Without A Trace - 7/7 (PG-13)
They hurried back to the car and pulled away. No one seemed to have observed them and no one followed. They returned to their post in Pelsor. They gathered in the room Skinner had gotten for them and took seats, Scully on the edge of the bed, Skinner in the one chair and Mulder sprawled on the bed beside her.
"How many of these little experiments are out there?" Skinner demanded. "Did I hear you say this was the third one you've found?"
Mulder nodded. "I don't want to put them in danger. The first group was okay, but when the experiment was shut down they all got some kind of flu. It could have been much worse. "
"Children died in South Carolina," Scully said. "They're only lab rats to these beings."
"So what if we get the lab rats to revolt?" Mulder mused.
"They're children, Mulder! Not even out of high school.
"So they'll need some help, some guidance - "
He drew back stung. "Why not me? You know anyone else with more experience?"
She sagged, her shoulders slumping. She'd hurt him now and that was never her intent. "That's not what I meant. I'm sorry. This is dangerous and they're not even 18 years old. They're parents - "
"Their parents aren't doing anything for them, if they won't even talk about it," Mulder snapped, then saw Scully's expression. "I'm sorry. Residuals of what I went through."
Her hand caressed his arm. "I do know that you have the most experience and that you really want to help them. We'll think of something."
Gary wasn't even surprised when an email popped up from Hank in less than an hour.
"Dude," he wrote back quickly, "I need you to go to our second favorite game, contact the player with the third highest score today. Tell him you're a friend of mine and that you need to talk to Chrome and his friends. They understand about us, you need to talk to them."
There was only minimal hesitation; Hank had obviously picked up the urgency. His only reply was "K".
Mulder had begun to pace in the enclosed space and Scully was attempting to ignore him when the prepaid cell lying on the TV rang. Mulder reached it in one stride. "Yeah?"
"He'll be calling in a minute. I have a city, five and half hours from your location. You set up a meet, without directions." Langly hung up before Mulder could respond.
"Hank's gonna be calling us. The guys are on ultimate paranoia."
"Good, they're got reason to be," Scully said, rising from the bed. "I'll get Skinner."
"No, I don't want you outside." He started for the door.
"You're more high profile than I am," she countered, touching his arm.
"You're the beautiful redhead that everyone looks at. They can't help themselves. You're more memorable."
She looked at him utterly stunned. "Thank you, but that's not true."
"Scully - "
"Mulder, I've been watching you for years. If you don't realize how women, and men, stare at you, you're not the agent I thought you were."
He stopped then and looked at her. "At me?"
She actually laughed. "Another reason to love you, Mulder." She shook her head. "Tap on the wall, that way neither of us will be seen."
He was still looking at her, obviously trying to figure out if she was pulling his leg, but he took her advice and tapped on the wall. In moments, Skinner was at the door and Scully opened it quickly, letting him in.
"Any news?" he asked at once.
"We should be hearing from Hank any - " as if on cue, the cell phone rang and Mulder answered it.
"Yeah, uh, hi. Are you friends of the Blonde Warrior?"
Mulder grimaced, but responded. "This is Moose. We're very anxious to talk to you. May we come to your location?"
"Uh, sure. He, uh, he said you knew - "
"We do. We just need a location to meet you, generic but easy to find."
"Okay, how about the public library, downtown."
"That's perfect. We can be there by uh, one tomorrow." Mulder glanced at Skinner who nodded.
"Okay, I'll be on the second floor in the stacks. How will I - ?"
"We'll know you. Don't worry about that. We'll see you then."
The boy broke the connection and Mulder looked over at his companions. "Public library, downtown, second floor. Now all we need is a city."
Skinner shook his head as the phone gave the short beep of a text. Mulder looked down and laughed. "We're heading back to St. Louis. You sure you don't have psychic abilities, sir?"
The large man huffed at him and turned to Scully. "I'll go pick up some dinner. What would you like?"
They set out early the next morning. They wanted to get to the library early enough to scout around a little before one.
Skinner had no problem finding the library and was pleased to find a parking garage next door with access to the library on the third floor. They entered separately and wandered around, checking for cameras. A few minutes before one, they all headed for the second floor where Skinner picked up a newspaper from the rack and took a seat to read it. Mulder headed into the stacks, where he could watch Scully, but not be seen and Scully stayed near the elevators, looking at titles on the nearest shelf.
