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Looking up through the open hatchway Baines could see the creature staring down at him, its powerful jaws open revealing a row of spiked teeth, saliva crawling up its face as the elevator plummeted towards the bottom of the shaft. He grimaced in fear and pain, desperately fighting to maintain his grip on the edge of the floor hatchway. With renewed determination that he was not going to die alone he reached across and pushed a detonator into the small mound of C4 that was stuck to the floor. He flicked the primer switch then gazed down through the lower hatch at the fast approaching bottom of the shaft, too afraid to look back up to see if the creature would get to him first. Forcing his eyes to remain open, he counted away the last seconds of his life in the free-falling elevator.

He did not see the long arm that reached in toward him but cried out as the hooked claws caught the straps of his gun harness, wrenching him away from the floor. Fear-induced, sweat soaked fingers lost the uneven battle and he slammed into the ceiling a scant few inches from the monster, barely able to breathe through the searing pain as the broken bone in his leg moved unnaturally. The bony alien claw whipped sideways and with a scream of agony his body was wrenched upwards through the hatchway. His leg slammed against the edge and, as merciful blackness descended, his last coherent thought was that it did not matter anyway for searing light and heat filled the elevator shaft followed almost instantaneously by a deafening boom... in a few microseconds it would be dead and so would he.

It was the smell that brought him back... the smell of blood... of death. He opened his eyes blinking rapidly but the dimness remained.

Where the hell am I?

He panted as the pain receded. He could recall the fast approaching mangled mess of Jedburg's splattered body... impact after falling 500m had a habit of smashing a head open like an over-ripe melon. He gasped, his eyes widening in fear as the memory of those claws hooking into his clothing came back. It had moved so fast... ripping him through the hatchway and leaping through a set of open elevator doors. The last thing he remembered was the explosion just before the elevator hit bottom. How had it survived? And more to the point... how had he survived? His knowledge of explosives brought a partial answer... the force of the explosion would have been outward at ground zero, probably destroying the doors at the base, the ones he and Jedburg had originally entered through, and then vertical, contained by the walls of the elevator shaft. Even so, the creature must have taken some of the blast and must have sheltered him from it with its own immense bulk but none of this answered his question... where was he? He added another thought, more terrifying because the answer was not one he dared contemplate.

Why am I still alive?

Baines tried to move but, apart from the one arm, he seemed trapped. He groped around beneath him, frowning as his fingers lighted upon something that was both soft yet unyielding. He strained to reach out farther, groping in the semi-darkness but pulled back suddenly as his brain placed what his hand had encountered... matted hair and cold, dead flesh. The jerking action sent spears of pain lancing through his chest and he cried out, struggling to maintain his hold on consciousness as his senses started to spin. He stilled himself, dragging his breathing back under control as he tried to reassess his injuries before making any further attempts to move. He felt stickiness on the side of his head. Further probing brought another gasp of pain as his fingers found the ragged edges of a gash. The nausea he felt was probably a sign of concussion... his head had slammed hard enough into the top of the elevator to dent the metal. He laughed as he remembered one of Mancini's comments about him having a thick-skull. At least it had stopped bleeding.

How long does it take for blood to congeal? How long have I been here?

It seemed as if only minutes had passed since he had started that final ascent from the top of the elevator. He remembered the exhaustion that tugged at his over-exerted muscles, he remembered making the decision to dump the heavy backpack and climb the remaining 300m with just the bare essentials... and then he remembered those first frantic moments when the creature had opened the elevator doors just below him. He had fired at it several times before it had grabbed him by the boot on his right foot, ripping him from the cable. He had felt his leg snap by the creature's casual flicking action but it had lost its grip and he had fallen to the top of the elevator, smashing his head against the metal but fear had kept him conscious. He had dropped back through the hatchway before the monstrous creature could grab him again. But how long ago had that happened? And where was he? And why was he still alive?

Fuzzy thoughts continued to run in circles around his throbbing head. He tried to take a deep breath to clear away the cobwebs... and regretted the attempt. At least one rib was broken from where he had slammed into the ceiling of the elevator, its sharp edges now grating with each and every breath. Apart from that he was fine... he felt hysterical laughter bubble its way upward.

Fine? My leg's broken, my ribs are broken, I'm probably concussed... and I'm trapped in what looks like an air duct with an creature from another dimension that's already slaughtered the Colonel and several others.He squeezed his eyes shut tight.

"I've gotta get out of here before it comes back."

