Next Story.

Home

 

 

Title: Augury

Rating: PG-13

Category: MT, SA, Casefile

Disclaimer: Not ours.  They belong to the Master and his cohorts.

Summary: Portends of the future.

 

*****

 

Shortly after solving the flukeman case, Mulder and Scully, although not

officially partnered, are sent to Louisiana to investigate a murder. Mulder,

unbeknownst to Scully, has ulterior motives behind his interest in the case.

We join the agents as they are making arrangements with Chief Melancon of

the Slidell, Louisiana police force.

 

*****

 

"We appreciate your assistance and look forward to working with Detective

Hebert. Could he drop Scully off at the morgue to conduct the autopsy, and

then maybe he and I could swing by the murder site?"  Just when Scully

thought things were going perfectly, Mulder nervously caught her eye before

continuing, "and Chief Melancon, would it be possible for Agent Scully to

also autopsy the body of the latest victim in the series of unexplained

Honey Island Swamp deaths?"

 

Melancon paled noticeably before responding, "I don't really see that your

jurisdiction in the murder of David Thibodeaux justifies your involvement in

the 'unexplained Honey Island Swamp deaths' as you call them. Indications

are that those deaths resulted from natural causes."

 

Mulder saw Scully's anger, but was sure she would never call him out in

front of the locals. So, ignoring her disapproval at having been left in the

dark, he pressed his request, explaining, "I am aware of that, but I believe

there's a connection between the murder of Thibodeaux and the Honey Island

deaths, and," he bluffed, "I am sure you'd prefer to maintain a low profile

on this rather than force me to contact Washington."

 

Mulder knew he'd won the round when Melancon smiled tightly and bit out, "Of

course, Agent Mulder, whatever the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants.

Let me get Detective Hebert and you can get started."  A man didn't stay

Chief of Police in Slidell, Louisiana, if he didn't know when to compromise.

 

As soon as the door slipped shut behind Melancon, Scully predictably called

Mulder on his failure to keep her informed.

 

"Look, Scully, I'm sorry.  I was afraid you wouldn't come if I told you the

whole story, and I wanted - no - I needed you to be here to conduct these

autopsies. Scully, you are the best there is. If anyone can figure this out,

you can. You just have to trust me on this."

 

"Trust, Mulder, what about trust? I'm supposed to trust you, but you don't

even trust me enough to share the real reason you wanted to come here."

 

"You're right, Scully, I shouldn't have kept this from you. But please, do

the autopsy for me. I'll tell you everything tonight and if you still want

to go back to Washington, I'll understand completely. Scully, I just...."

Mulder dropped the conversation as the Chief walked back into the room.

 

"Detective Hebert is waiting in the lobby. Good day to you both."

 

*****

 

After visiting the crime scene, Mulder thanked Detective Hebert and asked

him to drop him back at their rental. He planned to spend the rest of the

day putting together his thoughts on the case while he waited for Scully to

finish the autopsies, but with little new information to occupy him, the

afternoon dragged on as he fretted over his upcoming confrontation with her.

Over the last hour, his fears had ratcheted upward until he was convinced

she had walked out on him and returned to Washington. Then finally his phone

rang, and he nervously answered, "Mulder."

 

He smothered his sigh of relief when Scully responded in a semi-civil tone,

"All done here, Mulder. I'm ready to be picked up, and to hear your

explanation."

 

"On my way," he responded before cutting the connection. She was mad and

probably still hurt, but she had done as he asked, and it seemed she was at

least going to listen to his explanation.

 

They returned to the hotel in less than companionable silence. Scully

watched as Mulder alternately pursed and chewed his lips, no doubt

organizing his thoughts for the upcoming confessional. For his part, Mulder

fervently hoped Scully was in a forgiving mood. Once back at the hotel, by

unspoken agreement, they both went to Scully's room where she sat in the

only available chair, crossed her arms over her chest, and waited. Mulder

fiddled with the curtains until he successfully blocked the small sliver of

light from the setting sun. Only then did he shift his attention back to his

angry partner. She remained unmoving, still holding the same defensive

posture.

 

"Ok, Scully," he began somewhat lamely, "I'm sorry for deceiving you. I know

it was wrong.  Please forgive me."

 

"Mulder...," Scully started to interrupt.

 

He held up his hand, silencing her. "No, wait, Scully. Let me tell you

everything. Then make your decision. The night before Skinner assigned me

this case, I got an e-mail. I asked the Lone Gunmen to see if they could

trace it, but they had no luck."  Mulder reached into his pocket and handed

her the note.

 

Agent Mulder,

 

You are needed in Louisiana. Two people have already died in the Honey

Island Swamp and there will be more soon. Start with NexGen.

 

A Friend of your cause

 

"I was planning to take vacation days and come down, but then first thing

Monday morning, Skinner called me off wiretap and handed me this case. He

was sending me to Slidell, Louisiana, a town that coincidentally lies on the

outskirts of the Honey Island Swamp, to investigate the murder of a man who

even more coincidentally happens to work for NexGen. He kneeled, capturing

her gaze with his own. "I should have told you."

 

Scully could see the regret in his eyes. She wouldn't forget how he had used

her, but she would forgive him. She uncrossed her arms and bent over, gently

kissing him on the forehead. And somehow that small kiss conveyed more

intense feelings than most lovers expressed in their most passionate

assignations.

 

Mulder looked up and smiled, his world back in balance.

 

Then Scully stood, ending the emotional moment. "OK Mulder, do you want to

hear about the autopsy results?"

 

"Definitely," he responded as he flopped onto the bed, arms behind his head.

 

"Well Thibodaux's autopsy was straightforward. Like Melancon said, there's

not much question as to the cause of death when the guy's chest has been

plowed through by a couple of bullets. Neither hit his heart, so I'm

guessing he died from massive blood loss. Both bullets lodged in the body.

They came from a 9 mm handgun. The body was no longer in rigor mortis when

the jogger came across it, so he must have been dead for at least 12 hours,

but probably no more than 16. With the high humidity and temperature, you

could expect the body to decay pretty rapidly. How does that fit in with

what you found at the crime scene?"

 

"The body was found in an alley near his house. There wasn't a lot to see.

According to Detective Herbert and from my examination of the crime scene

photos, there was very little blood at the site. If he bled to death, he

must've been killed somewhere else. I spoke to his wife who said she last

heard from him around 7 PM. He had called to let her know he'd arrived at

the NexGen Field Facility. The caller ID substantiates this. Nobody knows

anything else about his whereabouts until the jogger found his body the next

morning at nine."

 

"That narrows the time of death down to between 7 and 9 PM."

 

"Yeah, Scully, it also means that he was almost certainly killed at the

research facility. That facility is a good hour and a half from anything

else. Melancon, by the way, has set up an appointment for us to meet with

the Director of NexGen at the main facility at 8 tomorrow, but we also need

to check out their field facility. What's the verdict on the other deaths?"

 

"The three deaths that occurred in the Honey Island Swamp were more of a

challenge. The first two were classified as heart attacks. Both were older

men that were camping and fishing in the swamp. There was nothing suspicious

and no autopsies. The third death was a 35 year-old woman, Edna Gautreaux.

