Requiem Remix

Requiem Remix

EFC/XF

Premise: What if there was a third agent investigating the crash?

Notes and disclaimer: This is an ALTERNATE UNIVERSE version of "Requiem." Frank Tate, Ronald and DeDe Sandoval belong to Majel Roddenberry and Tribune Entertainment. The anarchists and miscellaneous characters are my doing. The rest are Carter's and 10-13's. Certain lines of dialogue and scenes are from Chris Carter's "Requiem."

The legend quoted in this is also the property of Tribune. However, treat it as a Gillian Anderson voice over.

Part 1

The Omen

There was a dire omen in the heavens, and the people were afraid. Two who witnessed this were not afraid. Sha'ka'rava and his twin Um'rathma saw the sign and quarreled over its meaning...Um'rath'ma did not want the people to believe it was danger foretold in the skies.

                Four figures in hemp jerseys and stiff pants climbed over dead logs and carefully harvested firewood. Two of them had their arms full of small sticks and logs for the fire tonight while the others filled their arms.

                One of them was not what he appeared to be. Two dark eyes peered out from the stocking cap covering his equally dark hair. He also stood out by being the only Asian in the group, shorter than the other man on this gathering. The other thing that set him apart was the secret contained in the tiny badge that practically burned in the hidden pocket in his loose pants...an FBI badge that read  "Ronald Phillip Sandoval."

 The Bureau might as well investigate the Amish. Aside from the Abbie Hoffman books, not even J. Edgar Hoover would find this commune a threat to national security...

                He needed to get away soon to make his report and pack up the contents of his hotel room - then it was a short drive back to Portland for the debriefing and he'd be finally getting back home.

                At least I'm glad DeDe isn't angry at me for getting into these assignments. Some husband I'm turning out to be, chasing bogus bomb threats while...

                Sandoval stopped when he realizes he was lost. Great. Well, he just needed to find something familiar, and he could at least get this firewood back to camp.

               He dropped some of the large armload and stuffed a bundle under his arm, finding the deer trail that brought him back to the marked tree and back to the commune.

                He hit a small muddy patch on the trail and slid a bit, dropping the firewood. He grabbed onto a tree the regain his balance in just enough time to look up.

                Two blue-white ships that looked like a cross between a bug and an F-15 popped out of a blue white hole in the sky. They fired blue pulses at something else, something that the blasts warped and curved around.

                "What in the -?"

                Getting into a clear spot for a better look, he saw one of the ships swoop in front of it, still firing. It was like something out of the cheesy arcade games he played as a teenager. They grazed the treetops above him, and he dashed off after them, even as they dove dangerously close to him.

                The ship in front of the invisible target swooped too close, unable to pull away. There was a collision and a large fireball before something went down - hard. The woods lit up ahead of him and the sound of impact was enough to deafen him. The other ship turned around and vanished into a blue-white hole like it came from.

                "Raven! Raven!"  The rest of the party was calling for him. It was common practice in this group to reject their given names and rename themselves in some pseudo-shamanistic tradition. It took the Bureau plenty of hours just to discover what most of their legal names were.

                "Over here! I saw it go down. They dashed over to the fires."

                "Someone might need our help," said "Mother," the person who had started the compound. Everyone looked up to her, as much as she was an anarchist and didn't believe in leadership positions.

                The other two - River and Mouse caught up. River was a thin-limbed teenager, still new to the commune life. Mouse had been living there as long as Mother had. She was a tiny woman with thick glasses and a shy demeanor.

                The four approached.

                "It's only burning in a circle," said Mouse. "None of the other trees around it are on fire."

                "You can see it?" River asked.

                "A big ship. Looks like the stuff out of a bad sci-fi book," Mouse answered.

                Mouse reached out and her hand hit something. She winced and pulled away. Mother stepped in front of her, also touching the barrier. Her hand hesitated for an instant, and then went through.

                "River, Raven, Mouse, I think we can pass through this."

                Sandoval looked around nervously. "Are you sure we shouldn't find help first? Or call someone from town?"

                "And trust Detective Miles or those other fascists? This isn't a plane crash. Those bastards get a hold of this, or any survivors, and they'll be vivisected like lab rats."

                Sandoval waited until Mother and Mouse were through.

                And didn't see a trace of them afterwards.

                Sandoval followed his instinct and started to run towards the road. Two silhouetted figures were ahead. Maybe he could ask one of them for help.

                Thundering the Crown Victoria down the logging road, Bellefluer's sheriff listened to his radio.        

"Confirmation of downed aircraft. All units - we have a 10-13," the dispatcher said. The glow ahead of him spoke of a forest fire in progress. This was going to be bad.

"Unit four, this is Detective Miles. I'm coming right at you, Ray. You wait for back up before you try anything, got that?"

                No answer.

                As the glow in his windshield got bigger, he gripped the wheel. Damn deputy. He had better not have done something stupid...

                There was a loud bang under the hood, and the car swerved. Miles tried to regain control, but the car rattled and dove into a ditch on the side of the road. A tall shadow emerged from the smoke. Miles got out of the car and called to it.

               "Deputy Hosie...Ray?"

No recognition. No change of expression at all. Whatever this was, it wasn't Ray. "Oh my God...."

He tried to get away, but the bounty hunter was anticipating this. It was easy to overtake him and snap Miles' neck like a twig.

Sandoval could only watch from his hiding space as the unknown man snap the detective's neck. Detective Miles was one of the only people in town who knew that he was an FBI agent sent to look at the anarchist commune. The murderer waited for a moment, and Sandoval saw something that made his ill. The murderer didn't seem to notice him, but made a cursory check for anyone watching. The murderer shifted face and body to become a perfect copy of Detective Miles before disappearing again, this time in the direction of the commune.

Sandoval waited, breath held until he believed it was safe, then dashed back into the woods. He ran, doubling back and making circles - he knew these woods from the time he had spent there. He had to elude this hunter and tell someone - anyone who would believe him.

He must have run forever. He was panting and exhausted, his hands were cut and scraped from falls, and his grubby anarchist clothing was stained with mud, grass, and some blood. One piece of luck! A trail led to one of the back roads, where a trucker was passing by. Sandoval furiously waved his arms and the driver stopped.

"I need a ride into town!"

               The driver looked puzzled. "I don't take hitchhikers."

                "It's an emergency! I need to get to a phone and call in a murder."

                The driver looked backwards.

                "Please! The man who did it is still after me."

                The driver reached over to close the window. Sandoval pulled out the tiny wallet from his hidden pocket.

                "Do as I say or I can have you for obstructing justice!"

                The door opened, and Sandoval climbed in the cabin. The truck sped off, but Sandoval took one look back to see someone standing on the side of the road.

                The fake Detective Miles was smiling.

Part 2

Sha'ka'rava saw the dire nature of the omen. He spoke to the people of the worst, but having been comforted by the lies of his twin, they did not believe him. He was thrown from the village and into the Void where it was hoped his vision would narrow and life-force fade to nothingness.

                To insure he would not return, Um'rathma placed a tool of violence in the hands of a judge, Sal'ja-hinn. Surely, having heard Um'rathma, and swayed by the thoughts of the Commonality, Sal'ja-hinn  would shatter the belief of the Truthseeker, and put him to death.

                However, upon reaching him, the Judge saw that his life-force was already fading, but his faith and vision still strong. She did not act until she had heard Sha'ka'rava's story. Sal'ja-hinn challenged him to a Sharing. If his story were a lie, then he would be trapped in the World Between for eternity. Sha'ka'rava accepted, and they Shared their thoughts. Sal'ja-hinn was at first frightened to learn that Um'rathma, the respected man, had lied. The Judger extended life-energy to Sha'ka'rava, restoring his wounds. Upon hearing of their new-forged loyalty to each other through the Commonality, Um'rathma cursed them both, severing them from the Commonality and making them dependent on each other alone. It also insured that the Truthseeker and Judge would not be believed...

Hoover Building

Washington DC

June 1, 2000

Chesty Short lived up to his name. He was all of five-foot-five, and was accustomed to carrying around his calculator and audit sheets. Now, the FBI had sent him to trim some fat from the budget, and he had stumbled on more fat here than an entire health spa.

Short watched Agent Mulder opened the door and marched in. Why wasn't this man fired years ago? Even his medical records would have made him a bad investment.  Hopefully, those two embarrassments could get fired and start working somewhere more appropriate like the Weekly World News.

"It says you were finished," Mulder said, walking over to read over Short's shoulder.

"I turned in my report, and was asked to go over a few things." Short straightened his paperwork. "As you know, the times we live in - the world is changing fast."

"I'm missing your point."

"As I said, this is an evaluation, Agent Mulder. To understand what you do, so that if you go forward, you can do so more responsibly."

"That sounds like a threat."

"Cost-benefit analysis, but if you want the truth, I really don't care one way or another." He looked up. "From what I can tell, you mostly record bizarre facts on bizarre cases. Information gathering - something it seems you can just as easily do over the Internet."

"I can't do my job from an office. I promise you."

"Nowadays, most space exploration is done sitting in an office, Agent Mulder. Why? It's just too damn expensive putting men in outer space."


"I'm not looking in outer space!"

"Bringing us to the point. If you are going to spend so much time and money looking for aliens, responsibly you should narrow your search."

"To where?


"To wherever they are. It's not unreasonable - it's a just a matter of reducing your vision."

Short walked out and Mulder hunched over his desk. Well, Short probably wasn't from the ranks of the conspirators, just a nickel-and-dime man who didn't understand anything that wasn't cost-efficient. Even his suit was made of the cheapest material available.

And to make it worse, Short hadn't disguised his contempt for him and Scully as much as he smugly thought. In fact, the little accountant had been practically broadcasting them from the moment Mulder couldn't avoid the cursory handshake.

