Chapter 16: On the Rise

March 11, 1998

6:15 a.m.

At some point in the night, she’d rolled over. And he’d followed, spooning up against her. When he opened his eyes, he became aware of two things simultaneously. The sun slanting in almost horizontal through the gap between the curtains, glaring in his eyes, and Scully’s ass, rocking ever so slightly against his pelvis. He shut his eyes again, but it didn’t make the brightness go away. But the other... a shift, a hand, and he was hovering, not in, waiting until she...

She stretched, wiggled, chuckled a little when she felt him, pushed back. Yeah, that. *The best thing about morning sex, is that it delays that moment when the night before slams you upside the head,* he thought, and let his body just move.

It was slow and lazy and eventually she pulled away, turned around, pushed him on his back, and straddled him. He looked up at her, sun streaking through her hair, making a halo. He reached down, found her clitoris with his thumb, smiled as he felt the jolt of energy it gave her. She rocked forward, her hair tumbled down over her shoulders, and he wrapped his other arm around her, picking up the tempo a little, until climax built and crested and he lay, limp. Her hair hid her face from him, as she stayed there, cheek against his chest. She shook, a little. At first he thought it was simply aftershocks, but then he realized that she was crying.

“You okay?” he asked. *Stupid question.*

She froze. “I’m fine.”

He pushed her hair back. “No. Not now. You don’t have to be fine.”

She turned her head to the other side. “Yes, right now, I actually do. I have to act like I’m getting over a miscarriage, months ago, not in the throes of finding out my babies I never knew, died.”

“Even if it had been a miscarriage, you’d still be justified not being fine.”

She rolled off of him. “Eventually, I will get to a point where being not-fine is not extraordinarily dangerous. But right now, I have to be fine.”

He sat up. “I understand that emotional release following coitus is a normal psychological reaction.”

She just looked at him.

No makeup. Deep circles under her eyes. She looked... raw. He pushed her hair back again. “If you won’t let me hold you, can I at least make you breakfast?”

She pursed her lips a little, looked like she was torn between laughing and crying. “Leftover pizza?”

He laughed. “Breakfast of champions!”

She actually managed a little bit of a smile at that. “Shower together, first.”


7:00 a.m., (ab)Normal Heights

Skinner got back from jogging, a plastic bag in his hand, and disappeared into the tiny bathroom. When he emerged, clean shaven, towel wrapped around his waist, Frohike and Langly were both waiting at the door of the bathroom.

Frohike got in first, and Langly said, “You shaved.”

Skinner answered, “Needed to be done. If I go follow this lead looking like a hobo, no one will let me through the door.”

He pulled a dry cleaner bag off the end of his bunk bed. “Nope, I’ve got to actually be myself today.”

Krycek was making breakfast again. Skinner looked at him, asked, “Why are you cooking?”

“So that I will have something to eat?” Krycek responded, tone indicating that the question was ridiculous.

Skinner said, “Yeah, I figured that much. What I don’t get is why you’re cooking for all of us.”

Krycek put the fork he’d been using to mix pancake batter down. “Look. Cooking for one, or even two, is a waste of effort and food. Cooking for myself means whatever is easy. I’m alone most of the time. Why waste the opportunity?”

“It just seems... You don’t seem like the nurturing type.”

Krycek poured batter onto an ancient-looking electric griddle. “I’m not. You are just reaping the benefits of a selfish exercise. I’m not on the run. There are enough people here that there won’t be leftovers to deal with. So, pancakes. If it was just me, I’d bite the head off a small child and be done with it.”

Frohike came out, sniffed, and said, “Mmm. Pancakes. What have we got for toppings?”

Without turning, Krycek waved his prosthetic arm in the general direction of the folding table.

“Maple syrup? Hey, that’s the real stuff. And butter? Who are you, and what have you done with the bad guy?” Frohike sat down at the table.

“Bad guys like maple syrup too.” Krycek brought the first round of pancakes over to the table.

Skinner left after one pancake. A bus came by a minute after he got to the stop, and he rode it back to the rental agency.

The guy at the counter didn’t remember him.


8:45 a.m.

When he pulled up at the address that Spender had given him, a 40 minute drive from the rental agency, she was just coming out of the house. He’d seen enough pictures to recognize her. *Hello, ma’am, you look just like your clones.*

She walked down to a maroon Dodge minivan, opened the side door, and then walked back up to the house. When she emerged, she was carrying a blond, curly-haired toddler on her hip. A little boy, from the clothing. She leaned into the car, set him on the seat, and started manipulating straps. A minute later, a little girl in braids--maybe five or six years old-- came flying out of the house. She twirled, skirt flaring, waiting for her mother to stop fussing with the little boy. The door opened and shut one more time, and a teenager came out, headphones on, disk player in hand, and got in the front seat.

The little girl hopped into the car as soon as her mother got out of the way, and buckled herself in next to her brother. Skinner got out of the car, and crossed the street. She didn’t notice him until he was almost to the car. He said, “Mandy Spender?”

She looked, well, not quite frightened, but definitely wary. “Yes, may I help you?”

He came closer. “I was wondering if I could talk to you about your brother.”

She closed her eyes. “Is Jeff okay?”

He lowered his voice, leaned in, and said, “Actually, I was talking about Fox Mulder, Samantha.”

Her eyes flew open. She looked at him, a look of horror on her face. “Who...” She looked around wildly, started to jiggle the door handle, then fumbled for her keys. “I don’t...”

He put his hand on the door. “It’s okay. I’m a friend. I mean you no harm. Jeffrey was the one who sent me.”

She stopped trying to open the door. Her younger kids were staring at him, the teenager was still looking out the passenger window, oblivious. Samantha turned, looked at him. “I need to take my children to school.” She opened her purse, pulled out a tiny notebook, scribbled directions on it, tore a sheet off. “Meet me there, at 10, and we’ll talk. Oh, and please call me Mandy, especially if you are a friend.”


9:00 a.m. (ab)Normal Heights

“You really don’t screw around, do you?” said Langly, to Krycek.

Krycek bit back his frustration. “I wouldn’t be here at all, if I didn’t think that this place was high on the list of potential targets for the rebels. That means that if we are going to find anything but barbecue, we need to find our objectives, and fast. And that means following leads, now. I suggest that you two,” he nodded at Byers and Frohike, “get started doing your mojo on some fake IDs.”

Byers pulled a pad of paper over. “New ones for Martin and Sally. And the little boy?”

Frohike nodded. “What about the girls, if that pans out?”

“Two for the pregnant girls... Let’s see, passports, birth certificates, um...” Byers stopped. “You know... let me know how many girls there are there. Maybe they all need out.”

Krycek shook his head. “There’s no way you’re going to get that many pregnant illegal aliens across any border together.”

Langly said, “Who said anything about together? I just want to be able to get them to the LHS, and they can figure out what to do with them from there.”

Byers scratched something out. “If that’s the case, then we’ll let Heron deal with IDs for the ones that are not involved in the DS/FM group.”

He looked at the list. “I’ll work some up for all of us at the same time. Think I should work up some visas?”

Frohike nodded.


Langly drove the van to a different rental agency, picked up yet another sedan. “Please tell me we don’t have too many more of these,” he said to Krycek. “I’m getting tired of suits and subterfuge.”

