Ley of the Land
WHEN TWO BOYS HAVE A STRANGE ENCOUNTER IN A RURAL NEW MEXICO CAVE, MULDER AND SCULLY ARE SENT TO INVESTIGATE A POSSIBLE ALIEN ABDUCTION. BUT THE TRUTH MAY BE FAR OLDER AND MORE POWERFUL THAT ANYONE SUSPECTS.
ST. MICHAEL'S CHURCH
"Ryan, pay attention," Clarissa whispered in his ear.
Ryan rolled his eyes, and tried to focus again on the curator's monotone, but he really wasn't interested in the history of some measly collection of rocks. He'd tried his best to stay home today. He hated field trips, but his mother had been adamant. It would be good for him, she'd said. But what did she know; it wasn't like people stared at her every time she went out. And, despite her insistences, she never came on these center-sponsored field trips.
He signaled Clarissa. "I'm bored as hell," he told her.
"Stop complaining," she whispered back. "Listen and you might learn something."
Reluctantly, he focused his attention back on the curator, a stout woman who looked flustered at the idea of giving a lecture to ten wheelchair-bound teenagers. He could hear it in her voice. He could see it in her stance. She did not want to be talking to them.
But talk she did. Ryan sighed.
"The church here is in the shadow of St. Michael's Mount, which rivals Stonehenge in its age and design. This church was actually built over a much older pagan shrine found at the southern end of the rocks on the Mount. The chapel behind me was just opened last year," she turned and pointed to an alcove, "and is actually a remnant of the original shrine. If you go back there . . ." she started, and trailed off. The only way back around the altar was through a short, narrow staircase.
Ryan smiled. Sometimes it was amusing to see people get so uncomfortable, so quickly. It would be a chore getting anyone from this tour up those stairs.
He looked at the stairs again. It would also save him from this ridiculous lecture. He got Clarissa's attention with a wave of his hand and, doing his best to feign real interest, half-signed, half-pointed toward the stairs.
"I want to see the chapel."
Clarissa gave him a warning look. He wagered she suspected his motives, but that wouldn't make him back down now.
"Will you fit?" Clarissa asked critically.
He moved his alphabet board in toward his lap, and studied the stair again. He wasn't completely certain.
"Of course," he signed. Anything to escape this tour.
Clarissa raised an eyebrow. But she got the curator's attention.
"Ryan wants to see the chapel," she said simply, gesturing in Ryan's direction. "I'll take him up, if you don't mind."
The woman was taken aback, as if she didn't expect that any of the kids could actually understand her. But after recovering from her shock, she gave a slight nod. "Yes, please, go ahead."
Ryan scoffed as he manouvered toward the staircase. Let her gawk and wonder. If she'd been talking about anything interesting, like space shuttles, instead of rocks, he'd even be asking questions. He took a glance at the other students. Most were paying attention to the lecture. Bobby Harris shot him a smile and gave him a sign, shorthand.
"Got that straight," Ryan shorthanded back. They'd both wanted to go to the science museum in London, but they'd been outvoted. Ryan knew Bobby was as bored as he was. Then Clarissa got hold of his handles and started him up the stairs. It was a tight fit, but five minutes later, he was in the hallway leading back behind the altar.
Ryan let Clarissa catch her breath, and went ahead. The hallway was almost as narrow as the staircase. It was arched, built out of old, large stones. The trip was more than a little bumpy, and it was damp, almost like going underground. Getting his bearings, Ryan realized he might even be going underground, into the hill that the church was built upon. It actually gave him a chill, thinking about it. He heard Clarissa from behind, urging him to wait for her, but now that he was up, he found he really did want to see what was back there.
The hallway opened into a small rectangular room with stone walls and a stone floor. It was still damp, and it had a musty smell. The rocks in the walls looked older than the ones in the hallway, that was for sure. The Christian altarpiece looked out of place, like an afterthought. And the floor. . . the rock patterns on the floor were in a circle; they looked like a specific design, but he couldn't quite make it out. Maybe if he could see it from the front . . .
Ryan moved forward, into the circle. That's when he noticed the humming. The whole room was humming, all around him.
The hum got louder. Frantically, Ryan tried to back up, but the chair barely responded, getting only half-way out of the circle before the room gave a concussive shake. Ryan found himself lurching forward, out of the chair as it rolled away behind him. He braced himself for impact with the hard stone floor.
The world exploded into light and noise, and then, there was nothing.
CACTUS FLATS RESERVATION
"What, you scared?"
Adam Swiftriver looked his cousin in the eye. No small feat, because Janine was four years older and a foot taller than he was. Janine's brother Frankie stood at her side.
"Yeah," Frankie added. "You scared?" He was two years older than Adam and two years younger than Janine, which meant that Frankie went along with whatever Janine said, especially if it picked on his younger cousin.
"No way," Adam said confidently. He ignored the sweat dripping down his back; most of it was from the walk up here, anyway. No way he was going to lose it in front of Janine. She'd never let him live it down. No way he was going to be outdone by a girl either.
"Well, go in then," Janine taunted him. "Unless you actually believe all those old stories."
"Yeah, go in," Frankie echoed.
"Fine, I'll go in," Adam snapped. He looked into the mouth again, and took a deep breath. It wasn't that he believed the old stories. He didn't. The Growling God was just a Navajo myth; this wasn't his cave.
"What are you waiting for?" Janine asked. "The longer you stand there looking, the faster your heart starts beating, and then . . . POW!"
It was just that the cave was so dark. He wasn't going to let on that he was afraid of the dark. Not to Janine. No, he'd told her he wasn't afraid of anything, and now he had to prove it. Stupid Janine. He didn't think she had it in her to come up with this. She'd masterminded the whole thing; she was gunning for him ever since last night when he'd made that stupid comment. She and Frankie ambushed him on the way to school, and now, she was holding all the cards. He couldn't back down.
Adam took another deep breath, held it, and stepped into the cave.
"Keep going," Janine instructed.
He took a few more steps, trying his best to see what was in front of him, but the light died quickly around him. His heart did start beating faster, and he tried to ignore it. Make it through this, he told himself, and there's no way Janine will tease you. Another step. Make it through this and you'll be the one who can dare the little kids to do it. Another step. Make it through this . . .
What was that sound? Adam stopped in his tracks, listening. The cave was humming. There was no denying the jump in his heart rate this time. The hum sounded like a static buildup in his older brother's guitar amplifier. It sounded electric. Like lightning.
Adam backed up, slowly. The hum got louder. He turned around, and then the hum exploded into light.
Adam screamed, louder than he'd ever screamed in his life. In the sudden brightness, he fell down onto the floor, scrambling to get away, screaming at the top of his lungs. The flash died, and the now pitch darkness sprang to life around him, all rocks and sharp edges.
Then he felt something wet grab onto his arm, and Adam Swiftriver promptly fainted.
The humming ended in a flash of light and a loud, powerful crack that sent Janine and her brother sprawling from the mouth of the cave.
The silence afterward was deafening. Janine screamed, but to her it sounded like she was underwater, far away.
"Adam! Adam, are you okay?"
There was no reply.
She turned to her brother, who had a stricken look on his face. She saw the stain on his pants and the small puddle on the rocks. Frankie had peed himself, and was practically hyperventilating. Well, it was up to her. She wasn't going to leave her cousin in the cave, not when it was her fault he was there in the first place. Hands shaking, eyes wide, she grabbed her pocket flashlight and took as many steps forward as she dared.
The cave was silent. Frantically, Janine tracked the walls and floors with the flashlight. When the beam finally fell on her cousin, Janine let out a gasp. After a few seconds, she managed to find her voice and screamed for her brother.
"Frankie! Get an ambulance!"
CACTUS FLATS GENERAL HOSPITAL
Agents Mulder and Scully were met at the hospital entrance by a tall, dark-haired man with a lean build. His police uniform was accented by a large cowboy hat that almost completely hid his dark eyes. They introduced themselves, and he gave each of them a warm handshake.
"Agents, I'm Deputy Harold Fisher," he introduced himself. "We sure are glad to have your help on this one."
"Glad to be of help," Mulder answered as they entered the building.
The hospital was small but clean. It didn't have a pediatric wing, though the last two rooms on the eastern ell had been turned over to the two victims, Swiftriver in 110, and the John Doe in 111.
Victims of what, no one was sure.
"Deputy, does the Cactus Flats police department have an idea as to what happened?" Scully asked.
Fisher shook his head. "Sherrif Brady had a thought it might be ball lightning, but it doesn't explain the, uh, substance found on the one boy."
Mulder raised his eyebrow, a quick gesture meant only for his partner. Scully's first theory on hearing the case had been ball lightning. The deputy was a few steps ahead, and Mulder leaned in toward his partner.
"Hey, you'll fit in here just fine," he said with a hint of a southern accent.
Scully gave him a tip of an imaginary cowboy hat. "Just keep surrounding yourself with intellectuals, Mulder. It'll eventually rub off on you."
Substance, indeed. Mulder, in his usual enigmatic presentation, had just told her it was all 'real wrath of God type stuff.' "Lighting and thunder, and primordial ooze in the one case," Mulder had quipped. Then, "I also have documented abduction cases with strikingly similar scenarios."
It had been a relatively short slide presentation this time, mainly because their flight was scheduled for departure in forty-five minutes. Scully spent the plane ride studying the documented abduction cases in further detail, as well as examining what little information was available from New Mexico, and she wasn't convinced.
Deputy Fisher ushered them to the right. "Through those doors, to the end of the hall," he said. "I'll be waiting here; the kid doesn't want to see any more uniforms for a while, I'm sure."
Out of earshot from the deputy, Scully spoke her mind. "I don't mean to be a stick in the mud, Mulder," she said, "but I don't think the evidence here points to abductions. I mean, the Navajo boy wasn't abducted, he didn't suffer any missing time, and we really don't know enough of anything about the John Doe to make conclusions."
"Well, let's wait for the eyewitnesses," Mulder replied. "Adam Swiftriver is being released today."
"Adam Swiftriver wouldn't have even needed a hospital stay if he hadn't fallen and suffered a mild concussion," she said, remembering the boy's file. "Not a good argument for the clout behind the wrath of God, either."
Mulder turned to his partner. "I guess the thunderbolt missed. Anyway, the abduction cases . . ."
