Invisible War, The

by Xenith

Title: Invisible War, The

Author: Xenith

E-Mail: xenitha@yahoo.com

Website: http://xenith.freeservers.com

Rating: R for violence, could get worse

Classification: Story and angstfest

Keywords:Muldertorture, M/Sc/Skinner
friendship

Disclaimer: The XFiles and all the characters belong to Chris Carter. This story is written in homage to a fine series, intended to keep the flame alive until CC gets us the next XF movie!

Spoilers: None, but takes place assuming seasons 8 and 9 never happened.

Archive: Sure! But e-mail me first.

Feedback: Oh yes! Lots of it!! Lots and Lots!!!

Summary: Mulder is missing and only Scully can find him and help to save his body and his mind.

April 6, 2002
10:00 a.m.
Washington D.C.

"I can't believe there's still nothing!" Agent Scully sat down stiffly in the chair A.D. Skinner offered her. "It's been twenty six days and there's been no sign of Mulder, or any of them!"

Skinner removed his glasses and rubbed at tired eyes. "Agent, you already know how thorough the investigation has been. Hell, you've been the lead agent since Mulder's disappearance. I wish I had some news for you, but I don't. He was last seen on the second day of a seven day UFO convention at the L.A. Radisson, as were the other six people missing. Not one of the missing
conventioneers has turned up, alive or dead." He grimaced. "You'd almost believe the
tabloids and assume they've been.."

"Taken by aliens? That isn't what happened, and you know it." She got up and began to pace. "He isn't dead, I know it."

"You don't want him to be dead, Dana, there's a difference. You may have to accept the inevitable." Skinner looked up at his agent and softened his voice. "You've known for a long time that something like this was likely to happen to him, eventually."

"At least you aren't assuming Mulder had some kind of psychotic break and disappeared on his own. You should hear the L.A. detectives discuss this case; the missing wacko's they call it. They don't see missing people, just a bunch of fruitcakes who've wandered off somewhere following little green men." She stopped, and then continued. "The Los Angeles Field Office unofficially sees this as just another one of Spooky Mulder's antics."

"Scully, I know that if Mulder's missing, there's a good reason for it. He didn't indicate to you that he planned to follow up any cases, did he? Do some investigating on his own?" Skinner leaned forward. "He's been known to ditch you before."

She glared at Skinner, then controlled
herself. "No. This is real. Mulder was
invited to speak at the convention and so he went, just as he has gone to at least a half dozen other conventions. He had no other plans that I'm aware of. Have you heard anything from your...um...informal channels?"

Skinner shook his head, "No, I haven't heard anything. I'm sorry." He mulled over possible contacts he might have missed, he'd even left word for the Smoker, but nothing had
materialized.

Scully broke into Skinner's reverie, "Are you sure? Is there anyone you haven't spoken with?" She hesitated, "You know who I mean."

Skinner gave her a compassionate look and shook his head. "I haven't so much as smelled the man; I'm sorry."

Scully looked down at the carpet, struggling to hold back tears. "Then let me go back to Los Angeles. I'd like to review what little evidence there is and talk to the organizers again. I...don't think the investigation will get very far if I'm not there."

"The L.A. Field Office has already covered that," Skinner pointed to a pile of files stacked on his desk. "You know what the answers are."

"Obviously not all of them," she returned."We found no commonalities among the missing. They are from different parts of the country, both genders, all ages and didn't even attend the same sessions. There has to be some reason these people were taken and nobody else!" She began to pace again. "Mulder's clothes were left in his room with no signs of struggle. He was last seen March 11 and the hotel didn't notice he was gone until the convention had ended, March 18."

"And we had no idea he was in trouble until he didn't report to work on Wednesday, March 20," Skinner added. "He'd already been gone ten days by then. I gather it isn't unusual for him to go that long without calling you?"

Scully started with a guilty expression. "He knows how I feel about these conventions, so when he gets invited to speak at one we generally don't discuss it. I didn't think it was unusual for him to be out of touch for that period of time, but I should have
checked on him."

Skinner sighed, "He's a grown man, Agent Scully. He shouldn't need you to tie his shoelaces for him! But I'll okay the travel voucher. Get going, and bring him back."

Scully gave him the first smile he'd seen out of her today and slipped out of the office. Skinner watched her go and drummed his
fingers on the desk, then picked up one of the files. Tacked inside was a flyer headed "UFO Convention! Los Angeles Radisson Hotel!! Featured Speaker, FBI Agent Fox Mulder will speak on "Alien Abduction and the World Conspiracy".

Scully walked into the office and sat behind his desk, caressing it a little. Mulder so rarely took any vacation time that she had been surprised when she found him filling out a vacation request.

"What's this? Vacation request? Are you feeling sick or something?" she'd teased.

Mulder grinned, "This is a special allexpenses -paid vacation, thank you very much.
I am flying to sunny Los Angeles to attend a UFO convention, where I will give a paper on alien abduction. You wanna come along?"

Scully had smiled back, "Are you kidding? They're coming to hear a speaker, not a debate. No, I'll take it easy while you're gone and maybe clean out this office a
little. The dust mites have dust mites."

"Well, your loss," Mulder tossed back. "My plane leaves tomorrow morning and I've
written down the hotel name and phone number in case you need it." He smiled and
softened,"But as always, if you need me I'm on the other end of the cell phone."

"Oh, I think things will be pretty quiet here. Enjoy yourself and send me a postcard," she'd replied.

"He never even sent the postcard," Scully muttered to herself and dabbed at one eye. Damned contact lenses. The office door opened suddenly and she looked up, startled.

"I'm sorry, Agent," Skinner said
uncomfortably. "You left the files in my office. You'll need them." He put the stack down on one of the office chairs. "Are you sure you'll be all right?"

She nodded and he gently closed the door. She got up, grabbed the top file and returned to the desk with it and began to read it. Again.

10:30 p.m.

"Coming!" Scully got off the couch and was heading for the door when the doorbell rang again. She looked through the peephole and sighed, then unlocked the door. "Hello, guys. Come on in. Have a seat."

The Lone Gunmen strode into her apartment and settled onto the couch. Frohike cleared his throat, "Ms. Scully, we know it's late but we thought we'd stop by and see if there is any more help we can give you."

"Yes, you've already offered. I appreciate the computer searches you've done and I'm just sorry they haven't turned up anything more than we already have." She sat in the armchair across from the couch, suddenly conscious of her pajamas and bathrobe.

"There may be something more we can do for you," Byers said, then reached into his coat pocket. "Here's a local contact who went to the convention. He may have some more
information for you."

Scully took the paper and scanned it. The name didn't look familiar; probably one of their crackpot friends. Still, any port in a storm. She could hardly do worse. "Thank you," she said quietly. "I'll contact him."

"Are you sure you wouldn't like us to come with you?" asked Byers.

"No, I'll be fine. It's kind of you to offer but I have an entire field office at my disposal," she replied.

"That's what we're afraid of," Frohike said. "You don't know who took him. It might have been one of your own. Have you considered that?"

"I'm considering everything and nothing at this point," Scully said. "The day after his presentation, Mulder was simply gone. His bags were left behind, no clothing missing beyond what he wore that day, his credit cards and cell phone haven't been used. There are no fingerprints, blood stains, no signs of struggle in his room." She crossed her arms over her chest. "And there are no signs of his weapon, so I assume he had it on him."

"It's almost as though he went willingly," Langly offered. "But where? And I can see why someone would want Mulder, but why six other people?"

"If he did go willingly, I'll kill him myself when I find him," Scully said firmly.

April 6, 2002
J. Edgar Hoover Bldg.
10:30 p.m.

Skinner heard a faint noise and looked up from his desk to see who his visitor was. His nose told him before his eyes did, that faint reek of cigarette smoke that preceded this man was his introduction.

"Mr. Skinner, such a pleasure to see you again," the smoker's eyes crinkled in a sardonic smile. He reached into his pocket for a pack of Morleys and struck a match on the corner of Skinner's desk, carefully lighting his cigarette. "You wanted to see me?"

"You know why I want to see you," Skinner grated. "What have you done with him? Where is he?"

The smoker's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Who? I'm not sure I take your meaning."

"Mulder, you bastard. He's been missing three weeks now. He and six other people
disappeared from a UFO convention in Los Angeles and haven't been heard from since. It's as if they'd all disappeared off the planet." Skinner leaned back in his chair and glared up at the smoker, who had lost his smile and looked startled.

"Agent Mulder is missing? How...interesting," the smoker was silent, thinking. "Very
interesting indeed. Well, I don't have any idea where he might be at the moment, but then, when was I ever Mulder's keeper?" With a frown the smoker removed the cigarette from his lips. "I'm sorry that I can't help you with your little problem. Give Agent Scully my regrets." The smoker nodded to Skinner and slipped out the door without any further word.

Skinner sat looking at the closed door while the cloud of cigarette smoke settled and reflected that he'd never seen worry on that bastard's face before. He wasn't sure that was a good sign. If the smoker didn't have Mulder, who did?

Somewhere
Sometime, Evening?

He stared at the wall and listened to the Voice in his head. It was very soothing now. It wasn't shouting any more and he was glad of that. He hated it when the Voice shouted, because he couldn't shut it out of his head. The Voice only shouted when he disobeyed, he reminded himself. The others all obeyed; the ones who were left, that is.

Get up now and pick up the comb

He obediently stood up and walked away from the cot where he'd been sitting and shuffled forward slowly. His ankles hurt, couldn't remember why. The black plastic comb lay on the sink in front of the mirror and he picked it up and dimly noticed that the bandage on his wrist was stained red again. Oh yes, he'd tried to hurt himself. But that wasn't
allowed. The Voice didn't like that.

Comb your hair The Voice was loud in his head but not shouting this time. Good. He began to comb his hair, smoothing the dark tangles back with his other hand. His hair was getting long, time to get it cu...cu

He doubled over in pain, the Voice shouting at him. *Listen to me! Don't remember before! There is only here! Now!*

On his hands and knees, he scrabbled around blindly looking for the comb and was grateful when he found it. He held onto the comb tightly and waited while the pain gradually eased away. He slowly climbed to his feet and positioned himself in front of the mirror again, combing his hair slowly and
persistently.

He kept his eyes focused on what he was doing; shouldn't think about anything but performing his task perfectly. He ignored the bruises on his face from the Others and the bandages on both wrists. The pain was harder to shut out but it was necessary in order to complete his task. If he didn't complete his task, he'd be punished.

Wait at the door. You will be summoned.

He put the comb down and walked to the door, standing patiently. His door was very strong and always locked. When he'd first come here he'd tried to get it open. How he'd tried, he didn't remember. But he shouldn't think of things like that. The Voice might hear and punish him. The door clicked open and two of Them stood on the other side, gesturing him forward. The prisoner followed the Others and began to feel fear when he realized where they were going.

They were taking him to the Room, where the Voice lived, where pain lived. He knew
somehow that he lost a little bit more of himself every time he entered that room. He looked around the blank hallway for some kind of escape and spotted a small door. He dove to the left, frantically trying to pull the door open. It was locked, so he turned and ran back the way he'd come. He could hear feet pounding after him and sprinted faster. Must escape. Must run! Get away!

Panting, he found another door at the end of the hall, with a window and grabbed at the knob. It was locked too. He pulled and
pushed, then beat against the door, then the window with both fists until one fist went through the glass. Sobbing with pain he tried to push his hand through the broken glass but was pulled backward by strong hands.

"Nooooo! Let...me...go! Please..." he wailed as the two picked up his struggling body and forcibly dragged him back down the hallway to the Room where the Voice waited for him. He kept fighting, so frantic that he didn't realize that the Voice was commanding him and he wasn't listening. He clawed and bit and kicked but it did no good. One opened the steel door while the other pulled him inside. The door slammed behind them, leaving only a bloody trail on the floor and the sound of screams through the sturdy door.

The Invisible War, Part 2

April 7, 2002
American Airlines Flight 265
10:30 p.m.

Dana Scully edged around in her seat. The flight was half empty and she could easily have stretched out across the three seats to take a nap, but she just couldn't. Anyway, she mused, the files were sitting on the seats. Her work was spread around her. She sighed. She'd been in flight for four hours and she had no better ideas than when she had started.

She picked up the top file and read off the list of those taken. Jenny Sherrill, age 26, a cocktail waitress from Montana, single, no kids. Bill Carson, age 38, a computer
salesman from Dubuque, married with one child. Crystal FeatherFree, tarot reader and clairvoyant, single, three children, age 40. Maria Seretti, age 30, attorney from San Francisco, divorced, no children. Jeffrey Nguyen, age 19, unmarried student at UC Santa Barbara, Chuck Haynes, age 50, computer programmer, married with three children and four grandchildren from Seattle Washington. And Mulder. Ages ranged from 19 to 50, all were white except for Haynes who was black and Nguyen who was Asian.

"It's as if they were trying to draw a
representative sample," she muttered to herself. If she excluded Mulder, the group would be a 50/50 split male to female. Maybe Mulder wasn't an intended victim? She sighed. Or maybe he was and another person was
grabbed by accident. Or maybe the kidnappers wanted just these seven people. She rubbed her eyes, then checked her watch. About three more hours to landing. Maybe she should sleep if she could. She closed her eyes and leaned back in her seat.


April 7, 2002
American Airlines Flight 265
11:30 p.m.(PST)

She could see him, tied down to a table surrounded by strange men. They were hurting him! He's screaming, he can't scream but he's screaming...!

Scully sat bolt upright with a gasp to find herself in her seat on the plane. The flight attendant was passing by and gave her a sympathetic look. "Not everybody is a good flyer. Would you like me to get you a
cocktail or some coffee?"

Scully shook her head dumbly, looking wildeyed around the plane. She'd seen Mulder,
they were experimenting on him, like they'd done to her. She rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. Okay. She was already worried about Mulder and that, combined with old memories of her own abduction, created the nightmare. Yes. That made sense. That was logical. That must be it. She looked out the black window and wondered why she felt such an urgent certainty that Mulder was in
terrible danger.

April 8, 2002
2:30 a.m. (EST)

"I'm so glad to hear from you," the Smoker lifted the cigarette to his lips. "Conrad, it has been too long. I understand that some of your people have a project or two going in California?" He shifted to knock some ash off the cigarette.

"Yes, we do have several projects in process at this time. Why do you ask?" Strughold's voice was thin on the line but the smoker thought he heard irritation.

"Why, you know that we had agreed that I would be responsible for North America. I'm just surprised that you hadn't notified me before. I understand that you acquired some new test subjects in Los Angeles?" The Smoker sat straighter in the chair. This was the crux; there had been dissention for months about the extent of the Smoker's authority. Now he'd find out.

"We did, in the usual fashion. Why do you care?"

"I...ah...was wondering whether you knew that you had inadvertently caught Fox Mulder in your net? We have some use for him here, if you'd like to release him to me." If he could get Strughold to give Mulder to him, he'd have his chance at last to eliminate the problem that Mulder had become by winning him to the Project. Tell his FBI friends that he'd died, even give them a body if they wanted. It would all work so well. But he had to get Mulder before they damaged him
irreparably.

"Yes, we know that. We always check the identities of those we...er...recruit into our cause. But this Mulder has been such a thorn in the side, this is surely the best way to dispose of it. No, he's already
started Phase 2 and is preparing for Phase 3. He's a promising candidate; I don't think we should stop his progress at this point." Strughold paused. "Unless there is some other reason you want him?"

The Smoker sweated quietly. The fact that Mulder was his son was not widely known. Purposely, he'd hidden or broken his family connections to avoid manipulation by others. He had no logical reason to interrupt a promising program without raising red flags elsewhere. "No, no that's fine. You're right, this is a good way to handle the problem he represents. Thank you." He gingerly hung up the phone and took a drag on the cigarette, pondering. Yes, this could work. He picked up the phone and dialed a number.

"Yeah...What?" Skinner's voice was rough with sleep. He fumbled with the lamp and turned it on, then reached for his glasses.

"Assistant Director Skinner, I wanted to get back to you on your request," the Smoker said in a silky voice.

"What?" Skinner sat up straight, suddenly awake. "You have information? Where is he?"

"Not so fast. I can tell you where he is and even get you in, but I require a small
service in return." The Smoker began to smile.

Skinner was silent a moment, remembering a deal he'd made with the bastard for Scully's cancer cure. The Smoker had never paid up, but kept upping the ante, wanting more every time. But if he turned him down, was he dooming Mulder? He took a deep breath. "No deals. I tried that once."

"Oh no, the deal isn't for you. It's for Agent Scully. I'm afraid you don't have the professional qualifications."

"No. If there's anything you need done, I'll do it. Not her." Skinner felt his body
quivering with rage. That bastard wasn't going to come within a mile of Agent Scully or he'd know the reason why.

"Then you've sentenced Agent Mulder to a long and agonizing death," The Smoker took one last puff and stubbed out the cigarette.


...She was beautiful. He looked up at her and saw the trees framing her hair, her blue eyes softly looking into his. He was hurt but she would stay awake and protect him from the monsters. "If it starts raining sleeping bags you might get lucky..." she was saying to him. He grinned, knowing that she'd liked his joke and settled back to rest. Safe.....

The prisoner shifted groggily on his cot, then opened his eyes. It was just a dream, but he'd thought he was there. Really there. Not here. He was back in his room and nothing had changed. The bare white light of the hanging bulb still shone and there was no window. No way of telling whetherit was day or night.

He put his right hand under him to lever himself upright and startled at the sudden sharp pain. Gasping, he sat up and looked at the hand. It was bandaged past the wrist, the gauze stained with blood. How had he done that? Or had they done it? He couldn't
remember.

Or maybe...yes, he'd tried to run when they were taking him to the Room for another treatment. He listened to the silence in his mind; he was alone for once. No voices
yelling at him, making him do things,
punishing him for disobedience. The woman in the dream had known his name, known him. She'd seemed so real, and he'd known her name too. He sighed. He knew better than to try and remember his life before he came here. Whenever he did the pain was intense and immediate. He didn't
think he had a name anymore. They never addressed or talked to him and he couldn't remember what it had been before. But if he could see that woman again, just once, he knew she'd tell him who he was.

That last treatment was worse than usual, not that any of them were a walk in the park. That's right. They'd fixed his hand, picked all the glass out of it and cleaned it
without ever once looking at him. No
anesthetic either. Not that he could have fought back. They usually hit you with some kind of paralysis as soon as you were in the door before they strapped you down.

Well, he supposed they didn't intend to kill him just yet or they wouldn't have bothered to bandage his hand. Too bad. He didn't like his other options. They'd removed everything sharp or breakable from his room long ago. They knew he'd either turn it on them or on himself, anything to escape.

He heard a scraping sound and got up off the bed. The door to his room opened and three men entered. So he rated an extra goon today; he should feel flattered. One man lifted a small box, cell phone? The prisoner braced himself to run then felt a buzzing sensation in his head and found himself crumpled on the floor unable to move.

He struggled to move, move anything while the three hoisted him up and carried him down the hallway toward the Room. He remembered other sessions in the room, God, don't let them take me there....

The door banged open and the three carried him into the Room and laid him on the table. The man in the labcoat said nothing but took shears and cut his clothes off him. Hey, they weren't much, just surgical scrubs looking pajamas, but at least they kept you warm. While the prisoner could feel his flesh begin goose-pimpling, Labcoat strapped down his wrists and ankles, then nodded to one of the goons.

Goon number one brought over an electric razor and Labcoat approached the prisoner and began to run the razor over his head. The prisoner felt his scalp get colder and colder and realized that Labcoat had shaved the hair off his head til he was bald. Then he smelled a chemical odor, faintly familiar, Betadine? and felt something being applied to his skull.

But he didn't begin to panic until he saw the tray of surgical instruments that Labcoat brought over to the table. They were shiny, very clean and very sharp. And on the tray was a small saw. Labcoat donned rubber gloves and mask, then waited while two more
labcoated assistants joined him.

The light was dazzling in the prisoner's eyes when he felt the first slow cut to his scalp as a line of fire drawing across his head. He heard a scrunching noise and realized that they were cutting all the way to the bone. He tried to scream but was denied even that. He felt terror welling up inside him and he began breathing fast. His eyes teared up and he could feel the wetness running down his face. Or was that blood? All he could see was the light in his eyes and couldn't
movecouldn'tmovecouldn'tmovecouldn'tmove....

They loosened the skin and peeled his scalp forward off his skull and then he heard the drill and knew what they were doing. They're messing with my brain! Goddamn it, stop! He tried to move but couldn't couldn't couldn't DO anything ohmigod... He smelled a smoky odor and felt tiny chips hit his face,
closing his eyes against them and trying hard not to vomit.

The noise stopped and he couldn't feel what they were doing. He knew that there are no pain sensors in the brain, so that must mean they were doing something there. Or maybe not. Maybe they all went home and didn't tell him. He felt a tugging deep inside his head and knew he'd guessed wrong. Stop.
God..somebody stop them.... The Others didn't talk, just worked quietly on him for what felt like a long time. He closed his eyes and wished for unconsciousness, wondering what he'd be when they finished. Lobotomy? Wrong part of the brain... Should he feel
grateful?...God let me die on the table...

Suddenly he was in the office at the Hoover Building and Scully had a file open on the desk. "It just isn't possible, Mulder!
There's no scientific basis for the existence of..." The memory went away, but he was just there, living it! He was there! He'd seen her, smelled her perfume... He closed his eyes in despair, then realized that he knew who the woman was. She was in the dream. She was...Scully? Strange name for a woman's first name. But she knew him. He
was...Mulder...

He tried to remember, something he'd been punished for by the Voice. But maybe the Voice couldn't talk to him while they had his brain open like this. Remember. I am Mulder. She is Scully. Where...the UFO conference. I was at the conference when...I don't
remember. Then I was here. Where is here?

The Others hadn't been talking much but a comment caught his attention. "Now we'll check positioning of the implant by
activating various sensors."

Warmth and sensation. Deep wonderful
pleasure. He was floating on a lake of
orgasmic, eternal pleasure.....He was vaguely aware that he was smiling.

"He seems to be responding, we'll try the next."

PAIN! He felt a burning sensation running up his leg to his crotch and into his gut, where it settled and devoured his body. He couldn't see, feel, taste, smell anything but the eternal agony of it...

"Good. Now let's try something else."

The pain stopped, leaving him panting and sweating. Then he felt his left foot twitch. Movement returning? He tried to move his leg but it wouldn't budge and he couldn't control the foot. They controlled it. The big toe lifted, lifted, then bent backward at an impossible angle. The next toe followed and the next until all five toes were bent at an agonizing angle. Then his right arm raised and he felt his own hand grab at his nose and pull hard, then heard the others laughing.

"One more test." Mulder waited for pain but it didn't materialize, then felt a warm wetness trickling down his legs and realized it was urine.