Her husband brought her into the hospital when she fell ill on a camping

trip. She was pale, bradycardic, had extremely low blood pressure and was in

extreme respiratory distress. The doctors attempted to ease her breathing,

but she died of cardiac failure less than an hour later. I autopsied her

body today. My observations corroborate heart failure as the cause of death.

We don't know why a healthy young woman would suddenly fall ill and die

within hours of cardiac failure. Her symptoms are consistent with neurotoxin

poisoning. I sent blood samples to the Bureau lab for a full workup. If the

tox screen shows up positive, there is still the question of how the toxin

was delivered. I found no evidence of snake or arachnid bites, and those are

the only venomous organisms in the region. Three dead people, all of whom

fell ill while camping in the same part of Honey Island Swamp, are beginning

to spook the local authorities. At the same time, they want to keep it

quiet. Tourism brings in a lot of money."

 

Mulder listened intently, looking for the clue that would tip him off to

what had happened. He needed the toxicology report. In the meantime, he and

Scully would interview Thibodeaux's employer, NexGen. He'd been bluffing

when he told Melancon that he suspected the swamp deaths were connected to

Thibodeaux's death, but now he wondered. Coincidences made him suspicious.

 

His mind busy whispering theories, Mulder bid her a goodnight. "Let's hope

we learn something from the folks at NexGen. Maybe we can solve this without

attracting any unwanted attention."

 

*****

 

NexGen was a square four-story building. Mulder and Scully flashed their

badges at the receptionist, and asked to speak to Andrew Collins, who was

David Thibodeaux's supervisor and director of the facility. They were

immediately ushered into his office.

 

He stood as the agents entered, stepping forward to shake hands, first with

Scully and then with Mulder. Introductions were quickly made. "While it's

exciting to have a visit from FBI agents, I regret the incident that brought

you here. David was a respected scientist and his death seriously impacted

research here at NexGen."

 

Mulder took the lead, deciding to start general and work down to the

specific. "Could you give us a brief overview of the corporation? I did some

basic research on NexGen to prepare for our visit, but my efforts yielded

little information."

 

"That is actually fairly gratifying, Agent Mulder. We like to think we are

on the cutting edge of our field, and while making money is not our primary

goal, several of our projects have the potential of bringing in millions of

dollars in patents. Industrial espionage is a concern, and the ethics of

some of our competitors are questionable."

 

"Isn't it odd for a biotech company not to have making money as its primary

goal?"

 

Collins laughed softly at Mulder's question. "You are absolutely correct.

Most firms that are similar to us are driven entirely by profit. NexGen is

fortunate in being a little different. Much of our funding is derived from

wealthy philanthropists interested in improving the future of mankind, hence

our slogan, 'Engineering a Better Life for Tomorrow.' We currently have two

facilities. This one and our field research facility near the Honey Island

Swamp. Most of the genetics work is done here; the field testing is done at

the other site."

 

Mulder took this opportunity to share what he was sure would be unwelcome

news. "We would also like to visit your other facility. New evidence

indicates that Dr. Thibodeaux may have been murdered there."

 

Obviously surprised, Collins interrupted, "I thought his body was found near

his home."

 

"It was, but we have evidence that he may have been murdered at your field

facility. We'd like to visit that facility this afternoon and bring along a

forensics team, with your permission. Or we could obtain a search warrant,

if you would prefer."

 

"No, that won't be necessary. We want to do whatever we can to help. I'll

make the necessary arrangements. Would 2 PM be acceptable?"

 

"Yes, that would be fine," answered Scully. "We appreciate your cooperation.

Now, could you give us a brief synopsis of the research projects that are

currently underway? We would be especially interested in the project Dr.

Thibodeaux was working on."

 

"Certainly. We have three major research areas. Each floor houses a

different research area with the exception of the first floor, which

includes the lobby, security, and the administrative offices. The second

floor is home to our plant research team. We're developing pest resistant

crop plants. Our focus is on transferring the gene for producing venom in

one of the old world scorpions, (Androctonus australis), to crop plants.

We're combining it with a powerful promoter and using a bactovirus as the

transferring vector. We have isolated the venom producing-gene and

introduced it into test plants, but we're a long way from determining if

these transgenic plants will be resistant to pests. We have field trials

going on right now. Genetic engineering is not quite as precise as people

believe. The placement of the gene within the plant's own genes affects how

it will be expressed, and that's not something we can currently control.

Our second floor is devoted to mosquito research. This was David's area.

Mosquitoes are vectors for a huge number of diseases including malaria, West

Nile, and yellow fever. We're working on genetically engineering mosquitoes

that would be incapable of spreading these diseases. David was working with

the team that was seeking to insert a gene into mosquitoes that would

prevent West Nile Viral RNA from replicating inside the mosquito."

 

"Excuse me, Dr. Collins," interjected Mulder, "do you think any of your

competitors would murder Dr. Thibodeaux to interfere with his research?"

 

To be honest, I don't think David was close enough to success to motivate

competing firms to resort to murder. But I will tell you that millions of

dollars are at stake here."

 

"So what do you do on the fourth floor?" asked Mulder.

 

"The fourth floor is devoted to Honey Bee research."

 

"What kind of Honey Bee research?"

 

"Well, it is a little different from our other areas of research. We're

looking at the effect genetically modified plants might have on Honey Bees

and their internal microfauna, and investigating the probability of Honey

Bees transferring pollen from these plants to unmodified plants, thereby

introducing the traits from the genetically modified plants into wild

populations. We're not manipulating the bee genome in any way, although,

recently, I was approached by a donor interested in funding research on some

specific modifications to the Honey Bee genome. If the board had approved

the project, he would have been NexGen's largest donor. But they turned him

down; they didn't feel the proposed research fit with our mission."

 

Curiosity aroused, Mulder asked, "What kind of research was this donor

interested in?"

 

"I can't share that information, but I can tell you he went to Roush

Technologies with his proposal after we turned him down - they are involved

in similar areas of research. And I am not bragging when I tell you we're

years ahead of them in our research. Now, as I understand it, you wanted a

tour of our facility?"

 

"Yes," answered Mulder. "We would very much appreciate that. Perhaps you

could point out the security features you have in place?"

 

Collins began walking and gestured for the agents to follow. "Certainly,

Agent Mulder.

 

Two hours later, the agents left the building. As near as they could tell,

Dr. Collins had been completely open with them. Mulder couldn't see any

connection between the swamp deaths and NexGen Corporation, unless maybe

some of their scorpions had escaped - but then Scully would have found the

sting site during the autopsy. She didn't miss things like that.

 

They used the morning to organize the forensics team and bring Melancon up

to speed before making the trip to NexGen's Field Research Facility. Mulder

considered the guard on duty that night, Robert Ardoin, a prime suspect; he

just needed the evidence to prove it. So far everything was circumstantial.

Ardoin would have been armed with a 9 mm Glock. They were standard issue for

all the guards, and he was in the right place at the right time. The

question was why.