He almost was drifting off when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Mulder?"

He looked back up. "That guy is going to shut us down, Scully."

"We have been shut down before, and we still fight back."

"Against what?" Another blast of pain hit his head and jolted down to his arms. These were becoming a little too frequent. He massaged his palms and looked over at her. "How can we justify ourselves in a way others can understand?"

"We find others who are willing to believe. We gather our evidence..."

"What evidence? Every time we get just a piece of it, something destroys it, or there's a cover story in place. I'm tired of swinging at windmills. I just want..."

"To tell that accountant where he can shove it."

"Yeah."

She walked over to the other side of the desk. "At least one piece of good news - the MRIs came back. Your brain activity is still high, but there are no trace of tumors or anything else other than the high amount of bran activity to indicate anything abnormal."

"Then, tell me why I can shake that little shit's hand and instantly know what he's thinking?"

Scully reached out and brushed her hand against his. He seemed to instantly brighten up. "Thanks."

"Whatever is wrong with you, believe me - I am trying to find a way."

"I don't have to believe with you. I already know." He got up. "Come on, let's get back to work - while we still have some to go back to."

*                              *                                              *                                              *

                Sandoval changed back into his suit, and found a phone that worked in the manager's office. After twenty minutes on hold, he had gotten through to his partner.

                "Joe, this is Ron."

                "Ron? Where the hell have you been?"

                "Running for my life. Did you get the report I sent?"

                "I didn't, but the boss did. You're in the shitter."

                Sandoval gripped the phone. "What? I told the truth about what I saw. I saw the sheriff murdered and a plane go down."

                "Experimental military aircraft, and your dead sheriff answered the phone this morning. They're coming over to take care of it, and you're off the case. Get up to Portland to make your report."

                "I still have the anarchists to investigate, and three of them are missing."

Sandoval could practically hear the shrug his partner gave. "Didn't you hear? There are no more anarchists."

                The young agent pulled his ear away from the phone, not believing his ears.

Joe explained. "CDC says they caught them with some biological warfare materials. Ended up killing them when you were running back into town to fax in that report."

"CDC? Biological weapons? That has to be a joke. The worst they had was the cow manure, and I watched all of that go on their farm!"

                "Ron, everyone there is dead."

                Sandoval was certain he didn't want a mirror, as his facial expression must have looked dumb at the moment.

                "Something about this doesn't sound right."

                "We're sending down a car in two days to get you. Manpower's a little tied up right now, and I don't think the taxis will got out there."

                Sandoval was nervous. "Joe, I know what I saw!"

                "Ron, did you eat anything they made? Those guys could have laced it with funny mushrooms or just about any other hallucinogen."

                Sandoval sighed. "Never mind. I'll draft up another report in Portland." *If I live that long, * he added silently.

                "Good. Maybe you can salvage your career. Bye."

                Sandoval hung up and huffed. Well, if he was going to be stuck in a death trap for 2 days, he had better not be a sitting duck.

                Sandoval barely had time to change back into his suit and borrow the hotel manager's car. He felt like he was on a deadline. He NEEDED to see what had happened to the anarchists - he just could not believe what Walsh told him. Besides, the shop said it could be a few days before the part needed to get the rusted out heap would be in stock, and technically, the Bureau was trying to find a next case. Using what time he could scavenge to see what became of the compound certainly couldn't hurt. And anything to get that strange sight out of his mind.

                It took him almost two hours to get to the wooden gate of the campground-turned-commune - one hour on the highways, another navigating the labyrinth of back roads. A man in a local PD uniform met him at the junction near the cabin.

                "Sorry, sir. Official business."

                Sandoval pulled out his badge. "It's all right. I'm assigned to this case. Did Agent Walsh call your superiors?"

                "Sorry sir. No one comes near. Official business."

                Sandoval felt a twinge of suspicion. "May I see your badge?"

                The deputy hastily covered an irritated glare. "Sir, turn around."

                Sandoval rolled up the window and turned around the car, going around the first bend. Something just was not right.

                He picked up the cell phone, and dialed another number.

                "Deputy Miles? Billy? Yes, I need to speak to you - alone. Yes, this is Raven from the commune...but what your father didn't tell you was who I really am. Meet me at the café. Do not tell your father - I cannot emphasize that enough."

*                              *                              *                              *

Part 3

The Raven

***And, so began the long, slow climb from the Void. However cut off from the Commonality, the Truthseeker and Judge were not as alone as Um'rath'ma wanted. Others they had touched - others that also came to suspect Um'rath'ma...***

Scully arrived at the office first, like normal. Mulder was probably at the vending machine picking up more sunflower seeds or coffee. It took him longer to actually buckle down to a task, but it was a pattern that ceased to bug her some years ago.

The door clicked open and Mulder tiptoed in, shutting the door behind him.

"I think I'm in big trouble."

"I told you earlier -"

."Yeah, but I never actually assaulted an auditor before," Mulder said, an evil grin tugging at his mouth.

Scully was shocked, but after it faded, she couldn't help it. She also started to smile. "Did you hurt him?" 

A full brown grin crossed Mulder's face. "I...reduced his vision a little."

The phone's ring cut off the conversation. Mulder tapped the speakerphone button and answered.

"Agent Mulder."

"Agent Mulder..." the voice on the end stuttered a bit. "Is Agent Scully still with you?"

"Yeah. Yeah, she is. What is this about?"

"It's Billy Miles. I don't know if you remember me, but..."

"Yeah. The case in Oregon, seven years ago. You claimed to have multiple abduction experiences..."

"Uh, look. It's strange to be calling you guys, but I think you're the only other people that will believe us. I don't know where to turn. I told Raven I'd get help."

"Raven?"

"He claims he's one of you guys - from the FBI that is. From with it looks like, it's happening again."

"The abductions?" Mulder asked.

"Yeah," Billy answered. "But not to me this time. No one believes Raven - not even his bosses in the FBI. He gave me something you guys need to see." A pause as a door clicked shut in the background. "Can't talk. Not now. Gotta go."

The phone clicked and went dead.

Scully looked over at Mulder expectantly.

With exaggerated worry, Mulder looked up, a wide grin on his face. "More alien abductions, Scully,"

"I don't know how we could *possibly* justify the expense," she said, turning to the door, returning the grin. It really was infectious.

"We'd probably turn up nothing," Mulder said, stepping behind her.

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Let's go waste some money."

                *                                              *                                              *                                              *

Gary and Richie were two boys from the town. They heard all the talk from their older siblings and friends about the abductions, and heard from their parents about how it was all bunk, how those missing kids had just run off as an act of teenaged rebellion.

Well, armed with a Geiger counter ordered through the mail, and two flashlights from the hardware store, they were indulging in a little rebellion of their own. It was now well past dark, and even the words of the sheriff they ran into earlier did little to discourage them.

"I'm getting something here, Gary." Richie waved his counter, the large yellow box cradled in his arm had a small window. The needle jiggled back and forth

"I told you, Richie."

Gary went over to the right a bit while Richie went straight ahead.

"You really think the anarchists are behind this? Or that it was a military aircraft?" The needle started going wild. "Hey, man. Look at this...Gary...Gary...!

There was no answer. Richie turned around. No sign of Gary, not even a sound.

Gary climbed over a log and into a small clearing. There were small logs and sticks dropped here in about three small piles, and a blue kerchief. He remembered one of the anarchists wearing it when she went into town for any reason. All the other ones called her "Mother" for some reason. Gary was intrigued. He planned on sneaking over to one of their meetings some time. Truth was, the local rumor was that they grew weed over there.

He reached down to pick it up, and took another step forward.

WHAM!

He was up in the air, shaking all over. It seemed like forever before he passed out.

Richie climbed over the hill into the clearing, shining his light around.

"Gary?"

He tried the shine his flashlight across the clearing. The light seemed blocked. No - bent! Richie waved his light, watching as it curved around something. He started to get close.

A flash of light, almost blinding, lit up the woods. The Geiger counter started to scream. Richie covered his eyes with his arm and staggered back. His hand started to burn - his flashlight!

Richie dropped the flashlight and dashed back done the deer trail to the road. Whatever got Gary wasn't going to get him!

The flashlight hit the grass. It was already in flames.

                Just before dawn Sandoval went back to the compound, dressed up in his anarchist clothing - grateful for all the pockets - both obvious and not so obvious on it. Gloves covered his hands, and he wore a stocking cap. He did carry his ID and service weapon, but dreaded the thought of having either be discovered.

He'd been lucky enough to take a camera with him, hoping to finish up the case file with some documented evidence of their demise.

Sure enough, there was no sign of life as he snuck around the perimeter to the back entrance and into the tight group of converted campground buildings.

The main hall was in disarray, like a theft had occurred, but it was cleaned up. No evidence and no trace that anyone was investigating. No police lines, no spray-painted marks on the ground. It was like the place was robbed. After finding nothing appreciable in the hall, he walked out towards their fields.

When he got to the small cabin out in a clearing near the farm the first thing he noticed was the stench. Then, he noticed the dead body lying on the ground outside, disemboweled. Hawk, otherwise known as James Hemblen, was the unfortunate victim. It took a lot of willpower not to be sick - the man looked like he had exploded from the torso. Beside it was a covered figure that didn't look human, something with a bluish haze around it, or was he just seeing things? Black sludge dripped from Hawk's eyes and mouth. Sandoval backed away.

He avoided the body, looking in the cabin. It was one of the storage buildings, but it was storing something else. Bodies were stacked like cordwood in a way that reminded him of the concentration camp pictures he'd seen in his college with the mass graves.

He snapped pictures and dashed back behind a compost pile, dragging a discarded rake behind him to hide his footprints. A truck was coming through the gates. It parked next to the mass grave in the cabin.

