The N-Files Disclaimer:

Rattling off the credits so I don't get killed--"The X-Files" belongs to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. The cartoon "Captain N: The Game Master" should belong to DIC. Mark Moore came up with Stacey and Romeo's last names, Julius' name, and Kevin's parents. Steve Cronen came up with Det. Walker's name. Deepest apologies go out to James Cameron for mentions and ripping off of the Terminator films. The mention of "Dakota Jones" comes from a fanfic by Christine Morgan. Kelly Keene came out of my own warped imagination.

If you don't remember Captain N from Saturday mornings in '89, go to The Captain N Network for a refresher course. I really don't explain a lot of it here. Also, this is my first foray into fanfic for both series, but the idea wouldn't leave me alone. So I admit that I may have screwed up. Sunday and Friday nights are not great TV nights for me and have never been.

Timeline--For Captain N, right before the series ender. It was supposed to be the first season of X-Files, but then I was persuaded to write Skinner back in, and had to yank continuity to make it in 1992 to fit the premise. Actually, I've messed with continuity a lot here for the sake of humor. Plenty of language, but nothing worse than a PG-13. Yet more apologies to anybody living in Northridge, CA; most of the locations mentioned don't really exist at all, but they're there for convenience.

Scared yet? Well, send me feedback! Write me to tell me you read this thing! And enjoy!

The N-Files
by : Amanda Ohlin

Northridge, California
October 14, 1992
2:45 P.M.

There seemed to be a dull thudding at the back of his brain; it reverberated through his skull, settling into a steady rhythm as he drifted towards consciousness. Sensation returned, and the sound asserted itself as a mechanical beep, seemingly far away.

Kevin Keene opened his eyes, and immediately closed them again at the bright lights above him. He squinted, blinked a few times, and finally the brilliant blur solidified into the white walls and ceiling of a hospital room. As he recognized it, he started in surprise. What was he doing in the hospital?

He tried to sit up, but changed his mind as he realized how tired he felt. Not only that, his head felt as though it had been used for a punching bag. Confused, he turned his head, spotting a figure asleep in a nearby chair. At first, he didn't recognize her, but as she stirred, it dawned on him. "Kelly? That you?" he croaked hoarsely, wishing for a glass of water.

"Hmm?" She lifted her head, peering at him with sleep-glazed eyes. Then it dawned on her. "Kevin??" In her excitement, she shot straight up a few inches, immediately hitting her head on a small shelf above her. "Ow! Damn!"

Despite himself, Kevin managed a low laugh. That was definitely Kelly. "Watch your head, Squirrel."

"Oh, very funny." She finished rubbing her head, and pulled up a chair beside him. "How are you feeling? Everything intact?"

Kevin shrugged. "Ten fingers, ten toes, I think I'm all here." He trailed off, staring at his sister. It was definitely Kelly Keene staring at him, but yet it wasn't the same little sister who continually broke into his room to try to beat his video game scores. She didn't look little at all; she actually looked older. It was like looking at an eighth grade picture of someone and then seeing their high school senior photograph.

She noticed the strange look on his face. "What? What's wrong?"

"How long have I been out?" Kevin asked. "Why are your braces gone, and what the hell just happened?"

Someone at the door cleared his throat. Kelly and Kevin turned to see two figures standing in the doorway, one in a white coat and the other in jeans and sweater. Kelly immediately looked guilty. "Oh. I forgot to tell you. He's awake."

"Thanks for the notice," Ned Keene said sarcastically, reaching over to ruffle her hair and taking a seat on the other side of his son's bed. "How you doing?"

"I think my head's going to explode," Kevin groaned. "Where's Mom?"

"Stuck in traffic and going out of her mind, last time I heard," his dad answered. "It figures the day you finally decide to show up, she has to be out of town on business."

Confused, Kevin blinked a few times, his gaze shifting to the doctor. "Hey, Dr. Richards." At least his father and the doctor looked normal enough; Kevin remembered the man from previous trips to the hospital. Although he didn't know when his dad had decided to grow a mustache.

Richards smiled and nodded. "Kevin, it's good to see you again." He checked his clipboard. "Actually, you're in much better shape than we feared. I think if nothing untoward happens, you should be back home in a couple of days." A frown crossed his face. "At least those idiots from the news station have the sense to stay out of the recovery wing."

Kevin shook his head. "News station? This is too weird. Can someone tell me how many years I've been in a coma? What's going on?"

The doctor, Kelly, and Ned exchanged glances. "Kevin," Ned said quietly, "you've only been out at least a day or so. That is, it's been a day since we found you."

"Found me? Where was I?"

Something occurred to Kelly. "Kev, the last time you checked, what was the date?"

That was not a question he'd been expecting. "Um.....September 9th, 1989."

Kelly gaped, staring at the other two. "1989? Holy sh--" She broke off at Ned's stare. "Never mind."

A chill ran up Kevin's spine as his father, sister, and doctor stared at each other. "What's the date?" No one answered, and Kevin spoke through gritted teeth. "What's today's date??"

"October 14th," Dr. Richards finally answered. "1992."

Kevin couldn't even think of a response.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, DC
October 15
9:15 a.m.

When Dana Scully came into the office she and her partner shared, one glance at the look on Mulder's face made her want to turn around, go home, and crawl back into bed. She had learned to recognize that expression; it usually signaled a wild goose chase after the paranormal, or worse, an omen of an upcoming case from hell. To add to her suspicions, he was deeply engrossed in a series of newspaper clippings and reports, oblivious even to the bag of sunflower seeds by his elbow.

This was going to be trouble.

"All right, Mulder," she said, setting her bag on a chair. "What is it this time? I'd like to get this over with today."

Fox Mulder looked up, confused, then grinned. Obviously, he had learned to recognize her expressions as well. "A little incident in Northridge, California," he answered. "September of 1989, a fifteen-year-old kid named Kevin Keene, and apparently his dog, vanished without a trace. And I do mean without a trace." He shook a sheet of police reports at Scully, who snatched them up.

"No forced entry, no sign of actual exit or entry from the room," she murmured. "Last person to see him was his sister, who testified to his locking the door and not coming out."

Mulder grinned. "Picture this, Scully. The sister became tired of banging on the door and sulked in the stairwell. She never lost sight of the door. Then the kid started playing video games and tuning out his mother, who began yelling at him to clean his room."

"And let me guess, he didn't," Scully said blandly. "Fascinating."

"I'm not done yet. The Keene house--and only the Keene house; none of the other residences on the block had any problems--experienced a brownout at that time, and then some sort of power surge occurred. The sister apparently heard her brother yelling and the dog barking right at the same time, then the brownout ended just as the sounds ceased." Mulder had stood up and was pacing excitedly as he spoke. "When the mother and sister came up to check, both Kevin and the dog were gone."

"So? He could have climbed out the window."

"Scully, look at the report. The window was locked shut, on the inside. The room took some minor structural damage as well. That's not a runaway, and it's not your run-of-the-mill kidnapper."

She sighed. "It's also a three-year-old file."

"Not since two days ago," Mulder added. "Guess who suddenly turned up three blocks from his house. In the same clothes he disappeared in, with the same dog. And absolutely no memory of the three years he lost."

He looked like a kid at Christmas, and Scully decided to burst his bubble. "Mulder, what does that have to do with anything? I know what you're thinking, but you can't go in there expecting another Billy Miles."

"So you admit that really did happen."

"Mulder--" She broke off, biting back what she was about to say. It was too early in the day to get into an all-out shouting match with her partner. "All I'm saying," she finally said, sitting down across from him, "is that lately the Bureau hasn't had the X-Files division as a high priority. So far, everything we've had to investigate involves a recent crime, an immediate problem. Not to mention less than seven states away from D.C."

Mulder frowned, letting some of her meaning penetrate. "Scully, there is something to this. I know it."

"Maybe there is," she answered after a moment. "You can bring it up to Skinner if you like, and see what he has to say." Scully sat down, still holding the reports."But I have the feeling it's going to take a miracle to get them to fly us down there. And trust me, it probably won't be first class if they do."

He grinned anyway as she continued to scan the reports. "So you want me to drive?"

October 20
Northridge High School
10:45 p.m.

"Oh, *wow,*" Angela Driscoll slurred as she staggered across the deserted football field, trailing after her friend. "Brian, wait up! You're going too damn fast!"

"That's because you're too damn smashed, Angie!" she heard him shout from the shadows ahead of her. "Go home already!"

She giggled and tried to move faster. "Hell no! I'm not walking home this late, and you're the one with the car! Get your ass back here and drive me home now!"

Suddenly, he was there beside her, supporting her. "Go back to the car and wait for me, then. I told you, I gotta check this out. T.J. Walker said his dad saw these weird blue lights out here last night. You know, Detective Walker? Who doesn't drink?"

"Shut up. I'm coming with you."

"Go back to the car, Angie." With that, she shoved her in the direction of his car and jogged down the field towards the line of trees. Angela glanced back towards the car, then towards the trees, and followed him, a bit steadier and faster than before.

As she reached the trees, she looked around. No sign of him. "Bri?" No answer. "Come on, this isn't funny!" Still no answer. "Brian Mitchell, if you don't show yourself, I'm going to call my brother and get him to whip your ass, you hear me?"

Another silence, then she saw a shadow move. "Jerk," she muttered, stumbling towards the sound. "Brian, you really don't know how to treat a--"

She was cut off by a blood-curdling scream. Then silence. "Bri?" she whispered. There was no answer. Cautiously, she moved forward. "Brian? Are you there?"

Her question was answered as she nearly tripped over the body in the bushes. Covering her mouth in horror, she turned away only to face yet another shadow. Only this one was no shadow.

And it gave her no time to scream.

October 25
Downtown Northridge
9:30 a.m.

The rented sedan pulled up to the curb beside the vacant lot. At the moment, the lot could hardly be termed "vacant," not with the swarms of police and reporters moving to and fro. As she stepped out, Scully made a face at the number of news vans pulling up. "Great. This is only going to make things harder."

Mulder glanced around, surprised rather than annoyed at the number. "There must not be a lot of sensational stories around here."

"If you call this sensational," a voice behind him spoke up, "I sure as hell don't want to see what you consider depressing." Mulder turned to face the speaker, a man in his late forties, African-American, and, Scully couldn't help but notice, built like a tank. He was a few inches taller than her partner, and several inches broader.

Mulder pulled out his badge, and Scully did the same, trying to hide her amusement. "Agent Fox Mulder. This is Agent Dana Scully."

"FBI," the man finished, looking mildly impressed. "Finally. I was hoping you weren't part of the circus there." He whipped out his own badge and put it away. "Miles Walker. I'm supposed to be in charge of this investigation." He jerked his head towards the camera crews.

Scully nodded as she and Mulder shook hands with him in turn. "Detective Walker, isn't it? We spoke on the phone."

"Right after we racked up homicide number five," Walker sighed, gesturing them to follow him. "In the past five days, we've lost four kids."

"And you think it's the same killer," Mulder added.

Walker nodded as they approached the blockade and were waved through. "Pretty much the same MO, not to mention too close together to be random killings. Besides, relatively speaking, this isn't much of a high-crime area, even this close to L.A. The past few months, things have been almost peaceful, and now this."

"What do you mean by the same M.O, exactly?" Scully asked as they approached the crime scene. For answer, Walker gestured towards the body in the dirt.

The boy couldn't be any older than fifteen or sixteen, a skinny Caucasian male with dark brown hair and green eyes. There wasn't much else of great detail about him that was left, save for the bright red letter jacket he was wearing. "My God," she whispered, staring at the gashes. The teen's lower midsection was slashed open, right at the belt line. Oddly enough, despite the blood that covered him, thatwas the only major knife wound, with one exception. Where once the kid had a right hand, there was only a stump.

For a moment, Mulder looked like he was considering going vegetarian. "The hand and the midsection? Same with every one?"

"Goes for the right hand first, then always the waist." The police detective grimaced. "Then the psycho actually kills the kid." Walker shuddered. "Damn, it's driving me nuts. I keep thinking that the next kid's going to be one of my boys."

"I'll definitely need to do an autopsy," Scully said. "Detective, has the killer left any clues behind? Fingerprints, hair, debris?"

Walker blinked. "Debris?"

"Certain fabrics, even animal hair or feathers?" Mulder suggested. "We may not be dealing with an isolated individual, Detective. There have been cases of underground cults, occult and voudoun practitioners, being found responsible for what investigators originally believed to be the work of a serial killer."

Sighing, Walker shook his head and motioned to one of his officers. "I'll talk to the Chief about getting clearance for the autopsy. In the meantime, I'm guessing you two are going to want to be updated." He cast a glance at the reporters skulking around behind the police blockade. "After we get this mess cleared out, how does a cup of coffee sound?"

Northridge Police Department
10:15 a.m.

Police Chief Wilson scanned the reports as Walker spoke, not even looking at the detective. Mulder and Scully exchanged glances, unsure what he would do. It turned out that Walker had called them in almost entirely on his own, with only a reluctant agreement from the chief.

So it was a surprise when Wilson finally looked up and answered. "Agent Scully, you can go right ahead. Anything you can pick up on that we haven't would be a big help."

Walker stopped in mid-sentence, shocked. Apparently, he was not used to getting what he wanted from the gruff police chief. "You're serious, sir?"

"I don't see why not," Wilson answered, scribbling a number on a piece of scrap paper and handing it to her. "Talk to Max Farrell; with all the media attention this has been getting, he might appreciate the help."

"I'd like to accompany Detective Walker for this investigation," Mulder added. "We may be able to put a profile of the killer together with the reports."

"Fine, fine." Wilson waved a hand dismissively. "Sorry to rush you folks out of here, but it's been a madhouse. You may be used to crimes like this, but here it's rare. Tends to scare people."

Walker got the hint and put a hand on Mulder's coat, nudging the agent out of the office. "That's our cue to leave," he murmured. Scully smiled at that as she turned and followed the two men out the door.

The door slammed shut, giving way to a brief silence before Wilson spoke to the air. "I really don't see the point of this. How is letting those two in helping at all?"

"Whether they know it or not," the empty room answered, "Agents Mulder and Scully will be a great help to us." A middle-aged man in a dark coat stepped out from behind the file cabinet; the office was too small for him to hide in the shadows as he usually did. "They'll do all the investigating for us on this one."

Wilson scowled. "I'm sorry, sir, but I just don't like it. Especially Agent Mulder."

"Agent Mulder has come close to the truth several times." A puff of cigarette smoke filled the air. "I hope he does."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"This time, it's not our secret he's uncovering."

Pete's Pizza Shack
10:30 a.m.

"This is my kind of breakfast!" Romeo Roberts exclaimed happily as the large pepperoni pizza was carefully down at their table. "Stace, you are awesome!"

Stacey Anderson giggled and plopped down beside Kevin. "Like, forget it, Romeo. You still gotta pay your tab."

"Hey, your dad owns the place, he won't care!" Romeo reached for the pizza, only to have Kelly slap his hand away.

"Dork! You eat pizza 24-7! Besides, Stacey made this possible, she gets to serve."

Romeo pouted, and the other three laughed as Stacey reached over and slowly lifted a piece from the pan, trying to keep the cheese from sliding off as she plopped it on a plate and handed it to Kevin. "The guest of honor gets the first piece."

"I'm hurt," Romeo moaned, clutching his chest. Kevin and Stacey laughed as Kelly stuck her tongue out at him. Kevin wondered when Romeo had become such a joker.

He shrugged it off and reached for the slice. "Maybe next time, man. This looks great!"

Stacey giggled as the rest of the group reached for a slice and Kevin dug in. "Kevy! You look like you haven't had pizza in years!"

He stopped, looking thoughtful. "Maybe I haven't. I don't know."

The happy mood suddenly sobered at that. "So you really don't remember anything?" Romeo asked.

Kevin sighed. "Dude, it's like this. I'm playing Nintendo in my room, doing really badly at Punch-Out, and the next thing I know, I wake up in the hospital three years older. I don't remember anything in between."

"That sucks," Romeo said. Kelly glared at him, and he cringed. "Don't let her kick me!"

That brought on a fresh wave of laughter. As much as Romeo annoyed Kelly, it was good to have him along. She pretended to look hurt, but dissolved into giggles as Romeo reached behind her and tried to tickle her. Having nowhere to go, she was stuck, and the giggling changed to a high-pitched squeaking sound, a cross between giggling and hyperventilating. Kevin grinned as he recognized it. "Uh-oh, the squirrel's back!"

"Stop--calling--me--that!" Kelly gasped, managing to flick some of her soda at Romeo's face. Surprised, he stopped, giving Stacey the opportunity to join in, and retaliated. It would have turned into all-out war if Duke hadn't poked his head out from under the table and barked at them.

"Who made you the den mother?" Romeo asked the dog. Duke just whined, and they abandoned the flicking fight as abruptly as it had begun.

"So where's Rick, anyway?" Kevin asked, changing the subject. "I thought you guys were both home on break."

"He's around," Kelly put in. "Said he was going to be running late or something." As she spoke, Duke lifted his head, ears cocked. Without warning, the dog jumped up and zipped out from his cave of tennis shoes, barking loudly. "Duke! Hey, come back here!"

"You've gotta get that dog on a leash," Romeo said, but Duke didn't dash out the door. It wasn't possible to get around the figure standing in the doorway, a well-built young black man who grinned as he reached down to pet the excited dog. "Yo, Rick! Over here!"

Rick Walker pretended to be anxiously scanning the otherwise empty pizza joint. "It's too crowded in here! Where are you?"

"Like, duh, Rick, we're over here!" Stacey laughed as Rick followed Duke back to their table. The dog had an almost pleased look as he scuttled back into the warm dark cave of the table and promptly flopped back down on Kevin's feet.

"Hey, Keene!" Rick broke into a big grin as he reached over to high-five Kevin, who was flanked on both sides by Stacey and Kelly, and weighted down by Duke. "How you doin'?"

Kevin glanced around. "Not too bad. Move over, guys, will you?" They obeyed, until Rick was finally able to scoot in next to Romeo. "How come you're late?"

Rick's smile faded. "Dad got called in early this morning. Didn't say why, but I think I know. The psycho strikes again."

"What?" Stacey turned white as a sheet. "Who?"

"Probably someone else from Northridge High," Rick muttered. "Always is. It's becoming dangerous to wear your letter jacket around nowadays."

There was a long, grim silence that followed. Romeo shook himself and turned to Stacey, changing the subject yet again. "Hey, can you turn on the arcade games?"

"Like, yeah! Great idea!" Stacey literally bounced out of the seat, and was followed by the rest of the group towards the machines, Duke trailing behind.

Kevin was looking curiously at the number of games he didn't recognize as Stacey ran around finding plugs and flipping switches. "You think we should ask your dad?"

"He's cooking," Stacey answered, gesturing towards the kitchen doors. "Nobody interrupts Dad when he's cooking, you know?"

"Some things never change," Kevin joked as Rick headed towards the machines. He started as he realized that one of them was a machine for Mega Man 4. "Hey, when'd they start putting this on arcade machines?"

Stacey shrugged. "Like, I dunno. I think Dad got a deal from Uncle Ralph. He works for Capcom, you know?" she added as Rick reached into his jacket pocket.

He pulled out a handful of quarters. "Wanna play? See who can make it the longest on one game."

Kevin blinked. "I don't know, man. I've never played this one."

"Like we have much experience, Kev," Kelly said as she pushed past him to stand beside Rick. "It's kind of a new game anyway, and I only got a hold of it a few weeks ago."

"Well--" He trailed off, pretending to be indecisive. "All right!"

Within five minutes, all three of them were completely absorbed in the game, tuning out everything around them. Rick went first, going through Flash Man and getting halfway through Pharaoh Man's stage. Kelly got almost as far, dying about a screen before Rick had. But Kevin, who had never even seen the machine before, was way ahead of the other two, beating Pharaoh Man and moving on.

Romeo leaned over to Stacey. "Whoa. Some things really don't change."

"I guess," Stacey muttered. For some reason, it bothered her. "But, for someone who's totally three years out of practice, he's too good!"

Duke just looked knowingly at all of them.

Police Department
12:30 p.m.

"So the victims are all high school students," Scully said as Mulder and Walker looked over the reports and photos tacked to the wall.

Mulder nodded. "Young white males, between the ages of 15 and 17." He paused at one of the photographs. "The only exception is the second victim, female, Caucasian, age 16."

"Angela Driscoll," Walker said sadly, putting down the plastic coffee cup. It turned out his idea of getting a cup of coffee usually meant the nearest convenience store. "Found her with Brian Mitchell in the woods behind the athletic field." He sighed. "I feel sort of responsible for those two."

"Responsible? Why?" Scully looked up from the report, surprised.

Walker looked at the floor. "Night before the murders started, I was passing by on the way home, and saw this blue light show going on behind the trees. It ended pretty quickly, and nothing happened, so I didn't report it. Figured it was a bunch of kids getting geared up for Halloween." His brow furrowed. "I made the mistake of telling my younger son, T.J., the UFO fanatic in our family."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Scully asked, acutely aware of the light shining in Mulder's eyes. Oh, no, here we go again!

His face was dark with sorrow as he turned to her. "Brian Mitchell was one of T.J's best friends. And an even worse UFO nut than my son. If I hadn't told him in the first place--"

Mulder finished for him. "The killer would have got someone else, Detective. You aren't responsible for the murders." He turned back to the wall. "It seems that Miss Driscoll was the only victim not fitting the wound patterns on every other student."

"Fatal damage to her spinal column, internal bleeding and broken ribs, but no knife wounds," Scully read. "She was just killed right there. Violently, but almost as an afterthought."

Walker nodded, regaining his composure. "That's what I noticed too. The evidence seems to point towards her not being the intended target. She probably came after the fact and paid for it." He still wasn't able to hide the anger in his voice. "Other than her, the rest fit a pattern."

Studying the photos, Scully stopped. "It's even evident in the clothing. All five kids, including Angela, are wearing the same letter jacket."

"All Northridge students," Walker added. "They're considering it a curse around town to be seen in the letter jackets now."

"I can see why."

Mulder was focusing on the profiles of the students. Similar physically, dark hair, blue or green eyes, interests... "Huh. Scully, check this out. Our killer must be at least keeping tabs on the students." He pointed to several bits of information. "All three boys were on the varsity swim team. And all four were members of this school gaming club." He turned to Walker. "What, do you have their life stories up here?"

"Everything we could get," Walker said. "There's a general bloodlust for this killer by now. Parents are willing to donate any information they can that would prove helpful." He paused and looked where Mulder was pointing. "You're right, though."