 

Upon arriving at the facility, Mulder headed for the security office,

leaving Scully to coordinate the forensics team. "If you find something,

send someone for me. Otherwise I'll hook up with you when I finish reviewing

the tapes for the crucial time period."  He was confident that they would

find the evidence they were searching for.

 

"Ok, Mulder. We'll be awhile. This is a pretty big area to cover. We'll

start with those areas where Thibodeaux typically worked."

 

Mulder immediately went to work. There were ten cameras. He wasn't surprised

to find two of the tapes had a blank period when the murder supposedly

occurred. One was the camera that recorded people entering the building. The

other was the camera monitoring the hallway leading to the mosquito

enclosures and Thibodeaux's lab. There was nothing out of the ordinary on

the other tapes. If Ardoin wasn't the murderer he was certainly an

accessory, and Mulder was pretty sure he knew where to look for evidence.

 

Mulder hurried down to Thibodeaux's lab, not surprised to find the forensic

team there. "Oh, hey, Mulder, it looks like we've found something. These

tile floors made cleaning up after a murder pretty easy, but it would be

almost impossible for the murderer to completely clean up the blood that

soaked into the grout. When you know what you're looking for and you have a

good light, the stains are pretty evident. It appears he was shot as he

entered the room. If I review the autopsy findings again, I can probably

tell you exactly where his murderer was standing. We're looking for

additional evidence now."

 

"That's great work, Scully. Let's leave the forensic team here to see what

else they find. I think we have enough evidence to pick Ardoin up."

 

*****

 

The agents pulled up in front of Ardoin's house and knocked on the front

door. He opened the door and noticeably paled when Mulder explained they

wanted to ask him a few questions. He invited both agents into his living

room, where all three took a seat.

 

"Mr. Ardoin, you know what I'm here for?"

 

"Umm...David Thibodeaux's death? That was tragic - he was a very nice man."

 

"Well, now he's a dead nice man. I think you know more about his death than

you're letting on."

 

"What would I know? I didn't even hear about it until the next day."

 

"Did you see Thibodeaux at the research facility the night of his murder?"

 

"No."

 

"So the fact that we have conclusive evidence to indicate he died at the

field research station, the night you were on duty, means absolutely nothing

to you?"

 

"How couldn't he have died there? I didn't hear anything, no struggle, no

gunshots..."

 

"Is it possible you weren't in a position to hear anything?"

 

"I didn't leave the building at all, if that's what you're insinuating. I

walked my rounds, and as I told you earlier, I didn't notice anything out of

the ordinary."

 

"Does your path take you past Dr. Thibodeaux's office?"

 

"Yeah, I walked past there five or six times that night."

 

"Do you have any idea why certain video cameras would stop working?"

 

There was a noticeable pause before his reply. "The system can be a bit

shaky at times. I don't worry about it too much. I can see all I need just

by walking around."

 

"How long have you worked at NexGen?"

 

"I started six months ago."

 

"You were issued a 9mm Glock at that point in time, correct?"

 

"Yes."

 

"May I see it?"

 

"Umm...I reported it lost or stolen. I don't know where it is."

 

"Dr. Thibodeaux was shot with a 9 mm handgun. Don't you find it a little

suspicious that he was shot at the facility where you worked, while you were

on duty, with a gun like the one you claim was stolen?"

 

"Look, you may be a fancy cop from Washington, but all that don't prove

nothing. I don't know who shot the doctor, but it wasn't me. I got no reason

to want him dead. You can't hang this on me."

 

At that moment, Scully's cell phone rang. She fished it out to answer it.

 

"Scully. Okay. Thanks."  She flipped her phone shut and glanced meaningfully

at Mulder. "Mr. Ardoin, that was the forensics team that was combing through

Dr. Thibodeaux's office. They called to inform me that they found a bloody

fingerprint, which they ran against all of NexGen's employees. They already

have a match.  It looks like we might have that proof you were talking

about."

 

"That's impossible, I cl...I didn't do it. You couldn't have a fingerprint."

 

"I am afraid we do have a fingerprint. A faint but clear bloody fingerprint

was lifted from the door to Dr. Thibodeaux's lab, and it matches the one in

your record. I think maybe you should start being a little more forthcoming,

Mr. Ardoin."

 

"Yeah, I think so too," interjected Mulder. "First-degree murder is a

capital offense in Louisiana. I'd say if there were some extenuating

circumstances or maybe some other people you could share the blame with, you

might want to start doing that."

 

Ardoin was clearly terrified. "If I cooperate, you might be able to reduce

the charge?"

 

"It's possible, yes."

 

His explanation rushed forth in a torrent. "Somebody from Roush Technologies

wanted copies of David's work. They wanted stuff from some of the other

labs, too. It wouldn't have been a problem if he hadn't come into work that

night. He startled me, I panicked and before I knew it, he was shot, lying

on the floor and bleeding all over. He was dead before I could do anything.

We were the only people in the building at the time, so cleaning up the

blood and moving the body weren't hard. I didn't mean to shoot him - he

wasn't supposed to be there! Oh, God..."

 

*****

 

Ardoin was transported to the jail, and Thibodeaux's murder marked solved.

Melancon would have someone take Ardoin's formal statement in the morning.

The investigation wasn't over, but the local authorities could handle tying

up the loose ends, including checking into Roush's involvement with the

murder. For a change, the local authorities were happy with them, and Scully

imagined the Bureau would be, too.

 

*****

 

"Scully, it's already Thursday night. No one will expect us in the office

tomorrow, so how about we take a nice little boat ride into Honey Island

Swamp and enjoy the wildlife? It'll be a nice little weekend getaway."

 

"Are you crazy, Mulder?"

 

"Is that a rhetorical question, Scully?"

 

"Look, Mulder, I know you think the truth is out there, but it would be

stupid for us to stay for the weekend. Skinner sent us out here to solve a

case. We accomplished that. Let's not jeopardize the positive points we

made."

 

"I hear you, Scully, but I'm here, and I can't walk away from it. I

understand if you don't want to come, but I think I'm going to rent some

camping equipment and a boat and take a look at the area where those folks

died."

 

Scully took a deep breath before acknowledging that there was no way in hell

she was letting Mulder loose in a swamp - alone. As usual her determination

to not let him drag her on another crazy and no doubt misguided mission had

collapsed in the face of his single-minded intensity. Her logic was no match

for his passion.

 

The duo spent the morning preparing for their weekend adventure, including

renting a 17 foot john boat with a 25 horsepower motor from Cajun Jack's

Swamp Marina. Cajun Jack was somewhat dubious about renting the city folks

any boat. He explained that the swamp was a dangerous place, even more

dangerous with the unexplained deaths. "And there ain't no cell phone

service out there in the swamp neither. Ya get yourself in trouble, ya just

gonna hafta get yourself out. I'm tellin you, if ya ain't back by Sunday

afternoon, I gonna send a rescue party out." Mulder thanked the man for his

advice and concern and assured him they would be very careful, but made sure

to leave the information about where they would be camping. Scully could see

that Mulder's enthusiasm had been somewhat dampened by the realization that

he would have no cell phone service. She sure hoped they wouldn't need it.

 

With preparations finally complete, the partners loaded the boat and with

Scully in the bow and Mulder at the tiller, they were off down the bayou.