The truck was also suspicious. It didn't have government plates or the appropriate hazard warnings on it. Someone wearing a lab coat chatted to an old man in a suit. Too bad he was too far away to hear what was going on. He saw the man in the suit nod, light a cigarette, and puff away on it while talking to the other man. The smoker wasn't dressed for something like this - if it were official.

Sandoval ducked in the bushes and brought up his camera, snapping picture after picture of the bodies before they were loaded up and sent away. He managed to get back into the woods, hopefully without being seen.

It was dawn by the time Mulder and Scully arrived. They arranged a meeting with Billy on the old logging road. It was almost like coming home, Scully thought. She was so naive and young when she was here last. She felt ancient as she stepped out of the car, looking around. When did the person who had been here before cease to exist?

Mulder interrupted her thoughts. She saw him shake the hand of a young man in a deputy's uniform. Billy Miles, it appeared, had done his own share of leaving his old self behind.

"You're now wearing a badge!" Mulder looked proud as he shook Billy's hand.

"Never thought I'd be a cop, but my dad got me started," Billy said shyly.

"You're married, Billy?" Scully noticed the glitter of gold on Billy's left hand. Well, at least some people went to live a normal life after the hell they went through.

"Divorced - I live back with my dad."

"Have you been able to get over the abduction?"  Mulder asked.

"Well, I have, but some other people haven't..." Billy looked up, sheepish. "My dad still denies it ever happened."

"Does he deny that's it happening now?"

Billy looked uncomfortable. "He says that it was a military jet that went down. That he's working with the FAA, but..."

"But, what?"

"He's been acting strange and he's really been no help. Insists on handling it without help. Says people are already on it, but I haven't seen anyone, and Raven saw something. He says he saw what went down and that it's not a military craft. Then again, I don't know what to believe."

"Can we meet this Raven? If he's an FBI agent..."

"He showed me his badge, but he only wanted to be identified as Raven. His supervisors don't believe him."

"But you do?"

"Yeah. He told me that he saw how I treated the anarchists. I never had a problem with them. He said that he thought I was a good cop. I told him that the two of you might believe what he saw. I know I do, but you guys already know why."

Behind them, Detective Miles drove up. Billy looked nervously back. "Come on. I think I know where Raven is."

"What are you doing?" asked Detective Miles.

Billy seemed guarded. "Just talking to people you might remember - from the FBI."

Scully stepped forward. "Agent Scully. Agent Mulder."

"Well, what brings the two of you out here? Surely not some UFO."

"It was an unidentified craft," Mulder insisted.

"Well, you might want to follow up," Miles said. "It's not looking like a crash at all."

****

They drove to the scene. Billy insisted on riding with them.

"I don't know if Raven was right or not. He just said not to trust my dad. I think I believe him."

"Why?"

Billy looked ahead. "I just get a bad feeling. It's a side effect, you know? Like the others who were taken. Sometimes, we just...get things. Most of the time, we ignore them, but when I started trusting those, I solved a few cases. I trust those instincts."

"And what are those instincts telling you now?" asked Scully.

"That the guy riding in my car might look like my dad, but it's not him."

****

They stopped a mile into the woods. Scully got out of the car first. Mulder stopped after a few steps, his eyes on a large orange X on the pavement. "It's déjà vu all over again," he commented.

"That was already here, in case you were wondering." Miles said. He looked a little too eager to provide answers - a sign he had something to hide.

*Or a sign that you are succumbing to paranoia after all these years of chasing bumps in the night, Dana, * she thought. "I know," she answered aloud. "Mulder painted it here, seven years ago."

 

"What for?" asked Miles.

"To mark an electrical disturbance. A place where nine minutes went missing, and our car powered down in the middle of the road." Mulder saw a nearby set of skid marks - fresh ones, and started to follow them.

"The skid marks are mine," Miles was trying to get ahead of Mulder, almost to stop him.

"Is that your deputy's car sitting up there, without its lights on?"

"If it were his car, I would have seen it." Miles seemed flabbergasted, but Mulder wasn't fooled. Something made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up when he looked at Miles.

"My point," Mulder said dryly.

Scully walked over, following another sign - footprints.

"Detective!" When Billy approached first, with his father following, Scully pointed to the shell casings on the ground.

"Did the deputy carry a .38?" she asked.

".38 Special," Billy answered before his father, or what he claimed was just an image of him, could cut in.

"This shell casing was discharged," said Scully. "It could have rolled from up there." Scully put one of the shell casings in Miles's hand.

"Well, what was he shooting at?"

"Probably nothing," said Mulder, a note of sarcasm entering his voice. Miles looked at him coldly.

"Well, nothing is all you seem to find here," said Mulder.

Miles looked frustrated. "Billy, get back here. You're riding back into town with me."

"Dad?"

"If they want to chase nothing let them. Now, this is an order. You come with me."

Billy's eyes darted back and forth to the two agents, then back to his father. Not appearing to see a way out, he walked reluctantly back to the car. Miles followed, and after the driver's side door shut, the car made a U-turn and peeled back in the direction of town.

After the other car left, Mulder kept staring after it.

"I don't like this. Billy's in deep trouble."

"I don't suppose his father's happy to see us, no," Scully said. "And he is hiding something."

"If it really is Detective Miles," Mulder said.

"Mulder, you don't really believe what Billy Miles told us about that not being his father? He seemed like the same, charming, Detective Miles to me."

"Yeah, but he was nervous. He's got something to hide, Scully, and I think we're going to find it in these woods." Mulder walked in the direction of the abandoned car. Scully puffed out a sigh and followed.

"If we get lost, it's your fault."

Mulder looked around the car. "More footprints, but these are fresh. Someone was just here."

Scully paced around the car, a bad smell hit her nose as she neared the trunk. "Mulder...the trunk."

She looked up. Mulder was staring into the woods, a small patch of bushes was swinging violently.

"What are you doing there? FREEZE!"

****

He had managed to walk through the deer trails for an hour and was getting close to the main road back town before he heard them.

"What are you doing there? FREEZE!"

Sandoval turned around. A tall man and a small woman were emerging from the woods. In their suits, they looked as out of place as the men that came for him at the remains of the commune. Probably more of those goons "cleaning up." They might want to "clean" him, too. He got up, thought of DeDe, and dashed off into the woods.

Following broken branches and noise, they followed. Scully was glad she wore flats this time. She trailed behind her taller partner as they searched for the man. He was possibly the only witness they had, and if he did see anything, they needed to find him before the others did.

Sandoval could hear them on his trail. He pumped his legs faster. The months he spent working undercover on the anarchist farm had made him very strong and fast. Plus, he was dressed for the woods and they weren't.

He ducked under a tree limb, and made a hard cut through some bushes, but he misjudged a step and went crashing to the ground. He looked up to see his pursuers were catching up. He reached for his gun, ready to make a final stand.

They pushed through the bushes to see their man lying on the ground. He had a black gun trained on them, a Sig Sauer. Scully and Mulder instantly reached for their weapons.

"Stay down on the ground! Hands where we can see them," Scully ordered.

"Drop your weapon NOW!" Mulder yelled.

The man yelled out something they NEVER expected.

"Federal Agent! Identify yourselves!"

Tall man stared at him, but didn't drop his weapon. "What the hell? Put the gun down and show us some ID."

A split-second look between them. Tall man still had his gun pointed at him, but the small woman balanced hers in one hand, and pulled out a wallet, flipping it open to an FBI ID.

"We're on the same side."

Sandoval shakily holstered his weapon, as did the man and woman. He picked up his wallet, and showed his badge. "Guess we are." He pulled himself off the ground, still watching the pair of them. Walking up to the woman, he offered his hand.

"Agent Ronald Sandoval - Otherwise known as Raven." Sandoval looked around. "Come on. I know my way out of these woods and what place is safe to talk."

                *                                              *                                              *                                              *

Part 4

Disciple

***One who stepped forward to join the Sha'ka'rava and Sal'ja-hinn was Mar'san. He had seen the omen, but was not certain what it meant. Seeking his own answers, he encountered the Truthseeker and Judge when they emerged from the Void and demanded answers.***

Two Firs Cafe

Bellefleur, OR

June 8, 2000 - 5pm

Two things that Claire Hill served at her café was a good cup of coffee and silence. She had seen enough to know when not to get chatty about her customers, unlike Martha Taylor at the haircutting place who would spill out every secret or bit of gossip told in her shop.

The scene in front of her was good reason to keep her mouth shut. She recognized those people from seven years ago. It was hard for them not to stand out. They weren't locals by any stretch of the imagination - the tall man with a gravelly voice and penchant for flying saucers, or the small woman she saw with him. They looked more hardened and tired since she saw them last. They were talking with one of the anarchists. Funny, but those people never set foot in her café. She heard they were a bunch of druggies and losers. Well, so long as the bill was paid, she didn't care.

"I was investigating an anarchist commune. About ten miles south of town," Sandoval drummed his fingers against the table. "So, I've gotten to know this community. The young man cracked a smile. "Not to mention a good recipe for vegan casserole. Until today, only a couple people knew I was FBI. It would blow my cover."

"Why did you choose to reveal yourself to us?" Scully asked. Sandoval was watching them carefully - so far, no alarm bells.

"A standoff with firearms? Not much of a choice, is there?"  Sandoval puffed out a breath. "Billy Miles said he was going to call someone he knew in the FBI about what I saw, especially after he got nothing from asking around about Hosie's disappearance. He thought that 'it' was happening again, but I kept getting a brick wall just what 'it' was." He searched their faces before adding. "I trust Billy Miles - he's a good cop. I watched him around the anarchists. He wasn't so quick to assume they were trouble just because of what they happened to be."

