Location unknown

Slowly, he came to. He was greeted by the vague memory of a struggle, a thudding headache to prove it and the inability to move. His head snapped up sharply, pushing the headache up a notch, but his immediate disorientation allowed for nothing less.

Trying to blink, he realized he was blindfolded and sitting on a chair. His wrists and ankles were tied to the chair by what he could only identify as some kind of strong yet thin string. Turning his head a little, he listened to his surroundings, trying to hear beyond the heavy thudding of his own pulse in his ears. There was no sound.

After a moment, he focused on how he felt, trying to estimate how much damage he had sustained. It amazed him that not even the headache was very severe. It was there, but that was about it. He tried to brush the blindfold off and couldn't. In an attempt to bend forward so he could use his fingers to get it off, he found that he also had string tried around his chest, which cut into his flesh rather sharply.

Grinding his teeth in annoyance, he settled back again, trying to stay calm. The worst thing he could do right now was let the fear take over. And it was about to. Heaving a couple of deep breaths, he attempted to calm himself enough to think rationally. His attacker. Who had it been? He forced himself to remember, to jog that photographic memory of his, and vaguely remembered a woman. The fear escalated. No, he told himself sharply. Another few deep breaths brought his temper back down. Think, he admonished himself silently. Think clearly.

An image formed in his mind and he was certain that he had gotten it right this time. Yes, it had been her. She had rushed him before he could get to his gun. They had struggled, but she was stronger, faster. She had eventually knocked him out. How? He gave that some thought. His gun. Of course. She had hit him with the butt of his own gun.

The memory of the attack made him wince. What was it about him that made these ... females flock to him like this? He shook his head mentally, unable to fathom what made these women tick. And it made him feel helpless that he couldn't understand what drove them. It was his job to know such things. He has always been able to know how the monsters of the world thought. But these ones he couldn't understand. Maybe it was because their violence was pointed at him, somehow triggered by him in a way he could not understand. His mind worked overtime trying to come up with a solution for this one. If he could only grasp why they did this to him, he could put himself in their place, see things from their perspective and maybe, just maybe, talk his way out of this latest pinch.

Just then, he froze. Somebody had expelled hot breath against his neck. He heard nothing, but the feeling had been there. Turning his head a little, he listened into the silence, trying to hear the sounds another human being would necessarily make. There wasn't a sound to be heard.

"Hello?" he tried.

"Hi there." The words were breathed against his neck and they came so suddenly, that he jerked forward. A hand touched the back of his head, almost caressing his hair. "Easy. You're in a delicate position right now, Fox Mulder. A very delicate position. The chair you're sitting on is bolted to the floor. Your wrists, ankles and your chest are tied down with wire. You're blindfolded. You basically can't move and you can't see." The hand slipped away again. "So I would suggest that you sit there quietly and listen to what I have to say."

The only indication he got that she was moving was a slight draft. He couldn't hear her. She wasn't breathing in a way that was audible. And she certainly wasn't moving that way either. A finger trailed over his right arm, making him jerk again.

"I don't know yet if I'll let you get away from this one alive. It depends," she said, sounding as if she had moved across the room.

"On what?" he asked breathlessly, fighting the fear which threatened to consume him.

"On how much you know. On how deeply you're involved. It depends on whether or not you are . . ." She paused. He suddenly felt her hot breath on his lips and jerked backward, trying to get as far away from her as he could. "...part of their agenda."

"Wh ... who's agenda?" he stammered. The fact that she could move within range and not make a sound he could distinguish worried him to no end.

"Raoul's," she replied, her tone of voice icy. Feeling her hands lightly on his knees, he guessed she was squatting in front of him.

"Who's ... Raoul?" he asked, a little taken aback. He had a vague idea who she might be talking about, but he wasn't certain in any way.

"Bloodworth. Raoul Bloodworth, Fox Mulder. Our common ... friend." The word friend sounded like the hiss from an angry snake. She obviously didn't consider this man to be a friend.

Recoiling when he felt a distinct draft and then her breath on his face again, he tried to make sense of her words. "I don't know any Raoul Bloodworth."

"Yes, you do," she growled. "You just don't know his name." Rough, odd-smelling fingertips ran over his face.

