Three weeks after his and Fox Mulder's trip to the cape and William, Liam, Mulder Sr.'s death, Walter Skinner sat uncomfortably in a meeting with his direct superior, several individuals from Justice and a couple of others that he didn't know. More of the damn shadow government, he thought to himself. Cancerman, of course, was present.
He was in trouble and he knew it. Jones, aka Cancerman, had finally made his move. They were trying to remove the X-files from his direct supervision.
"Assistant Director Skinner, now that you are related to Fox Mulder by marriage we are concerned that you cannot objectively supervise his cases. His behavior has been most erratic in the last few years and perhaps someone not as..." here the man paused not for effect but to insinuate more, "Involved could better supervise him and the X-file investigations."
This guy is too slimy for words, Skinner thought. He knew the people from justice but the others hadn't been introduced. Half an hour with these men made Walter feel in need of a shower. This was worse than any meeting he'd had with congress. At least with them you knew what they were after. He rubbed the back of his neck trying to release some of the tension.
"Walter," his boss spoke. "It's just that appearances are important."
"Agent Mulder and myself are related only by marriage, there are several more closer relationships in the Bureau than ours. Bradford is ASAC of the department that both his son and daughter work in."
"His daughter is a secretary, not a field agent..."
"No but his son is a field agent."
"Their speciality dictates that arrangement..."
"Nevertheless, it exists and is much closer than Agent Mulder's relationship to me. We simply married two women in the same family."
Now it was Cancerman's turn to press the point. "Are you saying that there are no feelings between yourself and Agent Mulder?"
Skinner didn't like this. Jones obviously knew too much. Damn. "I respect Mulder and his work, and am concerned about him in the same way that I am concerned about any other agent under my supervision."
"Would you care to explain why you named your son after him then?"
Had to figure this would come up. He turned to Cancerman and replied. "My wife is very fond of her son-in-law and liked the name. Her mother, who died last year, was also fond of Agent Mulder and I believe she wanted to honor her, as well."
That wasn't quite a lie. Margaret loved Fox very much but after wrestling over a boy's name for several days he was the one who had suggested Fox as a middle name. The girl's name they had picked out had been easy, Mary Margaret, but Walter didn't want his son to be a junior. He remembered how much his brother had hated it, so he suggested Fox. He knew that Meg would go for it and although he didn't admit it to himself at the time, he'd wanted to make a statement to Mulder. Trouble was it made a statement to others as well.
Cancerman was subtle but ruthless, "So your wife decided to name the boy Walter Fox?"
"That's correct." He hated denying his feelings but the full truth in this instance would get the X-files removed from his supervision.
"And what did Agent Mulder name his son?"
Walter figured he had the SOB here because he had talked Mulder and Scully into not naming the baby Walter. Jones didn't have to know that his nickname was Wally Wolf. "His son was named Patrick Steven Wolf. After a great uncle, I believe."
"Isn't Steven your middle name?"
"Yes." His answer was short and sharp. How the hell did he know that?
"So he named his son after you. I'd say that indicates a rather close relationship, wouldn't you?"
"I have no idea why he named his son Steven, I doubt that it had anything to do with me however," Lying through your teeth, Walter. "Since I've used only my middle initial for the last twentyfive years, my middle name is not common knowledge.
"You don't think that's stretching coincidence a bit, Assistant Director."
Walter had had it. The SOB was not going to use innuendo to take the X-files away from him. Far too much was at stake. "Look, as far as I know Mulder named his kid Steven because his favorite film maker is Steven Spielberg. He never asked me my middle name nor has he ever said anything about having named Patrick after me. The only person he has ever mentioned naming his son after was his great uncle, who, for all I know, could have been named Steven as well. My relationship with Agent Mulder is professional and has always been professional." Hope to god that Cancerman didn't have any spies at the hospital, or the Vineyard, for that matter. Purely professional... yeah right. "If you want to accuse me of unprofessional conduct in relation to Mulder then I suggest that you produce the evidence or cite the incident. Otherwise shut the f**k up." Damn, control yourself, Walter.
