Without A Trace - 6/7 (PG-13)
He was awake and watching her when she stirred the next morning. She looked up at him quietly. “You were right, we were lovers.”
“We need to get to Arkansas.”
“This morning, when I woke up with you in my arms.”
Her color rose but she didn’t look away. “What are we looking for?”
“I’m not sure. But since they really don’t want us looking, I want to find out. Get dressed, I’ll get Skinner.”
“Mulder - “
He stopped and smiled at her. “We are lovers. I hope more than that.”
They were in the car in less than an hour. “Okay, can you tell me what you found out about these kids?” Skinner asked.
“They were regular kids, younger than puberty and all were returned in exceptional health.”
“Well, one of the girls was diagnosed with juvenile onset diabetes before she was taken. When she returned, she didn’t have it.”
“What?” Skinner turned to look at Scully in the backseat for a second.
“Was she misdiagnosed?”
“Well, she took insulin shots for two years prior to her abduction,” Scully offered.
“They didn’t make that mistake again,” Mulder said. “As far as we could tell all of the other children were healthy when taken. We were trying to find out if any of them had been taken again, had implants, that kind of thing. Apparently they didn’t want us checking into that.”
Scully huffed from the back seat and Mulder turned to grin at her.
“So what are our plans?” Skinner asked the two of them.
“Good question. I don’t want to blunder into anything again. We were lucky, someone didn’t do their job in getting rid of us,” Mulder glanced back at Scully again.
“I don’t know if you can trust the Bureau - “ Skinner started.
“I don’t,” Mulder stated flatly.
“So, what? The Geek Squad?”
Mulder grinned at the sound of Scully’s chuckle. “Yeah, I think that’s the best place to start. At least they can look into the records.”
Skinner pulled into a service station that actually had a pay phone, something harder and harder to find. Skinner handed Mulder a handful of change. “You won’t be able to talk long.”
“No problem, I’ll have them set something up,” he said as he exited the car. Scully took advantage of the convenience store.
“Yeah?” A suspicious voice said when the phone was answered.
“Fro? It’s me,” Mulder said quickly.
“Damn! Where are you? Are you okay? Is she with you?” The questions shot out at him.
“Yes and yes, can’t get into the first one yet.”
“Is Chrome with you?”
That took Mulder a second. “Yeah. I need you to look into something for me.”
“Go,” Frohike obviously had his hands on a keyboard now. Mulder gave him the dates and location. “What do you need?”
“Follow up, what’s happened to the same people in the last 2-3 years.”
“How do we get this to you?”
“I’ll call back in a couple of hours.”
“What area code?”
“Okay, we’ll be ready.” The connection was broken. Mulder looked down at his watch, less than 90 seconds. These guys were good.
He nodded to Skinner then headed inside himself to use the facilities and ensure that Scully picked up some good stuff to eat as well as her healthy choices.
Skinner hurried back to the car after his turn and they headed out with a full tank of gas. “We’ve got to get some cash. If I’m not going to use an ATM . . . “
“We’ll ask the guys for it,” Mulder reassured him, handing him a bottle of water. “Oh, you have a new code name,” he attempted to keep a straight face. “Chrome.”
Skinner shot him a look through narrowed eyes. “Frohike, I bet.”
“The gnome will pay.”
“What?” Scully said not following the conversation as she passed out lunch.
“As in dome,” Mulder offered and she winced.
“Sir - " she began, but Skinner shook his head and she subsided.
They pulled into a seedy motel on the outskirts of St. Louis after dark. Skinner got two rooms with nearly the last of his cash. He returned to them to find that Mulder had traded plates with the car next to theirs.
They all headed for the first room and Mulder looked over at the phone. “Do we trust it?”
“Long distance will appear on our bills,” Scully reminded them.
“Maybe the guys can fix that. I don’t think we’ve been followed,” Mulder offered and shrugging picked up the phone.
He dialed the same number as before, but Langly answered this times. Before he had a chance to say more than hello, Langly spoke. “314-555-4080,” and hung up.
“What? What’s wrong?” Scully had moved closer to Mulder.
“I think they’ve set up a local line.” He dialed that number and got Byers.
“Are you okay?” Byers said instead of hello.
“Yeah, not great but okay. Is this line - "
“The safest available. What do you need?”
“Some cash and that info I gave the gnome.”
