by Wylfcynne

TITLE: Imagine
AUTHOR: Wylfcynne
E-MAIL ADDRESS: RATING: R for physical violence
CATEGORY: MT, MSR, M/S/SK friendship
DISTRIBUTION: Ephemeral to Gossamer; anyone else, please ask: that way I can visit.

place after DRIVE.

SUMMARY: Kersh takes a personal day, and Mulder and Scully do what they do best.

DISCLAIMER: They certainly aren't mine; if they were, they'd be having more fun, and I wouldn't have to save up for vacations! Mulder, Scully, Skinner and the rest belong to FOX Networks and 1013; I'm just borrowing them for a little fun and games. I promise I'll bring them back on time and unharmed and they won't remember a thing.

FEEDBACK: The Wylf howls at the moon for feedback!


DEDICATION: Overall, all my X Files work is dedicated to my writing partner and primary beta, Ravenwald, who introduced me to the internet, showed me how to find fandom here, and in doing so re-awakened the Muse, who had been sleeping for a VERY long time. This piece is for the Sisters Spooky, for mink roses and homemade candy, nifty Christmas cards and fresh-burned CDs, for grins and giggles and healing candlelight...for being the sisters I never had in Real Life.

THANKS: To Donnilee and Fatcat (in alpha order) for beta!

"We aren't going to get away, are we?" Scully asked calmly.

Mulder could not spare a glance at her. "Depends," he pointed out. "If there's a state trooper over that hill, we're home free."

"Not bloody likely," Scully pointed out darkly.

Their rented Taurus was blasting down the two-lane blacktop at over ninety miles an hour, but their pursuers, in three similar vehicles, were still visible behind them. The agents had been able to maintain their lead of almost a mile, but that was all. The road was straight, the terrain relatively flat, and there were no side roads. After a month of spring rains, the agents both knew that they did not dare cut across country; the Taurus would be bogged down quickly.

There were not even any clumps of forest of any significant size along this country road; they could see forested hills around them, but no apparent way to get there. Scully was sure that they were farther away than they looked, too.

Mulder glanced in the rear view mirror. "Jesus Christ."


"That bastard in the lead car's got a rifle."

Scully forced herself not to look. She sat squarely in her seat. There was nothing she could do; they were barely within rifle range. They were far outside the range of her handgun.

"If they kill us, I'm going to haunt Kersh till he apologizes," Mulder said calmly.

Scully snorted, amused but too tense to really laugh.

They were fleeing for their lives ahead of three carloads of soldiers, members of the Christian Purity Church of Christ. When they had gone inside the CPCC's main chapter house that morning, it had only been to interview the Most Reverend Peter Paul Markluke and check his documentation for a large purchase of nitrate fertilizer.

But the presence of two FBI agents in his office had rattled the Reverend, and he had allowed Mulder too close to his desk. On the desk had been a battle plan that appeared to demonstrate a terrorist-style attack on the Power Vista at Niagara Falls. Mulder had realized what it was at once, and had been hard-pressed to not betray himself.

They had gone through the routine documentation of the fertilizer purchases, thanked him, and left. Only when they were safely in the car and on their way out of the compound had Mulder felt free to share with his partner what he had seen. She had been reaching for her cell phone when the gate had started to close in front of them. Mulder had seen a squad of armed soldiers running toward them and had gunned the engine, crashing through the gate just before it had closed.

They had only been a few miles down the road when they had first realized that they were being pursued.

A dull thud sounded metallically through the Taurus. They both flinched and Mulder straightened defiantly.

"Good thing we didn't take that cute little Miata," he commented, referring to one of the other cars they had seen in the lot at the rental agency.

"Maybe if we had we could outrun these guys," Scully responded. "Actually, I wish we had that Land Rover," she went along with his chatter, knowing that he was as scared as she was. "We might've been able to lose 'em off road."

"Maybe," Mulder agreed.

Another bullet hit the car, and they flinched, but no harm was done. All the cars slowed a little as the road began to slope upward onto a bluff overlooking the small river running alongside the road. In the distance they could see a short bridge over the river.

"Too bad we don't carry explosives," Scully commented. "If we could take out that bridge from the far side, we'd be home free."

"It looks awfully narrow." Mulder was studying it. "Do you think we could jam the bridge with the car and set it on fire so they couldn't follow us past it?"

Scully studied the bridge and their foes, still at extreme rifle range. "We'd only have about a minute to get clear."

"Use the cigarette lighter and start the back seat on fire, now," Mulder said calmly. "Save a rag for the gas tank. I'll put the car sideways in the middle of the bridge and we'll run for it."

"Deal. At least we won't be sitting ducks out on this road."

"My sentiments exactly. There's even some trees up on the other side. Once we get a little cover we can start fighting back."

"Where's your cell phone?" she asked, checking for her own.

"My suit coat pocket."

"Spare clips?"

"Inside pocket. Three."

Scully grinned. "Ankle holster?"

Mulder shook his head. "Not this trip; it's at the smith's. It was jamming. And this was supposed to be a manure detail. I didn't think I'd need it."

"Well, this one turned all to shit, all right," Scully agreed. "I'm going to get myself a backup. Whenever we need extra firepower we don't have it!"


The Taurus's back window shattered and Mulder bit back a cry of pain. Scully felt the car lurch to one side and then back as he fought to maintain control.

"Are you hit?!"

"Yeah." The syllable came out through gritted teeth.

"How bad is it?"

He flexed his right arm cautiously. "Not bad. I can still use it."

Scully looked more closely and saw the tear in his suit coat sleeve, saw blood staining the fabric over his bicep. "I'll fix it when we're out of this," she decided.

"'Cause if this bridge stunt doesn't work, it won't matter," Mulder agreed calmly.

It was a one-lane bridge, and Scully felt her hopes rise a bit. The plan was overly complex for her taste but it might work. She pushed the car's in-dash cigarette lighter in to activate it and cast about for something to ignite. Tinder was not easily come by in a modern vehicle designed by people obsessed with lawsuits and safety.

"The newspaper's in the back," Mulder suggested without taking his eyes off the road.

"That'll work," she acknowledged his suggestion. The utter calmness in his voice helped her stay cool. It was the work of only moments to have the back seat hosting a merry blaze of crumpled paper beginning to ignite the vinyl and fabric seat covers. When she turned to face forward again she could see that Mulder was sweating lightly now, and his hands on the wheel were white-knuckled. It took her a moment to realize that he was fighting his pyrophobia.