“I thought you were an expert at subterfuge,” Krycek responded.

“Hacking, yes. MIB? Not so much. That’s usually Byers’ department. Or Mulder’s. I feel like I’m going dark side.” Langly glanced down. “Besides. Black suit. Southern California. What’s wrong with this picture?”

It took them about half an hour to get to the gate of the teen mother’s home. A high iron fence with solid brick posts surrounded what looked like it had once been a school of some sort. A guard was posted at the front gate. Krycek leaned across and said, “Entropy. Nicodemus. Purity.” The guard entered something on a keyboard, and then looked back at them, eyes wide as he pressed the button to open the gate.

Langly looked at Krycek, obviously impressed. “You seem to have a reputation.”

“I try.” Krycek smiled. “My most recent status update put me one level below the Syndicate. The only people who have the authority to countermand me are the hoary spiders themselves. Although, they do answer to a higher power of sorts. But unless one of them is actually present...”

“You must have had one hell of a conversation with...what do you call him? Your associate?” Langly pulled into a parking space in front of the old school building.

Krycek laughed. “I’m useful. He has every reason to want me to succeed. Including the fact that I could get him killed with three words.”

“You didn’t happen to make him pancakes, did you?” Langly asked.

Krycek just shot him a look, and opened the door of the car.

They got out, and an alarmed looking Calderon clone opened one of a pair of double doors into the building. “Come in,” he said. “I’ve been instructed to give you the full tour.”


10:20 a.m. Borders

Skinner sat with a crossword puzzle at a small table in the café in a large book store. He’d actually worked the majority of the puzzle before she sat down across from him.

He looked up. “Thank you for coming. Can I get you something?”

She shook her head. “Is something... is he okay?”

Skinner frowned. “I don’t quite know how to answer that. He’s alive, and not injured, if that’s what you’re asking.”

She nodded. “I just... We’ve been... My children have never known me by another name. I was told from the time I was nine years old that it would be dangerous to use my given name, ever, with anyone.”

Skinner leaned forward. “I am not here to put you in danger,” he said, quietly. “But there is danger, and you need to know...”

She put up a hand. “20 ounce iced Americano, with chocolate. Ground, not syrup. Blended. Leaded. Whipped cream.”

He stood up, went over to the counter, and ordered.

He sat down across from her, holding her drink, two minutes later. “How much do you know?”

She started to reach for the cup, he shook his head slightly, and she sighed. “As much as anyone, with the exception of my father. He always does play his cards close to his chest, but has shared a lot with me since I last saw Fox.”

Skinner wrote on his napkin, -Martin Herrod- and handed it to her. “I think you’ll want to use that name in the future.”

She cocked her head, then said, “If he...” She stopped, took the pen off the table, and wrote, -If he is not using his name, I will see him.- “I miss him.” She pushed the napkin back over.

Skinner nodded, then wrote. -put stirrer in mouth, scrape inner cheek, set on table.- He handed the drink to her, with a little red coffee straw. “I think you’ll like it, they put plenty of chocolate in.”

She frowned. He pulled the napkin back, wrote, -Have been fooled before. Need proof.-

She twiddled the stirrer, chewed on it for a moment, then put it down and picked up her drink. “So you didn’t answer. How is he?”

Skinner chuckled. “Married.”

Her eyes widened. “Really. My father did not mention...”

“Your father didn’t know about it before he passed.” Skinner said.

A strange look crossed her face. “That’s interesting. It is rare that my father doesn’t know something.”

Skinner ate a chocolate covered espresso bean. Something clicked. “Your father... my understanding is that he was no longer with us.”

She didn’t say anything.

He leaned forward and said slowly, “If he isn’t... You have to know that if you share anything with him about your brother, it could put his life in danger.”

She frowned. “My father couldn’t..”

Skinner shook his head. “Whatever you believe, believe this. Your father has been careless with your brother’s life in the past. To the extreme. Do not underestimate him. Either of them.”

She bit her lip. “Is... Is he happy?”

Skinner smiled. “He’s in love.” Then he looked down. “But they... just lost a baby. In a particularly unpleasant way.”

That got a reaction, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was. Then she said, “Tell him... I’m sorry. I’ve been there.”

He looked at her. “You have three kids?”

She nodded. “It took extraordinary means, but yes. Lisa is 14. Kit is almost 6. Carl is 2 1/2.”

He looked bemused. “Hard to believe you’re old enough to have a teenager.”

She laughed. “You know exactly how old I am. I had Lisa when I was 19. It seemed like...the thing to do at the time.”

“Are they... okay?”

That got a guarded look. “For the most part. Lisa had a rough start. But she’s doing very well now. Better than a lot of kids her age.”

“How is your husband?” he asked.

She smiled. “Joel is lovely. We’ve been together for years. Since I was 14. I don’t think I would have survived my teens without him.”

He reached out, picked up the stirrer and several napkins, and his puzzle book. He tossed the trash away, and pocketed the stirrer, scribbled napkin and the book together. “Do you have a number I can reach you at?” he asked.

She pulled a card out of her purse, scribbled on the back of it. “That’s my cell. Don’t call the numbers on the front.”

He nodded. “Remember what I said. Protecting your brother is incredibly important.”

She sighed, looked unhappy, but finally nodded. “Thank you for your concern. It’s good to know he has people who care. I wish...” She pulled herself together. “Thank you. You’ll call?”

He smiled. “As soon as I know, yes.”

He turned and walked out of the café area. He looked back, and Mandy was still sipping her drink, a few tears sliding down her cheeks.


10:30 a.m., Teen Mothers’ Home

The clone led Krycek and Langly past a few doors with curtains across the windows, and past one room which had clearly been a classroom once, but which was now filled with several futon couches and a large TV. Two girls sat, bellies small but round, feet propped up on a coffee table, watching something on the television.

They continued on to what must have once been the office of the school. “If you’ll come in here, I’d like to start by introducing you to our staff,” the doctor started.

Krycek put his hand on the clone’s arm, and shook his head. “No. First, sit my man here down, give him access to your computer system. I need the records of the subjects and their surrogates, including treatments given, EDC, and germ line data. I want you to walk me through your process here, start to finish. You don’t have to demonstrate, I just want you to show me where, what, and who. Oh, what should I call you? Dr. Calderon? Calderon three?”

“Actually, most of the staff here have been calling me Ernie,” said the doctor.

“Okay, well, then, Ernie. Sit my associate down, and get him started.” Krycek pulled his lips back a little, but the smile did not touch his eyes. The doctor blinked, then gestured for Langly to follow him.

Krycek moved down the hall, slowly, as if pacing, noting the structure of the place. Typical 1950 baby boom school construction, single story building, hall down the middle, classes with doors to the hall and to the outside, although he’d wager that the outer doors were locked. Lots of windows. Good enough, a chair through a window would be as good as a door in a pinch.

He saw a young woman with a round belly come out of a room. Tiny, very dark skin, dark hair, young but not that young. He wagered that her mother had been not much taller as an adult. She was wearing a printed frock of some sort, and her hair was pulled back in one thick black braid down her back. She saw him, looked frightened, and ducked back into the room she’d come from.

