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Rural Arkansas

Steel doors barred any access into nondescript brick and concrete block buildings and what few windows pierced the walls were tinted or polarized to black and accessing them from outside would require a ladder. More importantly, though, silence lay over the compound. The parking lot, what little of it could be seen from the high wire walls at the edges of property, had only a few cars and those were already dusted with pollen after just a few days. No movement came or went from building to cars; no shadows moved behind the darkened windows.

Inside, lights flashed red, green, or yellow on mainframes in search of data and printers in need of paper. Documents mounded in snowdrifts of pages and shreds, studded with black floppy disks and silvery CDs. Computer chairs congregated in corners, abandoned in herds with only a few standing alone at work stations or desks. Florescent lights hissed their irritating whine and, here and there, flickered.

All through the buildings -- behind chairs, under desks, atop support beams -- the blocks waited. They waited for the signals that would spark. They waited for the chance to test the tensile strength of materials and the structural integrity of the building. Above all, they waited to send their message, in explicit terms, as to why no data was forthcoming from this facility... and never would be again.


Malvern, Arkansas, two days later

Cannibals, mad bombers, the calm men with knives and the madmen with guns -- serial killers come in all shapes and sizes, as I told MacLeod last year. No matter how they do it, or why, my job is to stop them. The ones with swords come to a more permanent end, but I do stop them all, whether soon or late.

I've spent almost eight centuries in law enforcement and worked in every branch of it, I do believe. I know when the pieces don't add up and I long ago learned the value of paying attention. That is, generally, all it takes. Someone once said the devil is in the details. So are the guilty, most days. This case, however, has me wishing the damn fool 'Powers That Be' hadn't reassigned Agent Mulder to Domestic Terrorism because, so far as I can tell, I'm up against a doppelganger. That or Industrial Light and Magic has set up shop in Malvern, Arkansas, which doesn't seem any more likely.

The school librarian walked up to Sally Thomas, a real estate agent, smiled, and cut her throat in the town square. No less than five horrified witnesses agree Lila Magreevy committed the murder, then ducked through her victim's office and vanished. Unfortunately, the school principal and an entire first grade class can also testify that Ms. Magreevy was reading them fairy tales when Sally Thomas died.

Dylan Conway, a seventeen year old with a name for drinking too much, driving too fast, and dishonoring too many girls' reputations, died next -- in his own car at the school parking lot. A dozen boys and girls, a few who loved him and several who hated him, agree he was last seen alive with Jennifer Ellis, not five minutes before his corpse hit the car horn. Jennifer, however, was already at work sacking groceries for an off-duty deputy. Her time-card agrees with her story and his testimony.

George Wright was walking home from the hardware store with a bagful of breakers and heavy gauge wire when Ellen Richardson ran him over with his own car. Again, she got out of the car, ran into the nearest building -- this time the grocery store -- and vanished. Impressive work for a woman who was addressing the Women's Junior Club at the same time.

Last but not least, Darius Marks stove in Mayor Hogarth's head with a sledge hammer, in the mayor's driveway, in full view of the mayor's wife. Hogarth died two hours later despite the best efforts of the EMTs in the ambulance and the emergency room staff -- one of whom was Darius Marks. He had not taken any breaks.

I have four deaths, apparently committed by four different people in four different ways. Three of the murderers were apparently female, one was male. The smallest perpetrator was 5' 1"; the tallest was 6' 5". The murders have taken place in public and on private property. The victims range from sixteen to fifty-six, across both genders and a fair spread of social backgrounds, and so far the only thing they have in common is that they're dead at the hands of people who can't possibly have done it.

Right now, though, the part that's intriguing me the most is that the doppelganger seems to be a damned polite murderer. I find it highly unlike that all of its assumed forms would 'accidentally' have ironclad alibis. The doppelganger didn't just know the victims, he knew the 'assailants,' too. Hell, he may have known the entire damn town's schedules, although it looks like anyone who reads the local newspaper could come close.

Regardless. A real estate agent, a small town mayor, an electrician, and an incipient juvenile delinquent. This is going to be an interesting case.


Malvern, that afternoon

Krycek swore, softly and viciously, and never quit glaring at the slender, white-haired man in front of him as he did. When profanity had no effect, he asked softly, "Do you actually have a good explanation for this stupidity?"

The morph shrugged its deceptively frail shoulders. "You wanted all suspicion of the facility's existence destroyed," it said. "And an example made."

"This isn't an 'example.' It's a beacon to the Consortium that the Rebels have shifters working for them. The only thing that could have made this worse would be if Mulder still had the X-Files and you've probably brought the Bureau in anyway. For four deaths." Angry green eyes studied the morph. "Why?"

"Because," it answered calmly. "I liked it here. It was... calm. Tranquil, in a bustling self-centered way."