Walter's boss thought it prudent to intervene. "No one is accusing you of anything, Walt. Calm down." He wasn't fond of Jones either but they had to listen to him, he had powerful allies. "We're just wondering about why you are so adamant about keeping direct control of the X-files. VC could handle it."
"The X-files never received the recognition or independence they deserved under VC. Also, if you'll check Mulder's record you'll find that there has been far less disciplinary problems since I took over direct supervision."
"That's only because you don't reign him in." Cancerman blew out smoke as he spoke.
"You mean I don't interfere with his investigations for political purposes. Don't you? Nor do I try to cover up covert operations within our own government. I only give Agent Mulder the respect due an agent of his experience and with his solve rate."
"You allow Mulder to pursue his own personal crusade into this ridiculous search for proof of EBE's."
"EBE's interesting term. Most people simply call them ETs or UFOs." Skinner was emphasizing the fact that Cancerman appeared to be more informed than most. "Mulder follows up leads. One such lead led to the termination of a project where teenagers in Wisconsin were being injected with unknown chemicals."
"That was never proven."
"No it seems that the doctor responsible died. It was, however, proven from blood tests that strange chemicals were found in the blood of these teenagers. What was never proven was who was behind it."
"The doctor had thousands in cash on him when his plane went down, he didn't pull that out of a hat, or alien spacecraft for that matter. Somebody, with extensive resources was funding him."
Cancerman didn't like the direction this was taking. He went again on the attack. "We're talking supposition here. The bottom line is that because of your relationship to Mulder he doesn't respect your authority. He does what he damned well pleases. The X-files should be supervised by VC. Your resistance to this merely serves to illustrate your unreasonableness in this area."
"My resistance to this stems from the fact that the X-files and Mulder are special and need special handling."
"So you admit that you treat him differently. My point gentlemen."
"You're damned right I treat him differently." Jones smiled thinking that he'd gotten the AD to lose his control and that as a result he'd won the battle.
Skinner pulled out his ace. "None other of my departments or agents has had a spy assigned as a partner to them. One, who I might add, has been tied to the deaths of several individuals, not to mention the man involved in my own shooting. None other of my agents has had backup mysteriously pulled, almost costing him and his partner their lives. So your damned right I treat the X-files differently. When it stops looking like someone in the government is out to kill one of my agents then I'll relax."
Skinner was up in the smoking man's face now, knowing that he'd just played his last card. He hoped it worked.
The men around the table recognized the implied threat. The Executive Branch was still furious about what had gone on in Arizona, and even more than that, at their inability to get any further information about the unknown forces at work in the government. If Skinner decided to press the issue in the executive branch it would stir the whole trouble up all over again.
The AD's boss thought it best to intervene. "We realize that the X-files have some rather special needs. It's just felt that Agent Mulder would be more inclined to obey someone else's orders."
Walter fought to maintain his control too much was riding on this. "Gentlemen if you care to give me an instance where you feel Mulder ignored my authority because we were related then by all means do so."
Mr. Slime, as Skinner had christened him, spoke. "Perhaps we should have a test case." Again a pause. The AD didn't like the direction this was headed but held his piece. "There is a possible X-file case at a university and government sponsored research center on the outskirts of Boston, The Binford Research Center in Applied Gravitational Physics. Several researchers have been behaving strangely. Almost like they were extremely drunk or drugged. Yet blood tests have all come back negative. Agent Mulder has been requested for his special expertise. I believe the file came across your desk this morning, Assistant Director." At Skinner's nod of yes he continued. "You refuse his request. Simple as that. It's not a serious case. No one's been seriously hurt and only minor property damage. The only reason the FBI was called in was because it involves a restricted government research facility. If he obeys your orders without protest and doesn't pursue the case on his own, then he passes the test, but if he ignores your orders in any way then the X-files are moved to VC."
