Future Winnings 4: Oil on Wood

Rating: PG-13 for language.
Spoilers: XF through season 5, FTF. All of Voyager. 

Summary: Mulder finds proof of an ancient evil lurking beneath the 
surface of an uncharted world and risks everything to find the truth. 

Archive: Already at Gossamer. Go for it! 

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: 

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. 

Many thanks to Sue for inspiring me -- yet again. To Leathie for being 
here at the same time I am, and not being pissed because I showed up late 
-- yet again. And Sam, for wonderful beta -- yet again. 

Dedicated to His Gracefulness Charles, for absolutely no reason. 

Future Winnings 4 
Oil On Wood 

Boredom, Fox Mulder thought, was definitely universal. He suppressed a 
yawn as B'Elanna Torres and Harry Kim went off on another transwarp 
theorem tangent, diverging from the ostensible purpose of this staff 
meeting. Which was, he'd been led to believe, a simple update on the 
ship's status. Sort of like the twice monthly budget meetings he'd so 
assiduously avoided back at the bureau. 

Another suppressed yawn and a shared glance with Chakotay, who wasn't 
much for the technical jargon everyone else seemed to enjoy spouting at 
the least opportunity and Mulder was hard put not to laugh. 

"You have something to add, Lieutenant Mulder?" Captain Janeway 
inquired pointedly. 

"No, ma'am," he responded tonelessly. "I find this mind numbing line of 
discussion riveting. In fact, right about now you could pound those rivets 
directly into my skull and I doubt I'd feel a thing." 

Chakotay covered his face with one hand, coughing to hide the sound of 
his laughter. 

"I see," Janeway nodded. "Well, perhaps a more in depth understanding of 
the subject would help to spark your interest?" 

"Not unless the Ghost of Christmas Past suddenly put in an appearance in 
the engine room," B'Elanna interjected, drawing good-natured chuckles 
from most of the staff. 

"Been there, done that, stained the tee shirt," Mulder grimaced, eliciting 
even more laughter. 

"All right everyone, settle down," Janeway ordered, well aware the 
meeting was at an end. "I think we've covered just about everything. You 
have your assignments. I expect to be kept apprised of any new 
developments. Dismissed." 

The command staff rose and Mulder followed suit, stretching the kinks out 
of his lower back as he made his way out of the conference room and 
down to Deck 5. Unlike the rest of the crew, Mulder's schedule was fairly 
flexible now that he'd completed the crew's psych evaluations. With the 
exception of his regular sessions with Naomi Wildman, Seven of Nine and 
several crew members being treated for depression, he was pretty much 
free to do as he pleased most of the time. 

Which left him suddenly standing alone in the corridor outside his suite 
wondering whether to update the Counselor's Log, search the Voyager 
database for potential X files, or invite one or both of the Delaney sisters 
to lunch. 

"Counselor Mulder?" A familiar voice called before he could determine 
the merits of any of these options. 

"Yes, Seven?" Mulder turned, trying hard to repress a shudder as he 
recalled how close the young woman had come to a total breakdown only 
a few weeks earlier. 

"I must speak with you." she stated firmly. 

Mulder nodded, leading the way into his rooms then moving a stack of 
PADDs he'd been reviewing to the floor and pointing to the chair he'd just 
cleared. "What can I do for you?" he asked as Seven gracefully folded 
herself into the proffered seat. 

"It is more, I believe, what I can do for you." Seven's eyes never left his as 
she held out an information disk. 

"And this is...?" Mulder's own eyes questioned as he took the slim, clear 
plastic between forefinger and thumb, moving to sit on the edge of his 
coffee table. 

"An information disk." 

Mulder nodded slowly, counting to three before making his reply. "I know 
that, Seven. What I don't know is what's on it and why you've decided to 
give it to me." 

The former Borg drone straightened in her chair. "It contains information I 
believe may be pertinent to your quest." 

For a moment he simply stared at Seven, then gazed at the disk for another 
before responding. "And you're giving this to me and not Captain 
Janeway? Why?" 

Seven glanced down at her folded hands. "Given recent past events I felt it 
might be wiser to seek out your opinion, before approaching the command 

Mulder gave her a wry smile. He could see her point. Seven's attempt to 
download Voyager's historic database via a new and improved Borg 
alcove had nearly proved disastrous. The information overload to the 
humanized portion of her brain functions causing her to become seriously 
emotionally disturbed. Extreme paranoia had been the most visible side 

"I see," he murmured. "Okay. I'll bite. What about my quest?" 

Seven straightened and without preamble began her explanation. When 
she was done, Mulder sat stunned, feeling as if he'd just been dealt a major 
blow. He quickly gathered his wits and thanked Seven, ushering her from 
the room with a promise to examine the information carefully and, if it 
warranted such action, to bring it to the captain's attention. 

Once she was gone, Mulder slid down the doors to the floor. He felt sick. 
Sick and afraid. He'd thought it was all over. Left behind like the rest of 
his life. But it wasn't. Not by a long shot, if Seven's information proved 
true. Shit! There could be evidence here. Real evidence of where the 
Grays had been before returning to Earth and perhaps even where the 
remainder had fled after the war was won. 

He fingered the disk, rubbing his thumb across the smooth, clear surface. 
With a determination he hadn't felt in ages, Mulder rose and strode across 
the room to his desk, shoved the disk into an empty PADD and sank back 
in his chair. With a brief prayer to whatever deity might be passing 
through the Delta Quadrant, he began to read, excitement and dread 
growing with every word he digested. 


"Evidence, Mulder? I see no evidence here of an on-going conspiracy," 
Janeway stated as she laid aside his report. "What I see is evidence of an 
ancient directive very cleverly insinuated into what eventually became 
Starfleet's original database." 

"Yes!" Mulder insisted, leaning across her desk. "A directive so old, and 
so pertinent even in the 24th century that Starfleet's finest never purged 
the file. In fact, they updated, amended and designed it to activate as soon 
as all the criteria were met. Well, Seven's long range scan found and met 
those criteria. Now it's up to us to act." 

Captain Janeway took a deep, calming breath. "Regardless of how or why 
these orders came to be in our database, I cannot condone them. They go 
against everything the Prime Directive stands for. Destroy an entire race of 
sentient beings on the off chance they might attempt another invasion? It's 
ludicrous, Mulder. Worse, it's petty vengeance orchestrated by individuals 
long since dead!" 

"Not all dead," Mulder replied. He leaned back in his chair, wondering if 
she was at all aware of just how much contempt for her ancestors her 
comment revealed. 

Janeway nodded sadly. "And is that what you want, Mulder? Vengeance?" 

Mulder swallowed hard and shook his head. "No, not vengeance. A 
reckoning, maybe. The truth certainly." 

"Please don't misunderstand me, Mulder. I do believe your concerns are 
legitimate. The question I have to ask myself is: how much can we trust 
this information? These Grays, as you call them, may not have given the 
conspirators factual information on the location of their secondary home 
world. 20th century earth was an easy target. The inhabitants had no 
means to verify any of this information. Every species has the inalienable 
right to survive, although I disagree that it should be at the cost of another 
species. Still, the greater evil was committed by those who collaborated in 
order to dominate their own kind." 

"I agree," Mulder admitted. "But I also think we need to investigate the 
possibility, no matter how remote, that these creatures might still exist." 

"And I would agree if I thought they existed in the Delta Quadrant. 
Frankly, I'm more inclined to believe they were native to the Alpha 
Quadrant and remained there. Or, at best, made it into the Beta Quadrant." 

Mulder's jaw dropped in disbelief. "Then how do you explain my presence 

"Any number of ways, Mulder. A worm hole, a malfunction in the ship's 
navigational computer, or simply spatial drift. It's happened before." 

"And what if that quarantine ship were headed here deliberately? You 
have to take that possibility into consideration." 

"I have. And it seems remote. We tried to extrapolate a heading for that 
ship and we couldn't. Not one that made sense to our computers anyway. 
That's why we let it go. And that's why I think you should let this go, 

"I can't," he told her. "At least let me take an away team to check it out. If 
we find nothing, then fine, I'll let it go." 

Janeway shook her head. "Mulder, first of all you aren't qualified to lead 
an away team. Second, much as I'm all for exploring the Delta Quadrant, 
that's a major deviation in our course. And lastly, if you'd been paying 
attention at the staff meeting this morning you would know just how low 
we are on packs for the plasma manifolds. Our best chance of locating a 
new supply is in the Zenevia sector, almost two weeks away. I'm sorry, 
but I can't put the safety of this crew at risk for the sake of a single crew 
member's personal quest. It's out of the question." 

"Fine," Mulder spat, getting to his feet. He knew when he was being 
handled. "We'll just add them to the rest of the list of unlikely invaders. 
Right up there with the Borg." 

"That will be all, Counselor!" Janeway snapped. 

Mulder turned on his heel. "Christ!" he swore as he strode toward the 
door. "Talk about having your head in the sand! I never thought the day 
would come when I'd appreciate that son of a bitch Alex Krycek. Just goes 
to show, live long enough and anything's possible." 

Janeway shook her head as the door hissed shut. She really wasn't averse 
to investigating the dangerous possibilities presented by the situation, but 
Mulder had to learn that not everything in the universe revolved around 
Planet Earth. It was her duty, no matter how onerous he found it, to make 
Mulder understand that his 20th century attitudes were simply 
unacceptable in the here and now. 

"Lead an away team!" she chuckled to herself. "Well, he certainly has 
spunk, even if it does come with a grandiose sense of self-importance." 
She hit her comm badge. "Seven, report to my Ready Room," she ordered, 
going back to reviewing the original report from Astrometrics. First, she 
was going to have a word with Seven -- and that word was going to be 
Protocol. And then she'd have Harry send out a probe. If anything came of 
that, which she sincerely doubted, they could deal with it later. "20th 
century sensibilities be damned!" she muttered, taking a sip of her now 
cold coffee and grimacing in distaste. 

"A ship that can travel light years in seconds and we still can't invent a 
mug that will keep coffee hot for more than five minutes!" A sudden 
image of Mulder sipping blithely away during another staff meeting from 
a tall plastic cup with a lid on it reminded her of an earlier idea. Ingenious, 
she'd thought at the time, and with a little 24th century tweaking she was 
certain she could improve upon the concept! 


Mulder paced his quarters furious over Janeway's summary dismissal of 
his concerns. God! How naive could the woman be? Or was it just him 
and his ideas she didn't care for? Both, he admitted silently. 