Three hours later, they reached the area where the mysterious deaths had

occurred. Mulder angled the boat onto a convenient landing, and Scully

jumped out onto relatively dry land, pulled the boat up onto the shore, and

tied the bowline to a handy branch for extra security.

 

Responsibilities were quickly divided, with Scully agreeing to set the tent

up in the clearing about 100 yards from the boat, while Mulder gathered

firewood. The sun was dipping below the horizon and they definitely wanted

camp set up before dark.

 

Mulder was finding it difficult to locate enough firewood and was rapidly

becoming miserable. The mosquitoes were devouring him. If he stayed out here

much longer, he'd need a transfusion. At last, feeling he had an adequate

amount of wood, he hurried back to the clearing where Scully was finishing

setting up the tent. She greeted him with a cheery wave and a "Welcome home,

Mulder."  Clearly, she was enjoying this little adventure more than he.

 

"God, Scully, the mosquitoes are horrendous," were the first words out of

his mouth.

 

Scully grinned up at him, that little chipmunk grin that either captivated

him or aggravated him - depending on the circumstances. Just now, it

aggravated him. "What's so amusing, Scully?"

 

"Nothing, Mulder. It's just that I have Deep Wood's Off. Since my experience

in the Oregon forest, I don't venture into the woods without it."

 

"Are you serious, Scully? If you share, I promise to have Frohike name his

first born daughter after you."

 

"Um, that's okay, Mulder. That won't be necessary. I left it in my pack,

which I am afraid is still down at the water, but I'll go get it. I need a

few other things anyway. You want to start the fire?"

 

"Sure, Scully, but hurry, I think I'm beginning to feel weak from blood

loss."

 

Scully hurried off and Mulder set to work, but in moments, discretion

overcame valor and he hurried after Scully. The fire could wait; he needed

the repellent - now. The mosquitoes weren't so bad when he was walking, yet

he was still happy to see Scully pulling her pack out of the boat and

heading back towards him. Happiness that turned to terror when he saw a huge

- really huge - alligator lumbering up the bank only a few scant yards from

his diminutive partner. "Run, Scully," he screamed at the top of his lungs,

even as he started running towards her. "Run!"

 

Scully didn't need to hear the second admonition. She dropped the pack and

started running towards her partner as fast as her legs could carry her. She

didn't know why she was running, but the terror in Mulder's voice more than

convinced her that she must be running from something life threatening. She

watched as Mulder pulled out his gun and took aim at something behind her.

 

Mulder continued to scramble towards his partner, even as he sought a clear

shot, but Scully was directly in his line of fire. Then Scully was passing

him and he began firing, emptying his clip into the monster's head. In the

periphery of his vision, he saw Scully trip and fall, even as the forward

momentum of the gator carried it past him. It was dead, but its reptilian

brain hadn't quite grasped that fact yet. He started to turn to check on

Scully as the gator lashed out with its tail in one final act of desperate

aggression, ripping Mulder's legs out from under him. His last thought was

that he hoped Scully had gotten clear, and then excruciating white pain

radiated upward from his left leg and slowly faded into blackness as he

crumpled to the ground.

 

Mulder woke surrounded by darkness. At first he was at a loss as to what he

was doing lying in the mud, but then it came back with clarifying intensity.

Oh my God, "Sculleeee," he shouted, but there was no answer. Please let her

be ok, he prayed, even as he attempted to get up and look for her. The pain

that movement evoked quickly convinced him he wasn't walking anywhere.

Undaunted, he began to pull his prone body in the direction he had last seen

her. The pain was nearly more than he could bear. He kept moving, his

progress measured in inches. After what seemed like hours, he finally saw

her soft outline sprawled in the mud just a few yards away. Sweat beaded on

his forehead as he ignored the pain of dragging his damaged leg forward.

Slowly, inexorably, he struggled forward. His teeth penetrated his lip as he

bit down, trying to use one pain to keep another at bay. At last, he was

close enough to reach out and grasp her ankle. Relief flooded the synapses

of his brain as he felt warm, living flesh. He could just pull Scully back

to him and see if she was all right. Then he could stay here. He was so very

tired. But something at the edge of his thought processes warned him not to

do it. Oh, of course. What if she was badly injured? She shouldn't be moved.

How had he forgotten? He needed to move. It was easier now, though, because

with every inch of progress made, he could feel more Scully, more warm and

whole Scully. He could now reach her torso, and so far he hadn't discovered

any damage. He grasped her wrist and was gratified by the strong pulse. His

mind exhorted his body to move forward. Just a little farther and he would

be able touch her face, feel her breath. Then, at last, he pulled even with

her. He laid his head on the ground. They were eye to eye, but the darkness

was so complete that he couldn't make out her features, even though he could

feel each breath she exhaled. He still didn't know why she was unconscious.

He reached out to carefully explore her face and head. Then he felt it - the

sticky warm wetness of fresh blood. His fingers continued to explore,

feeling the bump on her forehead and the ragged torn flesh. She whimpered

and he pulled his hand back. "Scully?"

 

"Sat you, Mudder?" she mumbled.

 

"Yeah. Are you ok?"

 

"Ummmm fine, head hurts."

 

"That's ok, Scully, stay still till you feel stronger."

 

"What happened?"

 

"It almost got you. I was afraid it had."

 

Mulder's last words brought the last moments of consciousness back, but she

wasn't sure what had happened after she had fallen. She realized that Mulder

was lying on the ground facing her. "Mulder, what was chasing me and are you

hurt?"

 

"Gator. I'm fine, but my leg hurts pretty bad."

 

Scully pulled herself to a sitting position, wiping blood from her eyes. She

was dizzy and a little nauseous, but if she moved slowly she didn't feel too

badly. "Which leg?"

 

"The left."

 

Scully gently reached out to tactilely examine his leg, but pulled back when

he gasped in pain. "Mulder, I need a flashlight and my first aid supplies.

I'm going back for my pack."

 

"No!  Th...there might be another one...down there."

 

"Mulder, I have to go. I have my gun, and I'll be careful.

 

True to her word, she was back within minutes, although to Mulder, it seemed

she was gone an eternity. She carefully removed his boot and examined his

leg. Mulder clenched his teeth tightly, determined to hide the pain she

caused him. "I'm afraid it's broken, Mulder. The level of pain you are in

certainly indicates that. It's already swelling. The good news is it's a

simple fracture, no external bleeding, and it appears that you have avoided

extensive soft-tissue damage. Circulation and color in your foot is good and

displacement is minimal. I'm going to have to immobilize it as best I can."

 

"Umm...Scully? Is that gonna hurt a lot?"

 

"I'm sorry, Mulder, I'll be as gentle as I can. I have Tylenol with codeine.

Can you swallow these two pills dry?"

 

"Sure.

 

"I'm going to need a few things. I'll be back as quick as I can."

 

"K Scully, but please hurry."

 

By the time she returned, Mulder was either asleep or unconscious. She got

everything ready, then asked, "Mulder, are you ready to start?"

