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And Death Shall Have No Dominion

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They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

"And Death Shall Have No Dominion"
-- Dylan Thomas

FBI Headquarters
Monday, Dec. 21
8:11 a.m.

It was December, less than a week until Christmas. The weather was lousy: slushy, muddy snow everywhere, gray and cold. Scully hadn't finished her shopping. She could have been forgiven for thinking about any of those things.

But she wasn't thinking about anything so mundane. She was thinking about her life, her career, who she was and where she was going. Once, she was a doctor, a respected instructor in forensic science. Even her assignment to the X Files was a sort of recognition of her intelligence and rationality. Difficult and terrifying as the work was, it was a challenge, calling on her for the very best she could offer.

 Now, she did grunt work in the bullpen, upstairs, as though she were a newbie fresh out of Quantico. A definite downgrade, and one that weighed on her mind more than she’d ever let Mulder know.

 She remembered hers and Mulder’s last case in Podunk, Arkansas, not as pursuers of the unexplained but as pursuers of security clearance for an officer up for promotion to brigadier general in the Arkansas National Guard.

Okay, so it wasn't called Podunk, she thought. What the hell was it called? The towns ran together in her mind. Small, superstition-ridden, gloomy, under-educated, depressing – that was all most of them were. And all populated with the crummy hotels that were all they could afford on the Bureau's measly travel allowances. Useless towns, suspicious of the FBI and any other stranger to their village.

Mulder was the only Rhodes scholar most of those towns would ever see.   At any rate, she was looking forward to a Christmas break, to being in her mother’s home with her family, a Christmas dinner, Midnight Mass with carols and candles. She dreamed of times like these when she was tossing around, trying to sleep in yet another musty motel room, and trying to create images in her mind from the water stains on the ceiling. Just one more day, and her brief Christmas break could begin.

But there was today to get through first.

Mulder, as usual, was already at work when Scully came in, leaning back in his chair with his feet propped on his desk.

No wonder he's early; he was probably here yesterday, and I don't believe he went home last night, either, Scully thought. He was wearing the same blue shirt and god-awful maroon-and-green tie he'd worn the day before, but the shirt was wrinkled, the tie was loosely knotted around his neck and the eyes behind the wire-rimmed reading glasses were red and tired.

"Hey, Scully, take a look at this," he said, greeting her as usual without preamble. "We may have a real, honest-to-God FBI case."

"Good morning to you, too, Mulder," Scully said, taking off her coat and hanging it carefully on a coat hook. "What have you got?"

Tossing a file folder onto Scully's desk, Mulder sat forward. "A factory outside Mobile, Alabama. Lots of mysterious shipments in and out, lots of men in black hanging around, scaring the workers. A source who says what's being grown down there could be a biological weapon, and that we ought to pay Mobile a visit -- I hear the winters are mild and wonderful down on the Gulf Coast."

"Who's the source?" Scully asked, sitting down and picking up the folder.

"One that I think we can trust," Mulder said, his tone daring her to argue.

Scully wasn't in the mood for that game. "You always trust your sources," she said calmly, ignoring Mulder's wounded-puppy expression. "That's why they're still your sources. That doesn't suggest to me that they should automatically become mine as well."

Opening the folder, she scanned quickly over the file, down to the bottom line on the 302: Originating agent: SA Mulder. 

Haven't seen that for a while, she thought.

Closing the folder, Scully looked up at Mulder. "Assuming your source is to be trusted -- and right now, it's only an assumption -- why would they send us? And why Mobile? I've been to Mobile, years ago, when my father was on TAD at NAS Pensacola."

"What's a TAD?" Mulder asked. 

"Temporary additional duty, Mulder," she said, rolling her eyes. "And don't change the subject. Mobile is not a big town. What possible reason could they have for locating a highly secret factory there? Why not somewhere bigger, where they could go unnoticed?"

"That's just it," Mulder said, the wounded look gone. Scully wouldn't have asked for all those details unless she was in, and she was in on this one -- he could tell. "When you look at all the facts, Mobile is perfect," Mulder went on, warming to his subject. "Think about it, Scully: It's not actually a town, it's a city, about a quarter million residents, so it's big enough to get lost in but not big enough to be obvious. And as you yourself noted, it's not the first place you'd suspect."

"I think what I was implying was that it was the last place you'd suspect," Scully replied. "I.e., that you're off base."

