MARCH 29, 2015
Scully peeks into the waiting room of Our Lady of Sorrows with a resigned sigh.
The weekend rush. It never fails.
The nurses are moving in and around, busying themselves with vitals and triage. There’s a boy with his forearm bent at an odd angle, tears running down his otherwise stoic young face; a man coughing into his handkerchief, dark circles under his eyes; and the usual assortment of lacerations, contusions, and all-around bad luck.
“Another busy one,” nurse Carroll says, coming up behind Scully. “Seems like we haven’t had a dull moment in weeks.”
“That time of year,” Scully murmurs, tension winding along her shoulders. Two nights on the couch in her office have left her with a sizable kink in her neck.
I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight, she decides. I’ll apologize to Isaac. Maybe we can get him into private school to finish the year…oh, God, the tuition alone…maybe Mulder can withdraw some of his inheritance to cover—
Scully blinks, realizes the nurse is holding out a chart for her.
“Mmm, sorry,” she demurs, accepting the clipboard. “What do I have to look forward to?”
“Ahh….Mr. Partridge in room 172 is back. He says this time it’s lupus.” The nurse hands her the folder, rolling her eyes.
Ahh, the resident hypochondriac…a regular customer.
Scully sighs. “Anything else?”
“We just put a patient in 173, he’s complaining of a cough.”
Scully takes the record and glances at it with a forced smile. “Thanks, Wanda.”
Fifteen minutes later, she leaves room 173 with what she hopes is a reassuring air.
“Take ibuprofen for the fever, Mr. Fitzpatrick, and call your regular doctor tomorrow. Get some rest,” she says. “It’s just a virus. You’ll feel much better in a week.”
She’s on her way to check in on the hypochondriac in 172 when she hears a commotion from the waiting room, where a cluster of patients and nurses are crowded around something on the floor. She approaches to find the coughing man with the dark eyes convulsing as another doctor kneels beside him.
“Stand clear, give us some room!”
“Does he have a history of seizures? Epilepsy?” Scully asks, elbowing her way through to kneel at the man’s left side, stabilizing his shuddering body at the shoulder.
“Not that we know of,” Dr. Simone mutters. “He’s coming out of it.”
She nods, a feeling of unease settling around her as the man gives a last feeble twitch against her fingers, and blinks. His eyes are cloudy and confused, his complexion worrisome.
“I think we’ve got it from here, Dr. Scully. Thanks,” Dr. Simone gives her a strained smile.
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“Just keep them moving through,” she mutters, watching as a pair of EMTs lift the man onto a stretcher, wheeling him beyond the double doors and into the bowels of the hospital. She can hear the nurses whispering amongst themselves as she returns to her post.
“He just collapsed. Fine one minute, down the next.”
“Celia took his vitals. He was probably dehydrated.”
“That’s the third one this weekend.”
Scully frowns. Something about the man’s appearance doesn’t settle well, but she doesn’t have time to dwell on it. The nurse is waiting for her with the next chart.
Partridge will have to wait.
“Mrs. Dunner, eighty, came in earlier this morning. She’s got quite a cough, but she’s stable.”
Scully nods and enters the room without looking up, skimming the woman’s history. “Mrs. Dunner, hi, I’m Dr. Scully…and how are you feeling toda—“
There’s no need to ask. The woman’s illness is written in the translucent skin around her eyes, the drawn gray bow of her mouth.
Scully smiles weakly, trying to cover her shock. Nurse Carroll’s words come back to her—got quite a cough, but she’s stable—and Scully wonders if she’s made a mistake. She glances at the chart to be sure.
“Oh…Mrs. Dunner, can you ahh, confirm your birthdate?”
“January 24, 1935.”
It’s her. ‘Stable’ my ass.
Scully nods, continuing with forced cheer. “So what brings you in today?”
“Well…” she coughs, a hacking sound that makes Scully wince. “It started…a day ago. I…I think I have a touch of the flu.”
“Let’s take a look,” Scully moves to the woman’s side, gently taking her papery wrist in hand, checking her pulse.
“Mrs. Dunner, do you have a history of heart problems? Any arrhythmia?”
The woman looks confused. “No…I…I felt a little weak this morning.”