"Mulder never takes orders he doesn't like without protest." Were the first words out of Skinner's mouth.
Before he could go any further he found support from an unexpected source. One of the men from Justice, Mark Rodgers was the name, if he remembered correctly, laughed and piped up. "He's got you there. Spooky Mulder drove Blevins crazy bitching at him when he got turned down about anything. Went behind his back a lot of times, too, or just didn't bother to ask."
Slime nodded and continued, "Alright, Agent Mulder may protest a normal amount but that's all. No secret investigations, no running off to pursue the case on his own or Bureau time. If he does then the X-files are transferred. And you, AD Skinner, are not to in any way, shape or form to let Agent Mulder know what is going on or why his request to be assigned to the case has been refused. You simply give him the orders. The question is how can we be assured that you won't clue him in. Maybe by telling your wife, who could tell her daughter..."
Skinner didn't like it... he didn't like it at all but he couldn't see any way out. "I'll give you my word that I will not inform him or anyone else about this test until it's over."
Slime wasn't satisfied. "Excuse me Mr. Skinner but do you really..."
This time it was Cancerman's turn to interrupt, shocking Walter Skinner totally. "If the AD gives you his word, that will suffice. He is a man of honor." The look of stunned shock on Skinner's face was worth every bit of it. The smoking man fought hard not to laugh. Of course he also realized that if Agent Mulder saw anyone else in the room when Skinner turned down his request that he would suspect a rat. No, it was much better if he didn't suspect who was behind the AD's refusal. Walter Skinner was a man of his word and would not break it once given. He'd gotten him backed into a corner. There was no way Fox Mulder would put up with an arbitrary refusal, especially if Skinner wouldn't give him any explanation. Comes with being too familiar with your agents... they no longer obey without question.
Driving back from the meeting Walter Skinner felt exhausted. He rubbed the back of his neck. He really hated this. He'd read over the case and had planned on giving Mulder the okay that afternoon. Profiling was beginning to put a strain on Mulder and this case looked harmless but with enough of a challenge to relieve some of the tension he was under. Scully still had a few weeks to go on maternity leave and the AD was reluctant to allow Mulder to investigate anything too dangerous. This case had been perfect. Not too serious plus the fact that the team of agents who had requested his help had worked with Mulder before and had helped to save his life. It was, therefore, doubtful that they had a hidden agenda or were part of a set up to get him killed. Mulder wouldn't have to worry about watching his back.
Now he had to turn him down cold and on top of that he'd have to keep Fox at a distance. They'd be watching him closely and his son-in-law would be pumping him as to why he turned down the case. Skinner knew that the more he refused the more likely that Mulder was to suspect that something was up and the more likely he was to start digging. He'd given his word not to clue Mulder in but it would be hard. He could keep his mouth shut, no problem, but Fox knew him too well. He'd be able to figure out some of it if they were together too much.
Shit... shit... shit. This was going to wreck havoc with his home life for a few weeks. Margaret would know there was a problem and though she'd try to be understanding she'd still feel left out. And she, Dana and Fox would know something was up when he started avoiding family gatherings. Going would just be too risky. Some of the men around that table wouldn't believe that he wouldn't tip Mulder off, especially if they were seen together outside of work too often. This test would have to be final and definitive. Walter sure as hell didn't want to have to go through one every few months.
The worst part of all this was that he was worried how Fox was going to take his sudden efforts to distance himself from him. He'd have to take it as rejection. Hell, that's exactly what it was. At the stop light Walter bent his head down and rubbed the back of his neck hard. God it was starting to ache. He slammed his fist against the steering wheel. He didn't want to hurt Fox. His son had already been through too much hurt and rejection by people he cared for and trusted. And now Walter was going to add to that. Just when they had finally started to accept the fact that they were family. Now Walter almost wished that he hadn't gone to New England with Fox when he went to face his grandfather. The boy had opened himself up, told him things he'd never shared with another living soul and as a result this was likely to hurt all the more, to seem like a more personal rejection of him, of the inner man he had revealed to Walter. Skinner felt a knot in his stomach, It's going to be a Malox week.
