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Chapter 13

Lone Gunmen Headquarters
Monday
2:59 PM

Scully shut off the engine but didn't move, staring out the window at the Gunmen's scratched and pitted door. Curling her fingers more tightly around the steering wheel, she sighed and slowly turned toward Mulder. He was out cold, his head pressed against the passenger window, breath fogging the glass.

"Are you okay?" Grey braced his arms on the seatback, frowning.

"No." She couldn't tear her eyes from Mulder's face--pale, gaunt, but peaceful. "I don't think I'm going to be okay for quite some time."

Grey squeezed her shoulder, his long fingers massaging tense muscles. "One foot in front of the other, darlin'. " He got out of the car but leaned back inside. "You'd better wake Sleeping Beauty or I'm gonna get an armful when I open his door."

"In your dreams, Bubba." Mulder sat up, wincing, and rolled his shoulders.

Grey tugged open Mulder's door. "Well, hey there, Fox. Nice of you to join us."

Mulder rubbed a hand over his face. "Water?"

Scully pulled a bottle from the cup holder. He drained half the contents and replaced the cap, smirking a little at Grey, who was shuffling his feet and rubbing his hands.

"Either he's really got to pee or he's freezing his ass off. Either way, we'd better go."

Mulder leaned against the side of the building and listened to the shotgun pop of disengaging locks, bemused that he found such a paranoid sound comforting. The door finally swung open and he followed Scully inside.

"Hey, Hickey. Long time no--" His glib greeting cut off in a grunt as Frohike grabbed him in a bear hug.

"Mulder. Thought we'd lost you, buddy."

The genuine emotion in the man's voice made Mulder's throat hurt. Blinking stinging eyes, he awkwardly patted Frohike's shoulder. "How many times do I have to tell you, Melvin? Not in front of Scully."

"Hey, look who's here! Mulder, my man. You look like...crap. Ow!" Langly rubbed his side and glared at Frohike. "What was that for?"

"You look like crap?"

"He does!"

Byers stepped around his bickering friends and clasped Mulder's hand. "Welcome back, Mulder. Things weren't the same without you."

Mulder returned the pressure. "That's supposed to be a compliment--right?"

"Who else was there to fuel their conspiracy theories?" Scully said dryly. "Face it Mulder--you're a paranoid's wet dream."

"I love it when she talks dirty," Frohike moaned.

Scully rolled her eyes. "Langly? The rock?"

"Over here." Langly led them to a workbench littered with computers and other assorted equipment. Mulder's "rock" lay in one of the few uncluttered spaces. "We started working on it as soon as your bro' dropped it by this morning," he said with a nod to Grey. "First off, it's not a rock."

Mulder leaned over Langly's shoulder. "Not exactly a news flash."

"We ran a bunch of tests on the material and came up empty."

"What does that mean?" Grey asked.

Frohike looked at him over the top of his glasses. "It means it's not made from any known substance--on this planet anyway."

"It's harder than steel," Byers chimed in. "We took a blow torch to it. It didn't even get warm."

"Yeah, but it heats up when you hold it." Frohike shook his head. "Weirdness."

"Heats up? The damn thing nearly burnt through my palm." Mulder rubbed his thumb over the healed flesh.

"You're taking this well, Mulder. Gotta admit, I'd be freaking," Langly said.

"I'm on very good drugs."

"Cool."

"You said you think it called the ship that abducted Mulder. How?" Scully asked.

Langly dragged a piece of equipment closer and turned it on with a flick of his thumb. "This is a type of oscilloscope. It measures sound frequency. We borrowed it from a friend."

"You are probably aware that sound, put simply, is a vibration through an elastic solid, a liquid or a gas," Byers said. "Sound waves travel outward in all directions from the source."

Mulder nodded. "Frequency is a measure of the vibrations per second."

"Exactly. We express frequency in Hertz, which corresponds directly to the pitch of a sound. Optimally, people can hear from 20 to 20,000 Hertz."

