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A Boy and His Rat

by C.M. Decarnin

Part 13


The night smelled like candy.

It always gave him a headache.

Unseasonably warm darkness had already fallen by six o'clock, and Krycek was just another layer of black in the shadows. One cricket optimistically posted his encrypted personal ad.

There were no lights in these fields, but that didn't mean he wouldn't show up like a bug on a plate if they had detection systems. He had long ago worked out a route and acquired a device that would let him through them, disguised, to electronic eyes, as a cow. The real cows were out there, a few head of beef cattle, unusual for this area, ostensible reason for the broad uncultivated land. There was nothing else but a prefab toolshed.

Krycek altered his electronic profile so that there would not appear to be a Black Angus riding the elevator in the toolshed down thirty stories to the engine rooms. More like something in a tasteful gray.

The aliens were so advanced they didn't need to be around to run power and lights. They were so advanced they really hardly needed to exist at all, and one of the things Krycek still didn't know about them was why they bothered.

Sucking a caffeine lozenge to counteract the headache, he unpacked the plastique from around his body and started setting charges, workmanlike, sans psychotic signatures, each component, as always, the most common type available. He traced the initials "F.M." in the last wad, and kissed it.

When he left, the whole place smelled faintly like candy.

Next stop, the Hall of Records...

A few stories up, he accessed the archive he wanted, activated their translator in English, and started searching. None of the many names he knew brought up any information on the Bic Flicker. Shit The archive was a treasure-trove... could he really destroy it without at least getting the goods on the king of nicotine?

One thing he might find by starting at the other end.

He typed in "Teena Mulder", but there were only a few stark facts, with the names of her children.

He entered the name "William Mulder".

Many screens.

He downloaded into his head as fast as he could read, but this wasn't what --

Then it was there.

He stared blank-eyed.




And then there was nothing but pain, and he hardly noticed when it became physical, and there were aliens, Grays, looking down at his fallen body, and at the file that had killed him, dead, deader than anything could ever kill him again.


Maybe it was that he couldn't stand any more not knowing. Another infocache Alex was going to go dipping in, and come up dripping with knowledge. Maybe it was that he still didn't trust him not to go and never return. Maybe he worried that Krycek was biting off more than he could chew this time. Maybe it was just that he couldn't stand, any more, to watch him walk away.

It certainly wasn't because he was jealous, that he wanted to see if Krycek might be meeting another man.

He stuck the electronic tracker on Krycek's car under the guise of taking out garbage too big for the chute.

He followed at a sedate and relaxed distance, entirely out of sight.

He watched through nightvision binoculars as Krycek entered the toolshed. Well, he certainly couldn't follow him in there.

But as time passed he realized Krycek wasn't making some simple pickup. No light came from the shed, but Krycek didn't emerge. What, did he sleep here? Itching curiosity finally propelled him to his feet and he skulked close. There was no sound.

He picked the lock. Waited. Waited. Opened a crack in the door.

The toolshed was empty.

When he shut the door behind him a light came on.


There were mysterious tools and machine parts he decided were of agrarian rather than alien origin.

He went where the prints of Alex's sneakers showed but he probably never would have found anything if he hadn't tripped over a piece of a harrow and fallen through a wall that wasn't there.

He freaked at not being able to see his legs. Jerked, and they were there with him. In a very small room bathed in white illumination. He discovered the controls by means of random acts of senseless violence when he realized he couldn't get back into the toolshed.

The elevator started to fall.

Fifteen stories below no one noticed his incursion amid the klaxons, inaudible to human ears, that had sounded when a certain set of forbidden files had been accessed in a non-authorized language; and dozens of gray feet hastened through shafts and corridors, converging from all directions on a single archive terminal.


Mulder was sweating. Crawling memory clutched monsterhands at his shins, puffed fang-breath over his neck. He recognized this place.

Here were no frozen breeding niches of weird hybrids, but the dark architecture dropped him straight into flashback hell.

He was in a ship.