Yet Walter knew that he had to do it. Had to distance himself from Mulder until this test was over. Too much was riding on it if they failed the test. He only hoped their relationship was up to it. If the X-files were moved back to VC it was only a matter of time before they were closed down or Mulder was injured or killed. They'd tried it several times before and even with Skinner standing in the breech had almost succeeded on more than one occasion. Agent Schmidt and the Arizona case was just the most recent attempt. There had also been Davis who had sexually harassed him, trying to push him out and before that... Well there were just too many instances and Walter was convinced that without his direct supervision they'd at the very least drive Mulder out of the Bureau.
Maybe that would be better. Fox had inherited enough money to pursue his investigations on his own... But damn it the Bureau needed Fox Mulder. Even Bill Patterson during his slow decent into madness had known that the only man who could help stop him was Mulder. After the first copycat murder he had come quietly to Walter and requested Mulder's help. Skinner had been shocked. Patterson had adopted the young agent and mentored him through his first several years at the Bureau, but when Mulder found that he could no longer handle the daily decent into the minds of serial killers and had requested out, Patterson had been livid. He'd bad mouthed Mulder to everyone he could and his verbal attacks of the agent had been vicious. Lessor agents had transferred out of DC and even left the Bureau under such a barrage but Mulder had hung on and stuck with the X-files. Walter had been impressed. The kid had staying power, he would give him that.
So, after all of this, when Patterson had come and requested Mulder's help... the AD hadn't known what to do. He'd approved the request but had been worried about Fox the whole time. He was afraid that Patterson was trying to get some sort of revenge on the agent. When Mulder realized that Patterson was the one who had gone mad and had caught him, Walter came to understand that his request of Mulder had been a cry for help in the only way he knew how. Patterson had requested the one person who he viewed as a match for himself. It wasn't widely known around the Bureau but Mulder had conferred with the doctors about Patterson's treatment and significant progress had been made. He would never be able to return to work but he might someday be able to live close to a normal life. And if he did, it would be due in large part to Mulder. The FBI needed Fox Mulder's mind and his compassion.
Assistant Director Walter Skinner could only hope that the trust they had build up over the last couple of years would see them through this test. That for once in his life Fox Mulder would trust someone enough to follow orders blindly and without too many questions.
"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder, but I cannot approve your request to investigate this case. There is not sufficient evidence that an X-file is warranted." AD Skinner fought to maintain an impassive expression. They had been going at this for twenty minutes. He could tell that Mulder was puzzled and could sense his withdrawal but he knew he couldn't risk opening up even the least little bit.
Damn it what's gotten in to Skinner? Even that prick Blevins had better reasons than those. Fox Mulder was trying to find out what was wrong with his boss. The AD looked beat, wasn't being reasonable and was shutting him out totally. It hurt. He thought that they were far beyond this. I thought we trusted each other. He watched Walter reach up and rub the back of his neck. That was the forth, no fifth time since we started. He knew his father-in-law and he only reacted like that when he was under enormous stress. What is going on with him and why won't he let me help? He was about to ask what was wrong when he looked up into Skinner's face and saw his eyebrow twitch a look of sadness briefly cross his face.
Fox Mulder knew he had grown up a lot in the last year but he hadn't realized how much until that moment. He decided that his boss would have told him if he could and that he was just going to trust him and not argue anymore with his refusal. "Very well, Sir." At the way his boss' head snapped up in shock, Mulder smiled. Nice to know I can still surprise him. "I'll inform you of any new developments."
"Thank you, Agent Mulder. That will be all."