Scully frowned. "How could he know? Could it be another student? A teacher?" She paused. "Has anything odd happened that could connect to these murders?"

She immediately regretted it. "Detective," Mulder said, "can you pull up a report on Kevin Keene?"

"Oh no," Scully murmured.

It watched the people strolling down the sidewalks casually, oblivious to the danger only a few feet away. Were it capable of passion, there might have been hunger in its gaze. But the artificial eyes were cold, calculating, like the sensors behind them.

Each person that passed was scanned and weighed against its slowly reorganizing profile in its memory banks. The difference in physics between this universe and its own left the picture muddled, two-dimensional. But after a day or two, it was functioning properly; perhaps it had reached peak performance.

Which also would mean that there was nowhere to go but down. Its mission was to hunt down and kill, and that was all. It was not receiving instructions from its creator; it had been found and only partially repaired after nearly being destroyed by an older model. Within three or four days the malfunctions would be too numerous to ignore.

But at the moment, all its systems were at peak performance. There was not much time left to locate its target, and its disguise was still holding, as long as it did not come out in full daylight. According to its calculations, it would only take a maximum of 36 hours to locate the target.

Wily would be very pleased.

Northridge High School
1:00 p.m.

"This is the place," Walker announced as the two men turned down a footpath in the strip of forest behind the athletic fields. "I almost missed it; things look different when there isn't a swarm of reporters getting in the way."

Mulder nodded, only half paying attention. His mind was busy with the amount of coincidences that had gone on in the past few days. As Scully had predicted, he couldn't get authorization to investigate for some reason. Instead, they had been assigned to a kidnapping case in Chicago, which for once had been straightforward--the kidnapper was caught two days later. It was almost laughable. Almost as if he was being kept busy to keep him away from the Keene case.

Then Detective Walker had contacted the FBI about a homicide case in California. At first he didn't get much response, but after the third murder, Skinner had called them in and handed them the case report, along with two coach tickets to Los Angeles. Scully had been right about one thing--the Bureau wasn't going to pay for first class.

And by some strange twist of fate, the case he'd been itching to investigate was right before him. Sort of.

Scully was still trying to get clearance for the autopsy, which wasn't easy with the reporters hovering around the station. When Mulder and Walker had left her, she was figuring out a strategic plan with the coroner on how to get past the fanatics and when a good time to schedule the autopsy would be. When Mulder had commented on the unbelievable media circus, Walker's only comment was, "It's the Valley. Go figure."

He knelt next to Walker, examining the earth. After three days, the signs of struggle were still visible; the soil, untouched by rain, had dried and hardened the imprints. There was nothing special that Mulder could see, aside from the fact that it had been over with swiftly. His gaze turned to the set of tracks that probably belonged to the killer; they were the only footprints without any pattern at all, as if the soles of his shoes were completely flat. "These look like they were made this morning. I would have expected most of this to be covered over by now."

"We've had it marked off for a few days," Walker answered. "Besides, superstition is running rampant about this neck of the woods. No one's brave enough to try to cross through here if they can help it, not so close to Halloween."

Mulder turned back to the smooth set of footprints, skirting the scuffed-up earth so as not to disturb the evidence. "Detective. These prints--they don't have a source. They just started in the middle of the dirt here."

"What's that?" Walker walked along the other bank to see where Mulder was looking. "O'Donnell's report said they started in the grass, coming from the development north of here."

"It's a decoy," Mulder said. "The killer intentionally retraced his steps. Look how deep the footprints are up to this point. The prints by the grass point off too much at an angle." He moved further downstream. "And you see this smooth patch right here? It's too smooth."

Walker crossed and reached down to touch the ground Mulder indicated. "Shit. This isn't dry yet." He stood up, following an imaginary path along the ground. "And if the tracks are really going in this direction..." He walked along a grassy patch and kicked away some scattered leaves and twigs. "Bingo."

Mulder stared at the patch of earth. Although they had been eroded, there were two unmistakable indentations. "Too deep to cover completely. He or she must have jumped down onto the mud from a height."

"So why bother covering that up?" Walker frowned.

"Because," Mulder said with a grin, "our killer doesn't want anyone to know where--or what--they jumped from."

"I'll be damned," was the detective's response as his gaze followed the tracks again. "Why the hell didn't they pick up on that?"

Mulder shrugged. "Probably didn't help with those news crews around. I'm surprised they didn't tail us from the station."

"They think Tim O'Donnell's still in charge; the Chief got so sick of them he threw them some false info." Walker was silent for a minute, thinking. "You know, the Chief has been really throwing his weight around on this one. I've never seen him get results so consistently."

Nodding, Mulder stood up and scanned the area, only half paying attention. "Where was Kevin Keene found again?"

The point was made, and Walker's eyes widened in realization. "Right where you're standing."

Keene residence
2:15 p.m.

"I can't believe we got into a Coke fight," Kelly murmured for the eighteenth time, examining a lock of hair sticky with drying soda. Sighing, she pounded on the bathroom door. "Kevin, hurry up! What did you do, fall in?"

"I've only been in here a minute!"

"Make that thirty. I don't even take this long in the morning." She leaned against the door, folding her arms. "You know, this is one thing I didn't miss."

The door flew open, and she fell backwards. "Aaah!" The next thing Kelly knew, she was lying flat on her back, looking up at Kevin's amused grin. "Stop laughing at me, you geek."

Kevin couldn't stop chuckling. "Oh, man, I missed this."

"What? Witnessing my continual humiliation?"

"You know what I mean." He reached down to pull her up. "But the humiliation is cool, too."

She snorted, but returned the grin. "Bite me." As she turned towards the towels, she paused, realizing that he'd managed to pull her up easily with one arm. "Whatever you've been doing, remind me not to pick a fight with you," she said, rubbing her hand.

"Not bad for a guy with amnesia," he answered as she shut the door and turned on the water.

Twenty minutes later, she was clean, dry, and changed. As she headed down the hall towards the stairs, she stopped by the open door of Kevin's room. He was sitting on his bed, staring at the Nintendo and the Super Nintendo sitting on the television. What struck her as odd was that he wasn't playing at all, just staring at the game system. He'd been playing Mega Man again, but the game was paused. "What's with you?"

Surprised, he jumped and turned, breaking out of whatever trance he'd been in. "What? Oh, um, nothing. Nothing, really."

"I won't say a word. I swear on the sacred library of hint books." She pointed to the array of tip books sitting on the shelf beside the television, putting one hand on her heart. "You might as well tell me, Kev, because you know I'm going to squeeze it out of you anyway."

He made a face, torn between telling her to go to hell and between thinking better of it. "Yeah, well, it's nuts." She folded her arms and stared at him. "All right, all right. It's just that--I zoned out seriously when we were trying to see how far we could get on that machine. No, I mean a major zone out," he added, seeing her nod. "I see a game system and I have to play it. Like, I want to play it, sure, but the big thing is that I feel like I have to. But at the same time, I don't know, it bugs me. Big time." Sighing, he leaned back and sat on his hands. "Maybe I was kidnapped by a cult that brainwashed me and made me play Nintendo all day."

"The horror! The horror! Give me a break." She would have said more if the doorbell hadn't sounded downstairs.

"Kelly!!" Lately, whenever Cheryl Keene needed something done, she always called Kelly for it. Never Kevin. "Can you get the door? I've got my hands full here."

Kelly groaned and rolled her eyes. "Coming, Mom!" She turned and thundered down the stairs in her usual annoying way and jogged into the foyer as the doorbell rang again, insistently. "Yeah, yeah, Rick, I'm coming, you'll live." For all his talent and football scholarships, Rick was rather absent-minded; he had a habit of leaving his house key at a friend's and coming back half an hour later to get it.

She opened the door and immediately regretted the snide remark. Neither of the two people in suits looked like they were in search of a house key. "Um, can I help you?"

The man looked her over quickly, making a mental connection. "Are you Kelly Keene?"

"Yes," she answered tentatively, hoping it was the right answer.

They whipped out badges, and she suddenly wasn't so sure. "Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI. We're here about Kevin Keene."

She must have turned pale, because the woman quickly added, "We just need to question him, Miss Keene. Your brother's not in any trouble."

Yet, Kelly thought. "I think you're going to want to talk to my mom about this."

Cheryl Keene, Mulder noticed, looked a lot like her daughter--the same shade of dark brown hair, although straight, and blue eyes--but her reaction was markedly different. As soon as she heard "FBI," and that they wanted to talk to her son, her hands were on her hips and she was right on the defense. "Now hold on one second. I may not see everything my kids do, but even their antics aren't enough to interest the FBI. My son has not done anything wrong."

Not that he remembers, Mulder finished mentally, and felt a twinge of guilt for having thought it. "We're just here to question him," Scully repeated, but she never had a chance to finish the sentence as a brown-and-white blur suddenly whizzed down the stairs and into the hallway, making a beeline for the foyer and the open door behind the agents.

Kelly whirled. "Duke! Stop!" Surprisingly enough, the dog obeyed, abruptly halting in his stampede inches in front of the agents, looking up at them with a tongue-lolling grin. Mulder remembered reading somewhere that the only type of dog that grinned like that was either a biting dog or a damned good one. And this didn't look like a biting dog.

"Kelly, could you go get--" Cheryl began, but Kelly was already charging up the stairs. "Never mind," she sighed as her husband came up from the basement.

He was of average height and build, with thick curly black hair and a mustache. Adjusting his glasses as he looked them over, he was about as thrilled to see them as Cheryl had been. "Can I help you?" he asked cautiously, with an oh-no-not-again expression on his face. "You're not with Channel 8, I hope."

"Actually, no." The badges emerged again. "I'm Agent Fox Mulder, and this is Agent Dana Scully of the FBI."

"Ned, they're here about Kevin," Cheryl put in.

"Just for questioning," Mulder said with a smile. "Honest."

"Actually, Mr. and Mrs. Keene, I'd like to ask you a few questions first," Scully said as they sat down in the living room. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the dog trotting over to Mulder with curiosity. "We have reason to believe that your son's reappearance--or disappearance, as it were--may be connected to the recent homicides in the area."

Cheryl looked shocked. "You don't honestly think he was involved--"

Mulder cut her off. "We're leaning more towards the theory that whoever is committing these crimes may have been responsible for his disappearance." That didn't ease their apprehension much, so he added, "At the least, we think that your son's disappearance may have some connection."

"No one's accusing anyone of anything," Scully added. Faintly, she could hear an argument upstairs and suppressed a smile; doubtless the older brother was probably not going to believe the word of his kid sister right off the bat. From her own experience, it was a law of nature.

"Has your son been acting noticeably strange?" Mulder asked. "That is, strange for someone who's dealing with a three-year memory block?"

Ned Keene smiled at that, and shook his head. "Actually, he's adjusting pretty well. Better than some of us."

Scully checked some notes she had been scribbling. Mulder was partially occupied with the dog, who was trying to wheedle some attention out of her partner. Finally she forced herself to smile. "Mulder, the only way to get that dog to leave you alone is pet him already."

He shot her a look, but reluctantly reached over and absently scratched the dog's head. "How, exactly, did you find him?"

"Actually, Kelly and a friend discovered him during sports practice," Cheryl said. "She told us that Duke came out of the bushes all of a sudden making a fuss, and led them right to him."

Scully stopped writing and stared at the dog in surprise. "Are you telling me that both Kevin and your dog disappeared and reappeared at the same time?" The wheels started turning in Mulder's head.

"Has Kevin had any sort of therapy or counseling in the past few days?" he finally asked. "Any return of his memory?"

"No, and no," Ned answered. "We decided to wait until things calm down before putting him through that."

"Putting me through what?" Mulder and Scully looked up to see Kelly coming down the stairs with a taller teenager in tow. He stopped when he saw them. "Oh."

"Sit down, Kevin," Cheryl said, and her son promptly took a seat in one of the chairs across from them. "This is Agent Mulder and Agent Scully from the FBI. They want to talk to you."

No shit, Kelly mouthed. Cheryl shot her a look.

Kevin rolled his eyes before turning back to the agents. He was about a foot taller than his sister, but they shared the same dark hair and blue eyes. "Did I--did I do something?" he said after a moment. There was no attempt at humor; he was literally unaware of the answer.

"Not that we know of," Scully said. "Kevin, we're investigating a series of murders, and we need to evaluate every possible connection to the case."

Mulder, trying to hide his excitement, cut to the chase. "Is there anything you can tell us--anything the police reports can't--about your experience? Just tell us what you remember, starting with September of 1989."

Kevin bit his lip, thinking. "Okay. Saturday morning I'm in my room, with Duke, playing Nintendo. I remember Mom yelling at me to clean my room. Then all of a sudden, the screen goes into total static, and then starts acting wacked out, and then I just blacked out." He shook his head. "Next thing I know, I'm in the hospital."

Scully stopped in mid-scribble. "What do you mean, exactly, by 'acting wacked out?'"

"I don't really know." His brow furrowed in concentration. "It's, like, right at that point everything starts to fuzz. There was some power surge or something, and Duke started barking his head off. Then--nothing." He scowled, frustrated; it was obvious he'd had this conversation before.

Mulder nodded in understanding, and to Scully's surprise, he stood up. "I think that's enough for now." He turned to the two adults. "Sorry for taking up your time."

With that, he turned to leave, and Scully followed, but Kevin stood up. "Agent Mulder?" Mulder turned. "I just want to know. Putting me through what?"

"Therapy," Cheryl said. "For memory loss."

Kevin looked relieved, but interested. "What kind of therapy?"

"Actually, one of the most successful involves regression hypnosis," Mulder explained. "If done by a professional, they can be effective."

"I don't know if we really want to go that far yet," Cheryl said quickly. "Besides, that's not really a proven--"

"Cheryl--" Ned began.

"Well, it isn't! And I don't like the idea of hypnosis. I'm sorry." She frowned. "I don't think so, Agent Mulder. Have you ever seen the results of these regressions?"

"A few times," Mulder answered before dropping the bomb. "It worked for me several years ago."

Scully decided to end the game then and there. She pulled her business card from her pocket and scribbled a number on the back. "I'm sorry, but we do have to go. We're staying at this number if you change your mind." Kevin took the card, surprised. "Again, I'm sorry to have taken up your time." With that, she all but shoved Mulder out of the door before he could protest.

Only when she was sure they were out of sight and around the corner did she drop her composure and reach over to smack her partner in the back of the head. "What were you doing in there??"

"Trying to get an investigation moving along, Scully," he answered, rubbing his head. "What did you have to go and smack me for? That hurt!"

"Because we're here to investigate a multiple homicide, not scare these people!" she snapped. "And I have to agree with Cheryl Keene," she added as they approached the rental car. "Those regressions don't take the place of solid evidence."

"Which we don't have."

"And we need the subject's consent, which we also don't have." She threw the passenger door open. "If you want to go dig up every coincidence you can, go ahead, but I'm going to get some actual investigation done."

"And that would be?" He smirked at her.

"While you were checking out the high school, they found another kid. If all goes well, tomorrow I'm going to take a look at a body."

October 26
Northridge High School
2:30 p.m.

"I can't believe you're doing this now, Keene," Romeo joked as the lime-green Del Sol pulled up in front of the normally deserted high school building. School was closed for meetings, and they were the only students within 5 miles of the building.

Kevin snorted. "They wouldn't let me take it during classes. Go figure."

"No, man, I can't believe you're blowing off the chance to delay going back to school as long as possible." Kevin had signed up to take a state test to skip from his freshman year to his senior year--that is, if he passed. His situation had been so unique (and so completely out of his control) that his application had been approved the next day. Which meant that he was allowed to take the test within a week after applying.

"I've got to get caught up to everybody, Romeo. Hell, I still can't get over this--my little sister has her license and I haven't even started Driver's Ed yet!"

Kelly shrugged. "So what if I'm, like, talented? Get your stuff and get moving. I've got to get to work today on time and drop this other carless loser off."

"Yes, your Highness," Kevin said. Something triggered in his brain as he said it, and he paused briefly as he grabbed the papers from the back seat. "Uh, Rick said he'd pick me up at two-thirty. See you later."

The tester was waiting in the library, and handed him a test booklet after glancing over his papers. "Sit over there," she said, gesturing towards a study carol in the back. "You have two hours to complete all the sections."

He shrugged, and started in on the math. The first several questions were easy--algebra and geometry, both of which he remembered taking. Then it switched to functions he didn't know so well:

 Use the Pythagorean Theorem and definition of tangent to prove that 2 2 sec x = tan x + 1. 
"How the hell am I supposed to do this?" he muttered.

"...and this brings us to the Pythagorean Theorem," Dr. Right lectured, "which states that the square of the cosine plus the square of the sine equals 1 exactly! Now if you remember, the tangent of x is equal to the sine of x over the cosine of x, which leads us to..."

Kevin's already wavering attention was broken as Lana leaned over to him and whispered, "I know why we have to learn mathematics, and I know this was my idea, but when are we ever going to use this?"

"To get Simon to think for once," he whispered, indicating the Vampire Hunter, who was too busy looking in his hand mirror to even notice Dr. Right. Mega Man was fascinated, and Kid Icarus was just confused.

She laughed as Right continued his lecture....

Kevin blinked, finding himself in the library again. Confused, he tried to remember where he'd just been, but he couldn't reach the memory. Scowling, he looked at the problem again.

He was surprised to find that he understood it.

City Morgue
4:30 p.m.

"Sorry it took so long to get clearance for this." Max Farrell, the county coroner, apologized yet again as Scully finished washing up. "With all the crazies who've been pretending to be officials or cops to get a story, we've just got to be careful."

"Believe me, I understand." She slipped on the latex gloves and followed him out to the examining table. "Have you found any anomalies?"

Farrell frowned. "Anything out of the ordinary for a sicko who cuts off hands and slashes stomachs? No." He beckoned her over and pointed to the wrist. "But I have noticed something in the nature of the cutting. It's actually sloppy, if you take it in context."

The wrist was severed at a diagonal. "Sloppy as in not ritualistic?"

"Hell no. This one just goes for the right hand, and it doesn't matter how it's cut. Just that it's done, and it's always done first."

She continued examining the wrist. "It's not so sloppy. The slice is too clean to have been broken off or taken off with a hacksaw. Definitely a blade, but a fair-sized one; I don't know of any hand knives that would cut through bone with a single slice. Even at an angle."

"Single slice?" It was Farrell's turn to ask questions.

"You did say yourself that the hand is the first thing this 'sicko' goes for. There's only time for one slice if the victim is able to run, and the cut of the bone is too smooth for it to have been hacked at."

Farrell scowled. "You may think this is nuts, but the only thing I know that would come close to doing what you propose would be a sword or a katana blade. The kind of stuff that's only used in bad kung fu films."

Scully briefly considered this, and recalled the X-Files she had witnessed with Mulder. "It is nuts. But I don't think you're the one who's crazy; if the rest of the victims look like this, we've got a killer swordsman."

"An ambidextrous killer swordsman," Farrell said dryly. Scully stared at him. "Well, just look at the directions of these incisions. The wrist was severed from right to left, indicating left-handedness. But if you look at the ones at the waistline, they vary in direction--right to left, left to right, left to right. Too quick and precise for the killer to have been using his or her wrong hand to throw us off."

She frowned, turning to the midsection, seeing that Farrell's observations were on the mark. But as she did so, she noticed a glimmer amidst the gore. Reaching over to the tray, she picked up a magnifying glass and a pair of sterilized tweezers. On closer observation, she found that the glimmer had come from a tiny metal sliver lodged in what was left of the lower intestine. Carefully, she removed it, holding the shard up. "What's this?"

Farrell handed her a small plastic bag, and she dropped the sliver safely inside. "I'm not sure," he answered, holding the bag up to the light. "That is, I couldn't tell you specifically the type of metal, not from such a small sample." "Have you encountered any more of these in the past five bodies?" Scully asked. "No, this is the first one. In fact...." He trailed off, something suddenly occurring to him. "I've noticed a sort of 'accuracy curve' in the victims." "What do you mean?" He set the bag gently on the tray. "Let's clean up here, and I'll show you."

Keene residence
4:45 p.m.

"Kev, you feeling all right?" Rick asked as the Jeep turned onto Kevin's street. "Did you just turn into a mute or something?"

Kevin turned from the window, dazed. "Huh? What do you mean?"

Rick grinned and punched his friend in the shoulder as he pulled up to the curb. "Man, you know what I mean. You just zoned out completely there." His smile faded. "The test wasn't that bad, was it?"

"No, it was all right," Kevin said distantly, then shook himself. "I think I passed, but it, you know, gave me some kind of brain freeze."

"So? That's what tests like that are supposed to do!" Rick looked at Kevin curiously as his friend reached in his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper, staring at it intently. "You sure you're okay?"

Kevin nodded, still looking at the paper. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'll see you tomorrow, Rick." Still distracted, he got out of the car and headed up the driveway, his attention still focused on the card.

"Hang in there, Keene!" Rick shouted before pulling away. Kevin managed a wave before unlocking the door and going inside.

This time, the key works, he thought, and paused, confused. When hadn't it worked?

The house was empty and silent. Cheryl and Ned were still across the street at a neighbor's, and Kelly and Romeo were out doing something somewhere. Duke was sleeping in the middle of the living room on his side, right smack on top of the television remote. Kevin grinned and headed for the kitchen, snatching up the receiver and dialing.

As the phone on the other end rang once, then twice, Kevin watched the dog out of the corner of his eye. Duke would twitch every five seconds, kick, and roll over, turning the television on. By the fifth ring, the dog had surfed past six channels. I wonder if he remembers.

Finally, someone picked up. "Mulder here."

Kevin bit his lip. "Agent Mulder? Um, this is Kevin Keene. You know that regression therapy you were talking about?"

Northridge Police Department
5:30 p.m.

"I still don't understand," Scully said as she looked over the photographs again. "How do you mean, an accuracy curve?"

Farrell frowned. "It's like a bell curve, or a statistical density curve. Look how sloppy the killer's pattern is in the case of Brian Mitchell compared to the victim following. He just chopped wildly in the right two regions and bashed the kid's head in." He indicated another set of photos and x-rays. "Victim number two, Brian Harrington. More precise on the cuts. Isolated the mess to an area and bothered to clean up." He went to the next set. "Victim number three, Nick Skleres, was so well hidden it was sheer luck we found him." He folded his arms. "Then we drop down to Ryan Fifer, who was dug up by a construction worker, and now to Tim Kline here. Not as well hidden, the cuts are slipping in precision, and we get some debris in the wound."

Scully looked at the coroner as he spoke. Unlike some others she'd worked with, he had an odd approach to the business of examining bodies. He wasn't detached at all, but when he spoke of the murders, instead of becoming disgusted, he sounded angry. "So you're saying that our killer reached peak performance with Skleres, and now he's slipping?"