"No one was abducted," Scully interrupted. "If anything, we've got one too many children here. I mean, if no one was abducted, and it wasn't the wrath of God . . ." she trailed off, slowing her steps.
"Then we've got the largest hairball on record from the rogue Magical Mr. Mistoffilees," Mulder deadpanned. "And he even gave them a show."
Scully stopped short. "I didn't know you saw 'Cats'," she teased.
"Only in my deepest, darkest nightmares," her partner answered, and knocked on the door to 110.
A Navajo woman, presumably the child's mother, answered the knock. After looking at their badges, she consented to let the two agents talk with her son. Of the two victims, Adam Swiftriver definitely appeared to be the lucky one. While the John Doe was drifting in and out of consciousness, the 10-year-old Navajo boy had only a small laceration on the back of his head, and lingering headaches.
Adam sat in bed, squinting at the two agents.
"If the light bothers you, we can close the shades," Scully said.
The boy waved a dismissing hand, and his mother spoke for him.
"He doesn't like the dark. I tried to tell him, but he's afraid."
Mulder spoke up, addressing the child again. "Afraid of what, Adam? What did you see?"
Adam spoke quietly. "I was afraid to go in. I guess, um, that was the reason. . . " He trailed off, then took a deep breath. "Anyway, I already told the police. It was lightning." He fidgeted on the bed. "Talk to Janine. It was her idea to go to the Growling Cave anyway."
"The Growling Cave?" Mulder asked. "Is that its name?"
"It's a loose translation," the boy's mother offered. "The cave is named after the Growling God -- he's also called the Thunder God. The old story is that if the Growling God senses fear in your heart when you go in the cave, he will strike you down with lightning."
The two agents exchanged a glance before urging Adam to continue with his story. The boy recounted his tale haltingly; he entered the cave on Janine's urging, and then there was a low humming, and lightning. He fell, he hit his head, and he thought something grabbed onto his arm. The something, as was later learned, was the other boy, whose identity was still unknown, and who had been found in the cave covered head to foot in a strange gelatinous substance.
"Janine said it looked like Ectoplasm," Adam said, then added with a sulk. "Am I done here?"
Mulder thanked both the boy and his mother for their time, but he asked one more question before they left.
"Adam, do you remember seeing the other boy in the cave, before the lightning struck?"
Adam shook his head. "I didn't know he was even there at all, not until he grabbed my arm."
In the hallway, Mulder cornered his partner's attention.
"Coincidence?" he asked, gesturing at the door. "The myth definitely seems to have some truth to it."
"It could be a hoax," Scully countered. "Kids around here obviously know about the legend. And our only eyewitness so far is a 10-year-old child who was scared out of his mind."
"And his two older cousins," Mulder added quickly. "Do you think it was a prank? Do you think the John Doe was in on it?"
"Could be. Maybe they got carried away." She paused. "What was that last question all about?" she asked.
"Well, if no one was abducted, maybe someone was returned," Mulder offered. "It's the next logical conclusion."
"Just because Adam Swiftriver didn't see the other boy on the floor of a dark cave when he was already too frightened to think straight doesn't mean the child wasn't there," Scully pointed out. "He most likely got lost from a camping trip." Then, "Are you heading up to the reservation?"
Mulder nodded. "I'll get the cousins' statements, and check out this 'Growling Cave,'" he said, fishing for the keys to the Taurus. Then, he added, "Meanwhile, I want the low-down on this other boy and the, uh, goo, found on him."
After a dusty, bumpy ride, Mulder learned a new appreciation for the term 'outskirts.' Deputy Fisher had assured him that the reservation was 'on the outskirts' of the town of Cactus Flats; he didn't say it was an hour-long trek northward along the winding Pecos River. And the Growling Cave was another half-hour hike from the reservation's main road. Mulder stumbled on the gravel path for the tenth time, and for the tenth time wished he'd worn hiking shoes.
"There it is," the deputy pointed to a small, arched opening in the cliffs in front of them. Mulder eyed the cave, trying to envision where the three cousins had been standing during the incident.
He had taken statements from both Janine and Frank Swiftriver. Janine was contrite; it had been her idea to visit the cave, and in that way, she felt responsible for what had happened. Both children were frightened from their encounter. They corroborated their cousin's story about lightning, and about the other boy in the cave. Janine had only noticed the other boy after the lightning, when she searched the cave with her flashlight. Frankie had called for an ambulance, and that was that. In Mulder's opinion, there was nothing in the interview to support the idea of a prank. Janine and Frankie were not the culprits; they were just as scared and confused as their cousin.
Mulder caught Deputy Fisher's attention. "Was there any evidence at the site of a prank or a hoax of some kind?" he asked.
"We had people up here all day yesterday," the deputy said. "Couldn't find any wires or electrical devices. Couldn't find much of anything at all, really. A few beer bottles, but they were old. You wanna look inside?"
Mulder nodded, and the two men made their way up to the cave. On closer inspection of the opening, Mulder stopped. The mouth of the cave was actually a gap outlined by two large rocks, each a part of the cliff face. The rocks themselves were obviously part of the natural landscape, and most of the opening in front of them was just an extension of the gap in the cliffs, but the arch above the opening was a different story. While the gap between the rocks extended some twenty feet upward, the cave entrance was only about seven feet high. It culminated in the arch, made by three large boulders wedged into the gap with what looked like human precision.
"Is this man-made?" Mulder asked, pointing out the smooth curve of the archway.
"If it is, it's a might older than anything around here," Fisher answered. "You'd have to ask the Dineh to be sure, but I think it's always been that way."
"Dineh?" Mulder echoed.
"Dineh. The Navajo name for the tribe. You know," he added, staring at the archway again, "I'm sure of it. Four is the magic number with the Navajo. The Thunder God is one of four gods." He passed a hand over each of the boulders. "The story, which is as old as the hills, says even the other three gods think twice about going in, and choose to wait outside instead."
Mulder eyed the stones again. If they were natural, then nature had a much more precise eye than he'd like to think.
"Well," he said, "They can wait out here as long as they want, but I suppose we've got to test our mettle with the Thunder God."
Deputy Fisher gestured to the opening. "After you," he said with a smile.
Mulder turned on his flashlight and ventured into the cave. The entry way curved off toward the left, and the outside light soon faded. It was amazing how dark the cave got in such a relatively short distance. Panning the flashlight around, Mulder found himself at the far end of a small, almost rectangular room with a high ceiling. The walls were far from smooth, but there also seemed to be spots lined with the same type of boulder that made up the archway at the entrance. There was a pile of rubble in front of him. Mulder panned up again, and he could almost make out the spot where, ages ago, part of the rock ceiling had collapsed.
"A quaint fixer-upper," he muttered under his breath.
Studying the floor again, Mulder noted that it was mainly worn rock and clay. But again, there were a few spots where boulders seemed to be set in the hard clay, meeting with almost seamless precision.
"The other boy was found over here," came Deputy Fisher's voice from behind. Mulder started, and then, abashed, turned around to meet the deputy. Fisher pointed toward the center of the cave. Moving around the rubble, Mulder noticed more of the boulders set into the clay.
"It's almost a pattern there, isn't it?" the agent said, amazed. "Like a circle." Indeed, the stones seemed set in a circle about ten feet across. Mulder walked forward, trying to get a better look at the floor. But as he knelt down to study the circle in more detail, his flashlight flickered and went out.
Fisher pointed his own beam in Mulder's direction. "You alright?" he asked.
"Fine," came the reply. "My light went out, though."
"Happens sometimes," the deputy answered, stepping around the rubble. "Use mine."
Mulder pointed to the floor in front of him. "I was trying to study this circle here," he started. Fisher bent down, intent on shedding some more light on the subject, but as he did so, his own light flickered and died, leaving the two men in darkness.
"Damn," came Fisher's voice from Mulder's left. "That's the fourth time, too. Can you backtrack? There should be a little bit of light toward the entrance."
Mulder tried to force his eyes to adjust, and looking behind him, he could make out the tunnel where they'd entered. "Yeah, I got it," he said. Both men carefully picked their way back to the entrance and emerged from the cave, blinking in the bright sunlight.
"I just put new batteries in this thing," Fisher said, hitting his flashlight against his hand in an attempt to knock some life into it. No luck; the beam was completely dead. Mulder's light fared no better.
"You said that was the fourth time this happened?" the agent asked.
"Mmm-hm," Fisher affirmed. "The Swiftriver girl mentioned her light going out, and we didn't think much of it. Then the same thing happened to deputy Marks yesterday. But it wasn't a big deal, because we mainly just used a track light at the entrance." He eyed the path in front of them. "Would've brought it this time, but the sucker was heavy."
Mulder nodded in understanding. "We'll bring it next time," he said. "I think I've seen enough for today."
CACTUS FLATS GENERAL HOSPITAL, ROOM 111
Through the observation window, Scully let her eyes wander from the chart in her hand to the unconscious occupant of Room 111, and back to the chart again. It didn't matter how many times she looked. The results were no less astonishing. The patient was no less a mystery. In fact, there was absolutely nothing about this boy that made sense. Being found in a remote cave covered with an unknown gelatinous material was just the tip of the iceberg.
"Is he awake yet?" Mulder asked, looking through the window at the child. Scully focused her attention outward again, trying to figure out how long her partner had been standing beside her.
"Uh, no. Not yet," she said, finally tearing her mind away from the chart. "However, I did manage to find out quite a bit about him."
Mulder looked at the chart, his untrained eyes seeing only random scrawls and checks. He couldn't pick up on the specifics, but from Scully's rapt attention, it was going to be good.
"Lost camper?" he asked innocently.
"Hardly," she replied. "The police department has been doing a check on missing children in this county and all the surrounding ones. So far, they've come up with nothing. But that's not the half of it." She held up the medical chart as though it were a carrot on a string. "You're going to love this."
She led him down the hallway and out to the main building, then through a set of swinging doors toward Radiology, talking as she walked.
"The staff did a CT scan of the patient yesterday morning. They were looking for signs of swelling or hematoma in the brain, neither of which were present. But for the most part, the scan was almost unreadable. The material he was covered in was actually interfering with the instruments, and they were also having a tough time keeping him still, despite his semi-conscious state." She stopped at a small office, removed a few films from an envelope she was holding along with the chart, and illuminated one on the wall display in the office. The film showed sixteen small pictures from what Mulder assumed was the CT scan.
