IMTP VS8 Episode 13:

Into the Woods

By XScout
Art by


Title: Into the Woods
Author: XScout
Classification: MSR, MTA, X, 
Rating: R
Spoilers: "Detente" by Xenith (very minor spoilers)
Disclaimer: Agents Mulder and Scully, AD Skinner and any
other names you recognize do not belong to me but to Chris
Carter and 1013 Productions. I can no longer trust them to
make good decisions regarding these characters and must
therefore take over. Feedback: Is a drug -- it's addictive.
I'll go into withdrawal if you don't help. 
Info: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8.

Summary: Drawn into the forest to investigate the
disappearance of five hikers in what may be a case of alien
abduction, Mulder and Scully are caught in the middle of a
life and death fight to find the abductees and get out of
the woods -- alive.


Bear Head Lake State Park
6:49 p.m.

Amanda stopped where she was and let her backpack slide
off her shoulders. She rotated her neck to the left and
then the right, stretching sore muscles. She turned in a
slow circle, taking in the quiet serenity of the snow-laden

It felt right. She couldn't be positive, everything looked
different in the winter, but she was sure this was the
spot. Something inside her told her so.

"Mark, don't you think we should camp here tonight?"

A young man, no more than twenty years old, emerged from
the trees, his panting breath obscuring his face with a
white cloud. He dropped his pack next to hers and pushed
shaggy black forelocks back under his cap. "Yeah, this is
the place all right. Let's get the tent set up."

An hour later and they were seated around a small fire in
front of their tent, warming their hands with hot cups of
cocoa. Amanda took a sip from her cup, looking over the rim
at her boyfriend. "Do you think they'll come tonight?"

Mark licked his chapped lips and looked at the sky.
"Maybe. I dunno. We're just gonna have to wait and see."

Setting her mug down on a stump that served as a makeshift
table, Amanda yawned. "God, I'm tired. I didn't know hiking
took so much out of you. I don't remember being so tired
last time." She rubbed her eyes with a gloved hand, getting
cold snow in the face for the effort. Pulling off the
glove, she rubbed again, this time succeeding in clearing
away some of the sleep in her eyes. "How long do you think
we'll have to wait?"

A high pitched noise and rush of wind startled them both,
causing Mark to drop his cup of cocoa in the fire, the
liquid hissing as it hit the flames. He pointed up at the
sky. "Not long."

Together they tilted their heads up and gazed at the
object hanging above them, its dark shape silhouetted
against the sky, a few small colored lights casting an
eerie glow on their white surroundings. Wind rushed about
them, the trees creaking as their branches swayed under the
weight of snow. The hikers flinched as a blinding light
suddenly burst forth from the center of the object, shining
directly on the two campers. It grew brighter and more
intense with each second that passed until everything was
indistinguishable in the whiteness.

Then, as suddenly as it had come, it disappeared, leaving
behind a collapsed tent and smoking embers surrounded by


Dana Scully's Residence 
Georgetown, Washington, D.C. 
Saturday 5:28 a.m.

"Mommy! Daddy! Look at me!" the little girl shouted as
she jumped up and down on the trampoline, her red hair
bouncing about her head.

"We see you, sweetheart! You're doing wonderfully!" the
tall man laughed, flipping the hamburgers over on the
smoking grill. The woman next to him chuckled indulgently,
a wide smile spread across her oval face. Hair that matched
the child's crowned her head, but her eyes were blue,
unlike the girl's own hazel pair.

The woman stepped away from her husband and watched the
playing youth for a moment. "Sarah, be careful!" she called

Long arms encircled her waist. "She's fine, Dana, stop

"I know, Mulder, but I can't help it. My maternal instinct
is in overdrive." She turned around and stood on her toes,
reaching up to kiss her husband. Their lips were mere
centimeters apart...

*Brrriiinnng! Brrriiinnng!*

She sprang up in bed, her heart beating frantically.
Glancing at the clock she sighed heavily and reached for
the phone next to her on the night stand. She picked the
annoying appliance up and spoke groggily into it. "Do you
have any idea what time it is?"

"C'mon Scully, don't tell me you're going to waste this
beautiful Saturday morning in bed?" a too cheery voice

"Mulder, it's 5:30 in the morning! The sun isn't
even up yet. If you called to ask me if I want to go for a
run, I am going to make you do the expense reports on the
next five cases." She wearily rubbed the sleep from her

"Actually, a run sounds great right now. But alas, we
don't have time. We have to go to Minnesota."

"Did you just say what I think you said? No, don't answer
that. Mulder, it's Saturday, can't this wait?" she lamented.

Completely ignoring his partner's questions, Mulder
continued. "It has come to my attention that there have
been several disappearances in Bear Head Lake State Park. A
total of five backpackers have vanished over the past
month, each time bright lights were sighted near the area
where the hikers were last seen."

Scully groaned. "What does this have to do with waking me
up at the crack of dawn?"

A sigh could be heard from the other side. "Scully, I'm
sorry, I know how much your time off means to you, but my
hands are tied. Skinner called me half an hour ago. Seems
the last pair of hikers to disappear were Senator
Huntsacker's daughter and her boyfriend. He already has us
booked on a 7 a.m. flight to Duluth."

Her annoyance drained away as she took in this
information. Mulder got called at 5, but he waited until
5:30 to call her. He really *was* sorry to wake her. "All
right, Mulder, it's not your fault. I'll get my stuff
together and be ready by 6:30. You had better pick me
up on time, I don't want to have to run to the gate like
last time."

"Scout's honor. Pack something warm, I hear there's three
feet of snow up there. Just think, it'll be a nice trip to-

Scully's voice cut him off, "Don't! Don't *even* say it."


Somewhere over the United States 
Flight 1650
8:53 a.m.

Dana Scully took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of
her nose with thumb and forefinger. She closed the file
lying in her lap and reached for the next one, which was
presently in her partner's lap. He had finished reading all
the files in less than an hour and was now sleeping
peacefully in the window seat. She envied the speed at
which he could absorb information, easily accessing it with
his eidetic memory. 

But she also knew that his memory was a constant source of
anguish for him. So while she envied him, she pitied him at
the same time. He could remember the most minute details
from his entire life except for the few times he'd had his
memory "wiped." And of course, that fateful night twenty-
seven years ago that shaped his entire life thereafter. It
seemed as though he was sentenced to a life of false hopes
and unfulfilled dreams.

Carefully removing the stack of papers from Mulder's lap,
she thought back to her own dream. She and Mulder were
married, had a child of their own. Was it some sort of
reflection of her unconsciousness? If a dream was an answer
to a question you haven't yet learned how to ask, what was
this an answer to?  They were still testing the waters of
their new relationship and the topic of marriage had never
come up. She smiled softly at the idea of growing old with
her partner, but the smile soon faded as she remembered the
girl in the dream. No matter how much she wanted it, she
couldn't have children, and that was the end of that. 

She exhaled forcefully in frustration. It was all too
complicated, too much to think about while also trying to
concentrate on a case. She would go by Scarlett O'Hara's
philosophy -- "I'll think about it tomorrow. After all,
tomorrow is another day."

She yawned loudly and looked despairingly at the papers in
her lap. This was going to be a long flight.


Mulder woke up to someone nudging his shoulder. "Huh?"
Opening his eyes, he turned to find a flight attendant
standing over him. "Sir, we are about to begin our descent,
you should wake your wife."

"Thanks." He tilted his head to the left, where Scully had
fallen asleep against him. A soft smile graced his lips as
he took in her countenance. Lifting his hand, he gently
brushed away a long strand of hair that had fallen in her
face. "Scully," he murmured. She let out a tiny sigh and
nestled closer to him. God, he hated to wake her up.
"Scully, we're about to land." This time he trailed his
finger up and down her cheek.

Her eyelids flickered open. "Land?"

"Yeah, looks like you dozed off for a bit."

Finally realizing what he was saying, she sat up, rubbing
her eyes. "We're here already? I didn't finish reading the
files." She sounded angry that her body had so betrayed her.

"Don't worry about it. This *is* supposed to be your day
off, remember? I think we can let this one slide. Either
that or we can ask the pilot to circle around some more
until you finish your nap." He started to look around as
though to spot a stewardess.

"No, that's okay," Scully said quickly, stamping her left
foot on the floor of the cabin. The sooner she got off this
cramped plane, the better. Her foot had fallen asleep along
with the rest of her and it was on the verge of being

Mulder chuckled. "Now you know how *I* feel every time we


Thunderhead Road 
10:28 a.m.

Mulder leaned forward over the dash, his eyes squinted as
he tried to see the road through the veil of snow. "Why
would anybody want to live here?"

"Most of the people here are of Nordic ancestry, they're
used to it." Scully turned up the heat and then used her
closed fist to wipe at the windshield so that her partner
could see a bit easier.

"Thanks. Well, the news said that this storm should be
over by tomorrow, so it looks like we'll have to hold off
on our nature hike. We can have a leisurely lunch and then
stop by the local sheriff's office to get the details not
in the
files. Of course, at this rate we probably won't make it
to Ely until dinner."

"We have to find a motel first. Then we can call the head
ranger of the park and let him know that we won't be there
until tomorrow."

"You're gonna love it, Scully. Tent camping, ice fishing,
canoeing -- though not in the winter, of course -- 
snowmobiling, hiking; I could go on and on. Beautiful 
country up here, lots of wildlife. I believe it is a major 
preserve for timber wolves or something like that, I didn't 
get to read the brochure." Mulder dared to turn his head 
from the road and flash a smile at his partner.

"Mulder, isn't it possible that the missing hikers got
lost? Were attacked by wild animals? Fell into a ditch or
ravine that was hidden by all this snow?" she reasoned.

"Certainly. All we need to do is figure out which one of
those, if any, it is."

"Mulder, what aren't you telling me?"

"What makes you think I'm not telling you anything?"

"I can tell by the tone of your voice. We're not up here
looking for Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman, are we?"

"Not at all. The Yeti is most commonly found in Asia,
Scully, not North America. And, while Bigfoot seems to be
an American phenomenon, it doesn't care much for colder
climates." His face was serious.