The bridge was before them. The car bounced as it left the pavement and hit the bridge deck. Mulder slammed the car into a J-turn and intentionally chickened halfway through it, skidding the car sideways until it rammed the guardrail and stopped, blocking the entire bridge perfectly.

Scully hit her seat belt release. She had saved a twist of paper to use as a torch; she lit the paper and got out of the car hurriedly. She drew her Glock and put two rounds into the gas tank, waited until she could smell the escaping fuel, and then tossed the torch under the car.

"Scully, run!"

She turned and saw that Mulder was waiting for her, shifting his weight from foot to foot, his left hand holding his wounded right arm. She ran to him and he fell into step beside her as they ran for the trees on the far bank.

A huge explosion behind them knocked them both off their feet. They rolled in the grass and struggled to stand.

Scully looked back and saw that their Taurus had exploded, taking out the lead pursuit car. The other two cars were still coming, though, so she turned to scramble up the hill, ignoring the itch between her shoulder blades where her body anticipated a bullet strike. Mulder grabbed her hand and they started running again.

Cover was only yards away but their pursuers began firing at them from the other side of the conflagration on the bridge. Scully just concentrated on running faster, grateful for Mulder's hand holding hers, knowing he would not leave her behind, even though he could certainly run faster than this.

As they reached the trees he stumbled, let go of her to grab at a tree trunk to keep from falling. She turned, expecting the worst, but he was running again, albeit more slowly.


"Don't stop," he panted. "We need... distance..."

There was an audible thread of pain in his voice, but he was correct and she did not want to pause to discuss his condition now. Just being out of sight of their pursuers was not enough to insure their safety. Here under these huge trees there was very little light, and because of that, little undergrowth. Once their pursuers were past the edge of the trees they would be visible again.

The top of the hill, however, appeared treeless. She could see the light up ahead and strained toward it.

A few yards farther up the wooded slope and off to the left there was a huge fallen tree just dimly visible in the forest's gloom. The dead trunk was buried for its entire length in a tangle of vines and weeds given light by the gap in the canopy there. If the day had not turned overcast this would have shown up as if pinned in a spotlight, but today the top of the hill was much brighter, beckoning and obvious.

Scully looked around and realized that there were fallen trees like this scattered across the hillside. As long as she did not pick the first one, they could hide.

Mulder stumbled and went to his knees for a moment, panting, and that forced her to decide. Her partner was clearly hurt and she needed to find a place to hide him while she played the fox and led the hounds away.

"Mulder, this way."

"Huh? Wha...?"

His slow uptake frightened her. "Mulder, come over here. There should be space under here where we can hide."


It was the work of only moments for her to find a way into that darkened space and shove Mulder ahead of her.

"There," she said with some satisfaction as she pulled the disturbed vines and weeds back into place to cover the entrance again. She turned as she heard Mulder sigh. There was something in the exact sound of that sigh that terrified her. "Mulder? Mulder? Where are you hurt?"

It was so dark under there that she could only see where he was by the dim glimmer of his white dress shirt. "I want to know why you're not," he deflected, his tone faint but his words clear. "You aren't that little that they can't hit you."

"I don't know," she shrugged. "Misplaced chivalry?"

He chuffed a laugh at her, but then curled up a little.

"Mulder, tell me. You were shot once while we were still in the car. Did you get hit again?"

"Yeah. Leg. It hurts, but not as bad as I remember from Raleigh. So it's not too bad."

"There's blood in your hair," she pointed out what she had noticed earlier.

"Something hit me when the car blew up," he admitted. "I don't know what it was." Moving slowly he reached inside his jacket, handed her his clips and then his SIG. She accepted the items but then looked down at him, frowning.

"Mulder? You're scaring me."

He coughed lightly. "Scully, whatever hit me was big and heavy. This is a concussion. You know what that means. I don't think I can walk, now: everything's spinning."

Scully swallowed hard.

He flinched minutely when he felt something touch his face, but then realized that it was her fingertips. They touched him lightly, moved across his face into his hair. He flinched again.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, yanking her hands away.

"'S okay." He wilted against the wall of the little cave.

"Mulder. Don't go to sleep. You know the rules for concussions."

He forced his eyes open and tried to focus on her. "Scully, can you call for help?"

She drew her phone and checked the screen, then shook her head. "No service."

"Go up the hill, climb a tree if you have to."

"I'm not leaving you!"

"I'm not asking you to abandon me, partner," he said very softly. "Just get a signal and call in HRT. You're good, Scully, but you can't hold off the True Church of God Almighty for very long by yourself. I'm more hindrance than help, now."

"Never, Mulder. Never."

He started to shake his head, and stopped when pain flared through his skull. "Go on, Scully. They'll get around our car eventually and then we're toast. We need help."

He was right, and she knew it. "All right. I'll go up the hill. You stay here and keep your head down, all right? If you stay still they won't find you."

"I'm not going to try anything," he admitted reluctantly.

"Just relax, Mulder." She stroked his hair back, fighting back fear. "I'll be right back."

"'Kay..." With his eyes closed he looked unconscious, and she fought down her fear. All she could do for him now was get him out of this mess. She scrambled up out of the little cave and stopped suddenly. One of the CPCC soldiers poked her with his M-16.

"Up and out, honey. Harry, I'll bet Agent Mulder's down there in the cave. Go get him out of there."

"Yeah. Cuff her, will ya?"

"With what?"

"With her handcuffs, idiot. She's a federal cop."

The second soldier sighed. "That's one of the things we're gonna change. Women are gonna stay home and take care of their families when we're in charge."

Part 2

The CPCC soldiers hauled Mulder out of the deadfall and cuffed him roughly with his own cuffs. The two agents glanced at one another but did not bother saying anything.

The soldiers dragged their prisoners down the slope, under the bridge and across the creek. That was when Mulder and Scully realized that their plan had failed because the little river was running so low that it could be crossed on foot. The water came up past Mulder's knees, and it was cold; he had to resist the urge to drop and luxuriate in it.

(I wonder what they'd do if I tried to escape?) he mused, limping heavily. It was only speculation; there were too many guns in the party. (*Besides, they might hurt Scully in retaliation.*)

The prisoners were shoved without ceremony into the backseat of one of the Taurus pursuit vehicles. Their cuffs were tied with clothesline to each other's and then their seatbelts were used to fasten them into their seats.