Buried entirely, not in Antarctic ice but under innocent Virginia countryside. He was already not absolutely certain he could find his way back to the elevator. But it lured him on, the strangeness... What was he hoping to find? A souvenir? An explanation?


Krycek could be anywhere in this vastness. There was no way to tell how far he had descended, but he knew it was more than a story or two, and the polar ship had been enormous. It seemed like he had been down here for hours. His watch said fifty minutes. He should go back, report... but would anyone believe him, without a tangible piece of evidence? How long had they been here? What were they doing here? And who, exactly, were "they"? Rebels? Shape-shifters? Grays?

...saliva-covered fangs...

Mulder's shoulders shuddered.

He found himself in a lighter area, finally, pale, clinical-looking walls, several open rooms but nothing in them that wasn't bolted down. Which made sense in a mobile fortress. It reminded him of the co-worker's house where he and Krycek had made love. Maybe the suburbanites too were always ready for flight...

And like that house it was vacant. Abandoned? Or were the aliens just away for the weekend?

He heard a sound.

Flattened into an open doorway, he listened, gun in hand.

It had been... almost like a voice.

A moan, or a note of a song...

Nothing happened.

He slid back into the corridor and oozed toward the sound.

He passed several more empty rooms before he heard it again. A slight cry in a soft voice. From a door further down. No other sound, no movement or voices. He eased toward it, trying to keep his breathing inaudible. He stopped outside the door, breathed deep, and raised his gun in both hands.

Mulder rounded the doorframe, gun out and sweeping, nothing moved in the room but then he saw Krycek.

Then he saw him breathe, and breathed himself.

Krycek was laid on a slab, naked except for the straps of his prosthetic, not restrained but not moving except for his somewhat tortured breathing. There were decorated pillars near where he lay, but nothing else. Mulder stepped closer, gun pointed up, eyes scanning; listening for any sound.

He saw Krycek was conscious, and the next moment the glazed eyes swerved, and saw him. Stricken, Krycek reared partway up and cried, "No!" His eyes were wide and full of fear.

"It's me!" Mulder hissed, glancing toward the door. "Get up! Come on, let's get out of here!"

"You can't be here!" Krycek gasped, and let his shoulders fall back to the slab. "You have to go!"

Mulder focussed his full attention on Krycek, and saw that he was indeed breathing unevenly, with pale, sweating skin. He reached to touch him and his hand sank into an aura of warmth around him. But the skin itself was clammy and cool.

"What have they done to you?"

Krycek seemed to have to gather his strength. Finally he said carefully, "Mulder. You have to leave. Right now. The ship is going to blow. There's a bomb."

Mulder looked at him blankly. "Bomb? How do you --" And stopped himself before he could finish that really stupid question. "Okay -- come on then!"

"I can't. What time is it?"

"Quarter past eleven. What do you mean, you can't? Do you need me to carry you?" He reached to do it.

"No!" Krycek cried. "I can't! Please! Don't! I --" He looked down toward his feet. "I'm -- attached."

Mulder looked. "What do you mean?" But Krycek inched his thighs apart and he saw -- something like a white pipe was raised slightly out of the slab, ran up between his legs and -- disappeared into him. Stunned, Mulder looked back at Krycek's face, feeling himself go cold. "What is that? How far in does it go?"

"I think it's sampling tissues. It has -- branches. I -- I can feel it. It's still spreading. You can't -- take it out. Mulder..." Krycek reached slightly, and Mulder took his hand. "The bomb will go off in forty minutes. You have to be at least a hundred yards away by then. You can't let them find you here. There's nothing you can do for me."

"I'm not leaving you here!"

Krycek gripped his hand and stared at him desperately. "Don't let my life, my -- my death, be a waste. Please! Let me at least know that you're still out there, fighting, with the weapons I found for you." He pulled Mulder's fingers to his lips and kissed them. His eyes winced closed in pain for a moment. They opened full of distress. "I don't suppose your gun has a silencer on it?" Mulder shook his head. "Never mind." Krycek bit his lips together and turned his head away. Then his eyes and mouth flew open in a stifled cry. He panted, "Please, Mulder, please! Just do this one thing for me, in god's name! Go!"