"As you see, the implants are working well. We'll be refining and expanding their
sensitivity and will continue the
conditioning in preparation for phase 3. We'll close now, but notice how I can control his subjective feelings of pain to give him an anesthetic effect."

He felt a tugging at his head and realized that they were sewing him up again but he felt no pain. Not even when they pulled his scalp back and stitched it closed. He felt the bandage being wrapped around his head, then the straps were released and he was put on a gurney. He was grateful that somebody had thought to put a blanket over him.

Only two goons this time, they must not think he was much of a danger now. They trundled him to his room and plunked him onto his cot. The blanket slipped off to the floor but nobody noticed. He was cold and getting colder but still couldn't move. The goons left and the door closed behind them.

He closed his eyes and shivered, feeling the headache starting to build behind them. Oh yeah, he'd just had brain surgery hadn't he? They must have triggered some memory cells when they were testing the implants.
Implants. What did they do to me? What have I become? he wondered.

The Invisible War, Part 3

April 8, 2002
Los Angeles Field Office
8:30 a.m. (PST)

"What do you mean nothing's happened since I left? It's been a week! Hasn't forensics turned up anything?" Scully glared at the smug face of the agent assigned to the case.

"There's nothing to turn up, Agent Scully. We've been over the scene, talked to
witnesses; there's no evidence and nobody saw anything. There are no leads." Jim Peterson was in his middle thirties and growing a paunch. Scully doubted he'd seen much beyond the bottom of a doughnut box since she'd been gone.

"Besides," Peterson went on. "This
investigation should have been left with L.A.P.D. Everybody knows that Spooky Mulder disappears periodically, you know that better than anybody else! Why should we call out the cavalry and take valuable manpower off real cases for a screwup like that?" He paused and smirked. "Oh, excuse me, he's your partner isn't he?"

She kept her face emotionless and
squelched the impulse to flatten him. She needed him and the resources he represented if she was going to find Mulder and the other abductees. "Mulder isn't the only missing person in this case. There are six other nonFBI 'screwups' who deserve our attention."

"All right, let's talk about the other
people. Half of 'em are diagnosed
schizophrenics, likely to go off at any time. The rest? Who knows! But I figure if they're going to a UFO convention, they're more than ready for the little green men to take 'em happily. They're a bunch of nuts who probably wandered away and forgot to call home."

"So that means it's okay to kidnap people identified as 'nuts' or 'wacko's' huh? It's open season because we don't give a damn what happens to people like that? We have a job to do, Agent Peterson, whether or not we agree with their beliefs. Are you an FBI agent or should I ask L.A.P.D. for a real
investigator?" She stared at him in silence until his face fell.

"Okay, I was out of line. But seriously, Agent Scully, we don't have anything more to go on." The agent raised his hands and
dropped them.

Scully thoughtfully pulled a Byers' piece of paper from her pocket, "I think I know one more lead we can follow."

10:00 a.m.
Venice, California

"This looks like the place," Peterson said doubtfully as Scully double-checked her note.

"Yes, this is it. I called; Dennis West is expecting us," Scully got out of the car and Peterson followed more slowly. The apartment house had seen better days, probably in the 1930's, Scully surmised. The two story pink building sat directly on a narrow street fronting the ocean district, a block or two off the Santa Monica pier. With no front yard to speak of, the traffic noise must be pretty bad, she thought as she opened the door to the lobby. "Up here," she said and led
Peterson up a flight of narrow chipped stairs to the second floor.

Apartment 35 was at the end of the hallway at the rear of the building. Scully knocked and waited patiently while the occupant studied her and Peterson through the peephole. "Let's see your ID's," said a suspicious male voice.

First Scully, then Peterson showed held their badges up to the peephole before they heard the resident start to unlock the door. Scully thought she heard at least three deadbolts released before the door swung open.

Dennis, for she assumed it was he, stood six feet tall at about 100 pounds with long stringy graying hair wearing black jeans and a ratty white t-shirt. But the most striking thing about Dennis was the aluminum foil hat he wore.

"Hello, I'm..." she started but he
interrupted.

"Dana Scully. Yeah, the guys faxed me your picture so I could be sure it was you.
Um....could I see your ID's again anyway?" He eyed them anxiously.

Trying hard not to laugh she handed him her badge and Peterson followed suit. After long study he handed them back and ushered them inside. He slammed the door quickly and locked it behind him, throwing three
deadbolts, a slide and a chainlock.

"Can't be too careful," Dennis said
apologetically. "Especially these days."

"Yes, that's what we wanted to discuss with you," Scully said. "This is Jim Peterson, my partner on this case. We understand you were one of the attendees at the conference."

"Here, why don't you sit down," Dennis
scooped up a pile of magazines and books and gestured to the now half cleared couch. Scully and Peterson sat down gingerly and West took a seat opposite in a chair hastily cleaned of books and loose papers.

"Yes, I went to the whole event," Dennis began. "I even went to the talk your partner gave. He was really good; even talked about some of your cases."

Scully nodded and opened the folder she'd brought with her. "Here's the list of those who disappeared. Do you know any of them?"

He nodded and handed the list back. "I know three of them from an abductee's list we belong to. I knew that Maria and Jeff got taken, but Crystal....Shit, that's just awful. She was hoping they'd leave her
alone."

"Who? Hoping who would leave her alone?"

"The government, that's who. The ones who are working with the aliens. They been taking her regularly since she was a teenager and doing tests on her. Lately, she said, they've been trying to harass her and control her mind. It's been a lot worse." He shifted in his seat uncomfortably.

Scully felt equally uncomfortable, she could sense Peterson's 'I told you so' smirk. "Worse? How?"

Dennis met her eyes with his own troubled brown ones. "They've started something new. They're able to read minds and beam thoughts into them, and they can even control your body sometimes. It's the beams. No, really. They're really doing it. Look here," he took off his hat. "See those tiny holes? Look." He handed it to her.

Scully took the aluminum hat and held it up to the light. Sure enough she could see tiny holes burned through the metal. She handed it to Peterson who took a look then did a doubletake when he saw the holes. Shaken, he handed it back and Dennis who put it back on.

"Is that why you're wearing that hat? To protect you from burns?" Scully asked.

"No! It's their beams! They use the beams to read your thoughts and worse, to put thoughts into your mind. They're using electromagnetic radiation, EMR, to read your mind and put their own voices and thoughts into you." He rummaged through the magazines on the table and came up with an article headed "EMR Mind Control: The Truth". "Here, read this." He handed it to Scully who glanced at it then gave it to Peterson.

"I know that defense applications have been studied for some time now," Scully said slowly. "But I'd always understood that it was purely theoretical."

"Theoretical, my ass! They've been testing it on humans for the past 20 years, including me. But usually when they take you, you get returned home pretty fast. They don't keep you this long."

"What do they do to you? Were you ever
taken?" Scully tried to keep her voice steady as she recalled her own past.

"I'm pretty sure I have been. I've lost time and found weird bruises and stuff after, but I don't remember anything. And I know they're watching me; they trigger me at random times. Sometimes I get these
jabs, stings all over my body, other times I can read people's thoughts or I see things, sort of waking visions. And I can't wear a watch with a battery." He held up his arm for the agents to see the analog wind-up Timex he wore. "The batteries die as fast as I change them." He shifted nervously in his seat.

Scully asked, "Did you see anything unusual at the convention? When is the last time you saw any of the abductees?"

West thought for a moment then said, "I think your partner and Crystal were the last people I saw. They were talking together after his speech, then suddenly Crystal just got up and started walking toward the door with Agent Mulder. I wondered where they were going at the time. I thought they were going up to Crystal's room for, you know..." He leered, then caught sight of Scully's expression and cleared his throat. "I think they must've left the building. Actually," he said slowly. "Now that I think about it, there was
something weird in the way Crystal looked. She had no expression on her face at all; she was kind of wooden looking. Same for your partner." He looked worried. "Crystal did tell me once that she thought they were controlling her body's motions. Every now and then she'd wake up somewhere not knowing how she got there."

Scully noted absently that Peterson was reading the UFO article with great interest. "Is there anything else that you can add that you think might be helpful?"

"No, except to warn you to be careful. These people play rough." He stood up and led them towards the door. Peterson started to hand him the magazine article but West waved it away. "Go ahead, keep it. You two need all the help you can get."

The drive back to the office was quiet. Peterson concentrated on the road, while Scully looked out the window absently.
Finally Peterson couldn't stand it any more. "You really believe this, don't you?"

"Believe what? That innocent people are abducted and experimented on? Yes, I have to believe it." she said.

"Why? It's a load of hogwash, everyone knows it." he replied challengingly.

"I believe it because it happened to me," she answered quietly. "I have objective proof that while I was gone various tests
were performed on me, and I have some lasting effects as a result. I don't remember much, but I almost died."

Peterson glanced at her, flabbergasted. "But you seem so..."

"Normal? Thank you, I think I am normal. But if I felt as harassed and tortured as Dennis West, I'd probably wear a foil hat if I thought it would help me. Some days the only thing that kept me sane was Mulder." She sighed and glanced out the window again.

They heard a loud chirp and both agents reflexively checked their cell phones.
Scully's was silent but Peterson held his up with a grin and took the call. He listened intently, then said "You what? Where? We're on our way!" He put the phone down and
grinned. "We have a break! One of the kidnap victims showed up at the Greyhound Depo, passed out. She's at the County Hospital now."

April 8, 2002
Somewhere

Mulder woke, as cold as he'd been when he finally fell asleep. Why don't they heat these places? he thought to himself. His head was still pounding and he thought he'd kill for a couple aspirin. He pried his gummy eyes open to find the room unchanged, light still on...no, wait. There was a change. Someone had left a set of pajamas on the floor inside the door, neatly stacked. Great. And he could move again.

He creakily sat up on the cot and rubbed his hands against his arms. God, he was cold. He got up and made his way to the door but stopped when he drew level with the mirror that hung over the sink. He moved closer and saw his head, covered with bandages. It wasn't a nightmare, then.

He felt around until he found the end of the bandages and began to unroll it, slowly and then faster, until he'd pulled all of it off. Then he just stared. He gingerly touched one of the stitched incisions that circled the top of his head. What had they done? He didn't feel very different. Okay, memory test, my name is...is...is... I knew
yesterday. For a while, I knew, he thought with rising panic. I knew my name and I knew I had a friend...someone...I don't
recall....DAMN! He threw the bandages to the floor and resisted the impulse to stomp on them.

He braced himself against the sink and
thought hard. For a while yesterday, he'd had himself back. How had that happened? He didn't know. But then they'd taken him to the treatment room and done...this...to him and he could still remember. Then he went to sleep and all memory was gone. The surgery? Maybe. What else had he lost while sleeping?

He stumbled over to the pajamas and slowly put them on. He supposed he should clothe himself and try to stay alive, but why that was he had no idea. He went back to his cot, glancing at his reflection when he passed the mirror.

He picked up the blanket and wrapped himself in it, then huddled on the cot, trying to think.

He was still thinking when the Voice came back. You are nothing it said. He sat up straight. One thing he did remember was that he'd had a little peace yesterday when that damned thing was silent. *You are nothing without the Program*

"Shut the Hell up!" the Prisoner growled at it.

*You are no one. You have no one except within the Program. I give you purpose*

"What purpose can there be but to destroy me?" he muttered to it.

*I am not here to destroy you, but to help you* The Voice took on a pleasant, gentle tone. *You are sick and I'm here to heal you. You're alone and I'm your friend*

"I'm not alone! I have friends!" the Prisoner shouted, clapping his hands over his ears. "Get out of my head!"

*Your friends have forgotten you. They never believed you anyway; you were always an embarassment to them. Listen to me and find your purpose in life. Listen. Listen. LISTEN. LISTEN!*

The Voice became overpowering until the Prisoner was huddled in the cot under the blanket, futilely trying to stop his ears against the voice in his mind.

They came for him later. The Voice hadn't stopped beating against his mind, reminding him that he must listen and always obey. At first he'd fought it, then just tried to remain silent endure. He was almost grateful for the distraction.

"Two goons again, huh?" he said when the motioned for him to get up. "I should give you guys names since we're together so
much. I know, you're Moe and you must be Curly. So where's Larry?" The goons remained silent and expressionless. They just grabbed him by the arms and pulled him from the cot.

"Okay, okay, I'm coming," the prisoner
muttered as they shoved him into the hallway. He could guess where they were going and, for what seemed like the hundredth time, scanned the area for escape routes. As usual nothing presented itself. Better to conserve his strenth then, he decided.

The guards shoved him inside the Treatment room and shut the door behind him. That was odd, usually they took him in here and
strapped him down. Hey, there was nobody in here. He was alone. Well, there was probably somebody watching behind the big two-way mirror that lined the wall, still, he could explre and maybe find a weapon or two.

Before he had gotten two steps into the room the Voice shouted, Stop! Irritated, the prisoner held a single digit up to heaven, said "Fuck you!" and walked forward. He was stopped in his tracks by an excruciating pain that ran up his legs to his spine and
enveloped his body. He crumpled to the floor with it and when it left a moment later he lay panting there.

When I command, you will OBEY. Now get up

Shaken, the prisoner got to his knees and climbed to his feet. *Go over to the box in the corner*

Warily the prisoner obeyed. There was a large cardboard box with a rustling sound inside. The Voice commanded him to open it and look inside, so he did. Three baby kittens huddled in the box, looking up at him trustfully. He didn't like where this was going.

Pick up the black one Hesitantly, he did so and cradled it against his chest. He was strangely comforted by it's soft purr.

Now kill it

The Prisoner almost dropped the kitten in his outrage. "No! Hell, no! I won't! No..." The pain began again, only it was worse this time but the Prisoner gritted his teeth and
decided to endure. Just when he thought he'd pass out from it, the pain stopped. He began to hope that he could beat this, then noticed that he was standing. His hand began reaching down to the kitten, now on the floor.

Wait, he thought, I'm not doing this. I can't be doing this but my hands are moving! His hands picked the kitten up and cuddled it close to his chest again. Then, with one hand bracing against it's body and the other at it's head, he neatly snapped its neck. At that instant he was flooded with pleasure, a glowing, fiery joy like he'd never known before.

Dimly he heard the Voice in his mind say *You will always obey. Then you will be rewarded, now let's try this again*

Noon
Los Angeles County Hospital

Scully and Peterson were shown into Crystal FeatherFree's room by a bored looking nurse. She sat up in bed, looking calm and
collected.

"Hello, you must be the FBI agents," she said pleasantly. "I'm pleased to meet you."

"Yes, I'm Dana Scully and this is my partner, Jim Peterson. We'd like to ask you some questions if you feel up to it."

"Sure. I'm only here for observation because I passed out. What can I tell you?"

"Well, first the most obvious. What happened? Where were you?" Scully took a chair next to the bed, as did Peterson.

"I was abducted is what happened. I don't know where they took me but I've been there before."

"Excuse me for saying so, but you seem
remarkably calm for somebody who's been kidnapped," Scully felt vaguely betrayed by this woman who took abduction so lightly.

"Well, it happens to me pretty often. I'm really cheesed off, if you want to know the truth. They usually get it over with and let me go in a few hours. This time they kept me three fricken weeks! All my usual clients must be wondering where I was and what
happened to me!" The woman crossed her arms across her chest and frowned.

"This is a...um...regular occurrence?" Out of the corner of her eye Scully could see a grin starting to spread over Peterson's face.

"Yeah. They've been experimenting on my since I was 17," Crystal said. "Hey, don't get me wrong, I hate it and it's a bitch on my schedule. But I can't stop them and nobody believes me when I report it to the police. And I don't want to spend another week in a psych ward."

"Um...okay. Well, have you seen this man?" Scully handed her a photo of Mulder.

Crystal's said. "Yes, I know him, Agent Mulder. He spoke at the convention. Actually, I'd just been to Agent Mulder's talk, a very good one, when the next thing I know I'm walking out the door to a car that's waiting for me. And I was talking to Mulder at the time; so he got hit too, by whatever it was they used. It's as if they took over my body for a minute or two. I had no control at all." She took a deep breath. "When we got into the car everything went black and I woke up there."

"Where is 'there'?" Scully asked.

"I'm sorry, I don't know where," Crystal said. "It looked like a psych ward or
hospital from the inside. There were locked doors everywhere. At first Mulder and I were kept in a big ward with others who were taken. Some abductees were from the
convention and others I didn't recognize." She looked troubled. "But Mulder fought against everything, no matter how they tried to subdue him. Finally they moved him to the special group."

Crystal gave Scully a long look. "He's
important to you, isn't he? I'm so very sorry."

"What do you mean? Is he dead?" Scully
stumbled over the last word.

"No, but it would be better for him if he were. I overheard some of the guards talking about what they were doing to the special ones. It was different that what they did to us."

"Different? Different how?" Scully leaned forward.

"The guards said something about implants and that the specials won't own their own souls when the treatments are done. I don't know what that means but it scares me. I don't think they plan to let him go."

April 8, 2002
4:00 p.m. Hoover Building

Skinner looked at the clock again and
reminded himself that California was three hours ahead of him. Scully would call when she had news. He looked at the papers on his desk and drummed his fingers again, then rubbed his tired face with both hands.

Last night he had tossed and turned in a bed suddenly grown lumpy and uncomfortable. He couldn't commit Scully to a deal with that cheating bastard, and the Smoker wouldn't let Skinner take Scully's place. Part of him was relieved that the Smoker had turned him down. Another part was ashamed.

How many times had Mulder ever let him down? Never. And now Mulder needed his help and what did he have to give? Nothing but
frustration. He knew that if Scully were told about this deal she'd go for it in a minute. Therefore, he wouldn't tell her. That much he knew Mulder would approve.

But the waiting was hard. What if nothing turned up? He looked at the clock again and picked up the phone to call Scully. The call to her cell was picked up quickly.

"Agent Scully, how are you doing?" Skinner asked crisply. He heard Scully say, "Just a moment," and another voice reminding her that cell phones weren't allowed inside the
hospital. "Sir," Scully said. "I'll have to call you from outside. Just a moment."

A few minutes later she called back. "I'm in the parking lot with Agent Peterson, sir. You probably want to know the case's status."

She means she hasn't found him yet, thought Skinner. "Yes, Agent. Any progress?"

"Very little, I'm sorry to say. One of the abductees was found at a local Greyhound station and claims she was returned. Sir, she's seen Mulder." A pause. "She says he's a special prisoner, he's being given special testing and she doesn't think they're going to let him go."

"I see," Skinner said, keeping his voice calm. "Any leads on where he is?"

"No sir. Nothing. I...I don't know where to go from here." Scully paused, then he heard her talking to Peterson. "What? She what? How?"

"Agent? What is it?"

"Sir, the witness we spoke to, the
abductee...she just went into convulsions and died. Just now. I have to go," Scully hung up the phone.

Skinner was silent a moment, his hand
clenched into a fist, then opened it again. He picked up the phone and dialed a number.

"Agent Skinner, how pleasant to hear from you again. And how are Agents Mulder and Scully?" The Smoker's voice always had that smug edge to it.

"You know how they are. Look, I'll agree to your deal. I'll do anything you want, just tell me where Mulder is," Skinner tried to keep his voice level and reasonable.

"You are mistaken, Mr. Skinner," the Smoker replied. "As I told you before, my deal is for Agent Scully and not for you.
Circumstances haven't changed. Are you
authorized to deal on her behalf?"

"No, I haven't told her," Skinner replied.

"Well then you'd better tell her. Or should I telephone?" That bastard was enjoying this...

"No! I'll call her. I'll get back to you." Skinner slammed the phone down, wishing it were the Smoker's face. He lifted the phone again and called Scully's line. She answered it absently.

"Agent Scully, can you talk?"

"Yes sir, for the moment. Sir, it looks like the witness died of cerebral hemhhorage. The nurses found a small patch of hair shaved off the top of her head. She's had some kind of brain surgery recently. I think it killed her, but I won't be sure until the autopsy."

Skinner took a deep breath. "Agent Scully, you may not have time for the autopsy. I've been offered information about Agent Mulder's whereabouts and the necessary ID to get into the facility where he's being held."

"Sir, that's wonderful! When can we start?"

"The deal is with the Smoking man and he doesn't want to deal with me, but with you. He has a project he needs help with." Skinner paused, then continued. "I offered to do it myself but he refuses to consider that. He says that only you are qualified.
I didn't want to tell you about this."

"How long has the offer been on the table?" Scully asked tensely.

"Since last night. I didn't want to tell you unless it was the only option. I'm sorry."

"Sir, it's become necessary. She said that

Mulder was a special case. If she has only

one implant and it killed her, what are they

doing to him? We have to get to him before

it's too late. What number do I call?"

The Invisible War, part 4

Scully called the number Skinner gave her with trepidation. She had no faith that the Smoker wouldn't have some double-cross in mind for her, but if she could rescue Mulder it would be worth it. She'd deal with
doublecrosses later. The line answered with a familiar voice.

"Yes, I've been told that you have some information I need," she began.

"Agent Scully, how good to hear from you. I trust you're keeping well?" said the oily voice on the other side.

She kept her temper with difficulty. "Skinner tells me you have a deal for me. What is it you want in exchange for Mulder?"

"Why nothing you aren't qualified to give. I simply want the benefit of

your expertise. That's all."
"And what would that be?" she asked
suspiciously.
"An autopsy. I value your skill in your particular profession and need an unbiased opinion."
What was he getting at? Where was the catch? "Who or what am I supposed to autopsy?" She looked around uncomfortably, suddenly sure she was under surveillance. The Smoker
chuckled. "A participant in one of our
projects died recently. There is dispute regarding exactly what killed him, and the medical personnel involved are, shall we say, biased? Therefore a neutral third opinion is called for. You support no particular side in the issue and have a reputation for
scrupulous honesty. Therefore I am willing to trade my information for your services." "I see. And where is this autopsy to take place? When I get your information I'll need to act on it immediately." She waited for the other shoe to drop. "Unfortunately, you'll be needed in D.C. Assistant Director Skinner will have to act on the information on your behalf." "If Mulder's still in California, then Skinner will lose a day flying out here! God knows what might happen to Mulder in the interim!"
She could almost hear the Smoker shrug. "Nevertheless, this is the best I can do. Are you interested?"
She sighed. There had never been a choice, really. "Yes, I'll do it. Tell me what to do."
"It's very simple, fly back to Washington and a car will pick you up at the airport. Tell Mr. Skinner to make his travel arrangements. My representative will meet him with the necessary papers at Dulles." "All right," she said, and hung up the phone in resignation. After a moment to compose herself, she called Skinner.
April 8
7:40 p.m.
Dulles Airport

Skinner checked his watch and looked around. He'd already checked in and gotten his
boarding pass, so where was the Smoker's contact? He still didn't like this deal and had told Scully so, but he knew it was wasted effort for them both to complain about it. It had always been obvious that they were going to take the deal.