He inhaled the smell, wondering what it was. The only thing he could relate that smell to was burnt flesh. The distinct smell a burnt corps had about it. "You're hurt," he finally said, ignoring her last comment. At the moment, he had to win her trust in some way, to make her understand that he might even be able to help her. All he really wanted, though, was to convince her that she didn't need to hurt him. "What happened to you?"

She drew back. "Nothing you should concern yourself about, Fox Mulder," she told him, her tone of voice giving away nothing. She moved behind him again, pressing her palms against the sides of his head. He tried to pull free but she held on tight. "Don't move," she breathed. He complied, afraid of what she might do if he didn't. She stood like that for a moment, her hands pressed against his head, then she let go and disappeared.

Frustrated because of his blindness, he turned his head to the right, listening behind him. But again there was no sound. "Where did you go?" he asked and received no reply. "Look, if you're hurt, maybe I can help you. My partner is a doctor."

That brought forth a reply of sorts. She chuckled. There was something distinctly mad about that chuckle. "Sweet, little Dana Kathrine Scully," she cooed. "I know she's a doctor, Fox. I also know that she can't help me. She doesn't have what it takes."

She was somewhere behind him. Turning his head as much to the right as he could, he attempted to establish some kind of contact with her. "She's more resourceful than you think," he replied, thinking of how much his partner had been there for him over the five years he had known her. "If you've got a problem, she can find the cure." A sudden, sharp slap ripped his head around. His right cheek burned from the impact and he wasn't sure why she had hit him in the first place.

"I don't have a problem," she snarled, angry now. "The Consortium and those old farts have a problem. Because I'm going to destroy their sick little plan for world domination."

That caught Mulder's attention instantly. What was this? The first real clue to what the Consortium was up to? World domination? How? "What are you talking about?" he asked, hoping that he wasn't pushing any buttons that might lead to his own destruction.

For the first time, she made a distinct sound as she plopped down on the floor. "They want to take over the world and fill it with their ideas of human beings. Sick bastards. They experiment on people. They take them away from their homes and alter them. They make them sick. They kill them. All in the name of their warped science. Didn't you know that?"

He shook his head. "No, I didn't," he confessed. "I want to stop them, too. I don't want the world altered. The people."

"They need you. I don't know why. Maybe it's just Raoul and his fucked-up little mind we've got to worry about. But the Consortium in general . . ." She trailed off and did not resume what she had been about to say.

"The Consortium what?" Mulder asked, disoriented. She didn't answer. "Where are you?"

A hand suddenly slipped under his chin and pushed his head backward against her stomach. "Right here," she whispered. She wasn't violent. Not yet. The worst she had so far done to him was knock him out and slap him. He could live with that if that was the extent of her brutality. "I don't think I need to tell you anymore. I think you know it already. I think you're just playing with me." Her other hand grabbed the back of his neck, clamping on tightly. He suddenly realized that she was in the position to break his neck right there and then. When he tried to speak, the pressure of her hand against his chin became stronger, preventing him for speaking. "I should kill you," she whispered. "I should kill you right now." She hesitated, then released him and backed away. "But I won't. No, I'll put you through hell first. Like they did with me."

"Listen to me for a moment, okay?" he begged, not sure it was the right approach. He couldn't quite get a grasp on what was wrong with her. "I have nothing to do with them. I don't approve of what they do. Whatever they did to you, I can help you get back at them. I have contacts." A sharp slap against the back of his head interrupted him.

"Shut up," she growled. "You've talked too much." With those words, she slapped a piece of duct tape over his mouth, effectively shutting him up. "You know, I don't like a lot of chatter, Fox," she added.


10.45 a.m.
A.D. Skinner's office
J. Edgar Hoover building

That Skinner was sitting behind his desk with an expression as dark as a thunder cloud, staring at her, didn't improve Scully's mood at all. He was angry. And baffled, too. As was she.

"What the hell is going on here?" he finally asked. It was beyond him why these people, whoever the hell they were, could keep on doing this to Mulder.

"I don't know, sir," Scully replied, shaking her head. She felt defeated, anxious, and ready to go after anybody who said anything wrong to her. "I talked to him last night. He was doing fine then."