"Here," she said, pointing at what looked to Mulder like a red and white blob on the film. "No major problems, but it's really hard to make anything out."
Mulder squinted. "Of course," he said.
Scully continued. "Last night, the duty nurse said he was having what she thought were some sort of febrile seizures, but he didn't have a fever, and his vitals were strong and healthy, though they said he looked malnourished when they brought him in." She put up another film. "Today, I had them run another CT. As you can see, there's still a few that didn't come out because of his movement, but all in all it's much better resolution than the first, and it says a lot."
Mulder studied the equally enigmatic film in front of him. "Like what?" he prompted.
Scully pointed to a whitish spot at the bottom of one of the blobs. "See the damage to the basil ganglia here? It actually extends further out, to other parts of the brain, but when I brought it to the attending physician's attention, he came to the same conclusion I did. Especially after looking at the patient, and given the reports last night, I'd say it's athetosis, and from the rigidity in the leg muscles, I wouldn't be surprised if he's got spastic diplegia as well."
"English?" Mulder asked helplessly.
"He's got severe cerebral palsy, most likely from birth."
Mulder stared at the film in front of him, letting that fact sink in for a few moments.
"It couldn't be a result of recently suffered trauma?" he asked.
"Not given his muscle tone and bone deformities," Scully answered. "Those develop over time. It's obvious when you look at him. The only reason no one saw it beforehand was because no one was expecting it, given where he was found."
Mulder thought back to his trek to the cave that morning. He'd stumbled more than once, and he was a healthy field agent. "You don't think he could have walked to the cave," he stated.
Scully's eyes grew slightly wider, and she snapped the film off of the wall display. "I'll be surprised if he can talk," she said, "let alone walk. There's no way he could have gotten there on his own."
So much for a lost camper. "So what we should be searching for," Mulder said simply, "is a wheelchair without its occupant."
"Makes sense. They didn't come across anything like that at the cave?"
"No, but I'll broaden the search radius. Speaking of the cave," Mulder changed the subject, "Deputy Fisher assures me it's 'old as the hills', and not made by the Navajo, but I'm positive it is man-made."
Scully didn't look up from the film envelope she was closing. "Restricting construction to the human race, are we?" she asked.
"Now that you mention it . . ." Mulder retorted, then added seriously, "Someone must have dropped this boy off here. The question is who, and why? Did you get a look at the material found on him?"
Scully shook her head no. "Not yet. They've got an expert analyzing it downstairs. That's my next stop."
Mulder raised an eyebrow. "They've got an expert on gelatinous goo?" he asked. "In the basement?"
"Biology and biotechnology, actually," Scully corrected. "And the basement is a lab, not some dungeon. Really, Mulder." She stepped back into the hallway, still a little too serious for her partner's tastes. Mulder caught up with her in easy stride, and ventured one more fact.
"Did I mention the cave drained the batteries of four flashlights? It just sucked them dry, from what I could tell."
Scully stopped at the stairwell, and sighed.
"Right now, nothing is going to surprise me. Your alien architects could drop from the sky, right in front of me, and I'd welcome them with open arms."
With that, she opened the stairway door and headed for the basement. Mulder watched her descend for a minute, then turned his eyes skyward.
"Well, there went your chance," he implored to whatever beings were listening. "Honestly, I give and give in this relationship . . . " He shook his head and headed for the parking lot and Police Headquarters. He had an empty wheelchair to look for.
"It's not a collagen or a suspension, but it's not uniform, either."
Scully peered into the microscope at the translucent gel, then back at Dr. Lee. "Did you get its cellular makeup?" she asked.
"For the most part," the stout Navajo woman answered, "It's carbon and silicates. I'm no geologist, but if I had to make a guess, it looks like the same makeup as the earth's crust, minus the metals. It's almost the perfect insulator."
Scully thought back to the patient's CT scans. The staff had tried to get most of the stuff off the boy before the procedure, but it had still interfered. "Is there anything in its composition that would explain interference with X-rays?" she asked thoughtfully.
Dr. Lee checked her notes. "There are a few calcium compounds in the makeup that I haven't seen before. Could be something there that absorbs X-rays. I sent a sample to the lab in Albequerque; I can ask them to test for it."
Scully nodded in assent. "I'd like a copy of your report, and your notes, if you wouldn't mind."
"No problem," Lee answered amicably. "Anything else?"
"Um, yes actually," Scully replied, picking up a petri dish and scrutinizing the material inside. "Do you have any idea how it was made? I mean, is it a natural compound?"
Dr. Lee shook her head. "It's like nothing I've ever seen. Like I said, though, its makeup is definitely terrestrial."
Scully quickly turned her gaze away from the petri dish, meeting the doctor's statement with a questioning look.
"Well," Lee said, smiling. "I've heard the UFO stories going back and forth between the staff. Just because I'm down here in the basement doesn't mean I'm out of the loop. And it's not as far-fetched as you'd think. You'd be surprised at how much creepy stuff I've run across in my time."
Scully smiled inwardly at the irony in the woman's statement. "I'll have to get my partner down here," she said, looking up at the pipes on the ceiling. "You and he can swap stories." At Dr. Lee's shy smile, Scully turned her attention back to the substance in her hand. "So it's carbon and rock," she said. "How did it end up looking like this?"
Lee shrugged. "Beats me. Some form of molecular breakdown. It might be something a lab could reproduce, but I've spent the past day and a half trying to figure out even where to start, and I've come up with nothing." She paused, staring at the small dish in Scully's hand, and offered one more conclusion.
"If it's man-made, it's a technology we've since lost."
Before Scully could ruminate further on the implications of Dr. Lee's statement, there was a quiet rap at the open door. One of the day nurses, looking out of place in her soft pink scrubs against the backdrop of the windowless basement hallway, stood in the doorway.
"Our John Doe is awake," she said, leaning on the door. To Scully, she added, "You said you wanted to be informed."
"How is he doing?" Scully asked.
The nurse gave a sigh. "Scared. Frustrated." She gestured back toward the main wing. "I'm heading to the Physical Therapy supply room now, to see if they've got anything like a letter board. He's trying to talk to us."
Scully could see frustration in the boy's eyes as he slowly and painstakingly tried to make himself understood. He was trying to communicate with some form of sign language, but it was simplified and subtle due to the difficulty he had with movement. If there were any doubts as to his ability to reach the Growling Cave on his own, they were put to rest when he awoke. His disabilities were plainly and painfully evident.
Athetoid cerebral palsy caused spasms and involuntary muscle movement which left the boy with little control over fine motor action in his upper body, and which also affected his speech. He could sign, but it was difficult to tell which gestures were signs and which were a result of tremors or muscle contractions. Scully also noted that his legs stayed relatively rigid; a sign that the child suffered from spastic diplegic cerebral palsy as well. Despite his physical limitations, though, Scully detected no signs of mental retardation. His eyes reflected a keen intellect, and though he had initially reacted with quite natural fear to his unknown surroundings, he had quickly calmed himself down, and was handling the situation admirably.
She did succeed in asking him a few basic yes or no questions, to which he answered with either a slight nod or shake of his head. No, he wasn't in pain. No, he didn't need any medication. Before she could continue, however, the boy raised his hand slightly, pointing in her direction, and inclined his head. It took her a minute to understand; he was asking her name.
"My name is Special Agent Dana Scully," she answered, abashed. She had been so intently focused on the patient that she had forgotten about introductions. "I'm with the FBI," she continued. "This," she pointed to the corner where deputy Fisher had taken an inobtrusive seat, "is deputy Fisher, and this is Dr. MacDonald," she pointed at the attending physician. Then, "Do you know where you are?"
A shake of his head. No.
"You're in Cactus Flats General Hospital. You're safe. You were found in a cave about an hour north of here." She started to say more, but at that moment, the door opened. Scully saw nothing but relief in the boy's eyes as the day nurse appeared with a complete alphabet board tucked under her arm. The nurse positioned the board on the boy's lap, and slowly, he spelled out a simple question.
U. S. A. ?.
Scully gave him a questioning glance. "Yes, that's right. You're in Cactus Flats, New Mexico."
The boy's eyes grew wide, and before Scully could ask another question, he started spelling.
G. B. Pause. D. O. R. S. E. T.
Scully watched, but was unsure of the meaning. "Is that your name?" she asked. "G.B. Dorset?"
The boy let out a sigh of frustration and shook his head, then started spelling again.
R. Y. A . . .
"His name is Ryan Harkness, he's fourteen years old, and he's from Dorset, Great Britain. He was on a trip to St. Michael's Church in Land's End when he disappeared."
All heads in the room turned to the door, where Agent Mulder stood with cellphone and fax in hand. Ryan pointed to Mulder and nodded, his eyes filling with tears. Mulder approached the bed and spoke directly to the boy. "Everything's going to be fine, Ryan. Your parents and sister are on their way. They'll be here in about nine hours, but we're going to do our best to understand you and answer all the questions you have between now and then."
Fisher spoke up. "I'm not familiar with Land's End. Never heard of St. Michael's church, either." Before Mulder could answer, though, his partner was already peppering him with more direct questions.
"Nine hours? Where are they coming from?" And finally, "How did you find him?"
Mulder chose to answer the last question first. "I broadened the search radius a bit," he stated, "and then some more. I kept looking further, until I found an article in 'The Evening Post'." He held up the fax, an article with a prominent picture of the lost boy. "Ryan disappeared from a church in Land's End, _England_ , around four PM yesterday," he finished.
The room fell into complete silence, like a moment frozen in time. Only Ryan Harkness moved, tracing his fingers slowly across the board, bringing silent light to the question on everyone's mind.
H. O. W. ?.
Mulder shrugged, breaking the spell, and gave the boy a tired smile. "Well, we're, um, not too sure about that one yet. Deputy Fisher can tell you more, if you're up to it."
Ryan gave a nod, and also made a quick sign with his left hand.
"I guess that's a 'yes'" Scully said. As Fisher moved closer to the boy, Scully captured her partner's attention. "Can I talk with you outside?" she said, ushering him into the hallway. Once there, she studied the fax he'd brandished in the room, searching for something specific.