What little Spanish he had, he’d learned from Luis, and it was mostly foul. He suddenly had a vision of himself trying to play pied piper to dozens of pregnant girls who didn’t understand English. *Save the ones you can.* He could manage “Necesito Vamanos”, and the ones who followed, well, they’d be the ones to save. But not right now. Not today.

“If you’d follow me, Mr. Krycek,” the doctor--Ernie-- said, surprising him from behind.

Down the long hallway to the end of the building, and out another set of double doors, they walked through a breezeway. From there, Krycek could see that four similar buildings formed the outline of a square, and the center was a sunny pool, palm trees, and a half dozen teenagers lying on lawn chairs in bikinis, bellies ranging from almost flat to improbably round. Several of the girls were asleep. Two were giggling, rapid fire Spanish rippling sotto voce between them. Another girl was rubbing oil on her skin. They looked reasonably content.

The doctor opened the next set of double doors, but this building was apparently only like the others on the outside. Inside, it looked more like a hospital than a school. The doctor stopped three doors down, and held a door open. “This is where we do implantations. We’ve experimented with several different procedures. We’re shifting away from implanting fetuses, and back to implanting blastocysts, because while we can’t control the first weeks of cell division as closely, we seem to be able to bring more pregnancies to term the old fashioned way.”

Krycek laughed, “What, sex?”

The doctor looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “No, in vitro fertilization. Primitive, but allows for a deeper implantation of the placenta, which allows the mothers to carry the babies to term without dying of preeclampsia. We’re very good at dealing with prematurity, but it is inconvenient to have to locate new surrogates. Replicating the mechanical abilities of the human womb is not particularly hard with our technology, but the subjects seem to have better growth and development in a meat womb rather than a mechanical one. Some psychophysiological failing of the human machine. You all seem to depend overmuch on abstracts.”

“You mean, mothers?” Krycek asked.

“Much the same thing, in my line of work,” said the doctor. “The last batch of bottled subjects was destroyed in the cleanup after that unfortunate mess with DS/FM1.”

“Emily Sims. Yes, that was a mess. Has your cohort discussed with you the ramifications and the new project he’s been assigned?”

The clone frowned. “He mentioned something about a possible cleanup effort. I’m not sure why you’d need to save anything here if you really did have to clean up. They’re all illegals, and the subjects do not exist in any legal sense.”

Krycek shrugged. “And at the same time, there’s no huge incentive to eliminate them, either, if the biological remnants of your tinkering are gone. Unlike the man who used to supervise this project, those in control of it now do not feel a need for casual murder. It’s just not necessary. And besides, they give you ample opportunity to test your efforts to clean up the more public mess.”

The clone looked relieved. “Oh, I do see. You know, it’s actually not that complicated for those who are less than about 28 weeks along. One manipulation of the probes, flush them out, insert a biological stabilizer chip, and the mother’s body will right the situation, though she’ll need to retain the chip, given the side effects of removal. After about 28 weeks, the changes are too well integrated, due to an amniotic infusion treatment we perform at that time. Those are the ones we’ll need to test our ‘cure’ on. The Dr. Calderon you’ve been working with told me this morning that he thinks he’ll be able to synthesize the marker within the next two weeks. If it works, we should be able to do our initial testing about a week after that. With the method he’s using... the results should be fairly rapid.”

Krycek nodded. “Satisfactory. I expect him to keep me apprised of all developments. Now what do you do after implantation?”

The doctor backed out of the room, and led him across the hall to a dispensary. “Treatments in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy involve doses of molecular probes, programmed to integrate themselves with the placenta during placental proliferation. The changes they make in the fetus and the placenta at that time serve to make the whole system more receptive to later manipulation. We do a gene mod during fertilization which activates certain genes that would normally remain dormant, and the molecular probes help us monitor that, and allow us to ‘flip the switch,’ as it were, and turn such things on or off as needed during various stages. But those changes merely make the organism receptive. We are not actually inserting new extraterrestrial material until that first amniotic infusion at 28 weeks. At 12 weeks or so, once the major organs are in place and the placenta is thoroughly embedded, the first batch of molecular probes are deactivated and a treatment given to flush them out through the surrogate’s kidneys. At that point we introduce a new batch, with new programming, and the surrogates are given specific nutrients in their prenatal vitamin regimen which help lay the groundwork for our future efforts. Aside from that gene mod and the presence of the probes, our current batch are all functionally normal until we start infusing at 28 weeks.”

Krycek frowned. “What if the mothers do not cooperate?”

The doctor shrugged. “That was one of the reasons we switched to the geriatric model for so long. We had one little Filipina who escaped at 14 weeks pregnant back in 1985, and we never did manage to catch her. I can’t imagine the child was normal, though, because we were not using the molecular probes at that point, and the relevant genes were still turned on. While they can provide certain advantages, the substances they produce can interfere with proper growth. That was relatively early in this project, and our methods were... less refined. None of that subject’s cohort survived past a year. Our security is much improved. And we make them comfortable. In any event, our techniques are somewhat better now, and we’ve currently got 8 subjects living who have survived at least a year, four more who are past the critical neonatal period. I have high hopes for our current efforts, if we are allowed to continue.”

Krycek nodded. “So why don’t you just use the process that created you and your cohorts?”

The doctor gave an apologetic shrug. “Well, we do well in the sciences and intellectual areas, but we are not capable of sexual reproduction, and our other physical limitations mean that we are of limited use for long term colonization efforts.” He frowned. “We’re also not very good at passing as human, once people get to know us. I’m told we’re too pragmatic.”

*Pragmatic. Right. Have they not noticed, the colonists, that the planet is already pretty thoroughly occupied? Why not just come in guns ablaze? Why the subterfuge? Surely they could just take...* “What is your end goal with these subjects? What would constitute success?” *Careful...*

“A process that produces hybrids with the ability for sexual reproduction, an essentially normal bloodstream that will pass common laboratory analysis, and long term stability without outside manipulation. If the subjects we produce now are capable of sexual reproduction within 10 years, we will be able to determine whether or not there is germ line continuity.” The doctor turned, opened the door, and walked down the hall.

“Ten years... but most humans can’t reproduce that young.”

“Oh, if we can get them past the first five years, we can accelerate their development artificially at that point, and have them ready for reproduction within two years. My sort can be grown from conception to adult function, with full cognitive ability and rapid learning, within about 8 months. Once they’re stable, getting them to the point we want them is simple. But stability has been elusive.” The doctor pushed open another door. “In here, we perform the amnioinfusions that start the actual hybridization process. It also serves as our delivery suite.”

The room was sterile, white tile, steel, and glossy white paint, with a metal operating table and a vinyl-covered chair side by side. A television sat in one corner, various machinery lined the walls.

The doctor walked across the room and pushed open a side door. “In here, our neonatal intensive care unit. Unit is probably a misnomer, in that it is rare we have more than one child at a time, but the nursing staff uses it by habit. We send our nurse cohort out to the university hospital NICU to serve a residency of sorts before coming here. The University thinks that there are identical twins working there, but we rotate them in and out, one is always the competent one, the other bumbles a bit and is not well trusted, but the other staff, I’m told, never seem to notice when the old one disappears, the new one puts her hair up, and a new bumbler comes on duty. Fortunately, we do not go through nurses very quickly.”