Skinner got up and turned his back on her when he gazed out the window at the traffic far below them. The cars moved like ants down there and for a long moment, he didn't have anything to say. The honest truth was that he didn't know what to say. The whole thing had gotten way out of hand. "Did the forensics-team come up with anything? Any finger prints? Anything at all?" he wanted to know, not turning around.

"No. No finger prints. Mulder's prints are all over the place, of course. Mine are among them, too. And that's it. Nothing else. They're still checking the place out, but so far they have found nothing." Heaving a deep breath, she briefly closed her eyes, trying to steady herself. "I have ... no idea where he could be."

Skinner turned back to face her, his jaw set, his expression tense. "Then I guess we have to talk to ... >him' again," he said after a moment, not at all happy about the prospect.

"What's the use, sir? If he gets involved again, Mulder may turn up again, but what's the use if he keeps disappearing every three months?" Scully had a hard time keeping the anger out of her voice. Skinner was not the right person to take it out on. Although she would love to know what had happened four months ago, before Mulder had turned up again. Something had transpired between Skinner and the Smoker and he had never said anything about it.

"I'm just about as fed up as I can get with this," he growled and sat back down on his chair. "This is insane," he added.

Scully could do nothing more than nod. "I know. And I believe Mulder feels the same way about this," she agreed. "If indeed he's still alive."

Skinner's eyes narrowed as he stared at her. "No dreams about him this time?" he inquired. Scully shook her head. "At present, Scully, I'm ready to do whatever it takes to get him back in one piece and off the hook once and for all. If we just knew what lies behind this insufferable need to ... well ... in want of better words ... abduct him all the time." More distressed about this than he was willing to show, Skinner leaned back on his chair and pulled his glasses off, absentmindedly polishing them with a handkerchief he had pulled from his coat pocket. "I would love to know what the hell this is all about. There must be a reason for this ... continued madness."

"These ... women are clones. Obviously, there must be an original. A real person. I can't help thinking that this woman ... providing she's still alive, that is ... must in some way have transferred this ... madness to the clones. We still don't fully know how the hereditary cycle works when it comes to madness. Whether it's in the genes or something else. If this is gene-based, then it's no wonder the clones are mad." Shaking her head, she briefly wondered why she would even think about that. It didn't lead them to Mulder. "In any event, I have no idea whatsoever where to start looking. And ... I don't know if he's still out there. I think he might be. I mean, he would have been dead a long time ago if these ... women wanted him dead."

Skinner sighed. "I don't want to hear about clones, Scully. I want to find out where Mulder is and what the hell is going on." Annoyed at the whole thing, he tapped his pen on the desk top after putting his glasses back on. "We need a profiler on this one."

Scully nodded in understanding although she had no idea who he would assign to a case like this. "That might be a good idea. Who do we have?"

Heaving a deep breath, the Assistant Director stared at Scully for a moment, wondering how she was going to take what he would tell her. "Usually, this would be the kind of case I would assign Mulder to. Instead, we have to put our faith in the new whiz-kid to come out of Quantico. She's been working as a criminal profiler with the VCS for over a year now and her profiles have led to some amazing arrests. She has been able to find killers and criminals in general where nobody else could even find a clue. She's sharp, she's young and very calm from what I hear. I haven't met her myself yet, but I think we'll go with her."

It didn't take much for Scully to realize that something was up. He wasn't keen on telling her this new profiler's name. "What's her name?" she prodded. "Maybe I've heard of her."

"I doubt it," Skinner replied. "Her name is Anna Krycek."


Time unknown
Location unknown

After having gained control over his worst fears, Mulder was able to relax a little. Not being able to defend himself verbally when he could not move or see was among the worst things that could happen to him. His overactive mind produced all kinds of strange scenarios which furthered his need to panic and he had to clamp down on these feelings as hard as he could.

It had taken him time to gain the much needed control over his breathing and now that he had, he felt light-headed and utterly disoriented. The fact that his abductor had left him alone for a while now didn't exactly make things better, either. The way she could move, he wouldn't know she was back before she was right next to him. Not that he could do anything about it anyway. But if he could see her or hear her, at least he could prepare for the worst. The shock of a sudden slap or, for that matter, the stab of a knife would be enough to send him reeling out over the edge right now. Breathing deeply a couple of times, he tried to shake the eerie feeling that somebody or something was watching him.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the bare room, Phoenix watched her prisoner dispassionately. She had been sitting only a few steps away from him for over an hour now, patiently watching him stir at any sound, imagined or real. It thrilled her to no end that he could not make her out among the rather poor selection of sounds in this room. There were no traffic sounds as there was no traffic for miles around. There were no people in this area, either. Nature could not be heard here, no birds, no sounds made by natural things.