 "But it's got advantages," Mulder answered, undaunted. "It's a fair-sized commercial seaport and it's also on the infamous I-10 drug pipeline. Add to that the fact that the smokestack-chasing city fathers have filled the surrounding area with big, smelly chemical plants, and you've got Black Ops Pharmaceuticals, hidden in plain sight."

"Mulder, be careful," Scully said, dryly. "You're giving me facts and logic, and I'm not sure your brain can take it."

Mulder smiled, acknowledging both the joke and the truth behind it, but Scully could sense the tension building inside him.

 He's chomping at the bit, Scully thought. Why? Who was his source? X was dead; so was Deep Throat. Marita Covarrubias from the United Nations? Could be. His old girlfriend, Special Agent Diana Fowley? It had better not be.  The real reason, she thought, is that he thinks somewhere down in all this, there is an X File. Mulder hadn't reconciled himself to being taken off the X Files, and she was morally certain he never would.

In the end, it didn't matter who the source was or whether Mulder was trying to sneak in an investigation of paranormal phenomena under the guise of fighting domestic terrorism. She could never really trust any of Mulder's informants, anyway, but she could trust the bond between herself and her partner.

Let go of the suspicions, she ordered herself in her father's voice, focusing her eyes on the file again. Think about the problem at hand, which is another trip to Nowhere, and the probabilities of being killed because we found something real versus the chance of being misled by another carefully constructed lie.

Either way she calculated the probabilities, they came out the same way: You lose.

 When she looked up, Mulder was regarding her with what she always thought of as his profiler's expression. He always knew when something was wrong, although just how he knew was still a complete mystery to her.

"You don't have to go along on this one if you don't feel it's right, Scully," he said, and the seriousness she heard in his voice reassured  her. "But I could really use your expertise on this. This is a disease-causing organism, and diseases are your field, not mine."

"Thank you, but medicine has less to do with it than Christmas, which is coming soon and for which I am not ready," Scully replied, not entirely truthfully. "My Christmas vacation begins tomorrow. Or had you forgotten?"

 "I believe I did see a Christmas decoration or two around the District," Mulder said. "But you know I don't pay much attention to holidays, not even my own. I couldn't begin to tell you when the first night of Hanukah  is this year."

 "Well, I do pay attention to holidays, Mulder, and especially to Christmas. My brothers are coming home, and I'm supposed to be off. I want to spend some time with Mom and I also need to finish my shopping."

 "Go, then, if you need to go," Mulder responded, his face carefully neutral.

 She knew the last thing he wanted was to get into a discussion about her family. Bill especially blamed Mulder for most of his family's troubles over the past few years. Her abduction, her cancer, her infertility, the death of her sister, Melissa --none of these would have happened had Dana Scully not joined the X Files.

 Scully sighed. I am going to regret this, she thought.

 "If you need my help...," she began.

 “Need you ask?” Mulder responded.

 Scully stood, picking up her coffee cup. "So when do we leave?" she asked.

A hint of triumph crept into Mulder's broad smile as he put his feet on the floor and stood. "Soon as you finish your coffee. Of which, by the way, there is none. You'll have to make it."

 Scully set the cup back down. "I'll get some at the airport," she said, sighing.

 "You're going to drink airport coffee? You really have lost the will to live," Mulder said, lifting her coat from the rack and holding it for her.

Scully slipped into the coat and turned to face him. "What I have lost is any hope that I will ever again spend more than one night in my own bed before leaving again."

"Where's your sense of adventure, Scully?" Mulder teased, as he took his service weapon from the desk and holstered it, then shrugged on his suit coat.

