IMTP VS8 Episode 15:
The Red Queen
Art by June Gunawan
TITLE: The Red Queen
SPOILERS: This is a Virtual Season 8 Episode, written
for I Made This Productions.
DISCLAIMER : In their original forms, these characters
were not created by me, but I have manipulated them for
my own curious whims as well as your reading pleasure.
SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully investigate a thirty year old
cold case involving a once prominent virologist and the
theft of materials from a Department of Defense laboratory.
Finding that the doctor lives in their area, they attempt
to close the case, but discover that the doctor's viral
research might not have ended after all.
E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org Come on, you know you want to!
or visit my web site at http://members.xoom.com/KatyBlue/
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: To three fabulous betas; Fabulous
Monster, Meredith and Toniann. They gave me great
suggestions -- any errors still present are all my own.
A huge thanks to the virtual season 8 production crew
for all the hard work they've done to put together this
wonderful 'cyber-season'! You guys rock!
AUTHOR'S NOTES: at end.
"Where do you come from?" said the Red Queen. "And where
are you going? Look up, speak nicely, and don't twiddle
your fingers all the time."
~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~
Monday, December 10
Falls Church, Virginia
Dr. Vincent White drank only to get drunk.
There was no point to the act for him outside of the
pursuit of oblivion. The bottle of wine was half full. He
made it empty.
He felt empty, reclining in the inescapable clutter of his
neglected apartment. The slipcover half hung off the couch
he was sprawled across. The heavy curtains were pulled so
the room was dimmed. The little sunlight that did manage
to intrude spilled through a crack in the grime of the
curtains and highlighted only dust motes swirling in its
alluring but unreachable illumination.
He barely recognized the daylight.
There was a stack of mediocrity next to him. He could
still recognize *that*, thank God. Final exams lay in an
untidy pile at his fingertips, the corrections needed to
fix multiple errors required an effort that Vincent no
longer had the energy for today. And after just barely
starting them, no less.
Given that the final grades for his motley pack of
students were due tomorrow, he should be more concerned,
but he wasn't. He'd get a call tomorrow from some
administrative assistant, nastily reminding him he was late
again. So what? It would take another three days for the
university to start hounding him in earnest. After that, he
had only the fallout of dealing with a multitude of annoyed
and mediocre students when the grades were sent out and
they started calling the biology department and demanding
to know why they'd received an incomplete for their
hopelessly sub-par work.
He'd been through it all before.
Tomorrow would be soon enough to try and make himself
He looked at the picture in his hands. He stumbled over
these things from time to time. They gave him pause. The
picture was of Matthew, his small body bent over a sand
castle and his blonde hair tousled by the strong ocean
breeze. Both hands were held out before him, as if
uncertain he liked the sensation of the sand sticking to
them. He'd been a very fastidious little boy. In the photo,
his lips were pursed in fierce concentration of the object
under construction before him.
Olivia, in the background, was beaming at her little boy
from the backlit aura of warm June sunshine. Her dark curls
were unruly in the breeze. Her hand, frozen in that moment
of time, tucked a curl behind her ear.
The picture reminded him of all he'd lost. Dr. Vincent
White took another swig straight from the bottle. He rarely
bothered with a glass anymore. No point, really. He never
had company to entertain. At the time this picture had
been taken, he'd sipped an excellent vintage wine out of a
crystal wineglass. He and Olivia had hosted well-attended
and sought-after dinner parties. They'd resided in the
opulent comfort of a three million dollar, impeccably
decorated home on oceanfront property. Afforded this luxury
mostly from Olivia's family money, but aided by his status
as a well-known and respected virologist at the prestigious
Yale University and a whopping Department of Defense grant
for his research.
He'd thought he was set for life.
He'd had a beautiful family, he thought sadly.
He rarely took note of his surroundings now. It was too
He was glad the girls weren't in the picture. He couldn't
take that right now. Elizabeth, with those impossibly long
lashes and light blue eyes, the riot of dark curls just
like her mother. Little Gwennie, a smaller carbon copy of
her older sister. Marissa, next in line, and blonde just
like Matthew. He tipped the bottle up again and the picture
fluttered from his fingers to settle near a stain on the
beaten rug. He reached down to save the treasure from the
filth it had landed in.
It was too much wine all at once. His stomach protested.
He belched and felt the acid sting of it come up his
esophagus and out his nose. Sitting up quickly, he snatched
the photo up, setting it where it was safe. Bending back
over, he put a hand to his nostrils to catch the remaining
liquid as it burned its passage out.
When his hand came away stained with the red of the wine,
he began to cry.
Matthew had a nosebleed on a Sunday night, exactly thirty
years ago. That was the beginning of the end of his son's
life, as well as what Dr. White had known to be his life.
Colleagues shook their heads and avoided his eyes as they
treated his little boy. They tried every medication they
thought might work as Matthew's symptoms intensified. The
pieces hadn't fit any known puzzle at the time.
How could they? No one had known about that particular
puzzle except for Vincent.
His colleagues finally shrank from his impotent rage and
guilt-filled wrath. He cursed them all. He railed at God
and himself as the virus locked into its terrible pattern.
He weakened at the sight of his child's helplessness.
There was no hope for his son's survival. And yet he'd
Matthew labored into the early hours of Monday morning,
December 22nd, while Vincent and his wife stood helplessly
by their son's bedside. Three days from Christmas,
beautiful little Matthew shuffled in little baby steps
off this mortal coil.
Looking back, he still knew this blow might have been
endured. With his wife and three little girls, they could
have pulled together to mourn and cherish the memory of
Matthew. But shockingly and unexpectedly, little Matthew
was followed within days by Olivia and all three of his
He had no idea how his family had contracted the virus.
But that it had somehow come from him was undeniable.
And in this most perfectly designed hell on earth, Dr.
Vincent White had survived.
He called this life his penance. And he began a downhill
slide into oblivion, self-recrimination and alcoholism
from that day forward.
He knew that he whole-heartedly deserved it.
"I don't know what you mean by *your* way," said the Queen:
"all the ways about here belong to me -- but why did you
come out here at all?" she added in a kinder tone. "Curtsey
while you're thinking what to say. It saves time."
~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~
Monday, December 10
Mulder had his back to Scully when she entered the room.
He was bent over a box and she saw a cloud of dust rise in
the spill of sunlight as he pulled a yellowed sheaf of
papers out of it.
"Good morning, Mulder."
"Morning, Scully. It's your lucky day..."
With some apprehension, she set her coffee cup down on the
table in the corner and turned back to her partner. By now,
she prided herself on being able to read even the most
subtle hint of sarcasm in his voice, and as a result, she
was certain this was *not* going to be a very lucky day for
"What's up, Mulder?" she asked cautiously.
"Skinner's got us on the X-files version of cold-case
detail. I think our report from the last case was too much
for him. So we've been detained from further investigation
for the rest of this week. Instead, we have to go through
storage room B and deliver it of any old X-files we can
find in there."
Storage room B, just down the hall from them, contained
boxes of historical case files for every division of the
FBI, dating back to the creation of the bureau in 1908.
Most of the FBI's departments had already microfiched their
older cases. But the X-files division, lacking the help of
an administrative assistant, wasn't up to date with
inputting older files into the database.
At the moment, she wished this particular storage room had
fallen victim to the fire that destroyed the majority of
their original files.
"You're kidding?" she groaned. He stared back impassively.
"You mean physically go through the files?"
"Yes. And no, I'm not kidding," he added. At her look, he
said, "Don't worry. We don't have to power-lift any boxes,
Scully. All we need to do is go through a few that, over
the years, have been classified by other departments as
'not fitting their criteria'. And if we're lucky enough to
find an X-file, we make sure nothing new has come up on the
case before we enter it into our database."
He pointed to the floor where three boxes were lined up.
"I've already got a head start and I've taken the liberty
of denoting three categories. This first one is the 'not
our problem either' box." Moving over, he kicked the second
box. "This one is for the files we get to keep, even though
they're just about as cold as ice pops -- X-files dated
within the last fifty years, but ready to be 'put down.'
I'm calling them the 'geriatrics.'"
"Mulder..." she admonished.
He nodded at the third box. "And lastly, our 'live but
cold' X-files." The box he indicated already contained a
file, she noted with dismay as he leaned over and held it
up triumphantly. "Don't worry. So far, this is the only one
even close to being active. And this particular box is
likely to stay pretty empty, since no one's been in that
room for the past twenty years, I think. We're talking very
cold cases here, Scully."
Mulder was attacking the task with his usual enthusiasm,
which, while good to see, was also daunting. Perfect. Was
she supposed to throw herself whole-heartedly into creating
an X-file archive? What Mulder needed right now was not a
partner, but a librarian who knew how to archive.
"Can't someone else do this?" She hated the whine she
heard creeping into her voice. He gave her a look. "I just
mean, why do we get the pleasure of this detail? Is it
because that storage room borders on our basement hovel?
Why isn't anyone from the other departments helping to
classify these cases?"
She noted within seconds Mulder's uncharacteristic silence
as he busied himself perusing another yellowed file in his
hands. "Mulder? Did you have something to do with this
He sighed at her lack of enthusiasm and indicated a large
pile of boxes they needed to go through. His eyes were
shining with the excitement reserved only for children at
Christmas. "No one has touched these files for years,
Scully. And I know there are X-files in here. Do you
really think we'd be certain to get them if someone else
looked through these boxes?" he asked pointedly.
He thought someone would keep the cases from them. And as
much as this bordered on paranoia, she knew the statement
also held truth.
"First dibs," Mulder said, smiling sheepishly at her. "It
isn't like I want to do this," he continued. "But I might
remind you we were pulled off any active cases for the next
week anyway after our latest fiasco. Besides," he shrugged,
"it'll give us something to do." And he raised his eyebrows
at her hopefully. It could even be interesting, Scully. I
mean, look at the history here." He leaned over and pulled
out a folder. The dust came off of it in a cloud and he
waved at the air and coughed.
"Slightly hazardous to your health, I'd say." At his look,
she finally relented. With a pointed sigh, she sunk down
into her chair and took a long sip of her coffee,
marshalling herself to join him, but content to relax and
watch his movements for a minute. She marveled at him,
already well-advanced into his workday as she was just
beginning. And she prepared herself for the unpleasant
task ahead by allowing a good healthy dose of caffeine to
infuse her system as she made her final protest known.
"I'm not happy about this, Mulder."
He nodded, unmoved. When she made her displeasure more
obvious with a raised brow he went for the hard sell,
turning that special look in her direction that was
guaranteed to work in swaying her to his side. She waited
with anticipation. There it was -- the little push of his
lower lip so it jutted out at her into a much-too-
endearing pout. And his eyes sparkled with such
earnestness that she found herself giving in, though she
knew the ploy too well and had to fight back a smile.
"I'm telling you, Scully, some of it is fascinating," he
"I'll be the judge of that," she shot back with the
parting parry of the already defeated.
He grinned. "Here, I want you to look at this one. It's
right up your alley." He leaned over and picked out the
sole occupant of the 'live' box.
Reluctantly, she took the outstretched folder and set it
on her desk. The manila covering was smeared with grime. It
looked as if someone else had accidentally spilled an
entire cup of coffee onto it at some point in time.
With a put-upon sigh, she opened the folder.
The date was 1970. There was a picture inside. A family. A
middle-aged, blond man with his arm around an attractive
dark-haired woman. There were three little girls in frilly
dresses, arranged by height in front of the two adults. In
the arms of the woman was a little boy. She peered more
closely at the photo.
"Dr. Vincent White..." Mulder began across the room.
"Prominent scientist in his day..."
"A virologist," Scully finished for him, recognizing the
face. "Wow. I've heard of him. Supposedly, he was a
brilliant researcher -- I believe he was involved in
research that resulted in the development of a vaccine for
one of the hemmorhagic fevers. I read about him as an
According to the file, there was a theft of 'sensitive
materials' in the lab where Dr. Vincent White had worked.
The nature of the materials stolen was not revealed to the
bureau due to their classification as top secret Department
of Defense Research.
"The date is 1970, Mulder. Doesn't it seem odd that this
case is stuck in there with a bunch of cases from the
1920s through 40s?"
"Exactly my question. So I looked into it a little. And it
just so happens that Dr. White is actually very close by
and could be easily questioned about the case. I might add
that the Bureau never considered the case solved; in fact,
it never even made it past the preliminary investigation."
"Mulder, it says here that Dr. White was subsidized by a
grant from the Department of Defense. Maybe the DOD or the
Army dealt with the case." The paperwork inside the folder
contained tell-tale permanent black magic-marker ink-outs
of whole phrases. Classified material. Information that the
DOD had considered unnecessary for the FBI to know.
"It's still in the FBI's cache of unsolved cases, Scully."
"A theft in a secured government facility sounds like an
inside problem," she noted, frustrated at her inability to
dampen his enthusiasm. Cold cases were just that -- cases
that would probably never be solved. This case was no doubt
further complicated by the involvement of the United States
Government, under the guise of the DOD. It gave her a bad
feeling. "Mulder, what could a thirty-year-old theft of
classified information possibly have to do with anything
"How can you even ask that, Scully?" he demanded.
She sighed, caught. "Okay...why is it an X-file?" she
Walking over to where she was reading, he pointed to the
picture she'd been studying. "The same year of that theft,
not long before it, in fact, Dr. Vincent White lost his
entire family to a mysterious and unidentified virus.
Those deaths were never investigated."
"Mulder," she groaned. She stared down again at the
picture of an apparently happy family. The children were
smiling in the sunshine, parents beaming proudly.
Seemingly the future stretched ahead of them all, an
endless possibility. She viewed them now with the sense
of poignancy that often struck her when the fate of such
victims was known. "Okay, given that this is a case we can
reopen, how can questioning this poor man about a thirty-
year-old theft and the death of his entire family possibly
have any benefit?" She looked up at Mulder, who was
standing over her now looking entirely too ready to do
just that. "Where did you say he was?"
His eyes were glinting with that particular fervor that
Mulder always brought to an investigation. "This once quite
brilliant researcher," he pointed down to the picture, "is
now teaching microbiology at a local college, Scully."
Her eyebrow climbed in disbelief. "Really?"
This did seem like a far cry from Yale University and the
development of a life-saving vaccine under a hefty government
contract. She glanced hesitantly back down at the file. "It
says here that there's some evidence stored on this case."
"I know." Mulder leaned over her shoulder, reading off the
list of catalogued numbers. "I believe it's in the true
bowels of this building, Scully." He grinned. "Bet you
didn't know there was actually a level below this."
"And here I thought we could lay claim to that
distinction," she said, looking around them.
"Only psychologically. I'm going to check out whatever it
is while you continue reading. Be right back, Scully." He
squeezed her shoulder. "Absorb, and be ready for some
action when I get back."
"We can't investigate it until we go through the rest of
these boxes, Mulder," she reminded him. "And Skinner said
we're banished to the office for the rest of this week,
"You got it, Scully. But at least we'll be ready when
Monday rolls around."
He was humming as he passed out the door. The air was
still thick with dust from the old boxes littering the
floor. Scully stared at the particles as they whirled in
a shaft of sunlight coming through the basement window.
Taking another long, slow sip of coffee, she let the folder
drift shut on the desk. Reaching out, she flicked on her
computer, content to let the contents of the unfortunate
Dr. White's file remain unread until she'd finished her
morning ritual of sipping coffee and reading her e-mail.
Digging deep into the past for seemingly no good purpose
could wait until Mulder returned from his errand. And
hopefully even longer after that.
The errand ended up taking Mulder much longer than she
expected. When he came back into the office, she was long
done with her coffee and he was sucking gingerly on his
"Mulder? Are you regressing?"
He popped the digit out of his mouth with an audible noise
and peered at it. "Cut myself, good. It finally stopped
bleeding," he observed.
"How did you manage to cut yourself, and what took you so
"It took a while to find the particular evidence room
labeled 'obscure and unobtainable'. You think *these*
boxes haven't seen the light of day, Scully?" He
shuddered. "You don't want to go where I've just been. I
underestimated when I said bowels. It was more like hell."
Frowning, she walked casually over to where he was leaning
up against his desk. It took a certain skill to stalk and
corner a wounded Mulder. Reaching out, she latched onto the
thumb in one deft snag and tugged the injured party toward
her in order to inspect it. Mulder was the only man she
knew who could hurt himself in any situation. Just getting
out of bed in the morning was unsafe for him. "You know,
that's not exactly the best way to treat a wound," she
"Sucking on it can introduce pathogens from your oral
cavity into the wound, as well as the other way around..."