Scully wraps a cuff around the woman’s arm, feels her sway slightly in her grasp. “I’m going to ask you to lie down…let’s get your blood pressure.”
She smiles with false reassurance as she watches the numbers rise and then fall in a rapid descent.
Scully turns away, intending to get the nurse. “It’s low. Mrs. Dunner, I’d like to admit you and run some tests. I’m going to check on the availability of a room until we’ve stabilized—”
The woman’s cough returns with a vengeance. When Scully turns back, she finds the woman doubled over, covered in a spray of her own blood.
Blood? No, that’s not…is Scully’s only thought before the woman collapses, sliding off the exam table, her tiny body floating to the ground like a feather.
“Doctor…I think…” the woman whispers in a soft, hoarse voice, red and black still falling from her mouth in a river.
“Nurse!” cries Scully, kneeling in a pool of the slippery liquid. “Nurse, I need help in here!”
She presses the emergency intercom pager, then kneels to check for a pulse.
She’s hovering over the woman with her hands on her chest, counting out compressions, but no one rushes in, no one has heard the call. She rises, heels skidding on the slick mess. The woman’s mouth hangs open, eyes glazed and unfocused.
No, no no no, thinks Scully. I am not losing you, dammit, not today.
She runs to the hallway, heading for the nearest cart. A nurse jogs up to her from the other end of the hall. One of the new hires, his name tag reads Trey.
“You! 170, code blue,” she demands breathlessly, darting past him to grab the crash cart.
The sight of the woman on the floor, surrounded by a pool of blood, stops him in his tracks, wide-eyed. Scully nearly crashes into him, frozen like a statue in the doorway.
Trey does as he’s told, carefully sidestepping the woman’s collapsed body to kneel by her head. There are flecks of blood in her gray-white perm.
Just as Scully is preparing the defibrillator, the woman’s eyes fly open, rolling like marbles in their sockets, and a soft moan escapes her lips. Scully gasps and the paddles go clattering to the floor. She can hear Trey utter, “Jesus,” under his breath.
“Mrs. Dunner…can you hear me? We’re going to help you, Mrs. Dunner. Talk to me if you can.”
The woman gives a soft gurgle, turning her head to the sound of Scully’s voice, but her eyes continue to roll blindly. Her hand flies up, grabbing Scully by the wrist with surprising and ferocious strength.
“Help…me…” the woman croaks in a thick voice, her eyes finally settling, wide and terrified, on Scully’s face. Blood and spittle fly from her lips, staining Scully’s jacket in a spray of black syrup. Her breath is foul, her hand like a claw around Scully’s wrist, pulling, pulling…
No…no, this isn’t happening…
She swallows, drawn into the woman’s onyx eyes. She’s pulled in, reminded of the shadows, a hypnotic dance…
Trey’s voice pulls her attention away. “Dr. Scully? Is she…”
The woman’s grip slackens, eyes turning dull and lifeless. Breathing hard, Scully reaches out to check for a pulse once more, hesitating as she recalls the spiny fingers against her flesh not moments before. The woman’s mouth gapes open like a black hole.
“Get me…get me two milligrams of epi,” she breathes, knowing it’s no use.
She signs the paperwork for the coroner with an aching back and a heavy heart, and prepares to begin making calls. The woman’s emergency contacts are few; a son who lives out of state, a nephew, but no husband, no other immediate family.
Convincing them to allow an autopsy will be difficult, but Scully doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. The woman’s symptoms and their sudden onset have set her mind reeling. The only known illnesses that present with such symptoms are highly contagious, and the thought of something so vicious spreading throughout the hospital gives her chills.
You don’t know anything for sure. Wait for the blood work to come back.
She had signed off on a blood sample, warning the coroner to take care. “Wear a mask; double-up your gloves. We can’t be too careful with this one.”
“You think there’s something going around?” There’s a nervous twitch in his eyes as he glances down, where she notices a smear of blood painting the hem of her skirt.
“It never hurts to be careful,” she repeats with a tight smile.
Now, ducking into an empty exam room and pulling out her cell, she’s prepared to deliver the ugly news when the phone rings of its own accord.