He angled his head to glance down over his shoulder and sobbed as he recognized the long 'golden' hair of the pretty Doctor, the remainder of her eviscerated body barely visible in the dim light, but he violently pushed the sight from his mind and concentrated on surviving. His hand reached down and encountered something slimy yet hard encasing his lower body and left side, holding him in place. He pulled at the substance that wrapped him but to no avail. He was trapped like a fly in a spider's web, thankful only that the casing had hardened to form a cast about his broken leg, the jagged edge of bone no longer free to grind as it bulged outward against the skin of his leg.

A scrabbling sound echoed along the air duct and moments later, a large bulk filled the tunnel, blocking out what little light filtered along from that end of the shaft. Baines froze as it reached towards him and cried out softly as its bony claw scraped across his tattered, and heat seared, tank top. He barely managed to muffle a cry of agony as the creature grabbed the dead woman's body and pulled it out from underneath him, claws dipping into the open abdomen to scoop out the remaining soft tissue before it ripped off an arm using its powerful jaws and sharp teeth. It 'sat' beside him, its immense size squatting down in the large duct, massive head feeding only inches from his own. A sideways tear at the dead flesh splattered remnants of blood and gore across the young lieutenant's face, the renewed sob of fear bringing the monster's attention back to its live prey. He held his breath, desperately trying to still the shudders of pain, fatigue and terror as the slavering mouth rubbed against his blood-soaked cheek but then it turned away. The sound of bones crunching filled the air as it continued on with its grisly meal but the Soldier had finally given way to the twin torments of pain and absolute terror, his mind folding in on itself for protection, drifting back to happier childhood memories....

The dimly lit duct disappeared to be replaced with golden rays filtering through the overhead foliage of greenery. He was running through the woods, dappled sunlight falling across him and his playtime companion until they burst into the open. A long stretch of wild green grass interspersed with bright clusters of white and gold... daisies and buttercups... led towards a sparkling blue pool. They ran side by side, glancing across at each other, eyes intensely green, glowing with the joy of youth, mahogany hair, streaked with golden highlights by the strong summer sunshine, flying out behind them. So alike. Feet left the ground and they sailed through the air before plummeting towards the blue water. A shock of coolness surrounding them as the water closed around their small bodies and then they surfaced, shaking water from hair and face, laughing and splashing....

He resurfaced once more into near darkness and silence but the scrabbling sound that suddenly started to echo along the duct brought fresh fear that this time it had returned for him. He closed his eyes willing himself back to that bright summer day when the air lay heavy and sweet with the scent of honeysuckle. As his mind receded once more the remainder of his consciousness flickered against the sound of human voices raised in horror... more live victims, more meat... he let go, not wanting to know if Zunoski had also been captured... and drifted back to where his brother waited for him on that last beautiful day.

This time it was a constant, steady beep that brought him back. A new smell assailed his senses, the smell of antiseptic. His eyes remained closed as his mind crept along the nerve endings of his body assessing aches and dulled pain in his leg and chest... bearable pain. Eventually he risked cracking open one eye. The dim air duct had gone and he was lying on a bed in a beige and white colored room. Flicking his eyes to the side he followed the sound of the reassuring beep and found a monitor. Green eyes flicked upwards and followed the small clear tube from the plastic sac down to his arm where it ended, taped to the back of his hand. Hospital. He was in a hospital... and he was alive.

"You're awake. Welcome back to the land of the living." The soft feminine voice floated towards him and his blurred eyesight made out the matronly figure of a woman dressed as a nurse.

"Water.." His eyes opened wider in shock at the weak croak that issued from his dry and rasping throat. Moments later a straw was placed in his mouth and he sucked greedily on the pure liquid. With a sigh he let go.

"Better?"

He nodded, eyelids drooping as fatigue overtook him. Another voice, deep and most definitely male, joined the woman's but he had neither the strength nor the inclination to fight the drowsiness that lulled his mind and body back to sleep.

"I'm sorry, Sir. He awoke for a moment but..."

"That's alright, nurse. Was he lucid?"

"Yes, he asked for water. I gave him some."

"Good. At least he's shown some healthy signs. Let me know when he wakes up again."

"Yes, Sir."

"Are you up to having visitors, Lieutenant?"

Lieutenant Baines shifted until he was seated upright against the firm pillows and glanced towards the doorway. He smiled in greeting as his team-mate stepped inside.

"Zunoski!"

The man reached his side in a few steps and embraced him with one arm, the other still bound in a sling.

"Hey, buddy."

"Easy there!" he protested as damaged ribs complained at the sudden pressure.