"Penny for your thoughts," said a familiar voice.

Skinner looked up to see Krycek smiling at him with irony. He wondered vaguely how Krycek had gotten past airport security to the boarding area without a plane ticket. "So he's using you as his errand boy
again? What's wrong, Krycek, can't you ever get a promotion?" Skinner frowned at the other man. Krycek's grin simply got broader. He held out a large manila envelope and Skinner took it.

"What is this?" Skinner asked, opening the envelope and peering inside.

"Credentials and security codes for the facility. You're scheduled to be part of a tour tomorrow at 6 p.m. The videomonitoring system will be overridden from 6 to 10 p.m. and the security codes are due to be changed at midnight, so you'd better do what you came for before then. The rest is up to you. Good luck." With that, Krycek melted into the crowd.

Skinner looked up and found him gone, then shrugged and went back to the packet. He had to hand it to the Smoker, he was thorough. He had an ID badge, with photograph, identifying him as Walter Smith, a geneticist from New York. Mulder was being held at the Fletcher Mental Health Institute, near Bakersfield California. A nice remote area to keep your guinea pigs, Skinner thought.

There was also a set of blueprints of the building's interior, showing exterior doors and the security system. And a brief note, unsigned: "Although you might be tempted to carry your weapon and wear a recording
device, I'd advise against it. You will enter the building through a metal detector and frisked on entrance." He really wants us to do this, Skinner realized. He briefly
wondered what the Smoker got out of this, then decided to shelve the thought for later consideration. The important thing now was to get Mulder out.

He opened his cell phone and called Scully."I have it," he said. "It looks legitimate."

"Good," she answered. "I'm about to get on the plane. I suppose this is a 'go' then. Do you have the medical supplies?"

"Yes, I do," Skinner replied, troubled. "I had medic's training in the Marines, but that was basic first aid. I'm not sure I can handle anything more complicated."

"You just have to keep him stable until you can get him to UCLA. I called an old friend there, a neurosurgeon, Dr. Evelyn Lewiston. She's expecting him."

"All right," Skinner sighed. "Good luck. I'll phone when I have him and leave a
message as necessary. You do the same when you're done; I'll have my cell off until we're out." He stopped, then added. "If I don't hear from you in 48 hours, I'll assume you're a captive and take appropriate steps. And Scully..."

"Yes sir?"

"Be careful. You know he can't be trusted."

Skinner looked up when his flight was called. He gathered his belongings together, taking care to fold the envelope into his jacket pocket. It wouldn't do to lose this. He had a long flight ahead and a lot of planning to do.

April 8
Somewhere
Somewhen

The prisoner staggered back to his room between the two guards, who supported him on both sides. He held his hands out away from his body, looking only at the barely cleaned blood that reddened them. The guards opened the door to the room, shoved him in, then locked it behind him. He was left standing alone in the center of the room.

The things he'd done during the past hours were unspeakable. Trembling, he stumbled to the sink and began to wash his hands. He scrubbed until the scabs on his right hand broke and bled, his own blood merging with the other blood in the water. Finally, he shut the water off and rubbed his hands dry on the pajamas. Then he looked down and saw the blood stains there. He quickly stripped them off, bundled them into a ball and threw them into the corner of the room. Then he moved toward the toilet in the corner and lost what little food he'd eaten that day.

He made his way to the cot and wrapped the blanket around him, huddling down as deeply as he could. He forced himself to take deep breaths and reminded himself that he hadn't done those things. The Others were making his body do them, trying to train him to enjoy killing and pain.

He'd killed today; small animals at first, always with bare hands, always with that pleasurable rush at the moment of the kill. It didn't come from me, he reminded himself. It wasn't me. It was them.

After the small animals they'd moved to higher animals, dogs and later monkeys and chimps. They had been restrained but
conscious, victims of the inexorable command from the Voice. He'd killed everything he'd been directed to.

The chimp had been the worst. Strapped down like a man on the table where the prisoner himself usually lay. And it watched him with human eyes as he disembowelled it alive. The prisoner held out a shaking hand and saw the blood still embedded under his nails and closed his eyes against it, swallowing hard.

The best resistance he'd been able to manage was to hide inside himself and let the body do what it did. He'd tried to cocoon himself inside black darkness but it didn't work. That terrible rush of pleasure, the wash of evil joy always found him and brought him out, gasping.

He had begun to fear that soon he'd begin to crave it if it went on much longer. The pleasure came from Them; it had to be. He wasn't a killer. He wasn't sure who he was, but he knew that. But who he be in a week he didn't know. There'd been a pattern to the training today, working from lower life forms to the almost human. What would it be
tomorrow?

He hugged his arms to himself and began to rock back and forth. Tomorrow would
inevitably come. And what then? What then? Who had he been to deserve this? Had he been an evil man? He didn't think so, or he'd be enjoying this killing. He got up and
approached the mirror, examining his face in it. The stitches looked angry and raised against his skin, like something on a
Frankenstein monster. He touched one
carefully, then brought his hand down.

The Voice had been less in evidence lately than when he'd first come here. Back then it had never been silent except when he could sleep. Since this surgery it seemed to stop after his sessions in the treatment room. Maybe they thought they had him under enough control that it wasn't necessary. In any case, for the time being he was as alone as he'd ever be.

Whenever he tried to remember his past he was washed with pain; even thinking about it now gave him twinges. Why? Why so important that he forget who he was? It might make it easier for them to control his mind, turn him into a killer with the treatments and the surgery. "It's easier to write on a blank slate," he murmured to himself softly. But he'd
remembered his name just yesterday before they'd blanked it out again, so it was
possible to beat this conditioning.

What did he know about himself? He mentally began counting off. He was educated, he thought. He seemed to know facts and words that were out of the ordinary. He'd
understood about pain sensors in the brain, understood medical terms used by those who'd operated on him. Was he a doctor then? He didn't think so. Maybe he worked for or with a doctor? He wasn't kept with the other prisoners any more. Why was he different? Was it because he'd fought so hard or some other reason?

In any case, he had to get out of here and fast, before he became something even he didn't recognize. He eyed the pajamas wadded up in the corner, then at the blanket.

He returned to the cot and wrapped the
blanket around his right hand. He mentally gave his bruised and scabby fingers an
apology just before he drove his fist into the mirror. It shattered and spewed glass across the floor. He gathered the shards together into a pile and picked out the biggest and sharpest ones. These he set aside and began to plan for tomorrow.

April 9
Somewhere
Early morning

The prisoner heard the guards in the hallway. He'd already dressed himself in his pajamas and had wrapped his left hand and arm in the blanket. He held shards in both hands, half hidden in his loose trousers. The door opened and the prisoner got up, moving to stand between the guards. At the last moment he faked a trip and fell into the first guard, jabbing the shard of mirror in deep. Then he turned abruptly away and slashed at the second guard who was bending down. Guard number two went down bleeding, and the
prisoner ran.

He got to the door and began pounding at the newly repaired window with his wrapped hand. An alarm sounded as it began to fracture. This was taking too long. He wrapped both hands into the blanket and pounded some more. So slow...so slow! Soon others would arrive and he'd be overwhelmed. He had to get out. Now!

Finally the safety glass shattered. He
cleared as much as he could and put the blanket over the frame, then shinnied
through. He stood outside the building in the early morning sun and studied his
surroundings, then began to make his way to the fence. He could feel himself
tripping and stumbling over the dirt. Funny, he'd been clumsy ever since they'd done whatever they'd done to his brain... No matter, run harder
and get the Hell OUT of here...

He could see a brick wall ahead. If he could get over that, he might be safe. The Others must have found the guards and the door by now but he hoped he could at get to a hiding place if not safety before they closed in. That was his last thought before his body froze. His legs stopped moving and his
forward momentum pitched him forward into the dust.

He lay there unable to move, hearing but not seeing footsteps approaching him. Hands grabbed him and hauled him upright. He found himself facing Labcoat who held the black remote control and wore a serious look.

"You are not allowed to leave without
permission. You know that. You are also to harm only targets which we give you. You know that too." The hand moved on the remote and the world exploded in fire. The pain began, then increased and continued increasing until the prisoner was writhing. He heard Labcoat hit another button and it redoubled again. Screaming, the prisoner squirmed and fought against it until a convulsion took him. Labcoat watched the convulsions impassively and was joined by a second man.

"You might damage him," said the second man. "You know what Strughold ordered."

"I know. But I've been entrusted with his conditioning and he will learn if it kills him. I think I'll accelerate the training. I don't want any more slip-ups." Labcoat hit another button and the convulsion stopped, leaving the prisoner unconscious in the dust, blood running down his chin from where he'd bitten his tongue. As the two men walked away, the guards picked up the prisoner and carried him back into the building.

April 9, 2002
Noon

The prisoner woke up in a room very like the one he'd left. This one didn't have a mirror but not even the tiniest sliver of glass lay on the floor. A tray with a sandwich lay inside the door but he ignored it. He
couldn't stomach food anymore.

He got up and was standing unsteadily when they came for him.

April 9, 2002 5:00 a.m. EST Dulles Airport Washington D.C.

It had been a long flight and Scully hadn't slept well. Still, she was glad to be doing something to find Mulder even if she had grave doubts about the Smoker. She looked around the airport terminal for the messenger he was supposed to send.

"Agent Scully," a familiar voice came from behind her. She turned and blanched.

"Krycek," she said flatly.

"I'm your driver today. Isn't it odd how the roles change?" Krycek smiled and gestured toward the exit, leaving her to carry her own bag.

Reluctantly she followed him. She had to admit that the choice of Krycek to meet her was inspired, in a warped sort of way. There could be little doubt who had sent him, giving him authenticity that no ID could provide. The limo waited outside in a no parking zone.

"Aren't you afraid of tickets?" she asked as she swung her bag into the trunk.

"I laugh at tickets, there are other things in life so much more terrible." Krycek slid into the drivers' seat without looking to see if Scully followed. She eyed the empty back seat and decided to sit up front next to Krycek.

"My, isn't this cozy," was Krycek's only comment. He took the limo out of the airport and onto the highway.

"Where are we going?" She looked out the window hunting for landmarks.

"That is a secret," said Krycek. "You'll have to wear a blindfold. It's in the glove
compartment."

She gave him a sideways look but fished it out of the glove compartment. It looked more like a pair of swimming goggles painted over than anything else. She slid it on and found it blocked the light completely. "Is this really necessary?" she asked in a pained voice.

"If you want your partner back, it is." Krycek said shortly.

"What do you know about Mulder?" she asked, suddenly certain that Krycek knew
everything that the Smoker did.

"I know that you'd better get him out of there or you'll never see him again. As it is, there may not be much of him left even if Skinner does rescue him." Krycek was silent after that, refusing to answer any questions or converse at all.

The drive was long and Scully found that she had been sleeping for some time before Krycek stopped the car. "We're here," he said. "You can take off the blindfold now."

Scully blinked at the anonymous looking office building in front of her. It could have been any building in any town in
America. It stood on a large landscaped park, but that wasn't unusual either. Krycek led her into the lobby and she accepted an ID badge from an armed guard, then followed Krycek down an elevator to the basement. Well, she considered, whoever runs the shop the morgue is always in the basement.

"This is where you'll work," Krycek opened a door with a card-key and showed her into a changing room. "You'll find scrubs in the locker, a shower through that door. The morgue is fully equipped and there's a tape recorder as well. Just perform your usual autopsy and report your findings. If you need special tests run, there's an intercom on the wall inside. Someone will come if needed."

"How do I get back when I'm finished?" she asked.

"There's another intercom by the door in here. I'll be on the other end. Just let me know when you're done." Krycek gave her an ironic smile, "Have fun."

After he had gone through the door she tried it and it was locked as she'd guessed it would be. Oh well, time to get working then.

April 9
5 p.m.
Somewhere off Highway 99, Near Bakersfield

Skinner eyed the countryside. It was ugly. Dry, flat desert. Good place to put a test facility. His map said he should turn left at the next cross-street, Road 437, ah there it was. If the previous road had been lonely and desert, Road 437 was even more so. Clearly, the only people who came out here were those who didn't have a choice. Even the soil looked dead, gray and dusty, more like a lunar landscape than anything else. He could see the ruts
left from the last vain attempt to farm here. But the land itself was dead and the only green thing he saw was a weed here and there.

He saw the sign and the brick wall first, "Fletcher Institute for Mental Health". Yeah, the place looked like a mental hospital, very secure. He drove up to the front gate and gave the guard his ID badge.

"Go to parking lot C, sir. That's the visitor parking. The reception area's just off there, you can't miss it," said the guard, returning the badge.

Skinner nodded and drove in, carefully noting the area. Floodlights in the parking lot but the lot didn't extend beyond the building. From the placement of the building's exterior lights he'd guess that there would be some shadows at night. Well, he had to hope for the best.

He parked the car and donned the jacket that went with his suit. He hoped a business suit was enough to identify him as a geneticist. He also hoped he didn't look like he was wearing a sign that said 'cop'. He walked into the door marked "Reception".

He checked in with the receptionist, another security guard, who gave him a clip-on badge and instructed him to wear it and the other ID at all times or, he commented smoothly, "We may not want to let you leave."

A small crowd of people were sitting quietly in the small waiting area. He noticed that they didn't talk to each other. They didn't even make eye contact with anyone else. He supposed that that made sense, given the clandestine nature of these activities.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the
Clinic," an oily voice greeted them from the door. A middle-aged man in a white labcoat gave them a general smile. "I am Doctor Philip Gordon and I am so glad that you've decided to visit and review our work. We are justifiably proud of what we've accomplished here. Please come this way. And a word of caution, please don't lose your badges and do stay with the group. Our facility's hallways can be confusing to a visitor."

Skinner followed the group, looking intently into hallways and at any people they passed. It was a vain hope to think he might see Mulder but he would still
keep looking.

They were led into a conference room having two rows of chairs facing a curtained wall with a podium to one side. Gordon waited for them all to be seated, then took his place behind the podium.

"I would like to thank you all for your interest in what we are trying to accomplish here. I think I can show you that we are making significant progress in the field of electromagnetic mind control and weaponry." He pressed a switch on the podium and the curtains opened to a window. Skinner could see through the glass what looked like an operating room with shiny cupboards and a strange looking chair. Almost like a dentist chair, he thought, until he saw the shackles on the arms and feet.

"What you are seeing is one of our Treatment Rooms, used for conditioning our subjects. What the subject sees is a long mirrored wall, a two-way mirror of course."

The door to the room opened and two guards brought in a woman. Skinner blinked in
recognition a moment, then relaxed. The woman was petite with shoulder length red hair and a fair complexion. She bore a striking
resemblance to Dana Scully but definitely wasn't her. He gave a sigh of relief; he hadn't felt comfortable about sending her off into the Smoker's clutches and had almost expected to find her here ahead of him.

The guards left the room and shut the door behind them. She immediately went to the door and tried vainly to open it.

"As you already know, we are able to do a great deal with electromagnetic weapons, or EMR weapons as I shall call them. It's been said that with this class of weapon, world war three could be started and won before anybody noticed; a sort of invisible war. With our short-range weapons we can
temporarily control the bodily movements of a subject," he pulled out a small remote
control and pressed a button. The woman walked mechanically over to the chair, sat down and strapped her legs in.

"We can transmit voice messages or visions directly to the brain." He held the remote and punched another series of buttons and said into the remote "You are a useless drain on program resources." She looked up and around her for the sounds, a frightened look on her face.

"We can also project sharp electric jabs," the woman jerked, "or intense itching." The woman began to frantically scratch her neck, then stopped when Gordon punched another set of buttons.

"The problem has always been that these are short range weapons and the experimenter must be no more than 20 feet from the subject, which could naturally be quite dangerous for the experimenter." Gordon paused to let the group chuckle die down.

"This subject has no implants whatsoever and can be used as a control. We have had limited success with single cranial implants in other subjects. Basically we've been able to extend the distance somewhat but not as far as we'd like. Also, the effect of the weapon is limited to what I just demonstrated for you. The subject still retains the ability to fight off the effects of the weapon and any conditioned responses we plant and many do."

Gordon turned back to face his audience. "You will be gratified to know that we have
developed a new technique that allows us to successfully condition a subject permanently, by breaking down the original personality and implanting our command structure in his brain. The subject is given multiple implants which reinforce the commands until
conditioning is complete. However, our
physical control continues over him for life and the subject knows that. Therefore he is obedient and loyal at all times, knowing that we hold his every breath in the palm of our hands. Observe please," he punched the button on the podium and the door opened, bringing in a man. He looked away from the window but Skinner could see that he was tall and very thin; his pajamas sagged on him. He was bald with a network of scars crossing his skull and looked vaguely battered to Skinner's eyes, as though he'd been beaten recently.

As before, the guards left him in the room and locked the door behind them. The man stood unsteadily, looking over his shoulder to make sure the guards were gone, then tried the door as she had. The intercom caught a very faint "Shit!" from the man when he found it locked. He turned back and looked at the woman in the chair, blinking in puzzlement, then glanced at the mirror.

Skinner saw his face and stilled. Mulder had lost at least twenty pounds since he'd seen him last. His eyes were sunken in
his cheeks and looked haunted. Skinner could see a tracery of old bruises healing on his arms and recent cuts and scabs on his wrists and right hand. Skinner gripped the arms of his chair tightly and fought not to let any of this show on his face.

"This subject is beginning Phase Three of our new protocol. He was recently fitted with a series of five cranial implants which allow us to control all aspects of his existence. We can transmit commands or pictures
remotely," Gordon hit a switch on a second remote and Mulder cringed away from the window, backing toward the far wall of the room. "I projected a raging fire at him," said Gordon calmly. "One of the first things we determine for each subject is a list of those things he fears most."

"As with the control subject, we can transmit pain but are not limited to mere jabs and zaps," Mulder doubled over, his face a rictus of agony. "and pleasure as well." Mulder straightened up and his fact took on an expression of euphoria.

"This ability allows us to use operant
conditioning techniques to reward approved behaviors and punish those not allowed in a way which does not negatively affect the subject's physical health."

Yeah, but what about his spirit? Skinner thought to himself, anxiously watching Mulder pick himself up and stumble over to the woman in the chair. He'd never seen the man look that bad, not even when he was profiling. Mulder began silently to undo the straps that bound the woman into the chair, then backed away from her and faced the mirror
impassively. He slowly raised his left arm and hand with middle finger outstretched and held it there in a kind of salute. Skinner suppressed a grin and thought, "Good for you, Mulder!"

Gordon frowned. "As I indicated, this subject has just begun the more thorough conditioning process. However, he and others like him are still fully under our control; more so than we were able to do with other subjects
before. For example, I can slow his
breathing."

Mulder began to gasp for air, then grabbed at his throat and fell to his knees, his face turning blue. The woman ran over to him and pushed on his chest, trying to force the air in. Just before unconsciousness, Gordon used his remote and Mulder began to breathe again. He took long deep breaths and scowled at the window. The woman helped him stand up again. Mulder raised his hand with finger
outstretched again, even higher.

Stop antagonizing him, dammit! Skinner found himself telling Mulder silently. He's going to kill you before I can rescue you!

"I can even stop his heart," Mulder clutched his chest and began gasping again, then fell to the floor, silent. The woman knelt next to him, hunting for a pulse. Skinner only just stopped himself from jumping to his feet, hoping frantically that Gordon was just making a point. He was.

"And I can restart it again." Mulder began to breathe and the pallor left his face. Mulder stayed down and didn't try to return to his feet, gulping in air with his eyes closed.

"The challenge has always been to force a subject to break early training in ethics and morals, especially prejudices against
violence. We've found that a program of desensitization is effective in overcoming this. By forcing the subject to experience and perform acts of violence we render it more acceptable in his worldview."

Gordon put the remote next to his lips and said, "Strangle the woman to death."

Gordon continued cheerfully on. "This
subject, oddly enough, was a Federal Agent and has strong ethical beliefs. To overcome this we have erased all memory of his past and, given the implants, he must obey all commands given him. If he doesn't choose to obey he is punished with pain and his body obeys nevertheless. He is also rewarded with pleasure upon completion of any orders, a higher degree of pleasure the more difficult the task. He will eventually realize that he has no chance to resist and give it up as futile. Then our conditioning will have taken hold."

Mulder had turned mechanically and began to walk toward the woman. She looked first at the two way mirror and then at Mulder and backed away from him. Mulder followed more swiftly and cornered her against the metal cabinets. His eyes looked deeply into her terrified ones.

Skinner shifted his horrified attention between Gordon's chatter and Mulder's
actions, not knowing where to look or what to do. He had to do something...

He held her down with his left hand and stroked her face with his right. Then the right came softly down her cheek to her chin and below. The fingers slowly clenched around her throat. He kept eye contact with her as her face turned purple, then blue as she gasped for air and fought him. He moved both hands into a grip around her throat and squeezed harder.

Skinner glanced at Gordon and the other attendees and could see several avidly
licking their lips. He felt nausea building in the pit of his stomach and regretted the service weapon he'd left in the car. He had to do something.... He eyed the distance to Gordon, then looked at the other attendees and came to a realization.

He could do nothing.

Mulder held the woman's throat, looking deeply into her eyes until she stopped
breathing and grew still. Skinner could see that although Mulder's face was impassive, tears were running from his eyes and he was breathing hard. He's fighting it, thought Skinner. But he's lost.

Gordon hit another button on his remote and Mulder dropped the woman. She slipped to the floor into a limp huddle.

"And of course we must reward a task well performed," Gordon used the remote again and Mulder was washed with ecstasy, his face a mix of horror and joy. Gordon pressed a few more buttons and Mulder backed away from the dead woman to find the corner of the room farthest from her and all but pressed himself into the wall.

Gordon pressed activated the remote control on the drapes and Skinner's last glimpse of his agent before they closed was Mulder running over to the woman, trying to perform CPR on her dead body.

"Well," said Gordon brightly. "Shall we go in to dinner? My chef tells me he's prepared something special for our special guests."

The Invisible War, Part 5

April 9
7:30 p.m.
Fletcher Mental Health Institute

Skinner picked at his filet mignon and
listened to the babble of conversation around him. The wine, like the food, was excellent but he had to remind himself not to drink too deeply. Much as he longed to get stinking drunk after what he'd just seen, that would have to wait until he'd gotten Mulder out of this hellhole.

"Dr. Smith, you aren't eating! Surely the food is to your taste?" Dr. Gordon stood next to Skinner's table, still beaming that
idiotic smile. Skinner forced a grimace to his face and tried to convey congeniality.