“Doctor, I’m experiencing chronic stiffness in my joints. Actually just one, and it’s not so much a joint as a—”
She smiles a little despite herself, warming at the sound of his voice. “What do you want, Mulder?”
“Hey. I’ve been trying to reach you—”
“Yeah, it was a rough morning. I lost a patient,” the words tumble out of her mouth before she can stop them, her voice dropping an octave as defeat settles in. “A couple hours ago. Flu symptoms but they were masking something else. It was strange…sudden….” There’s a pause as she trails off.
“I’m sorry, Scully. The flu, huh?”
“Mm. Cough and fever. She lost a lot of blood,” she says, lowering her voice, realizing she shouldn’t be telling him this. “I need to do some research, we’re still not sure what we’re dealing with.”
He’s quiet, thoughtful. “Think I’m going to do a little research of my own.”
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing…I mean, everything’s fine, I just…the guys hooked me up with a bunch of CDC databases, I can check it out.”
“Mulder, no” she sighs, “If they catch you—”
“They won’t catch me.”
She squeezes her eyes shut at his familiar arrogance, biting her lip. “I’m serious, Mulder. If there’s something going around, we need to let the CDC do their job.”
“It’s the CDC I’m worried about,” he retorts drily.
“Mulder, I mean it. Stay out of this.”
He doesn’t answer, but his silence says enough. She hears his soft breathing on the other end of the line and closes her eyes, imagining him next to her, the same breath on her cheek.
“You OK?” he asks when she doesn’t elaborate.
“Yeah, fine.” She pauses, wondering if she wants to know the answer to the question she’s about to ask. “How’s Isaac?”
“I’m not sure, haven’t seen him yet.”
Her anxiety surges, instant and cutting. “What? Where is he?”
There’s a soft, frustrated huff in her ear. “Oh, wait, he left a note. ‘Dear mom and dad, joined a gang, dabbling in the dark arts, don’t wait up. Love and kisses, Isaac.’”
She rolls her eyes. “That’s not funny.”
“I hope he’s practicing safe satanism…”
“C’mon, Scully, lighten up. He hasn’t left his room, he’s probably sleeping or something. Making the most of his early summer vacation.”
She sighs, “Mulder, you have to—”
“Scully, I’ve got this,” he says, cutting her off with more than a note of irritation, “I know I make a questionable father figure, but I’m not completely inept.”
She swallows thickly. “I know that. I’m sorry, I just…after yesterday, and then this patient…I’m a little on edge.”
“I think the phrase you’re looking for is ‘burned out’, Scully.“
She snorts, tries to take the edge out of her voice. “I’m fine, Mulder. After this week, I’ll…I’ll plan a vacation,” she says, but her words lack conviction.
“I’ll hold you to it. We can do one of those ridiculous Christmas travel things your mom’s always raving about.”
She smiles, playing along. “Someplace warm?”
“We’ll fly out to the coast, get a cottage on the water, leave the kid with your mother. He gets quality time with grandma, we get a beach and a couple of fruity drinks, and as little clothing as is legally allowed.”
It’s a pipe dream, but the levity—and the thought of sipping a rum punch on the beach—lightens her mind. “Sounds like you’ve been planning this, Mulder.”
“What can I say, I’m a good little wifey,” he says drily.
She smiles. “I’ll catch you later, wifey.”
She’s barely hung up before a nurse pokes her head around the corner. “Dr. Scully? Sorry to interrupt, but we need you out here.”
“Coming,” she sighs, realizing she hasn’t had a chance to call the dead woman’s family yet. It will have to wait.
Yes, she thinks, making her way to the next exam room, it’s going to be a very long day.
Mulder works the end of a pen in his teeth, watching the blue cap bob up and down in front of his nose. Prior to calling Scully, he managed to write three sentences—all of it pure shit—before throwing in the proverbial towel to go for a run.
Now his mind is clear, the exercise having recharged him, but the writing isn’t happening, and Scully’s case is far more interesting.
Cough and fever. She lost a lot of blood…
When Mulder picks up the phone again, the greeting on the other end of the line is familiar and polite.
“What, no alias? I’m disappointed.”