“The gnome?” Byers hesitated.
“Payback for Chrome.”
At that Byers chuckled. “Find the nearest Western Union and we’ll get you some funds. The guys have checked into that case. We got twenty kids, right?”
“Right. Were you able to do any follow-up?”
“Not that hard actually. They all stayed in town. Seventeen are still alive.”
“Seventeen? That’s pretty high attrition.”
“One suicide, one car wreck, one MIA.”
“Suicide,” Mulder mused a moment. “Could the wreck have been suicide too?”
“Uh, yes. Probably was. One car, into a tree, dry road.”
“No way to get hold of those autopsies if any were performed.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Implants, DNA anomalies, I don’t know.” Mulder looked over at Scully who shrugged.
“Okay, we’re on it. Have you found a Western Union?”
Skinner nodded and gave Mulder the address.
“We’ll get you some cash as quick as we can.”
“Use the North Carolina account.”
“We can - "
“Do it. We’ll talk to you later.” Mulder broke the connection.
“North Carolina account?” Scully asked.
Mulder shrugged. “I set up some accounts in dummy names and gave them access for just such occasions.”
A hint of a smile showed on Skinner’s face. He sobered then. "What do we do?"
"We need to talk to some of those kids, the remaining ones."
"Remaining?" Scully asked.
Mulder brought them up to date on what he knew about the three kids that were no longer around.
"MIA," Skinners mused. "Wonder if there's a missing persons on it, if it even got to Bureau level."
"I'm betting no, but it's something to check. Two suicides out of twenty is a hell of a percentage."
"Mulder, they're going to know us, whoever is watching them. We can't just talk to these kids. We can't flash a badge either. For all we know the principal at the school is a bounty hunter. One glimpse of us . . . "
"I know. I'm hoping for Langly's help on that. He had an idea that some of them might be gamers, maybe he can make contact, Facebook, anything where we can try to set up a meet."
"They're still kids, Mulder. They can't leave town or - "
"Won't have to, we're the ones that need to keep low key. I'm hoping the guys can get into their school records or something. I hope there'll be more than just cash from them when we pick things up."
They found the Western Union in Pelsor, Arkansas as well a small motor lodge. It was the closest to Ben Hur without actually being there. A small box was waiting for them and Walter hurried back to the motor lodge with it.
There was cash as well as a mini netbook and several thumb drives. Mulder was checking the information quickly. The place was too small for internet but the information they would have been looking up was there on the drives for them.
Langly had made contact with one of the boys, Gary Walker, and had arranged a meet.
They'd only been behind the strip mall a few minutes when the boy rode up on his bike. He stopped well back from the car and put one foot down on the ground. He watched as Mulder got out of the passenger side of the car.
"You a friend of the Blonde Warrior?" he asked quietly.
Mulder nodded. "You Gary?"
"What do you want to talk to me about?" He didn't move any closer.
"We'd rather not talk out here."
"I'm not getting in your car."
Scully stepped out of the car then. "Smart move. Where would be a good place for us to have some privacy, but you'd feel safe?"
He hesitated and looked them both up and down, then he looked past them into the car. "Who's he?"
Skinner stepped out of the car then and Gary visibly recoiled. "You're military?"
"I told you it never wore off," Mulder said in a stage whisper. Skinner glowered at him but Scully was the one that spoke.
"He's ex-military. He works with us now."
"We'll understand if you want to contact the Blonde Warrior. Ask about 'Chrome'," Mulder offered.
Skinner looked less than amused but didn't speak.
"Chrome? He mentioned him; okay I get what he was saying now."
It was obvious that Mulder wanted to ask about that, but Scully cut him off. "Is there some place we can talk?"
He hesitated just a second. "Yeah, we can use the manager's office. He won't be in until 11, 11:30. I have the key," he shrugged. "I've worked here a couple of years."
They followed him in. He flipped on the light in the small office and held the door as they filed in. There were only two chairs, so Skinner stood in the corner and Mulder took a seat on the small desk.
"What do you want to talk to me about?" Gary took the seat closest to the door.
Mulder leaned forward. "We're not going to bullshit you. We know about your history, the abductions."
Gary tensed. "I figured. If you know that what else do you need? We were all returned, they never found the guy. If you're still lookin' for him - "
That stopped him for a moment. "So, what do you want?"
"We want to know what you think about what happened."