Mulder leaned back, one long arm sliding across the seat. "What did you see?"

Sandoval's fingers curled around the coffee mug. "I tried to tell my supervisors in the Bureau, and was told flat out not to pursue it. I'm told that the anarchist camp dies because a biological toxin they were working on to poison others blew up in the faces – that's a load of garbage. No toxin we read about at Quantico makes you bleed black like that."

"Did you see something in the sky recently? An explosion? That's why we're here." Scully asked. "We think it has something to do with Deputy Hosie's disappearance."

"I did see an explosion and what looked like aircraft in the sky chasing each other, but after that..." Sandoval stared into the brown liquid. "After that, it turns into a blur. I swear I saw Detective Miles killed right before my eyes. I swear that whatever killed him now looks like him. People vanished. I see the anarchist compound turned into a mass grave, but then my superiors come up with a reasonable explanation - namely, they can't prove it, so it didn't happen."

"Um...Agent, Sandoval," Mulder was testing the waters. "Do you accept the theoretical possibility of extraterrestrial life?"

"Oh, it might exist," Sandoval said, leaning back. "That much I can believe. I also think the surest sign that there is probably intelligent life in the universe is the fact that we've never been contacted by it." He seemed to suddenly realize what he was saying. "Wait one damn minute. You are asking me about ALIENS? Little Green Men? With straight faces? Are you two nuts?"

The pair in the other seat shot a bemused look at each other. Sandoval sighed. He must have stumbled into a private joke of theirs.

Sandoval scowled, dug in his pocket and pulled out a ten-dollar bill, putting it on the table. "You know, the Portland field office has already issued their report. The craft was an experimental Navy jet and the anarchists poisoned themselves with a biological toxin. Maybe I'm better off not seeing or saying anything at this point. Find someone else to laugh at."

He slid out from the booth and walked out the door.

Mulder looked towards the door. "Well, that was helpful. I don't suppose we can ask him to pick up the tab."

"What now?" Scully asked.

"We have Hosie's address. Might be some clues there."

****

Hosie Residence

June 8, 2000 - 6:30pm

The door creaked open, a thin, dark-haired woman standing in the door. Scully was the first to speak.

 

"Sorry to bother you, Mrs. Hosie. We're with the FBI."

"Are you here about my husband?" she asked, peering out from the darkened front room enough for Mulder to get a look at her face. She was a little more pale now, and she put on a little weight, but it was definitely another familiar face.

"Teresa? Teresa Nemman? Seen years ago, you came to Agent Scully and I for help. You were afraid of being abducted?"

"Oh, my God." A flash of recognition passed over her. She opened the door fully. "Please come in."

They all took seats in the living room. Teresa went over and picked up her baby, a chubby-cheeked boy who mouthed his mostly toothless gums on a rubber duck.

"I kinda lost it when I realized who you were," she said.

"Anything you can tell us that might find your husband," asked Scully.

"We had no idea you were his wife," Mulder added, a touch of sympathy coming into his voice.

Teresa looked about nervously, still cradling the obviously anxious child. "I don't know if it's important. I'm hoping it's not, but Ray and I have this connection. It's even deeper for us."

"He was an abductee, too?" Mulder asked.

"He kept it secret from everyone. It doesn't make you popular around here," she admitted. "His experiences were a lot more severe. He was taken many times and –" she spat the word out. "Tested. I have extensive medical records, photos of his scars. I'll get them."

Teresa got up and handed the baby over to Scully. She turned a little red as she took the kid and sat it on her lap. By the time Teresa had left the room, however, Scully was bouncing the child on her knee, singing to it in her off-key contralto.

Mulder's thoughts wandered far from the case, watching. There were too many feelings and layers of feelings to make sense of. It was both the most beautiful and the saddest sight in the universe. 

Scully picked up a small toy duck from the table and started playing with the baby. She shifted the baby a little, cooing.

Those abducted kids were living normal lives – families, jobs, friends…Once upon a time, his life and Scully's were normal.

Maybe there was still hope.

****

"Yeah, DeDe. I can't really fathom it either. The Bureau has already made up its mind what it is...No, they haven't seen it...Yes, I will be back in Portland soon. I just don't want to get any more of these assignments. Well, I'll look forward to your cooking. Bye, honey."

He hung up the phone and settled back down on the cheap, sagging motel bed. He just didn't know how to explain this to himself, much less anyone else. How was he going to file a report that any supervisor would believe? Human bodies gestating creatures better suited to horror movies, a dead commune, vanishing townsfolk, an apparent plane crash, and these two agents who were either great candidates for the loony bin or knew a lot more then they were telling.

The camera burned in his pocket. Who would believe him? Who could he trust now?

Through the paper-thin walls of the motel, he heard an argument in the next room. It was probably a marital spat, since he could hear a woman's contralto and a man's baritone in counterpoint. Great. He wasn't going to sleep tonight. He settled to the most comfortable position he could on the far left side of the bed (out of habit), and resigned himself to a backache in the morning.

The argument suddenly peaked, and Sandoval snapped to attention.

"But, Mulder, he needs to know. Isn't it why we're doing this? So others can know the truth? He saw something and doesn't know how dangerous it is."

"Do you think he'll even believe this? He's even worse than you were."

The hair stood up on the back of Sandoval's neck. What weren't they telling him? Grabbing a bathrobe to toss on over his pajamas, Sandoval grabbed his key and went to confront the other agents.

"And how do we know Sandy's not just going to be a good little Boy Scout and report everything he sees to his superiors. We know the Bureau has a lot of moles, Scully, can we risk it?"

"Risk what?"

Both of them turned around to see Sandoval in the doorway, credit card in hand, and door closing behind him. He looked at the card, then back up at them.

"Good to know that trick does work from time to time. Now, whatever you have to say about this case, say it. Or, I could report you both for hiding evidence. Don't give me any of this alien nonsense, either."

Another quick look passed between them. It was downright unnerving, even senior agents twenty years in the field didn't appear to be communicating telepathically like these two did frequently.

He saw them nod, then gesture for him to close the door. Sandoval closed the door and locked it, then walked over to the bed and sat down, noting the open drawer and the missing hotel bible. In its place was a device he knew to be a bug sweeper. Sandoval looked for an explanation. "What is it you REALLY work on? Are you with some other agency?"

Scully studied the discolored rug for a moment before looking at him and giving the explanation. "No, but even explaining this to you could put you in danger. The people behind this are very powerful, and could kill you or worse."

"You could also turn into a Bureau joke, Knowing this could destroy your career, your life, the lives of those around you..." Mulder pulled up a chair, and put it at the foot of the bed Sandoval was sitting on, giving him a clear path to the exit.

Sandoval felt the temperature in the room drop ten degrees, and pulled the robe around himself tighter. The pair in the room sat expectantly, waiting for an answer.

"The truth," he said. "What are we dealing with?"

****

Sandoval still didn't believe half of what he was hearing, but choked down his knee-jerk responses. He didn't have many choices on whom he could trust.

"I have…something you could use," Sandoval said. He reached inside his robe and pulled out the camera. "I took photos of the anarchists and what happened to them. I caught someone cleaning up - that's why I ran from you. I thought…" Another heavy breath. *What in hell did I just bury myself nose-deep in?*

"Photos? You can actually verify these independently and are willing to testify if it gets to that?" Mulder said.

Sandoval cocked his head to one side. "Well, if you think it's little green men, you'll have a damned hard time arresting them, don't you think?" He puffed out a breath. "Sorry. This is…a little much. There might also be something at the compound those bastards missed. I don't suppose you brought anything appropriate?"

A half hour later, Sandoval was looking every part the anarchist in his rugged outdoor clothing. Mulder and Scully settled for some "civilian" clothing they were saving for the plane trip home. She wore a turtleneck and slacks while he was in sweats. Sandoval noticed for the first time how small Scully actually was - he wondered idly if the woman always wore those back-breaker heels. 

"OK. It's a few miles up the logging road. Closer to the creek. It might be a good idea to approach on foot rather than use the main gates." Sandoval loaded another roll of film into his camera, putting the spent roll in his jacket. "I can't believe I'm doing this, but…" Clearing his throat, he continued. "I can also show you where that object crashed, or at least get you close. Hopefully, you'll get what you came for and I can find out if I'm crazy or not."

Mulder stepped ahead. "I'll warm up the car."

As soon as he was a few steps ahead, Scully started after him, but Sandoval stopped her.

"Honestly, do you think this is crazy? I don't think you follow this as much as he does."

"I don't," she admitted. "But there is more here than any of us understand. I'm sorry you had to find out about it like this."

Sandoval paused, then took Scully's wrist and put the roll of film in her hand, along with a sealed envelope.

"If something happens to me on this or shortly after…use the film. The envelope's for my wife. The Bureau's not going to lie to DeDe and get away with it."

Scully looked at the two objects in her hand and back up at Sandoval.

"I just get a feeling I can trust you, Agent Scully. That is all."

Sandoval followed her out to the car.

****

They got a little close to the compound for Sandoval's liking - practically up to the front gate.  Pulling out field kits from the trunk, all three crept in through a side fence.

Sandoval snapped photo after photo. Things easily missed by untrained eyes. Their first stop was the main hall.

"It looks like they were all rounded up here," said Scully. "Look at the footprints."

Mulder knelt by a broken table. "Also looks like they didn't go without a fight." Mulder pointed to a speck of blood on the broken part, almost buried in the cracks. "And whoever did the clean-up was in a hurry to eliminate traces. They missed a few spots."

A hair here, a fingernail there, Even a speck of blood and a dirt with a spot of something staining it and even some dried, green foul-smelling substance that Scully scraped off the wall. She showed it to Mulder.

"Green acid. It's spattered on that wall in a wound pattern. You were right about them not going without a fight."

