"How the hell did he manage to give us the slip?" Grey navigated the car around a corner, his shoulders tense and his words clipped. "Forget the fact that he's got no money or transportation. He wasn't physically strong enough to walk this far."
"He obviously found a way." Scully clenched her jaw. "Time is running out. We have to do something."
"I'm taking suggestions."
"Just...pull over. Let's think this through."
Shrugging, Grey maneuvered the car to an open parking space. He shut off the engine and looked at Scully with raised brows.
She pinched the bridge of her nose, struggling to think past the throbbing pulse in her head. "I called Skinner before I left the apartment. He promised he'd let the DC police know that an agent is missing. I think it's time you and I attacked this from a different angle."
"Okay." Grey tipped his head back and gazed up at the ceiling. "If we can't track him down, maybe we can figure out where he's going. You know, head him off at the pass."
"I thought of that. Given that Mulder's abduction and return took place within a thirty mile radius, the Lynchburg area would seem a likely destination."
"I'm not willing to risk Mulder's life on those odds. If we go racing out there and we're wrong.…"
"We've lost him," Grey finished.
"Skinner said he'd fax Mulder's picture to police in Lynchburg and towns in the surrounding area. They'll be watching for him."
"That damn rock! We should have destroyed it instead of--" He bolted upright, his eyes huge. "Dana, the rock! If they can track him with it, why can't we? Langly could rig that machine--"
"The oscilloscope. Go." Scully pulled out her cell phone as Grey gunned the engine. "I can't believe we didn't think of this before." She drummed her fingers on the armrest. "Frohike? It's Scully. Listen carefully; Mulder needs your help."
Grey focused on weaving the car in and out of the sluggish, rush hour traffic. He gripped the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white and his fingers ached.
"It's not your fault."
Her soft statement startled him. He darted a quick look at her face before doggedly returning to the road. "If I'd been there, this wouldn't have happened."
"You can't know that."
"I know he'd never have made it out the door without me."
"You've slept on that couch every night for more than a week; put your personal life on hold for the past month. You needed a break, Grey. Stop blaming yourself."
She sighed. "Okay, okay. I will if you will."
Frohike was waiting for them, the expression on his face less than encouraging.
"Don't look at me like that, Melvin." Scully breezed past him and went straight to the lab bench where Byers and Langly huddled over the oscilloscope. "You boys are always bragging that your kung fu is the best. Well, now would be a very good time to prove it."
"It's not a matter of kung fu." Byers faltered under Scully's pleading gaze. "Our equipment can only function within a certain range, and the fact that we're being bombarded by competing signals only complicates things."
Langly fiddled with various knobs. "Hey, if you could narrow the search area down a little, we might be able to get close enough to zero in on Mulder's signal."
"Langly, if I had that kind of information I wouldn't need the damn equipment!"
Grey stepped between them. "What if we got in the car, drove around with that thing? Maybe we'd get lucky and latch onto the right signal."
Byers ducked his head. "I'm afraid the chances of success would be practically nonexistent. It would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack."
Scully smacked her palm on the counter. "Then we'd better start looking. Mulder can't be out of our reach. There has to be a way--"
Her cell phone rang. Pulling it from her pocket, she turned her back. "Scully."
"Dude, you gotta know we want to find Mulder as much as you do," Langly said to Grey. "We can try boosting the power on this thing, maybe increase the range. But that's gonna take time."
"We don't have any!" Grey rubbed a hand over his face. "You boys know what kind of shape Fox was in when we found him. Do you really think he'll survive another trip with those bastards?"
"We've got a lead. Pack that thing up and let's go!" Scully shoved the phone into her pocket. When they gaped at her, she narrowed her eyes. "Now!"
The Gunmen sprang into action, loading the oscilloscope and several smaller pieces of equipment into a large carryall.
"Can that thing run on batteries?"
Byers glanced up from folding cords. "No, but we have a small generator in the van."
"What about when we have to leave the van?"
Langly waved a palm-sized device. "We've got two of these. They run on batteries. Their range is limited but if we get close enough, say within five to ten miles...."
Grey nudged Scully's arm. "What's the story?"
"A cab driver phoned the Bureau asking about Special Agent Fox Mulder. Said he picked Mulder up in Arlington about 5:15 this morning. Mulder didn't have money for cab fare, but when the driver saw his badge he decided he could trust him to pay up later."
"He called to collect his money?"
"Not exactly. He told Skinner he couldn't shake an uneasy feeling-- that something about Mulder felt 'off.' His odd behavior coupled with the fact that he insisted he be dropped off in the middle of nowhere had the guy worried Mulder might not be who he claimed. The cabbie said he didn't want some crazy person on the loose, posing as a Federal agent."
Grey frowned. "The middle of nowhere? Where exactly did this guy take him?"
Scully evaded his eyes, busying herself with taking a canvas bag from Frohike. "The mountains in Virginia, over two hours from here. Shenandoah National Park."