“Should I assume then, that after you’ve got them stable, you pass them off to the San Diego County Social Services?” Krycek asked. He looked around the room. Three little plastic beds, lined with something soft, all empty, all under inactive light tubes. A few scattered rolling stools, a metal counter that, from the lighting and machinery, was actually a tiny operating table. No chairs.

“Oh, we did, but we’re thinking about holding our next batch closer to the chest, if the surrogates are willing to cooperate. That hasn’t been decided yet. Since the death this January, so public, there is a detective who has been hounding our operative at SDCSS.” The doctor pronounced it, ‘sid-kiss.’ “We’ve had to rethink a lot of our normal relationship with the county.” The clone opened another door from the NICU back to the hallway. “Is there anything else you’d like to see?”

“Show me the girls’ rooms. Their living quarters. Do you educate them?”

“We do not take any who can read or speak English. We allow them television, and they do receive education in Spanish about staying healthy in their pregnancies. Mostly, however, they seem to lounge around the pool and eat a lot.” The doctor looked slightly repelled. “They’re simple, most of them. We do not keep the rebellious ones. Not worth the hassle. We haven’t had trouble since we put the pool in last year.”

Krycek nodded. “Sensible.”

The rooms were simple. Three girls to a room. Each girl had a twin bed, several pillows, a little side table, a dresser. The dormitories were centered around a large school bathroom. The last building in the series was a gymnasium. It appeared both locker rooms had been remodeled. One, for staff, appeared quite luxurious, with a bathtub and private shower stalls. The other had simply had lockers replaced by open shelves, it was obvious that all showers happened en mass, and Krycek spotted at least four video cameras in the girls’ bathroom.

“How many girls live here right now, Ernie?” he asked, as he followed the doctor back to the office.

“We have nine pregnant surrogates right now, and another three we’d planned on implanting in the next three months.”

“How many of those are more than 28 weeks along?” Krycek asked.

“Four. One of them is due next week, one in about five weeks, and two of them are 32 weeks along. We’ve got another two at 24 weeks, one at 20 weeks, two at 14 weeks, and one was implanted three weeks ago. All three of the ones who are not currently pregnant spontaneously aborted within the past six months. We had to eliminate two others this past year, but we try to avoid that as it upsets the pregnant surrogates. I understand you do not want us to experiment with the two surrogates carrying the DS/FM line?” The doctor looked mildly curious.

“That is correct. I would like to see those surrogates now, if you don’t mind. I assume you have other lines to work with?” Krycek asked.

“Oh, certainly. The BH/DB line is doing reasonably well, and our PN/MF line is one of our most successful to date.” The doctor led him back to a converted classroom, where the girl Krycek had seen in the hall was sitting alone, with a little hand loom and a pile of beads.

The doctor spoke to Krycek, essentially ignoring the girl, who stared at them intently, hands poised over her work. “This is Maria Teck. As you can see, she is 20 weeks. We generally do not bother with sex typing of embryos anymore, so we’ll know the gender of her child when we scan her at 28 weeks for the amnioinfusion.”

Krycek nodded. “And the other girl?”

The doctor frowned. “We should have seen her already, in our tour. Her name is Lucita Melendez. Let me go check. You are welcome to examine this girl, but I do ask that you not damage her.” He walked out of the room, and the door closed behind him.

The girl stood up too quickly, knocking her beads astray, and backed away. Krycek said, “Whoa. It’s okay. I don’t need to examine you.”

She relaxed, quickly, and he cocked his head. Looked around the room, spotted the camera behind him. He mouthed, barely breathing the words, “You understand...”

She gave the tiniest of nods, looking terrified.

He mouthed, “I’m here to help.”

Her eyes went wide. She put her hand on her belly.

He mouthed, “I know. Do you know whose baby it is?”

She shook her head, backed away, but her eyes said something else. Not the fear her body language was screaming, but... hope?

He took three steps and was right in front of her. He leaned down, put his hand on her shoulder, and whispered in her ear, “Act like you’re afraid, but listen. Another woman was hurt, much like you must have been, to make the baby you carry.”

The girl’s voice sounded terrified as she said out loud, “Por favor senor, no me duele,” but she was relaxed under his hand.

“Good girl. That woman is working very hard to get you out of here, to save her baby from these men. We will help you. But you’ll need to be here until we are ready to get you out of here. If you see a man you don’t know come through here with a stick in his hand... you must hide.”

She said again, a little more intently, “No me duele, no me duele,

And then, so softly he could barely hear, “Comprendo. Gracias.

He turned away from her, schooling his face to a scowl, and stalked out of the room to find Doctor Ernie.


He had no such opportunity with the other girl. She was slightly taller, lighter skinned, and her hair was shorter, loosely curled. She was one of the girls at the pool, lying in the shade, looking torpid and vaguely uncomfortable. It was clear that she had no interest in him, and that there was going to be no convenient way to talk to her alone. After simply noting which one she was, Krycek indicated to the doctor that he was finished.

Langly looked both unnerved and triumphant when Krycek returned to the office. “Ready to go, boss,” he said, holding up disks. “You all done?” A few feet away from Langly, a guard sat, watching wall of video surveillance monitors.

Krycek nodded, then said to the doctor, “I’ll return in a couple of weeks with further instructions. Let your colleague know that he should contact me with ongoing progress reports, and if anything changes. I will say that you should not begin the infusion process with any more mothers. Keep doing what you need to do in order to keep the current batch and their babies alive, but don’t start any more until the situation is clarified.”

The doctor nodded. “I understand.”

“Good.” Krycek turned and walked out, Langly trailing him.

When they got into the car, Krycek was silent until they were on the highway. Finally, he said, “You know, whatever else you do, make it your priority to your dying breath to fight those motherfuckers.”

Langly said, “Yep, I got that already. Do you know that their youngest ‘surrogate’ is fourteen. Barely?”

Krycek answered, “Do you know that the only reason they bother with surrogates at all is that they found that if they bypassed human mothers, the kids just didn’t grow well enough? He considered it a failing that humans need mothers to be human.”

“What are those guys? I mean, exactly? Are they alien or what?”

“Vat grown hybrid clones, but apparently an insufficiently advanced model, because they can’t reproduce themselves by any other method than more cloning.” Krycek pounded his fist against the window. “The one girl I managed to talk to was utterly terrified. She’s about four foot eleven, and they put the baby of a man who is six feet tall in her. But she was smart. Understands English, but doesn’t let them know. When I let her know I was there to get her out, I thought she was going to kiss me, but instead she played along and acted like I was the bad guy come to molest her.”

Langly gave a short, humorless laugh. “Really impressed you, huh? Which one was she?”

“Apparently the last one on that list. 20 weeks. Their baby.”

Langly shook his head. “She’s fifteen. Barely. And this is her second baby at the facility.”

“What, did you memorize them?” Krycek asked.

“Just the ones on our list, and the youngest. The records went back quite a ways, included the geriatric mothers Mulder found, and back about 15 years. They used a similar setup, different facility, for about three years in the beginning, then changed to old folks until they decided that it was inconvenient to have mothers who tolerated the process so poorly. Apparently the ones Mulder saw were the last of that batch, they were already shifting over here to these poor kids.” Langly pointed at the top disk. “That disk is just the data on the exact procedures they’ve used. The next one down is genetic research. The last one is the actual database. We are going to get those kids out of there, aren’t we?”