As Mulder left Walter hoped that he was going to follow orders and not try to go behind his back. He knew without a doubt, that if it had been Blevins Fox would be planning his strategy on how to circumvent the Section Chief. But the brief smile that flashed across Fox's face seemed to indicate that he was going to act on trust and obey orders. Walter Skinner hoped so.
Cancerman who had been listening to the exchange had observed the same actions on Mulder's part but arrived at different conclusions. He figured that Mulder would think that he could get away with going behind the AD's back and that that was exactly what he was planning. Skinner doesn't have the balls to smack Mulder down so you can bet that Mulder will take advantage of that fact. His plan was working very well. One way or another he'd force Mulder out of the Bureau. Hell, he'd be doing the kid a favor. Without Bureau resources behind him he would be much less of a threat and they'd probably be able to ignore him and leave him alone. He took a long draw on his cigarette feeling very pleased with himself.
The phone rang in the X-file office a few hours later. "Mulder."
"Hey, Mulder. What's up with you? You promised that you'd request to help out on this case. I've just been informed that our request for your assistance has been denied." Dwayne Bothrington's voice asked.
"Skinner turned down my request. I have no idea why."
"Can't you get him to change his mind? Hey, man, I thought you had some pull with him."
Mulder sighed to himself, So did I. "I tried, Both. We went round and round with this for half an hour this morning. He says there isn't enough evidence to warrant opening an X-file and assigning me."
"Damn it, we're way out of our depth here. Hell, even Smithson wants you. Shit you know how hard that was for him to admit."
"Yeah, well I don't know what's going on either but I've been turned down flat. Look I can't come up there but there isn't anything in the rules that says I can't give you help over the phone. Maybe if we get together enough evidence Skinner will change his mind."
"You going to tell him about this, Mulder?"
Fox was surprised by the question and by his answer to it. "Of course I'm going to tell him. Hell, I'll probably write up each of our conversations." He suddenly realized that two years ago he would have gone behind a supervisor's back without a second thought if he believed he was right but he found that he didn't even consider it an option with Skinner.
He'd worked with Bothrington on a child killer case at the Vineyard the year before and had been impressed with his abilities. Hopefully he would be able to provide enough detail that they could convince Skinner to assign him or the agents handling the case could solve it. He leaned back in his chair, propping his feet on the desk and said. "Okay, the file was a bit sketchy so start at the beginning and give me all the details you can remember. Don't try to filter anything out, I need it all. Let me judge later what's important."
Both began. "It started about a month ago. The researchers had begun a new phase of the project about a month before that."
"What is the project."
"Hell, Mulder, why did I know you were going to ask that."
"They won't tell you?"
"Oh, they'll tell you alright. In great and glorious detail. They've been making wonderful strides and are very proud of their work. Trouble is I can barely make heads or tails of what they are talking about." Mulder smiled to himself, he knew that feeling.
"So give me a snapshot of what you do understand."
"First and foremost there aren't any chemicals involved. Our first thought was that they were being contaminated by a leak of some kind. It's got something to do with electrons and protons and all that physics stuff. They are trying to do something with gravity-- create it or simulate it or... hell, Mulder, beats me. Anyway the idea is that they are trying to simulate what happens when a star collapses to form a nova. I got that much at least. The theoretical stuff they've been working on for about four or five years and now they are actually testing it. Apparently the tests are going real well and they've been able to simulate on a very small scale what they wanted to. So naturally they are ecstatic.
"Well everything was fine for the first month or so. Results were great and they were so happy that they began pushing up the schedule. Damn, from what I can tell they were all so excited by how well it was going that most of them practically moved into the facility. Then one of the researches went nuts. He'd been observing the results of a late night test and when they came in the next morning he had stripped off all of his clothes and was quoting Shakespeare at them. 'Bout gave himself pneumonia because the heat in the building overnight was down about sixty two degrees. Still he kept complaining for the next couple of days that he was hot and they couldn't get him to keep his clothes on. And the one time they did manage to get him to keep his clothes on they found he had disappeared. Fifteen minutes later he was found in one of the rooms on the psych floor taking an ice cold shower with his clothes on. He ended up with a bad case of bronchitis.