He nodded. "Want to hear my theory? This guy's getting desperate. For some reason, real or imagined, he's running out of time." As she stared at him, he shrugged.

"Either that," Scully muttered, looking at the sliver, "or a very strange person has a vendetta against the swim team."

Keene residence
7:30 p.m.

"You agreed to do what?" Cheryl gasped.

Kevin groaned softly; he'd expected such an outburst. "Mom, I know what I'm doing."

"Get yourself hypnotized by some doctor we've never heard of before? How can you be sure you can trust them?"

Ned patted her shoulder. "Cheryl, calm down. This is the FBI. They're probably going to take extreme cautions with this."

She wasn't appeased. "Just so they don't get sued. And how can they just let someone Kevin's age agree to something like that? Don't they need permission?"

"I'm 18." Kevin reached down to pat Duke and slip the dog a piece of chicken.

Ned shrugged. "That's true, but I wish you would have told us."

"You're not going to let him go through with it, are you?" Cheryl asked, astonished.

"Cheryl, he'll probably do it anyway."

Kelly, who had been silent the entire time, suddenly spoke up. "I think it's a good idea." Everyone stopped talking and stared at her in surprise. "Well? Hanging around here isn't exactly jogging his memory. I think Duke remembers more. And now there's a psychopath roaming around town and the FBI thinks getting Kevin's memory back will help stop him. I say go for it."

"You want money, don't you?" Kevin muttered, and his sister just grinned.

Ocean View Motel
9:00 p.m.

"You want to know what I think?"

Scully turned from the mess of photos, reports, and notes on the bed to face her partner. "I'm almost afraid to hear it."

He grinned. "I'm thinking this may be the work of some sort of cult. The patterned killings, the general weirdness. Some cults are so expert at brainwashing that perhaps years of a person's life can be erased."

"So you're saying, what? That Kevin Keene may have escaped from a cult, and they're coming after him?"

"Or he could be responsible. Some people who escape from cults don't always break from their grip. It could even be part of a ritual, and he's been given subliminal messages to carry it out."

Scully sat down heavily on the bed. "When is the pizza getting here?"

Mulder shrugged. "Few more minutes. You're not buying this, are you?"


"Well, we could always fall back on my original theory."

Scully stood up at that. "Not the UFOs again. Please."

"Have a better idea?"

"Obsessive kidnappers I can accept," she answered, starting to pace, "but really, Mulder, I would definitely rule out your UFO theories. This case is too weird--" She trailed off and stopped, staring at the bed. "Oh my God."

"What is it?" Mulder moved to stand beside her as she bent over and rearranged the pictures so that they were side by side, arranged in order of death. Next to Tim Kline's photo, she placed the one from the reports on Kevin that Mulder had brought. "Scully--"

He trailed off, but it was clear he could see what she saw. Looking from Brian Mitchell to Tim Kline, the row of images seemed to be progressing, looking more and more like Kevin Keene. "He may not be the culprit, Mulder. He may be the target."

October 27
Northridge Hospital Medical
1:00 p.m.

"All right, Kevin, I want you to go back," Dr. Werber said once he was sure the teen was under. "Back to the gray place we talked about on the phone, where it gets blurred."

Kevin was leaning back in the chair, completely under and relaxed. "I'm trying," he mumbled. "I don't know if--whoa!" He tensed up suddenly at something they couldn't see behind his closed eyelids.

Werber waited a moment before speaking. "Are you in the gray place?"

"Yeah, I think," Kevin gasped. "Just got to beat this, and...what the hell? This isn't part of the game!"

"Kevin--" Werber began, but suddenly Kevin cried out and started thrashing about, gripping the side of the chair as if hanging on for dear life. "What do you see?"

"Nooo!" Kevin yelled. "It's got me! I can't hang on--it's pulling me in! Duke! No! I'm falling!"

"Kevin, when I snap my fingers," Werber said hastily, "you won't be falling anymore. You'll go forward to a time when you weren't falling. Now." He snapped his fingers, and Kevin ceased thrashing, relaxing limply into the armchair again. "Where are you?"

"I--" Kevin broke off. "No way. This is not real. This can't be for real!" he added, addressing someone they couldn't see.

Werber paused. "Who are you talking to?"

Kevin was too deep in the trance to hear him. "You've got the wrong guy," he continued to an unseen audience. "I'm not the one you're looking for."

"Kevin, I'm going to snap my fingers again," Werber said, "and you're going to be floating in darkness. Nothing can hurt you, you're just resting." He snapped his fingers again and Kevin sagged limply. "Now I want you to skip forward, to the day before you woke up in the hospital. What do you see?"

"I see a tunnel. We've been going through them for hours. I keep feeling that this was too easy...."

"Who's we, Kevin?" Werber asked, but again Kevin was too wrapped up in the memory to answer.

"All we have to do is get through--" Kevin stopped, tensing suddenly. "No! It's a trap! We're surrounded! I can't get through! Wily, you lying sack of--" He broke off, something else getting his attention. "No, Simon, don't press that button!! Oh, damn, no, not again!"

"I'm going to snap my fingers one more time, Kevin, and you're going to wake up!" Werber cried. "On the count of three, one, two--"

Just befor Werber snapped his fingers, Kevin suddenly shouted, "Lana!!"

And then it was over.

Northridge Police Department
1:30 p.m.

"This is unbelievable," Scully muttered. "First the reporters disappear, then the lab results come in overnight? What is this, the Twilight Zone? I'm used to having paperwork dumped on me at every turn."

Detective Walker nodded. "Same here. All of a sudden, things are getting done around here. Ever since you and Agent Mulder showed up. That badge must work wonders."

She snorted as she opened the envelope. "Hardly. You wouldn't believe the hard time we've--" She stopped, staring at the paper she had unfolded. "I don't believe this. This makes no sense."

"What is it?"

"According to this," she said, waving the results at him, "the debris we found couldn't have come from any ordinary knife. It's made of silicon."

Northridge Hospital Medical
2:30 p.m.

"This is hopeless," Kevin muttered, leaning back and pressing his palms into his forehead in frustration. "I just don't get this. It's like something in my brain keeps blocking it out."

Mulder looked at the tape recorder in his hand. Three tries had brought several clues, but none that made any sense. And none of it rang any bells for Kevin when they played it back for him. When Werber had pressed Kevin for certain details in the regressions, also, the teenager had hedged and skipped around giving a straight answer--something unheard of in regression hypnosis.

Nothing he was able to describe fit the template of extraterrestrial encounters, either. Actually, it didn't fit any template, come to think of it. So far, from what he knew, it involved a girl named Lana, a moron named Simon, and a bunch of other bits and pieces that sounded like rambling more than anything else.

He was starting to think that his luck was running out. It had been enough of a miracle that Heitz Werber had been in the area, attending a convention in Los Angeles, and had agreed to fly down to Northridge to help. But as far as miracles went, that was it for the day.

"I think you should take some time and sleep on it," Werber advised, noticing the exhaustion evident on his patient's face.

Kevin nodded. "Yeah, I--" He suddenly froze, his gaze fixing on the shelf above the desk. As he stared past them, a shudder seemed to pass through him. Shaking it off, he blinked and rubbed his eyes. "Maybe you're right. I shouldn't be this out of it."

"You've been through more than your share today," Werber added. "It's already two-thirty."

Kevin jerked up. "Two-thirty? What? I gotta go."

"I can take you home," Mulder offered. "You might want to be careful out there, from what we've heard today."

Kevin shook his head, tired. "I already bagged a ride for two-thirty. Thanks, Agent Mulder, but I'll be all right." He shook hands briefly with Werber and hurried out the door.

Mulder followed, intent on persuading Kevin, but it was too late. By the time he got down the stairs and down to the east lobby, the black Jeep with Kevin and a friend was driving away.

He turned back to the stairwell and headed back up to the office. As he entered, he stopped as he caught sight of the object that had given the teen pause.

It was a gag gift, apparently a pot shot at the psychiatry profession. Mulder stared at it for a moment, wondering why Kevin would have been disturbed by a pink plastic brain in a jar.

Downtown Northridge
3:00 p.m.

"What do you mean, you don't take credit?" Mike Vincent all but yelled at the man behind the counter. "Come on, Mr. Anderson, I always pay my tab when I get a chance!"

Pete Anderson folded his arms. "Mike, I'm sorry, but you've already racked up a tab worse than Romeo here. Until you pay it off, I can't add to it."

There was a long pause as the two opponents stared at each other, then Mike decided to break the deadlock; there was no point in arguing with Stacey's father about credit. Muttering under his breath, he turned and stormed out the door. It was just a shitty week in general.

Actually, it was a lot of little things that were getting on his nerves. And of course, Kevin Keene had showed up again. Mike had no clue how to handle that. He'd beat up on Keene their freshman year, but when he disappeared, there was no one left to compete with. Not really. So now that Kevin was back.....what was he going to do?

He was so distracted he didn't remember to take off his letter jacket.

It was starting to come apart. No amount of self-diagnostics and repair attempts would change that. Shape-shifting was becoming more taxing, and could only be used when necessary. Which was why it was huddled in the relative darkness of an alley instead of blending in with the crowds outside.

There was only one option left. Captain N must be found and terminated at the earliest opportunity. There was no more playing around, no more "practice" runs. Before it malfunctioned severely, its objective had to be fulfilled at all cost. Secrecy and precision were paramount.

As it ran the seventeenth diagnostic repair that hour, a sound nearby caused it to redefine "secrecy."

"Thanks for the lift, Rick," Kevin groaned as the Jeep cruised past the row of fast-food joints and surf shops. "Didn't feel like driving home with the FBI."

Rick shrugged. "No problem. Was it that weird?"

"Damn, it's hot," Kevin changed the subject, rolling down the windows. "Three years, and you still haven't gotten the air conditioner fixed, dude?"

"You know how much a new one costs?" Rick shot back, just as a cry of pain and anger reached their ears. "What was that? Hey, no, Keene, don't!" he added, but he was too late as Kevin hopped out of the Jeep and ran towards the alley where the sound had come from.

Mike decided to take the shortcut home, and came to regret it. As he jogged down the alley, he slowed as he spotted a shape behind a cluster of garbage cans. "Hey, who's there?"

The shape didn't move, and Mike remembered suddenly the news stories of the past week. "Come on, man," he said, kneeling down beside a pile of trash nearby. "Show yourself." His searching hand found and grasped a length of metal pipe.

As the shadow jumped out at him, he wished he had something bigger. Sheer panic saved him, as he was just fast enough to chuck the pipe right at what he thought was its head, startling the....thing...enough to throw it off course and into the wall. He cried out as he felt something slice at his right wrist.

Mike forgot his wrist as his attacker moved. He couldn't believe what he was seeing, and there was no way he was going to let it near him. Ignoring his injury, he dived behind the dumpster as it came at him again, and slammed his shoulder into a stack of junk boxes, pushing the stack into his attacker as it lashed out again, grazing his hip as the boxes rained on top of it.

Bolting for the street, he suddenly saw a familiar Jeep pull up and an even more familiar figure dashing towards the alley. "Mike??" Kevin yelled.

"Keene!" Mike yelled. He dashed out into the brightness of day, the hip wound causing him to limp a little. His attacker, for some reason, did not pursue; its sensors were locked on Kevin. Seeing just what was in the alley behind Mike, Kevin literally gaped in shock. "Get out of here!" Mike cried, startling him back to reality.

Kevin grabbed Mike's good arm, dragging his friend towards the Jeep. "Shut up and get in!" Mike scrambled into the back as Kevin hopped in and they drove away.

"What the hell happened to you??" Rick Walker managed as he floored the accelerator.

Mike glanced out the rearview in time to glimpse a human form come stumbling out of the alley. "Man, you'd never believe it." The throbbing in his wrist returned to his attention, and he looked down at the gash.

It was filled with metal splinters.

Northridge Hospital Medical
4:30 p.m.

"Oh boy," Rick muttered. "Get a load of the processional there."

Kevin looked up in surprise. His mind had been elsewhere, drifting back to the recording Agent Mulder had made of their session, and trying to put it all together. He could see what Rick meant. His parents, Mike's mom, Rick's dad, Kelly, and those two FBI agents from the previous afternoon were all flooding into the waiting room together. He got a look at the expression on his mother's face and groaned. "This is not gonna be good."

Fortunately, Mrs. Vincent reached them first. "Is Mike all right? What happened? How badly was he hurt? Is anything broken? Did you see who attacked him? How--"

"Mrs. V, Mike's gonna be okay," Rick said quickly, casting a relieved glance at Dr. Richards, who had spotted the crowd and was heading towards them with clipboard in hand. "Uh, Doctor Richards can tell you how he's doing."

He steered Mrs. Vincent over to the doctor, and Cheryl all but pounced on her son. "Kevin--"

Kevin stood up to meet the rush. "Mom, before you say anything, I'm okay, Rick's okay, I didn't wander off, I went where I told you I'd go, and everyone's all right."

Instead of snapping at him as he'd expected, Cheryl hugged him, something that was even more embarrassing. "Kevin, I was so worried!"

"Aw, Mom," Kevin groaned. It was like being in grade school again.

Fortunately, Dr. Richards interrupted. "Actually, Kevin, Mike wanted to see you. Come on."

Confused but relieved to be out of Cheryl's grip, Kevin followed the doctor.

The nondescript man in the police officer's uniform walked up to the counter slowly, almost stiffly, as if he was afraid he was going to break apart at any moment. "Excuse me," he said pleasantly, flashing a badge. "Can you tell me where Mike Vincent's room is?"

"Well, I, ah--" The nurse on duty trailed off. There was something not right about his face; it was almost too nondescript, too plain. She shook it off. "Room 306. The elevators are down the hall and to your right."

"Thank you." He turned and walked away, but the nurse couldn't shake the disturbing feeling. Dismissing it as her imagination, she went back to work.

Mike was staring out the window, his head turned away from the door, as Kevin came in. He tapped on the doorframe, and Mike whirled, relaxing when he saw who it was. "Oh, yeah. Just you. C'mon in."

Kevin grabbed a chair and pulled it up to the bed. "You actually want to see me? Or was Doc Richards just saving me from being choked to death by Mom?"

"Funny." Mike sat up straighter, trying not to use his bandaged hand. "I just wanted to know. Did you see that thing in the alley too? Or was I just going nuts?"

Kevin paused uneasily. "It depends on what kind of thing you're talking about."

"Keene, I'm talkin' about the guy with knife blades instead of hands, like a melting T-1000." He remembered suddenly that Kevin hadn't seen the movie. "Never mind. You know what I'm saying?"

After a moment, Kevin nodded. "Yeah, I saw that too. Half his face was melted. I thought I was losing it."

"Damn. That means it did happen." Mike leaned back and scowled at the ceiling. "I also sort of wanted to say thanks." Surprised, Kevin stared at him, and Mike grinned. "You tell anyone I said that, and I'll kill you."

"No problem."

Mike shook his head. "Okay. We got two FBI agents out there. What're we going to tell them? I'm sure as hell not telling them what I saw or I'd end up in a padded room."

"Yeah, I--What's that?" Kevin broke off at the sound of a commotion down the hall. He got up and moved to the door, and could just make out the shadows of a scuffle around the corner. "Uh-oh. This looks like trouble." Turning back to Mike, he was surprised to see that his friend was no longer in bed. "Mike, what the hell are you doing?"

Mike limped out of the adjoining bathroom, wearing his jeans and pulling on his jacket. He snatched up what looked like part of an IV bag holder. "If that freak is back, I'm not going to sit around and wait. What's the plan?"

"What was that?" Cheryl exclaimed as shouting and a crash could be heard, followed by a cry of pain. "Oh my God! That sounded like Dr. Richards!"

"Mike! My baby's down there!" Mrs. Vincent cried. Walker caught her arm before she could do anything rash.

Mulder had already withdrawn the gun from his coat, motioning Scully to follow. "We'll check this out," he told Walker. "Call backup, security, whatever!"

He tore down the hallway, Scully following.

Rounding the corner, the scene that he encountered wasn't quite what he'd been expecting. Richards was facing--Richards?

"What the hell?" Scully muttered, hesitating. She wasn't sure who to shoot. But the hesitation was brief as one of the Richards shoved the other into a wall, knocking the other man unconscious As he turned towards them, his face seemed to shift slightly out of focus. "FBI! Freeze!" She trained her gun on the doppleganger, and so did Mulder.

Instead of running, the double lunged towards them. The two FBI agents promptly started firing, the force of the bullets hitting its chest knocking "Richards" back. As it reared back, both Mulder and Scully could see the dents of liquid metal that were already smoothing over in its chest.

"We have a problem," Mulder murmured under his breath.

Before Scully could react, there was a clattering sound, and a cart full of medical supplies came flying down the corridor, slamming into the double and knocking it off balance. "Come on, Keene!" a voice shouted from the direction the cart had come from.

Scully half-expected Richards' attacker to reform and attack them, but it wavered somewhat, as if having trouble reforming. Then the medical cart was launched at them, sending them to the floor as the double regained vaguely human form and headed off in pursuit.

Keene residence

After rolling over the remote several times, having surfed from Nickelodeon to CNN, Duke woke up with a yelp in the darkened house.

The dog sniffed the air, and with a growl, charged out the pet door which Kelly had forgotten to lock. Following the scent of danger, Duke dashed off down the street.

Northridge Hospital Medical
5:00 p.m.

"Do you even know where you're going?" Kevin asked as the two teenagers tore down the corridor blindly.

"Not a clue," Mike muttered. Louder, he shouted at the orderlies and patients in the hallway, "Run!! There's a psycho on the loose!"

Kevin resisted the urge to ask, "Other than you?" as the people in the hallway actually obeyed and dived for cover into rooms, the elevator, adjoining hallways. The killer ignored them, focusing entirely on its two primary targets. Normally, it could have overtaken them in a matter of seconds if not for the malfunctions it was trying to compensate for, so they were at least out of reach. But not for long; the adrenaline was wearing off, and Mike was limping from his injured hip.

Unfortunately, Kevin also suddenly realized where they were heading. Straight for the lobby, and straight for his parents. "Come on! This way!" He turned sharply to the right, dragging Mike with him.

A security guard spotted them, then their pursuer. He went for his holster, but got no time to reach it as the killer passed a heavy stack of equipment, lengthening its arm like a whip and pulling the mass down on the guard as it ran past.

But as it did that, the guard's gun went off, the bullet hitting its head. Naturally, there was no harm done, but its attention was diverted trying to recalibrate the sensor there.

A minute later, it stood up, but there was no sign of Kevin or Mike.

"You think it saw us?" Mike whispered anxiously as they crawled through the vents, trying to be as quiet as possible.

Kevin shook his head. "If it did, we'd be toast now. How's your leg?"

Mike grimaced, but kept on going. "Still here. Man, I can't believe there's a T-1000 chasing us! What did you do, piss off James Cameron?"

"T-1000? Huh?"

"Oh yeah. The bad guy from the Terminator sequel a year ago. Forgot you weren't around to see that." Mike shuddered. "They had Schwarzenegger as the good guy this time, and he almost got ripped apart fighting this liquid-metal thing. It kicked some serious ass."

Kevin stopped in mid-crawl. "A year ago?" A peculiar thought came to him. "Mike, they ever make a Nintendo game out of that?"

"Came out a month ago. Why the hell did you stop?"

For a minute, Kevin was sure he knew why, but it blanked again and he moved on. "How'd Schwarzenegger beat the sucker anyway?"

Mike thought for a second. "Dropped it in this vat of super-hot metal. Not even something like that could stand the heat."

"That's it!" Kevin almost shouted out loud. "I've got an idea. You see what floor Radiology's on?"

"So this rules out the cult theory," Scully muttered as the two agents followed the trail of destruction the killer had left in its wake. "Who's the newest suspect, James Cameron?"

Mulder smirked. "I heard some rumors that some of Cameron's ideas were taken from data files on extraterrestrials."

"Oh, shut up." She glanced around the corner, ensuring that it was safe, when some of the debris moved. "Mulder, look." As one of the overturned piles of equipment shifted again, she snatched out her pistol and trained it on what turned out to be a terrified security guard.

She hastily lowered it as Mulder caught up to her. "Sir? Can you hear me? Are you all right?"

"I don't know..." he gasped after a moment. "Son of a bitch--I shot him, in the head, but it just--it just--"

"We know," Mulder said, glancing down the hall.

"Can you feel your legs?" Scully was again playing the doctor.

He grimaced. "Yeah, a little. It hurts--to talk--"

She looked up at her partner. "We can't leave him here. He needs medical attention."

"They've almost evacuated the whole hospital, Scully."

"I'll stay here, then."

Mulder looked around him, at the mess, and suddenly noticed something he hadn't before. There were puddles and globs of metal hardening on the carpet, as if the Terminator rip-off was leaking. Scully had noticed it too. Somehow he got the feeling that she needed this, an escape from something she really couldn't deal with, that she couldn't rationalize. "I'll be back in twenty minutes."

The parking lot was a mess of people and police cars and general chaos; it was amazing that anything could be heard over the tumult.

"Rick!" At the mention of his name, Rick turned to see Stacey, followed by Romeo, climb under the police tape and jog toward him. "Like, what is going on?"

Rick shook his head. "The psycho showed up," he said bluntly. "And he's after Kevin and Mike. Man, those guys are still in there!"

"We gotta do something," Romeo said. "Where's Kelly?"

"I don't know," Rick said. "They haven't got everyone out yet. But I don't think there's anyone in there to help them, except for those two FBI agents. Something's going on."

"You bet there is." Miles Walker suddenly came up behind them. "And that's why we want everyone out of the line of fire." He glared fiercely at his son and his friends. "You got it? Now stay put!" With that, he was gone.

There was a long, uncertain pause while they all looked at each other. Finally, Rick threw up his hands. "Come on. He's my Dad. He's supposed to say that."

The three friends disappeared into the crowd.

As he rounded the corner, Mulder was surprised to come face to face with the killer. Sure enough, it was right out of that movie. But unlike the robot in the movie, the T-1000 looked as if it was melting in some places; he could see the visible patches of metal on its "skin" and clothes. Obviously it wasn't functioning perfectly.

But it still didn't look friendly. And the two three-foot-long razor-sharp blades it was sporting instead of hands were likely to be a problem.

"Freeze! FBI!" He felt like an idiot, but an idiot with a firearm. And how many shots is this going to take? his common sense added. How much do you have left? Not enough. The T-1000 advanced, and Mulder let off a round, right into the robot's head. As he'd expected, that slowed it down, but the metal was still reforming rapidly.