He was beginning to smirk at her, though he was patient
with both the scolding and her ministrations, having
learned that once she got her hands on him, it was best
not to struggle. "What was that, Scully?" he murmured.
"You lost me back about the point where you said the
words 'sucking' and 'oral cavity' in the same sentence."
She threw him the requisite scowl as she peered closely at
his thumb, finally reassuring herself that it was no more
than a superficial laceration, albeit one deep enough into
the dermis to smart. A drop of blood welled up slowly.
"Did you know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has
a rodent problem?" Mulder remarked.
"What makes you say that?"
He was about to answer when the phone rang and he pulled
the thumb out of her grasp to answer it. She could tell it
was A.D. Skinner on the other end from how Mulder reacted,
a strange combination of annoyance and respect. He rolled
his eyes and mouthed the words, "Budget meeting tomorrow,"
at her. He peered at his thumb and stuck it back in his
"Don't forget we're due to go over our latest expense
report on Thursday," she reminded him. She never thought
she'd look forward to the mundane and often unpleasant
task of paperwork, but if it would keep them from running
off on a wild goose chase two weeks before Christmas, she
welcomed the distraction.
Moving back to her makeshift desk, she pushed Dr. White's
aged folder of misery to the far side as she searched for
a band-aid and listened to Mulder assure Skinner they
could definitely get the necessary reports ready on time.
She knew they would need to strategize in order to slip
their latest expenses through. The Bureau might not
appreciate how running through a junkyard in the process
of preventing a psychopath from killing her partner and
hitting the dirt in the same said junkyard in order to
avoid attracting the attention of a tiger while nursing
her partner's thankfully superficial gunshot wound to the
leg truly did ruin clothing, but she'd be damned if she'd
start buying disposable suits.
Mulder hung up the phone.
"They're buying me a new suit, Mulder," she stated
"You read my mind, Scully. Would you believe that Skinner
just told me we'd better figure out a way to justify the
names 'Anne Klein' and 'Giorgio Armani' to Accounting by
Just at this moment, somehow or other, they began to run.
Alice never could quite make out, in thinking it over
afterwards, how it was that they began: all she remembers
is, that they were running hand in hand, and the Queen went
so fast that it was all she could do to keep up with her:
and still the Queen kept crying "Faster! Faster!", but
Alice felt she *could not* go faster, though she had no
breath left to say so.
~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~
Friday, December 14
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
Two days, one budget meeting, an expense report and two
new suits later, Mulder was raring to get going on the
White case. Scully had long since given up trying to
convince him otherwise. And after three days of meetings,
she had to admit that she was just as ready to get out of
the office as Mulder.
"You're sure Skinner gave us the okay on this, Mulder?"
"Of course, Scully." He shot her a dirty look.
"Might I also point out that it's Friday...are you also
sure I can't convince you to take a few personal hours and
do some Christmas shopping with me instead of starting
this case today?"
"I'm definitely sure on that one, Scully."
She'd been very careful about her mention of any holiday
plans this year in Mulder's presence. In a way, his year
had included the loss of the only two remaining members of
his family. And as distant as they may have been from him
in their own respective ways, they were all the family
he'd had left. She'd already made a promise to herself to
stick by him this year, whether he asked her to or not.
She also knew he'd never ask. Mulder always played it as
if he were not big on the holidays in principle, but she
often suspected that his indifference was more a form of
self-preservation than actual dislike of the season.
George Mason University, where Dr. Vincent White now
taught microbiology, was in Alexandria, not very far from
Mulder's apartment. She'd had no idea there was even a
university there and read the information Mulder had
collected on it as they drove. Small and fairly newly
established, it was mostly a commuter school, spread over
three campuses and attracting a wealth of non-traditional
students. They parked the car in a nearly deserted lot
outside what looked to be the main building.
With a few exceptions, the campus appeared empty of
students. University attendees had completed their final
exams for the fall semester the week before and had been
released from the rigors of academia into the joy of their
respective holidays. The overall effect was a cluster of
brick buildings, deserted of signs of life and devoid of
any form of holiday cheer, but apparently still
functioning in some form over the break. Signs of random
human life were spotted moving from one building to the
Mulder and Scully entered a building pointed out to them
by an older professorial type as that holding the
biology offices. A young dark-haired woman sat at the
front desk, chewing gum and flirting with a rather badly
dressed security guard. Scully idly thought that any
company who dressed their security staff in ill-fitting
polyester should not also be allowed to arm them.
Mulder did the honors of clearing his throat to get their
attention. They performed their routine badge display in
tandem and the two university staffers appeared duly
impressed by the credentials.
"We're wondering if you could help us find a Dr. Vincent
White?" Mulder inquired. "We'd like to talk to him, if
"If you can find him, good luck!" the woman fumed. "He's
not answering at any of his numbers and his grades were due
in *yesterday*." Her annoyance was evident. But her
expression gradually changed from irritation to something
more akin to anticipation. "Why? Is he in trouble?"
"If you don't mind, we'd like to try and find him today."
Mulder slipped easily into what Scully considered his
'charming mode.' Mulder's attentions alone were enough
to have an marked effect on some women. Scully had also
decided that he wasn't quite as oblivious to it as he
sometimes pretended to her.
Proving herself one of the susceptible ones, the
receptionist quickly fell under the spell of his eyes,
blinked slowly, and smiled. Then she moved trance-like
behind her desk to do his bidding. Bending over a computer
screen, she called up telephone numbers and Dr. White's
home address for him.
The beefy security guard first scowled at Mulder for the
intrusion and then turned his attention to Scully. Deciding
turnabout was fair play, he looked her up and down, paying
particular attention to her breasts. Scully sent him a
withering look that was guaranteed to make him think twice
about the attention he was visiting upon a federal officer.
It seemed to work and he dropped his eyes to the floor.
"Here you go." The woman scribbled the phone numbers down
on a memo pad and tore the pink slip of paper off. She
handed it to Mulder with a wide smile, concentrating her
flirtations solely on him for the moment and forgetting her
conversation with the security guard. Mulder turned his own
attention back to Scully and mouthed the words 'let's go.'
"You could try his office," the woman called as they
turned toward the exit. "Third floor, number 364. His lab
is right beside that. God knows, he could be hiding up
there and just not answering when I knock. He's done *that*
before," she added with thinly-veiled contempt.
Mulder turned back and gave her a little smile. "Thanks."
"Do me a favor," she said. "If you do get a hold of him,
tell him the damned grades are due and I'm sick and tired
of dealing with the front office. Tell him I'll do my best
to make his life miserable next semester if he doesn't get
them to me by today," she added heatedly.
Mulder gave her a little wave as they climbed the first
flight of stairs. "Will do."
Scully shot him a look, but he was staring straight ahead,
a little scowl of concentration rested on his face. "What
are you thinking, Mulder?" she asked. "You know this is
going to go nowhere. Not that I'm complaining."
"Why do you think it's going nowhere?"
She sighed. "Wishful thinking," she said, resigned to her
fate. "Christmas is only about two weeks away and I'd just
as soon not get too involved in a new case."
He turned a contemplative look in her direction. "Are you
going to San Diego this year, Scully?" The question was
casual, but his expression was curious. She could swear he
was anxious about her answer.
"Why do you ask?" she replied carefully.
He shrugged it off. "No reason. Just asking."
"I haven't made any definite plans yet," she admitted. "I
didn't want to get my Mom's hopes up and then pull the plug
on her. What about you?" she asked, turning the question
around. "Want to come along?"
Her question was delivered as casually as his inquiry of
her plans. She'd wanted to ask him for a while now. She
admitted once more to herself that she was worried about
him being alone this year. Nevertheless, she doubted he'd
be receptive to her offer.
She was right on that account, but his expression was
worth the effort as it turned from one of brooding to
that of a wide smile. "Is Bill going to be there?"
He laughed aloud. "Oh, Scully, that's just asking for
trouble, isn't it?"
She returned his smile, happy to have amused him about a
holiday that had left neither of them feeling all that
jolly over the past few years. They climbed together to
the third floor.
"Yes, it certainly is, Mulder."
She resolved to stay in D.C. for the holiday before she
took the next step.
Dr. Vincent White did not deign to answer their knocks on
either the door of his lab or his office, if he were indeed
hiding inside as the receptionist implied. However, a crack
of light spilled out into the hallway from the next door
down as they were making their last attempt. Scully nudged
Mulder and they watched this door glide shut as quietly and
quickly as it had opened. Moving down the hall to stand in
front of it, Scully reached up and rapped firmly as Mulder
They waited for what seemed just a tad too long for an
answer. When the door finally opened, a very tall young man
with wire-rimmed glasses, in his mid-twenties and wearing
a pristine white lab coat, was revealed. He stared at the
two of them curiously, with a tinge of nervousness in his
stance. "Can I help you?"
"Possibly," Mulder said. "We're looking for Dr. Vincent
The young man's face turned into a slight scowl. "I
haven't seen him," he answered, with a slight lisp. "I'm
in the middle of an important experiment here, if you
Mulder pulled out his badge and Scully, beside him,
followed suit. "Actually, we do mind. Could we talk to
you for a second?"
The young man's eyes grew quite wide. He opened the door
with a scowl. "Come in -- just don't touch anything."
"Do you know Dr. White?" Scully asked. As she spoke, she
took the opportunity to glance at her surroundings and note
the contents of the lab. It was average, certainly not
boasting the amenities of a more prestigious location. But
the lab space was clean and very neat and the storage
adequate and well-organized.
"Well, yes..." the young man replied, as if this were
common knowledge and he couldn't understand why she didn't
know. "Unfortunately," he added. He seemed puzzled.
Scully well remembered the insular environment that a
university could sometimes be. One forgot that there was
an outside world where people didn't live and breathe
everything that was going on within the walls of a
particular academia. "He's my thesis advisor," he
finally explained. "This is his lab."
"Have you seen him recently?" Mulder asked.
The scowl came back. "No, but I'd certainly like to."
There was irritation on the young man's face, but also a
trace of condescension as he made his next statement. "I've
decided that it'll take nothing short of a resurgence of
the Bubonic plague to bring him back around," he announced
darkly, adjusting his glasses by pushing them back up onto
his nose with one finger. "I'm Harold Weaver, Jr. by the
"Agent Fox Mulder." Mulder pointed a finger in her
direction. "My partner, Dr. Dana Scully."
Harold held out a hand to shake both of theirs. His grip
was weak and his palms clammy, making for an unpleasant
exchange overall. She knew Mulder's usage of her title was
purposeful, having deduced that a fellow scientist might
get more information from Harold than an FBI agent. "What
are you working on, Harold?" she interjected smoothly.
"My thesis research," he stammered.
She nodded, feigning interest. "And that would be?"
"Viral evolution," he stated, pushing the glasses up with
one finger and staring at her again as if surprised she
didn't know this. "I'm looking at host-parasite
"What, specifically, about host-parasite interactions?"
"Uh...well..." He pushed his glasses up again and for a
second, seemed thrown by her question. His nervousness
either meant he was trying to hide something or was
painfully shy of social skills. Scully voted for the
latter. "We, uh..." He seemed to straighten and gain some
sort of confidence as he stated a phrase obviously learned
by rote and practiced more than once. No doubt, it was the
subject of his dissertation. "In this lab, we're attempting
to look at the parasites that affect a species of mouse in
order to determine whether these parasites are growing more
virulent to their host over time."
"Who's 'we'?" Mulder interrupted.
He grew nervous again and Scully was almost positive by
this point that a glaring lack of social skills was at the
heart of his difficulty in conversing. "Barbara Cross," he
stammered. "She's another grad student working on the same
project. She should be back any second. She just went to
the biology office to get a package."
"Oh. We'll wait then," Mulder said pleasantly, crossing
his arms and leaning back against one of the lab benches.
Harold scowled. "Look out. There are assays right there
behind you." He rolled his eyes as if Mulder were possibly
the most intellectually-challenged person ever to grace his
presence. "I'll lose six months of work if you knock
anything over," he muttered darkly, sprinting over to worry
at the area and check each object while intentionally
crowding Mulder aside. Mulder finally gave up and moved
away, rolling his eyes. Scully shot her partner a sharp
look and found her sympathies resting with the awkward
young man's fear at losing months of what was probably
Barbara Cross arrived moments later, walking into the lab
and coming to a dead stop when she saw the two strangers.
She was close to Scully's height, maybe an inch taller, but
quite a bit wider all the way around. Her dark hair was
straight and hung limply, in a way that almost appeared
unwashed. She might be a mousy blonde on a good day. Large,
heavy-framed glasses gave her an owlish sort of expression
and her face bore the painful scars of a lifelong struggle
with serious acne. Her eyes were hard as she studied them,
and she impaled Harold with a glare, obviously awaiting
his explanation for their presence.
Scully stepped forward and held out her I.D. "We're from
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ms. Cross. We're
actually looking for your advisor in order to ask him a few
questions about an old case. We just wondered if you'd seen
Barbara appeared to relax somewhat as she laughed, though
the laugh was short and without humor. Scully noticed that
her eyes were flying past them and over to the lab area
behind them, checking for something. She saw Mulder catch
this too. In rare cases, this was all they needed to solve
a case -- movement of a suspect's eyes to damning evidence.
Barbara appeared to be glancing at Harold and then the
alleged assays that Mulder had almost knocked over. But
after identifying the direction of the young woman's
attention, Scully had to remind herself that there was no
crime here. When she turned back to Barbara, one hundred
percent of the young woman's attention had returned to
herself and Mulder.
"We see him maybe once a week for our dressing down," she
said contemptuously. "Other than that, he leaves us alone.
But we're pretty self-sufficient, right Harold?"
Harold was nodding vigorously when Scully chanced a glance
"I'm halfway through writing my dissertation," Barbara
stated. "All I need from that old..." She stopped herself
and stared at them for a moment, narrowing her eyes.
Assessing them. "He only needs to show up for my oral
presentation and sign the paper afterward," she declared
finally, her voice hard and unforgiving. "And if you think
it's not going to be stressful enough to get *that* out of
him, you haven't suffered as his graduate student for the
past four years. And I might add that he's been riding on
the coattails of *my* publications for most of those years.
Co-author. Ha!" She laughed and there was no humor in the
sound. "I wrote every damn journal article and he couldn't
even have the decency to concentrate long enough to edit
them." Her eyes narrowed. "Why are you looking for him?"
she demanded. "He ought to be arrested for that alone."
Mulder shook his head. "The reason for our interest in
your advisor is information we can't share with you, Ms.
Cross. But we were wondering a bit about the nature of
the research that you and Mr. Weaver are doing under
Scully wanted very badly to call her partner on this line
of questioning. They had no business acting as if Dr.
White had been involved in a crime here or asking the
students to explain their research. The stories that would
fly on campus after this visit could certainly be damaging
to the poor man's reputation.
"You wouldn't understand the research." Barbara said with
"My partner here might," Mulder replied dryly, stepping
aside to indicate Scully. "She has a bachelor's degree in
physics, as well as being a medical doctor. Currently,
she's a pathologist for the Federal Bureau of
Investigation. Why don't you try her?"
A faint gleam of respect came into Barbara's eyes. In her
gaze was the respect offered a colleague -- grudging
entrance to the inner circle of academia. Once accepted,
however, one must play by the same cutthroat rules as
everyone else. "You must be on the clinical side of things
rather than the research side, hmmm?" Barbara asked,
condescension dripping in her tone.
"I've done quite a bit of research," Scully's replied
cooly, unperturbed at the dig. There was still a dearth of
women in the sciences, and one coping strategy for a woman
who did go into the field was just such a hardening in her
confrontations with other scientists. "I'm sure I'll be
able to grasp the concepts behind your experiment."
Barbara shook her head. "I don't have to tell you
anything. For all I know, you could be spies posing as
FBI agents, out to get to the patent before we do."
"What patent would that be, Barbara?" Mulder interrupted,
fighting back his grin at the young woman's wild
allegation. Scully felt herself growing annoyed at her
partner. The girl could have a point. It did happen.
"Look. I have friends who are lawyers," Barbara said. "And
I know I don't have to tell you anything. This is my
research. I'm on the verge of a discovery that could assure
me a very good job when I get out of this hell-hole. I'm
not jeopardizing that by giving up my experimental
procedure just because two bonehead strangers ask."
Mulder persevered, adopting a casual tone to his voice,
despite the insult. "We're just asking for a general idea
here, Barbara. We don't need specifics."
"Evolution," she snapped. "We're looking at host-parasite
interactions. But you could have learned that from the
biology office secretary, so why don't you go down there
and bug her instead of me?"