What sense of adventure, Mulder? Are you referring to the number of times one or the other of us has nearly been killed? Abducted? Poisoned? Betrayed? She felt annoyance rising, but pushed aside. She willed her face to show nothing as she picked up her briefcase and walked to the door. Mulder held it open, guiding her through with his usual brief touch on the small of her back.

~~~~~

En route to Mobile, Ala.
1:15 p.m.

Flying into Mobile was every bit as bad as Scully thought it would be.

The first leg of the trip, from Washington to Atlanta, wasn't bad; at least, not by the standards of the everyday business traveler. 

Scully was not an everyday traveler. Scully hated flying. Being seated next to 6-foot-tall Mulder made it just that much worse. He had no trouble at all getting comfortable on a plane: he either plopped his long legs in her space, or he took up the armrest between them. Either way, he quickly nodded off, leaving her to deal with a chancy stomach and white knuckles on her own.

 Scully never harbored darker thoughts about her partner than she did onboard an airplane.

The second leg, flying from Atlanta to Mobile on a tiny, cramped, noisy commuter plane, was infinitely worse. By the end of the 50-minute flight, Scully's too-upright posture was beginning to tell on her. Walking off this airplane was going to be an effort; her legs were asleep, and the butt of her gun was digging painfully into her back. She couldn't take it out and risk causing panic among the other passengers, and she didn't have room to turn so that she wasn't lying against it.

 She hadn't drawn a deep breath since Atlanta.

 Mulder, of course, was sound asleep, his head slumped against her shoulder, breathing deeply. Even the thud of the landing didn't wake him. She indulged herself in a momentary thought of what a sharp rap of her knuckles could do to that peaceful expression, and almost immediately felt guilty.

 He sleeps on planes, she thought, because he can't sleep well anywhere else. Give him a break.

Gently, she shook him awake. "Mulder, we've landed," she said quietly.

Mulder opened his eyes, blinking. "Landed where?" he asked.

Scully smiled in spite of herself, and in a moment, Mulder returned the smile, sheepishly.

"I know where we are, Scully," he said. "I was just testing you."

"As they say in Russia, Mulder, bullshitsky."

~~~~~

Mobile, Alabama
1:32 p.m.

 A little while later, the agents had rented a car and were on their way, each in the accustomed role: Mulder drove, Scully looked at the map. He never willingly gave up the wheel unless he was falling asleep. "Theodore Industrial Park is home to several plants, some of which are chemical. It's south of the city," she told him. "On the other hand, there are several chemical plants in the north part of the county as well. Did your source give you any idea where we should try first?"

"First stop is the Mobile field office," Mulder said. "We're going to need some contacts with local agents and probably with Customs, too, and that's the best place I know of to find them."

"If there is a bioweapons facility here, it's not likely Customs will know about it," Scully said. "Given the current state of affairs at Customs, I'm not sure I want them to know our business anyway."

 "Me, either," Mulder agreed. "Customs is in a shambles. I'm just going to ask about some things they might have seen or intercepted, things that wouldn't make sense to them but would to us."

"Such as?"

 "Such as barrels full of black oil, unlabeled containers of corn, bees -- that kind of thing," he said. "After all, Scully, what greater bioweapon could there be than an alien virus?"

"Mulder, this is not an X File, this is a conventional investigation into a possible biological weapon of terror," Scully said, letting her head fall against the headrest and closing her eyes. "And if I'm wrong, and there are bees, you're on your own."

 Mulder looked at her carefully. "I'm not letting a bee get within 100 feet of you, Scully," he said, in a tone that was just a little too serious. Scully opened her eyes and turned to look at him.

"I know you won't," she said. "And you know I'm not serious about leaving you on your own."

"I am," he said. "Dead serious. The first bee that shows up I'm sending you back to D.C. Once is enough for that shit."

 "You're right, Mulder," Scully said, looking out the window, away from him. "No more bees. Once is more than enough."

~~~~~

Steve Penn, special agent in charge of the Mobile field office, proved to be a gold mine of information about Customs and DEA contacts as well as officers of the Alabama State Docks. With his help, it only took part of the evening to learn that a tanker train had recently moved through the docks headed for the small town of McIntosh, outside Mobile, home to several chemical plants.

 The only question was which one. The docks workers couldn't help them with that.

"There aren't that many plants up there, Scully," Mulder said as they walked toward the car. "All we have to do is go find the one that doesn't want us there, and we've got it."

 "And then what, Mulder?" Scully replied. "Once we do that, they know we're here, and the whole thing is packed up and out of town six hours before we can get a warrant."

 "Who said anything about a warrant?" Mulder said as he unlocked the car door on her side before walking around to the driver's side. "I just want to go look around. We don't need a warrant for that."

Scully got in the car and buckled her seat belt. "I doubt sincerely that all you're planning to do is look around. I also doubt that the local judges will take kindly to a couple of federal agents from out of town committing an act of breaking and entering."

He wasn't listening. As usual.

Six years of trying, and she still couldn't change Mulder's infuriating tendency to ignore the rules.

That was something she herself could not do. Too many years as a Navy brat, moving from one naval station to another, had taught her the virtues of being self-contained and going by the book.

