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WASHINGTON D.C., 8.30 am

The office was unoccupied. A quick scan told Dana Scully that Mulder was working and had been interrupted. A slight smile caught the corners of her mouth. The clutter had started to reappear during her absence and his return. It had taken months for her well ordered habits to have an effect on him but it certainly didn’t take him long to revert to his old ways. Scully unloaded her briefcase onto the desk. Touching familiar surfaces to reassure herself that she was back she took in a tour of the office to bask in the knowledge that everything was pretty much as she remembered it.

She noticed several slides were on the viewer along with his discarded reading glasses. A half empty coffee mug, its contents still hot enough to give off steam, sat between the viewer and a folder of loose notes. A scribbled memo, in his hand, told her cryptically: ‘Pierce, re: Cascade Volcanic Research Team. 10am.’ An open packet of sunflower seeds had spilled several of its contents over the memo and she automatically used the paper to funnel the seeds back into the packet.

The fragrance of the chemically treated airconditioning and his usual aftershave created the singular atmosphere she had long grown accustomed to and had taken for granted. It now allowed her to relax. The X-Files had been re-opened and she was still a part of it. Scully didn’t quite know why but she had been alternately awaiting and dreading this moment. Well acquainted with procedure, she knew that her abduction required the necessary documentation. The unusual nature of the case necessitated a special classification: X.

The filing cabinet drew her like a magnet and with apprehension she found herself pulled toward it. The file was there - her file: X73317. She flipped up the cover. Turning the folios one by one she worked through the files conditioned to divorce herself from the subject until she came to a hard print video enlargement. Confronted by the reality of the gagged, wild eyed and frightened woman, the psychological shock stripped her clinical detachment from her like an old lab coat. The mug shot and rap-sheet of Duane Barry had a different impact: weakness and a sharp pain in her chest. The pain was real… it took her back;

Duane Barry had driven all night like a man possessed. Motion sickness and the overpowering effects of the exhaust emissions combined to trap her at the edge of unconsciousness. Bound and gagged and unceremoniously dumped into the car trunk she had fought to keep at the level of awareness. The car radio helped - her only companion. That and fear. One tune, Duane Barry must have liked it, for he’d turned up the volume and in the trunk the music had been excessively loud. Snatches of it had remained with her, recorded forever. Prophetic lyrics:

You see him in your nightmares, you see him in your dreams . . .

In the office Scully felt nauseous. She looked away, the words remained:

You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan

Designed and directed by his red right hand . . . *

The halt. The shooting. It pained her deeply to understand she had been responsible for the patrolman’s death. The realisation had filled her with such an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and helplessness that she finally surrendered to the fear. That moment of weakness had cost her a month of her life. Time she feared she would never regain. As for Duane Barry, she had been unable to define her feelings when told of his death. Was he ever really to blame?

Scully became aware of Mulder’s presence only slowly and immediately suspected he’d been standing there for some time waiting patiently. She turned. The image matched the one already solidly imprinted on her mind. Shirtsleeves, cuffs rolled back from the wrists twice, tie loosened and top button undone, hair slightly ruffled, hands on hips, his right hand curled around the holster. Mulder’s face remained neutral but his eyes had a spark. He flashed her a brief, boyish and infectious grin. Before she could check herself, her own eyes threatened to betray her true feelings.

To Mulder, Scully looked even more thin, her pant-suit jacket much too loose in the middle, and beneath the sensible make-up her face seemed drawn and pinched. He noted the glow in her eyes, accentuated by the nearby viewer. She was not much taller than the filing cabinet behind her. He knew her to be a tower of strength. They hadn’t talked much about the incident. There were a thousand things he wanted to know. A respectful distancing during her convalescence had prevented him from pursuing the matter. "The file’s not complete, Scully," he told her gently, knowing what she was looking for. "You won’t find any answers, only more questions."

It was not unlike any other X-File Scully had examined. Ironically, it was more important to her now than any of them - and more frightening. She averted her eyes, nodded and waited to ensure her voice became steady before making a reply. "If we were investigating, there wouldn’t be a lot to go on." She succeeded in making her voice sound pleasant. He folded his arms. "No, they’d taken care of everything - technical, physical and trace evidence, possible witnesses."

"Something may have been overlooked.."

"No, nothing. They were very thorough."