Krycek nodded. “We need to give them a chance to reverse the process. He said it’s easy with the ones who aren’t in their third trimester. But one of the kids we were after is at the 35 week point, and we need to give them a chance to reverse the process in her before we try to take either of them.”

Langly scowled. “You can’t seriously mean to leave any of those girls there...”

“I don’t seriously mean to leave a single one of the staff members alive. Whether or not we can get the girls out... I know for certain that I can get Maria Teck out. Lucita... I’ll need a translator. Maybe Maria can do it, maybe she can’t. The rest... I just don’t know.” Krycek started tapping the window in frustration.

“What are you going to do, off all the ones you don’t take with you?” Langly asked.

“No, but I’m not sure that they’ll manage to make it out unless they can do exactly what we tell them to. Besides, I only have one ‘biological stabilizer chip.’”

Langly asked, “Is that what was in Scully?”

Krycek nodded. “Yeah. They’re not particularly easy to come by.”

Langly actually smiled. “Um, don’t be too sure about that. I didn’t think about it at the time, but there was a file in there that referred to biological stabilizers. And if I’m correct, they have them in the medical wing of the home.”

Krycek turned, looked at Langly. “Oh really. That’s interesting. Helpful even. Think we can rent a school bus, when the time comes?”

“If it it means getting those kids out of that place? We can rent a stretch limo, if you want.”


Noon, La Jolla

Mulder and Scully had spent most of the morning grocery shopping and picking up odds and ends. As they pulled out of the Whole Foods parking lot, and started back towards the condo, Mulder noticed a car, following them. He pointed it out to Scully, who squinted, looked startled, turned back, looked around, and had him pull into a small parking lot at the south end of the campus, at the edge of a large park.

She gave him a kiss, and said, “Honey, let’s take some fruit and chips over, and have a little picnic.”

He looked at her strangely, then glanced back, realized who was following them, and nodded.

They found a bench tucked in a three-sided nook of hedges, and sat down. A few minutes later, Skinner ducked in, clean-shaven and wearing a crisp white dress shirt, looking more himself than he’d been in a while. He sat down next to Scully, took her hand, and said, “I just wanted to let you two know that I’m leaving today after all. I need to go back and check something out in DC. I’ll get back in touch with you through your intrepid friends when I get the answer to my question.”

Scully gave his hand a squeeze, realized that he was slipping her a piece of paper, looked at him curiously, and caught his glance at Mulder, his glance at her hand, and a small shake of the hand.

Mulder said, “Anything serious?”

Skinner said, “I won’t know for a bit. But it could be a real break. You need to be careful though. I’m not sure I trust all of our sources’ motives.”

Scully laughed, a sharp sound. “What else is new?”

Then she said, “Oh, Martin, darling. I left my belt pack in the car. Would you go get it for me?”

Mulder looked at her funny. “Um, sure, sweetie.”

As soon as he was halfway to the car, she looked at the paper in her hand. Her eyes got wide. “How are you going to verify this?”

He held up a little plastic bag containing the coffee stirrer. “Cheek scraping.”

She held out her hand. “Let me do it.”

He frowned. “I have the comparison data back in DC.”

She shook her head. “Sent it to the boys. But let me run that. There’s no one back there that I really trust to keep it as confidential as we need it, and I can run it myself, start to finish, here.”

He put the bag in her hand. “Okay, but I need to know as soon as you know. There’s a chance that a certain man with a bad habit may not be as dead as we hoped.”

She palmed the sample. “Oh God. Are you sure?”

He shrugged. “I really don’t know. But I was led to believe this morning, that he could be considered present tense, not past.”

She closed her eyes. “Dammit. Do you think Krycek....”

“I really don’t know. If it wasn’t all an act, then Krycek thinks he’s dead. If it was an act, well, we were already screwed.” Skinner frowned, looked pointedly at Mulder, loping back with her purse over his shoulder.

She looked at Mulder, then said to Skinner, “I understand. Thank you.”

She took the purse, slipped the little plastic bag in under the guise of pulling her lipstick out, then said in a normal voice, “Well, have a good trip. You’ve been a great help to us.”

Skinner smiled, then said, “Congratulations to you both, by the way. I hope the situation here is.. productive for both of you.” He shook Mulder’s hand, kissed Scully’s cheek, and then walked away.

Mulder looked at her. “Okay, spill.”

She sighed. “How many times have you refrained from telling me something because it wasn’t the right time?”

He frowned. “I thought we’d established that as a bad idea.”

“Well, in this case, it’s necessary. I can’t tell you what I don’t know myself, but I can tell you that I will tell you when I do know.”

He blinked. “What?”

She stood up. “Never mind. I’ll tell you what I know, when I know it.”

He looked bothered. She said, “Trust me on this one, please?”

He quit pushing, but he kept trying to peek into her purse until they got back to the condo.


Skinner had been looking in the rearview mirror almost more than at the road in front of him as he drove south from Borders. He wasn’t really sure no one was following him until he hit a long, straight stretch of road through a canyon, and could see for a mile in either direction that there was not one car in sight. He pulled onto a tiny little road and waited 15 minutes, then pulled back out.

He had driven around La Jolla near the campus for 20 minutes before he had finally seen the teal Accord with Canadian plates, parked in the Whole Foods lot. He’d known the minute he walked out of the bookstore that he would be heading back to Washington as soon as he could arrange the flight.

Driving away from the campus after meeting with ‘The Harrods,’ he was walking his next few hours in his head. Rental agency. Bus. Drop note at dojo. Bus downtown. Cab to airport. Standby. He had no idea how long it would take Scully to run the test, but he wanted her to have what she needed by the time the results were done.

When he stopped in at the dojo, the front door was propped open, and Heron was sweeping. She took one look at him, cocked her head, and pointed to the stairway.

He sat down on the mat on the floor of her living room and waited. Ten minutes later, Frohike came in.

“Well?” The little man asked.

Skinner said, “It looked like her. I managed to get a cheek scraping to Scully. I’ll be sending you the comparison data... where do you want it shipped?”

“Better send it to Partridge. Sorry. Carol Howard. I’ll give you her address. She’ll be able to get it to Scully without drawing attention.” Frohike stooped and then slowly sat down. “Was our girl happy to see you?”

Skinner shook his head. “Not really. Oh, and the real kicker... She implied that her ‘father’ is still alive.”

Frohike’s eyes grew wide. “That’s bad.”

“It’s not good. Worse, she believes that he is not capable of the things he is clearly capable of. I think I managed to impress upon her how important it is to avoid telling him about Mulder.”

Frohike stretched his feet out in front of him. “Do you want an update on what we’ve been doing today?”

“Sure.” Skinner said.

“Well, couple things. First, I managed to find out who does the landscaping for the condo. It’s just one guy, and I told him that I’d pay him to take a vacation and let me take over, starting next week. Thought I was crazy, until I told him that I was a private investigator, and one of the people there was suspected of leading a double life, and that it would make my stakeout easier. Turns out the guy is addicted to detective shows. He was practically saluting by the time I got done talking to him. Also, I think we can get Langly in on the janitorial service at the hospital without too much trouble. So I’ll be over in that part of town five mornings a week from about 6 am to noon, and Langly will be at the hospital from 10 pm to 6 am three days a week. That gives us a chance to touch base with our people as needed.” Frohike grinned, clearly pleased with himself.