Wincing sharply at a stabbing pain in her head, she knew that her time was drawing nearer. Soon, she would die. And Fox Mulder would be left in this room to die with her. Only he would die slowly. She would go out with a bang. Rubbing her right temple with one finger, she eyed him closely. She could mess him up a bit before she went. Just to make sure he wasn't going to survive. Eventually, somebody would find them. That is, they would find him. There wouldn't be much left of her. She knew that. Although she wasn't a clone, her body-structure would be broken down and dissolved by the alien blood which flowed in her veins.

Thinking back to the experiments she had been put through when she had been younger made her snarl. Both in anger and pain. She had been nothing but a kid when they had taken her. Removed her from her natural surroundings and stuffed her into a lab, bound at first like a lab-rat. Later, she had been allowed to wander around the establishment they had kept her in. They had taken tissue-samples to recreate her. When she had been old enough, they had taken her ova. All of them. She was barren as a desert now, unable to ever produce life on her own. Not that she would want to put children into this messed-up world. Besides, she didn't have the time any more. And the tests had made her mad. She had been given shots for this madness. They had tried to suppress it because she had great potential, they said. Potential? She almost spat on the floor. Great potential? To become what? An unfeeling, uncaring creature with no resemblance to her human heritage?

She breathed in silently. >I'm nothing short of a monster,' she thought and grinned joylessly. Well, she knew how important Fox Mulder was to the Consortium. So she would kill him to get back at them. The unfairness of this act was not yet totally lost on her and she in general felt sorry for him, but she was not going to give up on her plan. Somebody had to pay.

Distracting herself temporarily from her sad reverie, she glanced toward the outer wall of the room and frowned. The slightly moist scent had not escaped her previously, but she had been too preoccupied to do anything about it. Now she knew where it came from. The outer wall was damp. She got up and moved soundlessly over there to touch the damp plaster.

For a moment, it occupied her mind, then the muffled sounds of her prisoner rearranged her priorities. Turning around on her heel, she walked back to him and sat down in front of him again, never once giving him anything to listen to.


11.02 a.m.
A.D. Skinner's office
J. Edgar Hoover building

Scully stared at her supervisor in nothing short of shock. He might as well have told her that the new profiler's name was Satan and that she resided in Hell. "Her name is what?" she asked, too stunned to react properly.

Skinner sighed again, folded his hands and propped his elbows on the edge of the desk. "Her name is Anna Krycek. Believe me, Scully, I had the same doubts you do. But, as far as I can tell, she's got nothing to do with ... him. Nothing is mentioned in her file about any family relations to ... him. She's half Polish, half British, born and raised in Wisconsin, Illinois. And she's among the best profilers to come out of Quantico in a good long while. We need her assistance."

"This cannot be a coincidence, sir," Scully began, but Skinner gave her a sharp look, making her shut up at once.

"Nevertheless, it is, Scully. Besides, I don't think we should consider them that stupid. To place a woman with the same name amidst our ranks would be the same as asking for trouble. If you still have doubts, you can ask her yourself. She'll be here in a moment."

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door. It opened and a woman as tall as Mulder stepped inside. She had a shock of pitch-black hair harnessed in a braid hanging over her right shoulder and the bluest eyes either of them had ever seen. High cheekbones indicated that she might have more than just Polish and British ancestors. Native American heritage came to mind immediately. She greeted both of them in a calm, quiet manner and took a seat when Skinner told her to.

"Agent Krycek," he started, obviously uncomfortable about her last name, yet doing what he could to suppress it. "This is special agent Dana Scully. You'll be working with her until we have found out what happened to special agent Mulder."

"Yes, sir," she replied, her tone of voice melodious and pleasant to listen to. "I will of course need all the information you can give me," she added, directing this at Scully. Scully in turn nodded, but refrained from speaking just yet.

"Of course," Skinner inserted with a warning glance at Scully. "The sooner you two get on this, the better. We would like to see agent Mulder again. Alive." That said, he dismissed both women.