Finally, "This can't be right," she said, pointing to the time. "Greenwich Mean Time is, what, five hours ahead of us? He can't have traveled across the Atlantic Ocean in two hours."
"Actually, you're still thinking on DC time," Mulder said. "Cactus Flats is seven hours behind London. And Scotland Yard double-checked it for me. He disappeared out of his wheelchair, and out of an enclosed chapel room, right around four P.M."
"Which means . . . " Scully started.
"Which means," her partner finished, "he traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, not in two hours, but more like two minutes."
OFFICE OF THE LONE GUNMEN
"Turn off the tape, Langly, it's me."
Langly stretched his legs out to rest on the desk in front of him. "So tell me Mulder, when did you get the idea you were immune from the tape anyway?" he said in mock seriousness. "I mean, you're a G-man, the establishment, the enemy. You've got the secrets, you know the real story. You know . . ."
"I know what really happened to Frohike's tape archive last month. Mice, ha, that was a good one . . . "
"Jeez! Okay, okay, it's off," Langly hissed, then whispered, "Don't talk so loud, the man's got elephant ears."
"What about Britney Spears?" Frohike asked from the other room.
"Nothing, nothing," Langly yelled back, then focused his attention on his phone conversation again. "So, what's up?"
"I want to know about Land's End, England. Specifically a St. Michael's Church or a St. Michael's Mount."
"St. Michael's Mount," Langly repeated. "Doesn't ring a bell. . . wait, Byers is making goo-goo eyes at me across the table." He put the phone down. "What?"
"St. Michael's Mount? In England?" Byers was practically jumping out of his seat.
Langly took up the phone again. "Looks like we have a winner," he said to Mulder, then tossed the phone to Byers. "Okay, it's your show."
Byers, ever the straight man, started lecturing as soon as he touched the receiver. "St. Michael's Mount, Mulder. It's the western end of one of the most prominent and famous ley lines in England, all prehistoric sites dedicated to serpent killers -- St. Michael, St. George, St. Margaret, those types. What? No, L - E - Y, and get your mind out of the gutter. This is deep stuff, Mulder. It's all about pre-history, the lost civilization. Atlantis, Stonehenge, the Ark of the Covenant. Harnessing the earth's natural energy . . . yeah," Byers cradled the phone against his shoulder and started typing on his laptop. "Yeah, okay, I'll give you some references . . . "
CACTUS FLATS POLICE HQ
"Ley lines?" Scully echoed. Given the amount of books and maps her partner had in his hands from four hours at the library, any question was just inviting a lecture, but Scully was prepared. Mulder set his references down on the table, and began unrolling maps, talking in his usual understated monotone as he did so.
"In 1921 an English merchant named Alfred Watkins made a startling discovery about his native countryside in Hereford. Watkins was atop a hill, checking his map when suddenly he saw a web of lines linking holy places and sites of antiquity within his view. These lines connected mounds, old stones, old crossroads, churches placed on pre-Christian sites, legendary trees, moats and wells in exact alignments that ran over beacon hills to cairns to mountain peaks. Watkins called these tracks 'leys' after noting an abundance of towns along the alignments with that name."
Mulder unrolled a small map of southern England and Wales, and pointed out about twelve different straight-line tracks traced across the countryside in pen. "The lines could continue uninterrupted for miles, usually ending on a mountain peak or high hill," he added. "It wasn't really a new discovery. There are parallels in China, the South Pacific, Australia, and North and South America."
"So they were old roads? Trade routes?" Scully asked.
"Possibly," Mulder answered. "Watkins thought so. But he was extremely wary of the occult; he didn't ever speculate further about the existence of leys beyond their use as trade routes. He didn't want to incur the wrath of God." Mulder gestured toward Scully's Cactus Flats files, as if stating an example.
"Smart guy," Scully quipped.
"Well, all lightning bolts aside, others have theorized that ley lines are a holdover from much earlier times, that they indeed are maps of elemental power lines inherent to the earth. Their layouts are usually in accordance with what numerologists refer to as 'precessional numbers,' numbers reflecting an extremely precise knowledge of the cosmos, and it's speculated that they also map resonance points in energy pockets created by the earth's magnetic field." He paused, noting Scully's skeptical stance.
"Such ideas are even evident in the Old Testament," he added, trying to spark her interest. "Most notably in tales of the Ark of the Covenant, which brought such ills to the Philistines that they wanted only to be rid of it. They set it on a cart drawn by oxen and left the beasts to find their own way back to the Iseraelites. But," he checked a scrawled note and fished out a book from the middle of his stack, "the oxen started humming, then set off in a straight line across the desert, ending at a standing stone marker on the border. As if," he glanced at Scully again, trying to gauge her receptiveness to further information. She had uncrossed her arms and was looking at the small library he'd amassed in his research, which he took as a good sign.
"As if," he continued, "the Ark itself drew power from the straight path, and guided them. Stories like this one have many researchers convinced that the secret to leys, the pyramids, Stonehenge, and other seemingly miraculous ancient sites, lies in a universal, elemental science, a type of technology known to the ancient world, but which has since been lost as civilization drifted from harmonious coexistence with nature toward the more destructive tendencies that categorize modern scientific discoveries . . ."
He had enough breath for at least another sentence, but Mulder trailed off. Something he said had caught his partner's attention. During his speech, she had looked up sharply from her perusal of his sources, to focus more intently on the stream of information he was sending her way. Then, almost as an afterthought, she had gone back to staring at the books.
Scully looked up again, confused at his silence. "What? I was paying attention, I swear."
"No, I know," he answered. "What did I say? You started at it. You looked up." It was like pulling teeth to get her to admit to any possible paranormal slant, or to lend credence to his research when he was in lecture mode. He figured it was nothing personal; she was just trying to maintain an objective, scientific mind when his was most open. He didn't begrudge her that, but he still wanted to know what had sparked her curiosity.
Now was no different. "Nothing," she said, then changed the subject. "As much as I'd enjoy a discussion on the merits of futurism, Mulder . . ." she started, but he wouldn't let it go so easily.
"No really, I want to know," he interrupted. "Something about elemental earth science?" he asked, keying in on her deflection.
She sighed in defeat, like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. "Something Dr. Lee said to me today, about the material found on Ryan Harkness," she said, looking him in the eye. "I asked her if it was man-made and she said if it was, then 'it's a technology we've since lost.' Those were her exact words. I guess I wasn't expecting to hear almost the same statement from you."
He knew why she had tried to cover it up; it was nothing more than a creepy feeling and a weird coincidence. No evidence. No proof. "Kind of gives you the chills, doesn't it?" he asked.
His partner didn't answer; she only looked away for a brief moment. Then, she traced her finger along one of the leys on the map, and ventured a question. "So what does all of this have to do with Ryan Harkness' disappearance, Mulder? The boy suffered missing time, not . . . "
She trailed off, noting her partner's incredulous look. "Well, he must have suffered some sort of time lapse," Scully added, growing slightly defensive. "In order to travel as far as he did." Still, Mulder said nothing. Scully gave a sigh of exasperation. "What I mean," she clarified, "is that I thought you were following up an abduction lead, and you come back here with pre-history instead. What does it have to do with alien abductions?"
Mulder smiled, happy for once to be on the receiving end of a verbal retreat, and then decided to come to the rescue. "Not much unless you believe Erich Von Daniken and the whole 'Chariots of the Gods' saga," he answered. "Not that I'm saying I don't, I'm just saying that right now, I'm not convinced we're dealing with alien abductions anymore. And I'm not sure Ryan Harkness suffered from missing time, in the sense that we know it."
Scully threw up her hands. "I can't win," she complained.
"You'd think I set that up," Mulder teased. Scully gave him a warning look, and he turned his attention to the map. "But, I think there are more elemental forces at work here. Look," he pointed to one ley, extending southwest from an area north of London down to the southernmost tip of the peninsula separating the Bristol and English Channels. At the tip, he remarked, "Here's Land's End, where Ryan Harkness disappeared. You'll notice it's at the end of quite an extensive ley."
"I noticed that," his partner replied coolly.
"This ley is also known in lore as the Serpent Road. Most of the sites I've circled here are dedicated to dragon killers. St. Michael. St. George. St. Margaret. The others, like the Avebury rocks here," he pointed much further north on the line, "while not dedicated to the serpent killers, do have an insignia in common. In Avebury, it was built into the landscape in megalithic style, a monument of huge stones that ran for miles."
"What's the insignia?" Scully asked.
Mulder searched through a stack of maps and papers, finally withdrawing a small sheet of white paper from the pile. "This," he said proudly. On the paper was pictured a snake passing through a winged circle. "A feathered serpent," he added. "This particular image," he gave the paper a shake, "is actually ancient Egyptian in origin. But, it's painted across the British countryside in stone, it shows up along the edges of Mayan temples, it shows up in ancient Chinese stories, and," he saved the best for last, "I'm almost positive it's built into the floor of the Growling Cave, Cactus Flats, New Mexico."
Scully studied the picture, trying not to let her partner's excitement color her judgement. "You saw it?"
"Before the circle sucked the life out of my flashlight batteries, yes."
Scully crossed her arms again. "So, just so we're square with this, we're not dealing with alien abductions anymore. Instead, a severely handicapped boy somehow got himself . . . transported . . . across the ocean using elemental Atlantian powers -- ancient terrestrial powers that may or may not have alien origins."
"Oooh, can I quote that in the report?"
"No. You know, I read Von Daniken back in med school."
"Scully, you're turning me on."
"It was a particularly hellish finals week, and a friend recommended it as evidence that there were people out there crazier than those of us taking Physiology and two O-chem labs at the same time."
Mulder smirked, then stood up from the table, gathering books and papers. "Still counts."
Scully gave a sigh, and started helping her partner gather up his research materials. Mulder was already back down to business, focusing on the case at hand.
"Tomorrow," he started, "I want to talk with Ryan Harkness again, see if he saw a similar serpent insignia in the chapel. Then we can get Deputy Fisher to take us back out to the cave to be sure."
CACTUS FLATS GENERAL HOSPITAL, ROOM 111
Ryan scrutinized the drawing in front of him for a few minutes, then started signing.