"Hey! Asshole!"

It was the shout that stopped the T-1000 in its tracks. As it turned, Mulder followed its gaze to the figure standing at the other end of the hallway. Kevin Keene was literally staring down the robot, prepared to run at any moment. And it seemed that the killer recognized him. "It's me you want, isn't it? Come and get me!"

With that parting shot, the teen broke into a run, and the T-1000, forgetting Mulder, followed in hot pursuit. Mulder, seeing no better option, ran after them.

He could tell it was malfunctioning. Although it was running at top speed for a human, the robot in the movie could tail a car. Mulder had the feeling that whoever made it was definitely copying off the movie, unless it was the other way around.

Kevin led them up a flight of stairs, down a hallway, and through several twists and turns that made Mulder wonder if they were being led in circles. It was as if he was stalling for time. Finally, he spotted Kevin dash into Radiology, with the T-1000 right behind him. Shoving the doors open, he saw the killer at the end of the hall, at the threshold of an open office. There was no sign of Kevin, and Mulder had the feeling that the kid had gotten himself trapped.

Without thinking, he started firing again, emptying the entire cartridge into the killer's torso, knocking it back into the office. Just as he ran out of bullets, the T-1000 stumbled backwards, and the door slammed shut, locking it inside. Kevin was pressing his shoulder against the door, and shouted, "Now, Mike!"

Suddenly, there was a humming noise from inside the room; someone had activated the x-ray machines and whatever equipment was in there as well.

But the T-1000 wasn't about to give up so easily, slamming against the door heavily. "Hey!" Kevin yelled. "Agent Mulder, you going to help or what?"

Mulder snapped back to reality and ran over to the door, adding his weight to Kevin's as they tried to hold back the killer. But even their combined weight wasn't quite enough. There was a crunching noise, and a metal spike burst through the reinforced glass window a foot above Kevin's head, the accompanying shove against the door knocking the teen back and causing him to hit his head on the wall.

"What the hell?" a voice shouted. Mulder turned to see three teenagers, two boys and a girl, at the end of the hall, staring at the scene before them. "Keene? You down there?"

"Hey, it's us!" the tall blond kid added.

Mike Vincent poked his head around the corner. "Rick? Romeo? Get your asses down here and keep that door shut!"

The three teens exchanged glances, shrugged, and the next thing Mulder knew, there were two football players helping him, while the blonde girl was trying to rouse Kevin. Again the T-1000 shoved, but it was weaker, and they managed to keep the door closed.

Before another one could follow, there came a strangled sound, a wail, and the spike simply melted completely. Kevin sat up, dazed but none the worse for wear. "Shut it off, Mike!" he yelled, and the power stopped abruptly.

There was a long silence as Mulder and the four teenagers struggled to their feet, and Mike limped down the hallway with an assortment of switches and junk. "See, Kev, I told you it wasn't any different than auto shop!"

"Is it dead?" Kevin muttered. As he spoke, a silver puddle streamed out from under the door. Mulder, Rick, and Romeo jumped back, Mulder instinctively grabbing his pistol before he realized it wasn't loaded anymore. The blonde let out a shriek of surprise. But instead of forming into something solid, the liquid metal just trickled out, hardening on the carpeting.

Mulder let out a sigh of relief, but Kevin looked uneasy. Rubbing the back of his head, he was eyeing the mess as though he was trying to figure it out, as if he had a new insight into what was going on.

As if he remembered.

"Man, I'm glad that's over," Mike muttered, and the others nodded agreement.

"Sorry to spoil your fun," a voice interrupted, "but you're very, very wrong."

When he saw who was standing there, Kevin's spirits dropped six feet under. In real life he looked much different--for some reason, instead of a midget he'd become tall and skinny--but it was definitely Dr. Wily. The wheeze was unmistakable. To make matters worse, the laser pistol in his hand was placed on Agent Scully's temple. The red-haired agent actually looked more irritated than afraid, but just too smart to start thrashing with a gun to her head.

Wily turned to Agent Mulder. "Drop your weapon if you want your partner's brains intact."

Mulder did as he was asked, and Scully looked absolutely furious with both of them. "Who are you? What do you want?"

"It doesn't concern you," Wily began.

"Uh, yeah it does," Romeo put in. "You're sort of pointing a gun at his partner's head, I'd say it's his--ow!" Since Kelly wasn't around to do it, Stacey kicked him before he could continue.

Wily cleared his throat, his gaze landing on Kevin. "You know exactly what I want, Captain N. You're coming with me."

Rick, Mike, Romeo, Stacey, and Mulder exchanged confused glances, but Kevin sighed. "All right, all right. Let her go and I'll come with you."

"Come with me and I won't kill her," Wily countered.

Kevin looked around him; there were no options. "Okay. I'm coming."

5:15 p.m.

"You didn't have to lock them in a supply closet," Kevin said after a long silence.

In response, Wily jabbed him in the back with the laser pistol, hastily returning it to Scully's temple. "Considering I'm the one with the weapon, you're in no position to criticize, Captain N! Keep walking!"

"Bite me, Wily," Kevin muttered under his breath, trying to figure out a way out of his situation.

"So you do remember," Wily chuckled. "I'd been informed it would be otherwise."

"I hit my head at the right time. Look, why don't you just kill me right now?" Bluffing was the only solution he could come up with. "Save my Mom and Dad the trouble."

Scully spoke up for the first time in minutes. "Kevin, what are you--"

"You would say that!" Wily interrupted. "But, no, you are my ticket out of here. Mother Brain wants you alive, and I can't use this in here." He briefly brandished a small remote before dropping it back into his pocket. "There's far too much electronic interference here to open a warp without serious side effects. I need to get clear."

"Warp? Mother Brain? What is he talking about, Kevin?" Scully blurted out.

"You wouldn't believe me," Kevin muttered. Even if he had his Zapper, there wasn't much he could do with an FBI agent around, of all people. A thought occurred to him. "Wily, one hostage is gonna be enough to get you out of here. Just let Agent Scully go; it's me you really want."

Wily paused, thinking. "I was going to do that anyway." He took the gun off Scully's temple and let loose his grip. Before either Kevin or Scully could react, however, he pulled another device from a pocket and aimed it at her. A blue light shot out of it and enveloped the agent, who collapsed unconscious to the floor.

Kevin gaped as Wily stuffed it back in his coat and pointed the gun at the teen. "What did you do?"

"Just gave her a chance to sleep. Now keep moving, Captain N!"

"This isn't exactly the Hilton," Mulder cracked as the five people tried to move around in the supply closet. As Romeo slammed his weight into the door for the seventh time, he cringed. "It's welded shut. That's not going to work."

Stacey was climbing up on shelves, inspecting the ceiling. "What are you doing?" Mike asked after watching for a few minutes.

"Like, you said you guys went through a vent. There should be a grate or something here."

Rick and Mulder exchanged glances. Mulder was starting to like the kid; he seemed to be the only one in the group with any common sense. "How would you know that?" Mulder asked.

She shrugged. "It always works in the movies."

Mike laughed, and stopped when Romeo slammed into the door again. "Romeo, will you knock it off? You heard the man with the badge."

"What else am I supposed to do?" Romeo grumbled. "I hate closets. The walls are closing in on me! Dude, I almost wish Kelly was here. Then I could yell at someone and not get killed."

Rick snorted. "Do you two ever do anything but fight? It's like you're her brother, not Kevin."

Romeo shuddered. "Please. God forbid."

"Like, where is Kelly anyway?" Stacey muttered.

"Either I just found someone I know," a voice said from behind a stack of towels, "or the cleaning supplies are so old they've developed speech."

"They don't believe in cleaning here," Mike said as Stacey pushed the towels away to reveal a grate with a familiar face poking through. "Hey, Kelly, how you doing?"

She snorted. "Just lovely. It's so much fun hanging upside down. Are you guys okay?"

"We're fine, although Romeo's starting to worry me," Rick said as they moved to stand beneath the grate. "Can you open that thing?"

Kelly shook her head as Stacey climbed up and yanked. "No way," the blonde said, shaking her head. "It's bolted tight, and I don't have a screwdriver." At that, the three guys immediately set to the task of tearing through the shelves.

"You might in a minute," Kelly said with a grin. "Agent Mulder, where's my brother?" He paused, and she glared at him. "Where's Kevin????"

Mulder frowned. "Someone claiming to be responsible for the killer took your brother and Agent Scully hostage. I--"

"What? Which way did they go?"

"I think they were headed for the east wing," Stacey said. "Why?"

"Thanks!" With that, Kelly was gone.

"Hey, thanks for staying and helping!" Romeo shouted sarcastically.

5:30 p.m.

Kevin was still trying to figure out what to do. The minutes were dragging by like hours, as Wily prodded him in circles, trying to avoid the police left in the building. Obviously, Rick's father had figured out that moving in was a good idea. Wily was expecting to see a cop at every turn.

What neither of them expected, though, was to turn and come face to face with Kelly at the end of the hall. "Kevin!" she shouted, not seeing who was behind him.

"No!" Kevin yelled as she started forward, and Wily removed the pistol from his back, aiming it at Kelly. "He's got a--"

Suddenly, the laser gun went off, the beam shooting through the light fixture instead of through Kelly's midsection. Wily let out a cry of pain, and Kevin whirled to see that Duke has appeared and had latched his teeth into Wily's left leg. And the dog was not about to let go anytime soon.

Forgetting completely about the two teenagers, Wily hopped about in circles, trying vainly to dislodge the canine. "Yeeow! Get off me, you mangy mutt!" As Duke stubbornly refused to let go, the scientist became more agitated, flailing his arms in the air as well.

Without thinking, Kevin spun on his heel and kicked the hand that held the laser gun. As his foot actually made contact, Wily let go in surprise. The gun sailed into the air. "No!" Wily cried. "The safety's off!"

Kevin realized what that meant. The safety on a regular gun kept it from going off when the trigger was pulled. But the safety on a laser gun, according to Dr. Right, was what kept it from going off when it struck something hard.

Everything suddenly seemed to switch to slow motion as the gun sailed into the air. Kevin and Wily, heedless of the angry canine attached to his leg, lunged forward, but both missed. As the weapon fell towards the floor, Kevin shut his eyes for the blast that both he and Wily were expecting.

But it never came.

After a moment, Kevin opened his eyes and stumbled to his feet to see his sister standing there, the gun in her hand. "I should have stuck with softball, huh?"

Before she could point it at him, Wily finally managed to detach Duke from his leg. Grabbing the dog by the scruff of the collar, he all but tossed Duke onto Kevin, who stumbled forward and knocked Kelly off-balance. "You're too late, Captain N!" the scientist shouted as he shoved open a nearby door and charged down the stairwell.

"Why does he always find an escape route?" Kevin muttered, regaining his balance. Kelly wasn't so lucky; she fell backwards, landing on her behind and dropping the gun. It hit the floor with a dull thud. Nothing else happened. "What? Why didn't it go off?"

Kelly picked it up, examining it. "Maybe because there's no juice." She showed him the power meter on its side, which was dark. "I'm guessing."

"Wily must have used all the power welding that closet. I've got to stop him!" He charged out the door down the stairs after the scientist.

Kelly was right behind him. "You're not going without me!"

5:45 p.m.

"Miss? Miss, are you all right?"

Scully's vision swam, and after a moment the colors solidified into the face of a concerned police officer. "Wha--Yes, yes, I'm fine. What time is it? How long have I been out?"

"It's 5:45. Listen, I'll get a doctor--"

"No. No! I'm fine." She batted him away irritably, fishing out her badge. "FBI. Just let me up."

Bemused, he helped her to her feet, and she spotted a familiar figure at the other end of the hall. "Detective Walker!" At the mention of his name, the detective hurried over, and the officer got out of the way. "Have you found my partner yet? Or those kids that were running around?"

"What? No, I have no idea what you're talking about."

She sighed. "Last I checked, they were all right. But you're going to need some help to break them out."

5:55 p.m.

With all the chaos and crowding outside the building, no one really noticed the man in the white coat slip out a side door, or the two teenagers that followed in hot pursuit.

"Where is he?" Kevin scanned the crowds. "I don't see him anywhere!"

Kelly squinted, catching a flash of white coat. "There! Behind that red Jeep!"

"He's going to hotwire it!" Breaking into a run, Kevin dashed into the thick of the crowd, trying to reach the scientist. "We won't be able to catch him if he does!"

Catching up to him, Kelly grabbed his arm and dragged him in a different direction. "Yeah we will." She pointed to the clearly obvious lime green Del Sol parked a few rows away. "It may be a weird color, but you can find it anywhere. Come on!" They bolted for the car, and Kelly immediately claimed the driver's seat.

She had just gotten the engine started when Wily violently pulled the Jeep out of its space and sped towards the nearest exit with a squeal of tires. "Come on, Duke!" Kevin yelled, and the dog jumped through the window into his lap as Kelly pulled out of the space and followed the Jeep, but without the tires squealing; in Wily's wake, they were relatively unnoticed. There was a barricade of yellow tape in his way, but Wily drove straight through, ignoring the police officers that dived out of the vehicle's path.

The green Del Sol was right behind him, making a hard left as it did so. "Kevin! Seatbelt!" Kelly cried as she turned into the main road. "This isn't much of a stunt vehicle!"

"Yeah, well, the driver needs a lot of work too!" Kevin said, but obeyed, nudging Duke into the back seat. The chase had thinned out; Wily was cruising down the road, since he wasn't going anywhere in particular. "Does he know he's being followed?"

Kelly peered at the Jeep ahead of her. "If he does, he must be low on gas. We're only going the speed limit."

"I think he just doesn't want to get picked up." Kevin bit his lip, remembering what Wily had said. "I don't think he even knows where he's going."

"Oh. That helps."

6:00 p.m.

"That's got to be a record," Mulder gasped as he stumbled into the hall, wiping his brow. "You wouldn't believe how hot it was in there."

"Well, it just got hotter," Walker said, coming up to them. "Some nutcase in a white lab coat just hotwired a Jeep and made a break for it outside."

"Sound familiar?" Scully commented.

Walker snorted. Behind him, the other four teenagers were stumbling into the hall, tired and relieved. It had been a close call; another minute and Stacey would have strangled Mike and Romeo. "Oh, it gets better. Right on its tail was a lime-green Del Sol, and they got the plate. Registered to Kelly Keene."

At that point, Stacey and Mike chose that moment to start yelling at each other. Romeo tried to break them up, but only succeeded in getting yelled at himself. Rick tried to quiet them down, but in a moment all four were shouting randomly. Valley kids, Mulder observed, didn't cope well with closed spaces.

He turned to Walker and Scully. "Don't even say it. I'm driving."

Reseda Boulevard

There was silence in the small car as Kelly focused on keeping up with Wily. Not even Duke was making a sound, and Kevin decided to end it. "Okay, Squirrel, out with it. Who are you, and what did you do with my sister?"

"Say what?"

"Kel, why are you helping me? The kid I know would have already gotten Mom and Dad before I could even get down the stairs. The kid I know would have sided with Mom on the memory thing. The kid I know wouldn't be chasing a stolen car with a guy that tried to fry me with a laser gun."

Kelly sighed and brushed her hair out of her face. "Because I want to know what happened, Kev. Ever since the gym disappeared last year, I've been going nuts."

He sat up straighter, and Duke's ears perked up. "What? You saw that?"

She nodded, remembering. "I stayed late after soccer practice. It was just me, Stacey, Romeo, Rick, and Julius. Anyway, it was after 4:30, and I had to get home. I only got halfway across the parking lot when the entire gym disappeared!" She scowled at the memory. "It reappeared an hour later, and Stace, Rick, Romeo, and Julius didn't remember a thing. Nobody else reported it! I was the only one to see it; they thought I made it up."

She lapsed into silence. Kevin paused. "And?"

"Okay, okay. I got so frustrated I started crying. I was so mad. I think they felt sorry for me. Anyway, one thing led to another, and we started hanging out: me, Romeo, Rick, Stace, and Julius. I didn't know any of them then, but it didn't matter." Kelly sighed. "It took Romeo a week to figure out my name wasn't Karen."

"I never heard about this. How come the cops didn't investigate?"

She shrugged. "I was the only witness who was paying enough attention, if you can believe that. And I really didn't want to go blabbing it around and get a free straitjacket and complimentary padded room, thank you very much."

Wily sped up, probably detecting an interference-free zone. "Uh-oh," Kevin said, and Kelly began to match Wily's speed. "What happened to Julius, anyway?"

"Moved to L.A. a few months ago." She switched gears again, not overly concerned with the slow-witted football player. "So then you show up again. Right outside the gym, with no memory. Then the killer strikes in the same place. Now I've seen the killer. I've seen the guy who sent the killer. But you know what's wrong with this picture, Kev? I still have no idea what the hell is going on!"

Kevin was silent for a moment. "I do." As he spoke, Wily suddenly slammed down on the accelerator and veered to the left, zipping into a side street before Kelly could react. "Watch out!"

"Oh no you don't!" Kelly yanked the wheel roughly, sending the Del Sol into an almost complete 180-degree turn, tires squealing, and swerved to avoid an oncoming truck. The truck swerved as well and crashed into a pile of trash cans on the sidewalk as Kelly made it into the side street. "Sorry!" she yelled out the window. "Great. Where'd he go? We lost him!"

A thought suddenly struck Kevin. "Wait a minute. The gym! Of course! I think I know where he's headed!" He turned and actually looked at her. "I'll make you a deal. You help me catch Wily, and I'll tell you everything on the way."

Kelly grinned and hit the accelerator.

Northridge Hospital Medical

The black car sat in the shadows, its occupants quietly surveying the parking lot. Through the binoculars, Agents Scully and Mulder could be seen scrambling into the car they'd rented, after squabbling briefly about who was driving, and pull out of the lot and past the police at the exit, who let them through with a nod.

Putting the binoculars down, the driver glanced into the rearview. "They're moving out, sir."

"Well, you know the drill. Walker's been ordered to stay with the strike teams. Let's go."

Silently, the sedan headed the way the FBI agents had gone.

Nordhoff Street
6:15 p.m.

"Shit!" Kelly slammed on the brakes as the light turned red, just in time to avoid being hit by the stream of cars that just got a green light. Wily, on the other side of the intersection, was speeding away. "Just when we spotted him, too!"

Duke growled, and Kevin groaned. "Man, I wish I had my Power Pad."

Kelly glanced behind her; there were no cars stopped directly. She shifted into reverse, backing the car up a length. Kevin, sensing what she was going to do, reached back and grabbed Duke's collar. "Hang on, Captain N, I'm taking a shortcut!"

With that, she pulled a hard left. The small car jumped over the divider and swerved, tires screeching as Kelly barely managed to pull a U-turn. "Right! Turn right!" Kevin yelled. "Through the alley!"

"I know where I'm going!" Again the Del Sol swerved as she turned sharply down an alleyway. "I just hope no one comes in the other way!" As they reached the other end, she swerved to avoid a car that was about to turn into the alley.

The Del Sol sped through the intersection, bouncing as it crossed through. "Are you sure this car can take this?" Kevin yelled.

"Probably not, but do you have a better idea?"

Something red caught his eye. "Kel! There he is! Heading past the park!" Kevin suddenly realized where they were. "Through the park! We can cut him off on Tampa!"

She stared at him. "Are you kidding?"

"Do you want to see it for yourself or what?"

The Del Sol jumped the curb, speeding across the grass.

Northridge High School

"See anything yet?" Mulder asked.

Scully refocused the binoculars, scanning the field and street. "No. It's only been ten minutes, though. Are you positive they'll come here?"

"Everything else has happened here. Trust me, Scully."

She sighed and lifted the binoculars again. "I'll tell you if anything happens."

He shrugged and leaned back, peering at the road map he'd taken from the glove compartment. Suddenly, something did happen farther up the road, at the other end of the field. A lime green car crashed through the bushes on the far side of the road just as the stolen Jeep came around the corner. Swerving to avoid hitting the green car, the Jeep instead drove off the road, coming to an abrupt stop as it ran into a tree. The other driver was somewhat luckier, managing to stop at the curb without a collision.

Scully unbuckled her seatbelt. Her partner was looking at the road map in his lap and hadn't seen the crash yet. "Mulder?"

"What?" He looked up, and saw the activity up ahead.

He was out of the car in moments, and Scully couldn't resist a smirk. "I think that qualifies as 'something.'"

Duke leapt out the window, charging towards the wreckage of the Jeep. Kevin and Kelly followed. As she reached the driver's side door, Kelly stopped. "Wait a minute--where did he go?"

Kevin came up beside her and saw the empty Jeep. He cast around, wondering where the scientist could have gone.

"Looking for me, Captain Nitwit?" a voice called from behind them. Before either could turn, Kevin suddenly found himself lifted into the air as a metal coil snaked out of nowhere, wrapping itself around his neck and lifting him into the air. As it constricted, Kevin grabbed at the mechanical noose, trying in vain to loosen its grip.

Wily was standing a few paces behind them, holding a black metal box from which the snakelike coil protruded. "Leave him alone, you son of a--" Kelly cried as she started towards him. But she didn't even get a chance to finish the sentence as another coil shot out of the box, wrapped around her ankle and lifted her in the air, hanging upside down and spewing profanities left and right.

A third coil wrapped around Duke's midsection, and soon all three of them were in Wily's grasp. As the coil that held Kevin came near, Kelly snatched at it, managing to grab on for a second. "I don't think so!" Wily shouted, and the coil that held her jerked back, whipping her back violently with it. "Ever hear of death by whiplash?"

" won't...get away..." Kevin choked, but he was barely able to breathe as the coil tightened. His vision swam, and the long shadows of the evening were growing darker. Lana, he thought, I'm sorry..

Suddenly, the sharp sound of gunfire split the air, ceasing Kelly's stream of panicked profanity and causing the coil to loosen just enough for him to breathe again. "Freeze!" a man's voice shouted. "FBI!"

Wily snickered. "Oh, please."

"It took you long enough!" Kelly shouted as Mulder and Scully started firing at the scientist.

But Wily had thought to bring some sort of portable forcefield; the shots bounced off harmlessly. The coil began tightening again, but suddenly Mulder wised up and started firing at the coil that had Kevin in its grip. The forcefield didn't extend that far, and after the fourth shot, the metal tube sparked and sizzled, the wiring severed, and Kevin was dropped unceremoniously to the ground, almost landing on a hubcap that had come loose from the wrecked Jeep.