They'd been at odds ever since he'd filed a formal complaint over the 
disparity in her disciplinary actions towards Tom Paris versus Harry Kim. 
Both had disobeyed direct orders and both had placed the ship and crew of 
Voyager in danger, yet only Paris had been stripped of rank and sentenced 
to thirty days solitary confinement in the brig. While Harry had merited a 
mere chastisement lecture and a permanent mark on his otherwise spotless 
record. It was obvious to everyone aboard who enjoyed "favored son" 
status with Janeway -- which had done nothing to improve moral. Nor had 
it earned high marks for Harry with the rest of the crew either. Nobody 
liked a teacher's pet -- except maybe Tom, who'd tried his damnedest to 
talk some sense into Harry. And even the stalwart, ever faithful Paris was 
shocked at how lightly his friend had gotten off. It had put a strain on their 
relationship ever since. 

Then again, perhaps he shouldn't be so surprised over the captain's 
mishandling of the present situation. To his mind, Janeway didn't have a 
clue as to how to handle interpersonal relationships. She was great when it 
came to aliens like Tuvok and Neelix. The first was utterly immune to her 
lack of social skills, while the second was so utterly grateful at being 
among "the chosen" he'd forgive her anything. Mulder had long since 
figured that out when he'd done her psych evaluation and come to the 
conclusion that, with the exception of the Vulcan there was no one aboard 
Voyager she considered a friend -- and even Tuvok could not be 
considered a confidant. Sometimes, seeing Janeway in action left him 
longing for his old AD! While Skinner might have not have worn his heart 
on his sleeve at least Mulder knew he had one! 

"Oh, fuck it!" Mulder hissed, throwing himself down on the sofa. He 
could bitch all day to himself about Captain Janeway, but that wouldn't 
change a damn thing. Christ, he felt so helpless! If he weren't alone on this 
godforsaken ship in the middle of no where he knew what he'd be doing. 
He'd have long since dug out a map, requisitioned a car, talked Scully into 
joining him and been on his merry way without so much as a by your 
leave from anyone. Least of all Assistant Director Skinner, who'd just as 
soon not know what his agents were up to until the fat lady had sung, done 
two encores and left the building three days earlier! After all, the man had 
a pension to consider. 

The door chime suddenly sounded and Mulder crossed his arms with a 
snarl, kicking the coffee table to send it and it's contents careening across 
the room. He knew he didn't have any patients scheduled and he certainly 
wasn't in the mood for company. Still, he thought with a sigh as he called 
out, "Come in!", maybe what he needed was a distraction. Someone else's 
crises to put his own miserable life in perspective. 

"Whoa!" Paris exclaimed, giving a long slow whistle as he surveyed the 
damage Mulder had wrought. "I take it the she- demon nixed your plans?" 

Mulder snorted in disgust. "She barely heard me out. Insisted I was over 
reacting to a threat that was, in her words, 'ludicrous'. Then glossed over 
my request for an exploratory mission with some song and dance about the 
plasma manifolds." 

"Yeah, well," Tom shrugged, taking a seat. "She does have a point there. 
B'Elanna's done everything but hold a seance over those packs in order to 
keep them alive long enough to find replacements." 

"I know, but some things are just too important to dodge with flimsy 
excuses about course deviations. She'll order us a week off course to check 
out a minor spatial anomaly, but refuse to send an away team to check out 
a threat to Earth, just because she doesn't believe one can come from the 
Delta Quadrant. This could be our one chance to learn the truth about 
those little gray bastards. Our one chance to prevent them from ever again 
attempting to colonize Earth, or any other world for that matter, and she 
can't be bothered." 

Paris nodded. "I know how you feel, Mulder, and I wish there was 
something I could do to help, but... Well, look, I've got some free time, 
you want to go to the holodeck and shoot some baskets?" 

The mention of the holodeck sparked something that had been in the back 
of Mulder's mind. An idea so dangerous he didn't dare tell Tom. 
"Actually," he replied smoothly, "what I'd like to do is take you up on 
those shuttle piloting lessons you offered a while back." 

Tom gave him a wary look. "You're not thinking what I think you're 
thinking, are you?" 

Mulder smiled disingenuously. "Tom," he replied trying to sound both 
hurt and insulted. "As Captain Janeway so aptly put it, I'm hardly qualified 
to lead an away team as things stand now. Especially if I can't even pilot a 
simple shuttle -- something every first year cadet learns in the first week at 
the academy." 

The expression of relief which crossed Tom's face at his words caused 
Mulder to feel more than a twinge of guilt. If he wasn't actually lying, he 
was certainly misleading his friend. 

"Yeah," Tom finally agreed. "Yeah, that's a good idea! I can get you flight 
qualified in no time. And since we're technically still headed in this 
general direction for another week, it'll give us time to work on a better 
strategy on how to approach the captain. She always likes it better when 
you give her a nice package tied up in pretty ribbon with all the details 
worked out in advance. You get Seven to work on mapping those systems 
and I'll take care of the flight plan." 

Mulder couldn't help grinning at Tom's enthusiasm. And maybe Paris' idea 
would work. In the long run, he really had nothing to lose and it was worth 
a shot. But even so, no matter what the outcome, he was going to find his 
answers even if he died trying. 


"I said no, and I mean NO!" Kathryn Janeway shouted. "I don't care how 
many different ways you present the same argument, gentlemen, the 
answer will remain NO. We've heard nothing, absolutely nothing from the 
probe which merits any interest whatsoever. Now," she pointed to her left, 
"there is the door. I suggest you both use it before I really lose my temper 
and suspend your flight training privileges for the next six months." 

Paris glanced at Mulder, who seemed entirely too calm, but said nothing. 
With a shrug, Mulder rose from his seat. "Come on, Tom. Let's go shoot 
some hoops." 

"Counselor Mulder," Janeway enunciated from between clenched teeth. 
"Need I remind you that there will be no weapons fire aboard this ship?" 

"Basketball hoops," Mulder told her, trying not to stare at the woman as if 
she'd just lost her mind. "We're going to toss a big orange ball at a small 
round hoop. It's called basketball and it helps me relax." 

"Maybe you should join us, Captain?" Paris added, quickly following 
Mulder to the door. "You do seem a little stressed." 

Her grim expression told the pair that she wasn't about to dignify that last 
comment with a response. "Out! Scram! Beat it!" 

As the door slid shut Janeway fell back into her seat, sharply reminded of 
why she preferred pets to children. Put Mulder and Paris in the same 
room, she thought, and they somehow reverted to adolescence. Still, it was 
a good effort, she had to admit. And she'd certainly put a commendation in 
Mulder's record to reflect his more positive traits. Taking the initiative in 
getting flight qualified had been an excellent idea, as well as an 
annoyingly manipulative ploy. And no matter what she thought of his 
obsessions, his tenacity in exploring every avenue before gracefully giving 
in was definitely the mark of a man on the fast track to a command. 
Despite what most people believed, the number of times an officer came 
up before the review board ultimately worked in their favor. Leadership 
was thinking outside the box. Not too far outside, but far enough to 
distinguish one's self in the minds of one's superiors as someone who 
would make the hard choices, fight for what they believed in, clearly and 
concisely state their position, and regardless of censure accept the 
consequences of their actions. With a little 24th century tweaking, 
Janeway thought smugly, she'd have Mulder in excellent form by the time 
they reached the Alpha Quadrant. 


The corridor lights had been dim for over an hour when Mulder made his 
way to the shuttle bay. He didn't bother to hide what he was doing -- that 
would arouse suspicion. In fact, he'd kept the same routine, albeit with 
Tom at his side for over a week. He'd even waited an extra two days 
hoping to throw Paris off the scent. He knew the younger man suspected 
Mulder had always planned to disobey the captain's orders. He also knew 
that Paris would be angry at not being included. But Tom didn't need to be 
in any more trouble with Janeway and Mulder wasn't about to let the 
ebullient, sociable Paris stew for another month, or longer, down in the 

As for himself, he didn't really care. His motto, if he'd ever thought about 
it for more than a minute, would probably have been, "The Truth or Die!" 
which neatly summed up the way he'd lived for most of his life. Risk. 
Chance. Failure. Disrepute. All were familiar circumstances to Mulder and 
they held no meaning for him other than that they were an acceptable state 
of affairs as long as he made the attempt. Even if he didn't achieve his 
goal, he could no more sit back and wait for someone else to take charge 
than a leopard could change his spots. It was, to his mind, his greatest 
attribute as well as his greatest character flaw. 

The shuttle bay was empty save for a lone ensign on duty in operations, 
who absently waved to Mulder then went back to his reading. After 
graduating from the flight simulator on the holodeck, Paris had brought 
him here to practice during third shift when activity was minimal and his 
training flights wouldn't get in anyone's way. Several days later Mulder 
was now a familiar sight in the bay, and his intentions so well known that 
he'd gotten a standing ovation in the mess hall that morning when Paris 
announced that Mulder had taken his first solo flight the night before. It 
seemed the crew of Voyager, if not her captain, was extremely proud of 
his accomplishments. 

And it was an important milestone, Mulder thought as he nervously slid 
into the pilot's seat, even if he had attained it under false pretenses. With 
the help of his eidetic memory he quickly went through the checklist of 
ship's systems to make sure everything was functioning properly. This, of 
course, was the easy part. With a few taps on the key panel he began the 
pre-launch sequence of securing the shuttle craft and opening the docking 
bay doors. As on previous occasions, he transmitted his flight agenda to 
the bridge. For all intents and purposes it appeared to be a standard 
training run. Drop out of warp, deploy a buoy, practice docking maneuvers 
and the like with some holographic projected simulations then head back 
to Voyager in time for a cup of morning coffee with Harry and B'Elanna. 

"Just a simple training exercise," Mulder murmured as he took the shuttle 
out into the void of space, wiping a trickle of sweat from his upper lip. 
The fact that Tom would not be here to monitor his progress and correct 
his mistakes was, of course, not something the bridge crew would know 
until it was far too late. 

He got the all clear to begin his training run and sent his thanks to Harry, 
who was manning the bridge with a skeleton crew at this late hour. Poor 
kid, Mulder thought, when Kim wished him luck and the joy of those few 
precious hours away from Voyager and signed off. Janeway wouldn't 
penalize him for Mulder's actions, that was certain, but Harry was bound 
to feel like a fool when he eventually realized he hadn't heard from Tom, 
who was technically in charge as Mulder's training instructor. Reminding 
himself why he needed to be doing what he was doing, he steeled himself 
against further thoughts of friendship and consequences and dropped out 
of warp. 

Voyager was gone. 