"Y' think the Assistant Director'll dock our pay when we don't show up at that stupid meeting tomorrow morning?" Mulder asked his partner.

She sighed, knowing what he was trying to do. "Probably," she agreed. "Not that I'll be sorry to miss another budget meeting."

"That goes without saying," he agreed.

"Just shut up." The man in front riding shotgun turned to glare at them. "It'll be a long time before they find either of you, and it won't be anywhere near here."

The agents shrugged and obeyed. There was only so much they could do, now. A lot depended on how ruthless these people were and how far they were willing to go to protect this potential for future mayhem. The ride back was silent.

When the car pulled up in front of the chapter house, the prisoners were dragged out of the car from Mulder's side. He pulled back enough to keep from dragging Scully backwards by her wrists and earned himself a slap that rattled his teeth and crossed his eyes.

Scully moved closer and matched her stride to his halting one. They were conducted back inside, back into the same office where they had sat reading fertilizer purchase orders only hours before.

The Reverend Peter P. Markluke approached them silently. They watched him warily but, bound as they were, with armed men at their backs, knew there was almost nothing they could do without risking death.

Markluke lifted his right hand and they had a moment to see the pistol he was holding. Then he snapped it down and slammed it against Mulder's skull hard enough to knock him to his knees.

Scully opened her mouth to protest but never got a word out. At a gesture from the Reverend, an unseen person behind her pulled a heavy fabric bag down over her head and past her shoulders. She began to struggle as she felt hands searching her, removing her FBI ID and her Glock. Then a drawstring pulled tight around her elbows. Her efforts were fruitless: she was shoved sideways and tripped over someone's booted foot. She hit the floor hard, unable to break her fall with her hands still cuffed behind her. Then, just to make sure she understood how helpless she was, someone picked her up by the sack and tossed her.

She landed awkwardly, but not on hard floor. As she was fighting to sit up, she heard a door slam, and she was alone in the dark.

She fought her way to her knees, fighting to breathe through the heavy canvas sack, struggling to figure out what had happened. It took her only moments to determine that what she had landed on was a collection of shoes.

(They threw me into a closet!)

She was outraged to be dismissed so casually. Rage threatened to take over all her thought processes and for a moment she fought her bonds mindlessly. It was oxygen depletion that made her stop; gasping for air, she had to rest. She could breathe through the canvas sack, but not easily. She had to stay calm.

The string that tightened the sack around her seemed looser than it had before. She tried to flex her arms, and found that the sack's tie loosened. After a few moment's wrestling around, she got the sack off. She felt a bit of triumph as she looked around and verified, by the sliver of light seeping in under the door, that she was indeed in a closet, laying on a bed of shoes.

Awkward with her hands still cuffed behind her back, she exhaled and slid her hands down over her rump and then fed her feet through one at a time since her heeled boots were hard to reach around. In a moment she had her cuffed hands in front of her.

Much more sanguine about everything, she threw herself at the door, trying to determine what had happened to her partner while she struggled with her own situation. She slid down and tried to peer under the door.

Her partner was lying on the office floor, still. His face was turned toward her, and she could see that he was trying to blink himself back to full consciousness. There was a trickle of blood down the side of his face. She saw the moment when he focused on her, saw that she was all right and making progress toward getting herself free.

There were voices above him though she was only peripherally aware of them. She was staring into Mulder's hazel eyes, and she could almost hear what he was thinking.

(*Save yourself, Scully... get out and call for a raid... save yourself. You're female; they aren't smart enough to consider you a threat...*)

Then she saw him lifted up out of her line-of-sight.

Though her vision was limited to the inch or so at floor level, she watched Mulder dragged out of the room, the toes of his polished wingtips, muddy from their attempted escape, now scraping helplessly against the floor. He was limp in their grasp, still cuffed. Even if he was only feigning to be barely conscious, he was still unable to fight back.

(*Omigod... *) Scully was horrified at the thrill of terror she felt as their foes went out into the hallway and the office door closed behind them, blocking her partner from her sight. Being a prisoner was bad, but being a prisoner alone was worse, and fearing for her partner made it intolerable.

On the other hand, she did not dare do anything that would attract any attention to herself. Peering through the slit under the door, she could see the wooden chair legs that confirmed that she was pinned in the closet by the chair braced under the doorknob.

She sat up, shoved shoes out of the way, pulled her knees up against her chest, looped her still-bound hands over her knees, and leaned back against the back wall of the closet to plan.

Mulder let himself be dragged. He was not functioning very well, yet. The bullet wound in his leg was bleeding again, if only a little. The wound in his arm just hurt like blazes, especially when one of the thugs grabbed him there. It was the head wounds that were really affecting him, now.

(*Hit twice. Damn, this is hard. I can't focus... *) He knew how hopeless this was. In his present condition, there was almost no chance that he could get away. On the other hand, there was hope that while their captors were busy making him miserable, they were ignoring his partner.

(*I learned a long time ago that ignoring or underestimating Dana Scully is stupid.*) He fought not to grin his triumph. (*She'll get us both out of this. I just have to stay alive. I don't mind being her stalking horse.*)

The thugs dragged him down the hall and around two corners. The Reverend went ahead and unlocked a door, pushed it open and stepped inside to hold it open for them. They dragged Mulder across the room and dropped him on the floor.

He rolled onto his back and tried to focus on the room with limited success. What he could make out was, however, unmistakable.

(*A BDSM suspension rack. Somebody in the congregation has expensive taste in sex games.*) Mulder had seen such things only in some of the videos that weren't his, but he knew that they were commercially available and extremely expensive.

The rack consisted of a set of four polished brass poles arranged in a pyramidal shape, with a four-foot-square base of the same material bolted to the floor so it would not tip, and then inlaid with panels of polished hardwood. The brass peak of the pyramid was the anchor point for the four poles as well as for a heavy horizontal bar about four feet long. From the bar, about every six inches, were dangling metal rings.

Rough hands took hold of Mulder, then, rolled him back over and unlocked the handcuffs. Before he could even begin to move, each of his wrists was being buckled into a heavy leather cuff.

(Oh, shit...) Mulder tried to fight, but he was in no condition, and they were stronger. As soon as the buckles were fastened, he was lifted by his arms, and his new leather cuffs were clipped to that horizontal bar.