"Yes, I think that was it. I didn't see very much of it, and it was at quite an angle. I tried to get a closer look -- I moved forward, and then the room started humming. There was this amazing explosion, I fell, and that's all I remember before waking up and talking to your partner."
Mulder turned his attention to the teenaged girl at Ryan's bedside. Clarissa Harkness and her parents had arrived during the night. Mulder tried to pick up what the girl saw in her brother's silent language, but it was nearly impossible. In her shy, feminine voice, tinged with a lilting British accent, Clarissa gave every one of her brother's subtle signs a different meaning, a different nuance, even in her tone of voice. At a casual glance, one might think the girl was practicing mental telepathy.
The boy's parents, exhausted from their flight, were sleeping in one of the nurse's stations. But Clarissa had refused to leave her brother's side.
"What about you, Clarissa?" Mulder asked. "Do you remember seeing anything on the floor of the chapel?"
The girl shook her head, and answered in her own voice this time. "I really couldn't see past the empty wheelchair. If you could imagine . . ." she had to blink back tears, "I'd just lost my brother. He was gone . . . disappeared, right in front of me . . . " She trailed off, giving her brother's hand a squeeze.
Mulder let out a heavy sigh, trying to focus on the girl in front of him instead of a shadow of his own past. Ryan signed something that made his sister laugh, a short, fluttering sound that was more like nervous relief, and Mulder broke eye contact for a second, focusing his gaze on the ceiling.
"Only if you're lucky," Clarissa teased, smiling at her brother through her tears.
There was the slightest touch on his hand as Scully stepped forward from where she had been leaning in the doorway. She was giving him a moment to focus again. He didn't need much time, but it was a help, and rather than snapping at her or giving her the all- encompassing 'I'm fine' glance, he just let her take over.
"Clarissa," Scully started. "Can you tell us what you do remember?"
The girl took a few deep breaths. Then, "He was trying to get out of a tour . . . don't give me that look, Ryan, I know when you're being sly . . . So when the guide mentioned the chapel, Ryan told me he'd like to see it. Well, the woman was not the most interesting person in the world, so I supposed I'd humor him and take him up to the chapel, in spite of the steps."
At Mulder's glance, Scully ventured a question. "There were steps?"
Clarissa nodded. "Five or six. It was a tight fit, but I'm stronger than I look." She gave them a shy smile.
"Did any of the other students go to the chapel?" Scully asked.
Ryan signed something, and his sister translated with only a glance. "No, just me. Nobody else . . . it was an old building, not accessible at all. it was a trial simply getting all of us in the door."
Clarissa finished her tale; Mulder noted that she also saw some sort of lightning when she was in the hallway, as well as hearing a heavy, concussive boom, 'like a fireworks rocket going off.' When she looked in the room, her brother was gone.
After hearing both Clarissa and Ryan's stories, the agents thanked the Harkness children for their time, and turned to leave. Scully exited to the hallway, but Clarissa stopped Mulder before he could leave.
"Thank you so much for finding him, Agent Mulder," she added. "Thank everyone here for me for taking care of him. I . . . I don't think I could've forgiven myself if something happened to him, not when I took him there."
Mulder met her gaze and saw an all too familiar pain behind it.
"No matter what the outcome, Clarissa, it wasn't your fault," he said, maybe a little more tenderly than he would have liked. He tried to think of a reason that both he and the girl could believe, something that wouldn't turn his stomach like the too-sweet, over-compensating platitudes he'd heard his entire life. When he finally sorted it out, he even found a part of his own spirit lifting, as though he'd never realized it before.
"You got caught up in something that the whole world is still trying to explain, and maybe they never will," he said. "Blaming yourself is just too simple of a solution."
Clarissa looked away, but not before giving him a smile.
The path was narrow enough that, at times, the three investigators had to travel in single file -- Fisher in the lead, followed by Scully, with Mulder taking up the rear. As the cave came into view, however, the trail widened, and Mulder drew alongside his partner.
"So, Scully, how much do you remember from your undergraduate days at Maryland?"
Scully picked her way around some loose rocks in her path, then stopped to catch her breath, meeting her partner's glance with tired eyes.
"You want me to try and explain the physics behind an elemental power conduit?" she asked.
Mulder raised an eyebrow expectantly.
"Do you even know the amount of energy we're talking about here, Mulder?"
"Not at all," Mulder answered, offering her a helping hand around a large boulder. "Care to enlighten me?'
"Believe it or not, I was actually thinking about something you mentioned last night," Scully said nonchalantly. "Science in harmony with the earth and that. You know the earth has a molten core, right?"
"I think I learned that back in tenth grade," Mulder mused. "And this is the first time it's come up since then."
"Well," Scully remarked as they neared the entrance, "The earth exerts a force on this molten rock as it rotates around it, disturbing it. Hence, earthquakes, volcanoes, and the magnetic field," she waved an arm about her, as though this were the most obvious observation.
"How does that explain anything?" Mulder asked.
"It's a matter of finding the energy to power your conduit," Scully explained. "Millions of tons of spinning molten rock is quite a dynamic energy source. If you could harness that . . . "
"You'd have no problem rocketing someone across the ocean?"
Scully held up a hand. "I'm not saying that's what happened. I'm just saying that if the technology existed, it would probably be able to provide the energy levels you would need." She let out a sigh. "Other than that, I'm not sure what kind of technology could do it."
Mulder shot her a grin. "Aliens versus Atlantians, Scully. Did our benefactors come from the vast empty reaches of space, or is it more probable that here on earth, where we know intelligent life has been developing for thousands of years, a civilization could have been born, thrived and died in the distant past, leaving us nothing but a few structures and hints of its technology in age-old legends of magic?"
"Sounds like 'Planet of the Apes,'" Scully countered. "Move over, Cornelius and Zira."
"I don't know. I always pictured myself as more of the 'Charleton- Heston-in-ratty-loincloth' type."
Scully smiled, then took on an air of mock indignation. "Mulder! That casts me as the mute!"
"You said it, Scully, not me. . ." he anwered as they reached the mouth of the cave. Scully merely shook her head and let the subject drop as her companions unloaded their gear.
Deputy Fisher had brought a large track light for placement at the entrance to the cave's main room. Mulder had brought his own share of equipment as well. Packed into a medium-sized duffel bag were two cameras, a voltmeter, a flashlight with extra batteries, and, if that weren't enough, he was also lugging along a rather large and heavy car battery. Scully eyed the bag with skepticism, but she kept any comments to herself. Mulder handed her a camera, and the three of them studied the entrance before them.
"Shame the Harkness boy couldn't come with us," Fisher remarked, setting the light on the ground. "He's probably got a better idea about what's going on than we do."
Mulder nodded in understanding. Fisher had talked at length with Ryan the night before. For the most part, Ryan had to use the alphabet board, but he was still able to ask pertinent questions and pose his own theories as to the technology behind his miraculous journey. The deputy had been duly impressed, and surprised. It wasn't until after Clarissa's arrival that Ryan could talk in detail about his passion for physics and space travel.
Mulder gestured to the mouth of the cave, silently offering his help with the light. Fisher accepted, and the two men made their way into the cave, while Scully stayed behind to take a few pictures of the arch at the entrance.
"We'll just have to document everything thoroughly," Mulder stated as the two men disappeared into the shadows. A few minutes later, Mulder called to his partner. Scully lowered the camera and made her way into the cave, to find her partner and the deputy standing in front of a well-lit, circular design built into the rocks on the floor.
"Feathered serpent, Scully, just like I told you," Mulder stated. He moved toward the circle, brandishing the voltmeter. Scully watched as he set the leads on either side of the circle, one at the serpent's head and one at the tail. The needle jumped to life, springing immediately to the maximum reading on the meter. At Scully's request, Mulder handed her the meter.
"Quite a potential," Scully remarked, standing up. "Deputy, take a look at this. . ." she said, and started to hand the meter across the circle to Fisher.
"Scully, don't. . ." Mulder started, but it was too late. As soon as the voltmeter passed the boundary of the circle, the needle died as quickly as it had come to life.
"If that ain't the strangest thing," Fisher remarked, staring at the dead meter, but Mulder cut him off. The agent held up a hand, seemingly concentrating on the air around him. Finally, he spoke.
"What's that noise?" he whispered.
The cave grew silent as the three investigators froze. Then, Scully heard it as well. A low humming noise, faint at first, but getting louder.
"Scully, back up from the circle," Mulder warned quietly. "Everyone back away."
The hum grew still louder.
"Mulder?" Scully asked expectantly, but she couldn't hide the fear behind her voice. The hum was gaining intensity, and she had no idea what it was or how to stop it.
There was a breath of still silence, and then Mulder suddenly sprang up like a statue coming to life. "It's coming from outside," he said quickly, already on his way out.
Scully followed close behind, but not without giving the circle in front of her a wide berth. As they neared the mouth of the cave, the humming grew still louder, and it took on a pulsing beat. The air outside the cave was violently disturbed; the wind picked up red dust and small plants, flinging them around to the pulse in the air. Mulder shaded his eyes and looked up. He tried to say something to his partner, but the noise swallowed his words. Instead, he simply pointed.
Trying to keep her hair from whipping around her head, Scully looked up, already knowing what she was going to see. By the time Fisher made it out of the cave, the green helicopter was at eye level, landing on a flat strip about a hundred feet from the three incredulous investigators.
As the copter blade powered down, Scully made her way over to her partner's side.
"Who called in the cavalry?" she demanded.
Mulder shook his head in disbelief. "Me," he answered, resigned. "They must've caught wind of something when I talked to Scotland Yard . . . should've known better than to use an open international line . . ."
Scully had no answer for that. Mulder turned around, intent on going back into the cave, but stopped when he heard the telltale clicks of about ten automatic weapons being aimed his way.
"Nobody move! Hands in the air where I can see them!"
Both agents raised their hands in mute frustration.
CACTUS FLATS RESERVATION
"Kirtland Air Force Base is a hundred miles away from here!" Mulder raged. "You can't expect us to believe you're running training excercises. This is private property, and we've got every right to continue our investigation!" It was bad enough that the three of them were marched from the cave at gunpoint. Then, the Air Force had the gall to hide the whole damn operation behind the lousiest, most inconceivable excuse possible, as if to flaunt it in the FBI's face.