At one a young man, stepped off the elevator and stopped to look around. Scully took a deep breath and approached him. "Hank?" she asked in a library voice.
"Uh, yeah. Squirrel?"
She bit her lip, but nodded. "There are cameras; could you pretend to show me where something is in the third row of books?"
Without a word, he gestured in that area, then led her into the stacks. Once out of sight of the cameras, Mulder joined them.
"You must be Moose," Hank said looking slightly up at the man. Before Mulder could respond, Hank stiffened, then forced himself to relax as Skinner came around the back corner. "Chrome. Gary warned me you looked military."
"That doesn't necessarily make me a bad guy, you know," Skinner said, the irony heavy in his voice.
"No, I guess it doesn't. Gary said you wanted to talk to me."
"Not here, too many cameras and we can't be seen together. We're parked in the garage next door. Would you go for a ride with us?"
Hank blinked and Scully looked up at him. "That sounds negative, but it's to try to keep us all safe. Have you had lunch?"
Hank shook his head. "Okay, let's get some drive through and find a park or someplace outside to eat," Skinner offered.
"I don't have a lot of money - " Hank started.
"No problem. My treat. We're parked on the third floor of the garage, next door, a navy sedan."
Hank looked at each of them again, his gaze lasting longest on Scully. Then he took a deep breath. "Yeah, okay, but I need to go out the front. The ladies will be watching for me and I need to speak to them before I leave. I'll walk up and meet you there."
Mulder started to speak, but Scully interrupted. "That's a good idea. Please, don't mention us."
"No, I won't. See you in a few minutes." With that he headed for the stairs and disappeared.
"We need to get back to the car. Sir, why don't you go on." It wasn't a question, and Skinner nodded, moving back toward the elevator.
Once they were alone, Mulder took her hand. "You believe he'll come with us?"
"Yes. He's curious and Gary vouched for us."
"And he wouldn't mind looking at you for while longer."
She chuckled. "I think I'll be safe enough."
"He liked what he saw," Mulder commented.
"I'm not the cougar type, thank you. Come on." She headed for the elevator herself, while Mulder took the stairs up to the parking level. He waited until the doors opened and he saw her emerge before he stepped out into the garage. Skinner was already in the car and Mulder saw Hank stepped out on the stairwell and head toward that end of the garage.
Without a word, Hank climbed into the backseat, and Scully joined him before Mulder could protest. He took the front passenger's seat and they pulled out.
"We need you to get down and let me cover you, so the parking attendant won't see that you're with us," Scully said softly.
"You really did meet Gary?"
"Yes. We sat in the office of the arcade. There were only two chairs and he talked to us about knowing too much about the girls."
"Okay." He slid down into the floor space and Scully tossed her jacket over him. They were out in the street in minutes and after a block or so, he returned to the seat.
"Let's get that lunch," Scully said. "I'm hungry."
Skinner found a McDonald's and at a look from Mulder, doubled Hank's order to two Quarter Pounders and fries. "You can eat them both now, or save one for later."
Hank and Mulder exchanged looks and Hank nodded. "Thanks."
Skinner drove to a large park Hank mentioned and they took their food to a shaded area. After making short work of the first burger and unwrapping the second, Hank looked over at Mulder. "This is good."
Scully smiled. "How have you been eating?"
"Well, I'm getting by."
He took a bite of the second burger and grinned. "It was really rough at first, then the ladies at the library kind of adopted me."
"Adopted?" Mulder asked.
"Yeah. I didn't have a lot of money; guess I didn't really understand things when I took off. I found a flop to sleep in, I'm the only customer who doesn't pay by the hour," he grinned ruefully, "the guy gave me a good deal, supplies the linens, but I have to put them on. It's the smallest room, but I'm not there much. I started hanging out at the library, at first to use the computer and look for a job, but the ladies started getting suspicious because I wasn't in school. I asked them for help, saying I was working on my GED and they started looking after me. At first one or the other would bring 'extra' for lunch and offer it to me. That really came in handy, then one of them mentioned that her son was in a growth spurt and had outgrown a bunch of his stuff, could I use it?" He finished up the burger and took some fries.