Hands ran down his legs to his ankles and he kicked, but he could not see what they were doing. It was only a matter of time before they had his ankles similarly cuffed and bound tightly to the vertical poles. The inevitable incline, due to the pyramidal shape of the rack, tipped Mulder forward just a little.

He was pleased to realize that the leather suspension cuffs were very effective. His hands were not going numb and the cuffs themselves were actually comfortable.

(*Why do I feel like that nothing else is going to be comfortable for a while...? Because I'm too smart for my own good...?*)

It was pretty clear that his arms and shoulders would begin to ache soon; the bullet wound in his bicep was bleeding again, the fresh scab unable to withstand this stress. At least his hands were not being permanently damaged, as they would have been if they had hung him up by his own metal cuffs.

(*They didn't order this just for me... and it's too expensive to just use for the occasional prisoner. I'll bet they use this for their own internal punishments. It's more effective to administer a flogging than throw someone into a stockade, especially when you want to keep your crew at full strength because your numbers are so small. If they're careful, an administrative discipline action won't disable a soldier, it'll just remind him, every time he moves for a week or so, how he screwed up.

(*I don't think they're going to be that careful with me.*)

Cold steel at his throat made him gasp and throw his head back as he tried to flinch away. After a moment it became clear that the target of the blade was not his flesh but his clothing. Mulder hung motionless, not wanting to be accidentally cut, while one of the thugs cut his suit jacket and dress shirt off him. He was grateful that they left him his pants.

"That's a $3000 suit you just ruined. Thanks. I'd've taken it off it I'd known what you wanted."

The thug slapped him. "No honest cop could afford clothes like that."

"It's not my fault my grandfather was a good businessman."

The thug slapped him again, and then walked away, out of Mulder's line-of-sight.

"Time for some decisions, Agent Mulder."

That was the Reverend's voice. Mulder did not try to look around. "Yeah? What did you decide?"

"We decided that we need to know what brought you to us, Agent Mulder. What made the FBI suspect the Christian Purity Church of Christ?"

"Nobody suspected you, Rev. This is a totally routine visit based on the volume of nitrate fertilizer you've been buying."

"I don't believe you."

"I can't do anything about that, Rev."

"Thomas, if you would?"

Mulder heard a sound behind him that could only be a heavy bullwhip hitting the floor.

(This isn't going to be any fun...)

Still in the closet, Scully nursed her outrage. They had treated her as they would have treated a child, as if she was unimportant and incapable of being a threat to them. They had tossed her into a closet and ignored her. It was taking all her strength, all her willpower, to keep from standing up and screaming her frustration.

Instead, she leaned against the back wall of the closet and tried to hear what they were saying.

Wherever they had taken Mulder, they were in a room that shared a wall with this closet. She could hear voices well enough to recognize the Reverend's voice and Mulder's. The whistle and crack that followed was shocking, as was the half-stifled cry from her partner.

"Flogging?!" she whispered to herself, horrified. She started counting seconds without even deciding to do so. The next whistle-and-crack was a full minute after the first, and she heard the same muffled cry from her partner. It became a horrible sort of game: to count off the seconds, knowing that the man with the whip was doing the same thing, and to hear her partner being whipped and knowing that there was nothing she could do about it.

After ten of the longest minutes of his entire life, Mulder heard Thomas step back, and he let himself slump against the bonds that held him. His panting was loud in his own ears. He hoped he didn't look as bad as he felt.

"Why did you come here, Agent Mulder?"

There was a moment of silence, and then, annoyed, Mulder answered, "Why not?"

"I am not amused, Agent Mulder."

"So you're not as much of a sociopath as I thought you were? Bully for you."

Scully had made up her mind that as soon as they were out of that room, she was going to break out of this closet. She did not dare get too violent, now: as close as they were, they would hear any noise she made and come for her. It might relieve Mulder for a few minutes, but it would do them no good if they strung her up beside him. She would have to wait until they took a break.

(*They don't want to kill him; they want him to tell them something. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that they want to know what brought us to their door. And somehow, given what I know about paranoid conspiracy theorists, I don't think they'll believe the truth, or any pretty fiction he can concoct under these conditions. So there's no way Mulder can talk himself out of whatever punishment they feel like meting out.*) She shuddered and focused her attention on trying to hear what they were saying in the other room.

She still could not make out the words, though the voices were clear enough to distinguish speakers. Mulder was still conscious and he seemed to be snarking back at the Reverend, so Scully tried not to be too worried, yet.

Then the Reverend was talking to someone new, some person that had not been in the room before. The voices came to this end of the room, and she could almost make out the words. From the tone, it sounded to her as if they were offering Mulder an ultimatum.

Mulder's response was short and abrupt.

Scully felt a surge of both pride and anger: pride because he would not yield and anger because he was being hurt and because their enemies were using his pride against him. As she listened, straining to hear what was happening, she heard, very clearly, one man's voice.

"Don't let this stuff touch you," the new voice said. "We can't help you if it does."

Scully stiffened, frightened, and pressed her ear against the wall.

Mulder's words were sharp-edged. "If that's grape Kool-Aid, you're gonna need more guys than this."

Scully could not hear what was happening, but she heard Mulder's out-of-control, "No!" Then there was the sound of a struggle of some sort; she could hear metal clanging as if Mulder was fighting his bonds, but there was no voice of protest.

Then it was all silent.

Scully held her breath, fighting back tears of horror.

"Well, shit." That was the Reverend's voice.

Another voice spoke then, this one more diffident. "What happened, Reverend?"

"I don't know. Michael, is he breathing?"

Scully missed the other voices that began to chatter again, focusing entirely on Michael's answer.

"Yessir, he's breathing. His eyes show it worked. Let's just leave him for a while. Maybe that concussion and his other injuries need mending before he can talk to us."

"All right," the Reverend sighed. "It's dinnertime, anyway. We'll come back after evening prayer and see if he's awake."

"Yes, sir."

Scully could hardly believe it; they were all filing out of the room! She knew from the beginning of their initial contact with the CPCC that the dining hall was two buildings west of here. That meant she could finally start working on getting out of this damn closet!

She went to the door and tried it. The knob turned easily enough, but the chair on the other side was holding the door firmly in place. She threw herself at it, but all she succeeded in doing was bruising her shoulder. It was solid and she could not budge it.

"Dammit!" Frustrated, she kicked at the wall beside the door.

The wallboard shattered.

Scully stared at it, then laughed. She lifted her hands to her mouth to stifle the sounds that were threatening to become hysteria.