“That’s Langly’s thing,” Byers replies. “Hey, Mulder. You got the video?”
Mulder blinks. “What video?”
“Frohicke sent it…the, ah, adult entertainment,” Byers coughs, his embarrassment palpable through the phone.
“Byers, I had no idea,” he says, but his curiosity is piqued.
An impatient sigh. “Did you watch it?”
“No, I didn’t, I—“
“Just watch it, Mulder.”
He arches an eyebrow, muttering as he opens Frohicke’s email again, “Fine, but let the record show, I prefer to wait until the second date to bring pornography into the relationship, and you haven’t even bought me dinner.”
No response from his friend, not even a laugh, and something about Byers’ silence sets Mulder’s teeth on edge. He clicks the link, and sure enough, two blondes and an enviably well-endowed man are performing the age-old dance on his screen.
Mulder coughs. “Not bad, but I prefer redheads,” he cracks. “Is there anything I’m supposed to be, uh, looking for, or are you trying to—“
The image suddenly changes, and his mouth goes dry.
The screen shows what looks like a laboratory; a pristine, sterile backdrop, soiled by the subject in the center of the frame, an ashen smear on white canvas. The camera shakes a little, and Mulder hears the faint rustle of plastic behind the microphone. The camera pans up, and he glimpses gray-blue skin, veins dark and swollen along the legs. The upper body is burnt red, blanketed in blood, while the abdomen is a deep, angry black. Bruised.
Young. Just a kid.
The man holding the video camera talks as the camera slides the length of the body.
“Subject 645D, fifteen-year-old Caucasian male, infected with viral sample serial number 044521013 at 7:23 a.m. March 12, 2015.
“Vaccination composite number 46325A administered to the infected…four days prior to subject’s death. Subject showed no marked improvement. Results unsuccessful.
“Subject will be disposed of, as per the neutralization protocol.” A distinct sigh in the background. “Time of death: 3:35 p.m. March 14, 2015.”
The screen goes black. Mulder swallows hard, tasting dust.
“I know there’s a niche market for every fantasy, but I think I prefer the classics,” he coughs. “Byers, what the hell did I just watch?”
“It was Frohicke’s idea,” Byers sighs, “to cloak the video, in case someone accessed your account.”
Of course it was, Mulder thinks, closing his eyes.
“Our newsletter has a long-time benefactor who prefers to remain anonymous, says he has a friend of a friend at the CDC. He sent us the video…we thought you should see it.”
Mulder sighs, fingers tapping an erratic, hollow beat on the desktop. “You still haven’t told me what it is.”
“We weren’t sure at first, either, but we thought the guy holding the camera sounded familiar. So we played a hunch, ran the clip through voiceprint software and cross-referenced the result with an archive of news footage. It’s a partial match for a Dr. Michael Kent. He’s won several awards for his research into virology and immunology. He’s a big name in medical circles; published in a number of journals, reputable ones. I’m sure Scully could tell you all about him,” Byers adds.
“I bet she could, if she were here.”
“Trouble in paradise?”
“No…no, she’s at the hospital,” Mulder mutters, distracted.
“Well, you’ll recognize this name, then. Until a few years ago Kent had been working with a partner—a Dr. Kenneth Baray.”
“Baray? Wait, Kenneth Baray? He was Isaac’s doctor,” he says.
“We figured you would have been following him, Mulder.”
“Yeah, well…paradise is complicated,” he sighs. “What do you think Kent was working on?”
“Obviously some kind of hot agent, maybe bio-weaponry,” he says carefully, “Mulder, if Kent was part of the project too, if this is some kind of effort to cover their tracks…”
“Isaac,” Mulder whispers, his son’s name rolling off his tongue like a protective ward.
Byers makes a soft sound in acknowledgement.
Mulder pinches the bridge of his nose. “OK. Look, I need whatever you can get about these guys…employment history, credit reports, hell, dental records. Anything you can find.”
“We’ll do what we can. You might want to pull Isaac out of school…at least until we know more…”
“Yeah,” Mulder says, swallowing hard, “we’ve already got that covered.”
He closes the call and brings up Google, and Scully’s dead patient is forgotten as the new mystery before him begins to unravel.