"You're avoiding my question."

"Me? Never." An angry sigh warned him that he should
proceed post haste. "All right, all right. Don't get your
panties in a bunch. I ju-- Ow! Jesus, Scully." He freed a
hand from the wheel to rub his right shoulder. "You don't
have to get violent. Maybe the Abominable Snowman *does*
live here."

Scully pulled back her fist again.

"I'm sorry, okay? Really, I'm sorry." The fist dropped.
"You know how I said they have lots of wildlife here? Well,
this particular wildlife has a tendency to disappear. Over
the past ten or so years, animals have been vanishing. No,
not poaching, if that's what you're thinking. Because most
of the animals are found later on. Some dead, some alive.
The dead ones appear to have been sliced and diced, a few
unidentifiable growths here and there. The ones that come
back alive are different. Bigger, stronger, faster.

"Take a look at page twenty-eight. You'll see a report
made by Robert Gustaffson, one of the researchers who
worked up here. Natasha, a black bear that went missing for
a month, normally weighed approximately four hundred pounds
and stood five foot ten inches high. She was returned two 
hundred pounds heavier and four inches taller. Now, tell me 
that isn't odd."

"Perhaps it was a different bear?"

"Nope. The bear was tagged and had all the same markings,
she was definitely the same one. Several other examples are
listed. Black bears the size of grizzlies, wolves bigger
than great Danes, even a badger as large as a dog. But
apparently it is only limited to non-herbivorous animals.
You want to know what I think?"

"Not particularly."

 "Tough, I'm going to tell you. I think that these animals
were preliminary tests. Someone has been experimenting on
them like lab rats and now they've reached the human trial

"And who are these mysterious scientists?"

"C'mon Scully, it's obviously the Consortium. They're
trying to come up with the ultimate human, one more easily
hybridized with alien DNA. Stronger and more resistant to
diseases or injury. You know They have been trying for
years." He stopped at what he thought was an intersection
and looked both ways before pulling ahead.

"Sounds like a B movie on the Sci-Fi Channel to me." Her
eyes roamed over the map unfolded before her. 

"Now that you mention it, I've been thinking of selling
some of our case notes to movie companies. We could make a
fortune in the B movie industry."

"I think there's a left turn up ahead. Why would the
Consortium kidnap hikers when they have plenty of their own
people to play guinea pigs?"

"Because these kids are special."

"Special? How?" She waved at a tiny blotch of red against
the white surrounding them. "There's the stop sign."

"It's in the file, but I'll save you the trouble of having
to read it. All five of the missing hikers claim to be
alien abductees." He waited a moment. "Well?"

She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Well what?"

"Aren't you going to tell me that there is no way those
kids were abducted, how ridiculous it sounds, and that
there is no evidence to support my theory?"

"You're doing a fine job of that yourself, Mulder.
Seriously though, don't you think it odd that all five of
them were hiking up here recently? Maybe they have a cabin
here that no one knows about."

"That's the point, Scully. All of them were drawn here
after their abduction in February of 1998 on a field trip
with the Science and Nature Club. We've seen it before."

Scully couldn't help but smile as she thought back on
their first case together. 


Etta's Diner 
Ely, Minnesota 
1:09 p.m.

A tiny bell above the door let out a cheerful ring as the
two agents walked into the restaurant. It was as though the
bell signaled their arrival into another time, having been
transported back to the 1950s. The café was small, a long
counter stretching across its length with booths against
the windows. There was a jukebox in the corner to accent
the other fifties décor abounding, as well as to provide the
appropriate music. A woman behind the counter, dressed in a
pink skirt, reading glasses, and wearing a white cap on top
of curly brown hair looked at the two newcomers and smiled
toothily. "Afternoon! What can I get you folks?"

Mulder couldn't help the grin spreading across his face.
He looked down at Scully, who was similarly affected by the
atmosphere. They stepped up to the counter and took their
seats, Mulder hesitating for just a moment until his
partner sat down before seating himself. "What's your
special?" he asked the waitress.

"We've got Etta's Specialty Plate, which is a quarter
pound burger with the works, a load of fries, all you can
drink soda, and an ice cream sundae to top it off." The
waitress, her name tag displaying the name 'Nadine', leaned
toward them and whispered conspiratorially, "And since I
can tell you two aren't from these parts, I'll have Earl
throw in a cup of hot cocoa to warm you up."

Scully answered for them. "That would be lovely. We'll
have two, thank you."

With that, Nadine gave the pair a wink and bustled off
into the kitchen. Mulder chuckled softly, "Charming."

"I think she has her eye on you, Mulder," Scully said with
an eyebrow raised.

"Me?" His brows scrunched together. "Why do you say that?"

Dana feigned a world-weary sigh. "Mulder, don't you ever
notice how women treat you?"

He looked her directly in the eyes, his hazel orbs gazing
straight inside her. "None of those women are important to

Their gazes remained locked for several seconds until
Scully averted her eyes, cursing her Irish heritage as she
felt heat rising in her cheeks.

Mulder decided to give her a moment to collect herself and
turned back to the waitress. He smiled warmly at her as he
pulled out his badge. "Nadine, we're with the FBI and I was
wondering if we could ask you some questions."

"FBI? I didn't cheat on my taxes..." Nadine cried.

"No ma'am, I'm sure you didn't; besides, that's the IRS,"
Scully reassured her. "We were wondering if you've seen any
of these young hikers over the past month." She pulled out
large glossy photos from her bag and displayed them on the

Nadine leaned her elbows on the tabletop and peered at
them through her reading glasses. "Can't say I remember
those three," she pointed at the first three hikers to
disappear, "But this couple came in just a few days ago...
Wednesday I think. Cute couple, nice for their age.
Surprising considering young folks these days. Once a group
of backpackers came in--"

Mulder interrupted before she could launch into an hour-
long diatribe of the evils of teenagers. "Can you remember
anything strange or suspicious about them? Did they seem
like they were afraid or worried? Anyone follow them?"

Straightening up, Nadine pulled the pencil from behind her
ear and stuck it in her mouth. "No, nobody following them. 
They weren't scared, certainly not, quite the opposite. So
excited about going hiking they could barely wait to eat." 

Mulder cast a meaningful glance at his partner. Scully
pursed her lips and gathered the scattered photos. A bell
chimed and Nadine popped the pencil out of her mouth.
"Speaking of eating, your food's ready. Be back in a

The agents ate slowly, savoring the home-cooked taste and
letting their minds delve deep into the case. They finished
and stood, not looking forward to going back out into the
formidable weather. Mulder thanks Nadine for her help,
tipped her well and ushered Scully to the door.

"Agent Mulder?"

They stopped and turned back to the counter. 

"I don't know if it has anything to do with those kids
you're looking for, but there have been a lot of lights
flashing up in the forest." She shrugged, "If that helps

Mulder gave her his most winning smile. "Thanks again,


Ely County Sheriff's Office 
3:57 p.m.

"The lights have been sighted here, here, here and about
here." Sheriff Dawson pointed to red pins stuck in the
large map on the wall depicting the entire State Park. "We
sent out search parties starting from these points and
working outwards. We found four campsites abandoned but no
sign as to where the kids disappeared."

Mulder leaned back against a nearby desk, his arms folded
as he contemplated the map. He noticed a small space
surrounded by black hatch marks almost centered in the
forest and pointed to it, "What is this area?"

"Oh, that's an old wood mill that was here before the park
became protected. It's been closed for years."

"Did you search there?"

Dawson blinked at the agent. "No, why would we? It's
nowhere near the campsites. There is no way those kids
could have made it there in the time between when they were
last seen and when we sent out search parties."

Scully rummaged in her briefcase and withdrew a map
similar to the one on the wall. "Sheriff, could you show us
the easiest way to the mill?"

"Don't know why you want to bother with that place, but
okay." He spread out the map on another desk and stuck his
finger on a square. "This is the Park Information Center;
take this road up along the mountain -- be careful,
there are some sharp turns -- and take it to the end. Now,
that won't get you all the way there, there was an
avalanche and the road to the mill was cut off. We never
bothered with clearing it because the mill was closed
anyway. So, you're going to have to hike the rest of the
way in. It's only about a mile or so from the road, so it
shouldn't take you more than half an hour to get there."

 Scully memorized the places the sheriff had indicated and
folded the map back up. "Thank you very much for your time.
We'll keep you updated if we find anything."

Sheriff Dawson nodded and watched the FBI agents walk out
the door, shaking his head. "All they're gonna find up
there is snow, trees, and a broken down building," he


Black Bear Lodge 
On the outskirts of Bear Head Lake Park 
5:20 p.m.

Mulder and Scully pushed open the large wooden door and
stepped inside quickly as a gust of wind tried to enter
with them. They shook off the snow on their coats and moved
in to the reservation office. The entire place was built
from logs, fake candlelights illuminating the room and
green and brown colored furniture abounded. A fireplace was
set in the far wall, a large fire cheerfully crackling in
it. The required amount of stuffed animal heads adorned the
walls and a large chandelier made from antlers hung from
the center of the high ceiling. An old woman was sitting
behind the reservation desk, reading a magazine.

Mulder cleared his throat to get the woman's attention.

"Oh, my dears, I'm so sorry. Simply got too involved in my
reading. I'm Audrey Benson. You two must be the FBI agents
Roy was talking about."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Roy?"

"Yes, my husband, Roy. He's the park ranger and he called
to let me know that you two would be on your way. You told
him you couldn't come up to the park until tomorrow and
that you were going to check into a motel. Well, Black Bear
Lodge is the only motel around here, so we figured you'd be
stopping by. He told me to give you our best cabin, free of

"That's very kind of you," Scully said, throwing Mulder a
glance that communicated her uneasiness about sharing a
cabin. It wasn't the first time they'd had to share a room,
but since their relationship had begun to deepen, it made
things a bit more tense.

Mulder simply shrugged and followed the old woman as she
led them out the door, babbling about how much she hoped
they would find the kids safe and sound and how this sort
of thing never happens in Ely and...