"Okay, I can't get through the door. I'll go through the fucking wall!"

She proceeded to kick at the wallboard, pry out pieces with her hands and kick some more, until she had smashed out a space big enough for her to crawl through it and back into the Reverend's office.

She straightened and looked around. On the credenza at the far side of the room she found her ID folder and Mulder's, as well as both of their Glocks. She picked up her ID folder. Deep inside it she kept a spare handcuff key behind her badge. In a moment she was free. She stuffed both ID folders in her jacket pocket, and clipped both holsters to her waistband, her own in the back where she usually kept it, and Mulder's in the front, angled for a crossdraw. It wasn't an FBI-approved method of carry, but she liked it.

She turned then to the desk. On the Reverend's desk there was a fancy phone with five lines. Three were lit up. She picked up the phone and chose an unused line, hoping there was no manned switchboard. There was not, and she heard the dial tone with heart-stopping relief.

She dialed the Hoover Building and grinned when she realized that the long distance charges would be coming back to the Christian Purity Church of Christ.

"AD Kersh's office," came the familiar voice of his Administrative Assistant, Charlene.

"This is Agent Scully. It's an emergency, Charlene."

"He took the day off, Agent Scully."

"Transfer me to any AD, Charlene. Please, hurry! Cassidy or Skinner. Anybody." Scully was not the least bit ashamed of how relieved she was that she did not have to explain their situation to Kersh. She shivered; based on past performances she would not have put it past Alvin Kersh to leave her and her partner high and dry. She knew that neither Cassidy nor Skinner would do that.

There was a moment of 'hold' and then Scully heard the familiar cool tones of AD Jana Cassidy. "Agent Scully? What's wrong?"

She summarized their situation as succinctly as she could. She hated having to admit that she did not know her partner's condition, but she could estimate it.

"I'll make sure there's a full medical team included, Agent Scully. Can the two of you get clear?"

"I don't think so, ma'am. This is an open compound, and we're in the main building, right in the middle. But I can get to Mulder and I've recovered our weapons; I can defend the two of us until you get here unless they just shoot through the walls."

"Do the best you can, Agent Scully. HRT and the state police will be there ASAP."

"Thank you, ma'am."

The call completed, Scully went back into the closet and methodically kicked in the back wall. She had no intention of going out into the hallway and being recaptured. She could get to Mulder without risking that and she had every intention of it.

It took her no longer to get into the interrogation room than it had to get out of the closet. She forced herself to check the room to be sure they were alone. She made herself go to the door and lock it, then braced a chair under the door knob as her captors had done to her tiny closet cell. Only then did she turn, at last, to her partner.

She barely noticed the rack from which his partner was suspended; it was not important. Mulder was hanging limply from his wrists, though his ankles were tied down, as well. He did not appear to be conscious. The lash marks on his back were bruised and several had bled, though the blood had dried on his skin, now. Fighting back horror, she went to him, noting how the blood had run down his back and soaked into the waistband of his slacks.

"Mulder? Mulder, it's me."

Slowly, with visible effort, he lifted his head. "Ssscully?" he whispered.

"I'm here, Mulder." She moved into his line-of-sight and found herself smiling when he smiled. But then their eyes met, and Scully froze in horror.

Blackness swirled in his eyes.


She took a step back, remembering what Commander Jorgensen had told her about the Captain of the ZEUS FABER all those years ago. This was possession. This was her partner being ridden like a horse by an alien entity.

"Scully? Don't get too close."

Mulder's voice was breathy and weak, but his words were clearly his own: surely the alien enemy would want her close enough to body-jump? Surely it would prefer a body that was free to one so cruelly imprisoned?

"Mulder, are you all right?"

He chuckled weakly. "Scully, I'm not even in the same time zone as all right." He had to pause to catch his breath. "Get out of here. You need to escape."

"Not without you."

He chuffed voicelessly. "You have no idea how badly I want to go with you, too. But I don't think you can get me down from here, and I don't think you should touch me."

"That's the Black Oil, isn't it?" she asked, her voice trembling. "The Black Cancer from Tunguska."

A shudder ran through Mulder's entire body. He threw back his head and gritted his teeth so hard she was afraid he would break one.

"I'll take that as a yes." She hated the relief she had felt when he had told her not to touch him. She had no direct personal experience with the Black Oil, but she had seen what it had done to one of the CDC's best doctors once. Mulder had told her in detail what had happened to him in Tunguska, though she knew he had minimized the emotional trauma. He had been candid enough about events and symptoms. (*This must be a nightmare for him: to be experiencing it all again...!*)

"Mulder, this isn't identical to the process of exposure in Tunguska, is it?"


"You aren't..."

"Don't give it ideas," he interrupted her. "It's here, it's conscious. It's pissed that we're chained up like this."

"But why is it different?"

"I don't know. I don't think it does, either: it's confused."

"We've got to get out of here, Mulder." She hated seeing him like this.

"No. I need to be quarantined. And you can't get me down off this thing, anyway." He gasped as the alien punished him again.

She looked more closely. "You're sick."

"I didn't pick the decor."

"No, not that. You've got a fever." She moved closer and let her hand hover above his skin. "You're hot."

"I had no idea you were into B&D."

She chuckled. "There have been times when I've wanted to chain you down, Mulder, but usually just to keep you from ditching me."

He chuffed a laugh. "This is an expensive bondage rack. These are professionally-designed suspension cuffs. Either the good Reverend and his cohorts are deeply into the scene, or the boss just has way too much fun disciplining his flock."

Scully looked thoughtful. "Is that what this is? It's designed for bondage games?"

Mulder nodded exhaustedly.

"Too bad we're not alone."

He chuckled soundlessly.

Scully pulled a chair over to the rack and climbed up on it facing her partner. He watched her silently, trembling occasionally. When she looked at his face, the alien oil swirled through his eyes.

She leaned forward, and Mulder tried to back away. "Don't touch me, Scully."

"I won't. I promise," she said softly. "I just want to see if I can free you."

"I doubt it."

"If this is a toy, then there should be some kind of emergency release. If I can't find that, I'm just going to free your ankles and give you a chair to stand on. If we can get your weight off the wrist cuffs, I can unclip them."

"No, Scully." He ground the words out past set teeth. "No. You can't free this thing. You don't know what it'll do."

Horrified, she saw his eyes glaze over with blackness, saw agony sweep through his body and hold him in a vise of pain that the Reverend and his cronies could not have imagined.

