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XF Friday Nights 7: COS of Death

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Lunch cart conversation in the Hoover Building:

"Hey, did you hear about Jerry Lamana?"

"No, what?"

"He got killed by a building."

"No kidding. Earthquake? Explosion?"

"No, the operating system."

"No shit....what's an operating system?"

x-x-x

One Week Earlier

It was lunch time, and the bullpen was buzzing.
Jerry Lamana walked through the throng, smiling,
confident. He grabbed a handful of candy from a
jack o'lantern as he spied his target a few feet
away.

"Mulder!"

His former partner turned toward him. Next to him
stood a petite redhead; a real knockout. She must
be the whiz kid from Quantico, Dana Scully.

Jerry engulfed his former partner in a bear hug.
It couldn't hurt that he was buds with the VCU's
Golden Boy, even if Mulder's rep was not as shiny
as it once was.

Mulder looked surprised to see him. Had it really
been that long? Mulder had attended his send-off
when he got assigned to Atlanta. Was that the last
time?

They had exchanged the occasional call after that,
but Jerry had been busy trying to make his mark in
Atlanta. Mulder got himself a new assignment too,
not long after that. He vaguely remembered Mulder
talking about some weird-ass case or file or
something he'd worked on. He got a new partner,
they met over this weird case, and Mulder left the
VCU. What was her name? Not Dana, that's his new
partner.

Oh yeah, now he remembered. Probably better not to
mention her. He'd heard that it got kind of
personal, and they were separated. Or maybe she
requested re-assignment. Something like that,
anyway. The people he'd asked had been kind of
vague on the details; after all, it was yesterday's
news. They were more interested in speculating
about what Mulder might be doing with his _new_
partner.

He stuck his hand out to Mulder's new partner.
"You're Dana Scully, right?"

She smiled slightly and took his hand in a firm
grip.

Always acknowledge the partner. You want them on
your side. And if the rumors he'd heard were true,
she might have a lot of influence on Mulder. His
informant knew one of Dana's classmates from
Quantico, and he'd had quite a lot to say about
Agent Scully.

"So Jerry, what are you doing here?" Mulder asked.

"Looking for you, actually," Jerry said. Stay
focused, he told himself. You can take Mulder out
for a beer later and grill him about his partner
then.

He really hated having to go to Mulder with this.
Not because Mulder wouldn't help him, and certainly
not because Mulder wasn't capable, but he didn't
want to admit he needed help. Especially Mulder's
help.

He could still back out. He could make something
up: just passing through, wanted to meet Mulder's
new partner, and warn her about him -- the kind of
smartass reason that would allow him to save face.

He heard himself saying, "Is there someplace we can
talk?"

Mulder and his partner exchanged looks. "Sure,"
Mulder said, and led the way to the elevator.

"You're not on this floor?" Jerry asked. "Not part
of the bullpen?"

"Nope, got my own office now," Mulder said, but his
expression, and Dana Scully's, was completely
deadpan.

Instead of up, Mulder pushed the "B" button in the
elevator.

"I didn't even know there were offices in the
basement," Jerry commented as the car sank to their
destination. The Hoover Building must be
overcrowded.

"There aren't many," Mulder replied. The door
opened and he led the way down a short corridor
lined with file boxes, to a door marked "Special
Agent Fox Mulder."

In Atlanta, he didn't have an office. Jerry felt a
small twinge of envy, which died as soon as Mulder
opened the door.

What the hell kind of office was this? And how did
his partner put up with all this crap? It was cold
and musty smelling. The fluorescent overhead light
flickered on, giving everything a kind of greenish
tinge.

Files and...things were piled on every available
surface. Photographs and articles overlapped each
other on a large bulletin board, complete with a
poster of a flying saucer. Was that a joke, or did
he really go chasing after little green men?

Suddenly Jerry didn't feel so jealous. This was
the kind of office where you put people you want
kept out of sight. Who the hell did Mulder piss
off? Did he really ask for this assignment or was
he being punished?

And yet Mulder didn't seem like a man who was being
punished. He moved a stack of folders from a chair
and invited Jerry to sit.

"So talk, Jerry," Mulder said. "What brings you up
here?"

Mulder didn't let on that he knew anything about
Atlanta. Maybe he didn't know, though news like
that traveled fast. He took a breath and spilled
everything about this new case to his former
partner.

Mulder and his partner listened intently to Jerry.
He laid it out concisely, waiting for Mulder to
jump in and say something that would make all the
pieces fall into place.

Instead, Mulder said, "I'd like to help you out,
but we're not on general assignment."

x-x-x

Eurisko Offices

Jerry showed his badge to get in through the crowd
of reporters and the curious at the main entrance.
Mulder and Scully were arriving separately, and
instead of waiting for them, he headed for the
elevator and pushed the button for the twenty-ninth
floor. An electronic voice announced each floor as
it passed. He noted the camera in the corner of
the elevator and stood in the accepted elevator
stance: hands at his sides, staring straight ahead.