Behind them, the door to the lab opened once more to admit
a new player into this tense little tableau. When Scully
turned to study the newcomer, she had to blink twice to
convince herself that Brad Pitt hadn't actually just walked
into the room. There were a few subtle differences between
the actor and this young man. For instance, she'd never
seen Brad Pitt in a white lab coat. And this man's eyes
might actually be a shade bluer.
He stared at them in confusion for a minute and then smiled
warmly, noticeably addressing his welcome greeting to Scully.
She swore she could feel Mulder tense up beside her. "Hi,"
the Brad Pitt doppleganger said, walking forward with a
cowboy-like swagger to his gait. He stuck out a hand.
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Brad. No relation to the actor,
I swear." He laughed. "People always ask me that. I tell
them that if we were from the same parental genes, why in
hell would we be named the same thing?"
"I've seen stranger things be true," Mulder said
humorlessly beside her. He stuck out his badge instead of
his hand when Brad turned his attention in his direction.
"We're from the FBI, Mr...?"
"Palmer," the young man supplied, slipping his hands into
the pockets of his rather well-fitting jeans, retreating
somewhat in light of Mulder's less than friendly response
and Scully's careful reserve when faced with his over-
enthusiastic greeting. "Brad Palmer."
"Could we ask you a few questions about your research,
Brad?" Mulder asked.
"You don't have to say anything, Brad," Barbara
interrupted. "They're supposedly looking into some old
case that Vince was involved in. But right now, they're
just being nosy."
Brad got a pained look on his face. He rocked back on his
heels to catch sight of his fellow graduate student.
"Thanks for the advice, Barb, seeing as how you know I
can't think for myself."
"You said it, not me," she shot back musically, though the
antagonism in her voice was obvious.
Brad stared her down for a second, before turning back to
them. "What would you like to know?" he said with a wide
smile, directed mostly at Scully. "Come on over to my
little corner of this particular hell."
They followed him to a rather untidy desk that was indeed
shoved tightly into a corner. Like any graduate student,
the desk contained the requisite piles of papers and
volumes of relevant literature and various texts. There
were a few photographs pinned to a bulletin board on the
wall amongst interdepartmental memos about lab procedures
and safety. Scully glanced at the collection of photos and
noticed that each one contained Brad with a different
Brad sat down in his chair and rolled backward, kicking
his legs up onto the desk and putting his arms behind his
head. He bestowed another smile on Scully and tilted his
head, studying her with his smile lingering. "So what
brings the FBI to our humble lab?"
"I wouldn't get excited. It probably isn't your looks,
Brad," Barbara sniped from her position in the further
depths of the lab.
Brad rolled his eyes, not appearing to be too bothered by
the heckling of his lab mate. "Why are you interested in
our research?" he asked curiously.
Scully was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the
line of questioning she and Mulder were following. They
really had no business looking into whatever research Dr.
White and his graduate students were working on. That
wasn't part of the case. In fact, this was distinctly
turning into a one of Mulder's fishing expeditions and
she didn't like it one bit.
"We're not interested in your research, Mr. Palmer." She
gave Mulder a warning look. "We're just looking for your
advisor to speak to him about an old case. Have you seen
He shook his head. "He's not exactly 'around,' if you know
what I mean."
"No. What exactly do you mean, Brad?" Mulder piped up.
Scully shot him another look. He was acting as if these
students were under suspicion. She knew, when investigating
a crime, it often became an automatic response to suspect
everyone, almost unconsciously. Until you suddenly found
yourself treating everyone as guilty by default, even
though the law was specific that the situation was assumed
to be the exact opposite. Mulder didn't usually fall prey
Her eyes traveled over to her partner. He was leaning on
the second desk, arms crossed. His face looked mildly
flushed and he moved his eyes to hers when he sensed her
attention. She let a question pass from her eyes to his.
'What the hell are we doing here, Mulder?' His return
look was unreadable, his eyes void of a return message.
Brad continued with his explanation, though he watched the
interplay between them with sharp eyes. "To tell you the
truth, I feel bad for the guy. We think he's going insane.
Right, Barbara?" For their ears only, he whispered, "It
takes one to know one," and looked pointedly in Barbara's
"Shut up, Brad," she hurled back, obviously lacking
nothing in hearing ability. "And might I add that you're
looking at insanity every time you gaze narcissistically
into that multitude of mirrors you no doubt have scattered
all over your house."
"At least I can look in one without breaking it, Barbara,"
he shot back without pause, staring innocently up at the
Barbara moved into the sphere of their conversation.
Scully could almost feel her glowering at Brad. "If you're
so curious about us," she said acidly, "Brad here models in
order to put himself through school. Unfortunately, he
hasn't figured out yet that it's actually his true calling."
"Shut up, Barbara." It was Brad's turn to appear
flustered. He tipped the chair back onto all fours and shot
an apologetic look in their direction. "I'm getting my
doctorate here," he explained. "Because I want to and
because I'm qualified to." He aimed this part of the
statement at Barbara before turning back to them. "Barbara
hasn't yet accepted the concept that a scientist might be
both smart and attractive."
Scully sensed the young woman's frustration and anger
building. The outward insults these two obviously exchanged
in their everyday interactions had to be brutal on their
respective psyches. There definitely seemed to be some sort
of power struggle between Barbara and Brad. No doubt Dr.
White could have been a stabilizing influence here, but his
absence had instead created a 'Lord of the Flies' atmosphere
in this lab.
"You know, if I could make myself uglier to stop being
harassed by you, Barb, I'd gladly do it," Brad drawled.
"But that might give you too much satisfaction. I got into
this school the same way you did. I applied. I was
accepted. I'm here. Deal with it." Scully noted that he
was finally scowling and his face was flushed with anger
as she studied their exchange with a critical eye.
"That's what happens when a university lowers the standard
of acceptance for graduate school to a mere 3.0 GPA,"
Barbara said loudly, her own anger barely in check. Scully
idly contemplated that it was a wonder these students
hadn't killed each other by now. If Mulder and she were not
standing between them right now, she could imagine them
coming to blows.
Instead, Brad craned his neck around them, tilting himself
dangerously back in the seat in order to make insolent and
direct eye contact with his adversary. "Barbara, if I'd
known I was going to have to look at something like you for
the next two years of my life, believe me, I'd have studied
harder," he rifled back.
Scully turned to see the girl vacillating between
attacking Brad with the nearest blunt object or bursting
into tears. What she chose to do over either option was to
leave the room in a huff, slamming the door on her way out,
"That wasn't exactly nice, Brad." Mulder used his most
formal I'm-not-happy G-man voice; one that Scully
recognized as barely veiling his anger at Brad's callous
treatment of the woman. Although to give Barbara credit
where it was due, Scully was fairly sure the woman had
proven herself able to fling an equal amount of insults
in the exchange and would probably have scoffed at
Mulder's more protective instincts.
Brad looked pained. "Yeah, well you don't have to sit here
everyday with that ogre telling you how stupid you are."
Mulder shrugged. "If sitting's all you're doing, maybe you
Brad looked at Mulder as if he had just received the most
grievous insult of his life. Seeing no sympathy there, he
turned imploring eyes to Scully for protection. Two against
one is never a good place to be if you're the one who's
alone. Brad obviously recognized this.
"Look, I'm just trying to get into med school here," he
entreated Scully. "This was the only way to do it with my
undergrad grades. That doesn't mean I deserve to be
insulted at every turn for the next four years of my life."
Scully took a deep breath, finding herself growing angrier
by the minute at Mulder for dragging them into this lab and
into what was no better than a domestic squabble. Strangely,
she found her sympathies settling with Brad. No one can do
much about the outward manifestation of their physiology.
Scully had been in a similar position to Brad at one point
in time. There seemed to be an unspoken rule in academia that
an attractive person is highly unlikely to also be intelligent.
She'd lived through this prejudice a number of times in her
own career. Although it was more often a problem for women,
she wouldn't perpetuate the inequality for either sex.
Still, she had no place becoming involved in the student's
dispute and tried to get the conversation back on track.
"Look, Brad. We're not here to grade or judge anyone. None
of you are in any kind of trouble here. We're just looking
for Dr. White. Period."
Brad set the chair down and his feet hit the floor. "Well,
I can tell you about what we're working on, if you're
interested. These two idiots act as if we're on the verge
of the most ground-breaking discovery of the century." He
snorted. "As if."
"Brad, don't you dare think about telling them the
experimental protocol," Harold stammered from the lab bench.
"Take a chill pill, Harold. This isn't Harvard."
Harold glared through his spectacles at his fellow grad
student. He seemed to draw himself up with an enormous
amount of willpower, but his voice shook when he finally
spoke. "You know, Brad, you're a bane on this lab," he said
angrily, poking a stick-like finger in his lab mate's
Brad snorted an indignant laugh. "That's ripe, Harold,
coming from you."
Scully watched the awkward young man back down from the
insult, curiously flustered by Brad's words. Having
apparently finished whatever experiment he was doing, he
fumbled to remove his latex gloves and hastily exited
"You have a way with your colleagues, don't you Brad?"
Mulder remarked dryly.
Brad shot a dirty look at Mulder. "They're no prizes to
work with, believe me. You're luckier than me in that
respect," he said, transparent in his flirtations as he
turned to Scully and bestowed her with another dazzling
smile. He addressed his next line of commentary to her,
ignoring Mulder for the most part as he spoke. "The lab
space is where we're doing our experiments. Dr. White
has an office next door."
Mulder was quiet beside her as they got a quick tour.
Having been partners for so long now, they could sense
when one was doing better than the other at questioning
a given suspect. The problem was, Brad was not a suspect,
at least not in her mind. Mulder obviously had other
ideas. In the end, Brad was as vague about the experiment
they were working on as his lab mates.
"That dork Harold is right, unfortunately. We're trying to
beat everyone else to a patent on our results, so I can't
give you a lot of details," he admitted. "Did you know that
Vince used to be quite the important virologist back in his
day? Now, he's mainly intent on destroying the lives of his
students. But when I started, he still had a few tricks up
his sleeve. Lately, however, he's not too helpful."
"What do you mean by 'tricks', Brad?" Mulder piped up
Scully turned to scowl at the question, but Brad wasn't
offended. There seemed to be no loyalty lost to his mentor.
"We're working on the evolution of viruses," he stated,
again directing this to Scully, though Mulder had asked.
"Have you ever heard of the Red Queen hypothesis?"
"I'm familiar with it," she answered. "What's your opinion
of the phenomenon?"
"Let's just say that I've seen it in action," he bragged.
"And that's about all I can reveal." He made a motion of
zipping his lips that Scully hadn't seen since she was
about ten and then gave her another grin. "Can you give us
any specifics about the nature of your work here, Brad?"
she asked instead.
"I'm the microbiologist," he stated. "I have the magic
fingers when it comes to growing those little viruses." He
wiggled his fingers as if to emphasize the point and gave
her what she was sure must be his most charming smile.
"Propagating viral cultures can be difficult, as you know.
On a side note, I'm also a whiz at growing their host,
Peromyscus leucopus. The little rodent just loves me for
some reason. I'm sure you'd find them quite cute," he
confessed to her, "but I can't show them to you. We try
to keep a pretty tight control over the introduction of
contaminants to our subjects."
Brad lost a majority of the points he gained with her by
thinking she'd be swayed by the cuteness of a rodent. "What
are Barbara and Harold working on for their dissertation?"
she asked idly.
"I call those two losers the ecology geek and the DNA
freak." He laughed but let it die when neither she nor
Mulder joined in. "They directly benefit from the fruits of
my labors. That's what they do." He waved, dismissing their
importance to him. "Why are you two looking for Dr. White
anyway? I mean, we're all looking for him here, being in
the middle of an important experiment while he's hiding
somewhere with a fifth of Jack," Brad drawled. "But is he
in some kind of trouble or something?"
"No," Scully stated firmly. "Just routine questions on an
old case. Dr. White is not under any suspicion. I want to
make that very clear." It was time for them to go and
she moved toward the door.
"You said a fifth of Jack," Mulder commented, moving with
her. "Does Dr. White have a drinking problem?"
Brad snorted and moved ahead, opening the door for them.
"That guy's three sheets to the wind every time I see him
lately. It sucks. This is most definitely a dysfunctional
lab, and we're the fucked up children of his pathology,
excuse my French." He gave Scully puppy-dog eyes that
rivaled Mulder at his best. "If I hadn't been so
distracted as an undergrad, I would have made the grades
for med school. Right now, I can't wait to get out of
here," he said vehemently, kicking the door in emphasis.
Throughout their conversation, Scully couldn't help but
notice him staring at her with uncomfortably apparent
interest, giving little need to guess at what exactly had
distracted this Brad Pitt look-alike as an undergraduate.
At the door, he put an arm against the frame and leaned
toward her. "If you don't mind my asking, why does the FBI
need doctors on staff?" His voice took on a smooth timbre
that could easily be hypnotic if a woman cared to listen
to him long enough. "Sounds like an interesting career
Scully gave him a tight smile and turned to Mulder. "I
think we've seen enough. Thank you, Mr. Palmer."
"No problem," he murmured, disappointment in his gaze at
her obvious dismissal. He turned to Mulder, looking him
up and down as if sizing up the competition. "Anytime,
Dr. Scully. And I mean any time. Do you have a card or
something that I could take, in case I think of anything?"
Reluctantly, she handed him her card. Beside her, she
could sense Mulder smirking. "By the way," Brad said as
they were leaving, "he might actually call me. His
Microbiology 101 grades are way overdue and I'm his
teaching assistant this semester. Usually he gives it the
ol' college try, fails, and then phones me in a drunken
stupor and demands I earn my money by grading all of the
exams in one hellish evening."
"Call if you hear from him," Mulder said in parting.
Brad looked down at the card in his hand and then back at
Scully. "Oh, I will," he said enthusiastically, giving her
the full benefit of his charming smile one last time.
"I think he was checking you out, Scully."
"Really?" she remarked dryly. She barely had the energy
to send the requisite daggers in her partner's general
direction. "Please don't start, Mulder. I know it may seem
a remote possibility, but that kid might actually have a
brain behind his GQ looks."
"Really?" He smirked.
"Save it, Mulder. I'm working from experience here. I know
what it's like to be subjected to that particular prejudice
within the walls of academia. That's all."
When she glanced over, Mulder gave her one of his most
contrite looks. However, he spoiled it within seconds by
playfully adding, "Have I told you lately how much I admire
your mind, Scully?"
"Mulder, are you ever serious?"
He gave her a rather sober look. "How can you ask me that,
She felt like a heel when she saw he might be genuinely
hurt by the offhand comment. He was only injecting a little
levity into the often dark morass of their everyday working
"Apology most graciously accepted." He shot her a wicked
grin. "Amount of gray matter aside, Brad was a little
evasive about their work, don't you think?"
"You're forgetting, Mulder, there isn't any crime here.
And scientists are notorious for being close-mouthed about
their research. In fact, they teach you that skill in grad
school or you learn it the hard way by having someone steal
your ideas. As far as I can discern, all that Dr. Vincent
White can be accused of at this point is possibly neglecting
his students. And in my experience, that's not punishable by
"What kind of virus do you suppose they're working on?" he
pondered. "Didn't you say that Dr. White studied
"Used to, Mulder," she emphasized. "Those graduate
students can't possibly be working on any type of
hemorrhagic fever. There are only six Level-Four hot labs
in the country sanctioned to handle that class of virus.
Your implication that they would be attempting such a
completely illegal act for some unknown personal gain is
not only ludicrous, but unfounded."
"I don't know, Scully. I might agree the idea is 'out
there,' but I wouldn't say it's unfounded."
"Mulder, no," she answered too firmly. "You saw that set-up.
It's simply not possible that they're doing Bio-safety
Level-4 work there. Do you know the procedures in place
for dealing with infectious diseases in the labs that do
"Not exactly, but I'm sure you're about to enlighten me,"
he answered dryly.
"First of all, it requires a special containment area that
you're well aware of from some of our previous cases." She
shot him a dangerous look. "You remember the CDC's lovely
disease control and prevention facility -- or maybe you
recall the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of
Infectious Diseases Lab in Bethesda." She paused for
emphasis. "Since both of us have had the distinct pleasure
of being guests at both of these facilities, you know that
you can't just walk into or around such a place. Viruses
needs to be contained. And from consultations I've had with
various doctors at these facilities, due to our
aforementioned stays," she shot him a look, "I know what
a scientist has to go through to work there. Shall I
She couldn't tell if he were seriously interested or just
humoring her, but she went ahead with the description.