"I'll leave you two alone to talk." The Doctor stated as he left the room. Baines watched him go and then turned to his friend.

"They debriefed me yesterday which is probably why I'm allowed visitors today. Trouble is, no-one would tell me much of anything in return... except you and the Docs killed Summerfield." Baines looked at his friend closely. "What exactly happened after..."

He paused. Zunoski sat down on the chair by the bed and took a deep breath. Although more than two weeks had passed his memory of that creature were still crystal clear, his nights still filled with terrifying images. He slowly recounted the events following the explosion in the elevator shaft. How Shepherd had described Summerfield as a ripe poppy filled with seeds... how they had tried to trick Summerfield into going into the transit chamber.

Summerfield had seemed barely rational and had shot him before collapsing. With shock they realised the creature was right behind him, protecting him but, fortunately for them, Shepherd arrived and blew the creature to smithereens. Baines listened while Zunoski described how Shepherd had dragged Summerfield into the transit chamber using a drop-kick to force the man back onto the platform only moments before his body burst like a ripe seed-case. The alien spawn had been caught in the duo-tangent vortex and sent back to the desolate landscape in the dimension the creature had originally come from. He paused.

"Just afterwards, while the vortex communications channel was still open there was a visual - from the one they called Marshall. You know, the woman they originally brought back. She spoke directly to Dr Casserly... called her by name and asked to be brought home. It sorta confirms what you said, about it watching us. That thing was intelligent."

He stopped, looking away as guilt spread across his face.

"Once the alien contamination was considered over, the computer discontinued with the radioactive sweep sequence. Within quarter of an hour the clean-up crew arrived. I was barely conscious. I was lifted out with the others so I wasn't there when they found the bodies in the air duct... but I saw the report."

Zunoski halted, his face pleading for understanding when he revealed that they had presumed him dead so no-one had bothered to search for him.

"If I had known... I'd never have left you there, man. You do know that, don't you?"

Baines smiled and nodded. Yes. He knew that. Zunoski would never have willingly left anyone to that fate... and especially not a friend... and they were friends despite the occasional 'letting off of steam'. Too many shared experiences where each had to rely on the other to watch his back had ensured that.

"You know, most of the bodies had been half-eaten. Some were facility staff who hadn't managed to get out of the area before the doors sealed them into their laboratories... easy pickings for the creature... and McShane... it must have gone back for his body..."

He bit his lower lip.

"I'm sorry about that Doctor. She seemed a nice kid."

Baines nodded, lips pursed together in painful memory of the young woman he had flirted with only moments before her death, bile rising in his throat as he remembered his last sight of her in the air duct, her blood-matted blond hair barely hiding the open but unseeing eyes that had gazed up at him in forever muted terror.

"But what I'd like to figure out is why it killed all the rest yet it took you alive."Baines looked away. It was still hard to talk about, let alone think about, the carnage in that tunnel. Harder still to push away the terrifying sound of bones crunching and snapping in those powerful jaws just inches from his own face, however, Zunoski had given him reason to wonder at that same question. He remained silent for a moment while his mind processed all the new information. When he finally spoke his voice was soft and Zunoski had to strain to hear him.

"I have a theory, based on what you just told me. It was intelligent. I think it was keeping me alive to use as another host for its spawn just in case Summerfield was destroyed somehow."

"Sounds pretty gruesome... but plausible." Zunoski paused and smirked at the recumbent man deciding it was time to change the subject, to move away from the nauseating thought. "So, how's it feel to be a hero, Lieutenant?"

"You mean you didn't get a promotion out of this, Private?" Zunoski raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"I didn't do much more than my job. I didn't merit anything more than a Purple Heart."

Baines looked at his friend, a wry smile tugging at his lips. As far as he was concerned he could say the exact same thing but he had at least attempted to lead what remained of the team after their leader, Colonel McShane, was killed. His decision to blow himself up along with the creature must have counted for something even though it had failed - not that he was ungrateful for being alive. He could only be thankful that Dr Shepherd had been around to help mop up the mess.

Zunoski broke the silence.

"So when do you get out of here?"

"Another week, then I'm on light duties until the cast comes off." He nodded towards the encased leg that was raised in a sling. "What about you?"

"I've been transferred to Commander Henderson's unit. Seems he lost several men during some incident in Wisconsin. Heard rumors of UFOs... woooooohhh" Baines laughed politely but after what they had just experienced he couldn't dismiss anything so lightly any more.

"When do you leave?"