He took the vial. "You mean…" a choice four-letter word came out of Mulder's mouth.

"Sandoval is probably telling the truth." She put it in the kit. "But if we are dealing with that following him…"

Sandoval walked over from the far side of the hall. "If you're right, Mulder, then they were all rounded up here first. They fought back, and…well, another place we can find more evidence is out in the tool shed. That's where they were keeping the bodies." Sandoval led them out the door in the direction of the shed.

A Bellefleur sheriff's car drove across the compound, lights flashing, pulling between them and the shed. Detective Miles jumped out of the car and ran up to them.

Mulder and Scully saw Sandoval go ashen.

"You. What are you all doing? This is under our jurisdiction, and Portland's sending men. CDC came yesterday and did their report. It's not your case. Get out."

"We believe it is our case, Detective Miles. We found someone claims to be a witness to the Deputy Hosie's disappearance and led us here."

"You think the Anarchists are behind it? Look, see that tangle of cop cars over there?" Far in the distance, a tangle of red and blue lights flashed. "Over there, I have my son and about a half-dozen others uncovering bodies. These guys were running some kind of cult. I figure they were behind those disappearances. Kids come up here, get drugged…then those cultists finish them off in the Satanic or voodoo or whatever ritual. "I see you have one of them with you."

Sandoval backed away, grabbing Scully and dragging her back with him. She tried to shake his grip, but Sandoval whispered to her.

"Detective Miles knew I was FBI, Agent Scully. That…killed him and I don't know how, but…"

"Shape shifter?" Scully asked nervously. Sandoval nodded. "You're SURE?"

Sandoval nodded again.

She shook off Sandoval's arm. "MULDER!"

Mulder was in the midst of arguing jurisdiction of domestic terrorism cases with Detective Miles when he heard Scully shout.

It dawned on him. In the heat of it, he didn't put it together…

Bounty Hunter.

The Bounty Hunter saw the look of realization and started to shift.

The trio ran like hell. Sandoval turned to pull his weapon. Scully shook her head.  Sandoval let go of it and the two of them dashed to keep up with Mulder, whose longer legs put him at an advantage sprinting.

The Bounty Hunter seemed to glide after them. Sandoval looked back and almost tripped. Regaining his footing, he sprinted into the woods. Hopefully, that whatever-it-was didn't know the woods well enough yet.

As they ducked into the woods, Bounty Hunter was about to follow. A black sedan pulled up next to him. The driver rolled down his window. "You can stop now."

"The three from the FBI. They saw - they have proof. Should I kill them?" Bounty Hunter stopped and looked to the human who had hired him.

The old man took a puff of his cigarette. "That is not your primary mission. Besides, the news that they are together is an asset. The most recent ally is often the most fickle. Just round up the witnesses and traces of your people's and the Colonist's work here. I'll take care of whatever proof they think they have." A predatory smile curled under the cigarette. "Besides, I see potential in that nice young man - this Agent Ronald Sandoval…"

Part 5
Light of Truth


***Mar'san agreed to walk with the Truthseeker and the Judge, but because he could not sense them, he silently doubted their tale. Still, they were the only possible answers he had. Because he had not given Sha'ka'rava and Sal'ja-hinn reason to doubt, they were glad to have them in their company.

But as there had been one omen, along came many more…***

Around 4AM, Teresa Hosie heard the bang on her door. Throwing on her robe, she dodged the baby's toys to peer out the window.

She had bee expecting Detective Miles, or maybe Billy to be coming with news about Ray. News like they found him naked and afraid, like they had found him so many times as a kid. Maybe they had found him injured, with another woman, or even dead.

Ray was standing on the front porch. His uniform was impeccable, hat in hand. It was like he just came home from work.

Teresa opened the door and embraced her husband. "Oh, Ray. I was so worried about you…"

Ray made no move to embrace her - or even speak. Teresa pulled away, nervous.

"Ray, why don't you say something?" There was more silence to greet her as she shuffled closer. Teresa backed away, towards the baby's room.

"You're not my husband!"

He became even more menacing, a small smile crossing his face as he closed the distance. Teresa started to run - the baby. She had to protect the baby!

He reached out to grab her. Teresa saw her sewing scissors on a table. Grabbing them, she jammed then into the intruder's chest as hard as she could!

There was a small hiss like air being let out of a balloon, followed by an awful acid stench. It burnt her face, and the stranger didn't look phased to have a pair of shears embedded in his chest. He pulled them out, and Teresa gagged. The skin on her hands and face was blistering like she'd been shoved in a fire.

She made it to the front of the baby's room before she collapsed.

The baby was howling, but the Hunter did not care. He swept Teresa into a fireman's carry and casually walked out of the house, stuffing her into the back of the police car and driving off on the old logging road.


***

Bang! Bang! Bang! "TATE! Tate? Damn it. Open up!"

They had dashed to the car, Mulder firing it up and speeding away. A black sedan trailed behind them. The Bounty Hunter was after them. After veering off the main roads and using practically every evasion tactic taught at Quantico and a few from *Gone in 60 Seconds,* they believed they'd given their pursuer the slip. Sandoval insisted that he knew a lab that could verify the samples they got. The trail ended at the front door of a shabby-looking house off the campus of Willamette University.

The door cracked open, and a big-boned, trim man opened up. He had a large bowl of popcorn in the other hand.

"What?"

Sandoval assessed the man in the door. "I knew you'd still be up. And still eating like a horse, I see."

Tate shrugged. "You know us geeks - I was playing EverQuest. Besides, I run it all off, and I'll be joining your sorry butt in government service. Application to Quantico accepted yesterday. Now, what do you want?"

"Emergency, Frank. We need you to open the lab over on campus."

Tate gestured to the pair standing behind Sandoval.

Sandoval took a deep breath. "Agents Mulder and Scully. They're…well, we stumbled into each others' cases."

"Why not take it to the lab in Portland?"

"Tate, we were running for our lives an hour ago. Now, we need this done quickly - and quietly."

***

Tate rounded up half a dorm, it seemed. Unlocking the science lab, everyone set to work analyzing the specimens with all the tools available to them.

The leader was Aleta Cleghorn, a PhD student that was only a couple inches than Mulder. Her wiry body bustled around the group of students, noting as another found another oddity in the samples.

"Getting up at 4AM to chart samples is not my idea of fun, Frank. And while we've got forensic students here, it's no substitute for an actual crime lab. Just where did you find this?"

"An anarchist commune in Bellefluer," Sandoval asked. "and I didn't realize that Tate could make the word spread so quickly."

"The ones killed by biological warfare? Their own batch?"

"What you are analyzing is the samples from there. They were all murdered, and not from something they created."

"Well, I believe this much. This isn't anthrax or anything you could make on a budget out in the middle of nowhere." Cleghorn put the tube down. "I'm reading at least TWO different nucleotides not found on anything else on Earth. Maybe it's from outer space," she finished sarcastically.

Scully took the folder of results from Cleghorn's hands. "You have no idea..."

Sandoval reached for the phone. Mulder slammed his hand over Sandoval's "Who are you calling?"

Sandoval looked up, not budging. "The people you should have called in the first place - the press. I know people in Oregon, Mulder. An ex-roommate is a reporter. We tell him it's an emergency and do a controlled leak."

"A leak leading to us and our dead bodies in a ditch, like you were planning."

"I plan nothing! You've said it yourself - these people don't like exposure, save in the sleaziest tabloid where no one believes them. We tell too many people the truth - they can silence a handful, but not the entire public."

Both of them looked to Scully for an answer.

"Pick up the phone. After this, we had better take the samples and lie low. You have copies of the results?"

Cleghorn nodded. "I'll spread them. Once information is leaked - no way to stop it, is there? Even Galileo couldn't be silenced forever."


***

It was almost mid morning before press all over the country had been called, letters and data results faxed to so many places no one knew where exactly all the faxes went.

Documentation and more documentation followed. If they were going to detonate this, they were going to do it in a spectacular fashion. Some of the more paranoid activists in the science lab had tips on how to set off the data wildfire and keep it burning.

For the first time, not only did Mulder and Scully believe - they found others who believed them.

Mulder and Scully had spent most of the day sleeping. Sandoval made another call to the Portland field office and one to his wife. The field office was now willing to "reconsider" the prospect of the anarchists' fate. The news broadcasts hinted of a firestorm.

Evening fell and more data came by. Five o'clock news was going to be do or die - could they really announce it?

"...And the question 'Are We Alone.' has possibly answered tonight. Researchers at Willamette university looking into the deaths of anarchists outside of Bellefleur stumbled on something no less amazing. For the first time, we have samples of DNA, soil samples, and what is likely the first proof of life outside our own planet..."

Mulder watched, too stunned with joy to do the dancing he thought he'd do when the news had broken. He and Scully sat on the hotel bed. His arm was around her, and she was curled up next to him in the same awe.

More and more people from all over the country came forward - not just rednecks in pickups, but scientists, professors, doctors. All of them brought evidence hidden in their own labs. Alone, they had been too afraid. When Willamette University spoke the truth and showed the data, one of the cars had gone straight to SETI with the results. the time for gathering in silence had ended.

After the 11 o'clock news had ended their report, Mulder turned to her.

"They kill any of them, and there's another one with the same evidence. The silence is broken. The truth's here."

Scully said quietly. "All it took was getting more people to believe."

He got up and turned off the TV. "Too much exposure. Too much evidence. So much dry brush that just needed the spark. It's out." He walked back towards the bed, cupping her cheek with one hand. "It's over."

"Mulder?"

"The truth's been exposed. It's over, Scully. We won."

"Is this what you wanted?" she asked.

His hand brushed the side of her neck and down her arm. "Not all of it."