"I can't leave you like this!"

"You... can." He fought to get those words out.

"No," she said flatly. "I'm not leaving you. I called AD Cassidy from the Reverend's office. Help's on its way. We'll be out of here in no time."

Assistant Director Jana Cassidy did not even put down her phone; she just clicked from one line to another and dialed an internal number.

The phone rang only once. "Skinner."

"Walter, Jana. Your pet trouble makers have done it again."

AD Walter Skinner straightened in his chair. "What happened?"

"Alvin sent them out on a series of routine fertilizer checks. They tripped over a large and well-organized white supremacist church-based militia. They've been captured. Mulder's been interrogated, apparently with methods the Geneva Convention would not condone. They do have a genius for finding trouble, don't they?"

Skinner closed his eyes in dread. "How did you find out?"

"Agent Scully escaped from her cell and found a phone. She called me for help. They can't get out of the compound without being seen, she doesn't know how mobile Mulder may or may not be, and their captors are due back to resume the interrogation within the hour."

"What did they do to Mulder?"

"Agent Scully believes he has been flogged, but they terminated the first stage of the interrogation with something she could not identify. She was on the other side of the wall and could only hear what they were doing."

"Where are they, Jana?"

In the privacy of her office, Jana Cassidy heard the growl in her ex-partner's voice, and allowed herself a smug smile. This was going to be fun.

By the time Cassidy had told him everything she knew, Skinner had the head of HRT on another line. He briefed Warriner quickly.

"Do we need a warrant?"

Skinner growled. "I'll have one by the time you pick me up. We don't need it: we have two agents captive inside, one being tortured for information he probably doesn't even have. ETA?"

"Livingston County, New York? An hour to mobilize, two to get there."

"Too long, Jack. Scully's only got two GLOCKS to hold them all off her partner and herself."

"Well, that's if we use the core team at Glencoe. I've got reservists in Buffalo, Rochester, Cleveland, Albany and Syracuse. They aren't a cohesive unit, and this is likely to be a battle, Walter. None of our guys have real experience against military force. Can we call on the military for support? Militias lately have been showing up with real military ordnance."

"Get your guys mobilized, Jack. If I can line up a Marine tac-team or a Ranger unit, I'll call you."

"Roger, wilco. My cell is 888-435-4243."

"Got it."

In less than an hour, Skinner had the strike team of his dreams: a squadron of Marine Apaches, with land forces coming in behind them from the reserve HRT agents in the area, and a med-evac unit, including two airborne ambulances from the Niagara Falls AFB.

When he climbed up into the lead Apache to take command of the operation, Walter Skinner had not been so frightened since his last mission in Viet Nam.

Part 3

When she heard gunfire erupt out in the compound, Scully was horrified. She glanced up at her partner, but he was unaware, lost in the delirium caused by his swiftly rising fever.

She had to hope that his immune system was fighting the invader, and that it was strong enough to win. He had survived a similar exposure once before, though he had never mentioned illness in association with that exposure.

Right now, all she could do was pray that the firefight left this building alone. She was not going to leave Mulder, not even to find a window to find out what was going on outside.

It was quickly obvious to her that this was more than just a gunfight. She could hear helicopters, though they seemed to be awfully quiet, even when right overhead. There was a lot of small arms fire coming from the ground, and then she heard the horrifying sound of a surface-to-air missile being launched. The sound of retaliatory chain guns made her happier, but then all her attention was taken by the sound of booted feet in the hallway jogging in step.

She stood up, pulling both GLOCKS out of their holsters. She would not allow herself or her partner to be used as hostages or shields for any of these people.

"Agent Scully!" came the stentorian shout.

"In here!" She holstered her weapons and ran to the door, yanking the chair out from under the doorknob and throwing the door open. "Skinner! I need an ambulance in here! With isolation gear!"

The HRT squadron at Skinner's heels stopped at the doorway; Skinner came all the way in.

"Damn!" The AD stopped dead, horrified at the image Mulder presented.

"Sir, do you recall the case involving the diplomatic pouch, and Mulder's adventures in Tunguska?"

Frowning, Skinner nodded. "Yes, why?"

"These people have a stock of the Black Oil, sir. They exposed Mulder to it. We need isolation gear because we're pretty sure the things can switch from one body to another with the slightest physical contact. Warn the men searching their supplies to not risk any contact whatsoever!

"Based on our experiences with the French salvage ship PIPER MARU, the Black Oil can disguise itself in ordinary hydrocarbons indefinitely. I recommend destroying all the fuel and fuel oil supplies here, sir. Burn it right where it is; it's too dangerous to try to move it."

Skinner looked down at her. "Is that why he's still on this rack? That oil is in him, again?"

She nodded, biting her lip. "Yes, sir. I couldn't free him without his cooperation, and he refused. He was afraid of what it might make him do if they were free."

Skinner deconstructed her sentence structure and felt his jaw drop. "Those black worms... They're a conscious sentient being?"

"Mulder says so. It tried to stop him from talking for a while. As his fever rose, it stopped trying. I hope it was because it's busy fighting for its miserable life. But we still can't risk anyone touching him, and he has to stay in restraints."

"Are ordinary latex gloves protection enough?"

She shook her head. "CDC level 4 isn't protection enough. Dr Sacks, the exobiologist at Goddard, was exposed through an L-4 suit when he sawed into the rock from the diplomatic pouch and the oil splattered on the suit. Any direct contact is dangerous."

Skinner began to be concerned. "Agent Scully, we don't have anything like that with us. How are we going to evacuate him?"

"I've been thinking about that. I'm willing to try contact at one remove; if we substitute soft cotton gauze or webbing for his cuffs and bonds, we can move him with those onto a stretcher, and we can tie him down with them. We can move him wrapped in a sheet if we have to. If the worms try to migrate up the cotton, they'll be visible and hopefully we'll have time to let go. I'll supervise; no one else knows more about this than I do."

Skinner could only nod. Scully's claims sounded arrogant, but they were the simple truth. He pulled his radio out of his pocket and signaled the Marine commander, ordered all hydrocarbons burned where they were found, warned the major against letting any of his men touch any of it under any circumstances.