"Oh no, the food is delicious. I'm just a bit tired. It was a long trip, you know." Skinner paused and waited for Gordon to go away, but clearly the man was waiting for some kind of comment. "That was quite a presentation," Skinner said neutrally.

"I'm glad you enjoyed it. The
male is one of our more challenging
subjects."

"Really? Why? Have you worked with him?" And if you have, you might find yourself at the wrong end of my fist, Skinner thought to himself as he delicately dabbed at his mouth with the napkin.

"Yes, as a matter of fact I was made primary researcher on his case because he's been a challenge. He's almost beat our conditioning several times; not that he's ever had a real chance to succeed." Dr. Gordon pulled out a chair, ready for a long confab.

Skinner perked up. "Oh? How so? He seemed very much under control today."

"Oh, he was. But the memory conditioning for him seems rather weak. One of our primary techniques is to remove the subject's
memories, to ease implantation of our
conditioned responses. This one already recovered some memory on his own once. We had to reapply amnesia protocols to blank him out again. We suspect it may have something to do with a particular talent he had, an eidetic memory. That may make him more resistant to training." Gordon reached for the wine bottle and poured himself a glass of burgundy.

"That's interesting," Skinner commented. "It sounds like he's been trouble from the
start."

"Don't I know it. The guards nicknamed him Houdini because he seems be a natural escape artist; he's almost gotten out twice. We catch him each time and punish him
thoroughly, of course."

"Of course," Skinner said blandly, his
fingers tightening imperceptibly on his wine goblet. "More wine? Here, I'll pour. Well, I hope you house him in some other building, he seems dangerous. I wouldn't want to suddenly find his hands around my throat, like that woman today."

"No, he's kept in section A. That's on the other end of the building. And we can control his actions at any time," Gordon smiled and patted the control box in his pocket.

"A two mile radius, right?" Skinner asked intently.

"Yes, and he isn't likely to be any more distant, is he? Well, I had better mingle. It was a pleasure meeting you, Dr. Smith."

"I'll never forget this meeting, or you Doctor." Skinner replied, shaking the man's hand as he got up. He surreptitously scrubbed that hand against his pants leg, watching Gordon wander over to another table and sit down. The man was soon in animated
conversation with another guest. Good. Time to act.

Skinner put his napkin down and got up
casually, heading for the door. He opened it silently and slipped out. He remembered where section A was from Krycek's map and began walking down a corridor, then turned. He stopped at an intersection to take his
bearings, looked right and then left and walked into a guard. A very tall guard. With gun.

"Uh, hello," Skinner said with a disarming grin.

"You're in a restricted area," the guard said in a monotone.

"Really? I am sorry. I was looking for the men's room. I'm one of Dr. Gordon's guests," Skinner pointed to his ID badge and grimly hoped that a men's room was nearby. It was.

"It's over here," said the guard and led him to a door on the left. "I'll wait and escort you back when you're finished. The corridors can be confusing."

"Thank you," Skinner said with a bright smile and closed the men's room door. When he exited the room, scrubbing his hands with paper towel, the guard was waiting and duly escorted Skinner back to the dining room where Gordon was gathering the guests to leave.

Skinner found himself in the middle of the crowd being led to the exit. He'd had no chance to reconnoitre the building, but then he hadn't expected to be able to do much. It was
inevitable that security would be eyeing visitors closely for any breaches.

Under the watchful eye of the guards, Skinner got into his car and drove out of the parking lot and through the guard gate. He drove just far enough down the road to find a place to hide the car; a small grove of oak trees did the trick. Then he sat and waited for dark.

April 9
Fletcher Mental Health Institute 7:00 p.m. Treatment Room 2

The prisoner kept frantically trying to revive the woman until the guards pulled him off her.

"No! Let me alone! I have to help her...God damn it, let me alone!" The prisoner swung at a guard and missed. The two burly goons dove in and seized him by the arms dragging him away from the woman. A third goon checked her pulse and casually threw her over his
shoulder to remove her as well.

The prisoner lost sight of them in the
hallway as she was taken to what the prisoner assumed was the morgue. He fell limp and let the goons drag him to his room and push him in. As usual, no words were exchanged. Of course, he considered, these people don't converse with useful objects like chairs, tables, hammers. That's all I am; a thing, a useful thing.

He wobbled over to the bed and sat down. Funny, he'd been really clumsy lately; he thought his left foot might be dragging a bit. Since the operation, in fact. Still, it didn't matter much since he wasn't going anywhere soon.

He leaned against the plaster wall and closed his eyes. His head was pounding. He'd been having a lot of headaches lately too, but he didn't think the goons would get him aspirin even if he asked nicely. He didn't want to think about what had happened in that room today but he couldn't escape it. He'd
killed a human being. No, he'd killed a woman with his bare hands; with these hands. He held them up, then let them drop. He stopped himself. Wait, they'd killed the woman and he was just the tool they used. He had to
believe that.If he stopped believing it he'd go crazy.

"I killed her," he whispered and bent over, clutching his head. She had looked familiar somehow, like somebody he'd once known. A woman with red hair and blue eyes, petite. Had he killed a friend today? Damn it, he wanted to know who he was! His head pounded harder.

You did very well today.

"No...not now! You never come after the Treatment Room!" The prisoner opened his eyes and looked around wildly.

*I visit you when I want to. You are coming along very nicely. Did you like the way her throat felt between your fingers? Soft...and warm...and yielding?*

"Stop it!!! please...please...I'm not a killer...You killed her and used me as your tool," the prisoner cried.

*You do the work and feel the euphoria when it's successfully completed.*

"You make me feel that. I know it isn't me!" The prisoner glared at the blank walls.

*This time we didn't do anything. You got the rush all...by...yourself!*

"Liar! You're lying to me. It wasn't me! It wasn't!" I am not a killer. I am not. I am not.

*Wasn't it? Haven't you wanted to kill
lately? You almost killed that guard this morning and you would have slit his throat given the opportunity. Today you simply had the opportunity.*

"You moved my body, I didn't. I didn't kill her." The prisoner was standing now, glaring up at
the video camera in the corner of the room.

*You're a killer and it's time you accepted that. Besides, how do you know who you were before you came here? You don't, so I'll tell you. You are a serial killer and we pulled you off death row. You killed because you enjoyed it. You still do and you'll admit it if you look deep inside yourself. You belong here with us.
Killer...killer...killer...kille r...killer ...*

"No!!!...No...no...no...." The prisoner fell to his knees, his hands over his ears to block out the Voice.

8:30 p.m.

Skinner looked at his watch and decided it was time to move out. It wasn't as dark as he wanted it but he didn't know how long it would take to find Mulder and the video cameras would only be out until 10:00 p.m. He didn't have much time.

He went to the trunk and found the clothes he'd brought. Stripping off the suit and tie, he changed into black jeans, sneakers, a turtleneck and black stocking cap. It
wouldn't do, he thought with a grim smile, to have any reflection off the top of his head. He strapped on the small fanny pack he'd prepared.

He started the car and drove back to the facility, parking the car on the other side of the brick wall under some overhanging trees. He scanned the map for the last time with a small flashlight. Okay, he was as close to Mulder's building
as he could get. Time to move.

He clipped a rope to the car's front bumper and threw it over the wall. He scaled the wall easily and dropped to the other side, ducking behind some shrubs. The building had exterior lighting but not nearly as efficient as he'd seen at more elaborate security facilities. This was more like what you'd see outside an office building. They were
obviously relying on the remoteness of the location to discourage intrusion.

Skinner carefully made his way across the dirt to the side of the building and the exterior door he'd noted. It was in shadow and should be accessible. When he got to the door he had his doubts. The safety glass had been broken recently and the window on the door boarded up. Hope it still opens, he thought as he punched in a security code on the keypad. He sighed with relief when the doorlock clicked. He carefully opened it and squeezed inside, shutting it quietly behind him.

The hallway was featureless with a series of doors lining it. No markings, but this should be section A as Gordon had described it. No way to see who or what was inside without opening each one and he wanted to avoid that....wait. Here's one of the locals. I think he can help.

A door had opened and one of the guards came out. Skinner moved silently behind him, and grabbed the man holding a knife to his throat and the other hand over his mouth. The guard froze and Skinner dragged him down hall to a darkened corner. "Don't yell or I'll kill you. Do you understand?" Skinner hissed.

The guard nodded. Skinner took his hand off his mouth but let the knifeblade sit against the man's throat. "Take me to Fox Mulder's cell."

The guard shook his head. "We don't ever know their names," he whispered.

"You've nicknamed him Houdini because of his escape attempts," Skinner whispered back. "Where is he?"

The guard snorted. "Him? You can have him and welcome. This way," he began to move away but Skinner held the knife against him.

"No, tell me where he is,"
Skinner said.

"And have you kill me now? No thanks."

"Nothing would give me more pleasure after what I saw today. If you don't tell me, I will kill you where you stand and find another way to get to him," Skinner gritted his teeth and pressed the knife in deeply enough for a trickle of blood to come.

"Okay, okay! Take it away!" Skinner eased off and the guard caught his breath. "Go down this hall, turn right. First door on your left."

Skinner pulled a hypo from his pocket and uncapped it. "Thank you," he said and jabbed it into the man's shoulder. When the guard collapsed, Skinner dragged him back to the door, tied and gagged him, then shoved him outside under a bush. He reentered the
building and followed the guard's
instructions, down this hall, turn right.

The first door on the left looked like any other door. He listened. No sound. Did the guard lie to him? He pulled a lock pick set from his fanny pack and quickly got the lock open. Still hearing nothing, he opened the door a crack and poked his head in.

The light bulb hanging from the ceiling was bright, shining on bare white walls, a gray linoleum floor, sink, toilet and a single cot. One person there in a black jumpsuit huddled under a blanket facing the wall, asleep or unconscious.

"Mulder," Skinner hissed. "Mulder! Wake up!" He looked up and located the video camera in the corner of the ceiling. He propped the door open a crack with a square of cardboard and went inside.

He knelt next to the bed and gently shook the man's shoulder, then jumped back when the sleeper erupted from the cot and, giving Skinner a panicky
look, backed into the far corner of the room.

"Mulder?" Skinner said gently. "Mulder, it's me, Skinner. I'm here to get you out."

"Who's Mulder?" asked the man quietly. He stared at Skinner intently. "You don't look like one of them."

"I'm not. I'm your friend. We have to move fast; we don't have much time," Skinner backed toward the door and opened it. "Come on. Can you walk?"

Mulder looked up at the video monitor, "I'll make it."

He and Skinner went back up the hallway to the doorway Skinner had entered at and
stopped. "Wait," whispered Mulder urgently. "The door's alarmed. I should know," he added ruefully.

Skinner grinned. "But I have the key." He punched in the security code and heard the click as before. "Come on."

Mulder grinned back and followed Skinner out the door. It had gotten darker, Skinner was glad to note. He motioned for Mulder to follow him, then noticed that Mulder was barefoot. He pointed to his feet
questioningly. "Shoes?" he mouthed.

Mulder shook his head, then made shooing motions with his hands. "Let's go!" he
mouthed. Skinner nodded and moved out.

He could hear Mulder behind him, stumbling occasionally. Granted, he was barefoot and was hardly in a condition for field sports after a month of this place, but he didn't seem to be walking well. He stopped and waited for Mulder to catch up and saw that the man's left foot was dragging. Just then, Mulder's left leg gave way and he fell. Skinner scurried forward and helped him up.

"Gotta keep going," Mulder whispered
urgently. "Get out of here!"

Skinner slipped an arm under Mulder's
shoulders and supported him the last ten yards to the wall. Skinner stopped and knelt at the base of the wall, near the rope. "Step on my shoulders and climb over. Use the rope to steady you, then drop to the other side as quietly as you can."

Mulder nodded and climbed onto Skinner's shoulders, then up the wall. Skinner rose and boosted him over, then heard him drop. Good. Skinner gave a last look around, then climbed the wall himself, retrieving the rope on the other side. Mulder was already in the car, so he threw the coil into the back seat and slid into the driver's seat. He closed the door and moved the car out.

No pursuit. Good. A nice clean extraction. Mulder watched him, then looked at him with a serious expression.

"You need to tie me up or cuff me or
something. I'm dangerous to you." Mulder stopped at Skinner's shocked look. "They can make me kill you. I already killed someone else today," he said quietly, his
eyes haunted.

"You really want this?" he asked. He had considered the danger but decided to chance it given the trauma Mulder had already been through.

"I don't want to kill anybody else," Mulder said, his voice breaking off.

Skinner swallowed hard. "There are two pairs of cuffs in the glove box." He pulled over and carefully cuffed Mulder's hands behind his back as well as his ankles. Then he hit the tripometer on the dashboard and got the car under way again. "Their devices have a 2 mile limit. We'll know when we get there."

Glancing at him from the corner of his eye, Skinner noted the bruises and cuts on
Mulder's ankles and wrists.
He quickly focused back on the road.

They were silent for a while, then Mulder spoke. "Excuse me, but is Mulder my first name? Do I know you...uh...Skinner?"

Skinner smiled. "No, your full name is Fox William Mulder but you don't like your first name. I'm Walter Skinner, your boss."

"Oh. Do you rescue all your employees like this?"

"Only the ones who owe me money," Skinner answered.

April 9, 2002
Undisclosed location

Scully stared thoughtfully at the body before her. All she'd been asked was the cause of death but absent tox screens and other
pending tests she thought she knew. The man had had multiple implants in his brain. She'd heard about abductees who claimed single brain implants but these were different from anything she'd heard of. The ones she'd removed were made from an unknown substance which, under the microscope, seemed composed of a mix of organic and non-organic
materials. It was almost as though they'd been grown. And, more unusual, the implants had sprouted tendrils, almost like roots that had invaded virtually all the victim's brain tissue.

Judging by the healing of the cranial scars, the man had had surgery about a month ago. He'd had multiple aneurysms near the implant sites. Two of them had burst and killed him. If they hadn't
either the other three aneurysms would have or he'd have died of one of the ministrokes. As far as she could tell from the CT scan, he'd had at least seven.

He would certainly have had warning. He probably had had headaches, dizziness,
weakness on one side of the body and stroke like symptoms before it killed him. She wondered why the Smoker had wanted her
opinion about this obvious victim of one of the Consortium's programs.

Obediently, she dictated her
report and filled out the necessary forms left for her. She was still wondering as she showered and dressed. She punched the
intercom and wondered briefly whether they would really let her go, but to her surprise Krycek appeared at the door promptly and escorted her back to the car.

April 9, 2002
6 p.m.

Five hours later, to her astonishment, she found herself deposited in front of the Hoover building.

She quickly went into the building and the basement office and sat down at the desk, dialing the number for the Los Angeles
Coroner's Office. "Yes, this is Agent Dana Scully. I'm calling to find out whether the autopsy report is in for Crystal
FeatherFree...Yes, I'll hold."

She drummed her fingers and hoped that
Crystal had simply died of an aneurysm or something explainable but had a feeling it wasn't going to be that easy. "Hello, yes, I'm Agent Dana Scully..."

"Hello Agent Scully, I'm Dr. Paul Harland, the night-shift coroner. I'm glad you called. I wanted to discuss the report with you."

Scully blinked. It was unusual to get more than a bored clerk. "Anything you can tell me would be helpful. Could you fax me a copy of the report?"

"Of course. I did want to ask you, Agent Scully, do you know anything about Ms.
FeatherFree's background?"

"Not a lot. She was a fortuneteller in Santa Cruz. Why?"

Harland cleared his throat, "Well, I found a foreign object embedded in her brain. It's not anything I've ever seen before but it looks like a small piece of
electronic equipment. Strange, though, I can't identify the substance."

Scully frowned, "She also claimed to be a long-term abductee and non-consensual test subject. What you've found is commonly known as an implant."

"Well, that implant is what killed her," Harland replied harshly. "It looks like she's had it for several years and it's been
progressively weakening the blood vessels in the area of the implant. She'd had a number of mini-strokes over the years but the
aneurysm is what finally killed her when it burst."

"I see," Scully tried to catch her breath. "Did the implant you found have tendrils extruding from it?"

"Yes, it does. That's the strangest thing. They're almost like roots that have buried themselves in the tissue of her frontal lobe. was only able to remove my sample by removing brain tissue.Is there anything else I can tell you?

"I'm looking forward to your report. You have my fax number? Good. Thank you." She put the phone down gently into its cradle and stared at it. Well, now she knew. The only thing left was to see whether Mulder had any
implants and if so, how many.

April 9
Road 437
1 mile

"Uh...Skinner? Do you have something I can use for a blindfold?"

"I have a tie in the back seat. Why?" Skinner noted Mulder's fearful expression.

"I'm not sure whether they can see through my eyes. They certainly read my thoughts when I was there. I don't want them following after us."

Skinner was silent, then snagged the tie from the floor behind Mulder's seat. "I don't feel comfortable with this. You're trussed up more thoroughly than even they had you back at that facility. And I don't like stopping again until we're safely
out of the area."

"Please. I don't want to hurt or kill anyone and I don't want to go back there. If this prevents them from finding me, I don't care how silly it looks." Mulder's voice cracked with emotion.

"It's your choice," Skinner said calmly, and pulled the car over again. He tied the
tie across Mulder's eyes firmly and restarted the car again. There was silence, then
Skinner heard Mulder breathing hard. "Mulder, what's wrong?"

Mulder had turned pale and stiffened in his seat. "No. No, I won't, you lying bastards. And this time you can't make me!"

"They found you?" Skinner asked, flooring the gas pedal.

"The Voice has. It talks to me in my mind and reads my thoughts. Yes, I'm talking about YOU, you bastard!" Mulder bent over hard, his face a mask of agony.

"Are you okay? Should I stop?" Skinner kept one eye on the narrow road and the other on Mulder. His body began jerking, trying to work its way loose from the cuffs and
seatbelt. Skinner gunned the car even faster. He hung a sharp turn when the road ended and the freeway frontage road began.

Mulder didn't answer. He was sweating
profusely and his breathing came ragged. Skinner didn't like the sound of that but the car was already going too fast for
conditions.

He checked the tripometer. They'd gone a mile and a quarter; not far enough. Mulder was struggling in the seat and muttering to the Voice about what it could do with itself.

"What's it doing to you?" Skinner asked tensely.

"It's...punishing me...for disobeying.
Huh...I can't obey you rat-bastard! How do you like that? I'm tied down and I can't see!" Mulder gave a triumphant
shout then grew quiet, listening.

"What's it saying now?" Skinner kept an eye on the tripometer. A mile and a three
quarters.

"The Voice says that if I don't come back to them, they'll kill me. They'll turn off my heart."

"We've got half a mile to go. Keep it
talking." Skinner pushed the gas pedal hard, hoping the Taurus could handle it.

"Whatever you do, don't stop. Just keep go..." Mulder began gasping for breath and his face turned dead white.

"Mulder? Oh shit!" Mulder had stopped
breathing. That's right, they could stop his heart too. "Hang on, Mulder. Just 3/4 of

a mile. Hang in there. Don't die on me.

Scully would never forgive me. Just don't

die, dammit..."

Mulder grew still and slumped in his

seatbelt. Skinner prayed and drove.

Two point one miles, finally. He slewed the

car into the first wide spot and killed the

engine, then sprinted around to the passenger

side. He unbuckled Mulder and pulled him out

of the seat onto the gravel and looked for a

pulse. Nothing. Shit shit shit....

Skinner began CPR.

Invisible War, Part 6
Author's Note: The Lone Cabbage Resort can actually be found in Florida near Orlando. Parked on a wide spot on the highway, they offer burgers, gator sandwiches and airboat rides. Truly the experience of a lifetime, you should go there! And not related at all to the completely imaginary motel I've
located in Clovis.

And thanks again to Donnaj for keeping up the archive and to Gail (Mulderache), my medical consultant!

The Invisible War (6/?)

Skinner kept working on Mulder's still body. He found himself cursing under his breath: Come on, dammit, breathe! Don't you die on me, Mulder...

He'd waited too long to pull over. Should have stopped sooner. But if he'd stopped short of the two mile mark they'd have shut Mulder down again. Keep forcing air inside, pump on his chest, breathe Mulder....I take back everything I ever said about you being a screwup....

He felt a slight movement under his hands and checked Mulder's throat for a pulse. A beat. Two. Regular rhythm and he was breathing. Thank God. Skinner sat back on his heels with his head back and closed his eyes in relief. Damn, that was too close...He felt a fine rain starting to fall on his face and came back to himself. Mulder was unconscious but breathing. Better get him out of the weather and get the hell as far away as possible. Those sons-a-bitches had cars too.

He hoisted Mulder back into the passenger seat and draped him with his suitcoat for lack of a blanket, then strapped him
carefully in. He hopped into the driver's seat, locked all the car doors and floored the gas. The car took off with a squeal.

He didn't see any headlights behind them and hoped they'd gotten far enough away. Mulder's breathing sounded steady, so he allowed himself to relax just a bit. But not too much. Now what? "Gotta get you to a hospital, Mulder," Skinner said under his breath. "And get those damned implants out."

"No..." said a hoarse voice from the
passenger seat."No hospitals. Please." Mulder coughed and straightened up a little.

"How do you feel?" Skinner asked anxiously.

"Like I should be watching my cholesterol," Mulder replied. "My head's pounding, though. You got any aspirin?"

"I have some in the trunk but can it wait? I want to get as many miles behind us as
possible. The onramp to highway 99 is just ahead." Skinner glanced at Mulder from the corner of his eye. It was dark in the car but Mulder still looked pale and tired."I'm serious about the hospital. Scully has a friend who's a neurosurgeon."

"No. I can't..." Mulder's head lolled back against the headrest. "No more hospitals. Been in one for a month... Please...I just can't..."

Skinner was silent, watching the road and thinking. "I don't know what to do, Mulder. You need a doctor to look at whatever it is they did to you. Gordon said they put five implants in your brain and it's obvious they can control even your heartbeat from a
distance. You're not safe until those things are out."

"I'm not safe in a hospital. Public place, all they need to do is check hospitals, hit the button and I'm dead."

Skinner sighed. He had a point. "Well, the tinkering they did in your brain didn't affect your IQ any. You're right. We have to get you into a less populated area. I think I may know a place but it'll be a while before we get there. Think you can make it?"

Mulder nodded then winced. "Yeah. Think I'll sleep now. Don't tell me where or take off the blindfold until we're inside."

"Good idea. I'll wake you when we get there."

Skinner kept the car going just ten miles over the speed limit, but watched for traffic cops just the same. What did they call them here? CHP, that was it. God only knew what a CHP officer would think if they got pulled over. Yes officer, I'm driving along with my friend who's blindfolded, cuffed and shackled and dressed in what looks like a prison jumpsuit. Skinner shook his head. His life had been much more peaceful before Mulder entered it. Must be that Chinese curse
working overtime; yes, he lived in very interesting times.

