Future Winnings 3: Snookered

Rating: PG-13 for language and graphic description
Spoilers: XF through season 5, FTF, and all of Voyager

Summary: While Mulder slowly adapts to life aboard Voyager, he learns that
the horrors of the past aren't just hard to forget, but equally painful to
relive. Will 20th century skills be enough to solve a 24th century mystery?

Archive: Go for it, but let me know.

Disclaimer: None of the characters in this story belong to me and I'm not
making any money. So, please sue me. At least that way I can maybe get on
Oprah and have the other 7 minutes of my 15 minutes of fame.

E-Mail: Comments, flames, superfluous remarks and vicious character
assassination can be cheerfully sent to me at: eclectic99@mindspring.com

Author's Note: This story may have come about as a lark, but I have done
everything possible to make certain the psychiatric, medical and military
terminology as well as their functions in the story are accurate. Any
mistakes are definitely mine as is the dating for Federation history which
probably doesn't conform to any known time line in the Trek universe, but,=
hey, it works for me.

Many thanks to Leathie for her patient explanations, insight and humor, and
to Sue for her interest, help, perseverance and an ability to make me laugh
until it hurts. Good friends, both!

Dedicated to His Gracefulness Charles, for absolutely no reason.

Future Winnings 3
Ecolea DiNardio (eclectic99@mindspring.com)

The long shaft slid through his fingers and Fox Mulder sighed with pleasure
at the sensation. It had been far too long since he'd allowed himself to
indulge in this illicit pastime. Leaning across the table, through
half-shuttered eyes he looked up at Tom Paris, the sweet scent of oil and
talc filling his nostrils.

"Rack 'em," he grinned.

"All right!"

A round of applause and some cheering came from the two dozen or so crew
members who filled the little Parisian dive Paris had recreated on the
holodeck. Actually, dive would have been a kind description of the place
back on Earth, Mulder thought glancing around the room. Whores of both
sexes populated the background as holo images, although Tom had been smart
enough to clean things up a bit. The prostitutes were now the wait staff,=
serving drinks and companionship. Very friendly companionship. While Madame
Sandrine, the proprietor, watched all with an amused eye.

"Now," Mulder began, pitching his voice a little higher than normal. "This
is just practice. Right?" he asked, smoothly chalking his pool cue.

Tom shrugged. A little too much nonchalance in the set of his shoulders.=
"Sure, sure. Couple rounds of practice. Get your stroke back in groove.=
Then we'll play for stakes."

Mulder hid a smirk, remembering all those coded messages from his friends
the Lone Gunmen. And Scully thought we actually went for cheese steaks!=
Right. And Frohike was a KGB mole.

"And the cheese?" Mulder asked, holding up a hand and rubbing the fingers

At that Paris raised an eyebrow. "Replicator rations," he confided. "Just
don't let Janeway know about it."

Mulder nodded slowly. "Okay. Low card breaks." He reached over to where some
holo tart held a deck of cards and slid one from the middle of the deck,=
followed by Paris.

"Ah, shit! Nine of clubs," Mulder sighed dramatically.

Paris grinned. "Four of diamonds. Sorry, friend."

Mulder gave a half-hearted shrug, pretending to be disappointed in his luck
of the draw and leaned back against the bar to watch. The scrawny tart with
the cards came over, trying to drape herself across his side and Mulder
allowed it, while carefully assessing the competition. It never hurt to
look distracted.

An hour later they'd done practicing. Mulder smiled inwardly, thinking that
Paris could have used a few tips on how to scope out the lay of the land as
it were. Oh, Tom was good -- no doubt about that. But he'd held back on the
really tough shots, proving to Mulder that he probably could make them if
he tried. On the other hand, Mulder made most of his shots, but not with
the finesse he could have used. He'd even flubbed a few of the more basic
ones to encourage Paris in the belief that Mulder was a good, but erratic
player. Ambiance was everything in these things.

Several hours later, Mulder was whistling as he pocketed the ration disks
Paris had handed over, while Tom sat at the bar, a dumbfounded expression
on his face, being awkwardly consoled by Babbette, the scrawny tart. In the
background, Neelix was settling bets, wearing an impudent grin. Seventy
percent of that was going to be Mulder's, no matter what Neelix thought, so
he wasn't all that concerned about what he was going to do next. He'd
enjoyed giving Paris a good cleaning, as had, he'd noticed, quite a few of
the crew.

"Still friends?" Mulder asked as he took the stool next to Tom's, ignoring
the pout he received from Babbette.

Tom twisted his lips in a parody of a smile. "Sure. With friends like

Mulder grinned. "Hey, I never said I wasn't good. Just that I needed

Paris nodded. "You gonna try to sell me that space station now?"

"Swamp land." Mulder sipped at the beer the bartender had put down. "Ever
been to Florida?"

"Come on," Paris pleaded. "Just one more round. Double or nothing."

Mulder cocked his head, grinning wryly at the request. "You don't have
double. And no one here is going to lay down the cheese for you. But..."=
Mulder withdrew a handful of ration disks and Paris perked up a little.=
"I'd be willing to give you back, say half, if  you'll do me a favor."

"Half?" Paris sputtered. "Make it two thirds. And what's the favor?"

"Three fifths, and I'll tell you after you accept."

Paris looked longingly at the disks. Mulder smiled, well aware that
B'Elanna's birthday was little more than a week away.

"Okay," he nodded hesitantly. "But it better not get me into trouble. I
don't need another month in the brig."

"No chance of that," Mulder told him honestly, pulling a PADD out of the
back pocket of his jeans and giving it to Paris. Just the mention of Paris'=
month long incarceration and reduction in rank from lieutenant to ensign
made Mulder feel badly.

"You set this up!" Tom gasped. "I can't believe you set me up!"

Mulder shrugged. "I had a fifty-fifty chance. I took it."

Paris let out a disgusted breath and scanned the PADD, his face getting
paler by the moment. "You aren't serious? Tell me you're not serious,=

"Take it or leave it," he replied, hefting the disks in his hand. "But, I
wouldn't want to be you when you give B'Elanna your best regards a week
from Tuesday -- and just your best regards."

"Bastard!" Paris muttered. With a grimace he shoved the PADD into his
jacket. "Okay. Okay. I'll do my best. Now, hand it over."

Mulder counted out the disks and gave them to Paris, adding several more
than the bargained for amount. That drew a surprised expression from Paris.=
"This is for a gift. A nice gift. And don't stint. Remember, I'm counting
on you."

"Yeah, yeah. You just do your part, Mulder." At that Paris grinned. "You
know, I think I got the better end of this deal."

Mulder sighed. "Probably. But what else are friends for?"


"It's a sun dress, Seven," Mulder explained. "Here, look." He held the
brightly colored garment against her shoulders and turned her to face the
mirror. They were in a little boutique somewhere in San Francisco. Not
Mulder's San Francisco, but the 24th  century city by the bay.

The holographic shop girl nodded vigorously. "Oh, it's you, miss. It's
definitely you. See how it brings out the color in your eyes?"

Seven of Nine looked dubious. "An illusion caused by the refraction of light
against the lens of the iris. Hardly a sufficient reason to wear an item of

"I don't know," Mulder replied with a smile. "It's as good a reason as any,=
if you think about it. Other than modesty and insulation, what else is

"Then we are agreed," she replied, pushing the dress away.

"Oh, come on, Seven. Help me out here. Neither one of us has seen the city
and it'll be a good chance to familiarize ourselves with the area. This
way, when we get to Earth, we'll feel less like tourists and more like..."

"More like appropriately dressed tourists?" Seven finished neatly.

"Exactly!" Mulder grinned. "We might both be freaks, but do we really need
to shout it?"

For a long moment Seven stared thoughtfully at the dress and Mulder
seriously doubted she'd go along with program. He'd actually expected her
to object sooner. After all, the plans of the city, down to the last detail
were stored in the computer's archives. Instead, she'd agreed to join
Mulder on his little holo excursion. No doubt she was as curious as he, but
then, unlike Mulder, Seven would never admit it.

Finally, she gave a half nod. "I will comply."

"Oh, miss, you won't regret it!" the sales girl oozed, snatching up the
dress and a pair of matching open toed pumps. "Our fitting room is right
this way."

Mulder let out a sigh of relief as soon as Seven disappeared with the girl.=
He looked around the store, trying to decide if there were anything else
she might need then gave it up as useless. A pretty dress and a pair of
shoes were probably all the woman could handle right now. With that in
mind, Mulder left the shop to sit on a bench just outside the door. The
last thing Seven needed was to fixate on another person in an attempt to
garner approval. This dress or that dress? Pumps or sandals? Those were the
kinds of decisions she would need to learn to make on her own.

He sat in the sun, relaxing as a gentle breeze drifted off the bay, bringing
with it a scent he remembered from his childhood along the beaches of
Martha's Vineyard -- the heady tang of salt sea and warm, moist air. Lulled
into a half doze, he waited patiently, giving Seven time and privacy to
adjust. It was a surprise then when he felt someone sit beside him.

Straightening quickly he glanced to his right, momentarily speechless. Then
he smiled gently and reached out toward her hair. "May I?" he asked softly.=
Seven gave a quick, if uneasy nod.

Thick blond hair tumbled to her shoulders, framing her face in a perfect
picture of sensual innocence and Mulder sighed softly at the sight.

"You're beautiful," he told her honestly. "Beautiful, witty, intelligent.=
And you've come so far, with so little help. I know your parents would have
been proud of you."

She bowed her head, clearly unused to such compliments. Yet, they served
their purpose. It was high time Seven of Nine explored the options open to
Annika Hansen.

Aware of her discomfiture, Mulder suggested they walk the Embarcadero
Promenade which to his surprise still existed in much the same way it had
in his day. They didn't talk much. Just took in the sights, old and new,=
occasionally stopping to watch an artist at work, or simply stare out
across the bay toward what remained of Alcatraz Island.

As they walked Mulder tried without success to broach the subject of Seven's
new quarters. That was, after all, the real reason behind this little
outing. He was almost grateful then when Seven decided to re-open the
conversation on a different topic all together.

"I am curious about certain aspects of Human sexual relations," she began
with her customary lack of embarrassment.

Mulder stopped short, wondering where that had come from. "What about them?"

"I recently had a conversation with Ensign Kim regarding the need for Humans
to interact in other ways prior to having sexual intercourse. It was his
contention that long periods of verbalization leading to friendly
association were necessary for the parties involved in order to facilitate
procreation. When I failed to see his point he suggested that if I did not
understand his explanation then I did not 'get it.'"

At that Mulder laughed. "Last gasp of a failing argument," he confided. "If
he couldn't explain it then he's the one who didn't 'get it.' Got it?"

