Time passes, and they settle into a familiar routine. In the last four weeks, Scully has learned how to prune a prickly pear cactus without getting stung, how far apart to plant the hothouse tomatoes to avoid overcrowding, and how to grow fresh lettuce from the kitchen’s leftover cores. She’d been surprised to find she liked gardening; it reminded her of healing in a way, and she hadn’t realized how much she missed being a doctor until she was charged with the care of something living.
Mulder visits, hands streaked with grease from his job at the garage, and borrows her shower to wash up while they talk, low voices masked by the running water. He remains skeptical, but Scully finds herself putting suspicion aside as each day passes without incident. Isaac’s influence on her outlook can’t be denied, as she watches him emerge from his shell, unburdened in a way she’s never known.
Today marks four weeks since they arrived, and Scully returns from the greenhouse with an aching back and dirty hands, but a sense of satisfaction from a day’s work done. A spark of excitement flutters in her stomach as she washes her hands, scrubbing at her stained cuticles.
Two weeks ago, she’d approached Peter with the idea that had been brewing ever since their excursion to the CDC lab in Kentucky.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve seen this before,” she’d said, wiping a trickle of sweat from her brow. “In the form of bees, genetically modified to spread a virus.”
For his part, the greenhouse manager—a retired geneticist—hadn’t been shocked. “Tell me more.”
“I wasn’t exactly involved in the project…I suppose you could say I was, tangentially, but…that was a long time ago.
“But something as inconspicuous as pollen could be an effective mechanism for transporting the magnetite. Wildlife can distribute it over a wide range; hundreds of miles, in some cases.”
The man scratched his chin, leaving a smear of damp earth along his jaw. “So you want to try hybridizing the pollen with magnetite?”
She nods. “I think it’s worth a try.”
Peter shrugs, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I never considered…we’ve been so focused on the community…making sure we’d have enough food.”
“With your background in genetics, and my previous experience with…certain phenomena, we may be able to come up with a way to help ourselves out of this. It may take months, even years…but I think we owe it to ourselves to try,” Scully says.
He nods slowly. “Actually, that gives me an idea.”
“Well, as you know, this area is rich with deposits. As far as we can tell, it’s part of the soil, mixed in, a combination of all the different elements.
“We’ve been using regular potting soil from nearby stores to start our crops,” he says, gesturing to the plants around them. “The native soil obviously isn’t good for much. But if we were to enrich the potting soil with the magnetite-rich soil, combining them, whatever we planted there would pull nutrients—including magnetite—from the soil. The seeds would be infused with magnetite. The question becomes what concentration is necessary to disarm the…the creatures,” he says, frowning. “And we’d need something that could survive in a range of climates, that can propagate quickly.”
“That sounds like…weeds,” Scully says, smiling slightly at the thought of a deadly field of wildflowers.
Peter nods. “Exactly. Fast-growing, hardy, pervasive,” he says, finger to his chin. “I’ll be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve looked at anything other than potential food sources…but I’ll give it some thought.”
He was true to his word. The next day, Scully had barely set foot in the warm, humid belly of the greenhouse before he jumped up, waving a thick, dusty book with Botany printed across the cover in block letters.
“Taraxacum officinale,” he’d said, grinning. “More commonly known as the dandelion. They’re asexual, so we don’t have to wait for pollinators to do the heavy lifting, and according to this, they’ll survive almost anywhere.”
She’d grinned, unable to help herself, as he continued.
“It occurred to me, we might be making the problem more complicated than it has to be, so I went back to basics,” he said, gesturing to the textbook. “These things grow everywhere. I’ll send Danny and Jo to gather what they can from the surrounding area and we’ll test them.”
Measuring the level of inherited magnetite proved more difficult than collecting their first samples, but after a week of trial and error, they derived a method of analyzing the flowers by testing them against soil samples from around the compound.
“Magnetite is magnetic. Therefore it stands to reason that it should react to other non-magnetic materials, like copper or aluminum, in a similar fashion,” Scully explained, peering through a microscope. They’d commandeered one of the empty hospital rooms to act as a laboratory, setting up what limited equipment they could salvage from the third floor. “In high enough concentrations, when material from the infused plants is combined with a copper solution, we should see an electrical reaction. We can measure the electromagnetic current generated by that response to gauge the amount of magnetite in the sample.”
“I should have paid more attention in physics,” Peter said.
“Lucky for you, I have that covered,” Scully murmurs. “The question is, how much is enough? If we had a sample, something we could…”
She’d trailed off, thinking of the tissue samples she’d collected on the Vineyard. She’d also collected blood…including Isaac’s.
Then she’d had an idea.
“Dr. Scully?” Peter asked, looking at her curiously.
“I think I have…something…but I don’t know for sure.”
He’d nodded. “Take your time. It’s going to be at least another week before the first ones to go to seed.”
That night, she’d gone to the hospital after hours, where Mary was working at the makeshift nurse’s station in the hall.
“Dr. Scully! Did you forget something?”
“Hi, Mary. No…actually, I have an odd request. Do you still have the blood samples that were drawn when Isaac and I came in?”
The woman bit her lip. “I’d have to check. We usually toss them after the first week. I’m afraid they won’t be much good for a CBC if that’s what you’re after.”