Scully plucked the keys out of Audrey's hand when they
reached the front steps of the cabin, thanking her again
for her hospitality, eager to end the woman's incessant
chattering. Mulder asked her if she could let her husband
know they'd be by his office around 10, and then
disappeared inside after his partner, leaving the old woman
muttering to herself about what the world was coming to
when kids disappeared in Ely.


The cabin was very cozy; a lower level contained a small
living room with couch and television, kitchenette and
table as well as bathroom. Upstairs was the bed, separated
from the rest of the cabin only by railing. 

Mulder looked up at the loft. "If it would make you feel
better, Scully, I could take the couch," he offered.

"Don't be ridiculous," she answered. "We are grown adults
and we can certainly behave like it when we're sharing a

Mulder leered. "Adult behavior in bed is my specialty."

She scowled at him. "That's not what I meant and you know

"Spoil sport." Mulder moved to the table by the kitchen
and set his briefcase down on it, opening it and spreading
its contents all over. He separated the papers into piles
and sat down in the chair, lost in thought as he regarded
one of the piles.

Scully walked up behind him, peering over his shoulder.
"Who are they?"

Mulder held up the photograph he was looking at. It was a
picture of a group of thirteen people composed of eleven
teenagers and two adults. "It's the Science and Nature
Club: eleven kids and two teachers. What I want to know is
if we are just seeing the beginning of the abductions or if
the five who are missing are different from the others,
specifically chosen?"

"Do they have anything in common?"

"They all participated in sports, three were in ROTC
and that's about it. They are healthy and strong, making
them good candidates for testing."

"Do you have medical exam records?"

He handed her one of the piles and she slid into the chair
next to him. "Looks like it's going to be a long night."

They studied the case notes for hours, offering and
refuting possibilities, wracking their brains for every
imaginable reason these kids had been chosen. It was almost
midnight when Scully forced Mulder to go to bed, reasoning
that they would be hiking tomorrow and needed their rest.
They changed their clothes and climbed into the large bed,
careful to keep a good distance between them.

"Goodnight, Mulder."

"G'night, Scully."

Sleep came quickly and soon morning was upon them. Despite
their efforts to the contrary, they woke up wrapped in each
other's embrace.


Bear Head Lake Park 
Ranger Station/Information Center 
10:02 a.m.

"It looks like you expect us to be spending a month in the
wilderness!" Scully exclaimed.

Roy Benson was a friendly old man, his shoulders stooped
and his blond beard sprinkled with white. He wore a cowboy
hat on his balding head and thick glasses made his eyes
appear abnormally large. He spoke with a slight accent and
was deaf in one ear so that you had to make sure you were
standing on his right side in order to be heard. At
Mulder's request, Roy had supplied the gear they would need
for their trek into the forest -- which amounted to two
large backpacks outfitted with everything from canteens to
sleeping bags.

"Storms come up mighty sudden in these parts and you never
know when or where you could get stuck. Better to be
prepared than to be caught in freezing weather without the
proper equipment," the old man reasoned.

"This is just fine, thank you for the precautions," Mulder
said as he tossed his smaller backpack in the back of the
Explorer on top of the gear.

"You know where you're goin'?" The ranger sounded dubious.

"Sheriff Dawson showed us on the map. About how far would
you say it is until the road ends?" Scully asked.

Roy stroked his short beard. "Hmm. I'd say it's about
nineteen or twenty miles in, though it'll take about two
hours to get there 'cause the roads are winding and not in
the best condition, 'specially in this weather."

"Then we had better get started." Mulder shook Roy's hand
and got in the driver's side of the SUV, tapping his
fingers impatiently on the steering wheel as he waited for
Scully. She hurried over and had to climb into the large
vehicle, throwing Mulder a dirty look that squelched any
snide remark he was about to make regarding her height.
Since she certainly couldn't wear heels on this case, she
had lost several inches and the top of her head barely
reached her partner's shoulder.

He just grinned and started the car.


Bear Head Lake Park 
11:16 p.m. 

"Stop here."

"You sure?"


"Only fools are positive."

"And how many times have you been positive on a case? I
think that sums up to you being one of the most foolish men
in the world."

Mulder put a hand over his heart. "You wound me to the
quick, woman." 

Scully laughed and pushed open the door, having to jump to
the ground, her boots crunching in the snow. She unfolded
the map in her hand and double-checked her directions. "The
newest crime scene is a few miles hike to the west."

Mulder was now out and around at the back of the vehicle,
pulling out the backpacks. "Just in case," he said as
Scully looked at him questioningly.

Once they were ready, they took a good look around them to
place their surroundings firmly in their minds and then
headed off away from the sun. Mulder started out at a fast
pace, forcing Scully to jog to keep up. "Mulder, slow it
down. Remember you've just recovered from broken bones; no
need to strain anything."

"Yes, Mother," he grumbled.

"Well, I wouldn't have to treat you like a child if you
took better care of yourself," she reminded him.

"Oh yeah, it's all my fault that Casey's bar blew up," he
groused, tossing her a sour look.

Scully just returned his look.

The scene looked like a tornado had run through the
campsite. The tent was leaning precariously to one side,
its door flapping in the wind. The remains of a campfire
were partially covered with snow, ashes scattered about in
a gray mush. A tree stump next to it had a coffee mug lying
at its base, any food long eaten as wild animals had most
certainly carried it away. Scraps of yellow crime scene
tape fluttered from where they were tied around trees,
having been broken by the wind, animals, or a combination
of both.

They stood and surveyed the area in silence, making
initial observations. Birds continued to chirp and the
trees creaked in the wind, normal everyday sounds of the
forest. Scully thought it was somehow a violation of the
abnormality of the crime scene. But nature was
indifferent to the plight of humans. She shook herself to
rid her mind of unwanted thoughts and turned to her
partner. "Any sign of aliens?"

"Actually, no. No burn marks on the trees, no disturbances
in the snow. Even if there had been snowfall in between the
time of the abduction and now, there would be some evidence
of tremendous heat."

"If it wasn't aliens, what happened to those kids?"

Mulder chewed on his lower lip as he stared blankly at the
tent. "I don't know."


They had only stayed for forty-five minutes, searching for
any sign of what tragedy had befallen the campers, but to
no avail. Giving up the investigation as futile, they
headed back to the car. The hike back began in silence,
each agent deep in thoughts of animal attacks, serial
murderers, and cult sacrifices. Anything that might explain
what happened. The quiet was broken by a soft voice.



"Why do you pray?"

"Excuse me?"

"I mean, if God gave us free will, why pray?"

"I don't follow." 

Mulder paused in his forward trek and turned, placing his
hands on his hips. "People pray to God because they think
that it will in some way have an affect on their lives,
right? That they can ask Him for things in hopes that He
will bestow their wants upon them or influence events in
their lives. But if God gave us free will, then it isn't up
to Him to decide our fate, but us. So, why pray at all if
it doesn't matter?"

Scully stood next to her partner, tilting her head
slightly to look up at him. "Why are you asking?"

A white cloud formed briefly in front of Mulder's face
before it dissipated in the chill wind. "I was just looking
around at the beauty and majesty of nature and our place in
it and I realized how insignificant we really are in the
grand scheme of things. Perhaps people pray because they
want to feel important, they want to feel like they aren't
at the mercy of uncontrollable forces. God is a safety net
for those who need to believe that things happen to them
for a reason."

Scully pursed her pale lips, one gloved hand reaching up
to push a damp strand of hair behind her ear. "I suppose
that is one way to look at it. But, Mulder, who's to say
that things don't happen for a reason? Yes, we have free
will, therefore things happen because *we* make them

"True, but think of all the variables. There are over five
billion people on this Earth, all of them with free will,
interacting with each other and making hundreds of choices
every day. We can't control what other people do and so we
have no real say in what happens to us that is not
immediately within our own limits. It's chaos theory -- a
butterfly can flap its wings in the Amazon and it rains in
Central Park."

A bird warbled off to their left and Scully turned her
head in that direction, staring off into the pristine
beauty of the forest. "No, we can't control what others do,
think, or feel; we can only deal with our own reactions to
them. People pray because they look to God for guidance in
helping them respond to events and to help them make the
right decisions. He isn't a dictator; He doesn't want to
reduce us to mere automatons that follow His every word.
He's a guiding hand whom we turn to for comfort in times of
need and for direction when we are lost."

"How can anyone receive comfort from a deity who is blind
to the pain and despair of so many lives? Who stands idly
by as horrific crimes are committed every single day? I'm
sorry, Scully, but I can't find faith in something or
someone that allows the things I've seen to happen."

"He doesn't allow it to happen, Mulder. It all comes back
to free will, He gave it to us because He loved us enough
to trust that we would make our own choices. Some people
just make the wrong choices."

"Maybe they should have prayed harder."


4:35 p.m.

It took just under two hours for them to reach the
roadblock. Boulders and dirt had slid down the mountain and
come to rest in pile fifteen feet high at the apex,
directly in the middle of the road. The forest hemmed in
the other side and it was obviously impossible for a car to
get through. Mulder pulled the vehicle around so that it
was facing the open road and put on the brakes. Having
regained their emotional equilibrium on the drive over,
their spirits were buoyed by the hopes of finding an
explanation at the mill. "We're here."

"Thank you for clearing that up," was Scully's wry response.

"C'mon, Scully, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you
weren't looking forward to this."

"Gee, I wonder why. Perhaps it's because of all the fond
memories of other 'nice trips to the forest.'" Scully
pushed open her door and exited the car, walking around to
open the trunk. 

Mulder followed her, helping her pull up the back door. He
removed his small backpack and slung it over his shoulder
then turned to take the canteens from the larger packs. He
stuffed one in his backpack then handed the other to his
partner. "Well, we've learned from our mistakes, haven't

"You mean after man-eating ancient bugs tried to devour us
in Olympic National Forest? Or after an enormous alligator
sunk our boat in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Maybe after you
were chased through the Siberian forest by Russian spies?
Perhaps when mothmen sucked us into a pit full of bodies in
Northern Florida? No wait, it was after we spent time
inside a giant goo-spouting fungus in the Brown Mountain
region. Then again, it could be--"

"Okay, okay, I get the point! Jeez, will you ever let me
live it down? It's not like I knew we would run into so
many problems." He cringed at the venomous look she was
giving him. "All right! So I did have my suspicions in a
lot of those cases, but that doesn't mean I expected them
to turn out the way they did."