Scully looked over at Mulder, then took over. "Can you tell us if what happened affected your lives?"
Gary blinked. "You're kidding, right?"
"No, we'd really like to know."
The boy's eyes narrowed, then he turned to Mulder. "You really want to know. Okay, it changed everything. Nothing's been the same for any of us since it happened. No one cares, or wants to talk about it 'cause we're 'fine'." He sounded bitter beyond his years.
"No one's asked you this before?"
"Hell, no. They shut us up if we try to talk about it outside ourselves."
"Then talk to us," Mulder leaned forward. "We want to hear everything you have to say. How has this impacted your lives?"
"How hasn't it? We're . . . connected, all of us, all the damn time."
"It's hard to explain. We know each other too well."
"Okay, I go to the cafeteria and choose a chicken sandwich. Then I walk to a table, I pass one or two or ten of us and every fucking one of us has a damn chicken sandwich. I know things about everyone that I don't need to know. It was kind of okay until we were in middle school. We guys didn't especially want to hang out with girls all the time, you know? It's a little better now, we're past the girls are icky stage, but there's stuff I just don't want to know about girls, you know?"
"Yeah, I know - " Mulder started but Scully interrupted.
"What kind of things?"
Gary looked at Mulder, but the man shrugged. "Well," he looked back at Mulder for a moment. "They, uh, they all started their periods within a couple of days of each other. And that first time they had killer cramps, but since then they've had no, uh, problems."
"How about the rest of your health?"
"We're never sick. Even a couple of years ago when everyone got the flu, none of us did or missed any days of school. It's been that way all along."
Mulder leaned forward again. "Two of you have committed suicide and one's missing."
"Yeah, well, we've all thought about it. Eventually we might all do it."
"Well, Lyle did it because he knew he was gay and that's not exactly okay around here. I don't know if you realize it, but there were twenty of us, ten girls, ten boys. We're supposed to mate up. He knew . . . "
"Mate up? You mean - "
"Yeah, we're like the fucking Midwich kids. You ever see that movie? At least we don't look like that."
"Did you know he was going to drive into that tree?"
Gary shook his head. "No, we can't tell the future or anything. I don't think Lyle knew until he actually rounded that bend and it was just right there in front of him. Leia, she's his, uh, partner, I heard she screamed and passed out. Her parents didn't know what the hell was going on. But we all knew, instantly."
The three adults exchanged looks. "What about the other one?"
"Jane? She, well she found out that her father was boinking one of the teachers at the high school. Once she knew it of course the rest of us did and she was humiliated. She was the first one that did it, we all knew she was upset but we were kids, we didn't . . . "
Mulder waited a beat, then, "There's a boy missing."
"Is he dead?"
"No, he wanted to see if distance could help. None of us have ever been able to get away, you know?"
"So he's away, is it helping?"
"Not really. I'm pretty sure he's eating chicken sandwiches on Tuesdays just like the rest of us. He'll be back."
"Is anyone okay with this?"
"Sure, Becky. She doesn't have to take those shots anymore. I think the girls handle it better than we do. They already like to hang out together; you know how girls always go to the bathroom together and stuff. They all talk to each other all the time and might even if they weren't connected. But . . . Hell, I don't want to know what they're thinking, feeling and I sure as hell don't want them to know what I'm thinking!"
"Who is your partner?" Mulder asked, though he looked over at Scully at the word.
"Abby," Gary said without hesitation. "And yeah, I'm attracted to her, kinda. She has a great ass, uh, sorry. She looks like a damn cheerleader. She should have all these jocks drooling over her but they're . . . they're afraid of her, of all of us, you know? But normally she wouldn't be attracted to a geek like me. I mean, can you see me pulling up to her house on that bike and taking her out? She's just not the type to want to go out with the guy with the part-time job at the arcade."
They had nothing to say to that, so there was silence for a moment. "Would you allow my partner to examine you? She's a doctor."
"Examine me? I don't know . . . "
"Just right here, with us watching. Let her look you over a little. Do you mind?"
"I, I guess not."
Scully smiled at him and rose from her chair. She immediately ran her fingers over the back of his neck, checking for an implant. She looked up at Mulder and shook her head, then continued, checking behind his ears as with Max. She checked his joints, traced his muscles, even, with his permission, palpated his abdomen. She found nothing. "You have beautiful skin," she remarked as she took her seat again.