She cupped the side of his face, their silent understanding making words unneeded. Their partnership have been for seven years, and an affair begun in secret only a few months earlier had only served to make it stronger.

After they came up for air after the kiss, he leaned over and asked her to marry him.

She said yes.

***

Sandoval got the room down the hall, still reeling in shock. Was it only a few days ago that he didn't believe in any of it? Now, he was walking behind two people he had met only seventy-two short hours ago, along on their quest, and the catalyst in helping them obtain it.

Waking him from an uneasy sleep, his cell phone rang shrilly. Groping around in the dark, he finally got a hold of it, and answered.

"Hello."

"Agent Ronald Sandoval, I presume?"

He was instantly awake. The voice on the other end sounded like an older man, with a rasp to his voice and a slight Canadian accent.

"Who is this?"

"I would advise against aiding Mulder and Scully any further. I'm here to warn you, Ronald. Stop you from making a big mistake. It isn't too late to save everyone."

Sandoval was getting a bit scared, but was not about to show it. "What do you want?"

The mysterious voice sounded almost amused. "I'm just letting you know - there are other things you can do with what you know. I'm offering you another option. One that would be more suited to your interests."

Sandoval thought a moment. Asking more questions wouldn't do him much good with this caller, but maybe taking another option would prove more fruitful. "Keep talking."

"I can arrange a meeting with you sometime soon. Your test - tell no one of this conversation."

He didn't feel comfortable, but he certainly was intrigued. "All right, but do you have anything to convince me that this is not some prank call?"

"Look outside."

The phone went dead.

Sandoval pulled open the curtain, and saw the car in the middle of the parking lot. It was all black with tinted windows, its lights were off, and the only light he saw from it was from the reflection of the office's neon sign, and the driver's side. The window rolled down, and Sandoval saw a small flame that illuminated the face of the driver for a second. The driver smiled in a way that made Sandoval want to run to a priest, and took a long drag on his cigarette before rolling up the window and driving the unmarked sedan out of the parking lot.

****

A phone's shrill ring woke Mulder. He reached over and picked it up, careful not to wake his sleeping partner.

"Mulder."

Billy Miles sounded like a scared kid. "What happened to you? I see you found something. It's all over the news.

"Well, did you guys find the plane? We got the evidence that the anarchists were murdered."

There was a long silence. "There were a lot of bodies buried there - some of them older than the commune. My dad - or whoever he is - is trying to discredit it - saying it was cult rituals. The bodies they've already identified…it's not like any cult death I read about, even in the stuff you get at the supermarket checkout, and usually they get any kind of exposure and they leave. They aren't leaving."

"The plane?"

"It's not over yet," Billy said. "He's still here and Teresa Hosie - she went missing."

***

"Yeah, DeDe. No, I really can't talk much about it. Well, first of all, you wouldn't believe it. I don't even believe it…Yeah, it had been a long night. I can't wait to be with you and in my own bed! Really? Anyway, that case you're working on, how's the luck with the subpoena? That good, huh?"

A sharp knock at the door interrupted the phone call.

"Call you soon, DeDe. That must be the ride back to Portland -"

He cut the phone call and opened the door. Mulder and Scully stood in the doorway. "We may need your help again, Agent Sandoval." Scully explained. "A witness went missing last night."

"Witness? To this case?" Sandoval looked down. "Portland Field Office has already been informed?"

"Billy Miles reported it yesterday. The sheriff's office is investigating, but with the bodies they found in the anarchist commune, they can't look into this or the missing ship."

"Won't is more like it," Sandoval commented. "All for one, one for all, then?"

 

The drive back was silent and nervous. Sandoval almost wanted to tell Scully about the mysterious man that appeared outside the motel last night.

*Your test - tell no one…*

Failing this man's "test" could be lethal, Sandoval concluded. He didn't want to endanger himself, his new colleagues, and there was DeDe to think about in this, too. Besides, it was just a crank call, an attempt to scare him off. He could convince himself of that, right?

Using the main roads, Bellefleur was only two and a half hours away. Navigating the roads like a native, Mulder swung into the driveway of Teresa Hosie's house. A lone car was there - Billy Miles.

He greeted them at the door. "Mot everyone's gone. They took the evidence, or what they thought was evidence," he said. He cocked his head and looked at the third agent. "Raven?"

"The same," Sandoval said, shaking Billy's hand. "I look different out of the hemp and denim, don't I?"

Billy managed a smile. "A lot."

He led the three of them inside. "I found something. Tried report it to my dad and he said to ignore it. Means it's the first thing I should show all of you."

Billy opened the heating vent and pulled out a pair of sewing scissors in a plastic evidence bag "I rescued this from the trash. I followed that guy and saw him throw it away when he thought no one was looking."

The scissors were corroded, speckled and pitted. Half of it seemed to be eaten away. Mulder took it.

Small pieces of burned carpet formed a trail from the door to the back of the house. "What did they say caused this?"

"Candles or cigarettes. Ray did his smoking outside, though. He didn't want to hurt the baby."

A baby's high-pitched cry came from the room at the end of the hall. In front of the child's room, a burn the size of a basketball charred the rug. Sandoval knelt by it.

"Nice cigarettes."

Mulder also knelt by it. "I know someone who might smoke something like that. Only if he's out of Morleys, though."

Sandoval looked up at Mulder. In the parking lot next to where the mysterious man was last night was a fresh-looking Morley wrapper and a couple of butts. Sandoval dismissed it as coincidence.

Damn it. He was turning into a paranoid head case.

"Agent Mulder, could you tell me more about this Morley smoker?"

Scully's knees buckled. She put a hand on the wall to stabilize herself. Mulder got up and took her shoulder. "You okay?"

"Fine. I'm fine," she said, regaining her composure.

Billy came back, holding Teresa's baby. There kid was obviously tired and upset, but there seemed to be nothing else wrong. No burns, no blisters around the mouth or nose like they had seen from the other victims of the Alien Bounty Hunter. Scully examined the child.

"The baby was unharmed?"

Billy shrugged, cradling the tot. "Aide from a dirty diaper and needing a bottle, Tony here is just fine. His grandmother's coming in from Salem to get him."

"We need to get to that ship," said Mulder quietly. "We still have no idea where it is.  I think that the commune was a dumping place for the victims when their abductors were done with them."

"The aliens," Sandoval admitted. Acknowledging it for the first time out loud was liberating, but part of him wondered whether he was just falling deeper into the same insanity. 

Time for another truth. "Mulder, what if I could lead you and your partner right to the ship?"

Mulder stared at Sandoval incredulously. "You know -?"

Sandoval nodded. "If it hasn't moved, I know exactly where it is."

Incredulity turned to anger. "And you kept this quiet?"

"Isn't what you said back in the hotel room? You don't know if you could trust me and were going to keep me in the dark until Agent Scully pushed the issue. It's a matter of who to trust, Agent Mulder. This case is forcing me to trust you and her whether I agree to it or not."

Navigating the woods in a suit was an annoyance. Tree limbs snagged fabric. Dirt streaked on pants legs.  Sandoval was wishing for denim and hemp clothing and a sturdy pair of boots. Trails that were obvious and negotiable when out with Mother and Mouse were little more then inches-long cuts through blackberry bushes and huckleberry shrubs and climbs over nurse logs full of moss and fungus.

He stopped to help Scully over a few. Those heels should have been outlawed. Mulder was negotiating just fine. Billy Miles brought up the rear.

Sandoval kicked aside a log at the bottom of a small pile. The whole shaky pyramid collapsed. A vile, sharp stench caused him to stumble back.

Under the pile, they could see a hand. Clearing away more logs, they saw the remains of a ragged-looking young man. Grabbing a long stick, Billy turned the body over.

His unseeing eyes were blacked over, a congealed substance that had bled from his mouth, ears, and nose. Billy dropped the stick as all of them backed up.

"That's how the anarchists died," Sandoval said. "I saw a body on the commune just like that before it was 'cleaned up.'"

"Billy, call someone you can trust. You know the local law enforcement better than even Sandoval. This is a bio-hazardous emergency."

Billy nodded, turning around and running back for the cruiser. "Know just who to ask."

"What about us?" Sandoval asked.

Mulder started down another path, around the body. "We need that ship."

 Sandoval gestured to Scully. "It's this way. Over the hill and not much further."


The large clearing appeared to be empty. Nothing was there to disrupt the clear view of sky. Trees circled all sides.

"Here," said Sandoval. "I'm sure of it."

Scully looked at him skeptically.

"I'd swear the souls of my family on it." He said. "See what you can find. I'll rescue your wayward partner."

Sandoval vanished into the bushes. Scully walked cautiously towards the center of the clearing. There was nothing here. What was Sandoval so intent on showing?

Her foot hit something - a chunk of plastic. She knelt by it. It had been burnt - melted into something that now barely resembled a flashlight and was only recognizable by the exploded remains of what had been batteries.

She reached out to take the flashlight. Her hand hit something. She could almost swear there was something - an electric field just past her fingertips. Ignoring the flashlight, she took one step forward.

It was like getting hit by a car.

Sandoval and Mulder pushed past the bushes. Scully was five feet off the ground, shaking violently like a caught insect. They rushed towards her. The force ended and she crashed to the ground. Mulder dropped next to her, his eyes the size of plates as he felt her neck for her pulse.

She groaned and stirred. "What happened?"

Mulder looked over at Sandoval. "We need to get her out of here. Which way back to the logging road?"

Sandoval pointed the way. Mulder scooped up Scully and started off.

Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Sandoval tried to reconcile what he had seen in the past week with anything rational, anything that made sense. He failed. The image in his mind of Mother and Mouse going through here and vanishing, the Hunter, Mulder and Scully - just let it stop. Just end this trip through the rabbit hole!