Before Wily could act, Kevin grabbed the hubcap and jumped to his feet, bringing the sharp metal edge down on the coil that held Kelly, chopping repeatedly at the metal. In a moment, there was a shower of sparks as the hubcap severed a wire. The coil slackened and Kelly was dropped to the ground, landing less comfortably than her brother.

Mulder and Scully turned towards Wily, but the scientist dropped the box and charged off towards the trees. As the coil holding Duke went limp, the two agents dashed off in pursuit.

But they were too late. As he reached the trees, Wily pulled out the warp zone opener in his pocket, pushed a button, and dived through the warp, which closed a second later.

"No!" Kevin yelled. "Damn you!"

"Will you shut up?" Kelly mumbled, sitting up. "Oh. Sorry. Why the hell did I have to land on my head?" Kevin sighed and helped her to her feet. Mulder and Scully were still at the edge of the trees, trying to figure out what, exactly, had happened. "He got away, didn't he?"

"Yeah. And I don't know how to stop him." Kevin sighed. Duke came trotting up, looking up at Kevin with a worried whimper. "Yeah, boy, I'm worried too."

Kelly was silent, thinking, still rubbing the bump that was forming on the back of her head. "Why can't you go back the way you came the first time? Dig up Punch-Out again or something." She sighed. "Never mind. Dumb idea."

"Punch-Out?" Kevin was thinking. "No, wait! Squirrel, you're a genius!" He snatched the keys from her hands and dashed towards the car. "I know where to go! Come on, Duke!"

"Hey, you don't have a license!" Kelly retorted, but she climbed in to the passenger side anyway. "And don't call me Squirrel!"

Surfside Mall
7:00 p.m.

"Did you have to leash him?" Kevin muttered.

"I didn't want to deal with the rent-a-cops here, all right? Now will you tell me--" Kelly broke off, glancing behind her. "Uh-oh. We have FBI on radar."

Kevin groaned. This was the last thing they needed. Agent Mulder seemed okay, but Videoland probably wouldn't benefit from the FBI knowing about it. "Come on!" He grabbed Kelly's hand and broke into a run, dragging his sister with him. Kelly dropped the leash, and Duke followed, hot on their heels as they shoved, dodged, and looped their way through the masses of people.

He turned left, dragging her behind a vendor stall, as Mulder and Scully passed them by. The two agents stopped, casting around for them, and Kevin turned and headed towards the arcade, stooping over to hide in the crowd. Kelly did the same, and Duke led the way for once, having a clue where his master was headed. If he couldn't play video games at home, Kevin usually headed to the arcade.

It hadn't changed much. Kevin glanced around, and grinned as he spotted the machine he was looking for sitting in the far corner of the arcade. He turned to Kelly. "I need ten minutes. If they figure out where we are, distract them."

"Distract them? How am I supposed to do that?"

"Be yourself, Squirrel."

"Any sign of them?" Mulder asked as he came up alongside his partner, who was looking left and right in vain.

She shook her head. "No. They must have doubled back somehow. I can't believe there are so many people here on a Tuesday night." Turning, she scanned the crowd. "Mulder, we have to find them. I don't care what your theory is, but Kevin Keene knows what's going on."

"You're positive?"

"I caught some of the conversation before that Wily character knocked me out, and it made no sense to me. But it made perfect sense to Kevin." Briefly, she related the details of what had happened. "Mulder, you at least spent some time with their friends. Where would either of them have gone?"

Mulder was shaking his head. "Wily? Why does that sound familiar?" His eye suddenly fell on the neon arcade sign. "I think I have an idea where."

7:05 p.m.

Kevin was surprised that there was still a machine with Punch-Out on it, but didn't stop to question when he found it. Within a few minutes, he had beaten Glass Joe and was on to the next match.

Glancing over her shoulder, Kelly checked the crowd nervously. She was supposed to be the lookout, but she also didn't want to miss her shot at finding out if Kevin wasn't just suffering from a bump on the head. As she glanced back and forth, she became so nervous that the touch of a hand on her shoulder almost caused her to jump a foot in the air. "Kelly? Whoa, sorry, it's just me!"

She turned, surprised. "Rick? What are you doing here? How did you get here? Why hasn't your dad locked you in the basement yet?"

"Um, I'm here to get Stace and Romeo to calm down, I drove, and Dad got so fed up at us yelling at each other that he ordered us to go get something to eat." He looked around. "You okay? Does that guy still have Kevin?"

Von Kaiser was down for the count. She'd never seen anyone play so fast. "Yeah. Kevin's around, and that freak just took off. We're okay."

"I'll call my dad and--"

This time she did jump. "No!! Uh, no, look, we're all right. I don't think your dad really wants to come down here and pick us up. I've got my car."

Rick stopped and looked at her for a moment. "Kelly, what's going on?"

"Nothing!" He folded his arms and continued to stare at her. "All right, something. But it's so totally bizarre you wouldn't believe it. Like the gymnasium last spring." She bit her lip. "Rick, we can't let your dad, the cops, or the Feds know about it. If they don't believe it, they'll lock Kevin and me in the nuthouse. If they do believe it, we're in even more trouble."

"I can't help unless you tell me." Kevin had gotten past Piston Honda and was beating the daylights out of Don Flamenco.

"There isn't time!" Over his shoulder, she could see two familiar FBI agents moving towards them. "Oh, shit!"

Rick followed her gaze. "Uh-oh."

"You want to help? Distract them! Please!" She turned and began pushing her way towards the machine in the corner.

As she did so, Rick turned to face Agent Scully. "Hey! Agent Scully! You're okay!"

"I'm fine, Rick," she said, trying to pass him as Mulder came up as well.

But Rick wasn't captain of the football team for nothing. Still playing innocent, he moved to block her path. "What are you guys doing here? Did you catch the guy who grabbed Kevin?"

"Not exactly," Scully said. "Rick, what did Kelly tell you?"

"Kelly? She's here?" Don Flamenco went down.

Mulder groaned and managed to elbow his way through. At the far corner of the arcade, Kevin was plugging away frantically at an old Punch-Out machine, with Duke at his side, and Kelly was shoving her way towards them in a frenzy. After a few moments of dodging, Scully glared at Rick. "Mr. Walker, I'm currently packing a firearm. Are you sure you want to get in my way?"

He let her through. "Kevin!" Mulder shouted over the din of people and machines. "We need to talk to you!"

At that moment, the game Kevin was playing dissolved into static, and the screen went black. "Yes!" Kevin yelled, and then the screen exploded into tendrils of bright energy, which shot out to grab him. Kevin didn't resist, and Kelly grabbed onto his arm as the two teens were pulled forward.

"No!" Mulder leapt forward, grabbing Kevin's ankle. "Scully!" he shouted as he was dragged towards the screen. She dashed forward, grabbing his arm with one hand and a pole with another. The tendrils stretched to include all five of them, and the pull was so strong that Scully felt her grip weaken. Her fingers slipped from the pole, and the agents, teenagers, and dog were falling into the screen.

She could have sworn everything looked animated before she blacked out.

Unidentified Place
7:15 p.m.

"Your Highness, are you sure you have to do this?" Simon Belmont whined as the Princess of Videoland followed Dr. Right and Mega Man around the chamber, checking wires and lights. An array of equipment was scattered around the room, most of it hooked up to a small pedestal in the center. Seated on the pedestal was a metal glove that glowed with an eerie blue light. "Besides, I really didn't like him that much anyway."

Lana turned and glared at him, frustrated and angry. "You should talk! It's your fault he was warped back home in the first place. And if it wasn't for Link and Zelda backing us up," here she gestured at the two Hylians standing over by the security monitors, "Mother Brain would have captured us all."

"Yeah, and weren't you also the one who tripped all the alarms?" Link piped up. Zelda kicked him. "Ow! Watch it, Princess!"

Simon stood up, whip at the ready. "Are you blaming me for what happened?" Link drew his short sword.

Quickly, Zelda grabbed his wrist. "Calm down, both of you. We really don't need to be doing Mother Brain's work for her. This lull won't last forever, and we need to get Captain N back before Mother Brain regains full power."

"You may not like him, Simon-icus, but we do need Kevin," Kid Icarus added.

Simon scowled. "So why is he taking so long to get back? First we barely get out of Metroid alive, only because of my heroics, then you spend days mucking with the Ultimate Warp Zone, then Wily goes after Captain Numbskull, then you waste more time actually trying to stop him! And my hair is a mess!"

Lana sighed. "Just when something halfway intelligent started to come out of his mouth--"

She didn't manage to finish, for at that point the Power Glove suddenly flared brightly, almost blinding everyone in the room. Then a blue-white beam of light shot out from it and into the wall, spreading into a swirling blue warp.

Out fell a dark-haired girl Lana didn't recognize, followed by Kevin and two other strange adults, a man and a woman. The last one through was Duke, the only one to land on his feet. Then, as abruptly as it had flared into existence, the warp zone faded out, leaving an excited dog and a pile of people.

"Transmission completed," Gameboy bleeped, as if they couldn't tell.

For about a second, no one moved or spoke. Suddenly, the silence was broken with a shout from the bottom of the pile. "I hate to break this magical moment, but GET OFF ME!"

Shaking themselves back to reality, Kevin and the other man hastily scrambled to their feet, Kevin helping the dark-haired girl stand. "You okay, Kel?"

"Just fine, considering your knee was jammed into my spine." She blinked and looked around. "Oh my God. I'm a cartoon." Looking at her hands, then back at Kevin, she grinned, nearly bouncing up and down. "This is awesome!"

Duke barked happily and started running around in circles. Unfortunately, the leash snagged Simon's leg, wrapping around his ankles and sending the vampire hunter to the floor with a crash. "Dumb mutt," Simon muttered as Duke trotted up and started licking his face. "Aagh! Get him off me!" Kid Icarus sighed and reluctantly flew over to help.

Kevin turned to see Lana, and his eyes lit up. "Lana! You're all right!"

Before she could say anything, he rushed over and hugged her, lifting her into the air. She couldn't help but laugh. "Kevin!"

The other man had abandoned his shock momentarily to check on the woman, who had hit her head and was out cold. "Scully? Scully, can you hear me?"

Kevin was completely tuning out everything except Lana. "I thought they'd captured you by now."

"We just made it out, barely." Lana forced herself to return to reality. "Kevin, who are all these people?"

Kevin looked around. "Oh, um--" He reached over and grabbed the girl's wrist, dragging her over. "Kelly, this is Princess Lana. Lana, this is my obnoxious kid sister, Kelly."

"Obnoxious? Who saved your ass two hours ago? Who helped you figure out how to get back here?" Kelly reached over and shook Lana's hand. "I'm sorry, your Highness, but he is my brother."

Lana smiled. "Just Lana." Looking at the two of them, she could see the resemblance; the same dark brown hair and wide blue eyes. "Kevin, I--" She trailed off, looking past him. "But who are they?"

Kelly glanced over Kevin's shoulder at the other two arrivals. Dr. Right was kneeling beside the man to look at the woman's head. "Uh-oh. We have a problem."

As they headed over, the man stood up and turned to face them and whipped a badge out. "Agent Fox Mulder, FBI." He stopped and took stock of his surroundings again, realizing how ludicrous he sounded. "All right, look. Forget the badge. Would someone mind telling me where we are, how we fell through a wall, and why everything is animated?"

Several pairs of eyes turned to stare at Kevin, who groaned. "This has got to be a Tuesday. I never could get the hang of Tuesdays."

Surfside Mall
Northridge, California

For a few moments, Rick Walker simply stood there, gaping at the old machine that had just sucked two of his best friends into his depths. "No one," he muttered, "is going to believe this."

"Like, duh! I saw it, and I still totally think I'm dreaming!"

He whirled to see Romeo and Stacey standing almost directly behind him, staring at the Punch-Out machine. "What are you guys doing here?"

Romeo shrugged. "We got bored and went looking for you. Then Stace saw those FBI agents running over here, so, you know, we wanted to see what was going on."

"Well," Rick said, "you saw it. I just wish I knew what 'it' was."

"So do I," a voice said, and the three friends turned to face five middle-aged men in dark suits. The one in the center flashed a badge so quickly that Rick couldn't tell if it was real. "Agent Johnson. I'm with the FBI."

Stacey looked suspicious, which wasn't easy to do while loudly chewing gum. "Um, excuse me, but didn't the FBI people, like, zap into Oz five minutes ago? Where were you guys?"

Johnson smiled thinly. "Miss Anderson, you're not in the best position to be asking questions. I suggest you three come with me."

Rick looked around at the group of men with guns. It didn't look like they really had a choice.

Palace Infirmary
7:30 p.m.

"Let me get this straight," Scully said. "We're in a parallel universe--a parallel multiverse, actually--where there are hundreds of linked video worlds based on video games, there's an alliance of bad guys trying to take over, and Kevin is some prophecied hero that can save you all?"

Kelly winced. "It sounded better when Lana told it." Kevin wasn't paying much attention; he and Link were going through the arsenal inventory, and he was recharging his Power Pad.

Mulder snorted. After her initial panic attack in the infirmary of waking up to a cartoon world, Scully had reverted back to her skeptical, clinical self. "Oh, come on, Scully. Got a better explanation? I don't think that a mass hallucination covers this one."

"I don't know." She pressed the ice pack to her sore bump. "Mass insanity, perhaps?" She sighed. "But--and if anyone asks, you never heard me say this--it makes a whole lot more sense than the other theories."

Kevin looked up. "What other theories?"

Scully smirked at her partner. "They don't call him 'Spooky' Mulder for nothing."

"Knock it off. At least I had a theory."

Ignoring them, Kelly leaned back thoughtfully. "So what's the deal here? There isn't an impending mass attack or anything, is there?"

Gameboy's screen flashed briefly. "Probability of attack is 14.652 percent."

Everyone stared at Dr. Right. "Not immediately," the scientist translated.

Lana smiled and shook her head, trying not to laugh. "Considering the damage Gameboy and Mega Man did to Wily's files, and the systems the N Team was able to disable during the Metroid attack, we've had time to try to figure out how to get Kevin back. Although it took everyone long enough to regroup after the ambush."

Scully blinked. "Someone explain what happened in sequence. As simply as possible, please."

The power meter reached its maximum level, and Kevin strapped on the Power Pad. "Whole thing started when Dr. Right sent a spy probe to Metroid and found out that Wily was creating an army for Mother Brain to attack the Palace. So we decided to go to Metroid and stop them before they had a chance to strike, and Mega Man and Gameboy went to Megaland to get into Wily's files and find out what was going on."

"Gameboy downloaded everything we could find, which wasn't much," Mega Man interrupted. "And when we were spotted, we mega-fried Wily's computer."

"Kevin, Duke, Simon, and Kid Icarus went to Metroid," Lana continued, "and broke into Wily's lab there to cut off his energy source. Of course, there was already an army waiting for them. Wily was done."

"What they didn't know was that Wily used magic, not science, to clone his robots," Zelda added. "Which meant it could be done much faster. Link found out that several robots had been seen warping into Hyrule, and they were continually stealing cloning spells."

Lana picked up the tale. "And then they sent a transmission to the Palace to warn us, but they had already left. So Link, Zelda, Mega Man, and I took off for Metroid to try to ambush the ambush. Gameboy went to Megaland to retrieve Dr. Right in case Wily had any other tricks up his sleeve. But Wily also had a Warp Zone Shifter--a device he used a while back to bring some of Kevin's friends to Videoland."

Kelly jumped up. "I knew it! I wasn't hallucinating!"

"And then while we were fighting, Simon-icus accidentally hit a bunch of buttons on the wall, and Kevin and Duke were right next to the Warp Zone Shifter," Kid Icarus spoke up finally. "They got sucked right in-icus!"

"Hey!" Simon said defensively. "I don't see anyone yelling at you for that Blade Arrow that almost chopped off my ear!"

Link pulled a face. "You needed a haircut anyway."

"Metroid was having a serious meltdown, and everything was falling on top of us," Zelda said, ignoring them. "We had to retreat."

Scully groaned. "I'm still confused."

"So if that was a week and a half ago," Mulder asked, "why are you still having problems now?"

"For one thing," Dr. Right said, "we couldn't figure out how to open the Ultimate Warp Zone--that is, how to pinpoint it to find Kevin. And Mother Brain was still intact, if low on power."

"Not only that," Zelda answered. "but it took us all a while to regroup. When the systems in Wily's lab started shorting out, the Warp Zone Shifter's circuits went haywire as well. It started opening up random warps all over the lab. It was either take a chance on a random warp or get fried or smashed by malfunctioning equipment. Needless to say, we found ourselves pretty well scattered, on the video worlds that had the least knowledge of warp zones or Videoland."

"So then Wily finally fixed the warp device or whatever, sent a bad T-1000 to get Kevin, and today got fed up with it and went through himself to finish the job?" Kelly asked, and Lana nodded.

"But his trip registered on the Palace sensors and allowed us to pinpoint Captain N," Dr. Right finished. "The only catch was that Kevin had to open the warp on the other end--the same way he came through the first time."

Lana sighed. "And we could not figure out how to get rid of the memory-erasing capability of the Ultimate Warp Zone. So if any one of us went through, we wouldn't even remember who we were, much less who we were looking for."

Scully pursed her lips, trying to make sense of it all. "This is fascinating, but what about us? Can you send us home?"

"Right now, we could," Lana said, "but you'll be dropped back in the exact same place you left from with your memory erased."

"Great," Kelly said. "It must be a mob scene at Surfside right now. Wish we could see what was going on."

Dr. Right stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I just might know a way."

7:45 p.m.

"I've just finished testing this new viewscreen system," Dr. Right explained as they entered the throne room of the Palace. "It's supposed to be able to call up images of any area of any video world where there is or recently has been a warp zone. But as I discovered, it can pick up much more than that--even outside Videoland!"

"Let me guess," Kelly said. "Earth."

Simon glanced up from his hand mirror. "I guess stating the obvious runs in your family, Captain Nitwit."

"If you don't put that mirror away," Kelly muttered, "I'll smash it over your thick head."

"Oh, and feisty, too!" Simon smiled at Kelly, who rolled her eyes. Duke growled.

Kevin had strapped on his Power Pad, and twirled his Zapper on his finger. "Lay off my sister, Simon. This is serious."

The rest of the group ignored them as Dr. Right tapped in the proper coordinates and an image came into view. "Oh, yeah," Mulder said, eyeing the crowd. "I'd call that a mob scene."

"That's normal for L.A., Mulder," Scully observed.

"Trust me," Kelly said as she shoved her way to the fore to get a better look. "Northridge is not L.A. I don't care how close we are." She paused and squinted at the screen. "Hey, Kevin! What are Rick, Stace, and Romeo doing there? And who are those guys?"

Kevin turned away from Simon to see three of their friends surrounded by dark-suited men. "Friends of yours?" he asked the FBI agents beside him.

"No..." Mulder trailed off. "Hey. Wait a minute. Can you zoom in on that man right there?" Dr. Right obediently tapped at the keyboard, and the viewscreen zoomed in, the face coming into sharper focus. As it did so, Mulder's eyes grew wide. "That black-lunged son of a bitch!"

Link let out a low whistle. "Doesn't sound like a friend to me." He ducked as Zelda reached over to smack him in the back of the head.

Lana studied the image. "You know that man?"

"Unfortunately," Mulder answered. "I've been trying to prove a theory that there is a government conspiracy dedicated to covering up the existence of extraterrestrial life. I'm positive he's part of it." He turned to the confused faces looking at him. "Basically, he's not one of the good guys."

"Well, he's got Stace, Rick, and Romeo," Kelly said as the men began to lead their friends away. "We've got to go after them."

"Excuse me-icus," Kid Icarus interrupted, "but how are we gonna do that? We don't have a Warp Zone Shifter."

"Yeah," Kevin said, "but Wily does."

Lana had learned to read Kevin over the years, and she knew exactly what the smile on his face meant. "Kevin, you actually want to go after Wily? Now? Your friends really don't know what's going on."

"And why should we care, anwyay?" Simon added, admiring his hair.

Scully continued to stare at the screen, remembering how easily she'd been incapacitated by Wily. "I don't know about this. Why not just wait until the mob clears out and try to go back the way we came?"

"They'll probably be monitoring the arcade," Mulder pointed out.

Pressing a button, Kevin shut the viewscreen off. "Wily didn't manage to capture me, but he's not going to stop there. He's probably got plans for the Warp Zone Shifter." He pounded his fists together. "And these are my friends we're talking about. Without them, I might be lunchmeat. I say we attack now."

Lana sighed. "All right, but we need a plan. We've got to figure out where, exactly, he has the device stored."

"In his lab in Megaland," Dr. Right answered promptly. "I had to pinpoint Wily's location to lock on to Kevin's."

"Okay," Kevin said. "Then we'll go to Megaland. Mega Man, Link, you're with me." Duke trotted over and sat down by his master's feet, looking up at Kevin expectantly. "All right, boy, you can come too. Kel, Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, you're going to have to come along. We might have to open the warp there."

"We?" Lana interrupted. "Kevin, are you planning to go through with them?"

"Lana, they're my friends--" Kevin began.

Lana turned to Zelda. "Zelda, would you do me a favor? Would you and Link take over Palace affairs until I come back?" She turned back to Kevin, who looked utterly confused. "Because I'm coming with you."

Kevin tried again. "You don't have to--"

She stepped up to him, a smile on her face. "Don't give me that, Kevin Keene. I am not letting you out of my sight again." Kelly stifled a snicker.

"I don't have a choice, do I?" Lana shook her head. Duke trotted over to sit by his master's feet, looking up at Kevin expectantly. "All right, boy, you can come too," he added, scratching the dog's head affectionately.

Simon scowled. "Wonderful. The mutt goes, and I'm stuck here."

"Probably because the mutt has more brains than you have," Link muttered.

Kevin ignored them for once. "I guess we're going to have to equip you guys with something, then," he said, looking over at the agents and his sister.

"All right!" Kelly said. "Does this mean I get a gun?"

"God help us all," Scully moaned as she and Mulder followed the N-Team down the hallway.

Northridge Police Department

"Ow! Watch the hair!" Romeo complained as the three teenagers were shoved into the interrogation room.

Shaking his head, Rick allowed himself to be herded into the small room, ignoring his friend. What caught his attention was the occupants of the interrogation room. Sitting at the table were Mike Vincent, in a clean t-shirt and jeans, and someone else who Rick wasn't expecting in the least. "Chief Wilson? What's going on?"

"Like the man said," one of the agents answered, pushing him into a chair, "you're in no position to ask questions."

Rick glanced over at Mike questioningly. Mike shrugged, his expression clearly saying, "How should I know?" as Romeo and Stacey were seated with similar treatment.