"Day after tomorrow... although I'll be on light duties until this shoulder is fixed." He smiled suddenly. "Say, why don't we get together once you're back on your feet... call in a little of that leave we're due. Head for the night-clubs... and get ourselves laid."Baines grinned in response.

"You've got yourself a deal."

In the two months that had passed since the incident with the Nexus Project Baines had worked hard to get himself fit both mentally and physically. He spent long hours in the gym and with the Physiotherapist rebuilding the strength in his legs; pushing himself to the verge of collapse... only stopping when his shaking muscles could no longer support the weights he was trying to lift. The exhaustion kept most of the nightmares at bay as his mind and body succumbed to fatigue but he had to admit, if only to himself, that he was still plagued by the nightmare image of that creature with its saliva-dripping jaws and fetid breath only inches from his own face.

He had tried to reason with himself that the chances of meeting up with the creature again were virtually zero and decided to tackle the problem from a different angle. To this end he had forced himself to crawl through dim, dank sewers hoping to shake off this new-found fear of dark, enclosed spaces and to a great extent he had achieved this yet, despite all his effort, the Army Psychologist had still refused to recommend his return to active duty... and he was getting bored and frustrated by the lack of action.

The message found on his answer-phone earlier that day had come as a welcome surprise... at the time. He sighed and glanced around him. Although he had been back on his feet for a few weeks it had taken until now for them to arrange a furlough at the same time and in the same city... but where was Zunoski?The club was noisy and dark, music thrummed and thumped in a steady hypnotic rhythm. It seemed as if a lifetime had passed since he had found himself in such a place yet he, Zunoski and Mancini had haunted such establishments during their time as team-mates. Mancini had nicknamed him 'the Hustler' as he always managed to find the right words or actions to ensure that he left with a willing woman on his arm. He turned his thoughts of Mancini aside before they could coalesce around those last few moments of his team-mates life. Tonight he wanted to be free from the images of death and destruction.

Baines looked over the edge of the balcony. He was on the tier above the dance floor and turned his attention to watching one of the paid dancer's gyrating inside her 'cage'. He glanced at his watch for the sixth time, his lips pursing in annoyance. They had agreed to meet here twenty minutes ago but the man was nowhere in sight. He had scanned the room several times but could barely make out anybody despite the lack of hot, sweaty bodies that would normally be filling the club beyond the legal limit. An insistent bleep came from his pocket and he pulled out the cellphone expecting it to be his errant friend. Moments later was deep in conversation.

"I wasn't ignoring you. No. Of course I saw you, I just didn't recognize you, that's all"

He smiled, Georgia Simmons was the last person he expected to hear from and he wondered how she had managed to get his cellphone number. Then something she said clicked. Obviously, Zunoski was late for a reason. Probably screwing Georgia's roommate as they spoke. Preoccupied with trying to hear and be heard above the heavy, throbbing beat of what passed for music he never saw the strange woman approach but shook off the hand that touched his in annoyance.

"S'excuse me, private conversation..."

He thought the woman had moved away until he felt the hand that dropped casually onto his as it lay on the table top. The touch of skin on skin was electric. Frissons of energy dancing along to his nerve endings, singing through his body, igniting a slow burning fire that spread outwards, obliterating all thought. The cellphone slipped from his hand dropping to the floor unnoticed. He turned slowly to face the woman. Her fingers wrapped around his own and he found himself being led out of the noisy club into the dark silent streets. With his brain barely functioning on an intelligent level he followed the woman's unspoken request and led her to his car. Some unknown time later they were in a secluded alleyway, her hands and lips intoxicating him, sliding over firm muscle and soft skin, his own hands grasping and stroking her velvet flesh. Their mouths met, open and wet, tongues battling. Hands carded through his hair, dragging his face away as her lips bit and nuzzled down his exposed throat. He felt her reach lower to unzip his jeans, her fingers releasing his throbbing erection from the restricting cloth. Moments later she was poised above him, her hands spreading her wet nether lips through the crotchless panties before sinking down onto his tumescent flesh. He gasped, green eyes closing as if to shut out everything but the tightness that engulfed him. Her mouth descended upon his once more, devouring his kiss-swollen lips before sliding across his cheek and down to nuzzle once more at his sensitive throat. He sobbed and moaned in ecstasy as he felt the beginnings of his orgasm, a warm sensation spreading outwards from his groin as her internal muscles flexed and relaxed against his straining erection...