Mulder slid out a PADD containing the data Tom and Seven had so 
assiduously prepared for Captain Janeway, input the information into the 
navigational computer and set it to automatic. With any luck, he thought 
as the shuttle craft went into warp, Captain Janeway would be so deeply 
involved in negotiations with the locals and so utterly pissed at him she'd 
put off chasing down her errant counselor until she was damn good and 


It was shortly before dinner when Tom Paris finally left his quarters and 
headed for the mess hall. Well, dinner for him, he thought as he spied 
Harry Kim yawning over a cup of coffee and a plate of scrambled eggs. 
Feeling adventurous after a night with B'Elanna and a day off spent 
lounging around doing nothing more strenuous than re-reading his favorite 
Rod Serling anthology, he decided to indulge in some gastronomical 
exploration of Neelix's latest Epicurean creation. He joined Harry, feeling 
a little awkward since he'd spent so little time with the young ensign in 
recent weeks. 

"How goes the command training?" Tom asked casually, prodding 
curiously at something that looked like purple mashed potatoes, but 
smelled like toothpaste. 

"Good," Kim responded. "I've almost finished that concerto I've been 
working on." 

Paris grinned. "Not much excitement on the night shift, huh?" 

Harry shrugged. "No, but it's a start. Learning to take responsibility. Make 
the little decisions that lead to the big mistakes. Letting the people around 
you know they can trust your judgment. All part of the deal." 

Paris finally swallowed a mouthful of the potato-like substance even 
though he'd suddenly lost his appetite. "Wouldn't know about that. No 
one's ever trusted my judgment to let me sit in the big chair long enough to 
warm the seat cushions." 

He felt bad as he noticed the blush creep into Harry's cheeks, but at the 
moment Tom didn't really care. Kim's tactless crowing over his elevated 
status was more than insulting. It was downright rude. And worse, it hurt. 

"So," Harry asked, his discomfiture as obvious as his transparent attempt 
to change the subject. "Think the new counselor will make a decent pilot?" 

Tom grimaced. "Yeah. Maybe. If I can ever get him to stop thinking of the 
warp core as a souped up jet engine." 

Harry laughed softly. "He can't be all that bad if you'll let him out to 
practice on his own." 

Tom shrugged, gave a half hearted nod and went back to examining his 
food. "Oh that won't be for a while yet. He only took his first solo flight 
day before yesterday. And while Mulder's hands may have been on the 
controls, I was right beside him. You've been there, Harry, so you know. 
This is the point when the newbies get cocky. Back when I was at the 
Academy they used to call the first six weeks of flight training The Dead 
Zone. Too much knowledge, too little experience -- cojones the size of 
Tyrellian mellons." 

It was the quiet, nearly inaudible sound of the word, "Shit!" being slowly 
chanted by Harry that finally alerted Tom that there might be a problem. 

"What?" Tom asked as he glanced up from his plate to see the blood drain 
from Harry's face. "What's wrong?" 

Kim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Maybe there was a simple 
explanation for it. Maybe. 

"You, uh, were you teaching Mulder how to make a routine exit off the 
flight deck last night?" 

It was Tom's turn to blanch as he shook his head slowly. "We-- I took the 
night off," he said quietly. Oh, shit! "How long has he been gone?" Paris 
demanded, hurriedly wiping his mouth and getting to his feet. 

"Gone?" Kim squeaked, jumping to follow. "Gone?! He can't be gone. The 
flight deck would have reported the shuttle missing." 

"God! I am such an asshole! And no, they wouldn't notice, because we 
usually went during third watch and came back after first began." The two 
stared at each other suddenly realizing just how easy it would have been 
for Mulder to slip away unnoticed. It wasn't like the hanger bay was in 
frequent use at the moment. Third shift probably thought first shift would 
handle it and the early shift might have assumed Mulder had clearance 
since no one had followed up. Paris slapped his forehead, remembering 
how Mulder kept insisting on "just a little bit more time," to "get it 
perfect"! Jesus, he had to admit, Mulder was good. 

"Goddammit, answer me, Harry, how long has he been gone?!" 

"Uhm, I spoke to Mulder about an hour or so after I went on duty. Best 
guess, a little over eighteen hours." 

"Damn!" Tom paused before the lift, trying to keep his temper from 
getting the better of him. "Wait a second. What do you mean you spoke to 
him? You let Mulder file the flight plan?" 

Harry winced visibly. "I thought you were with him, Tom! I thought..." 

Paris sighed and nodded. "Yeah, I know. You were just being a friend. 
And Mulder," Tom swore, "the son of a bitch took advantage of that. He 
played you, just like he played me! 

"Wait!" Harry insisted, grabbing Paris by the arm before he could step into 
the lift. "Let's step back for a minute. Maybe he just got a little cocky, like 
you said. He could have come back. Shouldn't we check first?" 

Paris gave him a wry grimace and tapped his comm badge. "Computer, 
locate Counselor Mulder." 

"Counselor Mulder is not aboard Voyager." 

"Told you." 

"Okay, okay," Kim heaved a disappointed sighed. "I'll go inform the 
Commander and put myself on report." 

"I'm really sorry, Harry," Tom said quietly, finally realizing that he wasn't 
the one who was going to be blamed for leaving the barn door open. 

"It's not your fault, Tom," he shrugged, stepping into the lift alone. "I 
should have followed procedure." 

The doors slid shut and Paris turned away, nervously running a hand 
through his hair. "When I get my hands on you, Mulder, you're going to 
have a lot to answer for." Not the least of which, he added silently, was 
why Mulder hadn't trusted him enough to confide in and invite him along. 
After all, it wasn't as if he had anything to lose -- except the one friend 
he'd really started to believe he could count on. 


Paris shoved an extra medical kit in his pack, muttering angrily about 
officers in general as the door bell chimed and he hurriedly stowed his 
gear out of sight. 

"Come," he called, very much surprised when Seven of Nine strode into 
the room, looking equally perturbed. 

"Captain Janeway," she stated, "has rejected my plan to retrieve Counselor 

"Join the club," Paris snorted in derision. "Did you really think she 

Seven thinned her lips. "I had hoped the probe's most recent 
communication would sway her." 

"Why should it?" Paris asked. As far as he knew the probe had sent back 
nothing to indicate a problem in that sector. 

The Borg frowned. "You have been confined to quarters," she established 

"No kidding," Paris responded heatedly. "After all, I should be psychic. I 
should tell someone if I suspect another crew member might be plotting to 
disobey orders and run off with a shuttle craft. And even if I can't be 
certain and it looks like that same crew member might not plan to do what 
I'd thought he'd planned to do, I should still notify someone on the off 
chance he might try it because I didn't intervene. And even though there 
wasn't anything to intervene in, except for my suspicions, which were just 
that and can't be considered actions, unless it's me, Tom Paris, who 
everyone knows is a bad influence on the universe, I should still be put on 
report because I didn't DO anything! It's not FAIR!" 

"I do not begin to understand the logic of Captain Janeway's reasoning 
where you are concerned," Seven responded mildly. "But we are in 
agreement that Counselor Mulder must be retrieved, and quickly." 

Paris sighed. He understood the captain all too well, but he wasn't about to 
burst Seven's happy little hero worshipping bubble. Janeway, despite all 
her excellent qualities, could be stubborn, petty and unforgiving -- 
especially when it came to him. 

"So," he began with more calm than he actually felt. "What did the probe 
have to say?" If it worried Seven then it worried him more. 

"A sub unit of the main probe was sent to scan the surface of the planet in 
question," she replied succinctly. "After transmitting its findings to the 
probe it destroyed itself - - as did the main probe subsequent to placing a 
warning buoy on the edge of the solar system and conveying its report to 

Paris felt his brows rising as his stomach dropped in horror. There was 
only one circumstance that could account for the probe's actions. "It found 
that stuff, didn't it?" Tom swallowed his nausea. "The black cancer," he 
whispered, recalling Dr. Scully's description of the ghastly effects of the 

Seven nodded shortly. "Extreme danger of contagion to all life forms." 

Tom closed his eyes and sighed despairingly. "'No unmanned craft,'" he 
quoted, "'shall be retrieved after contact, or probable contact with a 
communicable disease. Such craft shall be considered expendable and 
removed from service with sufficient means to eradicate any threat posed.' 
Of course the damn thing self-destructed. If that microbe infested oil could 
travel through deep space on a meteorite and survive, it sure as hell 
wouldn't have a problem infiltrating a simple probe. And Mulder's headed 
right into the middle of it!" 

"Counselor Mulder is immune to the effects of the virus," Seven reminded 

"Which is why Janeway decided to wait until after we get the plasma 
packs," Tom quickly surmised. 

"She does not feel he is in immediate danger." 

"Not in immediate danger? Damn it, Seven! He's never been alone on an 
alien world and he's definitely never landed a shuttle craft. He might 
survive the first, but the second..." 

"Yes," she agreed. "Counselor Mulder is in imminent danger. The probe's 
report confirms that the planet's atmosphere is unstable. If a crash landing 
does not kill him, long term exposure to radiation eventually will." 

Could it get any worse? Paris thought. "Are they still trying to contact 
Mulder?" he asked with little hope. He somehow knew the answer even 
before Seven voiced the words. 

"All attempts have been unsuccessful. It is believed the counselor has 
deliberately disabled communications." 

"Of course he has," Paris muttered. "I would. Look, Seven, I, uh, I'd really 
like to be alone for a while." 

"You will need a qualified companion, Ensign," Seven responded, 
ignoring Tom's obvious dismissal. "And my Borg physiology, unlike 
yours, gives me a natural immunity to both the dangers of radiation 
poisoning as well as the virus." She graced Tom's flabbergasted expression 
with what passed for a wry smile as she held out a PADD. "I was 
attempting to re-calibrate your re-calibration of the sensors when I realized 
you planned to follow Counselor Mulder. Needless to say, I improved 
your original program." 

Tom gave her a long, careful look before he spoke. "The captain will have 
my hide and yours." 

Seven glanced away then back as she straightened her spine. "I believe 
saving Counselor Mulder's life is a worthwhile rationale for disobeying 
the captain's orders. He is only performing his duty as he sees it. A Borg 
would do no less than submit to the extinction of its own existence to 
protect the collective. I commend the counselor's actions." 

Tom finally smiled as he removed his pack from hiding. "So do I, Seven. 
So do I." 


"Ow! Shit, that stings," Mulder bitched uselessly as he applied some sort 
of medicated pad to the small cut on his forehead. He reached into the 
medical kit again, searching through a bunch of doohickeys looking for 
the whatchamacallit he'd seen the doctor use to fix whatever ailed him. He 
finally found it, but on second thought tossed it back in with the rest of the 
thingamajigs when he realized he didn't know how to use it. "Well that 
just sucks!" he muttered, then shrugged it off to survey the rest of the 
damage his no point landing had caused. 