How on earth were they going to get the implants out if Mulder couldn't stand a hospital? Skinner glanced at him and listened for his breathing. Deep and steady. Good. Gordon had only given a high level outline of what had been done to him, but Skinner could hazard a few guesses. He couldn't get the picture of that 'murder' out of his head. That made him angry all over again. If only he could have grabbed that remote, done something to prevent this. He was there, maybe jumped Gordon? No, He'd have joined Mulder in the "Treatment" room. Distracted him? Could he have stopped it? The anger roiled in his stomach with a vague sense of guilt. And God only knew how Mulder would react when the adrenalin wore off.

The rain started to come down harder, so Skinner turned up the windshield wipers but didn't slacken speed. He passed truck after truck, keeping to the fast lane and tried to remember just how you got to Clovis,
California. Just outside Fresno, raisin capitol of the U.S....

Time passed on a road that was flat, straight and featureless. He was startled when he heard a choking sound from Mulder. Then a low moan, "No...no...don't make me. I'm not a killer. I'm not. NO! Please don't make me kill her...kill Scully...No!"

"Mulder? Wake up! Mulder, can you hear me?" Skinner reached out his right hand and
grabbed Mulder's shoulder. Feeling the touch, Mulder cringed away as far as he could push himself. Skinner jerked back his hand.
"Mulder? Can you hear me? It's me, Skinner. You're here with me. Is the Voice back?"

"Skinner? No. No, the Voice isn't back. Just a nightmare. I was...killing someone. That part wasn't a dream, was it? I really
k..killed a woman today."

"I saw. I was on the other side of that twoway mirror," Skinner kept one eye on Mulder as he drove. "You didn't do it; they forced you."

"I dreamed I was killing somebody I cared about. A friend. Scully. Who is Scully?"

Now there was a question for the ages. Just who was Scully to Mulder? "She's your friend. She works with you."

"Did I kill Scully?" Mulder's voice was low and trembled. "Did I kill a friend?"

"No. It wasn't her. The woman looked a lot like her but she was a stranger to me."

"Oh." Mulder relaxed a bit, then tensed. "They did that on purpose, didn't they? Made me kill a woman who would remind me of
someone I...loved."

"I think so," Skinner kept his voice level, brutally squelching the rage that had started boiling up inside him again. Not yet. Can't let it out yet. I can't frighten this man, he's been through too much already.

"My memory is coming back, then. It...hurts. They conditioned us to keep from trying to remember." Skinner heard a rustling sound and saw Mulder huddle next to the window again.

"Gordon said you've broken the conditioning once before. They didn't believe that the amnesia was very strongly implanted in you. I think you're breaking through again. Take your time, there's no hurry Mulder."

Mulder sat up. "Gordon. Is that the name of the man in the labcoat?"

Skinner gave him a compassionate look. "Yes. He's the one who was in charge of you, of what they did to you. He's quite a piece of work. I wouldn't mind meeting him alone in a dark alley some time."

"Don't. He's mine," said Mulder quietly.

"Mulder...the violence came from them. It's not in you, not unless you allow it to be." Skinner wasn't sure what Mulder was thinking but he didn't like the note in his voice.

"I have some memories, just bits and
fragments. I see myself with a gun, chasing and shooting at someone. They...the ones who...they told me I was a serial killer they'd taken off death row. They said that killing is natural to me; that's why I enjoy it," Mulder's face twisted as he forced the last words out. "I don't know who I am. They might be right. And I want to kill Gordon. With my bare hands, I want to feel the life squeeze out of him."

"They're wrong, Mulder," Skinner said
intensely. "I've known you for at least five years and they lied to you about everything."

Mulder was silent and Skinner went on. "You are an agent for the Federal Bureau of
Investigation. You investigate unusual cases for a department called the X Files which I supervise. Your partner is Dr. Dana Scully, a pathologist and you two are the finest pair of investigators I've ever worked with. You are not a criminal, a murderer or a killer. You are probably the most moral person I have ever known and I owe you my career and my freedom." Skinner felt his voice shake and stopped talking.

Mulder turned his head away and asked in a flat voice, "Then why do I want to kill Gordon so much?"

"You have cause, Mulder," Skinner said. "But wanting to kill and doing it are two
different things. You can choose not to kill. The creature they were trying to make is denied a choice."

Mulder was silent for a long time and Skinner heard him breathing hard.

"Mulder? You okay?"

"Yeah. I think so. It hurts to try to recall it, but some of it's coming back... You. I remember you. I remember! You were pissed at me because of the last expense report I submitted. You said it was unreasonable to ask for a reimbursement for dry-cleaning two suits covered with slime."

"Of course I was. Departmental policy says that normal wear and tear isn't reimbursable and your getting slimed is normal wear
and...Mulder, you remembered!" Skinner found his grin matched by Mulder's. "Anything else?"

"I remember the basement office...and...and Scully. Scully! Where is she?"

"She made a deal to get you out." Skinner stopped and saw the tight-lipped expression on Mulder's face.

"Who with? Skinner, did she deal with the Smoker? Dammit, what did she agree to?"

"She's performing an autopsy for him. We have his assurance that she'll return safe and sound," Skinner could hear his voice fading away in the face of Mulder's anger.

"And we both know how good his word is, don't we?" Mulder cried then suddenly leaned
forward gasping.

"Mulder, she'll be fine. She's a trained FBI agent and can defend herself....Mulder? Are you all right? What's wrong? Should I pull over?" Skinner eyed Mulder.

"No, don't stop the car," Mulder gritted out. "We need to get as far as we can. My head is pounding, that's all. I think I need to be quiet for a while."

"Try to sleep if you can. It's a long way."

Mulder just nodded and rested his head
against the headrest.

10 p.m.
Lone Cabbage Motel
Clovis, California

Skinner looked at the neon sign advertising cabins with kitchenettes. It looked safe and certainly remote enough. He didn't think they'd be searching the wilds of Fresno for Mulder. He pulled the car into an unlit parking space.

"Mulder? Wake up. We're here." Skinner kept his voice low and neutral.

"Huh? We are?" Mulder asked in a groggy voice.

"I need to go in and get us a room. I'll be back in a few minutes. Will you be okay?"

"Yeah. I'll be fine."

Skinner got out of the car and went into the office. The night clerk was a bored twenty year old behind a desk chewing a wad of gum. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, I'd like a cabin for me and my brother. Do you have one with two bedrooms?"

"Sorry, those are all taken. I got a studio with a bed and a pull-out couch. Will that do?"

"I think so, but I'd like to make sure it's well off the road. I'm...ah...a light sleeper and don't like traffic noise."

"Number 17'll work for you. Credit card?" The kid grabbed a key off a rack and set it on the counter.

Skinner reached for his wallet, then
remembered how easy it was to track credit cards electronically. This life on the run thing was out of his normal experience.

"I don't believe in them. How about a cash deposit or something? Good. How much?..."

Ten minutes later he was back at the car.

"So, do we have a room?" asked Mulder
tiredly.

"Yes, let's take a look. It should be in the back." Skinner started the car and followed the map the kid had given him past a series of buildings, large and small, until he found a single cabin in a grove of pine trees. He parked the car as far under the trees as he could fit it, then turned off the headlights.

He got out of the car and opened Mulder's door, unlatching the other man's seatbelt. "We're here. I'd better take the restraints off."

"Just the feet and keep the blindfold on." Mulder swung himself around the seat and waited while Skinner undid the cuffs on Mulder's ankles.

"There isn't much to see. Are you sure?" Skinner asked.

Mulder nodded. "I don't want to take any chances. And be sure not to mention where we are. What I know, they might find out."

"All right. I'll guide you in." He helped Mulder get out of the car and stand up
shakily.

Mulder took a step forward and lurched to the left a bit before he caught himself. "Sorry. My left foot is kind of numb. Okay, I'm good. Let's go in."

Skinner alternately supported Mulder and led him up the steps and into the cabin. Inside, Skinner turned on the lights and closed the blinds. "Okay, I'm taking the blindfold off now." He untied the tie and stepped back to get a real look at the cabin.

The kid had been right. It was a studio, he supposed. It was a single big room with a small kitchenette with table and chairs in the corner, a sagging bed on one wall and an old leather couch on the other with a
battered television set on a stand. A print of two sad-eyed children with an equally sadeyed puppy stared down at them from the wall over the bed.

"Can't beat the ambiance," commented Mulder, limping over to the couch and sitting down.

"Let me get the cuffs off," Skinner reached for his key, then saw Mulder hesitate. "You can't mean to live in those things, do you?"

"I could hurt you without ever wanting to," Mulder said tensely.

Skinner folded his arms across his chest. "No offense, Agent Mulder, but I could take you any day of the week and right now you aren't even in the best of health." Skinner stopped and looked at the expression on Mulder's face, then sighed. "All right, I'll make you a deal. When I go to bed, I'll cuff you to something so you can't kill me in my sleep. Otherwise, just trust me when I say that I can defend myself." Skinner grabbed the Mulder's handcuffs with one hand and unlocked them with the other. "You're okay for now. I'm going outside to get the luggage. I'll be right back."

Mulder nodded and sank back into the couch. It was comfortable and somehow familiar. Comfortable wasn't something he'd had a lot of lately. He grabbed a pillow and tucked it under his head, then stretched out on the couch. He knew that his insistence on
security was annoying Skinner but he wasn't going to hurt anybody against his will ever again. Not if he died for it.

Skinner brought in his suitcase and the first aid kit, then went back for the cooler he'd bought. He was glad he'd thought to pack food in case Mulder was hungry. He wasn't sure he wanted to leave him for any length of time until Scully could get here.

He saw Mulder laying on the couch and was alarmed until he saw his chest moving. Just sleeping. It was probably the best thing for him. Skinner had planned to give Mulder the bed but didn't have the heart to wake him up and this way he didn't have to cuff him again. He went to the bed and grabbed the blanket off it then carefully draped it over Mulder.

Sitting on the bed, Skinner pulled out his cellphone and turned it on. There was only one voicemail message, from Scully. He dialed his voicemail and listened to her message:

"Sir, I'm calling from the Hoover Building. I got back safely and am planning on boarding a plane to Los Angeles tonight. It's due to leave at midnight and should arrive at LAX at about 6:00 a.m. local time. I'll sleep on the plane and be ready to meet you when I arrive. Please call my cell and let me know where to meet you and what Mulder's condition is."

Skinner picked up the phone and quietly stepped outside the front door and made a call to Scully's cell phone from the front porch. "Agent Scully, I have Mulder with me but for reasons I'll explain later haven't been able to take him to Dr. Lewiston. When you land, rent a car and phone me when you get to the parking lot. I'll give you
directions then. Be aware that you may be followed and take all precautions to prevent that."

He closed the phone and stood quietly for a while. The rainstorm had cleared and he could see the stars bright above him. They were much brighter than what he could see in DC. Come to think of it, this town was about an hour from Yosemite. Such beauty and so close to such terrible things.

Mulder. What do I do? he thought. He felt responsible for Mulder's condition, as though he'd caused it somehow. He sure hadn't
prevented Gordon from forcing Mulder to murder that girl. Could he have stopped it? Caused a distraction somehow? Why hadn't he? Come on Walt, a little voice piped up. You know the real truth and it's been this way for years. You're a coward; you always were more concerned about saving your own ass, your pension, your career than anything else. Mulder's been the courageous one: demanding the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or dangerous it might be, daring to look at monsters that left you terrified.

Skinner shifted position uncomfortably. He felt vaguely ashamed of all the times he'd run for cover and let Mulder take the heat. Now Mulder was near breaking and he'd done nothing to prevent it. Hell, he didn't know what to do for him now. He could only hope Scully would get here soon.

Skinner went back into the cabin to find Mulder still asleep. Relieved, he set the bedside clock-radio for 6 a.m. then stretched out on the bed fully dressed. He left the kitchen light on for a nightlight and drifted off into a light sleep.

He woke to the sound of a shower running. Mulder wasn't on the couch any more, probably showering that mental hospital off himself. Skinner pulled his glasses on and checked the clock. Two a.m. Oh well, he'd just keep an ear open in case Mulder needed anything. He dozed, then checked the time. Two thirty and Mulder was still in there. Two forty-five and Skinner debated whether he should check on him, then realized Mulder could have passed out in there and got up quickly.

He tapped on the bathroom door, "Mulder, are you okay in there?" No answer but he heard movement. "Mulder? Okay if I come in? Are you all right?" When there was still no answer, Skinner opened the door and half-stepped into the bathroom.

The small bathroom was dense with steam, the floor covered with moisture. Skinner fanned his hand in front of his face and squinted against the condensation on his glasses. He could see the outline of Mulder's form
against the shower curtain.

"Mulder? Are you all right?" When he still heard no answer, Skinner made his way forward and pulled the shower curtain aside.
"Mulder....Oh my God! What are you doing?"

The bath water ran pink with blood mixed with soapsuds. Mulder was assiduously scrubbing his hands and forearms with a scrub brush and soap he'd found in the bathroom. He had clearly been doing so for a long time. He'd scrubbed long gouges into his skin and the scabs on his hands had broken open and were bleeding freely.

Skinner reached into the shower and turned off the taps. When the water stopped, Mulder seemed to waken and noticed Skinner's
presence.

"What are you doing, Mulder?" Skinner asked in shock.

"I can't get clean. I keep washing and I still feel so dirty..." Mulder broke off and began to reach for the taps again.

Skinner stopped him, taking the soap and scrub brush from his hands. "No, Mulder. It isn't going to help. It wasn't your fault." He snagged a towel from the towel bar and draped it around Mulder, then put his arm around his shoulders and helped him out of the tub. Mulder blinked but let himself be led into the main room.

Skinner sat him on the corner of the bed and wrapped the blanket from the couch around him. "Wait here while I get the first aid kit. Don't touch anything with those hands until I bandage them. Okay?" He waited for Mulder's nod, then got the kit. He thought hard while rummaging through the first aid materials. Scully had packed plenty of gauze and anti-bacterial but Mulder's chief ailment right now wasn't anything he could treat with band-aids.

"Here you go," Skinner made his voice calm as he approached Mulder and pulled up a chair next to him. "Let me see your hands."

Mulder quietly stuck his hands out and
Skinner winced. What skin remained was fiery red and abraded, although Mulder seemed unaware of any pain. He took the
antibacterial and spread it liberally over the wounds, noting ironically that at least they were very clean. He bandaged both hands and forearms with gauze and scooted his chair back. Neither man had said a word during the entire process. Skinner looked at Mulder and sighed. He'd seen that expression before, times when Mulder was too hurt or upset to talk to anyone. Except maybe Scully. Well, she wasn't here right now and he hoped to God she'd get here soon. But until then all Mulder had was a sorry ex-Marine.

Skinner went to his suitcase and pulled out a pair of gray sweatpants and t-shirt. "Why don't you wear these for now. I think I'll make a pot of coffee. You want some?" Skinner waited for Mulder's nod, then got up and found the coffee pot he'd seen and began to fill it with coffee grounds. He kept an eye on Mulder and noted with relief that he was slowly dressing himself in the sweats. Mulder wandered over to the kitchen table, wrapped in the blanket in spite of the sweats, and quietly watched Skinner's preparations.

Skinner gave him a cup and poured one for himself, then sat down opposite. They were silent for a while, sipping the coffee
companionably. Then Mulder spoke.

"I...I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know what I was doing. Not exactly." He wouldn't meet
Skinner's eyes.

"I know. Sometimes it's hard to deal with things you don't understand. Guilt can be bad," Skinner sipped his coffee. "But shame is the worst."

Mulder looked up. "You know..."

Skinner grimaced and put his cup down,
meeting Mulder's gaze. "I know. I was there, on the other side of that damned window. I saw everything. Everything." Now it was Skinner's turn to look away. "I know what commands Gordon gave you and how little choice you had. I saw your face while it was happening and it wasn't your fault. None of it was."

"You don't understand. They've done something to me..." Mulder looked away. "I...when I killed anything they gave me a reward, a sort of jolt of...of pure pleasure. When I killed that woman I had it again, stronger than ever. They told me...they told me that they didn't do it. I felt that myself because I enjoyed it. I never want to enjoy killing another human being." His voice fell to a whisper.

"Another lie, Mulder. Gordon did it and I saw him press the button. That was part of the conditioning. You have to believe me."
Skinner looked for some sign that his words had gotten through.

Mulder gave him a rueful smile. "If it wasn't my fault, then why do I feel so guilty?" His smile disappeared and he started shaking his head as though trying to clear it. "The headache's back, 'n I jus can't get rid of it." He looked up, frightened. "Harrd t'talk suddn'y."

Skinner frowned, pushing down panic. "Maybe I should call the paramedics. We don't know what they did to you..."

"No hospitals! I don't wanta be locked up again...don't want..." Mulder trembled with so much emotion that Skinner backed off.

"Okay. No hospital. Scully will be out in the morning and she'll look at you then. I'll give you a couple of aspirin. Maybe it'll help. Do you think you can sleep some more?" He fished the aspirin bottle out of the first aid kit and gave two aspirins to Mulder, who gulped them down with the last swig of his coffee.

"I c'n sleep." Mulder got up unsteadily and carefully put the empty cup back on the table. He began wobbling over to the couch.

"Do you want the bed? You might be more comfortable," Skinner moved in closer to catch him if he dropped.

Mulder gave him a lopsided grin. "No, f'r some reason th' couch seems right." He sat down suddenly and stretched out, taking the blanket Skinner handed him and draping it over himself.

"Good night," Skinner said and lay down on his bed. He heard a muffled "G'night" as he turned off the bedside light.

April 10, 2002
Budget Rent-a-Car Lot, LAX
7:00 a.m.

Dana Scully sat back in the seat and fished for her cell phone. She'd checked her
messages as soon as the plane taxied into the terminal and was relieved that Mulder was safe for now. She was worried about the things Skinner hadn't said, though. Nothing about Mulder's condition. But she hadn't dared to make the call until she was
somewhere private. She dialed Skinner's number.

"It's me, Scully. How is Mulder?"

"Agent Scully, it's good to hear your voice. Are you in the car? Any signs of
surveillance?"

Scully glanced around. "None that I can see. Where are you?"

"We're in the Lone Cabbage Motel in Clovis California, right next to Fresno. Make your way north to Highway 99 and you'll find us."

Scully looked down at the California roadmap next to her on the seat. "I see where you are. I'm on my way. How is he? Can I talk to Mulder?" She put the car into drive and pulled out of the lot.

Skinner's voice sounded ragged. "I'm not sure what his physical condition is. They put implants into his brain to try and turn him into some kind of robot. They are able to take control of his bodily movements, force him to do things he doesn't want to do. And Scully, they can control his body so
perfectly that they can stop his heart."

"Implants?" Scully swallowed hard. "How long ago?"

"About two days ago, I think. His hair is just starting to grow back and the incisions look pretty raw."

"Why didn't you call Evelyn and get Mulder to a hospital? That's where he should be right now!" She tried to keep herself from shouting in rage and frustration but it was difficult.

"Mulder gets ill when I suggest it. After what he's been through he can't stand the idea of being surrounded by people in
labcoats. And worse, their control boxes have a two mile radius. If they find him, they can shut his heart off. They almost killed him last night before we got beyond the two mile radius. I was able to resuscitate, though, and we seem to be out of range for now."

Scully took all this in and considered. "What are his physical symptoms?"

"He's been complaining of severe headaches. They come and go. Occasional slurred speech and he favors his left leg, seems to be limping. They induced amnesia as part of their conditioning but he's regained most of his memory through sheer stubbornness."

"Are the headaches worse when he's upset?" Without waiting for a reply Scully went on. "The body I autopsied was a man, about a month post surgery who had five implants in his brain. They caused the mini-strokes and aneurysms that killed him. Mulder may be suffering from the same effects but I won't know for sure until I see him."

"What should I do? Force him to go to an emergency room?" Skinner sounded doubtful.

"No, don't upset him! The strokes and
aneurysms are caused by high blood pressure secondary to the implants. Keep him calm at any cost. I think I put some benadryl in the first aid kit. Give him two every four hours along with two aspirin as well until I can get there."

"Benadryl? Isn't that an allergy medicine?" Skinner sounded dubious.

"It will make him sleep and and sleeping will lower his blood pressure. The aspirin will act as a blood thinner to keep clots from forming. And don't let him get upset about anything. A spike in blood pressure could kill him. You may not want to tell him all I've told you." Scully was proud that she'd kept her voice on the professional level. She had quietly nudged the car up to 70 miles per hour despite the L.A. traffic.

"Dana, this is Mulder we're dealing with. How likely is it that I'll be able to keep
something like this from him?"

"You'll have to."

The Invisible War, Part 7

Author's Note: The Lone Cabbage Resort can actually be found in Florida near Orlando. Parked on a wide spot on the highway, they offer burgers, gator sandwiches and airboat rides. Truly the experience of a lifetime, you should go there! And not related at all to the completely imaginary motel I've
located in Clovis.

And many many thanks to my medical experts, neurological nurse Gail (Mulderache),
radiologist Jennifer Shepard, and Hawkeye, neurosurgeon!

The Invisible War, part 7

Scully sighed. Skinner could hear the sheer weariness in her voice. "And I just realized, I need to adjust the aspirin dose. I'm sorry, sir. I didn't sleep well on the plane. I kept waking up with
nightmares.... Give him 325 milligrams of aspirin per day; I'm not sure how many
tablets that works out to. You'll have to read the bottle."

"Agent Scully, are you all right?" Skinner asked anxiously. "If you need to rest, you should stop."

"No, sir, I'm fine. I have to get to you and Mulder. I'll rest then.
Can I talk to Mulder?" Scully asked.

"He's sleeping. And I think I should tell you more about the situation. You need to know before you see him."

"What more is there?"

Skinner tried to find the words. "He isn't the Mulder you're used to. Before the surgery they used intensive conditioning techniques on him; they somehow read his mind and
implanted their own commands in his head. The implants only reinforced the commands. When I was there, Mulder was used as a
demonstration for one of the functions these abductees are intended to fill. They're assassins."

"Mulder was a demonstration? How?"

"Dana, he killed a woman on their command. He was forced to look into her eyes while he strangled her to death. And she bore a
striking resemblance to you. He's been
very... affected... by it." Skinner shifted the phone to his other ear and took off his glasses to clean lenses gone suddenly blurry.

"I...see. Does he know that I'm still alive?"

"Yes, he can differentiate. But he still feels strongly about what he was forced to do." Skinner remembered last night and
shuddered. "I found him in the shower last night trying to scrub the guilt out of
himself. He gouged his hands and arms pretty well but I've bandaged them. It will take him a while to bounce back from this."

"I'll be there as fast as I can, sir."


Skinner opened the door into the darkened room and set his cell phone down on the table.