“No, no, it’s not that. Where do you keep them?”
Mary had directed them to the storage room, a closet with a whirring refrigerator, where the samples sat alone on a shelf.
“You’re in luck,” Mary said. “Haven’t trashed them yet.”
“Do you mind if I borrow these?”
“You can keep them,” the woman said, wrinkling her nose, “but I can’t imagine why you’d want to.”
Scully smiled, the vials cold against her palm. “It’s just an experiment.”
She’d retreated to her lab, closing the door for privacy. From Isaac’s blood, she could develop a solution with which to test the magnetite-infused pollen. It was obvious his physiology reacted to the magnetite in a less dramatic way, but that should ensure whatever concentration they eventually developed was strong enough.
Peter hadn’t asked where she’d gotten the sample, and Scully hadn’t offered. She’d been prepared to tell him about her encounter with the creatures by showing him the scar on her shoulder, and explaining how one of the thing’s claws chipped off in the wound. It was a stretch, but Scully suspected it would be easier to believe than her son sharing DNA with their new alien neighbors.
With the foundation in place, all that was left was to wait for their research subjects to grow.
Now she reflects on the work with a faint sense of hope. The first batch, the control group, had gone to seed, and it was clear the native plants contained a minuscule amount of the magnetic substance. If they could increase the concentration…
The bed is soft; it’s tempting to lay down, to process the day’s overstimulation and rest her eyes, but there’s a fine film of desert dust across her features, and her stomach growls.
Shower, dinner, sleep, she thinks, with as much clarity, when there’s a knock at the door.
“Room service,” Mulder’s voice says from the other side.
“I don’t recall ordering anything,” she says as the door creaks open, her partner leaning in the frame.
“Been a while since I’ve had to ask you to invite me in…”
She tips her head to the side in unspoken acceptance.
“They’re keeping you busy,” he says, closing the door behind them.
“They do,” she admits, pulling her sweat-laden t-shirt over her head with a soft groan. “The irrigator is on the fritz, so Peter has us hauling water from the compound until engineering can fix the recirculation system.”
She smiles, rolling her neck. “My shoulders had something to say about it. But Peter’s just put in some new hybrids, they’re fragile, weeks of work will be lost if they don’t make it.”
“Hybrids?” Mulder repeats, as if lost in thought. He’s taken a seat on the bed, and now he rubs at his face with his hands.
“Cacti spliced with fruits to create desert-hardy variations. Eventually they may contribute to a more diverse food source,” she says. “It’s smart. If they plan to survive, they’ll need reliable access to more food.”
He looks at her curiously. “You say that as though we’re not part of this.”
She frowns, folding her jeans, attempting to brush off the dust. “Did I? I didn’t mean to. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’ve found a place here.”
He nods, but looks vaguely uncomfortable. “How’s the, uh, other research coming?”
“We’re planting our second crop tomorrow; we have a baseline for the amount of magnetite in the plants. If we can increase that, over time we’ll reduce our dependence on the soil. In a few years, we could conceivably reclaim portions of the land around us,” she says. “Peter seems to think we can pull it off.”
“Mmm. That’s good,” he says, but he doesn’t look at her.
“So…how was your day, dear?” she teases, when it’s clear his mind is somewhere else.
Mulder blinks. “They’re gearing up for a salvage run. One of the trucks is broken. I think I’m going to offer to go.”
This gets her attention. “How far?”
“About sixty miles. But my motives aren’t entirely genuine. I get the impression they’re looking for more than truck parts.”
She frowns. “How so?”
“They’re going pretty far out of their way to find a common transmission we could get from the nearest town.”
“Have they said anything to make you think there’s something else going on?”
He pauses, shifting. “Nothing concrete. It’s just a feeling,” he admits.
She relaxes a fraction. “It’s only been a few months. It’s natural we’d be uneasy…”
He raises an eyebrow. “I don’t think it’s that simple, Scully. Something’s going on here; I can feel it, we just haven’t been here long enough to see the…the seedy underbelly of this place yet.”
“Maybe you’re right, but if we’re always looking for the dark side, we’re always going to find it. At some point, we have to let our guard down.”
“No, we don’t,” he says, and the sharpness in his tone surprises her. “Just because we’ve lived through it doesn’t make these people any less trustworthy. Mosely makes me nervous. The guy doesn’t seem right.”
“What do you want to do, Mulder? Arrest him?”
He smirks. “I left my handcuffs in Virginia.”
She doesn’t take the bait. “So what are you suggesting?”
“I’m not saying we leave, if that’s what you’re thinking. Not yet, anyway.”
“That’s not—“ she begins, but stops herself. She purses her lips, suddenly exhausted, any excitement she might have felt diminished. She decides to change the subject. “I’m going to take a shower before dinner; we should go separately.”
He nods, but doesn’t move from the bed, frowning at a point on the floor.
“I want you to be right this time, you know,” he murmurs, fingers strumming at his knee. He rubs at his face. “I want to stop running just as much as you.”
“We can,” she says softly. “We can choose, Mulder.”
He smiles, despite her wishful thinking. “That’s why I like you, Scully. You never stop hoping for the best.”