Basement office

Scully led the way down to the basement office, painfully aware of her somewhat cool disposition. She couldn't help it. Although she tried desperately to suppress this, she felt that she could see a similarity in the features of the woman following her down the corridor. Opening the door to the office, she stepped inside.

Anna Krycek followed her in and glanced around the office. The obvious comment which Scully expected didn't come, though. "Agent Scully, it may just be my imagination, but I get the feeling that you don't like me," Anna said after a moment's worth of silence.

Scully heaved a deep breath and decided to play with open cards for now. "I'm sorry if I come across a little ... tense, but you must remember that it's my partner who is missing and I would really love to get this one rolling so we can find him. As for me not ... uhm ... liking you, I have a question for you and I would appreciate it if you would answer it truthfully."

Anna nodded. "I'll do my best."

"Do you have a brother, or a cousin maybe, called Alex Krycek?" Scully asked. She knew it was very forward of her to ask such a question just because the woman had the same last name, but she had to be sure. She knew for certain that she could neither work with nor trust this woman if she didn't know for certain.

"Uhm . . ." Anna began, looking a little perplexed. "No. Why?"

Scully stared intently at her for a moment, then dismissed it with a shrug. "I was just wondering," she said vaguely. "Should we get on with this?"


03.30 a.m.
August 10

Anna yawned for the umpteenth time, shook her head hard and focused on the havoc of papers on the desk in front of her. "Okay, so the likelihood that he has, once again, been abducted or kidnapped or whatever you want to call it by the same woman is quite big. I mean, who else would benefit from dragging him out of his apartment in the middle of the night?"

Scully shrugged and emptied another cup of coffee. "I don't know. I've come to the same conclusion. It must be her. But ... I was told that she was dead." Fighting a losing battle to suppress a yawn of her own, she pressed a hand over her lips for a moment.

"Right. But you didn't see the body. So, theoretically, she could still be alive and ... well ... quite able to hurt him again. Do you have any idea why she's doing this?" Anna asked.

Finally giving in to it, Scully yawned heartily and shook her head at the same time. "No. I don't know why." She had a clue, but to mention that to Anna meant telling her everything and that wasn't what she wanted to do right now. Eventually, she would probably have to. "I think we should call it a night, anyway. I can't see straight any more. Let's go home, get some sleep and meet back here around seven. Okay?"

Anna nodded. "Good idea," she replied and got up, stretching. "I've got a car. Can I drop you off somewhere?"

Scully shook her head in reply. "No, thanks. I've got a car at my disposal, too," she said, picked up her coat and headed for the door. "See you in four hours," she added.

"Three and a half," Anna replied, grabbed her own coat and followed Scully out.


04.10 a.m.
Dana Scully's Residence
3170 West 53 Road

Scully sighed deeply. Forget it, she told herself. She couldn't sleep. Not while her partner was still out there, maybe in dire need of her help. She shuffled through the papers she had taken home with her after brewing an extra strong pot of coffee and settled down on her couch to think it through. Five minutes later, she was out cold.


07.10 a.m.
Basement office
J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington, D.C.

Scully dropped her briefcase on the desk and looked over at Anna, who was already at work, meticulously going over the conclusions they had arrived at the night before. "How long have you been here?" she asked with a slight frown.

Anna glanced up at her, gave her a ghost of a smile, and sighed. "About ten minutes or so. Did you get any sleep?" she wanted to know.

"A little. What about you?" Scully pulled up a chair and sat down next to her.

"I couldn't stop thinking about this. I get the feeling that there's something I'm missing. I just don't know what." She shook her head weakly, staring down at a compilation she had written down by hand.

Scully eyed her for a moment, then decided to go the whole stretch. She still didn't feel entirely comfortable about this woman, but on the other hand, Mulder was still out there, probably in need of help. "Okay, I've got some more information for you which you might be able to use."

Scully told her about the first encounter Mulder had been through with the shape-shifter, leaving nothing out. She expected Anna to perhaps scoff the idea of a shape-shifter, to disbelief the severity of the injuries her partner had sustained, but once she was done telling her about, Anna's expression remained serious.

"Jesus," she finally breathed, leaning back on the chair. "That must have been very ... bad for him," she added, her tone of voice full of compassion.