"Uh, oh, thanks. Yeah, none of us broke out, you know, like everyone else. Finally one good thing," he grinned feebly.
"Gary," Mulder glanced over at Skinner. "Do the others know we're talking?"
"No, they know I'm here. That's why I picked it, I'm always here, and I had an idea what you wanted. They probably know I'm thinking about Lyle and Jane, but that's not unusual. We all think about them a lot."
"No one ever asks you about this stuff? There's no doctor that comes to town annually or - "
"No, there's one guy, real creepy dude that comes sometimes. It's not annually or anything, but I've seen him a few times. He's old and he smokes like a stack. I mean really, I've never seen him without a cigarette going. He comes to town, hangs around for a day or two, then leaves. He doesn't talk to us, or get too close even. I'm not even sure why I noticed him, but we all did."
Mulder and Scully looked at each other silently, then Mulder glanced over at Skinner who nodded.
"We know him. He's a dangerous man and you need to stay as far away from him as possible. If he comes back, make sure none of you are ever alone. Buddy up as much as possible, not just within the group, make sure you're with other people involved or not. I'm pretty sure right now he's just observing, the more disinformation he has the better."
Gary grinned at that. He looked between Mulder and Scully again. "Are you two like us?"
"What?" Scully asked, blinking.
"The two of you, are you . . . " his voice trailed off as the two of them stared at each other silently.
"Listen, don't freak out," Skinner stepped forward, looking at his agents. "You two have been like this for years, long before you were taken this time." Scully seemed to pale a little. "Come on, when's the last time he didn't know exactly where you were located in a room and let's face it the kindest word for him when you've been missing is 'crazed'."
"Are you trying to help?" Mulder asked dryly. "How are your grades?" He turned back to Gary.
"All of you?"
"Yeah, we're pretty much the head of our classes."
"What about your memories?" Scully asked softly.
"Perfect," he responded. "We don't talk about that much."
"Don't blame you," Mulder muttered. "Look, we need to get out of here before your boss shows up. Would you be willing to stay in touch with us, to let us know what's going on with you?"
"Would you be willing to let me know how to get out of this?" Gary responded.
"We're willing to share what we learn, but I don't know if we're going to be any help. Do you think the others would want to talk to us? We have to be damn discrete, they're watching us."
"They? The ones that took us?"
Mulder looked over at Scully, then at Skinner. They both seemed to shrug. "Yeah. We, I have a theory about that."
"So tell me this theory."
Mulder looked over at Scully, but she wouldn't meet his eyes. He sighed but turned back to boy. "You were all abducted by aliens, enhanced and returned. Now they want to know if the enhancements will continue to another generation." Scully was wincing, but Gary's fist was in the air.
"Score! That's what I told the guys years ago, back when we were kids. Well, not about the next generation, but the aliens. I knew it!"
Mulder was grinning now, and carefully not looking at either of his companions. "Can you reach Hank?"
"No, I told you, he wanted space, wanted to be away from us. He's not exactly calling home."
"Could you try?"
"I wouldn't know where to start."
"I have a suggestion."
Gary looked at him for a long moment. "I thought you would. Okay, go."
"Think at him."
"Think at him. Send him a message mentally. 'Hank, it's Gary. I need to talk to you.' Simple, to the point."
"Telepathy," Gary said softly, Mulder nodded. "Cool. Okay, what happens if it works?"
"Have him contact the Warrior. You don't want to let anyone who might be monitoring you know that you're in touch. We'll set up a blind email, have him contact it. Gary, this has to be covert for your sake as well as ours. Do you understand that? It's critical."
Gary sobered then. "This really could be dangerous, couldn't it?"
"Yes, very. It's not the kind of thing where you can think about taking precautions and then decide it's no big deal. There probably wouldn't be a second chance."
Sober, Gary nodded.
"We need to get going," Skinner urged again.
Mulder nodded and headed for the door. "Hey, just for my benefit, who were we, if he's Chrome?"
"Oh, uh, Moose and Squirrel."
Skinner couldn't quite hold in the laugh, though he tried to turn it into a cough. Mulder glared at him and Scully shut her eyes, shaking her head. "I'm going to cut that ponytail off and strangle him with it," she muttered too low for Gary to hear but Mulder gave a short laugh.
"Blonde Warrior, huh? He and I need to talk," Mulder whispered to her.