The thumping on the car brought his spinning senses back to Earth and he groaned as the tell-tale light from a Police torch glinted through the side window. Her face turned ugly for a moment and one, almost lucid, part of his mind wondered how he could be so out of control with such a plain looking woman. She left the car, straightening the mini-skirt that barely covered her ass and walked towards the Policeman. The Cop glanced around her, flashing the light towards him.

"You too."

He closed his eyes, groaning again and reached to zip up his pants but suddenly the most incredible pain enveloped him. He gasped aloud, doubling over in agony as the stabbing pain overloaded his body. The sound of flesh hitting flesh brought his head up and he reached out, his hand rubbing over the steamed up window. His eyes widened as the 'woman' turned to face him, his mind reeling at the shock of seeing... any remaining thought was lost as the pain enveloped him completely and he slipped into blessed unconsciousness.

It was that same smell of antiseptic that brought him back and he opened his eyes to find a Detective seated in the chair by his bed. The man smiled grimly. It didn't take him long to relate what had happened. It all seemed so hazy but one thing he was not going to mention was the fact that, for one shocking moment, the woman had looked like a man. It was the last thing he needed on his service record.

"Was she a pro?"

Michael Baines paused.

"She never asked for any money, in fact, I don't remember her saying a single word."

"Would you be able to help us with a photo-fit?"

"It was pretty dark and... I can't seem to remember that much about... any of it."

Fortunately, the Detective seemed to accept what little he said without further questioning, mainly because the Cops had been handed his casually discarded cellphone by the night club. Apparently, the Barman had noticed it slipping from his fingers but couldn't catch up with him before he had disappeared with the strange woman. Georgia Simmons had still been connected, her confused voice still calling his name and the Barman had, at least, been able to pass the cellphone onto the police with an owner's name attached. The traffic cop, who had interrupted what had to have been the best sex of his life, had been knocked unconscious by the man/woman but, fortunately, had not been seriously injured. Even so, the cop couldn't identify her either.

"We believe she may have drugged you..." The Detective paused at the sound of the door opening. A nurse bustled into the room carrying a small tray.

"I'm afraid you'll have to leave now. Mr Baines needs his rest."

"Well, if you remember anything... anything at all, then give me a call." He dropped a card on the bedside table and then left without any fuss. Baines heaved a sigh of relief and pushed a strand of sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead.

Three hours passed in silent monotony. The TV held no interest and he had had enough of hospitals to last a lifetime yet every attempt to rise brought fresh pain searing through his nerve endings. He closed his eyes, tried to raise his right hand to brush the damp strands of hair off his forehead before remembering the tube tapped into the back of his hand... again.

"Becoming a permanent fixture."

A gentle knock drew his attention and he watched as two more strangers entered his hospital room. The woman was small and delicate looking, her red hair framing her pretty face, blue eyes fixed on his with the same scrutiny he received from the Doctor who had treated him. The man had the most incredible puppy-dog face... soft, full bottom lip pouting sensuously, hazel eyes alight with an inner, expectant glow, his short brown hair tumbling over a tall forehead. It was the face of obsession... of someone who cared about something deeply, maybe even cared about him.

"Lieutenant Michael Baines?"

Baines nodded his head, a thin crease across the bridge of his nose appeared as he eyed the new arrivals.

"FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder... and my partner, Agent Dana Scully."

The frown deepened as he wondered what the FBI could have to do with this... unless he wasn't the first victim... He had heard of a new drug, Rohypnol? Something like that... they called it the 'Date Rape' drug and he wondered anew whether he had been drugged as the Detective suggested. It would explain a lot.

Baines answered their questions the same way he had answered those of the Police Detective, thankful they believed him when he told them he had only vague memories of the time after she had touched his hand. After all, it was the truth... he, honestly, couldn't remember leaving the club, walking to his car and driving to that alleyway.

The FBI Agent, Mulder, frowned in frustration. Obviously the man had been expecting something more. His gut feeling told him that this 'woman' was someone they were searching for and he realised that holding back on this one vital piece of information would seriously hamper their investigation but there was no way that a Lieutenant in the United States Army was going to admit that he had been with a man, at least, not on the record. FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder took another step closer and Baines found his hands curling around the nurse call device. If this started to turn ugly then he was more than willing to call for assistance.

"From the top, Lieutenant. How would you describe her?"

Baines responded, cheekily, feeling his sense of humor rise when he realised the Agent was not trying to be aggressive.

"On a scale of 1 to 10; she was a kind 3. But there was something about her."