Mulder put his hands on Krycek's face and looked deep into his eyes. "Go, please," Krycek whispered. Mulder leaned down and kissed his mouth, a chaste kiss cold with terror. He straightened. Still looking into Krycek's eyes. Then he turned, and ran out of the room.

Alex lay shivering, in too much shock to benefit from his blanket of warm air, alone in the white room. He couldn't know, now, if Fox made it or not. He would die not knowing. A tiny voice said that he would never have left Fox to die alone, but he crushed it. Mulder had to survive. It was just that... it would be so much easier if he could know, know for certain that Mulder would make it, would be out there doing his Mulder thing, until he somehow made it possible for Earth to win against this horror. This same horror that he felt was sucking the life out of him like some terrifying internal spider. He shuddered. He didn't want to die, but this waiting -- not knowing how much time had passed -- not knowing if it would be clean by concussion, or agonizing by fire or -- it was torture to be this terrified, with nothing he could do. All his life he had been alone, against impossible odds -- that too often had crushed and subordinated him to their purposes and their viciousness -- why now did it seem so hard, to be alone at the very end? No, he would still be as frightened if he had a hundred visitors to see him off. Oh Fox. Oh Fox I loved you.

He heard a sound and jumped. It couldn't be forty minutes already, oh please don't let it be time yet --

Footsteps. Two sets. They were coming -- to do something to him again. It would soon be over but oh god what a miserable death, twisting under their manipulations like a worm. Fox would fight and spit noble threats or find some miraculous escape, but Krycek had no such charmed life and no strength left even to imitate nobility with silence. If they twisted him just one wrench more, he would spill, if they hadn't left him alone he might already have broken -- they could find the bomb, disarm it. Don't think it, don't even let it in, they could not be allowed to keep what they were taking from him, he knew that now, and his dignity was the least of it. And Fox --

Fox was looking down at him. He almost screamed, his nerves were so frayed, then he took in that the Gray beside him was shrinking under the threat of Mulder's drawn gun.

No. No no no no no -- everything he had suffered was nothing to the welling hurt despair. Oh Fox --

Mulder wasted no words. He mimicked gripping the pipe between Krycek's legs and made a gesture as if yanking it out. Then he clamped both hands around his gun and levelled it at the alien's head.

Only an alien retard would have failed to understand. The Gray ran its long fingers over the decorative surface of one of the pillars near the slab. Krycek felt branched things within him retreat, faster than they had felt their way through him. It didn't hurt but the painkiller they'd been feeding in was withdrawn with them and he began to feel the full brunt of what he hadn't told Fox, the brightening agony of where they had carefully broken his pelvis apart for the insertion.

He felt the thing leave him.

"Did they put an implant in you?" Mulder asked, not looking at him.

"Not yet."

"Can you get up?"

"No. They -- broke some bones."

He saw Fox's face take on a terrible anxiety and knew what he was thinking: he could not lift Krycek and keep the gun on the alien.

"Give it to me," he grated. Fox passed him the gun and started around the table to pick him up from the other side, then jumped as the automatic fired once. The Gray dropped.

Mulder was frozen with shock.

"He was dead anyway," Krycek gasped. "If you took him out of here they would have killed him, even if it meant taking you and a whole city block with him, you know that. They can't allow that kind of evidence to exist."

Mulder looked numbly at the body. "How do you know it's a "he"?"

The pain was barreling back hard. "Mulder..."

Mulder made to lift him and Krycek laid the warm gun on his bare belly in case --

Pain shredded him, and he passed out.

He came back when Fox fell. He felt the automatic under him and instinctively pried it out and fired at the first thing that moved.

A Gray collapsed. It had been coming toward them, he realized. They were outside, on grass. He lay completely still, listening, wondering how many bullets were left in the clip. There must not be any detection systems this far outside the ship after all, and no one must have noticed yet that he was gone, or they would be out here searching. At last he twisted to look at Fox, and pain overwhelmed him. When he could force himself to move again, he touched Mulder's face and softly called his name with no response, but he felt him breathing evenly. He checked Mulder's watch. Eleven-thirty. They were not far from the entrance to the ship, they had to move.