Scully nodded, a little stunned by Anna's reaction. "It was. It still is. And it's also very embarrassing. That's why you can never tell anybody else about what I just said. Never. They will use it against him." She hoped and prayed that Anna would understand the seriousness of this.

Anna nodded. "Of course not. I never would," she replied. Her eyes narrowed while she thought this over. "That puts everything a new perspective, doesn't it?" she mumbled. "So, the first time she turns up, she attacks him at home. Disguised as you, no less." Scratching her right temple with one finger, she made a face. "That means they are trying to drive you apart. It doesn't work, though. However, I severely doubt that the second attack was part of their plan. It would be too obvious." Staring intently at Scully, she tried to arrange all the details in her mind. "Meaning that this ... female got a taste for what she did to him. It's not so much the sexual act as the pain she could administer. Clearly a nutcase."

Scully nodded. "I've figured as much myself. And that would also give us a motive for why she did it again. But ... and this is important ... we shot one of these clones. Whether it was the one who originally attacked him, I don't know."

"Probably not. The one who originally attacked him sounds a whole lot more aggressive. She would not have come up to the front door. She would have found a way of maybe getting into the house without being noticed. Now, the second attack ... that one leaves me a little confused. Unless of course the first one is no longer among us and one of her ... uhm ... sisters wants revenge. That could justify the beating and the fact that he told you afterward that she almost killed him. If it hadn't been for that dark-haired woman, who turned up out of nowhere and was responsible for his second abduction. She, however, doesn't seem to be a part of this agenda. She's an outsider, a ... protector perhaps. Apparently, she killed the one who beat him up and took it upon her own shoulders to get him off the drug again."

The way Anna thought was no new experience for Scully. She could see much of Mulder's mind working in this one. "I have a hunch who is behind that. Mainly, I think that his opposition had something to do with the drug. My feeling is, that it was never meant to hit the market. It's something they've been tampering with and it got out by accident."

Nodding her head, Anna grabbed her mug and took a sip of tea. "Right. So, nobody was supposed to be on it. And it vanishes from the market immediately after he's been weaned of the drug. Okay, so maybe we should not pay any attention to the dark-haired woman right now. She may not be important. The first one of these shape-shifters came back to his apartment twice. Then you killed one of them and that gave him a little peace. Then one of them resurfaces, takes him to a remote old house and beats the crap out of him. Remote is the keyword here. These women don't like to be interrupted, which means that he has probably been taken to another remote house."

"That might be right," Scully agreed, fiddling absentmindedly with the corner of a sheet of paper. "But, what I don't understand is why."

"Actually, the why is not as important as the where right now. If we can figure out where they might have taken him, then ... we've got him." Frowning, Anna leaned forward and shuffled through some of the papers, looking for something. "Where did you say that cottage was where you took him after the second attack in his apartment?"

Scully frowned. "Uhm ... up in the Appalachians. Why?"

"Where exactly? Is it close to any towns?"

"Uhm ... yeah, it's close to Fulks Run. It's up in the George Washington National Forest. You don't think that she would take him there, do you?" Scully asked, sounding utterly surprised.

Anna pulled out a map and studied it for a moment, then glanced at Scully. "No, not back to the cabin, but maybe somewhere in the area. It is rather remote up there. And if the one that showed up at the cabin wasn't the one who attacked him in his apartment, then maybe they are located in the area. Maybe they hide out up there somewhere. It would make sense. I'll make some calls."


Time unknown
Location unknown

Mulder was slowly but sourly losing it. Having his senses cut off like this was driving him mad. He heard things he couldn't identify and being unable to move was putting an incredible strain on him. His hands were numb and his fingers felt swollen. He was thirsty and hungry and unable to judge how long he had been in this place. The glue from the duct tape covering his mouth was scuffing his lips, leaving them raw. The constant burning feeling and the taste of the glue was making him queasy. He cleared his throat for the umpteenth time and rolled his shoulders a little to keep his joints from freezing up completely. More than once had he thought that being beaten up was almost better than just sitting here in the dark, waiting for something to happen.

He suddenly heard another of those sounds he could not identify. A kind of whistling through the air. But this time, it resulted in pain. Horrible pain radiating out from halfway down his left thigh. He felt the knife slice through his flesh and the muscle which instantly contracted at the harsh treatment and widened the gash made by the knife. It happened so suddenly that he had no chance to react properly before the pain, white-hot and blinding in intensity, spread through him. The knife went all the way through and embedded itself in the wood of the chair beneath his leg.

