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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (13/17)
Raleigh Community Hospital
At first he didn't realize she was asleep.
He'd breezed into the room carrying a fresh stack of faxes in one hand and slurping coffee from a cup in the other. Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie had ducked out for some fresh air and breakfast, leaving Grey and Kristen to sit with Kira until their return. Without their presence, the conference room had drifted deeper and deeper into silence, the rustle of papers and scratch of pens magnified by the stillness.
Scully was seated at the table, chin cradled in her palm and medical records spread out before her like a paper feast. Mulder, back from a quick circuit that had included the fax machine, fresh coffee, and a check on Claire's condition, rounded the table and plopped into a chair, adding the new medical records to a pile near her right elbow.
"I think that's about it. Last fax came in..." He caught himself when he glimpsed her face. Leaning closer, he used one finger to smooth back the spill of hair obscuring it. A faint line between her closed eyes gave the impression Scully was puzzling over files even in her sleep.
Mulder tucked the hair behind her ear, stroking her cheek with the pad of his thumb. "Scully."
Despite his care she awoke with a start, pen skittering across the table as she reached for her watch. "What time is it?"
He couldn't help smiling, despite his concern. "A little after ten. You just drifted off for a few minutes."
She blinked, then stretched, rolling her head from side to side with a little groan. "My eyes are beginning to cross. When we finish this case I never want to see another MRI again." She perused his hands, expression hopeful. "Coffee?"
Mulder handed her the cup with a flourish. "I got one extra large cup. Figured we could share."
She somehow managed to communicate disapproval while practically chugging the contents. "Mulder, do you have any idea how many germs there are in the human mouth?"
"Baby, I love it when you talk dirty to me, but now isn't the right time."
She rolled her eyes but didn't surrender the cup.
Mulder slithered down in the chair until he could rest his head on the back, long legs stretched out beneath the table and butt precariously hanging off the seat. He stared up at the ceiling. "Sum it up for me, Scully. What have we got so far?"
She picked up her glasses and slipped them on, peering at her notes. "We've received medical records for seven of the ten children abducted six months ago. Nine of the fourteen abducted three days ago have been found. We have preliminary records for six of them."
"And what are the records telling us, Doctor Scully?"
"You should know--you've been reading over my shoulder the whole time."
She sucked in a deep breath; let it out slowly. "All the children suffered from a mild form of epilepsy which they appeared to have outgrown within a year prior to being abducted. In every case, the damaged cells that caused the epilepsy were located on the cerebral cortex near the parietal lobe. And in every case, that same section of tissue was missing when the children were returned--" she shut the folder in front of her--"comatose."
"No incisions," Mulder said quietly. "No scars."
"No damage of any kind. Mulder, the removal of that tissue, as horrifying as it may seem, could not be responsible for the massive amount of electroconductivity we're seeing in the children's brains. It doesn't make sense."
Mulder sat up, running his hand over his stubbled jaw. "I have an idea about that."
A twinkle lit Scully's tired eyes. "I'll bet you do."
He made a face but continued. "Something was used to extract the brain tissue from these kids, Scully. An instrument far beyond the scope of our understanding--beyond the understanding of any physician on this planet."
"You think the instrument itself caused their condition?"
"I think an instrument designed with alien technology is bound to have some nasty side effects on a human brain."
Scully nodded, expression pensive. "So even though it excises the tissue with a minimum of physical trauma, it severely disrupts the electroconductivity across the cerebral cortex."
"Which still leaves the million dollar question unanswered."
"Why they want the tissue in the first place."
Mulder stood and began pacing. "I've been thinking about that, too. Why would a seemingly harmless collection of cells be of interest to beings so technologically superior to us? Is it valuable to them? A threat?"
Scully frowned. "Wait a minute, Mulder. When did these kids stop being alien guinea pigs and start being a threat?"
"The stakes have changed, Scully. These children aren't random test subjects destined for a life as multiple abductees. They're targeted specifically for that one small area of their brain that sets them apart from the rest of us. A clump of cells that is then brutally, efficiently ripped from them without regard to the consequences."
"What you're saying might make an odd kind of sense but for the fact that those cells are useless, Mulder. Worse than useless. They're damaged tissue that caused the children's brains to malfunction--until they eventually adapted."
Mulder jerked to a stop, staring at her intently. "Adapted?"
"So to speak. As a psychologist, I know you're aware that we actually utilize a very small percentage of our total brain cells. In mild cases such as these children had, the brain sometimes manages to adapt, bypassing the damaged area. Almost as if it rewires itself."
"Or evolves." Mulder muttered the words to himself.
"Scully, suppose that tissue isn't just a collection of bad cells. What if it's some kind of...switch, that hasn't been flipped yet."
"You've lost me."
"You said the kids didn't experience the muscle spasms and loss of bodily control characteristic of a full blown seizure, correct? That they'd simply phase out for a short time, lose touch with their surroundings."
"Put simply, yes."