Seven thinned her lips, suppressing what Mulder suspected might have been a
smile. "I thought as much from his apparent frustration. Perhaps you can
give me a better explanation."

"Perhaps," Mulder agreed, starting to walk again. He hadn't had much
experience recently, but it had once been a subject near and dear to his
heart. "Okay. Social Intercourse 101 is now in session."

A short time later, though still somewhat confused, Seven seemed to have
grasped the basics. 

"So your assertion is that verbal discourse between the male and female of
the species defines the parameters for natural selection," she stated, her
tone more than a bit skeptical. "An inefficient and indiscriminate method
of propagation," she added with a hint of condescension.

"On the contrary," Mulder told her in all seriousness. "A good emotional
relationship is the key to producing viable offspring. Offspring which will
then procreate, keeping the species going. Humans are complex,=
multi-faceted individuals. The biological urge to propagate the species is,=
in many ways, supplanted by emotional needs. If a child grows up in a
household without proper emotional support the chances of producing
psychologically healthy offspring are reduced."

Seven raised an eyebrow at that. "Viability of offspring is then
interrelated to social harmony?"

"Very much so," Mulder nodded. "Biologically, I would be considered an
excellent choice for reproduction. But my own childhood experiences have
left me ambivalent to having offspring."

"You have no wish to procreate?" Seven asked, seemingly surprised.

"None," he admitted.

"And you have no biological urge to mate?" Again she seemed surprised.

At that Mulder chuckled. "Mating and reproducing are two entirely different
subjects, Seven. One can 'mate' without reproducing."

Seven gave him a sidelong glance. "Then you wish to mate, but without

"I think," Mulder hedged, giving her a lopsided grin, "you can generally
assume that the desire to mate is a given for most human beings. The
problem is finding someone with whom you want to mate, and who also desires
to mate with you, however temporary or permanent that desire may be."

"Then as an adult female of the species I should have this desire as well,"=
she stated blandly.

Mulder paused and took a deep breath before he spoke. "Physically, yes. You
might feel the biologic desire for intercourse. Emotionally, Seven, I don't
think you're ready."


He stopped walking, turned and gazed down at her. "Human children have years
of learning experiences to draw on. And even then it sometimes isn't enough
to make the right choice. Everyone is different, Seven. Every individual
has different needs and desires. And all of these are formed by years of
simply watching. It's what children do best, after all. A year and a half
of autonomy from the collective hasn't given you what you really need to
make a competent decision in that regard. You don't need to rush into
anything. No matter what anyone else thinks," he added, well aware that
there were quite a few crewmen aboard who found Seven attractive despite
her Borg history -- and some because of it. Her apparent lack of interest
-- or innocence -- being a challenge for their manhood. "Take your time,"=
he told her gently. "When you're ready and it's right, you'll know it."

Seven glanced away, clearly embarrassed. "I admit I have felt somewhat
pressured to explore this aspect of human nature."

"That's only natural," Mulder said kindly. "All children want to explore
their sexuality." He raised a hand, preventing Seven's obvious retort.=
"Yes, I know. Physically you are an adult. And you have assimilated
thousands of individual life experiences. But they aren't yours. They're an
abstract that's essentially meaningless as an appropriate frame of
reference for living. In emotional terms, you are a child. Not," he
emphasized, "childish. But child-like in your inexperience."

At that Seven nodded. "I accept your diagnosis, Counselor. I will endeavor
to obtain more life experience."

Mulder tried to hide his smile and failed. "You do that, Seven. But, like I
said, don't rush it. You've got lots of time and Voyager is a very limited
microcosm of humanity. Not the best school, really."

"So it would seem," she replied, gazing around the Promenade. "This
simulation appears to offer a larger example of human behavioral patterns
to observe. I thank you for suggesting this."

"Any time," Mulder responded, suppressing a sigh. Well, what did you expect?=
he silently chided himself. Given time, Seven would eventually 'get it'. He
glanced at his watch, suddenly remembering that Tom was waiting, and looked
up to catch Seven staring at him. "Ah... Listen, Seven, would you do me a
favor and help me out with something?"

"You require my assistance?"

"Yeah," he told her, nervously rubbing his neck. 

"I must change first, Counselor."

Mulder nodded. "Sure, I'll wait outside." He left the holosuite, starting to
pace the corridor in long strides. "How the hell do I get myself into these
things?" he muttered. He still hadn't brought up the subject of Seven's new
quarters and he honestly didn't know how. That Seven trusted and respected
him enough to follow at his request without question was obvious, as well
as slightly unnerving. He just hoped she'd make the connection between
their little holodeck excursion, his unsubtle hints about life experience
and being assigned new quarters.

The doors opened and Seven joined him, once again dressed in her body suit,=
hair neatly pinned up and away from her face. 

He led her back up to the officers' quarters. They had offered the only
rooms which had been large enough to accommodate the regeneration alcove
without crowding Seven completely out and defeating the entire purpose.=
According to Tom, B'Elanna had been furious over the assignment. Everyone
else had earned their place on that deck and she didn't think it was fair.=
More to the point, Mulder suspected, she really didn't care where they put
Seven as long as she was out of her precious cargo bay and away from
anywhere B'Elanna had to be.

He stopped at the door to her new quarters, glancing at Seven, who stood
patiently at his side. "Here," he said, handing her the security pass.=
"This is for you."

Seven raised an eyebrow as she took it. "I would imagine," she told him
dryly. "That we should announce ourselves."

Mulder took a deep breath and gently shook his head. "You don't have to
announce yourself when entering your own home."

"Indeed," she stated. "I had assumed Ensign Paris and the others would
appreciate a brief warning."

Mulder tilted his head and grinned. "Well, yeah, there is that," he
chuckled. "So who told you?" he asked curiously, hiding his relief. At
least Seven wasn't angry about being kept out of the loop on this.

"No one," she told him honestly. "Lt. Torres was commenting on the
inappropriate nature of my presence on this deck to a fellow crew member. I
was seated at the next table."

Mulder closed his eyes briefly, in a vain attempt to hide his anger. Bitch!=
he thought furiously. "Lt. Torres doesn't speak for everyone," Mulder
pointed out unnecessarily. "And Captain Janeway suggested the location."

Seven inclined her head, acknowledging the information, but said nothing.

"Shall we go in? I think there are quite a few others on Voyager who might
have a different opinion than B'Elanna."

Again Seven nodded. "I shall endeavor to appear appropriately surprised."

"You might not need to," Mulder muttered, "when you see the decor."=
Frou-frou had been his idea, but the color scheme had been Tom's. Mauve.=
Mulder suppressed a shudder as the doors opened and he followed Seven
inside. And yellow. Lot's of bright sunny yellow and varying shades of
mauve. Seven might not care, or notice, but Mulder had practically cringed
the first time he'd come through the door. 

On the other hand, there were lots of silky little throw pillows and some
truly decadent fabrics Scully would have loved. And it was her apartment
he'd been thinking of when he'd made his notes on the subject. Scully might
have been the consummate professional at work, but when she kicked back it
was always in sybaritic comfort.

The party was already in progress, Mulder noted, as the doors slid shut.=
Captain Janeway turned and gave them both a bright smile.

"Come on in, Seven," she said, loosely wrapping an arm about the other
woman's waist. "Welcome to your new quarters."

Mulder moved off to one side to watch the proceedings, relieved that there
had not only been a decent turn out of off duty personnel for the party,=
but that someone had gone to the trouble of placing the numerous gifts from
those on duty around the room in artistic locations. With even more relief
he noted that a lot of different shades of blue, green and rose had been
added to the room, probably by the Delaney sisters, which seemed to soften
the hard contrast of the colors Tom had chosen. 

Tuvok, Chakotay, and the captain performed the simple, yet meaningful ritual
of giving Seven bread, for prosperity, salt, so that she might experience
the spice of life, water, for good health, and honey, that she might know
sweetness and joy in these rooms. Then, one by one everyone gave Seven a
little gift to "warm" the place. A blanket done in the style of his tribe
from Chakotay. A tri-dimensional chess set from Tuvok. A small wood carving
from Janeway. A silver chased, engraved coffee mug from Tom. And a variety
of bric-a-brac and objets de art from the crew. Finally, Mulder went into
the bedroom to retrieve his gift for Seven. He'd warned Tom in advance to
leave it covered, or he wouldn't be responsible for the consequences.

Seven looked a bit overwhelmed by it all when he brought it over and gently
placed it on the table in front of her. He supposed that Tom had done a
good job of pointing out to everyone that while attendance wasn't mandatory
the captain would be there -- and she might take note of their absence,=
even if Seven wasn't likely to comment on it.

Mulder stood back, motioning to everyone within three feet of his gift to
move away. Both Tuvok and Janeway raised an eyebrow, but neither said a
word. Seven gave Mulder a dubious look, but pulled the cover off with a
slight flourish.

"Don't move, Seven," he told her as vines began to flail and she naturally
drew back. "Let it get to know you."

Janeway leaned over and dug an elbow into his ribs. "An obacca plant?" she

Mulder winced then shrugged. "She needs a pet," he insisted. "And according
to the folks in Hydroponics that thing makes a fairly good substitute."

Janeway grinned. "Clever," she admitted. "If she doesn't come back here and
feed it regularly it'll come looking for her."

Mulder winked conspiratorially. "At least it's not carnivorous. It might eat
Ensign Calderon's African Violets, but it won't be nipping at anyone's
fingers and toes."

He took a moment to look at the other members of the crew, watching as Seven
fearlessly entwined her fingers with the budding vines. The obacca flowered
only when it felt "safe" and was only marginally sentient, but Seven was
gentle with it and Mulder had a feeling he'd made the right choice. Who
knows? he thought, finally relaxing. Maybe she'll take up horticulture as a

Sometime later Mulder found himself tucked into a corner of Seven's living
room, watching as the party seemed to grow a little less restrained. Most
likely, word had gotten around the ship that it wasn't all that bad. And,=
like most people in the military, the crew of Voyager was well aware that
any chance to party might be their last. This one, sanctioned by Janeway
and the senior staff, looked liked a good opportunity to let loose and
score some brownie points as well -- and they weren't going to have to
clean up the mess.

"Nice work, Tom," Mulder commented as the crowd shifted and Paris came over
to have a word with him.

"Yeah," he grinned, looking very pleased with himself. "Everyone, including
Seven, seems to be enjoying themselves."

Chakotay suddenly joined them. "That's the point of a housewarming, Tom. To
offer publicly your welcome of the individual into the community."