~~~~~

February, 1974

"You idiot," the sixth-grader had sneered. "That can's for paper. You put your lunch in there."

 Dana cringed.

The other kids in St. Benedict's lunchroom had laughed. She could hear them talking about her as she shamefacedly retrieved half a peanut butter sandwich from the pail.

It was her first day at St. Benedict's, her fourth school in six years. She was always the new kid in school. And she hated it.  When you were always the new kid in school, you learned quickly to keep quiet, keep to yourself, and do nothing until you were sure you understood the rules.

She knew that. But she still made mistakes, sitting on the wrong swings at recess, getting up from her desk when the first bell rang, unaware that the first bell was for bus-riders, not students whose parents picked them up. Like yours.

 And when you made a mistake, no one around you would ever let you forget it.

Dana wasn't stupid; she knew how the pecking order worked. The bottom-rung kid in the school, the one who had been low man on the schoolyard ladder before her arrival, would almost always zero in on her and get a few cheap laughs out of her ignorance. She understood the principle: If you can't climb in the hierarchy, you can at least try to put someone else on the rung below you.  No one was an easier target than the new kid.

 The only escape from this, Dana discovered, was knowledge, observation, evidence, perfect obedience to the rules. She watched, and waited, and watched some more; she didn't move until she was certain, beyond all doubt, that she'd figured it out. One student tossing a half-eaten roll into the pail wasn't enough; they all had to do it, or she couldn't be sure.