When he opened his eyes, he was alone in the woods, standing in the clearing where it all began. He was in his grass-stained suit, and it was daylight. Part of him had hoped that he would be here in the darkness, Mother deriding him again for daydreaming when he was supposed to be doing his chores on the commune. Part of him wished it was a bad dream or bad mushrooms.

He walked up to the edge of the place where Scully had been suspended, and reached out his arm.

There was a moment of resistance, and his hand passed through it, up to his elbow. It was like submerging his hand in pure energy. Nothing past his elbow was visible. Sandoval pulled his hand back and held it up.

His arm was fine. No shaking, nothing burnt or amputated.

*Down the rabbit's hole and I think I am stuck there. *

He headed off after Mulder and Scully.

"Yes. You recovered the body? Good. Take it to this address…"

As Billy recited the name and address of the contact he had in Richie's hometown (Richie had moved to Bellefleur from another town), he watched the door nervously. The second cruiser pulled up and the simulacra of his father was coming towards the door.

"Yeah. Thanks. You have it. Ok. Good."

The key slid in the lock and the deadbolt turned.

"Can't talk longer. Yeah, thanks, Charlie. Just remember to send the results. Yeah, bye."

He hung up the phone just as his father - no- the Hunter crossed into the room. Billy backed up.

"Who were you talking to, Billy?"

Billy shuddered, finally backing against the wall. "We found a body out in the woods. Guy moved here recently. Might be part of the anarchist case."

"Case has been solved, Billy. And so has Teresa and Ray's disappearance. It's over, Billy. Do you want me to show you? Anyway, you and me are going on a long trip. Time to get away from all of this, son."

The cold implications of the Hunter's words sunk in, even as the voice was careful. It was a replica of his father's in every way. Billy noticed the hole in the hunter's uniform and drew his 38.

"You aren't my father! Stay back."

The Hunter took a step forward, his voice an eerie singsong that Billy had never heard from his father. "You'd really shoot me?"

 "Get away from me! Where are Teresa and Ray? What the hell is going on?"

No answer. He just closed the gap between them and grabbed Billy's arm, forcing the gun clattering uselessly to the floor. Another hand gripped Billy's neck and squeezed gently. Within a minute, Billy stopped struggling, sliding like a rag doll to the floor.

The hunter assessed the young man. He was groggy, but still alive. Tossing Billy's service weapon on the floor, he carried Billy Miles to the car's back seat out of sight as gently as one would put a newborn in the cradle. Billy's handcuffs were used to cuff him to the grille, and a piece of his own police uniform was ripped off and used as a gag.

The Hunter left one last note. Billy's return phone call got this message.

"This is the home of Detective and Deputy Miles. We're going to be out of town for a while on a fishing trip. If this is an urgent matter, hang up and dial 911.  For all other matters, contact the sheriff's office at 555-5432."

****

Scully's injuries were enough to prompt them going back. A quick check indicated that she was exhausted, but otherwise fine. The Portland FBI was showing up by the truckload and had pulled Agent Sandoval in for case reports. Mulder pitied the poor bastard and hoped Sandoval could come out of it career intact.

All that was left to do now was wait for the axe to fall. In the meantime, he finished editing the case report and was  tossing a basketball above his head when Skinner walked in.

*Time for the noose.*

"What's our punishment this time?" Mulder asked. "Thumbscrews or 40 lashes?"

Skinner didn't answer, just sullenly hovered in the doorway.

Mulder didn't even see the point of being formal. His ass was getting canned anyway. "Come on in, Walter. Sit a spell. This could be the last time you take a trip down to these offices."

"It was the two of you, wasn't it?" Skinner pulled out the Washington Post from behind his back. The headline was screaming "Evidence of Aliens Found? Oregon Scientists Think So." Skinner put it on Mulder's desk. "It said three agents from the FBI provided the evidence while investigating a routine case. Well, what passes for 'routine' here. Who helped you?"

"Ron Sandoval. He's based out of Portland." Mulder fingered the newspaper. "He's a real prick, but without him…who knows? Is he being punished for this?"

Skinner didn't answer that one. "So, the two of you did go."

"Guilty as charged. And if they're coming down on you for that, then I'm sorry. I truly am."

"Agent Sandoval is actually getting a commendation for going above the call of duty on a case. As for me, well, fortunately, they think that I made a contribution to the Bureau." 

 Mulder put the basketball on the floor. "Oh well yeah, stick to a budget they say your making a contribution, but push the limits of your profession, and they say you're out of control."

Skinner sighed. "You could bring home a flying saucer and have an alien shake hands with the President...hell, you practically did. What it comes down to Agent Mulder is... they don't like you."

"I didn't bring home an alien or a saucer, and those results are going to be forgot-"

He was too shocked to speak when Skinner turned towards the door.

A man wearing a leather jacket and dark gloves walked in, followed by a blond woman - both were far too familiar. Mulder bolted from his chair, practically knocking over his boss to make the leap for Krycek.  Skinner grabbed Mulder's arm before the first punch could land.

"Back off! Hear what they have to say first!"

To his credit, Krycek didn't back up at all. "You've got every reason to see me dead." Did he shrug? "But you have to listen to me now. You have the singular opportunity."

Marita cut in. "The Smoking Man - he's running out of cards."

Mulder relaxed a little.

She continued. "He wants to rebuild the Project, keep using the old tactics, but there are too many unknowns now. The war between the Alien Rebels and the Colonists has escalated. The Rebels are winning, and more factions of aliens may have come into play. Now, the ship in Oregon…"

"We didn't find any ships," Mulder half-lied.

"It's there," said Krycek, "but it's cloaked in an energy field while evidence is being destroyed, even what you were able to expose."

"What evidence?"

"The Alien Bounty Hunter. Billy Miles. Teresa Hoese, her husband. He's eliminating proof of all the tests. We're asking ourselves, we're asking ourselves, 'Where are they?' They're right there. They're right under our noses. I'm giving you the chance to change that, to hold the proof," Krycek says.

"Why now?"

Krycek shoved his hand in his pocket, the prosthetic left arm hanging at his side like always. "Why not?" His face darkened. "Truth is - I want to damn the soul of that Cigarette Smoking Son-of-a-Bitch - wreck the thing he spent his whole life on."

The door opened a third time. All partied turned to see Scully walk in and practically jump upon seeing the assembled group before her. Her eyes went right for her partner.

 ****

Skinner's Office

2AM

If a camera could see this proceeding, it would remind someone of a cheap parody of DaVinci's Last Supper. Mulder stood at the table, flanked by his small army. Scully, Skinner, Krycek, Marita, and they added the odd triad. Frohike almost hung up until they were able to drive home how high the stakes were. Even after hearing that, Langly spent the first ten minutes asking questions, while Byers grumbled something about "aliens not really being our line of work."  

Once the dance of suspicion and introductions was done, and it was made clear that the whole house of conspiracy cards was about to get trashed, the three hackers talked among themselves, agreed to the plan, and ordered Chinese takeout. It was going to be a long night.

The table in the center of Skinner's "War Room" was  littered with papers, files and  Chinese take-out containers.  As data came in, the older piles of printouts were discarded for new. Scully looked almost cold, arms crossed protectively. Krycek was obviously agitated, the Russian pacing the room several times during the night. Marita was glacial, like usual. Skinner rarely took his eyes off Krycek. The energy in the room was so high that one could light up a city.

Frohike threw a map on the table, knocking over an empty take-out container. He pointed out the readouts on the bottom. "What's amazing is that even the military satellites don't see it." 

Langly shrugged, pulling over a paper of waveform data. "But J.P.L.'S Topex Poseidon shows it only as waveform data." 

"And here it appears simply as a microburst of transmission error on the European Space Agency's ERS-2." Byers put his stack of satellite readouts between those of his partners.

"In other words?" asked Skinner.

Frohike piled the papers on the table into some kind of order. "In other words, you'd never know it's a UFO." 

Buers cut in. "If you didn't know what you were looking at or looking for."

"No wonder we couldn't see them." Langly said, rescuing a paper.

Krycek glowered at the trio. "Listen, it is not going to be there forever." 

"As we all stand here talking it's rebuilding itself," Maria barked.

Scully was choking on this. She threw her hands to her sides and stormed out of the office. Watching her leave, Mulder followed.

She felt dizzy. It was all too much, too soon. Proof - now, they had it. Part of her knew it, and another part still shouted in disbelief. Another part of her was glad their new ally wasn't around. Sandoval had helped them more than he knew with the data his friends in low places exposed - mixed with data from the Gunmen. She also wanted to talk to him, see if he was coping with this any better than she was.

A hand took hers, and the now-familiar flash of thoughts crossed her mind. She looked up. Half-lit in the hallway, Mulder stood above her. He pulled his hand away, rubbing his palm.

"Sorry, Scully. I shouldn't do that to you."

She looked up and smiled. "Do what?"

"You know my handshakes are going to become deadly weapons, Scully," he teased. "But don't pretend this isn't happening. I may not know what causes it, but I know what it's doing."

She responded by taking his hand. "Mulder, I don't care. I know how much worse it is for you, but whatever happens, *we* will face it. You stood by me with the cancer…time for me to return the favor."

He brushed a lock of red hair out of her eyes. "You're still scared. I don't have to read your mind to know."

She sighed. "Mulder, if any of this is true..." 

Mulder pulled his hands away. "If it is, or if it isn't I want you to forget about it, Scully."

"Forget about it?" She stared at him. How dare he suggest…?

"You're not going back out there.  I'm not going to let you go back out there." She could see he was afraid. He tried to create distance, getting up and pacing away. She stood up and stared after him.

"What are you talking about?"

"It has to end sometime." He hung his head and looked back.  "We have the proof, and can expose it to the world.  - that time is now."