"Anyway after about forty eight hours he just woke up and was back to normal. Except of course for being really sick from exposure. He had to stay in the hospital for another week to get rid of the infection."
"Don't tell me... let me guess. He couldn't remember anything that happened."
"Nope, he remembered everything and was very embarrassed. Couldn't explain what had come over him. So they chalked it up to stress and gave him a months vacation. And thought that that was it.
"Except about a week later another couple of researchers did something similar. This occurred about three in the afternoon so that the others watched as it hit them slowly. Six of the staff were involved in conducting another test when two of their group started complaining that they were hot. They kept that up for fifteen or twenty minutes then they began to act a little weird. Couldn't seem to concentrate at first, then kept removing parts of their clothes. Their companions had a hard time stopping them. One of the guys..." Mulder heard a certain amount of amusement in Both's voice as he continued... "Took off running down the corridors when they tried to stop him from undressing. He's short and chubby and about fifty five, looks a bit like Santa Clause without the beard. Anyway, he stripped as he ran. Clothes flew everywhere and several secretaries were offended. Seems he decided to dart into their area after he had removed all of his attire except his socks. Started grabbing them and kissing them, both males and females. Took five men to finally get him secured. I won't repeat any of their comments because Dr. Paulsen, that's the scientist, kept kissing and grabbing certain private parts until they had him down. Actually that's why it took so many men. They'd start to get him pinned and then he'd grab one of them in the nuts and they'd back off. That gave Paulsen a chance to go after another set of balls, and of course that guy would back off and then he'd get loose and go after one of the women in the area. From the description I'd love to have a video tape, it sounded like something out of a Marx brother's movie. After they finally got him pinned he just kept making lewd comments. If you want I'll fax you a copy of the comments but I'm not about to repeat them on the phone." The amusement was no longer hidden. Both was laughing as he finished. "These scientists are all a bunch of prudes and according to them Paulsen was the most uptight one of the lot. Some of them were astonished that he even knew about some of the things he mentioned."
"In the mean time most of them had forgotten about the other guy that had been complaining. Well when they got back to the lab and noticed he hadn't followed, they looked for him. He was found curled up in a ball in a closet crying. Seems his wife had died a couple of months earlier and all he would mention when asked why he was crying was her. He cried off and on for the next couple of days. Paulsen spent the next couple of days propositioning anyone who came within earshot.
"Two days later they were back to normal. Dr. Paulsen resigned his position and left quickly. He was very upset by what he had done. The other guy is on extended leave."
"I assume they ran medical tests on these guys?" Mulder asked.
"Every test in the book and then some. Everything came back negative. No drugs or alcohol in their systems. Slightly elevated Adrenalin and insulin levels but nothing very out of the ordinary. After that incident they called us in. They were afraid that someone was trying to sabotage their project but so far if that's the case we can't figure out who's doing it and what is being used.
"Since then there have been two other incidences both similar in nature. The individual starts feeling hot and then starts behaving in a strange manner."
"Has it all been men and do they all work on the project?"
"No and no. There was one woman. She was the secretary for the projects director Dr. Tim Wilson and although she worked in the same building she never went into the lab where the research was being conducted. We've tested food, water and air in the building but nothing unusual has been found. So any ideas?"
"Fax me your notes and more detailed reports and I'll think about it tonight and get back to you in the morning. On second thought you'd better call me, around nine tomorrow."
Fox Mulder sat and thought about the case for a long time he then sat down and wrote out a report for Skinner on what he had learned during the conversation, why it was important for him to visit first hand and what his theory was of possible causes. He dropped it off at the AD's office as he headed home after work. Skinner was still in his office, but Fox left it with Angela to give to him. He didn't quite feel like facing Walter just then. Fox was still feeling the pain of his boss' rejection.