"Was that Scully? She all right?" Mulder sat up groggily.

"Huh? Yes, it was," Skinner said.

"Where is she?" He climbed slowly off the couch and limped over to the table.

Skinner opened the refrigerator and pulled out a box of doughnuts. "I'm glad I thought of these. She's fine. Her plane just landed at LAX and she's driving out. She'll be here about noon. I told her about your
experiences." He glanced up at Mulder then turned quickly away, pulling clean plates from the cupboard. He kept his face averted as he spoke. "She thought you should take aspirin for the headaches and suggested you sleep as much as possible. She wants you to take a couple Benadryl to help you rest."

"I can understand the aspirin but why allergy medicine?" Mulder sat down then yawned and scratched his neck where Skinner's sweatshirt rubbed.

Skinner couldn't meet Mulder's eyes as he put the plates on the table. "I...think she thought that the noise around here might keep you awake. She was very firm that you need to rest." Skinner pasted a bright smile on his face. "And who am I to argue with a doctor?" He put a doughnut on Mulder's plate and slid it toward him then picked a doughnut out of the box for himself and sat down.

"No offense intended sir, but you've always been a rotten liar. You didn't look happy when you came in and since Scully's fine, there must be something wrong with me. And judging by the symptoms I've been having, it must be serious. I'm dying, aren't I?" Mulder munched his doughnut and eyed Skinner thoughtfully

Skinner started coughing, spraying doughnut crumbs across the table. Mulder thumped his back helpfully until he could breathe freely again. "What? How did you...No of course you're not!"

Mulder frowned and put the doughnut down. "Sir, we've always been honest with each other. I think I have the right to the truth, whatever it is. She found something in that autopsy, didn't she?"

Skinner looked questioningly at his agent. Keep Mulder calm. Upsetting Mulder could kill him. Well, he didn't look upset and he'd already guessed the worst. Not telling him would only upset him more. He might as well know the truth. He certainly had a right to it.

"All right. Scully's autopsy involved
another probable abductee who was given multiple implants about a month ago. The implants somehow caused small strokes and brain aneurysms, which ultimately killed him. She told me to keep you as calm and quiet as possible until she could get here. The
aspirin is to thin your blood and prevent clots. The Benedryl is to make you sleep. When you sleep, your blood pressure goes down, reducing the chances that an aneurysm will burst. I'm sorry, Mulder."

Mulder nodded slowly. "It doesn't surprise me after this." He lightly touched one of the surgical scars on his head.

Skinner recalled Gordon's chatter at dinner and contrasted it with Mulder's intent
expression. "I'd love to be the one who brings them down," he said with supressed rage.

"They saw us as objects, useful but
expendable. They brought meals twice a day, took me to and from the Treatment Room but never said a word. When Dr. Gordon...put the implants into my brain he didn't bother to use anesthesia. Why waste chemicals on a piece of furniture?" Mulder shredded the rest of the doughnut into crumbs.

"Even the pain wasn't anything personal. Gordon always looked...disappointed...when he hit that button and half twisted my guts out of my body. After a while you start to wonder whether they're right." Mulder looked up and smiled wryly. .

"Did you know that I fit most of the serial killer profile? A single man, a loner who has trouble forming relationships with women. Had a bad childhood. Big porn collection..." He stared at the pile of crumbs in his plate. "I've been wondering whether they chose me on purpose because of my...propensities or whether I was just an extra fish in their net."

Skinner didn't know what to say or whether he should say anything at all. Scully would have his head if Mulder's blood pressure spiked now. But Mulder obviously needed this. "A collection of pornography doesn't make you a serial killer," he said mildly.

Mulder held up his bandaged hands, his eyes haunted. "No. Killing and enjoying it does." He paused, and then added meditatively,"You know why some of them do it? There's a
strange intimacy in murder. It's just you and your victim, you know. They share their last moment on earth with
you and only you. I've profiled murderers who can only find intimacy in the act of killing their chosen victim. Some of them take
trophies to help them remember and recreate the murder. But that's why they do it." He held out his hands, palms up and stared at them. "Killing her was kind of like that. I could feel her soul in my hands, slipping through my fingers. I felt her life, all her past and her future, pulsing in her throat. And in one act, I took all that away from her." He cupped his hands, then separated his fingers. "And I couldn't stop it."

Skinner didn't like where this was going. "And now you're profiling yourself? You can't. You have no objectivity. Mulder, you're still hurting from everything that happened. You have to let yourself heal. And, at the risk of sounding like your mother, you need to eat something." He pointed to the pile of crumbs on Mulder's plate.

Mulder shook his head and pushed the plate away. "I'm not hungry." He looked up
brightly. "So, does Scully have a treatment for all this?"

"We'll know when she gets here. Until then," Skinner went over to the first aid kit and shook out two Benedryls, then read the
aspirin bottle. He read it again, shook his head and carefully counted out a small
handful of pills. "Here's your first dose. To be repeated in four hours if you're awake."

Mulder took the pills from Skinner and eyed the pile of aspirins, then washed them down with a glass of water. He went back over to the couch and lay down on his side, face to the wall.

Skinner sat for a while and stared at the plate of doughnut crumbs left behind. His own appetite had vanished. He watched Mulder for a while and again felt helpless. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. What can I do? he demanded of himself. He had to do something! He'd never been very
introspective, shying away from emotion or masking it with anger. Or if a problem could be solved by action, he'd be leading the rescue team. But there was nothing here that he could do. Just be there and share Mulder's pain.

Skinner got up and reached for the television remote then caught himself. No television. The station identifiers would tell Mulder where he was. There was nothing for Skinner to do but try to sleep himself. And worry.

Mulder watched Skinner drift off to sleep but found it elusive himself. Too bad they
couldn't turn the t.v. on. He found the background noise soothing but he'd seen Skinner's move toward the remote and
understood why he dropped it. Another bit of data for Them to use to track him down with.

He rested his arm over his eyes and pounded at his memory. He still had gaps but
remembered most of his life. Scully, Skinner, the Lone Gunmen were all back in his head where they belonged. For so long he'd felt like he was losing himself by inches. But he still wasn't sure what They might have
planted in his mind. Recovering memories was only part of it. The Voice had been
conditioning him to obey without question and he'd been forced to listen to it for weeks.

Intimacy. The people he could really call his family were the Lone Gunmen, Skinner and Scully. And relationships with women....At first he'd tried to convince himself that we was not in love with Dana Scully since she so evidently was not smitten with Fox Mulder. He'd dated a little but finally dropped it when he realized he was in deep with Scully. Yes, he had intimacy problems. She'd guard him like a lioness guards her cubs, loyally and fiercely, but wouldn't consider him as a lover. She'd certainly squelched enough innuendoes. When she arrived, she'd be in danger as well as Skinner. And if he ever hurt Scully he couldn't live with it.

He closed his eyes, willing sleep to come. Great. The one time he really had to sleep was the time his insomnia kicked in.
Yesterday kept running through his mind. Was it only yesterday? This time yesterday that woman was alive and breathing. She had family and friends she'd been taken from. She could easily have been Scully.

Her face kept flashing in front of him. She'd had blue eyes, like Scully's, and short coppery hair. While he was killing her he couldn't look away. They had made sure of that. He couldn't tell her how powerless he was, and how very very sorry. She'd spent her last moments looking deep into his eyes, begging for her life and he couldn't look away. They still haunted him.

And then that horrible blast of pleasure had hit him. Skinner kept insisting that he'd been forced into it but the shame and the guilt sat there like twin boulders on his chest. Maybe if this thing killed him it would only be justice done. He couldn't look away. Not then, not now.

He stared at the ceiling, feeling the tears welling up in his eyes and streaming down his cheeks. The past can't be undone, it can only be atoned for. If they ever used him as an assassin again he didn't know what he'd do, it didn't bear thinking about. He pushed the fear deep down and took a shaky breath. The most he could do now would be to keep away from them and make sure that Skinner used security precautions.

"Mulder? Are you all right?" Skinner had sat up in bed and was watching him in the dim light.

"I'll be okay, sir." Mulder said and turned away, pulling the blanket over him until it covered his head.

Skinner wasn't so sure but decided to let it be. Thank God Scully was on her way. He wasn't sure how much more of Mulder's pain he could take.

7:30 a.m. PST
Fletcher Mental Health Institute

An anonymous looking man sat intently focused on a large computer screen. Suddenly he stiffened. "I have him, sir," he said to the man at the terminal next to him. "Should I activate the disposal program?"

The second man slid over. "No! There are special orders about this one. Jerry threw the switch on this one when he escaped and caught hell for it. He was just lucky the subject managed to survive somehow. No, report this to Dr. Gordon. He left orders to be contacted whenever this one was found."

The first man gulped. "This one's assigned to Gordon? Poor bastard." He reached over and picked up the phone. The second man watched him for a while, then ducked into the back of the control room to make his own quiet call.

10:30 a.m. EST (7:30 a.m. PST)
New York

The smoking man leaned forward onto the large conference table, intent on making his point. "As I've indicated before, the management of this program has been seriously deficient since it was transferred from my control. Without my input, I might add. Cost overruns have been substantial with no verifiable results."

"I certainly object to that
characterization," Strughold's voice came from the speakerphone. "The project is on course and has produced the results sought. Our test subjects are completely under our control, the conditioning is working. You have all had reports from your
representatives, haven't you? They were here just yesterday and had a demonstration of the program at work."

"That doesn't explain the high mortality rate among the test subjects," put in the Well Manicured Man. "You can't dispute that the numbers have been unusual."

"Test subjects are easily obtained and are not a cost factor," Strughold countered. "Basic materiel has been used economically and the return on investment will be even greater than projected."

"You already have my audit of cost overruns. I do have one thing more to add." The Smoker reached into his briefcase and took out a pile of reports, handing them to all at the table. "My messenger should be there with a copy of this report, Strughold. Gentlemen, if you will review this autopsy report you'll find that I've been quite accurate in my assessment."

"This autopsy was performed by Dana Scully? How on earth did she happen to do an autopsy for you?" the Well Manicured Man demanded.

The Smoker smiled and took a drag on his cigarette. "She owed me a favor. I think you will all agree that she is impartial in this matter, and her credentials are impeccable. Surely the most credible of all experts."

He picked up the report and held open the last page. "Dr. Scully autopsied a recently deceased test subject from a Washington area satellite of Mr. Strughold's project. As you can see, the test subject was killed by a reaction to the implants. It is her position that they caused the aneurysm that killed him and she doubts that any person so equipped could live more than a year." He slapped the report down onto the table. "And gentlemen, I am safe in saying that NO subject from this project has survived twelve months post surgery."

"How can this be? This project is intended to create moles who can be activated to
assassinate at a moment's notice...." The other elders fell into heated discussion.

A phone rang in the background and an
anonymous looking man brought it to the Smoker. He took it and listened for a bit, then smiled. "Thank you. I'll act on that immediately." He handed the phone back to the assistant then turned to the other men. "Gentlemen, an urgent piece of business requires my attention. I hope you will excuse me."

7:45 a.m. PST
Lone Cabbage Motel
Clovis, California

Mulder's eyes snapped open and he stared at the darkened ceiling.

*Good. You're awake. We've missed some
sessions but we'll make up for lost time... Close your eyes and feign sleep for the duration of our session. You will forget entirely about this session and my commands until you are reminded of it by my Voice...."

10:00 a.m.

Skinner woke with a full bladder and stumbled out of bed, headed for the bathroom. Out of habit he glanced over to the couch to check on Mulder. He was sweating, muttering in his sleep. "No....no...no..."

Skinner stopped and considered waking him up but decided against it. When he came out of the bathroom, Mulder had stopped muttering and was quiet and still. Almost too still. Skinner went over to the couch and knelt next to him to check his vital signs. He was relieved when he saw Mulder's chest move. He picked himself up and wondered which of them was suffering most through all this. Skinner sat down at the kitchen table to watch over him and wait for Scully.

12:00 p.m.

Skinner woke from a light doze and
straightened up. He was still sitting at the kitchen table, his head pillowed in his arms. The room was dim and he saw Mulder's sleeping form on the couch. Still breathing but
muttering again...

He got up and picked a doughnut out of the box. He'd taken a bite when he heard a car engine out front and a car door close.
Putting the doughnut down, he grabbed his weapon and headed for the door.

Looking through the peephole he relaxed and put the gun down. Scully was here finally. He opened the door and stepped out onto the porch.

"Assistant Director Skinner?" Scully tried to look around him into the room as he closed the door. "Where's Mulder? How is he doing?"

"He's sleeping now, I don't want to wake him." Skinner scanned the area for movement. "Were you followed?"

"I don't think so, sir." Scully went over to the car and opened the trunk, pulling out a large sack and a smaller bag. "I stopped at a drugstore on the way in and got a blood pressure monitor and some other things." She brought the sack and bag back to the porch and looked wistfully at the door.

"Before we go in I should tell you that his appearance has changed. He's lost about twenty pounds and all his hair," Skinner gave her a weak smile. "At least now I have more hair than he has." He paused nervously. "And Scully, he knows that the side effects of the implants threaten his life."

"Sir! I told you not to upset him..." She struggled to keep her voice low, for
Skinner's ears only.

"He figured it out on his own and wouldn't let go until I told him. I decided it would be less traumatic just to tell him." He paused. "Dana, he's been denied control over even his own body. At the very least, we need to give him the dignity of the truth." He met her eyes until she nodded and bowed her head. Skinner pushed the door open and let Scully in.

In the dim light she saw Mulder laying on the couch. The blanket had slipped to the floor. Mulder's bones stood out sharply on his face, his eyes dark hollows. His emaciated body swam in Skinner's sweats. The surgical wounds were a rough line of crude stitching crossing his shaved skull. Surgery about two days ago, she estimated. His skin was pink, not
cyanotic, his breathing was unlabored.

She gently let out the breath she'd been holding and walked to the kitchen table. She set down the bag and looked up to see Skinner watching her. She tried to smile but knew it hadn't fooled him. Mulder coughed and they both turned toward him.

Scully went to the couch and leaned over him, smiling down. "Hey," she said softly.

He looked up sleepily, his eyes haunted. "Scully? Hey yourself. You took long enough to get here." He smiled slowly,
then sat up and winced as his head started pounding again. "I hope you brought some good drugs for headache."

She frowned and went back to the table for her bag. "Let's take a look at you, Mulder."

Skinner stood back and watched her examine Mulder. He had to admit she was thorough. She delicately examined his stitches with light fingers. Then she took him through what he recognized as neurological testing, frowned when she tested his left hand grip against the right, nodded as she listened to his breathing and heartbeat. Lastly she opened the sack and took out the blood pressure monitor. "New toy?" Mulder asked with a grin.

"Just for you, G-Man," she replied and began putting the cuff on him. Skinner saw her listen intently then stiffen. She let the air out of the cuff and leaned back in the chair a bit.

"Well?" asked Mulder.

She forced a smile. "It's a little high, but understandable given your recent
experiences." She reached back into the sack and pulled out a prescription bottle. She shook two pills into her hand. Skinner was there with a glass of water before she'd risen halfway out of her seat to get one. "Thanks," she said and handed pills and glass to Mulder.

Mulder looked at her questioningly but
swallowed the pills with a raised eyebrow.

"Lopressor. It'll lower your blood pressure," Scully said. "One last test. Skinner tells me you're favoring your left leg when you walk. Would you walk across the room for me?"

Mulder got up and limped to the table,
stumbling on the way. Skinner caught him and helped him sit on a kitchen chair. "Sorry, Scully. My leg has been doing that lately. It doesn't seem as strong as the other one these days."

Scully sat down at the other kitchen chair and examined Mulder anxiously. " Mulder, I need to discuss your condition with you. Skinner filled me in on the details. You know that these implants make you vulnerable to aneurysms and mini-strokes, called TIA's."

"So I've been told," Mulder replied calmly.

"I can only guess at the implants' effect on you. The only real diagnosis comes from either an MRI or a CT scan. That doesn't mean you have to go to a hospital for that," she held up a hand. "A friend of Evelyn's runs a neurological clinic in town. I've made
arrangements for us to go there today to get you a CT scan. Skinner and I will be there the entire time."

Mulder frowned. "And what if They're there too, with their little control box?"

"We're so far out I doubt they know where you are. And the danger's the same in the clinic as it is in this motel. They're both private environments," Scully replied. "Mulder, you have to do this. Not only could this drop you at any instant, but we need to know how many implants and where they're placed to remove them. We have to know."

Mulder swallowed hard and nodded his head. "All right. When do we go?"

Scully checked her watch. "Evelyn should be there by now, I called her on the way in and asked her to meet me there." She opened her cell phone and made a quick call. "She's there and they're ready for you. We can go now if we want to. They're holding the
machine ready."

"Now?" Mulder said. "I was sort of hoping to get used to the idea first." He caught a look at Scully's face. "Okay."

Fresno Neurological Centre
1:30 p.m.

"Mulder, I still don't understand the need for you to wear a blindfold," Scully
complained.

"I don't want Them to know where we are. It's bad enough that Skinner wouldn't cuff me for the trip. If they get me, I could kill you without blinking an eye. And I really don't want you to shoot me again, okay?" Mulder folded his (unrestrained) arms against his chest with a petulant expression.

Skinner raised his eyebrows at Scully, who returned the look. "There it is," Skinner said with relief, cutting the tense silence short." He turned into the driveway and parked.

Scully helped Mulder out of the car and up the steps. Skinner was glad he'd packed a pair of running shoes in case he decided to work out. They were small for Mulder but fit well enough.

Inside the lobby the receptionist watched in bemusement as Scully took the blindfold off Mulder. Mulder's eyes briefly flicked over then quickly turned away from the large "Fresno Neurological Centre" sign on the wall over the desk.

Scully approached the receptionist. "Dr. Haugen is expecting us, I'm Dr. Scully."

The receptionist nodded and led them to a side door. "Dr. Haugen is waiting for you inside." She stood aside while the three agents went inside. If she thought the
patient's appearance or the fact that he needed two keepers unusual, she said nothing.

The walked into a standard medical
examination room, complete with table.
Skinner and Scully both watched Mulder
closely for a reaction, but Mulder's face remained impassive.
The radiologist, a young man wearing jeans and a t-shirt, was waiting for them and stepped forward to shake Scully's hand. "Hello, I'm Dr. Brian Haugen. Evelyn has told me so much about you, Dana. Please call me Brian. And here is Evelyn..." A tall slender Black woman, also in jeans and t-shirt
approached from the back of the room.

"Dana! It's so good to see you!" Evelyn Lewiston ran over and hugged Scully, lifting her off the floor. Scully just laughed back and was quietly glad she'd told Evelyn about Mulder's fear of labcoats.

"Evie! It's been so long and I'm so glad to see you. And this is Agent Mulder whom I told you about, and this Assistant Director Walter Skinner. Sir, Mulder, this is Dr. Evelyn Lewiston, a neurosurgeon and my med-school room mate." Brian and Evelyn cordially shook hands all around.

"Well, let's get down to business," Evie said. "Agent Mulder, how about I take a look at you?"

Fletcher Mental Health Institute
1:30 p.m.

Dr. Philip Gordon sat down with a satisfied smile. The morning had gone well and past errors had been successfully corrected. He was well satisfied. He punched some numbers on the phone and listened to it ring.

"Yes sir, it's Dr. Gordon. I wanted to give you a status report. Do you remember my telling you earlier today that we had
relocated that missing test subject? Yes. We've made contact and conditioning has been completed. He's been given his target, we simply need to retrieve him and go forward from there. Yes. We know where he is and we'll have him by the end of today."

The Invisible War, Part 8

Author's Note: And many many thanks to my medical experts, neurological nurse Gail (Mulderache), radiologist Jennifer Shepard, and Hawkeye, neurosurgeon!

Part 8

"I'm glad to hear that you've found him," Strughold replied. "When you have him we can make arrangements to transport him to a location near our target. By the way, have you determined just how the subject escaped in the first place?"

Gordon's voice took on a whiny note. "We did a thorough search and it appears that the subject had an accomplice who had our
security codes. We also discovered later that one of the security cameras had been
disabled. I'm very much afraid that we have a traitor in our midst."

"You told me that you'd assured the staff's loyalty! I thought that you had disposed of those working for our tobacco-stained
colleague.

"I'm afraid we misjudged at least one of the staff. I've instituted an investigation to determine who our traitor is and dispose of him."

"You had better. I don't want our plans disclosed." Strughold added with a tone of menace. "Our smoking friend has continued his efforts to regain control over the project. He managed to autopsy one of our research subjects from the D.C. unit. With that paltry evidence and a few figures cobbled from our past reports, he hopes to portray us as incompetent wastrels. Needless to say, he hasn't been successful. Yet. You have hidden our real statistics somewhere safe, I trust?"

"Of course, sir. All of our available records depict a highly successful program. The second set are in my office safe. Only I have access."

"Make sure it stays that way. I want my position in North America to be unassailable before any of that information comes out."

"Yes sir."

Fresno Neurological Centre

The three doctors huddled around the screen showing CT results as they came in. Evelyn Lewiston finally pulled her eyes off the monitor and let out a breath.

"Yes, there's the aneurysm."

And there's another one, less progressed, and two more forming... I can also see evidence of a recent small stroke. That would explain his left sided weakness. But what are those objects near each one? He's got...five
foreign bodies in his brain, each near an extant or forming aneurysm... How very
strange. They seem to be extruding filaments and they look like...no, they are...they're wrapped around and through his brain tissue. It's almost like they're plant rootlets. I have never seen readings like these. Has Agent Mulder had prior aneurysms clipped, coiled or stented before? Those don't look like the right shapes, but I don't know what else they could be."

Scully's voice was dull. "I know what they are." She fell silent.

"Well, what are they? It's unusual that the aneurysms should be in such close vicinity to the foreign objects."

Scully looked at the screen hopelessly. "They're implants. A month ago Agent Mulder was abducted and used as a test subject by a covert group of government scientists. I recently autopsied a man who clearly had been a test subject who had implants in a similar dispersal. He died of aneurysm."

Evelyn frowned. "What are they used for? Monitoring telemetry?"

Scully shook her head. "No, they were and are used for mind control. They have a range of two miles and allow the subject's behavior and autonomic functions to be controlled remotely."

"That's not possible," Evie replied. "Our science hasn't progressed that far..." She turned back to the screen.

"In any case," Scully went on, smiling sadly at her. "I'm theorizing that the implants are causing the aneurysm as well as the
hypertension. I believe that something in the composition of each implant is weakening the neighboring blood vessels."

Brian turned to Scully. "Do you know what those implants are made of? Surely you had an opportunity to analyze the ones from the body you autopsied."