"And this time is going to be different."





She sighed, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
"Mulder, sometimes I seriously worry about you. Now get
your ass in gear and let's get moving."

Mulder jerked in surprise at her command and, relieved at
her improved mood, mock saluted her. "Yes, ma'am!"

They started heading east, circumventing the avalanche
debris and hiking up the slope leading deeper into the
forest. Their footsteps crunched in the snow and birds
chirped happily as the trees closed in around them.


5:11 p.m.

The hike to the mill was uphill, all talking at a halt as
they saved their breath for the exertion. As they neared
the top of the incline, they began to hear sounds that had
no business being in the middle of a national park. There
was a flat voice being emitted through a loudspeaker,
issuing what sounded like commands. The hum of engines and
the chant of many voices in unison were painfully familiar.

"I'd say that sounds more like a military base than an
abandoned wood mill," Mulder remarked. Scully nodded in
agreement and they crept up to the top of the rise, ducking
down below the edge so as not to be seen by any of the
people in the valley below. Mulder's observation had been
correct -- it was a military base.

It was a low building with fences surrounding it, groups
of men marching across the open fields in front. A
helicopter was positioned off to the side, large
searchlights suspended from its frame. Mulder pointed at
it. "Looks like we found our UFO."

"What would the military want with the hikers?"

"It could still be the Consortium, they work with the
military, you know. My best guess is that, if it is the
military, they are probably trying to create a superior
soldier. They've been trying for years and that would
explain the condition of the animals..." Mulder pulled the
backpack off his shoulder and rummaged around until he
withdrew a pair of binoculars. Peering through them, he was
able to make out the words on one of the doors.
"Biohazardous materials inside -- Level 2 Decontamination
Suit required."

He handed the binoculars to Scully and pulled a camera out
of his pack, using the long lens to capture as many details
on film as possible. Scully, who had also read the signs,
was now scouring the rest of the camp. "No sign of the
hikers, most likely inside. I don't see any way in except
through the main gate and I doubt they'll let us just waltz
right in."

Mulder pondered the implications for a while. "Let's stay
here and see what we can, get as much information as
possible before we make any decisions. There might be a way
in that we can't see, or they might bring the kids out. If
nothing else, we'll have good evidence to get a whole
police force up here."

Scully accepted this as the best possible plan and scooted
down in the snow, making herself as comfortable as
possible, preparing herself for a long wait.

An hour passed and they had nothing more than photographs
to show for their time. There was no hint as to the
whereabouts of the kids, no clues into the true purpose of
the compound, and no indication of any other entrance. The
light was fading fast, a light snow drifting down and
Scully didn't want to stay out here in a blizzard at night.
She nudged her partner, whose eyes were glued to the
binoculars. "Mulder."


"It's getting dark, we should go."

Prying himself from his search, he turned and looked at
her, then the sky, then back at her. "You're right, we
should-- wait a minute!" Mulder turned to his left where he
had seen something move out of the corner of his eye.
Squinting into the dense forest, he saw it again. He put
the binoculars up to his face and had to move them around a
bit before he pinpointed what he had seen.

It was a troop of men in white jumpers, each one armed
with machine guns. And they were heading straight for the
FBI agents.


"Scully, run!" Mulder sprang to his feet and began
sprinting back the way they had come, pine needles slapping
him in the face as he crashed through branches, dodging
rocks and low hanging limbs. Scully instinctively followed,
not even questioning his sudden command. He glanced behind
him every few seconds to make sure she was keeping up.

Suddenly bullets were flying around them, making little
'thwack' sounds as they hit trees and whizzed by their
bodies. Suddenly, Mulder heard an "Oomph!" behind him and
turned his head just in time to see his partner fall.
"Scully!" he cried, skidding to a halt in the muddy snow.
He whirled around and ran back to where she was pulling
herself out of a pile of snow. Mulder grabbed her arms and
hauled her up, frantically asking, "Are you all right?"

She nodded, breathlessly adding, "Snow drift." Then they
were off again, Mulder holding tightly to Scully's hand,
pulling her after him at a breakneck pace. He heard several
more 'thwacks' to his right and a sharp pain in his side
made him stumble slightly. He ignored the fire quickly
spreading across his abdomen and continued down the path
they had just made a little over an hour and a half ago. He
could see the car, its blue shell standing out starkly
against the whitened wilderness. "Almost there!" he
shouted over his shoulder.

The second he reached the vehicle he pulled open the
driver's side door, thanking his foresight in leaving it
unlocked, and threw Scully inside. She scrambled across the
gearshift to settle into the passenger seat. The 'thwacks'
became 'pings' as bullets peppered the car, shattering the
back left window. The second Mulder closed the door behind
him, he started the engine and yanked the shift to four
wheel drive. He slammed his foot on the gas pedal and
prayed that the snow chains would work. For a few
terrifying moments, the wheels spun ineffectually, but just
as the white clad figures appeared out of the trees, the
car lurched forward down the slippery road.

They sped through the forest, windshield wipers at full
blast as the snowfall thickened, Mulder calling upon every
ounce of strength he had to control the vehicle. They
almost skidded right off the road around one corner, only to
have Mulder pull them back with a sharp wrench of the
steering wheel. He was starting to believe they'd lost
their pursuers when the sound of a helicopter roared
overhead. "Damn it!" He hit the steering wheel with an
open palm. "We're not going to lose them like this, we need
to turn off the headlights!" he shouted over the noise.

"We're on the main road, they'll be able to follow us no
matter what!" Scully returned as her partner flicked off
the beams of light, using the last few remnants of daylight
filtering through the clouds to drive by.

Mulder's mouth set in a grim line as he stared at the ever-
increasing snowfall in front of them. All of a sudden, an
idea sprang into his mind. "Wasn't there a maintenance road
up here somewhere? The trees overhang and the chopper
wouldn't see us!" He yanked the wheel back to the right to
avoid a fallen tree. More bullets rained down on them,
kicking up sprays of snow and a few decorating the hood
with small holes. It was hard to see without the
headlights, but he could just make out the edge of the
forest, keeping them on the road -- barely. So concentrated
on staying on the main road was he, that he almost missed
the turn off onto the maintenance road. Scully hadn't

"Mulder! There!" She pointed to the dark opening in the
trees that constituted the entrance to their escape route.
Mulder braked, desperately pulling the wheel left to make
the sharp turn. The back of the car slammed into a thick
tree trunk, fishtailing the vehicle slightly, but not
enough to send them off course. Mulder slowed a bit,
carefully navigating through the dark tunnel of trees, not
willing to turn on the headlights for even a second. They
could still see the helicopter circling above, its
searchlight flicking back and forth over the main road.

Mulder continued, wanting to get as far away from the men
in white as possible. It was getting harder to concentrate
though, the pain in his side was growing, persistently
sending shooting pains across his stomach, back, and up his
chest. His eyes were becoming heavy, sounds were muffled,
and breathing was starting to become a chore. But he kept
his foot on the pedal, putting as much distance between
them and the soldiers as he possibly could.

Scully wiped the fogged window beside her and peered into
the darkening sky. The light from the chopper was nothing
but a tiny pinpoint, the only sounds left were her own
heavy breathing and the grumble of the car's engine. She
looked back at her partner, her eyes wide with appreciation
at his skilled driving and their luck at losing the
helicopter. His eyes, however, were at half-mast, almost
struggling to stay open. His breaths were coming in shallow
gasps, sweat beading his forehead. He blinked several
times, his jaw clenched tight, and his body leaning forward.

"Mulder? What's wrong?" The clouds had consumed all the
light and she could barely see his face anymore.

She could hear him swallow before answering. "I... I think
I--" he was cut off as the car jerked suddenly, the wheels
sliding on a bad patch of ice, throwing Scully against her
seat belt. "Hold on!" Mulder shouted as he fought with the
steering. They continued to slide, the back end swiveling
around so that they were moving sideways at a frightening
speed. The car slammed into a pile of boulders, glancing
off them right before crashing into the trees, crushing the

The forest was silent now, as if Mother Nature was holding
her breath. Scully broke the silence by whispering a
heartfelt "Thank God." She quickly checked herself for
injuries, and finding none, turned to her partner. His head
lolled towards her, his eyes glowing in the dim light. "You
okay?" he asked hoarsely. 

"Yeah. You?"

"I think so." He tried to shift in his seat so that he
could face her fully, but the movement seemed to make his
side explode in agony. He groaned and arrested his
movement, waiting impatiently for the pain to recede.

Scully was frantic with worry, her heart constricting in
her chest at the sound of her partner's suffering.
"Mulder? What's wrong?"

"I think one of the bullets might have grazed me," he

"What? Where?" She reached out blindly, finding his hand
in the darkness. "Show me."

He took her hand and guided it to his side, shuddering
involuntarily when he pressed her palm to the source of
pain. She could feel something thick and warm ooze between
her fingers, soaking the jacket underneath her hand.
"Jesus," she mumbled. "You call that a graze?"

"You don't think so?" he asked, his voice quiet.

"I won't know unless I can look at it. Lie back," she
ordered. Now that her eyes had become accustomed to the
night, she could see Mulder more clearly, his features
painted a pale gray by the bit of moonlight peering through
the clouds. He reclined his seat and began unbuttoning his
coat, the fabric rustling noisily. He gasped as she peeled
the underlying sweater and wet shirt back to reveal a dark
patch on his skin. Pursing her lips at the thought of such
unsterile methods, she grabbed the Kleenex box from the
back seat and dabbed at the area.

Clearing away enough of the blood, she saw a small, yet
ragged, hole about an inch below his last rib. This was
*not* a graze. She had to check for an exit wound. "Mulder,
I need you to sit up for me now, okay?"