Mulder simply nodded, refusing to point out that this public show of
acceptance and support had not been offered to him. Then again, he silently
admitted, he'd been putting up a good front from the beginning. Only
T'vrill knew just how much he was struggling to fit in. And no one on board
had the authority to question the Counselor Evaluation Program. Not even
the captain. Patient confidentiality could only be breached under extreme
circumstances -- and then only the barest details would be given out. That
knowledge had been a great relief to Mulder. He had feared that anyone
could hack into the program.

He turned his attention back to the conversation, covering his sadness with
a joke. "Actually, Tom, I thought this would be a great way to announce
that next week I'm starting the crews' psych evaluations."

"Nothing like the prospect of having your insides turned out to get folks to
bond," Paris quipped.

Chakotay grinned and wandered off just as Janeway called for attention.

"I have a surprise, everyone!" the captain called out as the partygoers
quieted down. "Now, I know how long it's been since many of us have set
foot on a real planet," she began. "It hasn't been easy, but Chakotay and I
have been in negotiations with the Senior Prefect of Arettos and the
Supreme Council." Janeway paused and smiled broadly. "Starting tomorrow,=
I'll be authorizing requests for shore leave!"

Whoops and howls of joy filled the relatively small space, even as Mulder
felt his anxiety level go up a few notches.  In the ensuing hubbub he made
his way to the door, slipping out unnoticed to return to his quarters.

You're being ridiculous, he chided himself angrily. On the one hand, a part
of him desperately wanted to set foot on terra firma, or its nearest
equivalent. On the other, he knew he was barely coping with being on a
space ship, let alone actually visiting another world. In all honesty, he
realized, he'd been keeping himself so busy he'd managed to avoid thinking
about the situation -- mostly.

Shore leave, he thought, shaking his head as he threw himself down on the
couch. What the hell would he do with a few days vacation on another world?=
Go shopping? Sample the native cuisine? Pick up alien women? Anyway, what
did a 20th century man stuck in the 24th century on a ship lost in a
distant quadrant do for entertainment? 

Another question he'd avoided for more than a month. Oh, he'd pulled up a
few archived videos of the Superbowl, but that hadn't been any fun. There
was no excitement in knowing all the players were three centuries dead, and
that he could have just as easily gotten the stats from the computer.=
Besides, there wasn't anybody to rehash the game with and that was the best
part. Even Tom's obsession only went so far. He'd even checked out the 24th
century equivalent of porn and found it either stultifying or horrific --=
depending on whether another species was involved, or the women were
hanging in zero-G. Mulder shuddered just thinking about that.

Now, if Scully had been here...

"Damn!" he swore softly. Don't go there. God, don't let me think about that.=
He'd thought the pain would have let up a bit, but over time it had just
gotten worse. For a moment he couldn't control the anguish and closed his
eyes tightly against the pain of remembering. Then, for just an instant,=
just to test the waters, he let himself imagine what Scully might have

And came up blank. 


She couldn't have made it this far, he reminded himself sadly. Her
psychology just wasn't geared for this much flexibility. Imagine what
Scully might have done? Oh sure, he could imagine that!

Yeah, Scully, say hi to Neelix. No, that isn't a bad make-up job, it's his
face. Yes, Scully, that man is a doctor and no he isn't real and yes, he
did just pop out of thin air. No, Scully, you can't open that door. Because
it's an air lock. Yes, that really is the vacuum of space out there. No,=
Scully, it isn't just my imagination working overtime. Please, don't open
the door to prove I'm wrong. No, this isn't all in our heads. No--

"Scully," he whispered, disconsolate and forlorn. "I wish you were here --=
but I'm glad you're not."


A couple of days later, Mulder found himself wandering the quiet corridors
of the ship, a basket ball tucked neatly under one arm. Surprisingly,=
Captain Janeway had allowed almost two-thirds of the crew to take a week of
shore leave. The rest, many of them born on space stations or in enclosed
environments, if his observations were accurate, seemed content to remain
aboard or take short rotations planetside. Even the doctor had gone down
for a visit.

Maybe it only felt quieter, Mulder thought, like the Bureau on weekends. Oh,=
there had always been plenty of people working odd hours -- the FBI wasn't
your typical 9 to 5 job -- only the phones had been silent. That was how it
seemed now. Like the ship had gone on holiday. 

Once again, Mulder pushed back the sense of regret he'd felt when he
realized the command staff, with the sole exception of Tuvok, had bugged
out. Even when he'd sat solitary in his apartment he'd only felt lonesome
-- never lonely. The simple knowledge that he could have picked up the
phone and called the Gunmen, or Scully, or even his mother had always been
there. And then there was running, or a pick-up game at the park, or a
dozen other things he could have done if he'd wanted. The choice to be
alone had been self-imposed, not something to be tolerated for a set period
of time. And still, there had been those who noticed if he didn't put in an
occasional appearance. Not a single soul on Voyager had queried him about
his plans, or invited him along. Nor had the captain noticed he hadn't put
in a shore leave request before she too went down to Arettos.

Best not to think about it, he told himself silently as he entered the
holodeck. Treat it like Christmas, or New Year's Eve. 

Christmas and New Year's, now there was a good comparison. Always before
he'd been wont to give himself a little present. An X file he knew Skinner
would never have approved. And now that his life really was an X file, he
might as well celebrate.

"Computer. Run program Mulder One, New York Knicks Championship. Game One.=
Level One." A moment later he'd shed his sweats, listening to the distant
roar of the crowd in the stands above -- while here in the locker room the
players were talking quietly, intent on getting into their own heads to
work the game. Mulder smiled widely, taking his place with the starting
line up. A dream come true. A fantasy fulfilled. Now this, he thought as he
followed holo Walt Frazier up the ramp and out onto center court of Madison
Square Garden -- to the howling cheers of thousands -- was how a holodeck
ought to be used.


"Hey, you! Down in front!"

The cry was nearly drowned out by the thunderous bellow of thirty thousand
souls as someone scored and Seven glanced up, surprised that Mulder would
have chosen such an odd program. Then again, she mused as she took a place
on a long bench beside several exceedingly tall, sweaty men, perhaps the
atmosphere of public display increased the concentration required for
optimum performance in what was clearly a sports competition. She
understood the principle of physical perfection. Although, through
regeneration and constant stimulation by her Borg nanoprobes of the muscles
at the molecular level she did not require exercise, she still respected
the counselor's desire to engage in healthy recreation.

For a time she simply watched, learning the game through observation.=
Suddenly, in the midst of a hard fought play, several players came
barreling uncontrollably toward the bench -- Mulder tangled in the middle
of the heap.

"Freeze program," Seven called, going over to where Mulder lay panting on
the floor.

"I definitely need to exercise more," he gasped as she helped him to sit up.=
"What-- What brings you down here?" To Seven's consternation, Mulder was
gulping air like a drowning man. "And why," he added with a grin, "are you
sitting on the Celtic's bench?"

At that she raised an eyebrow. "I was not aware that my loyalties were in

"Not at all," he replied, coughing a little as he slowly got to his feet.=
"Just your taste in teams. Wars have been fought for less," he commented,=

"I have no preference. I can sit elsewhere."

Mulder just shook his head and chuckled. "Next time," he told her.

Seven's brows rose at the open invitation. "Will I be required to scream?"

Mulder looked confused. "Only if you feel like it," he replied.

She nodded, much relieved. "And does my character have a name?"

"What are you talking about?" Mulder asked, reaching over to retrieve a
water bottle.

"Several months ago, Ensign Paris requested that I assist him in a

Mulder nodded thoughtfully. "Let me guess. Captain Proton?" 

Seven inclined her head, watching as realization suddenly dawned on Mulder.

"Not," he asked slowly. "Constance Truehart?" At Seven's nod he started

"You find this amusing, Counselor?" she asked, a little annoyed.

"Not you," Mulder continued, after a deep swallow from the bottle. "But Tom.=
He really is afraid of you, you know." He shook his head and called out for
the computer to end the program. He went on, explaining as he toweled down
and slid back into his sweats. "Putting you in the subservient,=
fainthearted female role. He loves strong women, but unlike B'Elanna you're
an unknown quantity. Something he desires, but isn't deluded enough to
think he can control. Actually," he told her, "if you think about it,=
that's quite a compliment."

"I had not considered that possibility," Seven admitted. "In light of that
information, I must reevaluate the ensign."

Mulder smiled. "Just don't be too obvious about it, Seven. Now, what did you
want to see me about?"


An hour later Mulder had showered, shaved and dressed himself in his jeans
and tee shirt. He could hardly believe that Seven had approached him to be
her escort on Arettos. Well, she hadn't really put it that way. In fact,=
what she had said was that she wished to "obtain life experience in a
larger interspecies environment" with him as her mentor.

"Whatever," Mulder murmured to himself, grabbing his jacket as the door
chimed. Seven entered and Mulder's brows shot up. She was still wearing her
blue body stocking, but over that she had put on a simple knee length vest
of royal blue satin. He grinned and nodded at her choice. "Functional, but
stylish," he told her.

"Thank you, Counselor. I observed a variety of crew members and none chose
to wear their uniform."

"That's standard practice when off duty, Seven. You may want to replicate a
few items for yourself to wear in your rooms."

She nodded once as if she'd known that already. "And you are inappropriately
dressed, Counselor," she went on to inform him in an amused tone of voice.=
"The Arettosians are an advanced species and are similar to the followers
of the Jains."

Again Mulder's brows rose. The Jains were an offshoot of Buddhism and the
Hindi religions. To them, the death of any life form including animals,=
plants and some insects was considered abhorrent. "You really did your
homework," he commented with a sigh. Leather and cotton were definitely
no-no's in that case, along with his weapons. 

Okay... He could always replicate a duplicate set of clothes. Then again, he
was getting bored wearing the same thing and maybe he should consider
updating his wardrobe. He winced inwardly, realizing he'd been clinging to
his past by not changing his outward appearance. At least, not changing any
more than he'd absolutely had to. After the debacle aboard the Warbird he'd
let the doctor remove his scars, but that had been done out of fear -- not
in acceptance of his new life.

He turned toward his bedroom, briefly closed his eyes and swallowed. So
hard, came the painful thought. So hard to just change everything and move
on, when what he really wanted was to simply curl into a tight little ball
and forget about aliens, starships and the entire Delta quadrant.  

Mulder took a slow deep breath, pushing aside the sense that he would soon
be utterly lost. Stripped of everything that had meaning for him -- like

He glanced over his shoulder and gazed for a moment at the pretty blond in
her new clothes. Somehow she'd managed. And if Seven could leave behind the
collective and find her way in such an alien environment, who was he to
complain? At least he was accepted as Human and quickly becoming an
integral part of Voyager's crew. As much as it hurt to acknowledge the
truth, if he wanted to survive then he too had to adapt. 