She realised he was saying that he’d been back to the crime scene, such as it was, and covered the ground himself. How many times? Out there alone. Scully nodded perceptively. "These medical reports tell me nothing other than what I would have expected from another patient under similar circumstances. In fact, the toxicological report is too typical, almost text-book like. Usually there are variants. If it hadn’t been for the charts you showed me, I would never have known." And those charts had scared the hell out of her. Branched DNA, a biological equivalent of a silicon microchip, now dormant in her system, the impression that she had been used as some kind of guinea pig for some nasty brew from Purity Control. The potential consequences were too terrible to imagine. Why her? Or was there another explanation? The nagging question remained. She had to know. "Mulder, does the nature of the case fit the profile?" The need for reassurance held her bearing.

"Are you an abductee? There’s certain evidence. I say no. There’s more to it. Our Cigarette Smoking friend, he’s the one with the answers. But they only have one policy. Deny everything." Scully suddenly became very angry. "Who are these people, Mulder? What gives them the right?" Her expression of despair said it all. Mulder knew he had been part of it. He’d placed her in danger. "I let you down, Scully. I’m sorry." The despair turned to a frown. "Mulder what are you talking about?"

"I never told you about the risks."

She tilted her head slightly, reverting back to her usual business self. "You think I couldn’t work that out for myself? There’s no need to feel guilty, I came into this with both eyes open."

"But with me, even having eyes in the back of your head isn’t enough." How could he ever make it up to her? Scully’s expression softened. "No need to blame yourself. I certainly don’t." Did she feel the same need for revenge as he did? What would she do to get it? He indicated the file she still had in her hand.

"Are we investigating?" Wrong move - Scully became immediately defensive. No, more than that - apprehensive and hedging. "There’s so little to go on." The truth used as an excuse. "You’re the key, Scully. Only you can tell us what happened. You’re the only witness."

She hesitated, now understanding the burden on her. Mulder pressed on, hoping to appeal to her professional curiosity."Coma?"

"What?" The question had taken her off guard and she took seconds to realise he wanted a definition. "It’s a condition of absolute unconsciousness in which the patient is incapable of reacting to either external or internal stimuli."

"You felt, experienced nothing at all?" There had been something. Even now she couldn’t put it into words . . uncertain images and sensations she couldn’t account for, lost, impossible recall. A deep unwillingness to try. No, she told herself, it’s a medical impossibility. No, not coma. Somewhere between deep sleep and REM the sun drenched meadow transformed into an I.C.U. Those images that were available and beginning to filter through were too much to deal with at once. She now knew how it felt to be a trapeze artist suffering the horrors

His gaze remained steady, holding her attention, as if trying to transfer his thoughts to her. Surprisingly she replied: "Deep regression hypnosis?" Mulder let the question stand. While Scully had always valued hypnosis as a legitimate medical tool, there were other, personal, concerns. Did she really want to know the truth? Was she brave enough to face it? "I . . ." confusion, frustration. The glow turned to a glistening as tears threatened and were immediately held in tight check. "It can aid in psychological healing," he offered gently, almost in a clinical tone. He knew what she was thinking. She was doubting herself, really doubting. "You have more courage than you realise." A hint of a smile, soon gone. Scully shifted her weight from one foot to the other in an uncharacteristic nervous manner.

Mulder had never seen her looking so uncomfortable over a decision. It so disturbed him he felt the need to take her by the shoulders and sit her down. He made no approach, however. He respected her independence that much. Her reply when it came was emotion charged and barely a whisper. "It’s too . . . soon." For now she needed respite - from the hospitals, medical procedures and evaluations. She felt so incredibly insulated, as if wrapped entirely in cotton wool. She needed to work.

Anyway, what good would it do to pursue the truth knowing what they did? Her faith in government had been severely tested; all her ideals in God and Country thrown back into her face by the very institution she served. "How can you cut through that kind of red tape, Mulder? We’ve both seen what it can do." He bit his lip in self-recrimination. Mulder understood now that her reluctance was more than professional. He should have heard what she had been saying from the outset. Scully simply wanted to be allowed to come to terms with it, in her own way., in her own time. He was the one without the right. He was simply being selfish. He apologised. "That’s the trouble with official silence, Scully. It can deafen you."

A tiny shake of the head. "More than that, it can kill you." Events were out of her hands, so Scully put her faith in those two beliefs she knew were tangible; her unshakeable confidence in science and her absolute trust in her partner. Mulder had long since come to depend on her judgement and medical knowledge; recently he had come to understand there was more than dependence. Without her his work seemed incomplete. They were back on track again and Scully had put them there.

Mulder walked up to her at the cabinet. Palm up, he touched the side of her face briefly and took the file from her. He replaced it and eased the drawer shut. As much as he wanted to get to the truth, the decision was hers. This particular X-File would have to remain closed until Scully herself felt ready to reopen it.


*"Red Right Hand", Nick Cave and The Badseeds.

--end of file--

C L Goodwin 1996