He nodded, complying slowly, hoping it would be less
painful that way. No such luck. Scully lifted up the layers
of clothes on his back, finding a twin to the hole on his
front. "All right, I'm done." Mulder sighed gratefully and
sank back into the seat.

He looked at her troubled face. "So?"

"It went through, which is a relief. The cold should keep
the bleeding to a minimum but I want you to move as little
as possible." It had gone through on his left side, maybe
hitting his spleen but more likely cutting through some
intestines. At least there were no major organs hit and she
thanked God for small miracles. He had to get to a hospital
soon, there was no telling what kind of internal damage the
bullet had done. However, it didn't look to her like there
was any possibility of that in the near future. The car was
useless and the soldiers could still be out there.

"We'll have to wait until daylight," Mulder said, as
though reading Scully's thoughts. "Too dangerous to hike at

Not to mention the fact that he was probably too injured
to hike. Scully bit her lip in fear. This was a nightmare.

She and her injured partner were stranded in the middle of
the wilderness with a military special ops unit after them,
no help for miles around, cell phones were useless, and
where temperatures dropped below zero at night. There was
no way. Absolutely no fucking way.

Despair threatened to overwhelm her, but suddenly Mulder's
hand squeezed hers. "We'll make it. Rest tonight and set
out in the morning."

Scully smiled, thanking him silently for bringing her
hope, however faint it was. She managed to push away all
the obstacles facing them in the future and focused on the
here and now. First thing first -- get Mulder warm. He was
due for a heavy case of shock, and the snow outside
continued to fall. "At least the snow should keep the
helicopter out of commission for a while."

"It didn't seem to stop it earlier," Mulder commented
wryly. "Must be one of those unmarked black ops 
helicopters -- they can fly in any weather." 

"Great. Reverse engineered from UFOs, I'm sure." Scully
smiled back at him. Then she climbed into the back seat and
rummaged around in the trunk area, hefting her backpack
over the seat. She untied the sleeping bag and tossed it up
front before removing the metal rods that kept the pack
stable. She unzipped the largest compartment and removed
all the clothing that she felt might come in handy over the
next 24 hours, praying that twenty-four hours was all that
she need plan for. Next, she wadded up the backpack and
shoved it into the gaping hole that was once the left
window, ignoring the sharpness of shattered glass beneath
her knees, making sure that no cold air was leaking in
around the edges of her makeshift insulation.

She returned to her seat and unrolled the sleeping bag she
had deposited a minute ago, scrunching it up slightly so
that there was enough room to completely unfold it. She
unzipped it all the way around, creating a very large
flannel blanket. She laid it over Mulder, whose teeth had
begun to chatter loudly.

"I th-think now would be a g-good time to test that –
naked person in a sleeping b-bag theory." Mulder said, a
tiny gleam in his eye.

To his surprise, Scully paused and thought it over.
"Actually, I think you may be right."

He was so shocked that he couldn't even come up with a
witty reply.


"You know, I'm rather disappointed."

"With what?"

"This wasn't exactly what I was imagining when I brought
up the idea of sleeping bags."

Scully lifted her head up from her partner's chest to look
at his face. "This is as close as you're gonna get any time
soon, so enjoy it while it lasts."

Mulder smiled softly. Despite the fact that they weren't
naked -- Scully had insisted they leave on their light layer
of underclothes -- he was enjoying himself tremendously. It
wasn't every day he got to snuggle up to his partner in
such tight confines and on a case. They lay together
quietly for a while, each one immersed in their own

Scully shifted against Mulder's side, pressing herself
closer to his body. "Mulder?"

"It's my sidearm, I swear."

Dana burst into giggles, her body shaking his with her
laughter. He gasped, "Ah, watch it."

"Sorry." She stilled and surreptitiously moved her hand
down to feel the bandages she had applied earlier to make
sure they hadn't soaked through.

"I'm fine."

Damn, he noticed. "I know, but humor me, it's for my own
piece of mind."


"I said, it's for my--"

"No, I mean you were going to ask me something." 

She was silent for a moment. "Do you think those kids are
still alive?"

Mulder considered her question for several minutes. "I
don't know, I hope so. Some of the animals came back, if a
bit altered, so there is a chance."

"Isn't it an awfully big risk to kidnap five teenagers,
one of them a senator's daughter? It's like the military
isn't worried about anyone coming to look for them."

"Remember, these kids are all abductees from a couple
years ago. Not only do the military have all the samples
from that initial abduction in order to decide which ones
were best suited for mutation, but they also established a
reputation of incredulity concerning the teens'
whereabouts. It would be a waste of time, money, and
manpower to find new subjects. Add to that the fact that
most people think that the kids are nutcases because they
claim to have been abducted by aliens, and you have a
recipe for your own little workshop, with no interruptions."

Scully pondered this new information. "Well, somebody
obviously didn't buy it, or we wouldn't be here."

"That's because the senator believes his daughter was
taken the first time by kidnappers who brainwashed her into
believing she was taken by aliens. He was certain that they
were planning on ransoming her but something went wrong and
they had to dump her. He's been paranoid ever since about
where she goes and what she does. He's the perfect example
of an overprotective parent." 

Dana thought about how she would feel if one of her
children was taken and came to the conclusion that she
would act very much the same as Senator Huntsacker was. The
little redhead from her dream flashed before her eyes and
she shivered.

"You still cold, Scully? Because I could take off--"



"Shut up, you need to conserve your energy."


Bear Head Lake State Park 
Sunday 5:45 a.m.

Scully searched for the most stable patch that would hold
her weight and allow her to obtain more water. Finally
finding what appeared to be a snow-covered plot of rocks,
she gingerly stepped onto it, cautious of the slightest
hint that it might give  way beneath her. Relief flooded
through her as the ground held and she knelt down to dip
her canteen into the water.

She quickly filled the container and screwed the lid back
on, leaning back on her heels as she did so. As a matter of
course, she checked her surroundings and was taken aback by
the beauty of the snow laden forest. The yellow glow of the
early morning sun glinted off the white blanket, casting
blue and purple shadows throughout the trees. Birds
chattered happily and the constant thrumming of the river
was a melodious backdrop to the serenity before her.

She stood and was about to turn away when a loud splash
caught her attention. She looked straight across the river
and was shocked to find an enormous black bear staring back
at her. The ursine was almost as big as a grizzly, only
lacking the longer hair and silvered tips of the larger
bear. The animal was wading out into the river, heading
right in her direction, its large golden eyes intent on the
motionless woman. Once it had almost reached the middle of
the swift river, it found that the water was too deep to
cross at that point. Frustrated by this obstacle, the brute
let out a tremendous bellow, startling a flock of birds
into flight. Scully was so overwhelmed by the noise that
she forgot the cardinal rule of dealing with bears -- never
run. She scrambled backwards, automatically reaching behind
her for her gun as the monstrosity across the river paced
back and forth. In her haste, she wasn't as mindful of her
steps and as she moved back her left foot slipped on the
icy rocks. With a cry of dismay she tumbled into the frigid
water, losing her gun as she flailed for purchase on
anything and everything within her reach.

"Mulder!" she yelled, cold water splashing into her face.
She had fallen into a deep spot and the fast moving river
was keeping her from getting out. Her numb hands clung to a
branch as she was swept down river and she called again for
her partner, in the slight chance that he might hear her.
But she held out little hope, for he was in no shape to
come to her rescue let alone detect her shouting.

Scully held fast to the wet branch, trembling with cold
and fear. She was trapped in a river that was freezing, was 
being hounded by a bear in the middle of the forest, and
her seriously injured partner was far away. This nightmare
was only getting worse.


The car rocked slightly as he 
jerked forward violently, his 
breath catching in his throat. 
A moment passed before the spots dancing across his vision 
faded and the fire in his side abated enough for him to think 

Something was wrong.

He didn't know what it was but he couldn't dismiss the
feeling of dread that pulled him from his sleep. Glancing
to his left, he found that he was alone in the vehicle and
his sense of foreboding doubled. Where was Scully? He
closed his eyes and played back recent events until he
reached the few minutes previous to his drifting back to
sleep. She had gone to get water, that was it. She still
must be out, that was all.

But how long ago had she left? Had it been more than five
or ten minutes? What if something had happened? What if the
soldiers had found her? The more he thought about it, the
more concerned he became. The very idea that his partner
was captured was enough to make up his mind -- he would 
have to find her. 

Pushing the thick sleeping bag onto the passenger seat, he
carefully maneuvered himself into a sitting position. He
turned slowly and pulled his sweater and parka from the
back seat, gritting his teeth as the action twisted his
side. Getting his sweater on over his head was a major
endeavor and by the time he was done, he was sweating with
pain. A few deep breaths to gain his equilibrium and he
opened the door, automatically shivering as a cold blast of
air bombarded him. Monumental effort was needed to get from
the car to the ground and to get his leaden arms through
the sleeves of the parka, but he managed with only a
minimal loss of time.

Scanning the new fallen snow, he easily found the tiny
footprints that marked Scully's passing. Before heading off
in that direction, Mulder made sure to retrieve his gun and
flashlight from the glove compartment and check to see if
he still had an extra clip. Opening the back door, he
snatched his small backpack off the pile of gear, slinging
it onto his shoulder. Armed and as ready as he could be, he
marched off into the wilderness.

Following Scully's footprints, Mulder traveled fifty yards
or so before his body forced him to stop. Leaning heavily
against a pine tree, he concentrated on breathing and
focused on remaining upright. Finally the pounding in his
ears diminished and he was able to make out the rumbling of
moving water. 

The river! 

He was close, there was no time to waste. Gathering his
strength, he pushed off the tree and stumbled towards the
sound, keeping Scully's tracks before him as assurance that
he was heading in the right direction. The crunching of his
feet in the snow and his labored breathing were the only
noises joining the water to penetrate the stillness of the
forest. Those and one of the most terrifying sounds Mulder
had ever heard -- his partner screaming his name.


Scully clawed at the branch in an effort to pull herself
from the frigid river but the bark was too wet. Water
splashed into her eyes and she turned her head towards the
forest. The trees and snow were a gray and white blur with
yellow highlights of sunlit ice. Blinking rapidly, she
cleared her vision enough to make out a shape moving among
the trees. Had the bear found a way to cross the rapids? 