"Give me a couple of minutes," he told her quietly and went to find himself
something more appropriate to wear.


Mulder released the breath he'd been holding as soon as the process of
"beaming" had been completed. It was no better than the first time he'd
been subjected to it, but it was getting easier. He looked around the
strange little courtyard where they'd appeared, grateful that he'd listened
to Seven's suggestion. A little fashion tweaking and he'd found the right
combination of current styles which suited him. The dark red, gold trimmed
shirt worked well with the black pants and loose fitting jacket he'd
chosen. It was similar in cut to something he'd seen one of the Bajorans
wearing, but in colors that worked for him. 

From where he stood he could clearly identify the Arattosian guards and
their scanners as he and Seven were examined for contraband. Replicated
items carried a different signature than those naturally woven. The
Arettosians wore a kind of spun silk material. Natural cloth, but no
killing involved.

The guards nodded them through the check point and Mulder paused for a
moment to take in the pale pink sky and quadruple moons. Jesus! he thought,=
feeling his knees go a little weak. I'm standing on another planet! He
moved beside Seven, feeling as if he were gently gliding along. The gravity
of Arettos was obviously slightly less than Earth normal. Truly bizarre!

But fascinating, Mulder had to admit a few minutes later when they'd entered
the city proper. The place was like something out of a storybook. Vaguely
middle eastern in architecture, but with lots of multicolored glass giving
the buildings an open to the air feel. The atmosphere reminded him of the
Mediterranean countries, where he'd spent a few of his holidays during
college. Tropically warm, but not too humid to enjoy.

They walked perhaps a mile and a half, Mulder listening with half an ear to
Seven's dry monologue of Arettosian history, politics, economics and
culture. Finally, he simply turned to her and sighed.

"Seven, not that all these facts aren't interesting, but you're here to
experience the culture, not study it."

"I fail to see the difference," she stated coldly. "How can an individual
learn from an experience without understanding its context?"

"Sometimes, you can't," Mulder admitted. "But that's part of life. It's more
important that you learn to explore your feelings about the things you're
experiencing. Understanding those feelings in relation to the event more
often comes with time and distance as well as emotional maturity. And
interaction, as opposed to passively watching is the only way to get a...=
Well, a base line reading so you can accurately interpret those events."

Seven paused, considering his words before replying. "I am uncertain how to
proceed in light of your advice."

Mulder gave her a kind smile. "How about we get something to eat and talk to
the locals? We can start by asking the natives about their world and its
customs. Get some individual, non-scholarly perspectives. Maybe even find
out about things to do around here."

"I... I think I would like that, Counselor."

For once, Mulder thought with a hint of self-satisfaction as they started to
walk again, Seven hadn't pointed out that casual conversation was not only
irrelevant, but entirely without merit. 


"So," Mulder asked the pudgy little humanoid who'd wandered into the
restaurant they'd found and offered to be their tour guide, "are there
local legends or strange phenomena associated with any sites around here?"

He noted Seven's sudden interest and made a little mental note to his
internal diary. He wasn't good at vacations which offered lassitude rather
than activity. Why should Seven be any different? Boredom was probably a
new and no doubt irritating experience for her.

"Certainly there are!" the Arettosian exclaimed. "And for six eskad I will
tell you all about them."

"Three eskad," Mulder countered, fingering the little plastic cubes which
represented the local currency. He'd forgotten how much he enjoyed
bargaining. One of the few tricks Phoebe had taught him that he hadn't
wanted to forget -- but rarely had a chance to practice. Of course, if he
were really wicked as Phoebe had been, he'd only go down, never up in

They finally settled on four eskad and two garosi and Mulder handed over the
amount. Before leaving Voyager both he and Seven had been given the local
equivalent of several hundred dollars. Captain Janeway it seemed had
thought of everything during the negotiations.

The little man bowed obsequiously and began a rather stultifying account of
the most favored sites for energetic tourists. "...Then there are the Caves
of Anzberod, an ancient sorcerer said to have practiced," he lowered his
voice to a nervous whisper, "live sacrifice. To this day, any who go there
are captured by the sorcerer's evil spells and put to death in a most
horrific manner."

Now that got Mulder's attention. "To this day? You mean people have recently
disappeared from the site?"

The Arettosian suddenly looked uncomfortable. "No one knows for certain. It
is only a rumor."

"Can you take us there?"

The little man shook his head, vehemently declining. "No amount of eskadia
could make me set foot on that accursed mountain," he declared angrily.

Mulder nodded, but wondered at the indignation in the man's tone. "Well, how
about I give you three more eskad and you just point us in the right

Despite his appalled expression the Arettosian hesitantly accepted the
money, as if it too were anathema, then gave them a few simple directions,=
admonishing them as well to be cautious. That done, the man quickly
scurried away, glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one else had
overheard their exchange.

"Odd," Seven commented after they'd paid their tab, clearly referring to the
way the Arettosian had run off.

Mulder shrugged. "Maybe he's afraid of the meat police. Any mention of blood
and gore must be delightfully sinful -- and totally out of bounds around

"Agreed," Seven stated simply. "You wish to explore these caves for signs of
an X file?"

Mulder grinned and nodded, feeling more lighthearted than he had in weeks.=
Well, centuries if he counted the time before he ended up on Voyager. And
there was no telling when he'd get another chance to investigate something
other than Neelix's cooking and the rather mundane psyches of Voyager's

"Come on. It'll be fun!" Mulder insisted.

"What'll be fun?" 

Captain Janeway's voice floated up from behind Mulder and Seven. Turning,=
Mulder noticed Chakotay beside her and nodded a greeting to both.

"Counselor Mulder believes an X file may be occurring locally," Seven

At the captain's raised brows Mulder grinned widely, bouncing on the balls
of his feet and nodded. "An honest to god X file," he told them cheerfully.=
"Replete with evil sorcerer's spell and current rumors of sacrificial

Chakotay laughed while Janeway look skeptical. "Really Mulder," she told
him. "You have the strangest ideas about what might qualify as a pleasant
shore leave. Have you even been to the markets here? Buy a glass sculpture
-- they're fabulous -- and be happy."

"Tell you what," Mulder offered. "I'll go shopping after, if you guys come
with us now. And yes," he told the captain, "I had planned on going
souvenir hunting. My quarters could use a few personal touches."

Janeway and the commander shared a glance. His comment about "personal
touches" obviously not going unnoticed.

"All right, Mulder," the captain nodded. "I'm in."

Chakotay shrugged. "I'd like to see the caves, if nothing else. I've always
enjoyed spelunking."

"Seven?" Mulder asked.

"I had determined to accompany you prior to it becoming a collective

"Well then," Mulder smiled and waved a hand in the direction the Arettosian
had pointed. "Shall we?"

Janeway chuckled. "Lead on, Intrepid Agent Mulder. But," she teased gently.=
"Don't be surprised if all we find are bits of broken glass and pottery.=
I've been told those hills were once pretty heavily populated."

"Ooooh," Mulder crooned. "Another mystery! Maybe we'll find out the reason
why they're not."


They reached the foothills of what the natives referred to as Anzberod's
Mountain with a little help from some local transportation. When the driver
refused to go any further Mulder simply got out and started to walk.

"Do you even know where we're going?" Chakotay asked, coming up alongside
him. Several yards behind he could hear the captain and Seven conversing

"Third hill from the left, the one where the ancient temple still stands,=
then take the old rock path to the river, go east until we reach the
warning markers, can't miss it."

Chakotay looked around, noting, as Mulder obviously had, an ancient temple
still standing in the distance. "So, we're on the old rock path," the
commander acknowledged.

"So it would seem," Mulder responded, kicking up a little gravel to
illustrate the point.

They walked in silence for a time until Chakotay finally spoke. "You really
are enjoying this, aren't you?"

Mulder merely nodded. "I made this my life's work. You think I'd have chosen
something I hated?"

The commander grinned. "You must love mysteries."

"Nah," Mulder answered. "Finding a mystery is easy. What I love is solving

"Then why did you stop profiling? I would think solving a murder would be
far more satisfying."

Mulder didn't bother to look at the other man. "You would think that,=
wouldn't you? Until you've done it a few hundred times and you start to
realize that the names and faces of the dead are blurring together -- that
they've become just so many numbers in a case file. Or you're eating lunch
one day and you suddenly realize that you're really enjoying the very rare
steak you're having -- while looking at crime scene photos of some poor kid
whose been gutted. Or worse, it gets to the point where you can't eat
anything at all, because everything you touch has been used in the
commission of a crime. Food, paper, glass sculptures -- literally
everything. Then all you want to do is get the hell out before you really
start to see people as just another statistic waiting to happen. Or you
become absolutely certain your furniture is just waiting for you to turn
your back and you end up in restraints, shot full of Thorazine and

"Food?" Chakotay asked, surprised by Mulder's bitter response and choosing
what he thought was the least inflammatory remark he'd made.

With a wry, sad smile Mulder replied. "I once had killer who liked to
smother children in giant vats of ice cream. Apparently it was a big
seller, too. Uniquely flavored and all."

The commander drew a deep, hissing breath, duly appalled. "So you chose the
X files as a way to escape," he surmised.

Mulder nodded briefly. "I still can't eat ice cream, but at least I don't
get nauseous at the sight of milk anymore. Now chicken... Well, that's
another story."

Extremely grateful a moment later when Chakotay deliberately changed the
subject, Mulder walked on paying only slight attention to the conversation.=
Talking about profiling was tantamount to reliving the experience for a man
with an eidetic memory. With the exception of those first heady days of
glory when he was too young to know better, he never willingly brought up
the subject. He wouldn't lie about it, wouldn't obfuscate or avoid the
issue if asked, but he'd do his best to discourage casual questioning.=
Usually, the cold, hideous reality of the work stopped most people dead in
their tracks. Others... Well, morbid curiosity was acceptable up to a point
in a civilian. After that, if he decided they needed a serious headfucking
he'd do his best to oblige and make sure they never, ever wanted to even
think about the subject for as long as they lived -- at least after they
got out of therapy.


A long time later they reached the last marker and Mulder breathed a sigh of
relief. Not that Chakotay and the others weren't better than average
traveling companions, but he really didn't want to be out here after dark.=
The place was eerily quiet and had that subliminally depressive feel to it
that sometimes accompanied negative energy sites. Maybe this hadn't been
such a good idea, he thought, heading for the stone carved steps which led
to the sorcerer's lair. Behind him, the others had grown quiet as if they
too sensed something was very wrong here. 

Silent, Mulder stared into the oddly humming depths of cave as he retrieved
one of the small, high powered flashlights they'd purchased before leaving
the city.