"Not anymore," Krycek growled, his good hand ominously still in the pocket of his leather jacket. "Explain."

"When this is over, you will find a way to drive all of us off your planet: Rebels, shifters, Oil, and Greys alike. Do not bother to deny it." The morph's face stayed expressionless, but the bitterness rode its voice and made that bland stillness a blatant lie. "I have lived here for fifty cycles of your sun, and I have grown to love this planet, but you will still force me out. So be it. However, if I cannot have this peace, neither will they. Let them learn there is a war. Let them learn to trust no one."

Krycek studied him for a long, long minute while the morph's hands rippled, shifting from old man's to young man's to young woman's and back to an old man's again. Krycek finally said softly, "Go handle the problem in Memphis. Kill the doctors and meet me at the Atlanta airport Friday morning, in the south terminal. Do it right this time. No grandstanding, no witnesses, no puzzles to bring any of our enemies down on us. You agreed to help. Help. Or get out."

"There is no 'out'," the alien said bitterly. "There is only life or death. I will do it, though."

Krycek nodded and watched, silently, as the creature shifted, growing taller and more muscular, its eyes shifting from grey to brown, its hair from white to black. The alien walked out looking like a down on his luck farmhand of Mexican or Amerindian descent rather than the quiet, reserved older gentleman thought to live there.

As for Krycek, he slipped out into the shadows an hour later, a remote detonator in his pocket. He'd start the fire in the house last thing before leaving, but he desperately needed a full night's sleep first. He wanted to make one last check around the town to be sure there were no other loose ends to tidy up or cut off, as need might be. With any luck, though, he'd be on his way out tomorrow with a four-alarm fire blazing behind him. Any investigators ought to find the signs of arson he'd planted so carefully. After that, the emptied bank account should result in an APB, then an outstanding warrant, and eventually a dead-filed case.

If he was even remotely lucky. Personally, Krycek thought Mulder had found a way to steal all his luck. That was all right. Krycek made do with skill.


Blue Plate Café, Malvern, the next morning

Another stranger in the town might well pass me unnoticed. This one? No. For one thing, he's a dead ringer for an immortal that I trained.

He's definitely not Cory. For one thing, this man is mortal. So. A duplicate of my student has simply arrived, fortuitously? Or the doppelganger has, somewhere, met Cory before? Wonder how one tells a doppelganger, anyway? Pity Mulder isn't here. He could probably tell me that. On the other hand, he'd want to know why I'm interested in this particular gentleman, too. Evens out, I suppose.

Whoever this stranger is, he's been paying attention to the entire room despite his apparent preoccupation with his food. When I slide into the seat across from him, he looks directly at me as he points out, "This booth's taken."

Husky voice, deceptively quiet, rich with an undertone of threat. In combination with the measuring intelligence behind those green eyes of his, it's enough to make me regret some of the Bureau's policies. That's irrelevant, however, just now. "So it is. I believe we need to talk. Matthew McCormick, FBI."

At first I wonder if he's going to answer, then he chuckles and moves over. "Then I suppose you can have the seat. Alex Krycek."

"Been in town long, Mr. Krycek?"

He looks me over for a long moment, considering some plan or strategy. From the quick, faint frown, I'd say Alex decided against whatever it may have been. His voice is carefully neutral after that earlier humor as he tells me, "A day or two."

Alex shrugs as he gives me that information, an easy motion with just the faintest catch on the left. Surprising from a man with his posture and awareness of all the people in the room and all the exits. Between that and the gloves, I do have to wonder if that arm's a prosthetic? Possibly. It would explain the movement. Then again, he might simply have no inclination to leave fingerprints. If the arm is a prosthetic, that would be fairly good evidence against him being a doppelganger. Can't quite see one both voluntarily showing up without a limb and having a prosthetic on hand because they do it routinely.

Krycek just waits me out while I consider him, eating his food calm as you please. Interesting. He looks quite capable of sitting here all day, which makes me wonder how many crimes he's committed, rather than which ones specifically. Not even priests take FBI agents this calmly. Saints, yes. Priests, no. I rather doubt his conscience is that clean.

Why not? "So how much are you wanted for?"

Wicked smile from him as he asks, "Aren't you supposed to read me my rights before questioning me?"

That makes me hide a smile of my own. "Only if I'm planning to charge you with something. Should I?"

He just chuckles. "Agent, I don't match the description of any of your killers. Don't you have some murders to solve?"

"Even agents get to have breakfast." Mind, I had mine a few hours ago, but he's a great deal of fun to bait. Amazing how a face so much like Cory's has none of the same mannerisms. He can be read, but it takes more work. Right now, he's irritated and trying not to be amused.

And he has an interesting sense of humor. He pushes his mug over, asking, "Cream? Sugar? Since I was using both?"