He found he could briefly prop himself on his prosthetic forearm, long enough to put his hand against the ground and heave his body along a few inches. He passed Mulder, and then reached back, got his arm across Mulder's chest, and pulled. He found a position in which he could get enough leverage to move the unconscious body. He might be able to make five feet a minute. His naked side would be scraped to shit but slid better than clothes might have in the damp night grass and leaves; pain would have to be what he swam in, ignored since he had no control over it. A useful trick from childhood. He was alive and Mulder was alive, unthinkable to let that perfect state be undone by passivity.

Five feet a minute would not be enough to assure their survival.

He started crawling.


Scully's flashlight beam caught a movement of something pale.

"We don't know that he was inside when it went up," Skinner had said on the drive to the site of the midnight explosion. HAZMAT had reported there was no radioactivity. Scully and Skinner glanced at each other. Wondering who had advised that particular check.

The fire had died to a volcanic glow, snapping and sparking and still roaring up occasionally from a huge pit stories deep. The darkness smelled smoky and chemical as Scully had joined a line of mixed personnel sweeping one of the surrounding fields. No one had offered her a body to examine. So far, they said, there weren't any.

Now she veered off in the direction of the white flash of motion. It was still, now, but she could see paleness near some kind of shrubbery and mechanical forms, where the field petered into a few trees near the road. An abandoned car, a tangle of rusted machinery. The pale thing made no attempt to flee, but as she got closer it resolved into a naked human form; she could see it huddled over another body, as if trying to hide it. Then she saw the naked one had a gun raised in his hand, an FBI SIG Sauer. She twitched the light higher.

"Krycek!" she exclaimed, and saw the gun waver down and fall. "FBI, drop your weapon!" she commanded tardily. The other body -- under his arm, partly shielded from view by his naked torso -- it wore clothes, a dark gray suit -- "Throw the gun here!" Krycek weakly obeyed and the gun thudded in the grass between them. She approached cautiously. He had dropped his head onto the other body's shoulder, so her view of its face was obscured. The body hadn't moved.

"Move away! On your face, hands behind your head!" she ordered. Krycek just raised his eyes to her.

"I can't," he said, and only then did she notice the twisted whiteness of his lips, and the exhausted eyes. The strap across his back, she realized, was for a prosthetic arm, not a shoulder holster. She moved around them and shone the light into the other face.

"Mulder." She was on her knees, vaguely knowing she had yelled for the medics and pushed Krycek off him. He was breathing, unconscious -- no sign of skull trauma she could locate, no blood -- "What's wrong with him?" she demanded of Krycek, who lay on his back panting shallowly. "What happened?"

"I don't know," she heard the strained whisper as she continued her fruitless examination. "I think they hit him with some kind of -- taser, or drug or something."

"How long has he been unconscious?"

"Since eleven-thirty." An ambulance pulled up on the nearby road, and she let the paramedics take over. They were straightening Krycek's limbs carefully when he said, "Take him first," and Scully hurriedly ordered it, telling them what little she knew. They covered Krycek with thin ambulance blankets and carried Mulder slowly away over the rough ground. Others had clustered around the ambulance to meet them. She saw Skinner against the lights, and decided to guard Krycek. She didn't want him rescued, killed, or abducted before she could question him. She shone her light around before the area became any more trampled. There were scorches where flaming debris had landed, and she found a drag path of crushed-down grass and leaves leading back toward the explosion site. She turned and looked at Krycek.

"What did you do to him?" she asked, and was pleased at the control she was able to exercise over her voice. But Krycek glanced at the gun in her hand and quickly back at her face. "You son of a bitch! He dragged you out of that place! Then you knocked him unconscious!" She sucked in breath and realized she was looming above him, bent over and yelling.

When he saw she wasn't going to shoot him, he looked away and sighed. "God I love the FBI," he muttered.