There was the cut on his forehead where a small piece of the control panel 
had struck him after it exploded -- that wasn't too bad. Nor were the flash 
burns to his cheeks and chin from the heat of the fire before the automatic 
extinguishers put it out. Not much worse than a mild sunburn -- he could 
ignore that. There was a nasty bruise flowering on his thigh where he'd 
caught the arm of the chair when the shuttle craft had lurched and rolled. It 
throbbed a bit, but was no more problematic than hundreds of other bangs 
and bruises he'd suffered over the years. What really hurt was where the 
coffee mug he'd forgotten to secure had dinged his knee after he'd hit the 
first wave of the atmospheric disturbance. He could move it easily enough, 
even with the sharp pain where he suspected he'd chipped a tiny piece of 
bone or maybe had a hairline fracture. A simple cold pack would keep it 
from swelling. No, nothing he couldn't handle. He'd lived with worse, 
much worse. It was the embarrassment he could have lived without. 

Now, looking around at what was left of the shuttle he felt incredibly 
stupid for the first time since he'd taken off. He'd gotten here easily 
enough on auto pilot, even if it had taken four days at top speed, and he'd 
assumed he could land just as easily. 

Big mistake. 

Oh, he'd listened to the computer's warnings about gravitational fluxes, 
geological instability and such. He'd also listened to it when it said it knew 
the best location to set down. But the safest place to land was nearly sixty 
miles from the only signs of civilization he'd scanned. So, naturally he'd 
overridden the safety warnings and ordered the shuttle to land at the safest 
location within five miles of the target area. 

It really wasn't his fault that a small fissure had suddenly opened up in the 
middle of the landing site, sending up a hot plume of corrosive gasses 
which had pretty much trashed the ship's electronics. And while his 
subsequent attempt to manually land in the closest, non-exploding ditch 
had been moderately successful, the only thing he could take pride in was 
that he was still alive and relatively uninjured. Of course, the shuttle craft 
was now just so much scrap metal and plastic. 

A lot like Dad's car, Mulder mused with a rueful grimace -- after he'd 
totaled it on the way home from dropping his date off two hours late from 
the prom. At least this time he hadn't had any vodka, scotch, and tequila 
spiked punch. 

And now that he'd taken stock of himself, the shuttle, and had a short stroll 
down bad memory lane, Mulder decided it was time to check out what was 
behind door number one. 

Hot air blasted him as he opened the hatch. Oh. A desert. How exotic. 
First fucking planet I land on and it looks just like Tunisia! "Now that's 
irony," he muttered with a sardonic shake of his head. 

He glanced upward, shielding his eyes against the sun while noting it's 
placement in the sky above. Mulder guessed it was sometime in the late 
afternoon, which meant he didn't have all that much time to find shelter 
before the heat of the day changed to the bitter cold of night. The shuttle 
craft and it's thin layer of insulation would be useless without its heating 
and cooling systems. Worse than useless, he supposed, because it was also 
out in the open and the computer's scans of the planet's surface had been 
unable to detect anything more than indeterminate life signs -- and he was 
in no mood to deal with giant talking bugs, or scaly purple dog-faced 
aliens with a taste for human flesh. 

He ducked back into the shuttle's interior quickly gathering the things he 
needed. Emergency pack and rations, extra weapons to supplement his 
guns, medical kit and tricorder. He thought about the last item with a sense 
of dismay. With the shuttle's computer gone he now had no way to 
analyze the data he'd intended to collect. Sure, he could read the individual 
statistics, but to put it all together into a coherent explanation in the field 
was like trying to learn how to paint without a teacher. In theory, he knew 
the name of every color of the spectrum, had the paint, canvas and 
brushes, knew that all these objects went into the creation of a painting, 
but he had no real understanding of how to mix his colors, what construed 
composition, or even how to choose a subject. 

Given time, Mulder was certain he could learn to interpret the tricorder 
readings on his own. But time was not a luxury of which he could take 
advantage. He had, he figured, at most maybe three days before Voyager 
showed up. Enough time for Janeway to negotiate a deal for the plasma 
packs, let him stew in his own juices for a bit as he contemplated the 
idiocy of his actions, then saunter in to save his ass before she reamed it. 
A field commission did not mean Mulder had the right to come and go as 
he pleased -- unless he formally resigned the duty -- which he had no 
intention of doing anytime soon. He needed Voyager a whole lot more 
than they needed him, and both he and Janeway damn well knew it. 

Stoically, Mulder gathered up his gear, including the tricorder. He might 
not be able to stand up to Janeway with an "I told you so" on his lips when 
she arrived, but he could take as many readings as possible and process the 
information when he once again had access to Voyager's database. 

The real question in Mulder's mind, as he stepped out of the shuttle and 
onto the planet's sand covered surface, was whether Janeway would care 
to listen. As captain she was required to hear him out before she passed 
sentence, but that didn't mean she had to heed his words or take action. 

Sure of yourself, aren't you? Mulder chided silently as he began the long 
walk to the ruins he'd seen on the monitor. And surprisingly, he admitted, 
he was. It was odd, now that he thought about it, but he could almost feel 
something out of place here. Something not right. Something that did not 
belong. He didn't know what it was, but he'd know it when he saw it. 
Which, if he thought about it, was probably not the safest way to get his 
answers, but it was what he had. And more than that, it was what he did. 

Being a man of action, Mulder thought with a slight wince as his injured 
knee barked in protest at being asked to perform in less than optimum 
condition, certainly had its drawbacks, but he didn't know how else to be 
who he was. Anything else would have made him less than Fox Mulder. 
And at the moment, he was all he had. 


"You are so in trouble!" 

"When am I not?" Tom grinned at the image of Harry Kim's face on the 

"Come on, Tom, how do we re-calibrate the sensors? Every time we try to 
change course they go haywire." 

"And if you try to engage the tractor beam," Tom added, "you'll get the 
same result." 

"We know that already! And the captain is furious. She's seriously 
considering shoving all three of you into cryo tubes for the rest of the trip 

"Sounds better than time in the brig." 

"After six months in the brig on bread and water!" 

Tom shrugged. "Still sounds better than retrieving Mulder's corpse." 

Harry looked away from the screen and nodded to someone off to the side. 
"The captain wants to know if you want to make a deal?" 

Paris glanced at Seven, who sat at the Delta Flyer's science station. "Our 
distance has exceeded the tractor beam's capability, as long as," she 
stressed, "we are not followed." 

Tom agreed. The Flyer was fast -- faster certainly than a standard shuttle 
craft -- but no where near fast enough to outrun a starship. 

"Okay," Tom returned to Harry. "Voyager gets the plasma packs. We get 
Mulder. And I tell you how to fix the sensors." 

There was a long pause then Harry heaved a sigh of relief. "Deal." 

"Just go to Yellow Alert status," Tom told him smugly, "and the sensors 
will automatically re-calibrate." 

Six months in the brig might just have been worth seeing the expression 
on Harry's face. No way were he and Seven going to leave Voyager 
defenseless. Although, to be honest, he hadn't thought of programming a 
sensor glitch into a sensor glitch. He'd just hoped to buy enough time to 
get far enough away from tractor and transporter range. Seven's brilliant 
strategy had bought them more than an hour's lead on Voyager and given 
Janeway time to rethink the issue. 

Harry grinned. "You're still in trouble," he confided quietly. "But I think 
you've just gone from bread and water to field rations." 

Tom looked at Seven and grimaced. "Oh joy." Turning back to the view 
screen he told his friend, "We'll catch up with you when we've got Mulder 
safely aboard." 

"I don't think so," Captain Janeway's face suddenly appeared on the 
screen, removing Harry from view. "We'll catch up with you, Ensign. And 
when we do..." 

Tom swallowed hard on the lump in his throat. "Understood," he hurriedly 
responded as he reached for the control panel to break off 
communications. "Paris out." 

He went limp against the back of his chair and heaved a sigh of relief. 
"And when I catch up with you, Mulder..." he murmured. 

Ah, hell, who was he kidding? The only thing he was angry about where 
Mulder was concerned was that he hadn't been invited to tag along. The 
rest was just plain old fashioned worry. 


The last half mile had been the worst, Mulder thought as he wormed his 
way between the fallen stones of a column and into the only structure in 
the immediate vicinity that looked like it might afford him a modicum of 
shelter. Well, he thought as he panned his flash light around the interior of 
what might have been either a temple or a museum, at least it had a roof. 

Playing the light over the sand strewn floor, Mulder released the breath 
he'd been holding since he'd entered. No tracks. Nothing to show that 
anything else lived in this part of town. In fact, as far as he could tell, the 
planet was more than just a desert, it was a wasteland. Not a bird, lizard or 
plant to be seen anywhere along his route. It was both comforting and 
disturbing. Except for the howl of the wind which had picked up as 
darkness fell the place was as silent and barren of life as a tomb. 

Not completely devoid of life, Mulder reminded himself thoughtfully. 
Then again, those indeterminate life signs could have been made up 
primarily of insects and microbes. A fan of neither form of life, Mulder 
repressed a shudder at the thought and got down to the business of setting 
up a makeshift camp. Much as he would have liked to go exploring, not 
even he was foolhardy enough to risk roaming around alone in the dark on 
a strange planet. 

Yeah, he thought with a self-deprecating smirk as he sorted through his 
supplies and got the heat lamp going, if this really were Tunisia I wouldn't 
have thought once, much less twice about having a look-see in the inky-
dinky dark. But no, he castigated himself, you had to go and get yourself 
trapped on an alien starship. Then you had to wind up three hundred years 
in the future and fifty billion miles from home! What a way to knock some 
sense into your sorry ass! 

Oh, give it a rest, he told his testosterone laden machismo in annoyance. 
He was cold and tired, his knee had gone from barking to growling to 
biting and he had a massive headache starting. Besides, with the shuttle 
gone the only thing he really could do was look around, take some 
readings and wait for Voyager to show. A depressing thought, but given 
the circumstances Mulder figured he could afford a couple of hours to ice 
the knee, down some aspirin and warm his aching, much abused bones. 

A short while later he'd done just that. Tucked into a corner against a solid 
stone wall, motion detectors set around a twenty yard perimeter, gun at his 
hip, phaser within reach, the heat lamp making this little nook bearable as 
it warmed the sand, Mulder lay on his bed roll using his uniform jacket to 
prop up his leg. He leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes as the 
cold of the pack seeped into his knee. Now all I need, he thought wryly, is 
a pilfered beer, a bummed smoke and a dozen other pimply faced 
teenagers singing "Sloop John B" off-key and it'd be just like old times. 

Just thinking about those days inadvertently reminded him of other days, 
when he and Sam would go claming. And later, the sweet scented steam 
rising from the grill where his dad always did the "cooking" and mom 
hovered nearby making sure the corn on the cob didn't burn, and that their 
hands weren't too terribly dirty. 