"Surely you knew officers of the court will take caffeine any way we can get it?" I take my time stirring more cream in, watching him from the corner of my eye. Only after he's flagged the waitress down for more coffee for himself do I mention, "And I'm a bit curious as to how you know you don't match the killers' descriptions?"

Alex just... smiles. "Agent, if you haven't been coming in here for breakfast every morning when the locals do, you're dumber than you look."

He leans back, his jacket shifting as he does, and the material bulges just far enough past what it should to warn me he's armed. No point mentioning it yet, but I'll keep it in mind.

Alex goes on, "It's a small town, and four murders are big news. You can't eat here and not know who was killed and what their killers looked like. And everything else," he adds wryly, making me wonder if he's heard all the latest 'who's sleeping with whom?' and 'who's had what operations/surgeries/cosmetic touch-up?' gossip that I did.

I nod to Sharon when she brings us more coffee, and she smiles but doesn't stay to tease me about coming back for more. No need; he's caught it. I don't think this Alex Krycek misses much. Alert as a headhunter, but is he hunting the killer or the victims? "So who or what do you think killed them?" He didn't expect that blunt a question. Wonder why not?

"You're asking me?" He laughs at the idea, more amused than he ought to be, I dare say. "What the hell. I think it was a fetch."

I lean back in the booth, hands cradled around the mug, and consider that answer. "I thought fetches usually appeared in the form of the soon-to-be deceased?"

He shrugs. "You have a better answer?"

"I was thinking a doppelganger, myself," I say mildly. Something flashes in his eyes: surprise, recognition, anger, maybe all of them. Then he hides it away again, but that one moment tells me he knows a good deal more than he's saying. So I go on, "They do appear in the forms of friends or loved ones, rather than just that of the deceased. And some stories say they kill people to take their forms and lives. Closer fit than a fetch, I do believe."

"Does the Bureau know you spout this kind of nonsense in public?" Krycek asks and steadies his toast with his left hand while spreading jam on it. His cuff rides up with the motion, exposing something that undoubtedly claims to be flesh-toned but isn't.

I shrug. "So long as I can arrest whatever did it and prove them guilty in a court of law, I assure you the Bureau will put up with a fair bit. If not, I can find employment elsewhere." He raises an eyebrow at that, silent around his mouthful of toast, which means the timing should be good for my next question. "And do you think the doppelganger is finished, Mr. Krycek?"

He expected me to try to startle him somehow, but I don't think he counted on that question. He recovers quickly enough, using his food as an excuse to catch his wits back up. "Do you consult oracles too?"

Sharon tops the coffee off again, and I pour more cream into it, watching the patterns for a few seconds before telling him, "The only one with any reliable reputation was Delphi and the Pythia's been gone for quite some time now. I notice you didn't answer the question."

That gets me a sardonic look almost as good as I'd use on a suspect with a fool's alibi. Then Alex says bluntly, "Agent, why would I know?"

I nod to him as an apparent acceptance of that and finish his coffee before asking, "So when are you leaving town, Mr. Krycek?"

Alex shrugs and gives me the answer I'd expected. "After I pay my bill."

"And what were you doing in town?" He had to know I'd ask.

He leans back and says calmly, "Agent, unless you have a subpoena, I don't have to answer any of this without a lawyer."

Unfortunately for Alex Krycek, I've never particularly minded being wrong. "Mr. Krycek, I'd be irritated to have to throw you in jail, but I assure you I'd have no trouble doing it. As I asked before, what are you doing in town?"

I do believe I was right. Too calm, too collected under that warning, and those green eyes are looking past the surface appearances when he considers me and my threat. At least Alex nods and leans back. "You're law enforcement, McCormick. There's always some good reason to arrest a citizen, if a cop wants. Loitering, littering, or the ever popular detained on suspicion?"

My own amusement gets loose at that. "You missed obstructing justice. Mind, I was considering carrying concealed without a permit." I give it a beat then add, "So. Who are you, why are you here, and why should I let you back out of town?"

"As I said, Alex Krycek." He shrugs. "I heard about the murders and wanted to come see what was going on. Since I don't think there's a doppelganger still in town, or a fetch, or whatever you want to call it, I was heading back out today." He starts to reach back then asks in a tone far too polite, "May I get my wallet, or were you going to shoot me?"

"Your wallet is fine." I only put the faintest emphasis on wallet, but he understood.

The wallet I'd expected. The card he gives me, I hadn't. "MUFON." I have to fight to keep my voice level; laughter just wouldn't quite be appropriate just now. The next card is for the Sierra Club and I give up and smile. "I see. Protecting the endangered fetch, hmm?"

"Who'd believe that story other than Agent Mulder?" Alex says ruefully, and if I didn't know Cory so well, I might buy it. Unfortunately for him, I do know Cory... and that particular set to Krycek's hand where it rests on the table. He's up to something, that's certain.