She suddenly realized it was after one in the morning of a very long, hard day, that Mulder was alive with good vitals and no apparent wounds. She sank down on a stack of old tires and sat staring unseeingly, till she registered that he had turned his head and was looking toward the ambulance. "Why haven't they gone yet?" he asked.

She looked at him as if for the first time, and her medical instincts swelled to the fore. He looked bad. "Where are you injured?" she asked automatically.

"You should go with him." He turned his eyes to her. "They're after him."

"Last I heard they were after you too, Krycek."

"Him they want dead. Me they want alive."

"Who's "they"?"

His eyes glanced toward the ground at her feet. "You got any Demerol in that bag?"

She shook her head. "I'm a pathologist. The paramedics will have something. Do you have any head injuries?"

"No. Fractured pelvis."

Scully winced.

"This adrenaline is definitely wearing off here," and she could hear pain in his voice and his breathing. She knew she shouldn't care, but pain was one of the reasons she had gone into pathology, where all her patients' suffering was a thing of the past. Surprisingly, then, he answered her question. "You're right, they're different "they"s. Most of the human theys want Mulder dead. He's gotten beyond tolerating."

"And which "they" wants you alive?"

He looked toward the ambulance again, and all the pain showed. He said, "You can have him for now. But I want him back." His eyes closed. Scully felt the shock all through her, at what he was admitting. In a delayed reaction she stood up and waved her flashlight, shouting at the paramedics, wondering what the hell was holding up the second ambulance. She saw Skinner bending over the gurney -- did that mean Mulder was conscious and talking? It would explain why they were still here. She saw Skinner look in her direction, and head toward her.

He reached her faster than the paramedics had with their cumbersome equipment. "Sir, I think one of us should stay with Agent Mulder. I believe his life is in danger."

Skinner looked down at Krycek. "You go. He's awake and insisting on knowing that the prisoner is secured."

Scully threw Krycek a look too, having a feeling that that hadn't been Mulder's exact phrasing. "Sir, he, uh, has serious injuries."

"I'll try to restrain myself, Agent Scully."

"Yes, sir." And she thought it the wisest move to do as she was told. She sent a paramedic with pain meds back to Krycek, and knelt down by Mulder.

"Krycek --" he said as soon as he saw her.

"He's okay," she replied quickly, and he lay back with a breath of relief, his eyes closing.

"God," he said, one hand rubbing his face. "They said the ship exploded."


"Yeah." He smiled faintly up at her. "It's a real ship, Scully, they're going to have one hell of a time explaining away all the technology."

"I don't know, Mulder -- it's been over an hour and it's still burning pretty hot. I'm not sure there'll be much left."

At last the ambulance seemed ready to lock and load, so she didn't have to answer the dismay in his eyes.

Krycek felt a sense of foreboding as Scully walked away and Skinner turned toward him. The Assistant Director squatted by him, eyes hard behind his glasses.

"What the hell kind of scam are you running here, Krycek?"

Scream now and bring Scully back?

"The other two guys wanted to kill you," he blurted, between almost chattering teeth. He was suddenly really cold. "In the stairwell. I had to make sure you stayed down or you were a dead man."

"Why?" Skinner looked utterly unmoved.

"Murder an A.D.? Just... stupid..." Skinner would know that was true, no conspiracy needed that kind of flak.

"I want to know what you're doing now, Krycek. What kind of head-trip you're running on my agent."

"What do you mean?" he stalled.

The paramedic arrived and shot him up with something that started to obliterate a lot of pain. "There'll be an ambulance here for you soon," she assured him, and left. Krycek was grateful but wished he could think of a way to get her to stay. He couldn't think of much of anything, it seemed.

"Agent Mulder is abnormally concerned for your welfare," Skinner bit out.

"I'm his source." It was the best he could do.

"Abnormally concerned, Krycek." Skinner was seriously in his face. "Like he cares."

Krycek smiled.

It was a mistake, but he couldn't stop himself. He looked toward the ambulance and saw they were finally loading and closing the doors.

He looked back at Skinner and the smile wiped itself off his face. He hadn't felt in so much danger in -- over an hour, at least. Skinner glanced down his body, taking in that underneath the thin flannel blankets he was naked.