 

He roused at her voice. "Um yeah. I guess so. Ready as I'll ever be."  She

quickly began to wrap the cut-up pieces of sleeping bag around his leg,

careful to move it as little as possible, but even that caused him

incredible pain. His hands balled into tight fists, short fingernails

leaving small bloody crescents on his palms, and he gritted his teeth as he

broke out into a cold sweat, but he remained silent, except for a few soft

groans. Then she padded the forked ends of the two splints she had cut,

placing one under his armpit and one against his groin. She smiled when he

cautioned her to take special care to not pinch the "boys."  Humor was

Mulder's refuge. Then she smoothly wrapped the ties around the leg to secure

the splints. Again she touched the leg as little as possible, making certain

to tie it tight enough to stabilize the leg. At first he didn't seem to be

in too much pain, but as she moved closer to his thigh, the pain rapidly

increased. "Hang on, Mulder, I need you conscious just a little longer. Help

me determine where the break is. Tell me where the pain is worst."

 

"There, Scully, there", he gasped before he slipped into unconsciousness.

 

Scully finished tying the splint in place, carefully avoiding the point he

had identified as most painful. She used one of the tent ropes to secure a

cross piece between the ends of the splints. Hurrying to complete the

procedure while he was out of it, she secured the longer branch to his body

for added stability and then wrapped the extra long strip she had ripped

from his t-shirt around his ankle and brought the free ends down and tied

them to the crosspiece. Then she inserted a short sturdy stick between the

free ends and began to twist, exerting a steady pressure and gradually

pulling the bones of the leg downward. She was very glad that Mulder wasn't

awake for this part. She secured the stick, maintaining what she hoped was

adequate traction on the leg. Between the splint and the Tylenol, he should

be in less pain.

 

Nearly half an hour elapsed before Mulder returned to consciousness.

"Feeling better?" she asked when she saw his eyes flutter open.

 

Mulder considered the question, "Yeah, Scully, the pain isn't nearly as

bad."

 

"Could you swallow this pill?"  She held the canteen to his lips as he

placed the pill in his mouth. "It's an antibiotic. I'm going to go back to

the tent site and get the wood you gathered as well as some of our

provisions."

 

"K," Mulder softly responded even as he was drifting off to sleep.

 

While Mulder slept, she started the fire and began warming up some stew. It

smelled delicious and she was half starved. Mulder must have been hungry,

too, because she heard him softly call, "Hey, Scully, that smells delicious.

Care to share with a hungry man?"

 

"Sure, Mulder, do you think we could roll you over onto your back? You'd be

a lot more comfortable."

 

There was a long pause as Mulder considered the ramifications of moving his

leg. "Ok, Scully, if you think it's a good idea."

 

"Let me help you. I'll support your leg and keep it aligned while you roll

your body over to the right. On three. One, two, three."

 

Mulder gritted his teeth and rolled. The pain was sharp, but mercifully

brief. Scully placed a couple of the unused rectangles she had cut from the

sleeping bag under his head for support. She removed the pan from the fire,

filled a bowl with the steaming stew, and sat down next to Mulder to share -

careful to make sure it wasn't hot enough to burn.

 

Scully could finally relax. Mulder was doing a lot better and soon drifted

off to sleep. They were sharing the remaining sleeping bag, and she had

snuggled against his good side, taking comfort from the steady rhythm of his

breathing. All they needed to do was get through tomorrow. She was thankful

they had left specific instructions as to where they would be, and Cajun

Jack had assured them, if they weren't back by Sunday afternoon, he would

send help. Then, despite her intentions, she too dozed off.

 

She wasn't sure how long she had been sleeping, but she was wide-awake now.

Mulder's breathing had gone from comforting to frightening. He was breathing

rapidly, and the sound was now strident. She shook him, and he roused

slowly. "Scully, I...I...I don't feel so good."  She flipped on the

flashlight to better assess his condition. He was sweating profusely and was

very pale.

 

"Mulder, talk to me. Tell me how you feel."

 

"Hard to breathe," he panted. "My arms feel tingly and my chest feels

funny."

 

Scully placed her ear on his chest to assess his heartbeat. It was fast, and

she could detect brief periods of arrhythmia.

 

"Scully, help, gonna be sick," he moaned as he attempted to turn his body.

She quickly moved to support his torso as he was wracked with strong

contractions. He vomited, emptying his system of the stew. Finally he

dropped back against the ground, eyes and mouth now clamped shut from the

overwhelming pain caused by the impromptu movement. Scully grabbed one of

the rags remaining after her destruction of Mulder's t-shirt and used it to

carefully wipe his sore mouth. Her mind raced, even as she attempted to calm

her partner. What the hell was causing these symptoms? She breathed deeply

trying to think clearly. She had stabilized his leg, and there was no

infection or fever. Then, suddenly it clicked.

 

"Mulder, we have to go now."

 

Even in the beam of her flashlight, she could see the incredulity in his

eyes. "Scully, I can't. I hurt so bad... not just my leg anymore, but my

whole body."

 

"Mulder, listen to me. There's no choice. Whatever killed those other people

is now affecting you. You have early symptoms of neurotoxin poisoning. I

don't know how it got into your symptom, but I'm sure that's it."

 

"Scully, I can't. Please, it hurts too much. Leave me. Get out before

whatever it is gets you too."

 

"Dammit, Mulder, I'm not leaving you. If you want to save me, you're going

to have to save yourself. Help me get your ass on this sleeping bag. I'm

gonna try to drag you to the boat."  She checked her watch. It was almost

2:30, nearly 5 hours until first light.

 

Mulder gritted his teeth and with Scully's help, eased himself over onto the

sleeping bag that she had spread out next to him. His whole body seemed to

have become a reservoir for pain. Mulder was in no hurry to die, but at the

moment, death seemed a very attractive option to moving another inch.

 

"Okay, then, I am going to start pulling you towards the boat. We are going

to go real slowly. I want you to help me, if you can, by giving a push with

your good leg. Then we'll pause and do it again. I think that will reduce

the bouncing and give you a little control over the movement. Ok, let's

move."

 

Mulder followed her instructions, but excruciating pain immediately exploded

in his injured leg and he gasped. "Scully, please, leave me. Get help. I

can't do this."

 

"You can do it, Mulder. You'd be dead by the time I got back."

 

"I don't care, I'm telling you I..."

 

Before he had completed the thought, Scully was in his face, hands gripping

his shirt, shaking him, heedless of the added pain it brought. "Don't you

dare say that to me. You will do this, or I will sit right here with you and

we can die together. Is that what you want, Mulder?"

 

"No."

 

"Then get with the program G-man - we have a boat to catch." She began to

pull and he helped by pushing with his right leg, just as she had ordered.

After about 15 minutes, she stopped to check on him and see if he needed a

break. His body was soaked in sweat, and he was physically exhausted from

the pain and trauma. She dropped beside him to offer comfort and

encouragement, determined to hide her fear from him. He couldn't die. Not

like this, out in the middle of a swamp, for no damn reason. "So Mulder,

what do you think of the swamp now?"

 

Determined to fulfill his role, Mulder replied, "I say we give it back to

the mosquitoes. They seem to be waging a guerrilla war to reclaim it. I was

thinking, 'stead of making mosquitoes that don't carry diseases, NexGen

oughta make mosquitoes that don't bite."