 Evidence. Observable, measurable, repeatable events that, together, constituted sure evidence. Find the evidence, follow the rules, do what's expected of you -- that, she soon learned, was the only way to be safe.

~~~~~

Present day

She tried again.

"They still fly the Confederate flag around here, Mulder. Federal authority is not popular, to say the least. We've got to play by the rules or we risk getting into trouble that no one will help us out of."

 "I don't think the citizens of Alabama are ready to secede from the Union again over two FBI agents conducting a questionable search of a chemical plant, Scully," Mulder said, steering the car down Water Street toward I-110. "They may not have forgotten the Civil War, but they're a law-and-order bunch around here."

"All the more reason to go by the book and seek a warrant," Scully said. “It wouldn't take 15 minutes to present this to a magistrate and get a warrant."

 "I tell you what, Scully," Mulder said. "You go ask the judge for a warrant. Wake him up, interrupt his dinner, or his Monopoly game, and tell him we suspect someone is growing killer germs in a factory in McIntosh, only we don't know which factory and we haven't seen the germs, but we know it's just got to be there. If -- I repeat, if -- you get a warrant, then I will execute it as lawfully as possible. But if we do, I promise you, all we're going to find when we get there is an empty warehouse or a fully operational plant manufacturing environmentally friendly baby food. How many times do they have to disappear the evidence before you understand?"

 "I understand, Mulder," she shot back, angry. "I'm the one who buried a casket full of sand after they disappeared my daughter's body."

 "Scully, I didn't mean ..." Mulder said. He started to apologize, but Scully stopped him.

"I don't think I want to discuss this anymore tonight, Mulder," she said, icily. "We can decide this in the morning after we're rested and we've had a chance to think it over."

"I don't need to think it over, Scully," Mulder said. "I'm going out there tonight."

 "No."

 "What do you mean, no?"

 "I mean no. I mean that if you go, I'll have to back you up, and I would not be adequate backup because I'm tired, and I'm angry, and it would be dangerous right now. Let's just go get some sleep."

 "You do not have to go," Mulder said, and Scully could hear the controlled anger in his voice. "I am not asking you to go. But I'm not asking for your permission, either. I don't need it."

 "No, you don't," Scully said, equally angry but outwardly cool. "I have not forgotten who's the senior agent here. But I would have hoped that after six years as my partner you would begin to trust my judgment, just a little. Or is that asking too much?"

 Mulder said nothing for a long time. Scully looked out the side window, watching the drizzly rain drip down the glass. When she looked ahead again, she saw that they were on an elevated bridge, crossing Mobile Bay.

 "This road doesn’t head north,” she said.

 "No, it heads to Daphne, which is where our hotel is," Mulder said. "I figured maybe we would get some sleep, tackle this in the morning. What do you say?"

Scully looked at him for a moment. The tentative look in his eyes told her all she needed to know. 

 "I think that's an excellent idea," she said, her tone just warm enough to tell him she was over being angry. No real warmth. That would be against the rules.

Daphne, Alabama
8:43 p.m.

The hotel, for once, was not half bad, and best of all it looked westward over Mobile Bay. Scully was delighted to see the battleship USS Alabama in the distance, cast into sharp silhouette by the floodlights behind her.

Years ago, her father had brought her here to see the once-mighty ship while he was on temporary duty at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Her grandfather, his father, had served on a ship just like this during World War II, he told her.

She had been so happy as he showed her around, feeling his pride in her and the pride of being a Scully, part of a Navy family, heiress to an ancient and noble tradition of service.

For her, everything about that day was perfect.

Now, here she was, carrying the badge of the federal agency her father
hated worse than any other, resting, relaxing, getting in shape to
conduct an illegal search, violate the law, spy on what American
citizens were doing, and all in the name of a greater good.

She looked at her watch; it was late, but not too late; Scully began
to think there might actually be a real dinner in store tonight. This
place had actual restaurants nearby, places where the food came on
china plates instead of in cardboard boxes.

No such luck. Mulder, as usual, had gone to his room, turned on the TV
and begun channel-surfing. From the sound of things, he had found an
all-sports channel and she knew that meant he was in for the night.

Ruefully, Scully put aside thoughts of a social evening; she put on
her pajamas and bathrobe and morosely scanned the hotel's plastic-
laminated list of nearby chains that offered delivery.

Then she heard the faint sound of Mulder's cell phone ringing. He
answered it, and immediately muted the TV.

"Are you sure?" she heard him say. Then, "We'll be right there."

A moment later, he rapped on the door. She opened it.

"Scully, get dressed, we have to go out again."

"Not a chance, unless you have some truly compelling reason," Scully
said, folding her arms over her chest. "I haven't eaten, you haven't
slept, and we agreed we would talk about this in the morning."

"Scully, I wouldn't ask you this if it wasn't important."

"It's always important, Mulder," she said, unmoved. "Can you at least
tell me who called you and motivated you to drag me out again into
this 'mild and wonderful' Gulf Coast winter, which has proven to be
cold and rainy and disgusting and doesn't even offer the aesthetic
benefits of snow?"

"Okay, I’m not a meteorologist," Mulder said. "But there's not much time, and I don't want to talk about it here. The walls in this hotel are too thin. I promise, I'll tell you on the way. Just get dressed, okay?"

With a sigh, Scully turned away. Will I ever learn to turn him down?
she thought.

"Give me 10 minutes, Mulder," she said. "And close the door on your
way out."

"That's my G-woman," Mulder said. Halfway through the door, he
stopped. "Hey, Scully?" he said.

"Yes?"

"Got a flak jacket?"

"Yes. Do I need it?

Mulder nodded. "Yeah. And bring an extra magazine if it’s handy." He closed the door.

Scully stared after him. She could not remember Mulder's ever making
such a request before, and it worried her. If he thought there was
danger, there was.

It was that simple.

She hadn't always trusted his instincts; when she met him, she
subscribed to the popular opinion that Spooky Mulder was at least a
little bit nuts. But then, he had been a behavioral profiler; the
whole science of profiling, such as it was, was based on in-depth
interviews with known serial killers, picking their brains for the
reasons behind what they did. That took its toll on the interviewer;
most of the original FBI profilers left the field in less than 10
years and wrote books, gave lectures, or went into private detective
work.

Anything, in other words, but what they had been doing.

So when Mulder first began to talk to her of alien abductions and
government plots, it should have been easy for Scully to dismiss his
theories as the products of a slightly deranged mind. But slowly, over
the next six years, Scully learned the truth, and it was worse than
anything she could have imagined.

The truth was that Mulder wasn't crazy.

When she met him, although she did not then know it, Mulder was nearly
at the breaking point his tormentors had so carefully led him to.
Debunking him was the last step, leaving him with nothing to show for
all the years of work, discounting all that he had learned about the
conspiracy of which his own father was a part.

Her assignment to the X Files was part of that plan, but it turned out
to be a mistake, a big one, from the conspirators' point of view.
Instead of completing his destruction, she became his salvation, gave
him back his sanity, won his trust, and gave him the will to go on.
Somehow because she was at his side, it had happened.

When these powerful men had taken a more direct approach -- convincing
the attorney general herself to take Mulder off the X Files, then
burning the files for good measure -- still, she had stayed with him.
It was where she belonged.

Just how that had happened, she did not know.

But they were partners, they had been through hell together, and she
knew, now, that his instincts were sound.