"Upon entering a facility, they first make you take off
everything on your body...clothing, jewelry, etc."
"Ooo, Scully, keep going. I love it when you talk dirty."
She gave him her best silencing glare and continued
without pause. "Next, you don a completely androgynous,
shapeless and unattractive disposable lab suit."
He pouted at the spoiling of his fun. "Okay, so they don't
have the facilities for handling a virus safely. Don't you
find it curious that a small local college is doing viral
research at all, Scully?"
She scowled. "Yes, I do, Mulder. But I'm sure it's
perfectly legitimate. You're trying to create a case out of
nothing. Strike that. Out of some poor man's misfortune."
He nodded absently. "Is it correct to say that this would
be a federal case if he and his students were indeed
working on some Bio-safety Level-4 virus?"
"Mulder, it's unthinkable!" Her voice rose in volume from
sheer annoyance. "Of course it would be a federal case. But
someone would certainly have noticed by now! Never mind
that a highly infectious virus couldn't be contained in
that setting. The lab we just saw wasn't set up to handle
that type of work. Besides that, academics *do* have to
justify their particular line of research to their
She knew she was on the verge of losing it by this point
in her tirade. So she took a deep breath and lowered her
voice to a more acceptable level for the continuation of
this verbal dressing down of Mulder. "Dr. White must have
some kind of grant money for himself and his students to do
the research. Whoever provides that money is surely aware
of the nature of the research, having agreed to fund it.
Never mind, university oversight committees. You heard his
students. They said they were working on the evolution of
viruses. That's more in the field of ecology than anything
else. It's likely they're working with a virus that doesn't
even infect humans, but rather some lower-order organism.
No doubt, those 'cute' mice Brad Palmer was talking about."
Mulder nodded emphatically while still managing to give
the impression he didn't agree. And he was smiling, damn
him. "Regardless of its implausibility, Scully, maybe we
should look into who's funding the research and what
specific virus Dr. White and his students *are* actually
She didn't answer. In truth, she was annoyed and dismayed
with Mulder's bulldog tactics in this case. His suspicions
seemed completely unfounded. And she wanted to inform him
that even if Dr. White was working with a pathogen, it would
be the responsibility of the FBI's Domestic Terrorism
division, or the CDC. But she decided to file this little
fact away until their investigation finally exceeded her
Or, she admitted reluctantly to herself, until Mulder
proved to be correct.
She would have long ago given up on Mulder's intuitive
leaps of illogic, if they didn't so often stand up under
her scrutiny. She had many hypotheses to explain this
feat. Her most recent favorite centered around the
'chaos theory.' She was beginning to suspect some similar
occurrance of unpredictable processes within the workings
of his beautiful mind. How else to explain the synapses
that allowed him to draw correct conclusions from the
disorder of evidence presented to them?
Regardless, after briefly entertaining the possibility
that the three students were domestic terrorists, she
couldn't help but conclude that the possibility was
So why did she still feel uneasy?
At the wheel, Mulder headed the car toward the western
suburbs of D.C. rather than back into the city.
Specifically, the Falls Church area and Dr. White's
residence. She stared out at lawns on which any type of
evergreen tree or bush was statistically likely to be
sporting a string of blinking Christmas lights.
Scully sighed as she picked up the piece of paper given to
them and glanced down at it for the correct street address.
Mulder was like a dog with a bone when he was in
investigation mode. Try taking it away and he'd hold on
"I might remind you there's nothing here, Mulder."
"Tell me about the Red Queen hypothesis, Scully."
She rubbed at her eyes and resigned herself to finishing
this long, exhausting day with an interview of Dr. White.
In the meantime, she'd humor her partner. "The Red Queen
hypothesis has to do with the host-parasite dynamic.
Specifically, it examines the role of parasites as agents
of evolutionary change."
Mulder glanced over at her, then back at the road, waiting
for her to give him more information before he spoke. She
watched as he pulled a bag of sunflower seeds from his
pocket, popped one into his mouth and started to work it
over with his tongue.
She brought herself back to the question. "Basically, it
states that any short-lived, parasitic organism, for
example a virus or a bacterium, can reproduce and live
through a number of generations during the lifespan of its
natural host. That would be you or I -- humans, mammals,
something longer-lived. The average bacteria lives,
reproduces and dies within a range of hours or days as
opposed to years."
He held the bag out to her and she shook her head,
refusing the offer. To her, the salty seeds were a waste of
time and effort for such little reward. More tease than
treat. But she was fascinated by her partner's ability to
separate seed from shell with no more than his lips, teeth
and tongue. A rather intriguing show that had entertained
her for a number of years now. Mulder opened the window a
crack and sent the empty husk hurtling out into the wind
with perfectly blown aim. He turned back to her, licking
the salt from his lips and distracting her again from the
"In other words," he stated, "a virus could have any
number of generations during which it could 'improve'
itself through the natural course of evolution, all while
you and I are just passing the time of day?" Mulder
"Something like that." She had a sudden strange craving
for a handful of the seeds.
"And as humans, we're completely helpless."
She shook her head. "Not completely. Long-lived hosts
often have immunologic defenses. For example, lymphocytes
and other immune cells in the human body can change rapidly
to recognize parasites and attack them."
"So where does the analogy to the Red Queen fit in? Isn't
that a character in Alice in Wonderland?" Mulder was a
quick study. She also knew he could tell she was eyeing
the sunflower seed bag when he placed it generously
into her hands with a smirk. He thrived on the stranger
quirks in any scientific theory and was waiting
expectantly for her explanation as he swirled some
unspecified number of seeds around in his mouth.
"You're right, the Red Queen is a character in 'Through
the Looking Glass.' The Red Queen chess piece who ran
just to stay in place."
He spat no less than seven husks into his hand and grinned
at her. She knew he was enjoying the detail.
"You know, that's a rather disgusting display, Mulder,"
He held his hand out the window and let the wind blow away
his efforts. "Is it?" Pulling his hand back into the car, he
wiped it on his pants. "Back to that Red Queen, running in
place. I'm taking it to mean that we human hosts are the ones
running to stand still? Just barely keeping up with the
evolution of a parasite? Always just one move behind?"
"That's the idea." Shaking two seeds into her hand, she
popped them in her mouth and let them lodge against her
cheek while she savored the salt. "An evolutionary arms race,
if you will, with the parasite having the advantage and the
host always playing catch-up. However, the hypothesis isn't
without its criticisms."
"The argument against the Red Queen hypothesis originates
with a long-standing idea among parasitologists. The idea
is that if the host and parasite are co-evolving and
adapting to each other, natural selection should favor the
survival of a less harmful parasite and a more resistant
He was doing it again. She could see him rolling a seed on
the tip of his tongue somehow. His lips pursed and he blew
two perfect shell halves into his hand then tossed them out
the window. "You mean that if it wasn't in the best
interest of the organism to kill its host, it wouldn't?
The two would peacefully co-exist with one another instead?"
"Exactly. A given parasite would choose a strategy in
which it lives in a truce with its host, otherwise known as
"Virus one point. Host one point. Something like that,
right?" He gently extracted the bag from her hand again and
looked at her suspiciously. "Did you eat the shells,
Scully?" he asked in mock horror.
She grinned. "They're good, Mulder."
"You're a doctor, Scully. Haven't you ever read the
medical warning on the package?"
"I'm not the one who consumes whole packages of those
things, Mulder. I've kept my sodium consumption well
within the recommended serving size."
He shook his head in mock exasperation. "Spoil a guy's
fun, why don't you," he muttered. "Back to that Red
Queen again...what you're saying is that most scientists
think that the best strategy for a parasite is to kill off
only a few hosts, or deliver a low-grade infection all
around for everyone?"
She nodded. "The Red Queen camp, however, disagrees. They
say that by default, a parasite should evolve to be as
deadly as possible, even to the point of having no more
hosts left." She extracted the bag out of his hands and
shook a few more seeds into her palm. He grinned in
triumph. Curiosity peaked, she turned the package over and
examined the fine print, her eyebrows climbing at the
amount of sodium in the seemingly harmless shells.
"Remember, evolution is believed to be a process without
direction or intent, Mulder. Therefore, it isn't going to
stop and give pause for thought. This ideology is inherent
in the hypothesis. The most ruthless parasite should
therefore be the most successful, to the detriment of
"There are flaws in that theory," Mulder observed.
"That's the problem, Mulder. Really, you could look at the
arguments as two sides of the same coin. Certainly, there's
solid evidence that viruses and bacteria can be harmful.
But we're also still here as a species, so that says
something too." She paused, noting that Mulder had once
again distracted her from her problems with the case by
piquing her interest in a subject. Their eternal give-and-
take was, once again, rolling along. It dismayed her a bit
and she decided it was time to finish up this discussion so
that she could pin down his reasons for trying to make this
a case at all.
"Each argument has evidence to support it, but there's no
definitive proof as to which side is ultimately correct. And
it's probably likely to depend on a given situation anyway."
Mulder was doing something with his tongue and another
sunflower seed. She forged ahead. "In the final conclusion,
parasites are, without argument, taking resources from
their hosts in order to reproduce. And it's doubtful
they're worrying as to whether or not they harm the host.
Conversely, hosts are vigilantly adapting ways to avoid the
more harmful effects of a pathogen, via their immune
response. If both sides are even, it's the biological
détente. No one's exactly winning but there's certainly a
struggle going on. As a result, you can't prove or
disprove the Red Queen hypothesis."
"That's why I love science, Scully. It's so conclusive."
She ignored the jab. Mulder frowned and rolled his window
all the way down though the day was chilly. "Is it hot in
To her, the bite of the air felt harsh and the wind chill
probably hovered near freezing. She watched him blow a few
more shells into the wind, his cheeks flushed with color.
"It's cold, Mulder. It's December, for God's sake," she
added as the blast of frigid air hit her. "Close the damn
Mulder rolled it up with an apologetic look. "Sorry." But
she noted his discomfort and wondered if he were coming
down with the flu everyone in the office seemed to have
right now. He pulled at his tie, loosening it as he
turned down a street after glancing one more time at
the address scrawled on the slip of paper in her hand.
"This looks like it."
"Let's get this over with," Scully sighed. "Reminding a
man he lost his entire family thirty years ago today is
not my idea of the Christmas spirit."
"Hey, look on the bright side, Scully. It could be last
year around this time, in which case we'd be looking for
a couple of ghosts."
"Don't even remind me, Mulder." Hopefully, the small brick
house they faced was not haunted by the spirit of malicious
ghostly lovers. The *hallucinations* of such ghosts, she
"If this is anything like last year, Mulder, I might have
to hurt you bad."
The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and
the other things round them never changed their places at
all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass
anything. "I wonder if all the things move along with us?"
thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess
her thoughts, for she cried "Faster! Don't try to talk!"
~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~
Friday, December 14
Falls Church, Virginia
Dr. Vincent White's house was a brick structure that had
definitely seen better days. The brick was discolored and
overgrown with ivy, and the windows were so dusty they
obscured the interior. Dispirited curtains hung limply in
view, and all the windows were shut tight. The front lawn
consisted of long grass and weeds, and behind the house
young pine saplings and bushy secondary growth were
encroaching on what probably used to be a back yard. There
was no sign of Christmas spirit bedecking the trees on this
residence, though next door, two round bushes sported a
frantic blinking display, muted by the daylight. But the
house before them held onto its shadowy exterior, despite
the fact that the sun was attempting to peek out from
The first thing Scully noticed as they approached was a
rat raiding the garbage bins along the side of the house.
The sight caught her eye due to the striking white
coloration of the rodent. She fought back an instinctive
grimace and found its boldness in the daylight rather odd.
Nudging Mulder, she pointed to the rat just as it leapt
out of the bin and scurried away, disappearing into the
He gave her a wry grin. "Looks like Dr. White has moved
quite a ways down in the world." He stared up at the house.
She smiled thinly. "I dare say that building you live in
has been visited by rodents in its day, Mulder -- like
He grinned. "No doubt."
She frowned. "However, although I don't think I need to
point this out to you, Mulder, my greater concern here
is that the species of rat we just saw was a domestic
one, what's known as the 'wistar' strain, I believe.
Only found in captivity -- specifically, laboratories.
Not cavorting around in the wild."
"That one seems to be doing okay in the great big
outdoors." He gave her a pointed look. "Don't you find
it rather strange that there are laboratory rats running
around outside the good professor's house?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, yes I do, Mulder."
His eyes were laughing at her. "Does this mean you're
starting to believe that my persistence at this case may
have some merit? That maybe this is actually starting to
look like a case to you?"
"I'm not willing to go that far yet." Scully reached up
to knock firmly on the front door.
Mulder's grin widened. "How far are you willing to go,
Scully?" he murmured. The noise of someone approaching the
door distracted them both and Scully traveled the transition
from personal to business with skills she was still in the
process of adjusting to. Slightly off-centered, she poised
with the peculiar balls-of-your-feet anticipation that is
present in any law enforcement investigator during even the
most innocuous of inquiries. You could never be sure if you
were about to meet a pleasantly innocent citizen or an
outright dangerous individual.
The man who opened the door did not look dangerous. Nor
did he look pleasant. Cautiously, he opened the door only a
crack, but appeared to be afraid of them more than anything
else. The door creaked on rusted hinges and dropped a few
errant paint chips onto the stoop, permitting only a small
sliver of access to the interior world of the house.
The man, leaning rather precariously against the door,
glared stormily at them. Though definitely recognizable as
Dr. White, he bore little resemblance to his photo from
younger, more prosperous years. His hair was badly mussed
and now shock-white, lending him an Einstein-like air. His
clothing was disheveled, as if he'd been sleeping in it.
He didn't open the door further.
"Dr. Vincent White?" Mulder inquired politely, but with a
subtle no-nonsense edge that usually commanded respect.
"Yes. What do you want?" the man demanded. "I'm not buying
anything, and I certainly don't need conversion to whatever
ridiculous religion you're purporting to believe in. God
doesn't exist. How's that for a revelation?" He stared at
them defiantly with slightly bloodshot eyes, as if waiting
for some argument.
Scully quickly extricated her badge from the pocket of her
jacket during this diatribe. Gently, she presented it to the
unsteady man half hiding behind his door. "We're neither,
Dr. White. We're from the FBI and we'd just like to ask you
a few questions."
Despite the door's allowance, the light from outside
barely penetrated the gloomy interior. "What for?" he
snapped. "Do I have to talk to you?"
"As a professional courtesy, it is strongly advised that
you take a few minutes to speak to us, Dr. White," Mulder
Muttering something unintelligible, Dr. White threw open
the door and disappeared into his house. A blast of warm
air hit them from the interior as they stepped forward into
the foyer. Dr. White continued down the hallway without
waiting for them and disappeared from view.
Following him into what was obviously his living room,
they saw him sink down onto a couch which bore evidence
of his recent occupation.
"You'll have to forgive me for the state of my house.
But I didn't ask for company and you seem to have invited
yourself in. So I'm deducing I have no choice but to
display my rather lax cleaning skills to you both."
'Lax' implied some proficiency at a task, albeit poor.
Scully was fairly sure that Dr. White's cleaning skills
were not anything so generous as half-hearted but rather,
non-existent. The clutter of the living room was
reprehensible. There were stacks of magazines which she
took note of as she passed, noting that they were mostly
medical journals. 'Virology' made up the stack to her right
elbow when she settled in the only armchair in the room.
Cups littered the coffee table, half empty and growing
various mold cultures on their dark, liquid surface. The
curtains were drawn and the room smelled musty. She doubted
Dr. White owned a vacuum. If he did, he didn't use it. The
room was uncomfortably hot.
Dr. White stretched out on the couch as if he couldn't be
bothered to sit up for the interview. Scully wondered if he
was ill, his lassitude seemed so marked. Mulder glanced
awkwardly around the room for any place to settle and
finally had to make due with perching on the left arm of
the chair Scully was sitting in. It made for an
unconventional setting for the interview process but the
doctor's defensive stance was markedly evident by that
point. Mulder took the offer, opting for the non-
threatening approach of sitting as opposed to towering
over him for the questioning.
"Dr. White," Scully began, finding it rather disconcerting
that he remained in his reclining pose as she addressed him.
"We're looking into a case that involved a theft from the
lab you worked in on December 1 of 1970. It's just part of
a routine check to see if any new evidence has emerged that
might allow us to solve the case and put it to rest."
Dr. White gave up any pretense of relaxation at her words.