“What about Byers?” Skinner asked.

Frohike said, “Well, we’re not sure yet. We want to get him in on the SDCSS side of things. Possibly tech support, which would give him access to the computer system. But today he was mostly working with Gwynne, setting up the IDs and working out possible escape routes. We may have him stick with the van. But I want to hear what Langly has to say before we decide for sure.” His pocket started to buzz.

He answered the phone, listened, and then just said, “Dojo. Upstairs.”

A few minutes later, Krycek, Langly, and Byers joined them.

“The Skin Man is leaving us,” Frohike said.

Langly answered, “Oh? For real?”

Skinner nodded. “I’ve done all I can do here for now, I need to go deal with the mess we left back in DC. You boys will do fine.”

Krycek looked over at Byers. “By the way, you might want to prepare your girls’ club for ten.”

Frohike whistled. “Had a change of heart?”

Langly answered, “If we can end this with those girls out and that place burned to the ground, it will be a good day’s work.”

“That bad?” asked Skinner.

“Worse,” said Krycek. “I don’t know if we can get all of them out, but getting Maria out will not even be very hard. Lucita, I’m not so sure about. The rest... if we can, we will. I did stop them from doing more implantations, at least. If we can get those bastards to undo their handiwork, all the better.”

“The girls... the youngest is fourteen.” Langly shook his head. “I think that Maria, the one Krycek says we can get out, I think that she was 13 when they first started using her as a brood mare.”

“That’s...” Byers stopped.

“Evil?” Krycek supplied. “Some of the girls appeared content enough. But what I saw in that little girl... I suspect that they were content because at that moment, no one was performing surgery on them or putting them through medical procedures.”

“What’s to stop you from telling them that the girls are to be moved, and that you’re doing the moving?” asked Skinner.

“Well, first of all, all the ones who are 28 weeks or less will have to have a chip put in. The ones who are farther along... we need to wait for the treatment to be finished. At that point, maybe... but if I don’t go in there with a bunch of suited guys and a lot of firepower, they’re not going to buy it, and even so, the doctor is likely to call the Syndicate to beg them to reconsider.” Krycek pulled a metal cylinder out of his pocket, thumbed it, and it snicked open. “I strongly suspect I’m going to need to deal with the doctor personally. The nurses are also clones. I have no idea about the security guard. But the minute I go in guns blazing, my cover is blown. We need to do this all at once. Ideally, Scully will grab the frozen materials, Mulder will grab the boy, and we’ll get the girls, all at the same time.”

Skinner nodded. “When you think you have a date for that, please alert me. I may be able to bring in the big guns.”

Frohike pulled a phone from his other pocket. “Take this. Keep it charged. Only reason it will ring is if we need your help.”

Skinner took the phone. “How many of these do you have?”

Frohike laughed. “I always bring a couple spares.”

Skinner stood up. “Unless there’s anything else, I need to get to the airport and bum a ride from the friendly skies.”


2:15 p.m. La Jolla

Scully looked at the clothes in her close for a solid half hour before finally settling on a short-sleeved, boat-neck cream tunic and a pair of pale blue slacks. Braid straight down the back. Glasses. Sensible little canvas flats. Mulder sat in shorts and a t-shirt, watching her fuss. “You look sensational,” he volunteered.

She shot him a look. “Yes, but do I look professional enough?”

“It’s SoCal. The fact that you’re not showing up in shorts and a tank top is professional enough.” He came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.

She turned. “Yes, and do you know how long it’s been since I had to start a new job?”

He chuckled. “At least yours is roughly in the same field.”

“When are you going in?” she asked.

“Tomorrow, Carol is going to take me down and introduce me to the staff down at Social Services.” He frowned. “I’m trying to figure out the right balance between professional detachment and shaking everyone in the building until they tell me where... he is.”

She heard his hesitation, and her mind filled in, *My son.*

He followed her downstairs, and walked to the door with her. “When will I see you?” he asked.

“I think I’ll be back sometime around six.” She smiled.

She looked at the fanny sack next to the door. Then took it down, pulled the car keys out, strapped it on. She was about to walk away, when he caught her wrist, and leered at her.

She laughed, stepped into his arms, and gave him a lingering kiss. Then she walked to the car, unlocked it, climbed in, and pulled away.

He watched her go, waited until the car was gone, and then went back into the house to find the swim trunks he’d discovered when they had unpacked their clothes.

A few minutes later, he walked down the street and around the corner to the condominium association’s pool.


Mulder had been splashing around in the pool, swimming the world’s shortest laps and seeing how long he could hold his breath, when the gate opened and a dark haired, tanned woman in overlarge sunglasses walked in. Holding her hand was a little girl, pale skin, pale red curls, delicate features and a vividly pink swimsuit with sparkles and a Disney princess printed on the front. The woman gave him an uncertain smile, then sat the little girl down in a lawn chair to spread sunscreen over her exposed skin. Mulder walked over in chest-deep water, and said, cheerfully, “Hi there! I’m Martin Herord.”

The woman paused, reached over and shook his proffered hand. “Joanie Daldsen,” she replied. “You new here?”

He smiled. “Sure am! My wife and I just moved in around the corner. We’re working at the university this term.”

She looked relieved. “Oh, lovely! I was wanting to meet you two. We live across the street. This is Amanda, my daughter. What are you doing at the university?”

“She’s a doctor, filling in for someone’s maternity leave over at Urgent Care. I’m with the Sociology department. I’m here for a research project.” He smiled at the little girl, who ducked her face and leaned into her mother. “Hi there, Amanda. Do you like to swim?”

She nodded, without looking at him. Joanie smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, she’s not very good with new people.”

He shrugged. “It’s okay. I’ll just be over here standing on my head.”

The little girl peeked. He windmilled his arms backwards to bring himself to the middle of the pool, took a cheek-puffing amount of air into his lungs, raised his eyebrows and then dived to a handstand, legs milling wildly in the air.

When he surfaced, the little girl was looking right at him. She said, clear as a bell. “Do ‘gain.”

Joanie laughed. “I think you’ve won a convert.”

He smiled. “That’s good. How old is she? Two?”

Joanie said, “She’s almost three. But she’s little for her age.”

He said, “Oh?”

She hesitated. “She was sick for a while.”

He made a sympathetic face. “Oh, that’s hard when they’re so young.” *Sweaty little girl, glassy eyed, lying so limp...*

Joanie forced a smile. “She’s been doing better. And she loves swimming.”

Joanie took off her coverup, kicked off her thongs, and picked little Amanda up. Mulder watched them splash in the shallow end for a while, and then made himself continue doing laps.

As he swam, he called up in his mind the spreadsheet Scully had been looking at. Then kicked himself. *You know that this one isn’t yours. All yours are dead, except one baby boy.*

Still. He knew Joanie Daldsen’s name, and Amanda’s. They were the whole reason for this trip, for this location. One of the first names that came up on the search in January. *She’s been sick.*

He wondered who Amanda’s parents were. Red hair. Blue eyes. Little turned-up nose and pale skin. Max? *Do aliens prefer redheads?*

He stood up. Amanda stared at him. He grinned at her.