"Ready?" he asked quietly, almost afraid to stir the still, damp air of the
cave. The others had their flashlights out and nodded. He moved forward
slowly, carefully scanning the walls and floors for hidden obstacles or

WRONG! WRONG! Mulder's sixth sense screamed and he jumped as his light
grazed the far wall of the cave and something swarmed toward them.

"Out!" he shouted as an all too familiar stench, drawn on the diminutive
wings of millions of insects, struck him like a blow. "Get out!"

"What the hell was that odor?" Chakotay demanded once they were outside and
he'd taken a few deep breaths of fresh air.

"Mulder?" Janeway asked, when he didn't respond.

He barely heard her, leaning his forehead against a tree as he tried to
still his pounding heart. "Oh, god. God!" he whispered fervently, ignoring
their questions. Maybe it wasn't. But so close, he silently acknowledged.=
Too damn close -- and the signs looked right.

Finally, he pulled himself together, knowing what had to be done. He turned
to the others. "Wait here," he told them dully and headed back into the

"Mulder!" he heard Janeway call, but he waved for her to be silent as he
concentrated on following his previous steps.

As he reached the entrance to the interior chamber he covered his nose and
mouth with his arm, then slowly panned the light around until it lit on
what he'd suspected. With a tiny nod to himself he turned to Janeway,=
holding up a hand to prevent her from going any further as he firmly led
her back outside.

"Call the authorities," he told her calmly. "There's no X file here. It's a
crime scene."


Chakotay found Mulder crouched beneath a tree beside a small stream. It
looked to the commander like Mulder hadn't quite made it, the remains of
whatever he'd had for lunch resting a few inches from the edge of the
flowing water. He kicked at the loose rocks and dirt, getting rid of the
telltale evidence before he made his way over.

Resting a hand lightly on the back of Mulder's neck, he waited until the man
stopped shivering. With a small nod he acknowledged the twisted grin Mulder
gave him.

"Feeling better?" he asked solicitously, removing his hand.

Mulder closed his eyes, took a deep breath and nodded. "I'll be fine," he
answered tautly, glancing at Chakotay. "I... I just wasn't expecting that.=
Not here, anyway."

"What did you see?" the commander asked curiously. "Kathryn didn't get a
very good look."

"Lucky her," Mulder muttered inanely, attempting to shake the images from
his mind as he shuddered. It wouldn't do any good -- never did -- but that
hadn't ever stopped him from trying.

"Mulder." He looked up to see the captain kneel beside him. "Are you all

"I'm okay," he reiterated, swallowing his nausea. "Where's Seven?"

"Back at the cave," Janeway told him. "Guarding the site. Are you all right
to go back and wait there? I've contacted the Arettosians. They should be
here shortly."

"Yeah," he responded, grateful for the help they gave him as he tried to
stand and wavered on his feet. "I have to go back anyway," he sighed. "I
doubt a planet full of vegetarian pacifists has anyone capable of handling
this properly."

"Exactly what are we talking about here?" Janeway asked. "I didn't really
see anything."

Mulder shrugged and turned towards the cave, a good half mile back up the
path. He barely remembered moving this far away, but he was glad he had.=
"The usual," he hedged distractedly, already plotting out a course of
action. "Bad things done by bad people. Look at the photos later. Maybe
you'll be able to eat in a couple of days."

Janeway grimaced in obvious annoyance. She was used to always getting
answers, Mulder imagined, but for the life of him, he couldn't bring
himself to care at the moment. 

"Can you walk," she finally asked, "or should I call the doctor?"

Mulder shook himself free of their now unwanted hands and started moving up
the path, breathing deeply to ward off the residual nausea he was feeling.=
"Call him anyway, we're going to need a qualified M.E. He can do forensic
work, can't he?"

The captain raised an eyebrow. "Certainly, but it isn't our place--"

Mulder cut her off with a quick rebuke. "Bullshit! There's no Prime
Directive conflict here. Just do your job, so I can do mine and we can all
get the hell off this rock." So much for Paradise, Mulder thought as he
turned and stalked toward the ominously looming entryway.

He should have remembered his own hard won lessons, he thought bitterly --=
that, invariably, Paradise always held a snake.


Bodies. Body parts. And neatly wrapped bits of body parts -- all carefully
labeled as if being readied for sale at the local market.

With a quiet groan Mulder fell back on the thick mats the Arettosians used
as bedding. Nausea warred with exhaustion as he thought of sleep, unable to
get the images of what he'd seen out of his mind. Nothing new, but
something he'd hoped never to see again.

I need you, Scully, he thought, feeling his insides twist into a familiar
knot of pain. She'd been his anchor to sanity in more ways than he could
count at times like these. Now, surrounded by innocents, as she had once
been innocent, Mulder knew the dangers of bringing a neophyte into his
orbit. They'd either burn with passion or burn out. Neither being
acceptable in this situation. What he needed was someone who could handle
the cold hard facts without a lot of baby sitting. He didn't have time for

There was a quiet knock at the door and Mulder thought of feigning sleep
just to escape the omnipresent sensation of being under a microscope. Not
only were the Arettosians glad to have him, but when he'd left the final
meeting of the day they'd actually invited him to dinner.

Another bout of nausea assailed him at the thought of food. along with the
dizzy, falling sensation he'd been getting every so often. Probably the
lighter gravity, he told himself, less than eager to see the doctor after
the last few hours going over the crime scene with the hologram.

"Come in!" he finally called, surprised when Captain Janeway entered.

"How are you doing?" she asked softly as he sat up.

Mulder shrugged. "I'll live. I'm just worried about that Arettosian cleaning

Janeway nodded. Other than the doctor and Mulder no one from Voyager had
been allowed into the caves. The Arettosians had a strong sense of duty and
had insisted on sending in their own people to excavate the site. While
they didn't have a forensic pathologist of Scully's caliber, they did have
a team of decent forensic archaeologists working with Voyager's Chief
Medical Officer.

"They'll be fine," she told him, taking a seat on the low stool beside the
bed. "The District Prefect told me they have a procedure to remove the
images from their minds, while leaving most of the memories intact. I came
to see if you might be interested in undergoing the process."

Mulder chuckled at that. "You'd be removing the better part of fifteen years
of my life if I agreed. No thanks. I can handle it, Captain."

Again she nodded. "I thought as much, but I had to offer you the option."

"Appreciated, but unacceptable," he told her honestly. "I am nothing without
my memories. Terrible, awful and sickening as many of them are, they're

The captain was quiet for a moment. "So, any ideas as to the culprit?"

"Perpetrator, Captain. Culprits steal cars and wallets, not lives."

That got him a small smile. "All right. Any ideas as to who the perpetrator
might be? Or why you think it might be a single individual?"

Mulder shook his head. "Too many ideas and not enough facts. First, I have
to figure out why he's doing it. Then who."

"The Arettosians," Janeway began carefully, "suspect an off worlder."

"Could be, Captain, but I doubt it. The kind of butchering done in those
caves requires time and careful planning, not to mention knowledge of
terrain and people. Most of the off worlders are short term merchant types,=
or ambassadors and their families. The first aren't even an option anymore.=
I had one of the assistant prefects run a check and none of them were
consistently on Arettos during any of the murders. The second group, with
the exception of the families which I'll check tomorrow, are pretty low
risk individuals. Besides the fact that they've probably all been carefully
screened by their own governments, it's very hard to hide this kind of
obsessive behavior. Especially if you're in the public eye. I've seen it
done, but it requires a lot of money, personal power and a secure location.=
If the reaction to my own interest in the area is any indicator, I
seriously doubt a stranger could come and go at will given the historic
reputation of the caves. No," he finished, his voice almost too quiet to be
heard. "I think we're looking at a homegrown psycho."

Janeway sighed uncomfortably. "That won't please the Arettosians."

Mulder snorted in derision. "I don't care if they weep for a year when I'm

"That's more than a little unkind," she chided.

"It's an unkind universe. Live with it." He lay back down and turned on his
side, avoiding the pitying look in Janeway's eyes. "Now, if you don't mind
I'd like to be alone."

"All right," she told him. "But only so you can get some rest. I'll be
staying for the duration."

At Mulder's glance she smiled and patted his shoulder. "I won't leave you
alone with this. You need human contact."

A long deep breath and Mulder nodded. "Point made, but there may be times,"=
he warned her, "when I'm going to need to be alone. Times when you aren't
going to want to leave me, but you'll have to. It's the way I work. The
only way I can work."

"Okay, Mulder," she replied. "But," she added her own stern warning. "If I
think you need it, I'll pull you out. Kicking and screaming if I have to.=

Mulder gave her a crooked smile, hiding the small, hard lump in his throat
as he realized Scully would have said the same thing.

Well, he thought as Janeway left to go back to her own quarters, if I can't
have Starbuck as my co-pilot, maybe the captain of the ship will do.


"Thanks for the suit," Mulder commented as he joined the captain for
breakfast early the next morning. "What did you do, send out to

Janeway shrugged. "It's what the well dressed law enforcement agent is
wearing back home these days."

Mulder merely grinned and took a seat. The suit was similar to the standard
black Starfleet uniform, except that the shirt was silver gray and the
jacket hung past his hips. Other than his comm badge and the rank insignia
on the high collar of the shirt there were no other distractions. He wore
it well, and had been pleased to see that its style commanded the same
respect that his old wardrobe had. There was a real reason behind being "a
suit" and not "a man in a suit" at the FBI. An agent represented the
Bureau, not the objectives of the particular person conducting the

"So, Mulder, what's on the agenda after breakfast?"

"No breakfast for me, thanks. I'll stick to liquids," he told her, glancing
around the otherwise empty dining room. "Where's the District Prefect?" he
asked, having expected the man, whose home they were guests in, to be
joining them.

"Speaking with the victims families. They identified several last night."

Mulder nodded shortly then asked one of the serving girls to bring him
whatever passed for a protein shake or instant breakfast drink on Arettos.=
A little trick he'd learned toward the end of his tenure in the VCS.=
Janeway raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

"As for this morning, Captain," he told her as the girl brought his drink.=
"We're off to the morgue. Oh, yum," he muttered, sniffing the drink before
he downed it in a single long gulp.

"Not the crime scene?" Janeway asked, obviously surprised.

"I've seen it."

At his terse response she nodded to herself, probably recalling, Mulder
thought, that he had been in the caves the previous night both before and
after the Arettosians had started cataloguing and digging. Besides, he'd
set the doctor to taking holographic images to document the scene. If need
be, he could use those. Unless there was no other way to jump start his
intuition he would never go back to that place.