He pulled the survival blanket a little tighter about his shoulders and 
shifted himself until he was lying down. The thought of food, or maybe 
the bitter sweet memory of happier times making his headache worse and 
bringing on a wave of nausea. Not for the first time, Mulder realized that 
he'd loved his childhood. Which was perhaps why he'd so desperately 
needed to recapture it by finding Samantha. And if he couldn't find her, 
he'd make certain, if at all possible, that no one else ever had to suffer the 
same fate. 

Christ, what a self-righteous martyr you are, he berated his psyche. 
Enough wallowing! You have a job to do and not much time to get it done. 
No more thoughts about things that can't be changed. Focus! 

Mulder closed his eyes, hoping a brief rest would get rid of the pounding 
in his head. He didn't intend to sleep -- didn't really think he could -- but 
exhaustion, the physical and emotional stresses of the past several days, 
swiftly pulled him under. 

And so he slumbered, as the wind moaned and the sand beat against the 
dry worn stone of a long dead city. Nothing moved, except for Mulder, 
who turned on his side, unconsciously curling into a fetal position to offset 
the shivers and slowly building stomach cramps brought on by the frigid, 
radioactive night. 


It could have been a sound, or a small tremor which startled Mulder awake 
a few hours later. Whatever it was he woke up anxious and uncomfortable. 
He ached. Everywhere. His head felt like it was the size of Detroit, with 
enough gas in his belly from the feel of it to drive there from the Delta 
Quadrant on the vapors alone. And he had that awful feeling in the back of 
his throat that told him he was nauseous, but had nothing to bring up. He 
squeezed his eyes shut to clear them of sleep and his vision went from 
slightly blurred to intensely clear then back again. 

Oh, that's just great, he thought miserably as he shivered and sneezed. 
He'd caught the local equivalent of the flu! He reached for the medical kit, 
searched through the contents for a vial labeled anti-biotic, slid it into the 
chamber of the hypo-spray and shot a healthy dose of the stuff into his 
arm. A few aspirin followed chased down by a swig of water from one of 
his canteens. Then he looked through the kit again for anything else that 
might give him some physical comfort. 

Nothing but burn ointments, heavy duty pain meds, splints, bandages and 
dozens of hypo vials with designations he didn't recognize, least of all 
know how to use. 

Guess no one in the 24th century figures a lower intestinal disorder is 
worthy of complaining about when you've just crashed into a planet, 
Mulder mused with disgust. He tossed the kit back into the pack 
containing his supplies. He'd done all he could, and he'd worked in worse 
condition than this, that was certain. What was also certain was that he 
needed to get his ass in gear and get moving. 

After a bit of necessary housekeeping, he pulled out some emergency 
rations and forced himself to eat. "Feed a fever, starve a cold," went the 
old adage his mother was wont to use when anyone in the household took 
ill. Which Mulder figured was good common sense, since fevers burned 
calories and brought on dehydration faster than even the worst head cold. 
He drank more water, wishing he'd thought to bring some replicated 
coffee beans from Voyager. The freeze dried crap they had in there tasted 
like it had been packaged during the '70s -- the 1970's! Or maybe the 
1870's, because it sure didn't taste like coffee. And the rations tasted like 
spice coated pressboard. They weren't anywhere near as good as the 
MREs he'd been given when he'd been held as a "guest" of the military on 
various occasions. Apparently, Starfleet had different ideas about what 
constituted keeping body and soul together. 

Mulder shook his head and sighed. What a universe! Even in his worst 
nightmare he'd never imagined he'd be sitting anywhere praising those 
Meals Ready to Eat things. On the other hand, they not only had halfway 
decent coffee, but hot cocoa and a dessert cake to comfort lonely boys and 

He swallowed the last dry mouthful of the meal-stick as he got to his feet, 
ignoring the ache in his knee and the body bruising it felt like he'd taken. 
Grabbing his tricorder and turning on a torch he headed out into the still 
meager light of the breaking day completely focused on what he had to do. 
Somewhere on this planet was information about the Grays and maybe, 
just maybe, he could gather enough evidence to put the last piece of the 
puzzle together and finally put his quest to rest. 


Several hours passed as Mulder made a careful sweep of the area. There 
wasn't much left of the city and no sign of anything that looked suspicious. 
Yet, as he searched Mulder grew more and more certain that something 
was amiss. Something he just couldn't quite put his finger on. It was 
frustrating, this inability to solve the problem. Like a song in the 
background that he knew, but couldn't place. Or an image seen from the 
corner of one's eye, only to turn and find nothing there. 

The rumble of thunder sounded in the distance and Mulder paused to drink 
more water then rest his throbbing forehead against the cool of a stone 
wall. A moment later the darkening sky was lit by a flash of lightening. An 
electrical storm, he supposed as he ducked deeper into the sheltering 
remains of the structure he'd been scanning. He thought about making a 
run for his campsite, but the wind was rising and with it the sand. The last 
thing he wanted was to be caught blind and in the open. Still, remaining 
here didn't seem feasible, either. The building was little more than a 
facade, though for what, Mulder couldn't fathom. On the plus side, its roof 
was mostly intact and three out of four walls were still standing. 

He moved further back into the forlorn interior looking for the little niche 
he'd seen cut into the back wall. About the size of a closet, Mulder figured 
it would do fine, even if he had to spend the night. 

The sandy floor looked soft and inviting. With a quiet groan Mulder sank 
to the ground, sighing with relief at the enforced break the weather had 
offered. As the day wore on he'd been feeling progressively worse -- and 
he hadn't even explored most of the major structures. This particular 
edifice had especially drawn his curiosity. Unlike the rest of the buildings 
he'd seen this one had no outer markings. Everything else was heavily 
carved with signs and images, mostly worn away by the elements, but 
enough so that he could tell that a thriving culture had once existed on this 
world. Whose culture, of course, was the nagging question demanding an 
answer. One which, Mulder thought with disgust, he couldn't possibly 

Suddenly angry at himself and with the universe in general, he kicked at 
the sand producing a muffled, metallic thump. Cocking his head in 
surprise he did it again, harder. A louder, more hollow bang ensued. 
Scrambling to his knees Mulder quickly began sweeping his hands 
beneath the sand until he found what felt like a latch set in the floor. 

Clearing sand with one hand as he reached for his flashlight Mulder 
paused in his movements as he noticed several drops of liquid abruptly 
splash his wrist. Startled, he looked toward the ceiling then felt a trickle of 
something moving down his lips. 

"Shit!" he muttered, clasping a hand to his nose. He dropped the light and 
searched his pockets. While men's ties might have gone the way of the 
dodo, handkerchiefs had not. At least in Mulder's case they hadn't. Around 
the same time his dad had taught him how to stand, point and pee he'd also 
made the case that a gentleman always had one of those ingenious squares 
of cloth on his person-- a sure way to make certain he remained tidy. And 
besides, William Mulder had confided to his overawed, very attentive son, 
women liked that kind of attention to detail in a man. Scully certainly had. 

Mulder winced as he pressed the cloth against his nose and tilted his head 
back. Dry hot air, cold dry air, or a stray charge from the electrical storm 
over head -- any or all of these atmospheric effects could have caused a 
nose bleed. That, or a case of Reticulan flu! 

When the bleeding finally subsided a few minutes later Mulder nodded to 
himself and stuffed the handkerchief back in his pocket. He actually felt a 
little better now. His head was clearer and he felt incredibly alert. Maybe I 
should think about stocking up on leeches? he mused as he got back to the 
business at hand. 

"Now," he murmured, gleefully delighted with his great good luck. "Let's 
see what's behind door number two..." 


"Look's like he survived the crash in one piece," Tom commented as he 
glanced around the downed shuttle's interior. 

"Not quite," Seven responded, holding up a small, blood tinged 
disinfectant pad. 

Tom rolled his eyes. "Give the man a break, Seven." 

She tilted her head in agreement. "All things considered, Ensign, I am 

Tom raised his brows and nodded. "So am I, but don't ever tell Mulder 


"If we're not careful he'll think he has the biggest set of cojones this side 
of the quadrant. And while that might be true, it's probably not a good idea 
to reinforce that sentiment." 

Seven pursed her lips. "What have the size of Counselor Mulder's testicles 
to do with his survival?" 

Tom grinned widely. "Everything, Seven. Absolutely everything." At her 
puzzled gaze he shrugged. "Come on. Let's go look for him. My guess is 
he headed for shelter in that dead city." 

Seven glanced at her tricorder and nodded. "I concur. Although I would 
hazard a guess," she turned, hiding a smirk. "That he could not have gotten 

"How so?" 

"Surely, the weight of his testes will have impeded him." 


Mulder did his best to ignore the chills, bone aches and cramps that 
wracked his body as he made his way through the catacombs below the 
city. He followed the changing nature of these underground tunnels as 
they went from quarried stone to smoothly bored rock and finally to 
hastily dug concrete bunkers. Something had happened on this planet to 
drive the people below ground. War? Plague? Invasion? Changes in the 
planet's atmosphere? Could be any of those, Mulder imagined as he 
bypassed another collapsed passage way. 

He'd found no trace of anything alive, but more than a few signs that these 
tunnels, especially the older concrete ones, had been inhabited at some 
point. A dented metal cup, a small ceramic basin and other symbols of 
daily life which had survived the passing of the civilization which had 
created them. 

Mulder paused for a moment to rest and point the tricorder at a graffito 
covered wall. He'd found a few small inscriptions in the earlier tunnels, 
but nothing this extensive -- nothing that looked like it might actually tell 
some sort of story. 

He gasped as he was suddenly wrenched by another cramp. His bad knee 
hit the ground as he doubled over and Mulder dropped the flashlight, 
grabbing his middle as the pain became almost unbearable. Not now! he 
pleaded with his body, feeling a wave of heat and nausea rise up to knock 
him down until he ground his cheek into the floor. 

A few minutes after the episode passed Mulder was able to get to his 
knees and start searching for the light. I've got to find something for this in 
the med kit, he thought desperately, trying to catch his breath as his hand 
found the torch. He had more than enough readings to examine later. Right 
now, Mulder realized with an overwhelming certainty, he should get back 
to his campsite, where he could hole up safely and in relative comfort until 
Voyager arrived. 

After struggling to his feet Mulder tried to wait out another round of 
dizziness and nausea, taking deep cleansing breaths of the stale air. 
Leaning against a wall for support he took a few steps back the way he'd 
come when he suddenly contorted in pain, hit the floor retching and 
groaned as his vision blurred then swam with the sight of vomited blood. 