"That may have been true. I mean the stuff wasn't new, but it sure wasn't used up either. Then I got a job washing dishes at this diner and things have been better. I get to eat there for one meal on the days I work, and Billy pays me under the table, so no problem with a social security number or anything. I'm not getting rich," he shrugged, "but I'm getting by."
"Is it that important to be away from the others?"
"It's not them. The guys are okay, I just didn't like what whoever it was did to us."
"Can you tell us about that? How are you different now?"
Hank met Mulder's eyes and some sort of understanding seemed to pass between them. "They changed us. Maybe they made us better in some ways, I mean all of our grades improved."
"And your memories?" Skinner asked.
"Yeah, Gary mention that?"
"No," Mulder said. "We asked it though, and he answered."
Hank nodded. "We're healthy. Becky really liked that, but, but we're different. We don't fit in with the others anymore. Guys that I've known all my life barely have anything to do with me anymore. It's just this group of kids, the twenty of us, that . . . "
"Aren't afraid of you?" Mulder offered.
"Yeah." Hank took some more fries and a long sip of his drink.
"Do you know who I mean when I say 'the smoking man'?"
"Sure, the scary dude that would come check on us occasionally," Hank said.
"Have you seen him since you got here?" Mulder asked.
Hank stopped then and looked at him, really looked for a long moment. "No," he said carefully. "I haven't seen him, but I've thought he was here."
"Thought?" Mulder asked.
Hank shrugged. "I don't know, just a feeling of being watched somehow and he's the person I thought of when I felt it. Maybe I smelled him or someone else with cigarettes, but . . . "
"Would you let Sc-Squirrel here examine you a little?"
"Yeah, just look you over a little."
"She some sort of doctor?"
"Matter of fact."
"Oh, well, here?"
"Yes," Scully said. "We don't want you to feel uncomfortable and I'm not going to do anything that would look suspicious to anyone watching."
He shifted in his seat, but finally nodded.
Skinner and Mulder discreetly kept an eye out while Scully checked his neck and ears for implants or small scars. "I can't find anything."
Mulder nodded. "You ever have any problem going through a metal detector?"
Hank looked startled at that. "Yeah. Once, but . . . how did you know?"
"Where were you?" Mulder asked, ignoring his question.
"The airport. My parents took me on a short vacation when I was returned. They were relieved to see me then and took me to visit my grandparents. That was before . . . "
"Are your parents uncomfortable around you?" Scully asked softly.
"You could say that. Dad took off a few months later. It really freaked him out about the memory thing and the fact that my grades were so much better. Mom stayed but she kept her distance from me and we sure didn't talk about it. I'm sure she's relieved I took off."
"Hank - "
"It's okay. I have 'family' with the guys and I'm not the only one whose parents got freaked, you know?"
"Are you ever planning to go back?" Scully asked.
"I don't know. I guess I will eventually. Debbie needs me."
"Debbie? Is she your partner?"
"Yeah. Gary explain that to you?"
"As best he could," Mulder admitted. "Back to the metal detector, did they run a wane over you?"
"Where did it react?"
"Here," his hand rested mid-chest, slightly to the right of his heart.
"May I look?" Scully asked and he nodded, pulling up, then taking off his t-shirt after looking around.
After a moment Scully shook her head. "I don't see or feel anything. As young as he was, and as healthy now, a scar might not have formed."
"Look, I've got an idea I'd like to try out. Will you trust us a little bit further?"
Scully and Skinner looked at him and Hank pulled his t-shirt back on as Mulder explained his plan.
Scully returned to the car as the three men anxiously watched the sidewalks. Even Hank had been caught up in the paranoia and had asked lots of questions.
The sight of her driving away, even for a short errand was nerve wracking for Mulder.
She was back quickly and parked. "I got them," she said as Skinner took the wheel and pulled away from the curb. She reached into the bag.
"Not yet. Head toward the airport," he said to Skinner.
"Are you planning to test it?"
"Not exactly, let me think." He went silent then and Hank asked his questions of Scully then, while Skinner drove.