He was glad that Mulder had finally relented and
agreed to look at the crime scene, but it was
demeaning to have to beg. He could see pity in
Mulder's eyes, and that really rankled. He'd known
he could get Mulder to help him, but it had been a
surprise that he'd taken so much convincing.
Mulder never said no, and he never gave up on
anyone. They could screw him six ways from Sunday
and he'd still help them out if they needed it.
Patterson had very nearly killed him, and he still
went back for more.

It was Jerry's plan to get to the crime scene
first, let whoever was there know that he was in
charge, and make sure that they knew that Mulder
and Scully were just there to help him out.

"Twenty-ninth floor," the elevator voice intoned,
and the doors opened with a quiet whoosh. They
almost closed on him, making him take a quick
hopping step as he exited.

A man he didn't know looked up as Jerry entered
Benjamin Drake's office. "I don't know why the
elevator has taken to doing that," the man
remarked.

Jerry straightened his tie and cleared his throat.
"Someone ought to look into that. It could be
dangerous." He stuck his hand out. "Jerry Lamana,
FBI. And you are?"

"Claude Peterson," the man said. "I'm the building
systems engineer."

And he didn't know why the elevator was doing that?
Jerry thought.

"I'm taking charge of this investigation," Jerry
said. "I have a couple of agents coming to look
things over. Can you show me where you found the
body?"

x-x-x

Mulder had done it again, damn it. He came in,
took over, and made everyone else look like idiots.
Unbelievable. Phone off the hook...he'd show
Mulder off the hook.

But still, Mulder said he would help. He promised
to write up a profile and have it ready for the
team meeting the next afternoon.

How the hell did Mulder do it? Pick something like
that almost out of thin air, and spin a theory out
of it? If he knew how to do that, he wouldn't need
any help.

He sat in the incident room and jotted down some
notes abut the crime scene, trying to see it the
way he imagined Mulder saw it.

It really hadn't been much fun being wingman to
Violent Crime's Golden Boy. Sure, there was a fair
amount of reflected glory; but try as Jerry might,
he just didn't have what it took to be the blue-
flamer Mulder was. Had been, he corrected himself.

It seemed like Mulder had pissed it all away. He
didn't seem to care that he could have had it all -
- the prestige, the rank, commendations out the
ying-yang, not to mention all the ass he wanted.
He didn't really seem to enjoy it all that much.
Mulder had done what Patterson ordered him to do.
He spit out his profiles and for recreation, from
what Jerry'd heard, cut a wide swath through the
female population at the Bureau. Everybody seemed
to have a Mulder story to tell.

But Mulder wasn't one to kiss and tell, damn him.
Once or twice Jerry answered a call that was meant
for Mulder, and once or twice maybe someone would
be mad enough or drunk enough to bend ol' Jerry's
ear about what a prick Fox Mulder was. Why women
thought it would do them any good to put down a man
they had the hots for to another man was beyond
him. At least once in a while his comfort was
welcomed.

He'd already moved on to the Atlanta field office
before Mulder left the BSU. They'd parted on
friendly terms, and Jerry dined out on some of his
Mulder stories when he was first in Atlanta. After
a while though, stories were not enough.

The notepad was still blank half an hour later,
except for some doodles of a telephone and
scribbles of lightening bolts and arrows.

ASAC Spiller entered the incident room. "Agent
Lamana, how's it going?"

"I'm making some headway," Jerry said, standing up
and holding his notepad down by his side. "I'll
have something at the meeting."

"It's been moved up to two-thirty," ASAC Spiller
said.

"No problem," Jerry said. "I'll be ready."

Maybe he'd go down and see if Mulder had anything
yet -- he could use a little jump-start on this.
He picked up the phone and called Mulder's office.

Nothing but "This is Fox Mulder, leave a message."
Damn it. He'd probably gone to lunch. Maybe Dana
Scully was down there, and he could schmooze her a
little. He might as well go see. He wasn't making
any headway here.

Jerry knocked on the door of Mulder's office, but
he couldn't hear anything from the other side of
the door. He tried the knob; it hadn't locked
properly and a little pressure opened the door.

If anything, the office looked worse without its
inhabitants. Jerry wandered around, looking at the
stuff on the walls. Pictures of cattle
mutilations, footprint casts, skeletons; geological
survey maps, the solar system, and plenty of
articles about subjects he'd never even heard of.

He looked at his watch. One-thirty. Who knew
where Mulder was? He'd leave him a note to remind
him about the meeting. He turned to the desk to
search for a pen and paper.

There was no mistaking Mulder's desk, even without
the nameplate on it. Mulder called his system
"organized chaos" when anyone called him on it in
VCU. Piles of file folders appeared to be
haphazard but Mulder probably knew exactly what
order they were in, and what they contained. There
was the picture of him and his sister from when
they were kids; Mulder never went anywhere without
it.

He didn't see a desk for Agent Scully. Maybe she
still had an office at Quantico, or kept herself
away from Mulder's clutter by keeping a desk
upstairs. There was a table, completely devoid of
anything personal. A cup of pens and a pad of
sticky notes was all it contained. He grabbed one
of each to write his note and stick it on Mulder's
phone.