"Oh, god," he whispered as his mind finally added up all the symptoms. 
"I'm dying." 


"...made up of large deposits of granular silica and an unusually complex 

"Seven, this is no time for a geology lecture," Paris complained. "The 
radiation levels here are twice what they were at the crash site. We have to 
find Mulder. Now!" 

"You are correct. But if we do not survive long enough to locate the 
counselor," she admonished. "Then our efforts will have been futile." 

Tom said nothing and stalked angrily down another street. They'd found 
his camp easily enough, but no sign of Mulder. Scans of the area, 
hampered by the heavy radiation, had picked up the same indeterminate 
life signs as before. "Mulder!" he called as he passed another hollowed out 
building. "Mulder!" 

"Ensign Paris!" 

Seven's excited shout carried across the plaza and Tom turned, glancing in 
the direction she was pointing. A glint of metal winked in the lowering 

"Come on," he called as he sped forward, pulling up short at the sight of 
foot prints in the sand around what was doubtless an entryway into a pitch 
black tunnel. 

"I'm picking up life signs," Seven stated as she re- calibrated her tricorder 
to account for differences in the rock. "One. Stationary. Definitely human, 
but weak. Two point seven kilometers west." 

"Mulder," Tom muttered as he slipped a small torch from his jacket. 
"We're coming, buddy," he whispered as his feet touched the floor of the 
passage. "Just hold on." 


"That's all I can do for him here..." 

The words eddied through the morass of Mulder's mind. 

"...too much cellular damage to treat without a sickbay and..." 

Mulder opened his eyes and groaned. "Tom?" 

"Hey there." Blond hair and a blurred visage came into view. "Fancy 
meeting you here." 

"Shit!" Mulder rasped. "I feel like someone ran over me with a two ton 
truck." He tried to sit up and another blond head appeared. 

"That is not advisable," Seven told him, gently laying a firm hand against 
his chest. "You are not fully functional." 

"She's right," Tom added. "I've stabilized the damage caused by the 
radiation, but we really need to get you back to Voyager." 

"So..." Mulder sighed. "Let's go." 

Tom chuckled. "It ain't that simple, buddy. First, we have to get you out of 
these tunnels and back to the Delta Flyer." 

Mulder grimaced. "So. Let's. Go!" 

With a shake of his head Tom leaned over and hefted Mulder to his feet. 
"You are one hard ass son of a bitch." 

"I love you too, " Mulder responded. 

Seven cleared her throat. "Am I interrupting yet another male bonding 
ritual, Counselor?" 

"And I love you, Seven." 

"He is delirious," she stated emphatically. "Is it advisable to move him in 
this condition?" 

"Move me! Move me like you always do!" 

Tom was laughingly openly now. "And she loves you, Mulder." 

"Everyone loves me. I'm just a big old teddy bear. A glow in the dark 
teddy bear now!" 

"Not yet," Tom replied. "But give it time. Janeway will show up and at 
least one part of your anatomy will be glowing -- a bright shade of red." 

"Mistress Kate? Ooooh, kinky." 

"This conversation is absurd," Seven interjected. 

"It has gone downhill," Mulder agreed. 

"No where else to go," Tom admitted. 

"Shall we try up?" 

"Thought you'd never ask." 

Seven's lips thinned with annoyance. "There is another exit point three 
five kilometers east of this location. We shall head there." She strode past 
them, attempting to ignore the pair of grinning idiots. Mulder of course 
had an excuse, but Tom...well, Tom was just being himself -- which was 

The men followed, but were brought to an abrupt halt at the sight of Seven 
staring at the graffito covered walls which had so fascinated Mulder. 

"I know this," she whispered absently. "It is Borg." 

"Borg?" Paris and Mulder repeated in unison. 

"That's not possible," Tom insisted. "We're no where near Borg space." 

"No," Seven shook her head, turning to stare dully at them. "This is the 
language of the Borg." 

"That's no computer language I've ever seen," Tom snorted in disbelief. 

"I did not mean to imply that it was a mathematical construct," Seven 
clarified. "My Borg data nodes identify this as a form of both verbal and 
written communication. It's function was limited, imperfect, and therefore 
discarded by early design drones." 

Mulder's eyes widened and he glanced at Tom, who stood silent, stunned 
by this information. 

"Can you translate it?" Mulder asked gently. 

Seven nodded, moving her light around the room until she found the 
starting point. 

"'This is the chronicle,'" she read slowly, "'of the last of the Kitah of Borg. 
We gave our lives in the hope that our people might live. We record this 
testament as both memorial and warning.'" Seven took a deep breath and 
turned from the wall. "It goes on to state the nature of the invasion," she 
informed her companions. "Their own leaders subverted their government, 
infected the populace with a substance they refer to as--" 

"Purity," Mulder interrupted, feeling even more queasy at the implications 
of this information. 

"Correct," Seven stated. 

"Then it wasn't just us," Mulder's thoughts raced on aloud. "That was their 
MO. Find a suitable planet, undermine the government, convince the 
conspirators that colonization was in their best interest, then once the fix 
was in and the machinery in place it would be too late. 'The ultimate 
ideology...'" Mulder murmured. "Not the survival of the host species, but 
of the colonists." 

He shook his head, wondering at how he could have missed it all those 
years. "They were never the all powerful race of beings we believed them 
to be," he sighed in dismay. "They were weak, dying. Unable to affect, or 
infect, the host world without the collusion of the conspirators." Mulder 
had to laugh at the irony, even as he wanted to shout against the injustice. 
"Jesus! If they'd just said, 'No!' and called their bluff..." 

He felt Tom squeeze his shoulder gently. "Come on, Mulder. We need to 
get you back to Voyager." 


Tom glanced from his tricorder to the lightening arcing across the dark sky 
above. "Great," he muttered, shaking his head. "That's just great. Better 
settle in, folks. Looks like we're not going anywhere for a while." 

Mulder shivered as a gust of icy wind found its way into the shattered 
building where they stood. "Can't we just transport over to the Flyer?" he 
asked, wrapping his arms around his chest and tucking his hands in his 
arm pits. 

"The Delta Flyer remains in synchronous orbit above the unstable mass of 
this planet," Seven informed him. 

"Yeah, Mulder," Tom grinned. "Only an amateur would land on an 
unstable planetary mass." 

Seven went on, pointedly ignoring Paris. "The current disturbance to the 
ionosphere combined with the elevated radioactivity found in this location 
makes the use of an unmonitored transporter beam hazardous." 

Mulder nodded. "So, basically what you're saying is, it's a big storm and 
we're stuck here till it clears. How long?" 

"Approximately six hours. Perhaps less, if we are fortunate." 

"Or not," Paris sighed. 

They briefly debated whether to make their way through the underground 
tunnels to Mulder's old campsite, but decided against it in the end. Mulder 
was still sick and exhausted. 

"I will retrieve what we need," Seven stated firmly. "Ensign Paris will 
remain to monitor your condition and administer medical assistance." 
Without another word, she turned on her heel and headed unerringly back 
into the darkness. 

"Okay, Mulder, let's find some place comfortable below decks and make 
ourselves snug." 

A few minutes later Paris helped Mulder ease himself down onto the 
sandy floor of the tunnel. It was even colder down here, Mulder thought, 
trying to keep his teeth from chattering -- even Tom was starting to shiver. 

"Not much we can do about the storm," Tom told him, "but at least I can 
keep us from freezing to death." He started looking around for a suitably 
sized stone. 

"I still can't believe Janeway let you come after me," Mulder commented, 
trying to take his mind off the situation. "And how's Harry? Hope I didn't 
get him into too much trouble." 

"We didn't give her a choice," Tom replied casually. "And Harry's fine. 
Me. I'm confined to quarters." 

"Nice place you've got here," Mulder deadpanned. "House Beautiful might 
want to drop by and take pictures." 

"I was thinking more along the lines of Architectural Ruin Digest," Tom 
responded, stooping over a pile of fallen building stones. "You'll do," he 
muttered as he found what he wanted and began dragging the piece of 
broken masonry toward Mulder. 

"What's that for?" 

"Old spacer trick," Tom replied, pulling out his phaser and adjusting the 
setting. "I can't make you better," he fired the weapon at the rock, "but I 
can at least keep us warm." 

As Mulder felt the first wave of heat begin to emanate from the stone, he 
leaned his head back with a sigh and closed his eyes. He was so tired he 
could sleep for a week. 

"That's odd," he heard Tom murmur. "I've never seen that befo--" 

There was a sound of something cracking and Mulder's eyes snapped 
open. Heat. Fire. Rock. Oh, shit. "No, Tom! Stop! Get back!" 

But he was too late. The other man turned away from the stone, hands 
hurriedly wiping at his chest and arms. Mulder cringed as he saw the 
familiar wriggling black worms find their way through clothes, pores and 
open orifices, until Tom stood frozen in place -- the inky roiling haze of 
the alien parasite clouding the man's bright blue horrified eyes. 


Seven of Nine knelt beside Tom Paris, hiding her fear as best she could 
from Mulder, who was in no condition to be of any assistance. Even if he 
were healthy, she silently admitted, there was little he could do in terms of 
medical care for Tom. Or more importantly, coming up with a plan to get 
them off the planet's surface which was now their highest priority. She'd 
been gone less than ten minutes and look what had happened! Seven 
glanced in his direction, shocked by the grief stricken expression he wore. 

"You must not blame yourself, Mulder," she told him quietly. "If anyone 
is to blame it is I." 

Mulder raised his eyes from the prone form on the ground. "I jumped ship, 
Seven, just to prove a point. Now Tom is paying for it." 

"And I allowed him to ignore my warnings regarding the unpredictable 
nature of this planet's geologic characteristics." 

Mulder cocked his head. "And those would be?" 

"The layer of bedrock just beneath the planet's surface contains a high 
density of an unusually complex creosote -- in most cases, the fossilized 
remains of flora and fauna which have formed into rock, from which may 
then be extracted fossil fuels and propellants," she explained. "However, 
this form of creosote is unlike any which I have ever examined. It is this 
component within the planet's crust which first alerted the sensors in 

Mulder nodded thoughtfully. "Seven, neither of us has time right now to 
corner the market on guilt." 

"Agreed. We must return to Voyager immediately." 

"I'm open to suggestions." 

For a moment Seven's fear was reflected in her eyes. She had never 
functioned well on this level before. Prior to the intervention of Voyager, 
the one time she'd been cut off from the collective she had failed 
miserably. Her solution to the problem had destroyed the lives of three 
other beings and left her feeling culpable and inadequate. Now, she was 
once again being asked to think on her feet with the lives of two valuable 
members of Voyager's crew at stake. 