But his slow return to a sitting position and his
difficulty at speech betrayed the fact that he wasn't in
full control of his reactive faculties, and it looked
suspiciously as if alcohol was the likely candidate of his
difficulties. Two empty bottles of wine sat on the end
table beside him and there was a red stain on the rug near
"There is *nothing* that will put that case to rest," he
said firmly. "Besides that, it was classified top secret
by the Department of Defense. What right does the FBI have
looking into it at all? Do you two even know what you're
doing? With a few phone calls, I could probably cost you
your jobs," he remarked. "The world is full of incompetent
idiots!" His voice was rising, and his contempt for the
greater part of humanity obvious, but the slur to his words
tempered the threat. That and the fact that probably not
many people took him seriously at this point in his life,
Scully concluded. There was something pathetic about his
obviously drunken state.
"Sir, we don't mean to open up old wounds, here," she
soothed. "We're merely trying to close the case
satisfactorily for our files."
"Here's how you do that," he stated, leaning forward to
fix her with an momentarily steady eye. Despite this
attempt at an aggressive stance, his hands shook with
tremors and his head wobbled slightly. "Shut the folder
and put it away. It was Department of Defense research
and no one stole that virus. For all I know, it's now
an integral part of our biological weapons arsenal. I
don't know. I don't care anymore." He waved at them
dismissively. "I'm trying to work here," he sputtered,
pointing toward a large stack of papers beside him.
Scully recognized them as exams, but there was very
little red ink visible on the top paper, meaning either
the student had correctly answered all the questions
or Dr. White had not yet corrected it. He answered her
curiosity indirectly with his next diatribe.
"If you don't mind..." he stated pointedly. When neither
moved, he closed his eyes, internalizing his conflict. When
he opened them again, his voice was defeated. "I can't help
you," he insisted. "Why don't you go question the DOD?" He
laughed then. It was an angry laugh, but also a weak one.
It was followed by a deep sigh as he stared down at the
student papers. A wracking cough suddenly shook his body
terribly. When he finally raised his eyes to Scully, the
fight had gone out of them completely.
He pointed to the exams. "Idiots. They're all idiots.
'Define bacterium' is the first question," he intoned. He
picked up the one on top. "This one wrote 'a disease'.
Simplistic moron!" He threw the paper back down on the
pile. "The world is full of incompetent buffoonery," he
railed at them. "A veritable melting pot of mediocrity. I
would have had these done if the students weren't so damn
disheartening. Is it too much to ask that even one of them
be worth my time?" He let out another sigh and appeared to
be staring down at the stain at his feet.
"How about your graduate students, Dr. White," Mulder
began. "Are any of them worth your time?"
Instead of growing angry, Dr. White laughed. "Barely."
"Could I ask what exactly they're working on?"
"They're working on their A.B.D.'s," he snapped. Scully
had heard the infamous initials before. Innocuous letters
that, put together, struck terror in the heart of every
graduate student toiling away at their research. The
initials stood for 'all but dissertation.' It was an
unfortunate and worrisome statistic that many who started
graduate school earned these initials rather than the 'P,'
'h' and 'D' they sought at the start. Completing required
coursework, qualifying exams and data collection could seem
easy compared to the self-motivation, diligence, and sheer,
intellectual determination required to complete the
'dissertation' part of the process.
"I'm asking about the specific project, Dr. White."
Mulder's voice had lost any semblance of friendliness. When
she glanced at him, he was locked in a staring contest with
the man, his gaze hard and unforgiving.
Dr. White's response was poorly-disguised outrage. "Leave
me alone," he cried, the tone of his voice gaining a
curious tremor. "I just want to be left alone. If you have
any further questions, you can consult my lawyer. Get out!"
Mulder didn't make a move. Reluctantly, Scully moved out
from under his shadow and stood, casting a hard eye back at
her partner. "We're sorry to have bothered you, Dr. White."
"One more question," Mulder drawled, though she was glad
to note he was at least rising with her. "Could you explain
why a laboratory rat is raiding your garbage, Dr. White?"
For a second, Scully saw something flicker in the man's
eyes that looked suspiciously like fear. Just as quickly,
it was gone. "I don't know what the hell you're talking
about. Now get off my property." He stood unsteadily and
despite the insistence behind his message, his step ahead
of them to open the door wavered dangerously. Mulder almost
reached out to steady his uncertain passage, but Scully
stopped him with a warning hand on his arm. The last thing
they needed to do to this poor man was charge him with
assault on a federal officer if he decided not to
appreciate Mulder's well-meaning gesture.
When they were both out on the stoop, the doctor slammed
the door, interrupting Mulder's thank you for his time
and sending a blast of heat rolling out after them into
the chilly day.
In silence, they moved down the steps. Scully turned to
study the garbage cans beside the house, but the sight of
the white rat was only a memory now. She was struck again
by the general disrepair of what could be an attractive
dwelling place. As she looked back at the house one last
time, a memory from her childhood struck her.
She'd gone through a stage where she'd drawn houses to
look alive, with the windows as eyes and the door as a
mouth. She couldn't shake the sudden irrational feeling
that this house was watching them leave. Strangely, it
She shook off the thought with a small grimace. Mulder
would be delighted to hear this. But she would chew off her
own arm before she'd give him the satisfaction of her more
She didn't look back again.
Mulder dropped her off at her apartment, having picked her
up that morning on his way in to work. On the ride from
Falls Church to her place, he cracked his window twice,
though the temperature was rapidly dropping. When she shot
him a look and shivered for effect, he shut it. When they
reached her apartment, he pulled the car up in front of her
building and let it idle. "Well, it's the weekend, Scully.
Any big plans?"
She hated when she was asked this question. It made her
feel as if she should have an agenda to fill her time.
Mulder, of all people, should know better. For her,
weekends were downtime. Their job was stressful enough that
she didn't feel the need to be overly active. If she did
get an urge for activity, she could usually get it out of
her system with a quick run. "What's your point, Mulder?"
She turned in the seat to regard him. "Should I have some
He shrugged. "Just asking, Scully," he replied defensively.
She sighed. "What I plan to do is relax. Don't think I'm
going to work on this case-that-isn't-a-case, Mulder, if
that's what you're really asking. I know the novelty of
taking the weekend off is disconcerting to you. Just think
of it as my strategy for getting you to drop this case.
That poor man has lost his family and a prestigious job.
He's working at a modest college and covering up the fact
that he has a serious drinking problem. Come Monday, you'd
better have some hard evidence that there's something here
besides heartache. Dr. White is looking at an early death
and I, for one, don't have the stomach to harass him any
further. Not only that, I feel sorry for his graduate
students as well and therefore, don't feel a need to
bother them any further either."
"Not even the one that looks like Brad Pitt?"
She scowled darkly at her partner. "Mulder, I hope you
know me better than that. Besides, he's practically a
Mulder was grinning by this point. "I'd say he's well past
the age of consent. There's nothing illegal there, if
that's what you're worried about."
Scully took a moment to take a deep breath. She knew that
Mulder was only joking with her, but it was annoying. She
prided herself on her professionalism and Mulder's more
laissez faire approach to their working relationship,
coupled with the blurring lines of their personal
interactions sometimes drove her to distraction. She had no
interest in having a relationship with the young, oversexed
and narcissistic graduate student she'd just met and Mulder
knew it. Strangely, this made the reason for his teasing
the real issue here. She suspected blatant male insecurity.
"Thanks for the advice," she said dryly. "I'll keep it in
"Did he slip you his number, Scully, when I wasn't looking?"
She successfully contained her annoyance. "Mulder, I
resent your inference here." She gave him a look that in no
uncertain terms let him know he was to drop the subject.
Opening the door, she climbed out of the vehicle, but found
herself perversely taking a moment to lean back into the
car and qualify her statement. "Just to let you know, I
don't always appreciate your baser attempts at humor,
Mulder. They're often in poor taste."
He nodded. "Apologies extended, Scully. I'll try not to
be quite so humorous." He nullified his contrition by
tilting his head back and grinning at her.
She rolled her eyes. "Watch it, Mulder. Besides, I could
still make you cry. For instance, I could insist you come
over on Saturday and sit through 'Steel Magnolias' in its
"Is that an invitation, Scully?"
"It could be, if you play your cards right."
"I'll bring the food?" he offered in atonement.
"Make it Chinese and it's a deal."
He smiled. "See you then."
She shut the car door firmly.
The Queen propped her up against a tree, and said kindly,
"You may rest a little, now."
Alice looked round her in great surprise. "Why, I do
believe we've been under this tree the whole time!
Everything's just as it was!"
"Of course it is," said the Queen. "What would you have it?"
"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little,
"you'd generally get to somewhere else -- if you ran very
fast for a long time as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, *here*,
you see, it takes all the running *you* can do, to keep in
the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must
run at least twice as fast as that!"
~From 'Through the Looking Glass' by Lewis Carroll~
Saturday, December 15
Her doorbell rang. She was growing hungry by this point
and was dismayed to find it was only an upstairs neighbor,
asking if it was her laundry that was in the washer. She
noted the time. It was eight o'clock -- one hour after
Mulder was supposed to show up. With the departure of the
neighbor, the niggling worry at his lateness finally turned
into its full-fledged counterpart of outright fear. She
picked up the phone and hit the speed dial. It rang exactly
fourteen times before a groggy voice answered, "Hello...?"
"Mulder?" she said hesitantly, surprised to find him still
"Scully?" His voice was slurred. Sleepy.
"Mulder, are you aware that it's eight o'clock and I've
been waiting for that Chinese for a good hour now?"
"Oh, God...Scully." He said it like he'd just figured out
it was her. "What time is it?"
"Eight o'clock," she repeated.
"Crap. I'm sorry." She heard his sigh across the line and
imagined him rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "To tell
you the truth, I don't feel so well. I laid down for a bit
and I must have fallen asleep..."
"Yeah, right. Anything to get out of 'Steel Magnolias,'
She heard a brief chuckle. "Well, there is that, but
seriously, I think I'm coming down with that flu everyone
at the office is getting."
"What are your symptoms?" she demanded.
"Are we playing doctor here, Scully? Because I've never
tried that over the phone."
"Mulder..." she warned.
He did sound awful. "I don't know. I feel like I might
have a fever. I'm tired. You know how you ache all over
when you have a cold? But I went for a run today so that
might be the source of some of it. And I hate to say it but
I'm also feeling a wee bit nauseous...it looks like
dinner's definitely out for me," he admitted.
"Sounds like the flu," she agreed. "You'd better not have
given it to me yesterday, dragging me all over nowhere on
that dead case."
"You really think it's not worth our time, Scully?"
She tried to be gentle with her answer. "Mulder, there is
no way those students are working with any pathogen in that
setting. And Dr. White just seems pathetic to me. I mean,
how sad was that visit yesterday? That man needs rehab, not
a federal case being reopened. Not to mention one that's
been censored by the Department of Defense."
He paused at the other end of the line, but finally
conceded to her point, though he added one last comment.
"The students' behavior during our visit just seemed a
little odd to me, Scully."
"They're three stressed out graduate students with one
very remiss advisor. Would you expect their behavior to
"I guess not."
"Mulder," she said gently. "Let yourself rest. Treat
yourself to a nice bowl of chicken soup, drink plenty of
fluids, put some pillows on that couch, pull that warm
blanket down over you and call me tomorrow."
"I don't have any chicken soup, Scully." She could almost
hear his pout.
She briefly contemplated going over to his apartment,
bearing a steaming thermos of chicken soup, but dismissed
the idea. Mulder had been taking care of himself for
years on his own. Besides, she didn't have any soup on
"S'okay, Scully. I couldn't eat anyway."
"Call me tomorrow, Mulder. I want to make sure you're
taking care of yourself."
"Okay...'night, Scully," he mumbled. She could tell he was
already falling back into a troubled sleep as he hung up.
She'd check on him tomorrow.
Monday, December 18 8:30 a.m.
Scully was at Mulder's desk, nursing a cup of coffee and
contemplating the mess the last week had created in their
office when Mulder finally dragged himself in. The hallway
was littered with old boxes and Mulder had to kick one that
had fallen out of the way to get in the door. "Don't we
have maintenance in this building?" he complained.
"I thought you were going to stay home today?" she
reprimanded, surprised to see him.
He groaned. "What for? I'm much more likely to be able
to entertain my misery here."
"Are you feeling any better?"
"I think I'm getting worse. But I was bored. Sorry,
Scully." He made a face at her.
"Workaholic," she accused. "Rather than spreading your
germs to those of us still healthy, what's wrong with
staying home and perusing all those entertaining web
sites you say you don't look at?"
"Scully," Mulder winced at her words. "I gave those up in
order to win your respect a long time ago."
"Riiight," she drawled, noting with concern the lethargic
way her partner dragged himself over to his desk.
"I have you, I don't need them anymore." This last
statement was barely audible and she wasn't sure if it was
an attempt at humor or a sincere sentiment. Maybe both. He
looked tired, dark shadows having crept under his eyes over
the two days she hadn't seen him. Conversely, his color was
bright. Maybe a little too bright. She would have expected
him to be just a tad pale. Standing up, she approached him
and, before he could move or get the weak protest of her
name out, she locked a hand onto his forehead.
"You feel hot, Mulder."
He quieted under her hand. Their eyes locked. "Are you
done?" he asked lackadaisically.
Frowning, she shook her head. "Did you take your
"What's the point? I have a fever. Big deal. Besides, I
only had a rectal thermometer. Care to try?"
She snorted in exasperation and continued her exam. "Any
He shook his head. "I do have a splitting headache," he
"My back is killing me. I think a massage might do the
trick," he suggested hopefully.
She ignored this ploy. "Earache? Sore throat?" He shook
his head at both. Pulling her hand off his forehead, she
picked up his wrist and felt for his pulse. He was scowling
at her now. Mulder had a serious aversion to doctors, due
to his rather checkered medical past. He only suffered her
ministrations with a great amount of personal restraint.
"Scully, why don't you go upstairs and take an inventory
of all the people who've caught this flu over the past
week? Maybe jot down their symptoms for a more
comprehensive diagnosis for me..."
"Quiet, Mulder." The truth was, as much as Mulder hated
it, to an equal extent she actually enjoyed the opportunity
to put her medical skills to use. This was not to say she
wanted to go into practice, but she did gain a small amount
of satisfaction at the chance to play doctor every once in
His pulse was slow and steady. Right around 60 beats per
minute, which was actually fairly low, but Mulder was
athletically inclined so it wasn't that unusual. She
noticed his eyes close during this process. "Tired?"
she asked. He nodded without opening them. They were still
closed when she was done and stayed that way. "Mulder?" she
said finally, finding his prolonged standing rest rather
Both eyes flew open. "What?" He was annoyed now. He pulled
his wrist back and turned away from her to his desk. "Were
you sitting here?" he inquired on reaching his goal. She
noticed he was rubbing absently at his left shoulder as if
it were sore.
"It's your desk," she sighed, moving over to pick up the
folder she'd spread there. "What's wrong with your
"What were you looking at, Scully?" He tried to glance at
it as she reached out and pulled the folder towards herself.
"Well, I was working on our report so we could shelve this
case back where it belongs." She slapped the file shut.
"You'll find this interesting, Mulder. I called the DOD
today, just to check the status of this case with them,
which is what we should have done in the first place. They
told me in no uncertain terms that the FBI has no business
looking into it. In their eyes, the case was actually
officially closed ten years ago."
She felt only a small surge of triumph at Mulder's downcast
expression. But instead of coming back at her, he seemed
resigned. "I get your point, Scully. And I don't feel well
enough to argue with you." He sank down into his chair.
"Let's move on then. There are plenty of cases to file."
He scowled at the box of files to archive and his
enthusiasm from the week before seemed to have vanished
The lack of a spirited or argumentative response took the
wind out of Scully's self-satisfied sails. With a worried
glance for her partner's uncharacteristic lethargy, she
pulled the box over to her corner and wondered if she
should have paid a little more attention to him over the
weekend. Mulder was notorious for neglecting himself.
Remembering at the same time that she hadn't checked her
voice mail, she picked up the phone and punched in her
code as she flipped idly through the aged case file.
"You have two messages," the tinny robotic voice droned.
"First message. Placed at 8:02 p.m. Saturday."
Who would be calling her on a Saturday night, she
wondered, waiting the requisite three seconds for the
annoyingly prolonged beep before the message began playing.
"Hello, Dr. Scully. It's Brad Palmer. I said I'd let you
know if Dr. White got in touch with me. Well, he did, of
course. In fact, I'm correcting a large pile of
microbiology exams as I'm leaving this message." His voice
was relaxed and sounded as if he found this humorous and
thought she might too. "Anyway, he was obviously toasted
when I went over to get the exams and he said some pretty
bizarre stuff. If you wanted to talk to me about our
conversation, here are my numbers..." After leaving these,
Brad added that he'd be at home for the evening and more
than happy to talk to her, then finally hung up.