Peering over her shoulder, Scully saw a large dark brown
blur pacing on the opposite bank. No, not the bear then.
She turned her head back and found that the shape was
closer now, sharpening into the form of a human. Fingers
numb from the cold, Scully clung tighter to the branch and
lowered her head to just above water level, hoping that she
would not be noticed by what she was sure was a soldier.


Her eyes, which had been shut so that the water splashing
around her face wouldn't blind her, popped open and she
stared at the man floundering through the snow to reach
her. Shock and relief warred for dominance as she watched
Mulder drop to his knees on the riverbank and hold out a
hand to her. 

"Grab my hand, Scully!"

For a moment she couldn't comprehend the fact that her
partner was there but when he repeated his plea her mind
finally started working again. She strained every muscle,
trying to make her body obey the simplest instructions. Her
wet gloves sliding along the wood, she managed to bring
herself a few inches closer to the bank. She reached out
her hand only to find that she was a good foot from
Mulder's fingers.

"C'mon, Scully, you can do it! Just a little farther!"
Mulder coaxed, scooting a bit closer to the edge of the
rushing water.

An enormous roar echoed across the water, pulling at their
attention. Mulder looked up at the great monster pacing
along the opposite bank -- it was getting ready to plunge
into the river. If that bear reached them they were both as
good as dead. He glanced back down at Scully and then back
at the animal. He had to do something. Now.

Pushing himself up from the bank, he reached into his coat
and pulled out his weapon. Taking careful aim at the bear,
Mulder shoved aside any qualms against killing the animal
and fired. At first it looked as though he had missed, the
only reaction from the bear a slight jerk at the sound of
the shot. Then its pacing began to slow until the huge
animal came to a stop, its drooping head staring vacantly
at the pair of humans. For a few moments nothing but the
racing water moved and then the bear finally turned and
shuffled off into the forest, leaving behind red-stained
footprints in the snow. 

Sending up his thanks, Mulder dropped to his chest and
tried once again to reach his partner. Neither of them said
a word, too focused on averting disaster. They strained
their arms and fingers but they were still too far away.
Inching forward further, he placed some of his weight on
the branch Scully was holding on to.  They were so close,
their fingertips brushing slightly, when suddenly the
branch gave way, plunging Mulder's upper torso into the
river. Making a desperate grab for the wood, he managed to
get a grip on the branch. His relief was short-lived
however, because although he had kept Scully from being
swept away, he found himself being dragged into the water. 

He dug his knees into the crumbling snow, pulling on the
branch with all his might as he pushed aside everything
else -- pain, cold, fear -- and focused on getting his
partner safely to shore.

Closing his eyes, he pulled with all his might, letting
out a strangled cry as he put every fiber of his body into
the effort. Then a hand clamped onto his arm and he opened
his eyes to find Scully's gloved fingers wrapped around his
forearm. He grabbed at her coat, hauling her to the shore.
Then it was all over and they were lying side by side on
the bank, gasping. Mulder allowed himself a few more
seconds to regain his strength and dragged himself upright.
He had to get Scully out of her wet clothes.

He pulled off his wet coat and then stripped off his
sweater and turtleneck, leaving on his undershirt before
replacing his coat. Then he did the same to his partner,
but taking off everything except her bra. She didn't seem
to notice his manhandling at first and simply allowed him
to dress her in his own garments. Then she let out a
slightly hysterical laugh as he finished buttoning up her
damp coat.

"What's so funny?"

"This is th-the second t-time that you've had t-to do th-
this," she chattered.

A flash of the Antarctic and an enormous crater ran through
his head. He smiled indulgently at the thought. "We'll make
it through this too." He pulled her to her feet, grimacing
as he did so.

"I c-can hardly m-move my legs," Scully stuttered.

Mulder looked down at her soaked jeans, shaking his head.
There was nothing he could do about that, they would simply
have to dry on their own. "I can't carry you this time, so
just lean on me as much as you have to."

Luckily, since his partner didn't weigh much, Mulder
wasn't too burdened by her. They stumbled together through
the trees, away from their crashed vehicle. Mulder knew
that the soldiers had heard their shots and would be coming
to investigate. He didn't know where he was going, but he
knew he had to be anywhere but here. 

They hobbled along for an hour, Scully's weight growing
heavier with each step as Mulder lost strength. He looked
down at her face, her pale skin a deep contrast between the
red tendrils of her hair. Her lips were slightly blue but,
he was relieved to note, not a hypothermic shade. All this
walking was keeping them warm but burning precious energy
in the process. His coat had finally dried and his pants
were damp from the knees down. Scully's jacket and jeans
were also less wet, though not enough for his peace of
mind. His mind and body warred over whether to keep going
or allow himself a moment of rest. His body made the
decision for him, his left leg collapsing underneath him.
Scully landed on top of him with a startled "Oh!" 

He gripped the trunk of a tree about three inches from his
face, glad he hadn't hit the wood instead, and dragged
himself into a sitting position against it. Scully crawled
up next to him, settling her body as close to his as
humanly possible. "Muld-der?"


"You ok-kay?"

"Peachy." He leaned his head back against the rough bark,
his mind whirling with the desperation of their situation.
Staring off into space, he was startled when a tiny white
ball landed on his nose. He groaned -- it was starting to
snow again. At least it would hide their tracks. His head
lolled to the right, looking back at their trail through
the snow. Then something caught his eye. At the bottom of a
rather large snowdrift they had passed there was a hole. It
was small and right next to a tree so that the branches
covered it. It was so well camouflaged that anyone would
miss it unless the light hit it just so. If only it was big
enough for two...



"We need to get up before my butt freezes to the ground."
She snorted at the comment but started moving. After a few
moments and a lot of effort, they made it to their feet and
Mulder was leading them to the hole. He propped Scully
against the tree and knelt down, feeling his belt cinch
across his wound. He felt little pain, it had been numbed
by the cold a while ago. 

Digging at the base of the hole, he discovered that it was
larger than he had first imagined, at least wide enough to
allow someone to crawl through. He looked over his shoulder
at his partner. "Be right back." Scooting forward on his
hands and knees he was enveloped by darkness and he paused,
waiting for his eyes to adjust. There appeared to be enough
room for two, although it would be cramped. There was a
dark spot just in the corner and he scrambled forward to
investigate. He cried out in surprise as he suddenly
tumbled down a small ladder and landed in a spacious cave.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the flashlight,
clicking it on to give him enough light to see. He was
dumbfounded by what he beheld. There was a cot by one of
the walls, a clay oven against the opposite side that had a
chimney leading up into the ceiling of the cave, and a
crudely-constructed cabinet with one door hanging open to
reveal tools and jars.

"Mulder, where are you?" Scully's voice from above brought
him out of his amazed stupor. She had crawled into the
first section of the cave looking for him after he had
yelled. Going up the ladder, he almost came up right
underneath her.

"You'll never believe this, Scully." He took her arm and
led her down the steps, shining the flashlight around so she
could see everything. 

She let out a long breath in appreciation of the
discovery. "Somebody worked hard to make a place that
wasn't easily seen. Do you think anyone's been here in a

"I don't care. It's shelter and it's a good hiding place,
that's all that matters. We can lay our clothes out to dry
and curl up on the cot to get warmer. We can't risk a fire
during the daylight."

Scully nodded. There was no way they were going to make it
much farther today, despite the fact that it wasn't even
noon. They were both freezing and needed to get warm. After
a night of rest and dressed in dry clothing, they would
make much better progress tomorrow. She looked at her
partner who was breathing heavily as he pulled off his
coat, the bandage underneath soaked red.

They just had to last until tomorrow.


5:26 p.m.

Scully couldn't sleep. Despite the fact that she was
exhausted, she couldn't seem to sleep. Pressed up against
Mulder's body and covered in a blanket of animal fur, she
was careful not to disturb her slumbering partner. After
changing his bandages -- she thanked her foresight in
packing his small backpack with the essentials -- they had
curled up on the cot and regained the precious body heat
they had lost. When they finally felt like the last bit of
cold had seeped from their bones, they had eaten the simple
meals that she had also stowed in the pack. Then it was
back to the cot, keeping each other as warm as possible
until it was safe to light a fire.

Her mind was too full of questions for her to sleep. Would
the soldiers find them? Would the ranger come looking for
them? Would Mulder last long enough to get out of here? Who
lived here before? What the hell was poking her in the back?

Rolling over slowly, she reached under the small space
below the cot and felt around until her fingers bumped
against something. Feeling around its edges, she recognized
its shape and took a firm grip, pulling it out. Settling
back against Mulder, she looked at the book in her hands,
noticing the layer of dust on it. Whoever had lived here
before certainly hadn't been here for a very long time.
Opening the cover to the first page, she discovered that it
was a journal by the previous occupant, dated November 7th,

**I escaped last night. After a month and a half of
planning, of memorizing the guards' routines and the
doctors' rounds, I did it. Left two guards dead so they
couldn't sound the alarm. I feel no guilt, they made me
what I am. I found a small cave that had an outlet into a
larger one that could be made into reasonable living
quarters. I've already decided not to return to
civilization. There is no way I would be accepted, not
after what I've become.**

Scully flipped through the next few pages and stopped on
one from December 28, 1997.

**A sweeper team came by today. They didn't find my
hideout but it took all of my willpower to resist the need
to kill. My mutations have been useful, however, in my daily
life in the wilderness. I eat what I kill and hone my
hunting instincts as well. It's a good thing there are no
campers this far north, I can't be held responsible for my

She turned to an entry on January 19, 1998.

**Something is wrong. My hands shake all the time and
sometimes I black out without warning. I know it has
something to do with what they did to me but I don't know
if this is a natural side effect of going off the drugs or
if it is a sign of worse things to come. The urge to kill
is almost overpowering now and I have to stay in my cave to
keep from giving myself away.**

February 11, 1998.