The question the female agent posed brought him up short. No-one had asked him about the woman's touch... the Police had assumed he had been drugged but he had not got around to ordering a drink. Could he have been drugged by his/her touch? He found his mind fading away into the shadows of the past as he tried to answer but the sharpness in Agent Mulder's voice brought him back.

"What do you remember?"

Who the hell do you...? "Nothing actually...."

The tone changed. That monotone softening into something altogether more persuasive as Baines heard his given name fall from those soft lips. The impersonal interview with 'Lieutenant Baines' seemed to have come to an end.

"Try to remember, Michael..."

Baines frowned. To be truthful, he desperately needed to tell someone what he saw when the 'woman' turned around after flooring the Policeman but could he trust this man and his partner?"...Something you wouldn't feel comfortable telling the Police on the record."

"But this is off the record?"

"Absolutely."

"What did you see, Michael?"

The woman's soft voice drifted across the room and he made a decision he hoped he wouldn't live to regret.

"After she left the car... and she was fighting with the cop... I saw her in her clothes and she looked like..." He chuckled to himself nervously. "...She looked like a man."

The two agents exchanged a glance which Baines could only interpret as disbelief.

"She was a man."

It was a flat statement and Baines felt, momentarily, like arguing with Agent Scully. He knew the difference between men and women. After all, he'd had both. He sighed softly to himself. It really wasn't worth the effort involved... and he felt so tired.

"Hustling in the club scene used to be so simple..."

He missed the next look that passed between the two FBI Agents; one resigned, the other almost triumphant, but he had more important concerns. Baines hoped he hadn't misjudged the pair and turned his head to face the man once more, his expression almost pleading.

"...that's off the record."

The warmth in the hazel eyes gave him some reassurance.

"Scout's honor."

After the FBI Agents had left, Baines closed his eyes. Outside he could hear the muted voices of the two FBI agents; the man's was earnest, the woman's skeptical... but who could blame her. If he hadn't been there then he might have had trouble believing this story himself.

"...I think Don Juan in there knows the difference between the male and the female of the species..."

Baines gave a wry grin as, gradually, the argument faded into the distance and he was left alone with his thoughts. He pondered at the real problem... not just the male/female issue but also how this... 'creature' for want of a better word, had captivated him so totally. Baines frowned, the bridge of his nose creasing anew in consternation. He discarded the idea that 'she' had been a transsexual or a transvestite. 'She' had seemed so female even though she was nearly as tall as himself... her soft feminine features, her curvaceous body that his hands had mapped so greedily. He could still feel her tight, wet warmth enveloping as she sank down upon him yet, during that startling moment after the attack there had been no doubt that both face and body had altered physically to a male configuration. The hair could have been a wig but the loss of shape in the long legs and body, the sharper angles on the face told a different story. If it had not happened so fast he would have believed there had been two people present wearing a similar set of clothes.

Yes, he knew the difference between the sexes... and he knew what he had seen.

The man drew further back into the shadows as the two agents walked within a few feet of him but they were too preoccupied with their argument to notice the familiar figure. The older man took one last drag from the cigarette held casually in his hand and dropped the butt into a nearby pot plant. Fortunately, there had been no staff around to remonstrate with him... not that he would have given a damn but he would prefer to avoid a scene. He smiled grimly. In his chosen life the nicotine haze brought some welcome relief, steeling his nerves for the ordeals both in the past and for those in the future. Fervently he hoped his son would never find the need to start this filthy habit despite the increasing pressure that would be brought to bear over the next few years.

It had not been hard to recognize Special Agent Fox William Mulder... after all, he had known the boy all of his life... and knowing the interest Fox Mulder paid to the strange and paranormal, he knew he shouldn't be surprised to find the boy interviewing the man he had come to see. Ever patient, he waited a little longer until he was certain the two FBI Agents had left the floor, and then proceeded to the room.

Another knock brought Michael Baines back to the present and he watched as an older man entered. The man smiled pleasantly.

"Lieutenant Baines. I've been reading your personal and Service history. Both are most impressive. The son of Russian immigrants, fluent in English, French and, of course, Russian. A highly trained Special Forces Officer specializing in Computers, yet more than merely proficient with a variety of hand-held and automatic weapons... and explosives. And it seems you have a way of attracting extra-terrestrials."

He paused, dramatically, taking in the stunned expression on the tired face.

"I have a proposition for you that could make a difference in the fight for the future of the Human Race."

Michael Baines pursed his lips, his green eyes blazing in indignation and confusion.

"Who the hell are you?"

"Forgive me. My name is William Mulder."

END