The next message was left approximately one half hour
later. Brad again. "Uh...Dr. Scully? I just got a very
weird message from Dr. White. He called me in the middle
of correcting because he wanted me to make sure his house
was 'taken care of' afterward, whatever that means. I
asked him if he was going somewhere over Christmas break
or something and he said 'nowhere.' Then he went on about
there being no God before he hung up on me. I don't know
if it's relevant to your investigation or anything but
it's got me spooked. I mean, I need that old man to keep
a tentative hold on sanity -- at least until I'm done
with my dissertation. Anyway, I'm going over there to
check on him. I think he sounded crazy enough to off himself
or something. I'll call you as soon as I get back." She
heard him clear his throat. "Maybe we could get together
for drinks or something tomorrow night."
The beep sounded rude and loud in her ear compared to the
young man's melodious voice. Robot man returned. "You have
no more messages," it said with finality.
Scully dropped the phone into its cradle with a loud oath.
She picked it up again just as quickly, flipping open the
file resting on her desk to find Dr. White's home number.
Dialing, she turned to Mulder, who was watching her with
"I'm not sure, but it's definitely something."
She let the phone continue to ring. Still no answer. She
tried the biology department of George Mason next and was
told Dr. White was not in.
"Brad called and left messages Saturday night." She hated
to even say the next words to Mulder. He'd had a hard year
with a similar event featuring in it. She tried to soften
the blow. "I'm not sure what's going on. But, according to
Brad, Dr. White was verbalizing suicidal thoughts on
Saturday night. No one's answering his home phone and the
university hasn't seen him." As she gathered up the file,
she wondered why Brad hadn't called back. The oversight
could have many explanations, some innocent and some very
"Let's go." Mulder picked up his jacket and was handing
hers over as they moved toward the door.
How it happened, Alice never knew, but exactly as she came
to the last peg, the Red Queen was gone. Whether she
vanished into the air, or whether she ran quickly into the
wood ("and she *can* run very fast!" thought Alice), there
was no way of guessing, but she was gone, and Alice began
to remember that she was a Pawn, and that it would soon be
time for her to move.
~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~
December 18, 9:20 a.m.
Falls Church, Virginia
The house again seemed to be staring at her.
Scully fought back a shiver as she followed Mulder's
longer strides up to the door. She almost ran into him
when he suddenly stopped dead, bending over as a wracking
cough shook his frame. "Mulder!" she said in alarm,
pausing to place a hand on his back until his coughing
subsided. When he came up for air, his face was red.
"What's wrong?" she demanded. "Are you okay?"
He shook his head and looked a little dazed. "I don't
know..." Drawing in a few deep breaths, he let them out
carefully. "I'm fine," he said finally, pushing at the hand
she was restraining him with as he continued toward the
"Mulder..." she admonished.
He knocked firmly on the door, ignoring her.
Brad opened it, looking distinctly embarrassed when he saw
them. "Dr. Scully...oh God, I'm sorry. I totally forgot to
call you back."
Scully's anger rose at the young man's response and the
realization of her own overreaction to his telephone
messages. "You led me to believe Dr. White was suicidal,
Brad. So how is he doing?" she demanded.
Brad had opened the door only about as far as the doctor
had on their original visit. He glanced behind him in the
direction of the living area before turning back to them.
"He's sleeping, I think," he whispered.
"If you don't mind, we'd like to come in and talk to him,"
Mulder said quietly. His tone didn't invite argument.
"Let us in, Brad," Scully was dangerously annoyed by this
Brad stepped back and opened the door. The house was just
as hot as it had been the last time. It appeared that Brad
had not attempted any cleaning in the interim. In fact, he
might have added to it. The same cups cluttered the surface
of the coffee table, along with a few more added to the
collection. Some of the journals had been scattered, as if
someone had searched for an article without finding it.
Dr. White was not sleeping, but reclining again on his
couch. "Brad, get me that coffee now!" he shouted at the
sound of their approaching footsteps. When he realized the
cadence was wrong, his eyes flew up, startled as they
settled on the agents. "What the hell are *you* doing back
here? Why the hell did you let *them* in, you ungrateful,
incompetent idiot?" he shouted at his student.
For his part, Brad seemed unaffected by the insulting
tirade. He just shrugged and smiled aside at Scully, as if
they were sharing a joke. He didn't make a move to get any
To Scully, there seemed to be no reason for them to stay at
this point. Mulder, however, surprised her by sitting down
in the armchair. "Dr. White. We're just concerned about
you," he stated. "Your students are concerned about you."
Dr. White laughed and glowered darkly up at Brad. "Don't
fool yourself. This boy only cares about his grades and
keeping me alive long enough to get them. He'd prop my
dead body up at his oral presentation if he thought it
would fool people."
"That's right," Brad said too brightly. Having seen a
similar dynamic in the barrage of give-and-take insults
observed in the lab, Scully wondered if the students had
learned their caustic interchange from the older man.
"Well, Dr. White. It seems a concern of everyone right
now is that you might try to hurt yourself." Mulder's voice
was at its most mild and served, as it usually did, to calm
rather than excite the man. "Do you ever have any thoughts
of that nature?"
Dr. White raised his eyes to the ceiling and sighed heavily.
"My thoughts of that nature," he began, "are of the most
existential variety, I assure you. I ponder life, therefore
I also ponder death." His eyes narrowed at Scully, who stood
beside Mulder. "I ponder the tragedies of love. Note time's
passage," he advised darkly. "Be afraid." He shifted his
malevolent gaze to Brad. "Be very afraid."
"What do you mean by that?" Mulder asked carefully.
"Stop patronizing me!" he snarled. "Everyone hates to hear
my story," he pronounced, eyes narrowing as he addressed
them. "So I won't bore you with it. I've held my silence
for a very long time now. I've become a shadow of my former
self. A slothful metaphor of what I once was."
In gesturing with his hand during this speech, he knocked
a bottle to the floor. A few drops of the last dregs of
wine spilled over the neck and dripped onto the rug. "You
know, Olivia used to say at our parties that I drank too
much," he mused. "And now I'm a drunk. How appropriate, I
He stared down at the bottle for a second as if he
couldn't bear to look at the other occupants of the room.
But when he raised his eyes, they were full of a terrible
certainty. "The complete absence of love is a void greater
than you can contemplate," he said darkly.
His eyes passed over each of them and Scully saw a shine
to them that hadn't been there before. "A void greater
than I hope either of you ever know." He turned to Brad,
hovering in the doorway. "A void that my useless Don Juan
graduate student over there will definitely never know."
He stared down again at the bottle. "Look at me," he said
in disgust. "I've experienced the greatest fall possible.
From the height of success to complete failure. I had a
beautiful family," he sighed. "Now I have no one. I used
to teach the brightest of young minds. Now, I'm surrounded
by incompetent pseudo-intellectuals. Morons of the lowest
"Takes one to know one," Brad shot back hotly.
"See what I mean?" he appealed to Mulder as if he, alone,
might have the capability to understand his terrible
plight. "I'll say this and then I'll ask you to leave. I
don't know why I'm here. And though I may hate where I
wound up, I know where I'm going." He punched a finger in
Brad's direction. "You should be so lucky." He turned his
glare on them next. "And so should you both. But instead,
you won't even know when your darkest moment arrives. It
will hit you like a wall and your life as you know it will
inexplicably be over. Wait and see how you deal with that
before you judge me."
Under the old man's dark glower, Mulder stood rather
quickly. "My apologies for wasting your time. We won't
bother you any further, Dr. White."
Scully managed to gain her feet and follow her partner's
rather rapid exit from the house after getting in a rushed
"Sorry to have bothered you, Dr. White. Please take care
of yourself." After sending one last scathing look in
Brad's direction, she quickly followed in Mulder's
footsteps. By the time she reached the door, he was
already making long strides toward the car.
She wasn't surprised to feel a hand suddenly fall on her
arm and restrain her. As expected, she turned to see Brad
directly behind her.
"I'm sorry I didn't call you back, Dr. Scully," he
apologized. "I was a little embarrassed about my offer,
to be honest with you."
"Forget it," she snapped.
She was distracted from the young man's earnest confession
by Mulder's rather odd behavior. He'd climbed into the
passenger seat by now and was waiting for her, head bowed.
"So what do you say?" Brad attempted to regain her
"Excuse me...what?" She turned back and stared at the
young man without comprehension, having missed his words.
"About drinks...say, tomorrow maybe?" he proposed.
It took her a second to realize that, immediately after
apologizing, the young man was actually trying to repeat
his blunder and ask her out again. Talk about nerve! It
reminded her of some of the more arrogant male student's
overconfident attempts to ask her out during her medical
"Thanks for the compliment, but I'd advise you to stick
with women your own age, Brad." She'd almost said "maturity
level" but stopped herself in time. Her focus was on her
partner right now, sitting in the car and looking
distinctly uncomfortable. She gave the annoying young
student a little advice in parting. "If I were you, and if
you truly care about Dr. White staying alive, albeit for
your own selfish reasons, I'd clean up that house a bit and
get him into a rehab clinic, ASAP. He needs professional
Walking purposely away, she climbed in behind the wheel
and turned to Mulder.
Smiling weakly, he held out the keys. "Just drive, Scully."
"Please, just drive. Unless you'd like to see me lose my
breakfast on the good professor's lawn."
She stuck the keys in the ignition and got them out of
there. He wasn't kidding about the compulsion he was
feeling either. As soon as they were on a stretch of road
that featured a deserted stretch of vegetation, Mulder
asked her a little too desperately to pull over and half
jumped, half stumbled out of the car. Bending over a pile
of scrub brush, he lost whatever he'd managed to get into
his system that morning. It all happened so quickly that
he was half out of the car before she'd completely
stopped its movement. Throwing the gearshift into neutral
and yanking on the emergency brake, Scully sprinted over
to where Mulder crouched miserably, holding his stomach
with one hand and bracing himself against the ground
with the other.
He groaned when she put a hand tentatively on his back.
"I guess I should have taken that sick day," he offered.
"Oh, Mulder..." She rubbed her hand soothingly over his
back, supporting his weight as he leaned miserably into
her. She could feel the heat of his body radiating against
her. "You've got a fever," she observed. "I'm taking you
to a hospital."
"No," he said vehemently, straightening up slowly in order
to turn a fierce glare on her. "No hospital, Scully. It's
just the damn flu, for God's sake. Don't overreact."
They waited until he was sure he was through emptying the
contents of his stomach before they got back into the car.
Although a number of other vehicles drove by during this
whole ordeal, not one stopped to help or see if they were
okay, a rather sad statement about people's unwillingness
to get involved in someone else's troubles these days.
Back behind the wheel, Scully reluctantly pointed the car
in the direction of Mulder's apartment rather than the
nearest hospital. "My car's at the office," he protested.
"I don't care, Mulder. We're closer to your place than we
are to the Bureau. You're going home."
Something was bothering Scully, but she couldn't quite put
her finger on it. Mulder's protests against going to a
hospital were reasonable. The flu was a virus and
therefore, there was really no medicine to treat it.
Antibiotics were only effective on bacterial infections.
And vaccines were only effective in preventing one from
getting a particular virus. But once contracted, there
really wasn't much to do but wait a virus out.
Secondary supportive therapy to keep the body hydrated and
functioning at a level that allowed your immune system to
fight off the invader was really all that could be
utilized. She'd make him drink some juice once she got him
to bed. Even the strategy of getting a fever down with
analgesics had recently come into question, since fever
actually acted to boost the body's immune system. But a
few aspirin might help him feel a little better.
She glanced over to see Mulder slumped miserably in the
seat, eyes tightly closed. And she couldn't fight a sudden
foreboding. Despite her rationalizations that Mulder had
certainly fought off a lot worse than the flu, the feeling
wouldn't leave her.
Reaching over, she closed her hand over his and squeezed
it. She told herself she meant this as a comfort, rather
than a check to make sure he was still conscious.
Mulder walked unsteadily into the elevator of his
building. She kept a hand on his arm even as he tried to
shake it off. "I feel like crap," he admitted. He eyed the
briefcase she was bringing up with her. "Plan on working
out of my home for the rest of the day, Scully?"
"I'm certainly not leaving you alone at the moment, Mulder."
"I see." He gave her a look. "I didn't realize the flu
required twenty-four hour supervision by a doctor."
"Who said anything about twenty-four hours? You'll be
lucky to get two out of me, Mulder." she shot back.
"I knew I was pushing my luck," he grumbled. But his
heart wasn't in it and his eyes were half-closed.
She got him up to his apartment and settled him on the
couch, covering him with the heavy wool blanket that lay
across the back of it. He promptly pushed that off him,
complaining, "It's too hot, Scully."
"Drop your pants then, Mulder," she ordered on the way to
"What?" his tone was indignant.
"You said you only had a rectal thermometer..."
"I was kidding!" he called out nervously.
She smiled when she came out, holding up the oral
thermometer she'd ultimately discovered in his medicine
cabinet. "You're in luck, Mulder. Keep those pants on."
He blew out a sigh of relief that quickly turned into an
uncontrollable cough. Forgetting about everything else for
the moment, she dropped down beside him in alarm. "Mulder!"
She could do nothing more than put a calming hand on his
back until the disturbing paroxysm was over. Maybe it was
no more than a leftover effect of the beating his lungs
had taken during his brush with the genetically-altered
tobacco beetles, she thought uneasily. But even as she
tried to convince herself of this, she knew she'd been
present at his latest test of pulmonary functioning, and
he'd been at one hundred percent.
He pushed weakly at her when he finally caught his breath
and fell back onto the couch, wincing. "I just need to
sleep for a bit, Scully. I'll feel better, I promise."
She went into the kitchen and poured him a glass of juice
with a less than steady hand, finding thankfully that it
was still within the suggested use date. Then she forced
him to drink at least half the glass, until his protests
became too much for her to override. After that, she took
his temperature and found the mercury wavering between 100
and 101 degrees. So she covered him with a sheet instead
of the blanket, which seemed both less offensive to him
and cooler. Mulder was fairly quiet through all this,
losing some of his high color as he relaxed. She finally
forced herself to stop fussing over him and move away from
his side so he might sleep.
Settling down at his desk with her briefcase, she kept a
wary eye on his breathing. Something continued to bother
her. A feeling that she was missing something. That
Mulder's illness meant something.
"Mulder, when did you start to feel sick?" she asked
"Saturday evening I started feeling pretty bad," he mumbled
without opening his eyes. "After my run."
She opened her briefcase, flipping past copies of their
latest expense report and the budget report until she got
down to Dr. White's case file. She found herself lifting
the latter out and opening it. Her notes about the case
lay on top. Mostly information from the interviews with
the doctor and his graduate students.
What if Mulder was right about the students' possible
activities? Curious, she flicked the on-switch of Mulder's
computer. "You don't mind if I use your computer?"
"Just don't look at any of my bookmarks," he muttered.
"What will I find? Some of those web sites you don't look
at?" she asked innocently.
His response was unintelligible.
She felt suddenly compelled to find out more information
on Dr. White. The memory of his early work on one of the
hemorrhagic fevers, coupled with Mulder's ridiculous
suspicions of the doctor's students had her spooked. And
beyond the tragedy of Dr. White's family described in the
file, his past was a mystery to her. It suddenly seemed
like a gross oversight that she hadn't been serious enough
to research it more thoroughly. She had a horrible feeling
this oversight had been a critical mistake.
Going online, she called up Dr. Vincent White in the
Medarks database, requesting a listing of his past
publications. She quickly found his most prominent
publication, the creation of a successful vaccine. In
collaboration with a number of scientists, Dr. White had
worked on the Yellow Fever vaccine, one of the few
hemorrhagic fevers that now had a vaccine. It was
apparently his greatest lifetime achievement, albeit
shared with a number of other scientists. She continued
to scroll down the page and discovered that after his work
with Yellow Fever, his publications deviated toward a
different hemorrhagic virus, and took a turn into the
realm of ecology rather than the clinical.
Approximately thirty-three years ago, Dr. White had moved
into investigating the evolution of another hemorrhagic
fever known as hantavirus, along with the evolution of its
rodent host, Peromyscus, common name; the deer mouse.
She felt time stand still.
Grabbing up the file in her lap, she flipped back to her
notes. Mice...mice... her finger pointed an accusation at
the page. There it was. The genus of rodent Brad had
indicated to her that they were working with; Peromyscus.