Joanie noticed, and said, “Hey, she likes you.”

He shrugged. “I think kids sense that I’m one of them.”

Joanie laughed. “I can see that. Oh, by the way, I was wondering if you and your wife would be available for dinner on Friday?”

He let his shoulders drop. “Oh, I’m sorry. Sally has to work the evening shift over at Urgent Care on Friday, but I know she’d love to meet you and your little girl.”

Joanie smiled. “Oh, that’s okay. Are you free tomorrow?”

He nodded. “That, I think we can do. What time would you like us to come over?”

She smiled. “Oh, how about six. I’d normally say seven, but Amanda usually goes to bed at 7:30.”

“Should we bring anything?” he asked.

“Oh, no. Not while you’re getting settled.”

He smiled. “We’ll just have to reciprocate at some point. Assuming that little Amanda doesn’t decide I’m the boogieman.”

He stuck his tongue out at her, and crossed his eyes.

Amanda giggled.

He hopped out, and stepped into his sandals. “Tomorrow, then. Six. I’ll let Sally know.”

She nodded, smiled. “Nice to meet you, Martin.”

He smiled, put on his glasses, threw his towel over his shoulder, and pretended to tip his hat. “Likewise.”


3:00 p.m. UCSD Thornton Hospital

Scully decided, walking between the palm trees, that she liked the effect. Ostentatious or not, it stripped some of the clinical feel from the place, and with the number of times she’d been hospitalized, anything that made it feel less antiseptic was just fine by her.

At the reception desk, she waited while a man tried to fill in a form with his left hand, right hand lying in his lap, bloody, before letting the receptionist know she was there. About 20 minutes later, Dr. Hadley appeared, clipboard in hand, and gestured. “Right this way, Sally. I hate to do this to you, but I’m going to sit you in a corner with a procedures book. Holler if you have any questions.”

Scully blinked. Whatever she was expecting, that wasn’t it. She shrugged it off, took the large binder, and followed Dr. Hadley to a corner of the nurses’ station. She started flipping through the book.

A few minutes later, a nurse leaned over. “It’s all pretty routine. You can’t possibly read the whole thing. How much clinic work have you done?”

Scully laughed. “Minimal. I’ve been in research for most of my career, but I’ve had to do my share of field medicine. My suturing is excellent. And I’ve got a strong background in pathology.”

The nurse put out her hand. “I’m Meg. How about this? You watch us for a while. When’s your first shift?”

“Friday evening.” Scully answered.

“Great. I’ll be on. We’ll treat you like a resident until you get your legs. You can’t possibly screw up as badly as most of them do. You okay with taking suggestions from a nurse?”

Scully laughed. “A nurse saved my life once, when the doctors had given up. I’d be a fool not to listen to nurses.”

Meg laughed. “Then you’re miles ahead most of the new doctors we get here. Come in with every medical text on the syllabus memorized, and then they try to turn every cough into a rare syndrome. This is not the place for fancy footwork. We get the stuff that people don’t want to pay the ER for, when they don’t want to wait for a regular appointment. Some of them have no primary care provider. We get some frequent fliers. But most of the people you’ll see are in and out and you never see them again. We’re also about speed. So if they’re having a hard time breathing, you check lung function, give them albuterol and oxygen and if that doesn’t do it, X-ray them. If it’s more than we can do catch and release, send ‘em up to the floor. You’re not going to be sticking slides under microscopes down here, leave that for the boys upstairs. If it’s bleeding, get it stopped. Stitch it if it needs it. Don’t be afraid to send them along for an ultrasound or X-ray, we don’t want a lawsuit, but don’t expect to be following anyone for more than the crisis at hand.” She laughed. “Your eyes are glazing over.”

Scully gave a small laugh. “Sticking slides under microscopes is a large part of what I’ve been doing the past few years. That and autopsies. I’m great at figuring out what killed people.”

Meg laughed. “Well, we don’t usually get the ones who are on death’s door here. If they are, we send ‘em down the hall to emergency. So you shouldn’t be doing much work with dead people. How’s your bedside manner?”

“With dead people?” Scully asked. Then she smiled. “Actually, my few live patients all seem to love me. But one of them is my husband, so I’m not sure he counts.”

“You go for funny, do you?” Meg smiled. “You’ll be fine.”

Dr. Hadley came back over. “Is the book too dry?”

Scully laughed. “Actually, Meg has been very helpful. Would it be possible for me to take the book home to review it?’

Dr. Hadley laughed. “Oh heavens no. I’m not going to put you through that. Things that happen here fall into two categories. Relentlessly routine, and so weird that nothing in that book is going to help you.”

“Weird I can do. I specialize in weird,” Scully said.

“Well, I’d say we get weird about one in, oh, what do you think, Meg? One in twenty?” Dr. Hadley asked.

Meg nodded. “If that. Runny noses, cuts, that’s the majority. Then you get the odd ones, like the boy with the hoover attachment on his..”

Scully winced and held up a hand. “I think I get the picture. Emma, do you mind if I tag along on a few cases this afternoon?”

Emma Hadley smiled. “That would be just fine, Sally.”


5:00 p.m.

Scully begged off from the clinic after she’d sutured one case and been sneezed on by at least three different patients. She shucked off the scrubs she’d been handed, tossed them in a laundry bag, and put her own clothes back on in the nurses’ little locker room behind the clinic.

She called Carol as soon as she was dressed, and asked, “Have you got a few minutes? Great. Where’s your office?”

She drove across campus, found the sociology building, and waited at the door for a grad student to let her in. He apologized, explaining that the doors at the other end of the building were open 24/7.

Carol’s office was on the first floor. One wall was entirely glass from the windowseat up, and the other walls were lined up to about 6 feet off the ground with books. Carol looked up and smiled as Scully came in the door. “How was the hospital?”she asked.

“The staff were pleasant. I think I’ll do okay there.” Scully closed the door, and sat down in a chair in front of the desk. “I was wondering if you would know who I could talk to about getting some lab time.”

Carol looked surprised. “Any specific kind of lab time?”

Scully nodded. “I need to run a PCR. I may need to do several of them. I was given some information today that pertains to my ongoing research, and I don’t want to lose the thread of what I was doing. I also have a sample that needs cold storage. Not cryo, but deep freeze temps.”

Carol nodded. “Let me make a phone call.”

Half an hour later, Scully was back at the medical center, isolating cells from the end of the coffee stirrer, and adding them to the primer medium. She stopped after the first cycle, refrigerated the sample, then put her protein vial and the probes in the deep freeze.


5:30 p.m. (ab)Normal Heights.

The guys all jumped when Frohike let out a whoop of victory. “I’ve got a name!”

“A name?” Langly echoed.

“Yeah, for their kid. Tyler Smith.” Frohike pointed at the computer screen.

“Tyler? They’ll be able to change that, right?” Langly said, looking a little perturbed.

Byers said, “I don’t know. It’s kind of cute. Do you know where he is?”

Frohike shook his head. “But now that we have a name, it might be time to see about cracking the nut down at Social Services.”