There was a long silence as the agents and teenagers stared at each other. "Johnson" reached into his coat and pulled out a cigar, lighting it casually. "You wouldn't have anything to tell us, now would you?"

"Yeah," Mike said, and the men looked at him with curiosity. "Did you know someone switched your face with your ass while you were sleeping?" Rick covered his mouth with his hand to stifle a chuckle.

One of the agents jumped to his feet, but Johnson lifted a hand. "Sit down. There's no point in injuring an already wounded man."

Rick noticed then that Mike wasn't feeling too well. He was wincing from his injured hip, and although he was hiding it pretty well, Rick could tell the former bully needed to crash for about two days. He's not in shape to be discharged yet, Rick realized suddenly. Who the hell are these guys really? Clearing his throat, he glared at Johnson angrily. "What do you want? He ought to be back in the hospital, not sitting here taking this crap. You actually expect us to believe you're the good guys here?"

"What you believe is none of our concern, Mr. Walker." A thick waft of smoke drifted from the cigar, causing Stacey to start coughing as it was blown right in her face. "Rather, we want to know what you know about Kevin Keene."

"Well, for starters, his sister's an obnoxious bi--" Romeo was cut off as Rick elbowed him sharply. "Okay, okay. Look, if you're talking about what happened to him, we're as clueless as you are, all right?"

Johnson glanced over at Mike, who shrugged. "After tonight, I don't know. Think his name's really John Connor?" This time neither Rick or Romeo could hide their amusement, but their captors just looked bored.

Wiping at her watering eyes, Stacey choked back a cough. "Look, we don't know what happened to Kevy. He just totally disappeared into thin air."

"Oh, really?" Wilson asked, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a newspaper clipping. "Like you three, along with Julius Jones, disappeared with the entire high school building a year ago?"

Rick groaned. "Like I told you and my Dad and a hundred other people, I don't remember that at all. The only one who had any clue about that was Kelly, and she was in hysterics when it happened. And I don't see her here. Why don't you go grab Julius while you're at it? Then you'll just have your own little collection of us."

"Your friend was little help to us," Johnson said, "so we did what we had to."

Stacey gasped, looking horrified at the implication. But Wilson rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Oh, for crying out loud. The dolt couldn't even get his ABC's right. We dropped him off at home before anyone knew he was gone."

"So you might as well just do the same to us," Rick said. "Even if we wanted to tell you anything, we couldn't."

Letting another cloud of smoke rise, the older man smiled thinly. "I might know someone who could jog your memories."

Palace of Power
8:00 p.m.

"So how do you use this thing again?" Scully examined the laser rifle that Dr. Right had handed out.

Mulder grinned, picking his own up and examining it. "Point and shoot. Sounds simple to me." She shot him a withering look, but as usual he ignored it.

Kelly frowned, noting that Right had only produced two rifles. "What about me and Lana? Don't tell me Kevin warned you about me ahead of time!"

"Actually, your Highness," Dr. Right said, addressing Lana, "I already had something in mind for you." As he spoke, he tapped an access code in a panel in the wall beside him. The panel slid open with a hiss, and the scientist reached inside only to bring out a Power Pad and Zapper, almost identical to Kevin's except that the Pad had a rounded design, with four action buttons instead of two.

Kelly let out a low whistle. "Hey, a Super NES Pad! Nice!" Those who were native to Videoland stared at her, and she sighed. "Never mind."

Lana was focused entirely on the Power Pad as Dr. Right put it into her hands. "This is for me?"

"It was supposed to be your birthday present," Kevin explained. "You're always saying you're tired of having to be the damsel in distress."

"Got that right," Lana said happily, as she allowed Kevin to strap it on for her. As he did, she turned and kissed him soundly. Simon looked disgusted, and Kelly grinned. When she pulled back, Kevin blinked a few times, dazed. "So how does it look on me?" she joked.

Zelda laughed, and Scully smiled. "Um-it-uh-um--" Kevin stuttered, still somewhat out of sorts.

"I can translate salivating boy talk," Kelly interrupted. "He says you look great."

Snapping out of it, Kevin looked at her curiously. "Why are you kissing up all of a sudden?"

"Because if anything those two--" here she pointed over at Link and Simon, both of whom immediately pretended to be looking elsewhere--"told me about our little trip is true, I'd be happy to at least have a nice solid blunt object to smash a bad guy with."

Scully leaned over to Mulder. "And I thought you had a one-track mind."

"Well," Dr. Right said, "it just so happens that I made a backup duplicate of Lana's Power Pad in case anything happened to it. I haven't done the same with the Zapper," he added, and Kelly's face fell.

She shrugged it off, strapping the Power Pad on. It looked exactly like Lana's, only it was grey with red buttons. Lana could tell, however, that Kevin's sister was still disappointed, and turned to the scientist. "Dr. Right, you've gotta have something."

"As I was saying," Dr. Right continued, reaching into the aperture and fiddling around, "I didn't make a Zapper duplicate, but I have completed a new prototype that's ready for a test run." Having said that, he retrieved what looked like a pair of metal bracelets. "I put this new laser through preliminary testing, and it might be what you need."

Kelly blinked. "New laser?" she asked, taking the bracelets and examining them. Despite the apparent thickness, they were lighter than she'd thought. "They look like manacles or something. Where's the laser?"

Dr. Right took the bracelets from her, pressing a button at the base of each to open them. "Let me show you how it works." Once she had fastened them on, a handle popped out under her right palm. A panel opened, and a small tube with a targeting sight came out. Right pointed to a green button on the bracelet. "Now press this button." Kelly obeyed, confused, and the button lit up.

"Come over here, and keep your palms open." He dragged her over to the far wall, which sported no equipment or doors, only some pictures of himself that Simon had put up. The rest of the N-Team followed, curious. "All right, now point your wrist towards the wall and get a target in your sights." She obeyed, still confused, lining up a rather badly painted pic of Simon on a horse. "Clench your fist and press in the trigger." Simon, realizing what was going on, opened his mouth to protest, but he was too late.

Shrugging, Kelly clenched her fist, squeezing the handle tightly. Immediately, a burst of blue-white energy shot out of the tube and struck the picture, reducing it to ash. "Whoa!" Kelly exclaimed. "That is so cool!"

"Hit the green button again," Dr. Right advised. "It's a safety to keep you from, say, clenching your fist and shooting yourself in the foot by accident." Grinning, Kelly pressed the button, and the light shut off. She tried the trigger again, and nothing happened. "And if you look at the display on your left wristband, you'll see how much power is left in your weapon. The Power Pad and the wrist scope run on two different energy cells, so you'll have to keep that in mind."

Simon, meanwhile, was kneeling down by the ashes of the painting, moaning in distress. "My lovely portrait! One-of-a-kind! Destroyed!"

"Uh, Simon-icus?" Kid interrupted. "You've got 40 pictures of yourself up there, and two more of them are exactly like that one was-icus."

Link turned and nudged Kevin. "You know, now might be a good time to get moving while he's distracted."

"You sure you're okay with this?" Kevin whispered. He'd expected Link to protest a lot more about being left behind. "I mean, we're leaving you here, with him and Kid and Gameboy--"

"And Zelda," Link finished with a grin. "Besides, someone's got to keep him out of trouble, and she'd never let me hear the end of it if I left her to do it herself."

"Good point." He punched Link in the shoulder. "Thanks. I owe you one." He gestured silently to Lana, who got the hint and silently began rounding up the members of their party as Simon continued to whine.

The Vampire Hunter barely noticed as the group jumped into a warp at the far end of the hall (although Kevin and Mega Man practically had to shove the FBI agents through). Link sighed as he watched them go, then turned back to where Zelda was standing. "I'm not so sure about that," he muttered, heading over to tempt rejection again.

Northridge Police Department
8:15 p.m.

"So how is the treatment coming?" a familiar voice asked as Wilson stepped out for a breath of fresh air.

He immediately regretted it, brushing away the haze of cigar smoke. "It could be better. Anyone ever tell you about lung cancer?"

"Continually, but I've outlived a few of the people who have. What do you mean, 'it could be better?'"

Wilson sighed. "Werber wouldn't cooperate for a while, and now he's trying to put the blond kid under." The police chief snorted. "Good luck."

His companion paused. "And that would be because..."

"Werber said something about it being harder to hypnotize someone with a low attention span. If that's true, that damned kid has a worse attention span than most five-year-olds." Wilson glanced back towards the building. "As for Miss Anderson, she's almost as bad as he is. Besides, when Werber actually got her under, she just started mumbling and babbling Valley slang. We couldn't pick anything up."

"What about the third one?"

"That's going to be interesting." Saying this, Wilson began to pace like a caged lion as he spoke. "Number one, I know that kid fairly well by now. His father works for my precinct, and if the Walker willpower was passed down, it's going to be a long night."

The other man blinked and actually removed the cigar from his mouth."Now you're not making any sense."

Wilson rolled his eyes. "I met Det. Miles Walker when he was in the Academy. Someone had brought in a hypnotist for a demonstration, and he volunteered to be the victim. The hypnotist was with him for an hour before he gave up. Told me it was a family trait."

"We don't have forever," was the response. "If Werber can't get results, we'll just have to try alternative methods."

Wilson gulped.


The warp opened in the middle of a dense forest as the seven travelers stepped through. Kelly blinked. "This isn't what I expected."

"That's because it's not Megaland," Lana answered. "Dr. Wily already knows the most direct routes, so we decided to take the back way through a few video worlds."

"So where exactly are we, then?" Scully said, but was interrupted by a buzzing noise from above. Without thinking, she grabbed the laser rifle and fired at the gigantic hornet that was speeding towards them. It disintegrated with a hollow blip, and Mulder let out a whistle of approval.

Kevin looked around at the massive trees. "Looks like Wizards and Warriors to me." He peered at the trunk of a nearby tree. "And that red door, if I remember right, should have a warp behind it."

"Which means we've got to find a red key," Lana added as three more creatures spotted them, and Duke barked a warning. Kelly turned off the safety and blasted them to ash. "Let's start climbing before the whole forest comes after us."

Scully looked up apprehensively. "Climbing?" Both Lana and Mulder, who was trying to hide his smirk, nodded. "If I'd had any clue this was how I'd spend my evening, I would have changed before we left."

"Look it at this way," Kelly said, pointing at the dress pants and sandals Scully was wearing. "At least you aren't wearing heels."

Surfside Mall
8:30 p.m.

"I don't believe this," Detective Walker growled as he paced back and forth beside the crime scene, so to speak. "I don't believe that kid! When and if I get him home, I'm going to kill him."

Sighing, Tim O'Donnell patted him on the shoulder. "Miles, calm down already. You don't mean that."

"The hell I don't! He's twenty-two. I can't legally ground him, so I'm just going to kill him." Walker scowled angrily. "I just can't believe Rick would be stupid enough to walk off with just anyone."

"Well, from what a few witnesses told us," O'Donnell added, "the guys were dressed like FBI agents. Not the ones we know, but they had IDs and firearms."

"Oh, yeah. That makes me feel a hell of a lot better."

O'Donnell sighed and glanced over at the row of shops nearby. "Look, I'm going to get some coffee. You want some?"

"That would be great. Make it black." His friend turned and shoved through the crowd. Walker sighed and stepped underneath the police tape, staring at the scene. A couple of engineers were examining the game machine for any crossed circuits, and a lab tech was checking for any physical evidence. "Jesus," Walker murmured, covering his face with one hand. "Rick, what have I gotten you into now?"

"Detective Walker, none of this was your fault by any means."

Startled, he turned to see a man in his late forties with graying hair, a receding hairline and a hawklike nose. The look in his eyes suggested someone who knew what was going on. "Excuse me?"

The other man smiled thinly. "You really shouldn't blame yourself for a crisis you helped to avert. It's a bad habit."

Probably one of the higher-ups in the department. "Yeah, but this is my son we're talking about here."

"And Romeo Roberts, Stacey Anderson, and Mike Vincent." He must have looked surprised, because the other man continued. "They've taken them, Detective. They couldn't get their hands on Kevin Keene, so they grabbed the next best witnesses."

"To what?"

Another enigmatic smile, then a frown. "For once, they don't know. I work for these people, and trust me, they always have to be the ones keeping secrets. Anything unknown is a threat in their eyes."

Walker just stared at him, not wanting to make a scene. "You know, don't you?" The other man nodded. "Who are you?"

"A friend, although I usually deal with Agent Mulder." Walker suddenly found a piece of paper shoved into his hand. "Ten minutes."

With that, Deep Throat turned and left, leaving Walker more confused than before.


"Son of a bitch!" Mulder exclaimed as he dropped just in time to avoid having his head chopped off by a Blader. Rolling, he grabbed his rifle and took aim at it. "Scully, look out!"

His partner was preoccupied trying to second-guess the pattern of several floating platforms, and turned just in time to see Mulder vaporize the Blader an inch from her face. "Mulder! I just had the timing down!"

"You're welcome," her partner muttered as he stood and came up behind her at the edge before the series of platforms that were moving back and forth. Scully was watching them intently, trying to get the rhythm.

She held up a hand. "On the count of three, we start. One....two....THREE! Go!" She jumped onto the first platform, and Mulder followed suit, just managing to get to the next platform in time to hop to the one after it safely. But she mistimed the last jump, and lost her balance, falling forwards into the chasm.

Mulder made a grab for her, but failed, nearly falling off himself. By sheer luck, he propelled himself to the other side of the chasm instead, landing flat on his face. He scrambled to his feet and looked down over the edge into the blackness. "Scully!!"

"You don't have to yell, Mulder," he heard her say nervously. "I'm right here." Surprised, he looked up to see Gameboy floating over the chasm, with Scully kneeling on top of him and hanging on for dear life. "I think."

A green question mark showed up on Gameboy's screen. "Was performance satisfactory?"

Scully patted his side absently. "Yeah, you were great. Thanks." As Gameboy floated over to the safe side beside Mulder, she hurriedly slid off. "As soon as we figure out how to wrap this case up, I'm taking a long vacation." She glanced up behind them. "Great. More of them."

"Would you two knock it off and come on already?" Kelly shouted from the door in the wall at the far end of the catwalk. The other three humans had used their Power Pads to get across and Mega Man knew the platforms' pattern by heart. The two agents shrugged and charged across the catwalk, randomly picking off any Bladers or other contraptions that dared to get near.

They just made it to the door as Gameboy fed the lock the security codes stolen from Wily's files. "Guess he didn't bother to change the locks," Kevin joked as the door slid open. "Get down!!"

The rest of the group ducked in time to avoid the bursts of energy that shot out of the room. As the robot in question paused to power up, Kevin, Lana, Kelly, and Mega Man dived into the room, scattering to give their attacker multiple targets. Mulder and Scully just got out of the way. Gameboy remained hidden by the door, extending a probe into the electronic lock to try to hack into the security system. The door slid shut.

Kevin stared at the robot in shock. "What the hell? This isn't Pharaoh Man's stage!"

In response, the gold-and-black robot fired a single massive burst at Kevin, who used his Power Pad to slide to one side. It was close, though; he could feel the heat of the blast. Pharaoh Man chuckled. "And who says I have to be predictable?"

"It would be nice," Lana commented, opening fire on the Robot Master. Pharaoh Man leapt into the air and laser fire rained down on his targets.

As Pharaoh Man's feet hit the floor, Mega Man charged up his arm cannon. A few of the shots scored, but Pharaoh Man dodged most of them and fired at Lana instead. The Princess dropped to one knee and returned fire. He then opened fire on Mulder, who dropped, rolled and returned fire, without much of an effect. Lana, Kevin, Scully, and Mega Man just started firing and dodging.

Something occurred to Kelly, and she started edging along the wall behind the robot. But it wasn't easy dodging the crossfire.

Kevin spotted her out of the corner of his eye and realized what she was doing. She glanced up and pointed to her Power Pad, and his suspicions were confirmed.

If he remembered correctly, the best way to beat Pharaoh Man was to beat Bright Man first, and use his Flash Stopper to freeze Pharaoh Man. They had something just as good. Jumping a volley of energy blasts, Kevin aimed at the robot's helmet, actually managing to score a few hits and disorient the Robot Master enough for Kelly to hurry. Nudging Lana, he pointed at his Power Pad, and she got the hint.

Kelly swore, rolling to avoid a blast and jumping to avoid another. A beam shot out at her, and she just barely managed to backflip out of its path. But she didn't know if she could dodge forever. Mega Man chose that moment to charge Pharaoh Man, arm cannon blazing, and drew most of the fire away from Lana and Kevin.

Then he was struck directly in the chest by one of Pharaoh Man's shots, and went flying backwards into the wall. Seeing that his usual opponent was down, the robot ceased fire and turned towards the agents in the corner.

"NOW!" Kevin yelled, and the three of them hit their Pause buttons as Scully opened fire on Pharaoh Man. "Let's send him back to the scrap heap!"

"Shut up and shoot!" Lana shouted as she, Kevin and Kelly opened fire into the frozen robot. Unable to fire back or dodge, Pharaoh Man de-digitized.

Kelly grinned. "All right! That was cool!" Just then, the Pause wore off, and the laser blast erupted from the barrel of Scully's rifle, missing Kelly by an inch and singing some of her hair instead. "Yeow!" In her surprise, she slipped and landed on her rear end. "Okay, maybe not."

Realizing what had just happened, Scully flinched and moved to help her up. Lana and Kevin hurried to Mega Man's side. "Mega Man, are you all right?" Lana asked. There was no response. "Speak to us!"

Slowly, Mega Man opened his eyes. "Next time we do this, Captain N," the little robot said, "you draw their fire."

Relieved, they helped him to his feet. "You sure you're okay?" Kevin asked as Mega Man stumbled to the spot where Pharaoh Man had stood.

In his place was a pile of energy canisters. Mega Man stooped and picked one up, absorbing the energy into his body. "I feel mega awesome!" the robot exclaimed.

"Get a few more canisters," Lana advised. "Just in case. We don't know what Wily has in store for us."

"That wasn't it?" Mulder asked in disbelief.

Kevin shook his head. "You kidding? We still have to figure out how to break into Skull Castle. And unless Gameboy actually manages to hack all the way into Wily's security system, we're gonna have to go through the front and get through all the levels."

"You missed this, didn't you?" Lana said.

Kevin grinned. "Yeah."

Just then, both the far exit door and the door they had come through slid open. "Access gained," Gameboy beeped.

"Or we could take the shortcut," Kelly finished.

Kevin didn't look all that disappointed.

Surfside Mall
8:45 p.m.

"You're late."

Walker nearly jumped at the voice as his 'informant' appeared out of nowhere. "Don't scare me like that." He calmed down and turned to face the man. "Now where is my son?"

"I can't answer that."

"Then what good are you?" Miles Walker was getting angrier by the minute, and seemingly larger as well.

Deep Throat paused. "I can tell you this: the answer has been sitting in front of you all along. Has it occurred to you that business in your department has been moving oddly lately? The mob of reporters vanishing, the lab results coming in so quickly? The fact that you've been investigating for the past few days without being mobbed once?"

"Are you telling me that this case has been monitored since the beginning?"

"Close to it, yes. But think about this, Detective: who, outside of yourself and Agents Mulder and Scully, could have had access to all your reports and the results?" With that, Deep Throat turned and started walking off.

"Hey!" Walker yelled. "That's it?"

"That's all I can tell you, and all you really need, Detective. Good luck." Then he was gone as silently as he had come.

Angered, Walker pounded his fist against the wall, and leaned heavily against it, dismayed. Then it hit him. Who else could have had full access?

He turned on his heel, ignoring the looks of passersby and stormed back to the arcade. "Tim!" he shouted, catching sight of his partner and pulling the man away from the crowd. "I need you to find out where the Chief is!"

Skull Castle

"You are a complete and total waste of space!" Mother Brain complained, for what seemed like the millionth time. "It's been almost two weeks--two weeks, you hear me?--since Captain N disappeared, and still we're stuck in a rut!"

"Yeah, this isn't what I'd call first-class accommodations," King Hippo added, coming out of the sleeping quarters.

Mother Brain lashed out with a tentacle, catching Hippo under the chin and flinging him against the wall. "Shut up, you imbecile!" She turned back to Wily, who had long ago ceased to care what she thought. "You couldn't even accomplish the simple task of kidnapping a teenage amnesiac with no weapons at his disposal!"

"Mother Brain," Wily said after a moment, staying calm and oozing false charm, "to begin with, Captain N had regained his memories once I made it there. Not only that," he wheezed, "he had outside help from several sources, two of which were armed."

"YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN PREPARED FOR THAT!" she shrieked. King Hippo and Eggplant Wizard cringed and covered their ears, and Wily couldn't help but flinch.

Eggy chose that moment to open his big mouth. "So why weren't you prepared for the Princess ambushing your ambush?" He hastily added, "...your Greatness."

"For once," Wily sneered before Mother Brain could smash her henchman, "the avocado has a point."

"That's eggplant!" Eggy cried.

Wily ignored him. "Suffice it to say, Metroid is still undergoing repairs by my maintenance robots. I have offered you what hospitality I can. And even though I failed to bring Captain N to you," he added, "he's stuck back in his own world."

As if on cue, there was a loud and agonized creaking, the sound of metal being bent and warped by tremedous strength. A bolt of laser fire struck the console beside him, sending sparks flying in all directions. "Wrong answer!" a familiar voice shouted. "You want to try Door Number Three, or just call it quits?"

The villains turned to see who was standing in the hole where the doorway had been. "No!" Mother Brain yelled. "It can't be!"

"Sorry," Kevin said, "but you just can't get rid of me that easily."

Wily didn't waste any time. "If you two are done trading cliches," the scientist snapped, whipping out a remote control and flipping several switches, "Attack!"

Immediately, several panels in the floor between Kevin and the villains opened to admit a swarm of tiny robots that looked like laser cannons with feet. The cannons started firing, and Kevin dived out of the way.

Mega Man, holding a large chunk of metal over his head, appeared in the doorway. "Where did you want me to put this?" He saw the swarm. "Oh, there." With that, the little robot tossed the doorway at the walking cannons. It landed with a crunch, flattening them immediately. Kevin whipped out his Zapper and started firing back on the few that were left.

"Don't just sit there!" Mother Brain yelled at Wily. "Kill them! Hurt them! I don't care!"

"I'm trying!" Wily shouted as half a dozen Bladers came out of a panel in the ceiling, swooping down on Kevin. Before they could even get near, Lana took them out. The scientist pounded on the panel. "Someone's hacked into the security system! I can't even get one of my Robot Masters online!"

