FBI agent Dana Scully stepped out of her car with a familiar feeling of trepidation. She'd heard it in her partner's voice when he called. That... tone, that sense of suppressed excitement. Fox Mulder was an exceptionally capable investigator, due in large part to his avid curiosity and his inability to let his questions remain unanswered. Unfortunately, he had chosen an area of investigation that covered such things as UFO's, paranormal activities and unexplained phenomena of just about any variety. The large majority of it turned out to be bunk, to Dana's immense relief. But she had seen enough now, in her years as Mulder's partner, that she had begun to suspect that the science she had always had such faith in was, perhaps, a bit more limited than she had thought.
The focus of activity centered on an area approximately thirty feet across that was cordoned off with yellow tape. People moved around the area in a familiar, chaotic pattern. Police, fire department, and other investigators milled about, intent on their own particular errands. Dana searched through them until she spied Mulder standing silently in the midst of the furor. Holding up her badge for the nearest police officer, Dana went to join him.
She found herself standing beside Mulder on the lip of a sizable crater in an area that had, until just recently, been part of a soybean field. Two men were down in the crater itself, taking readings with some sort of sensing equipment. Dana estimated the depth of the crater at six or seven feet, and the diameter at approximately twenty.
"What does this look like to you?" Mulder asked her without looking up or otherwise acknowledging her arrival. It was one of his lesser annoying habits, which Dana had long ago learned to ignore.
She tucked a wayward lock of hair back behind her ear as she looked once more at the crater. "It looks like an impact crater from a small airplane," she answered. "I heard a local news report on the radio on my way in." Not that she believed the report, of course. "I don't see any wreckage." As far as she could tell, the crater and the surrounding area was barren of anything that might have once been an airplane.
"There isn't any," Mulder agreed. Finally, he turned away from his study of the crater and looked at her.
"Don't tell me this was a meteor strike."
He smiled, and Dana knew that the interesting part was coming. "Nope. At least, I doubt it." His enigmatic smile faded. "They found a woman in the bottom of that." He pointed to the crater. "Ned Dawson, the farmer who owns this field says he heard something that sounded like an explosion. When he got there, he discovered this crater-- still smoking-- and the woman lying naked at the bottom. He said he would have gone down to look more closely, but it was too hot. So he went back to his house and called the fire department."
Dana glanced skyward. There were cases of people falling out of airplanes, or parachuters whose chutes failed, but the impact sites weren't nearly as dramatic as this one. Of course, she could simply have fallen from a much higher altitude.
"Have any incidents been reported by passenger aircraft flying over this area?" she asked.
"No. And this woman didn't fall out of an airplane." As always, Mulder stated his opinion with complete confidence.
"How do you know?"
He grinned and leaned closer. "Because she's still alive, Scully."
Dana knew her expression gave her away, but she refused to fall into his trap and ask the obvious. So instead, she asked, "So why are we here? I'll admit it's amazing that someone survived this kind of fall, but how does this involve the X-Files?"
"A couple of things, actually." Mulder turned and began walking away from the crater lip. Dana paced him. "The first is that, not only is she alive, but this woman is apparently completely unharmed."
"Unharmed. As in 'not a scratch on her'. No burn marks either."
Dana didn't say anything. Her instincts told her that that was impossible, but she would reserve judgment until she had seen for herself.
"Where was she taken?"
They reached Dana's car. "Providence General. It's about forty miles from here, but it's the closest hospital."
Dana opened the driver's side door, but didn't get in. "So what's the second thing that makes this an X-File?" she asked, almost dreading the answer.
Mulder crossed his arms and draped them over the top of her open door. "The firemen that went down into the crater to see if she was alive... they both collapsed the moment they touched her."
He nodded. "Uh huh. Apparently, anyone who touches her skin just... drops. They had to wrap her up like a mummy to move her."
Dana couldn't find an immediate explanation for that one. She would have to do some research. "Are they all right? The firemen?"
"They seem to be. They both woke up after about an hour. Said it felt like their minds were being sucked out." He gave her a little-boy grin. "Weird, huh."
Dana bit back her reply. Mulder was baiting her, teasing her gently for her rigid beliefs in science and rationality. She climbed into her car. Perhaps she could find some kind of reasonable explanation for all of this once she examined the woman and talked to those firemen. That was certainly the most logical place to start.
Dana opened the hospital room door to a familiar scene. She guessed that the man standing beside the single bed was Dr. Cowin, who was listed as the doctor assigned to the Jane Doe's case. He was fairly unexceptional-looking man in his mid-fifties, but Dana immediately sensed his competence. He glanced up as the door opened.
"Yes?" He paused in the midst of scribbling a note into the woman's chart.
"I'm Agent Dana Scully, with the FBI." Dana advanced and extended her hand. Dr. Cowin shook it. Like most physicians Dana had met, his grip was firm and cool. "I'm also a medical doctor."
His eyebrows rose a fraction, but Dana was used to that. "Is this the Jane Doe?" She moved to the bedside. Her first impression of the woman was of a tremendous tumble of auburn hair. It spilled across the pillow in waves. Oddly, it had a white stripe bleached down the center. And whoever had done it had done a good job, Dana thought absently. She couldn't see any signs of dark roots. Instinctively, she moved to brush away a strand of white hair that had fallen across the woman's nose.
"Ah-ah." A strong hand caught her wrist, and she turned in surprise to Dr. Cowin. He shrugged minusculely and released her. "You have to wear gloves."
Dana turned to look more closely at the woman. She was obviously young, with a sweet face and an air of perpetual innocence. She didn't look threatening.