She walked up to him, cutting off his path. "Mulder..."

"Scully, you have to understand that they're taking abductees," Mulder said.  "You're an abductee.  I'm not going to risk..." His voice broke on the last words. "Losing you. Not now."

They hugged each other, understanding the heavy odds. They were so close to victory, and she had to stay behind and let him fight the last battle alone.

Scully whispered into his shoulder. "I won't let you go alone."

***

Part 6

Re-embrace the Void

**Even with their new allies, the Judge and Truthseeker were still vulnerable. A part of the Light was still not within their grasp. Sha'ka'rava sought it the only way he knew how. Leaving his beloved companio in the hands of his allies, the Truthseeker once more sought the Void, knowing the last shard of the Light was there.**

Arrangements were made, bags packed. Scully was going to lie low with the Gunmen for a few days. Mulder trusted those men almost as much as he did Scully. He doubted they would do anything worse than feed her some of Frohike's home cooking and try to teach her how to hack into the DOD.

Their rented Chevy  Malibu stood out. The Gunmen had lent them some equipment and "funky poaching" attire. Mulder and Skinner were all in black outfits with many pockets. Darkness fell early, it seemed, and it was pitch dark by the time they arrived on the logging trail outside of Bellefleur.

Skinner popped the trunk, extracting a bag. "This is starting to feel like the snipe hunt I was afraid of."

"There's no such thing as a snipe, sir," Mulder countered as he shouldered the backpack and started down the trail. "I know which one Agent Sandoval marked."

Skinner glowered. "Hey, you know, my ass is on the line here, too, Agent Mulder."

"I know that." Mulder turned around. There wasn't a need for "thank you," or many idle words at all. Mulder was the first up the hill, into the woods. Skinner took a look back. Nothing like going into the rabbit hole.

Scully and the Gunmen spent the time chewing through the stacks of data. She pulled out the medical records and bolted from her chair, walking over to the triad. "This just can't be."

Frohike met her halfway. "What are you looking at?"

Her eyes didn't leave the stack. "Medical records-- Billy Miles and other known abductees in Bellefleur, Oregon.  They all experienced anomalous brain activity." 

"Electro-encephalitic trauma," Byers said, pulling out another medical record. 

"Which is exactly what Mulder experienced earlier this year," Scully said, almost pumping past them.

Langly was perplexed. "I don't understand."

She stormed over to the table, rifling through the medical records. "There was something out there in that field.  It knocked me back.  Because it didn't want me.  Mulder thinks that it's me that's in danger of being taken." She looked up. 

Frohike was the second one to do the math. "When it's Mulder who's in danger."

"Mulder's already on the plane there," Byers said. "We'll never be able to warn him in time."

Scully pulled out her cell phone. "Not quite. We might not be able to help him, but maybe someone else can."

***

Sandoval had just finished washing the dinner dishes as DeDe prepared for her morning court case when his cell phone rang.

He pressed the talk button. "Hello?"

"Sandoval, this is Agent Scully. I need a favor. Mulder is in trouble and I need your help..."

DeDe saw her husband mutter a few words and affirmatives into the phone. Getting a call from his work this late at night was not usually a good sign. After finishing the conversation with "I'll be right there," he hung up and went for the closet.

"Ronald, what's going on?"

"A case, DeDe." Sandoval told his wife a half-truth. "There might be a break in those disappearances. I'll be back late. Sorry about this."

DeDe sighed and looked up from her manila folders. "Still don't want to cash it in for the relatively sedate world of legal briefs?"

He chuckled as he pulled on a jacket over his shoulder holster. "Sorry, honey."

On his way out the door, he got a chilly feeling. Turning back, he saw DeDe working on her files at the desk. Striding over, he put a hand on her shoulder. She turned around and looked up.

"Forgot something, Ron?"

He nodded. Cupping her face in his hand, fingers savoring the texture of her curly blond hair, Sandoval belt down and kissed his wife good-bye. She smiled at him afterwards. Sandoval waved to her as he left the apartment.

***

A five-hour white-knuckle drive down streets and back roads he could negotiate in his sleep brought Sandoval to the place where the Chevy Malibu Scully described was parked.

He felt the engine. Still warm. They had to be near. Taking the fastest, and most perilous trails, he ran until he could see a shadowy figure reach the clearing.

"Wait!"

The figure stopped. Sandoval caught up with the man. He was looking at a stranger, a big, bald man with glasses.

"Who are you?"

"Assistant Director Skinner of the FBI. Who are you?"

Sandoval backed up a step, and pulled out his wallet. "Sorry, sir. I'm Ronald Sandoval. Scully sent me."

"Why would she send you?"

"Is Agent Mulder here?"

"He went on ahead. Why?"

"She said he was in danger. That -"

An eerie blue light sliced through the trees. Both of them staggered back, blinded.

Sandoval broke away from Skinner and darted up the hill. "Mulder!"

He reached the clearing to see Mulder. Sandoval saw Mulder shuffle towards the almost blinding light, dazed - or maybe entranced. 

"Agent Mulder!"

The light rippled, and in an eye's blink, Mulder was gone.

Sandoval dashed into the clearing, but an unseen force was pushing against him. Like a rock hitting water, the resistance was only for a second, and then he went straight THROUGH! Falling to the ground hard, he rolled until he could see what was going on.

The whole group was standing there. Mother, Mouse, and River smiled at him. Teresa Hosie and Billy Miles stood with them. There had to be at least a dozen others. All of them were smiling, entranced, and waiting in the circle of light beneath the large ship.

Sandoval saw Mulder shuffling towards the light, the same blissful look on his face.

"Mulder, you can't do this. Mulder, step away. Close your eyes! Don't look. Fight back!" Sandoval attempted to get to his feet, but his legs were like rubber and wouldn't obey him. He attempted to crawl over to Mulder, but could not manage it. A sinking feeling washed over him.

He couldn't save them - any of them.

Two figures emerged from the light. Sandoval made another attempt to get to his feet, but they tingled and ached so badly that his body refused to obey.

"Mulder! Mulder, come back here! Can you hear me?"

The figures, a man and a woman approached. One was a woman with dark curly hair and hazel eyes that practically glowed. Something in the woman's angular features reminded him of Mulder, but he didn't know why. Both their hands glowed bright white, the light taking up most of their palms. The man appeared to have pale hair and middle-aged features.

"He is still human," said the woman, hovering her hand above him. "But suitable to be a Host for one of our own."

"No," said the man, passing another hand over him. "I see him as being useful to us later. We will let him go with what he has seen. His people will not believe him."  Sandoval's eyes grew wide as he watched the man's hands glowing a chilling blue-white.

"What in hell are you?" Sandoval croaked.

The man smiled. "When we meet again, you will know."

The woman pulled back her glowing hands. "Ha'Gel, we already have what we need."

The pair turned away from him and walked back towards the captured humans. All of them were watching with expressions of eerie bliss. Mulder looked relaxed, at peace.

The glow increased as the alien pair rejoined their prey. The light grew brighter as Sandoval regained his feet and rushed towards the light. There was an explosion and he felt himself being hurtled through the air...

"Mulder! Agent Sandoval!" Skinner plowed over bushes and sticks. If anyone was around to hear him, it didn't matter at this point. "Agents! Can you hear me?"

There was a shout and Skinner saw Sandoval streak past him backwards as if tossed from a catapult. The young agent struck the trunk of a large Douglas Fir, then slumped to its base.

"Sandoval? Agent Sandoval?"

Skinner heard Sandoval grumble something incoherent before passing out. Skinner was about to check on how badly injured Sandoval was when he heard it.

Thundering over the treetops, the ship was the size of a football stadium. It hovered over him for a few seconds, rose straight up to loom ominously above the treetops then zipped off to the west at unbelievable speed.

*                                              *                                              *                                              *

Sandoval woke up in a hospital bed. The doctors explained to him that he had been very lucky not to be in worse condition, and DeDe had hovered over him. He had been unconscious for several hours, and in and out for a few hours more. They were keeping him here for another day for observation.  After this long wait, he'd persuaded his wife that he would be fine and to get something in her stomach before she passed out herself.

Less than three minutes after DeDe left, Scully walked in. She looked as bad as he felt.

"Agent Scully?" Sandoval pushed himself to sit up, magnifying the throbbing in his skull. "They told me you were ill and in Washington."

"It's just exhaustion. I'm off duty for a few days." She looked at him hopefully. "Skinner told me about Mulder. He said you were the last to see him."

He said, voice tight. "He's gone, Agent Scully. There were creatures...a ship, a light..."

She grabbed his arm, the only indication of how upset she was. "Describe them. Anything you can remember, even if it seems unimportant or unbelievable."

"Dana," he said, cutting to the point. "I have a concussion, so I'm not sure WHAT I saw. All I can remember is that he's gone. The ship took him...and some of the others. Most of the ones we were not able to find."

A terrible range of emotions washed down her face. Shock, grief, and sadness finally ending in a calm face where only her eyes betrayed the rest. She put an envelope in front of him. "Skinner told the head of your field office and some of the officials in Washington about your help on the case. They gave this to me to deliver to you." She looked up. "Excuse me."

Turning around, she walked out of the room.

The envelope was from the Bureau, looking official. Sandoval turned it over, still blaming himself. No doubt it was going to be a summons for a competency hearing or a dismissal. The best case would be a formal citation for allowing a senior agent to vanish and investigating cases not formally assigned to him by the Bureau.

Tearing open the paper, he unfolded the note. The news he received was something he didn't expect...

                *Agent Sandoval,

                In light of your outstanding work and bravery in the line of duty, you have been promoted and reassigned to the Paranormal Division. Effective after your medical leave, you will be transferred to Washington DC...*

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