**I know now that what is happening to me is not what the
doctors planned. The blackouts have gotten so bad that I
cannot hunt for more than ten minutes without taking the
risk that I might lose consciousness out in the open. I
remember one doctor saying something about cell rejection
and shutdown. I think he was talking about what I'm
feeling. My cells are rejecting my mutation and my body is
shutting down. I am going to die and there is nothing I can
do about it. The only thought that brings me comfort is
that their experiment failed.**

February 16, 1998. 

**My moments of lucidity are outnumbered by delirium and
unconsciousness, it won't be long now until it is all over.
For me at least. Last night the helicopter was out, which
can mean only one thing: New subjects. Obviously the
doctors have given up their attempts to find me and have
now gone in search of fresh guinea pigs. I wish them a
swift and painless death instead of what I've had to
endure. At least this is one guinea pig that got away. For

That was the last entry.


10:13 p.m.

When Mulder woke up, Scully showed him the journal and he
read through it as she cleared the snow from the chimney
and started a fire. Sitting in front of the crackling
flames, they tried to decide on a course of action.

"We've got to get those kids out of there."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "And how do you propose two FBI
agents in less than perfect condition are going to get into
a high security military lab and sneak out with five of
their test subjects who may not be in any shape to help?"

"I don't know but we have to do something. You read what
happened to this guy," he held up the journal, "Their
bodies are going to shut down because they can't handle the

"It's been over two years since then, the doctors have
probably made adjustments to their experiments."

"Are you willing to take that chance? Willing to bet the
lives of five innocent people on it?"

Scully pressed her lips into a thin line. "No. You're
right, we have a responsibility to those kids."

"Besides, if we face the facts, there is no way we're
going to be able to hike all the way back to the ranger's
station. At least the compound is closer and we might be
able to steal a car."

Nodding in acquiescence, Dana tried to hide the fear in
her eyes by throwing another log on the fire. Her partner
was right -- there was no way he could hike very far. The
food they had eaten earlier seemed to cause him no
problems, so she prayed it was a sign that his intestines
weren't damaged, but he was still bleeding. He was very
tired and had slept almost the entire time they had been in
the cave, blood loss and the cold making him lethargic. He
seemed to be handling the pain well, but she knew that he
was struggling, she could tell by the lines at the corner
of his eyes and mouth. She doubted he was up to anything
resembling a rescue mission but he had surprised her before
and hopefully would again.

She must have given something away in her silence because
Mulder's hand on her cheek turned her to face him. "We can
do this. Tomorrow morning we'll start hiking back to the
compound. We can take what we need from here, like some of
the tools in the cabinet. Our clothes are dry and we have
plenty of water and some food left. You can bandage me up
nice and tight, the bleeding is hardly noticeable now and
the cold will work as a painkiller. As long as there's no
blizzard, we can do this. I promise."

Reaching down, he squeezed both of her hands, looking her
straight in the eyes. Then he stood up, trying fiercely to
hide his grimace and moved over to the ramshackle cabinet.
He opened one of the doors carefully so it wouldn't fall
off the hinges and looked inside for anything useful. What
he found were knives, a hatchet, a bow and some arrows, a
Sig Sauer with two extra clips and, of all things, a lock
pick set. Mulder smiled to himself, whoever this man had
been, he had certainly believed in being prepared. 


Bear Head Lake State Park 
Monday 9:03 a.m.

Scully hefted the backpack over her shoulder despite her
partner's protests. "If you expect me to go along with this
harebrained scheme of yours, you do what the doctor orders."

Looking at the stick in his hand with dismay, Mulder
sighed in martyrdom. Scully had demanded he use the long
branch she had cut off a tree with the hatchet as a
makeshift cane. Add to the fact that she also insisted she
carry all the supplies, and he was feeling the blow to his
manly pride. At least he still had his weapon.

After checking their position with the sun, they headed
towards the road, intending to follow it back to the
roadblock and then around to the base. They set a steady if
slow pace, keeping alert for any sign of the soldiers who
had pursued them. It took over four hours for them to reach
the avalanched road and by then Mulder was glad for the
stick he had leaned on for the past three hours. They
decided to take a moment's rest in a small alcove of the
avalanche debris to gather their strength for the uphill

"I'm surprised there doesn't seem to be any activity in
this area. Either they don't think we're important enough
to bother with, or they assume we're dead," Mulder said in
hushed tones.

"Maybe they think we got away," Scully whispered hopefully.

Mulder just blinked at her. "Whatever the reason, I still
think we should be as cautious as possible and circle
around to the site instead of straight up to it. Take maybe
another hour."

Scully shifted her pack. "You ready?"

"As I'll ever be. Let's get going."

They moved out past the roadblock and headed in a wide
circle that would bring them around to what they believed
would be the back of the compound. About fifty minutes
later they had reached the rim of the valley that contained
the base and they ducked below the edge, keeping out of

"Awfully quiet down there," Scully commented.

"Maybe the snow shut down activities?" Mulder wondered,
breathing heavily.

"Doubt it." She peeked over the edge, her eyes scanning
the area. "There's no sign of anyone. No soldiers, no
vehicles, nothing."

"I have a bad feeling about this." Mulder raised his head
next to hers. "You think they decided to evacuate?"

"Maybe. It's possible they thought there was too much
interest in this site and they needed to move their base of
operations somewhere else." She removed the binoculars from
the backpack and got a closer look at the building. "Of
course, they could be inside waiting for us to show up and
shoot us the second we reveal ourselves."

Mulder took a deep breath. "Only one way to find out." He
stood up suddenly, swaying slightly with dizziness.

"Mulder!" Scully hissed, grabbing at his jeans. 

He ignored her and raised his arms, waving them back and
forth. There was no reaction from the building. He looked
down at Scully. "Well, I'm not full of holes."

"One is enough," she replied icily as she climbed up next
to him. "It appears the place is deserted."

"Let's invite ourselves in." Mulder started down the
incline, Scully stumbling as she followed him hastily. By
the time they reached the fence, there was still no activity
from inside the compound. Mulder made quick use of the lock
pick set and they were inside the gates, pausing
automatically as they expected an alarm to go off.


Mulder shrugged and pointed to the door with a sign that
read "Authorized Personnel Only." "Let's see what's behind 
door number one."

After a moment with the picks they were inside a long
hallway, leading to the right and the left. Everything
seemed as though it had been bleached clean, not a speck of
dust in sight. Mulder sniffed. "Smells like a hospital."

"You'd know," Scully huffed, still angry at his foolhardy

Mulder ignored it. "Left or right?"

"Right." They moved down the hall, stopping at each door,
which all opened easily. There was nothing but empty rooms,
the machinery and equipment had been stripped.

"They didn't leave anything behind , did they." Mulder
shook his head at the thought, dismayed at the thought of
once again having the evidence disappear right under his

"Let's hope they left something," Scully said evenly. He
knew she was referring to the missing hikers. "They usually
keep the test subjects fairly close to the labs for easy
access. If these are all the experiment rooms, the holding
cells must be back the other way."

They turned around and headed back down the hallway. After
passing the door they had entered through they had to walk
almost forty yards before reaching another door. This one
was locked and Mulder shot a significant look at Scully
before making quick work of the lock. 

Inside was another hallway, much shorter than the last and
lined with three doors on each side. The doors all had
small windows three-quarters of the way up that showed the
contents of each room. And those contents were the
kidnapped hikers.


The cell doors were harder to breach than the others --
code panels opened them. After trying several combinations,
Mulder gave up and simply shot the panel, the door sliding
open a few seconds later. 

A young man was standing in the corner, his eyes wide with
fear. "Who are you?" he stammered, noting the gun in
Mulder's hand. 

Scully squeezed between the doorway and her partner. She
held out her hand, "We're with the FBI, we're here to bring
you home."

The youth looked shocked for a moment and then smiled
widely. "Thank God! I thought no one would ever find us!" 

Mulder, who recognized the boy as Randy Dettweiler from
his picture, asked about the others. "Have you had any
contact with Mark Schumacher, Amanda Huntsacker, Casey
Ryburg, and Steve Michaels?"

"They're all here," Randy answered. "We've all helped each
other get through the tests as well as possible." The young
man shuddered.

Scully put a hand on his shoulder. "Everything's going to
be okay. Let's get the others."

Four destroyed code panels and quick explanations later,
the group of two adults and five hikers were standing in
the middle of Casey's room. She was the first one of the
kids who had been taken and so had been subjected to more
tests than the rest. At the moment she was huddled on her
bed, not responding to any of the others.

"She's been like that for the last few days, won't do
anything but stare off into space," Steve explained. 

"Traumatic shock," Scully guessed. "Casey? Casey, I'm
Agent Scully and this is Agent Mulder, we're with the FBI,
we're here to help you." She kept her tone soft and
soothing. "We need you to come with us so we can take you

"C'mon, Case, let's blow this joint," Randy cajoled.

Soft words came from cracked lips. "Blow this joint."

"Did she say something?" Steve asked.

"Yeah, she said 'blow this joint,'" Randy replied.

In fact, Casey was repeating the three words over and
over. She began to rock back and forth, her head hitting the
wall with a dull thud as she moved. 

"We're going to have to carry her out of here. I don't
know if anyone is going to come back, but I'd rather not
take the chance and want to be long gone if they do."
Mulder gestured to Randy and Steve. "Take her by the arms.
Be gentle but firm."

The two boys took Casey by an arm and hauled her to her
feet. She started to wilt to the floor but they held her.
As the pair stepped forward, she shuffled along with them,
her feet automatically moving. She continued to chant

Mulder gave her one last look, hoping that the
psychological damage could be undone and then turned,
leading the way out of the building. They were halfway down
the long hall when suddenly the lights went out, plunging
them into darkness.

Casey started screaming, struggling against Randy and
Steve. "Blow this joint! Blow it! Blow!"

Abruptly a red light switched on, bathing the clear hall
in an eerie glow. Scully stared at Casey, wondering why the
girl would suddenly panic. She looked at Mulder and saw
that his lips were moving. It took her a second to realize
that he was saying the same thing as Casey, his mind
deciphering her pointless rambling.