"We must--" Seven began, pausing abruptly as she realized her error. "I 
must modify the transporter emitters within our comm badges. I should be 
able to enhance the signal sufficiently to stabilize the field harmonics. I 
can then adapt the emergency heating unit you salvaged from the shuttle, 
utilizing its energy source to create a dampening field as well as increasing 
the transporter signal to compensate for the degradation." 

"Sounds like a plan," Mulder smiled, despite the fact he hadn't a clue as to 
what it meant. 

Seven took a deep breath. "There are risks." 

"Always," Mulder allowed. "I trust you, Seven," he added with a confident 
smile. "And I know Tom would agree." 

"Perhaps," she admitted, regaining her feet. "I will return as soon as I have 
retrieved the equipment." 

"We'll be waiting," he told her gently. "And Seven," he called as she 
turned to leave. "Good thinking." 

She straightened her shoulders. "I trust you will remain equally sanguine 
when your molecules have been -- how did you so eloquently put it? -- 
'scattered to the four winds'." 

Mulder suppressed a chuckled until she was gone. "Five if we count all the 
hot air I've been spouting." 


"For god's sake, Seven, hurry!" 

"I am working as quickly as I can," she insisted, trying desperately to 
ignore Paris' agonized screams. They'd tried sedating him -- tried every 
combination of pain killers the medical tricorder recommended, but 
nothing seemed to help. "Becoming hysterical will not alleviate the 
difficulty. Emotional outbursts are an impediment to progress." 

"I know," Mulder told her apologetically. "I just wish..." 

"You could do more," she finished for him, repressing a shudder as a high 
pitched wail filled the underground chamber and she heard the muffled 
sounds of Paris' writhing. "Understood. I have completed work on the 
power source, now I must adapt the emitters. It should not be much 
longer," she added sympathetically. "The Delta Flyer is equipped with a 
stasis compartment for traumatic injuries. He will not suffer once we have 
him on board." 

Mulder nodded, but said nothing, not wanting to distract Seven from her 
work. He didn't want to admit it, but he was scared. He'd never seen or 
heard of anything like this reaction to the virus. 

"Oh, my god!" he gasped as Tom eyes suddenly snapped open. "Seven!" 
he called as Tom flailed wildly, jerking out of Mulder's arms. Without 
warning Paris began a series of violent convulsions, punctuated by hoarse 
cries of pain as the parasite was expelled through eyes, ears, nose and 

Appalled, Mulder scrambled backwards, distantly recalling that the alien 
substance always died once it left the safety of its host. No doubt the 
process of mutating into viability irrevocably changed its nature. In any 
case, the whole thing was undeniably disgusting. 

At last, after several excruciatingly long moments, Tom lay unconscious, 
covered with a thin coat of grayish slime. 

"Ensign Paris has successfully rejected the virus." 

Mulder glanced up, watching as Seven scanned Tom's body with a 
tricorder. "He is exhausted, but I believe he will recover." 

"Way to go, Tom," Mulder muttered, gulping air in hopes of avoiding 
what felt like a bout of projectile vomiting. It didn't help, and a short while 
later both he and Tom were tucked up in emergency blankets like a pair of 
helpless toddlers. 

"You will rest," Seven ordered, though her tone was gentle. She picked up 
the comm badge she'd been working on before this crisis and returned her 
focus to adapting the unit. "I will be finished shortly, then we will leave." 

Mulder nodded, tired, yet anxious to finally be away from this planet of 
death and disease. "Sing something," he murmured absently, remembering 
another time and place when he'd been injured. And where his one 
comfort had been the presence of Scully -- even if she never did 
understand that he'd really asked her to substitute for the soothing 
distraction of his TV. 

This time, he didn't get an argument -- although he was going to have to 
talk to Seven about not reading anymore of Scully's memoirs. 

"Jeremiah was a bullfrog..." 

Fuck! he thought, inwardly cringing. And to think, once upon a time, he'd 
actually liked that awful ditty! 

"...joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Joy to you and me..." 


Kathryn Janeway paced the confines of her ready room trying to subdue 
her anger into reasonable proportions. She wasn't sure whom she was 
more furious with at the moment -- Mulder for running off to pursue his 
own agenda, Paris for disobeying her orders and getting into even more 
trouble than Mulder, or Seven for allowing herself to be led astray by 
those two ne'er-do-well misfits. 

She paused in her stride as the door opened and Chakotay entered the 
room. After quickly retrieving the plasma packs she'd ordered a warp nine 
about face to the planet. 

"Just reporting our obit is stable and planetary readings are--" 

Janeway waved a hand to cut him off. "Are they aboard?" 

The commander nodded. "We beamed them directly to sickbay. A 
decontamination team is working to secure the Delta Flyer and download 
her logs." 

"Good," she responded as she began pacing once again. 

Chakotay watched her for a moment before he finally decided it was time 
to speak his mind. "Have you decided what you're going to do with them?" 

Janeway shook her head and sighed. "You know, it's at times like these 
when I begin to understand why it took so long for the British Admiralty 
to do away with flogging," she complained, only half joking. 

Chakotay grinned. "Well then, may I make a suggestion?" 

"Does it involve cast iron manacles and vermin infested dungeons?" 

"Seriously, Kathryn, we need to talk about this." 

She stopped her pacing and took a seat at her desk. "All right, 
Commander. What did you have in mind?" 

"Do nothing." 

Janeway's eyes widened in surprise. "That's your suggestion? Do 

Chakotay gave her a tight nod. "To begin with, you didn't write up Harry 
for neglecting his duties which allowed Mulder to leave in the first place. 
And I assume you're going to attribute Seven's involvement in this to her 
lack of guile, or understanding of human nature. And if you let her off 
with a lecture you have to do the same with Mulder. He may be the 
antithesis of Seven in that regard, but he's always followed a different 
drummer. You knew that when you gave him his commission -- one he 
had very little choice in accepting or rejecting given the circumstances. 
Like Seven, he isn't really a member of Starfleet and you cannot hold him 
to the same standards as you would another member of the crew." 

"And Tom?" Janeway asked, her tone deceptively mild. 

Chakotay gave her a hard look, resting his hands on either side of the desk 
as he leaned forward. "I know what my problem with Tom is, Kathryn, but 
what have you got against him?" 

Unmistakable anger flashed across her features. "How can you even ask 
me that, Chakotay?" 

"For one thing, you confined him to quarters for no good reason. You 
practically set him up to disobey that order. And if you had any grounds 
for suspecting that he colluded with Mulder, or that he planned to launch a 
rescue mission you disapproved of he should have been confined under 
guard, or to the brig. Now tell me, Kathryn, what did he do other than 
support Mulder and risk his life to correct your mistake?" 

"That's out of line, Chakotay!" 

"No it's not," he insisted. "We were under direct orders to destroy that 
planet at any cost as a hazard. Are you aware that the original order was 
placed in the data base by Admiral James T. Kirk? That it was approved 
by the Head of Starfleet Command -- and every subsequent Head of 
Command since that time? Or did you assume that because we're in the 
Delta Quadrant those orders were open to interpretation? If that's the case, 
Kathryn, the same could be said of every order you give!" 

Janeway rose to her feet. "I do not have to explain my actions to you, or 
any other member of this crew." 

Chakotay nodded. "No, you don't. But you do have to live with the people 
you give those orders to. The crew knows damn well that if you'd 
followed your orders -- even if only to investigate the situation -- Mulder 
would never have taken off. And if Tom had conspired with Mulder to 
disobey your orders everyone also knows he'd have been with him aboard 
that shuttle in the first place. It's not like he's worried about losing his 
rank, or ending up in the brig. 

"As for Seven, she brought the information to Mulder when she knew 
neither of us would listen and felt responsible for his safety. Under those 
circumstances, either of us would have done the same -- orders to the 
contrary or not." 

Refusing to give in to her anger Janeway seated herself slowly. "Thank 
you, Commander," she stated coldly. "I will take your take statement into 
consideration when I make my final decision. Dismissed!" 

The door slid shut with a caustic hiss. Fingers drumming against the arm 
of her chair, Janeway seethed in silence. How dare Chakotay imply that 
she had been derelict in her duties! That she had unwittingly forced 
Mulder into taking action. Or Tom and Seven for that matter. Secret orders 
be damned! she thought indignantly. She may have admired James T. Kirk 
as the greatest Starfleet captain who ever lived, but that didn't make him 
omniscient! Nor did her allegiance to Starfleet make its command entity 

Setting her lips in an angry line, Janeway glanced at the view screen 
depiction of the planet in question. Her instincts still told her that the 
original order was wrong. Whatever else the alien virus was it was still 
sentient and it was her duty to protect its right to existence. Fear of the 
unknown was a poor excuse to destroy an entire world. 

She nodded thoughtfully to herself. What she needed right now were the 
facts. Facts enough to rebut any argument which might be made. She 
tapped her comm badge. "Tuvok, I want to see those logs as soon as 
they're available." 

"They are coming through now, Captain. I will transmit them to your 
ready room." 

Janeway smiled as she signed off. In a few minutes she'd have all the 
ammunition she needed -- and then she'd head down to sickbay with a few 
choice words for three errant members of her crew and one very arrogant 

As the light on her computer panel blinked, signaling the download was 
complete, she felt the ship slip dramatically from its high orbit. The 
warning claxon blared a red alert and she struggled to her feet, making it 
to the bridge just in time to throw up her arms and shield her eyes as the 
planet below them exploded, disintegrating into billions of brightly lit 

Dead silence reigned for a long moment amongst the bridge crew as they 
stared into the empty void where once a planet had circled in its orbit 
around a nearby sun. Nothing, absolutely nothing remained. Obliteration. 
Total and complete obliteration. 

"Dear God!" someone gasped in the awful silence. 

Amen to that, Janeway thought, swallowing her horror. But no merciful 
god could ever have done that. 

"Captain," came Tuvok's calming tenor. "There is an "Eyes Only" message 
from Starfleet Command being routed to your ready room." 

Janeway looked startled. "Let me guess. It was hidden within our systems 
data base." 

"Apparently," Tuvok stated simply. 

The captain nodded and took a deep breath. "I want answers, Tuvok. What 
and How. I have a feeling," she added dryly as she turned back to her 
ready room, "that I'm about to get the Who and the Why." 


He was an average looking man in an unremarkable room, seated at a 
nondescript desk. The only points of distinction about his person were the 
dispassionate set of his shoulders and the way his hands moved in 
hypnotic indolence about their task. Fingers to package, cigarette to lips, a 
flare of fire followed by the negligent exhalation of poisons around a 
vaguely contemptuous smirk. 