"Let me guess. You're going to tell me this thing," Mulder gestured to the rock, "is emitting sound undetectable to the human ear."

"Good guess," Langly replied.

Grey frowned at the oscilloscope. "That thing's on, right? I mean, I can see it registering our voices. So where's the sound waves from the rock?"

Frohike looked gleeful. "Pick it up."

"Huh?"

"Somebody pick it up."

Scully lifted the rock. Immediately, the oscilloscope sped up, the display registering 30 kHz. Startled, she dropped it back onto the counter and the readout fell to zero.

"Wow," Grey breathed. He tentatively extended a hand and, after a moment's hesitation, picked up the rock.

This time the machine jumped to nearly 45 kHz. Frohike whistled, shaking his head as they all stared at the reading. After a moment Grey released the rock and let it tumble back onto the bench. Hissing, he rubbed his palm.

"Damn it! That thing burns!"

"It never got hot for any of us." Langly poked the rock with one finger. "And our readings were around 30 kHz, like Scully's."

Silence, then five pairs of eyes fastened on Mulder. He licked his lips.

"Guess this is where I'm supposed to give it a try."

"Mulder, wait." Scully put her hand on his arm, holding him in place. "I'm not so sure you should touch that thing. If it is some kind of calling device..."

"Damn straight! We all know what happened last time," Grey muttered.

Mulder stared at the rock. The thought that such an innocuous package could conceal advanced technology both fueled his curiosity and sent a flicker of apprehension to the pit of his stomach.

"There's no other way." He looked at the others, his face set in a blank, emotionless mask. "We need to know--I need to know-- whether this thing is responsible for landing me in hell. We can postulate and theorize from here to next week, but the only way to be sure requires empirical evidence."

He started forward but Scully clamped down harder. "Mulder."

"Scully." He searched her tired, careworn features for understanding. "I have to know."

She closed her eyes for a moment, then nodded and released his arm. Grey stepped aside and Mulder moved up to the bench. Sucking in a deep breath, he picked up the rock.

Light blinds him, tearing through his body like knives, pinning him in place. He sees Grey as if from a great distance, face deathly pale, eyes wide with shock, fear. He strains every muscle in his body, desperate to move, to touch, to grab hold of the man who has been his anchor so many times in the past.

"Help me!" The scream echoes in the silence of his mind. "Please, Grey. Don't let them take me!"

His stubborn determination actually pays off--just a twitch of his little finger, but the surge of hope makes his heart lurch. The light pulses brighter, white-hot agony erupting along every nerve ending like fire. Black spots explode across his vision, then everything goes dark.

Awareness seeps slowly into his muddled brain. White. Everywhere. Walls, floor, ceiling--sterile, featureless. No windows. No door. No clothes. Light is everywhere and nowhere. He stands, back pressed against a wall, head throbbing.

"I know for a fact I never said 'Beam me up, Scotty.'"

His voice echoes, bouncing off the walls. He shivers, despite the room's warmth. Wrapping his arms around his body he crouches down. Waiting.

He knows they're watching. Can feel eyes studying his every sound, every movement with cool, dispassionate interest. Sometimes he talks to them. Sometimes he curses them. More and more often, he pleads with them. It doesn't matter--the response is the same.

Nothing.

Time passes--he's not sure how much. There is no day, no night. Just the relentless brilliance of artificial light. He knows hunger and thirst. Shame when he breaks down and relieves himself in a corner. And loneliness like a cancer, devouring him from the inside out. Shattering his false bravado, stripping away his resistance.

By the time a door materializes in the wall he's desperate to hear a voice, see a face. Even alien.

When his captor steps inside, he gasps and stumbles backward, recognizing his folly.

There are worse things than loneliness.

"Mulder! Look at me, Mulder."

Scully's voice, sharp with fear brought him back. Mulder blinked and the white room melted away, sounds and images filtering in and replacing it. Scully's face was inches from his own; her rapid puffs of breath tickled his cheek. There was something cold and hard beneath him, and something warm and yielding against his back. Pain, like liquid fire, seared the palm of his hand.