 

"Sounds like a winning idea to me. You ready to go?"

 

"Sure," he lied. She again began to pull him towards the boat, moving slowly

to avoid jostling his leg. Her tired mind considered mosquitoes that didn't

bite. Then suddenly, the missing pieces to the puzzle of her partner's

illness snapped into place. She had just made a Mulder leap. But now, she

needed to get him to a hospital. They were making steady process when the

end of his splint slipped off a root it had been sliding across. The

resulting jolt sent a bolt of white-hot agony across every neuron in his

body and wrenched a blood-curdling scream from his lungs.

 

Scully was at his side in a second. "Mulder, are you ok?"  There would be no

answer. He was unconscious. Both the arrhythmia in his heart and his

breathing were worse. She was going to have to risk moving faster-better to

lose his leg than his life. Scully returned to pulling him towards the boat.

It was harder work without his assistance, but not hearing his gasps of pain

as he was jerked along more than made up for the extra effort.

 

Twenty minutes later an exhausted Scully had nearly reached the boat. The

bank was the single obstacle. She tugged the sleeping bag around until her

partner's feet were even with the edge of the bank. She couldn't drag him

down it. Somehow she had to get him on his feet. Taking the canteen, she

bathed his face. "C'mon Mulder, I need you. We have some problem solving to

do."  Gradually her words seemed to reach him. He felt far away, cocooned in

a safe wrapping of darkness, but Scully needed him. He tried to follow her

voice back to consciousness, but it was so hard. His whole body felt heavy

and he was tired.

 

"Scully?"

 

"I'm here, Mulder. I need your help."

 

He forced his eyes open. Scully was there. "What, Scully? What do you need?"

 

"I need you to sit up, Mulder. We have to get down the bank." She released

the straps that secured the longer splint to his body and helped him into a

sitting position. She knew this compromised the stability of the splint, but

there was no option. "I'll support your leg and you use your arms and your

good leg to slip down the bank. Mulder, you have to do this."

 

Mulder swallowed. The boat was so close. Scully was right. He had to do it,

for himself and for her, but he had nearly blacked out from the pain of just

sitting up. "Okay, let's do it," he gritted out. Somehow he forced a

confidence into his voice that he didn't really feel. Scully clambered

partway down the shallow bank, carefully placing her feet so that she

wouldn't slip. She reached up and grasped the ends of the splint. "Ok,

Mulder, start moving."  Using his arms and one leg, he scooted forward and

slowly slid down the bank, with Scully keeping his leg from hitting the

uneven ground. Gradually, he lowered his ass down the uneven slope. Scully

watched as he struggled, unable to do anymore than keep his leg in position.

His arms trembled with the effort and rivulets of blood dripped down his

chin from where his teeth had again bitten into his lip in an effort to

control the pain. He was silent except for the hiss that seemed to accompany

each inhalation. Finally his good foot was on the flat area where they had

pulled the boat up. Scully made sure he was stable and then tugged the boat

as close to him as her strength permitted. She scurried up the bank and

grabbed the sleeping bag, then carefully laid it along the bottom of the

boat to form a slightly more comfortable resting place.

 

"Ok Mulder, let's get you onto the front seat."  Very carefully he lifted

himself onto the seat, teeth clenched to keep from vocalizing the pain that

assaulted his senses. Finally he was down with Scully supporting his

splinted leg above the gunwale. "Ok Mulder, one last thing. I need you to

move to the bottom of the boat. I'm going to climb in and help support the

weight of your body."  She slipped under his right side and helped him ease

off the seat. Because of the length of the splint, it was a delicate

maneuver. Ultimately Mulder's weakened arms collapsed and his full weight

shifted onto Scully. Even her considerable strength of will wasn't enough to

keep Mulder from slipping onto the floor of the boat and wrenching his leg.

With barely a whimper, Mulder slipped into unconsciousness yet again. At

least he was where she wanted him. She arranged him as comfortably as

possible, got her pack, then checked his condition one more time, not liking

what she found. He was now tachycardic and his breathing was extremely

labored. His leg was showing considerable swelling. She loosened the cravats

slightly to ensure that blood flow wasn't restricted.

 

After pushing the boat into the water, she gingerly climbed to the back,

flipped the appropriate switches, set the choke, and pulled the start cord.

Then with one hand on the tiller and one on Mulder's shoulder, Scully headed

back. They had been traveling for a little over two and half hours, and

Mulder was showing signs of restlessness. She wasn't surprised when she

heard him call her name.

 

"Scully, where are we?"

 

"We're about thirty minutes from the Marina."

 

"S'gettin hard brea. Can't seem tumove. Feel sorta numb."

 

"Just stay with me, Mulder, you're going to be fine." The numbness and

declining verbal skills were bad signs. He didn't have much time left.

 

"Can't. Tired."

 

"I figured it out you know?"

 

"Figured wha' ou'?"

 

Scully knew that there was nothing better than a mystery to keep Mulder

awake. His need to know eclipsed everything. "The Honey Island Swamp

deaths."

 

His lip curled up in a little smirk, "Tell."

 

"Well, it's just a theory."

 

"Sto' stallin'."

 

"Your informant indicated that NexGen was the key to the Honey Island

deaths?"

 

"uh huh."

 

"So I started thinking about the swamp and NexGen and the com..."

 

Scully stopped in mid-sentence as Mulder's eyes rolled up and he began to

seize. Releasing the throttle, she dropped her body over his, trying to keep

him from moving as much as possible. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it

was over.  He was limp. She felt his heart. For a moment she thought it had

stopped. It was beating very slowly and his breathing was slow and shallow.

The symptoms were advancing and he was now in a coma.

 

She jumped back to the motor, engaged the throttle. Only speed could save

Mulder now. It wasn't even seven when Cajun Jack's came into view, but

already the marina was bustling. Scully ignored the slow, no wake signs as

she roared into the marina at full throttle. She leapt from the boat and

raced for the rental Taurus. Grabbing the cell phone, she punched in 911 as

she headed back to her comatose partner. As soon as the operator came onto

the line, she shouted, "Agent down at Cajun Jack's Swamp Marina. I 'm a

medical doctor, so please listen carefully. He's comatose, exhibiting

bradycardia and bradypnea. I believe he's been poisoned. I strongly suspect

that the active agent is the venom of the scorpion (Androctonus australis).

Please contact NexGen Corporation. They can probably supply anti-venom as

well as expertise in its administration. Ask them to meet him at the

admitting hospital. Time is the crucial factor. He also has a broken femur."

 

Ignoring the gathering onlookers, she clutched the phone to her ear as she

climbed back into the boat to sit with her partner. She listened as the

operator assured her that her instructions were being followed, and that a

Life Flight Helicopter had been dispatched. "Life Flight," she sighed. That

could be the difference between life and death.

 

The helicopter arrived and loaded Mulder onto a gurney and Scully into a

seat before taking off for NorthShore Regional Medical Center. A medical

team was waiting for them and Mulder was wheeled into an emergency treatment

room, the doors slamming shut.