A short time later they were on their way to the Archaeological Institute
which seemed to be the only location with appropriate storage facilities.=
This had surprised Mulder at first, although it did seem logical. Even in
his own time morgues had become less a place to house corpses and more a
place where evidence could be collected and stored. And on a world where
the crime rate was infinitesimal, why would anyone even bother to build

At the entrance to the building Mulder paused and took in Janeway's relaxed
countenance. "Captain," he began. "You might want to find something else to
do for a couple of hours."

"Trying to get rid of me already?" she smiled.

Mulder shrugged. "Suit yourself."

Without a glance back to see if she were following, Mulder headed for the
basement. Some folks only learn the hard way, he thought. This wasn't going
to be some quaint little holodeck mystery. They were about to take a walk
on the dark side of nastiness. Something even Scully had quite sensibly

"Good morning, Captain. Counselor Mulder," the doctor said distantly as they
entered. He was perched over a computer console, obviously studying the
data he'd gathered.

"So," Mulder asked, grabbing a chair and bringing it over. "What have you
got for me?"

The doctor leaned back and shook his head. "I'm not sure," he admitted.=
"I've analyzed everything in those caves from the molecular level on up
just as you requested and nothing makes any sense."

"My job," Mulder muttered absently. "Let's go down the list then, shall we.=
How did they die?"

The doctor pulled up an image on the view screen for reference. "A single
blow to the cerebellum rendered the victims unconscious, followed by
exsanguination through the carotid artery via external means."

"You mean he used a pump and collected it?"

The doctor nodded. "We found the blood stored in containers, along with the

"Good," Mulder murmured. "We'll get to that later. Any drugs?"

"None. Which is odd," the doctor added. "Because the Arettosians have no
laws against their sale or use."

Mulder shrugged. "Sometimes the purity of the victims' suffering is what the
killer is going for. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. Nice easy
deaths. No significant presentation. At least not that I saw. Okay, any
signs of sexual activity or trauma?"

Again the answer was no. 

"Ligature marks?"

"On the wrists and ankles."

"Anterior mortem or post?"

"Both," the doctor stated nervously. "From what I can discern the victims
were hung like so much meat from a hook while they were dying and then
again while the dismemberment took place."

Mulder nodded. "Not so unusual," he commented, noting out of the corner of
his eye that Captain Janeway had gone a little pale. "Anything missing?"

"Missing?" Janeway gasped, obviously baffled and perturbed by the question.

"You know, hair, nails, fingers, toes, sex organs. Trophies for our boy to
take home and play with."

At that Janeway left the room, one hand covering her mouth. So much for
breakfast, Mulder thought with a mental shrug, and turned back to the
matter at hand.

"Nothing like that, Counselor," the doctor admitted uncomfortably. "Every
last item has been accounted for."

"Really," Mulder mused. "No body parts missing at all. And no sexual
activity indicated at the scene. So," he rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he
stared at the screen. "What the hell are you jackin' off to?" He sighed and
looked a the doctor, completely engrossed. "Is he taking pictures?=
Recording the events?"

The doctor shook his head. "Our scans detected no emissions that could
possibly be linked to an imager or other recording device."

Curious. Very curious. "So, why are you killing them?" he whispered at the
screen, letting his mind drift on its own internal current. "And what are
you getting out of it?"


Several hours later Mulder was no closer to uncovering a motive for the
serial slayings. And they were serial in nature, he realized, even if they
didn't fit a documented pathology. For at least a decade the killer had
been taking victims from all over Arettos. That had been confirmed by a
thorough search of the planet's archives and some intense questioning by
the local authorities of the grieving families. Unfortunately, many of the
victims had never been reported as missing, since it was quite normal on
Arettos for people to simply wander off on a pilgrimage, or just to pick up
and go visit relatives in another province with barely a word to family or
friends. Often, people would wander for years before returning home, and
unless they had a specific goal and informed someone where they'd gone, the
question of them having disappeared never arose.

They were also opportunistic, rather than planned from what Mulder could
gather. In general, the killings had taken place approximately three months
apart with no particular id fix in terms of victim types. Old, young, male
and female were all accounted for. Not even body types were consistent. As
far as Mulder could determine the killer struck when the urge arose -- not
at all unusual -- taking as many as three victims in a one week period, or
none for several months. Which left out stalking, or implied erratic
stalking at best.

So, while the Captain worked on the task he'd set her -- looking through
witness and family statements for clues -- he pored over religious texts
and star charts trying to find a pattern. By late afternoon he'd come to
the conclusion that he was looking in the wrong direction and put the data

"All right, Doctor," he said, leaning back in his chair and stretching.=
"Let's go over it again."

The doctor looked up from his autopsy reports and sighed. "I don't see how
that will help. We've gone over it twice."

"Just humor me." The doctor reluctantly nodded his assent. "Okay. He starts
off with no discernible pattern to the dismemberment, correct?" Again the
doctor nodded. "So, he's learning his trade. Making mistakes and pretty
much ruining the bodies, salvaging what he can and throwing the rest away."=
Mulder quickly went on, not wishing to think about the charnel pit the
excavators had uncovered in the furthest of the caves. "After a while he
stops using plain old knives and goes high tech."

"Yes," the doctor agreed. "He starts using an industrial cold laser. We
found it with the other, ah, accouterments."

"So he wants 'em cut nice and neat," Mulder nodded. "The pattern of the
dismemberment fixes after that with no variations. Now, at first the
individual bodies look like bodies, but as he cuts 'em down to size they
become, for want of a better word, portions. Skins are rolled and wrapped.=
Parts and innards the same. Nothing is discarded, just washed, packaged and
labeled as if they were just so much meat on the hoof and he were sending
them to market." Mulder rubbed his eyes and sighed. "Christ! I almost wish
the fucker were eating them! At least then I'd understand why!"

"Mulder!" Janeway snapped, aghast. "That's enough!"

"What?" he looked over at her, confused by her outburst.

"I don't know where you learned your manners, Mister, but where I come from
we don't speak of the dead that way."

He almost laughed in her face, but thankfully caught himself in time. "Cop
shop talk, Captain. And a word to the wise. It helps if you don't think of
the victims as people."

"But they are people!" she insisted.

"Not to the killer they weren't. He saw them more like... like animals. Dumb
animals being led to slaughter."

"That doesn't mean we have to," she chided.

"On the contrary, Captain. That doesn't mean you have to," he told her
quietly. "But I do."

"Counselor?" the doctor inquired, clearly disturbed by his comment.

Mulder sighed loudly and stood, beginning to pace as he tried to walk off
the nervous tension in the room.

"Normally," he told them. "I'd do a victimology. But I can already see that
won't work here. The victims are too random for analysis, which is also a
clue, but not one that gives me much of a lead. So, I have to get into this
bastard's head and the only way I can do that is to think like him.=
Without," he added grimly, "becoming like him. And," he went on more
firmly. "It doesn't help when you question my motives or my manners,=

The woman squared her shoulders, ready to argue the point, but Mulder beat
her to it as he suddenly stopped pacing and grabbed his jacket off the back
of his chair. "Look, I'm tired. You're tired. We've got guards on the caves
and a total news black out. Unless this guy has another set up, which I
seriously doubt, or he's been involved in the investigation some way, then
I figure we've got some time to work. Now, I'm hungry. Let's get some
dinner before our meeting with the Arettosians. And please," he added with
a pointed look at both of them. "Let me do the talking. The last thing we
need is to panic them with too many details."

"Fine," Janeway responded. "You do the talking. But I don't mind saying that
I don't like the tone you've been using."

"What are you implying, Captain?"

Janeway sighed deeply and relaxed her stance. "Simply put, Counselor, you
were a different man yesterday. And," she added gently, "I suppose I'm
wondering why you've suddenly become so cynical and cold."

Mulder nodded. It was a fair point, but one he didn't really feel he should
have been forced to address. Like a good profiler he'd put his personal
feelings aside, replacing them with a wall of indifference. Sure, he could
have curled up in a little grief stricken ball, but then he couldn't have
done the job. Instead, he'd wisely distanced himself from the crime.

For an instant he thought of Scully asking him a similar question so long
ago. How could he look into a desecrated grave, view the body and not be
affected by what he saw? Because he'd done then what he was doing now.

In the end, it had taken him years to understand what she'd really been
saying. How could he live behind the wall he'd painstakingly erected around
his emotions? Back then, he'd had belief, yet without faith or hope. She'd
had that faith and hope, but in her fellow man. And yes, she'd saved him a
thousand times over and made him whole once more as she'd gently coaxed him
out from behind his barricades. Until he saw his own humanity looking back
at him one day. One terrible day when she'd disappeared and his hope and
faith had been forced to take center stage in the little melodrama that was
his soul.

Mulder glanced around the large basement office, thinking of another
basement office on a world so very far away and shrugged. Real words were
for Scully, he realized sadly. Janeway couldn't even compete.

"You aren't the only one with command training," he finally replied. "I just
didn't go to Starfleet."


Mulder heard the knock at his door and looked up from his PADD, annoyed by
the interruption. It couldn't be the Arettosians, since he'd palmed them
off with a few minor details and sent them scurrying to look over their
psychiatric records. It was a long shot, but given the lack of headway he'd
been making, Mulder wanted every angle covered. For his own part, he'd
spent most of the evening after dinner going over behavioral models
downloaded from Voyager's archives. Something he hadn't had to do since his
early days at the Academy.

"No one in here but the FBI's most confused," he called out.

Janeway poked her head in and frowned. "That's Starfleet's most confused,=
Lieutenant Mulder."

He grimaced at the title. Counselor he could handle, that was like Doctor,=
but military rankings still irked him. They shouldn't, but ever since she'd
unjustly stripped Paris of his rank, he'd taken the whole "you're a part of
my crew, regardless" thing with a grain of salt.  His understanding of
Military Law stated that it should have been time in the brig, or a
reduction in rank for the wayward lieutenant -- not both -- unless he was
being cashiered out of the service. Still, he knew he'd gotten the better
end of that arrangement by pointing out to the captain that the recidivism
rate for inmates sentenced without therapy was fifty times higher than for
those who received it while incarcerated. He'd gotten around the solitary
confinement ruling as best he could given Janeway's hard on for seeing
Paris punished.

"Can I help you, Captain?" Mulder finally asked.

Janeway came all the way into the room and shut the door quietly, but firmly
behind her.

"Yes," she said. "You can. You can tell me," she went a little pale and very
obviously swallowed her nausea, "why you wished he were eating the bodies."