"I'll break you in two," Skinner said slowly.

"I'm not going to hurt him."

"No," Skinner said. "You're not. You're not going to see him again, you're not going to communicate with him again. From this moment you are out of his life, Krycek, and where you're going you'll be lucky if you even see a cockroach that wasn't born inside."

Krycek licked the inside of his lower lip. He held Skinner's eyes, rapt. The power in him! Power to be grasped, turned...

"I'm giving him everything he ever wanted," he said. "Take that away and see what hurt really means."

Skinner reached for him but he had no clothing to grab onto and the big powerful hands closed in frustration. The fists lay on his collarbones.

Krycek breathed harder. "Take me away and he will never trust you again. Never. You'll destroy him. For nothing!"

"You're the slime under his shoes, Krycek. You're garbage. He'll get over it." The big hands relaxed open, lying loosely around his throat. Krycek's heart pounded, he felt his control slipping into panic. He clamped down on the fear.

"He doesn't get over things. Don't you at least know that by now?"

"He knows what you are, Krycek. He won't be surprised when I tell him how you betrayed him." Unnoticed by either of them, the second ambulance had at last arrived, and the paramedics were near. Skinner stood up.

"This man is a federal prisoner. He'll be going to a different location."


The hospital sucked Mulder into its routine of tests and ejected him back at Scully with no one much the wiser. Except that he seemed to be undamaged. They let him put his clothes back on. There was no one else in the room when Scully entered.

"Where's Krycek?" he asked immediately.

"I don't know. I haven't seen him."

He froze, looking up from tying his shoes.

"They may have taken him to another hospital."

"No. No!"

"Mulder, calm down! That's the way ambulance systems work. They triage patients to different emergency rooms according to the type and severity of injury and the hospital's capacity." Her voice gentled. "Skinner is with him. He'll be safe."

Mulder stared at her, then flushed hot red. "You know," he said in a startled, strangled gasp.

"Know what?" But she felt her cheeks reddening too.

He looked at her levelly, assessingly, and finally spoke in words that marched as if to their deaths, "You know that Krycek is my lover."

Scully closed her eyes. Until he said it, some level of her really hadn't believed it.

"Mulder, why? Why him?"

Mulder closed his eyes. "I don't know."

Scully studied his face. All she could see was a greater than usual pain and confusion. "What -- attracts you, in him?"

He jerked half away, moaning "Oh god" involuntarily.

"You can say anything to me, Mulder. I need to know what's happening."

Mulder scrubbed his face with his hands. "I don't know." He half-smiled sideways at her. "He thinks I beat him up once too often and got a taste for it." His forehead drooped into his palms. "Maybe he's right." He sighed, "God," and fell silent.

Scully said, "I knew some of this. Someone sent me a tape. You and Krycek. On the phone."

"Oh no." He swivelled away. He seemed to shrink smaller inside his suit, with a new and more personal embarrassment.

"I erased the tape. But thinking back I could see he was being very charming with you. Childlike. Aggressive. Intimate."

"God. I'm sorry. You shouldn't have had to --"

"Mulder, I'm a doctor. I heard all the naughty words my first year in med school. By the time I was an intern I even knew what they meant."

Despite himself, Mulder smiled. He took a deep shaking breath. "The sex is... unbelievable. Half the time I don't know if I'm going to fuck him or kill him. I never even had that kind of fantasy. Maybe I never let myself. When he touches me it's like I have to -- do something violent." He said tiredly, "Do you think... Is it the ultimate garden path? Is he taking me for my last dime?"

He didn't look up at her but she could hear the fear.

"You're asking me? I'm the one who led you off your real path, Mulder. He's the one who put you back on it."

"I never told you -- that night... It was the first time he kissed me. On the cheek. And called me "Comrade". Judas Krycek. Agenda Boy. I never told anybody about that kiss, because when he did it... I wanted to believe. I wanted it to mean more than being appointed Hero. I wanted him to be coming on to me. So I could... jump his bones, beat the crap out of him, I didn't even know. He gave me back my gun. And looked at me for a minute. And walked out. And I just sat there. Waiting for the snow to come and cover me up."