 

She paused at the doors and was contemplating trying to bully her way in

when the doors swung open and one of the physicians emerged. A Dr. Washburn,

according to his nametag.

 

"Are you the physician that called this in?"

 

"Yes."

 

"A representative from NexGen just arrived with the anti-venom you ordered.

How could your patient have been bitten by a North African scorpion?"

 

"I can't explain it. But you have to believe me, I am almost certain that

it's the toxin responsible for his condition. There have been three deaths

from the same area of the swamp. I did the autopsy on the last one. He can't

wait; you must administer the anti-venom."

 

"You realize administering anti-venom carries its own risks, right? He

couldn't handle another complication. Do you want to take the chance?"

 

She reviewed her decision, reflected on her words, 'almost certain'. There

was no proof, nothing but circumstantial evidence, a Mulder leap of logic,

and faith that she was right. She made her decision, noting that it was

ironic his life should hang not on her science, but on her faith. She looked

the attending physician straight in the eye, certain that Mulder's life

depended on her power of persuasion. "That anti-venom is his only chance.

There is nothing to lose."

 

The doctor examined her closely, seeing the exhaustion in her eyes, taking

in her mud-caked clothes, the nasty-looking contusion on her forehead, and

the flaking bits of blood. He thought back to the condition of the patient

in the treatment room, the field splint on his leg. She had been through

hell to get the man here, and clearly, she was convinced he needed the

anti-venom-willing to bet his life on it, really. And she was right about

his condition. He was circling the drain. He made his decision. "I'm going

to administer the anti-venom."  With those words, he disappeared back into

the treatment room.

 

Scully collapsed onto the waiting room couch, adrenaline spent. She'd gotten

her way, but now doubts assailed her. An hour slipped by, then two, with

still no news from the treatment room. She stood and began to pace. Finally,

the doors to the treatment room opened and Dr. Washburn moved towards her.

She tried to read his facial expression, but his professional mask was

firmly in place. She would have to wait for the words.

 

"We administered the anti-venom. He's comatose, but that's to be expected.

We re-splinted his leg. You did a great job with the splint. We'll bring an

orthopedic surgeon in tomorrow if...when his condition improves. We're

sending him to the Critical Care Unit. Now, you need to have a doctor look

at your head."

 

Scully took a deep breath. "What do you think?"

 

The doctor knew she had brushed off his suggestion that she needed medical

treatment and was asking about Agent Mulder, asking if he would live, asking

a question he couldn't answer. "We had to intubate and put him on a vent. If

the anti-venom works, we should see definite improvement in respiratory and

cardiac function within 24 hours. For now, his condition is critical."

 

"When can I see him?"

 

"It'll take about an hour to get him settled in the CCU. Individuals on the

approved list will then be allowed to visit. The CCU is small and the nurses

are usually flexible regarding the length of visits, so if you don't get in

the way, you should be able to sit with him as long as you wish. However,

your name will not appear on the approved list until you get that head wound

taken care of."

 

Two hours later, Scully, head stitched and bandaged, was ensconced at

Mulder's side. Three more hours ticked by. She was exhausted, but she needed

to be there. She pulled her chair closer, placed her hand in his hand, and

laid her head on the bed. The warmth of his hand was comforting. The steady

whoosh of the respirator and beep of the monitor were reassuring. They had a

somnolent affect, gradually lulling the tired agent to sleep. The nurses

came and went, making their periodic checks, careful to not disturb the

sleeping woman. Eight more hours passed, Scully awoke, feeling that

something had changed. She felt Mulder's fingers twitch. Her eyes shifted to

his face. His eyes were open, frightened. She hastened to reassure him.

"Stay calm, Mulder. You're in the hospital. You're going to be fine. Don't

fight the vent."  Even as she sought to reassure him, a nurse appeared,

alerted by changes in the machines monitoring his heart and respiration.

Seeing her patient was awake, the nurse quickly notified the doctor. Mulder,

calmed by Scully's presence and words, drifted back to sleep.

 

*****

 

After coming out of the coma Saturday night, Mulder's condition improved

steadily. Doctors removed the endo tube Sunday morning and replaced it with

a nasal canula when it was evident that his respiratory function was

returning. Not long after that, he awakened a second time and, while still a

little disoriented, was more alert. Initially, he had been relieved to

awaken to the radiant Scully smile that told him he was going to live and

gratified that she had stayed with him. As he had taken a closer look,

though, he had seen the fatigue behind the smile, the same filthy clothes

she had worn on their little adventure, and the large white bandage that

covered her forehead and wrapped around her head. While he reveled in her

attention and little touches, and took comfort in knowing she was watching

his back even as he slept, a guilty conscience prompted him to insist that

she go and get some sleep and a shower.

 

Scully was tired and her appearance was a disaster, but she was unbelievably

relieved that Mulder was going to be okay. His leg still needed to be

evaluated, but his life was no longer in danger. Before she could sleep, she

needed to notify the local authorities and the Bureau of their findings so

that steps could be taken to close the area where the deaths had occurred.

CDC would probably also need to be brought into the loop. Andrew Collins and

the people at NexGen would need to be notified. She had best set up a

meeting with Collins for tomorrow. Then she would get cleaned up and get

some real sleep.

 

*****

 

Now it was Monday morning and she was back at Mulder's side looking and

feeling a great deal better. Mulder had slept most of the day Sunday and all

through the night. As for her, a few hours of real sleep in an

air-conditioned bug-free room, and a hot shower had combined to make her

feel like a new woman. Mulder had been moved to a regular room and was

anxious to hear her theory on the Honey Island deaths.

 

Scully anticipated this and was equally anxious to share her conclusions.

"The note implied that NexGen was involved, but how? We suspected a

neurotoxin. I was even more certain when your symptoms started to present.

NexGen was working with scorpion venom. But how could the venom from NexGen

end up poisoning campers in Honey Island Swamp? I was thinking about that,

and about your idea for mosquitoes that didn't bite. Then I started thinking

about commonalities between Honey Island Swamp and NexGen, and one obvious

commonality, besides poison, was the mosquitoes.  Mulder, you may think I am

crazy, but I am convinced that the gene that codes for scorpion venom was

introduced not only into target plants, but also into the experimental

mosquitoes at NexGen."  At this point Scully paused in response to a very

bemused expression on Mulder's face. "What's so funny, Mulder? Do you find

this idea absurd?"

 

"No, Scully, I'm really impressed. I'm just captivated by the idea that I

might think you were crazy. Somehow that idea is incongruent with the world

as I know it. But, how could that happen? How would it be possible for the

gene that coded for scorpion venom to get into the mosquitoes, and how did

the mosquitoes get out into the swamp?"

 

"I don't know how they got into the swamp. Maybe they escaped from NexGen's

field station. I do, however, have a couple of ideas on how the gene might

have gotten into the mosquitoes. It's possible it was done on purpose, that

NexGen was conducting some experiments that they didn't mention, and that

they purposefully introduced the gene into the mosquitoes. I don't know why,

unless their goals are not so lofty after all, and they're actively

researching bio-terror weapons. Alternatively, it could have happened

accidentally. One concern that scientists have is accidental horizontal

transfer of genetic material between target and non-target organisms.