"Greetings children," this voice from the past enunciated. "I call you that, 
because in spite of your cowardice, or perhaps because of it were the truth 
to be known, you are indeed my children. If not of the body than of the 
work which I have so assiduously pursued and of which you have so 
obviously benefited." An almost artistic gesture with the white tube as one 
hand gracefully rose. Inhale, exhale. A thick haze of smoke hung in the air 
to settle about the detached, expressionless face. Janeway leaned back in 
her chair, unconsciously trying to move as far away from the screen as she 

"And who am I to make these claims you ask?" He paused for breath, or 
his audience's silent commentary as the hand rose in a rough, smoky 
benediction. "I've had many names. Many roles to play in human history." 
He paused to inhale. "A history you have by your inaction attempted to 
negate." A thick plume of smoke was exhaled, obscuring the face 
momentarily. "We contemplated such a response, my colleagues and I. 
Such a lack of understanding. A moral failing in a morality play of 
exacting standards. A play in which the actors generations removed from 
the event might seek to overthrow the direction of its authors. 

"Your reasons can be surmised. You are, after all, only human. How could 
you know, or even begin to comprehend the sacrifices of those whom you 
so clearly hold in contempt." The hand gestured ambiguously toward a 
credenza in the background. "The sacrifices which kept you human. 
Sacrifices made at a cost most men and women are unwilling to pay. A 
sacrifice," he paused for a long, slow drag on the cigarette, "which you in 
your lack of foresight were just as unwilling to make." 

Janeway clenched her fists into the well cushioned arms of her chair. 

"You think us uncivilized," he nodded. "We destroyed a world. Perhaps a 
world teeming with life. And you wonder why. Simple revenge?" He 
inhaled again on the cigarette, taking his time, setting the pace of his 
revelations. "Possibly. Or perhaps concern? Concern that those sacrifices 
made, which have allowed you to flourish, should not be dishonored." He 
stared at the camera, or through the camera, as if he could see her -- know 
her heart -- and Janeway felt it beat a little faster, a little harder as she tried 
to suppress the urge to panic. 

"In the end, the truth of our reasons doesn't matter. At least, which can be 
deduced by your refusal to act, not to you." Again, he glanced at the 
distant credenza. "Those who cared for such things have paid the ultimate 
price for your cowardice, your disrespect, and ultimately, for your very 
survival. You, my children, are not worthy to know the truth. Not 
deserving of the lives for which others fought and died to assure you." 

Janeway felt a sense of foreboding at his words as if the room had 
suddenly grown dark. 

"There are few men and women who are capable of making the ultimate 
sacrifice," he went on. "Even fewer deserving of the appellation hero." 
Another hideously long pause punctuated by the burning fumes the man 
inhaled. "You need feel no guilt. It was not you who made this terrible 
decision. There is no blood on your careless hands. Nor should you feel 
superior to those who knew themselves capable of making such a choice. 
On the contrary, you should be grateful. Grateful that we are not 
uncivilized. For if we were as you imagine us to be, you would surely by 
now have died." 

The image faded to the Starfleet insignia and Janeway shuddered as she 
realized what the smoking man had meant. Anyone who could design a 
weapon to be implemented three centuries after their demise in order to 
destroy a world never seen or heard of could easily have annihilated the 
very ship which carried it. 

She bowed her head, rubbing her eyes with both hands to keep them from 
trembling. How could this have happened she wondered in horror. How 
could anyone, let alone the great Kirk and Starfleet command condone 
such action? And to leave that message in the database? What sick bastard 
had thought it appropriate? It wasn't an explanation for an unconscionable 
action, but a... A petty act of verbal abuse! 

But perhaps, Janeway realized, that was the point. Given a choice between 
that and summary execution, she'd take the verbal slap in the face any day. 

She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders, clearing her throat 
as she tapped her comm badge. "Tuvok, have you found anything?" 

"Indeed, Captain. We have found that there is no way to trace where the 
weapons fire originated, nor what powered the assault." 

"That's impossible," she insisted. 

"On the contrary, Captain. A secret weapon is no secret if it can be 
located, studied and classified. Apparently, we are not meant to look into 
the matter further. In fact, our attempts to do so have caused ship wide 
systems failures in life support on several decks. I recommend we cease 
our activities at once." 

"Agreed," Janeway stammered then signed off. 

The threat to her crew was obvious and with a passion she hadn't felt in 
years she hated that smoking man. Still, something about the message, 
other than its content deeply troubled her. 

"Computer, play back the recording, mute the sound and focus on the 
credenza in the background." 

Several minutes and a dozen enhancements later Janeway had her answer. 
What had he said? "Those who cared for such things have paid the 
ultimate price..." 

"Mulder," she murmured as she stared at the screen. Enlarged and 
augmented by the computer she could see not only the credenza, but the 
numerous pictures which covered its length. Baby pictures. Pictures of a 
young boy and girl laughing and playing on the grass, in the snow, along 
the ocean shore. Then the girl was gone and there was only the boy 
growing into manhood. Graduation pictures from middle school, high 
school and university. The telltale insignia of Oxford on the sleeves of the 
robes worn by a smiling, yet reticent young Mulder. 

And yet more pictures. Mulder proudly holding up his badge as he 
graduated from the FBI Academy at Quantico. Receiving a medal as he 
shook someone's hand. And a dozen more candid shots of the years in 
between along with what looked like a wedding picture. Then more 
images of Mulder and a red headed woman caught unawares by the 
cameras. The pair of them talking, walking, working, even eating lunch. 

"It's a goddamned shrine," she muttered. Was this Mulder's nemesis then? 
The heart of the conspiracy of which he'd spoken? Of which Dana Scully 
had written, obscured by the prose of fiction? 

She shook her head, wondering if she should tell Mulder about the 
pictures, then decided against it. Maybe one day, she might tell him, but 
right now it would serve no purpose other than to impede his assimilation 
into society. And that was tenuous at best given the present circumstances. 
As for the tape, it was still privileged viewing, but... 

"Computer, transcribe the recording," Janeway ordered. Regardless of 
what the smoking man might believe she felt deserving of an explanation. 
And no doubt, she thought, Mulder could and would provide it -- whether 
he wanted to or not. 


Mulder glanced over his shoulder as Seven of Nine and a very stunned 
looking Paris exited the captain's ready room. After the planet had been 
destroyed, poor Tom had moped about sickbay insisting that Janeway was 
going to crucify him, even though none them could possibly have had 
anything to with it. Mulder had been forced to admit, given her attitude 
toward Tom in general, the younger man was probably justified in that 

Surprisingly, that hadn't occurred. Even more surprising was that she'd 
barely dressed them down, then passed the buck for their "punishment" to 
Chakotay. The commander wasn't known for leniency, but he was fair. 

Mulder turned his attention back to the captain, who looked perturbed by 
the whole incident. Not just his unauthorized away mission, or Tom and 
Seven's equally unauthorized rescue. But by her inability to identify the 
origin of the weapon or to circumvent the protections placed upon the 
system in order to protect its secrecy. That had to be eating her up inside, 
Mulder imagined. 

Still, there was nothing he could tell her about it. And if he'd thought she 
would listen, he'd have advised her to speak with Tom. When the news of 
what had happened and that it had involved some sort of secret weapon 
had filtered into sickbay Paris had blithely commented, "Gee, I thought 
that was just a myth Great-grandmother Paris used to scare the lot of us, 
but then she served on the Enterprise with Captain Kirk. So I guess she'd 

Whatever that meant, Mulder thought as he cleared his throat, hoping to 
catch Janeway's attention and get this nonsense over with. 

"At ease, Mulder," Janeway ordered. "We're strictly off the record here." 

Mulder raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing. 

Janeway sighed and rose from her chair coming around the desk to stand 
before him. "I want you to have a look at something," she said, offering 
him a PADD. 

He took it, quickly reading the contents then hiding his astonishment 
behind a carefully cultivated expression of disinterest. It wasn't so much 
the words themselves that identified the speaker, though they were as 
cryptic and obscure as any that megalomaniac son of a bitch had ever 
managed to spew in his direction. It was more the cadence, he thought. 
The transcription didn't identify the activity occurring during each pause, 
but he could guess old smoky hadn't given up the habit. 

The picture in his mind left him feeling mildly disgusted. He'd thought all 
this was done. Conspiracy and conspirators long since dead and gone to 
dust. Ashes to ashes would have been a fitting inscription on CGB 
Spender's head stone, not, "See you next week. Same bat time, same bat 
channel." Could it be that the conspiracy lived on within the upper 
echelons of Starfleet and the Federation High Council? Could the 
members who avoided destruction by the rebel aliens have created new 
alliances with even more powerful agencies for more insidious purposes? 
The idea left him decidedly unsettled. And yet... Energized. Until this 
moment he'd had no pressing reason to hope for a quick return to the 
Alpha Quadrant. Certainly, the life of a ship's counselor would never have 
been his career of choice. Now... 

It was Janeway's turn to clear her throat. Mulder glanced up and handed 
her back the PADD, turning to leave. 

"Mulder!" she called to his back. "I know you know what this is. What it 
means. I want an explanation." 

He turned, giving her nothing more than a flat, indifferent stare. There was 
more to this than she was telling him, that was obvious -- and two could 
play at that game. 

"Well?" she demanded. "Have you anything to say?" 

Mulder gave her a negligent shrug. "Somebody left you a message." 

With that, he turned and walked out, allowing a tiny smirk to cross his lips 
as he caught the image of her discomfited reflection in the dark gleam of a 
wall panel. 

"So?" Tom asked, moving into step beside him as Seven of Nine joined 
him on the right. "What did the Queen of Pain want?" 

Mulder smiled. "Nothing important." At least, not to me. 

Seven gave him a dubious glance. "The captain did not look pleased." 

Tom grinned. "I'll say. Chakotay's letting us off with a month's worth of 
menial chores. Anything and everything from cleaning out the replicators 
after meals to repairing the toilets and sonic showers. But at least we can 
divvy up the work between us. He wants us to work as a team." 

At that Mulder paused and cocked his head. "A team?" 

Tom nodded. "Yeah, he thinks we make a pretty good team. And you 
know," Paris grinned. "I have to agree. How about you, Seven?" 

She lifted an eyebrow and thinned her lips. "If one considers the Three 
Stooges a team, then I must concur." 

Mulder laughed, expansively stretching his arms out to encompass both 
Seven and Tom, guiding the pair toward the turbo lift. The conspiracy 
could wait, he thought. At the moment, he had more important matters to 
attend to. Like maybe a pizza party at his place for starters. 

"Team work. Sounds good," he told them as he led the way. "So, tell me. 
Either of you ever considered becoming a red head?" 

Coming next: Future Winnings 5 - The Way of the Cross