Panicked, Eggy started flailing his wand around, sending vegetables flying. As some touched the floor, they grew to huge proportions. Lana turned to see a giant cauliflower the size of a Pinto rolling straight for her. She hit the Jump button, but nothing happened. "Oh, no! I'm out of power!"

Suddenly, an even bigger tomato slammed into the cauliflower from the side, sending it smack into Eggy and Hippo instead. The rest of the flying veggies vanished, save for the splatted tomato and broken cauliflower that buried the two henchmen. "Thanks!" Lana shouted to Mulder and Scully, who had wisely taken the side entrance.

"You dolts! I'm going to have to do this myself!" At that, Mother Brain's jar started spinning like mad, going so fast she was a blur. When she finally stopped, the jar was equipped with about a dozen cannons.

She lashed out with a tentacle, grabbing at Kevin and lifting him into the air--and his Zapper fell to the floor. "Well, well," she cackled. "It looks like I'll be around to see the end of the Game Master after all." Kevin tried in vain to grab his Zapper.

"Excuse me!" a voice yelled as Kelly kicked open a vent panel and dropped down, firing at the jar. "I'm the only one who gets on my brother's case, thank you very much!"

Kevin snatched up his Zapper and blasted right through the tentacle that held him. Mother Brain howled as she dropped him to the floor. He rolled and tried to fire, but realized that he was also out of power. "Uh-oh." The power meter on Kelly's bracelet was also dark. "We could use some help here!"

"Out of power?" Mother Brain cackled with glee. "Too bad."

There was still some power on Kelly's Power Pad. Her brother glanced over at her and grinned. "One...two...three..." Kevin whispered. "GO!"

As he dived in one direction, Kelly pushed the Power Pad in the other. Mother Brain aimed at the faster target, firing like crazy as she tried to hit the girl, who was literally bouncing off the walls. "Wily! Why aren't you doing something?"

"I'm rather busy right now," Wily murmured.

Some of the gunfire was directed at Kevin, who ducked behind some equipment. "Oh, this is great."

"Captain N!" Mega Man was charging up his Blaster with the Pharaoh Shot he'd acquired. "I'll mega-cover you!"

Mother Brain wasn't expecting the extra firepower, and Kevin made it across the room just as the jar turned, revealing a small panel. "Kevin!" Mulder shouted, catching on to the Game Master's plan. "Catch!" He tossed his laser rifle at Kevin just as Kelly's power ran out and Mother Brain figured out what was going on.

But it was too late. Kevin didn't even bother with a catchphrase as he aimed and fired, scoring a direct hit into the circuit board of the jar. Mother Brain let out a shriek that was actually shriller than usual, and stopped firing. The jar began to spin around, faster and faster, completely out of her control.

Kevin glanced over at Mega Man. "Hit her with everything you've got!" The two heroes started firing at the whirling dervish in the center of the room.

"You idiots!" Mother Brain managed to cry. "Get!!!"

"Yes, Mother Brain!" Eggy and Hippo scrambled out of the mess, getting close enough to Mother Brain for Eggy to pull out a device and press a button. With that, they all vanished in a flash of blue light.

"She escaped!" Kevin cried. "Damn it!"

Lana came up behind him and smacked him lightly on the head. "Oh, calm down. You know it'll take her a week at least to recover from this one."

"But what about Wily?" Kelly asked.

Scully glanced up briefly. "Like the man said, he's busy." Wily gulped. This time Scully was the one with a laser rifle to his head, and the turnabout didn't please him all that much. Mulder started laughing.

"I'm so glad you're amused," Wily said sarcastically. "What do you want from me, Your Highness?" His tone was anything but respectful.

Lana smiled.

Northridge Police Department
8:45 p.m.

"All right, Doctor," a voice said. "Pack up and get ready to move out."

Werber looked up in surprise to see Johnson standing in the doorway. At least, that was what the badge said; the man had consistently positioned himself in shadow so Werber couldn't see his face. Wilson was the only one that Werber could have positively identified, and the chief didn't look too thrilled to hear the news. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me. he said, pointing at Wilson. "As usual, you covered your tracks sloppily. We have to get them out now."

Wilson turned pale. "I wouldn't--I never--"

"We have a leak," his boss added. "Now let's go."

Werber shrugged and packed up his satchel as the other agents hustled the teenagers out of the door into a van parked outside the back. Still holding on to his cigar, Johnson strolled over to the Lincoln that was pulling up.

The window rolled down. "It's not going smoothly, I see."

"With an imbecile like Wilson, what can you expect?" The passenger door opened, and he slid in alongside his partners. "Their medical reports show no sign of the infection. I'm starting to doubt that the source of these disappearances is not what we originally believed."

"Then why should we bother? Let's end this project now. Get rid of those children and get back to the task at hand."

The third, an older British man, elegantly dressed and poised as always, held up a hand. "No, no, my friend." He glanced at Johnson. "So Mallory's theories might be closer to the mark?"

"Considering the display in the shopping mall, I'd be inclined to agree."

"If this is an event of that nature," the Brit continued, "then consider the possibilities. Our arrangement over the past few years has become increasingly suspicious. It has come to the point where no one is entirely sure that we will not be cheated." He smiled. "But if we leave ourselves a back door, an escape route, there will be no need for an arrangement."

The doubting man returned the smile ever so slightly. "A refuge where they cannot follow."

"Possibly. Then again, it is only conjecture." The Lincoln started its engine and followed the van. Outside, Werber turned, confused, and was promptly given a blow to the head, knocking him unconscious. "Very good. They'll drop him off at his hotel room, and when he wakes, he'll be none the wiser. And if he knows well enough, he won't talk."

Johnson cleared his throat. "Where exactly is this safehouse you mentioned?"

"Less than five miles away, but well hidden and unused. Who would expect to find us there?"

Skull Castle

"Hey!" Kevin jumped as Dr. Right's viewing device, hooked up to the Warp Zone Shifter, switched to the swatch of wooded land just outside of town. "Zoom in, right there!"

Lana frowned as the image focused on a dilapidated old warehouse, nearly impossible to see amidst the overgrowth, with half the roof caved in and no clearly visible route to or from the building. "What is that?"

Kelly blinked. "Hey, yeah! Everyone thinks that place is haunted. Even the developers won't touch it."

"There's some story about a murder or something and a bunch of workers dying when the roof collapsed for no reason," Kevin explained. "Something about a curse."

"Well, it's jinxed at least," Kelly continued. "It's almost swampland out there. The only road to it I know of was washed away. They can't get heavy equipment out there or it'll sink."

"How do you know about it then?" Scully asked.

Kevin shrugged. "Mike and I went exploring, and Kelly tagged along."

Mulder was studying the image. "If they haven't carted them out of state by now, that would be just their style. A patch of land that the town's forgotten about."

Wily muttered some imprecations, but everyone ignored him. The scientist was tied to his chair with a length of copper wire that Mega Man had thoughtfully discovered. Lana had confiscated his lab coat to make sure he didn't have any tricks up his sleeve, and he wasn't thrilled.

"What's that?" Mega Man pointed to the screen, and everyone turned to look, even Wily.

It was faint and indistinct with the trees to cover, but there was a flicker of light and what looked like a line of figures on one side of the building. "Guess they found the road," Kevin said.

Lana squeezed his shoulder. "Remind me to trust your hunches from now on."

Northridge Police Department
9:00 p.m.

"I swear to God," the officer said, "this is where I saw him headed."

Miles waved a dismissive hand at her. "Not your fault."

"Look, Miles," O'Donnell said, "this is stupid. I know you want to find Rick, but if the Mayor finds out you pulled a bunch of men off an investigation because of an anonymous tip--"

Miles was ignoring him. "Shut up, Tim. They beat us to the punch, that's all." He gestured at the dirt. "Check out the tire tracks here. Almost as fresh as ours. They couldn't have hauled out of here longer than fifteen minutes ago, by the looks of it."

O'Donnell frowned. "Where could they go? The Sheriff's department got into this, and there's some real FBI agents here now. They've got all the roads leading out of town blocked off."

The detective was looking out at the suburban and wooded area past the city. "Who says they even left town?"

"Since when was there a tunnel here?" Rick whispered as the line of cars turned off the road and suddenly were speeding through an underground tunnel that was in better shape than the back road they'd just been on.

Stacey bit her lip. "I don't know." She clutched Mike's arm. "I'm so totally bugging! Like, I want to go home!"

Absently, Mike patted her on the shoulder. "Yeah, I know the feeling, Stace."

There was a long silence as the van's occupants were plunged into darkness. Rick leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to think back. Maybe Kelly hadn't been completely insane. But he couldn't remember disappearing in the first place. The last thing he remembered was nearly getting clobbered by Julius and Romeo, who were trying to work on passes in the gym, and Stacey telling them they were all idiots--

Rick blinked. Funny, until now he hadn't noticed a break in his memory at all. Maybe Werber had managed to jog something loose even with the pretending. If he could remember on his own, before they got it out of him, he could figure out what to do.

"Hey, Stace?" Mike spoke out of the darkness.


"You dig those nails any deeper, you're gonna draw blood."


Rick had to smile.

9:30 p.m.

"This isn't quite what I imagined," Werber muttered as they were hustled down the narrow passageway, with a dirt floor and rusted metal walls, into a slightly neater room with a scattering of medical and scientific equipment.

The door closed behind them, and one of the newer captors--a man even taller than Romeo and built like a tank--stood in front of it. Rick glanced up at the emotionless, pock-marked face and shuddered. Not only was he huge, there was almost something inhuman about him.

Mike scowled. "All right, where the hell is the Doc?" The "agent" nearest to him responded by dealing a blow to his stomach, causing Mike to double over in pain.

"Hey!" Romeo yelled. "Knock it off!" Before he and Rick could take a step, their arms were pinned behind their backs.

The Brit raised a hand. "Stop this now. Violence will only set us back."

"He just wanted to know, like, where the doctor was!" Stacey cried.

"The good doctor's services are no longer needed," was the calm answer. "We're going to try a different method." He opened a door to reveal an adjoining room with a host of scanners, vials, and equipment.

Wilson spied the examining table. "What? In this hell-hole? Are you kidding?"

"Do you have a better idea?" Johnson murmured, standing beside him. "All the roads leading out of town are barricaded. There isn't even a decent airfield here. So unless you have a plan, be quiet. Your position in the circle is growing even more tentative."

One of the other men was pulling on gloves and opening some vials, filling up a syringe with some sort of chemical. "When did this turn into a bad Frankenstein ripoff?" Romeo whispered.

"Well, we had the T-1000 already," Rick muttered. "It figures."

"Mr. Walker!" Johnson exclaimed. "Did I just hear you volunteer?"

"No you didn't," Rick snapped, struggling against the grip of the two men who were holding him. The Brit beckoned for them to bring him through the door. But that was about as far as they got, for Rick wasn't going down that easily.

Stacey suddenly let out a shriek, driving an elbow into the gut of her captor. Surprised, he relaxed his grip, and she pulled away. He grabbed her shoulders and spun her to face him, only to get a knee in the groin. "Don't touch me! You're totally gross!"

Taking advantage of the distraction, Romeo twisted and broke free of his captors' grip. When they rushed him, he pushed through them like he would an offensive line, knocking them to the ground. Mike recovered from the blow he'd been given, tackling one of them to the ground. In the chaos, no one noticed the blue light behind the medical crates in the corner.

"Everybody was kung fu fighting...." Romeo joked as he ducked a punch.

"Don't start that now!" Mike yelled. None of the agents had drawn their weapons, and he wondered why until he saw the stack of crates and the amount of chemicals in the room. Even with a C in Chemistry, he could tell that it wouldn't be a good idea to start a shootout so close to all those chemicals.

The Brit was apart from the fighting, and had pulled something out of a drawer. Unfazed by the chaos that was reigning, he carefully loaded the darts into the tranquilizer gun, one by one. "Sloppy job indeed," he murmured. "Next time we won't stray from the Plan."

"What next time?" a voice said, and he turned in time to see Fox Mulder spraying something in his face before the world went black.

Mike had learned to take a lot of things in stride. After a malfunctioning T-1000, being welded in a storage closet with four other people by a geezer with a ray gun, and being kidnapped by some crazed nutcases, not a lot was going to surprise him.

Then the one who pinned his arms behind his back dropped as a tranq dart hit him in the shoulder. Agent Scully jogged over to him, tranquilizer gun in hand. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Mike said, lying through his teeth; it felt like someone was sawing away at his leg like a tree trunk. "Where the hell did you come from?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Scully turned and fired as the door guard suddenly moved from his post, the hulking mass unaffected by the dart that hit him in the shoulder. She fired twice more, and the three darts still had no effect.

"Oh, shit," Mike muttered.

Then there was a blast of blue light, and the behemoth was suddenly encased in a block of ice. "Hey, Scully," Mulder said, brandishing the ice ray they'd stolen from Wily's lab, "we've got to get ourselves one of these things."

"Okay, guys," Romeo said uneasily as the three burly men advanced on him. "Look, it wasn't anything personal, you know. I mean, I'm sure you're all nice guys in real life, but my friend was being dragged away, and I kind of got worried." He trailed off. "I'm a dead man, aren't I?"

They never got a chance to answer as a stun ray knocked them all out cold. Kelly grinned. "Miss me?"

"You know," Romeo said with a smile, "for once, I'm actually thrilled to see you."

"I'm so flattered. Come on!"

"I think the lady told you to get your hands off of her," a voice said. Startled, the man holding on to Stacey turned, loosening his grip as she drove an elbow into his stomach and kicked the man in front of her in the shin. He made another grab for her, only to be punched in the face by Kevin. Duke came at the other man from behind, chomping down on an even worse place than where he'd bit Wily.

The man let out a yell of pain--and dropped as a tranq dart hit him in the neck.

Seeing her rescuer, Stacey let out a squeal and nearly bowled him over. "Kevy!"

Lana cleared her throat. "Sorry to interrupt, but we're not all safe yet."

The doctor was filling up a syringe as soon as it became apparent that the other three teenagers couldn't fight off the men outside. It was taking four men to get Rick down on the table, and in the struggle they were unaware of the change of pace in the other room.

One of them managed to slam one of Rick's wrists down and strap it into the restraint, then the other. The doctor advanced with the syringe, his expression emotionless.

Which was the same expression he had when Kelly brought the petri dish down on his head hard enough to crack the dish in two.

"Buenos noches!" Mike yelled as he did the same to two of Rick's captors with a slat from one of the packing crates. Kevin and Stacey knocked out the other two as Lana hurried to undo the restraints.

Rick grinned as his wrists were freed, then blinked at Lana in confusion. "Do I know you?"

"Long story," Lana said.

Kevin nudged his old friend. "Mike, I thought you were failing Spanish."

"Taco Bell commercials," Mike and Romeo said in unison. Kelly snickered.

Scully dashed into the room. "That's all of them," she said, then froze. "Uh-oh. Where's Mulder?"

The man moved silently down the corridor, his escape unnoticed in the commotion. His cohorts would most likely get out of this mess easily, but he wanted to be the one to report what he had seen. Besides, this project was not authorized by the Syndicate, anyway. He had to have something to show for it. Wilson could take the fall.

"Going somewhere?" He turned and found himself staring down the barrel of a very strange-looking gun.

He remained calm, lighting his cigar. "Not at the moment, it seems. What do you want now?"

"I want the truth. You know that. I want Samantha."

"O ye of one-track minds." He blew a puff of smoke. "And if I don't tell you what you want to know, what will you do? Give me the cold shoulder?"

Mulder scowled. "I'll break you in half. And I mean literally." He gestured with his gun for the older man to move back to the storage room.

Johnson obeyed, still looking at Mulder with a mixture of contempt and disdain. "You'll never learn, will you? I have all the power, Agent Mulder. You have nothing."

"I'm the guy with the gun aimed at your head."

"Still, nothing." Johnson flicked his cigarette into the air, directly towards the conveniently leaking crates. It landed on the straw and dirt floor, inches away from the chemicals.

The lab room was only a few feet away from the crates, and its occupants were definitely going to be caught in the blast. And Scully was stepping out the door. "Mulder?"

"Johnson" seized his chance and dashed down the corridor. Mulder turned, prepared to follow, but realized what was about to happen. Looking down at the power meter on the ice ray, he saw that he only had power for one shot.

As the crates burst into flame, he aimed and fired. The blast hit dead center, the ice spreading to encase the crates and part of the floor and wall as it quenched the flames just in time.

Scully came up beside him, followed by Duke. "I don't even want to know, do I?" Neither of the agents noticed the figure crawling through the shadows, opening a panel in the wall and tapping out a numeric code.

"I doubt it," Mulder answered, when the ceiling above them suddenly creaked and groaned as the ground began to shake. "Earthquake!! We've got to get out of here!" he shouted to the group of teens emerging from the lab room.

As he spoke, there was an unpleasant screeching sound, and one side of the ceiling suddenly dropped several feet as the supports on that side cracked. Stacey screamed with good reason; it missed smashing her in the head by an inch.

"We're gonna have to take the shortcut," Kevin said, pulling the small remote out of his pocket. He glanced over at Stacey, Rick, Romeo, and Mike, who still had no clue what was going on. "You guys trust me? This is gonna be a wild ride!"

Bits and pieces of mortar were beginning to come down, and the shaking was becoming even more violent. "Who cares, Kevin!" Lana shouted. "Just punch it!"

Kevin grinned and pressed the button on the remote, and his four friends gaped as the swirling blue warp opened up. "What the hell?" Mike shouted. Duke barked and charged at the warp, leaping through without hesitation.

"Stop staring and move!!" Kelly shouted, grabbing Romeo's arm and pulling him forward. Lana was doing the same to Stacey, who for the first time in her life was speechless with shock. Rick glanced around, shrugged, and ran for the warp. Mike limped after him, followed by Scully and Mulder. Kevin stayed back to help Lana and Kelly with the other two, and just made it through a second before the entire ceiling collapsed.

The warp closed as the earthquake turned the swampy area into a sinkhole, pulling the last remaining ruins of the warehouse into its depths as the police cars came into view.

Skull Castle
9:30 p.m.

"It's about mega-time you got here!" Mega Man shouted from the other side of the lab as the group stumbled through the warp. "I can't hold them back much longer!" He was literally holding the metal door of the lab on, having welded it back onto the wall after he'd torn it apart.

Something--or rather, several somethings--were pounding on the other side of the door, leaving large dents as they did so. "Oh, Doctor?" Kelly asked the bound scientist. "Care to explain this one, hmm?"

He chuckled. "So your friends couldn't override my timed backup force. Too bad."

Ignoring the shocked exclamations of his friends, Kevin glanced around. They were low on power, they had unarmed members in their party, one with a bad limp, and there was really no chance of them beating back more robots if Mega Man couldn't hold them off.

He looked over at Gameboy and smiled. The game computer's screen was flashing a message: DOWNLOAD COMPLETE. Which meant that he had all of the schematics for the Warp Zone Shifter. "Hey, Gameboy! Get over here and gimme the coordinates for the Palace!"

"Compliance," Gameboy answered, floating over and flashing a series of numbers for Kevin to enter into the remote. Lana dashed over and pulled Mega Man away from the door, taking the small energy canister he handed her and powering up her Zapper.

She dashed back to Kevin, who was still entering numbers. "Do we just need the remote to get them home?"

"Yep, if we charge it up good. Gameboy got the schematics. Why?"

She turned, whipped out her Zapper, and blasted the main Warp Zone Shifter device. Wily screamed as she smiled at him. "Now we can go."

"Lana, you're awesome," Kevin said with a grin as he pressed the activate button, opening up the warp to the palace. "Everyone MOVE! One more stop!"

This time, nobody lagged behind.

Palace of Power
9:45 p.m.

"Ow! That hurt, dammit!"

Lana shook her head as she finished dabbing the elixir onto Mike's cut wrist and wrapped it with a fresh bandage. "It won't in a minute, trust me. You'll be thanking me when it's halfway healed an hour from now."

Stacey giggled. "Wuss."

He would have lunged for her if not for the stab of pain his hip gave him. Kevin sighed and moved over to where Romeo had managed to get into an argument with Simon over breakfast foods. "You kidding? Every time I get one of those frozen waffles, they always turn out soggy! At least pancakes survive a lot more!"

"Hmph." Simon snorted. "Well, you're not a hero, are you? Any respectable hero will tell you that waffles are the only breakfast of champions, not those flat blobs you call pancakes."

Romeo snorted. "What are you, the Wheaties spokesman? Come on, pancakes rule!"

Kelly was sitting nearby with Kid Icarus and Zelda, watching with amusement. Kevin tapped his sister on the shoulder. "How did this start?"

"Well, at first it was hair," Kelly whispered, "then ears, then being condescending to fish, then this. I'm starting to lose track."

"That reminds me," Zelda muttered, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind one of her pointed ears. "What the hell is a Vulcan anyway?"

Kevin turned to Kid Icarus. "What's with her?" he whispered, pulling the archer out of his seat and away from the two girls.

"Something about Link going for a kiss, Simon having a fight with his whip, and the whip throwing a tantrum," Kid answered. "Trust me, you don't want to know the rest."

Link was over bothering Scully, who was trying to understand Dr. Right's technical descriptions of the equipment in the infirmary. It was hard enough without Link getting in the way, complaining of imaginary wounds just to get her attention.

Gameboy was busily uploading information into the Palace computers, and Mega Man was checking to be sure he didn't accidentally upload a virus or worse. Rick went over and joined Stacey in teasing Mike.

Scully finally had enough and glared at Link. "If you don't shut up," she snapped, "I'll give you some real battle scars to worry about."

"What is it with the women around here?" Link muttered.

Only Mulder stood alone, watching the Palace viewscreen. Curious, Kevin went over to the FBI agent. "Agent Mulder? You all right?"

"Hmm?" He blinked, having been lost in his own thoughts. "Sort of. Trying to figure out what to put in the file report."

"Whoa." Kevin stared at him. "You're not going to--"

"I can't put the truth in. That would be like handing Videoland over to them." Mulder didn't specify what he meant by "them" but Kevin could guess. "Scully and I can make something up to give to the Assistant Director when we get back."

Lana spoke up from where she had been standing, listening to their conversation unnoticed. "It's killing you, isn't it?"

Mulder groaned. "I've spent almost my entire life trying to find evidence of the extraterrestrial, the paranormal, et cetera, ever since my sister was abducted. All I've gotten out of my search for the truth are vague hints and colleagues who call me 'Spooky.'"

"So now you've got proof that you aren't as nuts as people think," Kevin finished, "and you have to keep it under wraps." Mulder nodded. "Damn. I'm sorry."