Mistakes can happen. After all, the transfer vector they were using to

introduce the gene into the plant was a baculovirus, which just happens to

be a virus that typically infects insects. Maybe the engineered virus

containing the scorpion gene got loose and infected the mosquitoes. Biotech

labs are supposed to have strict containment policies in place, but all it

would take is one individual with a few virus particles on his lab coat

walking up to chat with one of the scientists in the mosquito research area.

Also, mosquitoes feed on plant juices. It is possible that they could have

ingested either the virus, or even the naked DNA, from the experimental

plants, and somehow incorporated it into their genome.  A lot of scientists

don't believe that DNA can be absorbed from the gut because it's digested

too rapidly, but there are dissenters and some scientific results that

support them. And Mulder, the Bureau forensic lab confirmed my suspicion

that Edna Gautreaux died of the toxin that is found in the venom of

Androctonus australis. I'm sure the toxicology report on your blood will

match hers."

 

"That's some theory. Do you have any idea why only some individuals were

affected? I mean, why me, and not you?"

 

"I'm not sure. In our case, we may owe Deep Wood's Off our lives. I react

badly to mosquito bites, so I use repellent lavishly. Remember the big welts

I got from those bites in Oregon? Anyway, I didn't get many bites at all.

You, on the other hand, in your haste to solve the mystery, didn't even have

any repellant. I am guessing that either very little venom is transferred by

a single bite and/or most of the mosquitoes out there are not carrying the

transferred gene. Either of those would explain why there have been so few

deaths. It would take a lot of bites to trigger a reaction. The three people

who died had all spent at least one night in the swamp."

 

"Yeah, Scully, it all fits. I did get a lot of bites. The thing is, if

you're correct, we have a developing public health crisis. Those transgenic

mosquitoes are almost certainly interbreeding with wild type mosquitoes.

What's going to keep this from spreading?"

 

"I don't know Mulder. I'm heading over to talk to Andrew Collins about it.

I also notified the CDC and the local authorities.

 

"Scully, I see how genetic engineering could improve the quality of life,

but at the same time it's pretty scary. I mean, I don't understand a lot of

the details, but once a company isolates a gene and puts it in a viral

agent, it seems to me that it could be pretty hard to control where it ends

up. Even I know that that's what viruses do: infect other organisms with

their DNA or RNA. Without proper regulatory laws in place, genetic

engineering could give a whole new meaning to the concept of Pandora's box."

 

"Well, hopefully, one thing that will come of this is increased public

awareness, but Mulder, there's no question in my mind that genetic

engineering is the wave of the future. Science is a double-edged sword, and

because of that, it needs to be wielded very carefully. This could be the

Three Mile Island of genetic engineering. I need to go; it's nearly time for

my meeting. Take care and good luck with the orthopedic surgeon."

 

She reached out to pat his chest and he grabbed her hand, cradling it gently

against his chest. Then he captured her gaze, adding, "Thanks, Scully."

 

She knew he was referring to more than her wishes of good luck. "Anytime,

Mulder."

 

*****

 

The next two days were a whirlwind of activity. She met with Andrew Collins

at NexGen, and he admitted that there had been a break in at their "secure"

containment research area near Honey Island Swamp. Millions of experimental

mosquitoes had been released. The release had been a significant setback for

their research, but they had not imagined it could endanger public health.

Mulder's meeting with the orthopedic surgeon had gone well and he operated

on Mulder's leg Tuesday morning. Scully had stopped by the hospital several

times, checking on his progress, but the doctors were keeping him lightly

sedated, so she hadn't really been able to talk with him. It was now

Wednesday morning, and she was on her way up to see him again. She hoped he

would be awake and lucid; she had a lot of news.

 

His door was open and she breezed in, pleased that he was sitting up in bed.

She noted that he looked good in his hospital gown, which was fortunate for

him since he seemed destined to wear them so frequently.

 

"Morning, Mulder."

 

"Hey, Scully, you're looking good this morning. In fact, you look a little

like the chipmunk that swallowed a canary."

 

"Thanks, Mulder...I think."

 

"I do have good news, as well as some not-so-good news, but first, how are

you feeling?"

 

"I'm good. I should be out of here in a few days, but then I'll be in a

wheelchair before I can move onto crutches. The doctor sees physical therapy

in my future. My convalescence would have been a whole lot longer, and my

leg could have been permanently damaged, if you hadn't done such a great job

with the splinting. I owe you again, Scully, big time."

 

"Forget it, Mulder. Who's keeping score? Besides, I owe you too. Without

you, I'd have been gator bait."

 

"Thanks, Scully, I just wanted you to know: I'm glad you were there.

 

"You're welcome, Mulder. Now, for my news. First, the not so pleasant stuff.

Ardoin was found hanging in his cell the day we left for the swamp. It looks

like suicide, though Chief Melancon is suspicious. Either way, he's dead and

so is our lead for investigating Roush Technologies."

 

"That sounds suspicious to me too, Scully. When we interrogated him he

sounded way too interested in saving his own skin to commit suicide the

following day."

 

"It also looks like I was right about the swamp deaths. Initial tests show

that somehow the scorpion venom gene found its way into the mosquitoes, and

the toxin was being released along with other salivary secretions. I doubt

NexGen will survive the fallout. There's a lot of negative public sentiment

developing, and while I doubt criminal charges will be filed, there will

certainly be some major civil suits involving wrongful death."

 

"God, Scully, I realize they're responsible for creating an incredible

menace to society, but in a way, I feel bad for NexGen. I had the impression

they really were trying to improve the human condition. Other biotech

corporations will replace them, and I'm sure at least some of them will be a

lot less ethical."

 

"I agree, Mulder, and Andrew Collins told me that Roush is trying to buy

them out. They apparently want access to NexGen's technological advances

pretty badly. It looks like some big money is being thrown around. He said

he'll leave, if that happens.

 

"I'm DEFINITELY going to have the gunmen look into Roush."

 

"Now let me move on to the good news: NexGen included a Trojan horse in

their experimental mosquitoes."

 

"A Trojan horse?"

 

"Yeah, as a safety precaution, they incorporated a mutated 'Notch' gene from

Drosophila into the line of experimental mosquitoes that they were using.

The Notch gene is important in embryological development. This particular

mutation halts development when temperatures are cool. And, in an incredible

bit of good fortune, the scorpion venom gene appears to have been inserted

very near the Notch gene, so they should be inherited as a linked unit. When

temperatures drop in another month or two, there should be a real crash in

mosquito numbers in the Honey Island Swamp area. All the eggs from the

transgenics, or offspring of the transgenics and wild type mosquitoes,

should perish. I just hope it works the way NexGen's scientists think it

will."

 

"Wow, that is good news. These toxic mosquitoes could potentially kill

millions and change the world forever.

 

"Oh, and Mulder, I have one other bit of good news. We've both received

commendations from the Director for our role in identifying this public

health crisis. In this case, Mulder, it looks like you managed not only to

put your best foot forward but also to land on both feet. Well, except for

that little problem with the alligator."