~~~~~

She dressed quickly in an undershirt and jeans and tugged the vest into place, pulling a T-shirt over it to conceal it. She unholstered her service weapon, slid a round into the chamber and checked the clip. Fully loaded. She slipped it back into its holster and slid another
10-round magazine into her jeans pocket, along with her FBI creds and
a pair of handcuffs.

God help her if 21 rounds weren't enough.

She threw on a windbreaker, effectively concealing the weapon, and
shoved two cotton swabs and two small stoppered test tubes into one
pocket, two pairs of latex exam gloves in the other, then left the
hotel room, locking the door behind her.

~~~~~

North Mobile County
9:47 p.m.

 

"All right, Mulder, I'm here. I'm armed to the teeth. Now talk,"
Scully said as Mulder drove through the cold drizzle.

"That phone call was from Marita Covarrubias," Mulder said "She said the rail activity in McIntosh has jumped about tenfold in the past 24 hours. Her sources say it looks as though the old Monsanto plant is being emptied out at a rapid rate."

"So I take it we are en route to the Monsanto plant?" Scully said. "Solely on the word of Miss Covarrubias?"

"I just want to check it out," Mulder said. "I don't actually trust
her any more than you do. What I do trust is that if she sticks to her
usual pattern, there will be something there, something significant. I
just want to know what that something is. It wouldn't surprise me if
Old Smokey greeted us at the front door. I'm not letting down my
guard, Scully, believe me."

"Aren't you? Aren't you proving, just by going here, that you've let
your guard down? If you really don't trust her, why are we here in the
first place?"

For a moment, Mulder didn't answer. In the darkness, Scully couldn't
see his face well enough to tell whether his silence came from anger,
doubt or just reflection, and that worried her. They needed to be
together if they were heading into danger; anger could kill them both.

Scully was opening her mouth to apologize when Mulder spoke.

"It's not anything I can quantify, Scully," he said. "It's based on
some interior mental process that even I don't know how to describe. But I believe that going to this factory is the right thing to do. I believe there's something there that we need to know, whether it's that they're growing smallpox, breeding gray aliens or something even worse."

The frightening thing, Scully thought, was that he probably did know.
He knew a lot.

There was a slightly uncomfortable silence in the car until Mulder
spoke again. Not taking his eyes off the highway, he said, "I wish you
could trust me."

"Mulder, I do trust you," Scully said. "I trust you with my life. But
something is wrong here. I'm not a believer in intuition, or whatever
you want to call it, but I cannot escape the feeling that something
about this is more dangerous than you think."

"I don't think so," Mulder said. "You wouldn't believe how dangerous I
think this is."

~~~~~

It was past 10 p.m. by the time they reached the abandoned Monsanto
factory, hidden down a narrow road inside the tall longleaf pines.
Mulder killed the engine and headlights as they neared, letting the
car roll down a sloping gravel drive toward the rail entrance to the
grounds.

Scully felt her stomach tighten as they walked as silently as possible
toward the factory's rail car unloading point. Mulder's premonitions
of danger were getting to her, and she was having some of her own. It
was dark; too dark even for an abandoned facility. There should have
been some lights on, if only to keep away vandals.

Mulder scrambled up the three-foot concrete loading dock on his own,
then took Scully's hands and helped her up after him. Slowly,
silently, he dusted his hands on his T-shirt and took his weapon from
its holster. Holding it up, his finger lightly resting on the trigger
guard, he walked into the silent building. Scully drew her weapon and
followed, staying slightly behind and to his left, covering his
unarmed side.

Their footsteps echoed loudly, the sound indicating a large, empty
area.

Scully could see nothing. There were no lights, not even moonlight
through the windows. She strained her ears, but heard nothing but a
slight scratching noise. Mice, she thought, or insects. There was a
sour smell -- spoiled grain, or sulfur -- hanging heavily in the
air. Whatever it was, it was making her sick.

"What the hell is that stench?" Mulder whispered in her ear.

"I don't know," she whispered back. "I've smelled it somewhere before,
though. You got a flashlight?"