"Tell 'em it's all contaminated, Major; part of a biological warfare experiment they were conducting. Also, if they see anyone whose eyes seem to have black ink swirling in them, or eyes that have gone completely black, no white visible at all, that person is also infected and must not, under any circumstances, be touched, not even with gloves. Contain such people with all necessary force, even if they are members of your forces, Major: the contagion is instantaneous or close to it, and causes unwarranted aggression."

Scully could imagine what the average Marine Corps major would be saying about that kind of instruction.

"I know there's a vaccine for it, Major, but the US does not have any. This was not developed by our people. I don't know if there's a cure for anyone not vaccinated. I do not believe there is."

He put the radio away and turned then to the squad leader in the doorway. "Send someone for the ambulance. The rest of you deploy out here to make sure none of the suspects tries to interfere with this evacuation."

"Yessir." The squad leader was just as happy to get away from the horrific sight of the FBI agent hanging in chains. He had not heard most of Scully's low-voiced explanation and could not imagine what it would be like to have to work with a hard-hearted bitch like that redhead.

Part 4

"Scully, go take a break," Skinner said softly.

She shook her head without even bothering to glance at him. "I can't leave him alone, sir," she said quietly.

Skinner looked past her. Mulder was lying quietly, sealed off from the world in a pressurized hyperbaric chamber, his condition constantly being monitored by space age telemetry.

(Fortunately, Mulder isn't aware of this.) Skinner did not think Mulder would appreciate being sealed away like this, even if he had reminded his partner, in no uncertain terms, that quarantine would be necessary.

"He won't know if you step away, Scully."

That earned him a sideways glance and the answer he had expected as soon as the words left his mouth.

"I'd know, sir."

She had made him feel inadequate and churlish with three short syllables and a raised eyebrow. Then she turned back to her observation of her partner.

"Scully... "

"When we left Dr Sacks alone, someone sneaked in and murdered him," Scully said calmly. "We found the tear in his iso-suit and a corresponding injection point."

"I'll stay."

She turned to face him squarely. "Sir, you've been a reasonably good supervisor and on a personal level, I like you. Under different circumstances, we might have been friends."

When she paused on that statement, he held his breath, waiting for her to flay him.

"But on any case or situation," she went on implacably, "that involves or appears to involve the Consortium, you are compromised and untrustworthy. I will not yield my partner's health and safety over into the care of one whose better nature has been subverted."

Skinner forced himself to calm down. She had never been so forthright to him before, and her honor was stainless. He felt shamed before her.

"You have no idea how badly I wish that were not the case, Agent Scully," he sighed. "If there was any way..."

"Until we can cleanse you of the nanocytes, there is no way," she stated. "And even if we could, you could be re-infected very easily. Sometimes I wonder why they haven't used them on Mulder or myself."

"Because you are paladins, fighting because it's the right thing to do," Skinner knew the answer to that. "If they infected either of you, you would each die rather than yield. I'm not that brave, and they know it."

Scully turned again, studied him thoughtfully. "A coward dies a thousand deaths, et cetera," she referred to the famous quote. "You've already died at least twice, sir. It takes a great deal of courage to return to the world after such a thing."

He shuddered and had to look away. "On neither occasion was I afforded any escape," he said quietly. "I considered death a theoretical possibility, but I didn't have any real chance to choose. To consciously consider an array of choices and to choose death... I don't think I could do that. I'm equally positive that you or Mulder could, and that the survivor would send such an honor guard along with the one who died as would put kings to shame."

Scully smiled and he felt a chill flow down his back at the ice he saw in her eyes.

"You have no idea, sir," she said quietly. "You have no idea."

He nearly backed away from her then, totally cognizant of the incongruity of a man his size and strength pitted against a woman like her.

(*A woman like her...") He repeated the phrase to himself. (*With a woman like her beside him, a man could rule the world.*) Before he could do more than inhale to respond, there was a movement inside the chamber.

Mulder was conscious.


"I'm right here, Mulder." Scully had to lean in a little to reach the microphone. "Just relax. We're in the containment facility at Goddard. You're in pressurized isolation. I'm about ten feet away, to your right. If you turn your head, you can see me."

He turned his head with visible difficulty, but he smiled when he saw her, and she smiled back.

Excluded from the light they shared, Skinner could only watch and yearn for that which he would never have.

"How do you feel, Mulder?" she asked her partner.

He did not answer directly, shifting uneasily on the bed. He came up against the cotton webbing bands that held him down and tugged on them
experimentally. They did not yield, of course.

"What is this?" he demanded querulously. "Scully, what the hell?!"

"You aren't getting free until we have a clear MRI," she said calmly.

Mulder exploded in rage, screaming, cursing, struggling violently. On the status monitor, everything began to escalate. Three Project doctors came running in, alerted by the system alarms, and stopped, awed at the violence they were witnessing.

Skinner was studying Scully. Scully was watching her partner's tantrum calmly. After a few minutes, when exhaustion began to take its toll, she keyed the microphone again. "You aren't getting free, and if you hurt my partner trying I'll make it my life's purpose to track down every single slimy one of you on this planet and burn you to ashes. Given the means to do so, I'll find your home world and burn it to a crisp. Have I made myself clear?"

Mulder's body slumped suddenly and he lay still, quiet except for panting.

"Very good. You've proved you're a sentient life form. We know you don't need a human body to survive. We know your kind can live for long periods of time in what we consider untenable environments. If we offered you an animal host, would you voluntarily abandon your current captive?"

"Abomination..." Mulder whispered, exhausted. His voice was roughened from screaming.

"In one of several animal hosts, we will be able to maintain communication," Scully argued. "A monkey or an ape can use sign language or a computer keyboard. An African Grey parrot can actually speak. You have access to your host's memories; search and verify."

"No," Mulder breathed. "It is an abomination. To be within an animal is to be an animal; a surrender of sentience. We will not surrender!"

"If you do not abandon that host, his immune system will kill you," Scully was not amused. "He has been inoculated against such infection, as have I. I can bring in a bucket of diesel fuel, if you'd prefer that."

"It is not preferred."

"There will be no sentient hosts," Scully said coldly. "Your kind have shown my species no mercy and I have exhausted what little I had for yours. Make your peace with whatever deity you hold dear."

There was no answer from inside the chamber. Scully reached for the controls on the intravenous medications and started turning dials.

"What are you doing?" Skinner asked.

"Giving Mulder a boost of pure dextrose and a little caffeine to jolt his metabolism," she replied. "We have him hooked up to a dialysis machine, filtering out anything the worms leave behind."