As he did so, he noticed the yellow pad with
Mulder's familiar scrawl on it. It had to be the
profile Mulder had promised him. He picked it up
and read a few lines.

Jerry's admiration and resentment grew in equal
parts as he read Mulder's notes. How did the SOB
do it, time after time? This was just what he
needed.

Note forgotten, Jerry took the notepad and
carefully closed the door, making sure it shut
tightly.

x-x-x

"Great work, Agent Lamana," Spiller said.

From the look on both Mulder and Scully's faces,
they weren't so impressed.

Mulder caught up with Jerry in the bullpen.
"Jerry, what the hell are you doing?"

"Hey, don't get all bent out of shape," Jerry said.

"That was my profile," Mulder said.

"Look, I didn't think you'd mind," Jerry replied.
"Anyway, they were just notes. I filled in the
blanks."

He'd never seen Mulder look so angry. But he'd be
damned if he'd apologize for taking what Mulder had
promised him, anyway.

"Jerry," Mulder said, putting his hand on Jerry's
arm. "You went into my office and you stole my
work." Mulder's voice was quiet, but there was no
mistaking the anger and disappointment in his eyes.

Jerry shook him off. "You're only on this case
because I asked you to help me out," he said, more
loudly than he'd intended. "You helped me out.
Okay?"

Heads were starting to turn in the bullpen. He
left the room, brushing past Dana Scully on the
way.

He may have just screwed himself.

x-x-x

"Agent Lamana," ASAC Spiller greeted him in the
morning. "I understand that Agents Mulder and
Scully visited the chief suspect yesterday after
the meeting. You didn't accompany them?"

"I, uh." Jerry said. "I, I went back to Eurisko
to talk to the building engineer. I figured Mulder
and Scully could handle Wilczek."

"Any headway?" Spiller asked.

"I'm just going to meet with them now," Jerry lied.
"I'll get back to you ASAP."

"See that you do," Spiller said.

It wasn't just the elevator to the basement making
his stomach lurch. He hoped Mulder would be alone
so that only he would see the humiliation Jerry
felt.

Just his luck: both of them were there in Mulder's
office, listening to a recording of a man's voice,
over and over again, watching a kind of computer
screen. He stood in the door quietly, waiting for
Mulder to notice he was there.

Mulder excused himself and came out into the
corridor.

"Look, I'm here with my hat in my hand -- I screwed
up," Jerry said.

Another guy might have let him twist for a while.
Not Mulder.

"All you had to do was ask," Mulder said. I
would've helped you with the profile."

"You don't know what it's like," Jerry blurted out.

"What what's like?" Mulder asked.

Trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice,
Jerry told him. What did Mulder know about
humiliation and ridicule? Mulder couldn't possibly
know how he felt.

Thing is, it was almost too easy to make Mulder
feel guilty. Like he'd done something wrong,
because he was smarter than anyone else around;
that's how Patterson played him. That and knowing
that if he ever made a mistake, someone would
suffer.

Well, Jerry _had_ made that mistake.

Before he could humiliate himself further, Scully
called from the office.

He stood in awe as Scully explained what they'd
been doing, isolating voice patterns. He could see
that this was Scully's idea, and Mulder was equally
impressed.

How the hell do they come up with this stuff? It
was pretty clear that Dana Scully could give Mulder
a run for his money. He didn't think he'd ever
meet anyone as smart as Mulder. They had this
collar in the bag.

"Let me bring him in alone," he asked Mulder. "I
need this one."

Mulder nodded.

x-x-x
Outside Brad Wilczek's House

Once this case was over, Jerry thought, I'm not
going back to Atlanta, even if they want me. This
will start me with a clean slate.

Just because I'm not as smart as Mulder doesn't
mean I'm not a good agent. Even Mulder said we did
good work together. Anyone paired with him would
look bad by comparison; it's like pairing a high
school math teacher with Einstein, no contest.

There was no reason that one mistake should end his
career. This would prove that.

At that moment, Wilczek came running out of his
house, got into his fancy little car, and roared
off.

Jerry was right behind him. Wilczek didn't seem to
notice or care that someone was following him. He
went straight to the Eurisko Building.

Returning to the scene of the crime, Jerry thought.
Piece of cake.

He hurried into the building, barely stopping to
show his badge to the guard.

The elevator door opened as he got to it.

"Going up," said the mechanical voice. It started
to count off the floors rapidly. Jerry checked his
gun and readied himself to rush Wilczek as soon as
he arrived at the 29th floor.

Then, just as suddenly, the elevator juddered and
jerked like a puppet. Jerry lost his footing.

What the... was Jerry's last thought. He didn't
hear when the COS intoned, "Program Executed."

x-x-x

"So it was the thing that controlled the building?"

"Yeah, the Central Operating System, they called
it."

"I'll be damned. Really killed by a computer, huh?
Kind of spooky."

"Yeah, kind of like '2001', you know? What'll they
think of next?"

end.

 

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