The 'cute' little mouse. Her hands fairly flew over the
keyboard after that terrible moment.
The doctor's first publication on the subject revealed
that he'd had a hand in being one of the first to identify
the various strains of hantavirus while under his DOD
contract. In fact, the rapid advances on the treatment of
the disease upon it's discovery in the United States, were
due in great part to the strides made by the DOD research
in identifying and thoroughly investigating Old World
strains of the virus after they'd infected American
Scully glanced over to where Mulder lay on the couch. The
students could not possibly be working with hantavirus, she
told herself. Surely, their use of the rodent vector was
due to Dr. White's familiarity with this particular species
and its complement of species-specific mouse parasites. But
it seemed almost too much of a coincidence. She returned
with dread to her reading.
Hantavirus made a name for itself in a 1993 outbreak in
New Mexico that resulted in several fatalities within a
short period of time. The DOD's knowledge and full
cooperation with scientists when these New World strains of
the virus were discovered had greatly enhanced the ability
of medical personnel to recognize and react to the danger.
But Dr. White's research on the virus had stopped back in
1970. His last paper mostly pontificated upon the virus's
evolution. Hantavirus was not a new virus, he pointed out.
Alleged references to the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
could even be found in Native American folklore. Ancient
legend warned that if parents let mice live in their
dwelling, they would 'take away the breath' of their
children. The incident rate of infection, coupled with its
rather nondescript, flu-like symptoms, had contributed to
its going unidentified for centuries.
Mulder did not have hantavirus, she told herself. The idea
was nonsensical. Where would he have contracted it? She
felt a chill travel down her spine as she left Dr. White's
publications in order to log on to the CDC website,
calling up the comprehensive fact sheet on hantavirus and
its symptoms. Scrolling frantically through the list, she
felt her terror mounting for each one that fit Mulder's
According to the CDC, Mulder's symptoms matched almost
exactly that of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome -- fever,
fatigue, aching muscles in the back, thighs and
shoulders, followed in some portion of the cases by
headaches and gastrointestinal upset. Distinguishing itself
in the later stages with coughing and shortness of breath,
known as the 'cardiopulmonary phase' -- the body reacted
as the lungs started to fill up with fluid. From there, the
disease progressed very rapidly. The shortness of breath
often led to acute respiratory distress, sometimes within
twenty-four hours, with a mortality rate of anywhere from
forty to eighty percent.
With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she turned to study
her partner. The shortest incubation period would put the
moment of infection back around Monday, when they were just
starting to look at this case. How could he possibly have
contracted it just sitting in the office reading about the
case? With a sinking feeling, she was reminded of Mulder's
comments after checking the evidence from the case.
"Mulder, you said the Bureau had a rodent problem when you
went to look at that evidence on Monday," she recalled,
keeping her mounting panic in check. "Why did you say
that?" she asked slowly.
He opened his eyes with apparent difficulty. "Does it
matter?" he muttered groggily. He rubbed at his eyes and
she remembered the bandage she'd put on his thumb.
"What was in the box you looked in for Dr. White's case,
Mulder?" she repeated.
"Believe it or not, a bunch of dried mouse feces and one
very mummified rodent." He studied her expression quietly.
"Don't worry, Scully. I washed my hands afterward. There
were a couple vials at the bottom of the box. That's what I
cut myself on. Lovely, hmmm?" he muttered. "I'll let
Skinner know it's time for a little de-con down there." He
pushed at the sheet now and coughed again. "Is it hot in
here or what, Scully?"
She remembered the white rat outside Dr. White's house.
"Did you touch anything in that lab or Dr. White's house,
"You were with me Scully. We both did." He coughed again.
A hacking, wet-sounding cough.
According to the CDC web site, the primary cause of death
from HPS was excessive fluid in the lungs. The fluid leaked
from capillaries into the air sacs of the lungs. Autopsies
of infected patients had found lungs so severely fluid-
filled, they weighed twice as much as normal lungs.
He had opened one eye by this point and was studying her.
"What's wrong, Scully?"
She couldn't answer him. She was cold to the core.
Shoving the chair back, she grabbed her address book from
her briefcase and moved quickly over to the phone.
"Who are you calling?"
She heard the apprehension in his voice at her obvious
alarm. "Just hang on, Mulder," she murmured. "And don't
hate me. I'm calling the U.S. Army Medical Research
Institute of Infectious diseases in Bethesda. Stay calm.
They're the closest place to have a BSL-4 lab and a
quarantine facility. One we've both visited before, I might
add." She drummed her fingers impatiently on the desk as
she waited for the dial tone. "I take back everything I
said about the impossibility of something illegal going on
in Dr. White's lab." She knew she was babbling in an
attempt to control her fear, but Mulder seemed to be
gaining a fairly good grasp of what was going on. "As
usual, you may be right, Mulder."
"Why does that not feel very satisfying right now?" he
Her fingers punched the numbers frantically. When she'd
finished dialing, she turned to give him a tight smile.
"Okay. You're always right. How's that for satisfying?
Where's the closest place you've ever seen anyone land a
helicopter around here, Mulder?" Her eyes locked on his.
The phone was ringing on the other end.
He stared at her. "Tell me you're kidding." She couldn't
keep the truth from him. His eyes turned serious at the
expression in hers. "It's bad, isn't it?" When she didn't
answer, she heard him say the phrase, "It must be bad,"
for the second time that year.
She fought back the tears that threatened and nodded.
"You're coming with me, right, Scully?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, Mulder," she said
around the tightness in her throat.
The helicopter blades created a wind tunnel-like effect.
She had never liked flying, and helicopters were a
particularly unpalatable option to her. This one was huge.
It seemed the Army could never make do with a normal-sized
aircraft, and the one sitting on the Alexandria high school
soccer field was mammoth.
There was a crowd of long-distance spectators, held well
back from the vehicle that had delivered them to the field.
One of the MP's took her arm as she ran alongside Mulder's
prone form on the stretcher. She would have shaken the man
off, but his assistance was necessary for her to climb up
into the flying bulk and she cursed her height-challenged
genes instead as she accepted the help.
Mulder was ash-pale under the oxygen mask before take-off,
and all she could offer him was eye-contact and the grip of
her hand as she perched near his side. "Just relax, Mulder.
We should be there within half an hour. We've got plenty of
Mulder's only response was to squeeze her hand, the effort
of which seemed to send him into another paroxysm of
coughing. To her horror, by the time it was over, blood
had sprayed the inside of the oxygen mask with the violence
of his cough. She noted that it was only a nosebleed without
any sense of relief. Nosebleeds brought unpleasant memories
for both herself and Mulder, as well as a mounting sense of
helplessness and terror.
The emergency crew and MPs around them were masked and
gloved, as was she. They changed the oxygen mask and mopped
up the blood, putting everything into biohazard bags and
securing Mulder's stretcher as the helicopter lifted into
the air. The same MP who'd helped her into the craft
indicated a seat that she could strap herself into before
take-off, but she shook her head vehemently and stayed
beside Mulder, holding tightly to his hand.
It was a very long, unpleasant ride.
Once at USAMRIID, the bustle of uniforms was everywhere
and at some point, despite her reluctance, she was
separated from Mulder while they insisted on testing her
for the virus.
Just as she expected, she was asked to strip down and
shower. Afterward, she was given scrubs and locked in a
bio-containment room. They drew blood and checked her
vitals, despite her insistence that she was fairly certain
she had not contracted the virus. Finally, after numerous
protests, she was delivered into the company of one of the
He introduced himself as Dr. Compton. "Just relax, Dr.
Scully," he said. "If it is hantavirus, the presence of
its RNA is relatively easy for us to detect using reverse-
transcription polymerase chain reaction. As you no doubt
know, it's a very rapid early detection method and allows
us to get out all our guns and lick the thing before it
does too much damage."
She didn't care at the moment how it was detected. She
didn't care about the Army's 'guns'. "How is my partner?"
He assessed her closely. "I'd say you made the right call.
He's definitely got the full complement of symptoms, but
let's not get too worried yet. It's far more likely to be
something much more common. For example, Aspergillosis,
Cytomegalovirus, or even the flu would be a more likely
diagnosis at this point. We'll know within the hour. Why
don't we wait for the results before we get too excited?"
"Waiting could be dangerous. There's a high likelihood
that Dr. Vincent White is experimenting with hantavirus if
my partner has it. And I'd like to see Agent Mulder
immediately to check on his condition myself, if you don't
He gave her a tight smile that was entirely too pacifying.
"If that's the case, Agent Scully, what you *need* to do
right now is to speak to the officials we have here waiting
to investigate this situation. Don't worry. We're taking
good care of your partner." He was military all the way
through and although Scully didn't like it, there was
procedure to follow here before she would be allowed to
address the more personal.
She sat impatiently through the debriefing process while
separated by plexiglass for the safety of the interviewers.
A number of Department of Defense officers -- whose wrath
was about to come down via joint cooperation between the
DOD, the Center for Disease Control, the Army and the
National Guard on Dr. Vincent White and his students --
listened soberly to her tale. The DOD had files on Dr.
White that seemed slightly more extensive than the solitary
file she and Mulder had been using. She informed them about
the evidence box at the FBI, which was the most obvious
place for Mulder to have contracted the virus, given the
incubation period of the disease. She urged them to contact
Assistant Director Skinner and contain the threat at that
location as well as Dr. White's laboratory and house.
They didn't appear to need much convincing.
"If you don't mind my asking, did Dr. White have the
technology thirty years ago to preserve a viral specimen
for that a period of time?" she demanded boldly.
"I'm afraid that, yes, he did have access to that
technology," said a man who'd introduced himself as General
Lowell. "But I can't discuss that matter any further with
The group of men conferred in murmurs in the corner for a
bit and finally, one came back to thank her for her time
and wish her the best. They began to file out, obviously
abandoning her to the doctors and her fate.
She interrupted their exit. "Excuse me..."
General Lowell, the man obviously in charge of the group,
as well as being the only one to have given her his name,
turned back to regard her. He reminded her vaguely of her
father, but the resemblance was more due to his military
bearing than to his physical appearance. With a crewcut of
severely shorn white hair, he was thin in a hard sort of
way, with the look of an older man who kept himself in
shape for any form of mortal combat that might arise.
Walking over, he stood tall before the sheet of plexiglass
between them. He had at least a foot on her in height.
"How can I help you, Agent Scully?" The tinny sound of his
voice through the speakers was unnerving. It dehumanized
him and made his voice seem almost robotic.
"I'd just like to know why the case was closed by your
department," she remarked. "Was it ever solved? And what
virus was it exactly that killed Dr. White's family?"
He scowled briefly before giving her a curt nod. "The case
was closed because the theft was done *by* Dr. White. And
as for who killed Dr. White's family, he did, in my
opinion," he stated coldly, his eyes hard as agate. "And
yes, it was a strain of hantavirus that killed them. I'm
afraid that's all I can tell you. I'm also going to insist
that you forget about this case. Worry about your partner's
condition instead. We'll be handling it from here on
Was that a threat, she wondered? At something in her
return look, he scowled and added, "That's an order, Agent
Scully." Turning on his heel, he walked away from her.
Scully turned abruptly away from the window, forcing her
anger at the situation down to that place where she
contained it for her own sanity. "My partner?" she said
impatiently to the MP at the door.
"This way, Agent Scully," the young man answered.
The guard, who stood at least 6'4", and was heavily armed
and in full military uniform, led her down a long hallway.
As she padded beside him on slippered feet, she felt
ineffectual and small. Stripped of her weapon, she was
nearly helpless. To make matters worse, being exhausted
from the ordeal and dressed only in scrubs reminded her
of unpleasant, sleep-deprived nights during her short
stint as a hospital intern. Her discomfort during that
time had been one of the deciding factors in her
unconventional choice of career.
The MP delivered her to a fully functioning, state of
the art ICU area, staffed by nurses who looked more like
soldiers. It was occupied by only one patient.
As she entered the room, Mulder turned his head and,
recognizing his visitor, attempted a smile that looked
more like a grimace to her. Hooked up to every conceivable
monitor, he looked surprisingly healthy.
She approached the bed and took his hand.
They stayed like that for a minute. He took a breath that
sounded like it hurt. "Hantavirus, huh?"
"What have I got to look forward to?" he asked. "It's good
to be prepared, I always say." His voice was rough and he
coughed with the effort of his question.
She put a hand on his chest and left it there, trying to
calm him with her presence. "You're going to be fine,
"Why is that not very reassuring?" he mused.
She sighed. "You might find it starting to get difficult
to breathe. If it does, just let me know." She threaded her
fingers through the hand she held onto. "We'll give you an
oxygen mask. That might help make it a little easier. At
the worst, we may need to put you on respiratory therapy
for a bit," she offered.
"By respiratory therapy, I'm assuming you mean I could go
into respiratory failure?"
"That's a remote possibility," she answered reluctantly.
He stared at her. "Please tell me you're kidding."
"I'm sorry, Mulder." She squeezed his hand. "But you've
got very good odds against that."
"Not again," he said. "I'm not going to have any lungs
left," he moaned.
"Mulder..." she said quietly.
"Agent Fox Mulder, the lungless wonder..."
"If you pump me full of nicotine again, I swear I'll shoot
She forced a smile and brushed her hand lightly over his
forehead, running her fingers along his hairline and
pushing errant strands back. "You're right smack in the
middle of the Department of Defense, Mulder. They know more
about hantavirus than anywhere else in the world. And we
caught it early, thanks to you."
He grinned at her. "Take your share of the credit, Scully.
Believe me, I would *never* have suggested coming here. I'd
have held out for Atlanta."
She smiled and let her fingers slide down to rest along
his jawline, leaning forward far enough to not be heard
by the nurses. "I would have preferred the CDC myself,
Mulder," she whispered.
"The nurses are better looking there," he offered.
"Speak for yourself."
He closed his eyes and smiled slightly. With the closer
proximity, she could hear the rattle and wheeze of air
moving in and out of his already congested lungs. She
watched him wince as he fought for the next inhalation.
When the brawny military nurse came in next, Scully asked
for a chair and was treated to folding metal at its finest.
She and Mulder both stared at the proffered seating
arrangement for a minute after he left.
"There's plenty of room up here on the bed, Scully,"
Mulder said finally, patting the space near his hip.
"Thanks." She was exhausted from the ordeal, but obviously
she wasn't going to be catching any sleep here. She perched
on the bed beside Mulder and settled in for an extended
period of discomfort. When she saw him smile at her
proximity, it was worth it.
"Aren't you worried about getting it?" he asked.
"Person-to-person contact is a highly unlikely mode of
"How'd I get it?"
"Well, my theory is that the virus was preserved in the
evidence box for some unconscionable reason," Scully began.
"Although it seems unlikely it could have been dormant this
long and survived. The drying conditions needed to have
been just right. Anyway, the DOD is currently investigating
the situation without our help, thank you very much."
"Skinner's going to love this," Mulder observed.
"Mulder, never, never, never again stir up a pile of dried
mouse feces and breathe at the same time...promise me." She
gave him a stern look. "And for God's sake, try not to ever
again introduce what was probably a vial containing
preserved virions into your bloodstream." She held up his
hand, which was currently sporting the apparatus to monitor
his pulse as well as an I.V. line, and looked pointedly at
"Point taken," Mulder sighed. "Just don't tell me I should
have known better."
"You should have known better, Mulder."
He laughed weakly. "That's what I love about you, Scully.
You never take any crap from me."
"Mulder," she said slowly. "Sometimes, I feel like that's
all I do."
"That's right," said the Queen, patting her on the head,
which Alice didn't like at all: "though, when you say
'garden' - *I've* seen gardens, compared with which this
would be a wilderness."
~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~
Falls Church, Virginia
He'd never suspected his students of stealing his old
research notes. Nor had he imagined them replicating his
old experiments to compare the original strain of the
virus with a current strain to see what course evolution
had taken. Finally, he could not conceive of how they'd
figured out that it had been he who'd stolen the original
strain from the lab in the first place and carefully
preserved it in his own home.
Perhaps he'd told Brad in some drunken stupor. The boy had
always been stopping by, 'just to check up on him.'
This oversight was a new low for him.
The house he currently resided in had seen more visitors
in the past five days than it had since he'd moved here.
They'd cleaned out half his belongings. His lab and
university job were gone. His three graduate students had
also been dismissed by the university and were now being
'detained' by the Department of Defense.
He was unable to be concerned about the fate of the
students. No doubt the DOD would find some use for them.