Mulder put aside his PADD and leaned back, crossing his arms as he nodded
her over to a chair. This was, he assumed, the captain's way of apologizing
for her earlier behavior. The fact that she should have asked this question
as soon as he made the statement wasn't lost on him, but he was willing to
give her the benefit of the doubt since she was new at this. Command
training didn't necessarily make one smarter, just enabled one to move
beyond their feelings in order to function in emotionally difficult

"Cannibalism is a fetish," he began as soon as she seemed comfortable. "Just
as having sex with the victim before or after death is a fetish. They are
the two most common in fact after mutilation. But he isn't mutilating the
bodies, just carving them up. And he isn't getting his rocks off with them
unless he's doing it at another location and there's no evidence of that.=
That leaves cannibalism which is the most telling of all the fetishes."

"How so?"

"Because cannibalism suggests a desire on the part of killer to keep his
victims with him always -- beyond just the trophy taking. Ingesting their
life force, or their souls -- whatever -- and making them a part of him

"But you said he wasn't doing that," Janeway reiterated. "Maybe.. Maybe he
doesn't need the trophies. What if he's got an eidetic memory?"

Mulder shook his head and gave her a rueful grin. "First, he isn't
ritualizing the event other than to do everything exactly the same each
time, which suggests a compulsion to perform the act, but not the reason
why. And that tells us that he doesn't have an eidetic memory. If he did he
wouldn't need to kill after the first time he'd gotten it right. He could
relive it in his head with absolute perfect recall. Smells, screams,=
emotions. And the first time is always the best, the most exciting. That's
what he wants. To experience that feeling over and over again. It's like a
drug. The need to feel that first incredible high. Which makes him
completely unpredictable," Mulder sighed. "And that, Captain, is the crux
of the problem," he finally admitted. "If I can't predict the bastard, I
can't catch him. Damn it!" he snarled, rubbing his face and starting to
pace again as his level of frustration rose. "It's like Dahmer all over

"Excuse me?" Janeway asked, not surprisingly unfamiliar with the reference.

"Jeffrey Dahmer, a serial killer caught in the early 1990's. I wrote a
monograph after he was arrested to try and explain how he could have
slipped past the notice of everyone, including his neighbors, until the
stench from his apartment got so bad it leaked into the halls and they
contacted the building manager to fix his "broken" freezer."

The captain nodded for him to continue. "Dahmer had a unique ability to hide
his desire for cannibalism behind a facade of sexual desire. Making him
both a cannibal and a serial killer. Most people don't want to have sex
with their food and, likewise, most people don't want to eat what their
fucking. He did both, among other things."

The captain pressed a hand against her chest and took a deep breath before
speaking. "So how does this help you?"

"It doesn't. Except as an example of how a unique behavioral model can arise
and how a serial killer can work for a long period of time and not be
captured by conventional means. We stumbled into his workroom," he
explained. "We didn't methodically hunt him down. Like Dahmer, the
discovery was accidental. Yet, unlike Dahmer, our killer doesn't want to
keep his victims close -- which would have allowed us to find him. He's not
following the classical patterns set out for either cannibals or serial

"Could it be unique to Arettos?"

Mulder slowly inclined his head. "Possibly, but as near as I've been able to
determine the Arettosians aren't very remarkable, except that anything
remotely related to death is considered anathema here."

Janeway gave a wry twist of her lips. "So, we're right back where we

"Hardly," Mulder objected. "We know what he's not, which is just as
important as knowing what he is. Now," he added. "If you don't mind, I
really need to be alone."

She rose and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Before I go, I'd like to
apologize for my earlier behavior. I... I can't imagine how you survived
years of doing this sort of ghastly investigation, but I won't be foolish
enough to question your methods again. And you did warn me off, so I have
only myself to blame."

Mulder shrugged. "It's never easy," he admitted. "But I suspect it's a lot
harder for you to accept the reality of this kind of monster than it is for
me. In my time, it was expected that there would be serial killers and mass
murderers. It was only the depth of their depravity that shocked anyone,=
not the fact of their existence."

She gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze and left. At least, he thought with a
mixture of amusement and relief, she hadn't made some inane comment about
having "sweet dreams" or resting "well". He was simply grateful he'd been
able to eat -- and, finally, to be completely alone to think.


Mulder sat in a corner of the room, arms wrapped protectively around his
middle as he relived the dismemberment process from the killer's point of
view. It was a last ditch effort to get some kind of handle on the man's
behavior. And still he came up blank, with the sole exception of a
nickname. The Butcher. Mundane, boring, but ultimately accurate. It
certainly described exactly what he was doing. Still, for three hours of
stomach churning horror he had very little to show for his efforts, except
a pounding headache and a deep sense of disgust.

With a sigh he rose, stretched and decided what he really wanted was a
shower -- or a good long swim to symbolically cleanse the psychological
filth from his body and mind. Unfortunately, the Arettosians believed water
was a living entity and purifying it was akin to murder. Like the Romulans
they used something similar to the sonic shower.

Instead, he opted for a walk in the prefect's garden, hoping to clear his
thoughts enough to get some sleep. He took a step and his head seemed to
swell and contract as the dizziness he'd been suffering every now and then
assailed him once again. After several deep breaths he felt a little better
-- good enough to make it to the door without having to hold onto the wall.

Making his way into the garden he found a bench and practically fell onto
the seat. Dizzy, nauseous and exhausted, Mulder sat back looking up at the
stars. I know what you aren't, he thought wearily. But I can't for the life
of me figure out what you are.

"Christ!" he muttered angrily, dubiously eyeing the multiple moons in the
vermilion sky. Maybe it just doesn't work the same out here. Maybe
everything I know is now just plain wrong!

The thought irked him like nothing else could have. A nasty, niggling doubt
that crept out of the back of his mind. He was nothing without his skills
as an investigator, despite the captain's faith in him as a counselor.=
Could that be all he had left? That and his Quantico command training? The
idea left his guts twisting slowly in a terrible knot of fear.

Mulder groaned softly, laying his head in his hands as he tried to still the
pounding of the blood in his skull.

"Are you all right, Counselor?" came the doctor's voice from somewhere
across the garden.

Startled by the sudden interruption, Mulder stood quickly. Too quickly he
suddenly realized, just barely getting out the words, "Yeah, I'm fi..."=
before the ground came up and hit him square in the face -- vermilion
fading to black in the space of an instant.


"He's coming around."

Mulder recognized Captain Janeway's contralto through the fog that had
become his mind. He felt the press of something against his throat and
heard a soft hiss. A hypo spray, some distant part of his brain supplied.

"That should do it," the doctor announced in a self-satisfied tone.

Mulder's eyes fluttered open, then he opted for sightlessness in the face of
the doctor's smug expression. I'm going to be nice to B'Elanna, he thought
irreverently. And one day when you least expect it, she'll show me how to
turn you off! Or at least how to make you a little less insufferable. 

"You know, Mulder, it's a good thing I don't require sleep. And," the doctor
added smugly, "that I just happened to be studying Arettosian Anamnesis
technology while waiting to take some breathtaking holo shots of some rare
local fauna that only blooms at night."

Mulder grimaced. Obnoxious bastard! "I'll have a holy medal made of your
likeness," he grumbled, although he did feel a great deal better than he
had during the past day or so. He was also, he noticed, back in his room,=
where he'd obviously been carried after he'd keeled over.

"I would recommend, Mr. Mulder, that the next time you plan on seeing the
sights," the doctor went on, "you stop by sickbay for an acclimation work
up. You should know better than to go planetside without the proper--"

"Gracious me!" Mulder interrupted, voice dripping irony as he raised himself
on his elbows. "You're right, doc. I should know better. Worldly
intergalactic traveler that I am.  But I just love living on the edge.=
Can't get enough of that puking and wheezing. Give me a god awful headache
any day of the week and I'm in heaven."

Captain Janeway cleared her throat as she very obviously stifled her
laughter. "Enough you two," she said, lowering her voice to a semblance of
authority. "Doctor, why wasn't Mulder given the full spectrum analyses and

"He was! Oh," the doctor looked nonplused as realization dawned. "My
programming doesn't take into account time travelers. All Starfleet
personnel receive planetary tolerance blood factors as part of their first
physical at the Academy. It's required. I'm afraid it simply never occurred
to me to perform that basic function on Mr. Mulder. As soon as we return to
Voyager I'll see to it, Captain."

"Good," Janeway stated. "Because I'd really hate to lose our Ship's
Counselor due to an oversight by our Chief Medical Officer. It might cause
some people to think the EMH program was superfluous."

"I get the picture, Captain."

Very much annoyed, Mulder cleared his throat to get their attention. Worse
than being talked about as if he weren't present was being talked over. The
captain shrugged and apologized, ushering the doctor out as she continued
the conversation on another note.

"Anamnesis?" he overheard her asking.

While the doctor responded, "Recollection, Captain. Or in this case, the
excision of certain recollections based on a particular criteria..."

The nice heavy door closed behind them and Mulder rolled over with a sigh,=
once again grateful to be alone. He had to admit that 24th century medicine
was a whole lot less intrusive than 20th. Now, he thought as he drifted to
sleep on the mild sedative he suspected the doctor had supplied -- if he
could only find a physician who didn't think lecturing the patient ought to
be a significant part of the healing process. Then again, that was probably
too much to hope for. The entire medical profession seemed to live to
ramble on -- and on and on and on...


Sleep came easy, but rest came hard to Mulder as he tossed fitfully in his
dreams. Not that they were nightmares, unless of course, like Mulder, you
considered a trip to the supermarket an horrific experience. He was lost
somewhere between the cold cuts and the fresh produce aisles trying to find
something -- he couldn't remember what -- and every time he looked at his
shopping list the words seemed alien and garbled. Finally, he found himself
running down an endless aisle of string cheeses, trailing an ever growing
shopping list which wrapped itself around his body like a living vine until
it was choking the life out of him. With his last breath he began to scream
in bizarre and hopeless desperation, "Stop! Stop! I have to rotate the

He woke with a start, shuddering as he reached for his throat. Then, with a
gasp, it suddenly hit him. Thoughts, ideas and possibilities flooding his
brain, like ratchets clicking into place within a finely crafted watch.

"Oh, shit! Shit!" he whispered, leaping off the mats and hurriedly throwing
on his clothes from the day before. A moment later he was striding across
the hall to Janeway's room and pounding on her door.

The captain did not look pleased when she yanked it open a few seconds
later. In fact, she looked as if she had been unable to eat or sleep --=
while Mulder was practically glowing with excitement. She eyed him
dubiously, probably wondering whether or not to be annoyed, Mulder thought.

"Get dressed, Captain," he told her enthusiastically. "We've got a case to

"What?! How?!" she began, but Mulder just shook his head.

"No, come on. We need to get some answers first."