Mulder flicked on a penlight and shone it ahead. "Could it be bacteria growing?"

"Certainly, but what kind? It's cold in here, too cold ..." She edged
forward, then laid her hand on his arm, pointing him toward what
looked like a refrigerated compartment about 15 feet in front of them.
"In there," she whispered.

The chilly air was humid and still as they inched forward, and Scully
felt the trickle of cold sweat running down her back and into the
valley between her breasts, soaking into the band of her bra. It
wasn't a good feeling. The gun felt heavy in her hand.

"Mulder," she whispered, her voice sounding loud and harsh in the
silence. "We need some light."

Mulder nodded, and aimed the light toward the door handle. He tested it; it wasn't locked. He pulled the latch back and opened the door.

The smell hit both agents at the same time -- a foul smell of
corruption, like the smell of a corpse. Scully was repelled, but she
at least was used to it; Mulder was nearly overcome.

"Oh, God," he said, very low.

"Breathe through your mouth," Scully advised, still in a whisper.
"Shine the light ahead."

When he did, she saw that they were in a room about 100 by 20 feet.
The room was lined with shelves, each holding beakers full of cloudy,
foul-smelling liquid. The air was warm, almost hot; around 37 degrees
Celsius, she thought.

Body temperature. The ideal growing temperature for disease-causing
organisms.

"Looks like your informant was right, Mulder," she said. "This room
appears to be a giant incubator for some kind of bacterial culture. We
can't stay here; it could be an airborne pathogen. Don't touch
anything."

Scully holstered her gun and quickly pulled on the gloves. She picked
up a beaker and held it in the beam of Mulder's flashlight to examine
it.

"What is it?" Mulder whispered.

"Can't tell without a culture," she said.

She reached into her pocket for the test tubes, unstoppered them and
dipped first one swab and then the other into the nasty liquid.
Setting the beaker back on the shelf, she dropped the swabs into the
tubes, replaced the stoppers and put the tubes back in her pocket.

"We need to get these to a lab quick before whatever's growing in here
dies," she whispered. As quietly as she could, she pulled off her
gloves, turning them inside out, and stuffed them back in her pocket.

Mulder nodded. "I just want to look around the rest of the factory for
a minute," he said, aiming the flashlight back toward the door.

"Let's make it quick," Scully said, drawing her weapon again. "I don't
want to carry these samples around any longer than I have to."

Just as they reached the door, Mulder snapped off the light, putting
his hand on his partner's arm so she would stop. She felt his warm
breath close to her ear.

"There's someone here," he whispered. "About 10 yards ahead, to the
right."

"I don't see anything."

"Listen."

Scully listened. She heard the scratching noise again, and the sound
of rain dripping from the eaves.

She was half turned toward Mulder, readying to whisper in his ear
again, when she saw a muzzle flash in the darkness just ahead of her.
Simultaneously there was a deafening noise, and she felt the sledgehammer impact of the bullet in her chest.

Her gun flew from her hand and clattered across the concrete floor as
she collapsed, doubled over in pain and shock, unable to speak.

"Federal agent! I'm armed! Drop your weapon!!" she heard Mulder call as he hit the floor. "Drop it now!"

"Fuck you," a growling voice replied. Scully heard a clicking noise.
Revolver, she thought distantly. Watch out, Mulder, he's gonna fire.
Still breathless, her stomach heaving, she felt around for her gun,
knowing she couldn't fire now but still needing to have it ready
should the chance come.

But Mulder had heard the sound, too, and it was all he needed. Aiming
toward the source of the sound, he fired twice. There was a ghastly cry, and a sound of something heavy falling, then silence.

"Scully!" Mulder called, and although she heard the near-panic in his
voice, she couldn't answer. "Scully, are you all right? Answer me,
Scully!"

She tried to make some sound, find some way to reassure him, but could
only manage a whimper. But he heard it. He was moving toward her, staying down but edging nearer. He was almost there.

She heard the sick sound of something heavy slamming into bone. Mulder
groaned in pain and lay motionless on the floor.

A bright light shone directly into Scully's eyes, blinding her.

"You two just never learn, do you?" said a voice behind the
flashlight.

I know that voice, she thought, her thoughts becoming fuzzier as the
pain intensified. Who is it? Given time, she was sure she would figure
it out. She lay still, thinking, until a booted foot landed forcefully
in her abdomen, then drew back, crashing into her head.