Mulder began to move restlessly, plainly uncomfortable. Deliberately Scully turned one last dial.

"What's that?"

"I turned up the refrigerant in the dialysis. When we were in Deadhorse, I had to keep his core body temperature under ninety-two Fahrenheit."

Skinner frowned. He recalled that, but he also recalled the angry calls from the other doctors who had tried to get him to call her off when no one else could.

"You said his immune system was kicking their ass," he probed a bit. "Won't cooling him down handicap that?"

Scully shook his head. "He'll spike a fever anyway; the immune response is unstoppable. Chilling the body handicaps the virus."

Skinner backed off; he had no inclination to debate medical decisions with Dr Scully. "And you figure it'll be enough to kill that--" He let his voice trail off and gestured vaguely, at a loss for how to refer to the parasite. Was that a spokes-being that had addressed Scully? Were the worms a collective intelligence? How could she be sure she was killing them all? Or did she need to? Was there a minimum number required for sentience?

Scully was not nearly as confident as she was trying to appear. All she knew was that this was their only hope. If Mulder's immune system could fight the invaders to a standstill, she could take it from there. Controlled temperatures and the most powerful antiviral medications the scientists at DOD could contrive, several generations stronger than those that had saved Mulder in Alaska all those years before were all she had to offer.

Skinner watched as Mulder's body began to struggle against the bonds again, moving more slowly than before. This was conscious struggle, not hysteria or rage like before.

Scully's expression was still, her eyes stormy.

"Scully..." Mulder's voice was low, agonized.

"I'm here, Mulder."

"It hurts..."

"I know. Keep fighting." She glanced quickly at the monitor and saw that his temperature was already over a hundred.

He turned his head, trying to see her, and Scully gasped in horror. His eyes were completely obscured by the shimmering black of the invading parasite.

"Scully... help me..."

"I'm doing everything I can, Mulder. Keep fighting."

Mulder's body writhed in agony, fighting the bonds that held him down. "Scully, please..."

"Win or die, Mulder. There is no compromise."

The monitor showed his body temperature still slowly climbing. Skinner frowned. He knew that adults could not tolerate body temperatures much over 105F without permanent brain damage, and if this kept on, Mulder was going to hit that mark within the hour. He wondered if Scully would push this to the point of killing her partner to make sure the aliens did not win. One look at the iron-jawed determination he could see on her face was all the answer he needed.

He was equally sure that Mulder would approve.

Mulder's body began to convulse then, and Skinner turned to study Scully. She did not move. "Scully?"

"That wasn't Mulder talking, you know." She spoke in a cool, detached tone that awed Skinner. "As long as those parasites are inside him, controlling his body, Mulder is a POW, held hostage and incommunicado. There is no way to compromise over this."

The seizure was continuing. The other doctors were hovering, chattering nervously among themselves, but none daring to actually approach Scully or question her methodology or decisions. They had seen her sidearm under her lab coat.

Slowly, slowly, the seizure began to run down, the clonic movements becoming less dramatic as their amplitude lessened. The heart monitor still chirped, documenting the relaxation of his heartbeat.

Mulder's body finally fell limp, and his face happened to fall turned toward the port.

"Yes!" Scully hissed in triumph.

Skinner looked more closely. Black tears were oozing slowly from Mulder's eyes. Similar substance emerged from his nose, from his ears and mouth. The flow slowed rapidly and died on Mulder's pale skin.

Scully was pushing more buttons on the console, turning the refrigerant down, doing what she could to make him more comfortable, to suppress his pain and ease him into the sleep he so desperately needed.

"Is he all right?" Skinner had to ask.

"Probably." Scully never glanced at him, she was busy at the control panel. "He survived several days of this in Deadhorse. I'm amazed this went so quickly."

"He's not moving..."

"After everything he's been through, culminating in a seizure that lasted almost nine minutes, he'll sleep for hours," she assured him.

Skinner took a step back. (*It's done, now, anyway, and she's right. Mulder would not have thanked her for chickening out and letting the parasite have him.*)

Scully pulled on latex gloves then, and went out of the control room. She picked up a test tube rack full of tubes, a glass stirring rod and a wooden tongue depressor. She opened the isolation chamber with one hand and went inside. Skinner hurried after her and took up a position at the door, covering her retreat.

As she abandoned the observation and control panel, the scientists who had observed from theater seats flowed in, chattering anxiously amongst themselves.

Scully very carefully scraped up the dead worms and deposited each one in a test tube. She did not bother to seal them right away; if they were not dead, even borosilicate laboratory glass was not enough to imprison them. All she wanted it for was to transport the material to a containment freezer. She remembered the possibly alien fetus that she had stolen for Deep Throat from Fort Marlene all those years ago, thinking that just such a nitrogen freezer was the safest place for this material.

She could not help but remember the dead patients in that nursing home in Boca Raton who had had the same black worms emerging and dying on their faces, too. She sent up a quick prayer, thanking God that Mulder had not had to die to be free.

She labeled the tubes and set the rack aside. Then she turned back to her partner.

"Mulder? If you're awake at all, hear me: we won. It's over. You can come out, now."

He did not respond, but she really had not expected that he would. She turned to leave and was rather pleased to see AD Skinner at the door. He had been consistently supportive, and she wondered, suddenly, what his punishment might be if news of his support reached the wrong ears.

"We need to shut the door again," she said as he backed to let her out. "I want another full body MRI, to be sure some desperate clump of worms isn't hiding somewhere else. The main concentration appears to have been, just like before, around the pineal gland. But we don't know if they can hide elsewhere and come back later, so we'll have to check."

Even with the most advanced machinery available, a full body scan would take a couple of hours. Skinner smiled faintly. "I won't ask you to leave. Can I bring you something to eat?"

She smiled back. "Yes, thank you. A julienne salad, with light Italian dressing?"

"Done. Coffee or soda?"

"Bottled water, please."

"All right." He headed for the door, then hesitantly turned. "Agent Scully?"

She turned, surprised by his tone. "Yes?"

"You want to know why the X Files and the two of you have been shut down so hard?"

She stared at him. "We know why."

"Because you terrify them, Scully, with your courage, your integrity and your uncompromising principles. You terrify me and I'm on your side. Imagine how they feel."

She pinned him with her eyes and he felt like a frog on a dissecting tray. He squared his shoulders and straightened his back, braced for her response.

Slowly she nodded. "Imagine, sir. Imagine."

The End

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