"He seems to have told you the truth that night, about the alien rebel being held at Wiekamp."

"The ironic thing is... if he's lying to me now... I don't want to know. I just want to live out my life under the illusion that... that he..."

"That he loves you," Scully said. He raised his head at the dispassionate sympathy in her voice.

"Or at least thinks I'm hot."

Scully smiled. Mulder's self-deprecation was back on-line. He would survive.

"You think aliens made me a leather queen, Scully?"

"It's the only explanation that fits the facts," she assured him. He looked up with a startled laugh and a glow of love for her in his eyes that brought a reflexive smile to her lips.

"I love you," he said unnecessarily.

"But do you think I'm hot?"

He laughed, but blushed so red that she had mercy on him, and perhaps herself, and redirected. "You've trusted your instincts for a long time. Obviously you think there's something there that you need."

"He knows everything, and he's not afraid of it. He's afraid of them, but he's not afraid of knowing they exist, he walks in their world, Scully."

Scully raised a perfectly pencilled eyebrow. "And this turns you on?"

"There -- are a lot of things he's not afraid of."

Scully's steady eyes met his. Betrayal. Intrigue. Assassination. For a start, she was thinking.

Mulder's eyelids crinkled with distress. "I know... What the hell am I doing... But I would follow him into hell..."

He would. He had followed her there, and brought her out again. She knew his tenacity, and the power love had over him.

She looked at his bowed head. Those shoulders that had taken on the weight of the world and never looked as burdened as they did now. Betray him in this, you Russian -- hussy -- and he won't have to hunt you down. I'll find you and kill you myself.

They called around to area hospitals but could find no trace of Krycek. With every negative Mulder's temporary calm wore away, and the silence of his cell phone and Scully's as dawn lightened over the Atlantic seeped fear into his body. Her insistence that he go home and sleep went unheeded. He made her tell him everything she had seen. How Skinner had received the call about Mulder's car being found near the fiery site. When she recounted her conclusion about the drag path and their escape from the explosion, he shook his head.

"No. He's the one who dragged me out. I couldn't move. There was an alien outside the ship, some kind of hand-weapon..."

"That's impossible, Mulder. Krycek's pelvis was broken, he couldn't have done it."

Mulder swallowed, suddenly beset by heartache. "I wasn't unconscious, Scully. I just couldn't move, couldn't open my eyes. It was like my will totally evaporated or was cut off from my body. But I remember. He dragged me, a foot at a time, over and over for what seemed like hours. Finally I guess I really did pass out. I don't remember the ship exploding. Then Skinner was there --" He stopped, overcome with anxiety. He had to move, had to find them.

He could see Scully was the one who really was exhausted. He hated any sign of physical debility in her, dark-circled eyes and pale cheeks reminded him too forcefully of Scully in her hospital bed, day after day carried further away from him, slowly being abducted by death.

He talked her into dropping him off at work before she went home to sleep.

His heart in his mouth, he walked into Skinner's outer office. Kim was already there. "Agent Mulder," she greeted him. "He said to go right in."

A far cry from her usual futile "You can't go in there!" Mulder opened the door and Skinner, at his desk, looked up. The eyes behind the glasses were concerned.

"Agent Mulder, I'm afraid I have bad news." Mulder noticed Skinner held himself poised, in his chair, as if ready to leap in any direction. "The ambulance carrying Krycek disappeared. I got separated from it in traffic. It never showed up. The crew reported in later, the ambulance had been hijacked." He was scrutinizing Mulder. "Evidence suggests Krycek knew and cooperated with the hijackers. I'm sorry. Little as I trusted him, I agree he was an important source."

Mulder stood numbly. "Yes, sir," he answered. Seared by Skinner's past tense. Was that deliberate? Or unconscious? He prayed for the former. Carefully, he let some of his distress show. "I --" Abruptly he collapsed down into one of Skinner's interview chairs. "He's -- gone?"

"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder."