Major Reynolds just stood calmly in the doorway, weathering the agent's tirade with an air of bored resentment.
While Scully tried to decipher the legal documents they had been given upon their arrival at the reservation, Mulder paced the room, seething. He had spent half an hour trying to get under the skin of the CO, and then had been relegated back to the waiting area for all his efforts, with no more information than the ridiculous 'training excercises.' Now, he was working on the unsuspecting major standing guard.
"Mulder," Scully offered from the corner, staring in disbelief at a piece of paper in her hand. "The investigation's been classified. Read the fine print. They're taking it right out from under us."
Mulder accosted the major once again. "We both know what's going on here, Major. This smokescreen is an insult to the intelligence of everyone in this room."
"The only insult," Reynolds shot back, "is that I have to stand here listening to this instead of knocking you unconscious and sending both of you back to DC where you belong."
"What kind of training excercises are these, Major?" Mulder impugned. "Are you learning how to rob the Navajo of more land?"
"Oh, like the FBI should talk," Reynolds shot back.
"Then what? Sending up weather balloons? Roswell's pretty close to here. . ."
"Roswell is bullshit," the major answered.
"Well, I'll tell you what," Mulder said with a low intensity. "Whatever is in that cave makes Roswell look like a cake walk."
It was the subtlest of signs. Reynolds' bravado faltered for just a split second, but Mulder was trained to pick up subtle signs.
"Are you going to tell me your training excercises have nothing to do with the Growling Cave?" the agent asked.
Reynolds set his jaw. "It's classified," he said through gritted teeth.
"It's classified," Mulder echoed, "because the military is scared to death. They've got no idea what's going on here either, and it's going to burn them, what with the Air Force's exalted history of 'intelligence'. What do you think, Agent Scully?"
Scully usually let her partner make his own rash mistakes. She was supposed to stay the calm, collected, and unthreatening partner. But an hour of staring at trumped-up legal documents had brought out some of her fire. Still, she played it straight and calm.
"I'd have to concur," she answered without looking up.
"They might as well be poking around a mine field with sharp sticks," Mulder added. Then, "You remember what the legend says, don't you Scully?"
Scully gave a nonchalant "Mmm-hmm," at the same time Reynolds spoke.
"This conversation is over, Agents."
"Beware, ye of faint heart," Mulder said as Reynolds turned away and walked into the hallway.
"Take one step out here, Agent Mulder," Reynolds called as he exited the doorway, "and I'll shoot you without a second thought."
Mulder shot Scully a grin that silently claimed victory, then walked over to examine the document she'd flashed at him. Not only was Cactus Flats being turned over to the Air Force, but the church at Land's End was also falling under military jurisdiction.
Mulder slammed the paper onto the table in disgust.
"This isn't over, Scully."
His partner sighed, then took the document off of the table, trying again to decipher the text. "I'm willing to entertain suggestions," she offered, only half kidding. She anticipated Mulder's move, so it didn't surprise her when he took the paper from her hand, crumpled it up, and threw it in the corner.
"How were the pyramids made?" he started, pacing the room. "How was Stonehenge built? Why do feathered serpents show up in ancient sites as far apart as Thailand and Peru -- how could the world have global themes before it was even possible for humans to traverse the continents?" He stopped, taking in the scene around him again, then gestured vaguely in the direction of the reservation cliffs. "That cave could explain global mysteries from Atlantis to the Anasazi, and I'm not going to let some pig-headed, paranoid military brass sweep it under the rug with the rest of what they don't understand!"
"Speaking of pig-headed paranoia," came a voice from the corridor. Mulder and Scully looked up to see the CO, Colonel Chaney, standing in the doorway. "You're to leave Cactus Flats as soon as possible, Agent Mulder." Mulder saw Reynolds smirking in the background as the Colonel continued. "Your investigation is over, and your presence here is no longer required or appreciated."
Mulder and Scully simply stared at the officer, not moving, not speaking a word.
"Well, Agents?" Chaney asked after a minute.
Scully shot her partner a quick glance, then gave the answer both partners were thinking.
"We're waiting for the other shoe to drop, sir," she said icily.
"I assure you, it just did," Chaney answered, stating the obvious. "There is no end game here. Reynolds will escort you back to the town to gather your things."
Scully tried to remain calm as she gathered up the papers on the table in front of her. Mulder looked up to the ceiling, trying to contain his own anger. He brought his hands to his forehead and closed his eyes. He took two deep breaths.
"Let's go, Agents," Reynolds goaded them from the doorway. But Mulder had grown eerily calm. He was not to be baited. As though set in a course of action, he suddenly decided to move, grabbing his now empty duffel bag from the table.
Scully watched with a patient eye, raising her eyebrow in a silent question. Reynolds was already half-way down the hall; he wouldn't have heard even if she'd spoken aloud, but it wasn't necessary. Mulder understood.
"There's always an end game," he told her before walking out the door.
CACTUS FLATS GENERAL HOSPITAL
Scully had convinced Reynolds to stop at the hospital, on account of the fact that their flight from Albequerque wasn't until 10pm, and she had some insurance forms to fill out from her CT scan requests. It was a flimsy plan, something to buy time -- maybe a few more minutes of snooping behind their military escort's back, but it was all they had at the moment.
It didn't give much, though, and Reynolds was no fool. They were not to split up; Mulder would wait at the desk with Reynolds while Scully filled out the forms. And they were not to talk to anyone about the investigation.
"Anyone involved with this case has already been warned about that," the major added. "So don't try anything."
Apparently, that warning already reached the ears of the Harkness family. As Scully plodded away on the insurance forms as slowly as she could, Ryan, Clarissa, and their parents came through the swinging doors from the eastern ell. The family had reunited Ryan with his wheelchair, but instead of using the motor, Clarissa simply pushed him along. He looked exhausted. Mulder was sure Ryan's military debriefing had been a long and ardorous process.
Clarissa gave Mulder a half-hearted wave, and she and Ryan approached the desk. Reynolds gave them a glare; though he had not participated in the debriefing, Mulder was sure the major knew of the British family and the disabled child.
"Ryan just wants to say goodbye, and thank you," Clarissa said casually as she set the brake on the chair.
Reynolds took one look at the boy in the wheelchair, and then gave a dismissing wave. "He knows not to talk about anything he saw, doesn't he?" the major asked.
Clarissa gave a nod. Ryan put up a hand, and started signing, slowly.
"Thanks. for . . . charging . . . to my. rescue. at the . . . cave . . . " Clarissa translated haltingly. Reynolds gave them a warning look, but Clarissa just shrugged. "Often, you have tell him more than once before he understands," she said simply. "He just wants to thank them."
Mulder wondered what was wrong. She had spoken so fluently for him before. Then, Ryan accented his sister's plea with a grunt, and Mulder finally realized that it got the desired response. Reynolds turned away, suddenly focusing uncomfortably on Scully's papers instead of the painfully disabled child in front of him.
Mulder's eyes widened, and he saw an answering twinkle in the boy's gaze. Mulder knew enough of the ASL alphabet to subtly sign Ryan a message.
S.L.Y. . .
Ryan smiled and started signing again, and Mulder couldn't help but remember his conversation with Fisher at the cave that morning. What had Ryan picked up on that the rest of them had missed? Mulder suddenly found himself concentrating on Ryan's gestures, trying to divine the child's message.
"I. wish I. had the. capacity. to visit. longer," Clarissa started. And Mulder knew the words to focus on. There were a few words that Ryan took the time to spell out, letter for letter on his board, with a trembling hand. And so far, some of them were not quite the words Clarissa so painstakingly translated.
"But, who knows? Maybe. we. will. meet again. one. day."
"Maybe," Mulder said smiling genuinely. "Look me up the next time you're in the colonies."
"I. look. forward. to the. trip. Another. time. perhaps?"
Mulder reached out and took the boy's hand, giving it a firm shake. "Perhaps," he echoed. "I look forward to it as well."
Ryan's face lit up, and he reverted back to shorthand.
"Take care," Clarissa translated effortlessly, then released her brother's brake. Ryan took a moment to give a halting wave, and then both children joined their parents for the trip home.
Reynolds watched the children depart, oblivious. Scully had picked up on something, though, and she finished her paperwork with a sigh, handing the triplicate forms over to the duty nurse.
As they exited the hospital, Mulder caught Scully's attention with a slight glance. As Reynolds escorted them to the car, Mulder leaned toward his partner. His terse murmur couldn't hide the determination behind the words.
"We're not getting on that plane, Scully."
ALBEQUERQUE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Scully pointed ahead of her to the jetway. "If you hadn't noticed, we're getting on the plane."
"Not if I can help it," her partner answered under his breath.
"You've got about sixty feet to make your move," Scully answered as they entered the jetway. She turned around, noting Major Reynolds' position at the front of the gate. Air Force or no, the flight attendants had refused to let him past the small terminal desk. Reynolds mouthed a silent 'bon voyage,' then disappeared from view as the two agents turned a corner on the jetway.
Scully was still looking behind her when Mulder took her arm and whispered, "Thought we'd never ditch that Major Major. Time to make our move." Then, she was being pulled to the left, over a small red velvet rope barrier, and up a slight, curving slope. It was only then that she noticed the jetway veered off in two directions. Built to service both small and large aircraft, it had two walks. The higher walk, for larger planes, was not in use, and only held a few airport wheelchairs.
"And what a move it was," Scully remarked as she and Mulder crouched ignominiously behind the chairs. "I'm impressed."
Mulder answered in a flat monotone. "I spent the weekend building up my stealth points." He glanced around at the extra tunnel, and added, "That, and my serendipity."
After a few tense minutes, there was a rumble, and a jolt as the plane backed away from the jetway. The two agents waited for a safe amount of time before moving again, then simply backtracked their steps, heading for the car rental stations. Reynolds was nowhere in sight.
One half hour and one short telephone call later, Mulder and Scully were in a rental Taurus, ready to make the two-hour trip back to Cactus Flats.
Before starting the engine, Mulder handed his partner a small slip of paper, on which was written six words.
charging. cave. capacitor. one-way. trip. another.
"See if you can make heads or tails of that," he said with a sigh. "So we know what we're looking for when we get there."