"Mulder?"

"What happened?" He croaked the question.

Scully wilted. Mulder scanned his surroundings and found that he was huddled on the floor with Scully crouched in front of him while Grey supported him from behind.

"You had another flashback," Scully said, checking first one pupil and then the other. "It started as soon as you picked up the stone."

Mulder slowly lifted his right hand. Blisters were already forming on the palm, and finger-shaped bruises encircled the wrist.

"Sorry." Grey's apology held a tremor. "You froze up. That thing was burning your hand--I had to force you to drop it."

Mulder recognized his role in this little drama and knew the script by heart. It was time to make a smart ass remark and shrug off Grey's gentle hold.

He couldn't do it.

Reawakened memories, terrifying in their clarity, pummeled him like physical blows. Light. Hunger. Despair. Fear. Oh, God, ignorance really was bliss. He shuddered, squeezing his eyes shut.

Grey tightened the arm around his chest; Scully cupped his cheek.

"It's okay, Mulder. Just relax."

He concentrated on breathing--nice, deep, even breaths that filled his lungs and settled his jangling nerves. Listening to Scully and Grey repeat a litany of reassurances.

It's over.

You're home.

You're safe.

We're here.

After several minutes he opened his eyes and sat forward. Grey had climbed to his feet and extended a helping hand before Mulder unfolded his wobbly legs.

"Come sit on the couch, Mulder." Scully's tone allowed no refusal. "I need to dress that burn."

She guided him to the ratty sofa and sat beside him. Byers handed her a first aid kit while Langly and Frohike hovered nearby, looking at Mulder with an uneasy mixture of worry and fear.

Mulder sighed. "Guess this proves it. I really am a 'ticking time bomb of insanity.'" He scowled at the Gunmen. "Would you three lighten up? That was a joke."

Scully pulled his hand into her lap. "How about telling us what you remembered?"

He focused on her hands as she smoothed antibiotic cream over his palm and covered it with gauze. Bright, white light flickered at the edges of his vision, but he ignored it.

"I...ah..." He cleared his throat, realizing his mouth was desert dry.

A hand holding a water bottle appeared before his eyes. He looked up into Frohike's concerned face before accepting it with a grateful nod. The little man inclined his head, a smile softening the grim lines around his eyes and mouth.

Mulder drank deeply, everyone's watchful eyes an uncomfortable reminder of another, less pleasant time. He bounced one leg, then the other, the all-too-familiar post-flashback jitters earning him a frown from Scully.

Grey perched on the arm of the couch. "It can wait, Fox. Take all the time you need."

He cleared his throat again. "I remembered what happened right after I was taken...and something else."

Haltingly, he recounted the details of the flashback. Scully, Grey, and the Gunmen listened without interruption, though their faces looked pale and strained. When Mulder reached the part where his captors finally showed themselves, he clenched his jaw.

"It was him, Scully. The alien bounty hunter. He was the one in charge, the first one through the door."

Scully ran her thumb over the back of his bandaged hand. "I guess that explains how they knew to use me against you."

"The bastard smiled at me." Mulder rubbed his forehead, a dull ache throbbing behind his eyes. "He said, 'We've been waiting for you, Agent Mulder.'"

He looked up in time to catch Scully, Grey, and the Gunmen exchanging glances. "What?"

"When you picked up the rock, the oscilloscope went off the scale," Scully said. "It was emitting more than 80 kHz and hot enough to blister your hand."

He was so damn tired, his brain sluggish and uncooperative. Obviously he was missing something, but what?

"So?"

"It didn't react that way for the rest of us. Well, your bro' got a little bit of a rise out of it," Langly amended. "But for you--dude, it went nuts."

"The device is keyed to respond to a specific body chemistry," Byers said.

We've been waiting for you, Agent Mulder.

Mulder tensed, eyes widening. "Mine."


Continued in Chapter 14