they found Mike Keenan, and he was an easier target."

"One of our more outstanding failures," said McCoy.

The door slammed open, almost scaring Scully into dropping her cup. The large black man called Bishop stood in the doorway with a massive gun. "The Sentinels are about to attack," he said. "Move!"

The others were on the move as soon as he finished talking. Jean Grey said quickly, "You will be safest if you drive away. They do not pursue humans." Then she too was gone.

Scully and Mulder went back to their car. It was parked as they left it, hours earlier, at the roadside. It was almost dawn now. They stood by the vehicle, looking back at the mansion, watching the pink and blue of the sky slowly become lighter over the stately roofs. "Do you think they were telling the truth?" asked Mulder.

"I don't know what to think. But I know what I saw."

"Blue fur," said Mulder. He shook his head.

Beyond the mansion, they saw a crack of thunder in a otherwise clear sky. "Storm?" said Scully.

Mulder shrugged. He said, "There's the kid you mentioned. Leech."

The boy was walking purposefully across the grounds. As they watched, a Sentinel loomed out from among the trees.

The boy, walking the other direction, had not seen it. But it certainly had seen him.

Mulder pulled out his gun, as futile as a spitball against a machine of that mass. He shouted, "Leech!" and the child looked up, with big eyes in a strange alien face. The child looked at him, not at the Sentinel.

Mulder ran.

He crossed the lawn and tackled the boy. He heard gunshots behind him - Scully was shooting at the Sentinel. He covered the boy with his body, hoping that if the Sentinel had to go through him to get the child, it might turn away. It was created by humans, was it not? To kill mutants? In which case, killing humans was perhaps not in its programming. In which case, it was possible even that the Sentinel could not detect the boy through his body.

He heard the movement of air as the Sentinel passed over him, a whoosh that made his ears pop.

Then he heard shots, the clap of thunder, and an explosion.

A hand touched his shoulder. "S'okay, bub. You can get up now. Hey, Leech, that you under there?"

"Logan!" said the boy, smiling a toothy smile as he picked himself off the ground.

On the ground, like a damaged and unsightly whale, a Sentinel lay half ripped open by lightning, telekinesis, optical plasma bolts, big guns, and whatever else it might have taken.

Storm ran and gave the boy a hug. She looked over his head at Mulder, smiling the loveliest of smiles. "Thank you, Fox Mulder. For what you have done for us... no thanks could be too great."

"It was nothing," said Mulder. The kid was sort of cute, once you started to get used to him. As for the woman.... he felt a brief pang of envy for the kid she was hugging. Some guys had all the luck.

Scully, beside Mulder, said, "You okay?"

"Yeah."

"You look exhausted. I think we should go back to the hotel and get some sleep."

Mulder nodded. He said, "Scully?"

"What?"

"Do you ever get the feeling that your life is really quite routine and dull compared to some?"

"No," said Scully.

They started back to the road. Behind them, Scott Summers - Cyclops - said, "Agent Mulder? Agent Scully?"

They stopped. He came up to them. "I don't know what will happen now," he said. "Life goes on, one way or another. I just wanted to say.... Thanks." He put a hand, for a moment, on Mulder's shoulder. He nodded to Scully.

Then he walked back into the house.

"Da nada," said Mulder, watching him go.

- End -

-- Namaste,
Elizabeth --

[email protected] -- Ottawa, Canada --