When they pulled into the airport area for unloading, Mulder turned back to Hank. "Okay, what I want you to do, is stand near the counter for a minute or two, like you're waiting for someone, then walk over to where you'd enter the security check. Look around again and maybe pretend to spot someone, wave, whatever. Then slip this over your head." He handed him one of the pendants Scully had purchased at the gem shop. Pure magnetite. "It'll hit you at the right level, just above where you remember the detector going off. One thing, we won't know if you can still be monitored, if you're even being monitored, but if this does disrupt it, you can't take it off, ever. They'll be watching if you vanish, that's why we're here. Let them think you did this just as you boarded a plane, they can't know which one, or that you didn't go anywhere. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, but if there is something in there, couldn't I just have it removed?"
"No!" Mulder and Scully spoke together and Hank blinked.
"We can't be sure, but after all this time, it's a part of you. It could be very dangerous to have it removed. We, we have a little experience with that," Mulder said quietly, looking over at Scully.
"Okay. I get what you want me to do. It makes sense. Are you going to wait here or come inside?"
"Here, we need to stay as far away from cameras as we can right now."
Hank took the pendant and shoved it into his jeans pocket. "Okay, I'll be back soon." He let himself out of the back seat and headed for the door.
Skinner started up the engine and moved the car, as though they were leaving. He'd circle back and park near luggage pickup as they'd discussed.
Mulder spotted him through the glass as he stepped off the escalator on the lower level. "Here, put these on."
"Mulder, I've never been taken, I - "
"You're walking the halls of the FBI. You might as well be careful."
With a sigh, Skinner slipped the chain over his head as Mulder did the same. Scully's was already resting beside her cross around her neck. Hank casually looked around, seemed to see someone he recognized and waved, then moved in that direction.
"The kid could be an actor," Skinner observed.
"Too high profile," Mulder muttered and Scully smiled.
He exited the airport with a crowd, nodding as though listening to a conversation and then broke off, heading to their car. He got in and smiled at them. "Now what?"
"Good question. You know, it might be a good idea to alert those ladies that Cancerman might come. They wouldn't turn you into child services?"
"They think I'm 18 and just gotten out of a bad situation. No details and the fact that I got my GED with their help, added to the trust. They were so proud of me they gave me a party when I passed. Cake and everything," he smiled at the memory.
"Do you have an ID?"
"Nope, they call me Hank, but they think my last name is Snow. I got it out of the phone book. Don't need an ID at work and I don't think anyone needs one at the place I stay."
"Okay, I think we can help you out with that. What would you like your birthday to be?"
They had dropped Hank off at the diner where he worked, with plans to meet him the next morning.
Skinner found a chain motel and got them a couple of rooms. Mulder got in touch with the guys to get them started on the Hank Snow ID, then they sat around the small table, eating the dinner they had picked up.
They were quiet, each thinking their own thoughts until they were finished. Scully rose and started to clean up, but Mulder took her hand. Quietly she resumed her seat. Mulder looked over at Skinner. "You know we can't come back."
Skinner looked at him, then at Scully. "Yeah. What are you going to do?"
"You need to get back. You can explain your absence as coming to get us. There's evidence of that, but you discovered our memories were completely gone, there are witnesses for that as well and we didn't trust you. As soon as we could, we ran. You looked for us, but we went off the grid."
Again Skinner's eyes went to Scully. "Are you okay with that?"
"I have to be. If you can let Mom know that I'm okay, just . . . "
"We can set up something where we can be in touch, through the guys or something. But we need to stay disappeared," Mulder said.
"How long will that account in North Carolina last?"
"A while," Mulder responded, not mentioning the ones in Iowa or Oregon or London. "The guys are getting IDs for us too, several of them - "
"That's real expensive if they're any good," Skinner broke in.
"These will be the best, but don't worry about that. We know about these three groups of kids. We all know there are more. I think Hank would like to help us with this. Who better, than one from inside?"
"I feel like I'm abandoning you," Skinner sighed.
"You're not. You're going to be our inside man. And you're one of very few people that know what we're doing, so that's a safety net for us."
"Scully?" Skinner looked at her once more.
"We need to vanish without a trace, Sir. It's what 'they' wanted in the first place. Someone helped us out," she touched her cross and the small piece of magnetite below it. "We need to take advantage of that."
She took Mulder's hand, then nodded.