Mulder let his head fall forward into his hands. After a moment, he looked up. "The ship. Sir, that building that exploded is an alien ship --"

Skinner's expression changed, to a different kind of painful regret. "The site has been burning for hours, Mulder. They say there must be some kind of fuel -- They don't think there will be much left."

"Debris -- from the explosion. It must have been thrown everywhere."

"Yes," Skinner assented, "that's a possibility," but glanced down at a pen he was holding between his hands, and Mulder had a clear vision of cordon tape and black sedans.

He stood up rockily.

"You look like you could use some rest, Agent Mulder. Go home. Go to bed."

Mulder hesitated. His shoulders drooped. "Yes, sir." He plodded to the door.

"Mulder. Your car was found. It's down in the car pool. It's been gone over, just in case."

"Thank you, sir."

Mulder retrieved his car, drove a few miles and pulled in at a gas station with a couple of pay phones, scanning the area before he got out. No cars pulled up anywhere in sight.

On the first phone he dialled a number, spoke the word "Jasper", and hung up.

Just on the off-chance that any part of what Skinner had told him was the truth.

He moved to the other phone and dialled another number.

"Yo," Langly answered.

"I need your help. All of you, full-time for as long as it takes, top priority, expenses on me. I need you to locate someone who's being held incommunicado, probably in a federal facility, probably under a false identity. Taken last night from the site of that explosion in McLean."

"Sex, rank, and serial number?"

"It's Alex Krycek."

Langly didn't say anything for a long time. "Look, uh..."

Mulder read the thought. "I'm not going to kill him, I need him. He's my source."

"Wo!" He could practically see the visions of sugarplums dancing in Langly's head.

"Merry Christmas," he said, and hung up.

Three weeks later he hunched over a screen in the Lone Gunmen's lair, following the trail of evidence they had downloaded. "This is the most likely one, here. Times match up. Convicted under a third-strike child molestation law, of an especially mondo grisly assault. Sentenced to life, PC'd as soon as he arrived. We found the record of his trial, here..." Mulder glanced at Langly, hearing another shoe hovering. Langly turned from the keyboard. "What we didn't find was a single, solitary news item about this heinous crime, the criminal's capture, the trial or the conviction." He blinked. "Until this morning." He turned back to the keyboard and called up archives of the big city paper nearest the locale of the crime. The stories were there. Not front page but there. "We emailed a friend and the stories are indeed filed neatly in the paper's morgue."

"So maybe you just missed them before?"

Frohike smiled predatorily. "They were filed," he said. "But they weren't in the paper copies of the edition they store. And they weren't in the microfiche version at the library here."

Mulder's heart beat heavily, slowly.

"Fingerprints?" he asked.

"Not on-line," Byers answered regretfully.

Well, they'd be crazy to file his real prints anyway.

Mulder stared at the screen, which Langly had switched back to the prison information. It was a notorious donjon-keep, high-tech, brutally escape-proof.

"How do we get him out?"

The three telegraphed looks over and around him. No one answered.

He looked up and intercepted the jungle drums.

Byers gave a last flicker at the other two. Then he said slowly, "We had a feeling that might be your next question."

Frohike said, "We know a guy."

Langly elaborated, "Who knows a guy."

They stalled out. More flicks passed among them.

"You're worried about committing a federal crime."

They stared back like three species of owl.

"It doesn't occur to you you already did that by hacking into several federal databases."

Langly snorted. "If they really didn't want people to read that stuff, they wouldn't put it up on networks hooked to modems." Frohike sneered; Byers smiled condescendingly.

Mulder nodded. "I see."

Byers cleared his throat. "Actually, we wondered if Dana would be joining us."

"In skintight black poaching duds," Frohike clarified.

Mulder smiled. "Scully doesn't know about this. I want to keep it that way."

Flick. Flick. Flick.

"So... this is like the most illegal thing you've ever done and if any of us are caught or killed you'll disavow all knowledge of our actions?" Langly hazarded, bright-eyed.

Mulder sighed, hearing the theme music. "Basically," he said. "Yes."


End of Part 13

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