"It's probably better this way," Mulder finally said. "If I even mentioned Videoland in the report, I'd probably find myself in a straitjacket before I even had a chance to prove it."

Something occurred to Kevin. "You know, we've got to figure out a story to tell the cops. We're not gonna tell them the truth."

Lana looked at him. "We? You're not going back, are you?"

"Maybe just to drop the squirrel off," Kevin sighed. "I don't know what I'm gonna do about Mom and Dad, though."

"You're going to tell them the truth, Einstein!" Kelly snapped, storming over to them.

Kevin blinked. "Kelly, you kidding?"

"No way! Kev, you weren't there to see them, but I was. I know. When you vanished the first time, Mom went completely postal on me and Dad. Dad wasn't in as great shape either, but Mom was paranoid as hell. She kept insisting on driving me everywhere, always looking over her shoulder for kidnappers. It was a miracle Dad let me get the car." She stopped. "Oh, damn, I left it in the parking lot. Hope nobody's keyed it or anything."

"Kel?" Kevin cleared his throat. "Your point?"

"The point is, the general consensus was just that you'd run away, and she went crazy. Now you've disappeared after being chased by what they think is a serial killer. If you think I'm going to let you stick me with living with them after this, you've got to be kidding me."

"Yeah, if I tell them, they'll either think I'm nuts or ground me for life."

Kelly rolled her eyes. "Like they could actually stop you." She gestured to where the warp remote was recharging. "We could always use that to go back and forth."


"Yeah, we. That is, if you want me to corroborate our story."

Mulder elbowed Kevin. "I think you're being blackmailed."

"You're telling me." The Game Master groaned. "Let's get the guys together and make sure we'll be telling the cops the same story."

Lana was standing there, confused, and Kelly looked at her. "Lana? Are you all right?"

The Princess of Videoland frowned. "I don't understand. What's an Einstein?"

Kevin looked over to Romeo and Simon, who were currently having a shouting match about pigeons. "Let's just say that Belmont doesn't qualify."

10:00 p.m.

A steady rain was falling, churning the already soft ground into a soup. The recovery crews trying to case the sinkhole were having difficulty even without the rain, and Miles Walker was starting to think they wouldn't find a thing. So far, they'd found the remains of a car that matched the make and license of the car that had taken off with Romeo, Rick, and Stacey.

They had found a few unidentified bodies in the wreckage, but none of them matched the FBI agents or the kids. But the search was still on, and there was no guarantee that they had made it out.

He leaned back against the squad car, closing his eyes. If I'd only been here five minutes sooner...

"Dad! Hey, Dad!"

His eyes flew open, and he glanced around. Was he hearing things already? He wasn't that old, no matter what the guys at the station said.

"Dad! Down here!"

Then he saw the group of figures stumbling around the rim of the valley towards him, with Rick in the lead. Mulder and Kevin were supporting Mike, who vehemently insisted that he was fine. "I can walk, dammit!"

"You kidding?" Kelly said. "Both my legs are intact, and I'm having trouble with this sludge! So shut up!"

Surprised, Mike obeyed. "Thank you," Mulder said.

Positive now that it wasn't a hallucination, Walker hurried to intercept the group, slipping a bit on the wet ground as he reached his son and grabbed him in a bear hug. "Dad," Rick said, "I'm not going to be able to go to practice if you crush my ribs."

Grinning, Walker released him, throwing an arm around his son's shoulders. "I ought to break your legs if it would keep you out of this kind of trouble." He turned and yelled back at the row of squad cars. "Hey, Tim! Get me some blankets and the doc now! We found them!"

10:30 p.m.

It was amazing how well the police swallowed their story, mainly because all the accounts matched up. Also, Kevin had the feeling that Detective Walker was so glad to see Rick in one piece that he was willing to look past the lack of detail.

According to the story Mulder told the police, Kevin and Kelly had chased the kidnapper to the mall only to be knocked out in the back of the arcade. The FBI agents had been caught off guard, and Romeo, Rick, and Stacey were carted off because they'd seen part of it. Mike had been grabbed from the hospital as well, but no one knew why.

The underground tunnel leading to the warehouse, miraculously, hadn't caved in; it had been reinforced in such a way to avoid collapse. Mulder had used it as his explanation for their escape. Personally, Kevin thought that whoever these people were, they had started the mild earthquake that sunk the building. It hadn't been high enough on the Richter scale to do any noticeable damage elsewhere. Perfect way to cover their tracks.

The emergency crew had checked them all out and proclaimed each of them in perfect health, aside from some bruises. Lana had come with them through the warp, and had wisely made herself scarce when the police were taking statements. She was currently sitting with Rick and Romeo, trying to sort out what they remembered of Videoland. Stacey was being chewed out by her parents, who had just arrived. Mike was still in the ambulance; the elixir had gone a long way to healing his injuries, but the doctors didn't want to risk anything.

"Hey, Captain N, want one?"

He turned to see Kelly standing there, a can of Pepsi in each hand. "Detective O'Donnell let me into his stash."

Kevin accepted the can and popped it open. "Thanks. So was it weird enough for you, Squirrel?"

"Yes it was, and don't call me that." She took a swig of her Pepsi. "The deal still stands, right?"

He sighed. "Yeah. I still don't get why you're making such a big deal of it."

"Well, it's not just Mom. I missed you too. And if anyone ever asks you, I never said that."

"Kevin! Kelly!" They looked up to see Cheryl hurrying towards them, with Ned close behind. Kevin braced for impact, but Cheryl plowed into Kelly instead. "Thank God you're all right!"

"Mom," Kelly said, "wrong one. Kevin's over there."

Cheryl released her daughter and smiled, sniffing back tears. "I know. I figured it was your turn to be humiliated."

"Oh, great," Kelly said sarcastically, but she hugged her mother back anyway.

Ned was staring at his two kids. "Kevin, what on earth happened?" Kelly shot her brother a meaningful look.

Turning, Kevin beckoned to Lana, who got up and approached them curiously. He took her hand and guided her over to stand beside him. "Mom, Dad, this is Lana," he said. "And we have a really long story to tell you."

"Well, we found Wilson," Miles Walker said, flipping through the reports as Scully gratefully took the paper cup of coffee she was handed. "Broken in two."

Putting the cup down, Scully took the file photo from him to get a closer look. "My God. Any evidence as to what killed him?"

"Looks like something fell on him, but he was found pretty far from the wreckage," Walker answered. "Like he was put there for us to find. You're sure you don't have a clue what these men wanted?"

The two agents looked at each other. "Nothing that makes any sense," Mulder said with a straight face.

Walker sighed. "Either way, the Commissioner wants to blame somebody, so Wilson's it. Which means we'll have a new chief eventually."

"You don't sound too unhappy," Mulder said.

"Kind of guilty, actually. With Wilson gone, a few people who've been in line for promotions are moving up there. It's morbid if you ask me."

Scully tried to hide her smile. "What are you up for?"

He shrugged. "Sergeant. Took long enough. Tim and I always joked that I'd get promoted over Wilson's dead body."

"Never thought it'd come true, huh?" Mulder asked.

"I don't know," Walker answered, taking the report from Mulder. "This is going to be one interesting report to file. We start out with one serial killer, who breaks into the hospital only to destroy Radiology, then attempts to kidnap Kevin, fails, hotwires a car, leads the Keene kids on a car chase, vanishes into thin air. Then a bunch of guys the Chief's working with kidnap the whole lot of you, and no one remembers exactly what happened."

Mulder rubbed the back of his skull. "It's hard to remember much after I got whacked in the back of the head at that arcade."

Walker looked at them suspiciously. "A number of witnesses said you four were sucked into the machine."

"Detective, a number of witnesses there were video-brainwashed kids," Scully interrupted. "Some of them may have been on drugs, or even paid off by whoever Wilson was working with."

For a few moments, Walker regarded the two agents without saying a word. Then he shook his head and sighed. "I don't really want to know, do I?" The looks on their faces gave him the answer. "All right, fine. As long as it's over and done with."

"You might want to talk to Rick," Mulder suggested.

Walker grinned. "Oh, I'm going to have a talk with him, for damn sure." He looked past them at the road leading back towards town. "Oh, great. I'm going to go head off the media psychotics."

Mulder had to laugh. "Never a dull moment." Walker snorted and turned away.

"So," Scully said once he was gone. "Now what, Mulder?"

He shrugged. "Dig out every scientific explanation you can come up with. We're going to have to figure out what to tell Skinner."

"Wonderful. I don't think even mass insanity will cover this one." Scully finished off the coffee with a gulp. "But if I can use the reports and notes from this whole week to make it sound plausible, I can get some decent technobabble in there. It's going to be a long night."

Mulder chuckled. "Scully, sometimes you amaze me."

"Forget it, Mulder." She stood up and pulled on her coat. "I'm still not letting you drive."


October 28
FBI Headquarters
2:30 p.m.

Skinner stared at Mulder and Scully for a long moment before speaking. "That's it?"

"Pretty much," Mulder answered. "Why?"

The Assistant Director took a moment to remove his glasses, wipe them, and put them back on before giving the file a second look. "Agent Mulder, there are an abnormally large number of holes in this investigation. Even for you two."

"We didn't have much to fill them with aside from speculation," Mulder answered.

"It's the lack of speculation that bothers me." Skinner set the papers down on his desk. "What I want to know is what exactly you two think has happened so I know whether or not to close this file."

Before Mulder could answer, Scully beat him to it. "Sir, all the evidence points to the older man who held us at gunpoint in the hospital. He took credit for his 'creation,' attempted to kidnap Kevin Keene, and spent the whole time muttering nonsense. Most of the behavior I observed was typical of an obsessive sociopath."

"We're assuming he saw Kevin on the news and became obsessed with the case," Mulder said. "Since Rick Walker described the same man in the old warehouse, we also assumed that he was buried in the sinkhole."

Skinner sighed. "Almost every bit of factual evidence in this report is completely implausible: the silicon in the wounds, the disappearance of a body from Radiology that should have been there, a sinkhole resulting from an earthquake." He closed the folder. "But, if the evidence is correct, the case is currently closed."

Neither could hide their surprise at that statement. "Excuse me, sir?" Scully asked.

"Don't go patting yourselves on the backs just yet. It seems there are a lot more people who want this case put to bed." He stood up and handed Scully some of the paperwork. "If there's nothing else, you're both dismissed. The Inquisition's over."

"Don't need to tell me twice," Mulder muttered as he opened the door for Scully and followed her out of Skinner's office.

The man with the cigar watched them go.

October 31
Northridge, California
5:00 p.m.

"Are you ready yet??" Kevin called up the stairs for the fourth time.

A chorus of female voices answered, "NO!!!" Kevin sighed, and Rick and Romeo chuckled.

Romeo had borrowed his uncle's army fatigues and dog tags, and called it his costume. Rick was wearing a baseball uniform. Kevin was dressed as Han Solo; over the past few days, they had introduced Lana to the "good parts" of movies and television, which involved a viewing of the Star Wars trilogy. The rest of the group had goaded Kevin and Lana into going as Han and Leia after he had jokingly suggested it.

Of course, his suggestion for Kelly to go as Chewbacca had been loudly shot down.

"Relax, Keene," Rick said. "We've still got half an hour."

Romeo grinned and snapped off a mock salute. "Sir, I volunteer to go check if they're still alive!"

"Shut up," Rick answered, laughing. "We all know what you really want to check."

"Yeah, well, you're too late," a voice said, and Lana came down the stairs, patting anxiously at the coiled braids. "Kevin, these are going to drive me crazy."

"Hey, you won't have to explain who you're dressed as," Romeo said. "One look at the sticky bun hairdo and everyone'll figure it out!"

She even looks gorgeous with that hair, Kevin thought, then shook himself out of it. "What took you so long?"

"Part of it was the hair," Lana said, "and then we spent twenty minutes explaining to Stacey why her cheerleading uniform didn't count as a costume."

"She ever figure it out?" Rick asked.

At that, Lana grinned. "No, but we talked her into changing anyway. She brought a backup." As if on cue, Stacey came down the stairs, wearing a skin-tight cat costume. Romeo and Rick's eyes bulged out of their sockets. Lana moved to block Kevin's view as Stacey pulled on her long jacket. "Kelly's coming down in a minute."

"Okay," Kelly called from the top of the stairs. "Nobody laugh until I'm all the way downstairs, okay?"

They turned and stared as she came downstairs. Kelly was wearing a brown fedora and leather jacket she'd borrowed from an earlier costume of Kevin's, with a sleeveless blouse, jeans, boots, gold hoop earrings and a belt with a whip attached. "What are you supposed to be?" Rick asked.

She whipped off the hat and grinned. "Dakota Jones. Indy's daughter. I wanted to be creative."

Romeo was eying the whip. "You're not planning on using that or anything, are you?"

"No, it's one of those fake ones from the Halloween shop on Reseda." Kelly grinned as she put the hat back on. "I'd probably get sued if I carried a real one in public, though, so that was out."

"You're strange," Kevin said.

"Yeah, I know." The doorbell rang. "I'll get it." She picked up the bowl of candy and opened the door.

Mike laughed when he saw Kelly. "Hey, kick-ass costume!" His hip and hand had pretty much healed thanks to the elixir Lana had used, and he was walking around as if nothing had happened.

He was wearing a black T-shirt, black leather jacket, and black boots and jeans. His long hair was slicked back, and a pair of sunglasses obscured his eyes. In his restored right hand was what looked like a double-barreled shotgun in the dim light of the evening.

When he saw Mike, Rick burst out laughing. "You had to be the Terminator, didn't you?"

Mike did his best Arnold impression. "Hasta la vista, baby."

"Please tell me that's a fake," Kelly said, pointing at the shotgun as Mike stepped inside. Mike tapped on the plastic with his knuckles, revealing it to be an old repainted Super Soaker made to look like a real gun. "Oh, good. Forget the whip; I'd hate to explain that to the cops."

Mike saw Stacey's costume and did a double take. "Damn, Stace, looking good!"

Stacey grinned. "Meow." Kelly and Lana rolled their eyes.

Cheryl came into the foyer with a bag of Snickers. "Are you all leaving now?"

"Yep," Rick said. "I've got to take Teej around tonight." He looked down at the baseball uniform he was wearing. "The baseball freak wants to go trick-or-treating again. I don't know why Dad can't take him."

"And we've got a few parties to crash, too," Romeo said. Kelly surreptitiously pushed the warp remote deeper in her jacket pocket so Cheryl wouldn't see it. Ned and Cheryl hadn't been too thrilled about the idea of Videoland, even when Kevin had opened the warp to show them, but Lana had made a surprisingly good impression on Cheryl. Next to Kelly, she was the model of politeness.

Stacey put her hands on her hips. "So are we gonna go sometime tonight or what?"

"Yeah, yeah. We'll be back by midnight, Mom," Kevin added, turning towards the door.

"Have fun!" Cheryl paused, a worry surfacing. "And stay out of trouble!"

As they filed out the door, she heard Romeo say, "She actually expects us to do both?" Kelly took off her hat and playfully whacked him with it. "What? What'd I say?"

Palace of Power
9:00 p.m.

"Wow!" Rick looked around at the crowd of video game heroes dancing and eating and milling about. "How'd you get all these people here?"

"It wasn't hard," Lana said. "A lot of the video worlds we've visited celebrate Halloween. The rest just wanted the excuse to party."

Kevin frowned, remembering the last time they'd thrown a party at the Palace. "We made sure security was intact tonight, right?"

Lana nodded. "Dr. Right came down from Megaland again to make sure our defenses weren't tampered with."

"Geez," Kevin said. "We ought to build him his own lab in the Palace what with all the time he's been spending here."

"We'll bother with that later," Lana sighed.

He caught the look on her face and took her hand. "Shall we?" Lana gave him a radiant smile as he pulled her out onto the crowded dance floor.

Mike and Stacey were already tearing up the dance floor. Although they weren't really into fast dancing, Link and Zelda had made up for the moment and were really getting into it. Even Rick was out there, having been dragged onto the floor by a girl from California Games. Duke and Kid Icarus were hitting the snack table. Romeo was leaning against the wall by himself, looking around the room in amazement. After a few rejections, he'd reconciled himself to being alone.

So it was a shock when Kelly dashed up to him and grabbed his arm. "Dance with me?"

He did the mother of all double takes. "Excuse me?"

Sighing, she pointed to where Simon was scanning the crowd, jumping up and down to see over people's heads. "I take back every nasty thing I ever said to you. Please."

Romeo grinned. "Hey, if you insist!"

"Shut up and dance." Tossing her jacket onto a nearby chair, she grabbed him by the dog tags and pulled him into the crowd. Simon gave up and went to pester someone else.

The track changed to "It's the End Of the World As We Know It." Lana raised an eyebrow at the chorus. "That's one I haven't heard before."

"It's just a song, Lana," Kevin said.

She shrugged and glanced over his shoulder, and her eyes widened. "Kevin, look!" He turned to see Romeo and Kelly dancing and singing along with the lyrics, and actually not yelling at each other. Kelly took off the fedora and stuck it on Romeo's head. He made a face, but that was about it.

"Whoa," Kevin said. "Now I've seen everything. Who spiked the punch?"

Lana burst out laughing as Dr. Right burst into the room, Gameboy following. "Your Highness! Your Highness!"

Concerned, Lana and Kevin broke away from the dance floor to intercept him before he started a panic. "Dr. Right, what is it?" Kelly, Romeo, Mike, and Stacey followed and crowded around them. "What's going on?" Duke, Simon, and Kid Icarus turned and headed over, Mega Man set the music on a loop of tracks, and Rick managed to reluctantly disentangle herself from his date.

"We've got a transmission from Kongoland," Dr. Right said. "Guess who got her resources together to attack."

Immediately, Lana was all business. "Zelda! Link!" she called to the Hylians. "Party's over," the Princess of Videoland explained as they came over. "Can you clear the guests out of here as quickly as possible?"

Zelda elbowed Link. "That means no brawling. Be nice."

"Aw, do I have to?" Link whined.

Zelda nodded and turned to Lana. "Go ahead. We'll cover for you."

They were in Dr. Right's makeshift lab in minutes. "Great," Kevin said after listening to the recording from Prince Plenty. "The Brain is back."

"Not for long," Lana said. "Get your Power Pad and Zapper. We'll have to go to Kongoland now if we want to stop her."

Kevin opened his jacket to reveal the Pad already strapped on beneath his shirt. He took it off and strapped it on correctly. "Way ahead of you. Mother Brain's never gonna know what hit her."

"No kidding," Rick said. "Especially with five more on your side."

Simon gaped. "What?"

Dr. Right pressed a few buttons, and a drawer slid out, containing several Power Pads and weapons. "I took the liberty of making some extras," the scientist said nonchalantly. "Just in case."

Mike pulled out a laser rifle, tossing the plastic shotgun to the side. "All right! A real gun!"

Kelly leaned over to Lana. "See? I'm not the only psychopath here." She shrugged off her jacket and took the familiar wrist lasers and Power Pad. Stacey, Rick, and Romeo were all selecting weapons, and Lana grabbed the belt she'd used in their raid on Skull Castle.

"Well, they're armed now, Your Trustingness," Simon muttered. "I hope you're happy."

"You bet I am," Lana said.

Stacey put her hands on her hips. "Are we gonna get moving or what? We've only got, like, until midnight or something!"

Kevin grinned and flipped a switch on the wall, and a round panel slid back to reveal a swirling blue warp. "After you, Cinderella."

The rest of the N-Team jumped through. Mike hung back, a strange smile on his face. He turned to Dr. Right, put on the sunglasses, and adopted an Austrian accent. "I'll be back."

With that, he jumped backwards into the warp.

Dr. Right stood there, shaking his head. "Now what on earth was that all about?"

Shaking his head, the scientist pressed a few buttons to close the panel. As the warp closed, he could faintly hear the final chorus of the song through the audio line to the party that was clearing out in the main hall.

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine.....

FBI Headquarters
10:30 p.m.

"Mulder, what are you doing in here?"

Half-awake, Mulder glanced up at his partner, blinking for a few seconds before his brain could find an appropriate response. "I should be asking you the same question."

Scully sighed, pulled open a drawer, and withdrew a set of keys. "Forgot my keys. Your excuse?"

"Oh, nothing really." He picked up a remote and rewound the tape in the VCR back a few minutes. "Saw something on the news, and just decided to come and think up an excuse in case Skinner saw it."

"What do you mean?" Curious now, Scully moved to stand beside him as Mulder pressed the Play button.

A news anchor's face appeared on the screen. "Speaking of Halloween, the evening is living up to its reputation with a number of strange sightings. In Northridge, California, a citizen reported seeing seven teenagers disappearing into a pool of blue light. A woman from Paterson, New Jersey reported seeing one of her trick-or-treaters floating into the air for his 'trick,' and in Baltimore--"

Mulder hit the Pause button. "What do you think?"

Scully was shaking her head. "I don't think Skinner will even notice."

"No, Scully, I didn't mean that. What do you think about this whole case?" Mulder leaned back in his chair, smirking at her. "Chalked it up to a dream yet?"

She shook her head. "No. My subconscious could not have concocted anything that odd." Scully pulled up a chair and sat down beside him. "But even if this proves the parallel universe theory, there's still a vaguely scientific basis behind it. And I wouldn't classify it under UFO activity, or even paranormal."

He stopped smirking. "Not paranormal? Are you kidding?"

"Mulder, I spent some time listening to Dr. Right's theories about the warp zones, and though the technology is way beyond us, most of what he said was scientifically correct. Well, the basics, anyway."

As she spoke, his smile faded. "Actually, that doesn't make it so painful. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for."

Scully sighed and reached over to squeeze his hand. Mulder looked up, surprised at the rare gesture. "Well, maybe it was. We did find out what happened to Kevin Keene, after all."

"Scully, what's your point?"

She released his hand and lightly tapped him on the head with a pencil. "Think about it, Mulder. You're always the one saying that the truth is out there somewhere. We did find out the truth." She rubbed her temples. "And it was indeed out there. Way out there."

He looked at her for a long moment, a thoughtful look crossing his face. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. You got what you came for?"

"I guess. I don't dare go home now with all the partiers roaming around." She leaned over, peering at the plastic bag on his desk. "What's that?"

Mulder turned the bag towards her. "My dinner. Want one?"

"Mulder," Scully said, taking a potato chip, "you really need to change your diet." He shot her a look. "What? It's the truth!"

Smiling, Mulder pulled out the bag of sunflower seeds and shut the VCR off, handing his partner the bag of potato chips and lifting his own bag in a toast. "To the truth, then." She rolled her eyes, and Mulder grinned. "Happy Halloween, Scully."

The End