CACTUS FLATS PUBLIC LIBRARY
Deputy Fisher shook his head as Mulder and Scully emerged from an alley beside the library.
"I don't know why I'm doing this," he said. "Shadowy meetings against military orders . . . I don't usually just break the law like this." He tried to come up with a tangible reason for offering his help, but settled for a simple, "Consider yourselves lucky."
Mulder gave the deputy a firm handshake. "I'm glad you changed your M.O.," he quipped. "Can we get inside?"
Fisher nodded and led the two agents up the stairs. He unlocked the door, and the three of them ventured into the dim building. Mulder headed straight for the reference desk, and started pulling up local maps and atlases.
"It's got to be here somewhere," Mulder murmured under his breath.
Fisher caught Scully's attention and drew her aside. "What's going on?" he asked. "What are you looking for?"
Scully withdrew Ryan Harkness' message from her pocket, and handed the paper to the deputy.
"Ryan pointed us in the right direction," Scully answered. "We debated about it in the car, and after agreeing on what his message means and extrapolating, we thought it was definitely worth a second look."
Fisher scrutinized the paper, trying to divine what the agents had deduced.
"What's the story?" he finally asked.
"I don't know if you know how a capacitor works," Scully said, pointing to the third word in the list. "It was our first clue." At Fisher's blank stare, she ventured an explanation.
"In a circuit, a capacitor stores energy. There are two components; a charging component, and a release. When the circuit is on 'charge,' the capacitor draws energy from a battery and stores it. Opening the circuit will stop the current from flowing, but the potential energy in the capacitor is still present. Closing the second switch, the 'release' switch, will cause the capacitor to discharge, releasing its energy."
Fisher scratched his head. Behind him, Mulder gave a soft curse. "I can't find anything on the map," he said, standing up from the table.
"Here, let me try," Scully said, sitting down.
"But what's that all got to do with the cave?" Fisher asked.
Mulder exchanged glances with his partner, and took up the explanation.
"I don't think we'll ever know how long the chapel in Land's End was powered up," he started. "It was only opened to visitors last year. Ryan's wheelchair must have been the first thing in there with a strong enough electromagnetic field to flip the 'release' switch. When he crossed the circle, it closed the circuit, the capacitor discharged, and the mechanism transported him across the ocean like a giant slingshot, depositing him here in the cave at Cactus Flats."
"But, the flashlights," Fisher countered. "They didn't set off any 'mechanism' in the Growling Cave. Why not?"
"Because we're on the wrong side of the gate," Mulder answered. "Closing the circuit in Land's End discharges the mechanism. Closing it in Cactus Flats charges the capacitor." Mulder gave a sigh. "And since we have no idea how the Atlantians charged the thing, I'd say it's got to eat about another twenty million batteries before it'll work again." He gave a short laugh before concluding, "The Air Force is in for a long wait."
"Wait a minute," Fisher said, staring at the paper. "Ryan said this thing is a one-way trip. You called it a slingshot."
Scully spoke up from the desk, where she had been following the conversation. "That's most likely a result of the earth's rotation. You have to go against the flow."
Fisher stared at the last word on the paper for a long minute before he finally understood.
"There's another gate," he said simply.
"Arrivals versus departures," Mulder answered. Then he pointed back to the maps. "Now it's just a matter of finding . . . "
He stopped short as his eyes fell on a large globe in the corner of the reference room.
"Scully, we're being stupid," he said. His partner looked up from where she had been scrutinizing a local area map of the reservation. Mulder pointed at the globe. Beside it was a small jar full of stick pins, and a few lengths of string for marking distances. Mulder grabbed some pins and one string.
"We already know where the gate is going to be," he said. Starting in southern England, Mulder secured the string in a straight line extending from just north of London through to Land's End. Across the Atlantic Ocean.
Across the northeastern United States.
Across the midwest.
Right through the Cactus Flats Reservation and points southwest.
Mulder traced a finger along the string, then stood up triumphantly.
"Looks like we just need to follow the ley of the land."
CACTUS FLATS RESERVATION
It took them two hours to skirt the mobile army camp surrounding the Growling Cave. They had cover of darkness for most of it, but there were a few times they had to lie low to avoid a patrol.
Though the morning light made the two agents more conspicuous, it also allowed them to search the landscape. A few more precise measurements at the library had given them the direction they needed to follow. Mulder cradled a small compass in his hand, and he and Scully oriented themselves as close to 38 degrees south of west as they could manage.
Scully shifted the weight of her backpack. It wasn't heavy; she carried only some hastily gathered food, a canteen, and an industrial sized flashlight. But the backpack, on loan from Deputy Fisher, was too large. The flashlight kept grinding into her spine. Mulder's was heavier; it held another voltmeter, replacing the one that had been confiscated earlier, and a bulky old video camera pilfered from the library's meager store, but at least it seemed to rest comfortably between his shoulders.
She dug a fist into the small of her back, and tried to focus on the terrain in front of her. "What exactly should I look for?" she asked.
"Watkins called it 'the old straight track," her partner answered, suppressing a yawn. "Paths, or large stone markers, maybe lining up with a cliff peak. We'll know it when we see it."
The landscape in front of them was red, dry desert. Hard-packed clay gave way to large boulders and a few stunted trees. Rocky cliffs jutted up from the desert floor; in some places it looked like a violent collision, and in others, the rock looked as though it had been chiseled away with fine precision. Mulder and Scully were at the foot of the reservation cliffs that housed the Growling Cave. Their position offered them a bit of high ground, but both agents were still having trouble locating anything that looked like a ley.
There were a few large boulders over to Scully's left that could possibly afford her a better view. While her partner continued to survey the land in front of them, Scully scaled the largest boulder. At the top, she started to look outward, but stopped, suddenly focusing on a much closer landmark.
"Mulder," she called. "Can you take a look at something for me?"
She motioned for him to join her on the large rock. Once there, she pointed to the stone beneath her feet.
"Is this the sign you wanted?"
The boulder, weathered and flattened on top, was chiseled into an almost perfect circle. From this view, extending down in two directions, the rest of the boulders in the group suddenly gained a precise order. Though weather-worn, the seams at one time must have been flawless. Even now, the insignia was unmistakeable.
Mulder nimbly made his way down to the serpent's head, and studied the view.
"There it is," he said, pointing. From the serpent's head, the landmarks finally came together to point the way. Aligned in a perfectly straight path in front of them was a network of ancient standing stones, stones the may have been mistaken for wind-worn boulders at first, pointing the way to a break in the cliffs some miles away.
"Follow the ancient-Atlantian brick road," Scully quipped as the two agents made their way down from the serpent to the desert floor below.
"Sir, they're moving again."
Colonel Chaney motioned for the binoculars. Staring through them, he watched the two FBI agents pick their way around a large group of rocks, then head off to the southwest.
"They're heading away from us, soldier," Chaney said to the PFC, Hicks, beside him.
"Yes sir," Hicks replied.
"Why do you suppose that is?" Chaney asked. Before Hicks could give an answer, though, the colonel gave an order.
"Get Major Reynolds up here, and Jackson and Duan."
Hicks gave a quick salute and left. Minutes later, Reynolds appreared, followed by the two infantrymen. Chaney handed the binoculars over to the major and pointed out the two agents.
"I want you boys to keep an eye on them. Follow them, discretely. I want to know what they're on to. And Reynolds, I don't want any more mistakes."
Reynolds acknowledged the order with a quick "yes, sir." No mistakes this time. This time, the two agents were tresspassing, threatening disclosure of classified information. Automatically, he checked his sidearm.
This time, he would be authorized to use any means necessary to contain a possible breach of security.
Once sighted, it was easy to follow the old straight track. For a while, it seemed like they were getting nowhere; the destination cliffs never grew any larger, and the ley just stretched out in front of them, marker after marker, in an unending, unfaltering straight line.
Eventually, however, the land fell away behind them. Their sightline changed, and the desert floor crept up to meet the foot of the cliffs. As if making up for lost time, the cliffs grew impressively tall as the agents got closer, taller than either Mulder or Scully would have guessed from their view only an hour before, until looking up made them slightly dizzy.
The break they had seen, and that the ley directed them toward, was one of many huge fissures in the rock face. The light died quickly, obscuring the interior in shadows.
Mulder checked the ley, stretched out behind them, and eyeballed the fissure. "It's right in line," he remarked, the first words either of them had spoken in quite some time. The air around the agents deadened the sound; instead of echoing off the rocks, Mulder's words reached his partner's ear in a hush, as though he'd whispered a secret to her in a closed room.
Scully looked up at the cliffs again, half expecting them to be smaller than she'd first thought, but instead, they seemed even larger. She tried to imagine the sheer power behind their creation. She felt the ground beneath her for what it was; a relatively thin shell of solid earth, and miles upon miles of roiling, molten rock.
Mulder put a hand out and touched the rock face in front of him. "Can you feel the energy here?" he asked reverently. "It's amazing. Is it something about the cliffs? It almost makes you feel. . ."
"Small," his partner offered. "I was thinking of that, too."
Both agents stared at the fissure in front of them, caught up in a moment of silence. Then, Mulder broke the spell, dropping his backpack heavily to the ground.
"This has got to be the place," he said, fishing out the camera. "If ever a power conduit . . . belonged. . . somewhere, it's here."
Scully shed her backpack as well and removed the offending flashlight. Piercing the darkness in front of her with the beam, she led the way into the fissure. The path narrowed quickly and veered off to the left, so that the mouth of the fissure was soon out of sight. But only a few feet past the bend in the path, the walls receded, opening the space around them.
Scully scanned the area with her flashlight while Mulder followed her line with the camera, stopping only for a moment in order to affix his own smaller flashlight above the device. The cavern extended some forty feet until the rock walls came together again and the path narrowed. As her beam passed the far end of the cavern, Mulder caught his partner's attention.
"Back up, Scully. Let me see that again."
When Scully brought the light over again, Mulder had the camera aimed and ready. "Three boulders in an arch, just like the Growling Cave," he said, pointing to the top of the entrance. Without a word, both agents traversed the cavern, coming face to face with an exact replica of the Growling Cave.
