Dana Scully sighed, resigning herself to her fate. Mulder had gone haring off again on some unknown lead, leaving her to deal with the pile of bodies. There were twelve of them, most burned beyond recognition. All of the bodies had been removed from the charred remains of a remote compound in rural Oklahoma. The cult was a small one, and after a cursory inspection by the FBI, appeared to be fairly non-militant. The members were known to the residents of the nearest town, who found them distant and a little creepy, but not particularly threatening. Unfortunately, the townspeople could not give names beyond a few, and even their descriptions were vague. Dana thought the likelihood of identifying all of the bodies was slim, even using a dental records search.
After the first day of full-blown investigation, the FBI had been unable to find an explanation for the fire that had consumed the compound. Nor had they found any evidence to suggest that the cult was connected to the disappearances of four people in the area over the past few months. Mulder believed that the missing people had been abducted by aliens. For proof, he had offered the discovery of crop-circles in nearby fields.
Dana pulled on a pair of surgical gloves, snapping the rubber at the wrist with unnecessary force. Although crop-circles had been discovered on each of the days that the four people were believed to have disappeared, they had also been found on a number of other days and in many other locations that were as much as forty miles from the site of any disappearance. Dana was of the private opinion that crop-circles were a hoax, and she had been surprised by how adamantly Mulder had defended his theory to her, based on such flimsy "evidence".
She turned to the next body. She was down to five. If she hurried, she could probably get them all done today and still go to bed at a reasonable hour. Like the others, this one had been completely immolated by the intense heat of the compound fire. Except for the right arm. She turned on her tape recorder, noted the date and other pertinent information.
"Subject's right arm is nearly undamaged by the fire. He may have been laying on it or had it wrapped in something when he died." This was a nice break, she thought, swinging the magnifier around and leaning down to examine the hand more closely. Then she nodded, satisfied. He still had fingerprints.
Dana's heart began to pound at the sound of her cell phone. She reached into her pocket and flipped it open, torn between fear and anger.
"Mulder, where are you?"
Dana stifled her disappointment and tried to ignore the cold hand gripping her stomach. She recognized A.D. Skinner's voice.
He paused. Then, "Is everything all right?" he asked.
Dana grimaced. "I think so, sir," At least, she hoped so. "I haven't talked to Agent Mulder in almost forty-eight hours. I'm not sure he even knows the compound burned." She hesitated. "I'm beginning to get... concerned."
Skinner was quiet. Dana could imagine his expression. "I haven't heard from him either. Let me know when he checks in." His voice was studiously flat, but she could tell that he was bothered.
"What's the status with the investigation?"
Dana adjusted the phone to a more comfortable position on her shoulder as she fumbled with the keys to her hotel room. "Nothing conclusive on the cause of the fire yet," she answered. "I recovered two sets of prints and one partial from the victims. I sent them in late last night. The fax might be on my machine by now. Hold on." She turned the key and stepped into her room. Her laptop lay on the table, surrounded by a tangle of machines and power cords. There was a fax machine, an answering machine, the base for her cell phone, and a radio. Several sheets lay in the fax tray, and she walked over to pick them up.
"Yes, I've got them," she told Skinner, glancing at the top of the first page. She settled on the bed and kicked off her shoes as she scanned the first sheet. As she'd expected, the partial print was unidentifiable. "No ID on the partial print," she relayed to Skinner. She flipped to the next page. "One of bodies is identified as Charles Donner, age 42. He's not one of our missing people, so he might be a cultist." She flipped to the last page and began to skim the contents. As she registered the information, her blood simply froze. The phone slid from her shoulder, bouncing off the bed to land face up on the thinly carpeted floor. Through it, Dana could distantly hear Skinner's voice, calling her name. She didn't respond. She couldn't respond. Her eyes were fixed on the paper held limply in her hands.
Next to the fax-blurred copy of the thumbprint she had placed there only the night before was the name Fox Mulder.
"Looks like somebody got here before us." Scott Summers surveyed the wreckage with a practiced eye. Burn marks from laser fire was clearly evident along the intact portions of the aircraft's body. It was a small ship, though of unfamiliar configuration. Not surprising, that, since it had been the Shi'ar who had asked them to intercept the craft as it entered Earth's atmosphere. There was no telling what race it might belong to. And true to form, Lilandra had been closed-mouthed as to the details. It was a tendency of hers that Scott had come to dislike in the extreme, but despite that the X-Men had tracked the ship and followed it here.
"Sure is a mess." Rogue picked up one edge of a piece of skin that had peeled off of the triangular ship, hoisting it off to the side. "Who do ya think might a shot it down?"
"Local military, perhaps?" Joseph lifted a wingtip that had been sheared off, gently levitating it away from the rest of the wreckage.
"J, dis de middle o' Outer Mongolia. You t'ink dey got much in de way o' military out here?" Remy ducked out from under the wing. A sudden gust of wind picked up the powdery snow from around their feet, driving against them. Scott saw him shiver, and wrapped his own jacket more tightly about himself. None of them were dressed for this, though both Rogue and Joseph were protected by their powers. Scott wasn't exactly sure how Joseph managed it, but the cold didn't seem to be affecting him.
"Did you find anything?" Scott asked Remy before Joseph could find a retort. The last thing he wanted was to listen to another round of arguments between those two. Oddly enough, they seemed to have become friends, but they tended to bicker like little old ladies given half an excuse. Scott was both too cold and too annoyed at Lilandra to have any patience for it today.
"Not'ing," Remy answered. "De pilot's got t' be out here someplace. Half de cockpit's ripped off on de other side," he waved that direction, "so dere's no tellin'. He could be buried in de snow ten feet deep."
"Well, let's finish looking around." Scott waded through the snow toward the wing. The impact had cleared some of the snow immediately around the ship, exposing dark gray rock that would at least be a little easier to walk on. "Lilandra never said why she wanted this ship, but it's not going anywhere. I say we go home."
Rogue chuckled. "Ah second that, sugah."
Scott looked around. His conscience wouldn't let him leave until they'd made certain there were no survivors of the crash. But they'd looked over most of the sight. All that was really left was the area around the tail. . . Well, he thought it was the tail, anyway. It was just a big flat diamond-shaped structure that had broken off on impact and lay at an angle in the snow. It certainly wasn't a conventional aircraft tail. He pointed toward it.
"Joseph, let's get that thing moved out of the way."
Joseph nodded and flew over to the tail piece, lifting it in a shimmering blue magnetic bubble.
"Bingo!" Rogue dove toward the exposed tangle of smaller wreckage, landing neatly beside one of the larger pieces. She picked it up without apparent effort and tossed it aside. "Found him!" She knelt beside the prone form.
Scott jogged toward her as best he could. The jagged stone was almost as difficult to traverse as the deep snow. He was only slightly surprised when Remy elected to leap up on top of the downed ship. He walked along the heavily canted surface with the grace of a cat, and leapt off the end, landing next to Rogue. Scott caught up just a moment later. He stared at the man in the snow in surprise. As far as Scott could tell, he was human. He was also dead.
"What in de..." Remy's voice trailed off in bewilderment. Scott turned to him.
"Do you know this man?" he asked.
Remy nodded, his gaze never leaving the upturned face with its empty eyes. "He's wit de FBI. His name is Fox Mulder."