"I rather doubt Mulder'd believe you either," I say mildly. That gets a sharp look that vanishes a moment later. Curiouser and curiouser. "Even if I do still think he had something to do with getting the sasquatch on the Washington state Endangered Species List...."

Alex laughs at that, a huskier sound than Cory's laugh, and if I didn't think of them as two different people before, I surely do now. "He probably did." He shrugs again, with that same faint off-balance motion, and says, "Look. I didn't kill any of them, McCormick. And I do have a carry license. Do you want me to have to sue the FBI for unlawful detainment?"

Odd. I believe him. To be more precise, I believe what he said. I'm also quite sure he's lying by omission somewhere... but I've no grounds to charge him, he's correct there, too. Damnation. Why am I quite sure he'd make detaining him more trouble than it's worth?

Mulder did say once that his files rarely closed off neatly. I have a nasty feeling this one isn't going to either, and that the missing piece is sitting across from me. A missing piece who feels and acts like he has access to powerful lawyers and plenty of money. All I can do is warn him, then. "Mr. Krycek? If you leave town, best you have nothing to do with this. I'd be... irritated if it turned out you did."

Alex just shakes his head and peels fives out of his wallet to cover the bill. "Not half as irritated as you'd be if I turned my lawyer loose on you for false arrest, Agent McCormick." He meets my eyes as he says it, though, and I know he's heard the warning. He might even take it seriously. One can hope.

Watching Alex walk out the door, though, I already regret letting him go. As I told him, however, I'd have to be able to prove my case. As of yet, I can't. Once back in D.C., however, I plan to look into Alex Krycek. Something is decidedly off-kilter about him. I do wonder what Agent Mulder could tell me about him?

Sharon scoops up her money on the way by the booth, and I have to wave off her offer of a refill on the coffee. Time I was back at work on my assigned case. Sitting here won't solve a damn thing.

I wish I thought something would.


Tbilisi, Georgia -- three weeks later

Krycek studied the report he'd hacked out of the FBI's database, a rueful smile creasing his lips as he did. Boiled down from the polite phrasings and punctilious officialese, the whole report essentially said, 'Be damned if I know.' He could almost hear McCormick's irritated drawl, and that made him smile even more widely. Oh, the report made it clear that McCormick thought the arson was related, and suggested, strongly, that someone should check to see if 'Theo Rosen' had really existed or was simply a cover identity for a killer... but McCormick hadn't managed to add the destroyed facility to the equation. Good.

Sometime soon McCormick would be a problem, there was no question there. Krycek didn't really think it was a coincidence that someone had started checking his records, and hacking into his forged background, within a day of McCormick's return to the Hoover Building. For some reason, he found it more amusing than irritating.

Why do I keep developing soft spots for FBI agents? I really ought to kill him now, before he learns enough to be dangerous. Krycek considered the idea, wondering why that option seemed... hasty. No. Killing McCormick can wait. Right up to the point where it can't. Krycek's smile shifted to a more predatory pleasure as he wondered if the agent could be aimed at any of his enemies. The man was unpredictable, certainly, but he'd seemed competent. Curious, oh, yeah, but cautious and controlled despite the odd questions. That's why. He's not a tool, but he could be the best kind of weapon: one no one thinks I could aim. Time I looked into Matthew McCormick. He might just be useful....

That was a problem for another day, though. For the moment, there were alliances to be consolidated, a vaccine to be improved, aliens to command, and others to evict-- An FBI agent, even a useful one, would simply have to wait. For now.

~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~

Comments, Commentary, & Miscellanea:

Written for the X-Files 'Word' Lyric Wheel. Words provided by Amy Mahn:

Suaimhneach -- "secure, quiet, calm." (Gaelic) "Peaceful, tranquil, relaxed, restful" per my Irish dictionary. "Genial, secure, peaceful, gentle, peaceable" per one of the online Gaelic sources.

Ewyllysia -- This word is either a noun or a verb, and it means simply, "wish." Per the Brown University online Welsh dictionary ewyllysio [ewyllysi-] (v.) will, wish "-a" is the ending for 1st person singular, present indicative, or 3rd singular, also present indicative, or 2nd singular imperative.

In other words, I'm a strange sick puppy who wondered what lies underneath people's 'calm.' And because what you wish for isn't always what you get.

Cory Raines, an immortal bank robber on Highlander, was played by Nick Lea, better known in the X-Files community as Alex Krycek.

Yes, the sasquatch really was on the Washington State Endangered Species list for a while. I don't know if it still is.

I think I got fetches and doppelgangers correctly sorted, but my apologies if I'm wrong.

The Delphic Oracle and the Pythia -- a shrine to Apollo in ancient Greece which specialized in prophecy.