"Over two-- God, Dana! He's got a huge jump on us."
She shouldered the bag. "Then we'd better get moving."
Mulder sat up, gingerly dusting dirt and bits of dead leaves off his palms. He'd taken his third spill in less than an hour and his hands and knees were scraped and bloody. Grasping the trunk of a nearby sapling, he dragged himself to his feet.
His feet. The sandals tripped him up and provided no insulation for his sock-clad toes. Why hadn't he worn his hiking boots? Or his leather jacket? And while he was on the subject, what the hell was he doing out here? He'd been stumbling through the woods, following this damn trail for hours without seeing a living soul. He was tired, thirsty, and hopelessly turned around. Maybe...
Keep going. Come back.
Mulder shoved his chilled hands into his pockets, sighing as his tense muscles unwound. The rock heated his palm and fingers--the only warm spot on his chilled body. More importantly, it soothed his spirit. He started walking, ignoring his abraded knees and blistered feet. Everything would be okay.
He staggered along, dodging low-hanging branches, slipping and sliding when the trail turned damp and muddy. Watching his feet, he concentrated on the business of putting one in front of the other. The sounds and smells of the forest, his discomfort, all faded to white noise....
The raucous caw of a crow snapped him out of his trance. Mulder blinked, struggling to focus.
The clearing was about a hundred yards wide, a smooth grassy stretch of ground broken by the large trunks of several fallen trees. Shivering, he turned his face up into the weak sunlight. He didn't remember leaving the trail. Spinning in a slow circle, he searched the tree line, unsure which direction he'd come from.
No longer moving, weariness slammed into him. Mulder rubbed at his burning eyes, swaying a little.
Rest now. Wait.
Rest. That sounded wonderful.
Collapsing against one of the large tree trunks and finally sheltered from the wind, Mulder curled into a ball and burrowed his face into his jacket, creating a small pocket of warmth. Within minutes, he was asleep.
"Another ten miles and we'll be back to the highway." Byers kept his eyes on the road, his voice neutral.
"Then we turn around and head south again."
Grey saw Langly and Frohike grimace at each other. He cleared his throat. "Dana, we've been up and down this road twice already. The sun's going down--in another hour it will be dark."
"And it's our best chance of finding him."
"All I'm saying is that maybe we should get some help. We could contact the park rangers, organize a search and rescue."
"By the time they get teams together it will be too late."
He swallowed, but there didn't seem to be enough spit. "It already may be too late."
She grabbed his arm. "Don't even say it. Mulder went all the way to Antarctica for me. He never gave up, and neither will I."
Grey held his ground, his own anger flaring. "You think I like being the voice of reason? I want to find Fox as much as you do, damn it! I just don't see the sense in blindly--"
"Will you two shut up? We're getting something." Frohike crouched by the oscilloscope, tweaking dials. "Easy. Easy. Bingo! That's it!"
"Are you sure?" Scully leaned over his shoulder.
"One thing you can say about this signal, it's unique," Langly answered. "Byers, pull over as soon as you can find a place to stash the van or we're gonna lose this."
"There's a park entrance up ahead. Hang on."
By the time they parked and geared up it was dusk. Scully studied a map while the Gunmen snapped at each other, fumbling with the handheld units.
"I thought you said those would work out here." She checked her weapon for the second time and flicked on her flashlight, panning it over the area.
"They will." Frohike snatched one from Langly's grasp. "What the hell are you doing, Ringo? You've got to set this threshold to maximum, or--"
"Oh, now you're the expert! Who was the genius that underestimated the damping affect the mountains would have on the signal?"
"Gentlemen, this isn't helping and we're--"
In perfect unison, "Shut up, Byers."
Scully swung the flashlight beam into their eyes. "I'm going to shoot all three of you if you don't have those things ready to go in sixty seconds."
Langly blinked, Byers froze like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck, but Frohike just smirked. "No need for violence. We're ready."
Grey and Scully moved in close as Frohike switched on the machine. "This shows signal strength." He pointed to a light bar with a single flickering square. "As you can see, right now it's barely registering. I'm guessing Mulder must be at least a couple miles from here."
"More like five," Langly muttered.
"As we home in on the signal, more of the bar will light up," Frohike said. "Theoretically, when we find Mulder the entire bar will be red."
Grey frowned. "Theoretically?"
The Gunmen eyed each other before Byers finally spoke. "We put these together months ago. The, ah, project we intended them for fell through and they've been gathering dust ever since."
"You've never tested them?" Scully asked.
"Not outside the lab, no."
She bit her lip, but took the instrument from Frohike. "Then let's hope you boys knew what you were doing." She pointed her flashlight at the trees. "According to the map, this is an access point to the Appalachian Trail. It should be just beyond those trees, running roughly north and south
Grey held up a hand. "Wait a minute. If you're going to suggest what I think--"
"We should divide into two groups, keeping in contact by radio."