Scully shook her head, wondering just how much to tell. "As far as I know, these are an entirely new compound and probably untested in human beings." She turned to Evelyn
without much hope. "Can you remove the
implants surgically? Repair the aneurysms?"

Evie gave her a long compassionate look. "I can clip the existing aneurysm and it will buy him some time, but the underlying cause for it is still there. It won't be long before more of them develop. And Dana, you can see for yourself where
these...implants... are lodged. The way those rootlike structures have invaded...Honey, I'd kill him on the table. The only people who can take these things out are the people who put them in!"

There was a tap at the door and Brian let Skinner into the control room. "Well? What's the verdict?" he asked tensely. The look on Scully's face told him all he needed to know.

"How long does he have?" Skinner asked, his eyes widening as he saw the scan with five large blobs on it. "Are those the implants?"

"Those are the implants, sir, and they've taken over almost all his brain tissue. Even if we repair his existing aneurysm, the next one could kill him. Or the next after that. And we couldn't get the implants causing it out of him," Scully looked silently at the screen, then turned toward the door. "I should tell Mulder."

Skinner caught at her arm. "Dana, do you want me to do it?"

She shook her head. "No, but thank you sir. But I think Mulder should hear it from me."

Mulder was lying on his gurney, quietly looking at the ceiling tiles overhead. As Scully approached, she noticed his lips moving slightly and she realize he was
counting the perforations in them. "ninety eight, ninety nine...Oh, hi Scully." Mulder looked up at her brightly. "I was just
wishing I had some freshly sharpened pencils. That there is a virgin ceiling!"

Scully grinned despite herself. "I'll see what I can do before we leave, Mulder." She caught his hand in both of hers and hung on.

Mulder's expression grew serious. "Hey, what's this? Why so solemn?" He watched her expression. "It didn't go well, did it?"

"You have more hardware in your head than the average television set," Scully began
shakily. "And...and it looks like it may have to stay there for a while. We're not quite sure how to take it out."

"Well, as long as my television reception stays good, I guess I can live with it," Mulder replied. "Aside from that, what do you have planned?"

"There isn't much we can do, Mulder. You do have an aneurysm and we can try to clip it off to give you some time. But as to the implants, this technology is completely alien to all of us. Evelyn has never seen it
before. And I..."

"You've only seen it in a corpse," Mulder levered himself into a sitting position. and put his other hand on top of Scully's. "So how long do I have and what can I expect?"

She shook her head. "I don't know Mulder. Clipping off the aneurysm will control that one, but there are more forming at the
implant sites. And surgery, especially
clipping multiple aneurysms is very hard on the brain. It could cause lasting deficits for you. We'll work hard to keep your blood pressure down and to avoid spikes. You
probably will have to do desk work from here on in. Chasing mutants is just too exciting for you system now," she gave him a wavering smile.

"So I could drop dead at any minute, is that what you're saying? And surgery to repair the aneurysms could turn me into a vegetable." Mulder asked. Scully nodded.

So this was it, then. Well, he wasn't going to wait a minute longer to say what had to be said. Mulder tightened his grip on her hand and looked into her eyes, taking a deep breath. "Scully, there's something I've been meaning to tell you for some time. I've always cherished our friendship but I've come to know that my feelings for you go deeper than that. I've been trying to tell you for years..."

*Go out to the front of the building. Let nothing stop you.*

Mulder stopped speaking and blinked his eyes hard, then opened them again Noooo! he cried inwardly. No!

"What? Tell me what?" Scully asked softly.

Mulder abruptly let go Scully's hand and got off the gurney. He looked blankly ahead of him and walked toward the examination room door.

"Mulder? Where are you going? You aren't even dressed yet!" She followed him out of the examination room and into the hall, then suddenly realized what must be happening. "They've found you, haven't they. They've commanded you to leave here." She jumped in front of him. "Mulder, you aren't going anywhere."

Mulder tried to sidestep, but Scully was too fast for him, always placing herself in his path.

*Kill her and go out the door. You will be met outside.* NOOOOO!! I won't kill again. And I won't kill her! I can't...Before his eyes he saw his two hands reach forward and wrap themselves around Dana Scully's slender neck. They began to apply pressure slowly, though Mulder mentally bucked and fought it.

I can't let this happen. Not Scully. Not Scully. What can I do? He thought hard. Can't control my body but I do control my emotions. I still have my mind. And I have a high blood pressure and an aneurysm....

Scully's face was purpling. She tried to break his hold on her, first shifting her balance, then trying to jam his chin or face with a fist. But he already knew the
countermoves. She vainly attempted to grab the weapon in her waist holster but couldn't reach it. Her eyes were slowly closing, amid the sounds of her gurgling breath.

Mulder grimly unearthed all the emotions he'd ever felt about Scully, his love for her and his absolute determination to keep her safe and his absolute terror of her dying and leaving him alone. He flogged at his fears for her, remembering when Scully'd been returned, dying. Remembering the cancer and his terrible anger and despair at the men who caused it. He flashed memories of the other red haired woman, the one he'd killed,
pulling out and reveling in the pain of it, the guilt, the shame. I am a killer, he reminded himself. They are making me kill and I don't want to. The headache started up, throbbing somewhere behind his eyes.

Remember the pain...the rage. Anger.
Angry...how dare they steal our
lives!...angry angry angry..rage..He
visualized Gordon's face, impassively
torturing him in that Treatment Room and wished it were Gordon's throat between his hands. He could feel his heart thumping very hard and fast. The headache was worse,
pulsing with his heartbeat. Damn them for taking so much away from him! Damn them for making him hurt this woman! He swam in the rage, embraced it and fed it with all his might.

"Mulder! Let her go!" Mulder dimly heard Skinner's voice and his feet running down the hall. He kept squeezing, conscious that Scully was starting to crumple. Think harder! Gotta do this fast.
Anger...fear...rage...Scully I'm so
sorry...forgive me... His head was pounding harder and harder. God it hurt...push the rage. C'mon blood pressure, spike for
me...Head HURTS...

He felt hands tugging at him, pulling him away from Scully. Skinner grabbed and jerked him away from her. His body began to fight Skinner off, throwing punches toward what he could see of him through his vision had gone suddenly blurry. He tried to rush Skinner but abruptly found himself turned and grabbed from behind in the crook of Skinner's arm in a choke-hold. The grip was tight and he could hear himself gasping for air. His head
pounded...pain PAIN His head was shrieking with agony, it hurt Hurt HURT...

Mulder abruptly collapsed.

Skinner felt the dead weight against his body and released tension. Mudler slipped
bonelessly to the floor. Skinner flashed Scully a look of blind panic and knelt down next to him; Scully skidded in next to him.

She checked his pulse and put a hand on his chest. "He's breathing," she rasped through her bruised larynx." Call 911 NOW!" she barked. "Get Evelyn down here!"

Skinner was jolted out of his daze and found himself dialing his cell phone while running to the CT control room. He swung in the door and gasped out "Mulder...collapsed in the hall. Scully with him. I'll call
paramedics..."

The two doctors were out the door before Skinner finished the sentence. He tersely ordered an ambulance from the emergency operator, running back to the hallway all the while. He was folding up the phone when he got back to Mulder.

Mulder was sprawled on the linoleum floor, surrounded by doctors.

"Pupils are different sizes," said Brian, flashing a penlight into Mulder's eyes. Scully was busy placing an oxygen tube down Mulder's throat.

"Mulder! Agent Mulder, can you hear me?" Evelyn shouted with no response." Scully looked up at that and watched as Evelyn rubbed Mulder's sternum. His arms and feet turned inward." Evelyn and Scully exchanged glances.

"We might as well do another CT, they'll get it anyway when he gets to the hospital. Mr. Skinner," Evelyn waved Skinner over. "Could you help us lift Mulder onto a gurney?"

Scully brought a gurney over and Brian and Skinner lifted Mulder onto it and propelled him swiftly into the CT room.

Skinner stood and watched them wheel him into the CT and wondered what had triggered
Mulder's attack. Could it have been the fight? Had something he did triggered this? A blow maybe? The choke hold?

"Agent Scully," he grabbed her arm as she passed. "Did something I did trigger his attack? The choke hold?"

She nodded absently. "It's possible, sir, excuse me..." and ran after Mulder's gurney.

By the time the ambulance arrived, the CT had been completed and none of the doctors were saying anything.

After the ambulance left, taking Scully and Mulder with it, he followed more slowly in the rental car. The hospital wasn't far but it was far enough. He couldn't let it go. He'd maybe caused this attack. He'd been trying not to hurt Mulder but he'd had to subdue him to save Scully's life. But did I have to subdue him that hard?

Fresno Community Hospital

Mulder was given a room to himself and all was quiet except the man and the machines keeping him alive. The door opened and a man walked softly in. His face was worn looking, his blue eyes faded. He stopped at the foot of Mulder's bed and shakily took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, then fumbled for matches in another. Then he glanced up and saw the "No Smoking" sign and eyed the
cigarettes ruefully, then pocketed them again.

He crept closer to Mulder's bed and worriedly examined his face very closely, as though checking to make sure he was still breathing. The man sighed and pulling up a chair, sat down watching the sleeper in the bed.

He heard light footsteps in the hall and quickly got to his feet, consciously
straightening his body into a confident posture. The door opened and Dana Scully rushed in, then stopped when she saw Mulder's visitor.

"You!" she breathed. "You have a nerve, coming here after all this!"

"I have every right to be here," said the Smoking Man. "And may I remind you that I was the one who helped you get him out. I can still be of assistance." He gestured toward Mulder.
"His prognosis isn't good, I gather."

"He has a subarachnoid hemorrhage," Scully said shortly. "We're doing everything
medically possible for him."

"And you know how effective that's likely to be. I can offer Mulder my help. I have access to the technology that created those
implants; I can remove them." The Smoker paused and smiled. "I can even have the damage to his brain repaired."

Scully stilled. "How? That's impossible even with our most cutting edge technology."

"But not mine. I'm offering Mulder a chance," the Smoker said. "But I require a favor in return."

Scully's eyes narrowed. "Another autopsy? Do you want me to dissect another tortured victim of your hellish program?"

"Why, no. Actually there's a small errand I believe Agent Skinner could perform for me. A matter of picking up a man and some
documents. I'll supply the tools if he will make the pick up. Ah, here's the Assistant Director now."

The door had opened and a panting Walter Skinner strode into the room, stopping dead when he saw the Smoker. "What are you doing here? Come to kill him in his bed?"

"Now, now, on the contrary I'm here to offer assistance," the Smoker said genially. "I was just telling Agent Scully my offer."

Skinner glanced at Scully. "What could he possibly offer that Mulder would ever
accept?" he asked, his voice rough.

"I'm offering Agent Mulder a chance. That's not something that anyone else has for him. Agent Scully, you can give Mr. Skinner the details. Call me when you've decided to take me up on it." The Smoker walked past Skinner with a knowing smile and went through the door.

Scully sat down in the bedside chair and watched Mulder closely, her hand running across his.

"Agent Scully, what does he mean?" Skinner asked. "How is he?" He walked next to the bed and studied Mulder. His eyebrows rose when he saw a tube projecting directly out of
Mulder's skull, draining fluid.

"He's had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, blood leaking into the brain and CSF spaces of the brain from his aneurysm rupture. This has caused damage to the brain stem." Scully said, her eyes fixed on Mulder's face.

"Can you do anything about it? Why aren't they doing surgery on him or something?" Skinner asked.

"They're not planning on any immediate
surgery," She said dully. "The Smoking Man says that he can remove the implants and heal the brain damage Mulder suffered" She looked up at Skinner, her eyes very blue. "In
exchange, he says he wants you to 'run an errand' for him as he puts it."

Skinner's face grew stern. "Scully, you can't honestly consider giving Mulder to him. He's in this hospital right now because of people like that bastard! If Mulder were conscious, he'd never let you do it."

"But that's his only chance! You don't
understand, sir. Mulder sustained damage to his brain stem. They haven't performed
surgery on him because there's no point. The very best Mulder can hope for is a lifetime on a ventilator in a vegetative state until some infection mercifully kills him."

With a shaking hand, Skinner pulled up
another chair next to Scully and sat heavily down. "Dana, you know that you can't trust the Smoker. Look what he did to you. And you know that Mulder has a horror of the man! You know that Mulder would rather die than be given to him," he finished softly.

"I know," her voice caught on a sob. "But that's his only chance. There's nothing, absolutely nothing that medicine, as I
understand it, can do for him. He'll die if we don't accept the offer."

"How do we know that Mulder won't end his days a human test subject?" Skinner said raggedly. "What's his life worth to him then?"

Scully said nothing. She just sat while tears ran down her cheeks. "I...think I'd like to get some coffee," she said. "You want some?"

Skinner shook his head and looked away, unable to meet her eyes. It wasn't just her decision. It was his as well, since the Smoker wanted him to seal the bargain. "I owe you, Mulder," he said quietly. "I may even have triggered this thing. I'm sorry if I did; I didn't intend to hurt you. But I don't know what the right answer is now. You've never been the kind of man to give up a struggle. But I know how you feel about the Smoker; I know what he claims he is to you." He drew a deep breath. "And I can't stand the thought of handing you over to him, knowing how you'd feel about it if you knew."

He looked over his shoulder at the door through which Scully had gone and his frown grew deeper. He owed Scully something too, if only to take Mulder's role and try to protect her. God forbid the Smoker decide to offer to let Scully run his errand for him. With a last look at Mulder, Skinner turned and left the room. When he was on the sidewalk in front of the hospital he made a call.

"I understand you need my services," Skinner said shortly. "What do you need and can you guarantee Mulder's recovery?"

"Ah, Mr. Skinner. I'm so glad to hear from you. Our technology is quite advanced. While nothing is certain, I can assure you that he has an excellent chance of a full recovery."

"What is it you want me to do?" Skinner was conscious that he was holding his breath. He deliberately let it out.

"There is a man I need you to retrieve for me. He has some documents I need and only he knows where they are kept. I want you to get to him and force the information out of him by any means necessary. Obtain the documents and bring them and the man to me."

Kidnapping and burglary, Skinner thought to himself. A typical day's work in the Smoker's employment.

"Who is this man and where do I find him?" Skinner glanced around, making sure nobody was overhearing this call. Conspiracy charges were made up of less evidence.

"You will be going to the Fletcher Mental Health Institute. The man I require is Dr. Philip Gordon. And, Mr. Skinner..." The Smoker's voice cut through Skinner's sudden wolfish grin. "A few bruises can be
overlooked, but need him alive"

The Invisible War, part 9

Author's note: My best thanks to Hawkeye for her incredible help and input. Any medical errors or inaccuracies I've made are purely mine alone. Also, Skinner would never punch bunnies. It's only a figure of speech.

The Invisible War, part 9

Skinner thought hard. He couldn't just let Mulder go into the unknown with the Smoker. "You bring the treatment, whatever it is, and administer it here," he said firmly.

"I'm afraid not," said the Smoker, just as firmly. "Our processes are secret and need to remain so. The deal is that you run this errand for me and in then my people will pick Mulder up and transport him to our facility for treatment."

"Then Scully goes along," Skinner replied, beginning to feel desperate.

"No. The agreement is as I stated it or the deal is off. It's your choice. Call me when you've made up your mind." The Smoker hung up.

Skinner stared glumly at his cell phone before tucking it back into his pocket. He didn't know what to tell Scully, but he'd have to face her.

Back in the room he took his place again at Mulder's bedside. Nothing had changed; Mulder hadn't moved. He looked asleep, more than anything else. Skinner wondered vaguely whether Mulder would wake if Scully kissed him....

Scully returned to the room, her face freshly washed, to find Skinner sitting quietly at Mulder's side.

He looked up as she approached. "I called him."

Scully stopped short. "The Smoking Man?" Skinner nodded and she let out a breath.

Skinner explained. "The 'little errand' he wants me to run is doable. My concern is still with Mulder. The Smoker won't allow treatment here, but insists that Mulder be taken to one of his facilities. And Scully," Skinner said in a low voice. "I tried to arrange that at least you accompany Mulder. But he wants Mulder alone. You can't go with him."

"I see," she said, her face falling. "Then we have no guarantee if or when Mulder will ever be returned."

"None," he replied. "What do you think we should do?"

Her face grew still as she considered. "We already know that conventional treatment offers Mulder no hope. I think we have to do it," she looked up at Skinner. "if you're willing to do the Smoker's dirty work for him."

"I'll do it," Skinner smiled dangerously. "And as you said, Mulder has no choice. We'll have to take the chance for him," Skinner laid his hand on Scully's arm. "He'll come out of this. He's the stubbornest man I know." He got up. "I'll call the Smoker now. The sooner I get this job done, the faster Mulder gets treatment."

From the sidewalk Skinner dialed the number again. The Smoker answered it on the first ring. "Well, Mr. Skinner?"

"When will you take Mulder to your facility?" he asked.

"As soon as you deliver Gordon and the
papers," the Smoker replied smoothly. "I'll give you an address to pick up the
information necessary to do the job...."

"All right," Skinner said, wondering whether this was really a good idea.

Fletcher Mental Health Institute April 11, 2002
10:00 a.m.

A white panel truck labeled "Harris
Institutional Laundry--We Deliver" drove to the front gate of the hospital where a bored guard gave the truck driver's ID a brief glance before waving him through. The driver nodded and carefully drove the truck around the building to a loading dock. He backed the truck up to the dock and rolled open the truck's rear door, then put a ramp in place and removed a wheeled hamper filled with folded clean laundry.

He went over to the door and rang the bell. A security guard opened it and eyed the white uniform coveralls the driver wore. "Where's Juan? He sick today?" he asked.

"He had a dental appointment. He'll be back tomorrow," the man answered blandly. "Can I come in or do you want to keep your dirty laundry?" he waved toward the door.

"Right. Yeah," the guard said and opened the loading dock gate. The laundry man wheeled the cart through the loading area and into the building.

He casually rolled his cart down one hallway, turned and down another, carefully following the usual route. At the last minute he made a quick turn and headed for a wood paneled door labeled "Director".

The janitor's closet was where he had
expected it to be. He picked the lock on the closet and carefully rolled the cart inside. He reached in under the towels and removed a gun, ankle holster, some cuffs and a small pouch. He donned the ankle holster and gun, then hid the other objects in the various pockets of his coverall.

He carefully closed the door but didn't lock it and walked two doors down to the
Director's office. He tried the door and found it open, turned the knob silently and went in.

Dr. Gordon was sitting behind his desk with a stack of files in front of him. He looked up, startled at the intruder.

"Who are you? What do you...I know you. Dr. Smith? What are you doing here dressed up like that?"

Skinner, grinning evilly, advanced on Dr. Gordon and pulled the gun from it's holster. "Step away from the desk and put your hands against the wall." Skinner gestured toward the richly paneled wall.

Gordon gulped when he saw the gun and slowly complied. Skinner patted him down but found no weapons. He cuffed the man's hands behind his back and turned Gordon around to face him.

"I...I don't understand..." Gordon said nervously, looking at the gun.

"I've been sent to retrieve some documents you have. Specifically, the second set of books you're keeping for this place. Where are they?" Skinner brandished the gun at him.

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Gordon returned. With a savage smile, Skinner moved the gun to his left hand and hit him with the right. "Try again," he said.

Gordon's eyes teared up. "Who are you? What is this all about?"

"Where are the documents?" Skinner replied. Gordon didn't reply, so Skinner hit him again. After three or four good punches, Gordon looked considerably battered and Skinner was no further in his quest. He reflected that beating Gordon was a bit like punching bunnies, their noses twitched and they didn't fight back.

Time to try something else. "You want to know who I am? Well, I'm a friend of Fox Mulder's. You know? That 'subject' you used as a
demonstration model for your 'program'. He's dying, thanks to you, and I have some strong feelings about that. Although I'm not
supposed to kill you, It would give me great pleasure to give you a taste of what he went through while he was here."

Skinner pulled a switchblade from his
coverall and flicked it open under Gordon's nose. "Mulder told me you opened up his skull and put things in his brain and did it
without any anesthesia. Now that has to hurt, but you apparently don't know that. So it's up to me to educate you. I'll start with your head and, if you haven't told me by then, I'll continue down the rest of your body. But if you give me the papers I'll go and leave you without hurting you," he said softly and held the knife blade to Gordon's forehead, pressing it in deeply enough that a trickle of blood flowed down and into Gordon's eyes.

Gordon started babbling. "I have them.
They're in my office safe. The combination is...."

Skinner backed away and carefully opened the safe. He saw a leather portfolio inside. He removed it, checked the contents and nodded. "This looks right," then moved back toward Gordon. He grinned again and pulled out the pouch, removing a hypo. "You'll need this for the trip."

"Trip? You said you'd leave me here!" Gordon wailed.

"I lied," Skinner said and moved in on him. He quickly had Gordon in a headlock and inserted the hypo. Gordon soon slumped
unconscious but Skinner gagged him to be safe. Leaving him on the floor, he retrieved the laundry cart and shook out the towels into a pile. He hid Gordon on the bottom of the pile and wheeled both cart and Gordon out of the office, which he carefully locked behind him.

He nonchalantly rolled the cart back to the loading dock where a bored guard let him out. The guard watched with disinterest while Skinner loaded the cart into the truck, shut and locked the back, then waved good-bye and got into the cab.

He was let out of the facility by the same bored guard that had let him in. Once outside he hit the gas and quickly got on the
freeway.

Later...

He returned to where he'd picked up the truck and found a black Lexus parked next to his own rental.

He got out of the cab and approached the Smoker, standing next to the Lexus.

"I see you were successful, Mr. Skinner," the Smoker said with satisfaction. "Where are the papers?"

"You know, I could tell you right now that I'm holding Gordon and the papers until you deliver a completely healed Mulder to me," said Skinner wearing his best poker face.

"Would you?" the Smoker said in a bored tone. "Then you'll have Dr. Gordon as a permanent guest and Agent Mulder will die. I made my offer of help because I like Agent Mulder and because it was useful to have someone not known to work for me pick up the documents. But if you're trying to make a different deal with me, you're wrong." He took a puff and smiled. "I hold the cards and, while I'd like to have Gordon and the papers it isn't vital to me. Please give my condolences to Agent Scully." He turned and began walking back to his car.

"Wait!" Skinner called. The Smoker stopped and turned, waiting.

In a defeated tone, Skinner said "I have the papers and Gordon. He's in a hamper in the back of the truck." Skinner went to the cab and retrieved a leather portfolio. "Here are the papers."

The Smoker approached and took the papers from Skinner, then opened the portfolio and reviewed them briefly. A smile lit up the Smoker's face. "Yes, these will do."

Skinner saw the Smoker's two goons open the back of the truck and hoist out the hamper, then pull Gordon from it and lay him on the gravel.