In fact, they'd probably give the three jobs. Certainly,
they'd proven to have a certain aptitude for viral
research. The government officials had already confiscated
everything having to do with the students' experiment. And
with the care the DOD took in dismantling the lab, he knew
that the three must have been on to something and was
certain their research would be continued in some form.
All the loose ends were being taken care of.
General Lowell stood uneasily in his living room. Vincent
wasn't sure why he was still in his home, having lost both
his job and what was left of his reputation. He'd expected
to be arrested along with his students, so he was grateful
for this one last chance his old colleague was giving him
to make things right.
"I'm asking you to cooperate, Vincent," the General said
soberly. "For the sake of national security." When Vincent
didn't answer he made a noise of disgust. "You stole this
virus back when you believed the world should know about
the reality of biological weapons. He grimaced at the
squalor around him, standing tall and aloof from it.
Glaring down at his old colleague. "Was it worth it,
Vincent?" he demanded gruffly. "What exactly did you
"You tell me, Jack. What did I accomplish?"
His earliest research with Jack Lowell had determined
that hantavirus had an ancient association with its host,
co-evolving and co-speciating with the rodents. In fact,
virus and rodent had been seemingly been living happily
together for thousands of years. Other colleagues had
found evidence that genetic relationships among the
various hantaviruses paralleled the genetic relationships
among their rodent hosts. A mutually beneficial
partnership. Two entities, living together as one.
Then came the Red Queen hypothesis. And the start of his
He had taken a partnership between two creatures and created
a completely different scenario. Under the auspices of the
DOD, he'd showed that while hantavirus had the capacity to
co-evolve with its rodent host, it could also mutate and
evolve against it. These more deadly strains did prove to
have higher survival rates, as well as become more and
more detrimental to their rodent hosts. He'd been able
to decimate whole colonies of mice with these deadlier
"At one time, Jack, I was actually proud of what I'd
created. At one time, I thought I could control it," he
"We were able to control it, Vincent. We are controlling
it." The General stood staring down at his slump on the
couch disdainfully. "You're the one out of control."
"Well, there's no one left for you to control me with,
Jack. I care about no one."
Vincent laughed without humor. "My students were imbeciles
to recreate this monster. Their foolishness has only
repeated my own folly. They're welcome to pay whatever
price it exacts from them." He picked up the wine bottle
and took another defiant swig. Jack Lowell grimaced in
"As for that FBI agent you're so worked up about, I have no
idea how he contracted the virus. Nor do I care at this
point." It could have been a number of scenarios, he knew.
His biologically created strain had a shorter incubation
period than its more well-known counterpart. But his
research had never ended up published so this fact was
"You're a fool, Vincent," the man before him said
Yes, he was a fool. He had violated nature. The strain
he'd created hadn't emerged through any natural mutation,
nor had it come about through the medium of ecological
disturbance that usually served to cause an outbreak by
bringing infected rodents into closer contact with man.
His strain had been manufactured in the labs of the
Department of Defense. The mutation had occurred within
the laboratory. It had never been a natural setting, but
rather Man, altering nature to suit his own purposes.
Ah, but this was never a good idea.
He recalled how angry he'd been when he first learned how
his research was to be used. There'd been a short period
during which he'd talked to one too many people about his
moral quandary. He'd even mentioned his desire to his good
friend, Jack Lowell -- a desire to expose his unsuspecting
role in creating one of the first terrible anomalies in
the government's biological arsenal.
Then came the sudden and stunning loss of Olivia and all
of his beautiful children.
Thirty years later and he was still pleading with a God
he no longer believed in to deliver him from this fate.
He'd been devastated by the deaths of his family. To the
perpetrators, it had been no more than a warning.
A warning that had worked too well. Any incentive to bring
down the project had died with his family. The government's
culpability could not be proven. He could never determine
how Matthew had contracted the virus. And although he'd
suspected the DOD, they'd held him fully responsible,
blaming him for the deaths of his family and quietly
letting him go from their employ after that.
Had it been his?
The last bit of incentive for revenge had been numbed by
his guilt and an extremely rapid descent into alcoholism
in order to escape the nightmare his life had become. The
loss of his family had weighed him down for thirty years
now. What would their collective weight have been, he
wondered? Somewhere around two hundred and eighty pounds
of flesh altogether. His beloved dead family.
Oh, but his thoughts were morbid and not fit for this
In the end, he'd never had the conviction to expose the
research because he was never able to find himself fully
blameless. He sometimes wondered now if perhaps he *had*
unknowingly infected little Matthew. Some days, he could
almost convince himself of this. On these days, he
considered having the virus serve as the vehicle of his
own death as well, a fitting tribute to his family's
suffering, but he was never able to infect himself. He
wasn't brave enough for that and was afraid of
He'd always been weak. And the worst failing of this
damnable weakness within his character was his dogged
but hopeless persistence in life.
He took a long last swig of wine, feeling drowsy. General
Lowell shook his head in disgust. "I'll be back in an hour,
Vincent. Pack a bag and be ready. You're going away for a
The General left, the sound of the door slamming shut and
the lock snicking into place seemed loud in the silence
that ensued. Opportunity was knocking. Vincent took the
syringe out of the drawer beside him. Carefully, he
injected the lidocaine that Brad Palmer had been kind
and unwitting enough to supply him with. It had been a
request that Brad had readily fulfilled. What harm could
a little local anesthetic do? No doubt that was what the
idiotic boy told himself. What was a little numbness? As
long as his advisor was still able to sign a thesis it
shouldn't be a problem.
They were all fools -- including himself.
No one could begin to imagine the terrible guilt he bore.
He injected the drug into the skin of both wrists. Even
now, Vincent still wasn't brave enough to die in the
painful manner his family had.
After the mistakes he'd made in his too-long life, he had
no illusions that he would be allowed to join his long-lost
family in a better place. He even considered Hell too good
for himself. He'd never fought for anything his entire
life. He had only endured. He was a weak, ineffectual man.
Even his choice of a painless suicide showed his lack of
spine. He had no visions of eternal pardon.
He had nothing.
His wrists were completely numb by the time he took the
scalpel out of its packaging. A picture of his family was
propped on the end table near him. Around him, the house
seemed haunted by the ghosts of his family. Not malicious
apparitions, but sad reminders of his lost soul floating
in the images wavering before him.
Dear Olivia, he thought. My love. My apologies...
He felt as if this were the bravest thing he'd ever done.
And quite possibly the weakest. All his life, he'd shirked
the discomfort of taking a stand. Ironically, this final
stand made that very same ambiguous statement about his
After the cuts, there was a deluge of red. A brighter red
than the two bottles of wine he'd overloaded his system
with in preparation for this moment. Numb all over, he
watched his life flow out, a surreal river of blood
spilling onto the carpet. He deserved pain for what he'd
done. He deserved an awful, tortured death. Not this
numbed and quiet weakening.
He turned his head toward the photograph propped on the
coffee table. Away from painless red spill.
My family, he thought. Lost. My capacity for love. Lost.
The house stood behind them in the picture, a pleasant
sentry. The garden surrounded them, spilling colors over
their feet. Flowers in all the hues of a rainbow. Yellows
to pinks, fushia merging into purple, shades of blue, lush
greens, red...oh, red everywhere... and then white...
Matthew was laughing, reaching out in the photo for his
"Dearest Matthew, my apologies..."
His final words in life contained no more than this
eternal plea for forgiveness.
His life, lost.
And out in Dr. Vincent White's garbage bin, a white
laboratory rat was finishing a free lunch. It took a
minute to carefully wash its whiskers of the refuse with
two tiny pink paws before it leapt out of the bin and
scurried off into the woods behind the house.
The Red Queen shook her head. "You may call it 'nonsense'
if you like," she said, "but *I've* heard nonsense,
compared with which that would be as sensible as a
~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
"Make yourself at home, Mulder."
She turned to watch her partner shuffle over to her couch
as she set his overnight bag just inside her room. "Are you
"Only if it's more of that yummy green jello."
Unbelievably, the USMARIID facility had released Mulder
earlier than they'd planned. After an unprecedented and
fairly rapid recovery, and with Scully's sign-off on
enforcing his convalescence, the Army washed their hands
of them both.
"Did I call them Scrooges?" Mulder asked in mock horror
when he learned the date. "I take it back."
It was two days before Christmas Eve. Scully was
determined that they would make the most of the holiday,
despite the events leading up to it and Mulder's currently
weakened state of health. At the very least, her partner
would enjoy a warm meal and not be alone this Christmas.
He spotted the tree at that moment.
Scully watched as he stopped and stared at it for a
minute, all pinpoint lights and star-shaped ornaments.
Still weak from his ordeal, he lowered himself onto the
couch, his eyes holding the vision even after he'd settled.
She crossed the room and perched beside him. They were
quiet for a second together. "Do you like it?" she finally
He turned and smiled. "Is this my Christmas present?"
He pointed to the presents visible under the tree and
looked crestfallen. "I didn't exactly have time to get
you anything, Scully."
"Yes you did, Mulder," she said quietly, patting his
thigh. "You're still here. That's enough."
"No, it's not."
Yes, it is."
He took a deep, cleansing breath. "What I want to know
is why I recovered so quickly."
"Mulder, I wouldn't call that quick. You were unconscious
and on the respirator for at least twenty-four hours. And
you've been hospitalized for five days."
He looked unconvinced. She didn't voice her own
suspicions, including the existence of a few drugs the
doctors had given him whose names she'd been unable to
"According to the doctors there," she continued, "if
someone survives the cardiopulmonary phase of the disease,
they usually recover quite rapidly."
"I'd say 'rapid' is an understatement. I feel pretty good
for being at death's door two days ago, Scully."
How this had happened didn't matter, she decided. Mulder
was recovering and they were together. What more could they
ask the Fates for this year?
"Well, at least I'm not the lungless wonder," he mused when
no explanation was forthcoming from her.
"Nope." She grinned. "No circus sideshows for you."
He gave voice to the suspicions that mirrored her own.
"All I've got to say is that the DOD must have some *very*
good drugs, Scully."
"Yes, they must have."
"How about how I contracted it? Did we figure that out?"
She sighed and dampened her frustration with the answer
she was about to give him. "'We,'" she emphasized the word,
"were not allowed to figure anything out. The DOD said that
the vials found in the evidence box did, in fact, contain
hantavirus. They don't know how the virus got placed into
the FBI evidence archives. They claim that the FBI must
have originally done so before the DOD took over the case,
not realizing what they'd confiscated."
"Right. Pretty stupid mistake, don't you think? What'd
"After they found hantavirus in the Hoover Building?" she
asked incredulously. "Take a guess, Mulder."
He stared at the tree again, his expression turning
contemplative. "Okay. What happened to Dr. White,
Scully? I know you're not telling me something."
She wasn't completely sure why she'd been withholding the
news she'd received that morning. But she knew the topic
of suicide was a sensitive one for Mulder as well as
herself right now. And though there seemed to be few
parallels between the virologist's end and that of
Mulder's mother, she also knew Mulder would end up
blaming himself in some small way, no matter how
unreasonable this may be. He took their cases to heart,
sometimes a bit too much so. Suicide was very common
around the holidays and certainly it wasn't unexpected
in Dr. White's case. But she felt her own twinges of guilt
for not doing more for the sad professor. And if she felt
that way, certainly Mulder would also. She'd wanted to at
least wait until he was feeling a little stronger before
giving him the news, but he deserved the truth.
"He committed suicide early this morning, Mulder," she
said quietly. "He left a note, apologizing to his family.
But no details as to what caused their deaths or anything
about the theft his work."
"Oh." That was all he said. The silence between them was
palpable. He squinted at the tree. "You know, if you do
this right, the lights really do look like stars."
"Mulder, I'm sorry." It seemed a stupid thing to say. He
didn't reply. Beside him, she followed his example and
squinted at the tree. He was right, she thought with some
wonder. The room sparkled like a sky full of stars. She
opened her eyes wide again. "I do think the DOD is
covering something up about his death, Mulder. In fact,
I'm sure of it."
"Scully!" His melancholy turned into obvious pleasure at
this statement. He faced to her with a faint grin, but
sobered quickly at her more serious expression. Turning
back to the tree, he tilted his head for a more thoughtful
perusal. "I hate to disrupt your delightful, newfound
paranoia," he finally remarked, "but in this particular
case, I don't believe there was any foul play. Just the
last nail in a coffin the good doctor has been building
for himself for a while." He paused, deep in thought.
"You can't really blame him for what he did," he commented
finally. "He lost everyone he cared about."
The words chilled her. "I disagree. That's no excuse for
what he did, Mulder."
Mulder shrugged. "Regardless of whether or not he's
excused for his actions," he said slowly, "he was
obviously in a great deal of pain."
Regretting her impulsive comment immediately, she reached
over and covered his hand with her own. "I didn't mean to
condemn him for his actions, Mulder. You know that. I just
can't condone them. And as for whether he's excused for
them, I don't think that's up to me." She squeezed his hand
and let her fingers tangle with his. The action silenced
both of them, and they stared down at where their hands lay
entwined on his thigh. He rubbed the rough pad of his thumb
over the back of hers. It mesmerized her.
"What happened to his graduate students?" he asked,
electing to change the topic rather than focus on one
that was still a tender, healing wound for them both.
"Supposedly arrested, but I never heard anything after
that. 'Classified' is the explanation I was given. And
believe me, that one word is all we're going to get,
Mulder. The DOD made that pretty clear to me. I have no
idea whether those students are sitting in a jail cell
somewhere or walking away from all this scot free."
"Or chained to a lab bench somewhere, finishing their
experiments, compliments of the DOD." Mulder remarked.
"Case closed, huh?" He looked tired suddenly. Leaning
his head back against the couch, he closed his eyes
and sighed. "Looks like the return of our old friend,
lack of closure, Scully."
"We tried, Mulder. And truly, I think this case was
resolved a long time ago by the Department of Defense.
Albeit unsatisfactorily. As for the current illegal
activities of Dr. White's students, at least we stopped
those before they got out of hand and caused an epidemic
on campus. Take heart in that."
"Not a very satisfying resolution," he remarked.
Her heart ached for this man. But she stood, having
determined that they'd had quite enough of viruses and
suicides. She was ready to erase this case from her
thoughts and attempt to enjoy the holiday. She hoped
she could entice Mulder to do the same.
"You need to eat, Mulder," she insisted. "And you need to
rest." She moved around the couch to stand behind him. "And
you need to keep me company for at least an attempt at
Christmas dinner. Not to mention, watch Steel Magnolias at
some point with me." At his groan, she leaned down and
dropped a light kiss onto his forehead.
He let his head fall back onto the couch and opening his
eyes, stared up at her. And she contemplated with some
wonder the amazing inner strength of this man before her.
Placing the palm of her hand against his forehead where
her lips had just graced, she found his skin warm under her
hand, but not feverish. Sliding her hands around to frame
his face, she held him in place as she studied him. He
returned her gaze openly, showing too much of his soul,
as he always did.
"Right now, you need to eat some chicken soup. How does
that sound?" Giving him a small smile, she started to pull
away, still adjusting to the increasing familiarity within
their relationship. Seemingly of its own volition, one hand
strayed back to idly stroke his cheek until he returned her
smile, closing his eyes under her touch.
"Better than jello," he murmured.
Reluctantly, she stopped the caress, letting her hand fall
lightly away. In the doorway of the kitchen, she paused to
cast a thoughtful look back at her partner. He was staring
again at the tree with an unreadable expression. She wondered
how long it had been since Mulder had a Christmas tree,
assuming he'd ever had one with his less than nurtured
He must have sensed her watching him because he turned
slightly and grinned. "Thanks, Scully."
She answered with a smile of her own. "For you,
Mulder...the world." And of course, the stars, in
whatever earthly form she could find them.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Most of the viral information for this
story was obtained from textbooks, scientific journals,
the CDC website, and my own limited experience. Any
liberties taken with it are my own, although I've tried
very hard to stick to facts. However, Dr. Vincent White
had absolutely nothing to do with developing the vaccine
for Yellow Fever or working with the DOD to identify the
first strains of hantavirus -- those real life
distinctions belong to other scientists. That said,
Moose and Squirrel don't really exist either ;) Okay,
okay...just kidding! *g* I will admit that details about
the George Mason University were mostly fabricated. Though
it does exist, I've never been there and apologize for any
errors present in its portrayal.
The Red Queen Hypothesis is a "real live" scientific
hypothesis proposed in 1973 by ecologist Leigh Van Valen
of the University of Chicago, who described host-parasite
interactions as a kind of biological arms race. He named
the hypothesis after the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll's
"Through the Looking Glass" who says, "Now, here, you
see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the