There was no mistaking the nature of the gate. In comparison to the Growling Cave, it was in excellent shape. Huge stones came together in seamless, interlocking patterns to form smooth walls. The ceiling was one large, uninterrupted monolith, completely flat. Mulder followed Scully's flashlight beam with the camera, keeping up a quiet commentary as he filmed. There was no need to whisper, but Mulder found he didn't want to raise his voice.
Scully stepped forward, sweeping the area in amazement. Suddenly, she came to her senses, tracking the floor in front of them for the insignia they knew would be there. She took a deep, steadying breath as the serpent-decorated circle came into view only a few paces in front of her.
"Stay out of that," her partner offered. "We don't know how much of an electromagnetic field will set it off." Scully gave a cursory nod; for all the wild speculations about the technology's origins, there was no denying the circle's documented properties. No one had to warn her twice. Keeping clear of the circle, the two agents set up a small base in the corner of the room from which to continue their survey.
Mulder documented the scene around them with reserved calm. In almost eerie silence, he filmed Scully testing the potential across the serpent circle. He filmed the walls. He filmed the ceiling. He filmed the floor. But his calmness dissolved when he set the light to the part of the floor which, in the Growling Cave, had been obscured by the collapsed ceiling.
"Scully, I think there's writing here!"
Scully turned toward him from where she had been studying the far wall, intent on asking a question. But suddenly, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She had only a moment's notice.
"Mulder . . ." she started.
There were two sharp clicks, and the cave was bathed in harsh light coming from the entrance. Two beams each captured one of the agents, and Scully put a hand to her eyes, squinting in the new light.
"Don't move," came a voice. "Don't say a word."
Her partner gave a soft curse, then spoke up. "Reynolds," he said with bravado. "I see you decided to . . ."
The cave exploded in sound and light, deafening them. At the sound of the gunshot, Scully jumped to her feet, screaming her partner's name. The soldiers let her reach him. Shaken but unharmed, Mulder indicated the ceiling behind him, where a single small hole marred the otherwise pristine surface.
"I won't miss next time, agents," Reynolds' voice came from behind the light blind. Then, he stepped forward out of the shadows. "That's the only warning you get. I said I wouldn't hesitate, and I won't."
The agents said nothing. The major clearly had the advantage; neither Mulder nor Scully even had any idea of how many soldiers he had with him. Enough, Mulder figured, squinting at the lights, for Reynolds to make good on his threats.
After instructing them to face the wall, the major cursorily frisked the two agents, removing their weapons.
"Jackson, head out and radio Command," Reynolds ordered. "Tell them to get another team out here." There was a faint 'yes sir' and some movement, and then the cave fell into silence again.
"Duan, keep an eye on our FBI guests," Reynolds continued as he started pacing the cave. From the wall, both agents watched the major as he took a few steps and then stopped in front of Mulder's still-recording video camera.
"And get this thing out of my sight," he added, giving the camera a swift kick.
It could have been happening in slow motion. Both agents watched in horror as the camera skittered across the stone, heading straight for the ancient insignia built into the floor.
"Not in the circle!" Mulder cried, turning from the wall and lunging desperately for the camera. Had Reynolds not been in the line of fire, those would have been Mulder's last words. As it was, Duan only shouted a warning, and the major came around on Mulder with the speed and accuracy of a fighting machine. Intent on the camera, Mulder had no chance. Reynolds caught his arm, and with surprising speed, sent Mulder sprawling through the air to land heavily on his back upon the unforgiving stone.
Scully barely had time to turn around before the camera passed the feathered serpent and came to rest inside the circle.
"Dammit I said don't move!" Reynolds barked, as Mulder gave a soft moan and rolled onto his side.
At the same time, the flashlight atop the camera flickered and died.
As Reynolds towered over her partner, continuing his tirade, Scully realized that Mulder was now lying completely inside the circle.
The room gave a soft, electric hum, and Scully screamed.
She wasn't sure what the words were that she screamed. A warning maybe. Periferally, she was aware of the other soldier, Duan, moving toward her, but her main focus was on her partner. The humming grew, gaining intensity until even Reynolds picked up on it and stopped, mid-curse, to glance up at the cave.
There was a breath of terrible stillness, over which the hum rose to a huge, powerful pulse, and then, in a concussive force like gigantic stones being moved aside, the whole cave shook. Reynolds and Duan fell to the ground, and Scully dove toward her prone partner.
Mulder felt the earth trembling beneath him, and he tried like hell to get enough air into his lungs to breathe. He felt something grab onto his shoulder and then his partner was screaming in his ear and pulling him backwards.
". . . out of the circle! Move!"
The fear behind her voice sparked him to action. Ignoring the searing pain in his lower back, Mulder took a huge, agonizing breath, and pushed himself toward his partner.
Mulder had barely enough time to turn his head back toward the circle when there was a bright flash, overpowering the paltry flashlights in the room. In that split second of intense brightness, he could focus only on the patch of stones he had just left. Impossible as it seemed, the stones were moving, swirling like a liquid. But before he could even process that thought, the flash died in the wake of a terrible crash of thunder, and the cave was plunged into pitch black silence.
He could have blacked out for a minute; it was hard to tell. But the first thing he was aware of was a splitting headache and a slight, shaking hand fluttering over his face and head. Sound, when it came, was muffled and far away.
" . . . okay? Mulder, answer me . . ."
He held up his own hand, fumbling for hers in the darkness. He was surprised to find that his was trembling as badly as hers. When he finally reached her searching fingers, she seized his hand, holding on as though her life depended on it.
Or maybe he was the one who grasped her hand with such force.
He coughed, still unable to hear the whole sound. His only strength came from that petite, unyielding hand in his own.
"Still here," he finally whispered. She gave his hand an assuring squeeze, and he let his voice fall silent. It hurt to talk anyway.
A light broke through the darkness, illuminating boulders and shadows, until it finally lit upon the two agents and froze. Mulder heard, far away, the panicky voice of the other soldier, Jackson.
"Don't move! Hands where I can see them!"
He made no move, but felt his hand rising, still tightly entwined with that of his partner.
Conclusions were the worst, she mused. There were always questions left unanswered, theories left unproven. And yet, the sheer number of cases they had seen end this way had conditioned her, if not to accept this frustrating lack of evidence, then at least to give it the proper literary closure. Her conclusions were a mask, formulaic at best, for want of real answers. She should really just leave the damn thing as open-ended and abrupt as it felt.
But something in that last bare paragraph stirred her. Sighing, Scully began to type.
"As science gives way to speculation, we are left only with theories whose proofs are as elusive as the technology we witnessed, and we must draw fantastic conclusions from fantastic observations. Agent Mulder's claims of an ancient, advanced civilization are enticing in their philosophical and scientific implications; if our ancestors possessed this kind of power, what became of them? How did the Golden Age, if there was such, decline? And what does this imply for our own future? For if this technology is borne of humankind, it is either something we lost millennia ago, or something that we have just now begun to discover."
"He's been at that computer all day. He hasn't even eaten anything. Can you talk to him, dear?"
Clarissa shook her head. She had tried. But despite what her parents thought, she couldn't unlock her brother's mind. He needed to talk to her for her to translate.
"Sites on earth science, geology, astronomy. It can't be good for him to tax himself this way."
She looked up at her mother, who had felt so lost at giving birth to a son she deemed so far from perfect. If Mum could look past the physical, it would truly shock her to discover the power Clarissa saw behind Ryan's inquiring eyes. But Mum would never understand. Clarissa stood up from the table, suddenly tired of her mother's company.
"He only told me one thing," she snapped, signing shorthand as she spoke.
"'I have an idea.'"
Scully stared at the paragraph for a minute or two, rolling the words around in her head. She thought about reading it aloud and then decided against it when the basement office door opened. Instead, she kept typing as her partner entered the room, his hands full of maps and papers.
"If we instead discount these ideas, it must be noted that in an age of such unprecedented scientific discovery, we have been cowed by the earth itself. And as we turn our eyes toward exploration of the heavens, we must admit that we have not yet fully explored our own home, or uncovered all of its wonders."
She leaned back from the keyboard and hit 'Save.' Another pile of words that didn't add up to any real closure. She stood up, looking past her partner's determined gaze to the large map of the Pacific Ocean he was studying at his desk.
"Mulder, a person could spend their whole life looking for the next gate, ley line or no," she offered, coming around her desk to face him.
Mutely, Mulder handed her a single piece of paper in answer.
She stared at it, not comprehending. It was a fax; a classified document labeled top secret under the military jurisdiction of the Air Force. Presented in a long laundry list, with instructions to see annotations for further descriptions, were notes, items and files confiscated from the investigation.
"Frohike dug that up for me," Mulder said, keeping his eyes on the map in front of him.
Scully scanned the items: two cameras, two voltmeters, medical records, geological samples, faxes . . . the list went on and on. Anything even remotely relevant to the case had been confiscated.
She looked up. "I don't understand."
"It's not what's on there that matters," her partner answered. "It's what isn't."
Suddenly it hit her. She let out a sigh. "So you want to go island- hopping for a few years to recover it? It might be damaged, or inconclusive, or, or anything, Mulder. Is it worth that much?"
Mulder just looked at her. She crossed her arms.
"You're not going to go all 'Mosquito Coast' on me, are you?" she asked, trying to lighten the mood.
It worked. Mulder gave her a wry smile and looked down again, almost wistfully, at the ley he had drawn across the Southern Hemisphere, before finally leaning back from the map.
"We'll see," he said, rolling up the map and tossing it to his partner.
"File this under 'L', would you?"
VAITUPU ISLAND, TUVALU
The barrow had been deserted for years, ever since the last of the last reigning king's lineage had died out. It had been a bloody dynasty, and the only thing anyone wanted to do afterward was forget. The land was too marshy for development, and the water too rocky for fishing boats. As such, it was abandoned to the graves and the birds.
The mound had been closed. No one would ever think to open it. No one would notice the intricate stonework or the insignia on the floor of the royal tomb. No one would notice the incongruity of the presence of a muck-covered, dead video camera, property of the Cactus Flats Public Library, lying underneath the Queen's wooden deathbed. The island community had buried their past in the soft northern marshes for a reason; they didn't want to exhume it.
A pitiful wail started up, but no one heard. Even the bodies had long ago lost their ears. In the confines of that dank, dreary tomb, no one would find Major Reynolds, no matter how loud he screamed.