"Jesus Christ," he murmured. He whirled around to the
others. "We've got to get out of here, right now!" He ran
for the door, slamming it open, the bright daylight
blinding him momentarily. "Move, come on, let's go!"

Not questioning his sudden haste, the group chased after
him, piling out of the doorway as fast as possible. Mulder
cursed under his breath when he saw the small square of
material on the wall to his left that confirmed his
suspicions. "They've got the whole place wired with C-4."

Scully sucked in her breath as she saw the same thing her
partner did. "They didn't want to leave any evidence

"We've got to get as far away from here as possible."
Mulder pointed up to the ridge where he and Scully had fled
from just two nights ago. "Head for those trees, don't stop
running until you get there!" 

Needing no more urging, the group broke into a run, their
feet and hearts pounding. They had almost made it to the
top of the ridge when there was a cry from behind. "Agent
Mulder, we can't get Casey up any farther!" Randy shouted.

Mulder stopped his ascent and looked down to see the boys
struggling with Casey's leaden body. He scrambled down to
them. "Steve, go with Agent Scully, I'll help Randy with

"But..." Steve stammered.

"Go!" Mulder turned away from him, not bothering to see if
he had obeyed, and focused on the task at hand. "I'll get
her by the arms, you grab her feet," he instructed Randy.
They picked her up together and started making a slow
ascent. It was a cumbersome way to travel, but there was no
way Mulder was going to let any of these kids down.
Gritting his teeth as the pain in his side flared, he kept
his feet moving, bringing them closer to safety.

He reached the top out of breath and with spots dancing in
front of his eyes. Randy smiled, also breathing heavily,
"We did it."

Letting out a sigh of relief that they had finally made it
to the top, Mulder automatically turned and looked behind
him. He barely had time to register the explosion before he
was knocked off his feet by the shock wave. He tumbled
forwards, taking the girl with him, he twisted frantically
so as not to land on her. Randy, who had lost his grip on
Casey when the blast hit, was lucky enough to grab onto a
nearby tree with an out-thrown arm.

The other two rolled down the hill, trees and snow
whirling by in a blur as they rolled. Mulder tried to
protect Casey with his body but he could still hear her
grunts of pain as they bounced over rocks.

With a suddenness that knocked the wind out of him, they
hit the level road, sliding to a halt just before they
slammed into the avalanche debris. Uncurling himself from
the girl, Mulder rolled onto his back staring up into the
sky. He could hear his partner calling his name but she
seemed so far away. He thought about trying to fight the
impending darkness but, deciding that their mission was
accomplished, he let himself drift into peaceful


Scully hesitated when Steve told her that Mulder had 
insisted he go on without him, but she knew that the
lives of civilians were at risk and that was her first
priority. She waved him along and they headed down the
slope as quickly as possible. The explosion that rumbled
through the ground made them stumble and she clutched a
tree to keep herself from toppling over. 

The first thought that came to her mind when she steadied
herself was her partner and Casey. She didn't have to
wonder about their fate for long, because they shot past
her in a tangle of limbs and snow. Randy was hanging onto
a tree and she and Steve pulled him up. Then Scully
down the slope after Mulder and Casey, appalled at how fast 
they had tumbled. She almost lost sight of them when the
opened up before her and she saw the pair had come sliding
a stop. Mulder moved enough to separate himself from the
and then he went limp.

"Mulder!" She skidded up next to him, falling to her
knees. She checked his pulse, closing her eyes as she felt
the rapid flutter under her fingers. She was about to check
on Casey as well when the girl moaned, sitting up and
rubbing her head. 

"What just happened?"

The rest of the group had made it down the hill by now and
were standing in a semicircle behind Scully. Steve snorted.
"About time you got with the program."

The girl blinked. "There was a bomb. They were going to
blow us up to make sure that nobody knew what they did to
us. They didn't think I could hear them but I did. They
didn't think I could understand anything because I wouldn't

Randy, who was kneeling next to her, gave her a little
shake to stop her rambling. "You're okay now."

Casey gave him a slight smile that turned into a frown.
She bent over the prone form lying next to her. "Agent
Mulder? Agent Mulder, are you all right?"

To Scully's relief, Mulder groaned, his eyes squeezing
tightly shut. "Now I have a headache and about a hundred
bruises to go with all my other aches and pains."

Everyone laughed in relief as Scully helped Mulder to his
feet but she noticed that he was guarding his left side.
Biting her lip, she knew he was putting up a front for the
others and didn't call him on it. 

"Where do we go from here?" Mark asked.

"That explosion was probably heard all the way back to
town and I bet that anyone at the ranger station can see
that big cloud. They're going to send someone up to check
on it and they'll have to use this road. Our best bet is to
stay here until they show up." Scully pointed at the rubble
caused by the avalanche.

They settled themselves at the base of the roadblock, the
three boys gathering wood to build a fire and Amanda
helping Scully care for Casey. The girl had several dark
bruises forming and some cuts caused by branches or rocks.
Scully still had some antiseptic left and treated the
girl's scrapes, thankful that she hadn't broken any bones.
Declaring her as healthy as could be after doing a
precursory head injury test, Scully turned her attention to
her partner.

"Your turn, Mulder."

He complained jokingly, winking at Casey who grinned back.
Just then the boys returned, dumping their load in a pile
at their feet. Mark had brought a bunch of large rocks with
which to build a fire ring and they began to set it up,
eager to have the warmth and security of the flames. They
had been dressed in fairly thick clothing but nothing that
was meant for being out in the weather for an extended
period of time. 

As the kids were preoccupied with getting the fire
started, Scully had Mulder lie back, opening his jacket and
lifting up his layers of clothes. Her eyes narrowed as she
saw the red stained bandage. Any healing that had been
gained by their rest last night had been completely undone.
She pulled off the gauze, noting the color of the wound as
she wiped the blood away. The edges of the wound were
tinged an angry red, infection beginning to set in. Scully
brushed away the panic that threatened, reasoning that they
were lucky that it had taken as long as it did.

A gasp from behind her shook her out of her thoughts. She
looked over her shoulder to see Amanda, her eyes wide and
her hand to her mouth in shock. The others were coming up
next to her to see what had startled her. She swallowed
convulsively and cleared her throat. "Is Agent Mulder okay?"

Mulder propped himself up on his elbows, tilting his head
to the left to see the group of kids. "Nothing a few days
in a nice warm hospital bed won't cure. Don't worry, I'm in
good hands."

Only slightly reassured, they went back to the fire, only
Casey remaining. She sat down next to Mulder, folding her
legs Indian style. "Did you land on a branch or something?"
She felt responsible for any injuries he had acquired
during their trip down the hill.

Mulder chuckled, wincing. "No, just a bullet. One of the
soldiers from the base took a few shots at us the other

"You've been shot?" Casey paled at the thought.

"Yeah and I really should have learned by now that it is
not real fun," he said sardonically.

Scully snorted. "You? Learn? Like you learned about our
trips to the forest?"

Mulder sighed dramatically. "You're never going to go
camping with me, are you, Scully?"

She just shook her head and finished applying the new


4:27 p.m.

Roy Benson kept one hand on the wheel, the other on the
radio he was speaking into. "I'm just coming around the
last turn, should see the end of the road any time now. The
smoke has thinned out a bit but I can still see it. It's
definitely coming from the old mill. I think -- holy shit!"
He slammed on his brakes as he came around the corner and
found seven people just in front of his bumper. 

"Roy, what is it?" came the voice of Cliff, his deputy

"It's our FBI agents, it looks like they found those
missing kids." Roy clicked off the radio and got out of his
truck, putting on his cowboy hat as he went to meet the

Scully reached him first. "Ranger Benson, I can't tell you
how glad I am to see you. I need you to radio for a medivac
helicopter to transport us to the nearest hospital. These
kids have undergone illegal biological testing and need to
be thoroughly checked out. Agent Mulder is suffering from a
two-day-old bullet wound and the sooner he gets to the
emergency room, the better."

Experienced enough to know when not to ask questions, Roy
jogged back to his truck, getting on the radio to Cliff. In
the background he could hear the kids cheering.

Agent Scully's Log 
Case #X12759730

After gaining helicopter transportation to Lincoln
Hospital, Agent Mulder was admitted for his injuries and
treated. The bullet passed through him just below the
spleen and managed to miss his intestines, causing
remarkably little internal damage. He is recuperating well
and can be expected to be released within a week. The five
missing hikers were subjected to every test that might
possibly show some evidence of what they had been through.
The only mentionable finding is that their adrenaline
levels were higher than normal. Undergoing a psychological
evaluation, the experts have declared them fit and ready to
return home, with the exception of Casey Ryburg, who has
been referred to a specialist to deal with her traumatic

Senator Huntsacker has expressed his overwhelming thanks
and Assistant Director Skinner has added a commendation to
our files. Our continuing luck regarding cases that place
us in forested surroundings inevitably creates in me a
sense of foreboding. Though this case had an overall
satisfactory result, the missing hikers being found and
illegal testing of unwilling patients stopped, I still
cannot feel a sense of peace. Perhaps because I cannot be
certain that the group responsible for the abduction of the
hikers will cease their activities. Or perhaps it is
because I know that it is only a matter of time before my
partner again takes me into the woods.


North Sterling State Park Colorado 
6:34 p.m.

Russell Napier trudged along the barely discernible path,
breathing in the crisp clean air. This was the life -- out
in the country with no pollution, no noise, no office, and
communing with nature. He pushed through some thick
undergrowth and emerged into a small clearing, the trees
forming a circle around him. He stopped and placed his
hands on his hips, turning around to get a good look at the
area. It seemed like the perfect place to set up camp.

Whistling happily as he set up his supplies, he soon had a
small fire going and his sleeping bag unrolled next to it.
Laying back on the thick padding, he gazed up into the sky,
marveling at how many stars you could see without the
lights of the city.

Suddenly a dark form obliterated his view of the stars and
a blazing white light flashed on above him, blinding him
with its intensity. He tried to move but couldn't seem to
get his muscles to obey him. As his body was lifted up into
that frightening brilliance he couldn't even scream.


I love camping. Honest. But if I ever see bright lights,
I'm getting the hell outta there.