"Then you've seen the effect of touching her skin?" Dana asked as she drew on a pair of sterile gloves. She glanced at Dr. Cowin, who nodded and handed the woman's chart to her.
"Yes. One of the nurses touched her and then simply... collapsed. I was here, so I was able to examine her almost immediately. I couldn't find any external indications of trauma." He shrugged. "Her vitals remained strong, pulse regular, but her EEG was almost nonexistent. It has been growing steadily stronger since then, so I'm hoping that she'll recover like the others."
"Then the firemen that were brought in have recovered completely?"
"As far as I can tell."
Dana scanned the chart, which documented things she was already aware of. Until she hit a scrawled note that said "Unable to administer IV or take blood samples for analysis."
She looked up at Dr. Cowin, who seemed to be waiting for her question. "Why couldn't you administer the IV or draw blood?"
He drew the thin hospital gown aside, exposing part of the woman's abdomen. "Maybe you can tell me, Doctor," he said. Then he turned to the small counter in the corner of the room, and returned with a large pair of surgical scissors. Dana watched curiously, unable to immediately fathom what he was doing. Then, to her horror, he turned the scissors point down and stabbed the woman viciously. Dana's cry of warning was only halfway up her throat when the scissors bounced off of the woman's skin. Dana looked up at Dr. Cowin, speechless. Then she tentatively reached down to touch the woman's skin. Even through the rubber gloves, it was warm, smooth, and gave ever-so-slightly under a gentle pressure from her fingertips.
"I don't understand." It was a rhetorical statement, but Dr. Cowin seemed eager to have someone to talk to about his patient.
"I've scheduled a complete set of tests, including full X-rays and CAT scan. But honestly, I've never seen anything like this. I've never heard of anything like this."
Dana struggled to recover her poise. "Do you have any explanation for her continued unconsciousness?"
Dr. Cowin smiled. "Yes. She has a concussion."
Dana chewed on her lip, completely vexed. She stood in front of a long row of X-rays, staring at yet another puzzle. Dr. Cowin was with her, and he, too, seemed non-plussed. As far as Dana could tell, this Jane Doe was completely normal. Her X-rays were normal. Her CAT scan was normal for a patient with a concussion. Her EKG was normal. Everything they'd been able to do—every non-invasive test—had come back completely normal. And so Dana was left with no probable or even possible explanation of how this completely normal woman had fallen far enough to cause that crater and not been seriously injured.
"There's literally nothing we can do except wait for her to wake up," concluded Dr. Cowin.
Dana nodded. "Would you excuse me?" she asked and then stepped out of the room. Once in the hall, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed Mulder's number. He answered almost immediately.
"So what did you find out?" he asked without preamble.
"You first," Dana countered. "Is there any proof that this woman actually caused that crater? Could she have been put there after the fact?"
She could hear Mulder's expression in his voice. "Anything's possible, Scully. But there's no evidence of any other source for the crater. Now it could have been a meteorite that struck and vaporized on impact, but that doesn't explain how the woman got there or why she wasn't burned by the hot ground. There are volcanic crystals here, Scully. Tiny pieces of dirt that were fused by the force of the collision."
Dana sighed to herself. She always hated it when the facts were such that they would add fuel to Mulder's fire. But the facts were exactly that, and she couldn't cover them up because she didn't like the picture of the world they presented. "Well, I think I've found some support for the theory that she made that crater by falling into that farmer's field."
"Really?" He sounded truly surprised. "And here I was about to discard it. Did you know that, to generate enough force to make this crater, Jane would have had to have fallen at a speed of approximately twenty-two hundred feet per second? That's well beyond terminal velocity."
Dana couldn't help her incredulous reaction. "Mulder, that's approximately Mach Two." She paused, thinking about Dr. Cowin's demonstration. "But it's possible she might have survived something like that." Mulder was silent, so she continued, "We've been completely unable to penetrate her epidermis."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that the needles break. The scalpel slides off. Dr. Cowin even stabbed her with a pair of scissors without effect." Dana was getting breathless. "It's like she's made out of steel. But every X-ray and scan indicates that she's just ordinary flesh and bones like the rest of us."
There was silence on the other end of the connection for several moments. "I'd like to see this," he finally said. The phone went dead with a click, and Dana folded it up and slid it back into her pocket. As far as she could remember, Mulder had never yet used the words "good-bye" in a phone conversation.
Dr. Cowin had just stepped out of the viewing room and was walking down the hallway. Dana jogged to catch up. Together, they rounded a last corner just in time to see four men in dark suits wheeling the Jane Doe out of her room on a gurney. A giant hand clenched around Dana's stomach. She recognized government agents when she saw them.
"Wait! Stop!" she called and broke into a run, pulling out her badge. A fifth man, who was following the gurney intercepted her.
"Where are you taking her?!" Dana demanded. Over his shoulder, she could see the gurney disappearing around a corner. "Who are you?!"
The man withdrew a badge from his inside coat pocket and handed it to her. Dana saw the large NSA at the top of the ID card immediately. It looked real enough, and Dana suspected that it was.
"Agent Scully, this case is no longer under FBI jurisdiction," he told her in that flat, government-man voice. Then he turned and walked swiftly after his companions. Dana threw Dr. Cowin a helpless glance and then trotted after the agent, feeling somewhat like a puppy. She pushed through the outer doors in time to see them finish loading Jane into the back of a local ambulance. Then, with swift precision, three of them climbed into the ambulance and two into a nearby sedan. Both vehicles pulled away.
Dana felt a kind of helpless anger boiling inside her. But all she could actually think of was that now Mulder would never stop going on about government conspiracies.