Langly smiled. “I’m already in. Oh. They’re not very computerized. But it looks like they’re paying a check to one Tifiny Jamison. Spelled T-I-F-I-N-Y.”

“Think that’s a computer error?” asked Frohike.

Byers shook his head. “Someone trying to be original. Or just illiterate. Is there any other info in there?”

“Just an address. Oh, let’s see. Tifiny is getting other checks. Looks like there are 3 other kids there.” Langly typed a few more lines, waited, then typed again. “It looks like she’s been getting checks for him for the past two months. That’s good news, right?”

Byers made a so-so gesture. “It means he’s probably not too attached to Tifiny. But kids really need someone they can depend on, and if he’s been shuffling around.... How many other people have collected checks for him?”

Langly typed for a long time. “It looks like we’ve got two other names. Rebecca Taliaferro, and Elise Francesca.”

Frohike slid his rolling chair from one computer to the next one over, then another one, plugging in names. By the time he got back to the first computer, his first search had borne fruit.

“Tifiny Jamison. Couple little dingleberry convictions about 20 years ago. Shoplifting. She’s in her forties, and apparently all she does is work with foster kids.” He slid over to the next computer. “Oh! Rebecca Taliaferro, died June 21, last year, suicide. Yeah, I bet that was suicide.” He looked at the last computer. “Elise Francesca... nothing much comes up. An address. Oh, a byline in the GLT.” He typed a bit more.

“I think she got sick this winter. That might explain it.” He sat back. “Okay. So his first mother died like Mrs. Sims. His second mother got mysteriously ill. So now he’s with this Tifiny. What does that tell you, Byers?”

“His foster parents were fond of him. The first one stood up to the doctors, and they killed her and moved him. The second one developed an illness... either they caused it or she backed out of his care the most graceful way she could. Maybe afraid? And now he’s with someone who doesn’t ask too many questions, or hasn’t been around him long enough to cause problems. Either way, I think Mulder and Scully will want to take custody.”

“Any reason they shouldn’t just go get him?” asked Krycek. “When we’re ready?”

Byers frowned. “You know, it might just come to that. But Mulder’s going to be in there. And we have Skinner. And they’re FBI. And what does the FBI do regarding little children?”

Langly grinned. “Timing would still be an issue...”

Byers shook his head. “That depends. If we can get Skinner to fake the backstory of an infant kidnapping...”

Krycek shook his head. “Won’t work. We are pretty damn sure there’s someone dirty at SDCSS.”

Frohike frowned. “Sid-kiss?”

“S-D-C-S-S.” Krycek spelled it out. “The minute you start connecting those two to that kid as his actual parents, it all goes to hell. You’re better off waiting until you can expose the mole there, and take out the whole operation. That’s when your backstory will be useful.”

Byers held up a finger. “Wait a second. If we talk to Carol tonight... see if he can work his way in to following that foster family.”

Frohike nodded. “I like it. Gives him a chance to get to know the kid, puts him in a good position... “

Langly said, “They’ll need an excuse. Do we have any idea how many families have four or more foster kids, including special needs?”

Byers started typing. “Term is medically fragile, I think, for what we need.”

Langly said, “I’ve got about a dozen here, going based on the size of the checks. I assume they get more for medically fragile?”

Byers nodded absently, still typing. “Do we have any idea how old the other kids she has are?”

About 10 minutes later, Langly said, “I looked at each of the names of the kids with her. None of them have records going back more than four years. Whether that means they’re all that young or not, I don’t know.”

Byers stopped typing. “You’ve got what, 11 other families that have that many kids? Can you run the same check on them?”

Langly sighed. “Yeah, but it will take a couple hours. A couple of those have more than six kids.”

Frohike looked up from his typing. “One thing that’s interesting. Both Rebecca and Elise show up in adoption records, it looks like both of them adopted children. Tifiny has never adopted, at least not in the state of California, and I don’t see her listed in birth records as mother either. No marriage records in California, either.”

Langly stopped typing for a moment, shifted to another window on the computer and said, “You know, it looks like none of the kids she has have been with her for more than a few months. All have been elsewhere in the system first, too.”

“Is she short-stay?” asked Byers.

“Looks like. Okay, so if he says he wants to talk to someone who does short term care, talk to them about why and get to know the kids...” Langly shifted back to the other window. “I’ll look at that as a factor for the other families too.”

Krycek watched them work. Finally he said, “I’m going to go spar with Heron. I’ll see you guys later.”

When he was gone, Frohike turned from his computer. “Guys, we need to talk about this Samantha thing. Or more specifically, about her father.”


6:30 p.m. La Jolla

As Scully walked from the car to the condo, the door flew open. Mulder grinned at her, held the door open, and as she walked past him, he patted her on the rear.

She looked up at him, eyebrow raised but a little smile starting, and he said, “Guess what I did today?”

She cocked her head, asking without saying.

“I met Joanie and Amanda. And they’ve invited us to dinner tomorrow. Can we go? Huh? Can we?” He was practically wagging his tail.

She laughed, slightly perplexed. “Of course. Where’d you meet them?”

He shrugged. “Did you know there’s a pool for the condo?”

She looked at him askance. “I was at the hospital and you were at the pool. What’s wrong with this picture?”

He shrugged and smiled. “Oh, nothing, since I got us a date with the neighbors.”

She sniffed. “Martin... did you make dinner? I didn’t even know you could cook.”

He nodded. “I made it. From scratch. If scratch counts as poking at the numbers on the phone and ordering in.”

She looked at the table. “That looks good. Italian?”

He nodded, and ran over to pull a chair out for her.

She hung the fanny sack up by the door, kicked off her shoes, and came over. “By the way, I’ll need to spend some time at the hospital tomorrow, working on my project.”

He nodded. “I’ll be downtown most of the day.” His face shifted, the giddiness gone. “Hopefully I’ll make some good working relationships there. It’s going to be odd...”

She smiled, then reached over and held his hand. “I’ll miss you too.”

He gestured with his fork at the plates. “Eat!”

After dinner, they did the dishes together, and then she pulled out her MessagePad. He looked at it ruefully. “It always makes you sad.”

She bit her lip. “It’s necessary. I need to know this stuff.”

He frowned. “I least let me get a book and we can read together.”

They ended up in the corner of the sectional, her back up against his side, his arm thrown protectively across her like a sash. That lasted for about an hour, when he complained of a crick in his neck from trying to see her screen.

She shifted, sat with her back to his front, between his legs, leaning back into his chest. He found that while he was able to see the screen more easily, the full body contact made it significantly harder to pay attention. Then again, she wasn’t turning the pages very quickly either. When he started nibbling on her earlobe, she laughed and swatted him away. When his hand strayed under her blouse and up to her breast, she put the handheld down and turned around.

“You are a bad influence.” She pulled at the hem of his shirt.

He nodded. “I try.” He leaned forward, and helped pull his shirt up and over his head.

She smiled, really smiled. He felt like he’d won a battle.

*The war is going to take a lot longer.*


Continue to Chapter 17

If you don't recognize this, you need to stop reading for a little bit and go to Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long blog. Now. It's only 45 minutes.

Also, I never bought the whole “Mulder is colorblind” thing. He couldn’t have gotten into the FBI. And it’s inconvenient. So I’m ignoring it. Mwahahahaha.