Chapter 31: The Search

     PRIEST LAKE STATE PARK
OCTOBER 31, 2013
3:03 P.M.

     Doggett squints off into the distance. Thick ground fog gave way to sun about an hour ago, but it hasn’t done much to help their search.

     They found the unregistered Ford parked outside the forest boundary, where Mulder and Scully presumably left it prior to entering the park. Doggett’s assignment is to lead a team to try to find the agents and the boy, working south to north, but so far, all they’ve turned up are trees, rocks, and more of the same.

     He stumbles on a root, swears. He’s used to chasing criminals down paved streets and back alleys—the closest he’s come to this kind of wilderness in the last ten years is the occasional jog through Anacostia park. The guys from the RCMP loaned him some gear, but the thick boots make him clumsy, the wool shirt itches at the collar.

     He’s had no contact with Skinner since they started the ground search several hours ago. Cell phones are out of the question—they lost reception outside Bonners Ferry—but about two miles in, their radios and walkie-talkies gave out, too. Not just one, but all of them, which only contributes to Doggett’s growing feelings of unease.

     Some kind of interference, the tech guy said, which makes no sense, because there’s nothing out here but trees and rocks.

     The helicopter passes overhead, circling around for the fourth or fifth time. He glances up and can barely make out the outline of Skinner in the passenger’s seat.

     Even if they spot them, where the hell are they going to land that thing?

     Doggett has yet to see a single piece of this godforsaken mountain not covered by rocks or half-dead trees. The landscape is harsh, unforgiving. No place for a couple of forty-somethings and a kid, for sure.

     We’ll be lucky if we don’t find them dead, he thinks, scanning the bleak horizon.

     Without radios, they’re left to yell through the trees to keep track of their team of five. It’s a piss-poor number for the vast expanse they’re expected to cover; they’ve wasted precious time backtracking due to one officer, wet behind the ears, who wandered a bit too far off their assigned course and nearly got lost herself.

     The other officers are nervous, skittish, and Doggett can’t blame them. They have no personal investment in this search. He can sense their disquiet, knowing it won’t be long before they turn back, before Markel’s contact at the RCMP offers polite condolences for their loss and invites the two Americans to excuse themselves from the country.

     So far there’s been no sign of the agents or the boy, no clues as to their whereabouts, save for the car left in the forest.

#

     Meanwhile, in the air, Skinner is wrestling with a more basic, biological problem.He’s spent his fair share of time in helicopters over the course of his military and FBI careers, but they always make him queasy. The bobbing and weaving coupled with strong mountain gusts are unkind to his stomach, and he wills himself to keep down the single cup of black coffee he drank for breakfast as he scans the ground below, searching for his lost charges.

     They shouldn’t be in the air right now; communications in the chopper are scrambled. The internal radio is barely working, interrupted by long bursts of static, and they have no contact with the team on the ground or the nearby base. But when the young RCMP pilot made to turn the aircraft around, muttering something about faulty equipment, Skinner rested his hand firmly on the officer’s upper arm and squeezed, speaking into the headset in what he hoped was a threatening voice.

     “We’re going to keep this thing in the air until we find my agents; do you understand me?”

     It came out, “We’re going…keep…in air…find my agents…do under…me?”

     The pilot hadn’t responded, but he didn’t turn the helicopter around, either.

     That was four hours ago. They’re going to have to return to base to refuel soon, and Skinner knows he’ll catch hell from the RCMP if they find out he strong-armed a foreign officer into ignoring protocol. It’s likely he’ll lose what tentative support he has, which isn’t much.

     Between this knowledge and his increasingly green complexion, he’s not feeling well. Until…

     He scrambles for the mic controls, presses the button to talk, glares at the pilot.

     “What…that?” he yells, interrupted by static.

     “Sir?”

     “That…” Skinner reaches out, points, touching the glass of the chopper’s windshield, indicating a black smudge in his field of vision. He’d thought it was an imperfection in the glass, but it’s fixed in the distance, part of the landscape…

     Far off, he can see a dark black line on the horizon.

     It looks like a hole. Like a goddamned black hole.

     “Take us there,” he commands the pilot, pulse quickening, intuition telling him whatever he’s found will lead them to his former colleagues.

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