The Smoker ambled over to the prisoner and looked down at him. "I see you didn't bruise him much." He looked over at Skinner. "If I were you, I'd have killed him."

"That's the difference between us," Skinner said with suppressed rage. "I'm not a
murdering bastard like you."

"Temper, temper Assistant Director," said the Smoker. "My people will be at the hospital at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning to remove Agent Mulder. I trust he will be ready?"

"He will be. When will we know if it's
successful? And when will we get him back?" Skinner said, trying to look as bland as the Smoker, but failing.

The Smoker caught it. "I'll call you when there's any word. And in the meantime, you have my number. That will have to suffice."

Skinner stood and stared at the Smoker until it became clear that the Smoker would say nothing, concede nothing more. Giving Gordon a backward glance, Skinner walked across the gravel to his car. He carefully opened the hood and examined the engine, then lay down on the gravel and checked the undercarriage for car bombs. Let the Smoker know in what esteem Skinner held him.

"Don't worry, Mr. Skinner! We haven't mined your car. If we wanted you dead, we could have done it any of a number of ways at any time," the Smoker called in amusement.

Skinner gave him no reply but continued examining the car. When he was certain that there was nothing to be found, he got into the car and drove away.


Gordon returned to consciousness snorting and gasping. He looked up into a blue sky, then saw the Smoker towering over him.

Gordon sat up and tried to scoot himself away from the Smoker but was caught and hauled upright.

"S...s...sir. It's you," he said.

"I'm glad you remember who I am," the Smoker replied evenly, taking a puff. "You evidently didn't when you turned the operation over to Strughold."

"I d...d...didn't have a choice. His people just moved in. Said they had authorization from the Consortium..."

"Indeed. And then you took this project and ran it into the ground. Tsk tsk, such waste. And when it appeared that the mortality rate was 100%, you didn't scale back. No, you expanded, taking in more test subjects
indiscriminately, thereby risking project's becoming public knowledge. Six abductions from a UFO convention! Ridiculous. And, I might add, the security at your facility is laughable. But that isn't what upsets me the most," the Smoker moved in close and stood eye to eye with Gordon. "There are orders regarding Fox Mulder that have been
outstanding for a number of years. You chose to break those orders."

"I didn't know it was him..." Gordon shrank away.

"Yes, you did. But you used him anyway. So what do I have here? A combination of
disloyalty, incompetence and disobedience. That I cannot allow."

The Smoker blew a puff of smoke into Gordon's face and waved to his assistants who began to drag Gordon back towards the truck.

"Please! You're not going to kill me, are you? Please!! If you want to get the implants out you need me alive! Let me live! I'll do anything!" Gordon shouted.

"Oh, I'm not going to kill you," the Smoker said mildly. "And I don't need your help. I've been supplied with specifications of all the advances your group has made. As for you, you're simply going to become a volunteer subject for another program I'm supervising. It involves some brain surgery along the same lines as your current project. I'm sure you'll find it enlightening."

Shouting and crying, Gordon was thrown into the back of the truck. One of the assistants got into the cab and drove it away to the sound of Gordon thumping against the truck walls and shouting.

"Anything more, sir?" the second assistant asked.

"Yes. Make sure that Gordon's fate is known throughout the organization." The Smoker smiled, then threw his cigarette butt onto the gravel and strode away.

April 12
8:00 a.m.
Fresno Community Hospital

Promptly at 8:00 p.m. an ambulance pulled up to the emergency entrance of the hospital. Scully had had Mulder prepped and put onto a gurney for transport. She and Skinner waited next to him.

"I see you're ready," the Smoker's said. The ambulance opened and the attendants got out. Scully and Skinner stepped back as they began loading Mulder into the back.

"I'm glad you saw reason. It would be a shame to waste an intellect like his," the Smoker said.

"I'm still not sure I understand how it is that you can repair all the damage the
implants have caused," Scully said, half of her attention directed behind her to the attendants busily checking Mulder and
strapping the gurney in for travel.

"If I told you, I'd have to shoot you," the Smoker said with a genial smile. "Suffice it to say, the information is classified. But it will work."

Scully noted that they'd finished loading Mulder. "It looks like it's time." She bit her lip, her voice low and pleading. "Are you sure I can't go with Agent Mulder? You can blindfold me so I can't identify the
location, exclude me from the treatment rooms..."

The Smoker looked almost sympathetic. "No, Agent Scully. But rest assured that Agent Mulder will be in capable hands."

The Smoker got into the ambulance behind the attendants and then the door was closed. Skinner and Scully watched as it left the parking lot.

"We could follow it..." Skinner offered, then Scully shook her head.

"I don't want to jeopardize Mulder's life in any way. We'll just have to have faith that the Smoker wants to keep Mulder alive for his own reasons." She turned and began to walk toward her car, Skinner following.

May 14, 2002
Location unknown

Mulder was conscious that he lay in a very soft bed, much better than the usual beds in the cheap motel rooms he and Scully generally used on cases. Was he on a case? He didn't think so. But he thought he remembered a motel... He thought he heard a voice that was vaguely familiar. He smelled cigarette smoke and his nose twitched. He couldn't quite place why this should be so familiar, but he felt he'd been drifting for a while in a gray sort of haze and he'd heard someone talking to him but didn't quite catch the meaning.

"You never understood that I sacrificed it all for you," a man's voice said. "Your mother wouldn't leave Bill, so we agreed to keep it all our secret. I've spent the rest of my career trying to protect the world as we know it and keep you safe. I did it for your mother, and ultimately for my son." A low laugh. "Bill never understood why I came waterskiing at the summerhouse so often, not because I enjoyed water skiing but to get a glimpse of you. I never dared get too close to you, though. I couldn't risk Bill seeing any resemblance."

"When we negotiated with the aliens, I made sure that your sister Samantha was taken and not you. I'd already given a child to the program and even that young you had
incredible potential; more than you can know. I couldn't allow it to be risked. If I and my efforts eventually failed, you might be the savior of us all one day." He heard the sound of puffing on a cigarette. "And that's why I am determined to have you join me. I'm not as young as I once was. I need to pass the torch to younger hands and I'd always intended them to be yours."

Pass what into younger hands? Mulder thought dreamily. What was he talking about? He had vague memories of a summer house on the ocean, of swimming and playing with a girl. His sister? And he remembered another man who chain-smoked so much that he and Samantha had quietly nicknamed him 'Old Stinky'. Samantha. Aliens. Abduction. Scully. The implants. Shit! Mulder's eyes opened wide.

He lay in a luxurious four poster bed in a beautifully appointed room. He thought the furniture might be French Provincial. Old oil paintings adorned the walls and fresh flower arrangements stood on the antique tables. The most modern thing in the room was the wide screen television that faced his bed.

The Smoker sat next to his bed, smiling benignly at him. "Welcome back," he said. "You had us concerned for a while."

Mulder scowled at the Smoker and tried to climb out of bed and away from him. To his dismay, he was just too weak to get up and settled for moving as far to the other side of the bed as he could. "You! Where am I? Where is this place and why are you here?" Mulder looked around the room. "And where's Scully? She's always there when I'm in the hospital!" Mulder looked around at the room more closely. "But this isn't a hospital, isn't it?"

"It's a hospital of a sort. Agent Scully couldn't be here. She had another urgent matter to attend to." The Smoker's smile grew broader.

"The last thing I remember, I was in the hospital getting CT scans for implants," he raised a hand to his head. The scars had diminished so that he barely felt them. His hair was even an inch or so long. "How long have I been here?"

The Smoker stubbed out his cigarette in a crystal ashtray on the cherry wood table at his elbow. "About a month, more or less. We kept you unconscious until we were certain you were healing properly."

Mulder's eyes narrowed. "We? Who are we?'

"My people and I." The Smoker lit another cigarette. "You were in a coma and expected to remain so. I took steps to save you. The least you can do is show some gratitude."

"Why? Your people caused it in the first place," Mulder touched his head. "How did you do it? They told me I was incurable; they couldn't get the implants out."

The Smoker smiled. "I have access to the technology that created them, and no, it wasn't my people who abducted you. My
colleague, Mr. Strughold, is supervising that program. Badly, I might add. In any case, the implants are made of an inert organic
substance and, as you have noticed, respond to the commands of a remote control. They couldn't be removed because of the filaments which, extruding from the implants, invade the brain tissue of the subject. I simply used a control box to instruct the implants to retract all filaments and to 'die'. They immediately began dissolving and what little residue was left was flushed out of your brain by your bloodstream." He took a puff. "We treated the brain damage with one of our newer innovations. I'm sure you've heard of nanotechnology," he smiled proudly.

Mulder frowned. "I've heard of it."

"These are a microscopic machines, shortlived but useful. A very new innovation for
us of which we are rightfully proud. The nano machines simply went into your brain and repaired the tissues that they were directed to, shut themselves down and dissolved." The Smoker looked intently at Mulder. "You may not believe this, but I have always been your friend. I have a business proposition to make you."

"And what would that be?" Mulder eyed him with suspicion.

"Why, to come work with me of course. I value your skills and want you to join me in the organization."

"Absolutely not," said Mulder. "When can I go home?"

"Just think about it," the Smoker said and got up to leave.

"I'm not going to work for you! Let me out of here!" Mulder shouted as the Smoker left the room
.

Hoover Building
Washington DC

Skinner opened the office door and found Scully seated at Mulder's desk engrossed in a phone call. "Yes, we already tried that, Frohike. Well, anything you can turn up is more than we have. Thanks."

She hung up the phone and looked up to see Skinner hovering anxiously. "Anything?" he asked.

"No. You?" she replied.

Skinner pulled out the chair and sat down, defeated. "I've telephoned the Smoker's number every day since he took Mulder and ended up leaving a voicemail message each time. Today the number was disconnected. All my contacts have dried up." He caught her eyes and held them. "Agent Scully, I have no idea where Agent Mulder is nor how to locate him. I assume the Smoker has him in some kind of classified military hospital, but have no way of knowing which one."

Scully was silent, fighting for her
composure. "We had no choice," she said finally. "He had no choice."

Skinner looked down at the floor, going over everything that had happened since Mulder was first abducted. "What have we done?" he asked.

May 28, 2002
Location unknown

Mulder looked around the suite with distaste. It had been made very clear to him that he was allowed, even encouraged, to do anything his heart desired. Except leave. Or have any contact with his friends.

He'd been given a luxurious suite with
bedroom, living room and adjoining workout room with pool. The living room was stocked with books, a DVD library fully stocked with pornography, a stereo system and another big screen television. Mulder took stock of all this. "He's trying to buy me," he said to himself.

The doors were locked. The staff was
solicitous and friendly but firm. And
unfortunately the waiters all looked like former assassins. Which, Mulder supposed, they might well be. And every day at 1:00 p.m. promptly, the Smoker appeared to have a "chat" with him. Mulder had to admit that he'd grown so starved for human company that he'd almost begun to look forward to the visits. The Smoker spent most of the visit describing places he'd been, books he had read and his conviction that exceptional men, of whom he numbered himself and Mulder, had a duty to make sacrifices for a greater cause. He never told Mulder what that greater cause might be, but Mulder suspected it involved secret government projects.

After the Smoker left, Mulder was left with his own thoughts and memories of killing. He couldn't escape killing that woman and almost killing Scully. He thought she was okay, he had a foggy memory of Skinner grabbing him and Scully gasping on the floor before
everything went black. It had worked then, he'd managed to stop the outside control. Now without the implants he could hope that he was free.

But why would Scully allow the Smoker to have him? She knew how he felt about the man. She may have felt she didn't have a choice, he decided. Scully, always logical, would have dealt with the devil himself to find him a cure. And she probably had.

Mulder had been working off his frustrations in the pool, which also had the helpful effect of gradually building up his muscles again and increasing his endurance. He felt pretty much recovered from what Gordon had done to him physically. Emotionally and mentally? He wasn't sure. He didn't hear the Voice any more and hadn't been compelled to do anything since he'd arrived. This
elaborate prison was also a refuge of sorts, but he couldn't allow himself to depend on it if he ever wanted to leave here. And he did. He had to face everything he'd done, whether he had willed to do them or not.

The windows to this suite had been bricked up and covered with heavy drapes, so he had no way of knowing where he was or even what the weather was like outside. He felt
increasingly isolated; probably what the Smoker intended.

Every day a stack of newspapers was delivered to Mulder representing the at least twelve national and international papers. He picked up a copy of the London Times, then set it down next to an English language version of Pravda. He was so starved for news that he devoured all the papers every day, then tuned the big screen television to CNN. He wasn't sure what he was looking for; maybe a clue that FBI Agent Fox Mulder had been missed and was being sought by his friends?

He sat on the bed and clicked the remote, then put it down with a dissatisfied sigh. The attendant Mark, Mulder'd finally coaxed a name from him, had brought this month's issue of The Lone Gunman. Normally Mulder quietly trashed his copy and said nothing to the guys. Supporting them with his
subscription payment was his own quiet form of charity. But today it meant a touch of home.

He picked it up and sat down in the leather easy chair to read it. He stopped at the first article, headed "Missing! Have you seen this man?" with an old picture of himself. Scully must have dug it up from somewhere. The article gave him some needed detail. So Skinner and Scully had cut a deal for his treatment and later return and now the old Smoker had reneged. Mulder wondered if this had been his plan all along. Catch him, cage him and hope that by isolating him from his friends he could be persuaded to throw over the FBI and join the Organization. Maybe he had been hoping to piggyback on a brain already susceptible to mind control after weeks of brainwashing. He touched his head, a new nervous habit for him when he thought about the Treatment Room and the Voice.

He frowned when he read the list of other people who'd died because of the implants, some of them names he recalled from the UFO convention. One abductee had been strangled: Mary Ellen Murphy. "Mary Ellen Murphy," Mulder whispered and promised himself that he'd find out if she had a family. He'd go to them and quietly try to make up for their loss.

Yet the Smoker disavowed any responsibility for Gordon's program; all the fault of
Strughold taking over what was formerly the Smoker's turf.

At this point he didn't know what to believe. He rubbed his eyes and looked sadly down at the magazine. Scully was usually his
touchstone in these matters. Oh how he longed for her clarity of thought.

"Penny for your thoughts," said a familiar voice. Mulder smelled the stale cigarette smoke and knew who it had to be.

"How many people have you killed?" Mulder said, not turning around. The smoker rounded the easy chair and stood, looking down at him.

"When? Ever?" he took a drag. "I've never killed anyone in my life. Not a soul. Why?"

Mulder looked up accusingly. "There's a list of people here who were abducted with me and died. One of the Consortium's precious
projects."

"And a badly managed one at that," the Smoker said reasonably. "You must understand that everyone involved in the Consortium has sacrificed family, career aspirations, their own lives to benefit mankind."

"I see," Mulder said dubiously. "While you kidnapped innocent people, including my sister Samantha and Scully, and used them as test subjects. What good is it to help
mankind if you pay no attention to the
people?"

"Mankind is my business and I have sacrificed everything I ever valued to serve it," the Smoker pulled up a chair and sat down. "I've mentioned it before. You should be working with me and not against me. You could
progress in the FBI, earn a better salary, gain influence."

"I have everything I want right now," Mulder replied.

"Not everything. Once you're my aide you become privy to everything. All the programs, the databases, the history. You'll even find Samantha." He smiled at Mulder's sudden movement. "Yes, I'll take you to her. She's in a somewhat delicate position at this moment or I would have brought her with me today, but she's been kept apprised of your condition."

"Samantha? Or some kind of fake?" Mulder replied. "I've seen your version of
Samantha."

"When you become a part of the organization, no door will be closed to you. I'd have no reason to hide anything from my second in command. Just think about it." The Smoker stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray and left.

Mulder sat for a while looking at the dead cigarette. He was beginning to understand just why he was here. The Smoker wasn't going to let him go without a commitment to work for the Consortium. He'd probably made the deal with Scully just for this opportunity. Mulder rubbed his hands across his face. Even if he agreed to the Smoker's blandishments, he'd be trapped somehow. The Smoker would see to that. Wheels within wheels within
wheels....and how did one slightly battered FBI agent think his way around them?

May 29, 2002
1:00 p.m.
Location unknown

Mulder was waiting when the Smoker showed up for what he termed their 'daily chat'.

"Don't you have any work to do? Spread plague among babies or something?" Mulder asked tiredly. "Because this is going nowhere. I have no desire to work for you despite the obvious rewards you seem to feel come with it. Why can't you just accept that I can't do it and let me go? Kidnapping is a federal offence, you know."

The Smoker smiled encouragingly. "But Agent Mulder, you weren't brought here against your will. You're living in luxurious surroundings and anything you ask for is provided. Surely these are ideal surroundings for you to recover in."

"I am recovering and you're evading the point," Mulder said. "I'm tired of yelling at you, so I'll just tell you. I won't do it. Not. Ever."

A tap on the door interrupted Mulder and both men turned to see an anonymous looking man in a black suit enter with a telephone. "Call from Mr. Strughold, sir. He says it's very important."

The Smoker shrugged and accepted the phone, turning away slightly to talk. The assistant slowly backed away toward the table next to Mulder's chair and silently reached into his pocket. He pulled out a length of black cord and dropped it onto the table and moved away from the table again with a smile.

Mulder looked at the cord and was about to ask the man what it was, when he had a sudden flash of memory. He was in the Treatment Room, holding a cord like this and he was using it to garotte a dummy with a photograph of the smoker taped to its face. Kill him! he heard the Voice say and heard it again, echoing louder and louder in his mind.

He felt himself reaching for the cord and remembered many many sessions in the
Treatment Room, before the surgery, when he killed the dummy that looked like the Smoker. His hand closed on the cord and he could feel the fineness of silk running through his fingers. He stretched it taut between his hands.

This must have been planned in the beginning. The other abductees were window-dressing, he'd been the actual target. He was a Trojan horse, an assassin aimed at the Smoker but by whom? Strughold. It had to be. They were battling for power. The Smoker's words about their dispute came back to him. The attendant was standing against the wall, watching Mulder pick up the cord and advance on the Smoker, who stood with his back to Mulder.

As Mulder whipped the cord around the
Smoker's neck, he saw the attendant quietly slip out of the room. The Smoker caught at the cord with one hand, gurgling and choking as Mulder drew it tighter. "I didn't plan this," said Mulder, fighting with the
struggling man. "I remember it all, now. They trained me to be an assassin; to be YOUR assassin. For weeks before they gave me those implants they drilled me every day on just how I was to kill you." He pulled a little tighter. "I didn't fight that as much as the later programming. I've wanted you dead for so long...." Mulder gritted his teeth and pulled harder, hearing the Smoker gurgle. "And you want me to be your second in
command! I want you out of my life. For everything you did to Scully; for Samantha and for all the anonymous people you've destroyed, you bastard!"

He could feel the Smoker beginning to lose consciousness. Good. Soon it would be over and the Smoker would be dead at Mulder's own hands. Another death....If killing Mary Ellen Murphy didn't make him a killer, what did this make him? He wasn't killing because of the programming, he wasn't even fighting it. The implants were gone now, he could choose what to do. But he wanted the Smoker dead. It would be a service to humanity. Wouldn't it?

For a moment he thought he saw Scully's face, looking at him with fear and disgust. Scully. What would she think about this? Oh my God...

He released the cord and backed quickly away from the Smoker, who dropped to the floor, still breathing but unconscious. Mulder rubbed his hands together, trying to erase the feel of the black cord in them. Then he realized that here was a chance.

He went over to the Smoker's body and deftly pulled the man's wallet from his jacket pocket. There. The card-key he'd seen the Smoker use a dozen times to leave this suite. Mulder would have jumped him before but the Smoker was too savvy. He'd always had an armed goon with him when he visited Mulder. He also took an ID badge he saw in the
Smoker's pocket as well and clipped it onto his own shirt, hoping nobody would look at the picture too closely.

Mulder spared the unconscious man one last look, then ran to the door and swiped the card-key eagerly. The door unlocked and he was free!

He carefully made his way down the halls, avoiding people wherever possible. He seemed to be inside an office building. He'd been in the penthouse.

He used the card-key and slipped down the fire stairs, avoiding elevators, and
discovered that the building was 12 stories tall. He used the card-key one more time to open the door from the fire-stairs to the lobby. He walked swiftly through a lobby and out to the sidewalk.

He was in a city, but which one? He passed a news rack and stopped to see what the paper was. Washington Post. Could it be? Was
he...He squinted between two buildings and saw the very top of the Washington Monument and broke into a manic grin.

May 29, 2002
2:02 p.m.
Hoover Building

Dana Scully's cell phone rang and she
absently picked it up. "Scully," she said.

"Will you accept a collect call from Fox Mulder?" said a voice.

Dana Scully's eyes shot wide open. "Yes! Put him on!...Mulder is that you? Where are you? How are you?"

"Scully, I was wondering if I could get a ride? I'm broke right now and need to get back to the office."

She laughed," Where are you? I'll be right there and pick you up."

"Scully, I'm at the D.C. Public Library, main branch. I'd hoof it to the office, but I..."

"No, no problem. I'll be there in a minute. Stay right there, Mulder!" Scully grabbed her keys and ran out the door.

May 29, 2002
2:20 p.m.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

Scully walked into the library foyer
cautiously. It had been Mulder's voice but she couldn't be sure she hadn't been duped somehow. She saw a tall man with a very short crew cut seated near the library catalogs, reading a magazine. She glanced at the title: UFO, and laughed out loud. He put the
magazine down and she could see his face.

"Mulder!" she ran over to him and was caught up in a bear hug. "I thought I'd lost you," she whispered into his ear.

"I thought I'd lost myself, Scully," he whispered back, then pulled back and looked into her eyes. He smiled, his face glowing, then leaned in and kissed her.

When she could get her breath again, she heard the clapping. All the people in the magazine section were applauding. "Go for it, man!" yelled one man. Then, at the approach of the librarian, they all shushed and went back to their magazines, smiling.

"We'd better go outside," said Mulder with a grin. "I think we're being too noisy."

Scully nodded and followed him out, holding tightly to his hand. On the sidewalk, she stopped him. "Where were you? Are you all right? How do you feel?" She touched one of his surgical scars. "I can barely see any evidence that you ever had surgery? What happened?"

"First things first," Mulder said and grasped her hands in his. "I'm going to say this before I lose the chance...and the
nerve...again." He cleared his throat. "Dana Scully, I am in love with you and have been for a very long time. I...think you feel the same and hope you do." He trailed off
uncertainly.

Scully eyed the scars of his brain surgery again with a skeptical look, then decided that Mulder was neither demented nor drugged. "Mulder, I...I don't know what to say," she cupped his cheek with her hand. "I love you too." She paused, doubtfully. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?"

"Never better, Scully. My brain is working better than ever and my heart...my heart has never felt so good," Mulder said. They walked hand in hand back to her car.


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