His breath suspended by the shock of the action, he sat rigid for a moment, every muscle in his body tense. Then he expelled a painful breath through his nose, clamping his teeth together against the pain. And all the while, he kept chanting to himself >I've had worse, I've had worse.' He had to convince himself of this.

Once again hyper-ventilating, he fought the nausea, the sick feeling to his stomach like nothing before. His pulse hammered away in his ears, drowning out any other sound. He knew that the pain, although bad, wasn't as bad as what he otherwise had experienced. It was the shock of the sudden and completely unprovoked attack that had stolen his ability to stay calm.

And then he felt her hands on his shoulders. "Soon, Fox Mulder, I will die. And when I die, you will be left here to rot. A slow, painful death. You'll starve to death, die of dehydration. Whichever comes first. And you know why?"

Whimpering, he shook his head.

"Because they promised me I would not go mad. But I am, as you have probably guessed, quite mad. And they are to blame. So to get back at them ... a final death-cramp of mine you might call it ... I'm taking away one of their most important assets. I'm taking you to my grave. And I'm going to hold onto you for all eternity. You see, they killed all my sisters. All my beautiful sisters. The only family I remember. They took me away from my home when I was nothing but a baby. They did tests on me. They changed me, altered me genetically. And for what? So they could once again drown one of their failures. They tried to keep me sane. I got shots for that, you know. But eventually, they scrapped this part of the program. I became ... how shall I say ... too much of a burden for them." She let out a gasp, her hands tightening on his shoulders for a second. Breathing in sharply, she held her breath for a second, waiting for the pain to subside so she could continue. "I just don't want you to die without knowing why you die. You see, I don't want to repeat their most common mistake."

Tears stinging his eyes, he wished he could speak, reason with her, but all he was able to produce were muffled sounds she couldn't understand.

She padded his right shoulder. "Sorry about the leg, Fox. It's just to make sure that you don't get loose and run away. You know, I am really sorry about this whole mess. It's ... silly, really. I shouldn't take my hatred for them out on you. But I know I'll hamper their efforts valiantly if I kill you. But I'm not a killer. I can't ... per say ... kill you. So, I'm just going to sit down in front of you and wait for death to take me, knowing that we will join up again on the other side." She ran a hand harshly over his hair, a brutal caress. "You know, all the pain will be gone on the other side. There won't be anything left to fear. It'll be beautiful. We'll never have to worry about anything again." She was rambling. She knew that. But she just couldn't stop it.

Mulder was terrified. Listening to her words, her mad words, he tried not to let them affect him. Not too long ago, when Scully had been dying of cancer and he had felt the blame for it heavily on his shoulders, hadn't he thought the same thing? That the pain would end if he killed himself? But Scully had survived and he had, too. In a sense, she was his life line. Squeezing his eyes shut, feeling tears oozing out underneath the blindfold and rolling down his face, he leaned his head back and begged for her to find him. Soon. Because only she could make the pain end. Only she could help him now.

Phoenix stepped around him, her eyes on the knife sticking up from his left thigh, and briefly thought of pulling it out. But something made her decide against it. Instead, she picked up the second, stiletto-sized knife and admired the pureness of the steel for a moment. Then her eyes flicked back to her prisoner while she tested the tip of the knife with one thumb over and over again, drawing green blood from her skin.

The intensity of the vapors of her green blood, although it was so little, hit Mulder full force. He gasped as much as he was able to when it hit his eyes, burning them. Moaning, he realized that something was happening to the woman who had brought him here.

Phoenix stopped cutting her thumb with the knife and looked down at the stiletto. Most of the tip had been burnt off by the acid of her blood. She cursed silently under her breath and turned for the door. Something she had not previously noticed caught her attention and once again brought to the still rational part of her mind that she was going crazy. Water was seeping in under the door. Frowning, she went over and opened the door, looking out into the hallway beyond. At the end of the hallway, by the outer wall of the basement, water was leaking into the building. "Damn it all to hell," she mumbled and walked toward the stairs leading up to the ground floor. She needed another knife, another stiletto.