Despite her obvious confusion, Janeway nodded and went to do as he asked. 

Pacing anxiously, Mulder felt his hand fidgeting at his jacket pocket every
few minutes. The habit was back, he realized with a sigh. Damn seeds!=
Probably the suit, he thought wryly. It never failed. Put him in a suit and
make him hurry up and wait and he needed the security blanket of induced
calm every time. Too bad nobody had thought to program the replicators for
sunflower seeds. Then again, maybe no one had nervous habits anymore. He
sure as hell hadn't seen anyone smoking tobacco or biting their finger

At last Janeway appeared looking neat, but harried. "Okay, Mulder, what's

The hand went back to the pocket, playing absently with the edge of the
cloth as he realized she sounded just like Scully. With a silent admonition
to his subconscious to behave itself, Mulder shoved both fists in his
pockets and turned to Janeway, twitching his head in the direction of main

"You'll see," he told her simply. "Let's go wake up the prefect."


More pacing as the hours flew by waiting for results. It had all been so
elementary really, and Mulder was more than a little embarrassed that he'd
missed it in the first place. 

"A dream is the answer to a question we haven't yet learned how to ask..."=
he murmured under his breath, recalling the words he'd once said to Scully,=
and which she had so neatly thrown back at him a few years later.

It had all been there -- every clue he'd needed -- if only he'd been a
little less distracted by his own shortcomings. First, the wrapping and
placement of the body parts. Oldest to the front -- set out as he'd
theorized, like stock waiting for sale or shipment. Then the labeling. It
had looked like Arettosian, but he'd been going on the doctor's
identification of the contents from the autopsies as opposed to the
killer's nomenclature. When he'd finally asked to have it all translated
the Arettosians had been at a loss. In the end, after running it through
the universal translator, every word had come up as a phonetic rendering of
another language. A language which included terms like butt steak, strip
steak, stew meat and hocks for the corresponding cuts. The blood standing
ready in bottles for sale to restaurants as flavoring for sauces, soups and
puddings. Even the hides had been indexed for consignment to an imaginary

From there it had taken plain old fashioned detective work to gather a list
of male Arettosians who'd spent time off world some ten to fifteen years
earlier -- and there weren't many to Mulder's surprise. The Arettosians
were very much homebodies. Cross referencing them with those living locally
had narrowed the list even further. And those having had run ins with the
law, or the psychiatric community -- which were pretty much one in the same
-- came up as less than a dozen. Now all Mulder had to do was sit down with
the files until something significant jumped out at him.

In the meantime, the doctor was attempting to verify that the labels did
indeed match the corresponding body parts of the individual victims --=
helping to build the case Mulder was preparing -- while Janeway and the
prefect were contacting the higher authorities to inform them the murders
had been solved.

At last Mulder looked up from the computer screen and leaned back, feeling
revolted in a way he hadn't in a very long time. Not even the sight of the
charnel house in the caves had so sickened him as what he'd just

"I found him," he quietly announced to no one in particular and walked
dispiritedly from the room.


"As you can see from my report," Mulder finished explaining to Arettosian
Prefecture Council, "Muoda Gunam Ent is suffering from a traumatically
induced psychosis. A trauma caused by your," he added pointedly,=
"unrestrained use of the Anamnesis device. And an illness which, I believe,=
might have been avoided with a bit more forethought on the part of the
psychiatric community."

Ignoring the angry looks of the council he continued. "As a child Muoda
walked on the grass. You removed that desire by selectively eliminating the
pleasant memories he associated with the act. There were other minor acts
of rebellion. These too were eventually extracted from his mind. Later, as
an adult, he petitioned this very council for permission to serve meat,=
imported from off world sources, exclusively to non-Arettosians residing
here. The request was summarily denied and due to what was considered the
extreme nature of his request the council exiled Muoda -- off world --=
until such time as he came to his senses. Once free of Arettosian cultural
constraints he quite naturally proceeded to indulge his morbid curiosity by
visiting a meat packing plant. Of course, the reality of the process so
appalled Muoda that he immediately applied for reinstatement of his
citizenship and willingly underwent a memory wipe of those troubling

"And there," Mulder paused for effect, "began the real problem. Instead of
removing the complete memory of his time off world, you removed what
disturbed you, not what disturbed Muoda. The after effects left him ripe
for a subconscious fetish to take control. In conclusion, Muoda Gunam Ent,=
whom I believe we've proven, even to the satisfaction of this council, has
been and remains completely unaware of his actions -- the utter lack of
trophy taking, among other things, fully illustrates this point."

"And what point is that?" the District Prefect asked disdainfully. The
Arettosians had not taken his report at all well.

"The point is that an illness which might not have manifested had the
subject been allowed to say...apprentice off world as a chef and find an
alternative outlet for his needs, became receptive to a cyclical
compulsion. A compulsion which continually fed on itself as he tried in
vain to excise the obsessive nature of a fetish negligently created by the
Anamnesis device's repeated frustrating of his desires. If you'd simply
made a place for him," Mulder insisted, "rather than screwing up a
perfectly normal life -- with, admittedly, a few eccentricities given
Arettosian culture -- you wouldn't have manufactured a serial killer.=
Instead, you'd probably have had an acclaimed, albeit expatriate, gourmet

He slowly panned his gaze across the now silent council chamber. "It's a
story I've seen and heard a thousand times. And what's worse, you did it to
yourselves. Just as every culture does it in some way to someone through
prejudice and indifference, but mostly by disregarding the rights of the
individual. The very basic right we all have to become what we truly
desire. To be, in a word, unique."

With that, Mulder gathered up his notes and walked stiffly from the council
chamber, not trusting himself or his growing ire.


Mulder stared pensively out at the stars from the view port in his quarters,=
watching as a small Arettosian shuttle craft made its way fearlessly into
the vast reaches of interstellar space. It was done, he sighed, turning
away as the shuttle went into warp.

A brief, sad smile touched his lips as he made his way to a chair. In all
the ensuing drama of his aborted shore leave he'd never had a chance to
visit the market for a few of his own housewarming trinkets. Instead,=
Chakotay and the crew had done it for him. No party, but it was the thought
that counted, Mulder supposed. He fingered a tiny glass figurine of an
Arettosian dancer, studying it absently as his mind wandered over the past
six weeks.

The Arettosians had finally accepted his findings, but had been at a loss as
to what to do with Muoda. Mulder's radical suggestion that he be completely
mind wiped and given a new identity, one that bore no relation to his old
life, then re-educated in a manner that would forever preclude a relapse
had at length been adopted by the council. The only problem had been that
every qualified Arettosian had refused to even enter the same room with
Muoda. Not surprising, Mulder thought, hefting the little figurine and
turning it in his hands. 

Which of course meant they'd dumped the problem right back into Mulder's lap
-- and Janeway hadn't come to the rescue. Anger rose and surged from his
mind to his hands and the little figurine went flying, hitting the wall
with a satisfying, yet ultimately hollow crash.

Before he could start smashing every symbol of Arettos that cluttered his
rooms the door chime sounded and Mulder forced his rage back into the
short, tight leash he kept it on. "Come," he grated, clenching his fists
even as he smoothed his features.


"Muoda missed you in the hanger bay," the remarkably somber Telaxian told
him quietly.

Mulder merely shrugged. There were no words to describe how he felt about
the situation, or the man he'd been forced to "counsel".

"It was a kind thing you did," Neelix went on, leaving Mulder wishing he
wouldn't. He didn't want to think about how he'd spent the past month and a
half. First, having to force the awful knowledge of Muoda's actions on the
man's consciousness in order to make him understand why they were stealing
his life. Then, watching the doctor strip Muoda's mind of every shred of
memory. And lastly, having to oversee the re-parenting and re-education of
Muoda, while assisting Tuvok in giving him a lifetime's worth of false
implanted memories. The whole process had hit far too close to home for

"I didn't do it because it was the kindly thing to do, Neelix," he finally
replied. "I did it because no one else would."

Neelix nodded his understanding. "Anyway, he'll make an excellent pastry

Mulder chuckled sardonically. "I didn't make him a pastry chef," he bluntly
informed the Telaxian. "I made him a collector of pastry recipes. He's
going to spend the rest of his life wandering from planet to planet
obsessively gathering recipes, secure in the knowledge that he is the
finest pastry chef that ever lived and now has a higher purpose."

"To prepare the most comprehensive encyclopedia of sweets recipes in the
Delta quadrant?" Neelix asked, astonished.

"You got it. I don't want that little fucker going anywhere near a kitchen
for the rest of his life."

Neelix nodded soberly. "You're probably right. It's all for the best then,=
isn't it?"

Again, Mulder could only shrug. He'd done what he'd done and that was the
end of it. At least in Muoda's case. There was no telling how many more
Muoda's the Arettosians had created.

"I, uh, actually came by to give you something," Neelix said hesitantly,=
moving further into the room. Mulder remained in his chair, neither
encouraging nor discouraging the Telaxian. "I was reading in Agent Scully's
book, the fictional one, that you liked to eat the seeds of the sunflower

At last, a tiny glimmer of life came back into Mulder's expression as Neelix
placed a small container on the coffee table. He remembered that
conversation. Remembered telling her the reason he ate them. Well, part of
the reason anyway. That he used to wake up at night and think he was all
alone in the world, until he'd hear the crack of a seed from his father's
den and know that he was safe and all was right with the world. Or so he'd
believed -- until Samantha was gone.

And that part he hadn't told Scully. That it was his sister's habit, not his
father's as he'd later discovered. A little bag of seeds, a flashlight and
a dog eared copy of some wretched Nancy Drew mystery novel had been hidden
under her pillow.

Only half aware of his actions, Mulder opened the container and let the
perfectly formed seeds slide through his fingers. Maybe it wasn't such a
bad habit, he mused thoughtfully.

Deeply moved by the gesture he cleared his throat. "How, ah," he finally
stuttered, "how did you do this? I checked the replicators, but..."

Neelix gave him a warm smile. "Hydroponics. The sunflower seed is also used
to make flour. And it will grow on worlds where other Earth grains won't.=
They, and I, both promise to always have some on hand just for you." 

Speechless, Mulder could only stare after Neelix as the Telaxian excused
himself and left the room. Eyes wide with wonder he picked up a single
seed, gazing at it as if it were a long lost sibling finally come home.=
With a wide, delighted grin he closed his eyes and lifted it to his lips.

For quite some time after the Telaxian had gone, the only sound anyone would
have heard had they entered Mulder's quarters were soft contented sighs
punctuated by the occasional crack of a dry roasted sunflower seed.

Coming Soon: Future Winnings 4: Oil on Wood

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My mind not only wanders --
               sometimes it leaves completely.                
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