Mulder sucked in his bottom lip, hand drifting up to touch the back of his head. "Almost like they're tuned into something else. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?"
Scully sucked in a sharp breath. "Are you suggesting that the children's seizures were actually episodes similar to what you experienced after exposure to the artifact?" She shook her head. "Mulder that's an awfully big leap, even for you."
"Scully, you're the one who made the connection." Seeing her perplexed expression, he continued. "You were the one to point out that the so-called 'brain storm' we've seen in the returned children is similar in nature to the brain activity I experienced at that time."
"True, but that hardly--"
"Bear with me for a minute. What if this thing we're seeing, this small area of the brain, is a kind of…precursor to what we saw in Gibson Praise?"
"The ability to read minds?"
"And to communicate with the aliens themselves."
Scully shook her head. "But this is very different from Gibson, Mulder. We're talking about one small section of the brain; all of Gibson's cells were affected."
"Maybe this is just the beginning, one of the first baby steps on the evolutionary scale..." Mulder returned to his chair in three quick strides, a light growing inside him. "We know there are different alien factions, Scully, and that one of them was against anything that might result in a pollution of their race. Removing the brain tissue now could interrupt the evolutionary process, halting the development of more human beings with Gibson's abilities."
Scully stared at him for a long moment before letting her head drop onto the seatback with a soft groan. "I need a shower and about 48 hours of sleep. Mulder, only you could make a connection between epilepsy and... Oh my God." Her head popped up and for a moment Mulder got the distinct impression she was looking not at him, but through him.
"What is it?"
She licked her lips. "Max Fenig. He assumed he was an epileptic because of something done to him during one of his abductions. But Mulder...what if that was WHY he was abducted?"
One corner of Mulder's mouth turned up. "That's an awfully big leap, Agent Scully."
"Why should you have all the fun?" She sighed, shoulders curling inward. "This is all well and good, Mulder, but it doesn't solve the problem at hand."
Scully nodded, gesturing to the piles of faxes. "I've been through these records with a fine-toothed comb. A variety of treatments have been employed to restore normal brain function--some creative, some practically incompetent. Nothing has had the slightest effect on the child's condition." She pulled off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "Mulder, time's running out. And I haven't the faintest idea how to help that little girl."
"Guess that answers my question."
They both turned, startled. Grey stood in the doorway, his expression unreadable. He walked slowly over to sit on the edge of the heavy oak table. Up close, Mulder could see how hard his brother was working to maintain control.
"Claire is having trouble breathing. They just put her on a ventilator. Mom and Dad are on their way back."
Mulder glanced over his brother's shoulder. "Kristen?"
"She's staying with Kira until they get here. I wanted to come and get Dana, thought maybe she could talk to the doctor."
Mulder looked over at Scully; saw the shine of tears before her eyes slipped shut.
"I'm so sorry, Grey." The tears colored her voice, as well. "I've looked through every test result, every piece of documentation, and I just can't see..."
Mulder reached for her, but Grey's hand was there first, tucking her tangled hair behind her ear with great tenderness. "You don't have to tell me, darlin'. I have eyes." He dropped his hand and it curled to a fist in his lap. "Maybe I've been a stubborn fool on this case, but I'd have to be blind not to see how hard you and Fox have tried to help Claire." He bit his lip and looked away. "Even I can't expect you to work miracles."
"We haven't given up. As long as Claire is still alive, there's still hope." Mulder said the words with more assurance than he felt, wishing he could will them into being.
Grey's smile touched only his mouth. "I wouldn't expect anything less from you, little brother. But I can't help facing facts. Kira's facing them, too. I can see it in her eyes when she looks at Claire." He ran a hand down his face, eyelashes fluttering. "Maybe it's best she be prepared."
Mulder shoved back his chair and lurched to his feet, heart thudding. "I refuse to accept that. There has to be something more we can do, something right in front of us, maybe, that we're just not seeing." He put a hand on Scully's shoulder, squeezing gently. "The answers are there. We just have to know where to look for them."
She gazed up at him, the barest hint of a smile on her lips, then turned to Grey. "I'll be glad to talk to Dr. Hsu. Then I think we'd better make some calls and see how the other children are doing. There's always the chance one of their doctors has come up with something new."
Grey stood, offering her a hand up as she gingerly stretched muscles cramped from inactivity. "Thank you. At the very least you can translate the medical speak for the rest of us. Dr. Hsu may be a gifted neurologist, but..."
"His bedside manner could use some work," Scully finished dryly. "I'm all too familiar with the type."
They reached the doorway, nearly colliding with Kristen as she rounded the corner from the hallway, clearly agitated.
"Easy, sweetheart." Grey steadied her, peering more closely at her face. "Is Claire all right? Are my parents here?"
"Claire's okay, but I think you'd better come quickly."
"You know the officer you stationed outside the ICU, just in case?" When Grey nodded, Kristen continued. "He's holding some guy who's demanding to see Claire. Say's he's her father."