"That's what I was afraid of. Look, Dana, I think splitting up is a bad idea. It's almost dark, we're in the middle of the forest, and these guys are amateurs at this kind of thing."
"Who you calling amateur?" Langly waved the device in his hand. "Don't forget, you wouldn't be here without us."
Frohike folded his arms. "What he said."
"Splitting up doubles our chances of finding Mulder. You can take Byers and Langly and head south; Frohike and I will go north." Scully laid a hand on Grey's arm and lowered her voice. "I understand your concern, but each of us is armed. I'm willing to take the risk."
Byers squared his shoulders. "So are we."
Grey sighed. "Then I think we should check in by radio every twenty minutes. And if you get lucky, I want you to wait for me before you approach him." When Scully frowned, he quickly added, "Fox is under the influence of an alien device, Dana. We have no idea what his state of mind is or what he may be capable of. I don't want you going near him without back-up."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Grey ignored Frohike's mutter, pinning Scully with his eyes. After a moment she nodded and started walking.
"Fine. Let's go."
"Damn it, Langly, watch what you're doing!" Grey balanced on one leg as he fixed his shoe. "That's the second time you've tromped on my heel."
"Well, excuse me. Maybe you could give a guy a little warning before you stop dead in the middle of the trail. You're the only one with a good flashlight--we can't see shit back here."
Grey mentally counted to ten. It wasn't Langly's fault that they'd hiked several miles and come up empty. "Still nothing?" He jabbed a finger at the instrument in Langly's hand. Now even the single stuttering light had gone dark.
"Nada. It's pretty obvious Mulder never came this way."
"Unless your little invention is really a piece of useless junk."
"Hey! I spent a lot of hours on that so-called 'piece of junk,' and--"
Byers stepped between them, cutting off Langly mid-rant. "We told you they'd never been tested. We're doing the best we can under the circumstances."
Grey ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck. "I know you are. Let's head back. Dana's due to check in any minute. How 'bout we pick up the pace?"
Langly extended his arm and Grey set off at a slow jog. He fought frustration and a rising sense of despair. Had they really believed the five of them could find Fox in the middle of this wilderness? What if by conducting their own search they'd thrown away viable opportunities to find him?
His thoughts consumed with worry for his brother, it was a moment before he registered the hiss of static from the radio on Byer's belt. Byers picked it up as Frohike's voice crackled to life.
"Byers, where are you?"
"Almost back to where we started." Byers looked at Grey. "No luck, I'm afraid."
"Yeah? Well the three of you better haul ass. The 'scope's lighting up like a Christmas tree. We're closing in on Mulder as we speak." Frohike's voice was giddy with excitement."
Grey grabbed the radio from Byers. "What's your position?"
They heard Frohike conferring with Scully before he replied. "We're about three miles along the trail but the signal's veering west. We're-- Scully...Scully, wait! Just follow the 'scope; it will show you the way. Gotta go."
"You heard him." Grey shoved the radio into his pocket. "Let's haul ass, boys."
To Grey's surprise, Langly and Byers stayed with him, despite the breakneck pace. He moved as fast as he dared without risking a broken ankle from the uneven, rocky ground. A mile down the trail the first light flickered to life, spurring him onward. The bar was nearly complete when it began to recede. Grey skidded to a stop.
"Shit! We're starting to lose it. We must have gone too far, passed the point they left the trail. Let's backtrack and then head west."
He'd barely finished speaking when the radio clicked. "Yo, Byers. You better answer, 'cause we're about to be in some deep doo doo." Frohike's whisper vibrated tension.
"It's Grey. What's up, Frohike?"
"We found Mulder, but he looks like crap. I reminded Scully she promised to wait for you but she said...uh, well, let's not go there."
Grey groaned and started jogging. "She's with him right now?"
"Yeah. And he's acting strange, man. I mean, stranger than usual. Edgy. Scully's trying to calm him down."
"What's your position?"
"A small clearing just west of the trail. I think you better hurry."
"On our way. We're just around the corner."
They crashed through the trees and underbrush, stumbling over roots and dodging low-hanging branches. When the indicator bar shone red and the trees thinned, Grey slowed to a walk.
Moonlight bathed the clearing, a stark contrast to the darkened woods. Frohike stood just beyond the treeline, his attention focused on something beyond Grey's line of sight. Grey turned to Byers and Langly.
"Hang back. We don't want Fox any more upset than he already is."
He moved up beside Frohike, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. "Frohike, what's going on? Where are they?"
Frohike didn't acknowledge him. Instead he slowly raised both hands.
"Frohike! What the--" Grey broke off, heart pounding.
Fox and Dana stood in the center of the grassy area, beside a fallen tree. He was talking to her in a low, intimate tone, but staring at Grey and Frohike with lifeless eyes. One arm around her neck, he crushed her body against his.
And held a gun to her temple.
Continued in Chapter 20